Budget 2015: Politics and Administrative Duty

My MPA internship is with the City of Saskatoon Asset and Financial Management Department (AF). I was present for all budget deliberations and spoke with Councillors and upper management before, during, and after the budget 2015 process. Although JSGS professors had discussed how budgets became intensely political and affected politician’s relationships with administration, it was another thing to be involved in it.

Council acts to ensure the effectiveness and frugality in administrating services. AF works hard to project costs effectively and communicate to Council the ongoing and combined impact of services on taxes and funding, including contingencies, risk management, and opportunity costs. This process creates realistic expectations of costs throughout the year, reducing “budget shock” and the resulting negligence in funding. It also decreases accountability distance between Council and administration, which may be pitted against each other as Council attempts to act as “fiscal hawks”.

During budget, Council is expected to critique each item, looking for weakness, inconsistencies, redundancies and cost-savings. Councillors are in full political mode and are hard on everyone, including each-other. Administrators must be ready to justify and defend the ongoing existence of each project, program, and position.

Public speaking skills and excellent presentation preparation is key to public service line budget success. Presenters must be ready to simplify their discussion or to delve into detail, history, and long-term implications. The best approach is to be as confident, honest, direct, and positive as possible. A poorly executed, complex, or off-key presentation signals ineffectiveness and a lack of transparency making the program a target for heavy critique.

Budget 2015 was an excellent lesson in leadership and interpersonal communication, on the part of the administration. City administration has been focusing on modeling the organization’s core values (trust, integrity, respect, honesty and courage) and this practice has proved invaluable in ensuring clear communication, commitment to cooperation, self-discipline, and acceptance of personal responsibility. The 2015 budget was arduous and required a full additional day of deliberation, the City Administration displayed teamwork, accountability, dedication to continuous improvement, realism and active listening.

I strongly encourage JSGS students to watch the Saskatoon 2015 Budget online archives or to come to City Hall and watch Council in action. The experience will greatly improve their understanding of municipal politics, Council structure and process, administration roles and conduct, and effective presentations.

Kurt Terfloth is a MPA student from the University of Saskatchewan campus, and a 2014 Municipal Intern at the City of Saskatoon.

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Financial Comprehension and Council Politics

My MPA internship is with the City of Saskatoon Asset and Financial Management Department (AF). City administration felt they required more time to communicate plans and make revisions. This year’s budget process began in March rather than June. Council also formed department-specific committees allowing for specialization and improved time management. These changes proved successful despite difficult AF leadership staff shortages and revaluation challenges (such as the transit lock-out).

AF strives to balance the budget and provide accurate data to Council and all departments, but financial jargon and information overload presents major hurdles. There is great pressure to deliver simple, transparent explanations and contingencies but the information involved is often numerical, complex and highly contextual.

There are dangers in too simplified or complex a presentation to Council. In either case a Councillor may vote or propose modification of an arrangement based on intuition and incomplete understanding. Like all departments, AF does their best to educate all involved well in advance through the provision of materials and by inviting questions.

In instances when Councillors propose a motion, or move to accept or reject one, there is usually an indication of their comprehension as they discuss it. In cases where there is a misstep, more informed Councillors tend to clarify the matter and reinforce their argument with administrative consultation. Motions made in error are rarely withdrawn.

Council set a mandate for a lean 2015 budget resulting in few easy political gains. The proposed 7.32 increase to the Mill Rate was the result of population growth (growth creates higher costs despite a greater tax base), repeated pre-2012 Council’s neglect in infrastructure funding (low tax rates and program funding ultimately created emergency situations), and requested service increases (transportation).

Displaying fiscal restraint, Councillors intently scrutinized the budget but felt there were few possible changes. As such, their questions of administration were often geared to educate the public and justify their position. In the end, Budget 2015 changes were largely the result of Council adopting AF recommended options for spending and risk management revaluation, rather than program cuts or service or staff reductions.

From the City perspective, the 2015 budget process was highly successful. There were no program shake-ups, contingencies were well used, and Council and administration were both well informed. Budget propositions were almost universally adopted and opposition was largely symbolic. In 2015, with the AF staff lost replaced, the 2016 budget team hopes to prove even more effective in preparation, communication, and planning. Their continuous improvement adjustments are working well.

Kurt Terfloth is a MPA student from the University of Saskatchewan campus, and a Municipal Intern at the City of Saskatoon.

