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The Trudeau 2.0 Mandate Letters: Great Expectations?

4 minute read

By their own assessment, the Trudeau government fulfilled 219 out of a total of 289 mandate letter commitments in their first term, or roughly 75%. Other assessments, typically stemming from non-partisan civil society initiatives such as TrudeauMeter, estimate that the Trudeau government delivered on roughly 60% of their original commitments.

The mandate letters serve as a political tool as well as an instructional document for ministers. They give the Prime Minister an opportunity to demonstrate some of the government’s intentions in a highly publicized, positive manner. It is therefore both understandable and reasonable that many read these letters with skepticism. There is, however, arguably more to these letters than meets the eye. In addition to surface-level policy proposals, the letters hint at how the Government plans on utilizing public governance institutions to fulfill its campaign commitments and address shortcomings from its first mandate.

The overall tone of the letters makes it clear that the Trudeau Government wishes to pick up where it left off. Thus, Indigenous affairs, climate action, and concluding trade deals remain at the forefront and the economy continues as a steady engine, albeit with some acknowledgement that debt levels need to be recognized and managed.

That said, there are some notable changes. Perhaps the most significant is the new role of Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, assigned to the former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Chrystia Freeland. The 2019 election indicated that Canada is now deeply divided on a regional basis, and Freeland’s appointment hints at the perspective and approach that Trudeau wishes to take to address this problem. Managing intergovernmental affairs was a role that he assumed on his own during his first mandate and in assigning Freeland to it, he is effectively removing himself from the hot seat. Instead, one of his most capable ministers will be taking charge of this vital assignment, demonstrating Trudeau’s concerns on the interprovincial file.

The mandate letters also contain a rather extensive set of measures on parliamentary reform, including alterations to the committee structure and a reduction in vote-whipping. This is interesting because one of the most obvious shortcomings of the Trudeau Government’s first mandate was their failure to fulfill their promise on electoral reform, subsequently avoiding the subject altogether during the 2019 election cycle.

Parliamentary reform, however, is something like a “little brother” of electoral reform. It does not affect the method in which Members of Parliament are chosen, but it does redistribute the balance of power among elected officials, providing greater influence to backbench MPs and devolving power from the Cabinet and Prime Minister. Such alterations could address widespread concern that Parliament no longer functions in a productive and fair manner, concern that was perhaps exacerbated by events such as the SNC-Lavalin affair.

It is intriguing that these devolutions are being proposed in a minority situation because MPs that stray from their party line pose a significantly greater threat to a minority government than they do to a majority. However, if managed successfully, these measures would establish a more constructive and collaborative environment in Parliament, something that has been lacking in recent years.

An additional feature of the mandate letters is a number of proposed adjustments to the overall design and membership of Cabinet and the machinery of government. The Cabinet itself has revived the long-dormant Junior Finance Minister position, stylized as the Minister of Middle-Class Prosperity.

Meanwhile, new government entities such as the Canadian Centre for Peace, Order, and Good Government; Defence Procurement Canada; and the Canada Water Agency, are all set to be created in the upcoming mandate. All of these are designed to assist the Government in implementing its policies and overall vision on an ad hocbasis; whether a subsequent government maintains their existence will remain to be seen.

There are also some proposed modernization initiatives such as transitioning to a more digital government and creating a more efficient government procurement process. Unlike in 2015, however, there are no significant commitments made towards public service renewal beyond machinery changes and modernization projects. Extensive reform, as was proposed at the beginning of Trudeau’s first mandate, is noticeably absent.

Helpfully, these mandate letters provide a much clearer structure of accountabilities and authorities between ministers than they did in 2015. The original letters did not make clear how ministers were expected to manage horizontalities that existed with intersecting mandates, instead utilizing vague instructions such as “work with” a designated colleague.

Some who had seen the mandate letters of previous governments, including those under Stephen Harper, Paul Martin, and Jean Chretien, advised the IOG that Trudeau’s predecessors had generally established an obvious chain of command when decreeing a link between ministers. Individual ministers would receive clear orders to “lead, with the support of,” “provide consultation for,” or “work under,” their respective colleagues. This is an approach that Trudeau has returned to in his latest set of letters.

Ultimately, these letters address many concerns that are prevalent among Canadians. Whether evidenced by polarized elections; worrisome media reports; or protests related to a multitude of issues including climate change, Indigenous rights, and economic security, it is clear that society is anxious about where it stands and the direction in which it is headed. It is the role of the government to provide leadership in such times, and Trudeau still has much work to do to gain the country’s trust. Undoubtedly, Justin Trudeau and his government learned many lessons during their first four years in charge, and perhaps the mandate letters are a first indication of how they wish to alter their practices as a result.

