April 7, 2020

Dear Colleagues,

I wanted to be in touch to share three thoughts.

The first is to encourage all of us, as strongly as I can, to renew—and redouble if possible—our efforts to take all the public health precautions to prevent the further spread of COVID-19. This is for our own protection and that of our communities right across the country. Hand washing, physical distancing, and staying home except for the necessary requirements—as public servants, we should be leading the way; as citizens, we join with everyone in our communities to make a practical contribution to battling this pandemic.

Just as important to me as reinforcing the public health advice, is offering my thanks to you. I couldn’t properly capture all the work that is being done by public servants to protect all of us from the virus, to serve Canadians who continue to need help, to design and set up new services for those facing the impact of the pandemic, and to support the infrastructure needed to make it all function. So many of you, in all parts of the country, are working at an unprecedented intensity, some of you at personal risk and so many with significant impact on your own personal and family lives. We have heard the Prime Minister acknowledge and thank public servants for their service, and we should feel proud of what we are doing. We join colleagues in public service at all levels of government, in all forms of service, who are acting professionally and selflessly. Words aren’t adequate, but they are heartfelt—thank you.

My last thought in this message is to acknowledge the strangeness of what we are going through. For many of us who are separated from our colleagues and those still working in their normal workplaces and having to keep their distance, relying on phones and email for communication, day after day, feels unsettling and upsetting. Some of us have been asked to do different things or even to join different groups or teams that need supplementing. Many of us are keenly aware that we are not working nearly as hard as some on the front lines or on projects and initiatives requiring intense and ongoing effort. I would say this: don’t feel guilty! Maybe you’ve made this kind of exceptional effort in the past; others will be called on to take their turn in the future! It is what it is, and I know that all of us are willing to do whatever is required of us.

In the meantime, stay sharp and be thoughtful of the contributions you and your teams can make. Please respond enthusiastically if asked to help out with efforts somewhere else, as many have already done. Keep working on assignments whose time will come again! Take the time to train and upgrade your knowledge if the immediate pressure is reduced on your normal tasks. Managers, stay close to your teams and be responsive. All of us can help to reinforce our colleagues and support their mental health.

The motto of our ongoing renewal of the public service is “Agile, Inclusive, Equipped.” Who knew that “agile” would mean this kind of adjustment! But for now, it does. And who knows what we are learning along the way that will help us be better equipped for the future? As for inclusive, we are all in this together. The Canada that is so reflective of the world is experiencing a global pandemic. Our commitment to being in this together and serving everyone will be an incalculable advantage for Canada. The public service has a big role in making that so.

Ian Shugart
Clerk of the Privy Council
and Secretary to the Cabinet