Remarks at the Defence Leadership Symposium


October 17, 2017
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Let me start with acknowledging the tremendous contribution of our great Department of National Defence colleague John Forster. He has been a tremendous deputy minister, participating in all kinds of fora for many years. John and I go way back.

Before I officially start my remarks, I would like to take this opportunity to thank him for all his years of service. I also want to acknowledge the tremendous leadership of the senior management of the Department of National Defence, the Canadian Armed Forces and the Chief of Defence Staff, and want to congratulate and welcome the new Deputy Minister and Associate Deputy Ministers who are going to be tremendous colleagues, for all of us.

I have done a number of events this year, and one of the common themes has been Canada 150. It is this moment in the calendar, which gives us an opportunity to look back on where we have come from, to take a look at where we are, and think about where we want to go as a country. I had the great honour of accompanying the Prime Minister and others to Vimy for the centennial of that event, which was so formative in Canada’s history and identity. It is occasions such as these which encourage us to reflect and to think about where we are.

These are also anniversaries that remind us we have at least two really great, unique, Made-in-Canada institutions. One of which I am proud to lead is the federal public service. You may have noticed in the clippings a few weeks ago that a U.K. think tank did a survey and a quantitative analysis of 35 public services around the planet and ranked the most effective public service on the planet - it is ours. I am very proud to be leading it.

We have had a great impact on the country and the country has had a great impact on us. This will continue. When you are piloting great national institutions of great complexity, we learn, we adapt, we renew, we grow and we move forward with the country. And that is very much the kinds of conversations which I am privy to on a daily basis, and that you are having today, at this Symposium.

In the last year, I have talked about constancy and change, and what is really striking when you go around and talk to Canadians or talk to people from other countries is the constancy of the values, something that people in this room know so well; the values of service to country and community; and the values of excellence and trying to do the very best you can. Those get passed on from generation to generation, through leadership and mentorship, and there is a great strength in that. But how we do it differs and evolves: the world, the methods, the challenges and the opportunities change. It is a great challenge and a rewarding one being a public servant or a member of the Canadian Armed Forces and leading those institutions forward into their future. Passing on values and adapting methods; changing structures and roles; and bringing new people and new voices.

I will come back to that in a minute or two. I have been asked to speak about the mandate of the government and provide a perspective.

I was in the cabinet room this morning, sitting in the corner chair watching 30 men and women wrestle with issues from agriculture to veterans, and try to make those decisions. What a privilege!  The scarcest resources in Ottawa are not about money or political capital, but rather about time.  In a good year, we might have 100 to 150 hours of cabinet time and maybe a couple hundred hours of other committees’ time to deal with everything that is coming in to the Government for consideration. Organizing and optimizing that time and making sure that the choices are clear, the options are solid, and that ministers collectively and individually can make those choices, is the service that we provide to them.

So what about the government’s mandate? Well, I feel like I am restating the obvious because this government in particular has been very open about what its agenda is. The mandate letters to ministers were laid out in public, on the Internet. They are there for everyone to read.  If you have read them, you will note that there are more than 300 mandate letter commitments, and I can assure you that Ministers and their Deputy Ministers are busy trying to accomplish and move forward all of them. And it is very straightforward. The Government is very open about it. They would like to return to Canadians in October 2019 and be able to say this is what we said we would do, and we have done as much of it as possible.

In the next month or so, a report card on mandate letters will be coming out.  This will be another exercise in transparency to Canadians about what they have done, what they have decided not to do or to do in a different way. This is going to be a very interesting anniversary point. In fact, we are roughly at the halfway point of the mandate. In my business, I worry about the length of the civilian mandate. We go from election to election and barring something really out of the ordinary, the next election is 735 days from this afternoon.

This is a government moving into its third year, and what it really wants to do in the third year is largely implement and deliver the things that it has put in play, most of which are already deployed in some fashion or another. I will not go through them all, but I just want to make the point that this is really the year of implementation and delivery. Whether it is the national security legislation, the defence policy, which was issued this spring, the new development policy, cannabis legislation, or another initiative I could go on and on. They know what they want to do. There is a lot of legislation in Parliament. There are a lot of other things that are under way, and it is really about getting it done and getting it to some milestone over the next year or two.  There are a few tough nuts to crack that will be coming to cabinet in the next year. But that number is diminishing.

