Public servant-in-residence: A love of learning and teaching

Timothy MacKey

Since last September, Timothy Mackey, a public servant at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada (DFATD) has been working as “public servant-in-residence” at Glendon College’s School of Public and International Affairs (GSPIA ). In a recent interview with Glendon Magazine, Mackey agreed to talk about his experience.

According to him, he had three priorities for the activities he wished to achieve at the GSPIA during this past year. First, teaching. He gave a course jointly with the graduate program director, entitled “Colloquium: Canada in the World.” This course is mandatory for first-year students in the master’s program of public and international affairs and aims to stimulate debate on the greatest public policy challenges facing Canada on domestic and international affairs.

Timothy Mackey
Timothy Mackey

In this course, senior public servants, politicians and others who play or have played an important role in public life in Canada are invited to meet and talk with the students. For example, this year in the GSPIA symposia, Marie-Lucie Morin came to talk to students. She was deputy minister of international trade, national security advisor to the prime minister, and her last position in the public service was executive director for Canada, Ireland and the Caribbean at the World Bank. The students also met David Mulroney, Canada’s former ambassador to China, who also led the interdepartmental team within the Privy Council Office on Canada’s engagement in Afghanistan. Other guests included: Paul Heinbecker, former Canadian ambassador to the United Nations; Pierre Pettigrew, former minister of foreign affairs and international trade; and others.

For their coursework, students were required to prepare memoranda of action or briefing notes related to the topics discussed at the seminar. This helped them to develop what Mackey called their “literacy in public policy tools,” or their familiarity with the tools of public service. This learning enables them to make the transition to internships and possibly to permanent jobs in the federal or provincial public service.

The second goal of a public servant-in-residence, according to Mackey, was to contribute to the renewal of the federal public service. This objective was twofold. The first was to promote research and learning on the challenges facing the public service and the second was to assist in the recruitment for the public service in general and for the Foreign Service in particular. In this context, Mackey sought to encourage students to do an internship at his ministry by helping them make contact with managers not only in his ministry, but also elsewhere in the public service. He advised them on their CVs, and helped to prepare for interviews. This summer, several Glendon students are undertaking internships in the federal public service, with at least three at DFATD (including two in Canadian embassies abroad Vietnam and Hungary).

The third objective of Mackey in his capacity of public servant-in-residence at Glendon was to contribute to a process of reflection on the challenges facing the public service, initiated by the clerk of the Privy Council, entitled “Blueprint 2020.” Mackey contributes to this effort by trying to see things from the students’ point of view. What can be done in 2014 and beyond to recruit students and build relationships with Canadian universities? “Can we do things differently to better integrate students from universities or schools such as Glendon into the federal public service?” he asked.

For Mackey, senior managers in the federal public service recognize the need to emphasize this issue. Two initiatives were established to support this effort: on the one hand the public servant-in-residence program; and on the other, the deputy minister university champion initiative. Almost every deputy minister is responsible for a university in Canada.

“We do not cover them all, but perhaps 30 or 35,” he says. These deputy ministers work to promote recruitment in universities and to build relationships with faculty and administration. In short, just about what a public servant-in-residence does, but at a higher level. So for Mackey, a part of his job is to support Hélène Gosselin, deputy minister “champion” for York University. One way he did this was by inviting Tony Giles, director general from Employment and Social Development Canada, to make a presentation to the students at the Canada in the World symposium. Giles talked to students about employment opportunities in the public service as well as issues of public policy relating to labour issues in Canada.

A specific program

During the interview, Mackey said he discovered the public servant-in-residence program during a discussion with Alex Himelfarb, director of the GSPIA and former clerk of the Privy Council. This program is coordinated by the Canada School of Public Service. After one academic year performing the functions of public servant-in-residence, he says that he has had ​​a very positive experience.

He was amazed by how much working with graduate students brought him satisfaction. “Being amongst a group of young, passionate students, full of ideas and enthusiasm for Canada’s future, of ways to improve it, all this gave me a lot of energy and satisfaction,” he says. MacKey also enjoyed what he called “the opportunity” to work with renowned professors, government officials and intellectuals such as Principal Kenneth McRoberts, Himelfarb, Michael Barutciski, director of the master’s program and Roberto Perin, former director of the same program.

In his opinion, what was the most useful preparation for his work as public servant-in-residence was the fact that he had worked in the federal public service, specifically in his ministry. Indeed, many DFATD employees are rotational and change their professional functions every two or three years. MacKey is one of them, and after joining the department in 2006 he had two separate assignments at headquarters in Ottawa before leaving for three years of service in Turkey. Upon his return, he worked in the office of the Minister of Foreign Affairs and then in the office of the deputy minister Foreign Affairs as an advisor. For him, it was this renewal process each time; the chance to learn new things, to face new challenges, which prepared him for the role of public servant-in-residence. He adds: “I ​​love to learn, and so for me it was natural to come to a School of Public and International Affairs.” Mackey loves to learn and to teach, and that is what he has accomplished during the past year. For him, it is a necessity to reinvent himself periodically, which makes the work fascinating, and that’s what he wanted to convey to students.

He concludes: “[The students] are between 23 and 30 years old, and they are constantly asking what they will do after their degree. I advise them to keep both feet on the ground and follow their interests. Because if they follow their interests, if they continue to learn and tackle the challenges of their personal and professional lives, they will remain committed, they will always be engaged, they will do a good job and they will love what they do.”

By Michel Héroux