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Leadership Lessons from Janice Baker, City Manager and CAO, City of Mississauga

4 minute read

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Continuing our ongoing coverage of the IOG’s webcast series, Leading Through COVID-19 #leadingthroughC19, on April 23rd, IOG President Toby Fyfe interviewed Janice Baker, City Manager and CAO, City of Mississauga. Ms. Baker provided a view into the unique challenges that are facing the municipal sector during this crisis, and offered valuable leadership lessons from her experience working as a City Manager and Chief Administrative Officer.

Watch the episode here.

When asked about how she is helping to lead her city during this crisis, Baker credited the strong relationship between herself as City Manager, the Mayor, and the Council. “I consider myself to be fortunate in Mississauga in that we have a very good working relationship between our staff team and our council. Over the years we’ve built up a very high level of trust and it’s at times like these that you appreciate how valuable that is”, said Baker. This trust, which she stressed was built over time, is what has allowed her to help lead her city well during the Covid-19 crisis, “council relations is always a work in progress”, she stated, “it’s something that you need to be working on daily and not just when a crisis hits.”

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This crisis has nonetheless been quite a challenging time, particularly in contrast to more familiar past crises such as floods, for example, which a municipality like Mississauga would have dealt with in the past. Baker remarked on the unique nature of the Covid-19 crisis and how it affected her city in the early stages. “In this particular case, we could see things marching in, and we were anticipating decisions on the part of the province. The school closures were the first big signal that something was very different about this particular pandemic and that it was obviously quite serious. We then went through just over a week of slowly closing our own facilities (libraries, community centres, offices), transitioning staff to working from home, making decisions about essential services. We had business continuity plans that we had developed that we could rely on — we had those conversations in easier times.”

She continued, expressing concern not only worldwide and nationwide, but also making note of the local residents, workers, and businesses in her municipality. “The scale of (this crisis) is very different, with everyone affected at the same time, both provincially, nationally, and

internationally; and there has been a personal impact on business and individuals in communities who work in the service industry and have lost their jobs. I think there’s a lot of concern around things that aren’t within our direct control, but yet we know are affecting our residents.”

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When asked about what things might look like at a municipal level post-pandemic, Baker mentioned that they are taking a cautious approach. “We’ve been looking to other countries and other cities that have gone before us to learn from them — of course, everyone around the world is learning what this disease will do if you go too quickly, so we’re trying to pay attention to lessons learned elsewhere.”

She continued, focusing on the nuanced nature of the situation, “I think at this point you can really just scenario-plan. I don’t think you can look at things with any degree of certainty. Re-opening a facility wouldn’t be the challenge for us, it would be re-opening and conforming to whatever the new normal is going to be.”

In closing, Baker shared some key advice for leaders during a crisis, all of which she is keeping top of mind as the Covid-19 crisis continues:

  • Be proactive and take action — don’t wait for perfect information. Act with the best intention and information that you have, then shift and adjust as needed.
  • Don’t freelance — rely on the advice of public health experts.
  • Work as one team and support each other — come up with a coordinated plan and stick to that plan.
  • Communicate often and early with everyone at all levels.
  • Be available and visible as a leader.

Thank you to Janice Baker for joining us on the Leading Through COVID-19 Webcast. Join us for our next webcast, Thursday, April 30 at 12:30 PM EST where IOG President Toby Fyfe will be speaking Gilles Rivard, a retired foreign service officer who had a number of ambassadorial positions. M. Rivard was Ambassador to Haiti in 2010 when the earthquake hit, and had to deal with the aftermath of this crisis on the country, including managing the evacuation of 6,400 people and assisting in the aid Canada delivered.

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This webcast series is brought to you with the support of SAS. Together, we can make a difference with passion, expertise and technology. Click here to learn more about SAS COVID-19 Response in this resource hub.

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Leading Through COVID-19: Leadership Lessons from Sara Filbee, ADM, Atlantic Region, ESDC/Service Canada

5 minute read


On April 2, the IOG launched a free webcast series, Leading Through COVID-19 #leadingthroughC19. You can revisit the first episode with former Clerk of the Privy Council, Mel Cappe here.

In the April 9th episode of Leading Through COVID-19, IOG President Toby Fyfe interviewed Sara Filbee, ADM, Atlantic Region, ESDC/Service Canada. She shared lessons learned from leading teams in times of high stress, as her department is currently working on the front lines.

Speaking to the impact on the ESDC team, she focused on both the human element, and the priority of providing critical response quickly. “Getting money out to Canadians, primarily through CERB, has been a high profile, critical piece of work for us”, she stated, while also remarking, that ,”all of a sudden, we’ve entered a different world. This is the highest amount of complexity that most of us will have dealt with in our lifetime, and we are also seeing how information we had yesterday, can completely change on a dime.”

Based in the Atlantic region, Filbee has experience working virtually and mentioned that now others are having to adapt. “At Service Canada, we’ve been trying to focus on getting people together more often, so that we can start to develop trust levels and relationships — so virtual work will be more effective”, she said. “The nature of the crisis has literally meant that everyone has had to learn to work this way (virtually), and it has levelled things out a bit, but it’s all based on a mutual respect and the knowledge that everyone is pushing as hard as they can.” Serving Canadians well means doing so with a well workforce, and Filbee stressed the importance of prioritizing the health and wellbeing of her team, so that they can focus on the delivery of service to Canadians. For Filbee, providing support to her team meant being open enough to share her own challenges. “Every once in a while, I’ll have a sad day, and that’s normal and natural. We are humans and our emotions and feelings are part of the richness and the intricacies and intelligence that we bring to our roles”, said Filbee. “The same thing is going on for staff — I need to share my humanity and the fact that I’m going through the same things, but I have to remind them that I’m ok, we are going to be ok, and that we are all there for each other.”


