New PCO Clerk Charette takes on ‘battered’ PS, reform issues in federal election year |

Lots of positive comment on new PCO Clerk Charette and observations on some of the challenges she faces from previous Clerks, Donald Savoie and others:

“There’s no question the federal public service is crying out for some sense of direction,” Mr. Savoie said. “I think it’s been battered about, not just the past 10 years, but it’s been battered about for the last 20-30 years. In some ways it’s lost its moorings. It’s not anchored like it used to be, in terms of knowing it was there to provide evidence-based policy advice, it was there to deliver programs in a professional manner.”

Part of the problem has been the trend across English-speaking democracies to view “the latest management fad coming out of the private sector as a panacea to dress the public sector to look like the private sector,” Mr. Savoie said, which has undermined the public service’s values.

In his final report as chair of the Prime Minister’s Advisory Committee on the Public Service, former Conservative and Liberal Cabinet minister David Emerson warned that public servants had to work to remain relevant amid the digital revolution and global economy.

The report recommended pushing authority down in the organization and empowering people to make changes; streamlining business processes; investing in learning and leadership development, especially in middle management; and focusing on longer-term thinking.

Former clerk Mel Cappe, who served under prime minister Jean Chrétien, said keeping the bureaucracy relevant and attracting bright young people will be Ms. Charette’s biggest challenge.

“I think the challenge is going to be adapting to the Twitterverse and modern communications and the transformation that’s taking place in the political world, and keeping the public service relevant to be the privileged adviser to government,” he said in an interview.

New PCO Clerk Charette takes on ‘battered’ PS, reform issues in federal election year | (pay wall)

Five ways to renew the public service

Good piece by David McLaughlin on what needs to be fixed:

Here’s a five-point checklist for the new Clerk:

First, stop the churn in deputy minister turnover. Fewer and fewer deputies stay in their respective departments for more than a couple of years now. Environment Canada is on its fifth deputy minister in eight years. This erodes corporate memory and expertise at the top, severs the link between responsibility and accountability in a department, and makes deputy ministers more amenable to short-term priorities and thinking.

Second, build back the research capacity for independent, evidence-based decision-making. Access to good, reliable data and information is at the core of sound policy and decisions. Governments are the ultimate knowledge-based institutions. So, why do we insist they operate without it?

Third, think out loud with smart, committed Canadians. Fear of failure is endemic to large bureaucracies, but fear of facing others in case one is challenged over politics is a recipe for idea ossification and policy stasis.

Fourth, build up the Canada School of Government from a management incubator to an idea accelerator. Use it to engage bright and controversial thinkers to challenge and test the public service’s own thinking.

Fifth, heed the maxim I once heard from a Clerk: It is unavoidable that governments get caught up in the short-term, but it is unforgivable that they ignore the long-term. Only governments have the mandate and capacity to think about what the future might bring. Seize that role and share what was learned with us all.

Think of it this way: Good policy is good politics.

Five ways to renew the public service – The Globe and Mail.

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

Public service not irrelevant | Michael Hatfield (pay wall)

More on recent comments by David Emerson and Wayne Wouters (Public servants risk becoming policy dinosaurs, David Emerson warns), and policy advice from inside and outside government. Michael Hatfield has had experience on both sides of the policy divide and captures some of the weaknesses in Emerson and Wouter’s arguments. He neglects, however, to address adequately some of the biases in public service advice that public servants need to be more mindful of:

As Emerson suggests, it is vital for the public interest that ministers have access to the highest quality and best-informed policy advice in order to make good policy decisions. But that advice will only be forthcoming and respected under two conditions. The first is that ministers are open to hearing ideas and information that may be at variance with their own preferences. The second is that public servants focus on assuring ministers that their priority is to provide access to the best information and advice they can find which is relevant to the minister’s interests and responsibilities.

Contrary to what Wouters seems to think, simply aggregating and adapting to the Canadian context the methods and approaches of outside analysts and sources of data is neither the best nor the only realistic future role for the public service. Instead, the public service needs to return its focus to developing and maintaining high quality data sources and professional expertise and knowledge in public policy areas and identifying early on those public policy questions which are ministerial priorities. That is the way the public service can best serve the real interests of ministers and the broader public interest. The question then becomes is the Clerk prepared to make available the resources necessary to sustaining public service relevance?