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What I’ve learned Interning with the Deputy Minister of Health

FlisterSince September of 2014, I’ve had the fortuity of interning at the Deputy Minister’s Office at the Ministry of Health. I could not imagine a better placement. The Deputy Minister of Health (DM), Mr. Max Hendricks, and the Assistant Deputy Ministers (ADMs), along with other Ministry staff, are providing me with invaluable insight based on their experiences as leaders in very high levels of government. With their support, I am being exposed to a wide variety of high-stakes meetings that contribute immensely to my becoming a well-rounded professional. Through the internship, not only am I acquiring immense knowledge about legislative and policy-making processes, but I am becoming ever more aware of the importance of serving as a liaison between key stakeholders.

Over the past months, I can say without doubt that there has been no day when I didn’t step out of my comfort zone. But being aware of the unique opportunity ahead of me – Health is the biggest ministry in Saskatchewan – I knew from the start that taking full advantage of this experience would require getting comfortable with, and moreover enjoying, fast-paced new experiences. On my second day as an intern, I attended the Standing Committee on Public Accounts (PAC). This was my first experience witnessing the interaction between the Legislative and Executive branches. On the committee sit members of the ruling party and the opposition, who question Ministry officials and CEOs of Crown Corporations on their implementation of recommendations put forth by the Provincial Auditor. Shortly thereafter, I started attending meetings on the Child and Family Agenda, a government initiative to improve the welfare of citizens in the province. This time, I observed a different side of the legislative process: several ministers gathered to discuss how to balance the needs and rights of varied stakeholder groups while improving the lives of Saskatchewan children and families. Being privy to such conversations exposed me to a side of politics I had not learned about in graduate school. By subsequently attending meetings with the Minister of Health, in which the DM and ADMs brief him on a variety of matters, I learned that policy development is far more of a delicate, balancing act than meets the eye.

Being a public-policy nerd, seeing policy unfold before my eyes was fascinating. And it wasn’t long until I became involved in it: on my second week as an intern, I was tasked with writing a briefing note (BN) to inform the Minister of Health about a proposed new program. This was a months-long process, but having sat in on briefings, I applied a very different perspective to my writing than that taught in graduate school: I knew I had to be concise and analytical, but now also mindful of how different policy alternatives would affect citizens in the province. Sometimes, what appears to be the obvious solution to the eyes of an economist isn’t the preferred alternative – and for valid, important reasons. It wasn’t an easy task. Many interactions with stakeholders took place to understand the funding and the structure of the program, and the BN came back countless times with red pen informing me revisions were needed. Throughout the process of laying out the structure of the program and its funding components, I was also responsible for explaining the analysis to the DM and ADMs. It would have been far easier for the ADM in charge of this portfolio to request that an experienced policy analyst write the BN, but she took the time to mentor and guide me through it – and that made all the difference. I subsequently wrote two more Minister’s BNs under the guidance of the other ADMs. There has been no greater reward than seeing the knowledge I learned in the classroom applied to documents that are presented to the Minister.

Among the many things I am learning under the tutelage of the DM and ADMs, one of the most imperative has been the importance of serving as a liaison between key stakeholders. The ability to foster positive, productive relationships that advance stakeholders’ strategic priorities and goals is an essential skill to have, both in the public and private sectors. The unique opportunity to be present at negotiation tables with unions and associations is exposing me to the intricacies of achieving balanced outcomes and advancing strategic priorities. Furthermore, by attending the Provincial Stakeholder Advisory Group (PSAG) and being involved in the government’s initiative to reduce wait times in emergency departments, I am gaining valuable knowledge on how consultations with varied groups are carried out and used to form a coherent and balanced course of action that has buy-in from all parties involved.

My internship will be coming to an end in April, but I can say with confidence that I’ve learned more about leadership, conflict management and real-world policy development in eight months than I had throughout graduate school. It has been the most interesting experience of my career thus far, and it is teaching me lessons that carry over to any work environment – be it public or private. As such, I strongly recommend that other graduate students take advantage of internship programs. Many of the skills acquired through this experience can’t be taught in school. While it is important to have the perspectives of our fellow classmates and professors, having mentors who provide new points of view, share diverse leadership experiences, and ask different sets of questions is key. People filter out dissenting views and opinions far too easily, but personal and professional growth require critically evaluating such views, considering what our goals are, and defining a path forward that engages others in achieving such goals. Mentors and coworkers, classmates and professors, friends and even competitors are all part of this.

