In The News

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12/03/2015
PAUL MARTIN AND ERROL MENDES
Contributed to The Globe and Mail
Published 
Thursday, Dec. 03, 2015 6:00AM EST
 
Paul Martin is a former prime minister. Errol Mendes is a professor of law at the University of Ottawa and editor-in-chief of the National Journal of Constitutional Law.
 
More than month has passed since Canadians elected our 42nd Parliament. With a fresh beginning comes an opportunity to review the manner in which our public institutions are governed and the role the public service plays in our country.
 
Canada’s constitution is based on strong and responsible government. However, a government’s actions are not only based on the rule of law, but on conventions that flow from the evolution of our democratic values. With the new Parliament, we will have the opportunity to strengthen government accountability and transparency through adjustments to the governance systems and structures already in place. Achieving the change that is required to restore our system doesn’t require a radical reinvention of those systems; however, it does require respect for the conventions that make our system work.
 
Take Question Period. It’s meant to provide Parliament with a forum to challenge policy decisions and actions. Of late, Question Period had become an exchange of nonsensical attacks where ministers’ answers did not even provide an intelligent, if evasive, response. Question Period is based on the convention that the executive is accountable to all elected members of the House of Commons. Repetitive, off-topic talking points and personal attacks are hardly forms of accountability.
 
Similarly, while omnibus budget bills are not new, they have become grotesque in the desire to avoid transparency in a wide range of non-budget issues. Further, the foundation of Parliament stems from the principle of “no taxation without representation.” The extent to which omnibus budget bills have now been taken clearly violates that principle, as members of Parliament are not given the opportunity to understand the implications of proposed financial changes, let alone debate them.
 
By the same token, the noose put around the necks of Parliamentary committees – effectively strangling their ability to question witnesses and to debate issues – breaches another foundational convention of responsible government: one that speaks to the importance of Parliament and the rights of its members to partake in the legislative process without suffocating constraints. The same breach of the rights of Parliament could be said about the practice of issuing important announcements that should have been announced in the House of Commons in the light of day, but instead are done when Canadians are least likely to be paying attention to them, such as a Friday afternoon before a long weekend.
 
In the same fashion, the muzzling of scientists that has taken place over the past several years breaches a convention that the work of government scientists stems from the public interest and thus should be transparent and protected from unwarranted political interference.
 
And what is one to make of the announcement of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal during the most recent election campaign? The TPP was seen by many as a break to the caretaker convention that essentially constricts a government during an election to conduct only necessary or routine business. Granted, it would not have been easy for Canada to cease participation at such a critical stage in the negotiations. But even according to the caretaker government guidelines provided by the Privy Council Office under the former Conservative government, there should have been, at minimum, consultation with opposition leaders during the election period, which did not occur.
 
And what of the indirect breach of the caretaker convention arising from the recent revelation of the Conservative government’s 49 appointments far into a future after its time in office has expired?
 
Perhaps the most notorious breach of convention was one that involved the rule that a government can only stay in power with the confidence of the House. Yet, when faced with a certain defeat on a confidence vote, the government engineered a prorogation in 2008 that will be questioned for decades to come.
 
Not all rules can be written into law. Indeed, without the application of common sense and decency, progress would be frozen in time. This is true in the relations between people, but it is also true in the way government should work.
 
Further information on governance law can be found in the Public Policy Forum report, Time for a Reboot.

 

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12/01/2015
Kathryn May, Postmedia News | December 1, 2015 9:03 AM ET
 
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is introducing the first code of conduct on political staff working for cabinet ministers, aimed at drawing a “line in the sand” between politics and public service neutrality for ministerial aides.
 
The code is part of the Open and Accountable Government guide, released last week, on the roles, responsibilities and standard of conduct Trudeau expects from his cabinet. The guide is an updated version of one that the Privy Council Office prepared for former prime minister Stephen Harper in 2011.
 
The line between politics and the public service has been blurring for decades, with experts calling for a code to govern the behaviour of ministerial staffers — the “political warriors” or “kids in short pants” who roam Ottawa’s corridors of power with little accountability.
 
The code says ministerial aides can’t meddle in the work of the public service, can’t give public servants orders, and that ministers are responsible for their staff’s actions.The guide also changes the rules on the personal and partisan use of social media.
 
Ministers’ staff, who are hired under the Public Service Employment Act, are exempt from the hiring rules for public servants. Their job is to provide political advice to ministers while bureaucrats offer non-partisan advice.
 
Karl Salgo, formerly of the Privy Council Office and now executive director of public governance at the Institute on Governance, said the guide doesn’t break new ground, but is the first attempt to pull together the rules — written and unwritten — in a single code that will be enforced as a condition of employment. Treasury Board, for example, has long had policies on communications and ministers’ offices.
 
“This is not a change in rules but rather a codification of established principles that has not previously been brought together as comprehensively nor as authoritatively,” he said.
 