Public service not irrelevant |

Public service needs ‘moral contract’ to keep it neutral, study says | Ottawa Citizen

More on the respective roles of the Government and the public service, this time from Ralph Heintzman and Canada 2020. While much of his observations and criticism is valid, it is no accident that no government has accepted an explicit moral contract or charter to govern the relationship. Ambiguity has its advantages for both sides, and the wish for clarity in the essentially messy business of governing is unrealistic.

None of this condones a number of the actions of the Conservative government but as I argued in my book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias: Resetting Citizenship and Multiculturalism, the public services was also responsible for some of the breakdown in the relationship:

Canada 2020, a progressive think-tank, plans to release a paper Wednesday that calls for a “charter of public service” or a “moral contract” to set the boundaries for a bureaucracy whose role and responsibilities have become blurred by a powerful Prime Minister’s Office with an iron grip on communications.

Ralph Heintzman, the University of Ottawa research professor who wrote the paper, said the line between public servants and politicians has been blurring for years, but rapidly changing technology, the 24-hour news cycle and government’s obsession with communications and “spin” have made the problem worse.

“I think behaviours in the public service are not what they should be, but not because they are bad-willed but rather because we don’t have the right systems, rules and mechanisms to direct people how to behave properly,” he said in an interview.

Heintzman proposes a new charter that would be legislated and far-reaching. It would enshrine a value and ethics code to guide behaviour. It would include tougher communications rules; give teeth to the accountability of deputy ministers as accounting officers; and revamp the appointment process for deputy ministers by taking it out of the hands of the Clerk of the Privy Council.

… Heintzman argued the three-way relationship – between public servants, MPs and ministers – is critical to the implementation of any government’s agenda regardless of political stripe, but the need for a charter is more critical today for a public service that has been “neglected,” “devalued” and has seen its neutrality “abused” by the Harper government.

The role of the public service has been in the spotlight because of Privy Council Office Clerk Wayne Wouters’s ongoing Blueprint 2020 exercise to retool the future public service. Wouters’s report, like many previous reform exercises over the past 25 years, dodged the deteriorating relationship.

… The grey zone between politicians and bureaucrats was at the heart of everything that went wrong and led to the sponsorship scandal, concluded Justice John Gomery, who headed the sponsorship inquiry. He also recommended a legislated charter. The Tait report made a similar recommendation a decade earlier.

Heintzman argued the Conservatives’ flagship Federal Accountability Act, meant in part to fix the problem, was badly flawed and increased confusion around deputy minister accountability.

Heintzman concludes a big problem is that the Conservatives don’t value the public service as a national institution for Canada’s democracy and see it as an extension of the government to be used as desired; for example it is expected to adhere to a communications strategy to rebrand the “Government of Canada” as the “Harper government.”

“They make no distinction between the Harper ministry and the government of Canada,” he said. They think it is the same thing, so the public service is just there to achieve their own partisan objectives.”

Public service needs ‘moral contract’ to keep it neutral, study says | Ottawa Citizen.

Subsequent article and interview comments are even more critical:

The study, Renewal of the Public Service: Toward a Charter of Public Service, released by the think-tank Canada 2020, says Privy Council Office Clerk Wayne Wouters became the government’s political spokesman for stonewalling Page and refusing the information Parliament needed to do its job – right down to the language of a letter in which he wrote that “in our view” the government’s reductions are credible.

The new study, written by University of Ottawa Prof. Ralph Heintzman, argues that Wouters could have provided an explanation of the government’s reasoning but should never have publicly justified or defended a “contestable political decision” and made it his own.

“Words such as ‘in our view’ – our! – would be quite natural in the mouth of a prime minister. In the mouth of the head of the public service, they are very difficult to explain, or justify. In using them, the clerk left no space whatever between himself and the current ministry,” writes Heintzman.

