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Simon Doyle

Fred L/The Globe and Ma

The internal promotion of public servants to top-level management positions is "not an entitlement," said the head of an association representing public service executives, as the government looks to recruit more senior managers from outside the federal public service.

The Privy Council Office, a central agency supporting the Prime Minister, issued a tender for headhunting firms to seek out candidates for deputy minister positions. The outside candidates would be stepping into executive positions in the public service that are typically filled by career bureaucrats who work their way up the ranks.

"Promotion is not an entitlement. It's a competitive process, and as long as our community is allowed to compete, I think they will perform well in those competitions," said Michel Vermette, head of the Association of Professional Executives of the Public Service of Canada (APEX).

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"The public service doesn't have a lock on talented people. This is just one way to institutionalize a process to go looking for good people. It doesn't exclude the current [public service] executives from the process," he said.

The government tender, issued June 6, said PCO is looking for an executive search firm to create an "inventory" of deputy minister candidates from which the clerk of the Privy Council and the Prime Minister could draw on to fill senior-level posts.

Candidates would include "chief executive officers and senior or executive vice-presidents in the private and not-for-profit sectors (including universities, hospitals and comparable organizations) or heads or chief executive officers of federal, provincial/territorial or municipal government organizations or bodies in the Canadian public sector," said the tender, first reported on by CBC.

Michael Wernick, clerk of the Privy Council and head of the public service, has been busy managing changes to the senior ranks of the public service as government executives retire at a faster rate. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has made more than 20 changes to the top levels of the bureaucracy since coming to power. The Prime Minister announced more changes to the senior bureaucracy this month, including the retirements of Margaret Biggs, Anita Biguzs and Ward Elcock.

"The dominant challenge of the next two years is moving, as smoothly and as orderly as we can, the baby boomers like me, off the stage, and recruiting and developing the next generation of public service leadership," Mr. Wernick said in a speech at an APEX event in Ottawa on June 1.

The clerk said he wants to capture "the creativity, the innovation, and the energy" of new leadership and talent. "So that is the takeaway. Baby boomers, it's time to go…myself included," he said.

Mr. Wernick said he will be reintroducing some training and leadership programs after their cancellation in recent years. One new program will place public service executives into academic institutions for about a year, he said.

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Mr. Vermette said he welcomes more training, leadership programs and exchanges for senior officials. "We don't fear that [outside] competition, but we should also be given the opportunity to develop our own experience," Mr. Vermette said.

A senior public servant, Mr. Vermette is working as head of APEX on an executive exchange program, having last worked as deputy commissioner of the Canadian Coast Guard.

Machinery-of-government experts Peter Larson and David Zussman conducted interviews with executive recruits in the public service in 2006. Their resulting report, which highlighted the difficulties of success for senior recruits in Ottawa, noted a culture of careerism and competition for advancement among senior officials, mixed with a "climate of fear" and "self-censorship."

One former senior public servant, speaking on a background basis, said outside recruitment is a good idea, but there can be issues with private sector executives moving into the public service. Corporate executives are accustomed to making final decisions, the person said, whereas the role of senior officials is to advise the government for decisions by the PM and cabinet.

The former government executive suggested outside candidates may be better off starting at the the assistant deputy or associate deputy level, and would be better off having some government or public sector experience, such as in a hospital, provincial government or university.

PCO spokesman Raymond Rivet said by e-mail that the majority of deputy ministers are appointed from the federal rank of assistant deputy minister. There are about 70 senior officials at the deputy minister and associate deputy level.

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"An executive search firm will complement the existing role of the clerk of the Privy Council and ensure that other candidates from outside the federal public service are identified for possible consideration," Mr. Rivet said.

This spring Mr. Trudeau also appointed Catherine Blewett, a senior official with the Nova Scotia government, as deputy minister of the federal Fisheries and Oceans Department. Dylan Jones, head of the Canada West Foundation, was also named deputy minister of Western Economic Diversification for the federal government.

They follow other outsiders appointed to leadership roles in the public service in recent years, including Richard Dicerni as deputy minister of the former Industry Canada, Glenda Yeates as deputy of Health Canada, and Paul Boothe as deputy of Environment Canada.

Mr. Trudeau, who has committed to a new "merit-based" selection process for government appointments, is going to name high-ranking former public servants to key diplomatic posts, according to a Globe and Mail report, including Janice Charette, former clerk of the Privy Council, as high commissioner to Britain. Deborah Lyons, Canada's ambassador to Afghanistan, was appointed as ambassador to Israel.

Before the introduction of the new appointments process, the Prime Minister named Matthew Mendelsohn, a former Ontario government deputy minister who last year worked on the Trudeau campaign, to a senior position in the Privy Council Office as head of a results and delivery unit.

Academics Mark Jarvis and Lori Turnbull, co-authors (with Peter Aucoin) of the 2011 Donner Prize-winning book, Democratizing the Constitution: Reforming Responsible Government, have also joined the public service to work on democratic reform.

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Mr. Jarvis is policy adviser for the PCO and Ms. Turnbull is a departmental assistant for the office of Democratic Institutions Minister Maryam Monsef, according to the federal employee directory.

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