Association of Professional Executives
of the Public Service of Canada Symposium
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Notes for an Address by
Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet
May 27, 1998
It is a pleasure to be here. I would like to do three things today: put Canadas public sector reform in a world context; remind us of the "Canadian model" of public sector reform and say a few words about the challenges ahead.
Public Sector Reform -- The Context
Nations around the world have been rethinking the role of government and the organization of their public sectors. The reforms of some countries are well known -- the "United Kingdom model," the "Australian model" and the "New Zealand model".
But they are not the only reforms. Countries in western Europe are working to create a more integrated and flexible system. Countries in eastern Europe are working to create the mechanisms needed for a market economy to flourish. Many countries in Africa and Asia are struggling with economic adjustment and public service downsizing, while trying to create at the same time democratic and market institutions. Some Asian countries face the challenge of moderating unrestrained market forces.
There is no "right" or "perfect" model of reform. In all countries, the approach depends on political, economic and cultural circumstances but we are all pursuing the same goals: to provide citizens with the benefits of a well-performing economy and a well-performing society; to balance the pursuit of collective and individual enterprises; to prepare for the future.
It is the same in Canada. Canada has adopted an approach adapted to the Canadian reality. We have written an important chapter about redefining the role of government and reforming public sector institutions.
It was carried out in a typically Canadian way calmly, competently and without much fanfare. What we have accomplished has been truly exceptional and it is being recognized internationally. It has been discussed at a Commonwealth conference, at the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development and more recently, at the United Nations.
The Canadian Model of Public Sector Reform
So, let me remind you about the "Canadian model" of public service reforms by summarizing its underlying principles. None of the principles is uniquely Canadian, but taken together, they amount to an approach sufficiently different from any other country to warrant attention.
The Canadian model of public sector reform recognizes the importance of affordable government, but rejects the philosophy that less government is synonymous with better government.
It is an important principle. It means that the purpose of public sector reform is not to make public sector services more attractive to potential buyers but to provide government that is affordable, that is focused on the key issues facing the country and that provides modernized service delivery to the public.
The Canadian model of public sector reform recognizes the importance of partnership and strategic alliances.
For the public interest to be well served, government does not need to do it all. Instead, government must build on the strength of others the private sector, the voluntary and not-for-profit sectors, and citizens themselves. In every department today, you can find all types of partnership arrangements, each one different, each one building bridges among sectors to achieve a common goal. That was not the case, just a few years ago.
The Canadian model reaffirms the importance of citizens well beyond their role as customers and clients.
Put simply, this means that the public sector cannot be run like a business. A citizen is not the same as a customer. It means that the Public Service of Canada must be run in a manner consistent with public sector values and principles.
We are as committed as the private sector to quality of service and to efficiency gains, but for reasons of public interest. Quality, out of respect for those we serve. Efficiency, because each dollar saved can be applied either to providing more service to Canadians or to reducing their tax burden.
Canadian public sector reform has given equal weight to strengthening policy capacity and modernizing service delivery.
We have many reasons to be proud of the progress to date in this area. On the policy side, we now have a government-wide network of the policy units in 30 federal departments and agencies with a shared work program. Their initial findings have been discussed by 300 policy analysts across government and with 40 external research organizations. The network is planning to hold a national conference in the fall of 1998.
On the service side, in every department, one can find integrated services among departments and agencies, integrated services among governments, and increased use of information technology, connecting Canadians and their communities, giving them access to the knowledge currently in the hands of three levels of government. We have not adopted a "one size fits all" approach. Instead, we have encouraged experimentation and the emergence of a diversity of institutional models.
The Canadian model requires strong leadership from both elected and appointed officials.
In the U.K., Australia and New Zealand, public sector reforms were the result of strong political leadership. In our case, the approach was one of shared leadership -- political leadership to realign the role of government, to ensure balance, and to stay the course; public service leadership to bring forward creative options, to make feasible what is desirable, and to ensure smooth implementation.
The Canadian model of public service reform has worked for us. The results are there for all to see. We have overseen the most fundamental realignment of role in the public sector of Canada since World War II. We have produced the first balanced budget since 1970. We have reduced federal government spending as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product to its lowest level since 1949-50. In the process, we have modernized our service delivery, strengthened policy capacity and begun to rejuvenate the institution.
And this was achieved while maintaining a strong economic performance and preserving a quality of life that is among the best in the world.
We have all paid a high personal price to achieve these results. But we must make sure that it was worth the effort. We must quickly reassure ourselves that the public service and the employees of the Public Service of Canada have come out better for it.
Let me now turn to the challenges ahead.
Putting the Public Interest First
In my annual report to the Prime Minister, I indicated that one of the key challenges would be to create a fuller, richer relationship between government and citizens. We must give citizens a greater voice in developing government policy and more access to government services on their terms and according to their needs and circumstances.
Let me elaborate briefly.
I am talking of citizen engagement
Citizens wish to relate to their democratic and public sector institutions in new and different ways. They are no longer satisfied to participate in an election every four or five years. They want to have a say in the policies that affect them most. They want to be partners in shaping Canadas future.
