Clerk's remarks at the Association of Professional Executives of the Public Service (APEX)


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June 7, 2017

Let me start with a few words of thanks. I would like to thank Rabbi Bulka for the very inspiring presentation. It is very relevant to what you are doing. Kindness is a good way of presenting it. I want to credit the Association of Professional Executives of the Public Service (APEX), who started work on civility and respect several years ago and have opened that dialogue.

It is very clear from the results that we are seeing from our annual workplace survey that far too many of our employees feel harassed and discriminated against in the workplace. We have work to do on our work environment. If acts of kindness, respect, civility, and decency are part of the solution, then I think you have helped us with our dialogue. I want to thank you for that.

I would also like to thank the organizers and the whole APEX team for putting this event together. I know that a lot of volunteered time goes into these events and that you all are very busy. However, it is important that people take time to engage in their workplaces and their workforces through whatever they do, whether it is unions, equity groups, affinity groups, professional communities or mentoring, to be a voice for your community and make the world a little better for your colleagues. I am very appreciative of that and I hope you are too.  

I am not going to go through my priorities as Clerk. It seems a bit redundant. I will, however, emphasize just a couple of messages. The reason for that is I have tried to be out and active and communicating with you and with other public servants. My Annual Report to the Prime Minister is on my website. There is a lot of online content which is available to you. I have given a lot of speeches and talks at different events. It is all there. I have also spoken to the ADM forum, the policy community, the IM/IT community, the HR community, several federal councils and the Innovation Fair last week.

In my annual report last year, I mentioned two priorities or two major roles of the Clerk. These are the same roles that my predecessors have had and my successors will have.

My first job is to help the government deliver the priorities that it sets for itself, to deliver the mandates that it achieved through free and fair elections, and that they have the democratic mandate to pursue. Every government deserves that support from a professional, non-partisan Public Service to deliver its priorities. That is a big part of the job. We are now in the second year of the mandate. We are in the very busy part. It is impossible to even recognize all the initiatives that have been or will be deployed.

I try to have an eye on the horizon and on the capabilities of the Public Service, to think about the institution or the organization, and to spend some time making sure that, as we move into our future, we have the capacities, the skills, the tools, the competencies and the ability to keep up with the country and the world, and to serve governments into the future. I have put a fair bit of time, with a lot of help from people in this room, into the capacities of the Public Service.

I realize that is essentially your job, too. Everybody in this room has a version of that. You are engaged in one or more of the 320-odd government mandate priorities and you are working very hard on moving things forward, whether it is policy development, regulations, laws, negotiations, service delivery or internal services. A lot of what you do is helping the government deliver priorities and its commitments to Canadians.

I hope you realize that you should be spending some of your time on thinking forward and trying to build the capacities, competencies, skills and the culture of the people who work under you. There are about 6,000 executives, and there are 260,000 public servants. Each of you has roughly 20 people that you have influence over. Some of you have a lot more than that and you have more influence than you think on work planning, on work environment and on tone, as Rabbi Bulka reminded us.

One of my messages to you today is that it is really an area where you should be trying to spend some time and energy. I know it is hard. This is not a job that you delegate or pass to the service providers, the HR shop, the IT shop or the finance shop. We are a people business. Everything that we accomplish is because of the people that come in every day to try and serve Canadians and their government. HR is not the marginal part of your job. It is your job. You should be spending time on recruitment, on selection, on retention, on performance management and on talent management. We have to find easier, better, smarter tools to help you do that. It is not an add-on to your job. It is your job. I want to be very clear on that and engage you on how we can help you do that.

The dates I go back to are obvious ones, 150 and two. The 150 is the anniversary of the country. We are celebrating an important anniversary of this country.

Obviously people have been here for tens of thousands of years, including in this territory the Algonquin peoples, but the Canadian state is now 150 years old. It is an opportunity as a country for us to reflect on the path we have been on, what we have been through, where we are now, who we are and where we want to go in the future. It is that engagement and conversation about the country that is the best part of having these anniversaries come up.

