Major hiring needed to change public service culture, expert says

The public service needs to start hiring to create a new culture that moves away from the "antagonism and cynicism" fostered by the Conservative government, a public policy expert told CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning.

'Key gaps in major program areas' left by hiring freeze, Carleton University professor argues

Federal public service union leaders Debi Daviau (left) and Larry Rousseau (right) are undoubtedly positive about Justin Trudeau as the prime minister-designate, but it will take some time before the public service changes its culture, an expert says. (CBC)

The public service needs to start hiring to create a new culture that moves away from the "antagonism and cynicism" fostered by the Conservative government, a public policy expert told CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning.

Robert Shepherd, a professor of public policy at Carleton University, said there is a lot riding on prime minister-designate Justin Trudeau's message of hope and promises made by the incoming Liberal government.

Shepherd said he believes a new culture is imminent and needed, but will take time.

"Public servants have been in a desert for 10 years. There's been very little public policy happening in Canada. What's the last major discussion this country has had in the last 10 years? I can't remember," he told Ottawa Morning host Robyn Bresnahan on Wednesday.

"Public servants are wanting to engage. They want to get into these questions but they've had their heads down."

Public service change likened to U.S. under Obama

Shepherd said senior managers in government departments have been "disenfranchised" as they answered to Conservative directives, which disconnected them from many public servants.

There was little defence for the public service when it came to controversial government decisions, Shepherd added. That also led to a smaller public service, which now needs to hire to rebuild.

"I don't think it has much choice. The public service has been frozen on hiring for some time. That's left some key gaps in major program areas ... not enough resources to carry out the job or there's not enough talent to carry out the job," Shepherd said.

He also expects major changes in public service leadership over the coming months after several reviews are conducted. Shepherd compared the current attitude to how the U.S. public service felt when Barack Obama became president.

"It reminded me of the U.S. moving from George Bush to President Obama. Under the Conservatives down there, the public service had the same sorts of complaints: very antagonistic relationship, very negative, a lot of top-down control," Shepherd said.

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