Renewal
November 29, 2012

Tony Clement: Rethinking government

On November 27, the Honourable Tony Clement, President of the Treasury Board of Canada, addressed PSENGAGE 2012 in Ottawa. Below is his presentation.

The theme of this event is extremely timely and very relevant — not just to members of the public sector gathered here today, but to Canadians in general. How the government operates — how it spends, how it serves its citizens — is an issue that has taken centre stage, not only here at home, but around the world.

Countries, particularly in the western industrialized world, are coming under increasing pressure to balance budgets and get their debt and deficits under control. That naturally means looking for ways to find savings. And it forces government, which by its very nature is risk-averse and slow to react, to tackle entrenched ways of doing things and status quo thinking. I think that’s a good thing.

There is an opportunity here for the government and the public service to think about new ways of doing things. In fact, it is more than an opportunity. It is incumbent upon us to do so. Canadians expect this of us. They expect it of me, as an elected representative and a Minister. And they expected it of all of you, as public servants, whose job it is to execute and deliver the programs Canadians depend on.

And what exactly do Canadians want and expect?

They want us to be fiscally responsible. They want us to manage taxpayer dollars well and with respect.  And they want value for the dollars they entrust us with. In other words, they want us to deliver excellent service at a reasonable cost.

That is what any well-run organization endeavours to do. And it is our commitment to Canadians.

Given the current economic environment globally, that commitment is more imperative than ever. Which is why our government has been working hard to find savings and operational efficiencies.

As many of you know, a number of departments have been undergoing transformational exercises to automate, standardize and simplify processes that allow us to maintain, and even enhance, services while reducing costs. A good example of this is the red tape reduction action plan that our Government unveiled in October. This is a sweeping reform of how government regulators interact with businesses and Canadians.

Our plan introduces all kinds of new services, such as single windows and electronic submissions for everything from taxes and payroll to transport and trade. But it goes beyond new service mechanisms. It changes the rules of engagement when it comes to red tape, by making it incumbent on regulators to think about the impacts on business before they come up with new regulations. In other words, finding operational efficiencies is not enough. It’s also about attitude.

Rethinking government
The key to what I like to call ‘rethinking government’ is founded on two principles:
1.    Innovation and the adoption of new technologies
2.    The ability to embrace that innovation — in other words, the cultural component of an organization that allows it to adapt, change and respond to new challenges.

These two principles, combined with our government’s commitment to finding savings, are coming together in an inspiring way with our TBS Workplace Renewal Initiative. As you may or may not know, Treasury Board Secretariat is in the process of consolidating from our 11 locations into one or two buildings. We are using this opportunity to leverage new technologies, streamline our back-office operations and rethink how we use space. The goal is to not only save money, but to boost productivity and enhance a collaborative culture within the department.

As Christine Walker noted, this effort will save us space and money. In fact, we calculate we will reduce TBS’s real estate footprint by almost 18,500 square metres of rented space, which would otherwise cost the government $200 million to rent over the next 25 years. This is a concrete example of innovation in the workplace that will save money and achieve operational efficiencies. I would say many TBS employees are looking forward to their new work environment.

The power of open data
And one of the things they like most about their new work space is that it’s open, which brings me to another initiative I’m championing — our Open Government/Open Data project. As many of you know, the government collects vast amounts of data on everything from information on building permits, wait times for non-emergency surgeries, pollution emissions to vehicle recalls.

This data has potentially valuable applications for researchers, entrepreneurs and ultimately for Canadians. For years it has gathered dust like your grandmother’s china. But we, along with an increasing number of governments around the world, are now “opening the vault,” so to speak, on this potentially valuable resource.

We’ve uploaded a total of 273,000 datasets to our Open Data portal from 22 participating federal agencies. And Canadians are clearly interested in what this data has to offer. Since the portal was launched in March 2011, it has attracted more than 1 million user sessions. And about 150,000 datasets have been downloaded.

Think about it: some of the most popular services we use everyday are based on government data: the Weather Network and the Mapping apps on our smartphones are based on government information.

The possibilities are truly exciting.

We are just at the beginning of this new phenomenon, but we can see significant opportunities for spurring innovation and economic growth, making government more accountable, and ultimately improving peoples’ lives. I’ll give you a couple of examples: Right now there are commercials from the Government of Canada advertising a new service.

The Healthy Canadians RSS feed allows you to stay on top of all the latest news and information on everything from product recalls and allergy alerts to disease-related advisories. Every time the site is updated, you will be notified with a summary of the new content and a link to the full posting. And you can access RSS feeds through your computer, smartphone or cellphone.

If you have kids, for example, you can get the most up-to-date food and toy recalls.
And just last week, our Government announced Travel.gc.ca, a single website where Canadians can find, easily and efficiently, the information they need to travel or live abroad safely and to make informed decisions.

In addition to the website, a new mobile application, Travel Smart, allows Canadians anywhere in the world to access Government of Canada information and services on international travel.

These are great examples of how innovation within the government works to improve people’s lives.

Which is why the participation of the public service is so vital for its success. We need to constantly update our content with new datasets. And we need datasets that are presented and curated in a way that innovators, developers and researchers can use.

So I encourage you to get on the Open Data bandwagon and help make this happen.

In the meantime, we are working to launch the next generation Open Data platform. The new site, based on best-in-class open source code, will enhance search capabilities and allow for real-time updating of data, while making it easier for government departments to publish data in bulk.

We’ve also posted a draft of a new, simplified licence agreement on our Open Data Portal.

The proposed new licence will allow unrestricted commercial and non-commercial re-use of Government information, in line with international best practices.

So I hope all of you will capitalize on this new platform and licence to make even more information accessible

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