“A Privy Council Office that could draft such a letter and a clerk who could sign it are at serious risk of abolishing the distinction between a public service and the political administration it serves. No wonder that under the Harper administration, the PCO has become home to a large communications machine serving the partisan needs of the incumbent government and the prime minister.”

When public servants go partisan: new study seeks solutions

The alternate view by  Maryantonett Flumian and Nick Charney, in Canadian Government Executive, is more nuanced, noting how the public service has to adapt to the government of the day:

As the new Clerk, Wouters could have taken the public service in many directions. He chose to rise to the challenge by recognizing the somewhat strained relationships and by doing what he is best at, thoughtfully and persistently building bridges between those who must work as one in the public interest. With the Prime Minister’s public support, he chose a path of reenergizing the public service and channeling its leadership toward transformation and modernization of the institution supported with the necessary infrastructure and tools to serve Canadians and the government. He has not ducked the challenges, nor has he focused on confrontation.

To everything there is a season, and this is the time when both major players seem to have understood that they depend on each other to fashion a modern, resilient and agile public service that supports a modern nation in achieving its place on the global stage. And so, in Wouters’ time at the PCO, his greatest skill as head of the public service may well turn out to be his capacity to get the Prime Minister on side and work with him on issues having to do with the role of the public service, the size of the workforce, and changing the business model of government. This bridge to the future began when he launched the Administrative Services Review. The review looked for government-wide opportunities to consolidate and standardize government operations and led, among other things, to the creation of Shared Services Canada.

Wouters’ ability to work closely with the Prime Minister has manifested itself in other areas than public service renewal, however important that may be. He used his position as Clerk, working with colleagues such as the deputy minister of Finance, to support the government’s economic goals, ensuring the development of five successive budgets that kept Canada out of recession and brought the government back into surplus. His support and advice was critical to the finalization of a number of bilateral trade agreements, including the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement with the European Union and the Canada-Korea Free Trade Agreement. ….

Through Blueprint 2020, Wouters is moving the public service into unchartered waters. Responding to criticism that the public service is too focused on the short term, he is using it to promote a longer term view of policy, program development and service delivery. He is staking the future on the belief that the leadership – at all levels of the largest employer and most diverse workforce in the country, operating in very complex domains – is up to the challenge.

The Prime Minister and the Prime Ministers’ Advisory Committee on the Public Service, until recently chaired by David Emerson, are supportive and aligned to the challenge. The call to arms in the Blueprint 2020 exercise has been launched against a backdrop of cynicism, cost reduction, and a drive to operational efficiency. This renewal starts at a time when the same sort of efforts at transformation are being led by public services around the world. Blueprint 2020 fundamentally recognizes that existing policies, tools and processes no longer fit the needs of today.

The issues of engagement, culture, agility and relevance are at the heart of this renewal. There is a profound recognition, which the cynics missed in the early days, that reforming public service is a team sport where every player must be called upon to be a leader, where every step, big and small, will add up to change. With the public service going through a transformation, the need for broad engagement is fundamental. That is the engagement that Wouters, as head of the public service, has unleashed in Blueprint 2020. Over 100,000 public servants from 85 different departments and agencies have participated in this dialogue.

With the release of Destination 2020, the call to action is clear and the momentum continues. Social media, along with the openness of spirit and engagement with which Wouters has launched this dialogue on collaboration, innovation and modernization, is unprecedented in the history of public service reform. The engagement at so many different levels of the organization will ensure that the momentum will not end with the “tabling” of this living, crowd-sourced document.

To come full circle, two unlikely partners – Stephen Harper and Wayne Wouters – picked each other to work together in support of the public interest. Each is working to reshape his own sphere. There is no question that tough conversations occur – as they must – behind closed doors. What will be accomplished is a modern, relevant public service better able to serve Canadians.

I find this to be an overly optimistic take on the government-public service relationship. It avoids the difficult issues of conflicting ideologies, reliance on anecdotes over evidence, and major reductions in core policy and analytical capacity.

However, relationships and trust matter, the Clerk, deputies and other senior managers have to decide the appropriate balance between “fearless advice and loyal implementation,” and where greater cooperation rather than “confrontation” is appropriate. The public service has to adapt to the government more than the other way round.

