Into the New Millennium -
Canada and the Federal Public Service

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

at the
Assistant Deputy Ministers' Forum

Ottawa, Ontario
October 27, 1999

Check Against Delivery

I would like to focus your attention on the policy agenda of the federal government as we enter the new millennium, and, in that context, what this means for the Public Service of Canada. This policy agenda really goes to the heart of the role of government. It is also critical to the future of the public service. Our ability to make Canada a better place by shaping and implementing public policy is the greatest attraction of our work as public servants. And dynamic policy is essential to our goal of making the public service an employer of choice.

In discussing the management agenda during the recent Association of Profession Executives (APEX) conference, I said that, to become the employer of choice, we have to focus on four themes: the quality and nature of work, our work environment, the work processes, and leadership development. Today I would like to particularly focus on the first theme, the quality and nature of our work, as determined by the government's policy agenda. I will touch on the fourth theme, leadership, as well.

In looking at the development of the policy agenda, which culminated in the recent Speech from the Throne, you will see that we now have in place the conditions and the direction to launch a reinvigorated policy role for the federal government and a solid basis for making the Public Service of Canada an employer of choice.

I would like to cover, first, the policy agenda to open the 21st century; second, the implications of this agenda for both policy development and for program implementation and service delivery; and, third, a few specific themes or approaches to carrying out government policy through our management agenda. I'll begin by briefly sketching the evolution of the government's agenda to date.

The Evolution of Public Policy

Three remarkable shifts in the governance of this country have better positioned Canada for the future. They are our improved finances, a citizen-focussed agenda, and an emphasis on greater collaboration.

Improved finances. In 1994 we faced a critical fiscal challenge, but the public service answered that challenge with professionalism and dedication. We did this by ensuring collaboration between the political will of the government and our own commitment to professionalism and non-partisanship. Without our efforts, the fiscal turnaround would not have happened. Now, thanks to the hard work and support of yourselves and all Canadians, the government is in a budget surplus position, the debt to gross domestic product ratio is declining steadily, interest rates are low, and the unemployment rate is steadily coming down. It now stands at about 7.5 percent.

Internationally, Canada is showing great promise for the 21st century. The International Monetary Fund expects that, in both 1999 and 2000, Canada will rank second among the G-7 countries in real growth of gross domestic product, and will be ahead of these countries in the pace of its employment growth. According to the World Economic Forum, Canada's world-wide competitiveness ranking has increased from 16th in 1994 to fifth in 1999. And Canadian companies increased their exports by 113 percent between 1990 and 1998.

The financial situation of governments has improved dramatically. In 1992, Canada had the second-highest total government deficit among the G-7, the group of seven leading industrial countries. By 1998, Canada had the second-largest surplus, after the United States. The federal government has regained the ability to make choices in how it will help build the future. What is equally notable is the fact that we were able to achieve this remarkable fiscal turnaround without fundamentally jeopardizing our very attractive way of life. According to the United Nations development index, Canada has been the number-one country in which to live, for six years in a row.

This turnaround allows the government to move toward a public policy framework that is more outward-looking and oriented to the future. In short, we can now make choices. The role of government is being redefined as a result. The hard lessons of the recent past have highlighted our fiscal and policy limitations. At the same time, these lessons have led us to discover new ways of doing things.

This means that government can and, if it chooses, will take steps to address the policy priorities of the next millennium, and it will do so in a more rational and co-ordinated manner. Continued fiscal prudence will be essential. More emphasis on priority-setting means that some good initiatives will not be implemented, and greater co-ordination between departments means pooling policy and administrative resources. As well, look for wider partnerships with provinces and with private, volunteer and other organizations outside government. We will be more effective and efficient if we work with others.

A citizen-focused agenda. Restoring the nation's finances is a major item, probably the most important single accomplishment of national will this country has achieved since the Second World War. But now that we have the capacity to make choices, what will we base those choices on? The "what" of policy will be a citizen-focused agenda. This is the second federal policy shift. It is the government's decision to make the citizen - not the economy, not the consumer price index, not infrastructure, but the citizen - the focus of federal public policy.

Until recently, a government's primary responsibility to its citizens has often been taken as a given, an operating assumption that doesn't need to be explicitly articulated. Thus, governments have built their agendas around structural issues such as tax reform, deregulation, eliminating the deficit, or free trade. These are important and legitimate objectives, of course, but often mistaken as an end in themselves rather than a means to an end. The policy agenda set out by this government recognizes this distinction and, as a consequence, is much different.

