Decorative photo of St. John's Harbour

Curbing our Enthusiasm

7 minute read

Conduct During Elections: The Caretaker Convention

By Karl Salgo – Executive Director, Public Governance

During federal elections, the fair city of Ottawa experiences an uncharacteristic tranquility just as the rest of the country contends with intensified political noise. It is not simply that the politicians have gone on the road (thank heaven for small mercies) but also that the government is doing a lot less than usual (ditto perhaps). For as soon as “the writ is dropped” both the ministry and the public service are, by longstanding convention, constrained in what they can do.

The Convention of restraint

You’ll hear this practice variously described – the terms caretaker convention and convention of restraint being the most common. I would argue that convention of restraint is generally the more accurate term, and that “caretaker” in its strictest sense describes a government that has already lost an election.

Attentive students of electoral history will discover that this is one area where theory is reasonably well respected in practice, with only occasional faux pas to mar the record. In fact, they’ll discover that the scope of restraint has, if anything, intensified over the decades. Moreover, for some years now the government has provided election conduct guidelines for ministers, their staff, and public servants, which it made public for the first time in 2015.

In very broad terms there are two drivers for ministerial restraint during elections:

  • First, in our system the executive must always be accountable to the legislature. Once Parliament has voted no confidence or has been dissolved, this accountability relationship has ceased to operate.
  • Second, the resources of the state (including the public service) are not to be used for partisan purposes; this is an especially important principle for the incumbent in a democratic system.

In addition to the responsibilities of elected officials, public servants have a responsibility in their own right to remain politically neutral – at least to the extent necessary to credibly discharge their responsibilities to governments of whatever political stripe. This responsibility is now governed by legislation and administered by the Public Service Commission, as discussed below.

How much restraint?

What is the scope of this restraint? There are multiple characterizations, but boils down to this: in matters of policyexpenditureand appointments, the government should restrict itself to necessarybusiness – necessary either because it is routine (like operating public infrastructure, paying bills, and maintaining normal public services) or because it is urgent (like dealing with a natural disaster or comparable crisis). In the latter case, the government should still avoid to the extent possible making decisions that are controversial or that would be difficult for a successor government to reverse. In such cases, consultations with the other party leaders would likely be in order.

Of course, there are lots of gray areas. Is it necessary for ministers to withdraw from pre-scheduled international conferences? It depends – one consideration would be whether it could be perceived as exploiting incumbency for political publicity. Should all appointments cease? I would argue there’s no reason to stop the routine appointment of career public servants to senior foreign postings. And questions are often raised around decisions made prior to an election call that have not yet been implemented. In practice, governments have been increasingly inclined to keep official business to a minimum and focus on election campaigning. For example, Cabinet and its committees seldom meet during an election, functional meetings of the Treasury Board being an understandable exception.

In navigating through all this, it’s important to remember that we’re talking about a constitutional, or at least a political, convention. Legally, a government retains full authority to govern until such time as a new ministry is sworn in. No court would reverse an executive action only because it violated the restraint principle. However, the role of the Governor General is a bit subtler. For instance, constitutional scholars defend Governor General Aberdeen’s refusal in 1896 to make appointments recommended by the defeated Charles Tupper (whom he really disliked) shortly before the transition to the ministry of Wilfrid Laurier. It would thus seem that a GG isn’t necessarily bound by the advice of a prime minister who has lost the confidence of the House or been defeated in an election.

Using government resources

While broad government action is the subject of convention, in certain important areas restraint is mandated by formal policy or law. For example, the principle that Government of Canada resources (including the work of public servants) may not be used for partisan purposes is manifest in a range of Treasury Board policies as well as legislation. Government departments, led by the Privy Council Office, typically place tight and explicit limits (as in how many cell phones) on the materiel and personnel support available to ministers for conducting official government business during elections. Special vigilance is generally considered needful around communications support such as speechwriting.

Ministerial staffers for the most part abandon their offices to go on the hustings. This is entirely appropriate, provided they take a leave of absence without pay – the basic rule being to do these things on the staffer’s own time and the party’s money.

