Report on values ​​and ethics in public service lacks point of view: expert

The report’s authors said the document “aims to serve as a prologue to a broader dialogue on values ​​and ethics in public service.”

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While a new report on values ​​and ethics within the federal public service highlights the need for more tools and training on these issues, one expert says the document “curiously lacked a point of view, a position or a stance on anything.” .

The “Report of the Deputy Ministers’ Task Force on Values ​​and Ethics” prepared for the Clerk of the Privy Council was published at the end of December with 15 recommendations. Its authors include members of a task force assembled by Secretary John Hannaford a few months after he took over as top bureaucrat in June.

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Key issues highlighted in the report They include the need to continue building a more diverse and inclusive public service, and consider the challenges created by social media and AI, as well as the call for more tools and training on values ​​and ethics.

It also recommends that deputy ministers “continue the dialogue on values ​​and ethics in their departments and agencies.” However, it did not recommend that a specific process be followed.

Offering the first major review of values ​​and ethics since John Tait published the “A Strong Foundation” report nearly 30 years ago, the document was based on more than 90 conversations that took place with public servants and external stakeholders during the fall.

Some of those participants also expressed concerns about a “double standard” between senior management and employees around compliance and application of the 2003 Code of Ethics and Values, and about their ability to “maintain political neutrality when dealing with staff.” politician in a minister’s office.”

“There was strong agreement that public servants must maintain their independence and credibility, which requires impartiality and resistance to external pressure,” the report says. “Striking a balance between political neutrality and the provision of expert advice, as well as the faithful implementation and execution of programs and policies, can be challenging.”

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Other recommendations in the report include that “extensive work be undertaken to revitalize training and dialogue on values ​​and ethics for employees throughout their public service careers” and that “central agencies update guidelines for the use of social media as needed.”

Michael Wernick, former clerk of the Privy Council, said that while the document was a “decent consultation report on what we heard”, it left him wondering “what now?”

“Interestingly, he lacks a point of view, a position or a stance on anything. “It just sends the ball back to the Secretary and the Secretary of the Treasury Board and says we really should have a policy on acceptable use of social media, but there is no advice on what that policy should be,” Wernick said.

“It identifies a problem with political staff raids, but gives no advice on what to do about it. So he left me hanging.”

The report’s authors said the document “is intended to serve as a prologue to a broader dialogue about values ​​and ethics in public service, and we begin by sharing what we have heard, candidly and unfiltered.”

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Pierre-Alain Bujold, spokesperson for the Privy Council Office, said the Secretary is taking time to reflect on the report’s observations and recommendations and consider the best options for next steps. He said the report will inform the “next phase,” including how to expand the discussion on values ​​and ethics.

When Hannaford set up the group of senior civil servants tasked with discussing values ​​and ethics within the public service, he said he hoped to see a “landmark report” by the end of the year.

Wernick said he agrees with the report’s call for greater engagement, adding that he would like to see the next round “go deeper and be more pragmatic.” He added that it will be interesting to see if Parliament shows interest in the report and if the House of Commons government operations committee invites the Secretary to speak on it.

“This seems like a snapshot of how public service sees itself,” he said. “I don’t know exactly who they spoke to, but it sounds like they spoke to many of those who were involved in diversity and equity issues. The report is a little light on things that voters and taxpayers would probably be most interested in, like money, productivity and excellence.”

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Daniel Quan Watson
Daniel Quan-Watson, former Deputy Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs. Photo by brochure

Daniel Quan-Watson, deputy minister for just under 15 years before retiring last year, said he supports the report’s recommendation that conversations be encouraged “at an institutional level” within federal government departments.

“We need to keep talking about this because things are evolving rapidly and in different ways and because people have a lot of questions,” Quan-Watson said, adding that conversations will differ substantially from organization to organization. “I think this goes a long way toward ensuring that they do that.”

Quan-Watson said it would have been “deeply problematic” if a tool on all values ​​and ethics in the public service had been developed or major changes had been made to the Values ​​and Ethics Code within a few months.

“That would lose 90 percent of the public service, I’m not sure those changes would be that effective,” Quan-Watson said, adding that he hopes public servants feel free to raise their questions and concerns with managers. and senior leadership. “I think the sensible thing to do is to listen, these are the areas we looked at, we’re getting consistent themes on this, so let’s see what the wider public service has to say about it.”

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“That takes time. It makes it stronger and makes it incredibly more valuable when finished.”

jennifer carr
Jennifer Carr, president of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada. Photo by Julie Oliver /POSTMEDIA

Jennifer Carr, president of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC), which represents more than 70,000 government workers, said she is concerned that the report’s recommendations leave solutions up to individual departments.

“The decentralization of the public service makes it very difficult for us as unions to provide guidance to our members,” Carr said, noting that he would have at least liked to see details on how departments should set policies. “There is no broader policy that should be the most general.”

The report does not mention the need to update the Code of Values ​​and Ethics, last updated in 2012, nor the Open and Responsible Government document, published in 2015. Wernick said it would be “very, very useful” if the latter were reissued . , given the advance of social networks.

“The code is 30 years old and I was hoping it would bring it into the 21st century,” Carr said. “Not in a restrictive way, but at least give some guidelines, because the whole social media thing, of course, is a big part of the Next Generation. Public servants need clarity.”

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“It just refocuses on performative actions and instead of real changes.”

The report found that many participants “raised the significant impacts of the proliferation of social media, the rise of generative AI, and the spread of misinformation and disinformation.” He also notes that some participants said that serving the government can feel like censorship.

“While these technology and communication trends offer opportunities for government engagement, transparency and communication, they have also posed complex challenges with respect to maintaining transparency and accountability, as well as public confidence in the integrity of information and institutions,” he says.

The report’s working group was chaired by Catherine Blewett, Deputy Minister of Economic Development and President of the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency. Other members included Canada’s Deputy Health Minister Stephen Lucas, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada’s Deputy Minister Christiane Fox, and Communications Security Establishment head Caroline Xavier. It also included ex-officio member Donnalyn McClymont, deputy cabinet secretary for the Privy Council Office.

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