People often ask me what this government is like.  I have served several from a Privy Council Office point of view. And, you know, you will not find a playbook or a manual that is the same, but I think the themes of the government, in terms of what it wants to do, have been pretty consistent. There is a real focus on inclusive and sustainable economic growth. It is important. We are a small country, 2% of the global economy, very open to trade, and we want to have that economic growth so that our kids and grandkids have wealth and opportunity and possibilities. But that growth should be sustainable in terms of its impact on our environment and it should be inclusive and leave as few Canadians behind. That is very important to this government, and we talk about that in terms of what happens when growth is not inclusive and people feel left out. There is a real emphasis on inclusion and diversity. Every Canadian counts and every voice should be heard and should be participating.

The most important one set out in the Prime Minister’s letters to every single minister is reconciliation with indigenous peoples, which is a big topic and one we could talk about for a couple of hours. It is also a topic that has lots of meaning for the Department of National Defence and for the Canadian Armed Forces. I know you are working very hard on that.

As for more open, transparent and accountable government; there is a lot of work on institutions of government, whether it is Senate reform, the Parliamentary Budget Office, access to information legislation or the way appointments are made.

 There is a lot of attention being paid to government processes and government institutions and the need to be open and transparent by default. Equally important is getting data out there and letting Canadians decide what they want to do with it. It is important to make sure that the inner workings of government are open and available for Canadians to see and to keep an eye on. 

And the fourth theme that is always on our minds: a safer, stronger Canada, and one that makes a difference in an uncertain world. This brings us to the emphasis that was put on having a defence policy and a reset on national security this year, which are now working their way through the parliamentary system and the implementation issues.

That was just an overview of what the government wants to do, and there are lots of ways in which we are engaging, and you just have to watch the news at night or surf the Web to see how it is going.  How they go about governing has also, I think, become very clear and focused, and they do pay a lot of attention to how they govern and the reputation and the brand that they create, the engagement with citizens that they create.

So one theme there—and these are not in any order of priority—is the one on results, deliverology and implementation. It is not enough just to have the lights come on, deliver a fabulous press conference and launch an initiative, it actually matters how it is delivered.

There is a real focus on skillful implementation. It is not enough just to talk about immigration levels, to pick an example. How many could we bring in? In that conversation, we have to ask the questions: do we have the processing and settlement capacities to actually do it? So, there’s a link between policy and implementation that’s much stronger than anything I have seen before.

We also need to look at measurement and accountability. What are you trying to accomplish here? How would you know? What is the right data or information to measure progress? It is not the number of meetings you had. It is not the number of dollars you spent. It is not the activity. It is about the impact. And you are going to have some really good conversations about how to measure impact and how to account for it, and where are you going to find the data. That is a real focus that pervades every area that I can think of.

There is also concern about trust and legitimacy. When a large number of citizens believe the system is corrupt, that it is not working for them, it is not working for their kids or their family so, they opt out. So, trust and legitimacy in our institutions of government, that the system, so to speak, is fair and accessible, I go back to my point on inclusion of all voices–is really important.

Our government is emphatic about being open by default—and you will hear this in many, many contexts—open to trade, open to investment, open to incoming people, open to refugees and migrants, open to ideas, open to innovation and creativity. This is really the hallmark of, not just this government, but Canadians overall.

In terms of the geopolitical context and where the world is headed—and it seems mysterious some days—but I am fervently of the belief, as Minister Freeland has stated, that we are in the most uncertain period in international relations since the Second World War.

I also think there is something of a meta-struggle going on in the world between forces of openness and inclusion on the one hand, and forces that would retreat behind walls and divide us on the other. The forces of open inclusion often survive and often prevail, but sometimes they do not. It has to be fought for and it has to be defended in many ways. Canada is not immune to these forces. We are not isolated from them, and we will be going through times that will stress-test the country’s commitment to inclusion, openness, diversity, tolerance and respect.

So that is an interesting environment in which to craft a defence policy. I will not go through all the pieces of the policy, which you know better than I do, but I will say that I have witnessed a number of cabinet conversations around this and the expectations attached to that.  There really is a sense that the job was to reset and make sure that current and future governments have the necessary capabilities and options in this uncertain world; to identify realistically what capabilities the Forces need; and what would it take to equip and ensure they have the people and resources they need? And that is everything from defending the homeland, to the continent, to participating in international missions, as well as being a reliable partner and providing that excellence and that contribution for which the Canadian Armed Forces are known.

There is a lot of emphasis on the how, the business of defence, if I can put it that way.  On procurement; we have to be better at it in so many ways; on the environmental impact of our operations and our infrastructure. The civilian public service has been given a 40% reduction in greenhouse gases targets. We are part of this global effort to deal with climate change. Canada will make a contribution. Its largest institutions have to as well. We have to find efficiency in the use of resources, costing, budgeting, and project management skills; and I know that you are working on all these issues.