Parliamentarians, as such, are not part of the government even when they are members of the government caucus. It’s worth noting though that Members of Parliament actually lose their status when Parliament is dissolved. Lest you worry how they’ll pay their bills, take comfort that the Parliament of Canada Actenables them to collect their salaries for the duration of the election. And in practice they still attend to the interests of their constituents. And in case you’re wondering how the government pays itsbills when the House isn’t there to vote supply (known to most of us as money), this is provided via an executive instrument known as Governor General’s special warrants, which enable the President of the Treasury Board to spend public money without parliamentary appropriation during urgent situations such as elections. Unfortunately for governments which would rather not contend with the House, these warrants can only run until 60 days after the return of the writ.

Public servants: political neutrality and the law

Public servants are required by longstanding principle to discharge their duties without political partisanship – reflecting the Westminster tenet that the public service should be able to credibly serve successive governments, whatever their political orientation. The requirements of political neutrality are enshrined and reinforced by the Values and Ethics Code for the Public Sector, which is a Treasury Board policy mandated by and closely linked to the operation of the Public Sector Disclosure Protection Act.

That said, in an electoral context the activities of public servants are governed principally by the Public Service Employment Act (PSEA), administered by the Public Service Commission (PSC). This legislation seeks to balance, as the Supreme Court has said must be done, the requirement of political neutrality against the basic democratic right of public servants to participate in the political process. The driving principle is that any political activity must not impede the capacity of the public servant to discharge his or her responsibilities. Accordingly, what is permitted depends on the circumstances, taking into account both the nature of the political activity and the public servant’s responsibilities. Political activity is defined in the PSEA to encompass everything from voting, to putting a sign on your lawn, to contributing to a party, to running in an election. If you’re a deputy head it’s easy to figure out what political activities are permissible: absolutely none except casting your ballot. But individuals whose roles are lower profile and less politically sensitive – for example, those with exclusively technical responsibilities – may be permitted much more leeway, up to and including running for political office. How do you know what’s permitted for you? You can try reading the legislation yourself, but if in doubt you have only to contact the PSC for authoritative guidance.

Election 2019

The principles governing the activities of governments and officials, though multi-faceted, are well established and have remained largely unchanged over the years. That said, successive governments and public service leaders have applied them with varying degrees of stringency. In one recent election, the public service leadership was criticized for going too far, as public servants cancelled everything from routine meetings to attendance at professional seminars. The approach for Election 2019 remains to be seen, but my guess is that the goal will be to remain beyond reproach, which presumably includes adhering to the dictates of common sense.

Decorative photo of Shaw Centre

Reliable Science Informing Decisions

4 minute read

By Jeff Kinder – Executive Director, Science and Innovation and Rhonda Moore – Senior Advisor, Science and Innovation

In the waning months of the Second World War, U.S. President Roosevelt asked his science advisor to prepare recommendations on how the nation could continue to benefit in peacetime from the mobilization of the scientific community that had so clearly aided the war effort. Dr. Vannevar Bush submitted his famous report, Science: The Endless Frontier, to President Truman in July 1945 following Roosevelt’s untimely death. Bush positioned science as an endless frontier of knowledge and innovation that could support economic prosperity, public health, and security.

The report advanced a new “social contract,” or basic compact between science and society in which society agrees to provide public funding to support the advancement of science in exchange for the benefits that flow from the scientific enterprise. Importantly, the report argued that to ensure this flow of benefits, science requires a high degree of autonomy in setting research priorities, selecting researchers for funding, and evaluating results. The tenets of the Bush report were later promulgated by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and others with the result that this basic compact has guided the relationship between science and society throughout the world, including in Canada.

Decades later, governments are still committed to making decisions based on evidence. In Canada, former Governor General David Johnston observed in 2012 that “…We live in a time of rapid transformations, characterized by risk and opportunity on a global scale. Because of this, we must always look to the evidence – particularly scientific evidence – to help navigate change and inform our choices.” As well, in 2015, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stated that “…We are a government that believes in science – and that good scientific knowledge should inform decision-making.”

