The 2018 and 2017 IPAC Vanier Medals were presented to Doug Moen and David Zussman (respectively) at the 2019 annual IPAC conference, held August 18-21. The Vanier Medal is a mark of distinction and acknowledges a person for exceptional achievement and leadership in public administration and public service in Canada.
The following remarks, spoken at the annual conference, have been provided by Moen and Zussman.
Remarks by Doug Moen
Good afternoon to you all.
I want to begin by thanking IPAC for this award. I regard the Vanier Medal as very prestigious and it is humbling to be chosen as a recipient—particularly considering the company of individuals who have received this award in the past. And no more so than David Zussman who received the Vanier the year before me and who I share the stage with today.
And it is particularly enjoyable for me to receive it in a year when IPAC has a President from Saskatchewan. Kent Campbell is a very accomplished public servant and his talents and abilities are much appreciated. We have worked together a great deal and it is wonderful to see his leadership assist this organization.
Leaders in the broader public service in Canada today have a significant responsibility. We have a record of enviable achievement in providing excellent public service to the people of Canada. We have a great tradition of honest, thoughtful, well-intentioned and ethical service. But it is not something we should take for granted. Our public services are going through great change. Significant numbers of people are retiring and new leaders are emerging. This is an exciting time but it carries with it the risk that we have not prepared our next generation of leaders for the challenges ahead. I would say to everyone here, to you as leaders in the public service in this country, do your homework and be mindful of what it is about the Canadian public service that has been so successful—that reasoned, wise, non-partisan record of success. One that is largely corruption-free. Let us encourage change and modernization but remember well the lessons we have learned over time. And I would cite a few:
- Respect for the Rule of Law. Public Servants, particularly those in senior positions, don’t get a pass in failing to understand the importance of the Rule of Law as well as the role the courts and justice system play in our system of government.
- The importance of speaking truth to power. We can have an ongoing struggle with giving honest, challenging advice and the task does not seem to be getting easier—but it is becoming more crucial.
- The importance of Canadian diplomacy. Canadian voices on the world stage are probably more important today than they have ever been—providing a moderate, reasoned perspective.
- The need to build our country and, as public servants, ensure our country functions well. We as public servants need to be able to work with each other even when political dialogue between governments can be acrimonious. This bears repeating, especially in light of the upcoming Federal election and an era of ramped-up political rhetoric especially via social media. Public Servants need to stay out of the fray and focus on the work at hand—which includes building this country.
- Our role in building a harmonious, multi-cultural society that is a model for the world. The world seems to be becoming more polarized and the public service can be an inclusive and welcoming voice of reason.
- The importance of mentoring those public servants with less experience. Mentoring is essential. It is incumbent on leaders in the public service to share their wisdom and knowledge to their colleagues and employees as an investment in the public service.
And we need to remember where we have failed in the past and commit to doing everything we can to improve on these failures. Chief among them is:
- Our repeated failures in public policy with respect to the Indigenous peoples of this country. Public services need to embrace reconciliation as an absolutely key aspect of our daily lives.
- Our strong tendency to work in siloes and to struggle with collaboration—particularly in the human services. Coupled with this, we must find a way to better look for upstream solutions to the social needs of Canadians. If we don’t meet these challenges, our human services will severely challenge our governments.
- Our need to really assist our governments on issues such as climate change and water policy which are not on a particularly good path at the moment and which need a concerted effort from public servants to provide key advice.
All that being said, we have much to celebrate in the Canadian public service. I am very proud to have had a public service career in my home province of Saskatchewan. And I believe we, as public servants, have been able to contribute greatly to the development of this wonderful country.
I thank all those who have mentored me, guided my actions and taken me to task. I am better for it.
And I do believe strongly that a public service career is a noble calling and a very enjoyable one.
Thanks again to IPAC for this honour and to you all for sharing this moment with David and with me.
Remarks by David Zussman
Let me start off my brief presentation by thanking IPAC—the Institute of Public Administration of Canada—and the selection committee of 2017 for selecting me for this important award. I have attended at least 15 previous Vanier Medal ceremonies at Rideau Hall and, over the years, I have learned to appreciate how important this award is. First, to the recipient since it recognizes a lifetime of contribution to the field of public administration. And second, to those in the audience since I believe this award validates publicly the importance of a career working in the public interest.
