Clerk’s Remarks at the 2018 Policy Community Conference
March 29, 2018
Michael Wernick, Clerk of the Privy Council
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Bonjour, tout le monde. Bienvenue. Kwe. Unnusakkut. Tân’si. Thank you for being here. It really is a pleasure to be here with you today to bring together some of my favourite topics: policy, indigenous affairs and public service. We will talk a lot about these this morning.
I would like to start by acknowledging that we are meeting today on the traditional unceded territories of the Algonquin People of the region.
I thank Elder Commanda for starting us off on the right foot yesterday and I salute Elder Albert Dumont, who is with us today and has been participating in the conference. Thank you for being with us.
A shout-out to Neil (Bouwer) and Rachel (Wernick) as your co-champions. They have very busy regular jobs and they have been putting a lot of their time and energy into continuing to move forward the policy community within the public service. So thank you very much for volunteering to take this role on and for your leadership throughout the year and not just today.
I also want to take a minute to give you a heads up, for those of you that like data, that the high-level results of the Public Service Employee Survey will be out later this morning.
We are now moving to annual as opposed to every three years, which means there is a lot more to dive into. These are the top-line results and you will see departmental ones and work unit breakdowns over the coming weeks. There will probably be a little chatter about public service in the media tonight and tomorrow if people notice the survey. I would encourage you to take a look at the results.
I also want to give a little plug in advance. My Annual report to the Prime Minister on the state of the Public Service of Canada was sent to him yesterday. It will be published in a digital format around the end of April. In this year’s report, I talk about policy and the role of the public service.
I have participated in many events in recent weeks, and can report back to you that from my perspective, the policy function and policy role of the Public Service of Canada is alive and well, and is growing and thriving.
Earlier this week, I spent time with the policy and program entrepreneurs group who are just starting a journey around wicked problems. Yesterday, I was at the culminating or final reporting event of the group that was put together on Canada Beyond 150 to look forward and identify the big challenges that will be facing governments as we move into our 151th and 152nd years and beyond. At both events, I was thrilled at the quality of the discussions, energy, passion, commitment and real desire of people that come into the Public Service year after year that want to make a difference to their country and their communities. I feel very good about that and I am sure that this conference is also a part of that.
If I understand correctly, this conference is more about the how than the what. It is a common distinction in the policy world that you have probably heard a fair bit about. There are lots of conversations about what we should do, what kinds of programs, policies, regulations are needed to deal with any particular challenge or responsibility. There is also lots to talk in the indigenous space, about what needs to be done and there is a pretty clear sense of some of the tasks ahead.
That said, what is less talked about is how to go about it, how to go about the processes of policy development, engagement, formulation, decision-making and implementation. It is a challenge for all fields of public policy, but it has special meaning legally, morally and politically in the indigenous space because I think governments have come to the view, certainly the government we work for, that we, as a country, will not be able to accomplish the things we want to do in the ‘what’ basket if we don’t change the ‘how’.
I would also say that there is a complete rethinking and resetting about the relationship with indigenous peoples, expressed as government-to-government, nation-to-nation, treaty-based and decolonization.
Hard things are hard to do, as my boss says, and this is an area that is really challenging. We have a relationship. We serve a government that has to be accountable to a legislature, and indigenous organizations, and governments also have to be accountable to their members and communities, and yet we have to find a new way of being, and find a new way of relating and interacting with each other.
We were challenged at the policy conference that I was at yesterday to decolonize our way of thinking about the relationship, and that is something we can talk about -- how we even approach thinking about questions and entering conversations.
But there is also, on the other side of the relationship, a process of nation-building and reconstitution of nations and institutions of government. We will hear about experiments in the North on combinations of public government and indigenous government co-existing and working together. There are familiar issues of governance, of scale, of economics, of geography and how can we, in the Public Service, rethink the way we approach it.
It is a big challenge. How can we be helpful, or get out of the way, or contribute what we know about public policy and public administration to the indigenous side of the relationship without inadvertently recolonizing and creating new relations of dependency and paternalism?
These are tough questions, which we must work together to answer.
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