May: What are we losing with the elimination of our digital government minister?

Good discussion of some of the deeper issues and considerations, none of which are easy to address or resolve:

The Trudeau government’s decision to drop a digital government minister from the cabinet lineup comes when many argue just about everything on its agenda requires some kind of digital transformation to fix or implement.

Digital technology is central to tackling any policy issue whether it’s fighting the rest of the pandemic and rebuilding a shaken economy, climate change, child care, housing and Indigenous services. Digital tools are used to gather and mine data to develop policies, implement them and deliver services Canadians can use.

In fact, FWD50, an Ottawa conference of the world’s leading digital experts is virtually meeting this week to discuss using technology “to make society better for all.” They argue technology is policy. Can’t have one without the other.

The pandemic that forced thousands of bureaucrats to work remotely created a level of basic digital literacy so quickly that the Treasury Board is now rethinking policies around the future of work and modernizing technology.

So why is the government separating them with two ministers, one responsible for policy and the other in charge of technology?

Joyce Murray, Canada’s fourth digital government minister, was shuffled to Fisheries and Oceans with no one appointed to replace her. Her job appears to have been carved up between Treasury Board President Mona Fortier and Public Services and Procurement Minister Filomena Tassi.

The loss of digital cabinet clout is being criticized as a significant setback. It takes away much-needed political leadership, a single voice at the cabinet table and a focus to navigate a responsibility that is already fractured among too many players.

“We’re now living in a world where every policy issue is a digital issue,” said Ryan Androsoff, director of digital leadership programs at the Institute in Governance.

“Government can have the greatest policy ideas in the world, but if they can’t execute on them, it gets them nowhere,” he said. “Today, good delivery and execution inevitably means digital. It’s tough to imagine any area of government activity that won’t have some kind of technological underpinning to how policy is delivered and implemented.”

The decision came out of the blue for the technology industry, setting off concerns that the government is backing off from its digital strategy as progress toward a co-ordinated approach was being made. The government spends more than $7 billion a year on technology.

“A digital minister at least brought it to the forefront,” said Michele Lajeunesse, senior vice-president of government relations and policy at industry association TECHNATION.

“It showed government recognized a need to focus on its digital transformation… and I would say it progressed somewhat. The fear is this is taking a potentially major step back, and if the decision is to split it between TBS and PSPC (Public Services and Procurement Canada) will we be better off? We don’t think so.”

It also comes when the world is scrambling for tech talent in the face of a global shortage.

Countries like the U.S. and U.K. are bolstering the role of tech to better manage remote work, attract more tech workers and make sure citizens have easy online access to government services.

The head of the U.S. General Services Administration recently summed up the shift: “It’s super clear that bad delivery sinks good policy. To be able to deliver anything, we have to have the tech talent in the room at the beginning of the discussion, not bolted on at the end.”

Digital experts boil digital transformation down to technology, data, process and organizational change – and people with the skills in each are the lynchpins to make it work.

Murray, who was also the first standalone digital minister, launched a digital strategy with four overarching goals that the government isn’t close to achieving:

  • Modernize the way government replaces, builds and manages IT systems;
  • Provide services to people when and where they need them;
  • Co-ordinate the approach to digital operations;
  • Transform the way public servants work.

From the start, however, many argued the kind of big, transformational change that digital can bring requires a fundamental rethinking of the government’s rules and policies underpinning how public servants work – from human resources, staffing and hiring to budgeting and procurement.

Former treasury board president Scott Brison was the first to throw the spotlight on digital in the aftermath of the disastrous Phoenix pay system, which brought urgency to changing the way government does business and provides service to Canadians.

He successfully pressed to have digital minister included in his title, pitching a digital strategy as a way to improve the lives of Canadians and restore the trust and confidence they have lost in all governments.

But the success of the digital minister has been much debated.

Amanda Clarke, a digital and public management expert and associate professor at Carleton University, said the job had little clout, no effective carrot-and-stick to force change. The minister didn’t control contracting decisions on major modernization projects. And most of the powers to push needed reforms rest with Treasury Board.

