Description: The 2017 Manion Lecture features Honourable David Johnston, Governor General of Canada, discussing the role that public servants can play in strengthening trust in our public institutions.
Date: May 10, 2017
A Canada School of Public Service marquee event
Featuring leaders from around the world on
inspiring, thought-provoking topics for public servants
2017 Manion Lecture
Strengthening Trust in Canada: the Role of the Public Service
National Arts Centre, Ottawa
May 10, 2017
I am delighted to welcome you to the 2017 Manion Lecture.
Would you please rise and join me in welcoming His Excellency the Right Honourable David Johnston, Governor General of Canada.
To each and every one of you, brothers and sisters, Elders, Your Excellency, families, friends and the servants, public servants, I welcome each and every one of you on behalf of the Algonquin Nation, to the unceded, unsurrendered territory of the Algonquin people.
So I say to the Creator:
--- Native language spoken
We thank Creator for hearing our prayer and for blessing us with His love, kindness and prayer. Thank you very much.
--- Native language spoken
Thank you. Miigwetch.
Kendal and Keely are from Ottawa. Getting a little bit of background here. Kendal Elisapee Ford, who is 10, and Keely Papatsie Nicholson, who is 9, both are Inuit girls born and raised here in Ottawa. They've been attending cultural programs with the Ottawa Inuit Children's Centre since they were toddlers. They've been good friends since they were two, I am told – maybe best friends since you were two? They've been learning the traditions of throat singing, but actually do some of their own songs as well.
So, we are really, really pleased to have you with us. The microphone's there for you. So, whenever you like.
And I'm Kendal.
And today we'll be throat singing.
The first song we are going to do is (unsure: Hum-ha), which is a traditional song that is normally the first song you'd learn.
I am going to ask Michael Wernick, Clerk of Privy Council and Secretary to Cabinet, if he might join me on stage, because we have a small award to give for the winner of the Blueprint 2020 essay contest.
It is my distinct pleasure to recognize the Grand Prize winner of this year's competition: Hope Caldi, from the Master's of Public Policy Program at Simon Fraser University for her paper, "Offering a Warmer, Wiser Welcome: Recommendations for Reforming Canada's Immigration Loan Program."
Hope, could you please come on stage.
It is now, great pleasure for me to formally welcome the Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to Cabinet, Mr. Michael Wernick.
Congratulations to Hope for her paper, which I had a chance to read it on the weekend. It's a very, very clear piece of writing. We congratulate you for this award.
This is, I understand, the largest Manion Lecture in its distinguished history, and there are something like 900 of you here tonight and many more hundreds online. There will be an audience that lives on in the program being recorded and recaptured.
So that is a tremendous accomplishment for the School, and I want to congratulate them and thank them in advance.
Just quickly, to set the table for His Excellency, I think that we're not only celebrating history these days, we are living it. We are in times where nothing is to be taken for granted.
This country is a remarkable success and a beacon of hope and inspiration around the world. Much of that success lies on the foundations of generations of people who have built strong public institutions and the culture of trust that we're going to discuss today. It will take work, it'll take effort, and it'll take will to carry on into the future.
That's why today's topic is so pertinent. On your behalf, can I welcome him once again, His Excellency the Right Honourable David Johnston, Governor General of Canada.
Thank you so much, Michael.
Mrs. Manion and family, distinguished guests, dear public servants, here in Ottawa and across the country, ladies and gentlemen:
First, I would like to thank Elder Commanda for her speech and for your words on our creation here in Canada.
I will often say all the important things in life I have learned from my children (my five daughters and by now my fourteen grandchildren), and that was illustrated again just a moment ago with these marvellous two young people, Kendal and Keely.
What a future these two young people have in demonstrating their confidence before a group like this.
Let me begin by extending my sympathies to those who have been affected by the severe flooding in the region. This is a difficult time for many of our friends, our neighbours, our colleagues and loved ones.
Yesterday, my wife Sharon and I had the opportunity to visit some of the affected areas and to witness the quite devastating impact of the flooding.
When we visited Gatineau yesterday, my wife Sharon and I witnessed the incredible efforts of those who are working non-stop to help the flood victims, including many federal, provincial and municipal public servants.
