Like The Hub?
Join our community.
Join

Big projects, big failures: Amanda Lang and Lisa Raitt on the ‘incomprehensible failure’ of Phoenix pay and other government projects

00:00:00
Podcast & Video

The Hub is delighted to announce The Business of Government, a special series hosted by award-winning journalist and best-selling author Amanda Lang about how government works and, more importantly, why it sometimes doesn’t work. In this five-part series, Lang conducts in-depth interviews with experts and former policymakers and puts it all in perspective for the average Canadian.

This episode’s featured guest is Lisa Raitt, a former Conservative MP and cabinet minister who has also managed big, complex projects as CEO of the Toronto Port Authority. The two discuss a new project underway in Ottawa to replace the famously dysfunctional Phoenix pay system. They highlight what went wrong, the bureaucratic challenges with improving government programs, and Canadians’ loss of faith in functioning government. Read Amanda’s accompanying column on this topic here.

You can listen to this episode of Hub Dialogues on Acast, Amazon, Apple, Google, Spotify, and YouTube. The episodes are generously supported by The Ira Gluskin And Maxine Granovsky Gluskin Charitable Foundation and The Linda Frum & Howard Sokolowski Charitable Foundation.

AMANDA LANG: Welcome to Episode One: Big projects, big failures. By now, most Canadians have heard of the Phoenix Pay System. It’s been a disaster. In fact, a 2018 Auditor General’s report called it “an incomprehensible failure.” Phoenix was first conceptualized back in 2009 by then-Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and the idea was to replace an aging system of federal government pay systems and modernize it with one centralized, efficient working system. And doing so would mean fewer people managing the whole thing. Thousands were going to be laid off as Phoenix came to light. The idea would save about $80 million a year and make the whole thing work better. Well, the original contract was with IBM. It used U.S. software by PeopleSoft. Nothing went according to plan. When it finally came online in 2016 over warnings from people involved that it was not going to work, it’s now estimated that every pay period since then has had problems for federal civil service.

Sometimes they were underpaid, sometimes not paid at all, sometimes overpaid, and had to face clawbacks later. All in all, a disaster. Now there is a new project underway in Ottawa right now to replace Phoenix with yet another system. The real question, though it raises is: How did something so important go so wrong? In the end, Phoenix cost taxpayers more than two and a quarter billion dollars, and it’s still not working properly. We’re not here to pick on Phoenix, per se, but it’s a good example of what can sometimes feel like bureaucratic bungling. And it does cause a bit of a loss of faith in citizens in our government’s ability to get things done. Our guest today knows a thing or two about government. Lisa Raitt was a Conservative Member of Parliament from 2008 to 2019. She was a leadership candidate, a Cabinet Minister, and before that, also managed big, complex projects, notably as CEO of the Toronto Port Authority. Lisa, great to have you with us.

LISA RAITT: My pleasure. Thanks, Amanda.

AMANDA LANG: So there is this perception, for better or worse, that government doesn’t do well with big projects. And I say for better or worse, because I think there’s some unfairness to that, and I think when we know the private sector, there’s a lot of companies that try to implement big projects and they fail.

LISA RAITT: Yes.

AMANDA LANG: But when it comes to, and I’m using Phoenix, the pay system as an example, a way in, there are others. Just address this issue that we don’t do that great a job, it seems, in government, on these kinds of big complex projects. Is that a fair assessment?

LISA RAITT: I think it’s very fair. And I think a lot of it has to do with the sheer size of the bureaucracy. I’ll give you an example. When I was the Minister of Transport, I once took a look at a memo that made it to my desk that I needed to sign off on before it went to a cabinet process. There were 17 signatures before mine. 17. 17 layers of bureaucracy. And that happens all the time. My stuff was just a policy issue. When you’re doing procurement, even though public services has the procurement file, they then have probably, maybe four other deputy ministers, and four other pieces of infrastructure that they have to go through in order to go to the right cabinet committee. And you may have to go to more than one cabinet committee. You may have to go to ops, you may have to go to economic development. You’re definitely going to go to politics priorities, and, I forget what it was called, oddly, P&P, we always called it. And then certainly go to Treasury Board. All that takes time and those 17 signatures to get up to the minister’s desk every single time.

