Public Policy Forum Tribute Dinner

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Remarks by the Honourable Kevin G. Lynch

September 24, 2009
Ottawa, Ontario

What a remarkable gathering this evening, of people from all sectors….business, politics, public service, universities, labour and civil society, and from all parts of Canada.  It is difficult to find the right words to express my gratitude to all of you.

First, thank you Paul (Tellier), for those extremely kind introductory remarks, which are particularly meaningful coming, as they do, from someone who uniquely understands the roles and the lives of senior public servants, and the position of the Clerk.

And second, thank you to everyone who offered such generous remarks, exaggerated stories, and best wishes this evening.  As Yogi Berra once observed “half the lies they tell aren't true.” Tonight's speakers are all exceptional political leaders, business leaders, university leaders, public service leaders, and it has been an honour and a privilege to have worked with you over my career, to improve public policy and to help make Canada the ongoing success story it is.

Prime Minister Harper showed great confidence in me and in our federal public service by appointing someone from within whom he did not know and had never worked with, as the 20th Clerk of the Privy Council and the Secretary to the Cabinet.  The last 3½ years have encompassed a rather remarkable combination of events… a new government, a fractious minority Parliament, a war in Afghanistan, global security problems, a new U.S. Administration, a global financial crisis and a worldwide recession.  Working with Mr. Harper over this period and on these challenges has been fascinating, and I have always appreciated his support.

Prime Minister Chrétien, first appointed me a deputy minister, at Industry Canada in 1995, and then appointed me Deputy Minister of Finance in 2000.  I really appreciate your presence this evening, your generous remarks and your support of various policies I worked on as a deputy minister, both at Industry and Finance.

If I may reminisce, I remember to this day my first meeting with Prime Minister Chrétien after I was appointed DM of Finance.  The Prime Minister's Office called, and said that the PM wanted to see me that afternoon about the Fiscal Monitor.  As a good bureaucrat, I immediately organized a briefing with the Finance team, wondering what the problem was with the Fiscal Monitor and why the Prime Minister of Canada was so urgently interested.  The briefing was comprehensive, no one could identify an obvious problem with the recently published Fiscal Monitor, and the advice from my staff was that, if I couldn't answer a specific question, indicate that the cause was special factors.

I dutifully presented myself at the Prime Minister's Office at the appointed hour, was ushered in, noticed, with great trepidation, that I would be the only person in the room with the PM, with a lone chair placed in front of the Prime Minister's massive desk. Sitting in the middle of the desk, all alone, was the Fiscal Monitor.  The Prime Minister turned immediately to the offending page in the Fiscal Monitor, pointed to the debt servicing costs number, and said in what seemed to me, a booming voice… “Mr. Lynch, this Fiscal Monitor indicates that our debt interest payments are rising while our debt is declining. That is hard to understand.  It is even harder to explain to the public. What is going on?”  There was a pause, and just as I was about to launch into my best economist's answer, Mr. Chrétien thundered…”  And don't tell me special factors!”  I learned much from that first meeting.

Frank McKenna, who has always been a great supporter of the value and importance of a strong, non-partisan professional public service, whether as Premier of New Brunswick, Ambassador of Canada to the U.S., or as a business leader.  Like the Public Policy Forum, he deeply believes in the importance to Canada of ongoing dialogue between private and public sector leaders, and he very much “walks the talk”, which I have always appreciated and benefited from.

John Manley, who has been my Minister several times, a friend a long time, and someone with whom our long collaboration at Industry Canada produced a number of policies of which I am very proud, including strengthening our university research capacity in Canada, promoting innovation and a more knowledge-based economy, and getting Canada front and center of the communications revolution of the 1990s.

Don Mazankowski, who inspired a generation of public servants with his values, his dedication to the country, his ability to create consensus for tough policy decisions and his decency and respect for all with whom he has worked.

Heather Munroe-Blum, who exemplifies, like Indira Samaraskera and Robert LaCroix , the importance of universities and university leadership if Canada is to succeed in today's competitive global research environment for innovation breakthroughs, for highly skilled people, for the products of tomorrow.  Heather, Indira, Robert and Rob Pritchard and Martha Piper before them, have been instrumental in making R&D and innovation the top-of-mind public policy issues which they deserve to be.

