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History Table of Contents
1998 Summer Conference
Summer Conference 1998
Rethinking Canada for the 21st Century

Canadian Enterprise and Ingenuity: Success stories in institutional innovation: private sector/NGO-not for profit/public sector


Mr. Greenhill, considering there’s a lot of pressure in terms of results-based management performance right you see some challenges for people to innovate more at the same time [as] having the pressure to perform?

Greenhill: That’s very much a double-edged sword. On the one hand the push for results is one of the ways to express a dissatisfaction of the status quo, which you need if you’re going to innovate.

People have to say: you know what, we’re doing well now and we need to be doing better in the future, whether it’s on social measures or economic measures or whatever and actually having some kind of way to track that is one of the most powerful ways to motivate people, and to see if one group is doing better than another group and, therefore, [to see if] you can’t learn from that one group.

On one hand having output measures of performance like that is very powerful and positive for innovation. On the other hand, if it’s only short-term and only financial measures, you’re going to end up having situations where people sacrifice — either in companies or in countries — actions which are extremely important in the long term, but may have a cost financially in the short term.

We need to be very careful in how we balance the application of output measures.

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Ms Carr ...the aging baby boomers will start turning 65 in the year 2010, at which point the demand on our hospital system and our medical system will increase dramatically. This group has the highest disposable income of any generational group in Canada. Do you think this will create a demand for increased private health care services for these people and what kind of public-private partnerships could be developed to address these needs?

Carr: I don’t think we’ll wait until 2010 for those kinds of changes to occur. I think they’re happening right now and that’s because of changes in health care technology and the way health care is being delivered.

I see a lot of public-private partnerships occurring right now. They’re occurring generally between institutions and private sector entities and sometimes non-profit. And they’re involving the voluntary sector, the VONs and so on to deliver more and more home health care.

I believe that we need to see a restructuring of the third sector, the voluntary sector, as well, to be much more nimble and effective than they have been and to respond in, perhaps, non-traditional ways.

The area where we’re going to see the point of intersection is call centred; it’s going to be the triage where you meet the demand and provide access to the services and those services are going to be pulled in from health care institutions, from nurses, from health care professionals and para-professionals from across all the sectors.

So, whoever is able to pull together that triage, that call dispatched communications and linkage, is going to run the health care system.

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At Dalhousie [University], we have experienced a private-public partnership in the last few years....we’ve got fast food on campus, we’ve got banking machines, a huge soccer turf sponsored by Pepsi and Adidas.

There are more representatives of big business on our board of governors who have been investing in our school, than there are students and teachers combined.

We’ve been losing good professors and tuition fees has been rising....a lot of the money raised by these corporations has been put into things other than keeping the professors there or keeping tuition low. There’s a definite split between where the private sector thinks the money should go and what the students think.

How can a balance be struck about where the money should go when there’s this difference of opinion?

I’m not sure that it can. I think we will probably see the formation of private universities and private colleges in this country.

People have traditionally — and this goes for hospitals, colleges and universities — seen the physical plant opening buildings, wings, putting money into MIRs or equipment and so on as the way to involve and engage the private sector in the delivery of public goods and services.

The issue you’re touching is very important because you’re dealing with the quality of the education that is occurring.

Traditionally, universities have been very leery of allowing any private sector involvement in that.

I think the way to do it is to have [the] private sector engaged in the research, also a very sensitive issue in the university community. They would like the money to fund research, but they don’t want anyone to say what the priorities should be.

We have too few resources in this country not to get some agreement in advance about what the priorities should be.

In the area of universities, I think, bringing the private sector and the university academic sector together around what the research and investment priorities should be is something we have not done very well, except in a few areas, notably the technology area.

We’ve got a long way to go.

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Where do we draw the line [on private sector funding of research]?

Greenhill: Research is critical if we’re looking at it from the point of view of innovation. I would argue that in some ways increased participation, or increased partnership, between business and academia is useful in a couple of ways.

First, it provides additional funds which the public purse may not be able to provide to do research which would not be done at all, otherwise.

Secondly, it accelerates the application of concepts, because it’s in business’ interest if there is something that’s good that it be applied. It’s also in society’s interest that if there’s something good that it be applied.

In that sense, if it’s done well it can be a useful symbiotic relationship.

I think there are dangers if you have the entire agenda being set simply by business, because it comes back to the whole issue the performance measures being reasonably short-term; businesses interested in — not so much research, as development and application.

It’s going to critically important that if we want to have an innovative society that the government continues to be involved in pure research, because whereas 15 or 20 years ago there were certain corporations, such as Xerox, AT&T or Bell Canada who, because of their strong quasi-monopoly position within their industry, had a lot of additional funds they could devote to pure research.