Yet the social contract between science and society is under strain. The rise of “junk science,” a decline of trust in public institutions, and the promulgation of “fake news” and “alternative facts” challenge scientific evidence and the integrity of the scientific process. Recent reports of scientific misconduct allege flawed studies, fabricated data, and conflicts of interest in advancing particular agendas. The traditional process for communicating knowledge is being disrupted. Along with the generally positive move to open science, we are seeing the rise of “predatory publishers” whose lax review methods have led to more dubious claims in the scientific literature. While the scientific community continues to argue for autonomy, the public is seeking greater accountability, especially given the large expenditures of public funding in support of research.

In this “post-truth” era, the scientific community needs to work harder to find ways of communicating reliable knowledge. It is too easy, and not persuasive, to suggest that we simply need to raise the level of scientific literacy in society. Climate change hoaxers and anti-vaxxers will not be persuaded by more evidence provided by expert scientists. As science has become more and more specialized and complex, it is increasingly regarded as unapproachable, confusing, intimidating, and elitist.

Science is one input to policy among many, falling alongside economic, political, legal, and diplomatic considerations, among others. Science is the study of the natural world, from large scale systems (e.g., the solar system, the global climate system, the migratory patterns of living things) to forces at the sub-atomic level. Science can tell us how things work and sometimes why they happen. The social sciences can tell us how humans interact with the natural world, with each other, as well as shed light on why we act and express ourselves the way we do.

As a body of knowledge, science has a lot to offer decision-makers. Equally important for its role in decision-making is its particular method of discovering and ascertaining reliable knowledge. Sound science is characterized by a healthy skepticism to new knowledge claims and by the ability to replicate results by repeating experiments when conditions and variables are controlled. Claims of new scientific knowledge are submitted to a process of peer review in which results are evaluated and commented on by other experts in the field. New results are tested by scientists and by upcoming students to ensure that they can be replicated [anecdote from Jeff: in 1987, I remember how the breakthroughs in high-temperature superconductivity were quickly introduced into my undergraduate physics curriculum allowing us to test and replicate the results in the lab]. The scientific method does not guarantee error-free knowledge, and the knowledge always remains open to challenge in the face of new evidence.

We need to rethink the scientific social contract for the 21st century, to find new ways to renew the relationship while ensuring that science is serving society with integrity. There are important experiments underway in responsible research, inclusive innovation, and citizen science. Governments need to push harder on open science and open science advice. As we look ahead to the federal election, there is an important opportunity to engage in a broad discussion on the role of science in society and the role of reliable scientific knowledge in informing our public choices.

Decorative photo of Fall Ottawa

IOG at IPAC 2019 Conference – Winnipeg

8 minute read

Remarks from IOG President Toby Fyfe on panel: “Making Better Regulations: Tools and Techniques that are Transforming Policy Analysis and Development”

By Toby Fyfe – President of the IOG

Governments and regulatory organizations are facing a disruptive environment.

Surveys indicate that trust in public institutions is in decline. IPSOS tells us that 60% of Canadians have little to no confidence in government.

There is a growing belief among much of the civil society that our public institutions – including regulators who are often seen as unaccountable, out of touch, and captured by the industry they are allegedly regulating – are no longer able to achieve public policy goals and to protect the health, safety, and well-being of citizens.

In short, many regulators no longer have the trust of either the citizens they serve or the stakeholders with whom they work.

This is the context for regulatory modernization. In the last few years alone, reform initiatives have been launched in the United States, the U.K., Australia, and New Zealand, to name a few outside of Canada.

Governments typically want regulators to support competitiveness with other jurisdictions, encourage innovation, protect citizens, and remove obstacles to economic growth in response to fast moving technological and business disruption across the developed world.

Yet regulatory reform is perhaps one of the most difficult promises for a government to fulfill in a way that is meaningful for those who are subject to regulation, and for those who benefit from it.

The consequences of regulatory failures are often significant and long lasting – in terms of economic well-being, human health, and damage to the environment.

This makes it more critical than ever that governments’ regulatory modernization initiatives take account of and build trust in their ability to do the job.

By way of illustration, I would like to touch upon two current issues, both of which are front and center on the public agenda. In these two scenarios, regulators face challenges in relation to their alignment with public governance principles. A question that remains to be answered, and one that I put forward today for discussion, is whether governments and regulators are adequately responding to the important public governance challenges in the regulatory arena.

