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Case Study


By no means should the cosmetic appearance of affordable housing be the first priority of policy makers, or the second, or the third. And rightly so; the housing situation in Canada is quite grim and we cannot even begin to consider the quality of a building that isn’t even there. But if lifting individuals out of poverty – or preventing individuals from homelessness as discussed by Erin Dej and John Ecker – are the fundamental goals of affordable housing, solutions ought to have systemic considerations. The causes of homelessness are very much engrained into individuals’ lives and society at large. Likewise, solutions to housing accessibility cannot be functionally singular either. One of the most ill-considered dimensions of affordable housing is quality.

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Case Study


Healthy communities need housing everyone can afford. The World Health Organization defines the social determinants of health as “the conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work, and age. The social determinants of health are mostly responsible for health inequities - the unfair and avoidable differences in health status seen within and between countries.” Housing is a social determinant of health and worry about affordability and stability can have a toll on one’s health. Vulnerable populations such as seniors on a fixed income, low income families, and people with lived experience with mental health are at risk of housing insecurity and its effects on health.


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Case Study


Affordable housing is one of the most contentious issues in the public policy realm. Affordable housing policy has effects that cross the boarders of class and wealth and are often rooted in the domain of values. As questions arise over the promise of economic development at the cost of social progress, we must ask: Why are we negotiating with the lives of families and individuals who are simply looking to fulfill their basic needs? Why must we haggle over the minimum cost of providing basic shelter and a good home?

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Case Study


Social housing stock is in a state of disrepair. Or so we’ve heard. With questionable expenditures in the news, breaking stories of parts of buildings falling off, tenants being displaced because of unsafe conditions, promises from politicians that “change is coming,” and public service announcements pleading for the assistance of upper level government financial support, how can we not think that social housing stock in the province of Ontario is in need of fixing?


“Current investment from upper levels of government is both time limited and boxed into eligibility criteria that provides little flexibility to Service Managers and social housing providers alike. Was the housing stock better off before the download? It’s hard to say, but based on the level of decay and disrepair, it is possible that the buildings were not always handed over in perfect shape and without the financial support that is required to sustain the buildings into perpetuity.”


When Ontario’s social housing program began in 1964, the Ontario Housing Corporation purchased, commenced operation, and delegated administration of 84,145 units of public housing stock; the first major step in the development of affordable housing to meet the needs of low to moderate income households who had been identified as those who could benefit from government subsidized housing.[i] When the province changed its direction in 2001 and determined that social housing administration was better suited to the municipalities, Ontario transferred this administration and existing financial obligations such as mortgages, repairs, and operating expense of stock to 47 Municipal Service Managers. This threw many municipalities right into the deep end of program administration, and delivered with it a new and vast responsibility of maintaining decaying public housing stock that had been transferred with mortgage assumptions and the need for repairs and upgrades – all without a sustainable or secured source of funding assistance to keep them afloat.[ii] Knowing that snippet of history might shed some light on the past 17 years in terms of the burden of responsibility that has fallen entirely on social housing providers to repair what’s needed and how Ontario came to this state of disrepair and decaying building stock in what seems to be a small amount of time.


I. The Need for Capital Investment


Social housing providers rely heavily on vast sources of revenue, including external supports such as donations, grants, and funding. But what is the main source of funding for capital and operational expenses? Is it taxpayers’ dollars, government transfers, or Rental revenue? The answer is all of the above. With the latter source using the term “revenue” lightly when the majority of rent collected in social housing programs is geared to income, equating to roughly 30 percent of the household monthly income for eligible persons. The remainder rental stock is a combination of affordable (at or below average market rent for the community) and market rent units, which are a significantly smaller source of stock for generating revenue compared to the population of rent-geared-to-income tenants. Market rent revenue is what providers need to assist in the operations of its business, as these units generate the funding required to invest in further subsidies, capital and operating budgets.[iii] It is because of these tight constraints on budgets, revenue, and funding availability that social housing providers have found themselves in need of significant investment and revenue sources to ensure that stock remains viable and sustainable.

If we look at the physical issues that building stock is facing, we aren’t looking at a pretty picture; decaying infrastructure, rundown conditions, asbestos, lack of energy efficiencies and overall physical (and cosmetic) appearance and functions are of focus. Current investment from upper levels of government is both time limited and boxed into eligibility criteria that provides little flexibility to Service Managers and social housing providers alike. Was the housing stock better off before the download? It’s hard to say, but based on the level of decay and disrepair, it is possible that the buildings were not always handed over in perfect shape and without the financial support that is required to sustain the buildings into perpetuity.  


II. Know When to Hold ‘Em & Know When to Fold ‘Em


When repairs are out of the question due to budget constraints, social housing providers remain accountable for ensuring the homes remain habitable and safe. In cases where it has been determined that these homes pose a threat to their occupants and workers or where the cost of repairs exceed the benefit of investment, homes and buildings may become condemned or reviewed for divestment. Toronto Community Housing has provided the public with very publicized examples of both scenarios at play.

In 2015, seven townhomes in the Finch Ardwick housing community were classified uninhabitable as their structural integrity makes them unsafe and the cost of repair would be too great. Though these buildings remain boarded up, decaying, and visible in the community, the reality is that it also costs to tear a building down and this cost may not be within the budget.[iv] Toronto Community Housing has also looked at a new way to generate revenue for capital investment and to literally cut their losses by selling off the public housing stock. This highly controversial move was met with disdain from low-income housing advocates and agencies as it was perceived as a move that would effectively reduce the number of housing units available in the community; however, the Toronto Community Housing stance was quite direct: how useful is a housing unit if it is unsafe, uninhabitable, and the money to fix it just isn’t there? Isn’t it socially irresponsible to leave a condemned building with no hope as opposed to selling it off to someone who may turn it into housing opportunities and more so to generate revenue to repair their viable stock?


III. Show Me the Money


When an agency of any sort is as closely tied to any level of government, it is expected that there will be more public focus on where the public dollar goes and what the public receives in return. This is no different for social housing providers who have had to make do with what little they have and what they are given through contributions and budgeting. Social housing providers must also be cognizant of alternative and innovative methods of financial assistance, without impacting their mandate to offer affordable housing.

In the early 1990s the importance of co-operative housing projects was addressed and benefits were identified in this model that surpassed the non-profit housing model; the investment of rental revenue back into the maintenance and upkeep of the physical structure by its occupants in a co-op model could result in timely upgrades and a better sense of community through personal investment.[v] It was, however, noted that this model is typically only successful in middle to moderate income populated buildings and communities where the level of rental revenue (keeping in mind we’re referring to rent-geared-to-income mainly in the context of social housing providers) would be sufficient enough to result in meeting targets or producing surpluses.[vi] Though a co-operative housing model may be more cost-efficient and self-sustaining, there is a great need for support from investors, creditors, or government officials, as well as a detailed business plan to establish credibility and viability and the implementation of a board of directors. In addition to the implementation of capital investment planning and management, a co-operative model may also require significant investment in operational budgets to ensure proper planning of balance sheets, risk mitigation, cash flow, and sustainability of operating expenses.

Within the last few years, momentum has grown, and social housing providers have strongly urged both the provincial and federal governments to invest more into social housing entities to support capital investment, building maintenance, operation costs, and (re)-development of infrastructure. In 2017, the Federal government announced its National Housing Strategy, a 10-year, $40-billion plan that earmarks monies for repairs for 240,000 affordable and community homes through the National Housing Co-Investment Fund and Canada Community Housing Initiative (to be cost-matched by the provinces and territories) to preserve the existing supply of community-based housing, which social housing providers are currently planning for to address their capital repair programs. It is with great hope that social housing providers await their allocations and plan for their programs to tackle the ever-increasing age of their housing stock and hope that further and increased investment in social and affordable housing programs may result in cost savings over time and sustainability of the program as a whole.


ROBYN GRAVELLE has over 10 years of experience in the public sector and is a Senior Policy Analyst in Infrastructure Planning & Policy at Halton Region. Robyn holds a Master of Public Policy, Administration & Law degree, as well as a Bachelor of Health Studies degree, both from York University. Robyn's passions lie in research and continuous improvement related to social & community services, public works, affordable housing and health equity.


[i] Ontario Non-Profit Housing Association (ONPHA). (2015). Timeline: A history of social housing in Ontario.
[ii] Schuk, C. (2009). Overcoming challenges in centralized and decentralized housing models: Ontario and British Columbia compared.
[iii] Suen, F.Y. (2015). Why are high-income earners living in low-income housing? CTV Toronto.
[iv] Spurr, B. (2015). Inside Toronto community housing's uphill battle. The Toronto Star. April 19 2015.
[v] Dreier, P., & Hulchanski, J. D. (1993). The role of non-profit housing in Canada and the United States: Some comparisons. Housing Policy Debate, 4(1), 43-80.
[vi] Dreier, P., & Hulchanski, J. D. (1993). The role of non-profit housing in Canada and the United States: Some comparisons. Housing Policy Debate, 4(1), 43-80.


Case Study


With Affordable Housing as a top priority for citizens, urgent housing market challenges, and a renewed national interest in housing by the Government of Canada, the time is now for municipalities to transform their housing services. This article identifies how the City of Calgary is transforming the organizational service delivery model for affordable housing with an affordable housing strategy that is focused in two areas: 1) increasing the supply of housing by scaling up non-profit housing providers, and 2) collaborating with partners to create a housing system focused on people and outcomes – toward making life better through housing.

Similar to most municipalities in Canada, Calgarians of low and moderate income have very limited housing choices available to them in the private market. It is not often that you hear a city striving to simply become ‘average’. However, when it comes to meeting the demand for affordable housing, that is exactly what Calgary is determined to do. With only 3.6 percent of households in Calgary living in non-market housing, compared to six percent for Canada’s big cities, the single most pressing challenge facing Calgary’s affordable housing sector is a serious supply deficit.[i] While getting to average may not sound ambitious, in Calgary it would take the construction of at least 15,000 new homes, or nearly doubling the non-market housing supply.[ii] A predominantly home ownership city, Calgary has the lowest amount of purpose-built rental housing of the big cities in Canada at seven percent of the total housing supply. To become average, the rental housing supply would need to also double.[iii]

Table 1. Housing in Canada’s Big Cities, 2016
Source: City of Calgary (2018). Housing in Canada’s Big Cities.


This housing supply challenge is reflected in citizen satisfaction results which indicate that 64 percent of Calgarians identify a need to increase investment for affordable housing to support low income households.[vi] Affordable housing is the top citizen priority for municipal services, reflecting the urgency in need for action.

The news is not all bad. Calgary is a city of wealth with high median household incomes at $97,334 per year. This makes for a healthy market for housing affordability for average income households, with only four percent of households that earn over $80,000/year spending more than 30 percent of their income on shelter.[vii] This is a strength that is supported by a private sector development industry that meets over 78 percent of the housing needs of Calgarian households.[viii] This strong market and affordability context allows Calgary’s housing efforts to focus on areas underserved by the private sector. Calgary has a number of strengths in addition to private housing industry talent, including a culture of partnerships and a philanthropic mindset.