AMANDA LANG: Was there ever, in your experience, a time when you could fast-track; when you could say, “Nope, this is too important?” And I guess—I mean, I’m thinking forward to COVID. We know it can happen, right? Big, huge policies could be put in place with real mechanisms. When you were there, was there ever a time where you could say, “No, we’re skipping that. This is really important, we’re getting it done,”?

LISA RAITT: Yeah. We did that on Lac-Mégantic, and we did that on Champlain Bridge because it literally was falling down and you had to move quickly. So in that case, there was a very streamlined process. PCO got involved; PMO got involved. In my case, I was told for Lac-Mégantic, I could have a slot on the cabinet agenda whenever I needed it, whenever we had the regulations ready. And we fast-tracked. I want to point one other thing out too, Amanda. I can’t fault the bureaucracy for creating this scaffold of process. The reason being is that the best defence to an Auditor General’s report to a Parliamentary Budget Officer’s report, to litigation itself from those who weren’t successful in the procurement is to point to a fulsome process. Now, they may have gotten it out of hand, but certainly, I can understand where they’re coming from. That doesn’t mean that I agree with it. And then you weigh the risk of moving quickly. And in the case of health and safety, you got to move quickly. So Champlain Bridge, Lac-Mégantic, made a lot of sense to be able to fast-track.

AMANDA LANG: So, then I do want to jump to Phoenix. And I know you weren’t the minister on the file, but it’s been around a long time; every department was touched by this. One of the things that really struck me about that, kind of now-infamous Auditor General’s report of 2018, where they called it the “incomprehensible failure,” was there was this nod to the culture inside the bureaucracy. In other words, there was an unwillingness for people to actually stick their neck out and say, “This is not going to work.” What do you think—I mean, I know there are layers upon layers of finger-pointing that can go on with Phoenix. It’s so mind-boggling, though, that something that important went that wrong. And it’s still going wrong; we can’t even talk like it’s past tense. It’s still a mess. What do you think happened?

LISA RAITT: Well, I think what happened was, it’s a—prior to Phoenix, every department had its own pay codes, every department had its own ways in which to be able to pay people. Some people get time and a half after a certain time of day. Some people get shift bonuses. Some people work from home. I mean, it’s a real labyrinth of different ways in which people are paid within the federal public service. At the time, there were 245,000 people being paid. So the idea was, “Let’s put it all under one and modernize,” because you’re susceptible to so many cyber threats when everything is individualized. So one really safe, secure, cyber-protected system. And what was interesting is it did come to us in our cabinet at the very end, and there was a discomfort and there was no clear go-no-go. For us, it was a no-go. It wasn’t there yet, and we thought, arrogantly perhaps, we’d be back. And as a result, we’d pick up the file, figure out what’s wrong, and move on from there. But there were some rumblings, for sure. Whether or not somebody stood up and said, “This is absolutely not going to work,” I don’t know what happened in the next government.

AMANDA LANG: So when we talk about that in those 17 signatures you’re talking about, where does the politics fit in? Because again, not unlike the bureaucracy, there is a little bit of neck-covering, to use a polite phrase, when it comes to defending decisions.

LISA RAITT: Absolutely. Jumping to defence procurement for a second, and even maybe Phoenix to a certain extent, you have to show that there’s an economic benefit to Canada for all of these procurements. It is now drilled in our heads that if we’re going to spend 22 billion a year in procurement, we should be leveraging that for Canadian domestic economic growth. And we agree with that. It’s always been the Canadian way. But that means at the front end of decision-making, you’re totally going to have political play. Let me say, not interference; it’s political play. Some people will use it as a wedge in an upcoming election, saying, “We don’t need to do this.” Then, when it’s decided the project moves forward, you would hope that politics doesn’t come into play. And I’m here to tell you it does. And it does in this sense: If you have a multitude of ministers and a multitude of deputy ministers who are all interested in the project, which is oftentimes what happens with these big procurements, including with Phoenix, and implementation, it doesn’t take much for one department to stick their heels in and not cooperate. And I’ve seen it happen. And it could be Treasury Board; it could be—

AMANDA LANG: And when you say not much, what would be a motivation?

