‘Seek out unusual partnerships’ – says senior Canadian government official who oversees $1.5bn of public spending

By on 01/06/2016
Ezio DiMillo is director-general of the project management and delivery sector at Public Services and Procurement Canada’s Parliamentary Precinct Branch

Public servants managing large projects should “go beyond the normal partnerships” and seek out “less obvious” opportunities for collaboration, a senior official from Canada’s government has said.

Ezio DiMillo, who works for Public Services and Procurement Canada (previously known as Public Works and Government Services Canada) – the department responsible for the government’s internal servicing and administration – and oversees the delivery of projects worth Can$2bn (US$15bn), is among five public servants who won an APEX (Association of Professional Executives of the Public Service of Canada) award of excellence.

As director-general of the project management and delivery sector at PWGSC’s Parliamentary Precinct Branch, he is currently responsible for a five-year chunk of the government’s 25-year ‘Long Term Vision and Plan’ (LTVP) to renovate and modernise parliamentary buildings.

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A view of the rotunda which is located inside the main entrance of the Center Block of the Parliamentary Precinct. Photographer: Jake Wright

He received the partnership award “for his management excellence and collaboration and his ability to build strong relationships with partners which has led to the success of various projects for the Parliamentary Precinct,” according to APEX.

To deliver on the plan, DiMillo and his team routinely work with a series of partners including the Senate of Canada, the House of Commons, the Library of Parliament, the parliamentary protective services, and the National Capital Commission – the Canadian Crown corporation which administers the federally-owned lands and buildings in the National Capital Region.

He told Global Government Forum that projects of this size can only succeed if all parties involved work effectively together.

But, he added that a particular ingredient to his team’s success has been its effort to seek out those collaborations which are “less obvious” – more than just “the must-haves”.

His team partnered with universities and members of the architectural engineering community to help with certain aspects of delivery.

DiMillo said: “A large part of our programme deals with rehabilitating masonry heritage buildings.

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Two construction workers work on the roof of the Southeast Tower, West Block of the Parliamentary Precinct

“It was determined that the heritage rehabilitation industry was in need of technical data related to the design of load bearing structures for heritage buildings, more specifically as it relates to our Canadian climate and seismic conditions.  

“The universities assisted with an evidence based approach to obtaining the information which then informed the design phase of the projects and the University of Calgary (Schulich School of Engineering) was able to utilise their large seismic ‘shake table’ in the process.  

“My Department provided the masonry construction materials, such as wall anchors, that were used to construct large replica wall sections which were tested live on the shake table.  “This partnership also helped and continues to help build capacity in the heritage engineering field: a number of students and PhD students at the engineering faculty were involved.”

The LTVP, DiMillo said, aims to bring the parliamentary precinct, which dates back to the 1800s, “up to 21st century standards.”

The plan was first developed in 2001 as a guide for change in the parliamentary precinct.

It was a 25-year programme to upgrade deteriorated buildings and landscapes, and add needed accommodations for parliamentarians and others (including the Prime Minister’s Office, Privy Council Office, and Royal Canadian Mounted Police).

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The West Block of the Parliamentary Precinct was vacated in January 2011 to proceed with its complete rehabilitation.

It was updated in 2007 and established a comprehensive Implementation Framework of “rolling” five-year programmes of work to plan and deliver projects to meet parliamentary accommodation requirements and to create a secure and welcoming environment for parliamentarians, staff, and visitors.

The programme that DiMillo oversees, runs between 2013 and 2017.

He has been involved in the programme since 2005 though. And since then, he said, “all projects have been delivered on time and on budget.”

DiMillo, who has diplomas from Algonquin College in architecture and building mechanical systems, added that “programmes of this magnitude can only happen when you have a number of pillars in place”: an “extremely talented professional hard-working team”; an effective “extended team”, i.e. other teams within the department such as the acquisitions group and the heritage conservation directorate; and “working collaboratively whilst [having] good client relationships.”

Most of his 33-year-long public service career has been spent at PWGSC, with the exception of a one-year stint at Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada in 2009.

DiMillo, who has been a member of the executive cadre for six years, is currently in charge of a team comprising around 60 public servants as well as 40 “co-located project-management professionals” from the private sector.

It’s a “very integrated hybrid team that functions extremely well,” he said.

DiMillo will pick up his trophy at the APEX Symposium today, a two-day conference for Canadian senior civil servants which started yesterday.

He will be joined by deputy assistant commissioner at the Canada Revenue Agency, Dan Couture, who won the leadership award; Jennifer Hollington, director-general (DG) at Natural Resources Canada who won the healthy workplace award; Norm Sheridan, executive director at the Canada Border Services Agency who won the career contribution award; and Sara Filbee, leader of the Implementation Committee at Employment and Social Development Canada which won the innovative team award.

The event is being held at the Shaw Centre in Ottawa under the banner: ‘Leadership Action for Excellence, Innovation and Health.’

It includes various workshops and speeches by senior officials including Canada’s most high-ranking civil servant Michael Wernick and politicians such as Scott Brison, the minister responsible for the public service.

For up to date government news and international best practice follow us on Twitter @globegov

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About Winnie Agbonlahor

Winnie is news editor of Global Government Forum. She previously reported for Civil Service World - the trade magazine for senior UK government officials. Originally from Germany, Winnie first came to the UK in 2006 to study a BA in Journalism & Russian at the University of Sheffield. She is bilingual in English and German, and, after spending an academic year abroad in Russia and reporting for the Moscow Times, Winnie also speaks Russian fluently.

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