The transformation of the housing services journey began in 2015 when Calgary City Council identified a need to address affordable housing challenges by changing how services were delivered and reorganizing housing services. The change included bringing the City owned not-for-profit corporation the Calgary Housing Company (which is responsible for managing homes for 25,000 Calgarians) and the City affordable housing functions together as two legal entities under one service line called Calgary Housing. Calgary Housing is embedded within the Community Services department, which includes fire, parks, recreation, emergency management, neighbourhoods, and community standards (911) services. This change has enabled the front-line housing services staff to coordinate service needs with other municipal functions, thereby streamlining processes and focusing on citizen centred service delivery. With the organizational changes for daily service delivery improvements underway, the City set ambitious goals to tackle the supply deficit and challenges with the housing system.

The City of Calgary identified that by providing local leadership and leveraging municipal tools for housing, it could support a plan toward getting to average that would also require significant collaboration between the public, non-profit, and private sectors. In 2016, Calgary City Council took a huge step forward and unanimously approved a 10-year affordable housing strategy, Foundations for Home: Calgary’s Corporate Affordable Housing Strategy 2016-2025. The Corporate Affordable Housing Strategy (the Strategy) established affordable housing as a priority to be included in all neighbourhoods, with a focus on two long term outcomes: increasing the supply of non-market housing, and transforming the housing system. Since the Strategy was approved, much progress has been made to turn ideas into action, and from 2016 to present, the City has supported over 2000 new non-market units.

I. Increasing the supply


Similar to many municipalities in Canada, most of the non-market housing in Calgary is provided by agencies who operate one building, with a handful of agencies that provide several hundred units. Best practices indicate that there are economies of scale for non-profits to manage a minimum of 1200 to 2000 units. The Strategy focuses on scaling up the existing non-profits by growing the housing supply. A foundational component of the Strategy is the recognition that there was growing development capacity of the non-profit sector that had been started through a $120 million fundraising campaign by private sector leaders and non-profit housing organizations. The City’s efforts to scale up is currently being done through stacking of funding programs and removing the development barriers for non-profit providers. Four key municipal tools have been used to achieve this:

1. Housing Incentive Program (HIP)

In 2016, the City approved $6.9 million to provide support to non-market housing development through pre-development grants and City fee rebates for eligible development fees which can range from $200,000 to $400,000 per project. In developing the Strategy, the City heard numerous times how non-profit providers needed support to get shovels in the ground and unlock their development capacity. The program is now fully committed with a wait list, and the City has received excellent customer feedback from housing providers. The program contributes towards matching municipal funding for federal housing programs offered through Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, and at an average cost of $3,456 per unit, the program commitments support an anticipated total of 1,969 units of affordable housing.

An example of a housing developing supported by the HIP is Generations: Multi-Generational Housing and Community Centre. This multi-phase development was undertaken to provide the aged in the Calgary community with a continuum of care to support both their mental and physical health as well as their daily living needs. The HIP covered $414,000 of City-fee rebates for one phase of the project that is currently under construction. This phase will consist of 120 continuing care units (assisted living and long-term care), including 31 for residents with dementia. An additional $414,000 is committed for the next phase of the project, consisting of 40 two and three-bedroom units for families.

2. Prioritized and Streamlined Planning Approvals

Could you imagine planning a housing development and receiving all the required approvals and permits in as little as four months? That’s what’s possible in Calgary through the affordable housing program. Just like in the private sector, time is money for non-profit housing providers, and the City heard from affordable housing stakeholders that streamlined approvals were key to increasing the supply with shovel ready projects. Affordable housing providers now have a single point of contact at the City through dedicated staff in the Planning and Development department. This role works closely with affordable housing providers from the pre-development stage through to occupancy. In 2017, 213 new affordable housing units opened, with an additional 1,300 units already in the approval process at the City. By aligning planning approval timelines with the housing provider’s target construction dates, Calgary now has some of the fastest approval times for non-market housing developments in Canada.

3. Leveraging City Land

Of every lever that the City can pull, land is the greatest contribution that can be made to help non-profits increase the supply of affordable housing. With a target to dispose of 10 parcels of City land at below-market value to non-profit affordable housing providers, in 2017, the City transferred seven parcels of land worth more than $8 million to non-profit organizations with strong track records as affordable housing providers. This is the most significant sale of land for affordable housing development in the City’s history and will allow non-profit housing providers the ability to leverage sources of funding from individuals and governments to increase affordable housing supply. All told, these transfers should result in the development of over 160 new homes for Calgarians. A policy is under development toward creating an on-going program of offering land at City cost to non-profit organizations for sale for the purposes of scaling up in a timely manner.

4. Stacking of Intergovernmental Funding

None of this work would be possible without contributions and partnerships with other orders of government. In Calgary, this means partnering with the Government of Canada and the Government of Alberta to align investments and, as a result, generate bigger returns for each government partner. It also provides a much higher level of customer service to developers of affordable housing. If a developer receives a land contribution, combined with seed funding from the Government of Canada, this combination of investments is more worthwhile than receiving one or the other, and leads to better results. Coordination of applications also creates seamless consideration of decision making through multiple layers of government, making it easier for non-profits to coordinate programs and focus on building.

In one example, the City provided $1.5 million in land, grants and fee rebates to two projects in different communities across Calgary. This initial investment attracted an additional $8 million in private and government investment. Not only does this bring investment to Calgary, it brings partners together, gets shovels in the ground and produces homes for people in need.

In another example, as part of the City’s evaluation for choosing eligible non-profit housing providers in which to transfer City-owned land, providers had to be qualified by Calgary Mortgage and Housing Company (CMHC) to receive its Seed Funding. One of the successful organizations that was chosen to receive City-owned surplus land at cost was Homes for Heroes, a non-profit organization that provides housing services to veterans experiencing homelessness. By stacking funding, Homes for Heroes is one step closer to developing a micro community of 10 – 15 permanent ‘tiny homes’ (measuring approximately 240 square feet in size) that will be quickly deployable, adaptable, and transportable to the site.

In addition to scaling up non-profit housing providers, the City of Calgary also owns close to 2,500 homes operated by the Calgary Housing Company. As a contribution to becoming average, in May 2018 the City prepared a 10-year capital plan to increase the supply of non-market housing by proposing 1,000 mixed market homes offering housing for both low and moderate income households. The plan utilizes existing City-owned surplus lands, integrated civic facilities, sites along the new transit line and historic buildings in locations that would promote affordable living. With a Council vision to limit the construction of single use City buildings, there is significant opportunity to create vibrant developments optimizing land and buildings into complete communities with libraries, fire stations, recreation and cultural centres, schools, community centres, daycares, and affordable housing on integrated sites.

The City is in the initial stages of developing 48 affordable housing units that are co-located with a new fire hall. This space also offers the opportunity for additional corporate office space or commercial space, such as a daycare. Building integrated civic facilities is proving to have efficiencies in the use of civic land, as well as in the co-location of key community services.

The City of Calgary also has a significant challenge with both the expiry of operating agreements for social housing, and the deferred maintenance of aging social housing properties due to decades of underfunding (there is an estimated $160 million of maintenance required). All properties are being evaluated under a business approach using asset management, real estate and financial viability best practices with redevelopment plans underway.



II. A Shift Toward A People-Focused Housing System


“Governments and housing providers have made a shift toward more people-focused housing programs and policies, recognizing that an effective housing system will empower residents to access opportunities for personal development, achieve their goals, and participate actively in their communities.”

Governments and housing providers have made a shift toward more people-focused housing programs and policies, recognizing that an effective housing system will empower residents to access opportunities for personal development, achieve their goals, and participate actively in their communities.

One example that demonstrates this is the partnership between Calgary Housing Company and Habitat for Humanity. Habitat for Humanity helps low-income families buy a house through affordable payment schedules and getting the families involved in building their homes. In six months (from late 2017 to mid-2018), Calgary Housing Company staff held information sessions, and connected 150 families to Habitat for Humanity for further discussions on home ownership. Of these families, 24 have submitted applications, and three have been accepted into the program and are already working on their volunteer hours. Calgary Housing Company tenants have a strong track record of moving into home ownership with Habitat for Humanity, as was illustrated by the April 20, 2018 opening of a 24-housing unit whereby six of the new unit owners (or 25 percent of the building) were former Calgary Housing Company families. This demonstrates the potential for leveraging, partnerships, and a system-based approach to housing that supports citizens to achieve their goals.

Below are three initiatives that the City of Calgary is leading to improve the affordable housing system.

1. Home Program

In 2016, City Council approved one-time funding to establish a community development pilot program to support individual well-being of affordable housing residents. The City’s Home Program aims to meet two key outcomes for people living in affordable housing: to improve resident self-sufficiency, and to improve community well-being. Over the last 18 months, the Home Program has helped more than 600 affordable housing residents utilizing 90 volunteers who have given 300 volunteer hours, and worked with 30 different community partners. Early results of the Home program are promising, indicating that affordable housing residents are gaining important life skills, connecting with their communities, and increasing their sense of housing stability.

2. One-Window

The current system to apply for affordable housing in Calgary is fragmented and very difficult for clients to navigate. As a result, the City began a scoping and planning exercise in 2016 to define a vision with the non-profit housing sector to move to a fully centralized housing intake system. This project is called One Window, and the City is working with affordable housing providers in Calgary toward a transformed housing intake system. A core team of 14 housing providers has been formed to complete more detailed planning and designing of the future system. Since voluntary endorsement from all housing providers will be necessary to make a centralized system work in Calgary, it is especially important to design a system that both meets the needs of housing providers as well as creates substantial benefits for their clients. 

3. Community Housing Affordability Collective (CHAC)

The City is a founding member of the Community Housing Affordability Collective (CHAC), a network of organizations from all three levels of government, the non-profit sector, and private sector housing providers that are working together to make housing more affordable for Calgarians through community-based advocacy. CHAC is guided by a high-level action plan focusing on developing an integrated approach to housing and a stable and diverse housing mix, and securing predictable and sustainable funding for affordable housing. This first-of-its-kind collective approach to advocacy has proven to be highly effective in bringing the housing sector together and remaining focused to achieving common goals.

By leveraging every tool that the City of Calgary has at its disposal, each of these areas has positively contributed to the collective efforts of the sector to increase affordable housing supply throughout the city and improve the housing system as a whole. More importantly perhaps, the City is significantly improving its relationships with and developing the capacity of the non-market housing sector.

The City of Calgary does have housing supply to catch up on. However, its practice of scaling up, having a citizen-centric housing service delivery, and using a systems approach with partners and tenants, is innovative and new. The next steps for the City are to construct the 1,000 units proposed in the 10-year capital development plan, address deferred maintenance of social housing, continue to build the capacity of non-profits, and understand their development plans to help them increase supply.

The future of viable social housing models in Canada may go beyond scaling up at the local level, and may shift from city-specific non-profit housing organizations to Canada-wide organizations that can withstand the variations in market conditions and build capacity. This has been proven in other countries such as the United Kingdom and United States of America. For now, Calgary is looking for ambitious non-profit housing providers to join in this effort and contribute toward scaling up using a systems approach to housing delivery.


SARAH WOODGATE has over 20 years of experience in affordable housing, urban planning, real estate, land development and community development. Sarah was appointed the President of Calgary Housing Company (CHC) and Director of Calgary Housing for The City of Calgary in March 2015. Sarah holds a Masters Certificate in Municipal Leadership, is a Chartered Institute of Housing Chartered Member, and is a Professional Accredited Member of the Canadian Institute of Planners.

