This profile was part of the Faculty of Public Affairs’ 75 for the 75th series, which highlighted 75 notable alumni in FPA in honour of Carleton University’s 75th anniversary. These stories were published in 2016 and 2017.
Secretary of Treasury Board, Government of Canada
Master of Arts, Public Administration (’89)
One might say that Mrs. Yaprak Baltacıoğlu’s life is an archetypal Canadian story. Born in Turkey, she came to Canada at the age of 21, after earning a law degree at Istanbul University. With a foreign degree and one young child at home, she had no idea what her future held.
“I started watching Question Period and I became fascinated by Canadian democracy,” recalls Mrs. Baltacıoğlu. “So I applied to the School of Public Policy and Administration (SPPA) to learn more about the government.”
Much to her surprise, she was accepted. “Carleton gave me that break. They gave me a degree, professional contacts and confidence, which is no small thing. They really stood me up as a young woman.”
Carleton also gave her an introduction into the public service, when she was recommended for a term position in the Public Service Commission by one of her professors. She embarked on a career that included work in six departments on topics ranging from agriculture and food policy, transport and infrastructure policy, environment and climate change policy, and social policy.
“SPPA trained me as a generalist. So when I got to the public service, I could learn and do almost anything,” she recalls. “When I got my first paycheque, I couldn’t believe they would pay me to have so much fun. I loved it from day one.”
Mrs. Baltacıoğlu says she found success by contributing “150 percent”, being observant and remaining open to new opportunities. It’s the same advice she offers to the many young people she mentors.
“Many people think of the public service as bureaucracy and red tape,” she says. “But they don’t always understand what we do. It’s an amazing opportunity to have an influence on your country.”
Today, Mrs. Baltacıoğlu’s influence is felt throughout the entire Canadian public service. As the Secretary of the Treasury Board, she is leading an overhaul of management policies that govern everything from human resources to government assets, with an eye towards “relieving the process burden so people can do their jobs more effectively.”
But above all, she still views herself as someone serving at the behest of the Canadian public. “Our job is to give the best nonpartisan advice we can to the government. And if they’re wrong, we have to tell them the truth,” she says. “I always tell Ministers that I’m tough, but I’ve got their back.”
She describes her weekly Thursday meeting with the Treasury Board Ministers as a kind of exam, “where our advice is quizzed, interpersonal skills are tested and where our capacity to listen well and respond with courage is paramount.”
It’s exactly the kind of challenge Mrs. Baltacıoğlu embraces.
“Every day I come to work and think, ‘I’m doing something pretty amazing’,” she says. “The idea that a foreign-born adult could come to a country and end up with this job would not happen anywhere else. I never take it for granted, even 30 years later.”
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