Responsibility to create: Politicians and a professional public service – Canadian Government Executive

NEWS

SEARCH

Renewal
February 5, 2014

Responsibility to create: Politicians and a professional public service

Prime ministers matter when it comes to public service reform. In the U.K., Prime Minister David Cameron has led an ongoing battle with the civil service as he has tried to reform that institution in his vision. And who can forget Margaret Thatcher’s privatization of public sector services and her drive to bring private sector values to the public sector? The Ontario Public Service still remembers a similar drive by Premier Mike Harris between 1995 and 2002.

In the last 20 years, the federal public service has gone through a number of Clerk-led renewal initiatives. The question is: how much impact have they had? One could argue that the real changes in the federal public service have occurred when the politicians of the day took charge. Today, the re-shaping of the federal public service is being led by the President of the Treasury Board.

The Rt. Hon. Kim Campbell was Canada’s 19th Prime Minister from June 25 to November 4,1993. She is Chair of the World Movement for Democracy and a member of the Council of Women World Leaders and the International Women’s Forum. She was in Ottawa last fall, and editor-in-chief Toby Fyfe asked her what she believed were the drivers of change in the public sector.

 

Overall, I would say the need to deal realistically with changes. Probably the biggest driver of change, if one looks at the history of Canada, has been the increased scope of government, the growing demand on the part of citizens for governments to meet certain needs.

I think the drivers of change include people’s concerns that big government means fewer liberties; technologies that have made people more independent and more able to do things on their own; and concerns about levels of taxation, particularly if you have growing income inequality. Oddly enough, the people who have the most income are often the ones who are most hostile to government expenditure.

There has also been a dramatic change in social values, and the way we use the law. Ideally, government ought to be that part of society that’s able to allocate values for the long term. But long-term decision-making in politics is very difficult, because the electoral cycle often dominates things.

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair has said he believes the civil service is dysfunctional. What are your views?

I think politicians have a responsibility to create the public service that will function for their countries. I say this because I work in countries where people are trying to create new democracies and one of their big “lacks” is a professional public service. When you’re a politician and you have an idea, somebody has to translate it into a program, somebody has to understand how you take an idea and create a deliverable outcome from it.

I think part of the problem in Britain is that the structure of their public service is wrong: the senior officials around the politicians tend to be public servants. In Canada, as Minister of Justice, I had my deputy minister, but I also had ministerial staff and my chief of staff. My legislative people worked with the department, but their goal was to make sure that the minister’s desires were met. I had the mandate and I was accountable, and if the people of Canada didn’t like what I did, I could be turfed out. Public servants can’t be.

But my observation was that most public servants that I was involved with thrive on clear direction. Sometimes you may get resistance, and I think that’s when the politician needs to be able to hold people to account.

You have used the terms followership and leadership. Can you explain what they mean to you?

When I talk about followership, there’s the question of how much citizens know, how intelligently they exercise their votes, and whether they’re willing to provide that grassroots support for good policymaking. And if you don’t focus on enlightening the public, you will be simply led, pushed by the least informed, the most militant. You see this in the United States, where the Republican Party is wagged by the tail of the Tea Party because they’re the most active and get involved in the primary elections that choose candidates.

Leadership includes moderation and understanding because you’re governing a population that doesn’t all think alike, and so you have to have compromise. It’s not a sign of weakness or moral vacillation, it’s a recognition that in seeking the national interest, you’re not necessarily going to be able to optimize any one group but maximize, as much as you can, the satisfaction of as many people as possible to try to create policies that work and will inspire respect and enable you to move ahead, whether it’s in law enforcement or economic development or sensible taxation regimes.

And if the public sector writ large can’t deliver, do we run the risk of an increasingly disengaged population that is a potential threat to our democratic system?

Yes, I think so. And again, I do a lot of work in countries that are coming out of dictatorship: people can know what they want, but the political institutions are often immature. I think there are two kinds of corruption. There’s the kind of corruption that is almost a rational response to a lack of services, where people try to get themselves ahead because the system doesn’t work; there isn’t enough money to pay public servants, so people take a bit of a payoff to deliver a service, kind of pay-as-you-go. It’s corrupt in the sense that they shouldn’t have to do this, and people shouldn’t have to pay, but it doesn’t necessarily undermine the entire system.

