IOG Senior Leadership Announcement

After over a decade of service, and fulfilling the role of President and CEO since 2017, Toby Fyfe announces that he will be leaving the Institute on Governance in January 2022.

During his tenure, he rebuilt the organization and the team to focus on the challenges facing today’s democratic public institutions. Toby led the organisation through the COVID-19 pandemic, adapting business lines and adjusting the organisation for a strong fiscal year.

Before assuming the role of President, Toby spent five years building the IOG Learning Lab into a business enterprise where he developed, taught and led leadership programs for public servants across Canada and abroad. 

He expressed his appreciation to IOG staff saying: “I am honoured to have worked with such a great team. Together, we have been through a lot and accomplished even more. I am especially proud of the resilience the IOG team showed in adapting to the global pandemic while quickly embracing digital technologies to deliver learning and advisory programs.”

Following a rich career spanning the CBC, consulting, and the Government of Canada, Toby plans to continue exploring the challenges facing public institutions in the 21st century through  teaching, writing, research and facilitation. He looks forward to sharing his experience in change management with organizations of all sizes and across sectors.

Aurele Theriault, chair of the IOG Board of Directors, thanked Toby for his contribution to the organization. He announced that Laura Edgar, Vice-President Board and Organizational Governance, will be taking over as Interim President while a search firm is engaged to find a successor.

The new federal Cabinet, science & innovation

By Rhonda Moore

On 26 October, thirty-eight masked faces, eager to deliver their government’s platform to Canadians became our new Federal Cabinet. Some faces are returning to their portfolios, some are shuffling to new seats, and others are brand new to government and have already landed a cabinet role.

Of the 38 cabinet members, six ministerial bios confirm backgrounds in what we can call ‘science and innovation friendly’ studies, such as mechanical engineering, nursing, and medicine. Another 12-15 ministerial bios demonstrate strong ties to local communities, where many have invested their time and talents to make their communities better, safer, healthier. May the scientists and the community-minded find each other in cabinet, and find ways to work together and pool their knowledge and their passions for the betterment of Canada. 

Science and communities – or society – require each other. In Canada our scientific enterprise – the elaborate system designed to fund, review, and conduct science – is based on a strong relationship with society. One where society – through government – agrees to fund science for the benefits to health, wellbeing and the economy that may result. In exchange, science has been provided a great deal of autonomy. The blueprint for this enterprise dates back to the end of the Second World War when science had been successfully mobilized during the war and had also yielded some significant medical advances.

Fast forward 75 years and the relationship between science and society is strained. The blueprint is outdated; it doesn’t include considerations for international collaboration, or promoting equity, diversity and inclusion in science. Nor does it count on a mass rejection of science by large tracts of society. By all accounts the relationship is under strain.

At the IOG we have launched a collaborative research initiative, Government Science and Innovation in the New Normal that is examining eight facets of this blueprint that desperately need updating:

  • Promote equity, diversity, and inclusion in order to expand the participation of historically underrepresented groups (women, minorities, LGBTQ, Indigenous peoples) and overcome the inherent biases that are rampant throughout multiple dimensions of the scientific enterprise. 
  • Strengthen and formalize an approach to global research collaboration and infrastructure to better support science diplomacy, international research infrastructure and governance, and big collaboration to address global grand challenges and opportunities facing society.  
  • Adopt an inclusive innovation approach that considers: Who and how should people be included in innovation? What activities are considered innovative? How should governance of innovation evolve to be more inclusive?
  • Give equal privilege to interdisciplinary, Indigenous and Other Ways of Knowing in order to be inclusive of the social sciences and humanities, and acknowledge the importance of and support interdisciplinary approaches. A contemporary scientific enterprise should seek to interweave Western science, Indigenous traditional knowledge, and other ways of knowing while respecting the cultures and practices of each. 
  • Invest in a mission-directed approach to research and innovation by considering how to create the greatest possible compatibility between the new knowledge that scientists create AND the public’s capacity to assimilate it for society’s long-term benefit.  
  • Mandate science communications, outreach and public engagement to ensure science fulfils its full potential, in partnership with society. A new framework must embrace a broader skillset and new incentive systems to reward mentoring, community engagement, knowledge mobilization, and ideation in partnership with society. 
  • Reconceptualize the necessary skills and knowledge of a scientist. Those trained in the sciences, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines increasingly require additional skillsets to successfully navigate today’s complex world.  
  • Bolster trust, integrity, and science ethics to ensure that that science is pursued with integrity and can produce knowledge for the benefit of all Canadians. Science can also help us understand how we internalize knowledge, why we believe what we do, and how to work together collaboratively to rebuild trust.