NEB / CER and Pipeline approvals

The first is Canada’s legislative and regulatory process for making decisions on large energy projects such as pipelines, and the role of the National Energy Board.

As many are aware, the government’s expert panel on the NEB modernization listed many concerns about the Board’s alignment with public governance principles.

For example, in terms of mandate and role, they reported that NEB hearings had become “an inadequate de facto forum for debates about Canada’s energy policy and climate change” for both industry and environmental groups.

On transparency, the expert panel reported hearing of an NEB “that limits public engagement…does not explain or account for many of its decisions, and generally operates in ways that seem unduly opaque.”

They also observed that the NEB “has fundamentally lost the confidence of many Canadians” and saw “major issues around how the NEB works with Indigenous peoples and the public, and how its processes can limit and even exclude the input of important parts of Canadian society.”

The government chose to create a “new” body – the Canadian Energy Regulator – with Bill C-69 that addressed issues of governance, engagement, and Indigenous participation, all with the goal of improving trust.

Key governance changes between the NEB and the CER included:

● expanding the diversity of representation and expertise on the CER Board and Commissioners, including requiring indigenous representation;

● separating the roles of the board and executive; and

● providing for independent commissioners with responsibility for “timely, inclusive and transparent decision making”

In terms of engagement, the CER is now mandated to:

● “facilitate broader public policy discussions and public engagement outside of the traditional hearing process … to give Canadians more opportunities to debate pressing issues that are beyond the scope of a project’s review”;

● engage with the public outside the hearing process; and

● expand the factors in its “public interest determination” to include environmental, social, safety, health, and socio-economic issues, gender-based impacts, indigenous impacts and climate change”

The CER is also mandated to expand Indigenous participation in many ways. Examples include:

● establishing an Indigenous advisory committee

● requiring consideration of Indigenous knowledge; and

● building capacity and enhance funding for indigenous participation.

While the governance challenges facing the energy regulator were not in dispute, there remains much controversy as to whether the government has found the right balance and solutions through Bill C-69.

FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) Certification of Boeing’s 737MAX

I’ll touch on another issue which raises different, but equally important public governance concerns. It is also instructive of how disruptive changes such as the immediate digital availability of public information represents a game-changing development for regulators. These changes illustrate that perceived gaps on public governance issues can immediately and permanently undermine legitimacy and public trust in even the most sophisticated and well-known regulators.

Anyone who travels on airplanes can probably name the company and model of plane they would not want to fly on today – it is of course the Boeing 737 MAX. Following its certification by the FAA in March 2017, reportedly in the context of stiff time to market competition between Boeing and Airbus, the MAX was the fastest selling plane in Boeing’s history. This all changed with the crash of two new 737 MAX planes in quick succession, where all passengers aboard perished. These events led to the MAX being grounded across the world by airlines, regulators from many jurisdictions, and finally the FAA in March of this year. The timelines for recertification of the 737 MAX have since been extended on multiple occasions.

One of the most authoritative pieces of investigative reporting on the 737 MAX was done by the Seattle Times, which was headlined “Flawed analysis, failed oversight: How Boeing, FAA certified the suspect 737 MAX flight control system.” Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, the famed American Airlines pilot who safely landed in the Hudson river, stated: “These crashes are demonstrable evidence that our current system of aircraft design and certification has failed us. These accidents should never have happened.”

This tragic chain of events has surfaced deep concerns about the FAA’s fulfillment of its role in terms of public governance and citizen trust, its ability to perform effectively, its potentially conflicted role in its accountability for public safety, and its transparency around accident investigations.

Evidence to date points to several important regulatory governance failures. One relates to the FAA’s reliance on Boeing itself to “self-certify” the new 737 MAX flight safety system, reportedly due to constraints in both resources and expertise.

Another key issue relates the principle of transparency. Did the FAA act in a sufficiently timely and precautionary way to protect public safety in relation to the groundings, both after Lion Air (the first crash) and following the crash of the second plane on March 10, 2019? Could commercial considerations have influenced the FAA’s delayed actions?

