The Functionary
 A newsletter all about the federal public service. 
Brought to you by Kathryn May
Hi and welcome to The Functionary, a newsletter for people who work in or just want to know what’s ticking inside the federal government. 

We follow movers and shakers in the public service and the changing workplace in which they operate. We’ll be looking at the issues on their plates, big or small, what they say or what others say about them at committees or elsewhere, and their relations with the elected government. 

The Functionary will keep an eye on routine and out-of-the-ordinary happenings.

Ok, let’s dive in.

* Service: We need a task force for passports?  
* Sorry, that forecast is {REDACTED}.
* Trust is falling. Surprised?
* Trends: Millennials have taken over.
* Interview-ready: 1,400 students vetted and tested.
* Stephen Jarislowsky, five new chairs, and better leaders.
* The commute: 70k drivers and the daily snarl.
* Windfall: Do we need all those buildings?
* Design: Bike- and bird-friendly: the new Portage III.
* Workplaces: Options. We have options.

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A ministerial task force to fix passport line-ups?

Service delivery, which means getting into the nuts and bolts of administration, doesn’t usually attract the attention of politicians until there’s a crisis. This week, Prime Minister Trudeau announced the creation of a task force spearheaded by 10 cabinet ministers to fix the problems causing major delays in passport and immigration applications and at Canada’s airports. The ministers whose departments are responsible for those services, however, are ex officio members. And notably, the minister of finance is not a member at all.

That pretty well sums it up.
The last time the government appointed a high-powered cabinet committee to help fix a service and get rid of backlogs – albeit an internal service and not affecting the public – was for the Phoenix pay system, which was botching the pay of its employees. Five years later, the backlog of cases started inching upward and reached 164,000 cases in May.
Put citizens first. The task force could start with a report a panel of Liberal MPs did in 2017, looking into improving the delays in delivering employment insurance. They heard from:
  • 7,550 Canadians online
  • 100 written submissions
  • 1,500 EI clients surveyed
  • 3,200 employee questionnaire responses
The conclusion was: put citizens first. This, incidentally, was the founding principle of Service Canada, its main delivery agency, more than 20 years ago. The panel found Service Canada had lost sight of the importance of putting the needs of Canadians at the centre how services are designed and delivered.

“Do service well.” Back in 2016, that was the advice of then-auditor-general Michael Ferguson. He sounded a warning bell half way through his mandate when he looked at years of the office’s audits, concluding the public service makes the same mistakes over and over again because it fails to build its programs and services around Canadians.
Passport forecasts: cloudy with a chance of {REDACTED}. So much for government “open by default.” Some of the forecasts for passport demand have been redacted in documents released by Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada, which does the forecasts. Which means Canadians aren’t getting an accurate diagnosis of the problem that has created the long lineups for passports. Service Canada, which handled delivery of federal programs, blames the pent-up demand for travel after two years of COVID-19 for an unexpected surge in demand for passports.
Source: Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada 
We have trust issues. The passport chaos and travel delays will only add to the public’s declining trust in government, a trend that is worrying politicians and public servants. Not to mention the already eroding trust in between public servants and politicians. Not surprisingly, Canadians are much less satisfied with service they received from the federal government over the past six months compared with that of provinces municipalities, Angus Reid Institute recently found. Overall, 45 per cent are unhappy with federal service: Rural Canadians are more dissatisfied than urban, and Conservative Party supporters are more negative about the federal services they received than Liberal and NDP.
Canada’s not alone. In the U.S., the Biden administration has signed an executive order to improve services “for the people,” including for passport applications and renewals and other benefits. 
20 minutes, 24 hours, 1 week. There’s a new goal for Americans to be able to apply for services in 20 minutes, enroll in 24 hours and get services in a week.
A call to arms. Public servants are frustrated, too. They want to fix the delivery of services, too – and have ideas on how to do it.

Not a surprise. Government knew relaxing pandemic restrictions on travel would swamp passport offices, but didn’t act.

The era of the millennials

For the first time, millennials rule. Workers between the ages of 27 and 41 now dominate the public service, making up 41.5 per cent of employees. Gen X – between the ages of 42 and 57 – are close behind with more than 36 per cent of the jobs.
Between 2015 and 2020, in a big hiring push, 45,600 millennials were hired, and their numbers keep rising.

