Kevin Lynch on the very challenging job he just left

From a McGill University speech last month. There’s a transcript in the new issue of Policy Options. (Our man John Geddes was one of the very few journalists to cover Lynch’s speech when he gave it. Here are John’s thoughts.)

Uncertainty is another fundamental characteristic of a crisis, the civilian equivalent of the “fog of war.” Unhelpfully, in this data-rich world, very few crises self-identify in advance, notwithstanding the experts who, in hindsight, had clearly “seen it coming.” Thus, to a very real extent, job number one in crisis management is not immediate policy action but the urgency of reducing uncertainty. …

How does all of this inform the principles of good public policy-making in a crisis? First, it is useful to remind ourselves that public servants don’t make policy decisions, elected governments do. The job of the public service is to provide governments with analytically rigorous, professional, unbiased policy options and recommendations.

A related observation is that the policy challenges of today are more complex than in years past, they are different, and they are less predictable.

…at no time has government needed a professional, non-partisan public service more than today as we face the most difficult international economic circumstances in recent history. A high-performing public service is crucial to Canada and Canadians as we work our way through these very uncertain times.

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