Special thanks to the many contributors of this article from the City of Calgary: Teresa Goldstein, Nina Nagy, Claire Noble, Kendra Ramdanny, Susan Sanderson, Tim Ward.

[i] City of Calgary. (2016). Foundations for Home: Calgary’s Corporate Affordable Housing Strategy 2016-2025. Retrieved from
[ii] Ibid.
[iii] City of Calgary. (May 2018). Housing in Canada’s Big Cities. Retrieved from
[iv] In Housing in Calgary: An Inventory of Housing Supply, 2015/2016, non-market housing supply was found to be 3.6%. The difference is likely the result of how units were counted – whereas data in the Housing in Calgary report was total dwelling units, the data here is occupied dwelling units, as reported in the 2016 Census of Canada. Some of the difference can also be explained by different data collection periods, as well as Statistics Canada estimation methodology.
[v] “Other Attached” is a subtotal of the following categories: semi-detached house, row house, apartment or flat in a duplex, apartment in a building that has fewer than five storeys and other single-attached house. It is often referred to as “missing middle housing” – the type of housing between single-family/low density and high-rise apartments.
[vi] Ipsos Public Affairs (January 2018). 2017 Quality of Life and Citizen Satisfaction Survey. Retrieved from
[vii] City of Calgary. (May 2018). Housing in Canada’s Big Cities. Retrieved from
[viii] City of Calgary. (2016). Foundations for Home: Calgary’s Corporate Affordable Housing Strategy 2016-2025. Retrieved from


Case Study


We are at a pivotal moment in addressing homelessness in Canada. For decades, the Federal Government did not prioritize investments in safe, adequate, and affordable housing. Coupled with shifting economic and social landscapes, the modern homelessness crisis was made. In order to develop long-term solutions to homelessness, we must recognize that homelessness exists along a continuum. In this article, we discuss the full extent of homelessness in Canada, including the relationship between a lack of affordable housing and the homelessness crisis. We argue that preventing and ending homelessness is achievable so long as investments, strategies, policies, and practices account for those at risk of homelessness and/or who are precariously housed.


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Case Study

Tyler Sutton, Editor-in-Chief

leadership & change management

Every government today is grappling with change. From demographic shifts and technological advancement to severe weather and crumbling infrastructure, governments at all levels must come to terms with these significant transformative forces. Change management, as a practice, is no longer a tool to be employed by governments only when a major change is taking place, whether that be the transition to a new government or the management of a local crisis. Change is now a constant, requiring change management to be embedded into public sector practices as an ongoing process, not as a project.

Who then is responsible for change management in government? Some larger organizations have the capacity to create offices or departments dedicated to change management. The City of Vaughan, north of Toronto, has an Office of Transformation and Strategy as part of the City Manager’s Office. In addition to delivering Vaughan’s Service Excellence Strategic Initiatives, the Office of Transformation and Strategy is responsible for corporate-wide change management. In smaller local governments, change management often falls into the hands of the City Manager or Chief Administrative Officer. In addition to keeping his or her organization operating smoothly, the CAO must plan for short term and long term change, precipitated by both internal and external forces. But for change management to be successful, leaders throughout the organization must be empowered to contribute to the process. The CAO, or the Deputy Minister at the provincial and federal levels, must demonstrate leadership by providing departmental managers with the tools and resources to plan for organizational change.

The Q2 issue of the Public Sector Digest, themed “Leadership & Change Management,” features contributors from across industry and government. Each author explores a different facet of change management in government – some focusing on a specific issue, like preparing for the impact of the Cannabis Act on local governments in Canada, and others explaining how different types of leaders can contribute to change management, such as an organization’s Human Resources Manager.

Our contributing authors from the GovLab provide an assessment of how a particular competency – in this case data science – can help public servants manage through change and uncertainty. The authors state that, “Institutions are moving faster to recognize the need for data literacy, but they still lack the in-house expertise to turn that data into actionable insights.” Without the ability to collect and interpret data, the modern government is operating blind in making evidence-based policy decisions. In an increasingly uncertain world, data analysis skills – backed by high quality datasets – can go a long way in supporting change management efforts.

As several jurisdictions across North American approach elections this spring and summer, change will continue to be front of mind for the public sector practitioner. Will a change in government bring greater stability or more uncertainty to public sector service delivery? Now is the time for leaders across our government organizations to take stock of their existing capacity and frameworks to manage change. As always, our research and policy team at the Public Sector Digest is ready to assist any public sector practitioner with a review of best practices, jurisdictional challenges, and legislative requirements that might support or impede efforts to achieve corporate goals and mitigate the impacts of change. Our hope is that this issue can serve as a talking point for our member organizations as many of you launch new change management initiatives in the months ahead.  

Tyler Sutton, Editor-in-Chief
Public Sector Digest 

Case Study


Change isn’t easy – it comes with a certain degree of risk. In highly regulated environments such as water utilities, taking risks is not an option. Today, many municipalities recognize that “business as usual” also poses a significant risk. As the public sector deals with aging infrastructure, growing demand for services, and a changing climate, we take chances by failing to act.

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Case Study


The current food system has been globalized to the extent that a few transnational companies can operate and deliver cheap food to the developed world. The production of this globalized cheap food is done in such a way that it delivers a low cost but does not consider human or environmental health consequences.[i] There is a growing interest in local food due to factors including improved food quality, nutrition and health, food safety, economic development, and environmental health.

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Case Study


In early March, the Trump Administration announced that the U.S. would impose tariffs on steel and aluminum imports. While the major shift in policy may benefit individual steel and aluminum manufacturers in America, a quick scan of U.S. Census Bureau data shows that several U.S. states rely on imports of these commodities and could be at risk. The same can be said for the other two countries within NAFTA, with Canada and Mexico among the largest sources of steel and steel products to the U.S.[i] Speculation about concessions began to surface almost immediately, but threats to U.S. industry and trade relations overall loom large.[ii] For practitioners, such uncertainty around policy is not new. However, the magnitude of potential impact across so many areas of the economy demonstrate how critical it has become for public entrepreneurs to possess data skills, with the facility to source, analyze, and ultimately act upon data-driven evidence.


I. Data Lends a Hand


While there is a broader movement toward evidence-based policymaking in public institutions, change has been incremental and slow. Institutions are moving faster to recognize the need for data literacy, but they still lack the in-house expertise to turn that data into actionable insights. Examining data between 2004 and 2014, researchers with the Pew-MacArthur Results First initiative identified over 100 state laws across 42 states that support the use of evidence-based programs and practices.[iii] However, “to produce more data-driven decision-making,” explains Beth Blauer, Executive Director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Government Excellence (GovEx), “what’s needed is more investment in training those in public service.”

To this end, a growing cadre of resources are now available for public entrepreneurs seeking to develop data science and data analysis skills, some at no cost and others available for a paid fee.

For example, the Coleridge Initiative – a joint training program developed by Professors Julia Lane of New York University, Rayid Ghani and Robert George of the University of Chicago, and Frauke Kreuter of the University of Maryland – helps public sector professionals gain data science and computer science skills. With the further aim of improving the policymaking process, the initiative also seeks to build lasting capacity and knowledge, provide a platform for practitioners to collaborate and network, and supports secure facilities to host confidential data and data research. Along with the Coleridge Initiative, Rayid Ghani also leads the University of Chicago’s Data Science for Social Good Fellowship, which works with aspiring data scientists in nonprofit and government to better understand how big data, machine learning, data mining and related areas impact the social change projects they lead, and how to incorporate data skills into their everyday work.

GovEx also offers a program designed to train public officials on how to use data to improve governance, with course offerings from Johns Hopkins University, Udacity and others.[iv] The Institute on Governance based in Ottawa takes a hands-on approach by offering in-person courses such as “Data Analytics for Government Managers.” Services such as Coursera and EdX also help to fill the skills gaps for institutions and public officials alike, though targeted more to computer scientists and those with existing technical know-how. Still, these portals, partnered with leading organizations such as Google and Microsoft, serve an important function and provide access to hundreds of courses from some of the world’s top universities such as the University of Toronto, Harvard University, University of Oxford, and Tsinghua University.

Another example is “Solving Public Problems with Data,” an online video lecture series we developed at The Governance Lab at the NYU Tandon School of Engineering to serve as a primer on using data science and data analytical thinking when developing and evaluating solutions to major social challenges. Available for free for participants, at the cost of their time, the lecture series is also a gateway to these more advanced data programs. In our work running large-scale social projects, many of the public officials we encountered desired to have a better command of data principles. They wanted to incorporate a data-mindset into their everyday work but lacked the requisite skill set. To help engaged public servants committed to working for public good, we brought together leading data scientists from different sectors and organizations – including NYU, Bloomberg, J-PAL, Cornell Tech and many more – to share what they’ve learned in a crash course for public entrepreneurs. The end result is a lecture series that dually serves public officials and the institutions they help to lead by demystifying data and making it more accessible.


“Growing demand for services and shrinking budgets could create a perfect storm of added pressure for governments … However, data can extend the reach of programs and services; data can also improve upon delivery and evaluation. With data science beginning to take center stage in government, there is no time like the present for the passionate public entrepreneur to develop these needed data skills.”


II. Why Now?


The benefits of training within private sector companies are well-known.[v] These same principles can be applied to the public sector with respect to data science skills. Growing demand for services and shrinking budgets could create a perfect storm of added pressure for governments already dealing with strains on their systems and low trust from the public. However, data can extend the reach of programs and services; data can also improve upon delivery and evaluation. With data science beginning to take center stage in government, there is no time like the present for the passionate public entrepreneur to develop these needed data skills.

More and more courses like “Solving Public Problems with Data” are being launched to meet practitioners where they are in their learning journey. Governments realize they do not need to start from scratch when it comes to closing the gap in demand and supply of professionals with data skills. Instead of exhausting a search for data scientists with an interest in solving public problems, they can refocus on empowering their existing pool of professionals to use data to improve decision-making and policy-making.


III. What Happens Next?


Solving for a dearth in public sector data science skills leaves open the question of what happens next. How exactly are public entrepreneurs meant to apply these newfound data skills in their everyday work? Governments collect huge stores of information better known as administrative data. Efficient policymaking and service delivery also depend upon the analysis of government’s own administrative data be it to understand past performance, effectively target current resources, or forecast future needs and outcomes.

Thus, a secondary consideration to address in parallel with training public servants is the removal of impediments – technical or otherwise – that can hinder data and knowledge sharing across departments and institutions, and subsequently cripple collective intelligence, collaboration, and innovation in problem-solving. To this end, in a post about the humanity of data science, GovEx Analyst Miriam McKinney reminds us that “Data science is collaborative. Openness and peer-peer evaluation is a necessary component of efficient data science.”[vi] She further notes that in order to effectively use data and data science, it is necessary to “employ compassionate professionals who can do more than just solve data problems. Seek to hire the conscientious, the self- and socially-aware.”

So, whether or not the U.S. moves forward with tariffs and the situation escalates to a trade war, leaning on data offers the best way to navigate the uncertainty in this and other policy arenas. Then as in now, public servants are called upon to conduct data analysis to better understand and communicate potential implications. Data will be at the center of how practitioners proceed with the next steps, making data literacy crucial for crafting policy based on evidence despite the political headwinds. Of equal importance is the need for these data specialists to possess the discipline, creativity, and experience to apply these data skills, making public entrepreneurs the optimal candidates for training.