“I don’t actually think it’s a strategic loss for the bigger movement,” said Clarke.

As digital minister, Murray had some key pieces of the government machinery. The biggest was Shared Services Canada, the giant IT agency that operates with a $2-billion budget and more than 7,000 employees.

The long-troubled agency redeemed itself with an almost overnight rollout of equipment, network access and digital tools so public servants could work remotely during the pandemic. It is being folded into PSPC, which some worry could shift its focus to procurement and compliance rather advancing the digital strategy.

She oversaw the Office of the Chief Information Officer (OCIO), which provides direction to departments on information management and technology. She also had the Canadian Digital Services, the U.S.-inspired swat team of tech geeks to tackle IT problems and harness digital to help departments design and build better services.

But there is a constellation of all the other departments and agencies, each of which had their own CIOs who report to their deputy ministers. Several executives from technology firms admit they didn’t even bother with the digital minister and went directly to departments where decisions are made on what to systems to upgrade or buy.

The government has yet to explain the rationale for dropping the cabinet post and the fate of digital strategy is expected to be answered in the ministers’ mandate letters. In a statement, Shared Services Canada said its mandate to accelerate digital transformation and build a more open, people-centric and resilient digital government will continue under PSPC.

Digital transformation requires leadership

Androsoff argues it’s political leadership, not bureaucrats, that has to drive changes in governance and accountability to make such sweeping changes happen.

“I think there has to be a recognition that… the governance structure we have for digital right now is not set up to deliver on results,” he said. “If the government is serious about trying to really change how government works for the digital era, it has to do some real thinking around how to put in place the type of authorities and decision-making structures that’s going to actually let change happen.”

But that takes time, and Clarke argues the talent crisis is the most urgent problem, and some changes could be made during the typical two-year governing window of a minority government.

Some of these reforms could dovetail with the Treasury Board’s planning for the future of work as pandemic restrictions are lifted and public servants can return to in-office work.

The government is widely expected to move to a hybrid workforce – a mix of employees working in office and remotely – to attract and retain talent, which could force a rethink of the hiring and classification policies.

That resonates with former privy council clerk Michael Wernick, who as Canada’s top bureaucrat pushed for a top-to-bottom structural reform – delayering, fewer levels of executives and a massive overhaul of its human resources regime, including reducing the 670 occupational groups and 80,000 rules that affect public servants’ pay.

The limits of the killer app

Wernick argues the government has made improvements to public-facing online services but can’t go much further without a deeper overhaul of back-end systems and how government works.

“The fork-in-the-road question is: are you going to continue to look for cool apps and outward-facing things we can do? Or are you going to deal with some of the deep structural issues in the public service?” he said.

Under the hood of some of those online services and apps are old mainframes and technology, some on the verge of collapse. And under that are the lumbering operational processes and procedures created by outdated rules and policies.

Right off the bat, Clarke argues the government needs new job titles and descriptions so departments can hire and develop the kind of in-house skills needed and wean off the IT consultants it spends billions of dollars on.

Job classifications for IT workers were written before the internet, and jobs like product managers and user-experience specialists didn’t exist. Job listings that describe positions designed for another era – which also scream a dated organization – hold no attraction for tech job seekers. They won’t apply.

“A lot of the problems we see with technology today in government are a people problem. When you don’t have people on staff who know how to design modern services, projects will fail,” said Clarke. “They also have to know how to be smart shoppers when it comes time to select partners and to procure new solutions.”

A multi-disciplinary team working on a new policy, for example, used to be not able to bring in IT workers to help figure out how to deliver the program to users because of an old rule that required IT workers to report only to CIOs. This also forced the team to recruit consultants from outside to advise them. That rule was changed, but the practice is still deeply rooted in departments.

And then there’s the months it takes to fill a job, which sends managers to the private sector, which can fill openings with consultants within days.

“This is how the rigidity of the classification becomes antithetical to good policy work,” said Clarke. “One of the best practices in modern digital government is bringing in experts around technology and implementation early in the policy design process so that you kind of set up the project for success.”

