Delacourt: ‘The nudge unit’: Ottawa’s behavioural-science team investigates how Canadians feel about vaccines, public health and who to trust

Innovative and appropriate:

Vaccines are one miracle of science in this pandemic. But another scientific experiment has also produced surprisingly speedy and widespread results over the past year. It happened in the realm of behaviour science — and ordinary citizens were the laboratory subjects. 

One year ago, few people would have believed that science would come up with a vaccine, ready for mass immunization around the world, by the start of 2021. 

But who would have also predicted that citizens could be persuaded to turn their lives upside down, wear masks and isolate themselves from their families and friends for months on end? 

“I know we’re asking a lot,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in early April, when no one knew just how much COVID-19 would force Canadians into behaviour change on a grand scale. “A lot” is an understatement: not since wartime has the government had to request this much of the citizenry for so long. 

Yet while the government’s medical scientists have been front and centre on the public stage almost every day since last March, the behavioural scientists have mostly been operating under the radar. If you know where to look, though, evidence of the behaviour-nudging team keeps peeking out under all those public proclamations from Canada’s COVID-19 crisis managers. 

When Trudeau and the premiers use their podiums to calm fears or tell hard truths about the pandemic, for example, their words don’t just come from hunch or political instincts. Reams of behavioural data is being collected by government throughout the pandemic, on everything from people’s general emotions about COVID-19 to their willingness to get vaccinated. 

Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, spoke earlier this month about the problem of vaccine hesitancy in this country and what the government knows about it. It was one of the few times that public officials have made direct reference to the behaviour-studying unit inside government. 

“Some of the studies are actually carried out by the Privy Council Office, where there is a behavioural insight team,” Tam said. “We do know that the intention for Canadians to get the vaccine is actually quite high and I think has improved since we started the vaccine campaign itself.” 

Tam went on to explain how people’s views on vaccines are shaped by where they get their information. Since you are reading this story in a mainstream news medium, you might be interested to know that you’re more likely to feel positive about getting immunized. Consumers of traditional information sources tend to have more trust in vaccines and what the government is saying about them. Conversely, if you’re the kind of person who gets your news from social media, you’re likely more wary of vaccines. 

So the government is doing some fine-tuning of its communication channels, Tam explained at this Feb. 5 briefing. “We know that we have to work with the internet and social media companies and that has been happening with Facebook, Google, YouTube and others,” she said. 

That behavioural-insight team Tam mentioned is actually called the “impact and innovation unit” of government, which was set up within the PCO in 2017, meant for more low-key work than it has been doing, now that the pandemic suddenly created an urgent need for its insights into how citizens behave.

Headed up by veteran public servant Rodney Ghali, this group has kept its eye on the huge social-science experiment of the COVID-19 crisis. (Ontario too has a behavioural insights unit, which has been working closely with the federal government over the course of the pandemic.) 

In normal times, this federal team would have been researching questions such as what would motivate people to invest more in RRSPs or cut down on food waste. 

Its members prefer to remain low-profile — a couple of them talked to me for this article, but on condition that they would not be named or quoted.

Results of the team’s research are quite public, though — anyone can check them out on their web page, along with reports of some communication campaigns they’ve tested on the population and what the ads were supposed to achieve. The most visible ad — one Canadians may remember — is one that depicted COVID-19 as a green cloud, spreading noxiously over the buttons in an elevator. 

The behaviour being studied by the government has shifted as the pandemic has dragged on, naturally. In the beginning, the research focused a lot on compliance with public health measures, what it would take to get people to wear masks, and so on. 

Nowadays, the main concern is with vaccines and whether enough people will take them to achieve herd immunity. Medical science handles the immunity part of that equation — behavioural scientists have to build the herd. For that to happen, the government has to know where and how to administer the nudging. 

“Nudge” is the operative word. Britain blazed the trail for the use of behavioural insights in government back in 2010 when it set up a team inside the cabinet office nicknamed ‘the nudge unit.” The name comes from the hugely influential book “Nudge” by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein, which laid out how people could be influenced to make better choices in their lives. 