In the aftermath, it has been noted that:

The flying public and aviation followers, all of whom could access detailed flight altitude data through free mobile apps, were able to see the striking similarities of the erratic plane maneuvers which occurred directly prior to the two plane crashes, and draw conclusions themselves. Immediately after the second crash, this led to thousands of passengers making personal decisions not to fly on the 737 MAX, which was quickly reflected in the decisions of many national airlines to stop flying the 737 MAX prior to the issuance of any guidance from the FAA or Boeing.

Between March 10 and March 12, 2019, 25 civil aviation authorities in China, Indonesia, Singapore, India, South Korea, Europe, Australia and Malaysia all took action to ground the 737 MAX in their areas of jurisdiction.

In contrast, following the second crash, on March 11, 2019 the FAA publicly and exceptionally issued a “continued air-worthiness notification”. On March 12, the FAA stated it had “no basis to order grounding the 737 MAX” and no data to justify such action.

On March 13, as the certifying regulator for the 737MAX, the FAA was one of the last major aviation authorities to ground the plane.

Although the full implications for the FAA from a public governance perspective are still evolving, notable actions by the US government to date have included:

● An audit of the FAA certification process by the US Office of the Inspector General

● Congressional inquiries being initiated by the House and the Senate into the certification of the 737 MAX

● The FBI joining a criminal investigation into the certification and the issuance of a Grand Jury subpoena for certification information about the MAX

Among the public governance related questions which have come to the forefront to date are:

● Whether President Donald Trump’s choice to appoint former commercial pilot and airline lobbyist Dan Elwell as acting Administrator of the FAA was appropriate to the role of leadership of the FAA.

● Whether the mandate of the FAA should be reoriented along the lines of the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) which is “a purely safety-oriented agency”

● Whether the FAA’s long-standing reliance on employees of airplane manufacturers to do government-required safety inspections as planes are being designed or assembled places it in a conflict of interest.

● Whether FAA’s delegation of certification of the flight safety system to Boeing employees was appropriate.


For elected officials, a potential takeaway from the experience of the NEB and the FAA is that public governance principles in the design and implementation of any regulatory modernization need to be considered if public trust in the regulator is to be maintained.

There is no easy, “one size fits all” approach for ensuring the success of regulatory modernization, and ensuring that meaningful results are achieved necessarily requires the active and sustained involvement of elected government leaders and senior government officials in addition to regulatory organizations.

I hope that some of my comments today have helped to raise awareness of the importance of considering key public governance principles in the context of designing a substantive and successful regulatory transformation process. Thank you for reading.

Decorative photo of Rideau Canal

Decentralized spending and service quality at the Federal, Provincial, and Municipal Levels

3 minute read

By Samuel Wells and Sofia Chaudhry, IOG Research Interns

The IOG has undertaken two public sector research projects, both of which are nearing completion. These projects are intended to shed light on the functions of Canadian government at all levels, including how it is structured, where its funding is allocated, and how it conducts its business, which includes policy and service delivery. The IOG is excited to share its work in the coming weeks.

One of the research projects is a quantitative review of arm’s-length agencies in Canada or, as the IOG refers to them, “Distributed Governance Organizations” (DGOs). These organizations are characterized by operational and/or budgetary autonomy from an elected executive (i.e. minister), and the devolution of this authority to an appointed official or body. The term “DGO” encapsulates dozens of different types of organizations, ranging from national security agencies to hospitals and school boards. Using organizational expenditures as a proxy, the IOG has quantified the extent to which public governance in Canada is conducted through these DGOs, and compared the results to a previous internal study on data from the 2009-10 fiscal year. Below is a sample graph from the study:

The other research project that the IOG has undertaken is an analysis of the financial operations of each level of government in Canada, organized by the portfolios of responsibility that these levels have. Specifically, this report focuses on the relationship between the Government of Canada, the Government of Ontario, and the City of Toronto, identifying shortcomings within this structure that inhibit Toronto’s capacity to meet the needs of its residents. Municipal governments in Canada are by far the largest provider of public services, and their responsibilities are vast, diverse, and often a vital component to a well-functioning economy. An outline of all the services and policy functions that the City of Toronto is responsible for is demonstrated below:

Both of these research projects offer unique perspectives on public governance in Canada and can serve as a useful point of reference for government executives.

