Richard Dicerni

Canada stands with France and the UK among G7 na­tions in which a ca­reer in the pub­lic ser­vice has long been con­sid­ered not just an hon­ourable but a no­ble call­ing and re­spectable use of one’s tal­ents. For our Canada 150 piece on the coun­try’s pub­lic ser­vic

Policy - - In This Issue - Richard Dicerni

A Birth­day Card to Canada from its Pub­lic Ser­vice

Dear Canada, It has been quite a jour­ney we have trav­elled to­gether over these past 150 years. Over­all, I think we have helped you grow and evolve into the great coun­try that you are to­day.

In an­tic­i­pa­tion of your an­niver­sary, I have gone to Li­brary and Archives Canada to find some of the fam­ily al­bums that we have put to­gether over the years.

Do you re­mem­ber when it all started on July 1, 1867? There were 2,660 of us ready to serve your first gov­ern­ment. Most of us worked out­side of Ot­tawa in the four prov­inces; our ma­jor depart­ments were Cus­toms, Agri­cul­ture, Pub­lic Works and, of course, Fi­nance.

Over the years, as the pop­u­la­tion grew and the econ­omy di­ver­si­fied, the need for ad­di­tional civil ser­vants was rec­og­nized. The need to hire on the ba­sis of merit was also rec­og­nized. So, in 1908, Par­lia­ment passed an act es­tab­lish­ing the Civil Ser­vice Com­mis­sion. How­ever, old pa­tron­age habits did not dis­ap­pear quickly. It took an­other decade be­fore the Civil Ser­vice Act was passed and the merit prin­ci­ple was en­shrined in law.

Enough of those early years, let’s look at fam­ily al­bums. The first one I want to look at is about the 1930’s. As you will re­call, this was a dif­fi­cult pe­riod eco­nom­i­cally—do­mes­ti­cally and in­ter­na­tion­ally. It was also a time when min­is­ters, es­pe­cially prime min­is­ters, worked closely with their of­fi­cials in or­der to deal as best as pos­si­ble with the chal­lenges that you faced. You faced these chal­lenges with the help of three re­mark­able pub­lic ser­vants: Clif­ford Clark, O.D. Skel­ton and Arnold Heeney.

In 1932, Prime Min­is­ter R.B. Ben­nett re­cruited Clif­ford Clark to be deputy min­is­ter of Fi­nance; Clark would go on to serve in that ca­pac­ity for the next 20 years and sup­port seven min­is­ters of Fi­nance. On his watch, key pieces of leg­is­la­tion such as the Bank of Canada Act (1935), the Na­tional Hous­ing Act (1938), the Fi­nan­cial Ad­min­is­tra­tion Act (1950) would be passed by Par­lia­ment. Clark was at the ta­ble when the Row­ell-Sirois Com­mis­sion on Do­min­ion-Provin­cial Re­la­tions was es­tab­lished and when it re­ported. Un­der his stew­ard­ship, five wartime bud­gets, which rec­on­ciled do­mes­tic needs with mil­i­tary ex­i­gen­cies, were pre­pared.

As a leader, he re­cruited out­stand­ing in­di­vid­u­als such as Bob Bryce, A.F.W. Plumptre, Wal­ter Gor­don and Mitchell Sharp. He also en­sured that the Trea­sury Board func­tioned as it should as the comptroller of gov­ern­ment ex­pen­di­tures. His over­all con­tri­bu­tion is best summed up by Wal­ter Gor­don, who said “Clark was the dom­i­nat­ing ge­nius of the depart­ment and, in fact, of wartime Ot­tawa”.

