Presentation of the 2016 Vanier Medal of the Institute of Public Administration of Canada
Rideau Hall, Monday, January 23, 2017
I begin by quoting my predecessor, Georges Vanier, after whom this medal is named.
“The leaders of a profession,” he once said, “are those who fashion its greatness.”
Today we recognize Mr. James Eldridge— “Jim”—for decades spent fashioning the greatness of a truly important, yet not well understood, profession: that of public servant.
General Vanier understood the importance of the public service profession to Canada.
That’s why he gave his name to this medal.
He knew that a strong public service is essential in a modern, representative democracy.
But he also had a deeper appreciation, of the importance of the example set by our public service leaders.
He called it “the pervasive influence” of the leaders of this profession.
By that he meant the way in which their example of service and integrity, of ethical and moral conduct guides all members of a society, whether we’re aware of it or not.
And he went on to say:
“The standards of the leaders are, therefore, of crucial importance to the healthy survival of the entire community.”
General Vanier knew a thing or two about leadership and survival.
Recall, this was a man who lost his right leg while leading an attack in northern France during the First World War.
All in the public interest.
That’s what the Vanier Medal is all about.
And these are the qualities that defined Jim’s 49-year career in Manitoba’s public service.
It’s a remarkable achievement, featuring many accomplishments.
The Province of Manitoba, and all of Canada, are better off as a result.
I’m sure Jim would be quick to say that one of the secrets of his success was to elevate and empower his colleagues. He’s aware of the need to go from ‘me to we.’ It’s one of the secrets of success in any profession, but perhaps especially in public service.
A second principle that Jim and all great public service leaders practice is the sharing of information and responsibilities. This encourages the discovery and use of new knowledge. It generates solutions and creates leaders.
And a third principle is risk. The best leaders understand the need to take calculated risks rather than forgo action merely because of the chance of failure.
In a 49-year career, I’m sure that Jim took more than a few risks.
That he’s here with us today proves they were of the calculated variety!
A public service must be merit-based, non-partisan and competent. It must continually seek to reinforce public trust and the public good. It must reflect society at large, and be accountable to elected officials.
This is our social contract, and I’m very pleased to present this award in celebration of a brilliant career in a vitally important profession.
This award is to honour Jim Eldridge for his many achievements.
Thank you, Jim, on behalf of all Canadians.
May all members of this profession strive to be worthy of the title of public servant, and help to fashion its greatness.