Science needs to innovate not just for society, but with society. For more information about this research initiative, please visit our web page.

Michael Wernick Virtual Book Launch – Live Tweet Roll-up

Scroll down for the full recording of this event

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.

IOG President + CEO @tfyfe says nearly 400 participants are registered for today’s @IOGca @UBCPress, @mwottawa #virtual #booklaunch!

Fireside chat with Toby Fyfe and the author

@tfyfe to @mwottawa: Who was your fave #gc minister? A: Encountered lots of great people over the course of years; “really enjoyed working with Jim Prentice. I miss him greatly.”

@mwottawa: “Cabinet is not there to be a campus debating club. It is there to make decisions. Often hard decisions.”

@tfyfe to @mwottawa: You seem to be speaking to those who want to have power. What about those who run for ideas? A: Both types want impact…At end of day, govt is about taking 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: There is an element to show + theatre to it. If you’ve watched #qp, or attended committee, you know that at least some of it is for the cameras.

@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.

@mwottawa: Much of the value-add for the #PS is in the dense middle ground of the ‘how.’ That’s a comparative advantage of the public service.

@mwottawa: Another role of the #PS is to shed light on areas that aren’t in the spotlight of media/social media. Modern PS has to be curious, out there, and engage w/ the country.

@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.

Panel discussion

Panel time now. Hon. Sergio Marchi, Dr. @LoriLturnbul of @DalhousieSPA, and @QueensSPS‘ Andrew Graham weigh in.

Our distinguished panellists

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.

Audience Q&A

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, reflecting in response to a @tfyfe prompt: Regret (more than SNC and anything else) is failure to deal with sexual harassment issue at DND.

@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

Ways to mark #NDTR

The first National Day for For Truth and Reconciliation (2021) takes place Thursday, September 30, 2021. 

This important day is dedicated to learning, healing, and building a more inclusive Canada where all Canadians recommit to understanding the past and act with knowledge and compassion.  

We invite you to pause at 2:15 pm for 2 minutes and 15 seconds to honour the 215 Indigenous people (children and adults) found in the first unmarked grave in Kamloops, BC earlier this year. 

There is important work to be done to overcome the legacy of residential schools and the colonization of Indigenous peoples.  The IOG is committed to undertaking this work to help build a brighter future for all.  We are sharing materials we have assembled to help IOG employees with their reconciliation journey and we encourage you to share any learnings or actions you might take on September 30th. 

