Remarks on Public Service Renewal to the University of Waterloo Alumni

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Remarks by Kevin G. Lynch
Clerk of the Privy Council, Secretary to the Cabinet and Head of the Public Service of Canada

February 5, 2009
Waterloo, Ontario

[ PDF 1.1 MB ]

First, an observation: Leadership, whether public sector or otherwise, is not generic. But it is crucial... and we need to better develop and value public sector leadership.


  • Personal leadership
  • Operational leadership
  • Executive leadership
  • Institutional leadership
  • Inspirational leadership
  • National leadership

Consider Further:

  • Responding to unexpected events/crises
  • Protecting against poor decisions ("do no harm")
  • Innovating in the face of the status quo
  • Changing the status quo

Second, a key characteristic of public service leadership is the ability to understand the institutional and situational context...

Parliament: 12 Agents of Parliament (Auditor General, etc....), Parliamentary Committees

Federalism: Federal, provincial, territorial, and municipal governments; aboriginal self-government arrangements,...

International/Transnational Institutions: UN systems, Bretton Woods Institutions, WTO, G-8, APEC, NAFTA,...

Transparency: Access-to-information, reporting requirements, accountability laws

Information: 24/7 info cycles: many delivery media (radio, newspaper, TV, internet, blogs, YouTube etc.)

... in today's context of great complexity.

Globalization: Pervasively interconnected global markets for capital, goods, services, people, information

Demographics: Aging population, influencing everything

Security: International terrorism, dysfunctional states, global crime networks, regional conflicts, etc.

Competitiveness: Dynamic, not static

Environment: Climate change, both local and global reality

Human Capital: People, key to modern "Wealth of Nations"

Third, Public Service renewal is driven both by demographics and by this increased complexity.

The Demographic Challenge of the Public Service

Average Age of Public Servants: 44
Average age of EXs: 51
Average age of ADMs: 54
ADMs who can retire now with non-reduced pensions: 31+%
Executives who can retire by 2012 with non-reduced pensions: 50%
Public servants who can retire by 2012 with non-reduced pensions: 25%

The Dynamic Imperative for Renewal: Demographics and Increased Complexity

..."The world in which the federal Public Service operates has become more complex and unpredictable. This new environment is characterized by an aging population, a globalized economic landscape, ever-changing information and communications technologies, the emergence of new horizontal issues and changing public attitudes to government"...

Report of the Prime Minister's Advisory Committee on the Public Service

Fourth, public service leadership is about excellence, about making a difference, and about being able to mobilize for change to achieve these objectives.

Photo: Book cover for 'Our Ice is Melting'

"6 Steps"

  • Create sense of urgency

  • Build guiding team, strategy for change

  • Communicate like crazy

  • Expanding the "change team"

  • On-going, visible "wins"

  • Not letting up, create new culture

Fifth, we are a core national institution.

Image: Map of Canada

Federal Departments and Agencies 255,000
Police and Security Forces 23,000
Canadian Armed Forces 65,000
Crown Corporations 100,000+


  • 54% Female
  • Avg. Age: 44
  • 29.5% French (first language)
  • 9.6% Visible Minorities
  • 5.5% Persons with disabilities
  • 3.8% Aboriginal peoples
  • 0.8% of the Canadian population

Sixth, we have to rebrand the public service, and the value of a public service career, in today's context of who we are and what we do.

Image: Cover for 'Why Consider a Career in the Public Service of Canada?' Presentation

Seventh, we need an aspiration --- excellence.

Excellence matters...and, Canada's benchmark should be global, not local or regional or national.

Being average is not good enough

Eighth, public service matters to our country.

As the Prime Minister's Advisory Committee on the Public Service stated:

"...a well-functioning and values-based public service is critical to the success of every country in today's complex and interconnected world. ...a high quality, merit-based Public Service is part of Canada's comparative advantage and a key to competitiveness in the global economy."

In our own words,...

Ninth, public service matters to our country.

My Canada , My Public Service video

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