But Clarke said the government also has to get a handle on its over-reliance on outsourcing, which has hollowed out the skills of in-house IT staff. The government should track who gets contracts, how competitive they are and potential conflicts of interest. She said it’s shocking how many companies that worked on bungled or failed projects are then hired back to fix them.

The unions have fought IT contracting as too expensive, locking in the government to specific vendors and atrophying skills among in-house technical workers. A 2020 report found spending on IT consulting more than doubled between 2011 and 2018, when it hit $1.3 billion.

“Big projects are still business as usual. They’re still massive and they still involve these classic players who have their fingers all over every digital failure and yet keep getting hired by government to lead digital projects,” said Clarke. “It’s absolutely baffling.”

Source: https://irpp.us7.list-manage.com/track/click?u=f538f283d07ef7057a628bed8&id=1261e9c10f&e=86cabdc518

Wells: Michael Wernick has some advice

Good and informative interview and comments:

Brian Mulroney was the prime minister the first time Michael Wernick sat at the back of a cabinet committee room, taking notes. One time the young civil servant found himself transcribing John Crosbie’s remarks as the powerful fisheries minister recited arguments Wernick himself had put into Crosbie’s briefing notes. That particular ouroboros of influence was “quite exciting for a young desk officer,” Wernick said in an interview shortly before the recent federal election.

The venue was my back yard. The occasion was the release of Wernick’s new book, Governing Canada: A Guide to the Tradecraft of Politics (UBC Press). Wernick was a senior official for decades in Ottawa, a deputy minister under Paul Martin and Stephen Harper. Justin Trudeau made him Clerk of the Privy Council, a position from which Wernick retired amid the SNC-Lavalin controversy in 2019, after Jody Wilson-Raybould released a surreptitious recording of a conversation with Wernick.

Wilson-Raybould, clandestine recordings, and the doctrines of independence for attorneys general are not topics of Wernick’s book, and he made it clear he preferred that they not figure in our interview. I relented, mostly. I’ve known Wernick for 26 years. He’s been learning how Ottawa works for longer than that. The lore he’s accumulated, poured between the covers of a slim volume aimed at students of political science, is a valuable contribution to Canadians’ understanding of how they’re governed.

“I didn’t want to write a memoir,” Wernick said. What came out instead is “a kind of an amalgam of many experiences with different ministers and three prime ministers that I got to work with reasonably closely. I was trying to capture those conversations—what it’s like to sit across from the new minister after swearing in, or some of the conversations that go on. Particularly in the early days of a government as they’re finding their feet or learning their skills.”

For the longest time he couldn’t settle on a format. He finally found a model in Renaissance Florence.

“I have a daughter who’s studying political science at U of T. She was doing a political theory course. And she was home for Christmas, but still working on a paper. And one of the things on that second-year political science course, that I took umpteen years ago, is [Niccolo Machiavelli’s] The Prince. It’s second-person advice on statecraft. It’s held up for a long time. And that gave me that sort of lightbulb moment. ‘Oh, I can do something that way. I could do it direct and second-person advice to somebody who’s coming into that position.’ That unlocked the whole thing for me.”

The resulting book is nearly devoid of juicy insider gossip—never Wernick’s style—but full of pithy advice to political leaders in general. “If you can end a meeting early and gain a sliver of time,” he tells prospective prime ministers, “get up and leave.” And, elsewhere, “It is rarely to your advantage to meet the premiers as a group.” And, ahem, “The longer you are in office, the more courtiers you will attract.”

From various perches in the senior ranks of the public service, Wernick watched three prime ministers land in the top job and try to figure out how to govern. “There is a skill set involved in governing,” he said. “We seem to expect people to learn that skill set on the job quickly, without a lot of help.”

And yet the days after a gruelling election campaign are nearly the worst time to be starting a new job. “One of the things I try to emphasize is the human element of it. People come in off an election campaign, exhausted. Physically exhausted. And in a state of considerable disruption. Often they’re new to being a minister. They’re also new to being an MP. They have to make decisions about their family, relocate or not to Ottawa. They’re changing locations. They’re changing careers, fundamentally. And I was always warning public service colleagues, ‘You have to allow for that. Allow for some of that exhaustion and shock.’”