LISA RAITT: What would be a motivation? In some cases, they may not agree with the underlying purchase, and they want to make sure their risk assessment is, it’s not as clear-cut for them that this is the right direction to go in. So they’re doing extra tests and extra testing of the model, that kind of stuff. Or they just don’t assign the resources to it. And you can’t get the work out to the department. There are lots of ways to slow a file down to glacial pace within the federal service. And if you don’t have anyone at the top saying, “Come on, move it; I got to get this done;” project managing, it’s just going to float around.

AMANDA LANG: So I guess that leads my brain to think, “Are we leaving people in the right positions long enough? Are we staffing the positions well?” When you think about how you interacted with, in your ministries, your bureaucracy, time was when those were the folks, right? They knew everything and ministers really relied on their deputy ministers and on the senior civil servants to tell them what to—is that still true? Do we still have that level of expertise?

LISA RAITT: You do. And you’ve hit it on the nose, though. I mean, one of the complaints I’ve always had is that it takes a while to become a subject matter expert, especially in a lot of these portfolios. And I often found that sometimes we shuffle the deputies and the ADMs—the assistant and associate deputy ministers—who really hold the knowledge for the deputy minister. We shuffle them. We move them around an awful lot. There was a lot of cross-mobility. And you lose that momentum on the file as the next person coming in relearns it. I found that your deputy, you would have for a while. There was really good permanence because a cabinet minister and a deputy minister really have to work well together and form a partnership. You don’t break that up unless there’s a movement of the minister from one portfolio to another. But the Director Generals oftentimes stayed where they were as well. It’s the ones that move the file are the assistant DMs and the associate DMs. They move around a lot. They move around a lot because they’re looking for experience so that they can move up to a deputy position. But imagine if you had a project manager that changed every two years on a multi-year implementation of a project. My God, the private sector would be apoplectic. It would be really difficult to get things done.

AMANDA LANG: Any thoughts about why that is? How did we fall into this habit of moving around that level of knowledge?

LISA RAITT: Well, I think what it comes down to is the assumption that people will continue to share their knowledge. And this overriding notion that if you’re a public servant, you can go into any department and you can manage anything. And I’m here to say that there are certain things within the public sector that you need to have an inherent amount of knowledge on, in order to move the file forward because it’s not just policy, especially execution. Execution is the bane of the federal government; really hard to execute. We see this in all stripes, but you need to be able to move things and have the confidence in a DM to push to get it done. I think those are the workhorses of these projects.

AMANDA LANG: So I’m going to raise this next issue with caution because it’s a third rail, and I don’t mean to go somewhere unintentional. But in my experience in the private sector, the notion that workers are interchangeable can be driven by collective bargaining. In other words, a union mentality is a worker is a worker, we think of jobs as positions, not people. Is that partly what infected the public service here in terms of why you could move one DM to another DM? “They’re not the same people; they may be the same roles.”

LISA RAITT: Yeah, I mean, I think it’s a good thesis, Amanda. I don’t see it necessarily at the level of bureaucracy that I’m talking about because they’re not unionized at that point. I think what it is, fundamentally, is people have career ambitions. And the more that they move around and gather up all kinds of experience, the more likely they are to get the nod to move into a DM’s position in some other department. Because they can say, “Look at this wide swath of experience they’ve had in different departments.” So a lot of the time they look at themselves in their career path is doing two years here and two years there. Can’t blame them. I mean, that’s probably what they’re getting coached on from an executive point of view. But I don’t think it’s actually in the best interest of these major projects. I would love to see a world where you’re assigned to a project from top to tail until it’s done and in the ground for Canadian citizens.