Source: Government of Canada human resources statistics

Back in 2016, then-Treasury Board president Scott Brison predicted millennials, as digital natives, would drive culture change and usher in a golden age in the public service similar to the post-war heyday of big ideas and policies that brought us medicare and CPP.

Boomers, now between 58 and 76 years old, dominated the public service for decades. They now account for 22 per cent of the public service compared with more than 53 per cent a decade ago. And they seem to be staying longer than previous generations at their age.  

Boomers began signing on in droves in the late 1960s and 1970s, when the public service grew rapidly and was attracting the country’s brightest. A generational shift in leadership is happening now, too. The average age of senior bureaucrats – at director-general and assistant deputy minister levels – is now 53.4 years old, according to the public service’s human resources stats.  

Canada has had only two boomer prime ministers: Stephen Harper and Kim Campbell. Justin Trudeau, born in 1971, is a Gen-Xer.


I'm ready for my closeup, Mr. DeMille

Departments have access to a new pool of 1,400 post-secondary students who have been vetted, tested and are ready for managers looking to fill jobs in business, project management and programs.

The recruits are willing to work anywhere; 46 per cent are interested in bilingual jobs and 47 per cent come from one of three employment equity groups – Indigenous people, visible minorities and people with disabilities, according to the Public Service Commission, the government’s recruitment arm.

Another 2,710 were added to a pool for entry-level foreign service officers and 389 to an inventory for persons with disabilities to work in programs and services for ESDC. The government’s goal is to hire 5,000 persons with disabilities by 2025. This is good news in this tight labour market.

In theory, such inventories should speed up hiring, but the candidates applied at least seven months ago and many have been snapped up by other employers. 

Is there a topic you'd like to see explored? Let us know

Stephen Jarislowsky's push for better leaders 

Is eroding trust a leadership issue? Philanthropist and business magnate Stephen Jarislowsky thinks so. The 96-year-old, worried about democracy and declining trust in government, is teaming up with five universities to offer new program to train the next generation of public service and political leaders.

The universities are developing a first-of-its kind program to certify future leaders in the ethical practice of politics, fiduciary responsibility and democratic governance.  
The Jarislowsky Foundation, which already funds a number of academic chairs across the country, is funding five academic chairs with $10 million in matching funds from the universities, which include Acadia University, Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières (in collaboration with l'École Nationale d’Administration Publique), Trent University, the University of Lethbridge and Vancouver Island University.
Jarislowsky says the creation of these new chairs responds to a growing need to protect democratic societies. Born in Germany in 1925, Jarislowsky lived in France and the Netherlands between the two world wars.  He witnessed situations like the one in Ukraine today.
“People need to understand historical experiences in order to prevent repeating them. And one of the ways to do that is to ensure our governments are led by inspiring, highly trusted, reliable men and women who exercise fiduciary responsibility,” he said. “Once democracy disappears in a country, it takes years to re-establish if it is even possible.”
The universities are recruiting candidates for the Jarislowsky Chairs in Trust and Political Leadership positions. The network is supported by an advisory committee of prominent Canadians with careers in public service:

Gordon Campbell, former premier of British Columbia and former high commissioner to the United Kingdom

Pierre Marc Johnson, former premier of Quebec

David Johnston, former governor general

Frank McKenna, former premier of New Brunswick

Beverley McLachlin, former chief justice of Canada

Anne McLellan, former deputy prime minister of Canada

Murray Sinclair, former judge and senator

 “Trust is the glue of our society and I think that glue is coming loose,” said former governor general David Johnston. “Our democratic institutions are being eroded somewhat in various jurisdictions around the world, and we are not immune to that here in Canada.”

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Work is what you do, not where you go 

Tell that to the 6,000 public servants who used to drive the equivalent of a couple of times around the earth in their daily commute to and from the office at Place du Portage, the rambling federal complex in Gatineau. That was before anyone heard of COVID-19.

It’s not surprising that the majority of public servants caught in the morning and evening traffic snarl don’t want to return to the office.

The pandemic turned into a big experiment of what would happen if there were no office and employees didn’t have to commute, says Alex Miller, the co-founder of ESRI Canada, a leading geographic information systems company. “It’s going bring change that has never happened to anybody living today.”

A pre-pandemic study using GIS software tracked the 150,000 kilometres of collective commuting that employees logged getting to Portage every day. That’s when 260,000 public servants were working in federal office buildings across the country.

