Sound National Policies Require a Regional Voice

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

Regional Involvement in National Policy: "A Culture Shift" 

A Conference sponsored by Human Resources Development Canada, Canadian Centre for Management Development, Privy Council Office and Environment Canada 
Ottawa, Ontario 
September 7, 2000

Check Against Delivery

This conference has a great title, "A Culture Shift" (I will explain why in a few minutes) As well, the subject matter of this conference is really important. Although I get a lot of invitations to speak, unfortunately, I can't accept very many. But when I see one that deals with policy and with regions, I feel it is important for me to accept.

The development of policy and the re-establishment of policy capacity in the Government of Canada are important objectives of mine, and the integration of the regions into policy development is essential. I will come back to explain why.

When I look around the room, I am pleased to notice that I know a large number of people. I am glad in some respects that the usual suspects are here. But I am more pleased to see people I don't know. New people with new ideas are important because we need to think about how to engage people from all across the Public Service of Canada - in the regions and at headquarters - and how to integrate that engagement process in policy development.

Policy development is a messy process. It's convoluted, chaotic, and creative. The way that we establish structures and mechanisms to corral that creativity is new ground to explore. The first time I tried to deal with this issue in an organized fashion was when I was Deputy Minister at Human Resources Development Canada (HRDC). We held a meeting of regional and other managers by putting a whole bunch of people in a room together to talk about inserting regional input into policy development.

We had an excellent turnout - perhaps because the meeting was in Banff. But it was actually quite a dynamic and creative process, and I see that we have now gone beyond that. Here we have a number of departments engaged in this process. The Canadian Centre for Management Development (CCMD) is working on a round table, and lot of people out in the regions and at headquarters are thinking of how to integrate regional thinking and action into the policy-making process.

CCMD's round table on horizontal management, chaired by Jim Lahey, is an important innovation on the part of CCMD President Jocelyne Bourgon. It aims to get people thinking about the problems inherent in policy creation and development and about the implementation of a horizontal process to do these things successfully.

Organized by HRDC, CCMD, the Privy Council Office and Environment Canada, today's conference is an important one. Although there is now a very broad consensus on the advantages of horizontal management, and the benefits of co-operation are readily apparent, most public servants find that this takes both time and money. We need to think these things through and demonstrate the advantages of the collaborative process which you will be talking about today.

We continue to ponder and seek out concrete solutions. Today, it is up to you to propose these ways and means to improve our policy development processes. We have long spoken of partnerships between the federal government and the private and voluntary sectors, not to mention the provinces, municipalities, regional health boards and other levels of government. One challenge remains, however, and a formidable one it is: finding ways of working in partnership with our colleagues in the Public Service of Canada.

So partnership is required in terms of working interdepartmentally and working with regions and headquarters. The round table is working on five satellite processes and this event is probably the largest. That more than a hundred participants came here today, is, I think, a manifestation of your commitment to working on the issue of policy development. I believe that, by being here, you've shown that you see this as an important matter.

The importance of horizontal management in a modern government is not always obvious. As I was saying earlier, having to get the job done alongside several other people can be difficult. What's more, our policies have become increasingly complex. We need sophisticated approaches and processes to deal with strategic matters affecting several departments simultaneously. As Clerk, I almost never meet in my conference room with only one deputy minister; when it comes to discussing a strategic issue, several deputy ministers take part. Each issue of importance to the government goes through several departments, and we need to find a way of involving people right from the beginning of the policy creation process so that their input can be significant.

As André Juneau said in his introductory remarks, I chaired the Deputy Ministers' Task Force on Managing Horizontal Policy Issues in 1996. It was a fascinating process. Sitting on the task force were six deputy ministers and 15 assistant deputy ministers with over 350 years of public service experience collectively. As I like to remind people, we discovered the blindingly obvious: we need to find ways to bring people together if we want to improve the quality of our output.

Let me cite for you a single quote from the task force report (which is available on the CCMD website):

There are no magic solutions to developing a collaborative culture within the public service. It relies on the values, knowledge and skills of individuals and the development of a collegial policy community. Most of all, it depends upon the sustained commitment and leadership from senior management, signalling that team work is the best strategy for policy excellence.

This general statement on horizontal management couldn't be more true now than it was almost five years ago. And it applies very much to regional input in policy development. The title of your conference is "A Culture Shift" and as the quotation just cited says, the shift required is to a collaborative culture. This is not something we have grown up with. It is something we have to be trained to do.

Let me add that we not only need a shift in culture, but we need a shift that is deep and systemic, that touches everyone, and that deals with the way each of us does our job daily.

Building a strong policy capacity is important, but finding a way for regional input is that much more important. Canada is not like a small country in Europe; this is a very large, diverse country. This is not a unitary state; this is a federal state. The role of federal regional public servants in policy development is very important, because regions act as the eyes and ears and voice of ministers. The federal government needs public servants in the regions giving input to the development of policy and being capable of explaining policy.

Let me come back to the ultimate objective, the reason we care about horizontal policy development. The objective of horizontal policy development, which includes regions and headquarters, is to improve the quality of policy outcomes. We have to keep coming back to that objective. It is not just to make regional folks feel part of the team; it's not a "feel good" exercise, it's because the actual outcomes of policy will be different as a result of regional input.

I have spent a lot of time as Clerk talking about the element of diversity and how we have to promote diversity in the federal public service. Another element of diversity is the openness of headquarters to regional input. The diversity that comes from different perspectives is going to improve; it's going to nourish and inform the policy development process. Policy development is inherently creative, messy, and chaotic. It reflects national reality. It is worth doing because it will improve the quality of policy and of outcomes.

More than ever, we need to set our sights on ideals. From now on, we have to get back to preparing tools and methods for involving the regions in the policy development process. And so I ask you, as participants in this conference, to make your recommendations so that we can move ahead with concrete, specific initiatives.

Your recommendations will be given to the CCMD round table that Jim Lahey chairs. I am certain that with the diversity in this room and with the combined experience and knowledge that you bring, you will be able to make some very useful comments about how to change the culture in the public service so that it is open to regional input. One of the strengths of Canada is a strong public service. A focus for you in a non-partisan, professional, national institution is to think of ways to allow regions to have input into national policy development.

Sitting in the Langevin Block at the centre of government, I believe, of course, that the centre has truth and justice on its side, but I also know that I have a lot to learn from people who are out there carrying out policy and administrating programs. What we need from people at the centre of government and at the centre of departments is openness to the regions and the contribution they can make to improve the quality of policy outcomes.

Thank you very much and good luck.