The department's top bureaucrat answers a critical report, with rare candour
Thanks for this. The veil needs to be pulled back more often on the complexities the public service is facing, so that the public understands the value in spending time on addressing « boring » things like departmental structure, and why all spending cuts are not created equally. I salute DM Fox for speaking publicly.
Having worked on the Afganistan extraction I am glad to read they finally recogized some of the issues that contributed to over-bureaucratization and inertia. I might add one more priority - communication with applicants in language tailored to humans who don't work in government. So often I would have to try to explain what was being asked for, and couldn't. And I'm a university-educated Canadian living in comfort. Good on the new DM for standing by her reforms and an open approach to explaining them.
Gobsmacked to see a senior civil servant actually talk to a reporter. I hope wider Ottawa takes note, because you were able to report on something substantive they are actually working on and credit the people working on it. Amazing (although it shouldn’t be). Bravo!
I should point out that the best writing on the public service these days comes from Kathryn May at IRPP. Here's her latest, with information on how to subscribe to her newsletter. https://policyoptions.irpp.org/magazines/september-2023/clerk-public-service-ethics/
Thank you, Paul - this is a very encouraging article. I wish her the best of luck in making the changes she is seeking, and it's nice to see some candour and transparency from the senior civil service.
Finally! Some real info from a department instead of the “the happy-face sloganeering” you refer to. If government senior managements were equally forthcoming I suspect the Government would be much higher in the polls. Nobody ever bought the simplistic bromides so often offered by the leaders of all the political parties and most ministers. Sometimes I think they think we are all idiots that cannot understand complex problems. Surprise...
While Yeates was doing his thing, Fox and the previous immigration minister, Sean Fraser, were consulting — with “business leaders, academics and clients” — about the department’s future.
And here I was so worried that the consultations might extend to ordinary people, you know, like the ones who see social services collapsing around them and housing becoming unaffordable.
But, as this is Canada, my worries were all for naught. After all business leaders and academics (especially academics) really do know everything there is to say on the subject.
One of the fundamental conceits is that Canada has a managed system of immigration. The reality is otherwise.
The annual levels plan only includes levels (targets) for permanent residents and none for temporary workers and international students, which account for 60 percent of all, permanent and temporary. IRCC has ignored the impact of high levels on housing, healthcare, infrastructure etc. The annual plan makes no reference to these impacts. The large number of immigration pathways is virtually impossible to understand for applicants and similarly to manage. All of this in the context of a government ideologically committed to a "more the merrier" approach.
While a move to a business line structure makes sense (seem to recall Neil raising that question during his time at IRCC), reorganizations are disruptive and take time to deliver results.
Telling that citizenship not mentioned, where IRCC's focus on operational efficiency has led it to forget the fundamental objective, since the 1947 Act, was to promote meaningfulness and belonging: "have a consciousness of a common purpose and common interest as Canadians; that all of us be able to say with pride and say with meaning: “I am a Canadian.”
The latest measure in diminishing citizenship is the proposal to move to "citizenship on a click" (self-administration of the citizenship oath) and virtual ceremonies being the default, compared to the more meaningful in-person ceremonies. Petition link opposing the change:
Paul - while fully acknowledging how hard they are to make happen - I would absolutely love to see more interviews / chats with DMs and ADMs.
As posted on Facebook, I love it when you let us peek behind the curtain in Ottawa and give us a look at how things really do (or don't) work. Seeing things work restores my faith in the good people who do good work there – often in spite of their political masters – and also reminds me that there are many well-meaning, honest and hard-working people on the political side as well. I know many, but too often, I'm afraid, the discourse zeroes in on the negative forces because bad news trumps good news every day of the week.
There are some interesting observations attributed to Mr. Yeates, and I was drawn to this one in particular:
“What’s needed is much better planning and reporting,” he wrote. When he was running the department barely a decade ago, every part of the department was reporting on progress against targets every three months. That system has fallen by the wayside.
To paint some broad strokes, that observation seems consistent with the Liberals attitude toward governance in general. The optics of being seen to be doing something can dupe the electorate for awhile but the effort is only as good as the outcomes. Continuous evaluation of programs and the cost effectiveness against results are true indicators of good management.
It is refreshing to see an attempt to reorganize the Immigration stream by reintroducing some of these concepts that fell out of favour.
More DMs should speak this frankly more frequently.
Good to hear that picking high priority skilled workers out of the queue is being taken more seriously…
“In addition, there’ll be a sector focused on Economic Immigration and Family. “The business community didn't really feel like we were actually talking to them about labour shortages, about skills missions, about what is the talent that the country needs.””
In terms of higher population growth and the needs of industry and health industry in particular one would hope they really focus on the Country's needs when taking in immigrants. They already do some of this but I wonder if they are always bringing in employment ready immigrants. We take in a lot of temporary workers who get a chance to get Cdn certified in their trades before being offered PR. Lastly the geographic location of skilled immigrants has an effect on their ability to be hired.
I know of a pretty smart guy who immigrated here with his wife, who was transferred to Montreal. The husband had run a mining tools manufacturing company in South Africa that shipped much of its production to Canada but wasn't able to land a job because he has no "Cdn experience" and more importantly didn't speak French, which the employers demanded. Since then the family has relocated to the Toronto area with somewhat better results except employers are suggesting he take a lower salary until he gets that so called Cdn experience.
Great piece. Very encouraging that ‘Permanent Ottawa’ is overcoming the government’s tendency to shove 10 pounds of material into a 5 pound bag and declare the problem solved.
Some random notes.
Yeates came in the INAC in ‘07 just before I left. There to implement. Spend time there and most everything after that is just easier. Or if it’s not, you’re trained to know your day will not go as planned. So plan a accordingly. Fox knows this too from her time on the service side of the dual departments.
And she’s well served by your own extensive comms background and knowing Richard. The three of us worked together there in ‘07. The most impressive thing about Richard as a DM was his trap line. Inside and, more importantly, outside of Ottawa. It’s not as common as you’d hope. Getting out of Ottawa. Making a point of knowing people. And I don’t just mean seeing stakeholders when they come to town. There’s always an oversupply of them. Richard made sure he was constantly adding to his spectrum of people.
All-in-all a great skill set for the job ahead at Immigration. My friend, the late Jim Prentice - who had a big window on public service talent across the GoC as Chair of Ops - told me Fox would be the Clerk someday. I took odds that it would be her brother. Looks like he’s going to win that one.
Having worked with Chris Fox over the years, I can tell you she is a gem. Hard-working, effective, a superb people-manager and an all-round smart and terrific person. Perfect for this job. Go, Chris.