In addition to its many critical workers, ESDC has had to find ways for non-critical workers to be engaged in crisis support. Filbee mentioned that “a great way to do this was to train them quickly to work in the new call centre that was created to support CERB.” For others, she stressed the importance of continuing with constant communication and respect. “We must tell (non-critical workers) to focus on keeping healthy, keeping connected, and helping their communities safely. They are still necessary, and they are going to be needed.”

Broadening this view to what might come in the future as far as transitioning back to work after the crisis subsides, she posed some key thoughts and questions. “Most people are in the public service because they want to make a difference, and all of us are dealing with grief of the loss of the world as we knew it, because frankly, we are not going back to the same world.”

“The reality is, we need to start having those conversations — we have already started talking in the department about: when do we start to integrate what has been non-critical, and how do we start thinking about where it is that we might be after this? I have no doubt that there will be a lot of policy discussions. The key thing is, how do we transition back gradually?”


Filbee then shared leadership lessons learned from her career, and from this crisis thus far. First, she acknowledged the privilege of her team and recognized them for their hard work. “Our folks are used to being unsung heroes — they are working hard and pulling out all the stops to provide the support that we need to provide to Canadians. We’re very lucky because we are employed, and because we get paid to try to make a difference to make Canada better — and for many of us, that’s what keeps us going.”

In leading a team in times of high stress, she focused on patience, trust, and providing a safe, supportive environment. “Patience is important — we must be patient with ourselves and others. Trust is highly fragile and reciprocal — this crisis reawakens in me an understanding of the importance of trust and respect in how we work together.”

She stressed the importance of engaging workers and trusting them, especially in times of stress or crisis.”This is really a time when you can’t micromanage — I don’t think you can in the best of times — we have to know as leaders when to get out of the way and perhaps understand that folks have enough on their plates. People need to feel safe to ask questions. Innovation and creativity, which we need desperately, and which we’re seeing in abundance at the moment, only comes from engagement with difference.”


In closing, she shared that managing her team during this time, “has been in many ways, perhaps the most terrifying and perhaps the most fulfilling part of my career.”

Thank you to Sara Filbee for joining us on the Leading Through COVID-19 Webcast. Join us for our next webcast, Thursday, April 16 at 12:30 PM EST where IOG President Toby Fyfe will be speaking with Senator Tony Dean, who will be sharing best practices and lessons learned from his myriad of experiences including leading the Ontario Public Service during the SARS epidemic of 2003. You can learn more about the series here.

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Leading Through COVID-19: Leadership Lessons from Mel Cappe, former Clerk of the Privy Council

4 minute read

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In case you missed it, on April 2, the IOG launched a free webcast series, Leading Through COVID-19 #leadingthroughC19. IOG President Toby Fyfe welcomed our first guest, former Clerk of the Privy Council, Mel Cappe, who led the federal public service, and the country, through the crisis that was 9/11. From that experience, Cappe learned crucial leadership lessons that can be applied to the current COVID-19 crisis. He shared those lessons in this episode of Leading Through COVID-19.

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Cappe shared his experience from managing the 9/11 crisis, and offered key leadership lessons. He provided sage advice to leaders in a time of crisis, “Just remember that you got here because of who you are — don’t change who you are. You need to go with confidence. You will make mistakes.” He also recommended that public servants have to step up, fill the gaps, and establish clear roles and responsibilities, and noted that there will be ample opportunities for innovation and creativity in this post-crisis environment. “How to mobilize the public service is partly to call on the experience that we’ve had in the past. Experience matters, and mobilizing the public service is easy if everybody knows what they have to do”.

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Cappe stressed that the nature of work in the federal public service will be dramatically changed, communication will be key, and human interaction is going to be different. “One thing is clear – what often looks like it is unrelated to the pandemic is actually intimately related to the pandemic — this applies to both 9/11 and COVID-19. It’s like galloping and changing the saddle on the horse at the same time – you have to keep focus on the crisis and the priorities at hand, but also make sure that the trains run on time, the water is safe, and the cheques get delivered.” He suggested that government officials should be thinking of how to innovate in this post-crisis environment. “There are huge opportunities with technology and human capital in delivering high quality, high performing programs. Interdepartmental/intergovernmental collaboration is hugely important, and to make that work, personal relationships matter.”

“Planning is crucial so that you are prepared — you will be prepared because you planned”, said Cappe. He elaborated on processes and plans that emerged from the 1998 ice storm and Y2K in 2000 that helped the government address the 9/11 crisis. This was able to happen simply because plans and exercises had been put into place. To wrap up, Cappe provided his final pieces of advice for public servants during this time:

  • Stay calm and keep focused
  • Delegate and provide encouragement to your staff
  • Get sleep and stay healthy
  • Keep your mind over the horizon
  • Go big, go fast, and use your judgement
  • Wash your hands, don’t touch your face, and give blood

Thank you to Mel Cappe for joining us for our first episode of the Leading Through COVID-19 Webcast. Join us for our next webcast, Thursday, April 9 at 12:30 PM EST where IOG President Toby Fyfe will be speaking with Sara Filbee, ADM, Atlantic Region, ESDC/Service Canada, who will be sharing her leadership lessons on how to lead in times of high stress.

Learn more about our Leading Through COVID-19 series here.

Follow us on Twitter and subscribe to our YouTube Channel to get the latest content in the series.

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