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Ministers’ Marching Orders

11 minute read

On December 13, 2019, the Prime Minister released ministerial mandate letters to guide Cabinet in delivering on promises the governing party made to Canadians during the 2019 federal election campaign.

“The mandate letters contain dozens of proposed reforms to Canada’s public governance institutions which, if successfully implemented, will hopefully serve to strengthen the Government’s effectiveness and resiliency,” says IOG President, Toby Fyfe.

Under the principle of allowing Canadians to hold the Government to account on what it will deliver and how, mandate letters were first made public by the Prime Minister following his appointment in November, 2015.

“These mandate letters are instructions to Cabinet ministers on what policy objectives they are expected to achieve during their tenure,” says Karl Salgo, IOG’s Executive Director, Public Governance. “They also outline some of the pressing challenges that each minister will address but they are not, however, an exhaustive list of all the files on which ministers will be working.”

Political Culture

Mandate letter responsibilities that are related to Canada’s political culture appear relatively frequently. For example, the President of the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada is responsible for developing policy on online disinformation in the Canadian context, with the ultimate goal of enabling Canada to lead an international initiative aimed at building consensus and developing guiding principles on how to strengthen citizen resilience to online disinformation. He is also responsible for further improvement of the Leaders’ Debates for the next election.

Meanwhile, the Government House Leader is tasked with a wide array of initiatives that include increasing time allotments for private members’ business, improving technology with the goal of better connecting MPs to their constituents, eliminating the use of whip and party lists, providing more resources to parliamentary committees, reducing vote-whipping, and updating the Parliament of Canada Actto reflect a more non-partisan Senate.

Public Governance (Frameworks and Institutions)

Of the mandate letter commitments issued with respect to public governance institutions, the most notable are the ones for the Minister of Justice and Attorney General, who has been tasked with implementing all of the recommendations put forward by Anne McLellan in her report following the SNC-Lavalin affair, and the Minister of Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship who is responsible for the full implementation of the new professional governance regime for immigration and citizenship consultants.

“Meanwhile,” says Fyfe, “several other ministers are mandated to implement various frameworks that are intended to fulfill the many promises made by the governing party during the election campaign, including a framework on green economic growth, and a renewed framework for regional economic development, the latter of which might be intended to appease the alienated Western provinces.”

Public Governance (Machinery)

“There are numerous proposed changes to the formal Machinery of Government in the mandate letters,” says IOG Researcher Sam Wells, “most of which appear to be intended towards creating new government entities to assist with the implementation of this Government’s mandate.”

Agencies to be established under the current mandate include:

● The Canadian Centre for Peace, Order, and Good Government (Foreign Affairs, International Development)

● A centre of expertise to implement major transformation projects across government (Digital Government)

● The Northern Abandoned Mine Reclamation Program to clean up high-risk abandoned mining sites (Northern Affairs)

● The Canada Water Agency to foster collaboration between provinces, territories, Indigenous populations, local authorities, scientists, and “others” to find the best ways to keep water clean (Agriculture and Agri-Food; Environment and Climate Change)

● The Data Commissioner to oversee personal data and competition regulations for large digital companies (Innovation, Science, and Industry; Canadian Heritage)

● A National Institute for Women’s Health Research (Health; Women and Gender Equality and Rural Economic Development)

● An Anti-Racism Secretariat (Diversity and Inclusion and Youth)

Diversity and Inclusion

“The mandate letters make clear that promoting diversity and inclusion within the Government, as well as integrating it into public policy, are priorities for the current Cabinet,” says Gérard Étienne, IOG’s Vice President, Diversity and Inclusion.

“For example, the Minister of Justice is mandated to ensure mandatory training for Canadian judges on sexual assault law, including ‘myths and stereotypes about victims and effects of trauma on victims’ memory,’ as well as on unconscious bias and cultural competency.”

Meanwhile, the Minister of Innovation, Science, and Industry, is mandated to promote gender equality and inclusion in the sciences, and funding will flow to the research councils to support academic studies on race, diversity and gender; the mandate letter for the Minister of Women and Gender Equality and Rural Economic Development specifies a total of six commitments that are related to gender equality and diversity within the public service and policymaking process; and the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, along with the Minister of Diversity and Inclusion and Youth, will be working to ensure that all officials in Canada’s law enforcement and security agencies have access to unconscious bias and cultural competency training.