Salgo said the code is now the most “authoritative” statement on the boundaries around the relationship between political aides and public servants, and puts the onus on staffers to know and live by those rules. He argued more structure should improve compliance.
 
For the public service, the new code is a concrete step towards the Liberals’ election promise to restore and rebuild respect for the public service.
 
“This is good for the public service because it clarifies the lines of accountability and draws that line in the sand,” said Salgo.
 
“The guide lays out the parameters, and people can’t claim to be unclear about them because it is a term and condition of employment. This is a good innovation for building a healthy relationship (between ministerial staff and public servants).”
 
A code of conduct for political staffers was a key recommendation, which the Conservatives never implemented, of the Gomery Inquiry into the sponsorship scandal.
 
Conservative ministers’ relationship with public servants was an uneasy one.
 
They often bypassed the deputy ministers’ office, gave public servants orders and were so involved in the running of departments that a recent Public Policy Forum report called political aides a new “political service” that was more influential and less accountable than the public service.
 
The study also found the number of aides soared to 600 — 10 times more than the 60 political advisors on payroll for the much-larger U.K. government.
 
With the new code, ministerial staff must act with integrity and honesty, support the minister’s duties, be diligent and loyal to the minister, and work with the public service to support the minister.
 
The guide lays out the parameters, and people can’t claim to be unclear about them because it is a term and condition of employment
The code also calls for a separation between ministers’ social media accounts and those of the government. That’s long been the policy but the Conservatives were repeatedly called out for using the government’s communications machinery to promote partisan interests.
 
They made public servants refer to the Government of Canada as the Harper Government on all news releases and backgrounders.
 
In another case, departments were asked to send retweets promoting a family-tax measure not yet passed by Parliament, including a hashtag with the Conservative slogan #StrongFamilies. Employment Minister Pierre Poilievre had public servants work overtime to create promotional videos about child benefits, which featured him.
 
The government has two types of social media accounts – departmental and thematic accounts — which are targeted at specific topics or audiences. They are used to promote or advertise federal programs but can’t have identifying “party symbols” or partisan content.
 
The code allows ministers and parliamentary secretaries to have their own social media accounts, but won’t allow government resources to manage or create content for them.
 
Departments can’t tweet, retweet or link to the personal or political accounts of ministers. Ministers, however, can link or tweet content from Government of Canada websites.
 
Editor's note: This article originally appeared in the National Post .
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11/30/2015
DYLAN JONES
Published: November 30, 2015
 
Many Canadians are optimistic the new federal administration will liven up our democracy. But what we need is a transformation of our public institutions, not merely a restoration.
 
Shifting power from political staffers to elected cabinet ministers and re-engaging with the expertise of the public service will not be enough. Nor will a cabinet of manageable size, where real conversation can happen; the election of parliamentary committee chairs by secret ballot; and civility and real debate within Parliament.
 
We need a public sector that shifts from a mode of elite expertise to one that actively seeks the talents of the many — a government that is more nimble, more humble and more engaged with Canadians. Something as basic as crowdsourcing — inviting Canadians to provide data and ideas relevant to the issues of the day — is rich, untapped territory for a reimagined public sector.
 
The Public Policy Forum recently gathered five eminent Canadians, led by Jim Dinning, to examine public-sector governance. Their report, Time for a Reboot: 9 Ways to Restore Trust in Canada’s Public Institutions, is worth reading.
 
They lay out four core strategies: strengthening parliamentary committees, restoring cabinet government, letting the public service fulfil its role and making political staffers more accountable. The new government has committed to key actions supporting all of these pillars.
 
Essentially, this is a call for a “back-to-basics” approach. No doubt such a restorative approach would be an improvement over the trend in Canada for the public sector to respond to modernity by centralizing communications and seeking desperately to control its brand and message.
 
We now live in a world where “gotcha politics” — focusing on mistakes — is king. Taking words out of context is pretty much all we do since no one seems to have time for complexity. Greater transparency and problem-sharing by government require a willingness on the part of the opposition, the media and citizens to trust and be fair-minded with government actors. It’s certainly not easy.
 
The strategy of returning our institutions to their original design makes some sense when faced with this challenge. In particular, exposing more of the rich policy debate and evidence may well incline Canadians to be more patient and understanding of the difficulties faced by government. As well, such a process is more likely to produce good public policy. After all, policy created in secrecy is far more likely to be based on incorrect or limited information.
 
At the same time, it would be a mistake to try to recreate the old regime of strong ministers advised by elite experts. In the “good old days,” this model also encouraged siloed thinking, public-sector arrogance and mistakes. We can do much better by considering how to involve more people in the process.
 
For example, Canadians do not want just to end climate change or just to restore our flagging economy. They want both. This involves diverse expertise, including perspectives not available within the ranks of the existing public service. We increasingly need public actors who engage across and beyond ministry boundaries.
 
