Canada as a World Leader: The Role of the Public Service

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Notes for an Address by Mel Cappe Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet at the Assistant Deputy Minister's Forum

Ottawa, Ontario 
April 24-25, 2001

Check Against Delivery


Introduction

  • Yesterday evening Hervé Sérieyx, the author of La Nouvelle excellence, talked about simplifying the workings of government. He also encouraged us to talk about our mission, which is to serve citizens and to give ministers advice based on our commitment to excellence and the values of the Public Service. From this perspective, I am the "head of mission" at the Public Service.
  • We need to build a culture of excellence - and we have a basis for it. Our strong foundation is our Public Service Values.
  • You've already heard about this subject from Hervé Sérieyx in his book La Nouvelle Excellence.
  • He profiled excellence in a New Economy manager, who must focus on innovation and action in a rapidly changing global environment.
  • That same expectation of excellence is at the heart of the Government's policy, program and service delivery agenda as we witnessed in the Speech from the Throne when it points to the need for social inclusion.
  • Now add to that, this conference's title: "Canada as a World Leader: The Role of the Public Service". Excellence has to be at the core of our role if we are serious about becoming global leaders.
  • The clincher came recently when I read a review in the "New York Times" about a new book by Philip K. Howard that makes a disturbing case.
  • His book is entitled: The Lost Art of Drawing the Line - How Fairness Went too Far.
  • One of Philip K. Howard's arguments is that the public sector has made up rules that allow its employees to work risk-free, and that efforts to use these rules as the way to ensure fairness has just stifled excellence and encouraged mediocrity.
  • Is that true here in our Public Service?
  • Take the issue of human resources management, where Public Service managers have had responsibility yes, but not authority.
  • We've talked about achieving excellence without the full set of tools at hand to demand it.
  • We all know of examples in which people, including senior leaders, accepted weak results on human resource issues because pushing for excellence was not seen as worth the risk or the time or the effort.
  • That's not sufficient.
  • We face the kinds of challenges which require high quality performance and results which Canadians expect from us. Your leadership as Assistant Deputy Ministers will be key to the needed cultural change.
  • So my message to you today is simple.
  • You now have responsibility for human resources management, soon you could have the authority to achieve a higher level of human resources management excellence which is required of the Public Service in the 21st century.
  • I often talk about E-government: I used to say the "e" stood for enabling - I now say it stands for excellence.
  • And even without full authority - you don't have to wait for reform - as Assistant Deputy Ministers you can use your current responsibilities to be agents of cultural change.
  • As leaders, you can clearly signal your demand for excellence from those around you.

Excellence in Public Service

  • Do I think there is an epidemic of mediocrity in the Public Service?
  • No
  • Over my career I have been enormously impressed with the commitment and professionalism of the people with whom I have worked in the Public Service - I have met all levels who are committed to excellence.
  • The Prime Minister put that commitment to excellence and its importance very clearly in his reply to the Speech from the Throne.
  • "An activist government requires a first class public service. I am proud of our public service. The government will take all the steps necessary to ensure that we continue to have the talent necessary for a public service that is committed to excellence."
  • And we need excellence just to do the work before us as a result of the Speech from the Throne.
  • Building a more innovative economy, a more inclusive society with opportunities for all, a clean, healthy environment and an enhanced Canadian voice in the world drawing on our shared citizenship.
  • In fact, the Speech from the Throne specifically recognized the importance of a high quality Public Service in achieving Canada's and the Government's goals.
  • But you all know that the commitment to excellence is not always universal.
  • We have all seen examples of indifference.
  • We must not be satisfied with mediocrity. It should never be acceptable if we want the Public Service to stand out as a values-based institution - one that serves Canadians and supports our Ministers to the best of our ability.
  • It shouldn't be acceptable if we want the Public Service to be a place where our people make the best possible contribution to their country and to their fellow citizens.
  • We must demand greater professionalism.
  • I know you are aware that achieving a real and consistent commitment to excellence is your job as leaders. You should demand it of yourselves and of the people in your teams.
  • It is what I expect from you, and what Deputy Ministers also expect - it should be at the centre of your thinking about the people we hire and the way we lead them.
  • This is why human resources management is such a priority.
  • We all want to work in high performing organizations. It is how we should manage our performance management: we should insist on excellence, and we must support managers who insist on excellence

