"The Changing Paradigm of Governance"
Are we willing and able to exercise power differently?

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

to the
ADM Forum
Museum of Civilization, Hull
October 29, 1997


Introduction

Good evening. It is good to see you all again. The title selected for my remarks tonight is "the Changing Paradigm of Governance".

If you don't mind I will change the title so that it is better suited to my personality. The topic is, are we willing and able to exercise power differently? Are elected and appointed officials willing to work in partnership with others, able to reach out and involve citizens? Are we willing to share power and responsibility to achieve a greater public good?

Your agenda speaks of leadership, citizen engagement, collaboration, horizontality. Are these words the fashion of the day among senior officials? Or do they reflect a new reality on how the Government of Canada will exercise power?

Leadership, collaboration, interdependence, partnerships, all take shape within a context. In order to contribute to your deliberations tomorrow, I would like to briefly sketch how profoundly different this mandate will be compared to the last one.

I would also like to stress how critical it will be in terms of:

  • positioning Canada for the future;
  • strengthening national unity; and
  • modernizing the relationship between governments and citizens.

How different will this mandate be from the last one?

1. From expenditure reduction to strategic investment

It took 10 years to develop a broad social consensus for governments to bring their deficits under control. During this period many attempts at reducing government expenditures were made, most of them unsuccessful.

We know because we were there, we were a part of it. We had the Nielsen Task Force, we had x budgets, we had salary freezes, we had "doing more with less". These attempts were unsuccessful because as soon as we were finished cutting a program a new one was being created. Decisions to fund new initiatives were made independently from decisions to cut. There was no overall game plan and not enough cohesion within the Ministry to adhere to one.

During the last four years, the government, and all of us in this room, have finally managed to get the job done.

This time the efforts were successful because Canadians were supportive. It was also successful because ministers and officials took the risk of supporting a collective approach to decision making. There were many skeptics. This approach meant trusting ministers and officials to bring forward sound proposals to realign the role of government and to reduce expenditures. What a revolutionary approach, to work together and to trust each other!

The lesson is that shared power can bring greater power. Shared responsibility can bring greater results. The contribution of the Department of Finance should be recognized. They played a key role in ensuring the success of this approach. The budgets during this period were prepared very differently than at any other time before.

We are now entering a very different phase. The Government will move from the overarching goal of deficit reduction to the much more complex goal of preparing Canada and Canadians for the future within our collective means.

It will be a challenging period externally and internally because:

  • There is no overall consensus in society about the best way to prepare for the future.
  • Each new initiative will be well received by a few winners and criticized by all others. Unlike deficit reduction, where every Canadian could see for themselves whether we were getting closer to the overall goal, this time there is no overall measure of success.
  • Some Canadians are of the view that governments cannot be trusted to invest wisely, that as soon as governments have some financial flexibility it will be wasted and not invested.

Internally, it will also be challenging. Will ministers choose to work collectively to make the key decisions that will give shape to their mandate? Will ministers and officials take the risk once more to rise above their respective organizations and focus on national priorities and national needs? What are the incentives? And what are the rewards? Will it be possible for ministers and senior officials to remain focussed on the most important priorities instead of being diverted by a never ending flow of transactions.

It is in this context that the reality of our commitment to teamwork, collaboration and horizontality will be tested. If we are successful, great things will be accomplished over the next four years. If we fail, we should not underestimate the anger and resentment it would create in the public opinion. For some, it would be the proof that government cannot be trusted, and that less government is the only way to go.

2. From independence to interdependence

The Speech from the Throne, presented on September 23, 1997, set the priorities that the Government of Canada will be pursuing to prepare Canada and Canadians for the 21st century.

  • It will invest in education, knowledge and innovation.
  • It will invest in good health and quality care.
  • It will expand opportunities for young Canadians.
  • It will help prepare children to learn and succeed in a modern society.

It is a "people agenda". Each priority is a strategic investment in people. Taken together they provide the essential elements to prepare Canadians for a knowledge-based society. Many of these priorities are horizontal in nature, calling upon the accountability of several ministers and several departments. They are also societal in nature. They go well beyond the responsibility of the Government and into areas of provincial jurisdiction. In fact, they go beyond the responsibility of any one level of government. They call on the need for partnership beyond government.

It is in this context that our real commitment to horizontality among departments and our ability to manage interdependence among governments will be tested. During the last mandate much was done to clarify roles and responsibilities, and to reduce overlap and duplication. That phase is essentially over. That was the easy part . . . the difficult part is just now beginning.

Managing interdependence among governments starts with the recognition that:

  • both levels of government have a role to play;
  • it is not a matter of devolution, opting out or delegation, but rather a matter of how best to work together to address citizens' needs;
  • it requires that governments make a contribution in a manner that is respectful of their respective responsibilities;
  • it requires that governments make decisions and set priorities together; share the responsibility and the accountability.
  • it also requires that governments learn that in the end, criticizing each other undermines the credibility of all governments in the minds of Canadians

We can find many examples of successful partnerships among governments in your respective departments.