Our thoughts are with all who are affected or involved and we wish them a quick recovery and a return to normality.
Thank you. Thank you for trusting me with this lecture named for John Manion, an Officer of the Order of Canada who made great contributions to the public service and to Canada.
As Michael mentioned, the keyword to focus on here is trust. It's what I'd like to speak about today.
Trust in the public service and the role that public servants can play in strengthening trust in our public institutions and continuing to build Canada.
The keyword in my remarks today is trust—trust in the public service. I'd like to talk to you about the role public servants can play in strengthening trust in our institutions.
But first, I want to start with a story.
The story takes place some years ago when I was President of the University of Waterloo. One day I was in the office of Michael's predecessor, the Clerk of the Privy Council Kevin Lynch, a very good friend. We were talking about his concern about the ability of the public service to attract top students.
He was interested in expanding the reach, and he asked if we would organize a job fair in the Waterloo area for the three universities and the college there, which we did.
Over the course of two days, 80 deputy ministers, associate and assistant deputy ministers came to speak about jobs in the public service. They interviewed students and potential employees, and they had the ability to make job offers there.
It was quite simply an outstanding success. I think about 1,500 students attended, almost all who had never had any thought of a career in the public service.
When we did our review after that event, the number one explanation they had for their attendance and the enthusiasm that they came away from that job fair with was the idealism of serving the public, the sheer idealism of serving the public.
I begin with this story because it reminds us of the fundamental reason we're here today. We're all drawn to the idea of public service, of contributing to the public good and therefore building a better country.
So, please keep that in mind as I continue. Because as you know, a lot of skepticism exists nowadays about some of our key institutions, and that includes the public service of Canada, not simply in Canada but in many other parts of the world.
Many people are skeptical about our government institutions, and that includes the federal public service. This erosion of trust is a problem that we need to take seriously and should strive to resolve.
There has been an erosion of trust, and this is something we surely should take seriously and devote ourselves to addressing.
Let me cover three points today.
1) I'll define trust and elaborate on why I am speaking about it today.
I'll define what I mean by trust.
2) I want to highlight some of the public service's great contributions to Canada and how trust is central to that ongoing legacy.
I want to highlight some of the public service's great contributions and how trust was central to them.
3) I would like to identify what builds trust in the relationship between the public service and Canadians as a whole and highlight some of the ways to restore, maintain and strengthen that bond.
I want to highlight some of the ways to build and maintain trust between the public service and Canadians.
Afterwards, I hope to hear from you and to have a discussion on the subject.
I look forward to hearing your questions following my remarks.
So, first, what is trust?
Well, I suppose we all have a pretty good idea, and probably those ideas are somewhat different. But a quick scan of the Oxford dictionary reveals definitions related to law, philosophy, business, finance, medicine, journalism, sociology, to name a few.
But when I think of trust, I think very simply. I like to use a simile: Trust is like glue.
It's the glue that holds us together.
This is true at the micro level (a relationship between two people, a family or a workplace) and at the macro (a community or a country). It's especially true of a democratic society, such as ours.
Democratic life is based on fundamental trust between citizens and the institutions and leaders that represent them. One of the most important institutions is the federal public service.
Of course, we rely on more than faith in a democratic society. We have systems and laws set up to safeguard our way of life. But a very important part of trust cannot be measured or enforced. This is the case even in a legal document such as a written contract.
As Émile Durkheim famously observed, in a contract, not everything is contractual. John Ralston Saul pointed out something similar by highlighting the importance of the unwritten rules of democratic life.
In a healthy democracy, he wrote, power is a surprisingly limited element, and the unwritten conventions, understandings, forms of respect for how things are done, for how citizens relate to government and to each other, are surprisingly important.
Because if democracy is only power, then what we are left with is a system of deep distrust. A system of deep distrust.
That's what we end up with when we ignore the fact that in a contract, not everything is contractual. Over time, such a system becomes unsustainable, or rather it becomes democratic [sic], because things only get done through coercion rather than compromise, or things don't get done at all.
