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The Langevin Building is pictured on the south side of Wellington Street on March 12, 2015 in Ottawa. (Dave Chan For The Globe and Mail)
The Langevin Building is pictured on the south side of Wellington Street on March 12, 2015 in Ottawa. (Dave Chan For The Globe and Mail)

Politics Briefing

How public servants are learning new ways to 'nudge' citizens Add to ...

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POLITICS BRIEFING

By Chris Hannay (@channay)

When Ontario wanted to get more people to become organ donors, the province did something simple: it made the signup process easier. Ontarians no longer had to wait in line and then receive a form while renewing driver’s licences – instead, they got a (much shorter) form first to fill out as they waited.

These simple changes led to a huge uptick in the number of Ontario residents signing up to become organ donors, according to Dilip Soman, a policy adviser in behavioural economics and scholar-in-residence at the Privy Council Office, the nerve centre of the federal bureaucracy.

Public servants are learning about experiments – such as the one above – at a two-day conference in behavioural economics that ends in Ottawa today. The goal is to get those who work in government to think about applying basic lessons of economics and psychology to “nudge” citizens to take better advantage of government services.

There are many easy changes that would make government services and policy more “human-centric,” Mr. Soman says. “It’s low-hanging fruit for a lot of government departments.”

Another example Mr. Soman says came up at the conference is from the U.K. Letters were sent out to remind residents of the tax-filing deadline a month ahead of time, and bureaucrats found that more people filed on time if phrases like “90 per cent of people file their taxes on time – won’t you?” were added.

Mr. Soman says a big topic of conversation among public servants at the conference has been “evidence-based” policy making. When I recently spoke to Scott Brison, the lead Liberal minister for the public service, for a story on innovation in the bureaucracy, he said that’s been a major focus of the new government. “It starts at the top. Having a prime minister who listens to and engages public servants respectfully and intelligently, and expects the same of his cabinet, is key to changing the culture,” Mr. Brison said.

LATEST ON THE WHITE HOUSE STATE DINNER

The Canadian delegation sets off for Washington this afternoon. In addition to the Prime Minister and his spouse, five cabinet ministers are going: Stéphane Dion (Foreign Affairs), Chrystia Freeland (International Trade), Catherine McKenna (Environment), Harjit Sajjan (Defence) and Hunter Tootoo (Fisheries). Also going: Canada’s ambassador to the U.S., David MacNaughton, and his spouse, Leslie Noble; Ottawa’s top bureaucrat, Michael Wernick; and five Prime Minister’s Office staffers: chief of staff Katie Telford, principal secretary Gerald Butts, foreign policy adviser John Hannaford, deputy chief of staff Jeremy Broadhurst and director of communications Kate Purchase.

> Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and U.S. President Barack Obama have a “special relationship,” according to White House officials. As Campbell Clark points out, a senior State department official had a tough time when asked what Mr. Obama’s relationship with Stephen Harper was like. (for subscribers)

> Canadian chef Spike Mendelsohn shares what’s on the menu for the state luncheon.

> Paul Koring looks at the symbolism of past state dinners.

> A new Angus Reid Institute poll suggests 47 per cent of Americans would be proud to live in Canada, but only 17 per cent of Canadians would be proud to live in the U.S.

> And in slightly-condescending-foreign-coverage watch, Canada’s Prime Minister is described as a “crush” in a story in Politico called “Justin Fever Hits Washington.” “Seriously, with his looks, heart, and mind, he’s dreamy,” said a senior Obama administration official who did not want to be named “for obvious reasons.”

OTHER STORIES YOU SHOULD KNOW THIS MORNING

> Transport Canada has been placed under special oversight for repeatedly overspending its budget, The Globe and Mail has learned.

> The governing Liberals have included a record number of women in cabinet and as parliamentary secretaries, but that push means there are not enough female MPs left to work on committees, Jane Taber reports. “Essentially, we have run out,” said Government whip Andrew Leslie.

> Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale says he is worried that Canadians returning home after engaging with terrorist organizations overseas are not facing prosecution.

> Veteran Liberal MP Mauril Bélanger will be an honorary occupant of the speaker’s chair in the House of Commons today. Mr. Bélanger is slowly losing his ability to speak and move his body due to the rare neurological disease ALS, which he was diagnosed with in November.

> The Conservatives have released the official rules for the leadership race. Contenders must pay $100,000 in fees upfront to enter, and can spend up to $5-million. Hopefuls must register by Feb. 24, 2017, and the leader will be picked on May 27, 2017.

> And to follow up from yesterday’s briefing: Donald Trump won Michigan handily.

SECUREDROP

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WHAT EVERYONE’S TALKING ABOUT

“This is the problem with feminism as it exists today. Black women and other women of colour are continuously rendered invisible beneath the “women” banner. The default definition for women is white women – those with the most systemic power – and the issues of the most privileged of us take precedence over the trials and tribulations of the least privileged of us.” – Septembre Anderson, in The Globe.

Lysiane Gagnon (Globe and Mail): “More to the point, [Donald Trump] is a xenophobic populist leader – a growing breed in Britain, France, Poland, Croatia, Hungary, Slovakia and even Scandinavia. One difference is that Mr. Trump is more vulgar and more ignorant than his European counterparts. But – and this is the appalling difference – the United States isn’t just any country. What happens there will affect the whole world.”

Bruce Anderson (Globe and Mail): “Many voters are interested in a wide range of conservative-oriented policies. Less red tape, lower taxes, safety from crime, open markets, entrepreneurship – it’s not hard to get people to back candidates who campaign on these ideas. But too often in the past decade, conservative ideas have been served up with the hair-on-fire, attack-dog mentality typified by Ezra Levant.”

Susan Delacourt (iPolitics): “If International Women’s Day is about keeping count and getting there, maybe it’s an occasion to revisit the problems with political culture that were exposed in 2014 – and ask whether anything is being done to fix them.”

Christina Blizzard (Sun): “Perhaps Trudeau should clean up election funding in his own Liberal backyard before he attacks Americans for theirs.”

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