I have had the privilege of attending a number of annual symposia of The Association of Professional Executives of the Public Service of Canada (APEX) over the last decade. These meetings bring together between 500 and 1000 executives from the Canadian federal government to discuss issues of central interest to their community of practice, but also to explore broader challenges of import to the public service in general. Usually, these meetings have left me, as an observer from the mezzanine, enlightened and inspired.
This year’s symposium (May 30-31, 2006 at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa) had some of that flavor. It brought together an impressive group of international and national speakers who helped the community of EXs in their reflections on the general theme – Investing in Canada: its people, its government, its public service. The presentations and discussions were thoughtful for most of the two-day meeting.
What was particular about the 2006 event was that it was a two-tracked symposium: two symposia in one. The first was an exploration of the innovation challenge facing the Canadian public service over the next decade, with the dawn of a new era (a shift from “big G” government to “small g” governance). The second was a somewhat schizophrenic exploration of the challenge of diversity as the Canadian public service faces an ever more pluralistic society.
These two tracks were interwoven, throughout the two days, in such a way that it would be difficult to do them justice without first sketching the broad texture of the meeting, then dealing separately with each of the two strands: the innovation challenge and the challenge of diversity.
Two caveats are called for before the reader enters into the thick of this paper.
First, my rendering of the 2006 symposium is done à chaud in the days following the event. It is not based on whatever edited notes (with their flats and sharps) that might be later submitted by the speakers, but on their oral presentations and copious notes taken during the symposium. Second, this paper is a synthesis that cannot pretend to have captured the full substance of all aspects of each paper and discussion during these two days. It has had to be, of necessity, selective, but efforts have been made to ensure, through critical readings by third parties present at the symposium, that whatever is reported is reported fairly. For matters not reported on in this commentary, the reader is referred to the website of APEX, where many of the papers and notes (if not all) on which the presentations were based might be available (www.apex.gc.ca).
The broad structure of the symposium
There is no better way to present the symposium than by clinically spelling out a schedule of the different sub-events. It has the advantage of providing those who were not there with a table of contents of the meeting. Moreover, it will make it easier for those who have not seen the program to make sense of the discussion of the different sessions in the rest of this paper.
- Presentation of a short National Film Board documentary entitled Smudge by Gail Maurice, its Métis Director. This short film portrays the spiritual practices of Native women in an urban environment.
- Address: Where is public management heading? Hopes and expectations
Nick Manning (OECD)
- Round table: The public service: vision for 2015
Presentations by Paul Thomas (University of Manitoba) and Don Lenihan (Crossing Boundaries National Council)
- Address: Social and economic challenges in a diverse world
Patrick Weil (Université Panthéon-Sorbonne)
- Round table : Social harmony : prosperity in a competitive world
Wendy Grant-John (Renewal Commission, Assembly of First Nations), Faisal Kutty (Kutty, Syed & Mohamed, a Toronto law firm), Donald H. Oliver (Senate of Canada).
- Address: Making public service renewal real
Kevin Lynch (Clerk of Privy Council)
- Keynote address
John Baird (President of the Treasury Board)
- Rebuilding trust with citizens: 19% is not enough
Ted Gaebler (City manager of Rancho Cordova, California)
- Round table: Accountability: the new rules of engagement
Arthur Kroeger (Canadian Policy Research Networks), Claire Morris (Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada), Hugh Segal (Senate of Canada)
- Round table: The view from here: challenges to consider
An effort at synthesizing by the persons who chaired the three roundtables
Graham Fox (Public Policy Forum), Errol Mendes (Privy Council Office), Gilles Paquet (University of Ottawa)
- Closing keynote address
Adrienne Clarkson (former Governor General of Canada)