In preparing for my remarks today, I reviewed several of the speeches of previous Vanier Medal recipients. Many commented on how fortunate they had been and that is true for me as well. I came from a very supportive family that highly valued education and encouraged me to follow my dreams—first, as a mathematics/engineering student and then as a social psychologist. During my doctoral studies, it became apparent to me that public policy could play a critical role in remedying many of the societal problems that I was examining. So, in 1973, my wife and I decamped from McGill University and joined the expanding and dynamic federal government. My goal was to contribute to finding policy solutions to some of Canada’s problems that were so apparent in my doctoral research.
Those were heady days for public administrators, Trudeaumania (I mean the appeal of Trudeau the elder) was in full flight. Everyone saw the enormous opportunity for government, at all levels, to solve the nagging problems that Canadians were facing on a daily basis. Over the decades, I had the good fortune of being able to work in a number of federal central agencies and line departments. Over the same time frame, universities were turning their attention to public policy I was fortunate to be able to transition to the University of Ottawa on three different occasions. These moves allowed me to conduct research with colleagues on many of the same issues that I worked on in government and to practice my managerial skills as dean of the Telfer School of Management and later as director of the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs.
Moreover, I also had the privilege to lead the Public Policy Forum for seven years and to write a regular column for the Ottawa Citizen and Canadian Government Executive for approximately 9 years which gave me plenty of scope to look at government from another perspective. To top it off, I enjoyed more than a 30-year association with the Institute for Public Administration of Canada (IPAC), first as a regular member, then as a member of the Board of Directors when I was president of the Canadian Association for Programs in Public Administration (CAPPA). All of these experiences have had a collective impact on my views about public administration and government.
My original intention was to chart a career that would provide advice to government on major policy issues. However, it soon became very apparent to me that management was the Achilles heel of public administration. Too often in the search for policy solutions, the leadership of the public service focused primarily on responding to political masters and neglected its responsibilities to manage its human resources in a professional manner. To my mind, these shortcomings in management often undermined the government’s ability to develop successful policies and program delivery options.
As a result, I refocused my work away from policy analysis to examine the function of government organizations and the ways in which the senior public servants interact with their most important resource, their employees. It was at that time, in the mid-1980s, that my colleague Jak Jabes and I conducted the first survey of executives in the federal public service with the support of the Treasury Board Secretariat. Our report surprised the senior management of the federal government when it revealed a wide gap in the perceptions of the most senior executives and those of senior managers who we identified as the key culture carriers in their departments. The findings exposed many shortcomings of the management practices of federal executives in comparison with their private sector equivalents.
Given the dramatic differences between our public sector findings and those that we found in the private sector, the publication of our book, ‘The Vertical Solitude’ attracted a lot of attention and provoked a number of government-wide initiatives to address the wide gap between the perceptions of executives and those of the people who worked five and six levels below them in their own organizations.
Based on this early work and many other subsequent research projects, it will not surprise you that I have developed views about what ails the current system. And, so in my remaining few minutes, I would like to provide you with some thoughts on the management challenges that need to be addressed in Canada.
Before continuing, let me set the context for the discussion to follow. Government employees, at all levels in their organization, live in a Post Gomery and post Mike Duffy world. In the simplest terms, this means that risk-taking is discouraged, oversight and auditing are now core government activities, rules from Central Agencies instead of the judgement of managers dominate the day to day functioning of departments, ministries and agencies, and the work cycle operates on a 24/7 basis. None of these outcomes on their own is necessarily bad, but collectively they have overwhelmed the management apparatus and driven innovation and practical management out of the system. Previous Vanier medal recipient and former Clerk of the Privy Council, Wayne Wouters, has characterized the current environment as a place where federal managers toil under a ‘web of rules’.
In this context, I believe there are two issues internal to the public sector that need immediate attention and two that are external but interact with the public sphere. In my view, they need to be addressed in order for the Canadian public sector to get its ‘mojo’ back and be in a position to respond to the needs of future governments.
Internally, we have been struggling in Canada, for more than 40 years, to find a model that describes the appropriate role of political advisors in the administrative interface between the permanent, non-partisan, and professional public service and their political masters. For years, many observers have noted that the growing importance of the prime minister in the Westminster system has resulted in larger political staff who have more and more responsibilities in support of the prime ministers and their Ministers. While the scope and scale of exempt staff has increased dramatically, there has been an insufficient effort made to properly define the limits of their power and behaviour. Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion’s recent report regarding the role of the PMO and other ministerial aides in the SNC Lavalin case underscores the need for a way of regularizing the behaviour of political staff.