New governments have only a few weeks to get up to speed. And habits that are formed early are not likely to be substantially revised later, with the benefit of hindsight. By then it’s too late. “The Prime Ministers I saw settled into the job very quickly. But then it’s hard to change. They get into a comfort zone or routines and patterns. It’s a very human thing to do. So part of my purpose in the book is just to say, ‘Pause and be a little bit mindful of the how of governing before it all gets locked in.’”

One of the recurring themes in Wernick’s book is how little time everyone has. A federal cabinet will have 100 hours in a year for all of its plenary discussions. Maybe 120. It’s never enough. “It’s overbooked from day one until the day they leave. And you’re always making choices: to do one thing means not doing something else. And mindful management of the allocation of time is really important. It can get away on you.”

The cabinet is going to need a lot of help. That was Wernick’s job, and that of all his bureaucratic colleagues, as well as countless political staff, operating with different aims and methods. “When it works well, you have a certain balance in what I call a triangle between the decision-maker—could be the PM, could be a minister—the support network they get from the public service, and the support network that they get from the political side.”

Sometimes the triangle gets out of balance. “The system gets into trouble when the public service tries to anticipate politics too much. And it clearly gets into trouble when the political side starts trying to run departments administratively. If people keep in their swim lanes and understand each other’s roles, each can add something. I always found it irritating when people chided ministers for being political. They’re supposed to be political in a democracy.”

I asked Wernick about a favourite Ottawa worry, that the public service is losing its ability to generate new ideas and policies. He didn’t bite. “I think there’s a little bit of a mythology that there was some other time when the great and good mandarins of the town—all white males, by the way—generated the ideas and pushed them towards the political system,” he said.

“I think there’s a competing narrative that the policy space is much more open and inclusive than it ever was. The costs of entry are much lower. Anybody with a laptop and a Google account can be a policy analyst. When I joined government, we had a quasi-monopoly on the ability to run big simulation models on income-security programs. Now many university professors can do it better.”

Besides, “I don’t think it’s really the role of the public service to be the originator of new ideas. Those usually come from democratic politics: ‘We wish to decriminalize cannabis.’ And then you work through the problem of how to do it competently.”

Governing Canada includes some pointed advice to cabinet ministers about the fact that they’re probably not going to get a chance to choose the date of their departure from politics. Prime ministers and voters have a way of making those decisions quickly and at inconvenient moments. Did I detect an autobiographical element to these passages?

“That’s largely true of clerks and public servants as well,” Wernick said. “Or hockey coaches. Like, there’s a lot of job jobs where you can’t arrange a perfectly-timed departure. I’m not the only person who’s been backed into a corner where it was impossible to continue to do the job. It’s unfortunate, but it happened.”

“But it’s happened to other people. Circumstances get away on people. People fall into all sorts of things that make it untenable for them to continue in the job.”

When things got weird for Wernick, did he draw any comfort from those earlier examples?

“No. I mean, that’s not the way I’d put it. I was conscious, during those last few months, that I was drifting towards a zone where I couldn’t do the job anymore. I was becoming part of the story. You have to enjoy at least some basic level of trust from the opposition leaders. I didn’t have that. And that just made it impossible to carry on.”

If he had a do-over, would he handle SNC-Lavalin differently? “That’s probably for another day, in another interview. I did not pick up on some of the warning signs about the trouble that was coming…. But I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about that. You work and live in the moment and you do the best you can at the time.”

I tried one more question that was a little closer to the concrete example of the current government than to the trends and aphorisms Wernick’s book prefers. In the book, he writes to a hypothetical prime minister: “You will not be successful if you hang on to the same closed circle of close advisors and confidants for your whole time in office. There is an inevitable drift into a comfort zone and a form of groupthink that can create blind spots and put you at risk.”

Gee, did he have anyone in mind?