I worked at Service Canada under Flumian and she was one of the strongest and effective leaders I have encountered. Like Steve Jobs in her ability to inspire and develop a vision, with some of the same human flaws. One of my most rewarding times in government.

To everything there is a season

Wayne Wouters: Public service reform means fixing sick leave too

More on Destination 2020 and the Clerk’s messaging on workplace stress and changes to sick leave:

Privy Council Clerk Wayne Wouters told the Citizen his Destination 2020 reforms, meant to bring the public service into the digital age, go hand-in-hand with Treasury Board President Tony Clement’s promise to replace an outdated sick-leave regime created more than 40 years ago for a very different workforce.

Wouters said he supports Clement’s plan to replace the existing accumulated sick-leave regime with a new short-term disability plan aimed at getting ill and injured workers better and back to work faster.

“Our system is not conducive to a modern workforce,” said Wouters. “People go on sick leave and they go on long-term disability and it’s out of sight, out of mind. We never think how to bring these people back, incorporate them and what kind of wellness program they need.”

A large part of stress is fundamental to the different roles of the political and official levels. When a government works well with the public service (without being captive to their advice), stress goes down. When a government is more antagonistic to the public service and often dismissive of their advice, stress goes up. Hopes that the Conservative government would evolve more into the former, given their time in office and having a majority since 2011, have not panned out as any number of recent incidents attest.

As to the replacement of sick leave and disability insurance, I have had experience on both sides of the issue: as a manager, with employees who abused the system, and as someone with an aggressive cancer which forced me to be absent for an extended period of time.

As a manager, there were few tools and support to deal with abuse in a time-efficient manner. Some employees used accumulated sick leave as “pre-retirement” time, which annoyed me to no end. But given that employees can always get a doctor to certify absence and the Health Canada verification process, while helpful, is somewhat cumbersome, there was not much that one can do. The sick leave reforms will address, at least in part, some of this abuse.

But as someone with cancer, who had banked considerable sick leave over my career, having this accumulated sick leave made a difference during my extended absence. I used it when I needed it. I also benefited from extremely supportive managers and HR. In the end, given a relapse, I ran out of sick leave and went on long-term disability.

One can argue, based upon comparability, that these changes may make sense. But as usual, when we focus on abuse, as we have to do, we penalize those who play by the rules, and who may find themselves in a catastrophic health situation where banking and flexibility can make a big difference.

Wayne Wouters: Public service reform means fixing sick leave too | Ottawa Citizen.

No ‘trust gap’ for average bureaucrat, Wayne Wouters says | Ottawa Citizen

There is some validity to his comments, given that it is true that most public servants have relatively little contact with the political level. But there are issues at senior levels, and after 8 years of a Conservative government, public servants have adjusted and many of those viewed as “enemies” have moved on. Destination 2020 was also carefully – and understandably – managed to focus more on the ways of working rather than addressing the fundamental relationship issues. Public servants tend to be cautious in voicing criticism while within the public service; those of us who are retired have more flexibility. And as Head of the Public Service, he has to encourage rather than discourage:

…. Privy Council Clerk Wayne Wouters says he barely heard any complaints about public servants’ relationship with Conservative ministers and their offices from the 110,000 bureaucrats across the country who took part in his Blueprint 2020 discussions on how to re-shape the workforce.

“The only time … I hear about a trust gap (is) from those who don’t necessarily work in government,” he told the Citizen.

“What I was amazed by on all this was the degree of commitment and passion people had … I don’t think we heard this whole trust thing that others seem to be talking about.”

His remarks were a striking contrast to what the association representing senior managers and executives running departments has said. The trust gap was one of APEX’s chief concerns during the Blueprint 2020 review and it suggested steps to restore respect and confidence between public servants and their political masters.

The Public Policy Forum also conducted a major study among public and private sector leaders on leadership skills for the future public service and said the trust gap emerged as a top issue.

Wouters acknowledged some senior executives may have concerns, but average public servants are far removed from that political interaction and their big worries are getting the tools to do their jobs, he said.

