Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I am very pleased to be here to introduce myself and to answer your questions with regard to the position of President of the Public Service Commission of Canada.
As you know, the commission has a long and prestigious history as an institution of Canada's public service. Over 100 years ago, Parliament passed a law that created the commission so that Canadians could be served in both official languages by highly skilled and non-partisan public servants representing Canada's diversity and who are appointed on the basis of merit.
Through the passage of time and the adoption and implementation of legislative amendments, such as the modernization of the Public Service Employment Act in 2003, the Public Service Commission's mandate has remained very clear: to appoint, or provide for the appointment of, persons to and from within the public service according to the act; to conduct investigations and audits in accordance with the act; and to administer the provisions of the act relating to political activities of employees and deputy heads.
I would like to now provide a bit of information on my background and why I believe I will bring strong qualifications to this important leadership position.
My career in the public service spans almost 35 years. In fact, my first experience with the public service started in May 1982 when I was employed as a student under the former Career Oriented Summer Employment Program with what was then the Department of Industry, Trade and Commerce.
I have to admit that this was not my first choice—I had worked in the mining sector to pay for my education until then. But my experience that summer changed my life, and I knew I had found my calling.
Since those early days, I've had the privilege of working in a dozen different departments and in many different roles. I have worked with program delivery officers, park wardens, administrative assistants, policy analysts, inspectors, communication specialists, regulators, economic development officers, sports experts, scientists, diplomats, information technology specialists, accountants, and human resource advisers. These are all very different roles but with a common commitment to excellence in serving one's country and fellow citizens. I have also worked with dedicated public servants in every part of our country, serving diverse populations. I was particularly impressed with our employees in the territories who work closely with indigenous Canadians to meet their needs and aspirations.
I also have 30 years of experience in a management role.
I have had lead responsibility for human resources in a large department—Health Canada, as well as in a smaller agency—the Privy Council. A common challenge in both organizations was helping employees, managers and human resource professionals navigate the complexities of our staffing system. This is why I was an enthusiastic supporter of the modernization of our human resources legislation in the early 2000s. In fact, under this initiative I co-led, with a representative of the bargaining agents, the development of new guidelines for labour-management consultative committees and for co-development in the workplace. These were adopted in 2003 along with the amendments to the Public Service Employment Act.
I've also been involved in a number of large- and small-scale machinery changes that had important human resource implications, including the creation of the Department of Canadian Heritage in 1993. In the mid-1990s, I led the work on the creation of Parks Canada as a separate agency, including the design of its human resources plan, policies, and systems. This was a rather complex project, as Parks Canada was a large organization with thousands of employees in every region of the country, including many small remote locations. I worked closely with a wide range of stakeholders, from central agencies to bargaining agents, in developing a separate employer regime for the new agency, which eventually was adopted through legislation.
And I have also had the experience of a deputy head with overall authority and accountability for human resources matters.
While CanNor may have been a small agency, managing in the North had its challenges. One of those was the recruitment, development and retention of indigenous employees. In that context, I worked closely with colleagues from other departments and agencies with employees in Nunavut, as well as with the Public Service Commission and the Canada School of the Public Service, to create an innovative program called the Inuit Learning and Development Pilot Project. Through this initiative, Inuit citizens from Nunavut benefited from developmental assignments in federal departments and agencies, were offered a culturally appropriate suite of learning tools and mentorship and were successful in pre-qualifying for federal positions at the end of the pilot's 18-month period. The pilot was evaluated and as a result has now been continued, with a new cohort.
While I have not worked at the Public Service Commission, you can see that over the years I have worked closely with the commission as well as other federal institutions with human resource responsibilities. In that context, in my most recent position at the Department of Canadian Heritage, I had the privilege of serving on the PSC's deputy minister advisory committee. The committee provided guidance to the PSC on the design and implementation of its modernization agenda. My colleagues and I were, for example, very supportive of the new direction in staffing, which was adopted and put in place just over a year ago.
I hope this quick overview of my background will demonstrate that I have acquired much experience and knowledge that would be of direct benefit as president of the Public Service Commission.
Before closing, I would like to talk briefly about my priorities for the PSC. First of all, I recognize that I have much learning to do and my first priority would be to engage with the commissioners, the senior management team and all the employees of the PSC and to listen to them. I know my predecessors have done a great job in fostering innovation within the organization, and I would want to build on the positive changes that have already been made.
But I know we can do much more in modernizing our approach to staffing, while at the same time protecting the merit principle and safeguarding the professional, non-partisan nature of the public service.
We know there will be many departures from the public service in the coming years and that this will provide the opportunity to recruit and develop a new generation of public servants. My hope is that we can attract a broad diversity of Canadians to the calling of serving their country and that the public service of tomorrow will truly reflect the Canada of today, from coast to coast to coast. As a proud son of a small northern Ontario community, I know there are talented Canadians in every region of the country who would love the opportunity to join the public service. The PSC's recruitment systems and activities must ensure that we take advantage of this rich and diverse pool of talent.