The social contract that forms the basis of our vast and diversified country includes the notion of compromise, which is fundamental to our society. Numerous unwritten conventions and interpretations guide how we do things. The social contract as we know it has existed for 150 years and is made possible through trust.
Now, one more point on the nature of trust.
As former Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney once said: "Trust comes in on foot and leaves in a Ferrari."
That sound we're hearing these days throughout much of the world, the one in the headlines we read daily, it's the sound of trust leaving in a Ferrari.
Trust in government. Trust in institutions. Trust in media. Trust in leaders. Trust in NGOs. Trust in business. All receding into the distance...and Canada is not immune.
Some of you may have read the latest findings of the Edelman Trust Barometer, which looks at public opinion on this subject.
Since 2012, Edelman has been tracking trust in 28 countries around the world.
In that time, Canada has fallen ten points to join the ranks of distruster nations with scores below 50 out of 100.
Amid what it calls a "global implosion" of trust, the study found, for the first time, Canada is a distruster nation where less than half of the population trusts its civil institutions.
Around the world, two thirds of nations surveyed (the 28) are now categorized as distruster nations.
Let me share a few other startling findings in the Edelman survey.
Trust in government globally has fallen to 41 percent.
59 percent of people in the Western world trust a search engine more than traditional media.
Only 37 percent of the general population globally trusts corporate CEOs.
According to the Edelman survey, 53 percent of the Western population believes that the current system is not working.
In the United States, the United Kingdom and France, the gap in trust between the educated and informed public and the general public is more than 20 percent.
Finally, 40 percent of the people in the UK believe that facts matter less than authenticity and beliefs.
And 67 percent of the general population believes CEOs or firms focus too much on short-term results.
So, what does this mean?
What does this mean?
Well, it means, for one thing, that the glue that cements our social contract is weakening.
The glue that cements our social contract is weakening.
I think the implications are quite profound for the public service, which exists to serve those with whom the bonds of trust are fraying. If our social contract with Canadians leaves the public unsatisfied, the public will renegotiate the terms of the contract for us.
So, what do we do? How do we restore, reinforce and build trust in what we do?
How can we help to build the overall sense of trust in Canada?
Well, I believe we start by reminding ourselves just how valuable the public service is and how uniquely positioned to think big and act ambitiously on behalf of all Canadians, not just a select few.
As Donald Savoie writes in his Donner Prize-winning book What Is Government Good At?, "In a representative democracy it is the visionary investments, the attempts to deal with wicked problems, transparent and corrupt free political and administrative institutions, and a capacity to deal with all citizens with integrity and fairness that are key to a country's economic prosperity and political stability."
So, think of those key words always: visionary, problem solving, transparency, integrity, fairness.
We sometimes forget the visionary aspect of the public service. Since we are celebrating the 150th anniversary of Confederation, let's go back in time and look at the building of the railway, which was one of the conditions written into the Constitution Act of 1867. The federal government's leadership and the partnerships it established with the Canadian Pacific Railway Company played a key role in Canada's development.
The CPR was built before market conditions existed to entice private enterprise to take on such an enormous project.
That's the railway, and by extension Canada would never have existed were it not for strong public-sector support and involvement.
Just to emphasize that success stories are not always totally without blemish, let us remember that one chapter of the CPR story was the corruption scandal and the fall of Sir John A. MacDonald's government.
The CPR is one example of initiative of such essential importance to the country that it's easy now to overlook.
There are many other examples of the government and public servants playing a key role in major nation-building projects. We need only think of the construction of the St. Lawrence Seaway, the introduction of health care, the development of the aerospace industry and the arrival of the Internet.
Back in the mid 1990s, I had the privilege of working with public servants on the development of an innovative inclusive digital strategy as Chair of the Information Highway Advisory Council.
It was a remarkable collection of private citizens and a group of very talented, energetic and quite young public servants. Of all of the many great experiences I've had during task forces or inquiries and so on, for various governments, this is the one that I see as special because of the degree of trust that was involved.
Our goal, very simply, was to decide how to best develop and use the information highway (remember that term?) to the economic cultural and social advantage of all Canadians. The effort was led by John Manley, then Industry Minister; Jon Gerrard, Minister of State for Science and Technology; Kevin Lynch and then Peter Harder, as deputy ministers; Mike Binder, as Associate Deputy Minister.
