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Janice Charette was an honouree at the Annual Testimonial Dinner Honour Roll 2024. Charette is the former clerk of the Privy Council, a mental health advocate and organizational wellness champion.

In her acceptance speech, Charette touches on the challenges and importance of a life in public service. 

Thank you so much to the Public Policy Forum for this honour. Congratulations to my fellow honorees. Ed: I came after the astronaut, the Olympic hockey hero and the billionaire lentil king. Like, a bit of set-up, don’t you think? 

If I could be permitted a bit of a small fan girl moment. Jayna, I am a proud mom of a female hockey goalie. I am delighted to see the PWHL, bravo. 

It is very humbling to be in the company of such great Canadians. It’s very meaningful to me to be honored for work that I’ve dedicated my career and my life to for nearly 40 years.

Canada and Canadians have benefited from transformative public policy. It’s shaped our path as a nation and our lives as Canadians. It’s given us prosperity, equity and justice that is widely envied. 

In the last year we lost some great Canadians. In the back of your program for tonight you’ll see a list. Jody White former PPF president was a friend and a mentor to me, a trailblazer who lead with integrity and courage. Former clerk of the Privy Council, Senator Ian Shugart were shot with the Sony, Senator Hugh Segal, the Right Honourable Brian Mulroney. All were incredible leaders and the mark they made on this country will be celebrated and not forgotten.

They all believed in the importance of strong institutions to support the functioning of our democracy and support economic and social stability. Strong and trusted institutions are at the heart of our success as a nation. Canada’s nonpartisan professional public service is one of those institutions. It’s certainly not the only one. 

Democracies are facing pressures from all directions. Technology is disrupting all aspects of our society. We live in a world of complicated and conflictual geopolitics, slower economic growth, widespread concerns about the cost of living and income inequality. We’re still learning about the long-term impacts of the global pandemic on our kids on our families, certainly on our workplaces and our workforces.

 The speed of change is accelerating and the reality of simultaneous and interlocking crises are unfortunately with us to say. So no doubt in the face of all of these pressures are no surprise our institutions are under great stress. They need to adapt and evolve in order to stay relevant to retain the trust and confidence of those that they serve. The public service has been adapting to these challenges, but there’s more to be done. I describe it as shifting from operating in analog to operating in digital. 

Of course, this includes transforming how services are delivered, so citizens can interact with government and the way they function in other parts of their lives. Success in a digital world requires ever more experimentation and innovation. The willingness to partner with other levels of government, the private sector, nonprofit organizations and Indigenous communities to learn from each other and leverage each other’s strengths to find and implement solutions that really make a difference. 

2024 Testimonial Dinner Honour Roll live blog 

Success in the digital age will require continued work to make the public sector more efficient and more effective and channeled that into the public good. This kind of change is never easy. Leading change in public institutions is not for the faint of heart these days. Too many good people who have put up their hand to make a difference, to bring their experience and their knowledge to advance the public good have been subjected to attacks on their integrity and threats to themselves and to their families. This cannot continue.

Let us take inspiration from the words of Theodore Roosevelt. It is not the critic who counts. We need to celebrate those that are actually in the arena, who do actually strive to do the deeds that spend themselves in a worthy cause. Canada has done so well as a country committed to peace, order and good government. We’ve accomplished great things by focusing more on what unites us than divides us. We have to support and defend those who choose to enter this arena. Let us debate ideas vigorously, but with civility and with respect.

There’s a place in that arena for all of us, each in our own way. Good citizens in a democracy. People who love Canada have a responsibility to be engaged to contribute to the work of strengthening our institutions and good governance. 

Take it for me. It’s a privilege to have a chance to shape public policy and build a better country. So I implore you to put up your hand and say yes to a chance to make a difference. Canadians and this great country deserve our best. If not you, if not now, when? I’ll see you all in the arena.

Hear from more PPF honourees:

  • Former astronaut and cabinet minister Marc Garneau talked about serving his country and the clarifying force of ‘a rocket about to unleash seven million pounds of thrust.’
  • Hyman Solomon Award honouree Paul Wells spoke on the importance of journalism: ‘When politicians go around us, are they doing it to get the truth to you by a shorter path?’
  • Jayna Hefford described launching the wildly successful PWHL: ‘It’s not about hockey. It’s about changing society. We’re creating change for the next generation.’
  • Emerging Leader Award honouree Raven Lacerte discussed the national movement she launched to end violence against women: ‘I am standing up for my daughters. Who are you standing up for?’
  • JP Gladu explained how Indigenous nations are key to unlocking Canada’s potential: ‘The Canadian balance sheet is starting to shift. Which side of the ledger do you want to be on?’
  • Murad Al-Katib pushed for a more ambitious Canada: ‘I want to scale businesses and I want the future to be there for our generations to come.’