The federal Major Projects Deputy Ministers’ Committee oversees the implementation of the Major Projects Management Office initiative set up to improve the regulatory framework for review of major natural resource projects (such as mines and pipelines).
This effort includes the government’s plan for Responsible Resource Development to support long-term economic growth and job creation while strengthening environmental protection and enhancing consultations with Aboriginal groups.
The initiative responds to criticism from stakeholders and provinces that regulatory reviews were taking too long and were too complicated, with no additional benefit in terms of environmental protection. This was putting Canada at a competitive disadvantage in attracting investment and getting projects implemented. System-wide changes were required to capitalize on the 600 major projects with an investment of $650 billion anticipated over the next decade, while ensuring strong environmental protection.
From the start, the Committee used collective leadership and horizontal collaboration across the 11 regulatory departments and agencies involved in the initiative. Discipline and focus were enhanced by a new project management approach, including project agreements, a public tracking system, service standards, embedded timelines, and monthly reporting to DMs showing any gaps from the target (which allowed for early intervention). If the “dashboard” shows a problem, a plan is immediately developed to address it. They know what’s needed, gather ongoing feedback, and track each project.
Equally important to success are the strong political leadership of the Prime Minister, the Minister, Cabinet, and the Clerk; the results-driven attitude of the Deputy Ministers; and the collaborative approach to governance – Serge Dupont, the DM of Natural Resources Canada, chairs the Committee, but as an equal partner. The Committee is supported by the Major Projects Management Office and a committee of ADMs who meet before the DM Committee.
By 2010 the Committee realized it would be more effective by hardwiring some of the recent improvements and amending the supporting Acts and Regulations. These were put in place by 2012.
The benefits include: consolidating the number of responsible organizations from 40 to three; fixed beginning-to-end timelines for all reviews (e.g., two years instead of four for some projects); reduced duplication across jurisdictions; new, enforceable environmental assessment conditions; a more competitive investment climate with an estimated savings of $4 billion in costs to industry; and enhanced consultations with Aboriginal peoples.
When asked how conflicts were resolved, Dupont replied: “Differences happen more often in the absence of clear facts and analysis, so we seek more information. We have common briefs, not a separate brief for each member, so we share the same background information. We maintain the discipline of monthly meetings. We have discussions and rely on advice and preparations by the ADMs.”
For example, at one point there was external pressure on a certain file, the matter was going to Cabinet, and two DMs had different perspectives. So they put their two teams in a room to hash it out. “One of our accomplishments is building a relationship of trust,” Dupont said.
When queried to explain, he said organizational trust is based on transparency, on being personally trustworthy, putting the cards on the table, and on being open and collaborative rather than competitive. With no one seeking advantage in the relationship, everyone can focus on the greater good.
Dupont’s personal approach and advice on leadership is reflective of the Committee’s strength: “Have a really good understanding of the opportunities of your portfolio in particular and Canada in general. Focus on the economic factors of job growth and long-term prosperity. Ensure that permeates the organization. Be collaborative and innovative and streamline decision-making. It is one’s mindset that makes our committee collaborative. Exert your leadership, and expect and insist on high performance. Your focus needs to be on raising the performance of the organization, realizing what is at stake and the transformative possibilities.”
“The Major Projects Deputy Ministers’ Committee is serious work,” Dupont concluded. “We rely on an excellent Secretariat. While the DMs’ Committee receives a lot of focus, I always tell the Clerk, and anyone who compliments us, that it’s the ADM Committee and its own supporting teams who are the real key to success. They have specific files. We work on broader leadership with a focus on results.”
The Major Projects Deputy Ministers’ Committee received the CGE Leading Management Change Award in April 2013.