Premier’s Award for Excellence in the Public Service
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Regina, Monday, September 12, 2011
Let me begin by saying how delighted I am to be here this evening for this celebration of excellence in public service.
I have always had a profound respect for the public servants of this country, and this gives me a wonderful opportunity to convey my admiration to all of you. I think the public service of Saskatchewan well and truly exemplifies the motto of this province—Multis e gentibus vires, “From Many Peoples Strength.”
These awards recognize outstanding achievement on behalf of the people of Saskatchewan, and I would like to reflect for a moment on exactly what that involves. As a starting point, let us look at the criteria for these awards: quality service, innovation, and leadership.
These criteria tell us a lot about what it takes to serve the public interest today. And I am struck by the extent to which the spirit of creativity and initiative are fundamental to all three.
Of course, sometimes we encounter barriers to the expression of creativity and initiative in the workplace, and that is where the quality of your work, the spark of your innovation and the force of your leadership come in.
Each of you had an idea and the courage to pursue it. I am reminded of Marshall McLuhan, who once said of one of his insights into the future of communications: “I wouldn’t have seen it if I hadn’t believed it.”
You believed there was a better way to serve the public, and then you saw to it.
The way forward is never without risk, so I am encouraged to see this recognition of the need for intelligent risk-taking in the public service. In the 2010 Manion Lecture to federal public servants, Thomas-Homer Dixon likened good leaders to “gardeners” who establish the conditions for creativity and growth. And as any gardener can tell you, some experiments don’t work out.
This analogy also brings to mind author Hugh Maclennan’s comparison of gardens to civilizations. This passage—from his book Voices in Time—is worth quoting in full:
“In the relatively rare periods in the past that we call civilized, people understood that a civilization is like a garden cultivated in a jungle. As flowers and vegetables grow from cultivated seeds, so do civilizations grow from carefully studied, diligently examined ideas and perceptions. In nature, if there are no gardeners, the weeds that need no cultivation take over the garden and destroy it.”
Of course, the significance of cultivation is not lost on you in Saskatchewan, and perhaps that helps to explain your success. It is so important that we have such leaders in our midst, and that we support their efforts.
The key element is trust, which is the basis of the social contract that will allow us to become a nation of innovators. How can we build trust within the public service—that is, between and among all levels of government—and in Canadian society as a whole? What are the mechanisms by which we can inspire confidence and bring people together from the public, private and non-governmental sectors to find common cause?
Ultimately, that is our duty as public servants, and it is one that I am immensely proud to share in. Just as each of you should take great pride in what you have achieved for the people of Saskatchewan.
On behalf of all Canadians, I want to thank and congratulate you for your outstanding work. Your efforts are crucial to building a smarter, more caring Canada.