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Recap: Future Forum 2019

8 minute read

By: The organizing team for Future Forum 2019

On May 6th and 7th we hosted our 5th annual conference. This year we renamed this event the Future Forum to reflect evolution of government beyond just the drive for digital transformation. While this was a visionary concept when the conference was first launched in 2014, by 2019 all government transformation has a digital element and the future of the state is more multifaceted. This year’s event centred around the theme of How to Be Open in the Digital Age as a nod to Canada’s co-chairing of the Open Government Partnership for 2018-2019. Over the course of two days, four keynotes, fourteen panel sessions, and an Unconference with OneTeamGov, we brought in nearly 200 guests and heard from over 60 cutting-edge speakers from across Canada and beyond on topics such as digital government, the pursuit of openness, and ongoing technological disruption.

Some of our highlighted speakers were:

Alex Benay, CIO of Canada, who discussed how every single thing we do is at the service of Canadians.

Dr. Teresa Scassa of uOttawa, who dove into the details of public and private sector usage of automated decision making.

Anil Arora, Chief Statistician of Canada, who discussed if data science has made statistics obsolete and the ever-evolving role of Statistics Canada in the 21st century.

Eli Fathi, CEO of Mindbridge AI, who broke-down the world’s AI researchers and AI research institutes. We learned that Toronto has the largest concentration of AI start-ups in the world!

Finally, Steve Bennett, Director of Global Government Practice with SAS, who used the examples of Pokémon Go, Black Lives Matter to highlight how social media influencing is the new form of psychological operations when it comes to election seasons.

We were also delighted to host OneTeamGov Canada as they facilitated the Unconference portion of Future Forum. This Unconference let the participants choose the topics and contribute to the conversation in a relaxed group setting. This is also special year for OneTeamGov as Canada will host the global OneTeamGov conference this May in Victoria, so we were glad to get a preview of the organization and its novel approach to change in government.

Our small team couldn’t have been more pleased with the digital waves made by “#FutureForum2019”. On the first day of the conference, we trended #1 on Twitter for the first time in IOG history (beating out Game of Thrones, though we eventually lost our ranking to news of the royal baby). Over 280 people contributed on social media as they participated in panels and conversations throughout the event. Our analytics show that the Future Forum reached over 100,000 Twitter users on social media. Wowzers!

Perhaps what stands out the most is that no matter how deep into “tech talk” we get, the issues at the core are always human issues: AI regulation always comes back to ethics; open government always comes down to our capacity to achieve it; and data always comes back to who will do the work. The audience at Future Forum were indeed interested in the future – of technology, yes, but more than that, where we as humans fit into this future and what we need to do now to be better later.

Keep your eye out for the full event report in the coming weeks and thanks to those who attended!

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Success and Balance: Insights from Mothers in the Public Service

6 minute read

By: Rebecca Hollett, Marketing and Communications Manager, IOG

The second Sunday in May is a special day in Canada; it is a day to celebrate the mothers in our lives. We gather at our favourite brunch spot, select the perfect flowers (yellow roses for my mom) and do that extra favour to say “Thank you!” for everything that our mothers do for us. I’m feeling very thankful right now as I remember the time my mom sat in the emergency room with me for hours because I accidentally swallowed a penny after throwing it in the air and trying to catch it in my mouth (“Sorry, Mom!”).

Pew Research Centre reports that the majority of women with a young child are in the labor force, and more mothers are serving as their family’s sole or primary “breadwinner.” Statistics Canada adds that in the second half of the 20th century the labour force participation rate for women grew steadily, rising from about 24% in 1953 to 76% in 1990.

To celebrate Mother’s Day, I asked a handful of moms who are public servants to share their success stories. These stories remind us that it’s not a question of “Can I be a mom and continue to work?” but rather of “I’m a great mom, I’m a great leader, and I’m amazing at my job.” I find these stories inspiring as I near the time in my life where I might become a mother myself.