The Path to the Task Force

  • When I became Clerk, I knew that human resources management would be at the core of our efforts for excellence.
  • But I deliberately postponed the modernization of our legislative framework.
  • In my view, we had not used the existing system to full advantage; we were not using the flexibility we already had.
  • Since I became Clerk, the labour market has changed dramatically. In recent years, we have had difficulties competing for talent.
  • Since the beginning, I have also said that the central agencies cannot be blamed just for acting according to the law.
  • Let's look at the role of the Public Service Commission. It does what the law requires and upholds the merit principle which has been developed over time, within a specific merit system.
  • It has also introduced flexibilities.
  • We have made significant progress in a short span of time.
  • The departments are testing new approaches and sharing their results; the central agencies have supported new ideas. We have seen all sorts of innovative practices, as with the technicians at Transport Canada and Industry Canada.
  • And we're not done. Far from it.
  • Over the next seven years, over half the workforce at the Public Service will be renewed.
  • We need a flexible human resources management system that is responsive to our needs.
  • Practical experience has shown us that the existing legislative framework focuses on equity at the expense of efficiency.
  • We need to be effective, but without sacrificing equity. Otherwise, the talent we are trying to attract will go elsewhere.
  • I'll give you an example: it took me six weeks to staff a support position at the desired level of competence.
  • You may have heard a recent interview on CBC Radio about the slowness of the staffing process.
  • The person had applied for a job with a federal department. It took more than 12 months before she found out that the competition had been cancelled. Obviously, by that time she had found a job in the private sector, but she was disappointed about not getting a job in the Public Service.
  • When the media report such a case, it hurts our recruitment efforts. We have our work cut out for us, even before the reform.
  • Let me give you a personal example. My son's girlfriend wanted to join the Public Service and she got a job offer in the private sector in November, but the Public Service couldn't offer her a job until February.
  • Naturally, she took the first offer, the private sector job, in November. Actually, offering her a job in February was progress; that was three months faster than the previous year. Things are getting better, you say. So they are. But we could do much better still.
  • I pointed much of this out in my 8th Annual Report to Parliament to the Prime Minister on the Public Service of Canada tabled on March 30, 2001.
  • I said we needed to move from an "incremental approach to reform to a more fundamental reform of the legislative framework for human resources management in the Public Service."
  • And that process has now begun.

The Task Force

  • As the first step in bringing our human resources management framework up to date, the Prime Minister announced on April 3 the creation of the Task Force on Modernizing Human Resources Management in the Public Service.
  • Ranald Quail, the former Deputy of Public Works Government Service Canada agreed to take on the challenge of leading the Task Force.
  • Its mandate is to recommend a modern policy, legislative and institutional framework for the management of human resources.
  • I understand the doubts about this initiative. There have been a lot of studies and initiatives over time.
  • I won't list them all. Instead, I will summarize the core message of three of them:
  • in 1962, the Glassco Royal Commission recommended, "let managers manage."
  • in 1979, the Lambert Royal Commission said, "make managers manage."
  • this year, the Auditor General said, "please... manage!"
  • Ronald Bilodeau, Associate Secretary to the Cabinet and Deputy Clerk of the Privy Council, has discovered a 1947 study written by Walter Gordon which proposed a reform of human resources management in the Public Service.
  • Today, it is up to us to take up the challenge.
  • A few weeks ago at Canadian Heritage, I listed all the studies and commissions we've had over the years. Apparently, someone thought it was pathetic.
  • I don't entirely agree, though there is some truth to the comment. But let me ask a question.
  • First of all, have we drawn any lessons from these initiatives?
  • Increasingly, we are emphasizing the role of managers in human resources management.
  • Public Service 2000 led to some amendments to the Public Service Employment Act .
  • La Relève created a sense of urgency: suddenly, human resources management, new collective programs and functional communities became much more important.
  • Deputy Ministers, Assistant Deputy Ministers and other managers are taking a greater interest in human resources management than ever before.
  • In response to the Auditor General's comments about too many players in the human resources management system, the Government recently decided to transfer The Leadership Network to the Treasury Board Secretariat.
  • The federal government recognizes the Network's useful work and I want to ensure that the momentum and the high quality of the work will be maintained.
  • As Assistant Deputy Ministers, you will therefore continue to receive the same quality services from Frank Claydon's, Secretary of the Treasury Board and Comptroller General of Canada, team, that is to say the collective management of Assistant Deputy Ministers.
  • Similarly, the mandate to create and support leadership networks throughout the Public Service will remain unchanged.
  • What did the efforts of the past yield? Is it because our predecessors were lazy? No.
  • They came up against obstacles but they made headway nevertheless.

