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Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Early Childhood Education and Care Reform in Canadian Provinces: Understanding the Role of Experts and Evidence in Policy Change

L. A. White and S. Prentice

Summary: there are robust policy reasons for implementing full-day kindergarten, but it should designed as one element in a broader early years strategy.

Three facts to know:

1. Currently, BC, Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and PEI fund and deliver full-day kindergarten (FDK) through public schools, and other jurisdictions are considering or are in the process of adopting the policy. FDK is presented as a way to support children’s early years in a context of the changing family.

2. Widespread enthusiasm for FDK as the sole policy instrument to meet the needs of the early years is counter-intuitive both because FDK is more expensive to deliver than tax breaks or subsidizing parents’ child care expenses, and because there is also good evidence supporting other early childhood development programs, including childcare services.
3. Public administration scholars fiercely debate whether or how much evidence and expert opinion really matters in how governments make decisions: looking at the wave of FDK adoption in Canada provides empirical evidence about how both were used.

Three myths or misconceptions to dispel:

1. FDK was usually adopted as a consequence of an expert commission/panel that recommended changes, citing child development arguments that were presented as evidence-based, yet would be considered narrow by academic standards. A broad consideration that holistically addressed early childhood care and education seemed beyond the reach of most expert actors.

2. Governments rarely fully implement the programs recommended even by their own experts. Political remedies appeared restricted to possibilities easily incorporated into provincial education mandates.

3. In the case of FDK, policy change was driven by highly selective path dependency that used evidence to justify predetermined policy preferences. FDK seems to be the contemporary provincial government “hammer” for every “nail” of family policy (child development, socio-economic disadvantage, parental labor market participation, and economic competitiveness).

White, L. A. and S. Prentice (2016). “Early Childhood Education and Care Reform in Canadian Provinces: Understanding the Role of Experts and Evidence in Policy Change.” Canadian Public Administration 59: 26 - 44.

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

Funding Policies and the Nonprofit Sector in Western Canada

Peter R. Elson

There is mounting fiscal and accountability pressure across Western Canada to create program efficiencies and align policies to increase effectiveness, particularly in relation to the delivery of community human services by nonprofit agencies. At the same time, economic growth, particularly in Alberta and Saskatchewan, has brought other unique challenges to the fore, including increased rates of income inequality and strains on the social fabric of communities.

What everyone should know: 

Serious change: Excluding hospitals, colleges and universities, government funding to nonprofit accounts for more than 30% of nonprofit revenues and is in the order of $9 billion ($2.7 billion in Alberta).

Serious size: There are more than 50,000 nonprofit organizations in Western Canada of which about 10% (5,000) are social service organizations directly engaged in delivering services to communities.

Serious relationships: Funding relationships in the nonprofit sector in Western Canada are characterized by demands to demonstrate impact in programming and funding (Alberta); reinvented and more integrated contracting models (Manitoba); emerging forms of community mobilization (Saskatchewan); social innovation and new business models (British Columbia)

Myth busters:

Location doesn’t matter Indeed it does. Street level bureaucracy is alive and well and in this edited book, funding and relational variations across ministries and across departments within the same ministry are profiled (Chapter10).

In real life, David doesn’t beat Goliath: If you believe this, you need to read the profile of the provincial lottery fund in Saskatchewan (Chapter 8) and funding policies for nonprofit housing in BC (Chapter3).

Productive funding relationships are hard to find: Every province in Western Canada has examples of exemplary partnerships that are mutually supportive and community enhancing. The Alberta Mentoring Partnership is but one example (Chapter6).

Peter R Elson, PhD is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the School of Public Administration, University of Victoria and Senior research Fellow, Institute for Community Prosperity, Mount Royal University. He is editor of the newest publication in the IPAC Public Management and Governance series, Funding Policies and the Nonprofit Sector in Western Canada.

The Myths and Realities of Digital Public Administration in Canada

By Geoff Salomons

The transformative nature of the Internet has ushered the world into a new era of digital public administration. Today, our world has been revolutionized by digital technology (the Internet, social media, and smartphones). It has changed our conception of space and time. It has also changed our understanding of public sector management. While federal, provincial, and municipal governments have embraced digital public service, fine-tuning is required to adapt e-government to the dynamic complexities of citizen needs.

Three Myths about Digital Government in Canada

Myth #1: Every Canadian has access to the internet, and therefore access to e-government.

Reality: About 87 percent of Canadian households are connected to the internet. Across the country, 86 percent of British Columbians and Albertans have internet access, while Quebec and New Brunswick have the lowest with 78 and 77 percent respectively (Cira factbook). In fact, the lack internet access is highly concentrated among persons with disabilities, seniors, people in rural Canada, and the urban poor.

Myth #2: Digital public administration ensures all-inclusive public governance.

Reality:  Digital government has created new forms of social exclusion, specifically, among persons with disabilities; people living in remote parts of Canada; newcomers and immigrants with low proficiency in English and French; and individuals with inadequate computer literacy (Media Awareness Network).

