Janice Charette is carrying a heavy load as the new Liberal government finds its feet.
The job of Clerk of the Privy Council is the most senior position in the federal public service. Acting as the deputy minister to the Prime Minister, the Clerk advises the PM on everything he needs to know, from policy problems to looming appointments. The communication goes the other way as well: The Clerk takes note of the Prime Minister's wishes and gets the public service to deliver.
In an unusual move, Ms. Charette joined Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on his first foreign trip to the G20 summit in Turkey and the Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation summit in the Philippines.
The Clerk of the Privy Council doesn't usually travel abroad with the Prime Minister. However, with so many hours of travel time, the trip presented an opportunity to squeeze in the many briefings Mr. Trudeau required as he met major world leaders for the first time. Domestic issues would likely have been discussed as well. Her deep experience in government surely would have been appreciated by a Prime Minister who has none.
Mr. Trudeau and his small team are leaning heavily on senior PCO staff in the early days.
Since as far back as prime minister Pierre Trudeau in the 1970s, there has been growing concern about the power and influence of political aides working in the Prime Minister's Office. These are the so-called "boys in short pants" that regularly drew the ire of Conservative MPs and senators under Stephen Harper's government.
Mr. Trudeau's Liberals have promised to scale back the influence of PMO staffers. But for the moment, that's not really an issue. Few senior political aides have actually been hired as the new government pores through résumés in an effort to fill key positions.
Stepping in to fill the void is the PCO, which is the central agency of the public service that serves the Prime Minister and cabinet.
"The question the PMO staff will ask themselves is what is the right balance to be struck and how much can we use the PCO?" said David Zussman, a former senior PCO official who now teaches public sector management at the University of Ottawa. "And frankly the PCO will have to get used to being used in a way that they haven't been for a long, long time."
Ms. Charette has experience in both worlds. She was a senior political aide to several cabinet ministers during the Progressive Conservative government of Brian Mulroney and was chief of staff to PC Leader Jean Charest when he was in opposition. Links to the since-disbanded Tory party aren't necessarily a problem for Mr. Trudeau. His Treasury Board President, Scott Brison, was once a member of Mr. Charest's federal caucus. Mr. Trudeau also called on former deputy minister Peter Harder to lead his transition team and Mr. Harder worked for a time as a Progressive Conservative aide. Further, Ms. Charette's rise in the public service occurred under both Liberal and Conservative governments.
Mr. Trudeau's inner circle on his first foreign trip is surprisingly small.
Whether meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama or attending meetings on the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, leaders are often allowed to bring only a handful of advisers inside the room. Often, only one other person is allowed.
Those who rotated through these roles last week included Katie Telford, Mr. Trudeau's chief of staff; Roland Paris, his political adviser on foreign policy who is on leave from the University of Ottawa, and two senior officials from the PCO: Ms. Charette, the Clerk, and John Hannaford, the PCO foreign and defence policy adviser to the Prime Minister.
Senior ministers also sat in on some meetings with Mr. Trudeau. Finance Minister Bill Morneau attended the G20 summit, while Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion and Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland were at the APEC summit.
For the upcoming trip to the Commonwealth summit in Malta and the climate change conference in Paris, Ms. Charette will stay in Ottawa. However, Mr. Hannaford will continue travelling with the Prime Minister as will Dr. Paris. Ms. Telford will be replaced by senior Trudeau adviser Gerald Butts. Mr. Dion will be with the Prime Minister throughout the trip, while Environment Minister Catherine McKenna will join the Prime Minister in Paris.
For Mr. Trudeau, all that time with his new Clerk also gives him a chance to see whether the relationship will last long term.
When Mr. Harper became prime minister, he replaced then-clerk Alex Himelfarb a few weeks after the new government's swearing in. After a stint as ambassador to Italy, Mr. Himelfarb would go on to be a vocal critic of the Conservatives outside of government, accusing it of "crushing" the progressive state. In 2013 he co-authored a book called Tax Is Not a Four-Letter Word, making it clear that he was not on the same ideological page as Mr. Harper.
Ms. Charette was named Clerk in August, 2014, and started in the position on Oct. 6, 2014. Dr. Zussman said that timeline is among the factors that would make a similarly quick change at the top unlikely.
"Generally speaking, new prime ministers sometimes – I wouldn't say always, but certainly sometimes – change their clerks," he said. "This is a bit unusual because Janice has only been in the job for a relatively short time."
University of Moncton governance professor Donald Savoie agrees that Ms. Charette is likely to stay on with the new government.
"I know enough about the public service to know that she's had a good reputation over the past 20 years or so," he said.