Sunstein is now the chair of an advisory group for the World Health Organization, set up specifically to use behavioural insights in COVID-19 management. And that leads us right back to Canada, which has taken the WHO’s tool for tapping behavioural insights in the pandemic and put it to comprehensive use in this country for nearly a year now. According to officials inside the behaviour unit, Canada has made the most comprehensive use of the WHO tool, creating a chronicle of behavioural ups and downs throughout the COVID-19 crisis. 

Since last April, a static group of about 2,000 Canadians — chosen randomly but in proportion to statistical, demographic considerations — have been taking part in a rolling series of surveys, plumbing their attitudes and behaviour on all things pandemic-related. The process is called “COVID-19 snapshot monitoring,” which has been shortened to COSMO.

In the early months, the COSMO respondents were a dreary lot, reporting that they believed things would get worse before they got better. But they were keen on vaccines — keener than they are now, in fact. Last April, more than 70 per cent of respondents were interested in a vaccine if it was either safe or effective. By the end of 2020, that enthusiasm had dropped to the low and mid-sixties. 

Herd immunity is generally accepted to be around 70 per cent, so governments — with the help of the behaviour scientists — need to get those numbers up again. 

The COSMO group has also been asked regularly about which people they trust to provide information — perhaps one of the more important pieces of insight sought by government in this pandemic. If you’re going to nudge the population in one direction or another, after all, it’s crucial to know who should do the nudging. 

Repeated waves of data on this issue show that public health officials rank high on the trusted list, whereas politicians and the news media rank lower. This would explain why Tam and her provincial colleagues have become household names over the past year (the provincial public-health chiefs have actually been rated slightly higher for trust than their federal counterparts). 

On top of vaccine hesitancy, the biggest concern right now for the behaviour monitors is simple COVID-19 fatigue. For almost a year now, governments have been asking, imploring, begging and arguing for citizens to keep large areas of their lives on hold. The same tools that worked last April, when Trudeau was “asking a lot,” may not keep working over the long term. 

In December, the COSMO participants started being asked about pandemic fatigue. Here’s what the behaviour unit learned: “Adherence to key protective behaviours remains reportedly high, and many participants are not getting tired of having to wash their hands frequently, physical distancing or wearing a mask. However, most participants (80 per cent) indicate they are getting tired or somewhat tired of having to avoid gathering with loved ones.”

It’s probably safe to assume that the weariness has only grown since then, but the results of more recent surveys haven’t yet gone online. 

Whenever the pandemic is over, most Canadians may be too busy getting back to their normal lives to reflect on the massive social-science experiment that has taken place over the planet this past year. But that radical change in people’s lives is the other great scientific achievement of COVID-19, one that may have given government important clues on how to modify citizens’ behaviour for other big global issues — such as climate change, for instance. 

“The behaviour and choices made by each and every one of us matter a great deal,” Tam said in a briefing earlier this year, which is why a small behavioural-science unit inside government suddenly became a big deal in 2020. 


Lang: Missing – public servants who could warn Trudeau about WE conflict

Good commentary by Lang who worked under Herb Gray when he was deputy PM (I worked in PCO at the time and interacted with him time-to-time):

“Mandarin” is another word sometimes associated with such powerful bureaucrats, who were occasionally resented – but often valued – by politicians for their knowledge, wisdom and willingness to stand up to ministers to ensure the basic integrity of the ministry.

As the government has lurched from the SNC-Lavalin scandal of a year or so ago to the WE charity controversy of today – both of which centre on questions of prime ministerial and ministerial ethics and judgment – one question that isn’t asked enough is “Where are the mandarins in all this?”

When Justin Trudeau’s government came to office nearly five years ago, its chief hallmark was inexperience. The few ministers from previous Liberal administrations in its ranks at the beginning had little power. From its inception, power in the Trudeau government has been highly concentrated in the Prime Minister’s Office and among a few trusted ministers — notably Chrystia Freeland and Bill Morneau — none of whom had any prior government experience.