BETH SIMONE NOVECK directs The Governance Lab and its MacArthur Research Network on Opening Governance. She is a Professor in Technology, Culture, and Society at New York University’s Tandon School of Engineering. Her current research focuses on “people-led innovation,” namely the ability of communities and institutions to work together to solve problems more effectively and legitimately. 

TIMI LEWIS is Director of Communications for The GovLab. Previously, she was Vice President of Marketing and Communications for Housing Partnership Network, a nonprofit business collaborative. She also worked as an Associate with Brunswick Group, a global strategic communications consultancy, and was Director of Corporate Affairs and Strategic Planning for NYC Media, the official television, radio and digital network of New York City.

SAM DEJOHN is a Research Assistant at The GovLab who recently graduated from Penn State University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology. His current research focuses on governance innovations in Latin American countries and Spain. He is part of the team evaluating the Organization of American States Fellowship Program and he is conducting a study of the Decide Madrid public engagement platform. Sam contributes to The GovLab blog and serves as a communications assistant to The GovLab’s Director of Communications. He is fluent in Spanish.


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Case Study


Canada’s new cannabis regime is in its final stages of legislative review, and how municipalities manage legalization matters. The most important thing municipalities need to know is that they will need to extend training about cannabis beyond the basic sphere of law enforcement. Indeed, municipalities should consider cannabis education as a priority for ALL staff, not just staff who may be directly responsible for enforcement. This includes legal regulations and basic education about cannabis, itself. Cannabis will be available as a legal product across Canada, and no matter what size a municipality may be, municipal staff will need to know the basics to make the best decisions for the future of their community. This requires letting go of various preconceptions about cannabis and its users, as well as welcoming cannabis education into municipal forums.


I. High-level Overview of the Federal Legislation


Any description of the framework for cannabis in Canada comes with the caveat that this discussion is subject to the passing of enabling federal legislation, the Cannabis Act (Bill C-45). At press time, the bill is still working its way through the Senate; until such a time as this legislation is passed, the recreational use of cannabis remains illegal. Along with the Impaired Driving Bill (C-46), which is outside the scope of this piece, the Cannabis Act sets the baseline for the Canadian cannabis regime, while leaving much of the implementation to each province. I trust that as we are mere months away from legalization, most municipalities are already familiar with what the Cannabis Act does; so, I will simply highlight a few key points of the legislation.

First, the bill aims to keep cannabis out of the hands of children and youth by taking a public health approach to cannabis legalization. Second, it eliminates the illegal market and invests the profits back into important Canadian social programs. Recognizing that most municipalities have important responsibilities with respect to the enforcement of laws, Trudeau’s Liberal government agreed to transfer 70 percent of tax revenue to the provinces if money found its way into the coffers of municipalities.

The federal government has set the Minimum Age for recreational cannabis use at 18, with each province having the ability to set a higher age if desired. In all cases, provinces have aligned the age with the legal age to consume alcohol in their jurisdiction. While some provinces have allowed for the co-location of alcohol, most have created a system that forbids the co-location of alcohol and cannabis sales.

While it may feel counterintuitive, key to achieving these goals is the need to ensure that legal cannabis remains reasonably accessible, with prices low enough to cut out the illicit market, while ensuring a steady tax revenue.


II. Interprovincial Systems


Trina Fraser, CannaLaw® group leader at Brazeau Sellers Law in Ottawa, has put together a helpful one-page chart (Figures 1, 2, 3) that provides an overview of regulations across the country. While it will be important to review your specific provincial legislation in detail, I would suggest that municipalities understand how each provincial system works with the proposed regulations.


III. What Municipalities Need to Know


The Federation of Canadian Municipalities has recently published a thorough guide on cannabis legalization. Notably, FCM commented on the role that the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms plays in ensuring reasonable access to cannabis, once legal. FCM was very clear that municipalities cannot get away with overbearing or overreaching bylaws. This is particularly important when it comes to the accommodation of medical cannabis patients; there are greater burdens placed on municipalities to ensure that the Charter rights of medical patients are not violated. That said, municipalities are empowered to make decisions regarding building codes and zoning, as well as the production, processing, and consumption of non-medical cannabis. The guide lays out the way some municipalities have chosen to address zoning and proximity issues, treating cannabis production and processing facilities in the same way they do other adult type businesses.


Notably, it is within the right of a municipality to prohibit all cannabis businesses in a community, provided enabling legislation from the appropriate jurisdiction allows them to do so. In the province of Manitoba, for instance, communities have been allowed by the provincial government to refuse to host any kind of cannabis business, including a private or public cannabis store. These prohibitions can extend to the point of forbidding cannabis production by modifying bylaws to exclude cannabis from the definition of agriculture.

Restricting cannabis retail locations to the point of inaccessibility, to keep cannabis out of the hands of young people, is not the best approach. The central purpose of the Cannabis Act is to open accessibility to regulated cannabis produced safely and reliably, in order to drive out undesirable illegal and unsafe activity. Relegating retail cannabis locations to the outskirts of town or otherwise less accessible places will simply help to maintain the illicit market.

Banning cannabis-based businesses will not prevent residents from using cannabis, nor will this prevent medical cannabis users from accessing their medicine through the existing ACMPR program. According to the FCM guide, this means recognizing that some pharmacy chains have already entered into contracts to carry medical cannabis, and that jurisdictions should be careful not to restrict this kind of medical sales.

One of the larger challenges is enforcing provincial public consumption and smoking regulations. Cannabis has a particularly noticeable odor, which quickly becomes a nuisance, not dissimilar to cigarettes or cigars. Many people are intolerant of smoking, and complaints make enforcement difficult and expensive. Communities should recognize that it is inevitable that there will be complaints with respect to cannabis use on private property.

It’s also important to recognize that consuming cannabis is also frequently a social activity. One way that communities can get around the nuisance of smoke and smells is to authorize the opening of ‘cannabis cafés,’ or Vape Lounges, which can act as a release valve for cannabis users who may be tempted to congregate in public or in parks, further taxing local enforcement systems. While it may be distasteful to some, creating spaces for legal cannabis users to consume with others will ultimately have the desired effect of keeping cannabis users off the street.

One of the controversial components of the federal Cannabis Act is permission granted to Canadians to grow up to four plants in their dwelling-house, unless provinces choose to regulate otherwise. Thus far only Manitoba and Quebec have forbidden personal home growing, though there has been significant resistance from the country’s landlords, real estate investors, and home owners. In a February 2018 report from the Financial Post, David Hutniak, CEO of Landlord BC, said, “Can you imagine you’re living in a 100-unit apartment, and in theory, there could be 100 grow-ops in that thing? I mean, that’s ridiculous.”

While Mr. Hutniak may be worried about his 100 units taking up the art of cannabis growing, the data suggests that less than one percent of medical users grow their own plants, and that few recreational consumers will consider growing their own plants in the future. The average cannabis consumer will be more concerned about ease of legal access than they will be about setting up a grow room in their bedroom.

Moreover, as FCM notes, “there is no reason … for those engaged in the activity not to comply with applicable building construction and safety standards. They don’t need to stay ‘under the radar’ of law enforce­ment.” That said, there is no concern about possible Charter violations. If a municipality chooses to place restrictions to building codes such that home growing is not possible, it will be important to remember that they will be responsible for ensuring compliance through their own means of enforcement.

“While many communities will be focused primarily on enforcement of regulations, the ones who spend time, money, and energy on balanced and effective staff training programs will ultimately be the municipalities who come out on top.”


IV. Training Matters


While many communities will be focused primarily on enforcement of regulations, the ones who spend time, money, and energy on balanced and effective staff training programs will ultimately be the municipalities who come out on top. The education of municipal staff, in addition to law enforcement officers, will require an open mind; municipalities across Canada must face the reality that cannabis is going to be legal by the fall of 2018, and will only continue to grow as a social activity within Canadian society. As Dr. Mark Ware noted in his presentation to the Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology on May 9, 2018, the legalization of cannabis as an adult use product is a paradigm shift for all of us, and it will be easy for none of us. In his closing comments to the committee, Dr. Ware asked Senators to “think of cannabis not as a dangerous drug with potential harms but instead to start thinking of it as a cultivated plant with a diverse set of benefits.” Municipalities that do not make this shift in thinking risk being left behind, their feet firmly planted in a 20th century War-on-Drugs mentality.

It may come as a surprise to many municipal governments that there are already many medical and recreational cannabis users in their community from all walks of life that they likely don’t know about. It’s important to recognize that not every person who consumes cannabis will become a problem or issue for governments to deal with. Indeed, the vast majority of cannabis consumers use a little bit of cannabis as a way of de-stressing, or otherwise just having a good time with friends. From one or two puffs as a sleep aid, to a BBQ with friends and family, cannabis has been used discreetly by Canadians for a very long time. According to a 2016 study by Deloitte, in partnership with another Toronto research firm, out of “5,000 Canadian adults (19 years or older) from coast to coast, 1,000 … identified as current recreational marijuana consumers.” The same snapshot determined that an additional 17 percent of the adult population would like to try cannabis if it was legal. With nearly 40 percent of the population either consuming cannabis or open to trying it as a legal product, it is important to recognize that cannabis has, and will continue to be, a part of Canadian society.

Training municipal staff, especially those who are used to treating cannabis as an illicit substance, and who may be unwilling to change their attitudes, can be met with resistance. They’ll be used to having conversations about cannabis as if it were a purely negative thing – a substance to be avoided at all costs. From law enforcement, to bylaw officers and public health agencies, few are aware of the complexity of the plant, its constituent parts, or the way that it works in the body. This frequently means that when experts are asked to come and speak to municipalities on cannabis, there are important pieces of the puzzle that are missed.

Finding knowledgeable and unbiased people to provide the training to municipal employees can be difficult. Human Resources and Health and Safety departments will have to adjust their policies and procedures with respect to cannabis usage on the job, and any “hangover” effects. With legalization, there could also be an increase in the cost of benefits programs, particularly within extended health care benefits.


PETER THURLEY, Principal & Chief Writing Officer at PT Communications and Consulting Services, became a medical cannabis patient in 2015 after the removal of a 25lb desmoid tumour that burst his bowels and left him with significant neuropathic chronic pain, a panic disorder and PTSD. Seeing a reduction in opioid use and a drastic increase in quality of life, Thurley became an ‘accidental’ cannabis advocate, with published pieces in the National Post, the Ottawa Citizen and CBC Opinion Online. He lives in Kitchener, ON and is a member of the Board of Directors at Canadians for Fair Access to Medical Marijuana. Thurley can be found online at or 


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Case Study


The legalization of non-medical cannabis has been a long-time coming – a handful of European countries and US states have made cannabis legal in previous years and many Canadians eagerly awaited the time that Canada would do so as well. Yet, despite the whisperings of potential legalization for many years, the passing of the Cannabis Act has taken many by surprise – both citizens and politicians alike. Whether you are in favour of its passing or not, the Cannabis Act cannot be ignored and will have many impacts on municipalities once in effect. Tom Stiles, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities’ (FCM) policy lead on cannabis legalization, provided Public Sector Digest readers with a primer on everything one needs to know about the impending legislation.