“Unsurprisingly, the Ministers of Crown-Indigenous Relations, Indigenous Services, and Northern Affairs have all been assigned a multitude of responsibilities pertaining to self-determination, with emphasis on transitioning away from the Indian Act,” says Ross Holden, IOG’s Vice President, Indigenous Governance and Self-Determination. “But the big story is the commitment to co-development on a wide range of policy and legislative initiatives.” Those initiatives include:

● Working with Inuit, Métis and First Nations on new legislation to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (Minister of Justice);

● Engaging on new Indigenous health legislation (Indigenous Services);

● Collaborating with the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami and other partners on an Inuit Nunangat Policy; and

● Creating a National Treaty Commissioner’s Office to provide a distinctions-based process for the ongoing review, maintenance and enforcement of Canada’s treaty obligations, both of which are Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs (CIRNA) leads.

“The Prime Minister has committed to an unprecedented level of collaboration between his Government and Indigenous peoples,” says Holden. “The key to success for the Federal Government will rest in its ability to capture the best practices and lessons learned in recent policy and legislative co-development initiatives, such as the development of the Indigenous Languages Act.”

The Minister of Finance, the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations, and the Minister of Indigenous Services, meanwhile, will be responsible for developing a new fiscal relationship with Canada’s Indigenous peoples. Though it is not strictly governance-related, the Minister of Justice is tasked with contributing to the development of a National Action Plan on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, which could potentially involve the implementation of some type of reconciliatory framework, and the Minister of Canadian Heritage will be responsible for co-developing, with Indigenous peoples, a framework for repatriating Indigenous cultural property and ancestral remains.

“In other parts of Cabinet, the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs’ mandate letter suggests that further collaboration between Canada’s Indigenous peoples, the provinces, and the Government of Canada is in order, and it can be expected that there will be a First Ministers’ meeting specifically devoted to this topic,” adds Holden.


The Minister of Foreign Affairs, in conjunction with the Minister of International Development, has been tasked with establishing the Canadian Centre for Peace, Order, and Good Government, which will be an agency responsible for providing “Canadian expertise and assistance to those seeking to build peace, advance justice, promote human rights and democracy, and deliver good governance.”

“This is something that we at the IOG are very happy about as it complements the work we have been doing abroad, particularly most recently in Iraq,” says IOG President, Toby Fyfe. “We are also excited to see that the Minister of International Development will be responsible for modernizing the methodology for delivering international assistance ‘to ensure greater effectiveness, transparency and accountability’.” As with the previous government, gender equality will be central to Canada’s international assistance policy.

Digital Governance

A number of proposed initiatives geared towards modernizing government can also be found in the mandate letters. They include:

● Review measures put in place to protect the electoral system from cyber threats (Privy Council);

● Transition to a more digital government with a particular focus on improving citizen service (Digital Government);

● Improve the delivery of IT within government, which includes a renewal of Shared Services Canada (Digital Government);

● Develop ethics guidelines for the use in government of data and digital tools, including artificial intelligence (Digital Government; Innovation, Science and Industry);

● Build on an inventory of validated and secure applications that can be used by government to share knowledge and expertise to support innovation (Digital Government); and

● Modernize procurement practices, which includes the implementation of the e-Procurement Solution (Public Services and Procurement; Treasury Board).

Science and Innovation

Regarding science and innovation, we look first to the mandate letter of the newly rebranded Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry. This portfolio is vast, with 22 explicit commitments – ranging from affordable internet access to defence procurement to travel cost deductions for Northern residents – with only a handful specific to science and innovation.

On innovation, the Government remains committed to building on the work of the Economic Strategy Tables, supporting “innovation ecosystems” and it positions the Superclusters– key areas of business activity where small, medium and large companies collaborate with universities, colleges and not-for-profit organizations to turn ideas into solutions that can be brought to market – as the “anchor” of the Government’s business innovation support.

“This is an interesting word choice since an anchor, if improperly deployed, can be a definite drag on progress,” says Jeff Kinder, IOG’s Executive Director of Science and Innovation, reacting to reported grumblings about the slow rollout of the Superclusters.

The Minister will collaborate with the Minister of Natural Resources to make Canada a global leader in clean technology. Minister Bains’ letter also tasks the National Research Council with “mission-oriented” research to address societal grand challenges but, interestingly, makes no reference to space or the Canadian Space Agency, part of his portfolio.

Curiously, the Prime Minister’s letter to Minister Bains asserts that “The full responsibilities for science are in your portfolio…” – curious because in fact many federal departments conduct science in support of their mandates.

“Perhaps the language is intended to underscore the elimination from Cabinet of a separate Minister of Science,” speculates Kinder.

In terms of the science responsibilities in other ministers’ letters, priorities include pediatric cancer research, women’s health, antimicrobial resistance, environmental pollutants, sustainable crop protection, species at risk, land and ocean conservation, marine science and invasive species, and youth drug use including e-cigarettes.

