Remarks by Michael Wernick, Clerk of the Privy Council, at the Public Service Commission's 2018 All-Staff Forum


June 5, 2018
Michael Wernick, Clerk of the Privy Council

Check Against Delivery

Good afternoon. Thank you Patricia [Jaton, Vice-President, Policy and Communications, Public Service Commission] for the introduction.

Patricia described my three roles very well. The role that gives me a great deal of pleasure is the third—to be the Head of the Public Service. This role gives me the opportunity to have meetings and exchanges like the ones today.

Over the past year, I had more than 50 discussions with communities, departments and management teams. The outcomes of these discussions give me optimism and confidence in the future of the public service and in our country.

It is also great to have the opportunity to look back on where we have come from. It provides us a sense of momentum and progress and is a chance to recommit to the values and the purpose that drives so much of the Public Service of Canada.

Today is your 110th anniversary. That is a big number! Last year, 150 was a big number too. The Canadian state has been around for 150 years in the way that we know it. Westminster democracy, federalism and the country have come a long way.

Very early on, the Fathers of Confederation—all men at the time—did something that was bold. They tried to put in place a professional non-partisan public service. Through zigs and zags, they accomplished it. It has served the country really well. We should take stock and take pride in it.

We often say, “I compare myself, I comfort myself”. There are many societies in many countries around the world who still struggle to have a public service that serves them and supports their governments. There are places that still struggle to live under the rule of law, a free press, an independent judiciary or a lively legislature. We have all of those things in Canada, and I am very grateful for that when you look at some of the news headlines around the world. Even in countries that have most of those things, they do not always have a strong public service. Often, what they have are people that come in that are very political and take the shape of the government of the day and change when the government changes.

There are also societies that still have issues with corruption, nepotism, and favouritism in their public services. Canada takes for granted, almost invisibly, that we have a public service that is strong, non-partisan, and free of corruption and nepotism. We have mechanisms to detect, correct and root out any of these when there is a problem. Our system is good at what it does.

Now, part of the price we pay for having approximately a dozen officers of Parliament, a free press, opposition critics, stakeholders and unions tell us what we should have and could have done better is that our attention tends to drift to those places where we could have and should have done better. As a public service, we ought to take those opportunities and learn from them. When we stumble, we dust ourselves off and commit ourselves to doing better and we move forward.

However, this also means that Canadians often do not hear about the successes and accomplishments or about the many projects that were delivered on time and on budget, whether those were about upgrades, improvements in client service or in internal service. The spirit of making steady improvements—sometimes big and bold or sometimes incremental—to just keep getting better. I try my best to be the conduit for those stories but you also have to help me in telling those stories.

Every day, 260,000 men and women come to work every day to serve in the core public service, and another 100,000 or so in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the military. Those are people that come in motivated by a desire to make a difference to their country and their communities, and they succeed in so many different ways.

One thing I am obliged to do once a year is to table a report in Parliament on the state of the Public Service of Canada. The Prime Minister tables the report that I give him. I encourage you to go to my Web site at and to read this report. It is designed to tell and share your stories and the amazing things that are happening across the Public Service of Canada.

Next week is National Public Service Week. I hope that we get a little bit of attention. I want Canadians to be confident that they are well-served.

I keep going back to this example because I love metrics, and you may have heard this already, but last year, there was a think tank in the United Kingdom (UK) that went around and assessed the effectiveness of public services in the world. In fact, if memory serves right, they looked at 31 or 32 public services, and the most effective one was you. My colleagues in Australia, New Zealand and the UK have probably put in place a task force on how to overtake Canada this year. Whatever the methodology that was used to make this assessment, we truly have an excellent public service, and one that I am very proud of.

The Public Service Commission is an important institution and so is your mission statement. I think you may pass over it probably a little too quickly: promoting and safeguarding a non-partisan, merit-based and representative public service that serves all Canadians. That is something we have tried to do generation after generation, government after government as things have changed. We helped shape the country and it is great to sit in the corner seat of Cabinet meetings or talk to prime ministers, but in many ways, the country shapes us too. The journey we have been on as a society ultimately affects us as the largest employer and the largest institution.

This country underwent significant change in values regarding same-sex marriage and LGBTQ issues. We have had to follow and catch up in some ways to the country as a public service. The country has also had a conversation around mental health and wellness issues that started over a decade ago, and we are working really hard right now, to catch up and be the kind of respectful, inclusive and healthy workplace that we need to be.

We are trying to green and decarbonize the country and the economy. We also have to do that to government operations. The #MeToo and Time's Up campaigns hit the world last year, and as a large institution with thousands of different distinct workplaces, time is up for us as well. We have to build a workplace that is safe and respectful. There is no room in it for harassment, bullying, intimidation or discrimination.

We will always have work to do as the country evolves. We have to go digital, and embrace the opportunities and the challenges that this presents us. We have done well, however, we have the feedback loop of learning and striving to do better, and have a values-based organization, not a rules-based one. People come to work with wanting to serve their country and make a difference to do it better, with a great deal of confidence. What we have to do is create the right governance, systems, and incentives to let public servants do what they do best.

You gave me a few examples of the journey that the Public Service Commission has been on and in many ways it is the journey that the public service has been on. I have in my office the civil service list from 1898. I should have brought it with me. It is a very thin document. All the public servants in Canada, most of whom worked for the Post Office or Customs at the time. They were all male and all white. We have been moving forward in ever-widening circles of inclusion, whether it was linguistic duality, the equity between men and women, and various dimensions to inclusion in our society and country.

The challenges about being representative have only become more complicated, but we have had enormous success in being more representative. The dialogue that we are in now is not about counting scores and checking off employment equity boxes. The language is now about inclusion. Our public service diversity is a fact. We are diverse. You just have to go to any hockey rink, a school, a university campus or any workplace to see how diverse Canada is. Inclusion is an act. It means active listening, it means reaching out and caring about who participates at meetings, or in the conversations.

How do you bring all the voices and talents? We need to get better at that. We are built for vertical accountability through Ministers. We have all kinds of incentives to be very careful and prudent, which is as it should be. So how do you unleash inclusion? How do you unleash creativity and innovation in an organization that is actually built for stability and continuity? It is a challenge for our generation and for your generation.

I see the kind of people that are coming in through job fairs and outreach from the campuses and other places, or people that are joining the public service mid-career because they got bored in their law firm or their business or their non-governmental organization. They all realize that if you really want a meaningful job where you can make a difference, you need to join the Public Service of Canada. It is the best place to do that. When you think about it, we do some of the most interesting science, the best legal work and the most complex finance. We are also responsible for large projects and participate in complex negotiations. We do everything, and whatever profession and skill set that some ambitious, creative individual would want to pursue, they can find in the Public Service of Canada. We are present in every province, every territory and in 100 or more places around the world.

We offer great careers. These careers can take you to many different professions, different organizations and even to many different communities and locations. We have something to offer Canadians and something to attract them to come, and hopefully stay. The Public Service of today is about being an enabler, and about empowering and unleashing the creativity and the potential of our public servants. You play such an important role in getting the right people into the right jobs at the right time with the right talents, and doing it, ethically and values-driven. That is no small thing. That makes a difference to the public service, makes a difference to your country, and all I can say is keep on doing it.

Thank you.

Pictures of the event are available on-line.

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