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ARCHIVED - Address by Minister Tony Clement to Public Service Executives at APEX Symposium

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June 8, 2011, at 3:45 p.m.

National Arts Centre
Ottawa

Check Against Delivery

Thank you for that kind introduction. And thank you all very much for inviting me to speak close out this year's symposium. Ladies and gentlemen, as you know, I was appointed President of Treasury Board just over two weeks ago. It is indeed a privilege and honour to be named to this portfolio during this crucial period of economic recovery here in Canada and around the world.

Since July 2009, the Canadian economy has created more than 540,000 new jobs – more than we lost during the recession. And I always like to point out that more than 75 per cent of these are full time jobs. What's more, Canada's unemployment rate remains a full percentage point lower than that of our neighbours to the south.

Our strong performance has certainly been turning heads. In fact, a number of respected international fora have taken note of Canada over the past few weeks and months. The International Monetary Fund, for one, says that our fiscal outlook in the aftermath of the recession stands out as among the best in the G-20. The Economist magazine recently ranked Canada the best place in the G-7 to do business for the next five years. We heard similar comments from the OECD, which has ranked Canada as second in its quality of life survey of 34 major industrialized countries.

All of this is great news for Canada and for Canadians. But we remain concerned about the number of people in this country looking for work. As a government, we need to keep creating jobs now, while also laying the foundation for long-term prosperity and growth.

As you know, an important aspect of this foundation is eliminating the deficit and returning to balanced budgets.  This is absolutely essential to ensure

  • that our economy continues to grow and create jobs;
  • that we can continue to invest in the priorities of Canadians; and
  • that we secure Canada's place as a leader in the global economy.

As you know, the main cross-government tool we will be using to help find savings is the Strategic and Operating Review. This review will focus on further improving the efficiency and effectiveness of government operations and programs to ensure ongoing value for Canadians. It picks up where Strategic Review leaves off. In the weeks ahead, you will all become intimately familiar with the details – but here's a sneak peek to get the gears turning.

It is a one-time review involving 67 departments and agencies, with the savings to be announced and booked in Budget 2012. We will put some $80 billion dollars in direct program spending under the microscope, with the goal of finding at least $4 billion in permanent annual savings by 2014–15. As you will have heard, departments are being asked to develop both 5 and 10 per cent savings scenarios.

But unlike Strategic Review, the spending base will focus on all operating expenses – including wages, salaries, and professional services contracts for example – as well as grants and contributions, capital, and payments to Crown Corporations. Indeed, about two-thirds of the review base is represented by operating expenses.

With this approach, we are taking a page from the private sector, which regularly conducts operational reviews to find areas for cost-savings and productivity gains. This is the first time in 15 years that government has conducted a review of this scope. In the business world – looking at streamlining operations is an annual exercise – business as usual. So we are looking to work smarter, better, and faster

But I do want to make one thing very clear: this review will not touch major transfers to provinces, territories and individuals. Nor will it look at public debt charges.

What we are doing is expanding the scope of our review such that Ministers and Deputy Ministers now have the latitude to re-imagine their business models entirely.  We are encouraging departments to develop a full range of options in areas such as administrative and program efficiencies, business consolidation and user fees. Some of this may require legislative or machinery changes.

So we have no small task ahead of us. But we must turn challenging times like these into opportunities to be more efficient and innovative. We have a chance to look critically at the programs and services we provide, and the operational and administrative methods with which we do it. We have a chance to gauge if we are delivering for Canadians in the best, most relevant and most cost efficient way possible.

We'll all need to ask fundamental questions about the programs and services we provide. Equally importantly, we'll be taking a look at the operational spending that occurs across government, and asking the hard questions. Should we still be doing this — and doing it in this way? Does this have to be delivered by this organization? Why does it cost as much as it does? Can we find savings? Is it achieving the expected results efficiently? Is this a government priority, and is it affordable during a period of fiscal restraint? Are we achieving value for money? These are some of the questions we must ask ourselves in making our determinations.

We all know that there is more to be done to standardize, consolidate and re-engineer the way we do business – not just in individual departments but across the whole of government. This brings to mind recent innovations such as shared services arrangements between departments. Such arrangements often grow out of necessity. Resources are tight in one organization, forcing it to seek out the services from another. But the end result is a clear benefit to everyone involved. These arrangements are not only a phenomenal way to pool expertise. They also contribute to lowering costs and making the government even more effective and efficient. So I look forward to reviewing your proposals and ensuring that every tax dollar is spent wisely, prudently and fairly.

Because after all, it's your money.

But we will not be successful without a strong and respectful partnership between the Government and Canada's Public Service. This brings me to my final topic – your leadership in maintaining an effective and efficient public service. Our government, together with the Clerk of the Privy Council, has embarked on an agenda of public service renewal, in order to capitalize on the tremendous strengths of the Public Service of Canada. This will ensure that Canada's public institutions will continue to respond effectively to Canadians' needs and expectations. 

As we intensify our efforts to reduce spending and improve service delivery to Canadians, your talents as leaders will continue to be in high demand. Your community of executives will continue to be called on to devise and implement initiatives that improve productivity. It's a big job. You have already achieved so much. And I know our Government can count on your continued support and leadership.

As public service leaders, you clearly know how to deliver. You also know how to get the most of your employees. This capacity to reach out to others for good ideas and innovation will be especially critical to our success in building a more effective and efficient public service. Given the economic situation, it is more important than ever to continually assess how we can do things better and to gather input as widely as we can.

The bottom line is that this is a great opportunity to rethink our workplaces, our tools and competencies. This is not just a cost-cutting exercise. This is an exciting chance to bring about transformative change in the way we serve Canadians.

Of course the Treasury Board will be front and centre in this major undertaking – and the pressure is on us all to deliver! As the President, I take comfort in knowing that I have the support of some of the most talented, dedicated and hard-working people in Canada.

Truly, public servants are vital to the success of our country. No government of any partisan stripe can maintain and build a strong, united and secure Canada without the assistance of a professional, capable public service committed to the public interest.

As I have noted, our country is emerging from the global recession as one of the world's top-performing advanced economies. So much of this has been made possible by the hard work and dedication of our world-class public service.

Many of you were under pressure to quickly design, deliver and monitor a stimulus package that was among the world's largest. You rolled up your sleeves to make sure essential investments got to Canadians quickly, while also ensuring accountability. It was a difficult balancing act. But at the end of the day, you delivered in a big way.

Canada's public service was recognized for excellent work by some of the toughest critics around – including outgoing Auditor General, Sheila Fraser. And moving forward, your skill and expertise will be absolutely essential in streamlining government operations and programs to ensure value for taxpayer money.

In conclusion, as a government, we have been clear that ensuring strong fiscal management will continue to be one of our top priorities. By maintaining a focus on balanced budgets and debt reduction, we will ensure that we keep taxes low and take actions to foster long-term growth. We will ensure that Canada continues to be a place where investors want to invest their money and grow their businesses. 

And we will ensure that Canada will offer Canadians and their families opportunities to work and contribute to their communities. In the months ahead, as we implement the roadmap to a balanced budget, we'll need a smart, engaged and healthy public service to do it. You will be instrumental in further improving the efficiency and effectiveness of government operations and programs to ensure value for taxpayer money.

So on behalf your bosses and mine – the Canadian taxpayers – thank you for what you do each and every day to make this a reality. Thank you.