Remarks by Michael Wernick, Clerk of the Privy Council, at the 2018 Innovation Fair


May 16, 2018
Michael Wernick, Clerk of the Privy Council

Check Against Delivery

Hello everyone! Thank you Christine [Donoghue, Associate Deputy Minister, Health Canada] for the generous introduction.

I just have a few things to say. We have some other guests that are here that I think you will want to hear from too.

Let me start, as is our custom, by acknowledging that we are gathered today on the traditional territory of the Algonquin peoples of this region. I would like to thank them for their hospitality and the opportunity to be here. Miigwetch.

Let me welcome you to the fourth Innovation Fair. This is the third one that I have been able to attend as the Clerk and Head of the Public Service. The most exciting thing that has happened as we have moved through the fairs, year after year, is their growth across the country. A special shout out to those people in sixteen centres outside the National Capital Region who have organized events today and for all the people who are participating.

I also want to say a big thank you to the organizers and the federal councils who organized events in the regions.

Fifty-five percent of our public service does not work in the National Capital Region. We are in every province, every territory and working outside of Canada. We are a national and global institution and we make a big impact in all of those. Everything that we talk about today is relevant right across the public service.

Events like the Innovation Fair highlight what can be accomplished when public servants combine their collective energies to work together.

Those of you here [in the National Capital Region] today, cannot be at every fair. So let me just give you a little sense of what is going on in other places across the country. In the north, people are touring unique facilities, including a new Alkan Air flight simulator. In British Columbia, they are having sessions on blockchain and behavioural insights. In the prairies, they are hosting speed presentations—20 slides in 20 seconds. Now that is innovative!

Ontario has a workshop that is titled, Thinking Like MacGyver. I thought, wait a minute. That must be a shout out to us baby boomers because the show went off the air in 1992, but then I was informed by my reliable staff that there is a second MacGyver that came on the air in 2016. It is actually a very clever shout out to millennials and baby boomers at the same time. So congratulations!

In Quebec, they are examining how artificial intelligence impacts our lives, and in the Atlantic Region, they are learning about new innovations that are supporting minority official languages communities. It is a diversity of topics, subjects, formats; and that in itself is representative of the innovation conversation.

When we started talking about what kind of public service we wanted to be—back in 2013—and my predecessors charted the course through Blueprint 2020 and Destination 2020, we wanted to have a world class public service equipped to serve Canadians now and into the future. That vision is as valid today as it ever was.

Part of that journey of being the public service we are is about innovation but it is about innovation with purpose and innovation in the service of Canadians. We are driving forward constantly. What has changed remarkably since that first conversation in 2013 has been disruptive technology, the importance of data and information. All around the world and in Canada, there are conversations about data, artificial intelligence and technology. Who owns, controls and safeguards, the impact on our economy, our society, our politics and on the public service? This too has to be part of that conversation and part of the solution.

Trust in public institutions is a fundamental part of the fact that we live in a country blessed to live under the rule of law with a democratic system, fair courts and an independent press. That trust, which is a subject that one of our speakers I am sure is going to mention, depends on Canadians feeling included, heard and listened to.

The trust in the public service, when we have information that Canadians have given us, rests on keeping it private when it needs to be, on cyber security, and on knowing that information is going to be used in the public interest for a public purpose. That trust may be the thing that we have to work at the most as we have all these conversations about big digital platforms, algorithms, and artificial intelligence.

When I think about all of this, I keep going back to the fact that we are a public service of people; by people; and for the people of Canada, if I can borrow an American metaphor. We are not made up of algorithms and robots. We are made up of people and what we do is for people.

The other point that I want to insist on, and I do so every chance I get, is that this is not just about the externally facing services or the cool apps that we talk about—whether it is Parks Canada or the Canada Border Services Agency or many of the others, which are wonderful innovations and Canadians deserve the very best. However, we also have to turn that same spirit of innovation and creativity on ourselves—how we interact, how we do what we do every day, how we learn, how we grow, how we do internal services, and yes, how we pay people.  All of these things need innovation and creativity applied to them.

We have to hack ourselves as much as any other problem that we have. We have to make the bureaucracy less bureaucratic, less driven by process and rules, quicker, faster, more agile in identifying a problem, putting the right people and resources together, attacking the problem, and more and more, including Canadians in those conversations.

I go back to my point about trust. If those policies, laws, regulations and treaties are going to be seen as legitimate by Canadians, they have to participate in shaping them. We, in the public service, have to be very attentive to the user experience that we are talking about today, but we also have to make sure that those without power, and without voices are heard and listened to. We serve a public interest and that is all 36 million of us.

This means that it is important we think about our clients, our taxpayers, and our fellow citizens. Who uses our services? Why? Why do they need us? What are they looking for? There are, however, some things in the public sector that are not negotiable. One of these things is providing our services in our country’s two official languages. Another one is ensuring accessibility to our citizens with disabilities who find it challenging to access our services on-line or by telephone.

We also have to protect the privacy and security of Canadians’ information. So, public sector innovation must be bilingual, accessible and impeccably cyber secure.

I want to encourage everyone to participate in the conversation. I also want to note that one of our public service innovations has changed how we communicate with each other. And one of the things I am most pleased with is the growth of the platforms that allow us to get out of organizational charts and silos, and departments and agencies—we have over 300 federal organizations—and just find colleagues and talk to each other and to other Canadians.

I would encourage everybody here and everybody listening to sign up for one of the GCtools platforms before the end of the day. 
GCcollab has also become an important platform for public servants to engage with people outside the public service. It is now a community of more than 21,000 people. GCconnex is an internal network. When we launched it about ten years ago, in the first week we were very happy that 20 people signed up. Yes, 20! There are now 135,000 users! And I am not going to be happy until every public servant is on the GCtools platform.

Please share the message with your colleagues, and encourage them to sign up, and find your colleagues in the public service on the issues that you care about and the conversations that you want to contribute to.
There are many opportunities to participate. Whether it is through your unions, your bargaining agents or through other networks. We have a managers’ community, a youth network, regional federal councils and employment equity groups to name a few. We are—and I hope the ministers will forgive me for quoting a Conservative predecessor—a community of communities. So reach out and talk to people, engage, participate and help make the public service the kind of public service that you want to work in.

We are already, according to a think tank, the most effective public service in the world. I am so proud of that statistic: The best, most effective public service in the world. Kudos to all of you!

This also means that we have nowhere to go but down from number being one, which makes me vigilant. One of the things that we have to do is to listen to the feedback we get when we get lots of it from a free press, parliament, opposition parties, stakeholders, and a large number of officers of Parliament. That feedback makes us better. When we stumble and fall, as we did on the pay system, we learn, move forward and dedicate ourselves to doing better. That accountability and that sense of never being satisfied is why we are as good as we are.

But the other dimension, the topic of the day, is innovation. It is about searching for new solutions and not being stuck in the solutions of the past, always striving for what is better and more effective to provide better services to our government and Canadians.

We are entering Canada 151, 152, 153. Last year, I talked a lot about 150 and the importance of the public service to this country. I am firmly of the belief that as we go through the changes that we are experiencing and that you are going to experience as public servants, that innovation and inclusion are the recipe to success.

And that is why I am happy to see so many people here today. Please take part in the events and enjoy yourselves. There are a lot of fun experiences, a lot of things you can learn, and I assure you that you are always learning when you are in the Public Service of Canada. I know I am.

I was asked to come and inspire you today, but frankly, I am the one who is inspired by you, your example, and all of the things that we are seeing around the fair.

Merci beaucoup. Miigwetch.

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