Essentially, the government has taken its core responsibilities to citizens and made these its agenda priorities - children, youth, health, learning and innovation. This means not only a more intense focus on the impacts of policies and program delivery at the level of the individual, but also a shift in the time frame addressed by the policy agenda. In essence, our policy goals now have no real finish date. They have instead become identical to the priorities of Canadians - essentially, work and family - and they will be advanced by long-term investment in the fundamentals rather than short-term spending on specific initiatives. To develop and manage this agenda requires each of us to listen to citizens, involve them in our policy development, and focus on them in our service delivery.

This policy shift has its origin in the lead-off to the 1997 Speech from the Throne. Beginning in 1996, as we dealt with the issue of unity, it was recognized that, in order to be a legitimate policy priority and not just a tactical concern focused on any one province, the objective of unity had to apply to the country as a whole. Unity must identify with and appeal to the common purpose of individual Canadians.

Focusing on the citizen allows us to tap into and promote the most rock-solid, unifying force in this country - the common interest that all citizens have in good health, clean and safe communities, meaningful employment and career opportunities, fair and just laws, and the respect of others. These things are just as important to somebody who lives in Chicoutimi, Quebec, as they are to someone who lives in Terrace, British Columbia.

Under this framework, first elaborated in the 1997 Speech from the Throne, securing unity becomes much more than a federal-provincial relations issue. Unity is built brick by brick, as a result of virtually every policy and program of government. Moreover, unity is continuously reinforced because this policy agenda has no end. We will never be able to say "the well-being of our children - done," or "skills and knowledge development - done," and then walk away.

Greater collaboration. The "how" of the new policy and service agenda will be collaboration. This, the third major policy framework shift, is in large part a result of the movement toward a citizen-based agenda for the government. This is the reorientation of the government toward greater collaboration among federal departments, with provincial and territorial governments, with the private and voluntary sectors, and with other entities and organizations that have a role to play in addressing the common issues of citizens.

When it came to intergovernmental relations in the recent past, the emphasis was on addressing overlap and duplication: If we could just establish firm jurisdictional borderlines, then the federal and provincial governments could just do their own things and never have to talk to each other again. But that was based on a false conception of watertight compartments between federal and provincial jurisdictions, a concept that is inconsistent with modern governments dealing with modern problems and with the priorities of modern citizens.

In adopting, for example, the policy goal of ensuring the well-being of Canadian children, the federal government had to ask itself, "Can we do this alone?" and the answer was "No." Can provincial governments do this alone? No. Can the federal and provincial governments do this together? No. And that is because, if you're dealing with the children's agenda, you have to have the volunteer sector, parents, and the private sector on your side.

In recognizing this, the government underwent a dramatic shift in its approach to intergovernmental relations and intensified its focus on partnerships. In 1996, we had collaborative use of the spending power, and we worked with the provinces and territories to create the Joint Ministerial Council for Social Policy Renewal - establishing joint priorities for children, youth, and persons with disabilities. This ultimately led to the joint creation of the National Child Benefit System.

The social union framework, launched in February of this year, represents the latest and most significant manifestation thus far of this increasingly collaborative approach. This type of co-operation is also happening elsewhere, notably at the operational level, focussing on service delivery. For example, in June of this year, Revenue Canada began collecting provincial sales tax at the international borders in Ontario. It is now moving toward a similar agreement with British Columbia. And, in September, Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the Government of Quebec signed an agreement to improve and better co-ordinate the design and delivery of programs to people in Quebec who fish for a living.

The title of the 1999 Speech from the Throne is Building a Higher Quality of Life for All Canadians. We do this every day through the delivery of services to Canadians and through an active and dynamic policy agenda. The quality and nature of our work is such that we, individually and collectively, can help Canada be a better place. This is a huge attraction for encouraging new people to come work with us and for retaining experienced staff who are already in a position to improve Canadians' quality of life.

The 1999 Speech from the Throne is firmly anchored in the new federal policy framework. The work on this speech actually began at the Cabinet retreat last December and continued at the deputies' retreat in April. At neither retreat was there any doubt about continuing with fiscal prudence, collaboration, and the citizen-focussed agenda. As a result of discussions, nine medium-term policy planning papers were tasked to lead deputies and later fed into the Cabinet retreat in June, with the priorities review process in Cabinet committee shifting and redirecting the thematic approach.

Now, we have to remember that the work of the policy research initiative was to focus on long-term issue identification and analysis without necessarily having an early harvest on the policy initiatives side. But the medium-term papers are to clarify our thinking for the next transition. The medium-term policy papers that resulted from this process were on productivity, tax reform, quality of life, diversity, skills and learning, Canada-U.S. relations, Canada and the world, sustainable development, and national institutions. From this process emerged the idea that every initiative or direction could fit under the broad theme of quality of life for Canadians in their work, in their families, and in their communities.