Turning from policy support of research and innovation to science support of government policy, all ministers are to ensure that their policies and decisions are grounded in scientific evidence.

“In addition to a general commitment to ‘evidence-based decision-making’ common to all letters, there are commitments specifically geared towards the responsible use of science and evidence in the Government’s work,” Kinder says.

For example, the Government renews its commitment to using the long-form census in 2021 and commits the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans to “use good science evidence and traditional Indigenous knowledge when making decisions affecting fish stocks and ecosystem management.”

“The Minister of Innovation, Science, and Industry, meanwhile, is tasked with continuing to work with the Chief Science Advisor to ensure that scientists may speak freely, and that she remains a key individual in the policymaking process,” says Kinder, adding “both of which will come as welcome news to government scientists.”

Professional Development in the Public Service

“Unfortunately, the mandate letters do not contain a significant number of commitments that are geared towards professional development in the public service,” observes Francois Gagnon, IOG’s Vice President, Learning Lab. “In fact, only a few specific learning-related initiatives are mentioned.”

In addition to those assigned to the Minister of Justice regarding increased training in diversity and inclusion for Canadian judges on sexual assault law (above), there is a similar cognitive bias training requirement for members of Canada’s law enforcement and security agencies, overseen by the Minister of Public Safety. Meanwhile, there are a couple of mandate letters that instruct ministers to ensure that the public servants under their watch receive adequate GBA+ training.

Finally, the Minister of Veterans Affairs is responsible for creating national employment and training support services tailored to help the needs of military and policing families.

“It is not specified that this implies skills for working in the public service,” adds Gagnon, “although there is a chance that the public sector will be an important part of this commitment.”


Increase your understanding of how mandate letters lead to policy creation, which leads to outcomes, by taking IOG day courses on a range of subjects on the mechanics and culture of government.

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● How Government Works

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● Policy 2: Policy in a Changing Environment

● Policy 3: Behavioural “Nudge” Economics

● Demystifying the Treasury Board Submission Process

● The Memoranda to Cabinet Development Process

● ISG1: Innovation and Science in Government


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Governance Resolutions for 2020

5 minute read

The January 2019 edition of this newsletter included four resolutions for governance in 2019, aimed principally at Her Majesty’s Government in Right of Canada, but also in some measure at citizens of said government. These were: (1) Stand up for our democratic institutions; (2) Use social media in a responsible, civil way; (3) Make government more citizen-centric; and (4) Actually encourage innovative, risk-smart leadership in the public service.

I am tempted by sincere analysis, to say nothing of intellectual indolence, to argue that each of those resolutions – like resolutions about weight loss and reduced consumption of distilled and fermented beverages – applies as much this year as last. So, get with the program, people.

Unfortunately, my first draft to this effect was rejected by the editors with a call for “increased analytic rigor”.

Let me begin by saying that the past year was not altogether dismal on the Canadian governance front. In terms of respect for democratic institutions, Canada held an election that, if sometimes a bit shabby in tone, could nonetheless look citizens in the eye when it came to legitimacy of outcome. Despite grim forecasts to the contrary, anxieties about social media trolling, foreign intervention, and violation of Elections Canada financing rules, proved to be ill-founded, or at least exaggerated. It’s true that there were menacing signals around the conventions of government formation in the event of a minority Parliament, but in the end, these were rendered moot for at least the time being.

The election was still held under first-past-the-post rules, to the seeming chagrin only of the fourth and fifth parties and a few egg-headed pundits. And if the outcome – a government with fewer votes than the official opposition – raised an eyebrow or two it was quickly forgotten. Moreover, almost uncannily, the composition of the House of Commons will give the Government, provided it demonstrates a little circumspection, the potential for vote-by-vote majorities for several of its key electoral themes.

I would nonetheless contend that each of the resolutions identified last year still needs a lot of work. To those resolutions, I would add (at least) three new ones: (1) Follow through on the Government’s commitment (in the mandate letter to the Leader of the Government in the House) to the reform of parliamentary practice; (2) Continue reinvigorating the machinery of federal-provincial-territorial (FPT) relations, but without acting as if we were in the midst of a secession crisis; and (3) Improve the machinery for horizontal work across government departments.