Larissa Ducatti Flister is a MAEPA student from the University of Regina campus, and a Provincial Intern at the Ministry of Health.

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Public Service Motivation

Tyffany Amy PhotoWhile completing my MPA, at the JSGS University of Saskatchewan campus, I began contemplating what kind of career I would enjoy and what would motivate me in my career. Throughout JSGS courses the idea of public service motivation was a reoccurring theme and whether it still applied to a new generation of workers in the public service. Though I have only been working for a brief amount of time, I want to relay my thoughts on what has motivated me so far in my internship.

First let’s start with some background and what I have been doing so far.

My internship is with the Policy and Program Services branch in the Ministry of Government Relations, and I have been fortunate enough to be placed within a specific unit with a specialized focus on municipal affairs and public safety.

The unit I am interning in deals primarily with the creation of legislation and regulations. As such, the majority of the work I have been involved in has been focused on researching a broad range of topics and contributing to parts of the legislation and regulation making process.

When I began the internship my mentors provided me with a list of tasks to choose from involving a variety of topics (municipal elections, tax policy, fire safety, document preparation, inter-jurisdictional research, etc.). The topics seemed general but once I began researching and writing my findings each project had its own set of challenges and opportunities for learning.

While looking at these tasks, the first project I choose to do was to create a PowerPoint presentation to inform the entire Ministry of Government Relations about the enactment of a new ministry Act that would affect ministry operations in the future. In my naivety I thought to myself, “I know how to do a PowerPoint presentation. We do these in school all the time so let’s do that first. ” The problem with that line of thinking was that I had never actually done what is known in government as a “high level” presentation and it was a learning curve. The overall process of learning how to write a high level presentation was a beneficial one especially since I was just starting in the ministry. Not only did I begin to learn the expectations for government presentations but I also learned how the ministry I am working in is structured and the responsibilities the different divisions have.

From there I have worked on multiple inter-jurisdictional comparisons of provincial and territorial legislation and regulations. So far I have conducted research to inform future amendments to The Tax Enforcement Act and its regulations, and three draft bills that have actually been introduced in the fall session of the legislature: The Local Government Election Act 2014, The Government Relations Administration Act, and The Fire Safety Act. I have also contributed to some of the necessary tables and forms that will be needed for regulations associated with these Acts. The inter-jurisdictional research has proved to be very informative and has informed decisions that have led to changes in the legislation.

It was made known to me early in my internship that my work was important and as an intern coming into a new organization that made all the difference in me having a positive internship experience. Knowing that the work I am doing is informing and influencing changes to legislation makes the work meaningful and worthwhile for me. Further, the support and feedback I have received from my mentors and coworkers has helped me to learn and improve my work and feel comfortable in my new work environment.

So as a new and young employee of the public service I can tell you that public service motivation does exist for this intern, and I hope that it continues to motivate me to do quality work into the future.

Tyffany Amy is a JSGS student from the University of Saskatchewan campus, and a Provincial Intern at the Ministry of Government Relations.

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Federal Internship with Service Canada

boiteauI had the good fortune of spending the past summer as an intern in the Business Expertise Department of Service Canada. My experience could not have been more valuable and fun than if I had designed it myself. My mentor was a Senior Manager, and since she had began her career as a student, she was well aware of the specific needs and experience that I would gain from an internship placement. While the first few days involved a great deal of reading, it all helped me to see where our branch fit in with the larger mandate of Service Canada, as well as to understand the general structure of a Federal Government department. One of the first projects I contributed to was composing a briefing document for the incoming ADM on each area of the Business Expertise unit. While my input was minimal, it was great to see not only what all of the other pieces were responsible for, but to also see the collaboration involved in composing a document like that.

Over the summer, my mentor worked with me to find projects that would not only assist the team, but also utilize and strengthen my skills in public policy and research. My capstone project was on adult learning and training, for which I wrote a report and presented it to my team. It included recommendations on how to strengthen and support adult learning and employee training given the vast geographical and fiscal considerations a Federal government department faces. I was also able to attend a variety of meetings, contribute to briefing notes and reports, as well as work with updating the Terms of Reference for the Occupational Health and Safety Committee. My mentor was more than supportive of me taking advantage of the resources provided by the Federal Government, including encouraging any online training I found interesting, taking part in seminars put on by YMAGIN, the Federal Government youth network, or spending a day researching policy.