This kind of modern public service will only happen with both support and challenge from politicians. A government that “gets out more” will need more money for travel. Yes, much can be done with modern technologies but since this whole conversation is fundamentally about trust, personal relationships still matter.
 
The key will be blending leadership with vulnerability. Leadership is how governments can survive tough files — like decisions about pipelines, for example — because taking a stand can at least mobilize support, rather than leaving everyone hating you. Vulnerability, on the other hand, is how a modern government can ask for help, ask citizens to acknowledge complexity and build trust.
 
Much can be learned from reflecting on how our institutions were designed in the first place, such as was done so well in the recent Public Policy Forum report. Yet reflecting on the weaknesses of the old structures is also valuable because ultimately, transforming government will be as much about humility as it will be about hope.
 
Dylan Jones is president and CEO of the Canada West Foundation, a think-tank devoted to issues of particular concern to Western Canada
 
Editor's note: This article originally appeared in the Edmonton Journal.
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11/06/2015

OTTAWA and TORONTO — The Globe and Mail

 

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11/04/2015

Tuesday, Nov. 03, 2015 6:00PM EST 

Back in the middle of May, the deputy ministers of the federal government took the occasion of the pause before the election campaign to discuss and reassert the proper role of the federal civil service.

Little is known of what was actually said. Apparently to provide a focus to the discussion, the deputy ministers were presented with a 2010 paper by an eminent Canadian political scientist, Peter Aucoin, who died in 2011. The paper’s theme was that the federal bureaucracy is under pressure from the cabinet and political staffers to politicize public administration.

Many of the deputy ministers themselves have been appointed to their present positions by the departing Conservative government, including Janice Charette, the present Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet – the head of the civil service. That is a sign that the upper ranks of the bureaucracy have not been cowed into submission, in spite of allegations of “creeping politicization,” going back to the 1970s. Maybe the lower-level civil servants are the ones more easily subjected to pressure by political staffers.

Now that the Conservatives have lost the election, the deputy ministers may be preparing to send a clear message, or a gentle shot across the bows, to the incoming Liberal government – to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, his chief adviser Gerald Butts and his chief of staff Katie Telford. The new government’s choice as head of the transition team, Peter Harder, a former deputy minister of Foreign Affairs and of the Treasury Board, will probably be quite welcome to the deputy ministers.

The late professor Aucoin’s paper appears to go too far in proposing that an independent panel, from outside government, should make the appointments to the upper civil service. That sounds too much like a self-perpetuating hierarchy. In the end, the cabinet should make the ultimate decisions, after paying attention to frank but confidential advice of the civil-service mandarins. Accordingly, it should continue to be answerable to the people of Canada.

At the same time, the new government should adopt a recent recommendation of the Public Policy Forum that the Prime Minister make a clear commitment to the principles “underpinning the public service in Canada.”

Editor's note: This article originally appeared in the Globe and Mail.

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11/04/2015

High expectations for new tone at top for public servants

By Julie Ireton, CBC News Posted: Nov 04, 2015 5:00 AM ET

Waheed Khan is already experiencing a freedom he hasn't felt in a very long time as a scientist working on climate change policy at Environment Canada — he's talking publicly about the kind of public service he wants to be part of under Justin Trudeau.  

While Canadians get a new government, Khan and his fellow public servants get a new boss — not just the prime minister, but a new president of the Treasury Board and new cabinet ministers. After close to 10 years under the Conservative government, there is a lot of anticipation about how the Liberals will run the bureaucracy.

Khan, who's been with the Canadian government for more than 15 years, said he's excited and feeling positive about what he hopes will be a new era of openness.

"Networking with your peers and freedom to communicate is a good idea," said Khan, who is also a union steward with the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada. "Freedom so you're not feeling someone is looking over your shoulder, someone is not massaging your messages."

During the election campaign, Ottawa-area candidates said they heard from public servants who wanted to see a change in government. Service and job cuts, the battle over public service sick leave and the muzzling of scientists were among the issues cited at the door.  

But the Conservatives don't see their legacy in the same way — in fact Tony Clement, outgoing president of the Treasury Board, said he's proud of the reforms the Conservatives introduced.

"I think it's a more nimble public service. It's a more creative public service," said Clement, who also acknowledged the differences his government had with unions. "Then again across the bargaining table we respected one another."

Respect a point of contention

But for Khan, respect is something that needs to be restored.

"That's one thing we have been lacking," Khan said. "I found it personally disrespectful when you find that we're working for the leadership — working very hard — and then public comments are made about the problems, many of which didn't really exist or were spread out of proportion."

Khan said the federal government needs to trust the work and advice of public servants, including an investment in long term science initiatives that go beyond a government's term.

Last week, Canada's Public Policy Forum published a report called "Time for a Reboot," authored by a group of business executives and former political leaders from across the country. Kevin Lynch, a former Clerk of the Privy Council and one of the report's authors, agreed the public service must be allowed to provide analytic-based policy options.