Mike Lazaridis, and Jacques Lamarre, who have both demonstrated that Canada and Canadians can grow world class firms from a Canadian base using Canadian technology with Canadian talent.  Both stress excellence, both respect the value of a professional public service, and both understand that, in this global world in which we compete, good public policy is essential if Canadian business is to succeed abroad as well as at home.

Eddie Goldenberg, a very good friend, who has always recognized the importance of a strong public policy capacity in a strong public service, and who worked easily and productively with many senior public servants over many years, always respecting the different roles of political staff and public servants. (Eddie is trying to make amends tonight for a story he tells in his book about me driving my daughter to university and the impacts of that trip and my absence on the fiscal costs of the health care agreement.)

Ian Brodie, who I also had the privilege to work with when he was Chief of Staff to the PM, had a great understanding of institutional roles and responsibilities, and the importance of building an effective and respectful working relationship between the new government and the public service.  I wish him well in his new position.

Two great public service colleagues.  David Dodge, whose career set the gold standard for public service leadership and who is simply one of the best Canadian public servants ever.  And Wayne Wouters, the new Clerk of the Privy Council, who has the wisdom, the experience, the integrity and the trust to provide strong leadership to the Public Service of Canada.  We are all fortunate to have Wayne at the helm.

Lastly, I want to thank the Public Policy Forum, under its dynamic President, David Mitchell, and its Chair, David Brown, for organizing tonight's dinner along with their sponsors.  This is an amazing evening, certainly for me and my family, but also for public service and public servants more generally.  Most public servants are deeply committed to what they do and care passionately about their country. Churchill once remarked that “Mountaintops inspire leaders, but valleys mature them.”  Every public service leader in this room knows this and has lived this.

I would like to offer two parting observations on public service.  First it matters. I believe that there is a close correlation between good public policy and an excellent public service.  Thomas Friedman argues that, “in the globalization system, one of the most important and enduring competitive advantages that a country can have today is a lean, effective, honest civil service.”  An excellent public service can be part of a country's comparative advantage.

Public service can take a longer term view on the policy challenges facing a country, and can invest in the analytic capacity to provide governments with a full range of policy options.  Canada's experience has been that the democratic values, the ethic of serving the public good, the professionalism, the non-partisanship and the commitment that characterize the Public Service of Canada underpin its role as a fundamental national institution.  And that is why public service renewal is so crucial.  To attract and retain the next generation of leaders.  To ensure that Canada continues to have a strong public service, geared to excellence, and capable of tackling tomorrow's challenges.

Second, private sector interaction with the public service matters.  Your support, your involvement and your validation are crucial to the development of an excellent public service, and the making of good public policy. Canada's success will depend on our agility, our flexibility, our capacity to learn from others and Canadianize best global practices, our willingness to implement the right long-term public policies at the right time.  We have to think globally to succeed domestically.

This will require intensive interaction between the private and public sectors. Good public policy doesn't happen by accident.  It's the result of constructive dialogue and engagement between government at all levels --- both political and bureaucratic --- with the wider Canadian community, both business and non-governmental sectors.

Canada is a big, diverse and complex country. We need to guard against becoming locked into our regional perspectives, or narrow points of view.  We need to reach out, stay connected and strive to understand the difficult challenges and tradeoffs that are a part of sound and enduring public policy.  Exploring the complexities, understanding the differing points of view, building common ground --- they are all difficult, but they are the essence of finding the best public policy solutions.

I want to conclude by thanking the Public Service of Canada for providing me with unbelievable career possibilities, and unique opportunities to make a difference to the country I've served for 33 years.

My positions as Deputy Minister of Industry, Deputy Minister of Finance and Clerk afforded extraordinary opportunities to meet with Canadians from coast-to-coast-to-coast, to interact with world leaders, 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 really is.  My time with our Armed Forces provided a unique understanding of what commitment to country and purpose really mean.  My 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 most of all, my public service career has left me optimistic that, whatever the challenges, working together, Canadians will succeed, and this great country will continue to prosper and inspire.

Thank you all very much.