Canadian Student Leadership Conference

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Notes for an Address by
 Jocelyne Bourgon
 Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet

 Ottawa, Ontario
 January 24, 1997


  • I would like to thank Sally Campbell, your conference organizer, for inviting me to speak today. This is a rare opportunity to address students in leadership and some of the nations future leaders.
  • I was asked:
  • To tell you what it means to be the Clerk of the Privy Council, the Secretary to the Cabinet and the Head of the Public Service.

  • To talk briefly about the qualities I think are needed to be a leader and, in particular, a public sector leader.

  • To turn to the future of the public service and the role you might play in it as tomorrows leaders.

  • As I thought you might be especially interested in the latter, I have saved it for last.


  • Let me start with a few words about my job.
  • The Public Service of Canada serves Canadians and their elected representatives. The Clerk has broad responsibility for the two primary roles of the Public Service: policy development and service to Canada. I therefore have an overall responsibility
  • To ensure that the Prime Minister and his Cabinet receive sound and thoughtful policy advice upon which to base their decisions.

  • As a result of those decisions, to ensure that public servants provide citizens with high-quality programs and services.

  • As Head of the Public Service, I must ensure that the Public Service constantly adapts to respond to the needs of the Government of Canada and of Canadians. I must help ensure that the Public Service of Canada will remain a modern, vibrant, national institution, staffed with highly competent and committed professionals ready and able to face the challenges of their time.
  • So what does this mean on a practical, day-to-day basis?
  • As Clerk, I work every day with the Prime Minister, ministers, deputy ministers, interest groups and the citizens of Canada.
  • I am an appointed official, not an elected one. Therefore, my function is very much different from that of a minister.
  • My role is to prepare the foundation for the work of the Prime Minister and ministers. This means ensuring that the Public Service comes up with the best research, the best analysis, and the most thoughtful options possible C so that the Prime Minister and ministers have the tools they need to make the decisions which set the course for Canada. Their job is to lead the evolution of the country; mine is to lead the Public Service of Canada.
  • In my role, one is in a good position to learn about Canada and to marvel at the commitment of ministers and the dedication of public servants.
  • Every week, the Privy Council Office is expected to provide advice covering the entire spectrum of policy questions and operational issues facing the Government.
  • Officials bear great responsibility. Public servants are responsible for the quality of their advice and for their professional work. And the quality of their work determines how well ministers will be able to fulfil their role, how many reforms they will have the time to introduce, and how efficiently the reforms will be implemented.
  • To fulfil this advisory role requires
  • Strength and competence in every department and agency.

  • A team of highly competent staff in the Privy Council Office to respond to needs and to ensure the whole operation runs smoothly.

  • In my job, one learns quickly about the importance of relying on the strength of others and of removing the obstacles that prevent ministers and officials from contributing to the fullest.
  • The Prime Minister and his Cabinet have the ultimate responsibility for making the final decisions. The Cabinet system, as you know, is where the elected officials who collectively run our country make the decisions that will ultimately affect the life of every Canadian. Through that system, ministers are collectively responsible for government decisions.
  • Once decisions are made, I must work with my colleagues in the various departments and agencies of government to ensure that the decisions are implemented in a way that best meets the needs of Canadians. As you know, implementation is never easy. In fact, implementation often reveals the real quality of a proposed reform.
  • Implementation is achieved through a network of 24 departments; 37 Crown corporations; 26 tribunals and quasi-judicial bodies; and at least 48 service agencies of different types. Each organization has its own purpose, role, culture and management style.


  • Although I have briefly described my role, I have yet to say something about leadership. In a nutshell:
  • All people in public office exercise power, but all are not necessarily leaders.

  • All people in charge of organizations practise management, but that does not automatically make them leaders.

  • In other words, some people in authority, some managers, go beyond the routine of setting priorities, organizing the work, achieving results, appointing and firing, making decisions, and issuing orders. Some create among the people around them a desire to follow, to be part of it, to join in, to make a contribution. Creating this desire is one of the signs of leadership.
  • There are many who know how to exercise power and authority, and who do it well. But only a few practise the art of leadership.
  • For the evidence of outstanding leadership, look for the followers. Without them, there are no leaders.
  • At the risk of boring you, since you are all students of the art of leadership, a word on my personal observations about leadership. Over the last 20 years, I have been fortunate to observe leaders in action - in politics, in government, in the private sector, in the not-for-profit sector and in private life.
  • Leaders have a number of characteristics in common.
  • They think clearly.

  • They can articulate their beliefs and values.

  • They have established their own assumptions about human nature C because leadership is about people.