Myth #3:  Digital public administration promotes organizational flexibility, decentralized service delivery, and grassroots governance.

Reality: Pubic sector leadership turns to centralize because of democratic accountability and responsibility. This reality is deeply rooted in the historical legacies of the Weberian public bureaucracy and the democratic regime in Canada (Aucoin 1997).

To learn more about  digital public administration in Canada, visit the Café Pracademique website.

Monday, 14 March 2016

The Council of the Federation: Effectiveness in Intergovernmental Institutions

By Megan Semaniuk

The Council of the Federation (COF) meets twice a year to discuss issues of
importance to Canadians, identify possible solutions, and share best practices. The
following were some lessons learned from a recent analysis of communiqués from the
2000 to 2015 summer meetings of Canada’s premiers.

Three things to know about COF:

1. Formerly known as the Annual Premiers’ Conference, COF was institutionalized
with the signing of the Founding Agreement in 2003. From the 1960s to 2003,
premiers met routinely but the rules and requirements surrounding meetings were not

2. The 2003 Founding Agreement defines interactions among premiers. This
document was signed by all provincial and territorial premiers and established a
mandate, a common Secretariat, and a consensus decision-making procedure. This
document acts as the framework for COF.

3. The Council of the Federation is a different institution than First Ministers’
Meetings (FMMs). Premiers may invite the federal government to participate at the
intergovernmental table with them. However, this provision in the Founding Agreement
has not been utilized to date.

 Three myths about COF:

Myth #1: There is an abundance of academic research on COF and its predecessor, the
Annual Premiers’ Conference.

Reality: Rather, there is a significant lack of academic research on the topic.
Where academic research does exist, it tends to focus on the interactions between
premiers and the prime minister of the day, or the premiers’ conference in relation to FMMs.

Myth #2: Premiers’ meetings are “interprovincial dress rehearsals” for FMMs.1

Reality: In fact, interprovincial matters have become the most salient element of COF communiqués.2
This goes against the assumption that premiers’ meetings are held primarily to discuss
items of federal-provincial importance.

Myth #3: Now that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has conducted two FMMs, there is no
need for COF meetings.

Reality: These meetings were the first to be held since 2009. Premiers continue to meet to discuss
issues that are uniquely provincial and that are within their constitutional jurisdiction.

1 Meekison, J. Peter. 2004. “The Annual Premiers’ Conference: Forging a Common Front.” In 
Canada: The State of the Federation 2002. Reconsidering the Institutions of Canadian 
Federalism, eds. J. Peter Meekison, Hamish Telford and Harvey Lazar. Montreal and 
Kingston, QC and ON: McGill-Queen’s University Press. 
2 Semaniuk, M. Forthcoming. “The Council of the Federation: Effectiveness in Intergovernmental 

Friday, 26 February 2016

Building our Future: Developing Tomorrow’s Leaders

Neetu Sharma

Three myths about developing talent in the public service:

Myth #1: The types of public service leaders we need today are the same types we’ll need tomorrow
Reality: The increasingly dynamic and complex environment in government requires public sector leaders to navigate challenges while under constant pressure and scrutiny. Understanding change management at both personal and organization levels, relationship- and network- building, and how to best employ information and technology—these are all key for tomorrow’s leaders to lead effectively.  While governments have taken some steps toward developing these skills, there is much work to do to meet tomorrow’s challenges.

Myth #2: Focus on top-talent leadership development programs will suffice.
Reality: To be effective, leadership development should span all employee categories, creating a shared culture of leadership to tackle complex issues. Distributed leadership is also a must to attract and ready the next generation of leaders (University of Oxford, 2013).

Myth #3: Talent development starts when an employee is first hired.
Reality: Governments must start working more strategically and comprehensively with primary, secondary and post-secondary institutions to address the leadership needs of tomorrow, closing critical competency gaps and institutionalizing leadership in the curriculum.

Three things to know about talent development in the public service:

Tomorrow’s public service leadership will:
1. Nurture talent—To attract and retain talent, governments must proactively address talent retention and leadership building through broad, cross-organizational experiences and learning opportunities. Incorporating employee priorities into organizational culture and educating managers on tools are imperative, as are strategically measuring and addressing employee satisfaction on an ongoing basis.

2. Build relationships—To perform effectively in an increasingly interconnected world, leaders will be bridge-builders—developing strong working relationships and connections at all levels between governments, businesses, not-for-profit sectors, and the public—to address differences and achieve results collaboratively.

3. Adapt—Leading people and leading change requires leaders to be adaptable. Cherishing diversity of opinion in their networks, leaders stay flexible and bring motivational and strategic insights to deal with uncertainty and inspire others for collaborative action.

To learn more about what the public service and educational systems are doing to develop tomorrow’s leaders, visit the Café Pracademique website.

Neetu Sharma is a graduate student with the University of Alberta School of Business. Her research interests include cross-sector collaborations and educational issues. More specifically, her work examines the potential of partnerships spanning the government, private and not-for-profit sectors as well as the role of education and mentorship in leadership development.