"The public service has to be able to provide its best advice. And if that isn't able to happen on an on-going basis, then we're not getting the full value of how our system should work," Lynch said.

Federal workers, including Khan, have high expectations for the Trudeau government. He said a change in tone, attitude and respect will go a long way.

"Those are the kinds of things that would be a good signal. It won't cost money, but it would be good initial signals," Khan said.

 

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11/03/2015

Policy Magazine
Kevin Lynch

After a long election campaign, Canadians have decided on the make-up of the new Parliament and who will govern us. How they should govern us is an issue much less discussed, yet equally vital to our long-term future.

Transitions are times for renewal, not only in political terms, but in how we look at the world around us and the future ahead of us. The public service provides the new government of the day with “transition books” that deal with all aspects of governing—a huge and valuable nonpartisan exercise. These substance of the transition briefings typically ranges from the machinery of government itself to short-term issues that must be dealt with; from the implementation of the new government’s policy platform to longerterm policy issues; from federal-provincial relations to relations with our global neighbours; from security and defence issues to foreign policy challenges and opportunities.

The transition process also provides an invaluable window on how well our system of governance and its core institutions—Parliament and its committees, Cabinet and its ministers, the Prime Minister’s Office and its span of control, the public service—are functioning today.

Democratic governance is about more than the ability to hold free and fair elections. It requires strong institutions. It demands respect for the rule of law and those who oversee it. It needs a system of checks and balances, set by either constitution, convention or both. It requires a professional and effective public service. It listens to the diverse and articulate voices of an independent media. And it is anchored by an informed and involved citizenry. 

To be sure, the context for governing in Canada and elsewhere is shifting. The “new normal” is a world of pervasive globalization, relentless competition, hyper-connectivity, perpetual innovation, aging demographics and rising volatility and risk. The role for government is certainly not lessened by this shifting context, indeed quite the opposite, although the nature of government’s role needs to evolve to reflect these new realities.

How well it is evolving to fulfill its role is the focus of a recent report by the Public Policy Forum’s Panel on Governance. The panel believes our system of governance, which is core to how we shape our collective values and goals as a nation, is in urgent need of a reboot.

T his renewal, in the panel’s view, does not require constitutional amendments or protracted federal-provincial negotiations, but it does require change. The report focused on the need for change in how Parliament and its committees work: in how balance is re-established between centralization in the PMO and delegation to ministers and departments; in how the public service interacts with the government, Parliament and the public; and, in how the responsibilities and accountabilities of political staff are clarified. It emphasizes that good governance is not an end in itself, but a means towards achieving a robust democracy for the benefit of all Canadians. 

The public service of Canada plays a core role in our Westminster system of governance. It is nonpartisan, serving governments past, present and future; it is permanent, providing a longer term policy and operational perspective; it is merit based, attracting competent professionals who want to make a difference for their country. And, as the panel report sets out, it faces challenges today.

The report puts forward a number of recommendations designed, essentially, to let the Public Service of Canada fulfil its intended role. Hopefully, these proposals will enjoy broad-based political and public support and be acted upon with alacrity while, at the same time, the public service itself will move forward with renewal. 

My intent here is to reflect on the “new global normal” and the operational opportunities and obstacles it presents for Westminster public services everywhere, and in so doing, consider five areas where the greatest scope for innovation and change may lie.

First, in a world that is exceedingly complex and interconnected, deep and broad policy capacity is a basic necessity of effective government. Policy obeys the basic law of supply and demand—without both the supply of high-quality policy analysis and options by the public service and the demand for evidence-based policy advice and options by the government, the market for public service policy capacity simply does not function. 

Policy advice by the public service should not be a monopoly—there are many sources of advice available to government. What it should be is value-added to other sources of advice in terms of its impartiality, timeliness, analytic quality, broad global perspective and long-term focus. 

Public service policy advice should eschew short-termism, which is such a challenge in so many aspects of business, politics and journalism today. Fearless policy advice must be based on extensive information and detailed analysis—multiplied anecdote is not knowledge. The capacity of public sector policy analysis to better utilize big data, big analytics and big computing power offers enormous potential for new insights in the many realms of government. Moreover, public service policy thinking should be more collaborative in its structure, both within government and outside, tapping the public and its vast “internet of ideas.”

As a country, we have to be bolder in our policy thinking if we are to thrive in this new global normal, and the public service should be able to contribute to these discussions. Whether it is how to re-invigorate our long-term growth potential, how to get productivity growth going again, or how best to make a trade and investment pivot to the emerging economic powerhouses in Asia led by China, we need diverse longer term policy views and analysis in the public domain, and spirited public discourse. 

