Top bureaucrat says there's a 'buzz and excitement' in public service despite increased workload

Canada's public service is enthusiastically embracing its revamped role within the new Liberal government, but with an ambitious agenda comes the risk of bureaucrat burnout, says the country's new clerk of the Privy Council Michael Wernick.

Clerk of the Privy Council says a very different looking public service will emerge as boomers retire

Clerk of the Privy Council Michael Wernick says Canada's public service is embracing its new role under the Liberal government 11:17

Canada's public service is enthusiastically embracing its revamped role within the new Liberal government, but with an ambitious agenda comes the risk of bureaucrat burnout, warns the country's clerk of the Privy Council.

"Everyone's finding it both challenging and stimulating," said Michael Wernick in his first TV interview, on CBC News Network's Power & Politics.

"I think this government takes its tone from the prime minister — a very open approach, very engaged, very consultative. That's creating a lot of energy, but also a lot of work" for public servants, Wernick said.

"You have to be good at managing work flows and not trying to be a hero and do everything in the last 48 hours. It's putting a premium on good management skills, and those are not skill sets all our senior middle managers have, so we're working on developing them."

An increased workload and new demands hasn't dampened federal employees' spirits though, he said. 

"There does seem to be a bit of a buzz and excitement about being around something exciting."

Creating a public service that 'looks like Canada'

As Canada's top bureaucrat, appointed by Trudeau this past January, Wernick said he's aware of the more difficult issues facing him in overhauling the country's public service.

"We clearly have a challenge to have a public service that looks like Canada," he told host Rosemary Barton, adding that the lack of diversity is "quite noticeable" in the senior ranks.

Women make up 46.4 per cent of senior leadership roles in the public service, according to 2015 statistics from the Office of the Chief Human Resources Officer at the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat.

Aboriginal Canadians comprise 3.4 per cent of executives, while 5.3 per cent are people with disabilities, and 8.8 per cent are members of a visible minority. 

Compared with last year, the representation levels of designated groups at the executive level did not increase or decrease dramatically.

"We have work to do in all aspects of diversity, frankly," Wernick said. "A more open approach to governing means we'll need a more open public service."

That means actively recruiting people to both entry level and senior management positions, he said, especially as baby boomers "leave the stage in great numbers". 

"I'm quite confident in a few years you'll see a very different looking — literally — senior public service."

'Deliverology will lead to better government'

As for the government's focus on "deliverology" — the concept created by consulting guru Sir Michael Barber to describe the science of measuring a government's progress on delivering what it told people it would, with metrics and timelines — Wernick said public servants are open to the method. 

"Public servants have generally embraced the idea that you should try to be clear about what you're trying to do," he said. 

"You should try to find ways to measure whether or not you're succeeding. It's a very good discipline, I think, and it will lead to better government."

For Wernick, the public service's role in making that happen is clear.

"I think our job is to do the very best we can, to deliver the agenda that Canadians elect."


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