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Case Study


The frequently-maligned Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) has, as of April 3, 2018, been transformed into the new Local Planning Appeal Tribunal (LPAT). This transformation was equal parts necessity and political opportunity. The necessity arose from a widespread but wrongly-held belief that the unelected members of the OMB were routinely overturning the will of elected municipal councils at lengthy hearings based on parades of one-sided evidence presented by high-priced consultants and lawyers funded by deep-pocketed developers.

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Case Study


A good assistant is worth their weight in gold, and while many of their contributions are immeasurable, some have recently been quantified in a new survey from staffing firm OfficeTeam. Senior managers report that their administrative professional’s efforts save them an average of 101 minutes a day. That’s more than eight hours each week — the equivalent of a full work day. In addition, all survey respondents reported that their administrative professional is important to their success at work. Nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of them said their assistant’s contributions are very valuable.


“Only 43 percent of those surveyed said that their current manager takes advantage of their full range of skills, revealing tremendous untapped potential.”


Administrative professionals not only have to keep everything they’re working on organized and on track, but they’re often responsible for making sure executives and team members stay on schedule too. Some of the many ways administrative assistants save their managers time include:

  • Organizing their schedules
  • Responding to emails or attending meetings on their behalf
  • Screening their phone calls
  • Analyzing data and creating reports
  • Proactively offering solutions to issues or challenges


I. How the role has changed

In the past, the main requirements for support staff roles used to be typing/word processing skills, and knowledge of business telephone systems. Today’s administrative professionals are tasked with a growing list of varied and complicated duties, from data analysis, management, and fiscal responsibilities, to hiring and training. Three in four senior managers (75 percent) said office support workers’ responsibilities have increased in the past five years. In addition, 64 percent feel administrative professionals have a more promising career-growth track than five years ago.

The expansion of administrative professional responsibilities can be attributed to economic changes and rapid advancements in technology. When companies are forced to make cutbacks, administrative assistants often take on the responsibilities of middle management in addition to their regular tasks. Consequently, the day-to-day duties of administrative professionals have expanded to include things like making purchasing and budgeting decisions, planning company events, and training employees to use software.

It’s not uncommon for support staff to help on things outside their traditional job descriptions. According to OfficeTeam’s Office of the Future survey, support staff are assisting in expanding areas that include:

  • Event planning. Administrative professionals are pitching in to plan morale-boosting events like office celebrations, award programs, and team-building activities. They’re also playing a role in organizing mission-critical corporate on- and off-site gatherings, client functions, virtual meetings, and conferences.
  • Cost control. Many administrative professionals already help to identify costly inefficiencies, negotiate with vendors, and streamline procedures.
  • Technology. Administrative personnel are often early adopters of new hardware and software. They frequently train others on technology and field common technical questions.
  • Social media. Organizations may tap administrative professionals for help with updating company profile information or images, monitoring user comments or feedback, writing social media posts or monitoring competitor activity.
  • Hiring. Administrative professionals are assisting their companies in hiring personnel by interviewing candidates, updating job descriptions, screening resumes, and posting employment ads.
  • Corporate social responsibility. Support staff are helping their firms organize volunteer activities such as community service projects and food and clothing drives. They also play a role in coordinating fundraisers for nonprofit organizations (i.e., charity runs/walks/bike rides) and environmental initiatives (i.e., group beach cleanups or recycling programs). 


Additional findings from the Office of the Future survey revealed that support staff skills are often underutilized. Only 43 percent of those surveyed said that their current manager takes advantage of their full range of skills, revealing tremendous untapped potential. Administrative professionals also have transferable skills that can benefit an organization’s various departments. Executives surveyed identified finance and HR as among the top areas office support workers are most likely to transition into. Per the survey, administrative professionals would also like the opportunity to help their teams with:

  • Budgeting, purchasing and contracts
  • Business development
  • Customer service
  • Development of corporate policies and procedures
  • Employee benefits and perks
  • Employee onboarding
  • Employee recognition
  • Investor relations
  • Marketing and public relations
  • Mentor programs
  • Office safety
  • Program management
  • Staff training and development
  • Strategic planning
  • Website and collateral design

II. Top skills in demand for administrative professionals


As administrative assistants' responsibilities increase, the skills and attributes that define a top-notch administrative professional expand as well. Here's a look at some of the enhanced skills employers look for today when seeking top talent for administrative assistant jobs:

1. Stronger communication skills. Now more than ever, employers seek administrative assistants who possess strong verbal and written communication skills. Administrative professionals interact constantly with a broad range of people, including vendors, clients and employees, so it's imperative that they be articulate. The demand for English and French bilingual administrative professionals has also increased.

2. Broad technology skills. The workplace has experienced a boom in technology usage over the last decade, and administrative professionals have had to expand their skills to keep up. The roles of administrative assistants have evolved from conquering spreadsheets and memos to include areas such as accounting, payroll and HR applications. Word processing skills are still necessary for administrative assistant jobs, but they're just one piece of a larger skillset. The technology and software skills top-notch administrative professionals should now possess include:

  • Knowledge of design and layout software such as Microsoft Publisher and Adobe Photoshop and InDesign
  • Expertise with web-based tools like Concur for making travel arrangements and keeping track of travel expenses
  • Advanced proficiency with Microsoft Office, including Word, Excel, Outlook and PowerPoint
  • A working knowledge of social media, such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest, to help companies build their online reputations
  • Familiarity with database management software, such as Microsoft Access and FileMaker Pro
  • Excellent Internet research capabilities


3. Previous industry experience. Organizations in niche sectors, like healthcare, real estate, manufacturing, or construction, often prefer candidates with an industry background. When you hire within the industry or public sector, administrative professionals are often already adept at that industry’s or organization’s specific software, so they require little or no training. They can also keep up with and contribute to office conversations because they're familiar with terminology.


III. Recognize administrative staff for their contributions


Why is employee recognition so important? Staff work happier and are much more likely to stay at your company if their efforts are valued and acknowledged. In fact, two in three employees (66 percent) said it’s likely they would leave their current position if they didn’t feel appreciated by their manager.

There’s a lot that employers can do when it comes to keeping employees happy, especially with regards to showing appreciation. Canada ranked fifth out of eight countries in an international study of employee happiness, according to research released by Robert Half. Clearly, there’s room for improvement.

The results are published in a new report: It’s Time We All Work Happy™: The Secrets of the Happiest Companies and Employees. For the study, Robert Half worked with leading happiness and well-being expert Nic Marks and Saamah Abdallah of Happiness Works. Marks’ team evaluated the levels of employee happiness among more than 23,000 working professionals across Europe, North America and Australia. According to findings from the survey, the top three drivers of employee happiness in Canada are:

  1. Having pride in one’s company
  2. Feeling appreciated for the work they do
  3. Being treated with fairness and respect


Celebrating the accomplishments of administrative staff can help fuel these three drivers of workplace happiness. Some easy ways to show gratitude for their efforts include:


  • Say thanks. Regularly acknowledge employees’ great work verbally. Point out how their efforts will help the company or assist clients and customers.
  • Celebrate milestones. Organize team lunches or off-site outings to recognize the completion of projects or special events, such as work anniversaries.
  • Spread the word. Share a message sent by a customer or other stakeholder lauding the work of a fellow staff member. Feature standout employees in the company newsletter or recognize them at a staff meeting.
  • Give a little. Offer gift cards, movie passes, or sporting event tickets to employees who go above and beyond on a project. Consider giving extra time off or vacation days for a job well done.
  • Encourage professional development. Reimburse staff for participation in industry associations and conferences. Offer tuition assistance for courses that will help employees in their jobs, and subsidize the cost of exams required to attain professional certifications.
  • Develop leaders. Recognize an employee’s skills by asking him or her to mentor others. Have a policy of promoting from within, and make sure staff members know there’s a path to career growth in your organization.


Administrative professionals who feel appreciated are motivated to go the extra mile, saving their managers time and playing a key role in ensuring the organization stays on-track. With the right development opportunities and recognition, administrative professionals not only keep the office running smoothly but make it a happier place for employees to work.


KOULA VASILOPOULOS is a District Director for OfficeTeam, a division of Robert Half, the world’s first and largest specialized staffing and consulting company. For more than 18 years, Koula has led a successful career with Robert Half and has held senior management positions in Western Canada. Her perspectives and knowledge on workplace issues and labour trends are often featured in major media outlets, and she provides curriculum guidance to leading educational institutions across the country.


Sign up for our Editorial Round Table webinar on July 5th, 2018 1 - 2 PM ET to discuss all of the Leadership and Change insights of the issue. It is your opportunity to connect with the contributors, ask questions of your own, and engage with municipal leaders across Canada. 

Case Study


Canadians are sleepwalking into a new reality, one that has been exploited successfully by today’s mega firms — Google, Facebook, Amazon, Uber, and others — for more than a decade. For most commercial firms, if not all, data is the critical capital input to tomorrow’s economy. In this data-driven economy, data has properties that are entirely different from how resources have previously been conceptualized. Data, unlike a traditional commodity such as oil, increases in value as it becomes more abundant. This effect can be multiplied almost infinitely when data is combined across multiple distinct data sets. As such, data should be considered not as one asset class, but as an infinite series of asset classes, rising and falling in value across multiple dimensions. The consequence is that when making policy, governments will need to consider different sectors in the data-driven economy as individual components of a larger, interconnected domain.

Traditionally, Canadian governments have taken an administrative or regulatory stance on the data of citizens. Ambivalent about using data as an economic opportunity, governments have prioritized privacy and security over data’s potential to spur growth. But when it comes to data, innovation, and wealth generation, governments stand to reap the same economic benefits as domestic commercial firms. 

Due to its strong public sector policies, such as universal health care, Canada controls a tremendous amount of data, providing us with a unique advantage in staking out a global leadership position.

This paper, using the Canadian health care system as an example, will explore the opportunity that exists in owning large amounts of data, along with the policies in place that reward those who can access it in order to innovate.


I. The Data Science of Health Care


Canadian innovation in health care has come a long way from the discovery of insulin in 1921, and rapid advances in technology are changing how we think about health care. The cost of gathering copious amounts of real-time data is declining by orders of magnitude. As revealed by a Dell EMC study,[i] the volume of this data is growing exponentially (48 percent per year) and is estimated to reach over 2000 exabytes by 2020, more than one million times larger than the Library of Congress’ data holdings. This data is generated by a growing number of sources, transforming how medical knowledge is created and, in turn, how health care is provided.

In health care, unlocking the potential value of data will depend on the implementation of new policies, standards, and technologies to facilitate open, structured, and secure data sharing within a regulatory framework that protects individual rights.


II. A Case for Canada


The benefits of data interchange include: increasing the operational efficiency of care; better monitoring of emerging epidemiological trends; improved clinical decision making and risk management; delivery of effective personalized medicine; enabling AI application and machine learning; and accelerating medical research. Investments that facilitate access, manipulation, and analysis of health data assets will also generate large amounts of commercial intellectual property (IP). Ultimately, those who own large parts of the medical information life cycle, or those who can access it in order to innovate, will be the economic winners.

