Strong portfolio management is increasingly important in today’s interconnected world. At Agriculture and Agri-food Canada (AAFC), strong coordination allows effective management of immediate challenges and planning in support of the sector.
Good portfolio governance, first and foremost, is about bringing portfolio players together to achieve common goals and objectives. What I realized soon after becoming the deputy minister of AAFC two and a half years ago is that the Agriculture and Agri-Food (AAF) portfolio is unique in the federal government in that, unlike most other portfolios, it supports a single industry – agriculture and agri-food.
While each organization in the portfolio is working toward distinct policy outcomes, we share a common goal, and the strength of our service to the minister and to Canadians comes from our ability to collaborate effectively to support policy coherence across our complementary mandates.
The agricultural industry has become increasingly complex and driven by the need for innovation and competitiveness. This complexity requires that a mix of entities – AAFC, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), the Canadian Grain Commission (CGC), the Canadian Dairy Commission, Farm Credit Canada (FCC) and the Farm Products Council of Canada – work together to support the sector’s diverse and ever-changing needs. One of the most important lessons I have learned in governance is that the challenge in effective portfolio management is in allowing each organization to respect and pursue their own mandates, while ensuring collaboration and coherence in achieving overall portfolio outcomes.
AAFC strives to be a model in portfolio management, efficiently and effectively delivering on government priorities. The centralization of a Portfolio Coordination Secretariat within my office is evidence of the emphasis we place on policy coherence between the department and our portfolio partners. We work in partnership to reduce any overlap and inefficiencies to best serve our clients. A dedicated unit helps drive collaboration through to the working level to facilitate discussion and information sharing among portfolio organizations.
This means my portfolio head colleagues and I receive more coherent policy advice to support effective dialogue and inform decision making. Our plans and advice are based on more extensive knowledge and awareness of portfolio priorities and work. We have established strong relationships and open communication between senior leaders in the portfolio. This manifests itself in several ways: through regular meetings of portfolio heads, one-on-one portfolio head discussions and joint meetings with the minister.
The weekly dialogue between the minister, the president of the CFIA and me, for instance, is essential as we work together to ensure the safety of food for Canadians and to promote market access for Canadian products. Strong portfolio collaboration has enabled the two organizations to work effectively on horizontal issues with other departments and agencies, such as with Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada, in the implementation of the Weatherill recommendations related to the CFIA.
Over the past few years, I have seen many other examples of how good portfolio coordination contributes to delivering on the government’s current priorities while also planning for the longer term. For example, strong portfolio management has played a key role as the government delivers on its priority of marketing freedom for western wheat and barley farmers. Through close collaboration between AAFC and the CGC, as well as FCC and the CFIA, we are helping to deliver results to transform Canada’s grain sector. This also ensures that the portfolio is better able to work with other partners in the government, such as Transport Canada, as well as the sector itself.
The high level of cooperation between AAFC and the AAF Portfolio has also contributed to longer-term policy planning discussions. In late October, for instance, I invited the president and CEO of FCC, Greg Stewart, to contribute to an AAFC senior management discussion on the future of the agricultural industry. As FCC is Canada’s leading agriculture lender, this was an opportunity for AAFC leaders to gain unique insight from FCC into industry’s outlook on the future of agriculture as we work to develop the next agricultural policy framework.
Strong portfolio management continues to position the AAF portfolio to effectively manage immediate challenges and to plan for supporting the sector today and in the future. Investing in strong portfolio coordination has paid off, and will continue to pay off, for our portfolio, for our minister and for the clients we serve.
John Knubley is Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Agri-food Canada and leads the AAF portfolio.