Remarks for Wayne G. Wouters for a Meeting with the Canada Revenue Agency Management Committee
April 22, 2010
Good afternoon and thank you very much for inviting me to join you today.
I’m pleased to be here this afternoon and to have opportunity to meet and speak with you all informally.
As this is a gathering of CRA’s senior cadre, I look forward an exchange on our current environment, and the challenges and opportunities facing:
- The Public Service and
- The CRA.
I would also like to talk about Public Service Renewal and our renewal priorities for the coming year.
It is not my intention to present you with a litany of troubles or worries.
In fact, I am actually feeling quite optimistic and upbeat about our state of affairs and initiatives that are underway.
(I) Challenges for Canada
As you all aware, we operate in an increasingly complex and interconnected world.
The tsunami of financial woes that flashed across the world affected big and small economies alike.
Ironically, some of countries and economies hit hardest were also those most removed from root cause of this recession.
Fortunately, Canada is emerging from this recession in good economic health and it remains a strong economic contender on the world stage in large part due to:
- Sound economic fundamentals;
- Our ability to respond quickly with strategic stimulus measures; and
- A private sector that, for the most part, has been able to adjust more rapidly than in the past.
Our success however, has come at a cost and today we find ourselves facing a significant budget deficit.
The government signaled in the Speech from the Throne and the 2010 Budget that it will focus on achieving fiscal balance by careful management and tough choices over the medium term.
- Departmental budgets have been frozen;
- Strategic reviews will continue; and
- A review of administrative services is being undertaken to improve overall quality and efficiency.
What may be different this time is that the Canadian public today is more aware and better informed than they were 10 to 15 years ago.
They expect more of their governments and leaders in the realm of accountability and transparency.
More so than in the past, they are looking to us for rigorous management of tax dollars and better value for money.
While this sort of scrutiny contributes to a vigorous public policy debate and a healthy democracy, it is also a lot to manage!!
(II) Looking Forward
Not to be ignored are our demographic challenges!
Like other countries, Canada is facing a falling birthrate and is increasingly reliant on immigration to replenish our shrinking labour market and talent pool.
We are not alone in this struggle, countries like Japan, Italy and Germany are facing it too.
But we have some advantages:
- We have a longstanding relationship with immigration. Immigrants are ingrained in the Canadian fabric and have played an essential role in nation building.
- We have a lot to offer. We are peaceful, have good government, a strong economy, some of the best air and water in the world and education and health care systems that are still second to none.
Canada is a very attractive proposition and we are taking the appropriate measures to attract the best and brightest the world has to offer.
Our immigrants today however, as they have been in the past, are drawn to the bigger cities and thus, we are also grappling with a growing urban and rural divide.
Many small, remote and northern communities struggle with basic infrastructure such as year round roads, a clean water supply and internet services.
This stagnancy inhibits economic growth and employment prospects in rural areas.
It has an impact on practically every public policy issue government faces.
(III) Challenges for the Public Service
Our society is also:
- Aging and yet living longer;
- Is shedding traditional family structures and adopting new ones (blended families); and
- Becoming increasingly diverse (Stats Can report indicating that the number of mixed unions in Canada has increased by 33%).
The Public Service workforce is aging at an even faster rate than the Canadian workforce as a whole.
Despite this seismic shift, we must ensure excellence in service to Canadians.
The high standards to which Canadians are accustomed must not be compromised.
And……the business of government must continue seamlessly regardless of these retirements.
In managing these departures we must focus on:
- Knowledge transfer; and
- Retaining corporate memory.
In this regard, I am pleased to tell you that many departments and agencies are paying attention.
An informal and unofficial survey indicates that these issues are top of mind and efforts to address them are being incorporated.
In fact, one of the forward looking organizations I am talking about is yours!!
The culture of integrated human resources and business planning is being firmly established here at CRA.
Your organization has been a stand out contributor to this government-wide effort and has shown great leadership.
Your agency workforce strategy effectively aligns human resource planning to the results that you are trying to achieve.
I’m also pleased to see that you have developed a talent management policy which will help CRA grow your people to meet your future business needs.
CRA has also been actively engaged in recruitment.
The CRA takes part in Public Service career fairs in three regions last year; and makes information about the agency’s employment opportunities available to all Canadians via the web.
Moving forward, our approach must be one that strategically matches new recruits – both recent grads and mid-career professionals – to clearly identified business needs.
