Talk it up

It’s okay, all you hard-working bureaucrats who thinkpoliticians don’t recognize the effort that has gone intostreamlining and integrating the provision of governmentservices.

They really do appreciate it, says John Milloy, a member of theOntario Legislature and a former political assistant on ParliamentHill. They just don’t see the need to say so.

“Politicians are interested in outcomes, not mechanics,” Milloypointed out in an interview after appearing on a panel at the LacCarling Congress. “It’s likely a lot of them aren’t aware of howfar information technology has come and how it can be used. Whatthey want are ways to deal with problems.

“They are looking for better ways to engage with citizens,” headded. “That means public servants need to demonstrate to thepublic and the politicians what service integration can do.”

The bureaucrats may also have to learn that the Harpergovernment and, increasingly, its provincial counterparts are farmore IT savvy than their immediate political predecessors, as canbe seen in their growing use of Web sites and blogs by federalpoliticians and their supporters.

Environment Minister Rona Ambrose, the new co-chair of theCrossing Boundaries National Council, is one of those young federalministers who are considered extremely comfortable with computers,the Internet and IT.

Former Ontario education minister John Snobelen suggested on thepanel that politicians may not demonstrate a lot of enthusiasm forthe potential of citizen-centred service delivery because thebureaucrats involved in service transformation development don’texpress much excitement about its potential.”You need to show alittle more passion when you talk to politicians about thesematters,” he told the conference. “You need to craft a compellingstory because a lot of them, including ministers, don’t reallyunderstand the role of public servants.”

Integrating services also doesn’t mean a lot to a public thatfeels remote and disconnected from government, a sentimentreinforced by most encounters with the health care system, hecontinued. “They feel powerless. This is not a question oftechnology but attitudes in government (toward dealing withcitizens).”

Elected representatives also don’t think they can interact withthe public and other governments in a meaningful way, Snobelenadded. “You need to demonstrate to the politicians how you can usethe technology to raise the bar on service delivery.”

He praised participants in the Lac Carling Congress as “thepeople who are willing to show the way” to better government.

Don Lenihan, president and CEO of the Crossing Boundariescouncil, said the Harper government has started with a clearintention of respecting provincial and municipal jurisdictions andif it sticks to that position, it could boost the notion ofcollaborative government.

An encouraging sign, he said, was a discussion paper on thefiscal imbalance between the federal and provincial governmentsthat was released with the May budget. Among other items, ithighlighted “the ongoing areas of collaborative government and theinterdependence among jurisdictions.” This is an importantacknowledgement for making service transformation work.

If the Harper government sticks to its principles, it will helpchange the assessment of the success of service transformation tooutcomes rather than jurisdiction, Lenihan said. It would also putmore emphasis on determining what citizens and interest groupswant. “That would get us out of a box we have been in for a longtime.”

No segment of Canadian society needs better service deliverythan the aboriginal population, Tony Belcourt, president of theMetis Nation of Ontario, told the conference. First nations want tomove to self-government but their leadership lacks any knowledge orexperience with information technology. “In fact we need help toconvince my people of the benefit of using it for better servicedelivery.”

On behalf of native leaders, Belcourt presented the conferencewith a Crossing Boundaries report on recommendations for givingaboriginals a voice in the service delivery debate. The reportlooks at how information technology can help native bands “meetcritical social, economic and cultural needs.”

Milloy said selling politicians on the merits of serviceintegration and the potential of current technology is a valuablerole for both Lac Carling and the Crossing Boundaries council.

Canada has become a modern, urban country, he added. More than80 per cent of the population lives in cities and largemetropolitan centres and governments have to recognize this indeveloping policies. “As well, service delivery must break downbarriers between levels of government. Citizens don’t care aboutwhich level of government provides the services; they want results.As a result politicians need to focus on results notjurisdictions.”

The success stories in service transformation show it can bedone and how governments can respond to new problems, Milloy said.”Still we see areas where governments are not working together. Theresponse is that ‘we have always done it this way.'” Milloysuggested that officials should be locked in a room at times untilthey figure out how to work co-operatively.