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The Public Service


Since arriving in Canada 29 years ago I have called Ottawa home … it is our Nation’s Capital, a “government town” in the same way that Washington  is for the USA.   While our “high tech” sector has grown and then shrunk,  it has always been the Canadian Federal Government that is far and away the biggest employer. 

 It is impossible to live here in Ottawa and not have some (many?) connections to the government, whether it is family or friends who work there, or it could be through business dealings with the various departments.  I certainly have many connections … relatives, friends and clients.

Last night I helped a good friend (and former client, from many years ago) to celebrate 30 years as a government employee.   i will resist the urge to name him … but might provide a clue for those that know him. 

 Afterwards I had a number of thoughts, particularly as it relates to preconceptions people have about “government workers”.

I don’t remember how many people he has working for him … but I seem to remember it was more than 2,000!  How many private sector executives get to manage that many people?  And how many of them would accept that responsibility for the kind of income a government executive gets?

He has travelled extensively in his job … interacting with executives from around the  world on issues important to countries.  How many private sector executives get to discuss policy that might affect millions?

His technology department has a budget that exceeds all but the largest private sector companies.

With thirty years of tenure, coupled with his age he could retire today and his pension would provide him with an income very close to what he takes home today … and he wouldn’t have the costs associated with a high powered role.  Yet … he chooses to remain working, because he enjoys a challenge, he also accepts the accountability and responsibility of his position so much so that he won’t leave until he can do so with a clear conscience.

This is a man who can talk to heads of state and the most junior worker, and they all know he is genuinely interested in them.

This is a man who copes with the stresses associated with his role … the scrutiny of public sector auditors, the rules of governance associated with the public sector, the pressures of huge budget reductions in a tough economy, the pressure of a unionized employee base and both bureaucratic and political masters.  He does it with humour and class.

This is a man who knows who pays the bills … the taxpayers of Canada.  He is focused on serving Canada and is proud to do so.

Over his thirty years he has enjoyed a varied, challenging and interesting career … with opportunities that would have been very rare in the private sector.  Sometimes we have preconceived notions about a career in government, when you see a career like his you understand the possibilities!

The next time you get the urge to knock our civil servants think about my friend … because he embodies our civil service. 

I am proud of my friend … and may the next thirty be just as much fun for him!