While Canadian industry lags behind its southern neighbour in the first generation of industries in the data-driven economy (search, self-driving vehicles, social networks, etc.), we have a structural competitive advantage in health care. As revealed by the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) in 2016, health care is the largest sector of the Canadian economy, representing over 11 percent of the country’s GDP and approximately 38 percent of an average provincial budget.[ii] Of Canada’s expected $242 billion health care expenditure in 2017, 70 percent is funded through its public health care system.[iii] This fundamentally single-payer structure creates an effective mechanism to advance a collective health data economy.

Canada’s predominately public system, and other intrinsic national characteristics that arise from this structure, offers the following competitive advantages:

  • The ability to drive policy and standards through procurement. Health care organizations and governments are required to conduct open procurements for goods and services, which enforce compliance with Canadian data regulations.
  • Advanced data access and sharing through centralized health care systems. Many Canadian provinces and territories directly administer health   care delivery to their populations, which can support better care through effective supply chain management and expansive data collection.
  • Pan-Canadian health care organizations with mandates to set national standards, collect data, and accelerate innovation. Organizations such as CIHI and Canada Health Infoway (CHI) collect and disseminate data sets and establish interoperability standards across the country, laying the foundation for an open, collective health data ecosystem.
  • The collaborative spirit of Canadian health care. There is an essential cooperative ethos in Canadian health care, with private sector businesses collaborating to make data intelligible and actionable across multiple siloed information technology systems and vendor products.
  • Large, diverse group of Canadian people for population health insights. Canada’s diversity — the genetic, cultural, and socio-economic variety of its people — is a rich, variable data pool that can be leveraged (while upholding personal privacy and protections).
  • Excellence in AI and machine learning. As a world leader in AI and machine learning education, Canada has the infrastructure, knowledge, and people to develop the world’s most advanced clinical algorithms to sustain health improvement and innovation.


In Canada, the discourse on data has become a tug-of-war between individual rights and private commercial interests. Governments only had to draw one line — privacy. Once the individual’s privacy rights were encircled through constitutional interpretation and privacy regulation, the rest was left to private commercial opportunity. Canadian governments have traditionally taken an administrative or regulatory stance on the health data of individuals and have shied away from harnessing this data’s economic potential.

To fully consider the policy implications of health data in a single-payer health context, this two-way framework must be extended to consider the collective interest, as distinct from individual and private commercial interest.


III. A New Social Contract with Citizens


Health data is among the most private and personal of all data. However, a majority of it is not under the deliberate control of the individual. As firms create new ways to exploit personal data, courts and legislatures around the world are extending individual privacy

rights and protections. In the European Union, this has recently taken the form of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which puts significant obligations on firms to protect personal data, including personal health information (PHI). It also provides for individual rights over data and its use, storage and, notably, destruction (described in article 17 as the “right to erasure”).[iv]

Conversely, the United States maintains low privacy protections for the personal information of foreign citizens, creating a “policy arbitrage” between Canada and the country where a significant portion of Canadians’ personal information is stored. Section 14 of US Executive Order 13768, entitled Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States states: “Agencies shall, to the extent consistent with applicable law, ensure that their privacy policies exclude persons who are not U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents from the protections of the Privacy Act regarding personally identifiable information.”[v] As such, US firms can do more with the personal information of Canadians that is stored in the United States than they can with the personal information of Americans.

As firms use PHI to generate private wealth, individuals will rightly question their data rights. To that end, any data strategy in health care must begin first with a new social contract between the people providing PHI, the firms that collect it, and the governments that pay for it.

While not exhaustive, the following is an outline of principles to be considered in this new social contract, in particular as it relates to the 70 percent of health care costs paid for by the government:

  • The individual must have the right to control their PHI. The health care system must allow individuals control over their PHI, instead of acting as filters or gatekeepers of that access.
  • The individual must have the right to consent to the secondary use of their anonymized PHI. Technology firms should be held accountable for enshrining individual rights of control over secondary use in their systems.
  • Firms must disclose to individuals the intended secondary use of their data at the time of consent. However, this should not be as narrow as provided for under the GDPR, as today’s technologists may not understand the potential value for a set of data tomorrow.
  • The penalties for privacy breaches should be severe and transparent to individuals. This is especially true in cases of misconduct or negligence.
  • Due to policy arbitrage between nations, Canadian PHI should remain in Canada. Until international or bilateral rules are developed, Canadians must look to domestic courts and lawmakers for restitution and enforcement.


IV. Acting on Our Collective Interests in Health Data


To fully understand the need for collective action with respect to health data, one must first understand the important distinction between ownership and control. In health care, where PHI may belong to the individual, control of the data dictates access and secondary use. As shown in Figures 1 and 2, innovation from data follows a simple pattern, using statistical analysis, machine learning, deep learning, and so on.


Figure 1. Singular Control of a Unique Data Set
Source: Think Research


Figure 2. The Exponential Effect of Increasing Data
Source: Think Research

When a single firm controls a unique data set, it can charge high rents for access to the (potentially life-saving) algorithm. As a result, vast amounts of health data remain isolated and underutilized. Limiting access to data also reduces the possible innovation from that data. More data leads to better algorithms and insights. This effect is multiplied when multiple types of data are combined. Consider Figures 3 and 4:

To deliver the best possible care, both large numbers of shared data sets and innovators accessing this data are needed. Canada can capitalize on its strategic position to make this a reality, in health care and beyond, through a thoughtful exercise pertaining to regulations and purchasing power. This might involve the following:


  • Use federal and provincial health purchasing power to unlock health data for the benefit of all. Subject to individual rights in opting out, all health data generated as a result of public spending should be made publicly available in an anonymized fashion at zero or nominal cost.
  • A rules-based access framework must be created for this data. Firms must demonstrate the ability to securely manage data, perhaps through certification or contractual means.



Figure 3. Value of Combining Data Sets
Source: Think Research


Figure 4. Combining Multiple Data Sets, Multiplying Value and Insights
Source: Think Research



  • Data should be retained for lifetimes or longer. As machine learning matures, previous stores of data will prove valuable in solving problems and yielding potentially life-saving insights.
  • Accelerate the development of health data standards and require that publicly procured technologies conform or adjust to them. The Health Standards Organization and the Standards Council of Canada should be empowered to continuously develop and refine standards.
  • Access to this data should follow the principle of benefit to Canadian society. Canadian firms, or firms that provide access to their own data, should gain the greatest benefit. This may lead to variable pricing for access (low for domestic firms and higher for foreign firms).
  • Certain uses of health care data compromise trust in disproportion to their benefit. Access should be subject to regulations that limit certain behaviour. These may include banning the re-identification of individuals using anonymized data and limiting the use of data for activities such as marketing.


V. Broader Policy Implications


The implications of the data-driven economy in health care will extend far beyond the discussion in these pages. Every aspect of health delivery will be impacted:  

  • Reimbursement schedules will need to become agile. Regulatory cycles relating to clinician reimbursement will need to be measured in months rather than decades.
  • A new approach to regulating data-driven machine algorithms will be needed. The pace of algorithm development will outstrip our ability to understand, regulate, and monitor, so we must take a risk-based review and disclosure approach.
  • The health care workforce of the future will be unrecognizable. With machine intelligence, certain clinicians (nurses, pharmacists, physician assistants and personal support workers) will be able to deliver the majority of care. Physicians will consolidate into super-specialists, and there will be a dramatic increase in technicians, engineers, and technologists.



VI. Time to Act


Every year in Canada, billions of dollars are spent in public sector industries, including health care. Due to its strong public sector policies, Canada controls a wellspring of data, providing us with a unique opportunity to stake out a global leadership position. Those who own the largest parts of the medical information life cycle or those who can access it in order to innovate will be the economic winners. The same holds true for other sectors: an incredible opportunity exists in owning large amounts of data, and Canada’s public sector policies reward those who can access data in order to innovate.

The future of health care delivery will be data-driven, scientific, and increasingly personalized. Eventually, the accumulation of data will shift health care from reactive to preventative; adjusting our behaviour, our biome, and perhaps even our genome. We can act now, lead in our collective interest and create the foundation to develop world-class data-driven innovations, or we can let this opportunity pass us by and continue to pay rent for our own data.


SACHIN AGGARWAL is the Chief Executive Officer of Think Research, a leading provider of evidence-based clinical decision support tools with a focused mission: to organize the world’s health knowledge so everyone receives the best care. A recipient of Canada’s Top 40 Under 40 Award in 2017, Sachin currently sits on the board of the Council of Canadian Innovators and has served on the board of directors for various community outreach programs. Sachin holds a law degree from the University of Toronto and an MBA from the Rotman School of Management.


[i] Dell EMC Digital Universe Study. 2014. “Vertical Industry Brief: Healthcare.”
[ii] CIHI. 2016. National Health Expenditure Trends, 1975 to 2016. Ottawa, ON: CIHI.
[iii] CIHI. 2017. National Health Expenditure Trends, 1975 to 2017. Ottawa, ON: CIHI.
[iv] EU, Regulation (EU) 2016/679 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 27 April 2016 on the protection of natural persons with regard to the processing of personal data and on the free movement of such data, and repealing Directive 95/46/EC (General Data Protection Regulation), OJ L 119/1.
[v] The White House. 2017. “Executive Order: Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior


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Case Study


Toronto is an evolving and culturally vibrant city. Across its distinct neighbourhoods, and diverse and multilingual communities, Toronto’s residents, businesses, and visitors have many different needs from public services and these needs are changing. I have been a public servant for over 30 years and throughout my career, I have seen a significant shift in the way the City of Toronto serves the public. Toronto is one of the most diverse cities in the world and this is reflected in the City’s motto: “Diversity, Our Strength.” Providing excellent public services that are accessible and equitable to our diverse residents and removes barriers to full participation has always been a core value of the Toronto Public Service.

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Case Study


The local government landscape is continually changing, and unlocking the potential in yourself, your department, and municipality as a whole has never been timelier. As a public sector practitioner beginning my career, this article is a product of the power of having incredible mentors. The advice referenced below comes from the lessons I have learned, and the leadership skills I value in myself and others. As such, this article is a collaborative effort of the larger government community and will help you unlock your potential as a leader and make every moment count.


I. Be Prepared - try to “pack” for whatever challenges may lay ahead


Being prepared means knowing what you want to accomplish. This sounds simple, but it is a fundamental step that tends to be a neglected aspect of being prepared. How many times have you met with a client, or led a meeting, but did not take the time to come up with clear expectations of what you wanted to accomplish? If we are all honest, we can admit that there have been times we have been unprepared and as a result, did not accomplish what we set out to do.

Broadly, there are two categories of things to prepare for: what can be expected and those that cannot be expected. The easier thing to prepare for is what can be reasonably expected. For example, if you have two reports on the Council agenda, you can prepare the data and talking points for both reports. On the other hand, being prepared for the unexpected means trusting your values and demonstrating that you are confident and on-task for the delivery of what you might not have predicted, and in the message you are trying to convey. 


II. Think about the world that is and the world that’s coming


In our increasingly fast-paced and interconnected world, policymaking is becoming more complex and challenging. As such, it is vital that we think about shaping the future, and not just reacting to it. Municipalities cannot make decisions thinking solely about geographical borders. Rather, policies need to be made with a ‘big picture’ perspective. This worldly perspective must be interwoven in the organizational culture, applied to all departments, and instilled in public servants.