We have to do a better job in making the public service a model organization when it comes to accessibility. We need to go way beyond just meeting requirements to accommodate and to design our organizations and workplaces so they embrace the tremendous potential of persons with disabilities.
I would also like us to find innovative ways to better attract and retain young Canadians in the public service. I've always been a big fan of student employment, given my own personal experience. I think our millennials bring skills and competencies that can help transform the public service. For such digital natives, the concept of open government is natural, and so is the effective use of social media.
In my current position, I have been amazed at the potential of data analytics to rethink how we manage our programs and activities in ways that will ultimately better serve Canadians. In order to succeed in recruiting and retaining such talent, we need to find much more efficient and effective ways to staff positions without compromising on merit. The long time it takes us to staff is a source of frustration for candidates, employees, and managers alike, and it does not serve the public well.
Finally, I would also like to make official languages a key priority. One of the basic values of our public service is respect for both of our official languages and our commitment to serving Canadians in the language of their choice. We have made significant progress in this area since I first joined the public service, but we still have challenges to meet. For example, our methods of evaluating language proficiency must be adapted to reflect advancements in technology, and we must promote bilingualism actively in our recruitment activities.
I look forward to working with the dedicated and professional team of women and men at the PSC in pursuing these priorities. I also will make great efforts to engage our many stakeholders, including the bargaining agents and the deputy heads of the more than 70 departments and agencies with almost 200,000 employees who fall under the jurisdiction of the Public Service Employment Act.
In closing, I would like to recognize the special relationship that exists between the President of the Public Service Commission and Parliament. I must confess that this is a new field for me and I have a lot to learn. But it's a role I would be eager to assume. It would be a great pleasure for me work with you.
Thank you. It will be my pleasure to answer your questions.
That is an excellent question, one that has a lot of aspects. It isn't just knowing how to attract young people, but also how to retain them. There just happens to have been an article on this topic this morning in the Ottawa Citizen
. It showed that there are a lot of barriers and issues to consider.
First, regarding recruitment, I think that young people today are interested in the public service. Perhaps they do not know us well. We have to be present on campuses. I did this myself recently. I act as deputy minister champion for the Ontario College of Art and Design University in Toronto. I went on campus and I met about 30 students. For the vast majority of them, the public service was not really an option. They could not see how the public service could meet their aspirations. But after I'd spent three hours with them, there were at least four or five who had changed their opinion a little. They were open to the idea.
They have to be given interesting work. We have to attract them with interesting positions. When they arrive, we have to trust them. Sometimes I find that the public service hierarchy stifles innovation, particularly among young people. We need to remove certain barriers and to give younger people access to the levers of power, to decision making and influential roles.
Personally, I stayed in the public service since 1982 because when I arrived I was given really interesting work that could allow me to build a career based on my experience and knowledge.
Another element to consider is how we speak to them, how we approach them. I think you have all seen advertisements in the newspapers about available positions in the public service. They are boring and very poorly written. They do not attract people at all. We have to learn. We need to talk to the people at Google, Amazon and other companies like that to see how they manage to attract young workers. In fact, some work has already been done at the commission to change our approach and to make it a little more attractive to youth.
I will be succinct and quick.
Last Thursday evening, the parliamentary secretary Mr. MacKinnon and myself had a good, honest and transparent discussion. I indicated to Mr. MacKinnon that according to government contract regulations, the must have received a letter from the Department of National Defence explaining which exception is used to enable them to purchase Super Hornet fighter jets without a call for tenders.
I asked the parliamentary secretary to show us a document from the Department of National Defence signed by the showing that there is a lack of capacity, as required by law. With diligence and transparency, the parliamentary secretary replied: “The member is looking for proof, and I will let the Department of National Defence provide the details concerning that lack of capacity.”
Thursday evening I was very happy to note this transparency on the part of the government, and that is why I am tabling this motion today. As the parliamentary secretary said so well, it is up to National Defence to provide that proof, and so I would like the committee to invite the Minister of National Defence to appear at the earliest opportunity, that is to say before the end of the session, no later than May 30, 2017. That's all.
Mr. Chair, thank you for having given me the opportunity to speak about this issue.
I would like to point to two important aspects of eventual careers in the public service. One of them may repel young people, whereas the other one should on the contrary attract them.
As you specified in reply to a question from Mr. Drouin, young people today expect to have three, four, five or six different jobs over 40 years. The public service, while offering the possibility of acquiring diverse experience, allows people to follow that same path without necessarily having to change jobs. It would be interesting to promote that aspect with young people.
However, I am concerned about their interest in the public service, to the extent that, as you said earlier, that environment requires total dedication, a sense of duty and a respect for hierarchy. Today, in the post-modern context, people turn their backs on hierarchy.