CRA has shown remarkable leadership by formally recognizing the important role of the agency’s managers with the creation of your management/gestion (mg) group.
The agency’s competency-based human resources management approach is also serving you well and providing a strong foundation for many facets of your human resources management.
IT Related Challenges and Web 2.0
The Public Service is like an extended family. It is home to multiple generations and we all work together.
Unsurprisingly different members of this family have different approaches to work:
Some public servants may feel left behind or nervous about the rapid technological advances taking place in our world. We cannot ignore this fact.
While there are others, including many of our newer recruits, who are completely at ease with social media.
Working with wikis, or within “flat” organizations (organizations without hierarchies), is simply normal to them.
They want their workplace to be collaborative and to facilitate real-time communication (instant messaging).
And why shouldn’t they when an increasing number of organizations such as provincial governments and a growing number of private sector employers meet these expectations?
To add to our challenge, many of our core systems have not kept pace with technological advances.
Some of our information technology platforms and back-office systems have been with us for more than 30 years.
Of course, this is no secret, and the auditor general noted the GC’s it deficiencies in her report yesterday.
Ms. Fraser has stated that we will have to spend billions of dollars to upgrade our IT systems and ensure that service to Canadians is not compromised.
While there may not be a lot of buzz or excitement around this herculean task, it is critical, and this is why I raise the issue of workplace renewal whenever I can.
Without significant upgrades we will:
- Become inefficient and ineffective;
- Risk the longevity and long-term success of the public service;
- Lose our status as an employer of choice;
- Fail to provide our employees the tools they need to do the best job possible; and
- Compromise outstanding service to Canadians.
CRA IT Challenges
Your organization has an extensive track record in running both efficient back-office operations and multi-channel services for the public.
I know that Daniel Jean, the deputy minister leading this review, met recently with Linda to discuss the review.
I understand that the CRA will contribute its expertise in the examination of internal service functions; and services to citizens.
As the popularity of internet transactions grows, your organization is working to expand online services while maintaining the in-person, phone and mail services on which many Canadians rely.
You are also actively working to create partnerships with other federal departments and levels of government to deliver practical, single-window services.
Canadians trust you to protect their privacy, this is a complex task, for example:
Your achievements in this area are a model for other departments.
Despite all of this, I am quite optimistic.
The changes I am seeing within the GC indicate unequivocally that we are moving forward and change is being incorporated.
For example, NRCan has been using a wiki to facilitate knowledge transfer and collaborate on policy development for a couple of years.
The NRCan wiki is very popular with employees and in addition to facilitating dialogue and discussion, it creates a form of corporate memory.
I have contributed to GCpedia myself– I posted my 17th annual report and a message on the Government of Canada wiki!
I launched a website almost a month ago and I have even been tweeting!
I never thought I’d say that.
Until recently --- tweeting for me is something birds do!
If I can learn to do this stuff, I am confident that many others can too!
CRA and the Economic Recovery
CRA was instrumental in the successful roll-out of the government’s Economic Action Plan:
Your rapid and rigorous implementation of:
- Changes to tax brackets;
- The basic personal amount;
- The working income tax benefit; and
- The home renovation tax credit.
Helped keep the economy growing.
With all you’ve done so far this year, let me add that CRA employees are working on the introduction of the harmonized sales tax in Ontario and British Columbia this July.
This is a huge endeavour.
Another area where CRA will soon be called upon to show leadership is in negotiations with the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC).
You will be the first employer to enter collective bargaining under the new restraint measures.
We must all work together to succeed in this context of fiscal restraint. Maintaining positive relations with our partners, including unions, will be critical.
Thank you for your strong leadership in the face of all these changes and challenges.
As senior leaders here at CRA, I see an important role for all of you.
In facing these challenges, we know that government doesn’t have all the answers and it simply cannot.
As we move forward seeking insights from academia, provincial governments, the private sector, and NGOs, we must hold to our public service values and ethics.
I’ve focused my attention this afternoon on:
- The challenges facing the country;
- The public service and the CRA, and
- The solutions we are developing in mapping our way forward.
In this new budgetary context, our capacity to renew ourselves – to rethink the way we work, to reach out to others for good ideas, and to work together across departments – will be key to our success.
Thank you again for the opportunity to speak with you today.
Now I’d like to hear from you.