The feeling among some Ottawa watchers in the early days was that this inexperience would be managed and shaped by the mandarins. They would help ensure the government remained stable, competent and exhibited good judgment most of the time. This expectation was re-enforced by the prime minister himself, who stated early on that his government would rely much more heavily on the advice and counsel of the professional public service than his predecessor, Stephen Harper, had.

It doesn’t seem to have worked out that way. Or, perhaps there are no “old school” deputy ministers left in the government of Canada.

Take the SNC-Lavalin scandal. The issue boiled down to a big company allegedly threatening to cut jobs and investment in Canada if it was not given a specific legal concession from the government that would enable the firm to continue to bid on federal contracts.

Any decent mandarin should have known at the outset that corporations routinely tell the federal government job losses will result if they do not get X, Y or Z. This kind of thing used to be greeted with skepticism by the public service, justifiably so. But if the SNC threat was judged a serious risk, there was also a time when a few senior deputy ministers would have sprung into action and developed options for the government to manage its way of out of the issue, such that it might never even have come to public attention, much less have led to two ministerial resignations and threatened the viability of the government.

Today, we have the controversy surrounding WE, a charity that the prime minister and his wife have had a longstanding and very public association with, and to which the government intended to direct a contract worth some $19 million. The Clerk of the Privy Council, the prime minister’s deputy minister, must have known about Trudeau’s general relationship with WE.  He must have seen a conflict of interest here, or at least an appearance of conflict. An “old school” Clerk would have insisted on the prime minister recusing himself from any cabinet decision-making on this issue to protect the prime minister and the government. Instead, if we are to take Trudeau at his word, the public service more or less boxed him and his ministers in to an inevitable appearance of conflict of interest by recommending that only WE could do the job and offering no alternatives, something very rare in government.

None of this is to say that public servants are responsible for either the SNC-Lavalin scandal or the WE mess. Responsibility for both rests on the shoulders of the prime minister and his cabinet.  There is no legal, or even ethical, obligation on deputy ministers to stop ministers from exercising terrible judgment. Yet there was a time, not that long ago, when the expectation was that some wise, “old school” deputies had the government’s back.

Source: Lang: Missing – public servants who could warn Trudeau about WE conflict

Andrew MacDougall’s take is also worthy of note:

The thing you have to understand about the federal public service is that it isn’t geared toward excitement; it’s a “safety first” kind of place.

Pick a policy, any policy. If there’s a Flashy Option A and a Boring Option B, the public service opts for boring every day of the week and twice on Sunday. And that goes treble if Flashy Option A is, to pick a random example out of thin air, a sole-source contract worth nearly $1 billion to an organization with no track record of delivery of federal programming.

Put differently, the only way the public service recommended WE for the CSSG is if the political wing of the government gave it such narrow specifications that it could return only one answer. You can bet there exists, somewhere, an exquisitely crafted memo from the public service to cabinet saying, in effect: “If you really want to go forward with this completely brain-dead approach to federal programming, then you go right ahead, ministry.” The job of the opposition and the press is to now surface that memo.

Because thankfully for Trudeau, the federal bureaucracy is also rather polite, which explains why the prime minister is being allowed to hide behind his version of events. The public service is used to being human shields for politicians and will keep quiet.

Which isn’t to say the prime minister’s story is surviving contact with reality. Every day brings another WE tale of woe.

In this (still-surfacing) version of events, a charity with a long association with the prime minister, his family and his advisers, one that pays hundreds of thousands of dollars to Trudeau’s family members and puts together slick, campaign-style videos promoting the prime minister while simultaneously receiving millions of dollars of government grants and contributions and other sole-source contracts, is being laid low by the pernicious effects of the coronavirus. There is massive churn on the board of directors and large numbers of staff are being laid off as Canada enters lockdown. All looks lost. Until, that is, the Trudeau government comes to the rescue with an offer to administer a pandemic-related program.