Second, in a world experiencing a sharp spike in volatility and risk, risk management—not risk aversion—is the smart response by government. Risks today are more systemic, more global, more interconnected and more unpredictable in their diffusion than ever before. These characteristics are clear in the World Economic Forum’s 2015 ranking of the top 10 global risks which include: interstate conflicts; high and sustained unemployment, particularly for youth; failure of climate change adaptation; water crises; cyber attacks; asset bubbles; terrorist attacks; social instability; food crises; and, fiscal crises.

For any institution in a period of change and churn, whether a private sector firm or a government, risk aversion paradoxically amplifies risk rather than minimizing it. It is too often an approach to minimize shortTransition briefings typically ranges from the machinery of government itself to short-term issues that must be dealt with; from the implementation of the new government’s policy platform to longer-term policy issues. Policy term inconvenience while maximizing long-term pain.

Effective risk management is a key differentiator for long-term success in a changing world—whether you are confronting technology risk, geopolitical risk, economic forecast risk, security risk, social license risk or policy risk. Risk management is a strategy for long-term gain while accepting that risk and return are correlated and, since risks cannot be avoided, they should be analytically managed. Part of this entails reducing ever-expanding compliance regimes and their web of rules, and substituting risk management tools such as scenario analysis, stress testing and resiliency planning into government programs, services and operations.

Good in concept, but challenging in practice, and particularly so in government, where the negative consequences of realized risks too often outweigh the positive reactions to realized returns. A quandary to be sure, but risk management lies at the heart of innovation, and innovation is central to making government more productive, more connected, and more relevant—so everyone wins if a better balance can be achieved.

T hird, in a world where technological innovation is increasing exponentially, government should be at the leading—not the trailing—edge of innovation adaptation. In the financial world, as a comparator, “FinTech” has captured the imagination of the press and consumers, and the attention of investors, incumbents and regulators. From crowd-sourcing to peer-to-peer lending to mobile payments to roboadvisors to crypto currencies, financial innovation has the potential to improve the efficient allocation of capital to support growth, to reduce frictions and costs in the facilitation of payments, to transform the collection and analysis of data for decision making, and to broaden the accessibility of financial services.

The FinTech companies driving this financial innovation, usually innovative start-ups, are targeting financial intermediation functions for innovation, not challenging the institutions themselves. Their tools of the FinTech trade are new platform technologies, huge scalability, big data, cloud computing, and customer-centric business models.

Which raises the obvious question: Why not “GovTech”? Many of the core functions of government should be equally amenable to such innovations, and in so doing reduce public sector costs, increase government productivity and enhance the public’s experience of dealing with government.

There has been some such experimentation in the healthcare and education fields, but no one would describe Canada today as a leader in this field. There is likely even more scope in the back-office functions of government such as tax administration, transfer and pension administration, program delivery and information delivery. An added benefit of being a leader in GovTech is that the pioneer companies developing these innovative technologies and services will have enormous export potential to market these products to governments in other countries.

Fourth, in a world in which the revolution in communications technologies is totally transforming how people interact, government communications should join the revolution. This is about attitude and approach, not just technology.

Social media is disruptive—multiple voices, many platforms, competing narratives, hugely decentralized, totally interactive, very dynamic. All this is challenging for governments for a variety of reasons, but also rewarding. The reality, however, is that the public has already made the switch, particularly the younger generation, and the relevance of government communications is a real and present issue. The upsides of more open communications utilizing social media are clear: an opportunity to engage Canadians on issues in real time, to listen and interact as well as broadcast, to create new virtual networks, to give voice to government science. The downsides are loss in central control of communications and lack of a single message. The choice seems obvious.

Fifth, in a world of rapidly shifting career options, we need to make working for government as exciting as working at, say, Google or Facebook, and as meaningful as joining a social enterprise such as WorldVision or the United Way. Challenging, to be sure, but also doable; provided we update the brand promise.

The renewed brand must be about the potential of public service work to make a real societal difference, and this requires public service managers to delegate responsibility and encourage innovation. It is about the public validation of the role and work of public servants by the government and the public at large. And it is about active, not passive, recruitment of the next generation of Canadian leaders to give a public service career consideration, not for the pension but because the country needs their talents.

Simply put, a nonpartisan and empowered public service, one that is attractive to Canada’s best, brightest and most entrepreneurial talents, one where excellence is the benchmark and one in which risks are to be managed, not avoided, in the pursuit of innovation, is one that can contribute enormously to Canada’s long-term success as a robust democracy, strong economy and vibrant society.

Contributing Writer Kevin Lynch, Vice Chair of BMO Financial Group, is a former Clerk of the Privy Council, and former deputy minister of Finance.

 

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11/03/2015

Global Government Forum
By  on 30/10/2015

A Canadian think-tank has called on the country’s new prime minister to provide greater clarity on the role of civil servants and consider producing a document similar to the UK’s and New Zealand’s Cabinet Manual.