The 1930s was also the decade that you, Canada, came of age, where you ap­peared on the in­ter­na­tional stage not as a colony but as a coun­try. It was a time when you had of­fi­cial rep­re­sen­ta­tions in places such as Lon­don, Tokyo, Wash­ing­ton and Paris. It was the pe­riod when the nascent Depart­ment of Ex­ter­nal Af­fairs came to be. The guid­ing hand that made all of the above hap­pen was O.D. Skel­ton. He also had a sharp eye for tal­ent and re­cruited in­di­vid­u­als such as Hume Wrong, Nor­man Robert­son and Lester B. “Mike” Pear­son, who would all go on to have ex­cep­tional ca­reers. Pro­vid­ing for­eign pol­icy ad­vice in a fast-chang­ing world land­scape was chal­leng­ing, es­pe­cially given the many com­pet­ing in­ter­ests and val­ues. Through­out his ten­ure as un­der­sec­re­tary of state at Ex­ter­nal, a post he held from 1926 un­til his death in 1940, Skel­ton en­sured that gov­ern­ment had the best ad­vice pos­si­ble to nav­i­gate these com­plex in­ter­na­tional shoals.

On July 13, 1938, Macken­zie King wrote to Arnold Heeney, a young bilin­gual lawyer from Mon­treal, to ask him to come to Ot­tawa to as­sist him in run­ning his of­fice and li­aise with min­is­ters. In 1940, Heeney be­came the sev­enth Clerk of the Privy Coun­cil and the first Sec­re­tary to Cab­i­net. He held that job un­til 1949. When he had ini­tially ap­proached Heeney, the prime min­is­ter had noted in his let­ter that “a sort of Sec­re­tary to the Cab­net” po­si­tion ex­isted in Eng­land and he saw “no rea­son why such a post might not be de­vel­oped in Canada.” He then added, “where work is re­ally im­por­tant it is the man who makes the po­si­tion, not the po­si­tion which makes the man”. Heeney rose to that chal­lenge.

Heeney worked with the PM to un­der­take gov­er­nance in­no­va­tions, such as set­ting and cir­cu­lat­ing agen­das for cab­i­net meet­ings, en­sur­ing that sup­port­ing doc­u­ments were pre­pared, and that min­utes of meet­ings were taken and records of de­ci­sions

The 1930s was also the decade that you, Canada, came of age, where you ap­peared on the in­ter­na­tional stage not as a colony but as a coun­try. It was a time when you had of­fi­cial rep­re­sen­ta­tions in places such as Lon­don, Tokyo, Wash­ing­ton and Paris.

were noted and fol­lowed up.

Gor­don Robert­son, who held the Clerk’s job from 1963 to 1975, wrote in 1972 that “Heeney had de­signed the ma­chine that co­or­di­nates all of the vi­tal de­ci­sions of gov­ern­ment... the ba­sic de­sign is un­changed be­cause he de­signed it so well”.

These three in­di­vid­u­als shared some char­ac­ter­is­tics: they earned the trust of prime min­is­ters and min­is­ters with fear­less ad­vice and prob­lem solv­ing, they were su­perb at tal­ent man­age­ment, they had a solid un­der­stand­ing of the pub­lic in­ter­est and they knew how to man­age.

Since Heeney’s ap­point­ment in 1940, 16 Cana­di­ans have fol­lowed in his foot­steps and have been Clerk of the Privy Coun­cil and Sec­re­tary to Cab­i­net. One Cana­dian stands out in the fam­ily al­bums for his con­tri­bu­tion to your well-be­ing and con­tin­ued pros­per­ity: Gor­don R. Robert­son who had the po­si­tion be­tween 1963 and 1975.

I am sure you will re­mem­ber 1967. It was a spec­tac­u­lar year, your 100th an­niver­sary. This spe­cial year had many cel­e­bra­tions, in­clud­ing the re­mark­able Expo 67, which show­cased to the world all that you were and could be.

