Citizenship Modernization Case Study

This deck looks at the Canadian citizenship program and the need for modernization in the context of Budget 2021’s allocation of funding to upgrade IRCC’s IT infrastructure. It contrast the current citizenship process with a streamlined process that makes it easier for applicants and more efficient for the government. This was presented at a modernization discussion organized by the Public Policy Forum.

Evidence vs Anecdote, Trust and Distrust

Some good pieces in The Citizen picking up on some of the these in my book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias: Resetting Citizenship and Multiculturalism,

Starting with Stewart Prest, who goes too far in praising the neutrality and impartiality of public servants, neglecting that we public servants also have our own perspectives, bias and ideologies that we need to be more aware about to provide our best and most neutral advice:

However, in modern democratic states one of the most important sources for non-partisan information and expertise is the government itself. Government bureaucracies are the only institutions in the world today with the access, the resources, and the motivation to systematically monitor and study the entirety of a country’s population and the extent of its human and natural environment.

Examples are legion, from statisticians to health officials to diplomats to environmental scientists. They exist throughout the much maligned but nonetheless vital bureaucracy of the country. Crucially, their professional incentives push them to resist conclusions that may even be perceived as partisan. After all, a long-serving civil servant will work under different parties and political masters. Their professional success comes from striving to provide politically neutral advice and support for political decision-making, and engaging in equally neutral policy implementation. Though part of the machinery of the state, these experts are — or ought to be — distinct and largely independent from the particular partisan interests of the government of the day.

Such bureaucrats are, among other things, keepers of tradition: a reservoir of knowledge about how Canadians have governed themselves over previous years and decades. They know and can speak to what works, and what does not. In this regard, theirs is a deeply conservative (small-c) form of expertise, one that has played no small part in whatever good government Canadians have enjoyed since confederation.

That is not to say that his overall message of suppressing speech, undermining data, eroding science, and increased partisanship has more than an element of truth.

Op-Ed: The war on experts

The Public Policy Forum in its recent study, Flat, Flexible and Forward-Thinking, focusses on declining levels of trust in the public service:

Mitchell said part of the problem is that some public servants have taken the traditional principles of a neutral and non-partisan public service too far.

“I think we prided our public service on being politically neutral and non-partisan to a fault because it has persuaded some to think they cannot even engage in meaningful dialogue with elected representatives or their staff.  That is an extreme view but I think it may have been taken to the extreme and we have to build stronger understanding and more trust.”

But Mitchell said rebuilding trust will take more than the effort of public servants. He said the government will have to be “political champions” for this change as well as for other sweeping reforms of the public service.

I think the trust issue goes deeper than that on both sides. Public servants may have viewed the new government as “barbarians at the gate” given how different public service and political perspectives were, and similarly the government viewed many public servants as “hopelessly compromised liberals.”

‘Trust gap’ a growing problem for public servants and politicians, think-tank warns