Remarks by Michael Wernick, Clerk of the Privy Council, at the  Canada School of Public Service’s National Managers’ Community Exchange


National Managers' Community Exchange - December 11, 2018
National Managers' Community Exchange - December 11, 2018

December 11, 2018
Michael Wernick, Clerk of the Privy Council

Check against Delivery

Good afternoon everyone. Thank you, Taki [Sarantakis, President of the Canada School of Public Service] for the introduction.

Let me acknowledge that we are gathered on the traditional territory of the Algonquin peoples of this region and thank them for their hospitality. I would also like to thank everyone who works on the National Managers' Community, not only for making this event possible, but also for making connections, networking and tools available throughout the year. This is volunteer work, for the most part, and we especially appreciate people who make a difference to the rest of the Public Service because we are all extremely busy.

As we head into the holiday season and come to the end of the year, I want to acknowledge that you are probably feeling a little bit worn out and tired. I hope that it is a good tired. It has been an extremely busy year of working on behalf of Canadians and their elected government.

We have been doing some stocktaking and looking back, as is the custom around this time of year, before we pivot into thinking ahead to 2019. Although we have worked some communities and departments particularly hard over 2018, I think that there is no quiet corner of the Public Service these days. I want to acknowledge that contribution and dedication.

I do not think the workload is ever going to go down. The important thing is that we have to learn the tools of personal and organizational resilience and make sure that fatigue does not turn into bad behaviours, harassment, or interpersonal conflicts. We do have to learn to work at a high tempo and with a heavy workload. That is the Public Service that we are headed towards.

It is very important that we focus on the kind of public service we want to be and the kind of work that we want to be doing, and shed some of the process- and rule-driven work that we do not want to be doing. When we can do that, we will free up the time, energy and focus for the things that are truly important.

I just returned from the last Cabinet meeting of the year, or at least the last scheduled one, barring an emergency in the next three weeks. It was the last meeting that any Cabinet will have in that room for another 10 years. They will be moving to the West Block and a new cabinet suite.

My point is that these are all team efforts. The most significant work in government today is being delivered through the joint efforts of Ministers and departments. There is a real premium, therefore, on collaboration, partnership, a win-win approach, and helping each other realize goals. Nothing on the list of deliverables that I would create could be the territory of just one minister, one deputy minister or one department.

I am thinking, for example, of the negotiations on a free trade agreement with the United States and Mexico. Two and a half years of negotiations culminated in an agreement, which is ready for ratification in Canada. I am thinking of the enormous national experiment, a first for a G7 country, in the legalization and regulation of cannabis. Again, this was a two and a half year effort in consultation, engagement, and development, to legislation, regulations and law enforcement. It is now an economic development and an export opportunity. People have had to work their way through a wide range of issues.

We have done a reset of how we think about assessment in the approval of major resource projects and infrastructure. This is making its way towards the end of the Senate process, and about six departments are involved in that. National security legislation has been completely overhauled and now involves more oversight, transparency and recourse. This is also with the Senate. The government is very committed to making sure that there is a price on carbon pollution. We have worked through the design of putting a price on pollution, legislated it, and are now moving to its implementation. This has involved considerable regulatory work, and the design of a climate action incentive, among many other things.

We have served the government extremely well, in the matter of our trade. Canada hosted a G7 and there was a very interesting G20 in Argentina just a few weeks ago. I have had the opportunity to attend the fifth First Ministers Meeting in less than three years. We are working in collaboration with territories, provinces, and Indigenous governments on issues ranging from internal trade to competitiveness, to dealing with the shocks to our economy, whether from the auto industry in Oshawa or the oil patch in Calgary.

There has been a considerable amount of legislation. Most of the very big bills are now with the Senate and are about to emerge or will come back with amendments. We are now used to coping with an effective, independent Senate, which was a completely blank page and new adventure three years ago. We have learned how to work with the Senate as an institution and Senators as individuals. As far as I can see, and based on the feedback I have received, this is working extremely well. We have taken a national institution that was in disrepute four years ago and made it a vital part of our governance system. Public servants had a lot to do with that.

When we come back from the Christmas break, it will be to a different kind of year. It will be the fourth year of a fixed mandate. The election will take place on Monday, October 21, 2019. You can put it in your calendar. Effectively, for people who work in the policy and the parliamentary spaces, it is going to be a half-and-half year—six months of governing and six months of waiting for Canadians to decide who they want to govern from then on.

This also means that we will only have 14 weeks of parliamentary time and, possibly only, 14 Cabinet and Treasury Board meetings. It will be a very limited funnel. Therefore, I do not know which film metaphor you prefer. One is inspired by Indiana Jones. In this one, the door is coming down slowly and inextricably and your Minister is trying to slide under the door with one last piece of legislation or one last proposal for Cabinet to consider. The other one is the garbage compactor in Star Wars with all the walls closing in. The metaphor you choose probably depends on the file you are working on.

My point is that we are now getting to the end of this mandate and the Public Service is starting to think about completion and implementation. Many initiatives are now at the delivery stage, with rollout, hiring staff, getting services moving, and putting agreements in place. It is a big year for implementation and, for some people, a year of reflection about the next Cabinet for four years, and the challenges and opportunities for this country for the next mandate. As the Public Service, we will be off and running and working in partnership with whomever Canadians elect next October. As I have said before, in 2015, we went from one fully functional government of a blue stripe to a fully functional government of a red stripe in 16 calendar days. It was impressive.

