‘Eliminate silos and duplication’: Five minutes with Paul Wagner, CEO of the Canadian Digital Service

By on 18/04/2024 | Updated on 18/04/2024

In this interview, Paul Wagner, Chief Executive Officer of the Canadian Digital Service, discusses Canada’s work to safeguard automated decision-making and combine service and digital into one overarching policy.

This is part of a ‘Five minutes’ series featuring speakers from this week’s Global Government Forum GovernmentDX event (Washington, DC, April 18-19). During the conference, Wagner will participate in a session on accelerating digital transformation across government.

What are you most interested in discussing at GovernmentDX? 

Not so much a specific topic but the opportunity to engage with leaders of other national/federal digital service organisations and to – hopefully – establish long-lasting partnerships that will help accelerate digital service delivery in our respective countries.

What drew you to a career in the civil service?

In 1999, after having spent almost a decade in the private sector, I was seeking a new challenge.  An opportunity to move to Ottawa – where the Canadian federal government is primarily housed – to work with the federal government came my way.

After a brief interview/assessment period my family and I moved to Ottawa and became a public servant. I had interviewed with a number of firms in Ottawa, but upon seeing the potential to serve Canadians, Canadian businesses and those looking to come to our country in ways that simply aren’t possible in the private sector, it was just too great an experience to pass up. 

In addition, I was following in my father’s footsteps. He worked for the Canadian government in Germany before he immigrated here in 1953 – I guess it runs in the blood.

Read more: ‘Challenge limits in the civil service’: Five minutes with 10 Downing Street’s chief analyst Laura Gilbert

What have you achieved in your career that you’re most proud of? 

Establishing a vast international network of friends, colleagues, experts and humans that I can count on to join me in a journey towards a better Canada.

What more do you want to achieve before you retire? 

Implement systemic change – not just a product or platform – that allows future generations of public servants to excel.

If you could introduce one civil service reform, what would it be?  

Eliminating silos for things that can (and should) be done centrally. Too many organisations within government end up doing the *exact same thing* for the sole reason of vertical accountability (in a Westminster system of government).

Can you name one lesson or idea from abroad that’s helped you and your colleagues?  

Hard to name just one but am very impressed with and inspired by the clarity and ambition as laid out in the 2021 US President’s Executive Order on Transforming Federal Customer Experience and Service Delivery to Rebuild Trust in Government. 

It gave clear expectations to US citizens and clear direction to the bureaucracy as to what success looked like.

Read more: Better digital public services on the agenda at inaugural GovernmentDX conference in Washington DC

Are there any projects or innovations in your country that might be valuable to your peers overseas? 

I believe that Canada’s policy framework that combines service and digital into one overarching policy is forward-thinking. 

In addition, the work Canada has done in the area of safeguarding automated decision-making is world-class.

What attributes do you most value in people? 

Authenticity, humility (professional and personal), and the ability to have fun and laugh.

Do you have any unusual hobbies? 

Perhaps not unusual but I love to sail and have done so for over 40 years – locally in Ottawa and on ‘big water’, aka oceans.

Is there something about you that people find surprising? 

I am an only child.

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