Discussing the Future of the Ontario Public Service (OPS) with Steve Orsini

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We began the start of 2018 with one of our most anticipated meetings yet – Steve Orsini, the Secretary of Cabinet, head of the public service in Ontario and Clerk of the Executive Council. Many of us are interested in continuing our non-partisan journeys with a career in the public service and meeting with Secretary Orsini allowed us to gain insight into Ontario’s public service and the qualities of an effective public servant. Mr. Orsini has more than 26 years of experience in the Ontario Public Service and was appointed Secretary of the Cabinet in 2014. We were fortunate enough to meet in the Executive Council Chambers of the Legislature. As a point of inquiry, Secretary Orsini pointed out where Premier Wynne and he would sit during cabinet meetings. 

Secretary Orsini began by acknowledging a key principle which the public service must embrace – change. Orsini eloquently stated “the only constant is change and even the rate of change is changing”. He stressed how the public service has to be agile and adapt to the change and disruption we are currently seeing. Some examples he mentioned was self-driving autonomous cars, changing service delivery and automation bringing a whole series of policy challenges that public servants must solve. 

As many of us expressed interest in a career in the public service, Secretary Orsini detailed the traits of an effective public servant. The first and most important was a client centred focus. This means putting Ontarians or the public service’s clients first when carrying out government programs or implementing policies. The second was a focus on finding solutions in complex environments. Third was finding consensus in work that often involves opposing ends. Ontario has a range of diverse stakeholders with different (often competing) interests. Good public servants find areas of compromise and consensus when delivering programs or implementing policy. 

One key lesson Orsini wanted to impart to us is that “culture eats strategy for breakfast”, a quote from Peter Drucker. Orsini stressed that in a large organization such as Ontario’s Public Service, new strategies cannot survive with a culture that is risk-averse, resistant to change or simply protective of the status quo. Incentivizing risk taking, change and thinking outside the box is key. Orsini provided the example of OSAP+ where they changed how it was delivered (focusing on the client centred approach) by adding a calculator on the website and getting rid of complicated tax scheme. The end result due to the alterations was the more Ontarians used the programs and it was done without any change in spending! 

We would like to thank Secretary Orsini for an insightful meeting and great discussion! 

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