Increasingly, that’s not the case. Increasingly, companies have to see a return as quickly as possible on whatever they’re involved in. That means the role of government in supporting pure research which the entire society can benefit from is arguably even more important.

Well, I actually think the involvement of business in certain areas of university research is a good thing, I’d absolutely agree there’s other areas where, if anything, we need to have a stronger government involvement.

Carr: I’d just add that what I’ve seen in the past 15 years or so is universities spinning off entities that are essentially public-private entities in which the professors are very active stakeholders and very often shareholders. They often participate in the benefits of the value-added products that they create.

There’s a no reason thee can’t be revenue streams that come out of those partnerships, part of which will go to the professors to reinvest and part of which will go to the private sector funders.

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How does public sector management in Canada stack up against the three criteria Mr. Greenhill provided us and what potential is there to improve public sector management in Canada along those lines?

Carr: I fear for the public sector. I was a public servant for 18 years in the government of Ontario and I always prided myself on being able to be quite entrepreneurial, even while in government, although many people regard that as an oxymoron.

I fear for the public sector right across this country. We’ve been blessed in Canada with a professional, talented public service. We are not renewing it the way we should be. We have a flight of wisdom, knowledge and experience and we don’t have enough young people coming in to the public sector.

And those who do come in are being put on short-term contract and have no sense of future.

It’s not as much fun as it used to be, however there are still good things to do and they’re still worth doing.

Public sector, not just [at] the federal level but provincial governments across the country, is more risk-averse and more process-ridden that it has been for many years. And it’s just bloody hard work. So, what you need are people who are going to take a long-term view, who are going to see above and beyond that.

We need to get out there and support the public sector. The private sector, I think, has recognized that; certainly any private sector companies in this country who do business in other countries appreciate what we’ve got and don’t want to lose it.

Greenhill: One aspect of a partial solution has to do with what it is we’d want. I don’t know that we want to go back to a situation where we have excellent career civil servants who go into the federal bureaucracy and stay there throughout their career doing a good job for Canada, but not necessarily having the experiences of being involved in other organizations which is what we’ve had in the past.

I think we can do even better than that. I think we want to have the same quality and dedication, but I think ideally what we would have are people who believe that as part of their professional career they would spend a certain part of that time being involved in doing public service at the federal or provincial level.

And the advantage of having that where you actually have people from the private sector involved for a period of time in the public sector, or vice versa, is you can not only have the quality but you can also have the change of ideas.

One of the points that was re-emphasized again and again when looking at innovative organizations was that they share ideas by sharing people. Despite Internet and video-conferencing and everything else, the best way you understand different situations and different approaches is by living them and by discussing them with your peers sitting around a table or having coffee in the morning.

So, part of the solution would be encouraging corporations spending a certain number of years in Ottawa or at the provincial level as being a good thing.

That’s not an easy thing. I think we’ve tried that and I don’t think the track record so far has been great. But it’s the kind of thing we should be considering.

That’s one element.

Hopefully, another element which will be a little self-correcting is that now the period of the most difficult downsizing has passed, now we’re able to have these kind of conversations like we’ll be having over the next couple of days [that] actually to be involved in government now is likely to be a lot more exciting again.

I think that’s one of the points we’ll need to get across to people who are considering different careers. Hopefully, it’s not just downsizing and restructuring, but it’s actually creatively looking at ways to be innovative now that we’re starting to have a few more pennies for public service.

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Mr. Greenhill, I have a concern with this process you were talking about of learning from the private sector [and] applying it to the public sector and visa versa.

The private sector is motivated by fundamentally different objectives than the public sector. I’m concerned that if we don’t explicitly acknowledge that and incorporate it into the approach we take that there’s a danger, first of not recognizing the differences and also of judging the public sector too harshly.

The private sector objective of achieving a profit is difficult. But I think the objective of trying to achieve equality, fairness, justice and to do it with declining budgets is a pretty tough mandate. I wouldn’t want to be judged on the basis on a different set of objectives that really don’t apply and shouldn’t apply.

Can you comment on these differences and comment on how can we build these partnerships, while recognizing the different objectives?

Greenhill: In terms of the issues of partnerships and how you do that, I’m not sure you’re going to turn that over.

In terms of the impact it has on the exchange of individuals, I actually see that as an opportunity rather than a problem because there are individuals in the private sector who are doing very well financially for them and their shareholders, but who feel a desire to actually contribute more to society and they’re going to be able to do that by being involved in the public sector for a while.

