A Serious Error in Judgement: Former PBO throws Public Service Leadership under the Bus - Canadian Government Executive
Public SectorRenewalTransformation
September 30, 2015

A Serious Error in Judgement: Former PBO throws Public Service Leadership under the Bus

Written by Jason McNaught

Former Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page doesn’t put a lot of faith in the future of the public service. Even with new leadership in the PMO, Page has all but written off the current generation of leaders in the public service to affect meaningful change.

“Unfortunately,” he tells the National Post, “if any renewal is to take place within the public service, I sense it must come from a new generation of civil servants.” Page doesn’t mince words, continuing, “My generation has failed miserably in that regard.”

Page holds the public service accountable for allowing the PMO to turn their signature omnibus bills into standard practice in the House of Commons, and points the finger at deputy ministers for not providing spending plans to Parliament or being upfront with Canadians about the impacts of budget cuts.

“What I learned from my PBO experience is that our public service has become good at avoiding accountability and transparency,” Page says.

It won’t take a lot of guesswork to figure out how the former PBO feels about Blueprint 2020, a plan he says is filled with “bland and uncontroversial principles,” none of which will be realized under a politicized leadership that refuses to be transparent with Canadians.

But a recent Huffington Post Op-Ed penned by Clare Beckton, a 25-year veteran of the public service and the Founding Executive Director of Carleton University’s Centre for Women in Politics and Public Leadership, sees things differently.

While Page has resigned the public service and the senior leadership within it to fail regardless of what political party forms the government in October, Beckton puts a lot more faith in her former colleagues.

“Public servants believe in accountability and service to the public and their ministers,” she says. “That is not the issue. Rather, it is when rules are so abundant that they cross the line between accountability and immobilization of the ability to act effectively in the public interest.”

Beckton, like Page, believes that the past government didn’t do much (or any) good for the public service, but she doesn’t seem to buy that senior leadership rolled over and evolved into a pack of boot-licking toadies. Quite the contrary, actually.

“When you are committed to making a difference and serving the public, yet do not feel heard nor trusted, it’ demoralizing,” she says. “When public servants are not asked for advice, are blamed for mistakes, feel a lack of trust and are subject to excess rules, their health and well-being are affected. Add to that a negative public perception and we can see the reasons for high levels of stress.”

Beckton acknowledges that there are public service executives that do not contribute positively, but they can be found anywhere, she argues.

When Kevin Page was the PBO, he stood up to government — repeatedly. It took a lot of courage and he deserves a lot of credit for refusing to kowtow to the PMO. But this is not a Hollywood movie, and things don’t always work out the way they do in scripted films. As we know, Kevin Page lost his job.

Perhaps Page feels betrayed by public service leadership for not rallying alongside him during his dark and final days as PBO. Maybe he wanted other public service executives to threaten resignations en masse to affect real change … or maybe he’s just trying to sell books … BUT, condemning the public service to failure in a national paper – regardless of circumstance – was a serious error in judgement.

The Public Service is looking for meaningful change, and despite the presence of seat-warmers in top-level positions, there are many, many more leaders in the public sector that are willing to work hard for it. Page could have inspired his former colleagues to want the same kind of change he was obviously looking for as PBO; instead, he threw them all under the bus.

 

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Written By Jason McNaught The Public Service Alliance of Canada was one of the most vociferous opponents of the Harper government during Election 42. Now that it’s all over, and PSAC finds itself governed by a Prime Minister that’s promised “Real Change,” you could be forgiven for thinking that the war is over. While the...
 
Written by Jason McNaught Former Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page doesn’t put a lot of faith in the future of the public service. Even with new leadership in the PMO, Page has all but written off the current generation of leaders in the public service to affect meaningful change. “Unfortunately,” he tells the National Post,...
 
Public servants deliver the government’s agenda and serve Canadians in policy, program management, and frontline delivery. As an individual, it’s easy to feel alone and isolated within such a massive administration. But each and every public servant has value and an important role to play… Related posts: The Importance of Open A Partnership for French Services in Canada's North Summit Speaker Profile: Louise Levonian...
 
As with any other industry, technology plays a vital role within the public sector. It assists by making work easier, providing security, increasing information accessibility and enhancing daily functions in the workplace. Related posts: Valuing all credentials equally: What's in it for you? Nearly one-third of public sector execs are actively "disengaged" The Public Sector Integrity Commission (PSIC) in Perspective...
 
In 1990, the Institute of Public Administration of Canada published The Responsible Public Servant, a book that focused on the ethical dilemmas facing the average public servant – not just deputy ministers or city managers, but the people providing services to the public, providing policy analysis, corporate services and the like....
 
Our jobs can define us, and this can be dangerous. I first learned this a few years ago while on secondment to the National Managers’ Community (NMC)....
 
The Veterans Ombudsman’s office is accepting nominations for the Veterans Ombudsman’s Commendation, awarded to individuals, groups, businesses or associations that have made an outstanding contribution to the well-being of Veterans and their families....
 
“I wasn’t really nervous until he hooked up the wires,” said the raffle winner about his prize – the supervised detonation of a blast on a Victoria construction site. Related posts: Make your executive assistant key to your success The elephant in the public service Does “deliverology” deliver the goods?...
 
CGE columnist David Zussman, Jarislowsky Chair in Public Sector Management in the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Ottawa, has published a new book, Off and Running: The Prospects and Pitfalls of Government Transitions in Canada. Related posts: Is professional development suffering from austerity? How the art of improv can transform the way we work Five ways governments can keep their staff — without a pay rise...
 
