The high-profile consultant who helped Tony Blair deliver key promises is in Ottawa this week to advise senior officials in the Trudeau government on how to make the public service more effective at seeing through the Prime Minister's priorities.
Michael Barber, co-chair of the Centre for Public Impact, a foundation of the Boston Consulting Group, is scheduled to meet with senior bureaucrats as changes are already under way in government to implement a version of his so-called "deliverology" management approach.
Mr. Barber is meeting with senior officials in the Privy Council Office, a central agency supporting the Prime Minister, for a couple days later this week, marking his latest advice for Ottawa since a cabinet retreat in January. He will be talking about using special "delivery units" in government to ensure the Prime Minister's priorities, from carbon pricing to resettling 25,000 Syrian asylum-seekers, are meeting their targets.
PCO has already moved key people into a new unit called "results and delivery," headed by deputy secretary to cabinet Matthew Mendelsohn, appointed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in late December. Mr. Mendelsohn is an academic with the University of Toronto's Mowat Centre and former Ontario government deputy minister, who last year worked on the Trudeau campaign.
Mr. Mendelsohn is now making the rounds with deputy ministers to explain the management approach, said a person familiar with the plans. Each federal department is expected to appoint a senior "chief delivery officer" to help track and see through results.
Robert Pinker, previously a senior policy analyst for PCO, has been named chief of staff to Mr. Mendelsohn, and former Treasury Board executive director Francis Bilodeau is the delivery unit's new assistant deputy secretary. The federal government staff directory also lists Chantale Vachon as the unit's executive assistant. More staff are expected to join the secretariat.
"I suspect Matthew Mendelsohn will be talking to the Prime Minister and his senior staff about whether or not there are top-level, five or six, high-level priorities that the delivery unit will be initially rallying the system around," said Tony Dean, former head of the Ontario provincial public service who served in a "small role" on Mr. Trudeau's transition team.
Mr. Mendelsohn has returned to PCO after serving in the agency as a senior adviser for intergovernmental affairs under prime minister Jean Chrétien, and knows senior Trudeau advisers Gerald Butts and Katie Telford from their work under the Dalton McGuinty Ontario government. Mr. Mendelsohn was a provincial deputy minister at that time, when the government was using a version of Mr. Barber's public sector management system.
Mr. Barber is also familiar with Mr. Butts and Ms. Telford and sent the two advisers copies of his new book, How to Run A Government So that Citizens Benefit and Taxpayers Don't Go Crazy, following last fall's election.
As government officials speed-read his books, there's an effort to build a culture focused on priorities.
"The idea is a kind of a virus in the larger system to spread good practices, culture and techniques," Privy Council Clerk Michael Wernick said. "If you really want to put some energy and impetus in the system, you start at the centre with the PCO. It's largely about a very small centre of excellence that will help build the capability, the techniques, the approach, the mindset, the culture change, into the public service," said the head of the public service, who spoke with The Globe earlier this month.
Michele Austin, a Conservative strategist and consultant with Summa Strategies, said the success of the approach will depend on how the government defines success. "It muddies the water and adds another layer of complexity," she said. "The bottom line is we're either in deficit or we're in surplus. The bridges and roads are either built or they were not."
Mr. Barber, who the Economist has referred to as "Delivery man," served as head of prime minister Tony Blair's delivery unit from 2001 to 2005, reporting directly to the prime minister. He built processes into government to ensure execution on priority programs in health, education, immigration and other areas.
The consultant attended Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's cabinet retreat in St. Andrews, N.B., last month to talk to cabinet ministers about the management system.
In a video on the website of the Center for Public Impact, Mr. Barber says politicians can help give the public service more space to focus on priorities. He compares the political levels of government to the guards of American football.
"They're creating space for the quarterback to do something absolutely brilliant. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't," Mr. Barber says in the video. "A minister gets in trouble for some scandal. There's an international crisis. There's a flood … The key thing is to establish the government processes [so] that you don't just spend your time fighting those fires."
The Liberals are trying a "made-in-Ottawa" version of Mr. Barber's delivery, adapting the model so that fits with Mr. Trudeau's intention to return to cabinet government, Mr. Dean said.
The Trudeau government has reoriented the traditional priorities and planning cabinet committee to look more at tracking results. The committee, chaired by the PM, has been renamed agenda and results.