Here are a few of those stories to celebrate:

“I began my career as a young single mom, entering the public service in a junior entry role. I succeeded to become a member of the executive in my 30’s and a Deputy Minister in my late 40’s.”

  • Deputy Minister, Provincial Government

“My pride in my career is really around the variety of roles in multiple departments in which I have worked, and the people that I have had the great pleasure to work with and learn from. It has given me such an appreciation for the great work being done by public servants across the country. I am also very proud that I have been able to achieve my professional goals and still be a mom.”

  • Director, Federal Government

“One career success I’m most proud of is how I’ve treated people along the way, and used humour and humanity to try and manage the stress of others around me. As the adage goes, people may not remember exactly what you said but they’ll remember how you made them feel. Even tough conversations can be done well.”

  • Principal Advisor, Federal Government

“My greatest accomplishment is raising two kids that I don’t think I have messed up. In my career as a leader, I spend a lot of time talking with people [and] getting to know people. In my opinion this is time really well spent. I’m most proud of giving people confidence in themselves and hopefully inspiring them to be ambitious and innovative.”

  • Assistant Deputy Minister, Federal Government

Personally, I’m so proud to be a young woman in 2019. While there still exists sexism, ageism, and other pressures and obstacles, I take comfort in the thought that I have the opportunity to be who I want to be. Thanks to trailblazers who paved the road before me I can be a mom, I can have a career, and I can be a great leader.

For this reason, I also asked these successful moms for their advice on how to be a public servant and a mom at the same time. So here you have it, rich advice for expecting and future moms based on the experiences of working women in the government:

  • Find your support system: Make sure you have a boss and a workplace that supports you, and if you’re somewhere that doesn’t do that, go somewhere else; lots of people are looking for talent and who you work for and with will always be more important than the files you work on. Connect with working moms and share your stories, go for lunches, and take the hugs when you need them. These women understand the emotions and challenges that come from balancing working and being a mom.
  • Take time for the important things and focus on the moment: There is access to family leave and flexible work in the public service for the school concerts, dance recitals, and field trips. They are only small for a short time and it really goes by fast. You cannot recreate the special years when your children need you the most, so take care of your job, but remember that everything has its place and what needs your single utmost attention when you are a new mom is your children and your family. Balance the hours in your day, take your maternity leave, and enjoy your special time.
  • Don’t compare yourself to other women: Everyone’s careers spike at different times and it all depends on what is important to you at that time. Don’t spend your energy trying to be perfect, which is exhausting and ultimately futile; when you focus on your goals and nourish your growth, your own path will reveal itself.
  • Take time for yourself: Take the time to recharge and review your career and personal goals. Buy into a school lunch program, even just for a week to take the break. Hire a cleaner for your house every now and again but accept that it will never be done as well as you would do it yourself. Structure down-time into your schedule; nobody can function at 100% forever, and your body and brain need time to recharge.
  • We all have the mommy-guilt: Some days you may feel guilty for not being home with your kids, and other days you may feel guilty for not being in the office. There is no way around this, but don’t forget that you are not alone. Be open with your employer of how you are feeling. Work does not have to be 9 to 5 in the office: telework, set up different work hours, and explore other arrangements that could be healthy for you and benefit your work and home life. It’s not easy; be OK with that. The balance between work and family commitments is hard to manage, and as moms, we have higher expectations of ourselves. Set a schedule and boundaries: it can be something simple like being home for supper every evening. Once the kids are in bed, connect and catch up on work emails, etc. But make the time for your family, just as you would make the time for a meeting with your team at work.

Women now make up more than half the public service. Many of them are moms. They are the foundation of how our homes function and how this country thrives. They add diversity of thought and perspective that can only make us better. Cheers to all moms this Mother’s Day: new moms, single moms, expecting moms, experienced moms, and future moms. Your example and hard work is inspiring.