The Prime Minister Chrétien supported the strategy and arranged meetings with a number of ministers and their deputies. As a matter of fact, so much so that when we finished our first report in the twelve months assigned with quite a host of recommendations, he arranged for me to visit with 12 different ministers and their deputies to explain the report and to seek their consent to sign up their departments, which they all did.
The Information Highway Advisory Council I chaired 20 years ago enjoyed a high degree of trust and completed its work within 12 months.
Our council fulfilled a second mandate to oversee and evaluate the implementation of those recommendations.
For me this was quite startling. We finished our work, we were quite disciplined to do it in 12 months, and we gave our report and then began the business of meeting different ministries to explain and hope that they would sign on, as they all did.
Then, for six months, nothing, and then Prime Minister Chrétien and Minister Manley called the same group of people back in again to spend ten or twelve months overseeing the implementation of those recommendations. Now, that was trust with a big emphasis on it.
That experience with the Information Highway Advisory Council left me with a great appreciation for the public service's ability to bring people together, to think big and to take the long view in developing a strategy for the entire country.
More recently, the private sponsorship of refugees program is another instant that exemplifies the trust between private citizens and their volunteer organizational efforts and public servants carrying out public policies.
It was public servants who carefully selected and cleared refugees and their families for sponsorship.
The Canadian Armed Forces is another example of a public institution that has held a trusted role. This trust is crucial, especially when it comes to exercising a monopoly over weapons.
Canadians trust the members of the Armed Forces to serve the country dutifully and honourably, and our men and women in uniform trust Canadians to uphold their end of the social contract as part of their democratic life.
The bond between citizens and soldiers is forged by trust.
My wife and I saw that, such a dramatic session yesterday, when we were in a boat, organized by the Canadian Armed Forces on the Gatineau and on some of the streets that were totally flooded in the town, and to see the sense of confidence there was between those poor folks that were thrown out of their homes, and the men and women in uniform there to provide their help...
I could go on with many more examples of nation-building programs and organizations that are only made possible through a trusting relationship between public service and Canadians.
But as Michael indicated in his opening remarks, we must not be complacent. Trust in public institutions is eroding, and so we must pay much closer attention to what I'll call trust management, and it's a job for all public servants.
Trust management is a job for all public servants. So how do we move forward?
How do we move forward?
Well, for my third and last point, let me briefly share some observations and ideas.
A public service is trusted when:
1. It is apolitical, nonpartisan, inclusive, fearless and humble.
2. When service is a value and not just a function; when public servants are empowered to retain that idealism of service I spoke of earlier.
3. When relevance, competence, experience and facts are elevated and safeguarded.
The public service elicits trust when:
4. Public servants are more than mere spectators, when they work alongside the people they serve, and when the public and all those involved are engaged and informed.
5. And lastly, when it takes calculated risks and then rewards accomplishments while being honest about its successes and failures.
As I often say, behold the turtle, he only gets ahead when he sticks his neck out.
I just said "calculated risk," which is one area the public service is getting better at.
Managing risks, learning to take necessary and smart risks in order to innovate, these are key capacities.
In today's world we also have to pay much closer attention to trust management.
We need to better understand the trust that is placed in us, how to build and maintain it, what weakens and undermines it.
This is not a time for complacency. We should always seek to strengthen the trust that binds us to Canadians. We need to look for new ways of engaging and inspiring people.
So, this is a task for all public servants, no matter what part of the country you work in or at what level.
The public service has played a central role in building Canada throughout its history, and many great achievements lie ahead.
Great nations are built on great challenges. You are being challenged to take part in a new era of engagement and excellence, and I know you're up to the task.
This is a new era of engagement and excellence. Great nations are built on great challenges, and I know you're up to the task.
I do want to say thank you to His Excellency the Governor General and to Mr. Wernick. Thank you very much for a great session, and I want to thank you by applauding you. Thank you.
Until we see each other again, take good care of yourselves.
Miigwetch. Thank you very much.
---End of the presentation