One article I read said that the army is finding it harder and harder to recruit people. I was a member of the Canadian armed forces for five years, and I'm very happy to have had that experience. But since I am only 31, I can relate to young people. I know that hierarchy and a sense of duty are not what attracts them the most. That was a comment rather than a question.
That said, do you think it would be possible to present duty, dedication, continuity and respect for hierarchy in a way that could attract young people?
That is quite a challenge, I know, but I'd like to hear your point of view.
You're asking me to comment on a program for which I don't have responsibility, but I have to say that all senior public servants share in the responsibility to make sure that our employees are paid, and paid accurately and on a timely basis.
In our department, in my role, I made sure that we were well aware of any errors, issues, omissions, or overpayments. We tried to work with Miramichi, with the people at PSPC, to correct those as quickly as possible. We also proactively offered advance payments to staff, to make sure they weren't facing any hardship.
Recognizing that there is a reputation issue—you're absolutely right—we are taking measures to ensure that one of the first issues we raise with our students who are hired in the department, after showing them their desk and where the washrooms are, is to ask if they want an advance on their pay. It may have been a little while ago, but I do remember the first few weeks at the end of the school year when I was waiting for my first paycheque. Those were tough times.
We will make sure that our students know that if they need an advance payment, we'll provide it. We will make sure that everything we do in the department to register them in the system, have all the right documentation, the accurate pay codes and rates.... We will do our share to make sure that happens.
Mr. Chair, that's a good question.
It does go back to some of my priorities. Also, there's no doubt in my mind that one of those priorities has to be recruiting and renewing the public service by bringing in new blood and finding ways to efficiently and effectively attract young Canadians to make a choice of a career in the public service.
I also want to make sure that, in doing so, we also continue all the good, strong traditions of the public service and maintain our commitment to the merit system and to a non-political, non-partisan public service. In that context, the role of the commission is something that's going to be relatively new for me in terms of overseeing that particular part of maintaining the integrity of the public service, and something I'm going to want to spend some time on. I think it's very important to find the right balance between the political rights of public servants and ensuring that the exercise of those political rights does not lead to the impression that the public service is politicized or that individuals are making decisions based on something other than the public good.
In that context, young people coming into the public service need to understand that, and understand that there are ways of expressing views and opinions that perhaps sometimes can lead to impressions that there is a political bias, i.e., the use of social media—something I didn't face in my formative years—which is a reality now. I think that's another important challenge.
I would also come back to the official languages and the fact that this is such a fundamental value, but it also creates some barriers, particularly with certain equity groups. As you know, the commission has a role to play in promoting employment equity and ensuring that our systems are fair and provide access to all. How can we continue that strong tradition of official languages and bilingualism, but do it in a way that ensures there is room for all, and that it's not seen as a barrier for important parts of our Canadian society?
I talked about language of work, the use of French in particular, and the fact that, as leaders, we need to be able to demonstrate that commitment. I think that, in a world where we're more interconnected, this also applies to the public service. We are increasingly doing work in a way that connects regions, sectors, and different departments. We're working horizontally. Inevitably that does present a language challenge, because if you are including regional folks from the west coast and the east coast, you may not have people who have a certain capacity to work in both official languages, or if you're including people in some regions of Quebec, again, there are barriers there. How do we work in our organization using technology, tools, or whatever they may be, to be able to face that challenge?
One concept I like is passive bilingualism. This basically means that you can participate in a discussion in a meeting as long you're understanding what is being said by the other person in the other language. Then you speak in the language you're comfortable with. If we had more passive bilingualism, I think that would help in dealing with some of those challenges.
I think we still have issues where employees feel they're not being supervised in the language of their choice, or they're afraid to ask to be supervised in the language of their choice because their supervisors do not meet high enough levels of bilingualism. I think we need to examine this and ensure that this is not a barrier.
Access to training is a big issue. We've gone from a situation where there used to be central resources available for training. There no longer are, so it's dependent on each department and agency. Some departments are richer, and some have very innovative ways of providing access to training, but it's not uniform across the public service. I think, again, that we want to make sure this does not become a barrier.
The good news is that with technology, some of those tools that are available now didn't exist 20 or 30 years ago, so people can make a lot of progress on their own with respect to either achieving a certain proficiency or maintaining it. To me, maintaining it is probably the bigger question, because we pay a lot of money to get people to the levels, whether it's C-B-C or B-B-B, and then, if it's not actively used in the workplace, it deteriorates. Then the next time they are tested, all of a sudden they no longer meet....
I think those are some of the challenges. Again, some of that is within the Public Service Commission's mandates. Some of it is in the mandate of the Treasury Board, and a lot of it is within individual departments and agencies. I would like to work with all of these people to deal with some of those challenges.
I'm sorry. That's a long answer, Mr. Chair, but it's a very important question.