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The Ontario Budget: Now Comes the Hard Part

3 minute read

By: Brad Graham, Vice President, Toronto

When the Ontario government released its first Budget on April 11th much of the talk was about what the government didn’t do as opposed to what it did. What the Ford government didn’t do was present an aggressive timetable to eliminate Ontario’s deficit.

The Ford government has said it will balance the budget by 2023-24. The balance target year is just beyond the next provincial election and only one year earlier than had been promised by the previous Liberal government.

Why didn’t the Ford government move more swiftly and deeply in cutting expenditures? Because it is hard.

In its first year, the Ford government reduced the projected deficit of $15 billion in 2018-19 to $11.7 billion. This was the result of rollbacks and cancellations of programs announced by the previous government, a freeze on all discretionary spending and new hiring and improvements in some revenue streams.

That was the easy part. The hard part? What is going to come next.

Two things are inevitable over the next four years: valued public services will be reduced or eliminated and there will be lay-offs in the public sector. The fact that three quarters of Ontario’s $163 billion in annual spending goes to health, education and social services assures the former, and the fact that wages and benefits constitute about one half of all government spending guarantees the later.

This will present many challenges for both the public servants at Queen’s Park as well as over 200 transfer partners, agencies, boards and commissions that make up the broader public sector (BPS). At Queen’s Park, attrition initiatives will continue and there will be very limited new hires into the Ontario Public Service. This will mean doing much more with much less for those left.

At the same time, public servants will have to work with the BPS to redesign services, identify efficiencies and develop new policies to lessen the impact of declining resources for important public services. This will mark a huge sea change from the previous 15 years. It is much easier and professionally more satisfying to design new programs with new money than it is to find ways of doing more with less, or doing nothing at all.

And make no mistake: the BPS will bear the vast majority of the fiscal restraint as about 80 per cent of all government spending goes to the transfer partners, agencies, boards and commissions that provide services directly to the people of Ontario. The sector can expect a mix of continued hiring freezes and restrained spending, significant reforms, program eliminations, across the board reductions and an expectation to do more with less.

None of this is to say that spending restraint should not occur. However, at the end of the day, the entire governance ecosystem in Ontario can expect to feel the pain. The key challenge is how the public sector responds. Public servants at Queen’s Park and those in the broader public sector are going to have to work together and be diligent, innovative and imaginative to continue to provide valued services on behalf of the Government to the people of Ontario.

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The Onlookers, the Shakers, the Cabinet-Maker: Two Perspectives on Party Loyalty in light of the SNC-Lavalin Affair

10 minute read

By Dr. Steven Tomlins, Senior Researcher, Institute on Governance

It matters not what we say, gentlemen, so long as we all say the same thing.

– British Prime Minister Lord Melbourne, referring to cabinet solidarity

The status of the prime minister has been described as primus inter pares: Latin for “first among equals.” This concept defines not only the prime minister’s relationship with Cabinet, but also, in a sense, his or her relationship with the public in our modern democratic society.

– Government of Canada[1]

All are equal, but some are more equal than others.

– George Orwell, Animal Farm

The SNC-Lavalin affair has raised many questions pertaining to ethics in government; it has generated plenty of press coverage and lots of social media explanations and musings on how government works, how accountability is rendered, and where allegiances are supposed to lie. There are many angles to this story that could be unpacked, but one of the most interesting is in how events are interpreted by the public at large based on how they see the roles of the Prime Minister, cabinet ministers, caucus members, and political parties. Those who view political parties as ‘from the top down’ and centred around leadership (dedicated to solidarity/cohesion) tend to find fault with the very notion of public dissent, while those who consider political parties to be ‘from the ground up’ and centred around a political philosophy (dedicated to values/ideology) tend to view dissenters as principled and democratic. This is not a new discussion, but it is one that has been brought out by the SNC-Lavalin affair and it is worth revisiting.

