The Canada Customs and Revenue Agency C
Toward a New Form of Corporate Governance

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Speech by
Mel Cappe
Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet

at the
Revenue Canada Management Forum
on Agency Transition

Ottawa, Ontario
June 22, 1999

Check Against Delivery


I want to begin by passing on to you some words of encouragement for public servants that came out of this morning's meeting of Cabinet. During that meeting, several ministers noted that now, more than ever, public servants - people such as yourselves - are playing a crucial role in nation building. Be proud of the contribution you make and of the high esteem in which you are held by key decision makers, both within and outside government.

This is likely the last time I will speak with such a large group of Revenue Canada employees before the launch of the new Canada Customs and Revenue Agency on November 1st. As Revenue Canada employees, you have accomplished a great deal, and you have much to be proud of.

Although some in the private sector may view the terms "Revenue Canada" and "change" as contradictory, the department has a long legacy of introducing and dealing with change. For some organizations, one great change in a decade would be enough. But apparently this is not the case for Revenue Canada. After merging the customs and excise with taxation to create Revenue Canada, you are now taking organizational change to a new level - with the creation of the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency. Who would have thought that this department would become the public service poster child for organizational reform in the 1990s?

In many ways you are embarking on a path that has been set by others, such as the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and the Parks Canada Agency. However, it would be an understatement to say that the new revenue agency breaks the mould. As I see it, you have taken a blank slate and filled it with ideas and innovation. For instance, as you will discuss later this afternoon, your human resources regime will be built on the premises of flexibility and efficiency, as you seek to create a place where the expression "employees come first" is given real meaning.

The rest of the public service and I will be keeping a watchful eye on your progress - not because of any concern about where you are going, but instead as a result of our interest in, and admiration for, what you are about to do and what we can learn from your experiences. I will not be at all surprised if the day comes when government employees right across the federal public service demand the same type of organizational and administrative flexibility that you will soon be implementing.

Embracing change. Embracing a culture of change is easy for some and a challenge for others. Those of you who have children have seen how easy it is for them to adapt to change. For them, change is fun and exciting. They view every day as an adventure, with new things to discover. This attitude is often shared by entrepreneurs, whose personalities and careers are well known not only for embracing change, but for causing it. As I see it, entrepreneurs constitute a special breed, and we must seek opportunities to embrace their qualities of innovation and creativity within the ranks of the public service. However, for others, change represents a moment of introspection and, in some cases, anxiety and suspicion.

I suspect that within Revenue Canada a similar dichotomy exists. For some employees, the launch of the agency will mark an exciting new beginning, a chance to build something from the ground up. For these people the questions of the day include, Which province will be the first to enter into a tax collection agreement with the new agency?, and, How soon will we be able to ensure that positions are staffed in less than three weeks?

Others will be somewhat less enthusiastic, although they too will wonder about the potential of this new organization. These people may appear more cautious, yet their caution will provide the vigilance needed to ensure that the new agency delivers what is expected of it.

An effective public service must find a balance between these two perspectives. These attributes, boldness on the one hand and prudence on the other, are the keys to successful risk management. I strongly urge each of you to find this balance in yourself as you are called on to help ensure the successful transition to the new agency.

Making things happen. An exercise in change as massive as the creation of the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency will require a team effort if it is to achieve genuine success. A project this big is simply not going to work unless each of you strives to "make things happen.". At a minimum you will be called on to manage expectations, allay fears, answer questions, and think boldly. And you must always keep in sight the ultimate goal: service to Canadians.

If you take home just one message from my remarks today, let it be this: the transition you are about to undergo will be successful only if you have the will to make it so. If you aim low, your achievements will reach no more than a minimum standard. After all, as Robert Browning wrote, "A man's reach should exceed his grasp, or what's a heaven for?". Imagine what might be possible if you set your goals to what others would say is beyond your grasp.

Whether you're in systems, audit, collections, policy and legislation, or anywhere else in the new agency, it is your responsibility to set your goals high and then to make things happen. If you have an idea for doing something better, bring it forward. If you see people saying one thing but doing another, question the inconsistency. If you perceive that excellence and professionalism are not the goals of the people within your organization, insist on raising the standard.

Communication and co-operation. As you prepare for the transition, I urge you to consider just how lucky you are. You have a chance to contribute to a unique exercise in public service exploration and reform. In this regard, the new agency is built on an important premise that is very Canadian in its roots - the idea of co-operation. With your board of management now in place, already interacting with the Minister of National Revenue, and with the assistance of your commissioner-designate, Rob Wright, you will have plenty of advice and direction about how to do your jobs and meet the needs of Canadians. Given the vital role of each of these parties, the importance of communication should be evident.