Over the summer, more work was undertaken by the medium-term policy groups to prepare strategic policy advice for the Prime Minister. That advice formed the basis of the 1999 Speech from the Throne, which is essentially the manifestation of the three pillars of the federal policy framework that were laid down over the past five years: the restoration of fiscal stability beginning in 1994 and achieved in 1997; the shift toward a citizen-based policy focus in the 1997 Throne Speech; and the collaborative approach to addressing common concerns of citizens, also inspired by the 1997 Throne Speech.

The Culmination of Public Policy: The 1999 Throne Speech

The policy plan that is set out in the 1999 Speech from the Throne reflects these core policy parameters: citizen focus, collaboration, and fiscal prudence.

Citizen focus. Let us return to the title of the 1999 Speech from the Throne. It is Building a Higher Quality of Life for All Canadians. As the Prime Minister has said: "Canada - the place to be in the 21st century." The Throne Speech sets out an agenda that is squarely focussed on citizens, committing the government to action on the following priorities: children and youth; a dynamic economy based on investment in innovation and learning; health and quality care; the environment; communities; Aboriginal peoples; and Canada's position in the world.

This is an exciting agenda that touches every department and agency of government. It is important in terms of new policy initiatives and in terms of service delivery to Canadians. It addresses real-world issues that Canadians from coast to coast can relate to and can legitimately expect their government to act on. Moreover, our ability to deliver on these issues will determine the success of our country in the future. As such, these issues are meant to guide all future policy initiatives, not just those stated in the Throne Speech. In other words, you must look beyond the specific deliverables of any new policy or program delivery option, and you must identify how your choice will affect these priorities for the individual citizen.

Collaboration. The commitments of the government in the 1999 Speech from the Throne are wide-ranging and comprehensive, and obviously cannot be delivered by the federal public service alone. As a result, the Throne Speech recognizes that new and revitalized partnerships are critical to the government's ability to act in these areas. It commits the government to working together with provincial and territorial governments, voluntary and community organizations, businesses, and individual Canadians. In fact, the word "partner" appears 19 times in the Throne Speech, showing the government's commitment to this feature of its new policy framework.

Fiscal prudence. The Throne Speech also recognizes the difficult fiscal hurdles that we have only recently overcome. It places great importance on prudent fiscal management through commitments to continued reductions in the ratio of debt to gross domestic product and a long-term plan for tax relief.

The Effect of Public Policy on the Public Service

What does the federal policy framework and the 1999 Speech from the Throne mean for the Public Service of Canada?

The fiscal turnaround has meant that we are now in a very new position; we can make choices about the country's future. This is a significant turning point, but one that was achieved only after difficult choices and hard lessons. We will not go into deficit again. We must carefully reflect on the fiscal implications of each and every policy initiative under consideration. This means that priority-setting, both across and within departments, will become extremely important. It also means saying no. Having priorities implies that we will not do some worthwhile initiatives.

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the 1999 Speech from the Throne is the fact that its focus on citizen priorities commits the government to an agenda that goes beyond its current mandate. As such, this Throne Speech is a policy event, not a political event, that lays out the core objectives of the government and Public Service of Canada for much longer than the next two years. The citizen-based agenda means that policy initiatives and new program delivery systems must be firmly anchored in the common concerns of Canadians from coast to coast. This requires a long-term focus and a willingness to look beyond the specific parameters of any one government or any department's jurisdiction to ensure that policies and programs complement each other in improving the daily lives of citizens.

Collaboration will be critical to our success in delivering on this agenda. This means not only federal-provincial and public-private sector partnerships, but also partnerships across federal departments. Horizontal decision-making must become the norm, not the exception, in federal policy development.

At the Deputy Ministers' Task Force on Horizontal Policy, deputies and assistant deputies with 500 collective years of experience discovered the blindingly obvious: first, that we improve outcomes by working together; and, second, that there is no substitute for insisting that people collaborate.

The collaborative effort in developing the nine medium-term policy planning papers that fed into the Throne Speech is a prime example of the success of this approach. It must be continued and expanded. At the same time, the need for horizontal co-ordination means that we must move deliberately on the government's agenda. For this reason, any measures to implement the commitments made in the Throne Speech will still have to go through Cabinet committees and be approved by Cabinet before being announced.

