A message from the Clerk

June 15, 2020

I am very glad to wish you a great National Public Service Week! I am a public servant—and proud of it. Thank you for your service to Canadians—on the front lines, or in the background. Every role is a part of supporting our fellow Canadians, helping our economy and society flourish, advancing Canada’s interest in the world.

Starting a list of accomplishments of our public servants would be risky: either I would leave things out, or the list would never end! Let’s just say it has been an intense year, with many crises, local and international. The Public Service of Canada has responded with skill, integrity and commitment. Together, we are a strong asset for Canada.

The events of recent weeks in which anti-Black racism protests have flourished, in Canada and in many places around the world, have reminded us of how much is left to do in achieving greater justice, equality, and security for racialized communities and marginalized people. The Public Service can be a force for good in so many ways.

But we also have work—lots of work—left to do in making our own institutions free of systemic racism and bias. We are not as representative of the people of Canada as we need to be; too many of our fellow public servants do not feel safe; too many face obstacles to advancement and realization of their potential.

This week of celebration can also be one of reflection, for all of us, myself included. How can I make my workplace a better place for my co-workers, a healthier place for them and everyone? Leaders especially have an opportunity and obligation to encourage openness and real dialogue—and to ensure safe places for people to raise situations of unacceptable behaviour.

Canada’s history has too many stories of grief and tragedy that have resulted from deliberate or unconscious blindness, starting with the treatment of our indigenous people. We can demonstrate that there is no more important relationship for the Government by understanding and being a force that addresses and eliminates racism that so many First Nations, Metis and Inuit people have too often felt in their dealings with public institutions.

As public servants we are in a position to do so much good. And nothing is stopping us from doing better in our own workplaces and institutions.

This National Public Service Week is also, of necessity, a time of preparation—for us to return at the right time to the workplace. Here’s my sense of how public servants are approaching this question.

First and foremost, we are committed to serving the public in the context of our various missions, the very best way that we can. That means our return to the normal workplace will be guided by the necessity of being there physically.

Second, just as our departments and agencies have different mandates, public servants are in a wide variety of personal circumstances. We will be sensitive to your situations, and do our best to accommodate them. Some of us are just fine continuing to work at home; some are desperate to get back!

Third, you are wondering about the future and what our workplaces and methods of work will look like. You have made observations about processes and technology that will be invaluable at making us better at what we do. Probably the most widely experienced change has been using digital technology so much more to enable our work. I am sure that we will be doing a lot more of this in the future. I hope that every leader and manager and public servant will find ways of sharing their observations and ideas, learned from this unprecedented experience. Innovation may change a lot of how we work, but the importance of your work, and the role it plays in the life of Canada won’t diminish.

Fourth, many of you are represented by bargaining agents. You should know that in preparation for the return to worksites, planning with Occupational Health and Safety Committees has been in consultation with the bargaining agents, and I am grateful for that. Signage and markings to support physical distancing, appropriate equipment, guidance on the flow of traffic are all details that are being planned, so that we can be assured of the safety and health of everyone.

Given all of that, we do not expect our return to worksites to be sudden, immediate, or all at once. It will be gradual, signalled well in advance, driven by necessity, well prepared, and as sensitive as possible to your circumstances. Forthcoming Treasury Board guidance will shape the details in each situation. It will reflect public health advice, and take into account provincial/territorial, and local circumstances.

This has been a really challenging time. You have been exemplary in service, and patient in bearing with the demands and inconvenience of working away from the worksite. You should feel proud of what you do every day of the year, and especially during this challenging time.

I certainly am proud of you!

Ian Shugart
Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet

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