Then there are the “corruptocrats” who just take everything for themselves and put their own people in place and repress their opponents. That’s a worse kind of corruption, because it’s a kind of corruption that doesn’t enable you to build. The problem is that if petty corruption gets too entrenched, it’s sometimes hard to move people into a different way of doing things.

You have to have the resources to pay people fairly, you have to have the mechanisms of detection and adjudication that enable them to hold you to account. And that requires the development of a public sector, which includes the whole administration of justice.

But here, in many ways, things that governments used to do they don’t need to do anymore; there are bodies and services that can do it. And the big challenge for our time, and even from my time in politics, is figuring out what is government best designed to do and what is best left to the private sector.

You say that the role of the politician is to make sure government is doing the right thing. Yet many politicians say government simply has to be smaller.

I think that’s too simplistic. Rather than making it smaller, I think avoiding unnecessary growth is a different way of looking at it. Saying: “What is it that government needs to do well, funded as well as we can afford to fund it?” When you look at the resources we’re able to take in the forms of taxation, fees, et cetera – all the sources of revenue for the government – how much can we afford to do?

I used to say there’s no limit to the amount of good you can do, there’s a limit to the amount of good you can afford to do. That’s a realistic thing, because if the government begins to take too much of the national revenue, then there isn’t enough money available for private sector development, and then it becomes a stultifying effect on the economy.

This is why we need experts, why we need thoughtful people within our public service who can be the custodians of the historical lore of what’s been tried, what the newest thinking is. Yes, we can reach outside for experts, but we need people who understand the reality of public decision-making. People who work in the public service are more likely to have that.

When I was Justice Minister and I was taking firearms legislation through Parliament, my team was also working on amendments to the Canadian Human Rights Act and some of them were feeling very discouraged because they thought it was a waste of time. I sat with them one day and I said, “I can only take one highly controversial piece of legislation through Parliament at once. If I try to table this legislation, it will fail. But as soon as the firearms bill is passed, you’d better be ready.”

It’s that kind of conversation which allows people to understand their own constraints. It’s not to politicize the public service, but to enlighten the public service, to make the public service politically aware, not politically operative but politically sensible. They’re serving people, and to understand where the electorate is, and again, to help politicians communicate ideas in terms that are readily accessible to people who don’t spend their whole time thinking about public issues and who are not professional economists. Most people are too busy trying to earn a living to think about this stuff all the time. Politicians are paid to think about it; public servants are paid to think about it.

If you were meeting young public servants who had just joined the public service, what advice would you give them?

I would tell them that they’re probably going to have a lot of frustrations. I think there are challenges in bureaucracies, but I would tell them to be smart at their field, be emotionally intelligent, to understand that they’re operating in a hierarchical, complex structure. Support those who are above you, but also make sure that you make it clear what you’re able to do. So master your own field, and also be sensitive to the broader needs out there of consumers for what it is that you’re doing.

There’s also that whole side of the public service that delivers programs. Public servants are accountable for delivering on those programs. It’s not good enough to say, “Oh, it’s a disaster.” If Tony Blair says it’s a disaster, well, what did you do about it while you were in government? That’s your responsibility. Nobody else can take it on. Only you can.

About this author

0 comments

There are no comments for this post yet.

Be the first to comment. Click here.

Renewal
 
In this issue of Canadian Government Executive, our lead story is...
 
Written by Jason McNaught Former Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page doesn’t...
 
Like all governments, the federal public service faces increasing demands for...
 
As a new assistant director in the Human Resources Branch at...
 
John Manzoni, the head of the U.K. public service, will be...
 
What is the central challenge facing government institutions and societies in...
 
Last September the federal government announced a small business hiring credit....
 
We hear it often about the digital era: “Everything has changed.”...
 
I don’t think governments have changed fundamentally since Al Gore made...
 
Last September Netflix refused the Canadian Radio and Telecommunications Commission’s (CRTC)...
 
Go ahead. Read the comments that anonymous users post under online...
 
There’s something happening here. It might not warrant the protest cry...
 
Blueprint 2020 continues to be the key driver in the federal...
 
On October 7, 2014 the World Bank Group (WBG) opened its...
 
Barring an early federal election call fraught with risk, our next...
 
The mantra on technology and change is becoming tiresome, I’m sure,...
 
The traditional definition of civic engagement is voter turnout. The traditional...
 
Well, there is little doubt that on the public sector front...
 
Most public sector conversations around the impact of digital refer to...
 