Canada’s Public Policy Forum – an independent not-for-profit think-tank – says in its report Time for a Reboot: Nine Ways to Restore Trust in Canada’s Public Institutions that producing such a document would provide “publicly-accessible guide to governance in our country.”

The report, published yesterday, states that although the federal Public Service Employment Act and the Values and Ethics Code for the public sector make it clear that civil servants should be non-partisan and be appointed based on merit, “much of the public service’s role is defined by unwritten convention – informal rules of governance that have evolved over time.”

It recommends that a “clear public statement by the prime minister and government is needed regarding the ‘conventions’ underpinning the public service in Canada and its role with respect to policy advice and implementation, administration of programs, and delivery of services to Canadians.”

Such a statement, the report says, “should clearly define the public service’s core role in the provision of impartial, well-informed and evidence-based policy advice; duty to bring their perspectives on longer-term challenges; and impartiality and non-partisanship.”

New Zealand introduced its manual in 2008 and defines it as “a primary source of information on New Zealand’s constitutional arrangements, as seen through the lens of the executive branch of government.” And the UK – under the leadership of former cabinet secretary Lord O’Donnell – introduced its Cabinet Manual in 2010, which it says, “sets out the main laws, rules and conventions affecting the conduct and operation of government.”

Both documents provide guidance on the relationship between ministers and senior civil servants, special advisers and select committees as well as a code of conduct for civil servants.

Yesterday’s report was led by a panel including former clerk of Canada’s Privy Council Kevin Lynch, as well as an advisory council that includes O’Donnell and former chief of staff to Stephen Harper, Ian Brodie.

It also called for a legislative change: the principles, roles and responsibilities of the public service, including specific accountabilities for deputy ministers – the most senior civil servants in charge of Canadian government departments – “should be enshrined in legislation,” the report says.

Another change advocated in the report relates to select committees – cross-party groups of politicians given a specific remit to investigate.

In Canada, members of each committee vote for a chair and two vice-chairs. But in practice, the report argues, the prime minister’s office or the House Leader select the chair and committee members vote accordingly.”

Similarly, it adds, “opposition leaders exercise tight control over the selection of chairs for the committees their party leads”, concluding that committee membership reflects the partisan composition of the House meaning that “as a result, members of the governing party chair most standing committees.”

Instead, the report says, committee chairs should be elected by secret ballot in the full House of Commons, which would take “the edge off partisanship” and enhance the independence of committees.

It argues that, again, the UK’s parliamentary committees, which have been electing their chairs via secret ballot since 2010, “offer a useful model for Canada.”

Other recommendations include a reduction in the total number of select committees in Canada from currently 24, the boosting of committees’ resources and the introduction of a rule that requires deputy ministers and senior officials to appear before committees regularly.

This, the report says, “would give committee members valuable insight into the forces shaping key trends, challenges and opportunities, as well as the longer-term consequences of policy options.”

Panel chair Jim Dinning said he hoped that Canada’s new government, led by Liberal Justin Trudeau, who won this month’s general election, “can pick up some of the good ideas” set out in the report.

Trudeau’s office failed to submit a response by the time this story was published.

 

A spokeswoman for APEX, Canada’s national association for federal public service executives, told Global Government Forum that “any initiative that seeks to improve the Public Service is always welcomed.”

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11/02/2015

31 octobre 2015 |Manon Cornellier
L
e Devoir

ustin Trudeau prend les rênes du pouvoir mercredi prochain. On saura enfin qui formera son cabinet. On y trouvera un nombre égal d’hommes et de femmes. Il l’a promis. Il devrait compter moins de ministres. Trente tout au plus, dit-on, mais moins de préférence.

L’appui que le Québec lui a accordé — 40 députés — y sera reflété. Il s’y est engagé. Mais il voudra aussi donner à l’Ouest une place qui soit à la hauteur de la cour qu’il lui fait depuis trois ans. Il aura certainement un faible pour l’Atlantique, rouge mur à mur, et pour l’Ontario, où il a raflé 80 sièges et obtenu l’aide de la première ministre libérale Kathleen Wynne.

À travers cela, le chef libéral devra trouver un juste équilibre entre l’expérience et la relève. Avec 183 députés parmi lesquels choisir, dont de nombreuses vedettes et grosses pointures, il aura l’embarras du choix. Ce qui est sûrement plus plaisant que d’être à court d’élus dans des régions clés. Parlez-en au premier ministre sortant Stephen Harper, qui, dès la formation de son premier cabinet, a brisé sa promesse de ne nommer que des sénateurs élus pour avoir un ministre de la région de Montréal, Michael Fortier.

On peut s’amuser à deviner qui seront les heureux élus de la loterie ministérielle, mais le vrai signal d’un changement d’approche se vérifiera à la marge de manoeuvre qu’il accordera à ses ministres pour prendre des décisions et s’exprimer.