Managers need information to understand what needs must be met. Similarly, front-line staff need clear and consistent direction if they are to meet those needs. It is a relationship based on mutual support and co-operation.

Co-operation is also something I would like to emphasize for a moment. I genuinely believe that more can be accomplished by a group than could ever be achieved by individuals working in isolation. I ask you to apply this principle to your work unit, your job functions and the future direction of the agency. When employees trust one another and come to believe that success is something best shared among colleagues, co-operation becomes the norm.

When you treat citizens with respect and see them as key components in good operations, you build consensus and better ways of doing business. When you can convince others that you hear their concerns and are responsive to their needs, they will seek you out as partners, believing that you can help them achieve their goals. Thus, by seeing employees, taxpayers and the provinces as partners sharing common goals, you open yourself up to the possibility of achieving great things.

Values. If someone had suggested to us 10 years ago that one of the most fundamental of government functions, tax collection, would eventually be moved out of the core public service, most of us would have shaken our heads in disbelief. Some people are still shaking their heads. To those skeptics still among us, let me say that while the creation of the agency may be viewed as radical reform by some, we are moving forward on the basis of clear and sound analysis and the belief that we can do better.

Certainly, over time, the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency will evolve into something different from the Revenue Canada of today. However, certain fundamental values are trademarks of any public service organization. I know that this is certainly the case for the department at hand. One need only consider the stated and inherent values of the current department and the future organization: democratic values, such as supporting democracy and respecting the role of those elected to public office; professional values, as exhibited in the work and actions of all staff, from clerks to auditors; ethical values, including honesty and defence of the public trust; and interpersonal values, such as care and respect.

Whether you are members of an agency or a department, I know you will continue to serve the public interest, respect merit and non-partisanship, advocate the rule of law, defend the rights of citizens, act with objectivity and impartiality, and behave with integrity and honesty. These values, among others, form the bedrock of any public service organization, guiding our thoughts and actions and providing the principles by which we work. To lose sight of the values that define who we are inevitably leads to lack of direction and confusion about our goals and how we operate.

Let me take the example of serving the public interest. In a recent interview with the Ottawa television station CJOH, I was asked about the image of the public service and why customs officers treat people who show up at the border as if they were criminals. Even though this generalization is certainly inaccurate, what the reporter failed to see was that our customs officers serve the public interest by ensuring that our borders are protected from criminals and terrorists - people who will take any opportunity to enter our country and endanger or destroy what Canadians have worked so hard to build.

I would argue that in all parts of an organization as fiscally oriented as Revenue Canada, the driving force behind what we do is serving the public interest. To put it differently, the collection of taxes is not an end in itself, but the means to deliver service to Canadians, redistribute income fairly across society and ensure that all Canadians are treated equitably.

It has been my experience that when we are in this mode of serving the public interest, the value and importance of our work is enhanced and better understood, not only by Canadians, but also by ourselves. It is bad enough when we read and hear about the perceived lack of value that many ascribe to public service work. It is intolerable when some within the public service take this view. Yet I believe we are entering a period of public service renewal in which we will no longer have to defend what we do. Instead, the value of our contribution to society will be fully understood without explanation or justification.

The role of leaders. As leaders at Revenue Canada, you bear a special responsibility. As I have already mentioned, communication and co-operation will be important elements in the success of the new agency, and you will be front and centre as gatekeepers of both information and activity. I have also talked about a culture of change, and here too I expect you to be advocates and encourage others to join you rather than remain spectators. You are also at the heart of defining the values of your organization, and I implore you to make our public service values work for you. They are your tools for recruiting and retaining employees who will in turn seek out people and organizations who share common values and who strive for excellence. But I would offer a word of caution. Talking about values is one thing. Taking the steps to put those words into action is another. Your actions will always speak louder than your words.

Conclusion. In closing, let me say that I stand before you with a degree of envy. What you are about to do has never been attempted on such a grand scale. Although the challenge is real, so is the opportunity. You are "in on the ground floor," so to speak. You have a chance to build this agency in a way that suits your needs and those of the country. In taking the bold step of moving to this somewhat unique form of corporate governance, the government has put its faith in you. Obviously, those in charge believe you have the "right stuff", the wherewithal to make this work. The question now is Do you believe it?

While you ponder this question, let me encourage each of you to think boldly and, if necessary, take a leap of faith. Avoid the naysayers and the skeptics or - even better co-opt them. Remember those values and how they colour your actions, setting the direction for what you will accomplish as an organization.

As you make this professional and, to some extent, personal transition, I wish each of you the greatest success. Thank you so much for taking the time today to listen, and good luck to you all.