Since joining the federal government just over two years ago, there...
 
In the U.K., reform of the public sector has been a...
 
“Do you believe public servants are too politicized?” This was the...
 
I call today’s youth the Net Generation. Born between 1977 and...
 
I call today’s youth the Net Generation. Born between 1977 and...
 
they tend to gloss over the substantial range of public servants...
 
Commitment to social justice can erode in times of austerity, change,...
 
Francis Fukuyama is best known for his book, The End of...
 
i.e. profit. The public sector...
 
while there is something very good to be said about consistent...
 
commentEmail””:””peter.karwacki@servicecanada.gc.ca””...
 
but it’s an important distinction that the marketing needs don’t overshadow...
 
A year ago, the 7th annual report of the Prime Minister’s...
 
While the gist of the 7th annual report of the Prime...
 
If there is one thing governments spend a lot of time...
 
After seven years in the public service it was time to...
 
One of the challenges facing the public service is recruiting and...
 
Middle managers are emerging as the true change makers and disciples...
 
APEX suggests that some public servants do not appear to appreciate...
 
Public sector leaders face an environment characterized by complexity, shifting demographics...
 
The second annual CGE Leadership Summit was held yesterday in Ottawa....
 
Departments and social media platforms within the government have been encouraging...
 
In 1996, Pacific Rim Commonwealth countries shared experiences in managing complexity...
 
The changes that the public sector is going through are well...
 
December was the six month check-in for Blueprint 2020, the current...
 
Prime ministers matter when it comes to public service reform. In...
 
If you’ve read Nudge by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein, you...
 
Blueprint 2020 follows similar efforts of previous Clerks who were trying...
 
The push for government cutbacks is running up against growing public...
 
It should come as no surprise that citizens who suffered the...
 
According to Booze and Co., change management, “because it is predicated...
 
Some of us are old enough to remember the New Public...
 
There has been no shortage of change initiatives driven by federal...
 
The Blueprint 2020 process is historic because it engages employees across...
 
Many nations look to the Canadian public service as a model...
 
Throughout the Blueprint 2020 campaign, I’ve heard one thing again and...
 
Over the past months, a number of teams within the federal...
 
Collaboration is the new mantra for how governments can work more...
 
In June, the Clerk of the Privy Council, Wayne Wouters, launched...
 
As government departments and the GoC Twitterverse continue to respond to...
 
To adapt to the forces of change reshaping our world and...
 
Dramatic transformations to historically stable institutions are creating exciting opportunities to...
 
Just had a fascinating discussion with Paul Macmillan about the new...
 
the message on the sign starts to sound juuuuust a little...
 
I was not surprised to hear one individual advise Louise that...
 
Today we are launching a CGE blog. So, you might ask,...
 
There is no denying that today’s students are the future of...
 
The government of the United States of America is starting to...
 
National Public Service Week’s theme this year is “Proudly Serving Canadians.”...
 
As part of its Big Society initiative, and linked to Prime...
 
I used to be a proud public servant. Now I’m not...
 
In the Twentieth Annual Report to the Prime Minister on the...
 
The Clerk of the Privy Council spoke at the APEX Symposium...
 
At this time of global uncertainty, Canada has strong frameworks: a...
 
The best sand castle I ever built was constructed on top...
 
Yesterday the Auditor General released his spring report. The media played...
 
It is interesting that when you ask people why they work...
 
No one can predict the future. In a world of rapid...
 
The commentaries on Margaret Thatcher have focused on her determination and...
 
There are very few countries in the world where public sector...
 
Too often those implementing change in the public sector can get...
 
If you are a senior leader interested in adopting the Community...
 
I often refer to reports and information on government from the...
 
Federal public servants south of the border are, of course, concerned...
 
A couple of weeks ago I wrote about a U.K. National...
 
Culture change takes time and requires the dedication of employees and...
 
The U.K. government public sector reforms, as outlined in the 2011...
 
The world today seems to be changing significantly faster than ever...
 
Many think the traditional Westminster system of public management is on...
 
Choice. It seems like such a simple thing, to choose to...
 
In Monday’s Globe and Mail, Donald Savoie wrote an op-ed piece...
 
I recently had the opportunity to attend Mega-ConnEX – a government-wide...
 
Minister Tony Clement, President of the Treasury Board, was preaching to...
 
Countries, particularly in the western industrialized world, are coming under increasing...
 