I got to work with a team of 15 people, with our group spread out in Vancouver, Edmonton, Winnipeg and Regina. Every team member was extremely helpful and friendly, whether I had to call them out of the blue or send them a random email. And, while my time as in intern concluded at the end of August, my mentor was more than happy to keep me on part-time for the school year, allowing me more opportunities to contribute to research and get to know more about the Federal Public Service.

I recommend every student apply for the Internship program, as the experience and contacts you make are invaluable. The opportunity to take the knowledge I had learned in my course work and be able to see it ‘in action’ allowed me to understand it that much more, but I was also able to learn of the many real-world issues that cannot necessarily be taught in the academic setting. Not only does the internship allow you to reinforce your theoretical skills, but it also exposes you to challenges that make you understand the variety of ways that a government works in. I feel like the internship has not only strengthened my policy skills, but also provided me with the confidence to work within government and succeed as a public servant once I complete my degree.

Meaghen Boiteau is a JSGS student from the University of Regina campus, and a Federal Intern at Service Canada.

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Internship in Ottawa

Sheryar Nasir PhotoOttawa is a beautiful city that is steeped in history and tradition. I have enjoyed living in our nation’s capital for the last couple of months. I am also very pleased to have the opportunity to complete my executive internship at a prestigious firm like the Earnscliffe Strategy Group.

Let me give you some background on Earnscliffe and the work that we do here. Earnscliffe is a government relations firm that offers strategic advice and works with clients from across the spectrum on a number of different issues. Earnscliffe is also Canada’s oldest independent public affairs firm and was founded in 1989.

Most recently, the firm celebrated its 25th anniversary and I was glad to be a part of the event that marked this special occasion. The celebration of the firm’s anniversary allowed me to learn more about the firm’s history and I was also able to meet many interesting people – including past and present clients – that work in a number of interesting organizations in Ottawa and across Canada.

My experience with Earnscliffe has been a very interesting and valuable one so far. I have been able to work on a number of different projects during my time here. The projects that I have worked on have ranged in scope and scale and have included writing briefing notes on a range of topics, compiling biographies, background research on issues that are relevant to clients and tracking Parliamentary proceedings, including committee meetings.

Let me give you an example of a recent project: Each year, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance holds its pre-budget consultation process, inviting interested individuals and organizations to participate. This year, the Committee received 421 submissions. I was tasked with closely following the pre-budget submission process in order to assist in keeping our clients informed. This involved compiling an inventory of the submissions and gaining a greater understanding of the scope of the requests – many of which will impact the next federal budget. This was a very interesting and insightful exercise.

The leadership team here at Earnscliffe includes former government policymakers, business leaders, academics, award-winning journalists and opinion-researchers. I have been fortunate to interact with Earnscliffe Principals on regular basis. All of them have a lot of valuable experience and incredible knowledge regarding the inner workings of government. To be able to regularly tap in to this knowledge is simply amazing!

I have enjoyed being part of the team at Earnscliffe and am very appreciative of being able to work with these very dedicated and talented people. I have learned a lot from the team already and look forward to continuing to expand my knowledge in my remaining time here in Ottawa.

Before I leave you I briefly wanted to highlight the resilient response by the people of Ottawa, and Canada in general, to the sad events of October 20th and 22nd. The response of the community in Ottawa has been very inspiring.

Sheryar Nasir is a JSGS student from the University of Saskatchewan campus, and an intern at Earnscliffe Strategy Group.

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Lean Tour at the Ministry of the Economy

Anna PictureI am responsible for the coordination of the Growth Plan piece at ECON, and we use Lean management in order to implement the plan. We have the Ministry’s Visibility wall that demonstrates 2020 outcomes stated in the Growth Plan and related to SK economy, 4 year strategic improvements and operational actions. Since this Wall is pretty unique (it is quite big with nearly 70 pieces), other ministries became interested in how we implement that.

Last week we had a tour with the Honorable Minister Don McMorris,  Dan Florizone, Deputy Minister, Education, and Don Wincherauk, Special Advisor, Education, accompanying. As well, Doug Moen, Deputy Minister to the Premier and Cabinet Secretary, joined the tour. Laurie Pushor, Acting Deputy Minister to the Economy (my current mentor), was doing the Wall Walk.

Anna Krutova is a JSGS student from the University of Saskatchewan campus, and a Provincial Intern at the Ministry of the Economy.

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