AMANDA LANG: Interesting. That’d be an interesting innovation. Another piece of this on the outcome side of it is, and I guess this goes to the politics, but also probably how we measure our benchmark success. When you say it’s good for the Canadian economy, a lot of the ways we’ve measured that historically, a really simplistic number of jobs, actually looking at, I don’t know, contribution to GDP. And yet, if we pause for a second and say, “What do we really need governments to do?” “Well, we really need governments, our shared resources, to do the things nobody else will do.” That we’re the payoffs not immediate, perhaps where the externalities may be down the road and are vaguer, but we suspect they’ll come, highways and railways and internet. So are we missing the boat when we need the Prime Minister to be able to stand up and say, “I created X number of jobs?” Do we need to change the thinking on that?

LISA RAITT: I think so. I think that we have given ourselves this kind of cover. When I say we: politicians. We give ourselves this cover. So for these multi-billion-dollar projects, by saying, “But it’s good for the Canadian public.” And really, perhaps that’s a great line, and you get to go to the ribbon cutting, and you get to make the announcement. But the reality is, is that in this day and age where governments are definitely around the world, are specializing in certain things, it may not be a terrible thing to figure out whether or not you can play in that supply chain. Is this a space that you really should be in? Can we buy something off the rack, as it were, and implement and have the experience behind it on the implementation, and bring the team in to implement it as well, quite frankly? Those kinds of things, I think, is a smart way of looking at it. But so long as federal parties will weaponize procurement as a valid means to score political points, it’s not going to happen. And I don’t see any [Dayton] coming. I mean, perhaps we can follow the Australian model in defence and just have this all-party committee that will allow these kinds of projects to not be used in a political way, but I don’t see that happening right now.

AMANDA LANG: Yeah. It’s hard to imagine us getting that far. It’s interesting that you mentioned Australia because it doesn’t take much digging into how governments function before you realize that Australia’s doing some interesting things in the last maybe decade or so. And I wondered we do talk a lot about innovation in our society. It seems as though the last place we innovate is our government services. And arguably, it’s the biggest and most important place we could look. What was your experience of trying to change things, thinking about doing things differently? How difficult would that be to actually implement real change?

LISA RAITT: Okay, I’ll give you a good example, and it’s one we can all understand. When I became minister of transport, we were still in the era where if you were on an airplane, you were flying commercial airline in Canada, the flight attendant at the front would say, “According to Transport Canada rules and regulations, you must turn off and stow your mobile device.” And you had to have it out to your hands in a front seat pocket stored in your purse, wherever. If a flight attendant saw you with it in your hands, they were going to tell you to shut it off and put it away. That was silly. It was not backed by science. It had been changing in other parts of the world. So I decided, said to my staff, “Here’s a small thing we can do. Right off the top, let’s change that.” Oh my gosh, nine months later, we’re still trying to make the change.

And I would hear, “Oh, minister, we’ve got to go through a regulatory process. Oh, minister, we’ve got to have these reports. Oh, minister, we have—” It was just incredible the amount of but what ifs that came my way on something that was implemented by the Europeans and by the Americans already. And it had to do with whether or not it interfered with the cockpit, and everyone in the airline industry knew it didn’t.

AMANDA LANG: Right.

LISA RAITT: And as a result, it took that long and then finally got published and it was probably a year later. But imagine for that little thing, very concise, no stakeholders against it. Nobody against it except the bureaucracy. And it was just a form of inertia.

AMANDA LANG: How frustrating is that?

LISA RAITT: It’s amazingly frustrating. The other example, and I’m not picking on Transport Canada, but it is an older department and very set in its ways. But drones. I remember coming home from parliament, and I stopped at the corner store. I live in the rural part of my riding. And it’s a corner store where you get all the good stuff. You can buy your gas, get your milk and eggs, and also pick up a bottle of wine. It’s fantastic. I came home, and I stopped dead in the door when I saw the guy was selling drones as Christmas presents. And I knew we had no rules and regulations around drone flying in residential areas. And I called the deputy on a Saturday night and I said, “We really have to change this.” I think Marc Garneau finished the project for me; to be honest, it took years and years and years. And at first they were like, “Do we really have to get involved in this?” And it’s like, “Yeah, you do.” Because a drone falling on someone’s head is going to have a big deal to do with it. And they’re selling them. They’re out there, and the public is buying them. So it horses out to the barn.