While I had provided the Clerk with a courtesy copy of my book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias: Resetting Citizenship and Multiculturalism, I did not necessarily expect substantive comment but was surprised that at the lack of acknowledgement by his office. Same thing with CIC’s Deputy. However, the President of the Canada School of Public Service did acknowledge and circulate the book to her senior management team.

From my discussions with current and former public servants, largely at the executive level, things are not quite so rosy as portrayed.

No ‘trust gap’ for average bureaucrat, Wayne Wouters says | Ottawa Citizen.

Culture shift: New report touts public service makeover

Destination 2020 priorities:

Innovative practices and networking: Along with an “innovation hub” and “change labs,” public servants will use social media and “Dragon’s Den”-style pitches to shape and promote new ideas.

Process and empowerment: A red-tape “tiger team” will be created to examine the snare of rules and processes that slow down operations, approvals and decision-making. Deputy ministers and their employees will connect better, for example using job-shadowing programs, reverse mentoring and Tweet Jams, moderated Twitter discussions.

Technology: An improved directory of federal public servants will include employee profiles and search functions.

People management: Job descriptions will be simplified, and new “learning tools” will help public servants keep their second-language skills up.

Fundamentals  of public service: This emphasizes the role of the public service as laid out in the code of values and ethics. New employees will get orientation training in these values.

Culture shift: New report touts public service makeover.

And some of the initial commentary:

Donald Savoie, who holds a Canada Research Chair in Public Administration and Governance at the University of Moncton, has sounded the alarm to reform the public service for a decade, particularly its fundamental role as policy adviser to government and clarifying its muddy relationship with ministers and Parliament.

“Until you deal with the role of ministers, the role of Parliament and their relationship with public servants … the vision will be only sentences in a report,” he said.

“Forgive me if I am being skeptical but I have been down this reform road too many times before and so have public servants … The report won’t go there. It would be groundbreaking if it does but I would be terribly surprised. And it’s not the clerk’s prerogative to do this, it’s the prime minister’s, and no prime minister has been prepared to do that. This is unchartered territory.”


“The clerk is trying to ensure the relevance of the public service at a time when many are questioning it,” said David Mitchell, president of the Public Policy Forum. ”He wants to strategically re-position it as the vital part of governance it traditionally played while recognizing social media, generational change and technology created a huge shift in the skills and competencies needed.”

Mitchell also believes the role of the public service has to be “refreshed” but to reflect the values of today rather than “turning back the clock to idealized version of the public service’s golden age.”

I tend to be somewhat cynical about these efforts, given the mixed results of previous efforts (and to my knowledge, no systematic evaluation has been done of the outcomes and results of previous initiatives, which in itself says a lot). And what will be the performance management framework and outcomes, and how will they be measured this time?

New plan for the PS of the future


Former PBO Kevin Page says federal government should reveal plans for public service

Hard not to agree with Page on accountability and transparency grounds. I recall working on implementation of the Conservative government’s Accountability Act, and particularly the role of Deputy Ministers, and it is hard to square that with the refusal to release information on spending plans (PBO should not have to file ATIP requests to get this info):

Page said the big problem is that the government hasn’t revealed its spending plans, including the nature of the cuts and their impact on service levels. While at the PBO, Page waged a public battle with Privy Council Clerk Wayne Wouters and deputy ministers over their refusal to turn over information on the government’s spending plans.

The closure of veterans’ offices and libraries — and the resulting political backlash — is what happens when departments live under steady cuts and everyone has been kept in the dark about their impact.

“You can look more productive … but we don’t know for the most part whether service levels are being maintained or the same quality of service is maintained because we don’t get that information from the government. They won’t allow the public servants to release it,” said Page.

“I would think if you asked public servants working at those regional veterans offices … if they were maintaining the same quality of service, I am pretty sure they would say ‘ no, we’re not but we are better off fiscally because we’re taking people out. So productivity gets a bit of boost but if service goes down and outputs go down, Canadians aren’t getting the same quality of services, and in the long run we are not better off.”

Former PBO Kevin Page says federal government should reveal plans for public service.