Regarding parliamentary reform, a pretty extensive agenda for change is buried in the December 2019 mandate letters. This is doubly striking because (1) in its first mandate, the Trudeau Government not only failed to deliver promised electoral reform, but withdrew proposals for reforms to the Standing Orders aimed at improving decorum, fairness, and the influence of individual Members; and (2) having failed to improve parliamentary practice when they had a majority, the Government now proposes to foster changes, including individual Member independence, when it has minority status. The Government House Leader, who will have his hands full simply shepherding the Government’s agenda in a minority House, is further charged with fostering a more collaborative approach, allocating more time for Private Members’ Business, eliminating the use of whip and party lists so that the Speaker can more freely determine who will speak, providing more resources to committees, promoting more free votes, and updating the Parliament of Canada Act“to reflect the Senate’s new non-partisan role”. Wishing you extra good luck with that last one, Minister.

All of the above are salutary and greatly to be wished for. All are “simple” matters of the House changing its own rules, or even of the Liberal Government changing its own level of party discipline (which, by the way, was previously attempted by a not conspicuously successful Paul Martin). But it remains to be seen whether any of this is likely to be realized in the context of a minority Parliament, wherein discipline and strategic management are traditional watchwords.

On FPT relations, it is conventional wisdom that its “machinery” (principally formal FPT summit meetings and the public service support for them) withered under Prime Minister Harper and has been at least partly rebuilt by the current PM. By naming a deputy PM for this first time in 15 years and making her his FPT chief, the PM has gone a step further in putting some space between himself and the provincial premiers. This is probably for the best, since it allows the players to dial down the profile and rhetoric a notch and focus on a more functional and constructive approach to business. But one word of advice to my political betters in the Government of Canada: show respect for provincial concerns without buying into the rhetoric of crisis. There is some policy space between Ottawa and the West, to be sure, and yes, reports of the death of the Bloc Quebecois were evidently greatly exaggerated. But Britain’s war government had the right idea here: keep calm and carry on.

Then there is the issue of improving horizontality in government. I’m guessing that this is not a lively topic of conversation in most of the nation’s pubs, but for those of us concerned with the mechanics of public administration (and really, isn’t that everybody?) it’s a critical challenge. As I insightfully observed in last year’s resolutions, the silos across departments are a barrier to service delivery. And if you read the mandate letters (which I’m sure you have) you’ll note that practically every important issue, from climate change to science policy to Indigenous affairs, crosses departmental lines and involves Ministers working together. There are some discernable moves in the right direction here – notably in the creation of a centre of expertise on implementing major transformation projects across government, together with the call to “implement lessons learned from previous information technology project challenges and failures…” (can you say Phoenix boys and girls?). But historically our efforts on this front have been timorous and unimaginative. Let’s hope that the experts in the centre of expertise do better, and let’s hope they get support from the centre of government, whose commitment is essential to any proposals to cross departmental lines.

Finally, not a resolution really but an observation: I am personally delighted, or at least a little intrigued, by the Government’s plan to create a Canadian Centre for Peace, Order and Good Government (aka the Dudley Do-Right Institute). The world needs more Canada, and Canada needs more bodies dedicated to cultivating and disseminating its expertise in aspects of democracy, rights and governance. That said, any attention and practical support that might be forthcoming to a certain existing Institute so dedicated would be, in my personal opinion, most welcome. Just saying.

Click here to read our 2019 Resolutions.

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AI, eh? Is the Public Service ready for Artificial Intelligence?

6 minute readJanuary 16, 2020

On December 2nd, Toby Fyfe travelled to Quebec City to deliver the keynote address to the SAS conference Bonne gouvernance, donnée et intelligence artificielle. This is the second part of his speech, adapted from the French.

When we think about the challenges of technological change to governance, there may be nothing emerging as quickly or as significantly as artificial intelligence (AI). And for a good reason. The potential for AI in government is vast and its impact will be vast as well. It is already used in a variety of contexts and this will continue. And while some of the discussions around AI are more hype than substance, there are real issues that public service policymakers will need to think about today when preparing for the future.

The fact is, this is not something that can be allowed to be self-regulated by the private sector; the potential impact on citizens is too great. We made this mistake in the past by allowing the private sector to define how it would use information and data, and we have felt the impacts of that decision on issues such as privacy.

So the question is not ifAI is to be governed, but how. We need to think about the right balance between public interest and innovation. It is not a theoretical exercise. Artificial intelligence will become an increasingly important part of the work of public servants, so now is the time to think about these complex issues.

In recent years, governments and regulators have begun to take this issue seriously and to establish governance and standards for the use of AI in the public sector. Canada has generally been considered a leader in the development of systems governing the ethical use of artificial intelligence and there are some examples worth citing:

● A new directive on automated decision-making within the Federal Government will come into effect on April 1, 2020. It will be accompanied by a tool for evaluating the impact of algorithmic decisions. This directive will help federal departments better understand the potential dangers of using AI when providing services to citizens;

● The CIO Strategy Council, which brings together technology leaders from the private and public sectors, recently released a National Standard for Automated Decision Systems;

● Last year, a coalition of researchers and academics published the Montreal Declaration for the Responsible Development of Artificial intelligence; and

● Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, in response to the initiatives it has put in place in recent years, has created a “Policy Guide” on automated decision-making. This publication contains guiding principles and guidance on responsible design, data management and governance, privacy, procedural fairness, transparency and accountability. It allows people to ask the right questions at the right time.