Au lendemain de son élection, le chef libéral a déclaré qu’il voulait des ministres qui sont plus que des porte-voix, qu’il voulait des décideurs. Ce qui sous-tend cet engagement est deux promesses importantes qu’il a faites durant la campagne. Sur les ondes de la CBC, il a déclaré vouloir renverser la tendance vers la concentration des pouvoirs au bureau du premier ministre. Il a aussi dit à plusieurs occasions vouloir restaurer la confiance du public en ses institutions.

Depuis qu’il a sollicité la direction du Parti libéral du Canada (PLC), Justin Trudeau a promis de faire la politique autrement, en évitant la négativité et en restant proche des gens. Comme chef, il a gardé le cap avant et durant la campagne électorale. Le défi est nettement plus grand une fois au pouvoir, car en détenir tous les leviers nuit peut-être au bon fonctionnement de notre démocratie, mais cela peut se révéler bien commode.

On juge son oeuvre à l’aune des engagements pris. Ils vont du renforcement de la Loi sur l’accès à l’information à l’adoption de règles pour éviter l’usage abusif des projets de loi omnibus, en passant par un assouplissement de la discipline de parti. Ainsi, ses députés seront libres de voter comme ils l’entendent lorsqu’il ne s’agira pas d’un vote de confiance, de la mise en oeuvre d’une promesse inscrite dans le programme du parti ou de décisions touchant les droits fondamentaux des citoyens.

La plupart des engagements de M. Trudeau au sujet du cabinet ne figurent pas dans son programme. Il les a pris de vive voix. Ils rejoignent toutefois, du moins en partie, les conclusions d’un rapport portant sur la restauration de la confiance du public en ses institutions, publié cette semaine par le Forum des politiques publiques. Il a été rédigé par un groupe de cinq éminents Canadiens, dont l’ancien premier ministre du Québec Jean Charest, l’ex-ministre albertain des Finances Jim Dinning et la p.-d.g. du Groupe Desjardins, Monique Leroux.

Selon eux, la concentration du pouvoir entre les mains du premier ministre et du personnel politique s’est produite au détriment de l’influence des ministres, des élus et des fonctionnaires. Ces trois groupes n’arrivent plus à jouer leur rôle. Le personnel politique au sein du bureau du premier ministre s’est substitué au cabinet comme centre de prise de décisions et néglige la fonction publique comme source de conseils impartiaux.

Le groupe croit lui aussi qu’il faut réduire la taille du cabinet, mais suggère moins de 25 membres afin justement de le rendre capable de prendre des décisions et de cesser de le traiter comme un simple groupe témoin. Des ministres devraient aussi comparaître régulièrement devant les comités parlementaires, nommer eux-mêmes leur chef de cabinet et répondre des actes de leur personnel politique.

D’autres recommandations du groupe de travail trouvent écho auprès de M. Trudeau. On note dans son programme l’accroissement des ressources des comités parlementaires et l’élection de leur président par scrutin secret. Les auteurs du rapport, eux, voudraient aussi qu’il y ait moins de comités, que ces derniers puissent siéger lorsque la Chambre ne fonctionne pas et que leurs membres soient nommés pour la durée d’un Parlement afin d’acquérir une véritable expertise.

M. Trudeau est sur la bonne piste, mais il devra aller plus loin. L’érosion de nos institutions, la perte d’influence des députés et l’affaiblissement des contrepoids au pouvoir exécutif ne datent pas d’hier. En fait, la concentration du pouvoir au sein du bureau du premier ministre a démarré sous Pierre Elliott Trudeau. Son fils le reconnaît et a dit publiquement qu’il espérait être celui qui mettrait fin à cette tendance. Le premier test aura lieu mercredi.

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11/02/2015

Un coup de barre s’impose dans la gouvernance, affirme Jean Charest

31 octobre 2015 | Marco Fortier Des députés « désabusés », une fonction publique laissée à l’abandon, des institutions démocratiques à « redémarrer » : après neuf années de gouvernement Harper, un changement de culture s’impose à Ottawa, affirme un groupe d’experts dont fait partie l’ancien premier ministre Jean Charest.

Ce groupe « d’éminents Canadiens », mandaté par le Forum des politiques publiques, recommande un important coup de barre dans l’exercice du pouvoir au Canada. Les recommandations valent pour tous les niveaux de gouvernement — et le rapport est non partisan —, mais la fin du règne conservateur à Ottawa marque l’occasion de prendre un virage démocratique, affirme Jean Charest en entrevue au Devoir.

« Sous le gouvernement Harper, ça a été une centralisation comme on n’en a jamais vu auparavant. Ça l’était déjà, mais il faut dire qu’au Canada, on a battu des records », dit l’ex-premier ministre du Québec en entrevue au téléphone.