According to the charity, the Prime Minister’s Office rang up the day after the program was announced in April to say it needed help from WE to deliver the program. All with the blessing of the federal public service of course, which already, by the way, runs the Canada Summer Jobs program targeted at much the same audience as the new Canada Student Service Grant. What are the odds?

Not that WE had ever delivered a similar program, mind you. Not that WE even have the staff to deliver the program (the charity had to hire back hundreds of laid-off staff in anticipation of getting the work before the program was formally announced in June). Not that WE even have any particularly good ideas to pull students into the program, other than throwing money at other groups to do it for them. And we’re meant to believe this group was the “only” one capable of delivering the program?

A sure sign Trudeau’s version of the story isn’t true is the fact he won’t release any evidence to support it. The government won’t even say which other groups were considered to deliver the grant.

In other words, this contract was friends, not safety, first.


Governor in Council Appointments – PCO data

Governor in Council Appointments 2016 Baseline

Following the skimpy information provided in both the mandate checker and PCO’s Departmental Performance Report (DPR), I had asked PCO for more details and they were reasonably quick in getting back to me.
The correspondence below indicates that this is very much a work in progress. Hopefully, future reporting will include an annual table of GiC appointments by the four employment equity groups. Hard to the logic, for a government committed to diversity and inclusion, and one that has improved dramatically the diversity of judicial, ambassadorial and senatorial appointments, not to take this next step of more comprehensive reporting:

PCO response:

“…In February 2016, the Prime Minister announced a new approach to Governor in Council—or GIC—appointments that supports open, transparent, and merit-based selection processes for GIC appointments.
Significant progress has been made in making appointments.  Since March of this year, the number of appointments made under the new approach has increased approximately 300%.  To date, over 19,000 applications have been received and over 400 appointments made following an open, transparent, and merit-based selection process and approximately 740 appointments made through other selection processes.
Of the appointments following an open, transparent, and merit-based selection process, nearly 60% were women.  Most notably, women have been appointed for the first time to a number of leadership positions, including the Chief Science Advisor, the Chief Commissioner of the Canadian Grain Commission, the Chair of Via Rail, and the Chairperson of the Infrastructure Bank.  Over 10% are visible minorities, 10% are Indigenous peoples, and persons with disabilities are well represented.  The total representation of women serving as GIC appointees has increased by over 5% and is now over 40%.”

My reply to PCO:

“I prepared this little summary table for appointments under the new approach:
Indigenous peoples
Obviously, this is approximate but provides a basis for comparison with other EE data.
In terms of the other selection processes, I assume this would include position such as judges, heads of mission and the like and would appreciate confirmation your end. [PCO later advised that it does not include judges.]
Looking at the total number of GiC appointments (1182 in the index as of today, 40 percent women would mean about 473 women or more.
I would hope that in the future PCO would be able to provide annual tables similar to the EE reports for the public service (simplified) that would essentially tell what is a good news story more effectively and consistently. And that future DPRs are more informative.
But nevertheless this information is welcome, represents progress. Thanks for getting back to me.”

The Privy Council Office needs some new computers — and they want to buy Apple, not Windows

Fun piece by David Akin on PCO’s purchase of Apple. As a long-time Mac user, was frustrated by the corporate IT folks who were overly slavish with respect to Windows and Blackberry.

But Macs have generally always had a place in the Comms shop for videos and other creative work:

Between federal government civilian employees and the RCMP and Canadian Forces uniformed members, there must be close to 500,000 people.  Almost all of those folks would need a desktop computer. Many would need a laptop computer. And many would need a government-issued smartphone.

All those devices — not to mention the servers that store government data and software — present one heckuva a challenge from an information technology management point-of-view. The federal government’s I.T. chief has to worry about security, about cost, interoperability, and ease of administration when it comes to training and software updates. For those reasons, the government has for years standardized on computers that run Microsoft’s Windows operating system which means, almost by default, a standard deployment of Microsoft’s Office suite — Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Access.

The standard smartphone deployed to government employees has, for years, been a BlackBerry.

But things are changing.

Example: Last night, the government posted a tender for a supplier to fix up bureaucrats who work in the Privy Council Office with 52 computers — from Apple!