The Government's agenda will give us the occasion to go further. If we are successful it will open promising avenues toward modernizing the Canadian federation and it will do much to strengthen the goal of national unity. Failure would mean reverting back to old habits: We have the money, we do what we want, when we want, we do not need to work with anyone including the provinces -- it doesn't matter if it is their jurisdiction. After all we know what is best . . . don't we?

3. From government knows best to citizens engagement

One of the most exciting priorities of the Speech from the Throne is to make the information and knowledge infrastructure accessible to all Canadians by year 2000, thereby making Canada the most connected nation in the world.

This has profound ramifications.

  • It can give a richer and fuller meaning to democracy and citizenship.
  • It can eliminate the disadvantage of physical distance.
  • It could give Canada a comparative advantage in the competition for talent and investment.
  • It can change the relationship between government and citizens.

This will be a huge challenge for all of us. Your agenda raises the issue of citizen engagement. It should take on many forms.

1. Citizens want in, they want to have a say in shaping the policies that will affect them the most.

In your discussions, keep in mind that there are important distinctions between information, consultation and citizens' engagement. We will need to bring greater clarity to our language and our practices.

The purpose of citizen engagement is not to make citizens feel good, but to produce sounder policies. However, it is an arduous and time consuming approach. It should not be undertaken lightly, and it should be reserved for those initiatives that have a major impact on people's lives.

2. Our commitment to citizens should also lead us toward integrated service delivery. A single window for all government services can and should be a reality in Canada . . . Canadians are expecting no less from their Government.

3. Putting citizens first also means giving Canadians the tools to take charge of meeting their own needs. Information technology can help us ensure that the institutional knowledge in the hands of the three levels of government is put to the service of Canadians. They have already paid for the information, it is rightfully theirs, they should therefore be able to have access to it.

I do not underestimate the difficulties, but it must be possible to properly balance the need for openness and access with the need for confidentiality and protection.

It is against this back drop that our commitment to citizens' engagement will be measured. If we are successful, these initiatives would do much to renew and strengthen the relationship between government and citizens. It would also unite Canadians in very real and profound ways, away from the fanfare, legalities and limelight. Failure to make progress would erode the confidence of citizens and, over time, would undermine the relevance of government in society.

I believe that Canada can be at the leading edge of redefining the relationship between government and citizens in a modern knowledge-based society.

There are many other reasons why this mandate will be different from the last one, reasons that are less directly relevant to your agenda.

  • This is the mandate that will see Canada enter the new millennium.
  • Canadians will once again face their old devils of reconciling unity and diversity.

On a different level, I would add that a second mandate is always more difficult than a first mandate, because:

  • there is baggage;
  • the risk of arrogance in the exercise of power increases with time, for appointed, as well as elected, officials;
  • it is hard to always keep a high level of energy and renew oneself; and
  • because fatigue and exhaustion are inevitable.

All of these risks are avoidable but we have to guard against them and watch for the signs in us and in others.

Conclusion

This mandate will be different and in some respects more difficult than the last one. We are entering a phase where Canada is well positioned to undertake an ambitious agenda, one that holds many promises for the future.

Over the coming years, one could:

1. Make substantial progress to prepare Canada and Canadians for the 21st century.

2. Strengthen and renew the Canadian federation by moving from the narrow agenda of overlap, duplication and devolution to the broader agenda of managing interdependence among governments.

3. Give broader and richer meaning to citizenship and democracy.

4. Redefine the relationship between governments and citizens in a modern knowledge-based society.

This chapter is still blank -- there are no guarantees -- there are no forgone conclusions. The results will depend on the resolve and the commitment of the men and women in public office and in the Public Service of Canada.

The questions for us in this room are the same as for ministers. Are we willing and able to:

  • Exercise power differently?
  • Ensure that governments invest wisely?
  • Move from independence to interdependence?
  • Create strong partnerships?
  • Put citizens first in policy formation and in service delivery?

Let me conclude by covering the final theme identified for your workshop tomorrow. I am talking about leadership.

All people in public office exercise power but they are not necessarily leaders. All managers practice management but that does not automatically make them leaders.

Leadership goes beyond setting priorities, getting results, making decisions, issuing orders, and controlling.

For the evidence of leadership, look to the followers. Without them, there are no leaders. Leaders make you want to go beyond what you thought possible. They create a desire to join in, to be part of the collective effort. They make it possible for others to make a contribution and they deliberately build on the strength of others.

Leaders know how to exercise power but they do not depend on the exercise of power to achieve results. They know that to share power is also to share a commitment to results.

Let me finish where I started. Are we willing and able to exercise power differently and to practice the art of leadership?