AMANDA LANG: And yet it didn’t happen right away. So common sense backed by science still doesn’t get you where you want to go as the minister, which is the most powerful position you can have on that subject.

LISA RAITT: Absolutely. And in both cases, I only had to go to Treasury Board. I only had to change regulations; I didn’t have to change legislation and Act of Parliament. That’s a whole other situation and story.

AMANDA LANG: So let’s take a step back then and say we criticize ourselves a lot, and obviously if you want to get better, you have to look at hard truths and what we do differently and better. Our system, though—I mean, I’ve often thought this and that’s had a reasonably front-row seat to what somebody in cabinet looked like because my dad was in cabinet. You can actually get things done. Our parliamentary system, our system of cabinet, when you compare it to, say, the U.S., when you have a [Hong] Congress or a president who doesn’t have support in Congress, would you agree that, for all of our flaws, there—we do in Canada, at least, have the ability in theory on paper—are we wasting it to actually make real change?

LISA RAITT: Okay. First part of your question: 100%. And I think that’s what gives us the edge over the Americans in the Inflation Reduction Act. Because if you are a prime minister with a majority, either by election or by agreement, you have a lot of power, and you can short-circuit circuit process or you can focus the resources to streamline the process and take away all that middle stuff of 17 signatures, for example. And just assigning specific times and really get the timing done. So the prime minister can do that. The question is: Will a prime minister do that? That’s the difficult question.

AMANDA LANG: There are pros and cons to that. I know you may not have been going here, but when we think—and you did allude to playing in the supply chain; I don’t know if this was the reference, but we are now seeing a federal government that is spending billions over time to attract Volkswagen here with a Gigaplant, battery plant. You can make an argument on both sides, but there wasn’t a lot of debate about that. That’s a big spend with no debate. So I guess on the one side that backs up what I just said, which is the way our government functions, you can get stuff done. But on the other hand, you would say, “Is that really democratic? Is that really what we want a government to be able to do?”

LISA RAITT: That’s our parliamentary system. I still think it’s better than the United States, quite frankly, because we can move forward on things that are important that we all agree on. Now there may not be, I would say, broad-based agreement on the amount of money being spent on it, but I can tell you from talking to people who were very close to this transaction, both federally and provincially, it was a bloodbath. I mean, the hand-to-hand combat to get and land this project in Canada in that location, I think was breathtaking is the word that I heard. They’d not seen anything like this before. And it’s almost hearkening back to the way it was when we were trying to procure masks or vaccines, or whatever. The world is competing for these things hard. And the reason being is that public policy is driving economies and decisions, not the markets. So it’s a completely upside-down world where the public policy is saying, “This is what you’re going to do.” Markets saying, “Mmh, I like the way it is. We need your money.” And the governments go, “Okay.” And now everyone’s competing with Kentucky and Tennessee, and everywhere else, so it’s not going to get easier.

AMANDA LANG: So I mean, interesting different way of thinking about, and I think Lisa, you might agree that this is where this government’s been going from this particular government, I would say. But maybe recent governments—let’s even go back to the ones that you were in. And that is not afraid to be quite intervention, in other words, not afraid to pick winners and losers. All this stuff that became anathema in the ’80s. Now we’re saying, “Nope, we’re actually going to do that.” Is that a good thing? And I want to layer that question on top of this premise that you got those 17 signatures; there’s a whole bunch of bureaucracy underneath it. It might be slow moving, it might be the wrong idea. Is it good that governments are making these big decisions?

LISA RAITT: Yes, it is in some cases, and no in others. I mean, I know that’s a wimpy answer, but really is specific to the set of facts that you’re dealing with. In the case of defence procurement, because the Canadian public can be divided on whether or not we should be spending all this money, you needed a shipbuilding strategy to get it done. That was my government. We introduced a lot of bureaucracy to decision-making, and there’s litigation involved. So that is murky at best in terms of whether or not you can say it was the best path to go on, but really was the only choice because you didn’t necessarily have the Canadian public buy-in; you had to have the economic side of it. In the case of what we’re experiencing now in clean energy in the IRA, I view this as, like I said, governments around the world are making policy pronouncements and changes and indicating that this is the direction thou shalt go in for all good reasons, and I don’t deny the science of climate change whatsoever.