Now, maybe the PCO was working on Macs before this tender offer went out. I’ve asked the department if that’s the case and we will update here. I am told, in fact, by a PCO spokesperson that it is not unusual for departments to have a small number of Apple computer in use “for specialized requirements.”


…The PCO is the federal government department that supports the work of the prime minister. It is the civil service mirror/partner, if you will, of the PMO — the Prime Minister’s Office. Officials in both the PMO and PCO work closely together. In my personal experience, I have seen many PMO officials using Apple products. And I know via some documents I dug up using an access to information request that the prime minister himself had some Apple products purchased for his use at his home office at Rideau cottage. He bought (if memory serves) an iPad Pro, among other devices and information technology.

But Trudeau is not the only prime minister to have picked Apple. That’s right: Stephen Harper was an Apple guy. The one and only time I ever saw Harper use any piece of information technology, it was his own personal Apple MacBook, which he brought into the House of Commons one night during a long “take-note” debate. Interestingly, the Apple logo that is on the front of any MacBook had been covered on Harper’s device with a family photo.

And it was another Conservative politician — Stockwell Day — who was the first MP I ever saw to bring a tablet into the House of Commons and, you bet, that tablet was an iPad. Nowadays, if you look down upon the House of Commons, you will see a sea of iPads.

But I can tell you House of Commons I.T. had to be dragged kicking and screaming to agree to have iPads on the House network or to agree to support iPads.

And so it may be with the broader government-wide I.T. community, already dealing right now with a very rough transition to some common platforms and computing environments via Shared Services Canada. (And we won’t even talk about the fiasco that is the computerized Phoenix payroll system.)

But at the Privy Council Office — the command-and-control centre for the entire civil service — 50 Apple computers are on the way.

Why are they going Mac and getting off of Windows? Unknown at this point. Again: Questions are in to PCO and we’ll see what they say. But there might be a few reasons.

First, speaking as a guy who used the original Apple McIntosh to paginate my university paper back in the 80s, who used to be a technology reporter and who still has a working Apple G4 Cube at home, Macs are just, well, machines for the rest of us. (See that famous Apple ad, below, which introduced the world to the McIntosh).

But there is also some evidence that, even though a comparable Apple desktop is more expensive versus a comparable Windows box, the total cost of ownership — TCO in I.T.-speak — is actually lower once you factor in how much it costs to provide tech support to users of device and other issues.  Heck, even IBM now buys Macs and encourages its clients to do so because of lower costs. (IBM, incidentally, was widely believed to have been the firm that was mocked in that original 1984 Apple ad.)

Source: The Privy Council Office needs some new computers — and they want to buy Apple, not Windows | National Post

How do the feds track diversity of appointments? – Policy Options

My latest, analyzing what PCO ATIP documents reveal about their tracking of GiC diversity, with my usual series of charts, including 25 year series data with respect to women’s representation:

As I have been taking a closer look at diversity in Governor in Council and judicial appointments, the gaps in the available data have become much clearer. Documents I received under the Access to Information Act revealed that while the Privy Council Office (PCO) has been systematically tracking representation of women and French/English speakers in these appointments, there has been limited tracking with respect to the other employment equity groups, that is, Indigenous peoples, visible minorities and persons with disabilities.

A number of the documents appear to reveal a certain scramble to prepare this data for the incoming Liberal government.

Source: How do the feds track diversity of appointments? – Policy Options

Privy Council Office’s new delivery unit increases capacity for centralized control, say experts

Will be interesting to assess in a few years but it is designed to deliver on the government’s agenda:

The Privy Council Office’s Results and Delivery Unit, created by the new Trudeau Liberal government, has increased the capacity for more centralized control over government, say experts.

But while there are early positive signs it will be used to strengthen cabinet, it remains to be seen what the effect will be in practice in the years ahead.

“We don’t really know [yet] whether it will result in centralized control, but what it does mean is that we’ve now increased capacity at the centre,” Anna Esselment, an assistant professor of politics at the University of Waterloo, said in an interview last week. “There’s always suspicion when greater capacity occurs in the centre that this will ultimately mean greater power for the prime minister.”

