Last week the Clerk of the Privy Council gave a speech this speech in Vancouver. There is much in the speech that is promising, and some that remains problematic.
That said, I want to key in on the last part of the Clerk’s speech. Myth number 8: “The Public Service is out of touch with Canadians — they’re from Venus, we’re from Mars.”
In this piece the Clerk touches on the traditional critiques of how the public service is out of touch. He goes out of his way to outline how the geographic, linguistic and ethnic, are or have been addressed. In addition he outlines why – through outreach – the culture gap between private and public sector can be overcome.
We can debate if these concerns have been sufficiently addressed, and if not, how they should be. I think it would be hard to argue with the notion that enormous progress has been made on this front in the past few decades. However, none of them represent the differences that concern me most. One which I do not think we can resolve and so requires further thought.
Today, public service employees are members of a union, enjoy life long job security, are eligible for a generous pension plan, and, by and large (particularly in the more senior ranks) live in Ottawa – a city shaped by and dominated by, the public service.
There was a time when the first three traits meant that employment experience of a public servant – such as one’s notions about: job security, opportunity, the expectations of their employer, and relationship with their boss and peers – was not dissimilar to that of many other Canadians.
Today however, this is less and less the case. Fewer and fewer Canadians are unionized, enjoy job security, or a pension.
Simply put, there is a culture gap.
A public servant’s career, life choices and opportunities are shaped by a system that is far removed from that experienced by the vast majority of Canadians. This, in a city where your average public servant comes into contact with non-public servants less and less. I’m not saying this shouldn’t be the case. What I am saying is that the capacity of a institution to make policy for a public it resembles less and less, and whose experience is increasingly far removed from its own, is troubling and worthy of further exploration. It’s a culture gap I think is on few people’s radar – even the clerk’s.