  • They understand the role of their organization.

  • Managers who practise the art of leadership share a concept about people. It begins with an understanding of individual gifts, talents and skills. It recognizes that the organization's needs are best met when each and every one in the organization is allowed to make their special gift a part of the corporate effort.
  • Each of us, no matter what our rank in the hierarchy, wants similar things. We want
  • To be needed and to apply our talents towards making a contribution

  • To be involved in the collective effort

  • To understand corporate needs

  • To be accountable for our contribution to the group

  • To make a difference and be proud of the results achieved

  • Managers who are also leaders are those who help create an environment that satisfies these needs. But let's be modest. Any manager knows there are days when we succeed, or play a leadership role, and there are days when we are simply good managers. On the latter days, we rely on the strength of others and follow their lead.
  • Leaders in the public service need all these qualities and a bit more.
  • Leaders in the public service need a sense of country. They must be loyal and committed to the public interest as represented and interpreted by the duly elected government of the land.
  • They must be strong believers in the importance of democracy and of the rule of law in meeting the needs and protecting the rights of citizens.
  • Public servants hold a public trust. At all times, they must put the common good ahead of any private or individual interest.
  • Public servants serve citizens, not customers. Citizens are equal bearers of rights as members of a community where competing interests must constantly be balanced.
  • Finally, public servants must be able to serve in a neutral and non-partisan manner.


  • As Head of the Public Service, I have a responsibility to ensure that we have the people we will need to meet the challenges of our time C today and in the future.
  • Let me close, then, by addressing my next few remarks to those of you in this room who are contemplating a career in the Public Service or, perhaps what is even more important, to those of you who have not thought about the Public Service as a possible career choice but who might be persuaded to do so.
  • The public sector makes a significant difference to the performance of nations. The public sector contributes to competitiveness, provides countries with a comparative advantage in their competition for trade and investment, and contributes to citizens' quality of life and standard of living.
  • Any country would be handicapped if it could not rely on a strong, competent and professional public service. Any government would be handicapped if it did not have a high calibre public service to carry out its policies and programs.
  • Canadians and their elected representatives have always been able to rely on a public service that is one of the best in the world. People in public life and in the Public Service are committed to taking the necessary steps to ensure that Canadians will continue to live in a country that is considered among the best in the world. This will mean that
  • Canada must continue to regain its fiscal sovereignty.

  • Canada must give itself competitive advantages to succeed in the community of nations (e.g., education, learning, information technology).

  • Canadians must modernize the social union of Canada, the sharing community.

  • The Public Service must rethink its ways of serving (e.g., new technology, partnerships, service delivery).

  • We must renew the ranks of the Public Service.

  • To meet these challenges, the Public Service must be able to attract highly skilled, talented and motivated people to lead us into the future.
  • A career in the public sector is exciting. No other career offers the same diversity, breadth of experience, or complexity C and all within the same organization.
  • And there has never been a more interesting time to work for the Public Service. This is our opportunity to ensure that Canada will enter the next millennium as a united country and as one of the best countries of the world.
  • So why might you want to join the Public Service of the future? I will mention a few reasons.
  • First, to serve. The role is to serve the Government and the citizens of this country, to contribute to the public good and to make a difference.

  • Second, to work with those who are reinventing the role of government C to integrate the global scene, national policies and citizens' needs.

  • Third, to learn and be challenged. No other organization in this country can give you the diversity that exists within the Public Service of Canada, or the breadth of experience.

  • Fourth, to join an exceptional team. To work with colleagues from across the country, who are equally talented and committed.

  • Fifth, to discover the richness of this country and its people. Very few employers in Canada can offer you that.

  • A sixth reason, and I will stop there, is the opportunity to be involved in major issues. When you sit down tonight and watch the news, or tomorrow when you read the newspaper, remember that someone in the Public Service of Canada has been working on many of the issues that you are reading about or seeing on The National or on CBC News World. The issues could be national unity, job creation, or the health care system. And you could be a part of the team that works on these critical issues.

  • Now this career is not for just anybody. The people we need:
    • Are not looking to get rich, though you should be able to expect fair compensation.
    • Are not looking for fame or for prestige (you would work behind the scenes).
    • Are not looking to have an easy, carefree job.
  • But if you are looking for a sense of giving to your country in a unique way and an exhilarating sense of contributing to the future, then consider the Public Service of Canada.
  • In the end, one of the best reasons to consider a career in the Public Service is that the leadership qualities I described are exactly what the Public Service will need. If you have these qualities, we need you to help us carry the country into the future.
  • Thank you.