Communication
September 24, 2012

Parting thoughts of a deputy

On July 30, one of the most senior federal deputy heads retired. Ricard Dicerni first joined the federal public service in 1973 and later served in the Ontario government as a deputy minister. He enjoyed a spell in the private sector before returning to the federal public service as deputy minister of Industry Canada. On June 19, he spoke for the last time as deputy minister to the Industry, Science and Technology Parliamentary Committee.

Last week, I announced that I would be retiring from the public service. Thank you for permitting me to bid you farewell. This will be my 27th and final parliamentary committee appearance. Over the course of my six years as deputy minister of Industry, I have testified in front of seven different committees and 132 different parliamentarians. In this, my final testimony, I would like to share with you some thoughts which flow from my experiences over these years. My comments will also draw from my 40-year career, which has mostly been spent in the public sector. I would like to leave you with four final thoughts:

Elected officials
First, and I have said this privately many times, I have the utmost respect for elected officials. Canadians are fortunate that women and men like yourselves are prepared to make so many personal, family and financial sacrifices in order to put forth your views and values in the ultimate court of public opinion which is the House of Commons. The general public will never know the number of birthdays, hockey games, family trips that have been missed because you chose elected office. You make untold and unrecognized sacrifices. As a Canadian, I would like to express my thanks.
    
Deputy ministers
Deputy ministers are a diverse lot. We come in all sizes and shapes, men and women, francophones and anglophones, maritimers and westerners. In doing our job, we provide advice on policy issues, we deliver programs, we administer legislative mandates, we provide stewardship to large organizations. There is, however, one characteristic that is common to all deputy ministers: we are serially monogamous in our loyalty to the government of the day. We are not partisan yet we are respectful defenders of the government. We do so because that is also part of our job.

In that context, if over the years some of my answers to your questions, or for that matter answers in other fora from other deputies, have been found wanting or unclear, I would ask for your understanding. More often than not, the flaws in the answers probably reflect the challenges inherent in walking that fine line between being loyal to the minister and government we serve and being responsive to the needs of parliamentarians.

Parliamentary proceedings
Sometimes I have appeared in front of committees with the minister; sometimes without the minister. I would say that the appearances which fall in the latter category were a bit of a mixed blessing. On one hand, it gave me an opportunity to speak about and explain the activities and achievements of my department. And since I never give speeches or interviews, this was a good place to discuss  the work of the men and women of Industry Canada. On the other hand, these circumstances created a mild sense of unease because it is an uneven playing field. The vocabulary available to public servants to respond to questions from parliamentarians is quite a bit narrower than the vocabulary available to the questioners. Moreover the range of emotions that  we can demonstrate tends to be more restrained.

I have always been treated with the utmost respect in this committee. This unfortunately has not always been the case in other places with other individuals. In that regard, I would encourage you to continue for my successor this high degree of civility and mutual respect in your proceedings.

Industry Canada
It’s a fine department and I am proud to have been able to provide stewardship to the women and men who call Industry Canada their workplace home. Over the past six years much has been accomplished: the S&T strategy, the auto restructuring assistance, the Knowledge Infrastructure Program, the auction of spectrum, to name a few. Much however remains to be done. Fortunately, the department is staffed with very competent, diligent and professional individuals who are up to the task. I would like to close my remarks by publicly thanking them for their support. It has been a privilege and a pleasure to be their deputy minister.    

Thank you again for having granted me this privilege. Merci et à la prochaine.

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