Governments have long known that although across-the-board percentage cuts may meet fiscal targets, such cuts can harm ministries and departments for many years. Veterans of the 1990s in Ottawa attest that when they did “more with less” with fewer staff and resources, they were much less effective in achieving goals, and the repercussions were felt for years.
Today there remains a huge appetite for leadership – authentic, courageous, informed, skilled and inspirational leadership that provides new approaches, skills and technologies to address tough problems like climate change, rising healthcare costs, as well as providing excellent citizen services, all with tighter resources.
In February, the Institute of Public Administration of Canada held its 7th Annual Leadership Conference. The program was developed amid constant news of government deficits. Speakers and participants alike were seized with the new economic environment in formal presentations and informal discussions.
Keynote speaker David Dodge, addressing a packed house, shared his vision of leadership. The former Governor of the Bank of Canada highlighted three new realities: the re-structuring of the Canadian economic union, as jobs and economic power shift from the eastern provinces, but principally Ontario, to the western provinces and their resource-based industries; Canadian public- and private-sector costs and lagging productivity compared to U.S. competitors; and rising healthcare costs driven by increasingly sophisticated technologies, expensive pharmaceuticals and Canada’s aging population.
Dr. Dodge called for more innovation and risk-taking. “Don’t be afraid of making mistakes … parliamentarians accept mistakes made in good faith and admitted to.” But he stressed that advice must be based on “the best evidence that can be mustered.” He called on public sector leaders to help Canadians accept “the radical changes in the next decade” through well-designed transitions, arrangements that help people adapt, and actions that build on trust, fairness and integrity.
What are other “game changers” for leaders? Michael Raynor, author of The Innovator’s Manifesto, recommended using “disruptive innovation” to generate new ideas, sort them and choose more winning options. These disruptors, he said, need to focus on the varying needs of under-served citizens.
Problems might be solved with new solutions that will initially provide a “lesser product,” with the trade-off being that they would be less expensive. Raynor suggested, for example, that the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care look to programs such as Telehealth playing a more active role in providing medical advice, and introducing machines to dispense basic medications in communities.
Armchair discussions with public service executives and politicians were lively debates about leadership at the highest levels. Former Vancouver CAO Judy Rogers and former Toronto City Manager Shirley Hoy spoke about leading two large cities and the challenges unique to municipalities. The Honourable John Wilkinson and Deputy Minister Carol Layton shared perspectives on the arduous, swift and successful implementation of the HST in Ontario, as well as the dynamics of the politician/senior bureaucrat relationship.
Terry Fallis, author of The Best Laid Plans and winner of the 2011 Canada Reads award, recounted his journey as a writer and the tales of his fictional political hero, MP Angus McLintock, known for his forthright leadership style.
As the conference wrapped up, many delegates and the media focused on the intense examination of all Ontario government programs undertaken by former TD economist Don Drummond. While the report highlighted 362 specific areas for cuts or changes, it also stressed the leadership needed to “take daring fiscal action early,” to allow for transitions “giving people a chance to adjust” and to prepare citizens for years of fiscal restraint. True to Dr. Dodges’ comments on leadership, the Drummond Report’s “solid technocratic advice” laid out how programs and actions should be supported by the best evidence, risk assessment, costing and policy advice.
The 200 delegates also celebrated achievements at the IPAC/Deloitte Public Sector Leadership Awards. See the IPAC Leadership 2012 site for presentations: www.ipac.ca/Leadership2012.
Wendy Feldman is IPAC’s director of research. She has worked in the Ontario Ministry of Economic Development and Trade and in the federal government.