Boosting Canada’s State Capacity: Essential Strategies for Success

Storm clouds pass by the Peace tower and Parliament Hill Tuesday August 18, 2020 in Ottawa. Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press.

“Is the federal government broken?”

In recent months, we have seen a flurry of criticisms aimed at the state of the country, with many Canadians feeling that everything is falling apart – especially within the federal government itself. From issues with ArriveCan to foreign interference in elections, to exorbitant mark-ups in procurement contracts, to the immigration-housing debacle, calls for a complete overhaul of the system are reaching a crescendo. Former mandarins Mel Cappe, Kevin Lynch, and Jim Mitchell have echoed these sentiments, stating that an overhaul is inevitable, given the multitude of reasons apparent to most Canadians. However, before diving into how to fix the broken system, it is crucial to identify what exactly is not working while also acknowledging the parts that are functioning well.

The Good: Dedicated Public Servants Making It Work

Despite the chaos and dysfunction that seems to permeate the federal government, it is important to recognize that the vast majority of public servants are dedicated professionals who carry out their duties diligently. Whether it’s ensuring border security, intelligence operations, or food inspection, there are countless public servants working tirelessly to keep the system running smoothly. This shows that the problem lies not with the frontline workers but with the “machine” within the Ottawa bubble itself.

Identifying the Dysfunction: The Ottawa Bubble

The heart of the issue seems to lie within the confines of the Ottawa bubble, where policy failures, operational inefficiencies, and management breakdowns are most prevalent. The inability to deliver on commitments and the constant struggles with designing and implementing effective solutions point to a systemic dysfunction at the core. The failures to assess the impacts of immigration on housing or to execute major projects efficiently underscore the need for a deeper examination of the central agencies and senior civil service responsible for policy development and implementation.

Proposed Solutions: Balancing Accountability and Effective Delivery

The debate on how to reform the federal government to enhance its delivery capacity has sparked various ideas, with proposals ranging from the establishment of Do Tanks in the PMO to reverting to a cabinet-led approach. While both perspectives have merit, the challenge lies in figuring out how to bridge the gap between centralized coordination and departmental autonomy. The key is to focus on refining the system to facilitate integrated policy development, planning, and implementation without compromising accountability or efficiency.

Moving Forward: The Need for Precision and Execution

To truly address the underlying issues plaguing the federal government, we must be specific in identifying the areas that require fixing and implementing actionable solutions. Merely creating Do Tanks or empowering cabinet ministers may not be sufficient on their own. Instead, a comprehensive approach that improves the system’s ability to tackle complex challenges with agility and effectiveness is essential. By focusing on coordination, prioritization, and oversight, we can pave the way for a more responsive and efficient government that delivers results in a timely manner.

In conclusion, the road to a functional and effective federal government is paved with challenges, but with a clear focus on enhancing policy capacity, operational efficiency, and prioritization, we can navigate towards a more responsive and accountable system. By acknowledging the weaknesses within the Ottawa bubble and working towards collaborative solutions that address the root causes of dysfunction, we can pave the way for a more effective government that delivers on its promises. Ultimately, the goal is to see policy initiatives developed and executed within reasonable timeframes, ensuring that the government functions as intended – for the benefit of all Canadians.”



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