In a recent interview with The Hill Times, Alex Marland, an associate politics professor at Memorial University and author of Brand Command, said “central control is deepening far more than people know or seem to care about.

“The creation of delivery units in the centre of the Liberal government are an excellent example of PMO control. It is not lost on me that if the Harper administration had created those we’d be hearing howls that Canada is becoming an authoritarian state,” he said. “It is the role of academics to see beyond public personas of political leaders, especially when everyone else is distracted by them.”

The Liberal government announced the appointment of former Ontario deputy minister Matthew Mendelsohn to the new role of deputy secretary to cabinet on results and delivery on Dec. 23, putting him in charge of the PCO’s new Results and Delivery Unit (RDU).

The RDU has been created within the PCO and “will support efforts to monitor delivery, address implementation obstacles on key priorities, and report on progress to the prime minister,” as well as facilitating “the work of government by developing tools, guidance, and learning activities on implementing an outcome-focused approach,” explained PCO spokesperson Raymond Rivet in an email response to questions from The Hill Times. It’s “designed to help ministers deliver on commitments and help the prime minister track progress on the delivery of top priorities,” he said.

…As for Canada’s federal delivery unit, there are a dozen staff listed as working in the office of the deputy secretary to cabinet on results and delivery: Francis Bilodeau, assistant secretary; Valerie Anglehart, executive assistant; Christina Norris, director of operations; Craig Kuntz, director of data; Mélanie Lavictoire, cabinet committee coordinator; Bruce Wang, senior analyst; Yanic Allain, administrative assistant; and analysts Kevin Dobbie, Sophie Hashem, Karim Moussaly, and Melissa Tan.

Source: Privy Council Office’s new delivery unit increases capacity for centralized control, say experts |

‘Death by a Thousand Cuts:’ Memo to PM questions across the board budget cuts

Reassuring to know that PCO is doing its job and bringing these studies to the PM’s attention.

Last line is priceless and applies to the Canadian context and Government approach:

In a Jan. 27 memorandum to the prime minister, obtained under the Access to Information Act, the Clerk of the Privy Council briefed Stephen Harper on how austerity measures were being assessed in Australia.

“The authors found that prolonged cuts of this nature result in a loss of workforce capability, public sector productivity and innovation, and trust and confidence in public sector institutions,” states the memo.

The memo details how public trust is undermined “as programs become less efficient and effective in the wake of across-the-board cuts, and as mistakes and oversights occur.”

The study recommends that a better way to trim costs is by using efficiency audits of departments and by engaging staff to find effective and efficient new ways of delivering programs and services.

As the memo summarizes the Australian study, “skills shortages are having a significant impact on government operations, resulting in higher costs for recruitment and training over time, the appointment of more expensive private sector contractors for information technology, and diminished procurement expertise.”

Large portions of the four-page memo are blacked out.

The Prime Minister’s Office says it receives many memos and would not comment on the views in the Australian study.

“I will say that our government is proud of the steps we have taken to trim the size of government bureaucracy and ensure that tax dollars are being spent on programs and services that benefit Canadians,” spokesman Jason MacDonald said in an email.

….The study, based on austerity measures taken by national and regional governments in Australia, notes that politicians habitually claim cuts will be efficient and painless.

“In practice, however, claims that administrative budgets can be cut without affecting services are likely to be made only by politicians who have evaded explicit and responsible government decision-making, or want to evade it, or who are prepared to re-define services in order to evade it.”

‘Death by a Thousand Cuts:’ Memo to PM questions across the board budget cuts (pay wall)

And, in perhaps a concrete illustration of this, the Auditor General’s report on the sad state of Library and Archives Canada:

The Ottawa-based institution is supposed to collect and preserve government documents, photos, films, artworks and other materials of historical value and make them available for public use.

“Overall, we found that Library and Archives Canada was not acquiring all the archival records it should from federal institutions,” the report says.