But the reality is, is that the pace at which they want the change and how they want it to change is being dictated not by markets or investments, or companies, it’s being dictated by governments. And in order to make those policies effective, they’ve got to get in and they’ve got to be in the space, and play in it. So the U.S., they’ve gone in with both feet, 369 billion. But can they build stuff? That’s the question, Canada: A lower amount. But we do have abilities if we choose to short-circuit some processes. Now, where my gripe is with this current government is they’re leaving LNG and natural gas on the table, which I think is a very bad policy decision not shared by other countries in the world, which could have an economic benefit that would allow for the funding of these other kinds of transitions that we want to do. And that’s a case of public policy making a decision as well to the detriment of the economy. And I know the conservatives are going to run hard on it.

LISA RAITT: Although this, of course, gets to one of the big thorny problems when you’re trying to pivot a resource-based economy, if we can call it that, because, I mean, you know as well as anyone that our resources are relatively small part of our economy. We talk as though it’s enormous, but it’s an important part. There is a reality of governing through this that says, “Look, we’re not going to actually just upend tens of thousands of jobs and industries and sectors; we’re going to do this thought maybe LNG is a little bit of an all of branch in that direction.” I don’t know. But, to me, that’s one of those super complex things about governing that we maybe have to give people credit for.

AMANDA LANG: I agree. I’ll give you the difference, though, between the United States and Canada and how quickly these supply chains are setting up. When you go down to Houston and you talk about what kind of investments are going on in the space, either clean energy or renewables, their whole attitude is, “Let’s go. We’re ready. We’re excited.” And in Canada, you’ve expressed exactly what the attitude is in Canada, which is, “We really hope for an orderly transition.” And there’s such a difference in the way that we’re approaching it. And Minister Wilkinson was critical of me because I said that perhaps we’re treating hitting our climate targets as the only outcome that we’re trying to achieve. Whereas the United States, it’s really about creating jobs in the rust belt and, yes, decarbonizing, but in an industrial way that’s going to secure economic prosperity. I’d like to have a little bit more of that in Canada, quite frankly.

LISA RAITT: So with all of this conversation, I can’t ignore one of the phenomenons for the last few years, and that is that our government is getting bigger.

AMANDA LANG: Yeah, I know.

LISA RAITT: And we’re going to drill into—with experts on this of the—is there a right size for government? But what we have seen, of course, is that the majority of job creation has been in public service jobs, public sector jobs of a variety of types. And we should remember that that can include healthcare workers and educators. But do you worry about, given what we’ve already been talking about, a lack of leanness, a lack of focus, sometimes too much bureaucracy? Do we worry when we are actually adding bodies to the mix?

LISA RAITT: I do because if you are adding bodies, they have to have a job, and sometimes they’ll make their work. They’ll make more process in order to be able to get a project done. And they’ll put more—every MC, every memo to cabinet that came to cabinet always gave an indication of how many FTEs were going to be needed. That was always the bulk of the money that you needed. It was always about having bodies attached to policy decisions in order to shepherd it through the process. And that’s where we are today. I think having that growth in our public sector is a danger. And the reason being, Amanda, I do believe that AI is going to change a whole lot of things. And a hundred thousand people—and I’m not saying it’s going to be this; I’m just throwing out a crazy number. But what happens if a hundred thousand people are made redundant because of AI? Not that we could actually implement AI because we can’t do a pay system, but you know what I mean. If we were to be able to do AI, a hundred thousand people lose their jobs because they’re redundant at that point. That’s a huge economic impact to the country. That’s a huge economic impact to people’s lives and their communities. And that’s the danger of bulking up a government too much. It’s—

AMANDA LANG: Setting you up for failure.

LISA RAITT: It’s setting you up for failure because the higher you go, the harder the fall.