Butter would not melt in Wernick’s mouth as he told me he had no examples from current events. “The example I was actually drawing on was Stephen Harper in 2011. You know, the opposition leaders [Erin O’Toole and Jagmeet Singh, in the election that had not yet happened when Wernick and I spoke] probably have a transition team, who will give them some advice on how to set things up. And I worked with Derek Burney from the Harper team, and Mike Robinson from the Martin team, and Peter Harder from the Trudeau team.” Those new governments are always “very conscious and mindful about how they want to set things up.” But re-elected prime ministers “tend to just start up again, with the same people in the same processes. People have argued, and I think I agree, that Stephen Harper missed an opportunity in 2011, to pause and think.

“I would say to any Prime Minister, when they’re going into a second or third mandate: ‘You should pause. It’s going to be different. Think about the processes and the people.’”

Source: Michael Wernick has some advice

Five years on, Trudeau’s vow to build a diverse public service still unfulfilled

I find this report unbalanced and does not reflect that the government largely met its commitment to increase diversity in appointments as I wrote in 2019 (Taking stock of Ottawa’s diversity promises) while public service diversity continues to increase for women and visible minorities for both employees and executives albeit at a slow but steady pace.

The main issue is with respect to Black Canadians at senior levels and I will be looking at data to take this concern from the anecdotal and symbolic (only one Black DM) to quantify the occupational groups and levels where this is most prevalent, as well as looking at other relatively under-represented particular visible minority groups.

I agree with Michael Wernick that while the employment equity act is ripe for a review, opening it up would indeed be a hornet’s nest. And looking back over the over 30 years of EE data, hard to argue that it has not been a success in improving representation given its focus on representation:

When they took power in 2015, the Trudeau Liberals promised to “build a government that looks like Canada.”

But their government, now in its second mandate, still hasn’t hired enough minority senior staff members to truly reflect the country’s diverse makeup.

Only four chiefs of staff to 37 ministers are people of colour — roughly 11 per cent of the total — while they constitute more than 22 per cent of the national population, according to the last census in 2016.

As protests against anti-black racism — triggered by George Floyd’s police custody killing in Minneapolis — have grown in size and spread around the globe, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been talking more about “systemic” racism in Canadian institutions. The prime minister also kneeled in a crowd of anti-racism protesters in Ottawa last Friday as a symbolic gesture of support for their calls for change.

“Systemic racism is an issue right across the country, in all our institutions, including in all our police forces, including in the RCMP. That’s what systemic racism is,” Trudeau said Thursday morning.

“Here are the facts in Canada. Anti-black racism is real, unconscious bias is real, systemic discrimination is real,” the prime minister said in a speech in the House of Commons last week, vowing that his government is committed to breaking down barriers and providing opportunities for marginalized communities.

The lack of diversity among Liberal staffers was keenly felt by Omer Aziz, who worked briefly as an adviser to Chrystia Freeland when she was foreign affairs minister.

“I would go into meetings and I’m the only non-white person there. I felt that when I would raise my voice and give my advice, that it wasn’t taken seriously,” Aziz told CBC.

“That is eventually why I left what was my dream job.”

Getting better … slowly

Other senior staffers told CBC that while being one of just a few people of colour around the table may not be an ideal job situation, diversity in the higher ranks of the federal public service has come a long way in the past decade.

The government is also responsible for appointing people to hundreds of bodies outside the core public service, such as agency boards, foreign missions and Crown corporations.

The Trudeau Liberals reformed that hiring process early in its first mandate to serve its goal of attracting diverse applicants. The result: a dramatically improved ratio of people of colour to other hires, from 4.3 per cent when the Liberals were elected in 2015 to 8.2 per cent as of June 2020.

As for the most senior civil servants (deputy and associate deputy ministers), the number coming from diverse backgrounds is still less than 10 per cent of the total — so low that the Privy Council Office won’t release the figure, arguing it would compromise privacy rights because it would be easy to work out who these senior civil servants are.

‘You have to represent’

“We are in 2020. How come it took so long? It shouldn’t have,” said Caroline Xavier, the only Black person serving as an associate deputy minister in the federal government. She was appointed to the post at Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada back in February.

