Clerk’s Remarks at Justice Canada’s Business and Regulatory Law Portfolio Training Day
November 30, 2016
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Thank you. I would like to start by thanking Andrew and his team for giving me this opportunity to speak to you, and also to you for listening. I will speak for a few minutes and then we can have a Q&A; and see what kind of questions are on your mind or what sort of issues you’d like to engage on. I usually find those revealing and helpful. I would also like to thank Bill and Nathalie and your leadership team at the department.
You have a session on civility to follow so I will dispense with the ten minutes of lawyer jokes with which I usually open. Instead, I will actually just do quite the opposite, which is to acknowledge and thank you for the work you do. We’ve had lots of cause for reflection this year on where the world and the country are headed, and I just get more and more reflective about that. There are things that we’ve grown up taking for granted, especially if you have worked for three decades in the Government of Canada, like I have, that we can no longer take for granted and that we have to sadly fight for again, as every generation does.
So the idea of a society that operates under the rule of law with democratic institutions and protections for its minorities and has to be reasserted. And in that role, going back 149 years or 148 years ago, there has been an Attorney General function, and a Department of Justice within the Public Service of Canada, and I think it’s important that you celebrate that anniversary when it comes. You have made a contribution, both to the Public Service and to your country.
It’s not easy work providing legal services or litigation management or any range of services to an ever-changing cast of ministers, deputy ministers and leaders, but it’s actually something we’re very good at. And for all of the focus on what we could do better, I want to start by acknowledging that enormous contribution, so, once again, thank you.
I think there are changes underway. We spend a lot of time talking about that in terms of the environment in which those functions will be exercised, and I think a lot of the conversation gets captured around what kind of law firm do you want to be. How does legal practice evolve? The practice of legal advice is shifting because of various functions. We were talking about artificial intelligence and robots at the last meeting I was at. There is certainly the ubiquitous availability of information, the desire of people to look after their own needs and services rather than rely on other people – to get services on their iPhones 24 hours a day.
The pace at which citizens, taxpayers, program users, applicants, regulators, expect decisions to be disposed of, isn’t just a criminal law thing about murder trials; it’s pervasive right across government that the expectations of pace – and pace with accuracy, pace with rigour – are going to be very demanding.
We live in a world where getting it 90% right just isn’t good enough because the other 10% know how to go to social media, find a sympathetic reporter, or post their case study. As a result, this may lead to a problem for the deputy and / or for the minister. So the standards of service delivery, whether they’re external to Canadians or internal to each other, just keep rising – it’s a good thing; it’s a good problem to have, but it’s also very challenging when you’re living those transitions.
There’s a lot of rule-making and policy-making underway. This is also affected by these various trends, and I won’t try to do the full diagnostic, but a lot of you work in the business field or regulating the private sector… Canada’s little cork is bobbing in the global economy, 2% of world GDP, and this generation of politicians, like previous ones, is trying to figure out where wealth, job and income creations will come from in a world which is shifting rapidly.
The acid test for a lot of people is if you had a teenager, what would you advise them to study. What program would you advise them to go into? Where is that future prosperity or opportunity going to come from?
I do have an optimistic vision of this which is that we are a small, compact country with a governance structure that works. We have a nimble, high-quality public service that is able to develop advice and ideas, and executable decisions. We changed regimes and governments last year and went from one functioning government to another functioning government in 16 calendar days. That’s incredible if you compare it to the transition process that will take place in Washington over the next few months.
There is a continuity of our role in providing advice and support to the people that have that democratic mandate. It is something that we really are blessed by.
It is also worth noting that we’ve been able to bond, learn and adapt to a new government remarkably quickly. So, from my point of view, in the corner seat of the cabinet room, as jets and pipelines and other decisions quickly move into the rear-view mirror and new ones emerge, we have hit a cruising speed with the new government incredibly fast and it’s really something to take a lot of professional satisfaction in.
On the economic side, there are many questions. Where are those jobs going to come from? where are those companies going to come from? where are the opportunities for growth? This is a big issue and you’re going to see that in the transition to a low-carbon economy. This is a very serious undertaking that is where the government’s going to move aggressively on over the next few years. You’ll see some of this next week when the First Ministers’ Meeting will work to set a national framework.
The debate has shifted from whether climate change is real to the pace of transition to a low-carbon economy. Some people will say it should be faster, some people are going to say you’re going too quickly, and the government’s going to try to find the balance point in that kind of world.
There are also many disruptive changes occurring across different sectors. I think you were talking about some of them earlier today, like Uber and Airbnb. You’re seeing it now in the newspaper industry and there will be other dominoes that tumble over the next few years, and may eventually get to health care and government, but that’s another topic. There are also other challenges for regulators. How do you preserve public interest, safety, health, cyber security, privacy, without inhibiting the innovation, the change that’s going to be necessary if we’re not going to be left in the dust by our economic competitors?
Those are just a few provocative themes. There is also the dimension of our role as public servants. There is less tolerance for turf wars, territoriality, silos, old-style games over files that are very horizontal in nature. Whether it’s prosperity or climate change or social inclusion or avoiding the kind of backlash that led to the Brexit vote or the election of Donald Trump. These are multi-department issues, multi-agency issues, and we have to be really good at working in teams and playing nice with each other and sharing our talents. It’s something we’ve always struggled for and we’re not bad at it, but we can be better.
Unfortunately, I cannot give you any hope that the volume of work is going to go down, so we’re going to have to find personal resilience, smarter work processes, ways of personally or in groups staying healthy, staying well, staying civil with each other, taking out the redundant work wherever possible and going again over our work processes so that the resources and the talent and the energy are going to the more productive and useful parts of what you do. You have to be ruthless about cutting out the parts that are less useful because there just will not be an inflow of resources to keep up with all the expectations.
And so, work environment, workplace well-being, is a really important topic, not only for productivity reasons but because it’s the right thing to do. We are the largest employer in the country. We are part of a society which is tackling diversity, mental health and inclusion, and we have to be a part of that. Wherever possible, we have to be models in best practices, so I’m glad that you’re talking about that as well.
I’m happy to take any questions and comments.
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