AMANDA LANG: I have another fear, and that is that we won’t actually allow those innovations into government. We’ll have this parallel system, which we already do in some ways, right? I was thinking about this in the history of upstarts and innovation: Incumbents lose, they don’t have the ability to reinvent themselves enough to stop those new things from happening. The one exception to that is probably government, right? Because there is no way to disrupt government, or is there? I guess what I want to ask you is, if you could envision a way to introduce that element of change and innovation, and disruption to government, what would that look like? What do we need to be thinking about?

LISA RAITT: Oh, that’s a big question. I know that when Scott Brison came in as the president of the Treasury Board in ’15, he was really focused on the digital economy. He did a lot of work in this space. And I thought it was on the right track trying but Scott left. And he may have been frustrated when he left, and as to what kind of movement he made, even at that point in time in ’15. And he may have run into some brick walls along the way as well. But listen, if we’re not going to be innovating in that space, then at some point the taxpayers revolt. At some point, they just say, “That’s enough, and we can’t afford the taxes associated with it.”

And the second part is they want the ease of service. They want the convenience of being able to do things quickly. But your example is bang on because I had to fax a request to my doctor’s office the other day, and I’m looking for an app on my cell phone that allows me to take a picture and send the fax to the doctor’s office. And I’m just thinking, “Why can’t I just send a PDF? Can I not email it to you?” Nope. Not set up for it. And that is insanity, you know?

AMANDA LANG: Yes.

LISA RAITT: So microcosm of the bigger problem, bigger indication, for example, CRA. Did you know CRA has the most employees of all departments in the Canadian government? We have more tax collectors than we do soldiers in the Canadian Forces. And as a result, they all need a job to do. And automation of that department, I would say, would be the first thing that I would tackle.

AMANDA LANG: Right.

LISA RAITT: To answer your question, I’d go to the CRA.

AMANDA LANG: And actually implement technology that is readily available in other countries.

LISA RAITT: Correct.

AMANDA LANG: Okay. But to your earlier point, that would be simultaneously with efficiency cost savings, which, by the way, when Stephen Harper said, “We’re going to do Phoenix.” A big chunk of the appeal of that was all the layoffs. And that’s hard for a government to say all these layoffs are great news.

LISA RAITT: Yeah. And I remember at the time because I was on the Deficit Reduction Action Program, and for every one person in—so usually, in the real world, you would have one HR officer for like 20 people. We had one HR officer for five people in the federal government, and a lot of it had to do with payroll.

AMANDA LANG: It’s not better off today, though, from what I understand.

LISA RAITT: It can’t be.

AMANDA LANG: In some ways, it is, but it’s not working.

LISA RAITT: I don’t know what everybody’s doing. I can’t figure that out.

AMANDA LANG: I want to ask you whether you feel reasonably optimistic. You know the world; you’ve worked with other governments; you’ve been up and close. It’s easy to get negative. We do function pretty well. I mean, I think the plus side here is that we do have institutions and services that Canadians believe in and rely on. Could they be better? Of course. Are we letting them deteriorate? Maybe. How do you feel? What’s your level of optimism about where Canada sits? And I guess I would add, Lisa, with everything the ability to actually change as we go.

LISA RAITT: I am very optimistic on where Canada sits, quite frankly. I think other countries in the world want to invest. But to the second part of the question, they want to invest in a country that they’re certain they know is going to be able to get back to them in a timely fashion and that the rules don’t change. And we’ve got to show the world that we’re willing to do that. And sometimes it has to do with showing them at the fundamental end of the day, you can take a project from beginning to end, implement it, and make it meaningful. And we haven’t done that in so many years. All we can do is point to our failures. That’s what we’re talking about. And despite all of our failures of both governments, all governments, I’m optimistic. I think we, in our country, have a unique set of qualities and opportunities that no one else has: ingenuity smart people. We have the highest level of post-secondary education in the OECD, and everybody wants to roll up their sleeves and dig in and help, but we just need to get out of our own way.

AMANDA LANG: I think it’s a good note to end on. We like the optimism. And you can’t change things if you don’t stay positive about, it’s really great to have your perspective on this since you know so much about inside and outside of how it all functions. Thanks for your time.

LISA RAITT: Thanks, Amanda.

00:00:00
00:00:00