“Sometimes the burden is heavy because you have to represent. It’s a burden I’m prepared to take on because it’s my job to open more doors for others.”

Xavier said there’s no easy solution, but conversations about breaking down barriers “are happening” within government.”There is a recognition at the most senior levels that this has got to be rectified.”The federal government fares far better when it comes to appointing women; the ranks of deputy ministers and other high-level positions are close to gender parity now.

The Trudeau government isn’t the first to pursue greater diversity in the upper ranks of the public service.

In 2000, a task force struck to look into the participation of people of colour in the federal public service cited an “urgent imperative to shape a federal public service that is representative of its citizenry.”

Seven years later, the Senate published a report on employment equity in the public service with the title: “Not There Yet.” Ten years after that, in 2017, a Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat task force reported that “many gaps in representation persist in the executive category … the very leaders who shape and influence the culture of federal organizations are not sufficiently diverse.”

‘People don’t want to admit that’s going on’

Since 2000, there has been a slow but steady increase in the number of Canadians of colour in the public service — from just under six per cent of the total then, to more than 16 per cent today.

But annual employment equity reports and the census show that Black civil servants, along with Filipinos and Latinos, are still grouped at the lower end of the salary ladder.

Liberal MP Greg Fergus, chair of the parliamentary Black caucus, told CBC News this week that he wants to see the government address that disparity.

“It doesn’t make sense that there’s been no Black deputy ministers — you can’t convince me that there aren’t Black people who are competent,” he said. “But there’s something that went into the calculation over time, that that person didn’t make the right fit, or didn’t get that promotion. We can justify any individual decision, but when you aggregate all these decisions, you end up with a biased result.

“Those are the things that we’ve got to take a look at. But it’s hard to do the things which are hard to do. And it’s hard to see bias. People don’t want to admit that’s going on.”

Trudeau has tasked his parliamentary secretary, Ontario MP Omar Alghabra, with looking at public service renewal. While the Black Lives Matter protests have given the file more urgency, the government has no clear plan yet.

Sharon DeSousa has suggestions. A regional executive vice president with the Public Service Alliance of Canada, she served on the 2017 task force on diversity in the public service. She points out that only one recommendation out of 43 was implemented.”We keep having committees and reports and, to be honest, we’re coming up with the same data,” DeSousa said.”We’ve got systemic barriers and we need to address them,” she said, adding that if the Liberals were serious about going after unconscious bias, they would take a hard look at how data on hiring are being collected, and the problems baked into legislation like the Employment Equity Act.

A ‘hornet’s nest’

The Employment Equity Act hasn’t been updated in nearly two decades and still uses the broad term “visible minorities” — a phrase the United Nations has called discriminatory because it lacks nuance and assumes the experience of a Black employee is the same as that of a South Asian one.

Former head of the privy council Michael Wernick said he believes now is the time to look at changing legislation.

“I think to get at issues in the 2020s, you’re going to want to dig down into each of those communities and have more precise strategies for them,” Wernick said, adding that employment equity laws are still an important tool for promoting diversity.

Still, he said, opening the act up for debate could be like turning over a “hornet’s nest” and coming to a consensus won’t be easy.The Liberals also have flirted with the concept of “name blind” recruitment for the public service — the practice of concealing a candidate’s name to protect those with more ethnic-sounding names from conscious or unconscious bias in the hiring process.A pilot project in 2017 produced a report suggesting name blind recruitment made no difference to outcomes, which prompted former Treasury Board president Scott Brison to declare that “the project did not uncover bias.”

But it turned out the methodology was flawed. Departments had volunteered to take part in the pilot and knew their hiring decisions would be evaluated.

The Public Service Commission is still examining other random recruitment processes.

Some factors that serve to prevent people of colour from being hired by the federal government — the country’s largest single employer — are harder to work around, said Andrew Griffith, a former director-general with Citizenship and Immigration Canada who has written extensively about the issue.

“There’s a preference in the public service to hire Canadian citizens and not all visible minorities have become citizens yet,” Griffith said. He said he believes that factor narrows the gap between the diversity of the general population and that of the federal public service.