Decorative photo of Ottawa at Night

Iraq marks key milestone with new financial management law

1 minute read

By Mike Fleet – Senior Researcher and Mohammed Abdulkareem – Project Executive

As of May 2019, the Financial Management Law of Iraq has been voted on and placed into the Official Gazette. The law is expected to come into force in the 2020 fiscal year. This new law was drafted with the advice of the Institute on Governance and replaces the 2004 Coalition Provisional Authority order. Aiming to establish a more effective system of financial management suited to a federal government, this law lays the legal groundwork to allow for best financial practices and processes in a federal system.

The IOG conducted this work as part of its project on the Fiscal Federalism and Decentralization in Iraq, funded by Global Affairs Canada.

Decorative photo of Parliament Hill

Reconciliation and Relationships

2 minute read

The IOG’s new suite of courses

By Ross Holden – Vice President – Indigenous Governance & Self-Determination

The IOG is pleased to announce that it will soon launch a new suite of courses on reconciliation, and working effectively with Indigenous peoples, communities, and organizations.

Reconciliation 101: Students will take part in a blanket exercise before participating in a discussion about their perceptions and experiences, and the impact of the blanket exercise on them personally. This will be followed by an in-depth examination of First Nations, Metis, and Inuit peoples and culture, the history of Indigenous-Crown relations (including the history and legacy of residential schools), the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), treaties and Aboriginal rights, Indigenous law, and present-day Indigenous-Crown relations.

Building on the learnings from Reconciliation 101, the IOG will offer a series of distinctions-based courses on working effectively with First Nations, Metis, and Inuit communities and organizations. Working Effectively with First Nations Communities and Organizations, Working Effectively with Metis Communities and Organizations, and Working Effectively with Inuit Communities and Organizations will delve deep into the history of the relationship between the Crown and each constitutionally recognized Indigenous peoples by examining their unique experiences under colonialism and present-day socioeconomic, political, and cultural considerations. The course will then examine strategies and best practices for working effectively with their communities and organizations including protocols; working with Elders and Knowledge Keepers; regional, cultural, and political distinctions; and aspirations, challenges, and opportunities for partnership and collaboration.

Finally, the IOG will introduce courses specifically for public and private sector executives and human resources professionals. Working Effectively with Indigenous Communities and Organizations for Executives will begin with a review of the history of Indigenous peoples, including the history and legacy of residential schools, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), Treaties and Aboriginal rights, Indigenous law, and Indigenous-Crown relations. It will then explore Indigenous political and service delivery organizations and structures to gain an understanding of roles and responsibilities, accountability, challenges facing Indigenous organizations, and effective strategies for working with them at a strategic level.

Indigenous Recruitment, Retention and Advancement for Human Resources Professionals will begin with a review of the history of Indigenous peoples, including the history and legacy of residential schools, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), Treaties and Aboriginal rights, Indigenous law, and Indigenous-Crown relations. The course will then examine the state of Indigenous employment in the public and private sectors; challenges to Indigenous recruitment; retention and advancement; and effective strategies for promoting greater participation of Indigenous peoples in the public and private sectors. The course will also explore skills and strategies for conflict resolution and anti-racism.

All of the courses will be delivered by highly qualified and knowledgeable First Nations, Metis, and Inuit facilitators with extensive experience in the public, private, and non-profit sectors. The courses will also be supported by Elders and/or traditional knowledge keepers.

Stay tuned for announcements on course dates and facilitators in the coming weeks.

Decorative photo of Victoria Parliament

Youth “Like” to Vote

3 minute read

How Canada’s younger generations are engaging in our democracy

By Samuel Wells – IOG Research Intern

This infographic highlights statistics on participation in the electoral process during the 2015 general election among youth (defined by Elections Canada as individuals between ages 18 and 35). This election saw a large increase in voter turnout among younger generations and a seemingly newfound enthusiasm for engagement with our democratic institutions. Following the election, Elections Canada ran its National Youth Survey to collect comparative data on youth and adult voting, including voter turnout, ease of access, and reasons for not voting. The IOG studied this data and arranged this infographic in preparation for the 2019 election, for the purposes of identifying any continuing trends in youth democratic participation.

