Discussions at this year’s Lac Carling Congress (www.laccarling.ca) revealed anew form of inter-governmentalism taking shape across the country,one more in tune with the digital age – but not without a new setof challenges.
As service transformation efforts accelerate, so too is awidening interest in new capacities for service integration acrossall levels of government. A number of pilot initiatives are underway demonstrating the potential, among them the Seniors Portal andintegrated business registries. In many key public service areas,such as health care, security and law enforcement, effectivenessrests not only on more convenient service offerings but also moreintegrated processes across all levels of government to both shareinformation and coordinate action.
What this points to is a requirement for a new infrastructurefor inter-governmental relations. Stepping up to provide such apresence are two national bodies – the Public Sector CIO Council(PSCIOC) and the Public Sector Service Delivery Council (PSSDC),whose work is closely aligned with and shaped by the Lac Carlingforum. The reality is that, for the time being, we have twocompeting versions of federalism shaping the public sector. Text Asservice transformation becomes a shared agenda for all governments,these Councils are laying the groundwork for a new form offederalism based less on independence and more oninterdependence.
There is much that is laudable in this new foundation; itintuitively makes sense that in a world of 5 billion people, acountry of 30 million should be able to forge a concerted andcollaborative set of public sector processes to serve its citizens.There is also much that is innovative in these new workingarrangements, as federalism has traditionally been based on aseparation of roles and responsibilities.
And here lies the great challenge, as innovation typically meetsresistance through either opposition or an inertia created by past(and in many cases wholly sensible) ways of doing things. Whilethere may be little overt hostility to inter-governmental serviceintegration (since senior officials and political leaders regularlyespouse such goals as worthy and consistent with what the publicwants), it is less clear as to whether this enthusiasm has been orcan be translated into a collective will.
In his candid keynote address to Lac Carling delegates TreasuryBoard President Reg Alcock underscored the reason why: The interestof politicians in the internal machinery of managing government isuneven at best. Bureaucratic inertia is pervasive and systemicchange is extraordinarily difficult to engineer in the best oftimes.
Presumably the Minister is doing his best as President ofTreasury Board to overcome such challenges, but the point remainsthat his focus is primarily on the internal governance of thefederal government and not on the public sector as a whole. The newService Canada initiative is a related case in point: Manyprovincial officials had pointed questions about the degree towhich this new entity will seek to build a culture of collaborationfrom the outset – meaning today – with like-minded provincialentities.
For many at the provincial level, Government On-Line, and theSecure Channel in particular, represented a predominantly federaleffort created without much strategic outreach to othergovernments. This has slowed attempts to extend the usage of theSecure Channel across jurisdictions.
Not to be forgotten are municipalities, a growing presence atLac Carling and an important distinguishing trait of a new, moredigital inter-governmentalism in extending beyond federal andprovincial levels. The Cities of Toronto and Calgary both showcasedthe 311 telephone information movement building across NorthAmerica: a simple number and a single window (and portal aschannels are aligned) for all non-essential municipal services.
In his closing remarks, Paul Migus, a federal officialinstrumental in building Service Canada and a member of the LacCarling Steering Committee, quite rightly pointed to 311 as awake-up call for provincial and federal governments: What happenswhen the citizen – with no time for jurisdictional nuance – dials311 for an issue not exclusively local?
The reality is that, for the time being, we have two competingversions of federalism shaping the public sector. One is rooted intradition and the familiar political frictions of mayors, premiersand prime ministers jockeying for funding and visibility. Thesecond, now under construction, envisions a more seamless andcollaborative approach, based on interoperability and a morecollective form of governance for the public sector as a whole.
While public servants deserve much credit for laying thegroundwork for the second approach, political action is more firmlyrooted in the first one. Ultimately, the public will pass judgmenton the pace of this transition, by either tolerating jurisdictionalboundaries or demanding change. Only if this latter message becomesloud and clear will politicians take note – and even then these twoversions of federalism may well be around for some time.