You look at people like Maurice Strong or others who’ve been able to understand that when they’re in the private sector they play a certain role; when they’re public sector they play another role. And the fact that role is more difficult, more complex — but is also in some ways more exciting and more challenging — means that even if during that time they’re in the public sector they’re actually earning considerably less than the private sector net net, it’s still something that’s a very satisfying experience.

So, I see the differences between the two as being something that can encourage a useful flow of people back and forth between the two.

In terms of how to make the partnerships work when it’s at an institutional level, we have a specialist right here.

Carr: I think we shouldn’t forget that they’re the same people, they’re Canadians, they’re parents, they want to use health care and educate their children.

Even though when you’re in a private sector entity you’re there focussed on making profit you also, if you’re in it for the long term, want to be a good corporate citizen. And you don’t want to sully the environment and all those other things.

So, when you come together in a public-private partnership the things that the public sector people will focus on are the issues you raised; how do we ensure that this is in the public interest, how do ensure that there is equitable access, how do we build consensus and get agreement on what our objectives are? How do we make sure that it’s durable for the long term and not just a quick quarterly fix?

Those are worthy objectives.

What the private sector can do and bring is focus, operational effectiveness in areas of expertise, including marketing, and high-priced specialization that [isn’t] available necessarily in the public sector.

That’s not a criticism of either sector, it’s simply understanding the differences and how they can be better, stronger, more efficient when you knit them together.

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Ms. Carr, should there be more partnerships between the third sector and the public sector, the private sector and should they go beyond the borders of Canada to help young people find a career in the third sector? Are we going to be going that way?

Mr. Connell, will Calmeadow be involved in finding innovative ways of getting squeegee kids to work?

Connell: I feel that youth unemployment and the crisis that faces a lot of young people as they leave school to enter the workforce is something that plagues us all.

We’re no exception. We’re just as challenged. We find that young people coming to us looking for a loan, if they don’t have a previous work experience, makes it a really high-risk loan and we would hope they could get some experience before they come, but that’s a Catch 22.

We know it’s a problem, so what we try to do is integrate people by making them one of five who join a group as being the one who has the least experience and the other four, hopefully, will provide some mentoring support to that person.

It’s not totally working to our satisfaction, but it seems to us to be a way. But mentoring people into the work of self-employment is an option that should be pursued.

Carr: I think that the third sector as you call it, the voluntary sector, is restructuring and part of that is [that] there is now competition.

I was speaking earlier about the Victorian Order of Nurses and I was chatting with someone about the impetus that has [occurred] in Ontario through the competitive purchasing of home care services. The VON is now having to compete against [the] profit sector in that regard. That is causing restructuring to occur.

There are a lot forces at play that are causing the restructuring of the voluntary sector.

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Who is safeguarding the integrity of what we’re [the public sector] are trying to achieve now that we’re going to this public-private model?

Carr: It’s the role of our elected members to make those choices and set those priorities and to protect the public interest.

I agree with Robert [Greenhill’s] earlier comment. Public-private partnerships are not for everything and for everyone. And the ones that work well are where you clearly define the objectives, what you want to have come out of it, what is the public interest in and how can that be maintained?

It’s only when you put the rigour of defining and working it through and thinking through the implications that you’ve done a good job from a public policy perspective.

Partnering with the private sector doesn’t work for everything. The danger is, people say: here’s the new buzz word of the week, let’s try and run out and apply it to everything. It just doesn’t work.

It’s not a replacement for good, clear public policy thinking.

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Mr. Connell, what is your perspective on Canadian attitudes towards poverty and how this might affect rethinking Canada for the 21st century?

Connell: There’s poverty and then there’s poverty of opportunity.

Where I see the revolution is addressing the poverty of opportunity. If you can create opportunities for people, they’ll find their own solutions.

I feel the kind of work we do is look for mechanisms that give people the key to the door.

We can lend money to people and they’ll pay us back, but the more important thing is what they’ve done with that money is basically transform the quality of life for their families and, ultimately, their communities if enough people get on board.

It’s quite conceivable that in a country like Bolivia, which has a GDP of roughly $800 per person that something like micro finance, which can reach 75 per cent of the population in the next decade, could literally bootstrap that country up to a double in the GDP.

It’s addressing impoverishment of opportunity and giving people the opportunity to solve their own problems that I guess we focus on. We don’t really see people in the context of being poor, [as much as] being denied opportunity, having very limited choices.

So, it wouldn’t apply as broadly in the Canadian context?

A growing number of Canadians are shut out of the job market of the ‘90s and we’ll see more of that in the next century.

Creating opportunities for people to take control of their own lives through such things as self-employment, I think, is critical.

Being self-employed is a pretty lonely business. It’s also very frustrating if you can’t access capital, no matter how small. I think we have to find ways to do that.