  • The Canadian EncyclopediaThe Canadian Encyclopedia: Residential School Podcast Series. It focuses on Gordon’s Indian Residential School in Saskatchewan, featuring the stories of two survivors, Riley Burns and Ed Bitternose. Warning: Contains content that some might find triggering. Focuses on the sexual assault and abuse that students experienced in the residential schools.
  • We are All One Namwayut: we are all one. Truth and reconciliation in Canada. Chief Robert Joseph shares his experience as a residential school survivor and the importance of truth and reconciliation in Canada. The images in the video are effective and it provides a strong overview of what survivors experienced. It has a positive tone towards the end that focuses on everyone cheering each other on as we move toward a more positive future. Speaks of the Cultural Genocide, while noting notes that Canada is the only western country to create a Truth and Reconciliation Committee to further the change and accountability needed. 
  • The Stranger This video recounts the tragic story of Chanie Wenjack, who escaped residential school and tried to walk 600 km to return to his family but died tragically en route. In this video, singer Gord Downie recounts Chanie’s experience. 
  • Short podcast on Residential Schools Residential Schools in Canada: A Timeline. This podcast provides a timeline of the residential school system and a good overview of what occurred and the decisions that were made. It would be a wonderful learning piece for families with school-aged children to watch together. 
  • Podcast on Truth and Reconciliation This is a very educational, relatively short podcast that helps highlight some of the commonly used terms and explain the reasons why education is needed. It helps explain why it’s so important to educate ourselves on this important topic. Shawna Cunningham is the Director of the Indigenous Strategy for the Office of the Vice-Provost (Indigenous Engagement) and the former director of the Native Centre at the University of Calgary. Shawna is Métis/Cree, born and raised in Southern Alberta.
  • Telling our Twisted Histories This podcast series features Indigenous speakers talking about stereotypes, explaining how certain events actually happened and giving the real story behind them. For example, the episode ‘Pocahontas’ introduced the real story about Pocahontas, who she really was, why Indigenous people hate being referred to as Pocahontas and are disappointed about how the story is portrayed by Disney. In real life, Pocahontas was taken by her family in one of the first cases of the settlers stealing women from their homes and treating them horribly, quite the opposite of the Disney portrayal.
  • Canada’s Residential Schools
    Watch this video about Canada’s residential schools, introduced by Phyllis Webstad, the residential school survivor who sparked the Orange Shirt movement. It’s very informative, highlights the past and gives an overview of reconciliation as well. 
  • Watch this video featuring Justice Murray Sinclair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission speaking about the impacts of Residential Schools on the individuals who attended and the communities they came from. 
  • Historica Canada – Métis Experiences.  Listen to this podcast to learn about the “forgotten people” in the residential school experience. ** Warning – Testimony from Residential Survivors can be triggering to hear.**
  • 94 calls to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission These 94 calls to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission cover all the areas that our society needs to review and modify in order to include our Indigenous communities
  • Native Land: A beautiful resource to demonstrate the diversity within diversity – all the different Indigenous territories and languages without colonial boarders.
  • Indigenous Canada a free course on Indigenous history offered by the University of Alberta
  • A film by Gord Downie
  • We Will Walk Together/Skàtne Entewathahìta: An event held by McGill University, September 30th, 10:00 a.m. – 11:30 a.m.
    Location: Streamed from First Peoples’ House – Register for the free event here to receive the Zoom link.
    Description: A series of talks, discussions, performers, led by Elder Geraldine Standup (Traditional Healer, Kahnawa:ke), on the theme of Hope and Healing. Guests include throat singer Nina Segalowitz and youth from St. Edmund Elementary School.
  • Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc (TteS) has invited people around the world to pause and pick up a drum at 2:15 pm on September 30th, Canada’s first-ever National Day of Truth and Reconciliation. The invitation was made at an online media conference Friday morning (Sept. 17). The event is being held in response to what the band calls “a global outpouring of interest and support” after it was announced that ground-penetrating radar had been used to identify over 200 potential gravesites located on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School.

Conduct during elections: The principle of ‘restraint’

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’s 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’s 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 of 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 it boils down to this: In matters of policy, expenditure, and appointments, the government should restrict itself to necessary business — necessary either because it’s routine (such as operating public infrastructure, paying bills, and maintaining normal public services), or because it’s urgent (such as dealing with a natural disaster or comparable crisis). In the latter case, the government should still avoid 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 grey 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 about decisions made before an election call that haven’t 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 governor general 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 on the material (as in, how many cellphones) and personnel support available to ministers for conducting official government business during elections. It’s generally accepted that communications support such as speechwriting requires extra vigilance.

For the most part, ministerial staffers 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, aren’t part of the government, even when they’re 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 Act enables 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 its bills 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 that 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 2021

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 2021 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.

Karl Salgo is the executive director of public governance at the Institute on Governance. The IOG is offering three writ-period courses for anyone wanting to deep-dive into the caretaker convention, government transitions, and mandate-letter writing. Visit for details or to enrol.