It is exactly the same anniversary for us as a Public Service. We have been here since the first day of Confederation and even before that. Somebody had to do the project planning on Confederation. We have been there serving Canadians for 150 years. First we went through our 50 years of: if you voted for the right party you got a job at the post office. There may be vestiges of that still left in the country, but for the last 100 years we have had the model, which many countries adopted around that time, of a merit-based and non-partisan Public Service. We have been there government after government, generation after generation. 

We take this for granted, but I think the anniversary and what we see on the TV screens and online tell us it should never be taken for granted. It is a fragile thing in some countries. We have seen governance meltdowns. We have seen things that have been going very well turn around and go very badly very quickly. All of these things we take for granted - democratic governance, free and fair elections, an independent judiciary and a free press - are very important. It does not get as much attention, but among those is a non-partisan Public Service.

Last year I focused on one aspect of this that was very obvious. We met a few months into the life of the current government. We went from one busy, active, fully functional government of a particular stripe to another in 16 calendar days.  


Think about other capitals. It is a remarkable achievement. As it fades into the rear view mirror and you focus on your current priorities, just remember that and talk about it with your friends, colleagues, and relatives. Every government comes to trust and rely on us to get to know us better. They also get to see us with increasing clarity. They know our strengths, our weaknesses and where they want to challenge us to be better. I think that is an important message that you should all take out to your communities, your soccer fields, your friends and your colleagues.

We have all of these feedback loops that tell us things we should be doing better. Sometimes it is irritating and frustrating. I do not think we should be defensive about it. It is the sign of a healthy society when you have parliamentary oversight, when you have officers of Parliament, when you have transparency and when you have an active media. These are good things, and there are lots of countries that wish they had them. It is part of the bargain and it has made us a better Public Service.

We should also celebrate all we have accomplished. We have rolled through waves of economic change, geopolitical change and everything from world wars to depressions to shifts in technology, work processes and trade flows. In the past, the Public Service figured out the telephone, television, computers and the Internet. When change is happening on a geometric rate and governments and institutions are only changing on a linear rate, the gap widens. The real challenge in all of this is precisely smart public policy, smart regulation and smart public administration. It comes back to us.

The second date is the second anniversary of the government. We are quickly approaching it. This also means that it is the mid-point of the government’s mandate. I do not have a countdown clock, but I can tell you the next election is Monday, October 21, 2019. The government is very conscious of that. With the election of an opposition leader, I think we passed last week the continental divide of the mandate. We were in the aftermath of the last election. We are now in the lead up to the next one, and the rollercoaster is going up that hill, to mix metaphors. The government will be very anxious to move forward on programs, legislation, governance, appointments and machinery through this next year so that, as they move into 2018, the things that are important to them have been deployed. You are all going to feel that. I certainly do, and my colleagues will.

It also means that we are getting used to what this government is like, how they learn, how they make decisions, how they behave, what they respond to and how they communicate. I think it presents us a challenge as leaders in our organizations. You have to adapt. It is for us to adapt to them and not the other way around. There are plenty of topics we could talk about but we are comfortable with process and with incremental change. That is all fine and there are a lot of virtues in stability and continuity in a turbulent world. We are going through fundamental shifts, which I do not think would change with a different stripe of government. Citizens’ expectations are open by default. They are engaged and involved in decisions, and they shape the laws and policies that have an effect on them. They want to be involved in the input and the early processes of government. They want to give immediate feedback on their service experiences. That is something that we have to keep up with.

Innovation is not a buzzword. There are risks if we do not step up and deliver smart public policy and smart administration. The point of innovating is not to do something new or cool; it is to do something better. It should have an impact on services, on how we regulate and how we do policy development. We have the space, permission, and the risk tolerance to experiment and, potentially, fail. As long as we are transparent and honest and are candid with Canadians, this gives us an enormous opportunity. I think we really have to take advantage of it.