These are good first steps. But more work needs to be done to refine our approach to artificial intelligence governance. The evolution of our governance approach will require us to answer deceptively simple questions regarding the use of AI in government, questions such as:

● Who ultimately decides?

● Who will be consulted?

● What is the process for reaching a decision?

● Who will remain responsible?

These questions are difficult enough with respect to any discussion of governance among humans. They become even more complex in the case involving artificial intelligence. Why? Because for the first time in the history of humanity, we will have to adopt laws for robots, not just for humans.

It is not foolish to think that the next generation of civil servants will work with, in varying degrees, systems that are largely autonomous. This means that we will need laws and policies to govern the actions of these systems, just as we do with the humans of today’s public service. Of course, it is not the robots themselves that we will govern, but rather those who conceive and create them. We will have to govern the actions of these systems rather than their operation.

The complexity of this task could lead us to focus on the risks and lose sight of the real benefits. If we did that, we would repeat the same mistakes we made with previous technologies, which would cause even more cynicism on the part of citizens.

As an example of a challenge that can also be an opportunity, let’s talk about the “black box” that affects how decisions are made. Indeed, one of the major concerns related to the use of AI is this “black box” that we do not understand. We are afraid that we will not be able to reverse decisions being made and that a bias could be introduced into the system without being detected. An artificial intelligence system that uses biased data can lead to biased decisions. When you consider, for example, that we will use these systems for hiring, immigration, health care or criminal justice decisions, this impact is not insignificant.

We will have to anchor ourselves in the reality of today as we plan for tomorrow. The fact is that every official has their own intelligence system, their own “black box,” between their ears. Yes, they can tell you why they made a decision, but we understand enough about human behavior to know that everyone has their own unconscious biases that may appear in their work. So, we have set up a system of assessment and group decisions that appeal to good judgment. In the same way, we must consider decisions made by artificial intelligence as an element of decision and not as the final decision without appeal. Let’s admit, however, that it is easier and more practical to hide behind the “system” decision than to assume and explain our decision to an angry citizen. The problem of the ʺblack boxʺ is, therefore, essentially a human problem and not a technological one.

On the other hand, we can recognize that well-made artificial intelligence can also help eliminate some of the very real prejudices that exist in our current system because of human weaknesses. A robot does not get tired, is not sick, is not hungry. It doesn’t matter if it’s Monday or Friday. It does not have good days or bad days. And its greatest advantage, which is, at the same time, its greatest risk, is that everything it does is large-scale, done in the blink of an eye.

If the rules for AI are well-defined, the benefits are considerable. These technologies have the potential to provide citizens with timely services and reliable and unbiased decision-making. If we are wrong, the damage to our public institutions, already facing a crisis of confidence, could be enormous.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, which currently uses AI in a concrete way, offers a few guiding principles which are worth considering:

  1. The use of new tools should provide a clear public benefit. The use of automated decision support must be done in a responsible, efficient and effective manner – in that order.
  2. Administrative decisions concern people, and they are taken by people, even when we use artificial intelligence. It is humans, not computer systems, who are responsible for decisions.
  3. Humans and algorithmic systems play complementary roles. We must strive to optimize these roles and find the right balance, in order to make the most of each.

There is no simple answer that solves all of our AI issues or questions. We are in new territory and we will all need to explore the possibilities and limits. We must create opportunities for conversation and to explore the use of these powerful new tools. And we must do so responsibly, while protecting public trust.

Dr. George Land, who invented the first computer-interactive approaches to group innovation, decision-making, and strategic thinking, and who formulated Transformation Theory, a theory of natural processes that integrates principles of creativity, growth, and change, believed that, when faced with a paradigm shift, there are three possible reactions:

● Those who do not respond to the paradigm shift disappear.

● Those who adapt survive but eventually decline.

● The real winners are those who succeed in reinventing themselves and capitalize on the new paradigm.

Which strategy will you choose for your organization?

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Science Policy in the 2010s: A Decade in Review

7 minute read

Superclusters… a Chief Science Advisor… inclusive innovation… a Scientific Integrity Policy… AI, CRISPR-cas9 and other disruptive technologies… a focus on fundamental science… evidence-based decision-making… What a difference a decade makes! IOG takes a look back at the 2010s and what they meant for Canadian science policy at the federal level.[1]

As we transition to a new year and new decade, there have been many retrospectives of the past decade. And no doubt much will be made in this year 2020 of the notion of perfect vision. As they say, “hindsight is 20/20.” So, let’s begin the year with some hindsight on science policy.

