In the early days following the election of Justin Trudeau as Prime Minister the usual speculation on potential cabinet ministers started in earnest. But in this case it was accompanied by a keen interest in the machinery of government and, in particular, how the new government would be organized to deliver on the PM's priorities. It's well known in the world of public administration that governments around the world have tended to be a lot better at making policies and passing legislation than they are in implementing those policies.
The Globe and Mail's Doug Saunders summarized the various facets of this in an insightful October 23 column. The gist of the piece was whether Trudeau would create one or more central "delivery units" of the sort developed by Michael Barber for Labour PM Tony Blair in 2001 (which initially by-passed many line departments) or develop an approach more in keeping with Trudeau's plan to return to "Cabinet Government" which connotes the return of empowered cabinet ministers. The early betting was on a more centralized "Barber" model, which had been adapted in Ontario by the McGuinty Liberal government beginning in 2003 - especially given the presence of two former senior Ontario liberal staffers as top aides on Trudeau's team (Katie Telford and Gerald Butts). Butts told Saunders in October that the PM and his team were going down the middle in "trying to wed modern delivery systems with traditional cabinet government", and this indeed appears to be what is unfolding.
The first step was the creation of a new Cabinet Committee on Agenda and Results which the Liberals say “sets the government’s forward agenda and tracks progress on priorities.” This implies that ministers and departments will have the first crack at delivering on the content of their mandate letters. But it is also clear that the Agenda and Results committee, which is chaired by the PM will track the progress of key priorities against established timelines. This committee, and the PM in particular, will hold ministers to account if priorities veer off course. In some cases it will be regulating its own members since there are 10 other members, including Ralph Goodale, Dominic LeBlanc, Bill Morneau and Chrystia Freeland.
The choice of a reasonably small number of priorities, and establishing and monitoring targets supported by solid data, are key success factors in the delivery world - as are clear lines of accountability for delivery and reporting on progress and results. We know from experience in the UK and Ontario that the PM/Premier must have a clear line of sight on progress against targets in order to create pressure and accountability for delivery. Trudeau's role as chair of the powerful results committee will provide that sight-line and send a strong message to ministers and departments about his expectations.
Capacity and accountability is critical on the public service side as well - and will now be more so given the policy-rich agenda of the new federal government. There is already strong capacity in the Privy Council Office (PCO) designated to support and coordinate policy-making and tracking of results across the expanse of the federal government. This was given a large boost in late December with the appointment of Matthew Mendelsohn as Deputy Secretary to the Cabinet responsible for Results and Delivery, effective January 11, 2016 This will mark a return to PCO for Mendelsohn where he worked on inter-governmental files from 1996-98. He will leave his post as the highly successful inaugural Director of the Mowat Centre, a University of Toronto based policy centre. Mendelsohn, formerly worked as a DM in Ontario's public service and taught political studies at Queen's University. Mendelsohn will be the key point of public service contact and support for the PM's Agenda and Results Committee. It will be a powerful job with weighty responsibilities. With ministers' mandate letters now in the public sphere and a likely unprecedented degree of transparency with progress reports on key priorities, we will all know how well the PM, his committee, ministers - and Mendelsohn are doing.
In the meantime, Michael Barber explains "deliverology" in this short video