Promotion to top ranks ‘not an entitlement,’ public-service group APEX warns

More on public service changes at senior levels:

Michael Wernick, clerk of the Privy Council and head of the public service, has been busy managing changes to the senior ranks of the public service as government executives retire at a faster rate. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has made more than 20 changes to the top levels of the bureaucracy since coming to power. The Prime Minister announced more changes to the senior bureaucracy this month, including the retirements of Margaret Biggs, Anita Biguzs and Ward Elcock.

“The dominant challenge of the next two years is moving, as smoothly and as orderly as we can, the baby boomers like me, off the stage, and recruiting and developing the next generation of public service leadership,” Mr. Wernick said in a speech at an APEX event in Ottawa on June 1.

The clerk said he wants to capture “the creativity, the innovation, and the energy” of new leadership and talent. “So that is the takeaway. Baby boomers, it’s time to go…myself included,” he said.

Mr. Wernick said he will be reintroducing some training and leadership programs after their cancellation in recent years. One new program will place public service executives into academic institutions for about a year, he said.

Mr. Vermette said he welcomes more training, leadership programs and exchanges for senior officials. “We don’t fear that [outside] competition, but we should also be given the opportunity to develop our own experience,” Mr. Vermette said.

A senior public servant, Mr. Vermette is working as head of APEX on an executive exchange program, having last worked as deputy commissioner of the Canadian Coast Guard.

Machinery-of-government experts Peter Larson and David Zussman conducted interviews with executive recruits in the public service in 2006. Their resulting report, which highlighted the difficulties of success for senior recruits in Ottawa, noted a culture of careerism and competition for advancement among senior officials, mixed with a “climate of fear” and “self-censorship.”

One former senior public servant, speaking on a background basis, said outside recruitment is a good idea, but there can be issues with private sector executives moving into the public service. Corporate executives are accustomed to making final decisions, the person said, whereas the role of senior officials is to advise the government for decisions by the PM and cabinet.

The former government executive suggested outside candidates may be better off starting at the assistant deputy or associate deputy level, and would be better off having some government or public sector experience, such as in a hospital, provincial government or university.

PCO spokesman Raymond Rivet said by e-mail that the majority of deputy ministers are appointed from the federal rank of assistant deputy minister. There are about 70 senior officials at the deputy minister and associate deputy level.

Source: Promotion to top ranks ‘not an entitlement,’ public-service group warns – The Globe and Mail

Trudeau tasks top bureaucrat to help reform patronage appointments

Will be interesting to see what system is developed and, after a number of years, whether the quality and diversity of appointments improves.

Just another aspect to implementing the “commitment to transparent, merit-based appointments, to help ensure gender parity and that Indigenous Canadians and minority groups are better reflected in positions of leadership:”

Michael Wernick, recently installed as the new Clerk of the Privy Council and the Prime Minister’s most senior adviser from the public service, has been given an important assignment by the man who appointed him: to advise on how to make a wide range of cabinet appointments – including that of his own future replacement – subject to more scrutiny.

In an interview with The Globe and Mail in his Langevin Block office, the career bureaucrat and head of the public service said the hundreds of political appointments at Crown corporations, tribunals and other agencies are “gifts” handed out by cabinet that should be subject to a more thorough hiring process.

That will mean opening up political appointments, including part-time positions, to more applicants, using more rigorous head-hunting, and setting clearer selection criteria. The goal is to increase accountability, ensure better representation and recruit higher quality talent for appointments to Canada’s public institutions, a reform of mainly patronage jobs that would be in line with the Liberal plan for merit-based appointments to the Senate.

“[Mr. Trudeau] wants to work his way around the appointment powers of the prime minister and put some process, some rigour, some inclusion and some transparency in front of those appointments before he makes them. I completely support that as a matter of good governance,” Mr. Wernick said. “You will see in the coming weeks a more rigorous process around Governor-in-Council appointments, like all of the 1,500 appointments or so that are the gift of cabinet to give.”

…Without any new process in place for appointments, Mr. Trudeau has already made some patronage appointments for senior positions, including new ambassadors and, in the Privy Council Office, Matthew Mendelsohn to head a new unit called “results and delivery.” Mr. Mendelsohn is an academic with the Mowat Centre in Toronto and former Ontario government deputy minister who last year worked on the Trudeau campaign.

Ironically, experts such as Donald Savoie, professor of public administration at Université de Moncton and Canada’s authority on the centralization of government, suggests the appointment of a Liberal campaign worker to a key position in PCO further centralizes power when Mr. Trudeau says he wants the opposite. But Dr. Savoie adds that bringing more transparency to appointments, starting with that of the clerk, would help diffuse PMO power. Transparency could come through a committee that recommends a public list of possible clerks to the Prime Minister who makes the final selection.

….Mr. Wernick has identified two priorities as Clerk. One is delivering the Liberal government’s agenda, and the second is increasing the capabilities of a public service whose employees are passionate and engaged but also frustrated. Without the latter priority, the first will be more difficult.

“We need to get better at being agile and responsive while still providing that sober advice on implementation. We have too many layers and too much middle management. We have too much process. We have people who take refuge in rules and process, and what we want is people to be guided by their values and competencies,” he said. “We have very strong foundations but we’re a bit of a fixer-upper… I’m quite optimistic we can get there.”

Source: Trudeau tasks top bureaucrat to help reform patronage appointments – The Globe and Mail