Brief Historiography of the Prime Minister and Party Affiliation

In 1679, King Charles II used his royal prerogative to dissolve parliament twice in order to stop the Exclusion Bill from passing (which dealt with excluding his heir from becoming king because he was Roman Catholic). Public opinion was spilt. His supporters came to be known as ‘Tories.’ Those who petitioned the King to call a new Parliament and allow the bill to pass came to be known as ‘Whigs’. These two parties evolved over the centuries, and in Canada the Tories evolved into the Conservative Party and the Whigs into the Liberal Party.

The term ‘Prime Minister’ was popularized in the United Kingdom during the 18th century in reference to Whig politician Sir Robert Walpole, who made decisions on behalf of the King. Walpole developed cabinet solidarity, and all policy decisions made by the cabinet had to be publicly defended or the dissenting ministers were forced to resign. The term ‘Prime Minister’ was initially applied as mockery, to be contrasted with the liberty of the people to make their own decisions, but eventually it became an honorific title, and it has come to mean, in the Canadian context and elsewhere, primus inter pares, or “first among equals.”

Canada’s original constitution (the BNA Act, or Constitution 1867) made no references to a Prime Minister, and the Constitution Act, 1982, only refers to the Prime Minister in passing (Section 35.1). The rules governing the role of the Prime Minister are conventional: they have no basis in our written constitution. The Prime Minister selects the Governor General, who represents the Queen, and in turn the Governor General selects the Prime Minister. In practice the Governor General selects the party leader whose party has the most seats in Parliament for the role, as that individual is considered most likely to command the confidence of the House. The Prime Minister’s powers derive from tradition/custom, and include: overseeing the Prime Minister’s Office; appointing cabinet ministers, senators, judges (Supreme Court and federal), ministers, boards; and advising the Governor General of Canada on key matters like dissolution and prorogation, in addition to acting as the head of state for the government and country on the international stage.

The Prime Minister is not directly elected by the general public; the public votes for MPs, although in practice many people vote for the individual MP based on that individual’s party affiliation, and by extension based on the leader of said party, hoping that party wins the most seats and its leader is thus appointed Prime Minister. Party leaders have the final say on who gets nominated under their party’s banner and they can intervene in candidate selections in ridings, although they might abstain from doing so because the optics of interference in local ridings brings negative media attention. Party discipline is strong in Canada; party discipline is required on most issues and some parliamentary votes, such as the Budget, are considered motions of confidence, whereby all elected members of a party are expected to vote uniformly, and a member, known as the ‘Whip’, rounds up and metaphorically ‘whips’ party members into conformity. Individuals can express their disagreement on issues during weekly caucus meetings, but they are expected to vote along party lines and maintain a public image of party cohesion. In contrast, in the United Kingdom, Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May has recently faced no confidence votes and open dissent from members of her own party, and in Australia it is becoming commonplace for caucus members to vote the Prime Minister of their own party out of office. The capacity for a caucus to vote the Prime Minister out of office depends on the party’s constitution.

Lens #1: Political parties are governed ‘from the top down’ and centred around the leader. Members are dedicated to solidarity/cohesion. Public dissention cannot be tolerated, as the party must maintain a united front in support of the party leader.

Lens #2: Political parties are governed ‘from the ground up’ and centred around political philosophy. Members are dedicated to values/ideology. Public dissenters are principled and democratic, as they maintain party values by questioning the actions and/or ethics of other members.

Opinions on the conduct of the Prime Minister and ministers in the fallout of the SNC-Lavalin affair, specifically in what was politically ‘correct’, tend to come from these two lenses. From the perspective of Lens #1, Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott should not have publicly admitted a loss of confidence in their party leader but instead shown loyalty to the Prime Minister; they should have towed the party line in consensus with the Prime Minister outside of caucus so as to project a united front; they should have left the Liberal party once their opinions were in contrast to, or they lost confidence in, the leader; and they were rightfully expelled from caucus and the Liberal party. This seems to be the perspective of the Prime Minster and many federal Liberals who repeatedly told the media that they were “not team players.”

