Remarks by Michael Wernick, Clerk of the Privy Council, at the 2018 Security Summit


May 30, 2018
Michael Wernick, Clerk of the Privy Council

Check Against Delivery

Good morning everyone. My remarks will be brief, as I much prefer to get into a period of questions and exchanges with you. I will race through a couple of remarks and comments to help launch discussions as you reflect over the next few days.

First of all, congratulations and a warm welcome to Greta [Bossenmaier] in her new role as National Security and Intelligence Advisor to the Prime Minister. This puts her at the Privy Council Office (PCO) table every morning and I am looking forward to working with her, both at PCO and as the champion of your community.

In my role, I have the opportunity to engage with many different public servant communities. There are always specific perspectives unique to each community but also many things that unite them.

I now think of the public service very much as a community of communities and not so much about the 300 organizations and their organizational charts—important as those can be sometimes. Today’s public service is about the 260,000 men and women that come to work every day, driven by values and commitment to serve their country.

These communities gather in rooms like this and try to do better and do their job more effectively. Whether it is the policy groups, the service people, the Information Technology people, the regulators, the lawyers, the communications community or the heads of mission, all of these communities strive to build on what has come before, to get feedback and learn from what is going on in the world, or in this country. Similar to your community, these communities want to adapt to the kinds of changes that are happening in the world, and to put in place tools, policies, knowledge and learning to move forward and do even better in the future. I know this community is part of that and I am going to come back and encourage you to do that.

It is important—especially this week where we are getting a lot of feedback about things we could have and should have done better—to make sure that we stay grounded and have some perspective. It is also important to realize, when you look at the world and the big struggle between forces of inclusion and openness and the rule of law, on the one hand, and those of closure and division and populism and authoritarianism on the other, that Canada is clearly in the camp of being an open society.

We are open to trade, investment, immigration, ideas and cultures. It is embedded in the DNA of Canadians and the way we think and approach issues. Canada does not have a culture of building walls and excluding, dividing and turning people into them and us. I know that drives you in the way you think about keeping Canadians and public servants safe.

The theme of today’s event, if I understand correctly, is innovation. We actually just celebrated innovation in the public service a few weeks ago at the annual Innovation Fair. Those of you that have a little bit of spare time should read my annual report to the Prime Minister that was tabled not too long ago. It was written to tell your stories, and you will see that innovation was a big part of it.

I sometimes feel I am just a channel for you. I get an opportunity—through my obligation to table a report once a year on the state of the public service—to tell your stories about what you do and why you do it. Doing so gives me a chance to turn a little bit of the spotlight away from the things that went wrong and could have been done better—which is where the media, Parliament, opposition parties and stakeholders tend to focus—in order to focus instead on all the quiet successes and accomplishments.

There are many accomplishments in the public service every year. We need to recognize and celebrate them together. I would also encourage you to go out to the soccer fields, the barbecues and the family gatherings and tell them about these stories and accomplishments. This year’s report is much more sharable. There are graphics, videos, text boxes and stories that you can put on different social media platforms. Get out there and tell the stories of what the public service does for Canadians.

It is also important to remember the value of that feedback from about a dozen officers of Parliament, stakeholders, oppositions, free press and Parliament. I would not have it any other way and I am glad we live in a society with free elections, free press and a lively Parliament and legislature. The alternative is not one I want to contemplate. These feedback loops are all part of the deal with Canadians, and part of the reasons our country is as successful, prosperous, safe and inclusive as it is. We have had for 150 years a non-partisan, excellent, professional public service. That is you. The bargain that we have is that Canadians go out every three or four years and elect women and men to make the decisions in the Cabinet rooms and the legislatures of the country and we help them achieve their goals.

With respect to innovation, it is a key topic and there are much more eloquent speakers on this. On my website, apart from 35 speeches like this, you will find some clips from the Innovation Fair. I would encourage you to listen to them. There is one in particular by the former Governor General, the Right Honourable David Johnston that talks about innovation. Our former Governor General has made innovation a real passion of his and he gave a talk at the Innovation Fair a couple of weeks ago on the ingredients of innovation. It is worth watching.

From my perspective, innovation is not about gadgets and technology. Innovation is actually about humans. It is about human minds, human psychology, human feelings, and human motivations and aspirations. Innovation is about behaviour and culture. The gadgets and the technology are part of it. Technology is often the expression of innovation and the cause of innovation. However, innovation is about doing things better with insights about how to do things differently. Ultimately, it is about understanding how to serve people. It is of the people, by the people, for the people, if I can borrow that expression.

Do not take my word for it. I recommend for your cottage reading, a book called “The Four” by author Scott Galloway. It is about Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google. It came out last Christmas. While it is already out of date given what has happened with Facebook recently in terms of trust and social licence, the point of the book is each of those companies now approaching a trillion dollars in market cap, did not invent the technology that drives their platforms. They perfected insights into human behaviour. They were the first to really take advantage and commercialize those insights about human psychology. It is a fascinating read about what motivates humans and what excites them and how you can develop a better way of responding to something they want or need.