Ten years ago, Canadian science policy was in a tough spot. Media reports chronicled efforts by the Harper Government to ‘muzzle’ government scientists, making it difficult for them to speak to the media or participate in scientific conferences. Tensions were raised in the summer of 2012 with the “Death of Evidence March” that saw hundreds of scientists in white lab coats marching on Parliament Hill in protest of the restrictions on science communications. Fast forward to 2015 and the incoming Liberal Government announced in its first week that scientists could again speak freely about their research. As the decade wound down, federal departments and agencies were busy implementing a new Scientific Integrity Policy adopted in 2018 to protect the openness of government science.[2]

Another major issue for government science during the 2010s concerned the “rust out” of aging research infrastructure. Early in the decade, the major science-based departments and agencies came together to take a more integrated approach to the renewal and governance of federal research facilities but were unable to make much progress. By 2016, with the poor state of facilities often reaching critical levels, the Government announced the Federal S&T Infrastructure Initiative (now Laboratories Canada). Budget 2018 announced $2.8 billion to “renew federal laboratories and promote greater collaboration between federal scientists and academic and private sector researchers.”[3]

Federal science agencies celebrated some major anniversaries during the decade including, in 2016, the centenary of the National Research Council (NRC), one of the crown jewels of Canada’s science system. But not the oldest; a year later, as Canada was celebrating its 150thbirthday along with the departments of agriculture and fisheries and oceans, the venerable Geological Survey of Canada observed its 175thanniversary. Statistics Canada, which regained the long-form census mid-decade, also celebrated its 100thanniversary in 2018.

The NRC as an organization saw considerable evolution through this period. Long viewed by many as the ‘university of the Government of Canada,’ given its traditional emphasis on basic research, the NRC moved quite significantly early in the decade to become more ‘industry-facing,’ supporting ‘business-led’ applied research and commercialization. In recent years, the pendulum has swung back to enable NRC to pursue a more balanced portfolio of fundamental and directed research and innovation support.

One of the enduring characteristics of Canada’s science policy is the revolving door of ministers at the federal level. This remained true in the 2010s with no less than five ministers having lead responsibility for science across the decade. During the Harper years, science was led by a series of three ministers of state. With the arrival of the Trudeau Government, the position was elevated to a full minister of science and filled by a scientist. As the decade closed out, however, the Prime Minister added sports to the portfolio, diluting the focus on science. With the recent cabinet announcement, the Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry has the lead and it remains to be seen what impact this will have on the Government’s approach to science. Given that the industry portfolio is quite vast, ranging from automobiles to defence procurement to tourism, it may be more difficult going forward for the scientific community to get the attention of the minister. Supporting decision-making at the political level, and of growing importance and effectiveness, is the Deputy Minister Science Committee chaired by the DM Champion for Science (a scientist herself) – a body and a position that did not exist a decade ago.

Within the science advisory space, Canada continued its experimentation with various mechanisms. Perhaps the most important change was the (re-)creation of the position of Chief Science Advisor (CSA) in 2017, with a mandate to push open science and evidence-based decision-making. To further enhance the advisory ecosystem, the CSA is working with federal departments to name departmental science advisors. The Science, Technology and Innovation Council (STIC) provided advice to the Minister of Industry during the Harper years but its operations were marked by a severe lack of transparency of its charges and recommendations. As the decade closed, the Liberals were still in the process of setting up the Council on Science and Innovation to replace the STIC. Finally, the Council of Canadian Academies received funding renewals by governments of both political stripes during the decade and delivered its 50threport since 2005, including a major study at the request of Parliament on medical assistance in dying. The CCA has secured its position within the science advisory landscape as the go-to organization for evidence-based assessments of public policy issues.

On the international scene, there were also important changes. Champions such as the Rt. Hon. David Johnston, Governor-General of Canada (2010-2017), and others, sought to raise the profile of Canada’s scientific accomplishments globally. By the end of the decade, Canadian researchers were recognized with three Nobel prizes and a Fields medal. Canada was involved in international ‘big science’ projects such as the Thirty Meter Telescope and discovery of the Higgs boson. More generally, the decade saw a renewed emphasis on ‘science diplomacy’ as a way of mobilizing the scientific community to advance the nation’s global interests.