Every day, 70,000 cars crossed the Macdonald-Cartier Bridge between Ottawa and Gatineau.

Time to sell some buildings 

It doesn’t take much math to figure out that not going to the office saves time, money, office space, the environment and completely changes public transportation.

Given the $100-billion real estate portfolio Treasury Board President Mona Fortier has to work with, many expect real estate to figure prominently in the strategic review she is leading with the goal of finding $6 billion in savings. That could mean deciding which of the many old or dilapidated federal buildings to unload.

On the block: In Ottawa, Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC) has indicated that it will get rid of L’Esplanade Laurier, a 1970s office complex that housed Treasury Board and Finance departments for years until they moved to the Flaherty Buildings on Elgin St. It could be redeveloped into apartments, condominiums, office space or a hotel.

Another eyed for disposal is the Sir Charles Tupper – named after a prime minister and Father of Confederation. It was built as headquarters of what’s now called PSPC during the 1950s post-war expansion of government and its departments.

Lots more to choose from. The government has 1,385 office buildings – many old and in critical condition.

The Sir Charles Tupper on Riverside Drive in Ottawa.
Credit: bibliocomÉdifice Sir-Charles-Tupper 2013-09-16 12-17-59CC BY-SA 3.0


Showcasing the modern office
Place du Portage is getting a new lease on life. Phase III of the 1970s-era office complex is undergoing a complete retrofit. It will showcase GCWorkplace, one of post-pandemic office options for Canada’s biggest hybrid workforce. It will have room for even more employees – built for 4,800 and will accommodate 8,900. And where are all those employees coming from? Look out, Ottawa.

And it will be green. Portage III is the largest of the four buildings in the complex. The overhaul began in 2018 and will be completed in 2027. It’s supposed to meet all the government’s latest priorities – green, sustainable, inclusive, flexible, accessible. Floors will be dedicated to meeting rooms of various sizes, lots of bike parking, locker rooms with showers, a multi-faith centre, digital lounge and a fitness and wellness centre. (A digital lounge? ISDC has one.

It’s where employees can meet face to face with IT experts to deal with their problems.) Greenhouse gas emissions will be 24 per cent lower than 2017 levels – and there will be “bird-friendly triple-pane windows” to reduce the risk of birds flying into the glass. 

Portage III is on the right.  Credit: Jeangagnon, Portage III - 05CC BY-SA 4.0

Splitting up the office footprint

The government is offering a variety of options for where to work as departments gear up for a return-to-office in September, says Stephan Dery, PSPC’s assistant deputy minister of real property.

GCworkplace: This is an “activity-based” office. No assigned desk and you can move to the space that suits how you work or what you are doing. There are places to work alone or collaborate in teams. Quiet rooms, small and big meeting rooms, nooks, lounges.  
GCcoworking: Also activity-based, but the space can be shared by departments. Temporary workspaces for people working from home or “touchdown points” for employees between meetings. They are part of a pilot project involving about 40 departments. There are nine of these satellite offices – five in the National Capital Region, and one each in Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver and Laval.
Hub-and-spoke offices: A model used in many European countries being tried in Ottawa, where employees can work at a departmental headquarters (the hub) for several days and then work in a satellite office – or spoke – that is closer to where they live. That spoke could include a GCcoworking office, remote office, or “special purpose” space like a lab, courtroom or warehouse. 
Space as a service: A new approach for the federal government, which turns real estate from a product into a service. No more long-term leases. The government is buying a service for a fully-operating office. Its “space as a service” contract gives it pay-as-it-goes turnkey space for 200 workstations with all the services thrown in when and where needed. It’s a service like Uber for cars, Netflix for movies and Spotify for music. Here’s a bit of a primer on the concept. And here’s how COVID-19 has affected the general trend.
 Remote: Some could work exclusively at home and others a hybrid mix of working remotely and at the office.
Kathryn May writes about the federal public service for Policy Options magazine. She is the Accenture Fellow on the Future of the Public Service, providing coverage and analysis of the complex issues facing Canada’s federal public service for Policy Options. She has spent 25 years writing about the public service – the country’s largest workforce – and has also covered parliamentary affairs and politics for The Ottawa Citizen, Postmedia Network Inc. and iPolitics. The winner of a National Newspaper Award, she has also researched and written about public service issues for the federal government and research institutes. Follow Kathryn on Twitter: @kathryn_may
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