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Today, a plethora of negative forces are sowing the seeds of social polarisation and eroding trust in democratically elected governments. The pandemic has accelerated, or potentially magnified, these trends in Canada. More recently, citizens have been moved to individual and collective action outside of government processes to effect change.

The Institute on Governance and the Brian Mulroney Institute of Government have partnered to examine the impact of these negative forces on a select group of public officials responsible for managing organisations at the municipal, provincial, territorial and federal levels. Their role is to support elected officials in effective decision-making and to ensure that citizens receive essential programs and services.

As chief administrative officers, deputy ministers, and those in other capacities, public officials find themselves on the front line responding to an ever-changing operational environment that is becoming enormously complex, divisive, and increasingly difficult to navigate. Their relative success or failure can either strengthen democracy in Canada or contribute to its further decline. This begs some important questions - What are they thinking about? How are they responding to the challenges that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought, and where do they see opportunities to make positive change to regain the fragile trust of citizens?

This project is a two-part study designed to provide rare access into the thoughts and views of senior executive public service leaders. Confidential and anonymous, participants from the federal, municipal, provincial and territorial governments were interviewed and/or surveyed on important questions regarding the environment in which they serve to better ascertain their views on what is needed to respond effectively. Their responses provide an important roadmap that needs to be studied closely.

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