Remarks by the Clerk to the National Association of Federal Retirees


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June 14, 2017

Thank you for the warm introduction.

Next week, I mark 36 years in the Public Service. From Trudeau to Trudeau in 36 years.

My wife considers me a failed retiree. I tried to leave in 2014, and Janice Charette asked me to stay and do another job, and I tried to leave in 2016, and the Prime Minister asked me to stay and do another job. I will get it right one of these days!

I am glad there is an organization such as yours, representing the interests of retired public servants and serving as an advocate and a voice for them. Thank you for your work on behalf of your colleagues. It is very much appreciated.

In my position, I have three roles. One, I am a Deputy Minister, like others, I run a department. About 900 people come into work every day at this department. It just happens to be the Prime Minister’s department. I worry about the things that all deputies worry about in terms of buildings, security, IT, getting the work done, and making sure my minister is well-supported. 

The second role is Secretary to Cabinet. In this role, I make sure that the Cabinet’s time is well used. We ensure that all the necessary preparatory work is done so they can really focus on the essential policy choices they have to make, and that we do any necessary follow up afterwards in order to move forward to implementation. 

The third role is the only one that is actually legally defined. It is Head of the Public Service. I have some influence on who gets to be a Deputy Minister and some of the appointments. My only real executive authority is with that one department that I actually have some authority over, the Privy Council Office.

If you do the Parliament Hill tour this summer, visit the East Block. In the East Block, they have the original Cabinet room and the original Cabinet table that was used from day one, 150 years ago. They also have the original Secretary to Cabinet’s desk. This is where -- an unbroken chain since the beginnings of the country -- somebody has sat as the Secretary to the Cabinet. 

If you watch medieval dramas like Wolf Hall or The Tudors, you probably saw the King meeting with his councillors, usually aristocrats at the time. They would meet and they would advise the King on key decisions, such as whether to go to war or who to tax, whatever the issues of the day were. There was someone with a little cloth hat and feather writing down all the decisions, and that was the Secretary to the Queen’s or the King’s Private Council. That’s the role I have, 700 years later.

As long as Canada has existed, so too has the Public Service. In fact, it has been a bit longer than the country. After all, someone had to look after all the project planning and organizing required for the first Canada Day back in 1867.

The Public Service for the first 50 years was a classic patronage Public Service. If you worked for the party that won, you got a job at the post office or as a customs inspector. About 100 years ago, around the First World War, we moved, like many other Commonwealth countries, to a merit-based and non-partisan Public Service.

We are now moving into a second century of serving Canadians. We have been there through world wars, depressions, massive changes in the way the world works.  Someone in the Public Works Department had to figure out the first telephone, the television and the arrival of computers. So the fact that we are now working with Twitter, Facebook and other social media tools is another example of the sort of adaption and flexibility that the Public Service has demonstrated for many generations.

This is an opportunity to think back on our history, our accomplishments, and where we come from. With all of these anniversaries it is also a time to reaffirm and recommit to who we are, where we are going, and what we want to pass on to our kids and our grandkids. These are important occasions for reflection, recommitment and reaffirmation.

Canadians, every once in a while, change their governments and go in a different direction. We went from one fully-functional and active government to a very different fully-functional and active government in 16 calendar days. There are very few places that can do that anywhere else in the world. It is very unique opportunity to be able to do that and it is something that we should not take for granted.

This brings me to the theme I would like to close on today: continuity and change. It sounds like a contradiction, but I do not think it is. The continuity in the role we play, the continuity in the relationship we have with democratically elected governments, the continuity we have in serving Canadians as we move through the changes in our world and in our country is something really precious. The continuity of values, non-partisanship, respect, civility, stewardship, is very important. The change is in how we work. Now it is all about getting service through apps and 24-hour  availability, personalization and customization. It is about policy processes that are very open and engaged and involve people in decisions that affect them. We have to be more nimble, less bureaucratic and we have to operate at a faster pace.

Changes that technology is bringing to the taxi industry, the hotel industry and the car industry will affect public services and public administration. We have to keep up with these changes.  The continuity of role and values is also important. We have to ask ourselves how we get the best from the wisdom and skills of the older generations in the workforce. There are at any one time four generations in the Public Service. Baby Boomers like me are leaving the scene in increasing numbers, all the way through to the new Millennials, who grew up in the age of the Internet and who work and think in a very different way. 

There is an important role for mentoring, coaching and teaching. There is also a role for dialogue and for setting a good example. We must be deliberate and mindful in how we transfer in some cases knowledge, skills and experience but more importantly, values, to the people who are coming in from schools, colleges and universities. We have been able to do it in the past. I am confident that we can do it in the future.

Your association has an important role to play. I am told that more than 300 of you, are active in mentorship programs.  This is incredible.  If you have concrete suggestions about tools or ideas on how to reach younger public servants, we want to hear from you. I am happy to experiment and try new things. There is a thirst out there. I go to a lot of job and innovation fairs and meet a lot of young public servants. They are very impressive. But like anyone starting out in a new job, they need coaching and mentorship. It is a bridge that we need to keep working on.

We also need to keep building the bridge between the civilian Public Service and the military reserves.  There are thousands of public servants who sign up for reserve units in their communities. They are available to take a role in the leadership of reserve units, as a way to serve their country and contribute to their local community. We all saw during the recent floods in the Ottawa-Gatineau region, the important role reserve units can play in times of need.

This is a very busy time in the Public Service. We are trying to make sure that people are working on resilience, mental health, wellness, respect and civility. All of the issues will allow us to operate at that pace and that quality that Canadians count on. We have done it in the past, and I am totally confident that we will do it in the future. It is a remarkable country, which we should be all celebrating this year. It is because we have a remarkable Public Service, and you all individually made your contributions to that. So when you are around the soccer fields and the barbeques this summer take real pride in saying, I worked for the best Public Service in the world!

Thank you very much.



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