Our ability to implement the policy agenda of the government requires that we leave behind the notion of a division between policy development, on the one hand, and operations and service delivery, on the other. This notion never did hold water because "policy" covers the whole of government activities. How we organize ourselves internally, how we deal with citizens at the service delivery window, how we communicate with each other and individual Canadians - all determine our ability to deliver on the government's agenda and, as such, are part and parcel of the policy process.

Recognizing this requires action on two fronts. First, operations and service delivery must incorporate the core policy themes of fiscal prudence, citizen focus, and collaboration; these guidelines are not just for the departmental policy shops. Second, initiatives coming from the policy shops must be informed by the real-world experience of the field. To accomplish this, we need much more than two-way communications across functions. We need to eliminate the notion that there are separate functions. And we need to act to ensure that our work incorporates the totality of perspectives, priorities, and limitations across our national and regional offices.

Public Policy and the Management Agenda

I said I'd touch on my fourth theme at the APEX conference: the management agenda's focus on leadership. Leadership may mean collaboration, facilitation, letting others lead, or not being present at all. We will have to be ready to accept these new roles, and be willing to work together to achieve common policy objectives. We must also appreciate the fact that leaders are necessary at all levels in an organization.

Developing these leaders is essential to our becoming an employer of choice. Individuals must be given the opportunities and environment to develop their leadership skills wherever they work, from the service windows of line departments to the offices of the deputy head. You, as assistant deputy ministers, will be on the front line of this new leadership style, and the focal point for action on the citizens' agenda and collaboration.

I challenge you assistant deputy ministers to move forward today. I challenge you to begin by putting in place an environment that eliminates the policy versus operations and service delivery distinction. I challenge you to integrate the experiences of both headquarters and regional offices in developing and implementing policy. I challenge regional offices to initiate policy, and I challenge the centre to listen.

Delivering on the government's policy agenda will require a skilled and motivated federal public service. To do this, we must become an employer of choice. Your success in revitalizing the concept of leadership will go far in achieving this. But you must do more than this, because becoming an employer of choice means more than just a changed work environment. It will also mean successfully implementing the core elements of the federal policy framework - fiscal prudence, citizen focus, collaboration. This is because becoming an employer of choice is about changing the perceptions of current and potential employees.

We already have in place the most important tools available to accomplish this task - a dynamic policy framework, an exciting program and service delivery agenda, and a sound fiscal foundation that will provide the resources and consistent, long-term focus necessary to attract and retain talented Canadians in the service of their country.

An essential next step is to communicate this fact, and we will accomplish this primarily through our actions. We must maintain our commitment to fiscal prudence and sound economic management. We must be willing to collaborate with partners across the public and private sectors in the development and delivery of public policy. And, most importantly, we must focus and deliver on a citizens' agenda common to all Canadians, and we must incorporate the principles of that agenda in our day-to-day dealings with the public.

In doing this, we will be communicating to current and prospective employees that the federal public service is a dynamic, creative and, above all, relevant place to work in the service of one's country and fellow citizens.


As you heard in the Speech from the Throne, the government will support us in implementing its policy agenda by focussing on the recruitment, retention and continuous learning of a skilled federal workforce. As an essential component of our ability to deliver on that agenda, I have made these people issues a priority, as the deputies here this morning know very well. They are already working it into their roles as champions and through the work of the Committee of Senior Officials (COSO) and three newly created COSO sub-committees: Recruitment, Learning, and Workplace Issues.

This will enhance the impact of the important steps already taken with initiatives under La Relève and The Leadership Network. In fact, today The Leadership Network is releasing the second in the series, A Day in the Life of the Public Service. I urge you to read it carefully and make sure it gets distributed in your organizations. In this document, public servants talk about how important their work is, how much satisfaction they get from it, and what an interesting place this is to work in. As well, I've written an article on public service values and how to make the Public Service of Canada a true employer of choice.

These are things that I can do and that the centre, in general, can do. But, as assistant deputy ministers, you play a critical role. By encouraging people to join us and stay with us and grow with us, you ultimately establish much of the climate that will determine our success in meeting the government's policy commitments. You, as good leaders, will help develop the leaders in your groups.

I want to challenge each of you to return to your own workplace and take the steps that will make it possible for you to show how you are recruiting good people, retaining them, and directing their energies into making the federal policy framework a reality. In doing so, I want you to remain aware that what we do in policy, operations and service delivery has to fit together. We cannot afford to "ride madly off in all directions." That message comes through clearly in the government's policy agenda and the Speech from the Throne, and it is the expectation of our ministers.

To get that kind of collaboration right means action by leaders who work with others to develop a vision for change - action by leaders who follow through on that vision to get results that matter to Canadians and, by so doing, make us an employer of choice.