But the years that pre­ceded it and the years that fol­lowed were not easy. New so­cial pro­grams such as the Canada Pen­sion Plan/Que­bec Pen­sion Plan and Medi­care were launched af­ter many dif­fi­cult, in­tense ne­go­ti­a­tions with provin­cial gov­ern­ments; new eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment depart­ments, in­clud­ing the first Sci­ence and Tech­nol­ogy min­istry, were es­tab­lished; con­sti­tu­tional dis­cus­sions were un­der­taken lead­ing to the Vic­to­ria Char­ter which even­tu­ally was not ap­proved; the Trea­sury Board was es­tab­lished as a gov­ern­ment depart­ment with its own min­is­ter. Canada also suf­fered its first ter­ror­ist at­tack in Oc­to­ber 1970 when the FLQ kid­napped Bri­tish diplo­mat James Cross and Que­bec Cab­i­net min­is­ter Pierre La­porte, who was sub­se­quently as­sas­si­nated. Through­out his 12 years as clerk, Robert­son was a steady­ing hand: in pro­vid­ing ad­vice to your min­is­ters; in help­ing shape poli­cies; in im­ple­ment­ing many new pro­grams; and in nav­i­gat­ing dif­fi­cult crises.

How­ever, I want to par­tic­u­larly draw your at­ten­tion to one ad­di­tional al­bum which I know is dear to your heart: Of­fi­cial Lan­guages in the fed­eral pub­lic ser­vice.

Ot­tawa, as you know, in the mid1960s was an an­glo­phone com­mu­nity and its pub­lic ser­vice worked in English. As the Royal Com­mis­sion on Bilin­gual­ism and Bi­cul­tur­al­ism noted, unilin­gual­ism was not an over­sight, “it has been strongly in­flu­enced by a par­tic­u­lar in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the con­cept of ef­fi­ciency”. Robert­son per­son­ally as­sumed re­spon­si­bil­ity for see­ing that the new of­fi­cial lan­guages pol­icy in the pub­lic ser­vice was fair, de­fen­si­ble and ef­fec­tive. He over­saw with fo­cus, de­ter­mi­na­tion and sen­si­tiv­ity the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the Of­fi­cial Lan­guages Act. He also walked the talk by tak­ing French lan­guage train­ing.

The im­ple­men­ta­tion of the OLA was chal­leng­ing but, un­der Robert­son’s watch as clerk, a cor­ner was ir­re­vo­ca­bly turned.

There are many other al­bums about in­di­vid­u­als and in­sti­tu­tions in the pub­lic ser­vice that have had an im­pact on how you have grown up. I am think­ing of peo­ple like Jules Leger, who served as deputy min­is­ter, am­bas­sador and Gov­er­nor Gen­eral; David Golden, who was deputy min­is­ter of In­dus­try and pres­i­dent of Te­le­sat Canada; Jean Ed­monds who was one of the first women se­nior ex­ec­u­tives in the mid-1960s; Huguette La­belle, who over 20 years held five deputy min­is­ter po­si­tions; and Paul Tel­lier who held the clerk’s job dur­ing the FTA, NAFTA and Meech Lake ne­go­ti­a­tions.

How­ever, what stands out the most in these his­tor­i­cal al­bums is the part­ner­ship that ex­isted be­tween elected of­fi­cials and non-elected of­fi­cials. It was a part­ner­ship based on trust, mu­tual re­spect and a com­mon de­sire to en­hance the Cana­dian pub­lic in­ter­est. Of course, there were times when all was not great be­tween politi­cians and se­nior bu­reau­crats. But for ev­ery one of those in­ci­dents or mo­ments, there were hun­dreds of pos­i­tive, co­op­er­a­tive ef­forts that ex­em­pli­fied how a pro­fes­sional non-par­ti­san pub­lic ser­vice can sup­port a gov­ern­ment and de­liver pro­grams to Cana­di­ans.

Hav­ing said that, there are ac­tiv­i­ties about which I am not proud. For ex­am­ple, there was a time when mar­ried women were pro­hib­ited from hav­ing jobs in the pub­lic ser­vice. The fact that this pro­hi­bi­tion lasted over 30 years and was only lifted in the mid-1950s may par­tially ex­plain why in 1988, women only rep­re­sented 12 per cent of the man­age­ment cat­e­gory. You will be pleased to know that sig­nif­i­cant progress has been made in the past 30 years. Women now oc­cupy close to 50 per cent of the man­age­ment po­si­tions in the fed­eral pub­lic ser­vice. An­other ex­am­ple of un­der­per­for­mance is the lack of First Na­tions in our ranks and es­pe­cially in our ex­ec­u­tive lev­els. We need to do bet­ter in en­sur­ing our num­bers re­flect the di­ver­sity of Canada. For­tu­nately, the cur­rent clerk, Michael Wer­nick, is very fo­cused on en­hanc­ing the di­ver­sity of