Over the years, we have gained experience in using different ways of involving citizens -- from the provision of information, to the reporting of results, to major consultation processes. As we speak, there are 300 public consultations exercises under way across the Public Service of Canada.
We must now go beyond this to a new frontier and learn about citizen engagement. It is a two-way learning process between citizens and their democratic and public sector institutions. It involves trade-offs and a search for common ground. It is not easy; it is time consuming; it can be costly. But used appropriately and selectively, the results are worth it.
We already have some examples from which we can all learn. The National Forum on Climate Change brought together a panel of citizens to examine the issues, challenges, opportunities and trade-offs for Canada. Rural Dialogue has been launched to engage rural Canadians in a discussion of the priorities and challenges that they face in order to shape future federal programs and services around their needs.
Making government accessible
Information technology allows us to imagine new ways of connecting with citizens. It enables us to provide universal access and equal opportunity of access for all Canadians to connect citizens and their communities, to break down traditional disparities and the barriers imposed by distance. And it could help to forge a stronger democracy by opening new ways for citizens to express themselves to government and to each other.
The examples of Schoolnet, Human Resources Development Canadas 5000 kiosks, Strategis and Team Canada Inc. are all well known to us. Each one is an important step.
We must also make progress, in projecting a common image, and sharing common infrastructure for the Government of Canada to provide a single window centred on citizens needs.
Putting people first
Creating a fuller, richer relationship between government and citizens is a tall order. But it is doable and it must be done because it is the driving force behind the most important challenge of any public service putting the public interest first. It can only be done if we are successful in addressing our own internal challenges putting our people first.
We have a number of challenges ahead of us. There are two basic goals. First, we need to know more about us our skills, our experience, our career aspirations. We need much better human resources planning systems. We cannot credibly say that people are our most important resource if they are the resource about which we know the least.
Second, we need to improve our capacity for corporate communications our ability to communicate with each other on major initiatives or issues affecting the public service as a whole.
But let me turn from the specific to the broader goals.
A borderless institutions
The first goal is to make the Public Service of Canada a borderless institution. A borderless institution is not an institution without structure, without a legislative framework, without an accountability regime. Rather, it is an institution which has learned to operate in the "post-structural" era. In the "post-structural" era, you do not reorganize and change structures each time linkages are needed among people or respective organizations.
A borderless organization support and encourages teamwork and encourages the movement of people in order to broaden their knowledge and experience.
A borderless organization is one where people think beyond the borders and are not limited by its walls where people are able to connect to anyone, anywhere for the purpose of pursuing their mission.
This type or organization already exists. We are all part of many networks, we are all part of vertical and horizontal teams. This approach holds great potential for the future.
A learning organization
The second goal is to make the Public Service a learning organization. We are already a knowledge-based organization. We gather, manipulate and use knowledge to create policy options, laws and public services.
But we must become a learning organization and that is different. A learning organization generates new ideas but can also acquire ideas generated elsewhere, useful in the pursuit of its mission. It shares knowledge and insight to multiply and expand their potential application. It constantly modifies its behaviour to reflect new knowledge and insight.
A learning organization is the key to ensuring the ongoing relevance of government to changing needs and to playing the strategic role governments are expected to play in a global knowledge-based society. It is also the best way to provide a measure of security to employees in a fast-changing workplace -- knowledge and a diversity of experience are the true meaning of job security.
A borderless institution based on knowledge and learning will challenge our traditional concept of what it means to be an employee, a manager and a leader.
In a knowledge-based organization, the employee owns the most important resource of the organization -- his or her knowledge and know-how. With that comes a responsibility to look for solutions, to contribute ideas, to share information, to innovate and make a contribution and with the home organization, the employee shares the responsibility to keep his or her skills, knowledge and expertise current and contributes to the development of others.
Managers need a new approach to management.
Creativity cannot be commanded or controlled . Management is much more about removing barriers so that the group can achieve its full potential. It is about creating a climate of trust, encouraging collaboration and fostering inclusiveness in order to get the best from everyone.
Finally, a word on leadership. The Public Service of Canada has always had the good fortune to count many great leaders throughout its ranks. Some were managers, and their leadership qualities magnified the impact of their work. Many more were professional, technical, operational, administrative or support staff. Their leadership qualities allowed us to bring about results that most believed beyond our reach.
To become a learning organization centred around citizens needs, we will need to rely on the efforts of many leaders, many champions at all levels, in many fields and on every issue.
Leaders do not lead all the time we all lead sometimes and follow others most times. Leaders know how and when to rely on the strength of others.
Last year I told you that the Public Service of Canada is in good hands because it is in your hands. Let me simply add that it is always a great privilege to follow your lead in the initiatives that you bring forward to reform the public service. I also want to thank you for the honour of having allowed me to lead you through a very special period in the life of the Public Service of Canada.
Under your leadership, I have no doubt about the success of the reforms to come. Thank you.
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