'Deliverology' guru schools Trudeau government for 2nd time at cabinet retreat

A trio of consulting gurus met with government ministers Monday as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's cabinet assembled in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains in Kananaskis, Alta., for a three-day retreat.

Renowned political consultant teaches ministers about 'delivering the outcomes that Canadian citizens expect'

A trio of consulting gurus met with government ministers Monday as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's cabinet assembled in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains in Kananaskis, Alta., for a three-day retreat.

Two of them — Sir Michael Barber and Dominic Barton — briefed the full cabinet as ministers absorbed news of the killing of Canadian hostage John Ridsdel in the Philippines

Both are based in London, England, although Barton is originally from British Columbia. It was Barber's second session with the cabinet. The first was at the last cabinet retreat in New Brunswick in January, where Barber introduced a cabinet with a large contingent of political neophytes to his concept of "deliverology."

Deliverology is a concept he created to describe the science of measuring a government's progress on delivering what it told people it would, and he has preached the idea to some 40 governments and agencies from Louisiana to Pakistan.

Political consultant Michael Barber says the Trudeau government has come a long way since he last met with them to talk about his 'deliverology' approach to governance. (CBC)

Barber's career advising senior government figures began when he was chief of staff to Britain's minister of education under the Tony Blair government, charged with carrying out an ambitious program of reform in the country's public school system. His methodical approach, and the results it produced, helped to elevate Blair in the polls and win him a second term in office.

Following his second electoral victory in 2001, Blair brought Barber to Downing Street to head the so-called "delivery unit" charged with making sure ministers stayed on top of their files and delivered measurable progress.

Metrics and timelines 

Now Barber is back in Canada, meeting for a second time with the full Trudeau cabinet for a session on how to use metrics and timelines to ensure mandates are carried out and promises are kept.

While his role is that of occasional consultant, the day-to-day supervision of the delivery agenda in the Trudeau government is under Matthew Mendelsohn. Now tasked with monitoring results from his new desk in the Privy Council Office, Mendelsohn previously served as a government deputy minister under former Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty.

Trudeau walks to a meeting with his cabinet at the Liberal retreat in Kananaskis, where government officials are learning how to deliver on their promises and measure results. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)

Barber said the cabinet appears to have absorbed the lessons he imparted in New Brunswick.

"Since the cabinet retreat in St Andrews I've seen real progress in the development of agenda, the way the cabinet is thinking, the way the Privy Council Office and the public service is preparing to deliver," he said.

"And the idea of effective delivery, by which I mean delivering the outcomes that Canadian citizens expect from their government, has really taken root."

Needless to say, Barber is being paid for his services by the same government.

Lessons on assessing risk

One of the consulting gurus in Kananaskis has already been brought in full-time by Trudeau. Dan Gardner is a journalist-turned-consultant who joined the Prime Minister's Office in January. He's the author of books like Risk: The Science of Politics and Fear  and Superforecasting: The Art of Science and Prediction, the second of which was a New York Times editor's choice.

The book offers some insight into the kind of advice Gardner may be giving, and aligns neatly with the Trudeau government's emphasis on "evidence-based" policy-making. 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, centre, arrives with Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, left, and Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion, for meetings at the Liberal Party cabinet retreat on Monday. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)

The New York Times summarized its message as: "base predictions on data and logic, and try to eliminate personal bias. Keep track of records so that you know how accurate you (and others) are. Think in terms of probabilities and recognize that everything is uncertain."

Like Barber, Gardner says the collection of reliable data, in a timely enough fashion to be useful, is a core function of every government department.

Barber suggested Monday that the data collected by Statistics Canada may not be sufficient, or sufficiently timely, for the purposes of the new results and delivery unit.

"There's lots of data that is there, and then they're thinking about more data and how to get that data in place," he said during a break in cabinet meetings.

Power Panel on Kananaskis

7 years ago
Duration 8:25
Stockwell Day, Supriya Dwivedi, Jen Gerson and Robin MacLachlan discuss the cabinet retreat, and the ministers' consultation with "deliverology" expert Michael Barber.

China also on the agenda

The last of the gurus to address the cabinet was Dominic Barton, managing director of McKinsey, one of the world's largest — and most discreet — consulting firms specializing in the world of government and politics.

Barton is an economist and Rhodes scholar who authored the book China Vignettes: An Inside Look at China, and it is his Asian economic expertise that brings him to Kananaskis. He spoke to the full cabinet on the future of China, its impact on global economic growth, and how that will affect Canada.

The cabinet retreat wraps Tuesday when the prime minister heads to neighbouring Saskatchewan for a meeting with the File Hills Qu'Appelle Tribal Council in Fort Qu'Appelle.


  • A previous version of this article said Matthew Mendelsohn served as a government deputy minister under Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne. In fact, he served under her predecessor, former Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty.
    Apr 26, 2016 1:43 PM ET


Evan Dyer

Senior Reporter

Evan Dyer has been a journalist with CBC for 25 years, after an early career as a freelancer in Argentina. He works in the Parliamentary Bureau and can be reached at evan.dyer@cbc.ca.


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