Opening Remarks by Maria Barrados, President, Public Service Commission of Canada Concerning the Study: Public Service Partnerships between Nations at the meeting of Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development House of Commons

October 28, 2010

Check against delivery

Thank you, Mr. Chairman and Honourable Members, I am pleased to be here today to talk about public service partnerships between nations, with a particular focus on the work of my organization - the Public Service Commission of Canada.

We are an independent agency reporting to Parliament, mandated to safeguard the integrity of the public service staffing system and non-partisanship of the public service.  We have been in existence for over 100 years and are proud of our contribution to building a merit-based, non-partisan federal public service.

The PSC reports annually to Parliament on its activities and results; its 2009-2010 Annual Report was tabled in Parliament on October 5th.

While the PSC’s mandate is domestic, over the years, it has been approached by a number of countries to share its expertise and experience.  As David Holdsworth wrote in his article, Sharing the Merit Principle: The Public Service Commission of Canada Abroad,  “one of the lesser known stories of Canadian public administration during the past two decades is the role the Canadian model has played in contributing to human resource management reforms in other parts of the world. While a professional, non-partisan and merit-based public service is often taken for granted within our own borders, other countries looking to reform their public services see ours as a reference point and Canada as a source of best practices. ”1

In this age of an increasingly competitive global economy, evidence concerning the value of a competent public service is persuasive.  Studies by the World Bank have found that there is a strong correlation between a country’s competitiveness and prosperity, and the quality of its public sector. 2 This correlation holds whether the country is developing or developed; whether it is located in Asia, or Europe or the Western Hemisphere. 

Canada’s public service is known around the world for its professionalism, competency and honesty.3  This reputation has brought delegations from other nations who are seeking information and assistance from departments and agencies.  Many have come to the PSC and we have worked more closely with some in the area of human resource management. 

Our experience in South Africa is an example of the wider network approach.  There, the PSC was part of the Canada-South Africa Program on Governance.  The Canadian model served as a significant reference point.  In fact, the new 1996 South Africa Constitution enshrined an independent Public Service Commission accountable to the National Assembly, and a set of values and principles which echo significantly those of the Canadian Public Service.

The collaborative approach also applies to our involvement in Ukraine.   A long-standing CIDA funded project for public sector reform in Ukraine exists, and is managed by the Canadian Bureau for International Education (CBIE). The PSC has provided expertise to the project within the limits of its resources and capacity. 

We have also signed Memoranda of Understanding with the support of the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. The first was signed in 1991 with China’s Ministry of Personnel, dealing largely with exchanges of knowledge.   It was designed as a loose framework agreement, with annual work plans within which China could draw upon Canadian expertise according to its needs.  The PSC was the coordinating organization on the Canadian side.  A number of delegations visited China to observe their system first-hand and to make presentations on selected aspects of the Canadian system. The initial MOU was renewed on several occasions.   

In November 2007, the PSC signed a new MOU with the Central Organization Department of the Communist Party, the goal of which is to pursue and enhance exchanges and co-operation in the fields of senior public servant management, human resources management and public administration.  This MOU set the stage for the first Canada-China Symposium on Personnel Appraisal and Assessment in the Public Sector, which took place in Beijing in March 2009.

The symposium was productive. The face-to-face dialogue allowed the experts to share their knowledge and experience and they were able to establish a rapport which bodes well for the second symposium that we will be organizing here in Canada next year.  I believe that this success will certainly help us move forward with other initiatives under the MOU. Our work with China is based on increasing our understanding and exchanges for mutual benefit among senior officials.

This brings me to our recent involvement with Mongolia.  On September 28, the PSC was pleased to sign a Memorandum of Understanding with the Civil Service Council of Mongolia to share information and expertise with them.  They see Canada’s human resources management practices as the model for their reforms.   The MOU is supported by the Prime Ministers of both countries and there is a great deal of interest in the steps taken by the Government of Mongolia to put in place a professional and non-partisan public service, considered an essential element in developing a stable regulatory environment and investment climate. 

The PSC is looking forward to working with our partners in Mongolia and we will be drawing on the expertise of our colleagues across the Government of Canada to implement the MOU.  I should mention that there were two other MOUs signed with Mongolia, involving Agriculture Canada and the Canadian Standards Council. The PSC is also working on an MOU with the Union Public Service Commission of India.

Mr. Chairman, the PSC is proud of the contribution that it has made and is continuing to make in its partner countries.  These partnerships have been beneficial for both sides, and we are seeing some concrete results on the longer standing ones.  A longer-term approach is critical.  

Our work at the PSC has always been supported in some way by government but our work has been largely ad-hoc.  As well, the amount of time and effort that can be directed to these projects, both at the PSC and across the public service, is limited since very few special resources are dedicated to these projects.  The demand for our expertise and assistance is greater than the resources available.

I think we can do better. I believe that government officials abroad can identify where the Canadian contribution is most needed and would support other Canadian initiatives.  For example, the strong interest in Mongolia for Canadian expertise in support of their administrative reforms that would provide a more investment supportive environment. I also believe that there may be an opportunity for recently retired individuals from the public sector, including parliamentarians and public servants, who want to be involved in these projects.  A resource of seasoned practitioners would be a considerable asset.  Their careers have encompassed periods of extensive change in many areas of the public sector, and their experience could be especially effective for countries seeking to professionalize their public service.  

Involving these individuals would help maintain continuity, which can be a vital aspect of building partnerships. For example, I do not think that our success with the China MOU would have been possible without the continuing involvement of the former PSC Executive Director who was instrumental in setting up the original MOU.

Mr. Chairman, we need to bring these significant resources together through some effective networks.  With the use of volunteers and a small amount of seed or “start-up” money, much can be accomplished. Seed money would be used to initiate planning on projects or programs and to obtain further support.  The work in Mongolia could, for example, proceed in this way.  

Thank you for inviting me to speak to you today. I would be happy to answer any questions you may have at this time.

1 David J. Holdsworth, Sharing the Merit Principle: The Public Service Commission of Canada Abroad, Ottawa, 2006

2 Paul Wolfowitz, World Bank President, Jakarta, April 11, 2006

3 Wayne G Wouters, Clerk of the Privy Council, APEX Symposium June 1, 2010