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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.
IOG President + CEO @tfyfe says nearly 400 participants are registered for today’s @IOGca @UBCPress, @mwottawa #virtual #booklaunch!
@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 time now. Hon. Sergio Marchi, Dr. @LoriLturnbul of @DalhousieSPA, and @QueensSPS‘ Andrew Graham weigh in.
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, 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
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