President’s Blog: Canada’s Public Service: A Culture of Respect and Experimentation

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June 08, 2018

Canada’s Public Service: A Culture of Respect and Experimentation

Auditor General Michael Ferguson recently cited public service culture as a factor contributing to the problems besetting the Phoenix pay system. While Mr. Ferguson’s critique was sobering, he has raised an important issue.

And it is one our government has been tackling head-on, in partnership with the public service. Our determination to change the way government works, in order to better serve Canadians, springs straight out of my mandate letter from the Prime Minister.

Respect for and within the public service

We are committed to a culture of respect for and within Canada’s non-partisan public service. We moved quickly to reinstate the mandatory long-form census, recommitting the government to evidence-based policy-making, and we clarified in policy and collective agreements that subject matter experts, including scientists, are able to speak publicly about their work.

Experimentation, innovation and implementation

Along with this focus on evidence-based policy, we have been encouraging a culture of experimentation, innovation and implementation -- what we call “results and delivery.” In my first speech to the government’s top executives in the spring of 2016, I was clear: to succeed today, we need to empower and incent people to disrupt the status quo, embrace and learn from failures, innovate, and try new things. As President of the Treasury Board, the employer of the core public service, I repeat that message every chance I get.

We’re fostering an innovative public service through measures that include hackathons, innovative funding solutions and agile procurement. We’re embracing iteration and a willingness to accept and learn from small failures on the road to big successes. We’re challenging assumptions and constantly measuring ourselves against our end goal: better service for Canadians.

Set up to succeed

We have also modernized our policies to reflect the digital age, including giving greater authorities to the Government of Canada’s Chief Information Officer to ensure digital projects are set up to succeed and support strategic priorities, and to implement new digital standards.

We also recently announced important changes to Parliament’s financial processes that will lead to a better, more transparent government for all Canadians.

This re-engineering doesn’t fit the format of a splashy news release or announcement, but it’s very important. It’s like the plumbing of government: you don’t think about it until a pipe breaks and water starts dripping through your ceiling. We have done a lot on the plumbing side, but we recognize that the needed culture change also comes from less technical measures.

Government as a force for good

As we celebrate this National Public Service Week, we have ample evidence that when we harness the creativity, energy and enthusiasm of Canada’s world-class public service, government can be a force for good. Time and time again, our public service has delivered amazing things for Canada: be it resettling 50,000 Syrian refugees, raising 300,000 Canadian kids out of poverty through the Canada Child Benefit, or lifting 62 long-term drinking water advisories on public systems for Indigenous communities. Which is why I was not surprised that just last year, Canada’s federal public service was recognized as the most effective in the world by the joint Oxford University and UK Institute for Government’s International Civil Service Effectiveness Index.

We appreciate the Auditor General’s report. It will inform our efforts to ensure that our public service continues to play such a vital role in the success of our country.

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