Clerk’s Remarks at the Canada Beyond 150 Conference


March 28, 2018
Michael Wernick, Clerk of the Privy Council

Check Against Delivery

Good morning everyone.  I am very happy to be here with you this morning.

I just want to take a couple of minutes to offer a few words of welcome and encouragement.

Like my Deputy Minister colleagues, I am here today to listen and learn from you but first, a few words of thanks.

I want to thank the elder for accompanying you on this journey and for helping you put your best foot forward through all of the events. This is an important part of the whole exercise and I want to thank you for that.

I would also like to thank the organizers of this event.

I would like to touch on a few themes and my colleagues here have heard variations of this many times. As public servants, you work in extraordinary institutions at a time when these institutions are under great stress in the world. Things that we Canadians take for granted – the rule of law, free and fair elections, democracy, free press, independent courts.  These institutions are under stress in many countries and they are frankly in decline in some other countries.

Canada still has strong democratic governance under the rule of law, and part of it is having a strong, non-partisan, independent, professional public service that is there government after government, parliament after parliament.

Canada 150 gave us a chance to reflect on the road we have been on for 150 years while at the same time, it gave us a chance to think about the road that lies ahead for the next 150 years. It was an exercise of reflection, of renewal and of recommitment, especially to the values that drive us in supporting the democratic governments and legislatures that Canadians choose for themselves, operating in the public interest and serving Canadians. Today, these are things which can no longer be taken for granted in our world and in Canada.

So an exercise like today is a really important one. I am sure we are going to hear, shortly, about some very important issues that face us as a country and a society, which you are exploring as part of the journey you have been on together.

The challenge of reconciliation, what is a feminist government, a more open and transparent government, sustainable development, socioeconomic inclusion: these are the themes which shape policy and political debates in Canada and you will hear a lot of different visions of how to pursue these issues in next year’s election.

So, having said all of this, I want to absolutely thank all of the public servants who, working at a time where we are extremely busy with a very active agenda of policy, legislation, regulations,  negotiations and international activities, have taken time to contribute to your peer group and to your community. This is really important.

I think that the most important thing you have learned is not about the files themselves but about the competencies that we will need in the years to come.  Learning about how to do foresight, how to talk to and engage with people that we affect, how to work in the world of human behaviours because, at the end of the day, we are dealing with people out there, not algorithms. I am sure that you have also learned how to work with stakeholders – in your day to day function, you have met and engaged with many, and how governments in a federation work together and pursue objectives. We are a federation with independent orders of government that play an important role and we have done that for 150 years because it is an important way for people to live together in peace and under the rule of law. Federalism is a very important idea, and is also worth defending and advocating.

The methodologies, the tools, the approaches, the things that you are testing in the kitchen are important, not just to you as future leaders of the public service but as you go out and implement them into your departments—your senior leaders will help you do that, I assure you—but also as you implement them right across the public service.

If we are going to be there for the next 150 years, we have to be faster, more nimble, willing to give up turf and territory, be more collaborative and creative. The expectations of Canadians and their needs are high and they will only get higher. This is a challenge and sometimes, it is very stressful but it is what we do. It is what we have done for 150 years and what we will continue to do for the years ahead.

So, no pressure on the presenters but this is a moment of historical significance, and I am very proud to have told the world that I am the head of the best public service in the world, as evaluated by an independent think tank. But, if I am going to be able to say that next year and the year after, I am counting on you.

Thank you very much.

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