Robyn Benson, PSAC

Modernization vapours



PSAC respect.JPG

No one can doubt for a moment that the federal public service, like every other institution in human history, needs to keep up with the times. In its seventh annual report, all of 12 pages long, a blue-ribbon advisory panel to the Prime Minister says little more than that. Who could disagree?

You can access the six previous reports of the Prime Minister’s Advisory Committee on the Public Service here.

The world hasn’t grown more complex: it’s just a different kind of complexity now. And the panel is all over it. “A digital population cannot be well served by analog government.”

Gosh, I wish I’d written that.

The panel, in fact, has a gift for stating the obvious: change should be well-managed, states the report, and employee involvement in that change is essential.

Engagement is the key to employee commitment. If public servants can see where their institution is headed, they will be keen to get there.


An engagement not exactly fostered, I would suggest, by this sort of thing:

The number of [public service] positions was reduced by nearly 17,000 along with their associated resources.


And we learn, to our considerable surprise, that this was painless:

Employees directly affected by the changes have been dealt with fairly. This smooth transition is a credit to good planning, more modern personnel policies, and effective communication by managers with affected employees.


“Smooth transition?” Ask the thousands of federal public employees who have been involuntarily terminated, and the stressed-out thousands more who have received “affected” letters, and have no idea when or if the axe is going to fall. Smoothness, it seems, is in the eye of the beholder.

But let’s be fair. This is Harper’s advisory committee, not ours. Perhaps the Prime Minister might even take its advice seriously:

Advancing a modernization agenda such as this should be a top priority, but it carries risks if not carefully managed.In areas where management is looking for change, it will be important to not seek unnecessary confrontation and to ensure that union leaders and members are treated with respect in the bargaining process. They too have a stake in a modern and well-functioning workplace. [emphasis added]


It is not a little ironic that this is coming from a group of Governor in Council appointees who have left employees and their unions completely out of their investigations. They have talked to a few managers here and there, but not, so far as we can determine, to any of the workers who actually get the job done, and who would have much to offer in terms of suggestions for positive change. Nor has the panel sought out any dialogue with us.

What does Harper’s advisory committee want? “A constructive and respectful relationship between management and labour in government.”

Absolutely. By all means. So—can we talk?


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This page contains a single entry by Robyn Benson, PSAC published on April 2, 2013 8:31 AM.

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