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What follows is the roll-up of Tweets posted by IOG during our virtual book launch event for Governing Canada, a book by former Privy Council Clerk-turned-author Michael Wernick. The event took place Thursday, Oct. 21, 2021 and was free to attend.
Governing Canada: A Guide to the Tradecraft of Politics is published by UBC Press and available now for direct order, online order at Amazon and Indigo, or at bookstores across Canada.
Fireside chat with Toby Fyfe and the author
@mwottawa: “Cabinet is not there to be a campus debating club. It is there to make decisions. Often hard decisions.”
@mwottawa: “If you’re a cab min, you are part of a collective…effective ministers are ones that are persuasive w/ their colleagues.”
@mwottawa: “There’s no question PM has the most influence…but what Cdns don’t get to see…is it’s a very dynamic back+forth, give+take.”
@mwottawa: “PM has a prime role in govt, and support system is extremely important. But fed system has 300+ entities under 30-35 ministers…decisions need of course to be coordinated. PM’s job is to lead the team.”
@mwottawa: Canadians and historians will judge a PM and government on ‘What did you get done?’
@mwottawa: The ‘tradecraft’ of govt: when you get the triangle between ministers, political staff, and public service right, you can get a lot done.
@mwottawa: Conventions are immensely important… Trope that PM is all-powerful, no checks and balances, is not based in reality.
@mwottawa: The main drivers of policy come from democratic politics…settled in elections and election platforms. There is an abundant supply of policy ideas. Role of #PS is to take the ‘noise’ and turn it into a list of actionable ideas for ministers.
@tfyfe to @mwottawa: Ought we be concerned about the ‘politicization’ of PS and impact on Cdns’ trust? A: Waxes and wanes w/particular teams and individuals. Retaining the trust that overall the system is responsive, working for me…is daily work. It can be lost very quickly.
@mwottawa: What’s really important about good governance is that it is essentially learning software…it takes feedback and tries to do better.
@mwottawa: Good governance is at least in part about continuous improvement. And I hope that comes across in the book.
Marchi re: how book speaks to his experience as a minister: “You can’t do it alone. It’s a team sport. You need to trust the team. Key learning: how to manage your time and constant time pressures.”
@LoriLturnbul: Key take-home was the healthy tension btwn different priorities between PM, Ministers, DMs…all trying to get things done. Three really interesting conversations at once.
Andrew Graham’s take: This book is about governance and how to make it all work, take command, and serve those who command… Knowing your place, time, and order are key to surviving.
Marchi: Very difficult for young staffers to challenge ministers and young ministers to challenge the PM. And that can lead to the types of mistakes we’ve seen in Trudeau admin.
Marchi: My rec to newly elected MPs: bring your family to Ottawa. After time in office is over, hopefully you have two things left in tact – your reputation and your family.
@mwottawa in response to Marchi: 60 brand new cab mins in the last 10 years. Could be 70 a/o next week. Once you settle in, part of the art of being effective is growing influence and persuasiveness. Dynamic process.
@mwottawa: Notion of PM dominance is an easy trope. PMs bossing the Cabinet around is not the cabinet dynamic I saw. (Examples from different governments) Just because people don’t always see how ministers influence doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen.
Andrew Graham to @MWOttawa: How do we get to ‘no’ when we have to get to no?
A: Impt. that people in public life be driven by strong ethics, values, and judgment. At end of the day, focus is on decisions and taking things forward. Right relationship is a back + forth dialogue.
@mwottawa: This is something that Canada is pretty good at. We have continuity of service and support. Eight elxns in 21 years, and we keep moving forward.
@mwottawa: Public governance matters. It’s not complacency to say that PS management is something that Canada is pretty good at. And Canada should take some pride in that – with commitment to move it forward into the next century.
Now on to questions from attendees.
Q: Have your concerns about toxicity in public life subsided?
A: Level of concern, no. Need to be mindful + may have bearing on decisions like moving family, setting up constit offices, etc. My worry is adverse effect over time + good people choosing to stay away from politics.
Q: Where are most effective ministers most influential?
@mwottawa: Distilling complexity down to essential choices. Being concise extremely impt on own proposals. Mins can add considerations, challenge, nudge others. Focus esp’ly on “history-making choices” over transactional.
Marchi adds: Most important meetings are the informal meetings that happen in the course of team service. Graham adds: “If there’s a surprise (problem/concern) at the Cab table, it’s a failure.”
@MWOttawa: PS has role. Political staff have separate due diligence role.
@mwottawa: You finish the job with all sorts of things you wish you could have done, if you had the time. Same for ministers, PMs, and Clerks.
@tfyfe to @mwottawa: Do you think we shld be doing more in Canada on trust + politics/institutions? A: Unity, inclusion are issues of which all govts need to be mindful…part of good govt. Things political side can do; things PS can assist with.
@MWOttawa: Hard work on PS renewal to come. We’re trying to get MacBookPro performance out of 1990s hardware. (Lists some considerations and changes that will be required coming out of pandemic.)
@mwottawa: Wrote book for public affairs, public management students. If others find value, great.
@tfyfe: More to say? MW, tongue in cheek: It’s a demand and supply issue.
And that’s a wrap! Thanks to the hundreds of people who attended, to our panellists, and – of course – to @MWOttawa.
The full recording of this event lives IOG’s YouTube channel: IOG Virtual Book Launch: Michael Wernick’s Governing Canada: A Guide to the Tradecraft of Politics – YouTube