The public service is a funny beast. We have so many competing identities, from the different networks we associate with, to our classifications, our branches, and our departments. While there are certainly times where this segmentation is necessary and useful, I think it’s important to be mindful that we need to be cautious that we...
 
The health of our public service executive cadre should matter not only to politicians but to all Canadians who want their governments to be managed effectively and to meet their goals efficiently. Related posts: Blueprint 2020: Raising expectations for real change Off and Running A New Deal for Political Advisers?...
 
The government of Saskatchewan gave the Premier’s Award for Excellence in the Public Service last week to six teams and individuals who went above and beyond in areas of innovation, quality service and leadership. Related posts: Individual philanthropy, collective power Make your executive assistant key to your success How to bring about real Cultural Change in the Public Service...
 
Since the Clerk’s Blueprint 2020 launch in June, departments have been working full steam ahead on their employee engagement activities and action plans. Last week I had the opportunity to facilitate an employee consultation session with seven regional offices. The wealth of ideas, knowledge and insights from employees on how to evolve the public service of the...
 
What’s the purpose of jargon? Jargon that is incomprehensible to the uninitiated can be very powerful in its meaninglessness, and it’s used to create a culture of exclusivity....
 
When the public face of an organization or a well-known leader leaves, it might seem unrecoverable. What if they take the wind out of the sails with them when they go? How will the organization continue to function? Related posts: CGE appoints new editor-in-chief A public servant's guide to new governments From memes to social media, the technology that matters most to the public...
 
HR has a poor reputation for innovation. After all, risk might be exciting for technology experts or rising managers, but human resources devotes most of its energy to avoiding disruption. Does that mean that HR can’t innovate? Not at all. Related posts: Transition Stress and Innovation Bridging the credibility gap Creative Change By Jennifer Mueller...
 
What do you do if you’re a leader in a large department of the public service with an entrenched bureaucracy, and you see the need for innovation? Related posts: What can Canadian executives learn from the sequester? Why communication in the workplace matters A New Deal for Political Advisers?...
 
School bullying has been an issue in the news, and it’s easy to forget that this is also a workplace problem. Related posts: Public service job satisfaction: the survey results Managing five generations in the workplace Fostering Resilience: How to Effectively Manage Workplace Stress...
 
The simple basics of brainstorming are forgotten far too often, and not put into use often enough. Related posts: Solution revolution in the public sector policy space Who will stand up for innovation? There is no They - only You and We...
 
Motivation can be linked to the following job characteristics: skill variety, task identity, task significance, autonomy, and feedback. Related posts: Are you prepared for performance reviews? Internal Audit – An Enabler of Intelligent Risk-taking at NRCan Tips for a creative workplace...
 
Taken every three years, this is the latest feedback on what is going wrong and what is working in public service. Related posts: Off and Running How to avoid losing steam when the public face of an organization goes Plan of action: Retiring from public service...
 
What matters most to managers?High productivity? Efficiency and organization? How about office carpeting?...
 
It remains perennially important to distinguish between what makes a great manager and what makes a great leader. These two figures are not always distinct, nor do they have to be; but, both are needed for an organization to function well. Related posts: How to avoid losing steam when the public face of an organization goes, part two Leadership burnout and three ways to prevent it Summit Speaker Profile: Karen Ellis...
 
A public relations mishap can be turned into positive attention, as shown by Rubio’s response to internet ridicule he faced after a water bottle blunder occurred during his State of the Union rebuttal. Related posts: How to avoid losing steam when the public face of an organization goes...
 
James Kendrick’s January article The Right Leadership got me thinking about how being a better leader personally can lead to a better professional leadership style. Related posts: There is no such thing as resistance to change! Intrapreneurship in Action: An interview with Nick Frate Bridging the credibility gap...
 
With innovation, the question is not just how, but who? Who in the public sector is able to stand up for innovation? Related posts: There is no They - only You and We Results-Based Management (RBM): Taking Stock Tips for a creative workplace...
 
In October, the Association of Professional Executives of the Public Service of Canada (APEX) launched its fourth executive work and health survey....
 
Last spring, the Mental Health Commission of Canada launched the country’s first ever mental health strategy....
 
The best of the Editor’s Choice articles...
 
In the Nineteenth Annual Report to the Prime Minister on the Public Service of Canada, Wayne Wouters, Clerk of the Privy Council, finds the perfect balance between telling it like it is and being positively forward thinking....
 
Air travel can be stressful and harmful. While the destination may be enjoyable, the trip often isn’t....
 
They told us that technology would usher in the ‘era of leisure’ and reduced work weeks. They were wrong....
 
CGE Vol.13 No.3 March 2007 I am writing this from my hotel room in Ottawa, Canada, where I just made a presentation on Authentic...
 
Whether it’s travel, improving your golf swing or finally tackling the to-do list, nearly everyone longs for the relaxation, leisure and fun retirement promises....
 
Quote of the week “Unless a public sector executive knows a great deal about the lifestyles and values of the department’s customers and prospects, it’s difficult to conceive of a successful strategy implementation at all.”...
 
Is retirement on your horizon? Do you plan to finish with a flourish, or are you just putting in time while you count down the months?...
 
Mental health matters. No one knows this better than Sylvie Giasson. She is a federal public servant and an author of two books on depression who has fought a long, hard battle with mental health issues....
 
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The UK Department for Education (DfE) doesn’t have an easy mandate: it’s responsible for children’s services, education and child protection at a time when resources are stretched thin. But the department has another problem to grapple with — it can’t seem to retain staff. “Churn is a really big challenge,” said Rebecca Johnson, People Leader...