In a survey that I conducted for the OECD ten years ago, I found that the ambiguity about the appropriate role of the political staffer was also causing considerable grief in other Westminster countries like the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand. This suggests that the problems are more likely linked to the expanding role of prime ministers in Westminster systems and not necessarily inherent in the Canadian way of governing.
Having said that, in Canada, political staff are not subject to formal and established hiring practices, are hardly mentioned in the Public Service Employment Act which defines the roles and responsibilities of Ministers and public servants, and, most significant, are often hired and managed by newly elected Ministers (and Prime Ministers) who frequently have a very limited understanding of the conventions that have previously served Canadians quite well. As a consequence, there are too many examples of conflict, tension and lack of trust between the permanent public service which is led by the deputy minister and the Minister’s chief of staff. This is especially so in the early days of a newly elected government which I reported on in ‘Off and Running’, my book on transition in government.
A serious look at defining the appropriate role of political staff would address many of the points of conflict and eliminate the inefficiencies in a poorly constructed relationship.
Second, there are many forces at play within government which are impacting our manager’s ability to manage. I won’t attempt to provide you with a full recitation of all of the these, but here a couple of markers: baby boomers are retiring from their executive and managerial positions in record numbers and are being replaced by newly hired staff. The average age of these new hires is in the mid 30’s. This means most of them have had considerable work experience in a non-governmental work environment. In many cases, their previous work culture will not prepare them for a career in the public sector. Specifically, more than 100,000 people have been hired into the federal government during the last 7 years to strengthen service delivery, provide increased levels of spending oversight, and fulfil the varied job requirements in security and intelligence organizations. All of these new employees need to have exposure to exemplary role models in leadership positions in order to ensure that public sector values are actually fully realized behaviours.
In addition to the challenge of onboarding new employees, we have already seen how various forms of technology have shaken the foundations of the traditional office. This wave of innovation and disruption will impact differently on employees who are more familiar with technology than those who are less experienced with new work methods. Given the new ways employees now interact with one another in the workplace, management’s challenge is finding genuine ways to define the public service’s cultural values and to imbue them in employees who are working in different work environments.
Looking from the external perspective, trust is at the core of all relationships and there is no doubt that the catastrophic failure of the Phoenix payroll system and the recent SNC-Lavalin controversy has severely undermined trust levels with Canadians and their three levels of government. All of these negative developments are playing out at the same time that governments are seeking to use citizens’ personal information to exploit the benefits of big data, artificial intelligence, and information sharing- all of which depends on citizens trusting their governments collectively and public servants individually to act in their interest.
Technology is not just influencing how public servants work; it also has also dramatically altered the interaction between citizens and the state. The emergence of social media as the arbitrator of public discourse today has changed the paradigm by severely limiting the government’s ability to monopolize information and to dictate the ways in which policy options are debated. Moving the nexus of the conversation away from the circle of influence from government to Facebook and similar platforms is forcing public servants to recognize that they are only one of many interested parties in policy and program discussions. The public servant no longer controls all of the levers over the decision-making process.
This afternoon, I have described two challenges facing public servants in their current work environment – resolving the appropriate role of political advisors and the day to day development of the large influx of new public servants. I have also tried to capture two issues that are external to government but will have a significant impact on public servants. The first is, rebuilding citizen’s trust in the governments on which they rely and the second, is the impact of emerging platforms for policy debate and consensus-seeking.
To this point in our conversation this afternoon I have done the easy part-identifying problems and suggesting a couple of ways to address them. The real challenge, which is for you in this audience, is to find workable solutions. Regardless of which party wins future elections, we know two things: first, elected governments in Canada will play the most critical role in making difficult choices among uncertain policy options and second, they will depend on their public servants for advice at some point in their mandate. Some will rely on the public service immediately after an election and some will turn to the public service when they discover that they need professional and non-partisan advice. In either case, the public service will own the solutions to the issues that I have raised this afternoon.
So, during your socializing this evening I would like you to spend some time thinking about how you are going to resolve these challenges. In the end, it will take the collective will of thousands of people working at all three levels of government to move forward on these items. Historically, Canada has benefitted previously from Royal Commissions when we faced challenges of this magnitude such as the Glassco Report on Government Organization, the Lambert Commission on Financial Management and Accountability, and the Public Service 2000 White Paper but in the absence of similar action from our current political leaders we need organizations like IPAC to champion the cause and for you to explore solutions.
Thanks for listening so intently this afternoon in Winnipeg. And many thanks again for your decision to award me the Vanier Medal. I am most honoured.