The voter turnout among youth in 2015 represented a significant increase from the previous election. However, youth voter turnout was still lower than the overall voter turnout rate. Elections Canada’s survey (and our infographic) identifies a number of possible reasons for this, including a lack of knowledge on the option to vote at advance polls, difficulty finding transportation to the polls, a lack of interest in politics, and disliking the candidates. Another potential reason for lower youth voter turnout was revealed by Caro Loutfi, Executive Director of Apathy is Boring, a Montreal-based non-profit organization whose mission is to engage youth to be active in democracy. Her insight was that “There is no question whether or not young people care. They do. The question is how they choose to engage. Many young people engage in our democracy through informal means such as volunteering, going to protests, and discussing issues on social media rather than through formal institutions, such as voting.” Apathy is Boring also identified a concerning trend, which is a lack of engagement with youth from politicians. Said Loutfi, “There is a significant difference in the manner in which elected officials engage with youth versus how they engage with the rest of society. Parliamentarians tend to believe that younger people are less likely to vote, and so they view youth engagement as being less important. This can create a vicious cycle in which youth are pushed further away from the country’s central democratic institutions.” Both of these reasons offer potential explanations for lower youth voter turnout and are certainly worth additional study. The IOG thanks Apathy is Boring for sharing its enriched qualitative data on youth democratic engagement for the purpose of this newsletter.

Youth Voting Edited

Samuel Wells

Samuel (Sam) Wells is a Research Intern at the Institute on Governance, and a student at the University of Ottawa where he is completing an Honours Bachelor of Social Sciences degree with a specialization in Conflict Studies and Human Rights. Sam started at the IOG in May of 2019, and his work has included research on recent changes to the formal machinery of government and the use of “arm’s-length” agencies in the Canadian public sector. Prior to joining the IOG, Sam was a part-time intern on Parliament Hill.

A Former GG’s Next Contribution

5 minute read

An interview with Canada’s first Leaders’ Debates Commissioner

By Hon. Marie Charette-Poulin with Rt. Hon. David Johnston

Spending time with Rt. Hon. David Johnston is like walking into a candy store hungry. He possesses such a wealth of information about every topic under the sun whilst communicating authentic empathy and modesty. Following any discussion with the esteemed former Governor General of Canada, one leaves with a bag of “goodies,” looking forward to putting pen to paper; a real treat!

When I asked him what he sees the new Leaders’ Debates Commission adding to the 2019 federal general election, he enthusiastically replied: “Debates are essential to good governance through vigorous informed elections. They are the opportunity to see and hear leaders of the parties, unscripted and unfiltered and responding to questions spontaneously. They permit the viewer to consider the temperament and authenticity of the leader.”

The establishment of an independent commission to organize leaders’ debates was first considered by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, chaired by Larry Bagnell (MP representing Yukon). This committee tabled a report titled “The Creation of an Independent Commissioner Responsible for Leaders’ Debates” in March 2018, and the Government of Canada formally announced the establishment of the Leaders’ Debates Commission the following October.

The Government’s October announcement stated that: “The Leaders’ Debates Commission will make the debates a more predictable, reliable, and stable element of federal election campaigns…The core of the mandate of the Debates Commissioner is to organize two leaders’ debates for the 2019 federal general election, one in each official language‎. Other elements include:

  • selecting and establishing a seven-member Advisory Board to the Commissioner;
  • entering into contract for the production of the debates;
  • providing, free of charge, the feed for the debates it organizes;
  • engaging political parties to negotiate terms, and the media to ensure broad distribution;
  • engaging with Canadians to raise awareness about debates;
  • being the spokesperson for the Commission; and
  • following the 2019 general election and no later than March 31, 2020, providing‎ a report to Parliament outlining findings, lessons learned, and recommendations to inform the potential creation in statute of a “built to last” Debates Commission.”