Other major trends that emerged or gained significant strength during the 2010s include open science, citizen science, and knowledge mobilization. With the priority on reconciliation, the role of Indigenous traditional knowledge received greater emphasis, especially within a revised impact assessment process. The latter part of the decade also saw an increasing focus on gender and issues of equity, diversity and inclusion. To foster innovation, Canada continued to experiment with various support programs including the Canada First Research Excellence Fund and the Innovation Superclusters initiative that is investing nearly a billion federal dollars to transform regional innovation ecosystems in areas such as AI, advanced manufacturing and oceans. In 2019, Canada announced that the Networks of Centres of Excellence would sunset, an announcement that was met with much criticism.

The three research granting councils, the Canada Foundation for Innovation, and Genome Canada all enjoyed significant budget growth and each gained new leadership during the 2010s. The decade also saw the emergence of important new institutions within Canada’s broader science ecosystem. These include the Canadian Science Policy Centre whose annual conference matured throughout the decade to become a major feature of the landscape. Other key players now include Evidence for Democracy as a science advocacy organization founded in the wake of the Death of Evidence march, the U15 club of the largest research universities, and the creation at Mitacs of the Canadian Science Policy Fellowship program, now in its fourth cohort of fellows.

There is a saying that ‘history is just one damned thing after another.’ The history of Canadian science policy can be seen as just one policy review after another, and the 2010s were no different. Throughout the decade, three major expert panel reviews influenced the trajectory of Canadian science policy. First up in 2011 was the Jenkins panel focused on federal support for business R&D and innovation. The report generated a great deal of attention, although some of its recommendations remain unrealized and private sector expenditures on R&D continued to fall throughout the decade. In 2014 came the Knox panel on government science and technology. This report enjoyed less public profile but was influential internally and as input to transition to the new government in 2015. Finally, of course, there was the 2017 Naylor panel review of fundamental science that helped drive investments in academic research and support for early career researchers. The three major reviews, while advancing the debate, each focussed on just one of the three components of the so-called Triple Helix science ecosystem (i.e., private sector, government and universities). As we consider next steps for the 2020s, it may be timely to take a ‘whole ecosystem’ approach to understanding the needs and opportunities for science across all parts of the system.

In the decade ahead, we can expectongoing emphasis on science and innovation policy and governance, underscoring the need for greater capacity at the intersection of these rapidly evolving areas. At the IOG we look forward to continuing to build leadership capacity in science and innovation in support of a public service for the 21stcentury.

This article does not capture the decade’s significant activity in science policy at other levels of jurisdiction.

The IOG Science & Innovation area of practice is proud to be supporting these efforts.

Canada’s Science Vision:

Decorative photo of Ottawa at Night

Addressing Canada’s Grand Challenges: IOG creates a Science and Innovation Advisory Council

1 minute read

Science and innovation not only touch every aspect of our daily lives, as individuals and as a society, they are necessary to address Canada’s grand challenges and to build robust and inclusive prosperity and resiliency in the 21stCentury. That’s why the IOG has created a new Science and Innovation Advisory Council (SIAC).

“To ensure Canadians and Canada continue to benefit from science and innovation, the IOG is driving an evolution in science and innovation policies and governance,” says Toby Fyfe, IOG President. “This new Science and Innovation Advisory Council will help us do this by providing support to our Science and Innovation (S&I) Area of Practice.”

“Members of the new Council will provide IOG with multi-sectoral strategic intelligence, and offer input and a challenge function to our efforts in S&I learning and leadership development, research and thought leadership, as well as to our advisory and convening services,” says Jeff Kinder, IOG’s Executive Director of Science and Innovation. “The Council is comprised of leading thinkers and doers in IOG’s areas of focus.”

Members of the new Science and Innovation Advisory Council are:

● Sarah Everts, Associate Professor and CTV Chair in Digital Science Journalism, Carleton University

● Monica Gattinger, Director, Institute for Science, Society and Policy, University of Ottawa

● Katie Gibbs, Executive Director, Evidence for Democracy

● Nancy Hamzawi, Assistant Deputy Minister, Science and Technology Branch, Environment and Climate Change Canada (Chair)

● Rees Kassen, Department of Biology, University of Ottawa (Vice Chair)

● Janet King, Chair, PermafrostNet and Vice Chair, Canadian Light Source

● Jenn MacLean, Director, Collaboration, nGen

● Eric Meslin, President and CEO, Council of Canadian Academies

● Pascal Michel, Chief Science Officer, Public Health Agency of Canada

● Peter Phillips, Distinguished Professor and Founding Director of the Johnson-Shoyama Centre for the Study of Science and Innovation Policy, University of Saskatchewan

For more information about the Science and Innovation Area of Practice at the IOG, contact Jeff Kinder at