A stroll down the Way Forward memory lane . . . good thing I have the movie rights!

Posted on June 24, 2011


Small business people claim they face financial ruin and the daily lives of thousands of civil servants are changing as the way the government conducts business is transformed.

In the most recent federal budget, Finance Minister Ralph Goodale targeted $11 billion in savings. Of that total, $7 billion will come from streamlining the procurement process, the real estate portfolio and from the creation of a “one-stop shop” for Canadians wishing to access government services.

“The Way Forward is fundamentally changing the way we do business in government,” Mr. Brison said. “Public Works and Government Services Canada is the back office of government and in any business, the back office plays a very important role.”

from June 29th, 2005 Ottawa Business Journal article ‘Way Forward’ not the enemy of small biz, says Public Works chief

The Way Forward's strategy for engaging SMEs

Six years ago this month the above referenced article hit the news stands.

Even though it isn’t really a long time, it does seem like a lifetime (maybe even two) since the fury that was whipped up over the controversial Government of Canada Way Forward initiative was catapulted into mainstream consciousness.

This to be certain was not one of the government’s nor PWGSC’s finest moments or for that matter undertakings. What could be best described as a shell game of mistrust starting at and between the highest levels of the government bureaucracy and its elected officials that ultimately seeped its way into every relationship between interested stakeholders both within and external to the government, one cannot help but wonder how things could have gone so horribly wrong.

There are of course those flashpoint moments such as when I was called into the Treasury Board of Canada’s second in command office to be poked and prodded by the minister and his watchful chief strategist relative to what I though about PWGSC and the then wayward Way Forward initiative.  In the 90 minute meeting I distinctly remember the elected official grumbling that you can’t trust those guys from PWGSC.  What is funny is the disdain was indeed mutual as senior PWGSC officials indicated that they don’t really care what those elected to office think because they are only short term players that are likely to be voted out next election.  Or to put it another way, they are a pain in the (you fill in the blank) to be endured for only a relatively short time.

Then there was the e-mail I received from a senior Treasury Board official (and former IBMer) who when I had questioned the mathematics behind the targeted $11 billion in savings (re the calculated figure had no basis in reality), he wrote that I may very well be right but, and I paraphrase we followed the proper bid procedure so that is  all that matters.

Then there was the public lynching of two high level PWGSC executives who on a trip to London apparently decided to tour the ground old town versus actually attending scheduled meetings for which Canadian taxpayers were footing the bill!  I do not know what anyone else thought but the word scapegoats was one thought that immediately came to mind.

Finally, and after the dust had settled, the Deputy Minister mastermind behind the Way Forward strategy (who by the way attempted a similar initiative with a major Canadian bank . . . and also failed miserably), admitted to the press that he may have been a little off in terms of his overall vision.  His punishment . . . being banished by way of a plumb assignment as the Ambassador to Bermuda.  I wonder if he misses the Canadian winters?

The brains behind the Way Forward vision

These are just the Coles Notes version of events that first started unfolding like a meandering river with the original Way Forward announcement in the Fall of 2001, continuing through until its back door, shadowy demise in 2009 amid a series of somewhat secretive review panels.  As an aside, the panel discussions required the government to fly in (again on the taxpayers ticket) bureaucrats from other governments around North America to consult on what makes an e-procurement program successful.  Given that 85% of all public sector initiatives fail to achieve the expected results, it would be interesting to see what this blind-leading-the-blind exercise actually produced?  Ahhh, perhaps a question for another day!

What does all this mean?  For me perhaps a tell all book and a possible movie deal.  After all this has mystery, intrigue and unaccounted millions being spent.  The only thing missing is a Anthony Weiner-type scandal.

Fanciful musings aside, the real questions are simply this . . . what went wrong with the Canadian Government’s Way Forward initiative and, what has the government learned on a go forward basis.  Yes, “FORWARD” is the operative word here.

In this regard, I as always welcome your feedback by way of the comment section at the conclusion of this post.