From Ideas to Policy – The Role of the Public Service

1 minute read

Canadian politicians are not on the whole a philosophical lot. You'll seldom hear the words of Burke or Mill or (yikes) Marx tossed around the House of Commons. There are a few aficionados of Ayn Rand but they don’t drop her name much.

Still, ideas do influence our elected officials. At a minimum they have broad opinions about the relative importance of economics and the environment, personal responsibility and societal obligations, getting tough on crime versus harm reduction and social reform.

But, speaking frankly if sweepingly, ideology makes bad policy. This is roughly what we mean when we say policy should be evidence-based. The broad and hotly contested realm of political and social theory must be tempered by a careful observation and assessment of outcomes. This is the sphere of policy experts with subject matter expertise, such as a professional public service.

We live in a time when a myriad of voices in social media, some of them very sophisticated, put forward social analysis with demands that it be translated immediately into action. But the line between the world of big ideas and public policy should seldom be too short. It is the job of politicians to weigh competing values and interests. And it is the job of public servants to advise on the consequences of proposals, intended or otherwise, and to provide options for achieving the outcomes that elected officials hope to see.

So in these tempestuous times, thank you to our professional public service for its expertise. Bring on the evidence!

About the author

Karl Salgo

Karl Salgo

Executive Director - Public Governance

As Executive Director of Public Governance, Karl provides advisory services to multiple levels of government (provincial, federal and international) on all aspects of public sector governance, including institutional capacity, the center of government, organizational design and effectiveness, accountability, oversight, and risk management. He also plays a lead role in the IOG's research initiatives, including the work of the Public Governance Exchange, a syndicated, multi-jurisdictional forum for developing and exchanging ideas on public sector governance. Additionally, Karl provides educational services to public servants and appointees on a broad range of subjects, ranging from policy development and MC preparation to political savvy and the operations of government, to the responsibilities of directors in a wide range of public institutions.

A career public servant, Karl has degrees in political science, history and law from the University of Toronto and in public administration from the Queen’s University School of Policy Studies. He worked for many years in the federal Department of Finance, in areas as diverse as tax policy, communications and financial markets. In the latter capacity, Karl helped to establish the governance framework for the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, and later served as Chief of Capital Markets Policy.

From 2004 to 2012, Karl worked in the Privy Council Office’s Machinery of Government Secretariat, where he provided advice to the Clerk of the Privy Council and the Prime Minister on the organization and structure of the Government of Canada – the Cabinet, portfolios, and the creation, winding-up and governance of individual organizations.

As Director of Strategic Policy from 2007 to 2012, Karl was the secretariat’s lead authority on Crown corporation governance, the conventions of the Westminster system, and the conduct standards applicable to ministers and other senior public office holders. Karl was the author/editor of numerous PCO publications, including Accountable Government: A Guide for Ministers and Ministers of State and Guidance for Deputy Ministers. Actively involved in realizing the myriad governance and accountability changes that flowed from the Federal Accountability Act, Karl played a lead role in the design and implementation of the accounting officer mechanism of deputy minister accountability.

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