From the perspective of Lens #2, Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott remained loyal to Liberal values and principles; the party is a collection of individuals where diversity of opinion should be welcomed and valued; the party should not be defined by one person (the Prime Minister); party members should be able to question the Prime Minister and should not be expected to defend what they consider to be unethical behaviour; and they were elected as Liberals and still consider themselves Liberals, in terms of allegiance to, or belief in, the ideology behind the party. This seems to be the perspective of Jody Wilson-Raybould, Jane Philpott, and their supporters, with the former telling MacLean’s, “I still can’t understand why I’m ejected from a party whose values and principles I uphold.”

Both of these perspectives are true to different degrees, but in practice Lens #1 seems to be closer to how parties operate, whereas Lens #2 may be more idealistic than realistic, but perhaps an ideological goal worth striving toward.

It is worth looking at these lenses as they relate to the Institute on Governance’s five key governance principles of 1) legitimacy and voice; 2) direction and purpose; 3) effective performance; 4) accountability and transparency; and, 5) fairness and ethical behaviour.

1) Legitimacy and Voice: From the perspective of Lens #1, legitimacy comes from a party
being elected through party representatives with the well-known convention that people
tend to vote upon party lines for a leader (the Prime Minister – the public face and voice of the party). From the perspective of Lens # 2, legitimacy comes from being elected based on an individual’s values and principles and the party consists of many voices.

2) Direction and Purpose: From the perspective of Lens #1, direction and purpose comes from the top down, and a leader steers the ship toward goals derived in part from a party’s constitution. From the perspective of Lens # 2, direction and purpose come from member consensus on issues following debate and discussion.

3) Effective Performance: From the perspective of Lens #1, effective performance means obtaining outcomes under the direction of a strong leader. From the perspective of Lens #2, effective performance comes from obtaining outcomes that were agreed upon through discourse and democratic consensus amongst party members.

4) Accountability and Transparency: From the perspective of Lens #1, public accountability falls upon the leader and elected members of the governing party are accountable to the Prime Minister; transparency has to be limited to avoid the citizenry seeing any hint of fracturing within the party. From the perspective of Lens # 2, public accountability is to the voters and the Prime Minister is accountable to elected members of the governing party; transparency sheds light on the social goods of debate, discussion, and diversity of opinion.

5) Fairness and Ethical Behaviour: From the perspective of Lens #1, fairness and ethical behaviour are judged mainly by the leader, and members should follow their lead. From the perspective of Lens #2, fairness and ethical behaviour come from party ideology, principles, and values, and are the prerogative of each individual elected to office.

Neither of these two perspectives is entirely right or wrong, but they do affect how people perceive responsibility for the principles of good governance and are worth contemplation in terms of how each of us conceives the actors that govern the citizenry.

Concluding Thoughts

From the divine right of kings to the primus inter pares (first among equals), our inherited parliamentary system is still evolving and many of its ‘rules’ pertaining to relations between political party members (caucus, elected, and unelected) and party leadership are by convention. The SNC-Lavalin Affair has raised to the forefront many issues, and, as I have argued, has brought to light two quite distinct opinions on the ‘correct’ or ‘proper’ way to behave as both a party member and a Member of Parliament. These pertain to relations between members and their leaders, and the perception one has of the role of political parties in general. These perceptions shape how dissent is judged, and explain why some feel that a dissenter no longer belongs to a party, while a dissenter may feel like a whistleblower demonstrating loyalty to the party. As we look toward the next federal election it is worth considering who or what you will be voting for to act as your representative in Parliament: will you be voting for an individual who comes with a party; a party that comes with an individual; or a bit from both Lens #1 and Lens #2?

[1] First Among Equals: The Prime Minister in Canadian Life and Politics,, Government of Canada (archived), April 23, 2001.