PCO Farewell Reception for the Clerk

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

June 25, 2009
Ottawa, Ontario


At the outset, I want to express my appreciation to Sanjeev Chowdhury, Jean-François Tremblay and Marie-Lucie Morin for those outrageously untrue but unbelievably kind words, to Dave Hicks and Deb Brown for their scary ability to create such digital stories, and to all who are so generously organizing these farewells and are secretly thinking “enough already, will he just retire”.

For my part, I agree it's time to retire but I find good-byes too final, so let me focus today on saying thanks.

First, I want to thank this remarkable country, Canada, where someone from Cape Breton, a remote, largely rural and relatively poor part of Canada, equipped with a public system education, could become the Clerk of the Privy Council of Canada.

Now some might interpret this as anybody can be Clerk (and did) --- but I believe this shows that everyone has the opportunity to achieve whatever they are capable of, regardless of background, region, gender, language or culture, in this country we serve.

You should also know that many in Cape Breton interpret this job quite literally, and while they are happy that a native son has both a secure clerk's job and a secure secretary's job with the federal government, they're not sure what the fuss is all about; after all, they suspect there are many clerks and secretaries in Ottawa.  They also worry about whether it is a tad greedy on my part to have two jobs when there are so many in Cape Breton who deserve one.  But I digress.

Now, you might ask, why does he mention Cape Breton --- after all, I've lived in Ottawa for 33 years.  I believe, strongly, that the public service has to attract people from coast-to-coast-to-coast to be able to understand this wonderful but complex country, and help the government of the day govern it.  As the saying goes, where you stand influences what you see, but it does not necessarily dictate how you see it.  That is the value of diversity to the Public Service of Canada.

Second, I want to thank the Public Service of Canada, a great and essential Canadian institution.  It affords unbelievable career possibilities, and presents opportunities to make a difference, in ways big and small, to Canadians.  There is truly no career like it.  That's why you joined it; that's why I joined it.  My 33 years in the public service, 15 years as a deputy minister, and over 3 years as Clerk, have given me amazing professional satisfaction.  I would not trade a minute of that experience for anything else.

Third, I want to thank the Prime Minister for appointing me the 20th Clerk of the Privy Council.  The role of Clerk is a very unique one in our Westminster system of government.  The Clerk must be non-partisan; the Clerk must have a close and respectful relationship with the Prime Minister; and, the Clerk must be available 24/7/52 offering advice, guidance, support and making decisions across an amazing range of issues.

The Clerk's position affords extraordinary opportunities to meet with Canadians from coast-to-coast-to-coast, to interact with world leaders, and to experience history being made.  My two extended trips to Afghanistan were life-changing; my visits to Canada's North underscored as nothing else how unique and special being a northern country is.  My visits with our Special Forces provided a unique understanding of what commitment to country and purpose really is.  My recent visit to New York after the financial crisis reinforced how the public policy choices we've made in Canada really have made a positive difference, and makes you proud.

Fourth, I want to thank the Deputy Minister community.  There is truly no other job like that of a deputy minister: it is all consuming; it is difficult; it is occasionally frustrating; but, it is unbelievably important.  You are an amazing group, a great asset to our country and to the government.

Fifth, I want to thank the PCO Executive team.  I have been blessed with the most talented, committed, innovative and hard working team that exists anywhere in government, and no-where in the private sector.

Sixth, I want to thank Angèle Delisle: simply the most committed public servant I have ever worked with and, for me, the public servant who defines excellence, focus, and getting the job done.  Angèle is the best colleague, adviser and friend a public servant could hope for.  As well, she is the real reason someone from Cape Breton could succeed in the federal public service.

Seventh, my heartfelt thanks to my wife, Karen, and my family.  They understand the kind of commitment in hours, in energy, in focus it takes to do the senior public service jobs we have, and they have provided the support and encouragement that makes it all possible.

Eighth, I want to thank all of PCO, for your commitment to PCO as an institution, and for your great support to me over these last 3½ years.  Let me start with the superb team in my office, who were appropriately recognized at the PCO Awards Ceremony last week.  I also want to recognize the officers throughout PCO who put up with my editing in undecipherable Cape Breton script.  This talented group of PCO officers have prepared the over 16,000 memos I've sent the Prime Minister while Clerk. 

Kudos to the patient PCO security staff who put up with my long hours, opening up the building for me on too many late nights and too many weekends to remember.  Equally, kudos to the incredible staff at the PMO Switchboard who are always polite, no matter the hour, and miraculously find the person you are trying to reach.  Thanks to the Orders-in-Councils team who got me through so many Cabinet swearing-ins despite my lurking panic that I would swear in the wrong Minister.  And thanks to the Machinery of Government folks who helped me learn how important our institutions really are.  Finally, I want to recognize the Communications team who made things sound so coherent and logical and compelling that I was always convinced, and thank the Senior Personnel Group who helped me with over 65 deputy ministers and associate deputy ministers appointments while I was Clerk.

And the list goes on, because so many of you have done your jobs so well, to help PCO and the Clerk do their job.

To conclude is simply to repeat my appreciation:

  • thanks to all of you for your support;
  • thanks for your friendship;
  • thanks for your commitment to the public service, and
  • thanks for being there when you were needed, and for so much more.