Other factors that could be frustrating the push for a more diverse public service, he said, are language requirements and a need for regional representation in parts of Canada that are not so diverse.

That second factor could be less of a problem in the longer term, with a pandemic crisis forcing many civil servants to work from home. But Griffith said getting into government work is “just a long convoluted process.”

Source: Five years on, Trudeau’s vow to build a diverse public service still unfulfilled

Clerk of the Privy Council End-of-Year Message: Increased Religiosity

A friend of mine passed on this Christmas and Hanukah message of the Clerk, Ian Shugart (most senior federal public servant).
It is unusual compared to previous clerk messages in how explicit the religious references are (the previous Clerk Michael Wernick’s message, below, is much more neutral and secular).
To my ears, overly so for a senior public servant and one that could be read by non-Christians and non-Jews as exclusionary, or at least less inclusive, in a way that the more banal holiday or seasons’ greetings of his predecessor are not.
On the other hand, Shugart’s message is more personal and was likely written by him, in contrast to the “safer” version likely prepared by PCO Communications.
While politicians regularly issue statements or press releases for religious festivals and occasions (when I was in government working on multiculturalism, we were assiduous in ensuring all groups were included).
Curious to know how others in the public service and beyond react to this kind of end-of-year message (without situating this in a “war on Christmas” context):

“Nous sommes dans cette période de l’année où les jours sont les plus sombres – littéralement. À l’approche du solstice d’hiver, je songe à l’importance que revêt la lumière et à l’ampleur de ce que souvent les gens vont ressentir en raison de l’obscurité hivernale. La lumière est un symbole d’espoir.

La lumière est aussi au cœur même des fêtes que sont Hanoukka et Noël. Qu’elle rappelle le miracle de la fiole d’huile dans le temple nouvellement consacré ou l’étoile annonçant la naissance de Jésus, c’est un symbole d’espoir pour les fidèles de confession juive ou chrétienne.
Que vous célébriez Hanoukka, Noël ou ni l’une ni l’autre, je vous suis reconnaissant de votre dévouement et des excellents services rendus au public tout au long de cette année mouvementée qui tire à sa fin. Si vous devez travailler pendant cette période, je vous dis merci. Si vous êtes en congé, profitez du répit.
Joyeuse Hanoukka! Joyeux Noël!
Ian Shugart
Greffier du Conseil privé et secrétaire du Cabinet
 
These are the darkest days of the year – literally. As the winter solstice approaches, I have been reflecting on how important light is, and how people often really feel the dark days of winter. Light is a symbol of hope. 
 
Light is also a central theme of the festivals of Hanukkah and of Christmas. Whether remembering the oil that miraculously burned in the newly dedicated Temple, or the star announcing Jesus’ birth, light is a symbol of the hope that both faiths celebrate. 
 
As the year comes to an end, and whether you will be celebrating Hanukkah or Christmas or neither, I want you to know that I am grateful for your dedication and capable service to the people of Canada throughout this eventful year.  If you remain on duty during this period, thank you. If you are taking some leave, enjoy the break.
 
Happy Hanukkah!  Merry Christmas!
 
Ian Shugart
Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet”

For comparison, the previous clerk’s message:

“The holiday season is here, and so is the end of a very successful year.

I would like to thank you for all the work you do to serve Canadians and to help make Canada such an extraordinary country. Your extraordinary service is unparallelled; and you should be proud to be a part of the most effective public service in the world.

Each of you helps us, as a Public Service, to achieve our common goals – whether it is ensuring the health and safety of Canadians, improving services and operations, or advancing the priorities of our democratically elected government.

I hope that many of you are able to take some time during the holidays to rest and celebrate with your loved ones. If you have to hold down the fort at work for your team, please know that your dedication is noticed and appreciated.

At the close of this busy and productive year, I look ahead to 2019, which will bring new opportunities to achieve great things together.

I wish you, your friends and your families a safe and peaceful holiday season, as well as happiness and health in the New Year.

Michael Wernick
Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet”

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