Book Launch Speaking Notes
23 September 2013
Check against delivery
Thank you for coming, merci d’être venus, and thank you for your interest in my book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias: Resetting Citizenship and Multiculturalism.
As you know, the relationship between the government and the public service is a hot topic.
Just as the political level is certain about its policies and priorities, we in the bureaucracy are certain about our evidence and expertise.
In 2006, a new government wanted things to change and wanted to put their imprint on a wide range of key policies, including citizenship and multiculturalism. Their policy choices and manner were very different from what the public service had grown accustomed to.
As I discuss in my book, it is no surprise that the political level felt the bureaucracy was, at best resisting change, at worst being disloyal, while public servants felt their expertise and knowledge was being challenged or ignored.
I felt this starting from my first day on the job summer 2007, dealing with the tone and language of a press release.
The more brash and ideological approach forced me to come to terms with my own ideological biases, and realize that I was less neutral and impartial than I thought.
While it did not necessarily change the advice I gave, it allowed me to position my advice better, less in opposition, and more in “have you considered how this may land on those with different perspectives?”
What was refreshing was the degree of intensity and sharpness of some of my discussions with the political level. It is a rare privilege to have such open discussion; while not easy, it clarifies understanding and what is wanted. And clarity helped us move on to loyal implementation. And it is a tribute to the political staffers involved that they were willing to have such frank discussions.
That said, while we may want to have a certain gentillesse between the political and official levels, some tension can be helpful if it provides space for frank advice.
My intent in writing the book was three-fold:
- First, provoke an informed discussion on the relationship between the government and the public service, and the challenges that both the government and the public service faced in implementing major changes in government policies.
- Secondly, provide some context for the “friends and enemies” language with respect to public servants. The Conservative government came in with a strong conservative ideology, in addition to viewing itself as an “outsider”. Meanwhile, most public servants had a middle of the road, small “l”, liberal ideology, evidenced by the fact that we choose government work because we largely believe that government can be a force for good.
- Thirdly, I hoped to show that there are no heroes or villains here. Both sides are sincere in their belief of the public good and in their desire to build a stronger Canada. But fundamental distrust on both sides, disagreements over what is the public good and a stronger Canada, made us sometimes lose sight of that common interest.
Lastly, as you can likely see from my “look”, I am unfortunately back in Cancerland. While completing the book under these circumstances has been challenging, it has provided me with purpose and focus as we have had to deal with this setback.
However, today is about my book, not about the back story.
These conclude my formal remarks.
This event is informal so please enjoy yourself and mingle. I am available for questions (ask me anything!, soit en français, soit en anglais). A few other logistic notes:
- Should you need a copy of my book, my son Alex is selling them at $15 over there. This is the cheapest price for paper version, as I did a large enough order to absorb shipping and HST. So take advantage of it!
- I am happy to sign books. Just come over and see me.
- Q&As are available on the QR codes posted, as well as a copy of these remarks. These are also available on my blog, Multicultural Meanderings, under the “books” tab.
Lastly, by coming here, you have contributed to starting the conversation on the relationship between the government and the public service. I encourage you to continue that conversation, and share your impressions of what you have learned in my book, what you agree with, what you disagree with.
Thank you again for coming, and I look forward to chatting with you over the course of the evening.