“Be In This Place” is the slogan for New Brunswick – and Premier Shawn Graham’s ambitious target of returning the province to prosperity by 2026. Elected MLA in 1998 and Premier in 2006, Graham is too young to be a boomer and too old to be a NetGen, yet he is reaching out to both groups. He spoke with editor-in-chief Paul Crookall, as part of our series on the relationship between political leaders and the public service.
What sort of leadership do you think the public service needs from its ministers?
New Brunswick is embarking on an ambitious agenda of transformational change that will lead our province to self-sufficiency. It will take determination and focus, innovation and collaboration. To get there, we are providing clear direction and accountability to the public service. Traditionally, our public service has been one of the more efficient and effective in the country. It has been recognized for bringing forward change in a timely fashion to meet the needs of our citizens. For example, in the 1960s, Equal Opportunity, a provincial initiative to standardize education, health and social services under Premier Robichaud, became the template for the country. And in the 1990s, Service New Brunswick led the way.
New Brunswick now has the opportunity to position itself ahead of the curve in terms of healthcare and education, because we are smaller and can move more quickly, and have a public service that is second to none, one that has always punched above its weight.
We need to clearly define roles and responsibilities. I need to make sure my ministers don’t become deputy ministers, to make sure they stay focused on policy, while the DM stays focused on administration. Balance must be maintained.
What the public service needs from us, which is different from in the past, is less top-down management. It is now more a process of inclusion and engagement, actively seeking out the best in our public service, recognizing their ideas, and implementing them. The government needs to be bold and decisive, to encourage the public service to bring innovative ideas forward, and to implement good ideas.
What difficulties do you have to deal with in managing the public service?
In the next five years, one quarter of our staff will be retiring. We need better tools to recruit and we need to develop our talent from within. For example, we need to cut the recruiting time down from the six months it takes now. As well, the Civil Service Act hasn’t been updated in 30 years.
We need lean management systems, to ensure taxpayers are getting efficiencies for their dollars, reduce paperwork, and to ensure we can recruit the best candidates. Productivity enhancements have been enjoyed by the private sector; we’re looking to emulate that in the public service.
We are also looking at restructuring our competitiveness on DM pay and performance management. Performance standards and criteria must be met – then there will be bonuses.
We need to ask of all our operations: “Is this fair to the taxpayer?”
Many of today’s problems are both long-term and multi-jurisdictional. How do you lead beyond your borders?
Currently, I am head of the Council of Atlantic Premiers, chair of the Council of the Federation with premiers and heads of territories, and we have meetings between the eastern premiers and the northeastern governors. We just hosted a joint cabinet meeting of the four provinces in Sackville. Through these venues, we are working to achieve greater integration of resources between governments and greater cooperation among the Atlantic provinces.
Service New Brunswick led the field, but now the second generation of e-gov is on us. What is New Brunswick doing?
Our smallness allows us to be more nimble, flexible and adaptable and to bring forward innovative processes and governance more quickly. Frank McKenna had the foresight to implement SNB, which became a model for other jurisdictions. SNB has just added the electronic land registry with the ability to exchange title documents. Most business can now do many transactions with government online. Citizens can even pay speeding tickets online.
We have challenged Service New Brunswick to improve service to citizens and businesses. They have responded by redefining how citizens and businesses can interact with government. One way is by building an online portal where citizens can create and define their interactions with government. It will take some contortions within government, but it’s a good thing and we’re committed to that vision. We need to redefine how we interact with citizens.
Tell me a bit more about your public service brand.
We’ve set an ambitious agenda to become self-sufficient. In our past, we were self-sufficient and we contributed to the growth of this country. Today, it all comes down to our people. We’ve just launched a new branding initiative “Be in this Place,” and it’s more focused on who we are than what we are. NB is the place to be – it’s a time for renewal, for bringing New Brunswickers back home, for attracting immigrants, to building our population base.
Is your public service constrained by a web of rules and risk-avoidance?
There is a tendency for government agencies to become risk averse. When something becomes an issue of public concern, legislators are quick to pass rules to keep it from happening again. But we tend to over react, and put in place too many rules. You have to recognize government can make mistakes, just like private sector. We need to learn from mistakes, but don’t put so many rules in place you can’t move forward. That’s the balancing act our government is trying to achieve: empowering the public service, having a government that is ready to move aggressively, and ensuring that taxpayers are best served.
I’m loving every minute of my job. I’ve been blessed to be given this job.
Our self-sufficiency agenda can’t be the agenda of one premier, or one party, it must become the agenda of all New Brunswickers. It will take a strong public service to lead that agenda. I’m extremely proud that the public service has stepped up to this challenge.