Remarks by Michael Wernick, Clerk of the Privy Council, at the Community of Federal Regulators' 2018 Regulatory Conference
November 26, 2018
Michael Wernick, Clerk of the Privy Council
Check against Delivery
Good afternoon everyone. Thank you very much for that kind introduction.
I also want to take a minute to thank the community for putting together this event. It is now a tradition. It is great to see a community of public servants coming together and taking charge of their own future and their own deliberations.
My vision of the public service and where it is heading is one in which public servants shape and take charge of their own future. Gatherings of the regulators, the science community, the Chief Financial Officers, the policy community and the lawyers who wrestle with their own diagnostic, their own sense of where the world is heading and what they need to do their jobs more effectively are how we will shape the public service of the future. There are times when the “Centre”, as we call it, can change policies and rules, provide funding and enable things or get out of the way as we move toward that future. An event such as today’s meeting is a very important step on the path to our future.
Most of you know that I have one legal responsibility set out in law, which is to give the Prime Minister a report on the state of the public service once a year. I have done three reports, and I will do another one in March. I am always looking for examples and stories of where the public service is, what it does, and where it is headed. One of the things I want to leave you with today is a challenge. You know your own work and your own community best. I know that you must have stories that you think Canadians should hear, stories about the work you do for them and with them. Please think about how to create those stories in different forms and get in touch with my people at Privy Council Office, who are putting together the report for next March. I also have a website and social media channels where we can share these anecdotes and examples [#GCstories].
Public servants generally just come in and do their job. They go about their business and do not talk about it very much with each other and with Canadians. However, I think it is important to talk about it. This is not about making the government of the day look good or making me look good. It is about keeping the confidence of Canadians, citizens, voters, taxpayers, users, and stakeholders that the government—the largest institution in our economy and our country—is working for them and listening to them.
Having confidence that the government’s decision-making is open and transparent and that the government is listening is incredibly important to maintaining a united and cohesive country. When that trust breaks down—when people think the system is rigged and working for special interests or for billionaires or for foreign interests, or when people do not see that they have a stake in the system—you get popular movements, backlash and the dynamics that led to Brexit, and to all kinds of things south of the border. The trust relationship with citizens is important, and one of the ways you keep that trust is by continuing to talk to citizens and listen to them.
I saw in today’s programme that you have had a conversation around engagement, which brings me to an important message I want to reinforce. Across the different communities in the public service, we all have to continue to get better at listening, at engaging, at bringing people into forums, and having people participate in shaping laws, policies, services, regulations, standards, norms and negotiations. Public servants and politicians have to do this, not to people, but for people, if we are going to keep that trust and be an accountable democratic government. I could talk at length about this theme. It is one that I really want to impress upon you.
This is also the time of year when people tend to look back and reflect on their accomplishments. I am not sure if you have had a chance to do some of that today. I will start by apologizing because I know that I am going to forget some important initiatives on which people worked very hard. This has been an incredibly busy, productive and challenging year for the Government and, therefore, for the public service. It is the third year of a four-year mandate. If you look across government, you will all be aware of this and of the many pieces that your friends and colleagues are working on.
In the first year, the Government launched all kinds of consultations, engagements and outreach activities about what they should do. Many of those came back in the second year and were turned into submissions to be presented at cabinet, decisions or into legislation. This is the year in which we have harvested a lot of that. Take, for example, the environmental assessment legislations—Bill C-68 and Bill C-69. This represented two years of work, and is now in the Senate and close to fruition. This involved policy, machinery of government, personnel, regulation, and many other things.
Another example is national security. There was a complete reset of the governance in the national security community. That is also close to being finished in the Senate. I can name other examples. The regulatory function—your community—has been at the heart of an incredibly busy year. Just thinking back to the summer break, we were talking about this period of September to Christmas. Free trade negotiations were a two-year process. We have actually landed an agreement with the United States and Mexico, and regulatory issues were at the heart of those negotiations and a big part of that process. They were some of the most difficult issues to land on, not just on what we regulate, but how we regulate.
We also launched a major social and legal experiment with the legalization of cannabis. Some of you will have been working very hard on the regulation involved in moving cannabis from the black market to a regulated one. We are moving on to edibles and other things next year. This has required a huge regulatory effort, which nobody else has done, and to achieve this in a G7 economy.
You have been involved at the balance points between health and science. International competitiveness is now starting to be part of the discussion because other countries are going to follow Canada's lead. This is an interesting adventure, which Canadians follow very closely, as they do many other aspects of our economic life. A lot of this work was harvested in the Fall Economic Statement, which was announced recently and includes a review of regulation in key competitive areas. The Government is very interested in making sure that this economy is competitive in the winds of global competition. They have looked at the issues around competitiveness and economic impact, and how regulation intersects with attracting companies to come and locate in Canada.
I also want to take a moment to talk about the loss of a very big employer in Oshawa today. You cannot take these location decisions by big multinationals for granted. You have to create environments that they see as attractive. Part of making those decisions is having a skilled workforce, and having competitive tax systems. However, a lot of it is having a regulatory space where they feel they can do business effectively and efficiently and serve global markets. I would imagine that Dominic Barton [Senior Partner and Global Managing Partner Emeritus, McKinsey & Company, and Chair of the Advisory Council on Economic Growth] talked to you quite a bit this morning about the contribution of smart regulatory functions to economic growth. This is a huge priority for the Government, as it would be for any government. The issue is how to create jobs, wealth, and prosperity for Canadians.