An example of this is the sharing economy – which can be defined as activities facilitated by digital platforms where people rent their skills (such as, driving or computer skills) and make their resources (such as properties or cars) available for money. The sharing economy plays an increasingly important role in the Canadian economy. As per Statistics Canada, from November 2015 to October 2016, an estimated 9.5 percent of persons (or 2.7 million people) aged 18 and older living in Canada participated in the sharing economy. Overall, spending on peer-to-peer ride services in Canada and spending on private accommodation services totaled $1.31 billion.[i]

It is important for municipalities to consider their role in the sharing economy by analyzing challenges/opportunities, and to think about the world that is and the world that’s coming. I see many communities and public service practitioners, as well as organizations like PSD, having this perspective of thinking about the world that is and the world that’s coming which is vital in our constantly evolving municipal sector.


III. Curiosity - The right curiosity never killed the cat



People who are curious tend to drive organizations forward and challenge others to do the same. Over the years, I've found that people who are inherently curious ask questions, search for creative ways to accomplish tasks, and are strong team players. Curious people seek out knowledge from different parts of the organization and apply what they learn to their daily responsibilities.

My curiosity led me to discover a gap in knowledge about municipal government among youth. I wanted to leverage existing avenues to examine how my department could close the gap. This resulted in co-creating a youth engagement plan to foster civic engagement with the local school boards. I began a pilot project and made interactive presentations regarding local government at the primary and secondary levels. I also developed a “price is right” game to teach students the value of municipal projects and what they actually cost. This youth engagement initiative has continued to evolve into programming that is focused on the role of government, responsible citizenship, and to demonstrate how governments and citizens can work together. These interactive sessions are fun, and I am always impressed with the student’s curiosity and outlook on government.


Iv. Ethics – do the right thing


Ethics matter; your peers, staff, and residents expect ethical behaviour. The principal goal of government ethics is to increase the public’s trust in government and, thereby, increase citizen participation in the organization that manages their community.[ii] Responsible, ethical behaviour is inherent in the concept of municipal employees as professionals. Public servants and politicians make a commitment to serve the public interest, and as a result are subject to internal or self-regulation through adherence to ethical or moral standards of their own. Despite the importance of ethics, doing the right thing is not always the standard and speaking truth to power can be risky.

I try to practice ‘everyday ethical leadership’ in my day-to-day because ethics and transparency go hand in hand. It needs to be recognized that every significant decision has ethical dimensions, so when all the options in response to a particular situation are being analyzed, they must include the question of right/wrong. Therefore, be open and honest with your communications on the street, in the office, and council chamber because it’s vital in making every moment count.


V. Collaboration - Shared leadership is all the rage


Top-down leadership alone will never make the differences we require in our communities. Shared leadership is not just about creating committees to give advice to Council; shared leadership and collaboration rests on the guiding principle that everyone’s voice matters. Everyone’s experience and expertise are necessary for municipalities to work effectively, and that the ideas created by a group are much stronger than those that could be created by any individual.

Collaboration means that my attitudes, my beliefs, and my actions are impacted and enhanced because of the work we are all doing together. Collaboration needs to be blended into the fabric of an organization. “What can I do to help?” should be a question asked laterally in an organization. Co-workers across departments or organizations in different sectors can collaborate to loan their time, energy, and expertise to those who need it. This can enable talent and resources to flow freely, which keeps the municipality moving forward.



VI. Results - show your work


Show your work and measure your success. Results are tied to accountability and demonstrating that you are accountable to your departmental goals, the organization, and more importantly, the public. Results also confirm that the municipality is not removed from this accountability. Construct a process where you build program indicators, objectives, and data to support the findings in the work that you complete. The most successful people crave constant feedback and I go out of my way to create a platform for this feedback to be communicated to me and then incorporated into my results.

Showing your results builds an evaluation culture that ensures the work you are completing actually performs the purpose it was designed for… and if it doesn’t, go back to the drawing board. Focusing on results can allow you to easily see how the program or initiative can be improved. As long as you showed Council and the public your results, even if they weren’t positive or successful, there is still a lot to gain from that.


VII. Conclusion


Some ideas can withstand the test of time – do not be afraid to share them. In 2016, I entered the PSD-CAMA Essay Competition in Municipal Government with a paper about the implications of cannabis legalization for municipalities, advocating for a shared funding model for tax revenue. In March 2018, it was announced that the federal government will share the tax revenue from legalization with provincial/territorial and local governments on a per capita basis as I advocated in my paper. The skills outlined in this article can help you capitalize on windows of opportunity to position yourself as an authentic leader in your organization and ensure that you’re able to make every moment count in your career.


CATALINA BLUMENBERG is a recent Masters of Public Administration graduate from Western University and a Deputy Clerk with the Township of Uxbridge.  Catalina loves local government as it is all things to all people, and her interests include meaningful civic engagement, multi-governmental partnerships, and municipal finance.

[i] Statistics Canada. (2017, 02 28). The sharing economy in Canada. Retrieved from
[ii] Wechsler, R. (2012). Local Government Ethics Reform. National Civic Review, 26-31

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Case Study


As municipal workforces continue to evolve, the responsibility of Human Resources becomes ever more important. The most notable shifts – changing workforce demographics, mental health awareness, and external pressures such as transparency and accountability – can have significant impact on a municipality if the changes are not acknowledged and embraced. PSD sat down with Amy Smith, Oxford County’s Director of Human Resources, to discuss how exactly the workforce is changing and, most importantly, how municipalities can respond proactively.


“While everyone may have a leadership style that they naturally gravitate towards, as our workforce continues to change and evolve, it is more likely that a leader will find themselves having to adapt their leadership style based on a person or project that they are currently leading.” 


Can you begin by introducing yourself and your position at Oxford County?

I am the Director of Human Resources at Oxford County, which is an upper tier municipality with approximately 800 employees. I lead a team responsible for the full range of human resources services to our seven departments and manage five collective bargaining agreements. In the past few years, we have focused our efforts on developing HR programs under three key areas: talent management, effective leaders, and safe and healthy workplaces.


What changes have you seen in the municipal sector regarding human resources management in the past couple of years?

We all know that municipalities exist to deliver essential public services to our citizens, which is achieved through critical infrastructure. However, it is essential we never lose sight of the fact that at the foundation of these services is our employees. Just as we invest in our roads and water systems, we must also invest in our people, and this is becoming more widely recognized as a priority across the municipal sector.

I am fortunate to lead the HR function in an organization that recognizes our people as a critical asset and even includes “attracting, retaining, and developing the highest quality staff” as a priority in our corporate strategic plan. With the changing demographics of our workforce and additional external pressures, programs such as succession planning and leadership development, are increasingly being viewed as priorities, as they truly are essential to maintaining our ability to achieve our strategic goals and objectives now and into the future. 


How has leadership changed in the municipal sector?

Municipalities are diverse and complex. I can think of few organizations who deliver such a wide array of services and employ such a diverse range of employees, while managing multiple collective bargaining agreements. Incorporating the regular changes that come our way (think projected retirements, legislative changes) and the requirement for competent and well-rounded leaders across the organization is no longer viewed as an option, but as a necessity.

In the past, employees may have worked their way up the ranks based on technical expertise. Today, while technical expertise remains important, equally if not more important is the manner in which you lead, inspire, and motivate the people around you.

With a wave of retirements projected over the coming years, I have also seen a shift towards investing in leadership development not only for current leaders/managers, but also for those we call “emerging leaders.”  This is a key component of our succession planning efforts. Our philosophy remains that leadership development is a two-way street. As an organization, we invest in our people by offering them tools and resources to develop their leadership capabilities; however, there is also an onus on the individual to take the steps necessary to ready themselves for future career opportunities.


What steps are necessary to ensure that leaders receive the development necessary to lead, inspire, and motivate those around them? 

First and foremost, leaders need to know what is expected of them. With this in mind, one of the first steps that Oxford County took in formalizing our leadership development efforts was the implementation of a competency framework. This framework includes core competencies and leadership competencies, and are behaviours that are expected of all employees and leaders across our organization. In terms of leadership competencies, there are key qualities of effective leaders – whether those leaders work in public works, corporate services, or long-term care for example. 

Another key step in a leadership development program is building self-awareness around one’s leadership strengths and weaknesses. Leaders should know where their skills and abilities rank against expectations, and where they require development. Following the implementation of our competency framework, leaders across our organization completed a 360 developmental assessment, in which they received confidential feedback from their supervisor, peers, and subordinates. Leaders received a confidential report revealing how they benchmark against our leadership competencies, which provided the insight necessary to know where they needed to focus their development efforts.


What leadership and management style do you find to be most effective at ensuring that the evolving workforce is productive and efficient?

By doing a quick online search, you will turn up a wealth of information regarding various leadership styles. While it may be tempting to label oneself as a specific type of leader, it is important to recognize that certain situations or people may warrant one leadership style over another. While everyone may have a leadership style that they naturally gravitate towards, as our workforce continues to change and evolve, it is more likely that a leader will find themselves having to adapt their leadership style based on a person or project that they are currently leading. 

If I had to choose one leadership quality that I personally believe is critical in today’s changing workplaces it would be resiliency. Holding a leadership role in a municipality is synonymous with change and adversity. Being a resilient leader means working through challenging times with a positive mindset and coming out the other side with lessons

learned and new experience to rely on. It certainly does not mean never making the wrong decision or never feeling discouraged, but it does mean quickly bouncing back from these difficult times as a more competent leader. Although just one trait from a long list of critical leadership qualities, being a resilient leader will certainly assist in ensuring the evolving workforce is productive and efficient.


What emerging human resources programs do you find to be most effective at ensuring that the evolving workforce is well supported and well managed?

One program that we have implemented under our safe and healthy workplaces umbrella is a flexible work arrangement program. Flexible work arrangements, such as working from home, flexible hours, and compressed schedules are not new concepts in the human resources field; however, they have been slower to emerge in the municipal sector. With our changing workforce demographics and the abundance of technology that enables our day to day work, flexible work arrangements are in fact allowing us to be more productive and efficient. Providing employees with the flexibility required to meet their work and personal demands, will result in a more productive employee who is regularly willing to go above and beyond for the organization.

Another area we are looking at developing over the next year is a psychological health and safety in the workplace framework. For years, the primary focus in our workplaces has been on physical safety, and while that remains critically important, the creation of a psychologically safe workplace is also emerging as a priority. Mental health claims make up a significant percentage of workplace leaves; therefore, identifying and reducing the workplace risks of psychological injury or illness and supporting mental wellness can greatly benefit employees and the organization overall.


What is the best approach to ensure that both younger and older public sector practitioners work in partnership to ensure the greatest productivity and efficiency?

There is a lot of information that can be found regarding the current multi-generational workforce and the potential issues that can result between the generations. While leading a multi-generational workforce can certainly cause angst, it is important to adopt a more positive view – when you really think about it, there are significant advantages to a knowledgeable, well-seasoned employee collaborating with a fresh set of eyes and new perspectives. Organizations should ensure that all employees are provided with the tools and resources to work together effectively (regardless of the year they were born). Along those same lines, leaders need to be equipped with the skills to lead multi-generational teams, which can be achieved through education and training.


As a municipal HR professional, what is your most difficult challenge as the workforce and workplace continue to evolve?