Sans jamais nommer le gouvernement Harper, le rapport de 20 pages critique durement le bilan conservateur. En entrevue, Jean Charest adopte le même ton non partisan, mais évoque sans détour de nécessaires changements dans la gouvernance à Ottawa. Il faut redonner la parole aux députés, qui se considèrent parfois eux-mêmes comme des plantes vertes. Il faut renforcer les comités parlementaires, devenus des instruments partisans. Et il faut décentraliser le pouvoir, qui s’est retrouvé entre les mains du premier ministre.

Électoralisme perpétuel

« Au Canada, l’émergence d’un électoralisme incessant, dans le style de celui pratiqué aux États-Unis, a indubitablement contribué à saper les principes de gouvernance sains et la confiance envers nos institutions publiques », écrivent les auteurs.

En plus de Jean Charest, le groupe d’experts est formé de Monique Leroux, présidente et chef de la direction du Mouvement Desjardins, Heather Munroe-Blum, ancienne rectrice de l’Université McGill, Kevin Lynch, ancien greffier du Conseil privé, et Jim Dinning, ancien trésorier de l’Alberta. Ils ont mené leur étude depuis plus d’un an à l’invitation du Forum des politiques publiques, un groupe de réflexion non partisan établi à Ottawa.

Le premier ministre d’abord

« La centralisation extraordinaire des pouvoirs, qui ébranle le fondement de notre démocratie, fait partie de ces facteurs qui sapent la bonne gouvernance », indique le rapport.

En entrevue, Jean Charest reconnaît que tous les premiers ministres au pays — y compris lui-même lorsqu’il était au pouvoir, de 2003 à 2012 — ont tendance à s’approprier la prise de décision.

Cette façon de faire est née sous l’impulsion des réseaux sociaux comme Twitter, qui nécessitent des réponses immédiates et en continu des gouvernements, explique-t-il. Les gouvernements cherchent à parler d’une seule voix au public, ce que Jean Charest a fait en centralisant les communications de tous les ministres à son bureau.

Mais le contrôle de l’information — certains ont parlé de paranoïa — a atteint un sommet sous les conservateurs. Les députés et ministres n’avaient pas le droit d’ouvrir la bouche sans la permission du premier ministre. Les comités parlementaires, qui ont une influence considérable à Londres, par exemple, ont été soumis aux diktats du premier ministre. Et la fonction publique, considérée comme compétente et indépendante, a été réduite au silence. Les conservateurs avaient une profonde méfiance envers la bureaucratie, considérée comme « activiste » ou libérale.

« La fonction publique s’est sentie beaucoup dévalorisée dans les dernières années, dit Jean Charest. Elle souhaite avoir un gouvernement qui a des projets et une vision. Elle donne une profondeur à la réflexion, elle éclaire les choix politiques. Tout ça s’est un peu effrité au fil des ans. Cette valorisation de la réflexion s’est perdue. Il y a une confusion entre le personnel politique et la fonction publique. »

Des exemples de politiques importantes issues de la fonction publique ? Quand il était ministre de l’Environnement à Ottawa, au début des années 90, la machine gouvernementale a conçu un plan vert ayant mené au bannissement des CFC, qui s’attaquaient à la couche d’ozone. Jean Charest cite aussi les politiques familiales mises sur pied par la fonction publique québécoise (sous la direction de gouvernements péquiste ou libéral) dans les services de garde et les congés parentaux, entre autres.

Laisser parler les élus

De la même manière, Jean Charest et son groupe d’experts recommandent la fin de l’omerta pour le conseil des ministres. « Le principe de base remonte à très loin, il remonte aux patriotes : c’est d’avoir un gouvernement responsable. Un gouvernement responsable, c’est un gouvernement qui travaille dans un environnement de décisions collectives. Il faut qu’on revienne à un système où les ministres sont des acteurs politiques qui, dans le cadre du mandat qu’ils reçoivent du premier ministre, ont une certaine indépendance. Il faut donner plus d’autonomie aux ministres pour qu’ils puissent faire leur travail. »

À Ottawa comme à Québec, le Bureau du premier ministre nomme les chefs de cabinet des ministres. Le personnel politique des ministres est redevable au premier ministre. Le groupe d’experts recommande de laisser les ministres gérer eux-mêmes leurs employés.

Autre signe de l’érosion de la démocratie à Ottawa, la bataille du gouvernement Harper contre les institutions qui font contrepoids au pouvoir — notamment les médias, le vérificateur général, la commissaire à l’information ou même la juge en chef de la Cour suprême. Cette tension entre l’exécutif et la Cour suprême a « beaucoup étonné » le groupe d’experts, indique Jean Charest.

« Ça a attiré l’attention, c’est sûr. On a vu ça comme étant vraiment un cas d’espèce, particulier au gouvernement de M. Harper. C’est sûr qu’un gouvernement peut vivre de la frustration par rapport à une décision de la Cour suprême. Ça m’est arrivé. Mais ça fait partie de la vie et de la démocratie. La première mission d’un législateur, c’est de respecter et de soutenir les institutions qui en font l’examen. »

 

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