A newly released article by SPPA Professor, Robert Shepherd, and ENAP & SPPA Adjunct Professor, Daniel Caron, comments on the recent Report to the Clerk on Values and Ethics in Government. It provides several explanations as to how ethics is shifting in government, and that much greater attention must be given to a substantive study that builds on the latest Clerk’s report.

Reassert core ethical values in the public service

Ethical breaches are being reported more frequently in the mainstream media. What is the cause and what is to be done about it?

by Robert P. Shepherd, Daniel J. Caron
Feb 23, 2023
Published in Policy Options by IRPP (Institute for Research on Public Policy)

In October, John Hannaford, clerk of the Privy Council, launched a task force of deputy ministers to review the complex issue of values and ethics in the federal public service.

“The intention is not to reinvent the values and ethics code,” he said at the time. Past principles “are relevant in a number of different contexts – but we have a different context today – we are in a more complex space.”

The task force report, released in December, noted several key challenges contributing to that different context – a large and rapid influx of new public servants, new ways of interacting and building shared values in a hybrid work environment, the prevalence of social media, the drive for inclusivity and generational differences.

Those are major challenges for the public service if it is to ensure that it meets its obligations and retains public trust.

To do so, new ways must be developed to better train and socialize new public servants, encourage ethical leadership to strengthen the code of conduct and encourage its integration into public service culture, especially in this changing environment.

The last time the public service addressed values and ethics seriously was the 1995-96 task force led by John Tait, who produced the report, A Strong Foundation, which informed the development of the public service values and ethics code.

As expected, the ethics terrain has shifted since that time. Ethical breaches are being reported more frequently in the mainstream media. Why? Is the public service more sensitive to breaches or are these cases somehow different than in the past?

These questions raise an even more difficult question: what are the drivers behind these incidents and do they point to a need to reassert core ethical values?

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