The work that you do to help shape that—how you regulate pipelines, airlines, pharmaceuticals, food products, and so on—it is a huge part of keeping that kind of competitive advantage for Canada. A real opportunity to think about how we regulate will come with the election, transition period, and the advice we would give to the next government.
Let us turn now to public service renewal. As a veteran of the public service, I have many ideas and instincts. I have also been around conversations about public service renewal for the best part of 15 years now at various tables and communities. I do have a real sense of stewardship and desire to pass on the public service in good shape to my successors and future generations. I would therefore want very much to get your feedback on that.
First, I want to make sure that everybody here understands that we are building on enormous strength. I know that I am criticized a little bit on social media for saying this all the time because we are not perfect and there are things that we need to do better, but what I am saying is based on evidence. People went out and ranked public services around the world, and the most effective public service among the 34 assessed is you—the Public Service of Canada. You are the most effective public service in the world. Give yourself a hand!
We are also now number one in the world, having vaulted from number seven or eight in a ranking of governments by Open Government. What I think is probably relevant to the regulatory community is that we are open by default, that Canadians should have access to the information, the holdings, and the studies of the information that is created by and for governments. We have moved to an open data and open government platform and, I can say truthfully, we now are ranked as the most open government in the world.
The World Bank took 200 countries that it works with and ranked them on the effectiveness of their overall public sector, which is a little bit more than just us. We went from the ninety-seventh percentile, which is not too shabby, to the ninety-eighth percentile. These are the efforts that you and your predecessors have made year after year, which we are building on. One of the reasons we are that effective is that we have never been complacent about it. We listen, we are humble, and we say there are things that we could do better, and how is it that we would go about it.
So I return to my opening comment, which is that events like this and honest conversations about what we do well and what we could do better will help keep us near the top of all those rankings in the future.
Soon it will be 2020. Seven or eight years ago, my predecessors launched the well-known initiative Blueprint 2020. In just over one month, it will be 2019, and we are getting closer to the 2020 vision. In another context, I would go through some of the progress we have made over the last seven years, but what I will say now is that we have to start thinking about beyond 2020. Where do we want to go beyond 2020? What kind of public service do we need to build?
The themes that we will really try to work with—and this will be a process of engagement and listening—are around agility. Dominic Barton, I am sure, talked about this, about the metabolic rate, the pace, and the ability to move people, money, data and information around quickly to address new and emerging issues. It is much more difficult to move these away from things that are now no longer as productive or as relevant as they were when we started them. That kind of agility is going to be very important. Not all public servants are comfortable with this. They like stability, predictability, and organizational charts. They also like to know which box they are in.
Cannabis is a good example of being agile. The Government decided to move in this area. We put a team together from at least four different departments, found some leadership, did the work, and got it going. We will be able to unwind a good part of that special team and return some of those resources to departments over the next year. There are other examples. Agility is a big theme, and we are not built for it. Rather, we are built for a certain amount of stability and predictability.
Inclusion is a second theme. This is not about the kind of employment equity that involves counting various categories. This is about behaviour. This is about how you run a meeting. This is about whether you listen and bring all the talents in the room to bear on a problem. This is about reaching out across stovepipes and organizational charts. There is a lot to do in this area. We cannot afford, given the first theme related to pace and workload, to have a lot of the work done by a small minority of the people. We have to spread it around; we have to include every voice and every talent. Nobody has a monopoly on wisdom and truth. This kind of inclusion is an important part of being effective.
The last theme has to do with getting the tools we need. This means having decent buildings, IT infrastructure, secure networks, servers, and all the kinds of things that are important to do work in 2019. It also means using the HR tools and practices that will allow you to staff, move people and train people more quickly. There has been a lot of headway on this. There are, basically, two public services: one that is now in better-equipped buildings with decent IT and one that is not. The difference between the two is enormous in terms of the way that people feel about their workplaces and their work.
There was a massive investment in science infrastructure in the last budget. I imagine that these dollars are relevant to some of you as are other important recapitalizations. We are finally getting to the point of having a secure IT environment where not everything that is done in a government lab is immediately rolling off a printer in a foreign capital. It is important to have that cybersecurity. This is going to be a major preoccupation over the next year or two.
Now, let me thank you. It has been a phenomenally busy and productive year. I get a lot of feedback about how tired people are. It is a good tired, I hope, in most cases. It is an earned tired. We have to pay attention to the workplace environment, and if it turns into harassment of colleagues or subordinates or bullying or any of that, we are going to have to get on top of that. However, in most cases, it is a tired that is very well earned because we have done amazing things, serving a government elected democratically.
Go watch the news tonight and see what is happening in the world. We still live in a place with free and fair elections, a vibrant legislature, independent courts, a free press, and officers of Parliament who hold the executive to account. It is a special place and many countries are going backwards on those things. We have a non-partisan, values-driven, constantly self-improving public service. You are an enormous national asset and I am very proud of you.
Thank you very much.
Pictures of the event are available on-line.
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