The acquisition of federal records is governed by directives issued to departments and agencies, but some are out of date because they do not account for the records of new programs or changes to existing ones.

Since 2009, Library and Archives Canada was able to update the directives for just 30 of 195 federal agencies, meaning it could not ensure it was acquiring all retired records of archival value. As a result many records were stuck in limbo, awaiting Library and Archives’ decision as to whether they should be saved or destroyed.

Some of the 98,000 boxes of records in the backlog have been there for several decades. The auditor found the backlog had grown over the years and there was no approved plan to eliminate it despite allocation of $600,000 this year to tackle part of the problem.

Researchers for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission told the auditors the uneven quality of archival finding aids meant missing descriptions of box contents, as well as inaccurate or incomplete listings.

Library and Archives says digital records will represent the “format of choice” by 2017. However, there was no overall corporate strategy for the preservation of digital data, the report says.

The institution spent $15.4 million developing a trusted digital repository for records, but due to a change in approach it was never used.

Auditor General: Archives sitting on mountain of unsorted documents

Editorial: Wayne Wouters’ public service yet to be defined | Ottawa Citizen

Citizen’s editorial on what they perceive as Wayne Wouters’ mixed legacy:

It’s somewhat fitting that outgoing Clerk of the Privy Council Wayne Wouters’ first appearance before a House of Commons committee back in 2009 centred around the federal government’s use of public money and manpower for what many argued were partisan purposes. The specific issue then was the Conservatives’ controversial $34-million advertising campaign, web site makeover and signage to pump its economic action plan Wouters said the campaign broke no federal rules, to the head-shaking disbelief of opposition MPs, and it played into a bigger theme present throughout Wouters’ tenure. That is, where do you draw the line between politics and public service, how should the line be enforced, and how do you forge an effective working relationship that respects it?

Unfortunately, the line remains ill-defined to this day, and Wouters himself often strode close enough to it to raise hackles.

… Where Wouters did find obvious success was in getting both bureaucrats and politicians to buy in to his Destination 2020 plan to transform the public service into a lean, outgoing, healthy, relevant and tech-savvy force. It’s an ambitious document, and although it contains some very broad language and goals — some of which will ultimately be hard to really quantify — it could also wind up furnishing Wouters with an impressive legacy. Public Service reform has a long been a topic of discussion in the capital, and its ultimate failure has left a host of skeptics in its wake (not to mention a lot of sick, tired and demoralized bureaucrats).

That promise and legacy are now in the hands of incoming Privy Council Clerk Janice Charette. Here’s hoping she finds success in her new role.

Editorial: Wayne Wouters’ public service yet to be defined | Ottawa Citizen.

And a good profile on him and the difficult times he faced, also in The Citizen:

Wouters’s biggest challenge was stickhandling the public service with a Conservative government that made little secret of its mistrust of a bureaucracy that had worked so long for previous Liberal governments. Some argue he didn’t stand up enough for the public service and let it become too politicized, but others say he made the best of working with a difficult prime minister and a meddling Prime Minister’s Office.

“The lack of trust between politicians, public servants and Canadians is an underlying issue he faced that was exacerbated by personality and temperament and I think Wayne has done as good a job as anyone on this trust issue,” said Maryantonett Flumian, who worked closely with Wouters in several portfolios and now heads the Ottawa-based Institute on Governance.

“The clerk and prime minister are two very different personalities and he found a way of working together.”

Some say Wouters stepped into the job at a difficult time, as the public service faced the pressure of spending reviews, steady cuts and an unprecedented exodus of executive and managerial talent as baby boomers retired in record numbers.

“He made it work for sure between PCO and PMO and that is an important accomplishment,” said David Zussman, who holds the Jarislowsky Chair in Public Management at the University of Ottawa.

“Being interlocuter between the prime minister and public service is difficult and needs a good relationship. The fact he stayed as long as he did is a tribute to his skills and the fact that he understood where the prime minister is coming from and did his best to implement what the government wants to do.”

Wayne Wouters: Retiring clerk sparked controversy and compliments