Federal public servants want respect, trust from new government

After close to 10 years under a Conservative government, there is a lot of anticipation from public servants about how the new Liberal goverment — including the prime minister, president of the Treasury Board and cabinet ministers — will run the bureaucracy.

High expectations for new tone at top for public servants

Waheed Khan is an Environment Canada scientist. (CBC)
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."

Networking with your peers and freedom to communicate is a good idea.- Waheed Khan, Environment Canada scientist

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.

The public service has to be able to provide its best advice.-  Kevin Lynch, former Privy Council clerk

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.


Julie Ireton

Senior Reporter

Julie Ireton is a senior reporter who works on investigations and enterprise news features at CBC Ottawa. She's also the host of the CBC investigative podcast, The Band Played On found at: You can reach her at


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