Remarks by Michael Wernick, Clerk of the Privy Council at the Michelle C. Comeau Awards


May 3, 2018
Michael Wernick, Clerk of the Privy Council

Check Against Delivery

Good evening everyone. It is a pleasure to be here. Thank you to everyone who has organized this event tonight. It is one of my favourite.

My remarks will be brief, as I much prefer we get on with the celebration and recognition. We do not do enough recognition of our colleagues. A shout out to Anne-Marie Smart [Chief Human Resources Officer] and Patrick Bourbey [President, Public Service Commission] for their leadership. 

Thank you Monique Boudrias for the beautiful memories of Michelle. I remember her well as a colleague and a friend. She was a remarkable public servant and those of you that carry away recognition plaques with her name on it should be proud.  Michelle was a tremendous leader and I was fortunate to have known her and worked with her. 

As Clerk, I wear three hats. I am the Deputy Minister to the Prime Minister. I have a department of 900 public servants whose well-being I worry about every day. We serve the Prime Minister as our Minister, and it is much like any other department in that sense. 

I am also the Secretary to Cabinet. In this function, It try to make sure that those 30 men and women are able to meet every Tuesday morning when the House is sitting, and make decisions on behalf of Canadians. We are blessed to live in a democracy within which we choose our own leaders who are governed under the rule of law within a constitutional framework. They get to make those decisions and we support that process. It is a point of real pride to be able to participate in that. 

My third role, and the one I cherish the most, is Head of the Public Service. This role allows me to be a spokesperson, an advocate and an ambassador for all of you. I get the opportunity to table a report once a year on the state of their public service and talk about you, and your successes.

As you may know, I have recently tabled the 25th report, and my third as Clerk. I am sure that you visited my website, followed the social media feeds, and read it. This year the report has gone digital first, and I can tell you that it is much better in digital than on paper. However, for those of you with old habits, I have paper copies of the report that can be made available. 

This year’s report highlights your stories and accomplishments. They are not my stories, but they are yours. They are stories of the Public Service of Canada, and stories that Canadians do not hear often enough. 

Today is Press Freedom Day, so I am going to say a few words about journalists. They do tend to focus on what goes wrong and what is newsworthy. The stories of all the things that work well do not usually get a lot of attention. Perhaps that is as it should be.

We have many feedback loops not just from journalists but also from officers of Parliament, parliamentarians, stakeholders and the public. Real-time feedback tells us all of the things that we are doing, and how we could be better. Sometimes, that is very frustrating and can get you down a little bit. This feedback, however, is what makes us so good because we listen, learn, and engage with Canadians. We take that feedback. When we fall down, as we did with the pay system, we pick ourselves up and we learn from it. We also commit to being better and we move on. 

And that is why, when you look at public services around the world and measure and rank them, which a think tank did last year when they looked at 32 public services on the planet,  the one that came out in first place, is you. You are the most effective public service on the planet. So give yourself a hand. 

The Clerk’s priorities are not important because they are mine. They are important because they are your priorities and they are the expectations of Canadians. I am just a channel for that. Canadians have expectations, and over the years, these have changed and Canadians expect more. Canadians need us to advise our democratic governments to deliver services. The regulations, laws, policies, and trade negotiations that you may have heard about – there are many things that public servants do behind the scenes to support these. 260,000 Canadians come in every day and try to make this country and communities better, safer, more prosperous and inclusive. We do a great job because we are never satisfied, and always aim to do better. 

I try to meet with public servants regularly to talk about where better is possible. With the help of Anne-Marie Smart and others, we have been talking to managers, regulators, lawyers, communicators, and scientists. There are all sorts of communities within the public service. We are listening to them to find out what we can do to make their jobs and lives easier, as well as how to be more effective on behalf of Canadians. That is an ongoing process. 

One community that is crucial our success is the human resources community. Public servants cannot do what they do without you. We have to move the right people into the right jobs at the right time.  We have to develop and recruit new talent. We have to find those Canadians who are willing to come, serve their country, and make a difference.  We have to be smart about selecting and recruiting. We have to build learning systems because you cannot come and coast off what you learned at school for 35 years. You have to constantly be renewing your skills and competencies. To do so, we need a learning system within the public service. We need to be smart about choosing who our leaders are going to be and whom we want to develop, promote and turn into people with more responsibilities. We have to deal with performance issues and make sure that there are feedback loops, so that people know what is expected of them, and how they are doing. We have to give them real feedback. 

I could go on, but this is your business. You give everybody else in the public service the tools and possibility of doing what they do for Canadians. It is important. This is a good community, and you should be proud of what you do because there is no way we could be the most effective public service on the planet if we did not have a strong Human Resources community.  There are roughly 5,000 to 6,000 people in that community who are providing human resource services to the rest of us. 

I think there is a bit of an urban legend that somehow, you are all going to be replace by robots and algorithms. Let me assure you that it is never going to happen because we are always going to be a public service of people. 

People are going to want to learn and grow. They get into conflict. They have aspirations. They develop mental health conditions. There are all sorts of issues. We are not about algorithms. We are about people. We are about human beings. Therefore, we are always going to have to worry about people management and Human Resources. 

One of the challenges that we are all going to face is riding the wave of technological change. Everything from smart phones, to the Internet, to artificial intelligence enabled decision-making. In fact, we are already starting to see it. It is happening in the taxi and hotel industries, and in car dealerships, and in the way you shop. It is affecting the outward services the public service delivers.  Ultimately, it also affects the way we do Human Resources. I think it creates huge opportunities to provide excellent transactions, that are accurate, on-time and helpful to people. More importantly, the growth area for people is going to be in the advisory services. We are going to be dealing with mental health issues, recourse and discipline issues, harassments, workplace conflicts and labour relations. We are going to be trying to help people reach their potential, as well as grow and develop as individuals and leaders. 

The line I am using a lot this week is that we have to move beyond diversity to inclusion.  Diversity is a fact. You just have to go to any high school, university or street corner in Canada.  Canada is already diverse.  Inclusion, on the other hand, is a choice. It is an act.  Every voice and talent is listened to, and is engaged to participate. It is easy to say, but hard to do. It challenges what we are comfortable with, such as processes, hierarchies and rules. We will be required to be a lot more agile and flexible, not just to engage the Canadians out there, but the Canadians that work among us. 

There are many opportunities. It is an exciting time to be in Canada when you look at what is going on around the world. It is also an exceptional time to be a member of the best public service in the world. I hope you feel it is a great time to be part of this Human Resources community that serves the rest of the public service as well as Canadians.

You should be very proud of what you do and you should be energized by the wonderful examples of the people who are about to come up and be recognized by you. 

I want to congratulate not just the award winners, but also everybody who was nominated by their peers – I read all of the nominations. It is an extraordinary set of achievements for the entire community and for what you do for Canadians every day. 

Thank you very much. Miigwetch.

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