Former Governor General, Canadian academic, author, and statesman Rt. Hon. David Johnston was nominated, then confirmed, in the Fall of 2018 as the first Commissioner‎ of the Leaders’ Debates. On March 22, 2019, he announced the members of the Advisory Board, an important step forward for the new entity. When you read the list of members*, the balance of its composition is striking, including gender, official languages, political affiliations, expertise, as well as generational and regional and cultural balance. “I want to ensure the success of our work. The best way to do this is to create a team where one member complements the other, like a jigsaw puzzle where the complete picture represents Canada in all its strength, its diversity, its complexity. We are hoping to increase‎ citizen engagement. We want a wide audience. The debates planned for October 7th in English and October 10th in French will be free to access and distribute. Yes, anyone will be able to broadcast it, for free, to stream it, to host a live viewing party. The debates will be widely distributed on television, radio, digital, and social streaming platforms to ensure access to a broad cross-section of Canadians across the country, on the platform of their choice. They will be available in sign language, closed captioning, and described video, as well as English, French, three indigenous languages, and five other languages. The debates will permit us to focus on fundamental issues linked to the future of Canada. They will reach into the essential quality of trust in our institutions.”

David Johnston is the author of the well-known book “TRUST,” released on October 9th, 2018. “Trust is the glue that keeps our institutions together, the grease that keeps them working effectively. The higher the trust, the more efficiently and smoothly the institutions can serve the public.” He attributes his learning about the importance of trust and reliability through his first part-time job in an auto-repair garage, located in Sault Ste Marie, ON, when he was just 11 years old (which explains his use of the terms “glue and grease!”). “The supervisor and the workers trusted me, not only with the upkeep of the list of required material to be delivered every night to the train station but also with a key to the garage to gain access to it after working hours to do my job. It felt so good to be relied upon, by all these adults. I learned a lot from distinguished university professors but these mechanics taught me some [of the] most important lessons.”

Today, Canada’s first Debates’ Commissioner sees far and wide. “We are hoping‎ that Canada can be somewhat of a model for elections which are so important to a strong democracy. We are currently in a period where traditions do not have the same sway as previously, where reliable world order in place since WWII is questioned. We need to ensure that information available to voters is reliable so that, on October 21st 2019, they want to cast their vote because they feel informed and responsible.”

*Advisory board members include:

– Dr Chad Gaffield

  • Distinguished University Professor, University of Ottawa, President of the Royal Society of Canada

– Hon. Deborah Grey

  • Former Reform MP, first female Leader of the Opposition

– Mr Craig Kielburger

  • Social entrepreneur and the co-founder of WE Charity

– Mr. Jean LaRose

  • Chief Executive Officer, Aboriginal Peoples Television Network

– Ms. Megan Leslie

  • Chief Executive Officer, World Wildlife Fund Canada, former Deputy Leader of the Official Opposition (NDP)

– Hon. John Manley

  • Former Deputy Prime Minister, Liberal Cabinet Minister and Chief Executive Officer of the Business Council of Canada

– Hon. Louise Otis

  • President of the Administrative Tribunal of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development as well as President of the Administrative Tribunal of the‎ “Organisation internationale de la francophonie”

Rt. Hon. David Johnston and Hon. Marie-P. Charette-Poulin

The Right Honourable David Johnston served as the 28th Governor General of Canada between 2010 and 2017, and now serves as Canada’s first Commissioner of the Leaders’ Debates Commission. As Governor General of Canada, he founded the Rideau Hall Foundation, a charity that works to “mobilize ideas, people, and resources across the country to tap into our national spirit and realize our shared aspirations.” Rt. Hon. David Johnston is the author or co-author of over 25 books, and has been a companion of the Order of Canada since 1997. He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Harvard University and Bachelor of Laws degrees from the University of Cambridge and Queen’s University, as well as honourary doctorates from over 25 universities and learning institutions in Canada, China, and India

The Honourable Marie-P. Charette-Poulin brings to the team of the Institute on Governance her experience and expertise as a former parliamentarian in the Senate of Canada, former partner with the international law firm Gowlings, now Gowling WLG, former senior public servant at the Privy Council Office, Founding CEO of a quasi-judicial federal tribunal, and former senior executive at the CBC/Radio-Canada. Her work and contributions have been recognized in Canada and abroad, including by the President of France with the “Ordre national de la Légion d’honneur”. Marie holds a Bachelor of Arts (Magna Cum Laude) from Laurentian University, a Bachelor of Laws from the University of Ottawa, and a Masters in Social Sciences from the University of Montreal.