Sometimes you can become a trillion dollar company, or you just deliver better public services within departments and agencies. We have to respond as a government, or as an employer, to the kinds of things that technology brings into our lives. I joined the public service without fax machines, cell phones, personal computers and the internet but we have adapted to all of those ways, particularly the internet, over the last 10 or 20 years.

Tools change, but the purpose and the values of serving Canadian governments and serving Canadians do not. What we do has been remarkably constant but how we do it changes all the time. You will probably spend some time, if I understand the program, looking at how one responds to technology. That can be in relation to cybersecurity, bots and hacking or issues around encryption or drones and the kinds of challenges that brings to enforcement agencies.

Technology creates challenges for governments and they have to decide how to respond—whether to regulate or create new rules and how to enforce them. Some of it is about the high-end new things and I am not dismissing their importance, but often, innovation can be remarkably clever and low tech. Your world understands some of those and the security risks associated with technology. It can be simple or very high tech. We have to respond to that.

The bad guys are generally very innovative and the challenge for us is to keep Canadians safe and outthink, outsmart and understand them. To do that, we have to be innovative in our responses and solutions. Innovation is about thinking through solutions, solving problems, getting together, hacking the problem, as they say, and finding a way forward. That is often challenging in organizations that are built for hierarchy and command and going up to the top for approvals. Resources may also be a challenge.

As a public service, our current challenge is to find new ways of collaborating, generating and sharing ideas and best practices more quickly and efficiently. Part of that is getting out of the 300 plus organizations and letting public servants talk and learn from each other. We have had some success with that, with the suite of GCtools. There are issues around the public ones. I have no problem with you being on LinkedIn or Facebook or Twitter. Just understand that you are in a public space and the code of conduct and values of the public service applies to you when you are doing that.

I would want everybody in this room by Friday night to be on one of GCtools. Pick one. Any of the ones that bring people together. Moreover, to answer one of the questions you are probably going to ask, which is how do we work together? You decide. It is not about convincing your leaders to send some directive down to you saying be more creative or be more innovative. We will give you the space, the permission and the zone for taking risks and for talking to each other. Create a community and talk to each other, generate ideas. All over the public service now, people are speaking up and finding communities. I am here to encourage that.

Values and culture have to drive this. This is not about building fences or about rules and compliance. If you are going to have real insights into the other 260,000 public servants out there, you have to have ways to understand what they are trying to do and how they want to work. If we are moving to a public service which is more collaborative, more shape shifting, more nimble, where people come together, we have to have physical spaces that fit that. This means have spaces where people can come and go and where there are fewer cubicles and more general and collaborative spaces.

This also means that we have to have the IT infrastructure where people can connect with videoconferencing and desktop conferencing to move ideas instantaneously around. My vision is that any public servant can communicate securely with any other public servant anywhere, and anytime. We are getting closer to that. We now have this capability for Ministers. The Prime Minister can now speak to any Minister anywhere and at anytime. That was a huge effort on the part of many departments to get us there. Ultimately, however, we have to get there across the whole public service.

This creates some security challenges for you, which are not about rules, compliance, punishment and saying ‘here is a rule and if you break it, we are going to fire you’. There is a place for that from time to time but it is actually much more about culture and behaviour. You can build networks but people will continue to put secret documents on their emails. You can have all kinds of rules about physical safety and putting documents away at night but again, you need the right incentives and tools to do the right thing. Otherwise, the behavioural issues of public servants may not change. You are going to have to figure out the right blend of compliance and rules with persuasion and making their job easy.

In the physical security world, my example comes from my favourite outlet outside of work, which is soccer. Soccer has had to respond to the possibility of somebody showing up and letting off a bomb in a stadium of 60,000 people. Soccer has also had to respond to people driving vans up and plowing through the line-up of people trying to get into the stadium. However, they have found ways to keep people safe by putting bollards, gates and protections around the stadium. They did it in a way that is keeping their customer base in mind. Their security measures are almost undetectable and as such, the experience of going to a game with your kids has not really changed. They have been very clever about it.

We have learned some hard lessons from Canada Day last year. Canadian people want to gather, celebrate and enjoy themselves freely while at the same time feeling safe about it. You have to find ways of doing that, of keeping them safe in a world which has sadly all too many threats to that safety, whether it is physical or information technology or otherwise.

I recently spoke to the Canada Border Services Agency. In my remarks, I reminded them that they are the border agency of a free and open society, not a country that is going to build fences or walls. We are an open society that welcomes new people. To be a smart border agency for an open society is extra difficult. However, it can also be extra rewarding.

During the course of your conference, I want you to think about your role. I want an open, collaborative, agile public service where organizational charts and levels matter less. I want our public service to be about getting together and solving problems on behalf of Canadians and governments. However, we have to figure it out in a way to make sure that people feel safe and secure. The good news is that I know that you are smart and resourceful enough to do that.

Thank you very much.

Pictures of the event are available on-line.

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