How­ever, what stands out the most in these his­tor­i­cal al­bums is the part­ner­ship that ex­isted be­tween elected of­fi­cials and non-elected of­fi­cials. It was a part­ner­ship based on trust, mu­tual re­spect and a com­mon de­sire to en­hance the Cana­dian pub­lic in­ter­est.

Go­ing for­ward, we will face a num­ber of chal­lenges. There is across the demo­cratic world a loss of faith in in­sti­tu­tions, es­pe­cially in gov­ern­ments. There are is­sues of rel­e­vance, of re­spon­sive­ness, of trust. The ad­vent of so­cial me­dia, which can con­nect thou­sands of peo­ple in­stantly, com­pounds the chal­lenge. In that con­text, there is a need for a con­tin­u­ing and con­stant fo­cus on im­prov­ing ser­vices to Cana­di­ans across the coun­try.

But as I look to the next few decades, I am very con­fi­dent in the ca­pac­ity of the pub­lic ser­vice to be an or­ga­ni­za­tion that helps and not hin­ders your épanouiss­ment.

I say that be­cause I firmly be­lieve that we can con­tinue at­tract­ing the best and the bright­est. Just last year, 7,700 were hired to par­tially off­set the 9,000 who re­tired. Fifty per cent of the new pub­lic ser­vants were un­der 35.

At the sides of the lead­ers whom I have de­scribed and those who have fol­lowed in their places, stand thou­sands of ded­i­cated, hard-work­ing face­less pub­lic ser­vants. They, dear Canada, have truly been the “un­sung he­roes” of your gov­ern­ment over your first 150 years. Be­ing a fed­eral pub­lic ser­vant is still a cool job, where you get to make a dif­fer­ence, where you get the op­por­tu­nity to serve the pub­lic in­ter­est, where you can have a chal­leng­ing and di­verse ca­reer rang­ing from writ­ing com­pe­ti­tion law to be­ing a fish­eries of­fi­cer, from pro­vid­ing pol­icy ad­vice to ad­min­is­ter­ing em­ploy­ment in­sur­ance pro­grams.

In 2017, we are over 250,000 Cana­di­ans who pro­vide core pub­lic ser­vices to our fel­low Cana­di­ans. I can as­sure you, we will con­tinue to do so on a non-par­ti­san and pro­fes­sional ba­sis. As al­ways, we aim to serve.

All the best,

Yours truly,

Your fed­eral pub­lic ser­vice.

There is across the demo­cratic world a loss of faith in in­sti­tu­tions, es­pe­cially in gov­ern­ments. There are is­sues of rel­e­vance, of re­spon­sive­ness, of trust. The ad­vent of so­cial me­dia, which can con­nect thou­sands of peo­ple in­stantly, com­pounds the chal­lenge.

Richard Dicerni joined the fed­eral gov­ern­ment in 1969. He held a num­ber of ex­ec­u­tive po­si­tions in­clud­ing most re­cently Deputy Min­is­ter of In­dus­try. He also served as Deputy Min­is­ter of the Al­berta Ex­ec­u­tive Coun­cil and deputy min­is­ter of var­i­ous port­fo­lios in the On­tario gov­ern­ment. richard.dicerni@gmail.com

IS­tock photo

From one gen­er­a­tion to the next, the pub­lic ser­vice has been the pil­lar of Cana­dian pub­lic pol­icy, par­tic­u­larly at the Privy Coun­cil.

Li­brary and Archives Canada photo

O.D. Skel­ton. As un­der­sec­re­tary of state from 1925 un­til his death in 1941, he played a lead­ing role in build­ing Canada’s Depart­ment of Ex­ter­nal Af­fairs.

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