Remarks at the Community of Federal Regulators Conference
Check Against Delivery
December 11, 2017
Good afternoon everyone. Thank you for inviting me to speak today.
Let me start by saying that I basically have three jobs. Today, I have been fulfilling the duties of all three. I get to be Deputy Minister to the Prime Minister, run a department and be involved in the delivery of services to that minister. I am also the Secretary to Cabinet, meaning that I get to sit in and watch 30 ministers debate and deliberate on issues that affect our country.
In my third role, as head of the Public Service, I have the opportunity to draw attention to the Public Service as a broad institution comprised of a wonderful group of public servants.
I want to highlight, and this is something to share with those cousins and neighbours who constantly ask you what it is like to work in the Public Service, that this year, the Institute for Government measured the effectiveness of public services around the world. After studying 31 countries through a series of methodologies, the report concluded that the most effective Public Service on the planet was us. Congratulations to all of you for being part of this wonderful institution.
We are a learning organization, and to use the artificial intelligence metaphor, the software learns as it goes. The same is true for us. There is also a feedback loop to consider. From Parliamentary officers and committees, stakeholders, media, unions, to employee groups and surveys, we have a lot of feedback. In order to continue being effective, we must continue being open to that feedback and learn.
Yes, we will fall down, as we did with the pay system, but we will pick ourselves back up. We will take our lessons learned, move on and do better.
The public service is a diverse institution and offers many career opportunities. Within the public service, we have strong networks of people from various spheres of work: communications, science, IT and data, legal and so forth. It is tremendously helpful, not just to you, but to the public service, that people who do regulatory work, do it together.
All of your efforts to build stronger communities of public servants make for a more effective public service. This is why year after year, we will continue to rank as one of the most effective on the planet.
By looking at your program, I can tell that you are ahead of the curve and have figured out the trend lines and prominent issues you face in this field of work. What I can do here today, is to simply add confirmation to your efforts. While Ministers tackle issues of the day, you also look towards the future. And figure out what kind of advice to share with them in five to ten years from now.
I have spent 16 years in the deputy minister community and have had the opportunity to go to many Cabinet meetings. I have also been a part of government for quite some time now, and based on this experience, I would say that there are three major trends that we wrestle with as a public service. The first one is pace, as well as the speeding up of pace within which decisions have to be made; the second one is the struggle to retain the trust and confidence of Canadians - as voters and taxpayers; and the third one is how global everything is, and how things affect one another within an international context. Some issues come to Canada from outside and we deal with them, as we always have, by crafting Canadian solutions and tools.
This country is exceptional in a variety of spheres: law-making, services and regulations, just to name a few. People from around the world come to Canada to learn from us because they like what we have. For example, this is happening with respect to our air navigation system or the way in which we handle immigration files.
Your world is connected to all this. In fact, the regulatory world is connected to many other things we do – from the trade agenda, to scientific and technological progress.
Given this ever-changing global landscape, my hope is that you keep up with the fast, and arguably accelerating pace at which development occurs. The biotechnological, transportation, blockchain and artificial intelligence fields will bring about new products, services, threats and dangers to our environment, as well as great opportunities.
We will have to get used to shorter cycle times to deal with and respond to issues. In the future, we might not have the luxury, if it even ever existed, of taking a long time for deep and lengthy consultation processes as well as scientific inquiries before making decisions. We might be in a world filled with more iterative and gated responses.
However, we will continue learning, listening and engaging. We will go from 2.0 to 3.0 and to 4.0. Similar to mobile software updates, things will be done then and there because politicians will not be in a position to say, “do not worry, we will have a great answer for you two years from now.”
People expect governments to look after their health and safety. They expect them to create jobs and employment opportunities for their families. With regard to my earlier point on trust, people have to see that the system works for them and that the decisions made are legitimate. This means that decisions must be the result of fair processes. There must be a level playing field, where the deck is not stacked. If people lose confidence in the system, we may witness the public sector crumbling. People want a say in how their lives are run. It is important to maintain people’s confidence. The expectation of citizens is that they have more involvement in the things that affect them: laws, policies, services, regulations and the way government conducts itself. They may, or may not, totally agree with the outcome, but they want to be more engaged and active in the way we shape our societies.
As regulators, you have to develop processes to engage the people that are affected by these regulations. In many cases, you have to impose costs, requirements and time. That’s fair. But people will have real-time advice from the marketplace or labs on effectiveness and efficiency, as well as what works and what does not. And they will be able to help shape regulatory responses in ways that are smarter or easier to implement.
With that being said, the message I want to leave with you today is to never forget the public interest when you draft and implement regulations. Public servants manage public money, take into consideration the public’s interest, and have to provide some ballast or keel about future generations and long-term strategic interests. There is a danger in the regulatory space of being captured by stakeholders so that regulation will be made in their interest as opposed to the public’s interest. Therefore, we must consider ways to help Ministers and others in our system to keep an eye on the public’s interest.
For a lot of that, the answer is transparency and in clarity of purpose. It is alright to go back and ask, “What are we trying to achieve here? What is the purpose? Tell me the objective, and then we will debate on how to get there.” Once these questions have been answered, we will consider the health and safety implications and end up conversing about risk management, which this community is very familiar with. We will then ask other questions, such as, “How are we measuring results? Which tools are analyzing impact and effectiveness? What data are we using? What are the feedback loops?” We must discard the ineffective processes and strengthen the ones that are. And that is why the emphasis is on results and delivery.
This brings me back to my point about pace. We cannot just settle for doing a program review every ten years. As we assess what is effective or not, we must then do quickly things differently. If there is a better model of writing code or implementing software in another province, in Australia, Europe, America or Estonia, we should bring it to Canada and apply it as quickly as possible.
We live in a fast-moving world where conversations are happening about drones and delivery of medical services to remote communities. In San Francisco, for example, citizens are discussing whether food delivery robots will crowd sidewalks. This is not a debate they were having three years ago.
When you join the public service, you have to build the tools for continuous learning, improvement, re-skilling and redeployment.
You are all very busy, and there are many expectations from Canadians, and various asks from the government. But you have networking and training opportunities, as well as online tools. Because of them, there are things you can do as a community to encourage discussion, coaching and learning among each other. If you do so, all will be well.
If you wait for the Clerk, President of the Treasury Board or the Prime Minister to figure it out, you might be waiting for a while. We need your help.
It is important that you work on the solutions and tell us what you need. We want to hear your approaches as to what is smart and appropriate; we want to hear your ideas on what it is that you are going to need – this includes advice on legislative amendments and / or policy changes. Don’t be afraid to speak up to your senior leadership, to each other and to us.
We need to know what kind of community you would like to be. You are already one of the strongest regulatory communities in the world and the best public service on the planet, in the best country in the world.
Thank you very much.
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