La fonction publique : point de vue de la génération X
As for the supposed insularity of the public service, there may be some truth to a particular ethos pervading throughout any organization over time, but that may be over-stated. The federal public service today generally is more representative of linguistic duality, has more women employees, and has more visible minorities. The relationship of the federal government with First Nations is also undergoing change, albeit slowly. There tends to be a visible federal presence, in some form or another, FROM coast to coast to coast, and in rural, remote areas as well as urban areas. Is there more work to do to ensure that it is a true mirror of contemporary Canadian society? Absolutely – but nevertheless, the culture of the organization changes when those who were previously excluded are welcomed INTO the organization in a genuine way. Do we make attempts to bridge the divides of heartland versus hinterland, English versus French, the West versus the rest, and coastal areas versus the Prairies, etc.? Yes, and we could continue to strive to do better. Furthermore, ultimately, the federal public service as an institution is not a series of building complexes scattered throughout Ottawa, staffed by enclaves of like-minded automatons; rather, it is comprised of the men and women across the country FROM diverse backgrounds who have chosen to serve their fellow Canadians by working for the many departments and agencies of the federal government. Insularity is indeed a myth.
Mr. Eaves also leaves the impression that the “whole-of-government” approach is flawed because it tends to involve top-down coordination. However, it is intended to break down the silos that exist between federal departments and agencies, so that, so to speak, the left hand knows what the right hand is doing. That sounds like a good idea to me. The kind of horizontality praised by Mr. Eaves, and described by the elderly retired public servant, was practical in the bygone era of the so-called “Ottawa Men”, chronicled by Canadian historian Jack Granatstein (and perhaps during the 1960s and 1970s as well).
However, in an era where globalization influences the public policy-making process, where access to news and information is widely diffused, where technology has quickened the pace of decision making (and the pace of life in general), and where civil society groups wield greater influence, a different type of horizontality is required – hence “whole-of-government”. The whole-of-government approach is intended to secure accountability to Canadians for tax dollars spent. It is also intended to facilitate the formulation, implementation and evaluation of coherent public policy responses to complex contemporary situations that require action by more than one department and agency of the Government of Canada.
Thus, the type of horizontality that pervades the public service today is a reflection of the complexities of the modern-day public policy-making process. With the prominence of climate change as a pressing public policy problem, all of the programs and initiatives associated with the clean air agenda require departments managing natural resources, the environment, transportation and foreign affairs to liaise to present a unified Government of Canada approach to the problem. Another very high-profile case in point is represented by the Canadian International Development Agency, Department of National Defence-Canadian Forces, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and Foreign Affairs Canada, all of which have very diverse mandates, yet they must cooperate to achieve Canada’s foreign policy goals vis-à-vis Afghanistan.