The Political Will Behind the Task Force Commitment

  • For our predecessors, an important obstacle when it came to change in human resources management was often political will - this has been documented by the Auditor General.
  • But the time is ripe for change. I don't have to tell this audience how little happens when a Minister is not engaged on a file, or how much is possible when a Minister is committed to a policy direction.
  • In Mme Robillard, we have a President of the Treasury Board who is very determined to see fundamental change happen - and to make sure that it happens as quickly as she can help make it happen.
  • She is not alone in her determination to see change take place.
  • A recent "Hill Times" article reported an excerpt of the President of the Treasury Board's answer to a question during Question Period in the House of Commons:
  • "... Mr. Speaker, it's a firm commitment of our government, and it was stipulated in the throne speech. It's a firm commitment of our Prime Minister to have a public service able to face the challenges of the 21st century, to continue tone ensure very good services to our fellow citizens and all Canadians. So the will of the government is there. We have a Task Force set up, and you'll see in the coming months already those changes that will have been brought about in the system to allow us to improve it."
  • The unions are encouraged to be part of the change. Frank Claydon and Ranald Quail met with the unions and I believe that they will be supporters of change.
  • There is also a clear commitment to Public Service reform in the Speech from the Throne.
  • "The Government is committed to the reforms needed for the Public Service of Canada to continue evolving and adapting. These reforms will ensure that the Public Service is innovative, dynamic and reflective of the diversity of the country - able to attract and develop the talent needed to serve Canadians in the 21st century."
  • I can tell you that when the proposal for a Task Force went to Cabinet, Ministers showed a keen interest in this issue and in getting results.
  • There is a very real sense that reform is not just an internal issue - this is an issue that touches Canada and Canadians.

Track One - What the Task Force Will Do

  • With this support, the prospects for the work of the Task Force on Modernizing Human Resources Management in the Public Service are very positive.
  • The Task Force will look at the Public Service Employment Act, the Public Service Staff Relations Act, the Financial Administration Act and, as necessary, other legislation.
  • It will look at the human resources models in other governments and will assess ideas suggested in past studies and reviews - this is the need for evaluating our work that Hervé Sérieyx calls for in talking about excellence.
  • It will develop concrete proposals for reform.
  • The analysis of the studies to date suggest three common themes for any new framework:
  • there is a need for clarity in roles of the players on human resources management;
  • managers must have a greater responsibility for human resources management; and
  • there is a need to improve the efficiency of the system and ensure fairness in the treatment of employees.
  • As I already mentioned, efficiency and equity are not at odds - we can do both because excellence is the result we are trying to achieve.
  • We know that the human resources management framework needs to be guided above all by values of merit, non-partisanship, representativeness and competence.
  • The new framework will be driven by four guiding principles:
  • first and foremost, the protection of merit, non-partisanship, and competence in a representative Public Service;
  • management should be responsible for human resources management;
  • authority for human resources management should be pushed as far down in the organization as appropriate; and
  • managers should be held to account for the exercise of their responsibilities.
  • The Task Force will not be working off in a corner, by itself:
  • it will be supported by the input of an External Advisory Group with people from the private, public and academic sectors;
  • the Task Force will dialogue with the unions and will have coordinated links with central agencies and departments; and
  • there will be consultations with other groups as well - this is the need for "listening" to which Hervé Sérieyx refers.

Track Two - Using Existing Tools to Make Progress

  • While work is in progress on what we are calling track one, the departments and central agencies must continue working on track two - that is to say, they must continue making the most of the existing system.
  • To underscore the importance of track two, let me remind you that recruitment, retention, learning and official languages are clear priorities in the 2001-2002 performance agreements for Deputy Ministers.
  • I expect to see the departments using the human resources options developed by the Public Service Commission wherever possible.
  • Scott Serson, the President of the Public Service Commission, has undertaken to improve the system within the existing legislative framework.
  • Many Deputy Ministers and most of you will have to follow up on the recommendations of the Perinbam and Smith task forces in order to ensure that we have a diverse workforce.
  • We must base our efforts on initiatives that have proven successful, such as the Career Assignment Program for Aboriginal persons in which there are now 26 new Aboriginal participants.
  • We must also strive to be present on university campuses.

