Remarks at Shared Services Canada President’s Webinar


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June 6, 2017 

Good afternoon everyone.

Some of you are probably wondering who I am and what I do. So I will just very quickly run through it, and it is all of course in my Annual Report and on my website.

I wear three hats or have three parts to the job. Every day I do a little bit of each.

My first hat is that I am a Deputy Minister like all the others. I have a department and I have a minister which happens to be the Prime Minister.  This is very cool. In my department I have about 900 employees. Some of my time is spent on trying to create workplace tools, networks, devices and other things that allow us to do our work on behalf of the government.

My second hat is that I am the Secretary to Cabinet. The important decisions in this country are made by 30 women and men who have received the democratic mandate. They knocked on doors, they got elected, and they get to decide the laws, policies and priorities of the country for four years. We do what we can at the Privy Council Office to make sure that their time is well used. They get about a hundred hours a year in cabinet meetings and about 200 hours more in committees to wrestle with issues related to everything from agriculture to veterans affairs.

We are trying to bring cabinet government, which goes back a long, long way—four or five hundred years at least—into the 21st Century. Ministers, a lot of whom grew up and went to school and worked in the modern environment, expect technological tools to help with that cabinet process. They have a low tolerance for big fat binders full of paper. This is why we are working with you to introduce e-Cabinet and to improve the technology and ensure the security of Cabinet documents. People would like to know what is going on in the cabinet room, and so cybersecurity is an enormous preoccupation that we have these days.

And thirdly, and this is the only one written down in law, as Clerk I am the head of the public service. There are 260,000 public servants across the country and around the globe. I do not have executive authority over very many—just my own department. I do have access to the Prime Minister just about every day, and I also recommend which Deputy Ministers get hired, promoted or moved on.

If you want to know what I think or have said about public service issues, you should visit my website. There is a much better version of my Annual Report to the Prime Minister than the paper one I am carrying around. It is fairly deep in content.

We have ventured into Facebook and Twitter. I have done Facebook Live and all kinds of other social media events and activities. This has shown me that we can all learn new things, and at my advanced age, it has been a really cool experiment trying to modernize some aspects of what we do. I have given talks like this and taken questions from probably a dozen audiences over the last month because the report gives you an excuse to go out and talk to people. I have talked to the ADMs as a group and the Human Resources community. Many of you were probably at the event for the Information Management IT community a couple of weeks ago. I have also talked to regional councils, about four of them. I have talked to diversity forum at Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada, and so on.

I have been on a million Deputy Minister Committees over the last 15 years, where I was an early supporter and proponent of shared services, and I still am. In fact, I am quite a hardliner on it. I believe it is the only way the Government of Canada could have recapitalized its IT. I also believe it is the only way we can adequately provide cybersecurity. For me, the need for a common services platform is a given, and I continue to advocate for it.

The exact dimensions and role obviously is something, like any other service provider, that evolves with time. We are still undergoing a process of review—where we have come from and where we want to go.

I do not have any final decisions to announce for you. It is going to Treasury Board Ministers. The Prime Minister is going to have to make some of the decisions, but we expect that those will be wrapped up very, very soon, so that you have some certainty to move forward with.

You are part of the solution if we are going to recapitalize and modernize our IM/IT platform and provide cybersecurity. You are going to have to work with your partner departments, in different ways, depending on their needs, whether you are serving cabinet discussions at PCO or laboratories at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada or foreign missions abroad through Global Affairs Canada.

I think the public has learned a lot about cybersecurity over the last year by watching the news and seeing what happened in the United States and France. We are by no means immune to any of that, and I think there is more awareness and understanding of those issues, which is a good thing.

I am building on the work of my predecessors and continuing important work in the areas of mental health and workplace well-being, which must be expanded to include civility and respect. The Public Service Employee Annual Survey results are coming out soon. It will show very high rates of perceived discrimination and harassment, which is, as I have said before, completely unacceptable. We still have a lot of work to do on work environment and workplace issues.

I believe we are past “de-stigmatizing”, the “let’s-talk-about-it” phase in addressing mental health issues. While that was a necessary and important phase, we have moved forward to the “let’s do something about it” phase. It is about finding solutions and tools and coping mechanisms and others to ensure personal and team resilience because the work is not going to slow down or go away. Civility, respect and workplace well-being will also be a big part of it. I would be delighted to talk about it.

The other preoccupation is managing four generations from baby boomers like me to the new recruits coming right out of school this year. Some of you are in the room, no doubt. Four generations in the workplace who think differently, who learn differently, who work differently is not the easiest thing for managers to supervise, and we are trying to pull off a generational shift. All of us baby boomers will be gone very soon, and how do we pass on whatever wisdom or expertise, and more importantly, the values of excellence and non-partisanship and service to the next generation and capture their energy and the innovation and creativity?

Mentorship, peer learning and other tools are so important for breaking down silos. How do we pass on knowledge and values? It cannot be passive. You cannot count on it. It actually takes a lot of work and effort. I would like to get your feedback on what you have seen that works and what does not.

Since you have a cool IM/IT culture, I assume that you have all signed up for GCTools. We are seeing enormous progress breaking down org charts and silos because we now have over 150,000 public servants on them. If you do not have a GCCampus account or you are not on GCPedia or you are not on GCCollab, you are not part of the future. I encourage you to personally explore them and sign up. You should be setting an example to other departments and organizations around town. They are already having a powerful impact on breaking down silos and changing the way people work together.

I think the other point is diversity and inclusion, which is embedded in where the government’s going as a country as well. Diversity is easy. Diversity is a fact. You just have to look at my daughter’s high school classroom or the convocation at Carleton University this month. The diversity of the Canadian population, it is a fact, a reality in our country. Inclusion requires an act; it requires effort. Inclusion is a choice. We can be inclusive or not. You could have a very diverse department or a very diverse country that is not inclusive, and that shift means you have to work and put effort into listening, hearing, engaging, consulting. You have to be open to new ideas, to people that come at things from very different perspectives.

This is not something that we are used to. We are used to a rather command and control, hierarchical, seven layers of approval kind of world. So if we are going to solve the wicked problems of the day, whether it is getting people paid or how we deliver services to people in other countries, you can’t do it in a command and control way. We are going to have to find a way so that all of the voices and ideas are treated with respect. Some of them won’t work. Some of them will be too costly, but there can be a process for generating solutions as collaborative teams.

It is the way a lot of successful private sector companies work. Obviously, bringing it to a public sector environment with Ministers that are accountable in the House every day and to more than a dozen Officers of Parliament, and to the opposition, and to the media, is not that easy. This is a big shift in public service culture that we are living through. It is a much better public service than the one I joined—a much more inclusive, much more civil, much more innovative public service.

I am quite confident that we will look back – or you will look back, because I will be gone – on the public service and the shifts it has been through in the next few years with a great deal of pride.

This is the 150th anniversary of the country. It is also 150th anniversary of the Public Service. The Public Service has been there since day one serving the governments that Canadians elect, serving Canadians. Somebody in your predecessor department had to figure out the telephone or television or satellites or the personal computer. We are a big country, and we have always had to wrestle with space and distance and geography, whether it was building a railroad or building a broadband network. It is something Canadians are particularly good at, and it is something that the Canadian public sector is very good at, and I think we have done this very well for previous generations, and we will do it for the one we’re serving now and that is because of women and men like you.

Thank you very much.

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