As already mentioned, municipalities are diverse, complex, and ever changing.  These factors alone lead to challenges from a human resources management perspective; namely, that a one size fits all approach doesn’t always work. Take the recent Bill 148 as an example. Most municipalities have a number of distinct services and multiple collective agreements. This means that a legislative change, such as Bill 148, requires HR professionals to analyze the impact on each service and each collective agreement. Taking a blanket approach across the organization is not feasible due to the uniqueness of the various services, and this creates challenges for HR professionals.


“While leading a multi-generational workforce can certainly cause angst, it is important to adopt a more positive view – when you really think about it, there are significant advantages to a knowledgeable, well-seasoned employee collaborating with a fresh set of eyes and new perspectives. Organizations should ensure that all employees are provided with the tools and resources to work together effectively (regardless of the year they were born). Along those same lines, leaders need to be equipped with the skills to lead multi-generational teams, which can be achieved through education and training.”


What do you expect the municipal workplace and workforce to look like in ten years?

Municipalities continue to be seen as desirable employers. Over the next ten years, it is expected that the competition for talent will continue to increase. Being the municipality of choice for current and potential employees means building and maintaining a work environment that people want to join and remain committed to.

Municipalities need to recognize human capital as a strategic asset, and thus invest in those assets. This is key to obtaining the goals and objectives of an organization and needs to be made a priority. It is also expected that municipalities will continue to get pressure to do more with less. This means increased workloads and higher expectations placed on staff. If municipalities want to attract and retain the best employees to carry out the critical services their citizens rely on, they need to ensure human resources programs, such as talent management, developing effective leaders, and safe and healthy workplaces, are dynamic and continue to evolve with the changing workplace and workforce demographics. 


SLOANE SWEAZEY, MA is a Junior Editor for the Public Sector Digest. She completed her master’s degree in Political Science, specializing in Public Policy and Administration, as well as a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science and International Development, both from the University of Guelph. Sloane’s research interests surround municipal governance and public policy, where she has researched community-engagement initiatives and child care policy at length. In her role, Sloane researches and writes articles for publication, while also sourcing content from external contributors. She can be reached at ssweazey [at] publicsectordigest [dot] com.

AMY SMITH is a human resources professional with almost 15 years of experience in the not-for-profit and municipal sectors.  She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology from Western University, and is a Certified Human Resources Leader (CHRL). For the past 5 years she has been the Director of Human Resources at Oxford County, leading a team delivering the full spectrum of HR services, with a primary goal of strategically positioning Oxford County as an organization who attracts, retains and develops the best employees.


Sign up for our Editorial Round Table webinar on July 5th, 2018 1 - 2 PM ET to discuss all of the Leadership and Change insights of the issue. It is your opportunity to connect with the contributors, ask questions of your own, and engage with municipal leaders across Canada. 

Case Study


Election season is here. Across the country, citizens are voting in either municipal or provincial elections. In the Province of Ontario, two elections will be held: the provincial election is being held in June and a municipal election in October. For many, election time is one of great excitement; it holds the possibility for change and progress. Indeed, free and fair elections are the foundation of democracies and as such, should be celebrated. Yet voter turnout in Canada, specifically Ontario, are underwhelming, causing many to argue that election results are not necessarily the voice of the majority. Given that MPPs/MLAs and municipal councillors have direct impact on citizen’s wellbeing and daily lives, it ultimately begs the question: why are so many people not voting?


“Barriers to voting greatly impact why immigrants fail to vote in large numbers. One core barrier is a lack of understanding on how to vote … Without thoroughly understanding the voting process and feeling comfortable casting a ballot, the voter turnout rate for immigrants will not rise.”


In the Province of Ontario, the average voter turnout for the 2014 municipal election was 43.12 percent.[1]  In the 2014 Ontario provincial election, the voter turnout rate was a mere 51.3 percent – the second lowest turnout rate since 1977.[2] In fact, Ontario has the worst voter turnout among its fellow provinces. Specifically, millennials, immigrants, and Indigenous people are the most underrepresented in the voter turnout rate.


Source: Elections Ontario


i. Millennials


In her article, “Indifferent or Just Different? The Political and Civic Engagement of Young People in Canada,” Brenda O’Neill states, “young Canadians display a pattern of civic and political engagement that differentiates them from other Canadians. They are less likely to vote, are less likely to be members of political parties and interest groups, are less interested in politics, and know less about politics than other Canadians.”[3] Yet this does not mean that youth are completely disengaged from politics. Instead, young Canadians are more geared towards engaging in political activity that is individualized and results-oriented, such as participating in a march or fundraising for an event. What this means is that we mustn’t give up on youth; we mustn’t dismiss them as being apathetic to politics. Instead, government structures ought to encourage and support more outlets for individualized results-oriented political action in order for millennials to become more engaged with local, provincial, and federal politics.[4]

Furthermore, high school students are required to take a mandatory civics course. This is the first legitimate and formalized introduction to politics for young Canadians. Unfortunately, the course is half a credit, resulting in only two months of political education during their entire high school career. Those that do not go on to study Political Science or similar subjects in their post-secondary education have no further educational training in this area. The main consequence of this is that youth and millennials are not learning the different levels of government and subsequently, may not understand how their vote impacts their day-to-day lives. In relation to Brenda O’Neill’s argument that young Canadians gravitate to results-oriented political action, understanding how directly provincial and municipal policy jurisdiction affects everyday life, and subsequently their municipal and provincial vote, may result in greater voter turnout of young Canadians.

Moreover, millennials do not find provincial and municipal politics particularly fascinating – especially in comparison to federal politics and thereby, are less inclined to vote. Frederique Dombrowski from Civix – a charity that seeks to strengthen Canadian citizenship among youth and millennials – submits that federal politics is more publicized and therefore, youth can identify and recognize federal political figures and issues more acutely. Federal politics is publicized more frequently on the news and Twitter feeds, predominately because federal politics have international impact and subsequently gain international attention. Making millennials more aware of provincial and municipal politics is pivotal in efforts to increase their turnout rate.


II. Immigrants


Barriers to voting greatly impact why immigrants fail to vote in large numbers. One core barrier is a lack of understanding on how to vote. In a study conducted by the Institute for Canada Citizenship, it was reported that “Of the respondents who were eligible but had not yet voted in a Canadian election, not getting a voters’ card or not knowing if they were on the voters’ list was one of the top reasons they gave for not voting. Many assumed that because they did not get a card, they were not on the voters’ list and thus not eligible to vote.”[5] Electoral public education campaigns are helpful resources in engaging citizens and encouraging them to vote. However, only Elections Manitoba and Elections Saskatchewan make a specific effort at directing these campaigns to new citizens.[6] Without thoroughly understanding the voting process and feeling comfortable casting a ballot, the voter turnout rate for immigrants will not rise.

Another barrier faced by immigrants includes a lack of awareness and understanding of the issues that are facing them. Language is a huge issue at play in regard to this barrier. Provincial party campaigns are spelled out in long reports. In addition to being difficult to understand and follow, even for the most adept politician or public servant, these reports are often not provided in several languages. In effect, new citizens feel ill-informed about the candidates, resulting in the choice to not cast a ballot as opposed to casting a ballot that is not based upon knowledge about the candidate’s platform.


III. Indigenous People


Theo Nazary, a PhD student at Ryerson University who studies First Nations’ youth’s participation in Canadian elections noted, “Many First Nations do not vote in Canadian elections because they believe these elections have been imposed on them, and have suppressed their traditional forms of governance.”[7] Yet Nazary is quick to point out that this does not mean that First Nations youth are apathetic to political engagement. Rather, through his research he found that they are more engaged in less formal forms of political engagement in their community, those that are more aligned with their tradition and culture. Examples include being involved in community events and taking part in sweat lodges and fasts.[8] 

A broader reason as to why Indigenous Canadians do not vote is because they see it as a sign of submission,[9] especially considering that many political platforms and campaigns do not address Indigenous issues. When choosing which candidate to vote for, it is not radical to conclude that Canadians make their decisions based on how it will affect the lives of themselves and their families. Simply put, if an individual does not see their concerns or issues addressed in a candidate’s platform, or even worse, see their concerns or issues to be worsened, it is not a surprise that they will not vote. Understandably, legally, Indigenous affairs is not a municipal jurisdiction. However, it is nonsensical to deduce that Indigenous people’s welfare are not affected by municipal decisions. Local decisions that impact transportation, employment opportunities and access to community services can disproportionately affect indigenous residents. 


IV. A Community Solution


“When choosing which candidate to vote for, it is not radical to conclude that Canadians make their decisions based on how it will affect the lives of themselves and their families. Simply put, if an individual does not see their concerns or issues addressed in a candidate’s platform, or even worse, see their concerns or issues to be worsened, it is not a surprise that they will not vote.”

What can be concluded from these findings is that a community solution is needed. Ilona Dougherty, the President of Apathy is Boring, has stated, "Voting is very much a community activity. If there is that drive in the whole community like we see in PEI but also like we see in Quebec, there's an encouragement or a sense of duty that's different from other parts of the country."[10] Likewise, Mike Morden from Samara Canada, notes that a big reason why we have such a small voter turnout is that there is a lack of Ontarian identity among residents which results in disinterest in political politics.[11]

The Institute for Canadian Citizenship provides a list of steps communities can implement to help immigrants more easily become engaged in provincial and federal elections. Many of these are applicable to millennials and Indigenous people as well.

  • Internet voting, providing that the integrity of the electoral process can be maintained
  • A central online space to compare candidates and their platforms, done by a non-partisan organization
  • Workshops for new citizens that offer more in-depth information on the political system than they learn in the citizenship preparation process
  • Giving out information on the process of voting at all levels during the citizenship ceremony, or just after
  • Better coordination between municipal, provincial, and federal elections agencies – so that electors give their information once to get on all three lists
  • Hold election day on a weekend or make it a holiday
  • Longer poll hours to ensure people can vote before and after work[12]


Beyond identity, the general reason among millennials, immigrants, and Indigenous people as to why they do not vote is disengagement. This disengagement is a community problem and if we are to expect the turnout rate to rise among these parties, communities must take proactive steps to address their reasoning for not voting. Communities can engage with their youth and millennials to teach them how municipal and provincial policies affect their everyday lives, such as post-secondary education funding. For immigrants, municipal and provincial candidates can hold townhalls specifically for minority languages in the community, bringing in a translator if need be. Provincial and municipal candidates can also make a greater effort to engage with Indigenous peoples, ensuring that their voices and issues are heard. Indigenous issues continue to be underrepresented at all levels of government.

Elections are eminent to the health of Canadian democracy. It should be a vital concern that certain peoples are greatly underrepresented in Canadian elections. As a country that prides itself on its inclusion and respect of minorities, we must do more to encourage and engage millennials, immigrants, and Indigenous people to vote – and it starts at the community level.


SLOANE SWEAZEY, MA is a Junior Editor for the Public Sector Digest. She completed her master’s degree in Political Science, specializing in Public Policy and Administration, as well as a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science and International Development, both from the University of Guelph. Sloane’s research interests surround municipal governance and public policy, where she has researched community-engagement initiatives and child care policy at length. In her role, Sloane researches and writes articles for publication, while also sourcing content from external contributors. She can be reached at ssweazey [at] publicsectordigest [dot] com.


Case Study


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