There is a big shift away from talking about employment equity or diversity. The diversity of the country is a fact. It is just the reality of what is out there in our cities, in our communities, and who is coming out of the schools. You just have to go to a high school graduation or convocation to see diversity.

Inclusion is an act of will. It is about bringing people into conversations, to involve them and to hear from them. It means a more collaborative and more inclusive approach to decision-making and to learning. You can be diverse and not be inclusive. That is the shift. It is a very hard one for big, complex bureaucratic organizations.

It is not just a question of having the right demographic profiles, being younger or having more visible minorities. It is much bigger than that. It is about a culture of working and learning that is far more engaged and participatory. This is not easy for leaders who are squeezed between their workforces and their bosses. These are skill sets which I think are teachable and learnable. It is also a mindset, which is harder to come by. That is what we are going to have to encourage.

People model you. People watch you. People pick up your tone. If you are jaded and cynical, you will have a jaded and cynical team within six months. If you are resilient, relentless, optimistic and kind, that is the kind of work environment you will create. In six months, you will see that in your team.

How do you chair meetings? Do you always go to the same talkers, the same people that dominate every meeting? Do you reach out? Do you make sure that the quiet ones in the corner are being asked what they think? Do you use tools that bring other voices into conversations? It is going to be a big cultural shift that we have to all preside over as leaders.

Speaking of shifts, I think you can see that the Prime Minister and his Cabinet are extremely serious about a new relationship with Indigenous Peoples. That is hard policy, hard law and hard regulation. We are working our way through a major change in the way the country thinks and acts. I know a number of you are going to be drawn into this. It is not just for the small group of specialists, but for everybody and every walk of life. I do not think that is going to change either. I think that there is a national shift that is going on.

Mental health leads into workplace well-being, respect, and civility. Management practices are clearly a big part of the issue here, and they are also a big part of the solution. Your role looms large regarding mental health and workplace well-being for the 19 people, on average, that report to you.

We have put you in jobs where the work is relentless and there is always something more you could be reading, somebody else you could be meeting, something else you could be thinking about and lots of reasons to worry. I think it is important that APEX has been a tremendous leader in thinking about the tools of personal and group resilience. The work is not going to diminish. The resources are never going to be infinite. You are caught in the middle of that. Think of your own personal resilience so that you are able to be there for yourself, for your family, and for your teams. I want to finish where I started, which is with a thank you.

I think we have had in many ways a bumpy year in terms of reputation. The pay system has greatly impacted our own employees, never mind the public or Parliamentarians. A lot of colleagues are working extremely hard on getting us through that and into a more stable environment and system. I really hope to be able to report better news on that in the future.

We did take a hit that public servants cannot manage projects, especially IT projects. That is not true. I went to some effort in my report to go through all of the examples where public servants conceived, managed, and implemented projects with great skill and with impact on Canadians. We do a good job, whether it is the census, the auto-fill tax system or the CBSA kiosks, just to name a few.

Applying them to our internal services as opposed to clients and outward facing customers really is the big frontier that we are all working on. It is probably one of the things that has pierced through to public consciousness. This past year, that worries me, it troubles me and it disappoints me. I think it is important for all of you and all of us to remind Canadians, remind your neighbours and everybody of all the things that we do well. There are many things we do well. Canadians generation after generation have been able to count on us, been able to trust us. They perceive us as honest, non-partisan, and not corrupt. You do not have to pay somebody to get a passport quickly. This is a tremendous national asset. Governments one after another have come to appreciate, whether they’re going this way or that way, that we will be there to help them figure things out and to help them implement them.  It is a tremendous national asset. We should be very proud of it, and we should be very committed to making sure that it is there for our kids and our grandkids. The good news is I know that we can count on you.

Thank you very much. Miigwetch. 




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