The Assistant Deputy Ministers as Human Resources Leaders

  • What does this mean for Assistant Deputy Ministers? First of all, both tracks involve challenges.
  • The Deputy Ministers will be part of the entire process and therefore you will be called upon to contribute to the legislative and non-legislative changes that are both necessary and possible.
  • To do so, you must act as human resources leaders; as I said in my annual report, intelligent human resources management is an integral part of good management.
  • Be demanding. Demand excellence.
  • We need to show a human touch through small gestures, such as putting your own signature on job offers in your division or your region, and extending a warm, personal welcome, as the Assistant Deputy Minister, to each new employee.
  • Ronald Bilodeau is chairing a co-ordinating committee of central agency Deputy Ministers which will integrate the progress made on the two tracks and studying various strategic issues.
  • This is the sense of integration and horizontality to which Hervé Sérieyx refers. All Deputy Ministers will be asked to take part - through breakfast meetings, the work of the Committee of Senior Officials, and retreats.

Conclusion

  • The Government has given us both a challenge and an opportunity - to strengthen Canada's place in the world, to help achieve a more innovative economy and a society that fully includes all its citizens.
  • Your panelists today will address some of these challenges.
  • However, Canada cannot reach any of those goals without the talent, the innovation and ideas required for renewal in a knowledge-based Public Service.
  • Modernizing our human resources management system is quite simply a strategic action that can help us take on more responsibility for excellence in results.
  • It will be a way to help create a climate of cultural change and openness that attracts the new generation of workers that Hervé Sérieyx described.
  • There are also the longer-range impacts. For years, leaders in the Public Service said, "Give us a simpler, more efficient and responsive system, based on values and not hamstrung by complicated rules!" - complex, yes, but not necessarily complicated.
  • As they say, be careful what you wish for - you could end up with the responsibility and authority that comes with getting a system that could, and let me underline that, could have the following features:
  • merit as a principle that we adhere to and live by, and not a rigid system that we have, and that drives us to a risk-free, lowest common denominator;
  • a simpler, more efficient and responsive system based on values that demand excellence;
  • more investment in people and relatively less in administrative processes; and
  • clearer human resources management roles and responsibilities, along with accountability for results.
  • You could end up with the authority to demand excellence.
  • It is up to you to build the commitment to observing values in an environment where "managers manage".
  • You already have the tools to make your workplace more attractive and one that focuses on getting the job done.
  • Above all, you could become accountable for effective human resources management and for excellence in results.
  • The managers who report to you are looking for this. When I met with middle managers at the start of the month, they talked to me about their role as leaders.
  • Before we go to questions, I want to tell you a final story.
  • The Privy Council Office recently hosted a delegation from the Government of South Africa which was headed by a Minister in the President's Office.
  • They told me they have been working out how to build a modern, representative public service for the last six years, after decades of apartheid.
  • I pointed out that they shouldn't feel too badly, we've been working at it for forty years.
  • The fact is - we know what needs to be done and we're well on the way.
  • Canada has a very strong Public Service, based on merit, competence and non-partisanship, with a strong tradition of leadership and you are part of it.
  • Now we have a plan: two tracks to ensure that strength endures.
  • But, you don't get to excellence without trying and taking risks, or without demanding it of yourself and your staff.
  • I would rather talk about interesting mistakes than stupid successes.
  • Remember that one of the problems with not fighting mediocrity is that indifference is contagious. It is not fair to expect high performance from some staff, and not from all staff.
  • But just as indifference is contagious, so is excellence. Demand it of yourself and your staff. We must emphasis the good performance of employees.
  • I can also say that I would rather fail at this endeavour than not try at all.
  • Of course I'd rather succeed, and we will succeed.
  • Ranald Quail, Frank Claydon and I will support Minister Robillard in putting new legislation before Parliament within 18 months, based on the principles I already outlined today.
  • Hervé Sérieyx in La nouvelle excellence also talks about the fact that action management involves impatience - 18 months is our target.
  • But you, as Assistant Deputy Ministers, can start by leading the needed cultural change right away you don't need to wait for legislation.
  • In practice, Assistant Deputy Ministers will bring the new human resources management approach from both tracks in very practical ways.
  • Your leadership will make a difference: this is the need for commitment that Sérieyx points to. You will set the expectations for your teams and make sure that they can call on the necessary supports.
  • You will lead changes within our existing framework to improve our workplace in order to attract, and keep the talent we need.
  • You will step up to the plate in a climate where risks taken for good reasons and in principled ways are an expected part of your job.
  • And the end result will be a stronger capacity, through our people and our talent, to focus on what really matters - serving the public interest and trying to make Canada a better place.
  • Thank you.