Henry Mintzberg observed in a 2007 CGE interview that management and...
 
The new Secretary of the Treasury Board of Canada, Yaprak Baltacioglu,...
 
Last night in Toronto the head of the Ontario public service,...
 
It’s all very well to talk about making government smaller. But...
 
The question is: when will governments wake up and figure out...
 
More and more, money alone doesn’t cut it to attract and...
 
During the mid 1990s Canada gained a reputation internationally for public...
 
The U.K. has released its Civil Service Reform Plan, and anyone...
 
What do new professionals (NPs) need to better engage, contribute, and...
 
At the APEX Symposium last week, the President of the Treasury...
 
Wayne Wouters spoke at the APEX Symposium yesterday, and reiterated two...
 
CGE Vol.13 No.5 May 2007 Karen Ellis is Vice-President of the...
 
CGE Vol.13 No.1 January 2007 What exactly do federal public servants...
 
Renewal is an ongoing process demanding hands-on commitment across a broad...
 
CGE Vol.13 No.6 June 2007 Public service renewal has become a...
 
CGE Vol.13 No.3 March 2007 Kevin Lynch is Clerk of the...
 
In the April edition, the Federal Youth Network wrote a memo...
 
When I was hired into the federal government in 2003, I...
 
Un demi-millénaire après le premier contact entre les Autochtones et les...
 
En Nouvelle-Zélande, la fonction publique représente 31 % du PIB....
 
Pour concrétiser tout véritable effort de renouvellement, la fonction publique devra...
 
New Zealand’s State Services comprise 31 percent of GDP. State servants...
 
Any truly meaningful renewal of the public service will, by necessity,...
 
CGE Vol.13 No.10 December 2007 Public servants are used to secretaries...
 
Treasury Board President Tony Clement is leading the federal government”s Strategic...
 
Allan Seckel joined the British Columbia public service in 2003 after...
 
In November, Canadians came face to face with the reality of...
 
On March 22, Federal Budget Day, the Harper government authorized the...
 
As promised, the advisory group on the future of the Australian...
 
While the Canadian approach has been piecemeal and incremental, some countries...
 
On March 31, the Clerk of the Privy Council Office submitted...
 
An interview with Deputy Minister Cassie Doyle....
 
Une entrevue avec le vice-ministre Cassie Doyle....
 
In October 2012, the Commonwealth Ministers Forum on Public Sector Development...
 
Is there reason to hope? Once again, the federal government has...
 
Chairing two national networks from Prince Edward Island can be challenging....
 
Recently I had the opportunity to be part of a panel...
 
Over the next five to ten years, the private and public...
 
Recognizing that the federal public service must evolve to keep pace...
 
With cuts anticipated in the upcoming budget, many public servants are...
 
The Canada School of Public Service is playing a significant role...
 
As canada@150 approaches the one-year anniversary of its final report, we...
 
Wicked issues? What does that mean? It means that traditional solutions...
 
We would like to share with you our ideas on how...
 
The economic meltdown has crippled governments already challenged by global warming,...
 
Join us on a trip around our planet as we explore...
 
The Office of the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner was created by...
 
Many young Canadians have joined the public service to serve their...
 
Best practices are a way of accomplishing a business function that...
 
The public service today has been enduring a barrage of criticism...
 
Thanks to demographic shifts, climate change, energy shortages, global economic meltdowns...
 
À cause de l’évolution démographique, du changement climatique, des pénuries d’énergie,...
 
Dans son quinzième rapport annuel au Premier ministre sur la fonction...
 
In the fifteenth annual report to the Prime Minister on the...
 
Mes amis, vous avez fait un bon choix. En entrant dans...
 
La Direction de la conservation et de la protection (C&P) est...
 
Conservation and Protection (C&P) is the enforcement arm of Fisheries and...
 
When the National Managers’ Community gathers in Montreal in March for...
 
When someone I meet for the first time asks me the...
 
Please to view this Content. (Not a member? Join Today! )...
 
Please to view this Content. (Not a member? Join Today! )...
 
Some title Some author
Some excerpt
 
Some title Some author
Some excerpt
 
Some title Some author
Some excerpt
 
Some title Some author
Some excerpt
 
Some title Some author
Some excerpt
In this issue of Canadian Government Executive, our lead story is...

Member Login

Forgot Password?

Join Us

Password Reset
Please enter your e-mail address. You will receive a new password via e-mail.