Nobody else in the world can do that better than us. We will do it again, if we need to, or we will just pick up where this government left off. That will be up to Canadians to decide.

When you go to your holiday gatherings, celebrate with your families, and see friends, there will inevitably be someone who chirps at you about your being a public servant and how comfortable your life must be. We have all heard that. Just make sure that they understand that you work for a public service that is ranked, objectively, as the best, most effective public service in the world. That is you. Give yourself a hand.

That matters. Look around the world. In country after country, things that we take for granted—free elections, an independent judiciary, a free press, independent courts—are under siege or being rolled back. In the capitals of some of our great partner democracies—Paris, London, Washington—there is complete, utter governance chaos. We live in a country where Canadians can still elect their government, which can govern openly and effectively in partnership with, and accountable to, legislatures and to Canadians.

The Canadian government also ranks number one in the world on openness and transparency. That is something that we have all collectively come to terms with and learned how to implement in the last 10 or 15 years as successive governments have made more things open and transparent to Canadians. Sometimes the world looks like a struggle between the forces of division, closure, intolerance, hatred and separation, and the forces who are fighting for the rule of law, the importance of institutions, inclusion, open borders, open trade, and open minds. The rule of law matters, courts matter, and legislatures matter.

The free press is very important, and so are Officers of Parliament and Parliamentary committees. If we did not have these, we would regret it. We have to make sure that those relationships stay strong. The institution that is never talked about is a politically neutral, professional, values-driven and excellent public service that is never complacent and always trying to renew itself. There is not a single country in the world with which we could trade public services and be better off.

That is an asset. I want you to tell that story to your families, your communities, and your workforces, which are probably feeling a little weary. There are many issues, I acknowledge, in your program today. One of the things that we do is to open up those issues, talk about them, recognize them, name them and try to find solutions. That is our ongoing challenge for 2019 and beyond.

I have one legal responsibility as set out in law, which is to give the Prime Minister, before March 31 every year, a report on the state of Canada's Public Service. I will do that again this March. I need your help to do this. I would like you to tell me your stories and I will be your spokesperson and ambassador. I will be a conduit to tell these stories to parliamentarians, journalists and, most importantly, other public servants. We need to keep that energy, morale and commitment high because you are going to hear about the many things that we would have, could have, and should have done better.

We do not hear enough about the success stories, innovations and creative solutions that public servants create every day, and they are incredible. I know this because people do send their stories to me and I read them, watch their videos and make visits. People have often done amazing things with very few resources, but they have taken charge, have been entrepreneurial and have decided to take on a problem and solve it. I want to make sure that you understand that you do have air cover from the Clerk and from the deputy minister community to be creative, take risks, look for innovation, try to solve problems, and deal with the personnel problems in your teams. Do not delegate them up to your boss. Part of the role of the middle manager is to deal with people.

You have more impact on things like mental health, harassment, the work environment, moral and energy than anybody else does. You are the face of the Public Service and the 260,000 men and women who come in to work every day. They do not see me very often. They see their frontline supervisors and their middle managers. You have a huge influence through the tone you project, how you spend your time and energy, where you are physically, what you are doing, and whether you are present on various communication tools.

I would encourage every single one of you to get on GCTools. If you are not already, you should be on at least one of them, whether GCconnex, GCpedia or GCcollab. Go back to your work teams on Monday and ask how many people on your team are on these tools. Be there and be engaged with people. You can find people across the stovepipes of organizational charts within departments and across communities. They are strong communities. The regulators, scientists, lawyers, auditors, policy people and communicators. I urge you to go find them, engage with them, and learn.

Taki is working very hard at making sure that our learning infrastructure and environment are there all the time in an online environment. It is not the only way to teach or learn but it is an important one in the 21st century. You can check out this very tangible thing.

I will give you a preview of what you will hear. It is almost 2020 and seven years ago, my predecessor Wayne [Wouters, former Clerk of the Privy Council] launched the Blueprint 2020 exercise, a process to engage our colleagues in defining the Public Service of the future. We identified goals and themes that we wanted to work towards. We have made significant progress on some and less progress on others, and we have measured ourselves against these goals ever since. As it will be 2019 next month, we are going to move the language to Beyond 2020. We are going to engage our staff again, as we always do, because that is part of being a high-performing organization. This means continuous engagement of the people who work with us on how to be more agile, more inclusive, better equipped and more resilient because the workload is going to be relentless.

Those are the conversations that you should be taking charge of, to define problems, construct solutions and work with each other. I encourage you to take the space that you have to lead. These are hard jobs. Though I am not one now, I was once a middle manager. I have done these jobs. It is tough to be between senior management and the workforce. People would tell you that at IBM, Google, General Motors or any large organization—middle management is a particularly tough challenge.

I think that one way in which we can make your life more sane and rewarding, remove some of the irritants and frustrations and provide more feedback on what is working will be through direct conversation and dialogue. This means a dialogue among yourselves and between you and senior management and the kind of people who may be able to either fix things or clear the way. This dialogue will be intensifying in 2019, but I wanted to, at least, give you a taste of that.

I will end here because I think that I have used up almost all of my time.

We are going to have to tackle many things together next year. Our history and the measurement tools that I cited earlier show that we know how to do this. We have faced some tough challenges in the past. Time after time, the Public Service has responded to the challenges that have been thrown at this country and its governments, and we have succeeded. I know we will do so again in the future. That is because of people like you.

Thank you very much

Pictures of the event are available on-line.

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