Quote of the week
“We are ready for the challenge and keen to make a real contribution.”
— APEX report on Blueprint 2020
APEX has come out with a considered response to the Blueprint 2020 exercise, putting forth a strategy and six priorities for improving the public service.
One worth noting in particular is the first, which refers to the need to “(s)trengthen mutual respect and confidence between ministers and public servants.”
The report argues that the efficient functioning of our system must be built on these qualities that, in turn, are built on trust.
APEX suggests that some public servants do not appear to appreciate the role that ministers play as decision-makers duly elected by Canadians, and their own responsibilities to “help the government of the day do its job.”
It also points out that trust is likely to be threatened when the government of the day publicly criticizes its public service.
David Zussman, in his new book on government transitions, argues that much of the mutual understanding of respective roles and responsibilities – and therefore the building of trust and confidence – occurs in the early days of a new government as both parties learn more about the other and, ideally, reach common understanding as to how they can work together to serve Canadians.
One of the most telling aspects of APEX’s first priority is that this is a government that has been in power, and been working with the public service, for a decade. Given this timeframe, it is worrisome that the proper working relationship between the public service, the politicians and their offices is even considered an issue.
One might ask: why is it that public servants feel they do not need to “refrain from public criticism of the Government of Canada”? Why is it that, 10 years after assuming power, ministerial staffers do “not have an adequate appreciation of the roles, responsibilities and constitutional foundation of the Public Service, nor how public servants can help ministers fulfill their responsibilities”?
APEX has done us a service by articulating what is, in essence, the elephant in the room when it comes to relations between the political and public service spheres in Ottawa.
It will be interesting to see if its recommendations for action on this front are incorporated into Blueprint 2020.