There is an ongoing quest for innovation. It is not good enough, as the cliché goes, to be preparing for the last war. That means, on so many fronts, that we need to try to think ahead; where are the risks, the threats, the opportunities? Cyber security is now. It is a today issue. We are under attack 100 million times a day and we have to defend ourselves. And that is increasingly understood by Canadians, and we are working on that with many, many partners.

Cyber security is a big preoccupation these days, but there are other areas. You know better than most where the threats and capabilities are, and where things will be headed in the future. And so, you are not just equipping this government, this mandate, but also the government that will in place four or five mandates from now.

One of my jobs, apart from helping the Prime Minister day-to-day, sitting in the corner of cabinet and making sure that the flow of items and issues goes through cabinet efficiently, is to worry about the strengths and capabilities in the future of the federal public service, and that that public service will be there not just for this Prime Minister but for the next one and the next one and the next one.  

And there are a lot of parallels with the Canadian Armed Forces.  In fact, we have learned a great deal from exchanges with the Canadian Armed Forces, and hopefully you have also learned from us on many issues. There is a real emphasis on people in the defence policy, which is there deliberately and very thoughtfully and mindfully—emphasis on the people serving, on their families, and on the people that may be thinking about joining you in the future.

The focus on workplace issues is very deliberate. It is a very important part of this new policy. It is not enough just to have the infrastructure or just to have the equipment. So the focus, which I know your leadership has put on having a well-supported, diverse, resilient, healthy workforce, whether they are in uniform or civilian, is something that totally resonates with what we are trying to do with the federal public service, and I know it is very important, not just to your minister, but all ministers and the Prime Minister.

You [the Canadian Armed Forces] have issues, and you are dealing with them, and I welcome that. We [the federal public service] also have issues and we are trying to deal with them. Whether it is harassment and discrimination; participation by under-represented communities that have felt excluded in the past; environmental issues; or reaching out to young millennials and trying to attract them into careers or retain them in your organization, or helping them deal with workplace well-being or psychological health issues. Your collaboration with Veterans Affairs Canada is very welcome, and I can only encourage you to keep at it and to intensify that collaboration. The work that you are doing by creating new transition groups, new programs, new services and  new gateways for your people is very important.

When you are out in communities, I hope you feel the deep respect that Canadians feel for the people who no longer wear the uniform and serve their country. Too often in the past, we have let them down when they have left service. Well those days, I hope, have come to an end, and we will have the types of after-service cares and supports and transitions for veterans in future. In fact, people are working very hard on those as we speak and there are other related things that will be rolling out through cabinet and through future budgets.

There will be more attention on the reserves, more attention to your contacts with communities throughout various outreach, as well as efforts to connect with the young people of Canada, the teenagers and the young adults, and to interest them in public service and military careers.

Now, fortunately, we both benefit from the fact that there are plenty of Canadians out there who are drawn to service or have come from families with deep traditions, and we are able to recruit people. We have to keep working on that. We have to diversify our workforce and, more importantly, that we make sure we give them meaningful work, supportive work environments, and opportunities to participate.

In my world, we have more of a retention problem than a recruitment problem, and we have to create the work environments that make people feel welcome and supported and want to stay and continue that career of service.

These are just a few themes I wanted to touch on.

“Better is always possible,” as the Prime Minister says, and there is a lot of work involved. These are the things that are often easy to say, and the intentions are clear. The delivery and the implementation is hard work, and you are overcoming inertia in process and bureaucracy, the status quo, and culture. That is also the world I work in, and I know it must seem a little familiar to you as well.

But I think the good news is we have a window of opportunity. We have some clarity about goals. We have some resources, which I hope will be welcome and useful. We have the opportunity to be creative and innovative. We have a focus on implementation.  All of these things should be tremendous opportunities.

I am optimistic. I do not think I would be in my job otherwise, but I do think this is a real opportunity to take grand old public institutions like the civilian public service and the Canadian Armed Forces and pass them on to the next generation for the next 150 years.

This has been a year filled with many occasions to hear or sing the national anthem. I think this is a good opportunity to rediscover certain phrases in this wonderful song. Just listen a little more closely next time. There are a couple of phrases in there that Canadians get to hear at the ball game or the hockey rink. 

“We stand on guard for thee.” 

Well, you stand on guard for us. 

And we are very grateful.

Thank you. Merci.  Miigwech.

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