Remarks by Michael Wernick, Clerk of the Privy Council, at the Public Service Award of Excellence Ceremony


September 12, 2018
Michael Wernick, Clerk of the Privy Council

Check Against Delivery

Good morning everyone,

I want to congratulate you (Nancy Chahwan) on your new role. I look forward to working with you. Nancy is hands-on and a very engaged person. She was telling me about when she was responsible for the parliamentary precinct renovation, which is a large, complex project. Part of the results you can see above you. She was up on a scaffold inspecting and making sure all the painting and the plastering were done properly in this room. So, it is that kind of diligence that we look forward to in weeks to come.

I would like to start with some recognition and thanks. We are all gathered here on the traditional territories of the ancestors of the Indigenous Peoples of this region—the Algonquin People—and acknowledge their hospitality today. I would also like to say a couple of words of thank you, and then I will be brief, because this is, as Nancy said, your day.

First of all, let me thank people that have worked hard to make this event possible, and that is a number of people. The team at the Office of the Chief Human Resources Officer—so the people at OCHRO—we speak in acronyms in the public service—who have organized the event and coordinated the process, I want to thank them. They worked tirelessly throughout the year on recognition and on events like this one to make these events successful, and for you.

I would also like to thank all those who took the time to nominate their colleagues. It is always nice to be recognized for your accomplishments and your work. But I know that recognition by your peers, your friends, your colleagues is especially precious. Those of you that took time from a very busy workload and calendar to work up nominations and proposals, thank you for doing that. And of course, Jean-François Tremblay and the members of the selection committee, who are listed at the back of your booklet who had a very difficult task. It gets more difficult every year, with the excellence that we see around the public service, to sort out from the various proposals those that we are going to recognize today. So thank you to the selection committee.

Today’s award is the preeminent recognition of exceptional work in the Public Service of Canada. That makes it pretty special, because, as you know, the Public Service of Canada is an exceptional public service by any number of measures. We have been rated on effectiveness and governance. The work we do in any number of fields has been compared and contrasted with other countries in the world. Whether we are number one, number two or number four is not really that important. It is our tradition and history of excellence and accomplishment on behalf of Canadians that is important. We have a very bright future because we are committed to learning from what we do, learning from our mistakes, picking ourselves up and rededicating ourselves. We are a values-driven organization in the service of Canadians. To be recognized as exceptional people in the most exceptional public service in the world—that is really special—and I hope that you have a chance to reflect on that and think about it and talk to people about it.

At the beginning of the ceremony, in the introduction, my hats or roles were mentioned. I am very proud to have been offered this opportunity to serve. I do have three roles. Indeed, the first one is being the Deputy Minister to the Prime Minister. It is a cool role and I enjoy that interaction. The second one is being the Secretary to Cabinet and sitting in the corner room observing those men and women wrestle with the issues of the day—everything from agriculture to veterans—and trying to make sure that due diligence is done and that we create the right conditions for those discussions to take place. My third role is the only one actually written down anywhere. It is Head of the Public Service and the one that I enjoy the most because I often have the opportunity to have discussions with you, but also with Canadians, parliamentarians and journalists. I see myself somewhat as an ambassador and a spokesperson for the Public Service of Canada. I enjoy telling the stories of a remarkable institution that serves Canadians so well.

We can see in the people we are recognizing today the diversity of talents that exists in Canada’s public service. We have among us today scientists, administrative assistants, policy analysts, border agents, engineers, statisticians, specialists in protocol, human resources, people who work in information technology, infrastructure and emergency responders.

We have over 300 organizations and thousands of business lines. We do all kinds of things for and with Canadians on behalf of Canadians every single day. And a lot of those stories are not told very often. There is a focus, quite naturally, on the things that we could have, would have or should have done better. We have lots of feedback loops, journalists, parliamentarians, opposition parties, officers of Parliament, stakeholders, bargaining agents—many people to give us the feedback on what we could and should do better. It is important to have this feedback. It is partly why we are so good. We have the humility to learn from that feedback and to commit to doing better and to continually strive to be better for Canadians.

When you look around the world, you see the governance in many countries eroding. So today, I have pledged to not make snarky jokes or remarks about reporters, lawyers, politicians or officers of Parliament. I am actually glad that we all live in a country where we live under the rule of law and we have independent courts and a free press. We have free and fair elections where Canadians get to choose who makes the decisions. We have officers of Parliament who hold the executive to account and to help that legislature do its job. These are important things. Not everybody in the world has them and they are a precious gift. We have to continue to rededicate ourselves generation after generation to passing them on to Canadians.

However, the one that does not get talked about as much is a values-based, non-partisan, driven-by-excellence public service that is there government after government, Parliament after Parliament, generation after generation, serving Canadians as the world changes and evolves around us, that tries to make us a bit safer, a bit more prosperous, a bit more inclusive—and that work continues. I am really encouraged to see the young talent joining the public service and how it blends with those of us that are a little bit more mature and experienced. And the passing, not just of knowledge and skills, but more importantly, the passage of values, that commitment to serve Canadians, that commitment to serve the governments that our democratic processes elect, that commitment to always strive to be a little bit better. That is what we are recognizing today. It is really important.

There are 270,000 public servants out there and a lot of what they do is not told. Their stories are not told very much. So, every one of you that is being recognized today, I give you a challenge, which is to be an ambassador and a spokesperson for your own stories, what you have done, and for the Public Service of Canada, what we do every day. We are very good at what we do. We can be better and we will be better. We play an important role in a country, which plays an increasingly important role in the world.

So, when you are at the hockey rinks, with your annoying brother-in-law at a Christmas dinner or when you are out walking the dog or whatever, I want you to have a little bit of extra spring in your step, a little bit of extra pride. I want you to pay attention to the stories that are going on around you in other parts of the public service and pass them on, retweet them, tell them at the hockey rink or in other fora. The story of the Public Service of Canada is a good story and you are an important part of that. And that is why today is really special—in all the busy workload and issue management and tweets and things racing by at a hundred miles an hour—to take just a couple of hours and recognize those among us who really have done something quite exceptional in the past year.

This is a very important event, and the people of Canada are very grateful for you. So on behalf of them, as Head of the Public Service, I just want to say to all of you, thank you, merci, miigwech.

Pictures of the event are available on-line

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