Prof. William Lahey, President and Vice-Chancellor and Professor of Law
Remarks on receiving the Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Excellence in Public Administration

Remarks on receiving the Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Excellence in Public Administration

On October 24, 2019, President and Vice-Chancellor William Lahey was awarded the 2019 Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Excellence in Public Administration. The prestigious award is presented by the lieutenant governor of Nova Scotia who serves as its patron. It is sponsored by Davis Pier and administered by the Institute of Public Administration of Canada (IPAC) Nova Scotia. 

Your Honours,

Good afternoon.

I am deeply honoured to have been given this award by His Honour and by IPAC, here in this historic building, which is at the centre of our history and communal life as Nova Scotians.

Thank you all for being here.  It means the world to me and to my family. It is a joy to be sharing this with Kathryn, the love of my life, and our daughters, Elizabeth and Claire.  With our son Joseph, now writing an exam at Dalhousie, we have made a family of sustaining love.  I am grateful for it every day but on this day in a particular way.

To be recognized for excellence in one’s profession is a great blessing.  It is doubly so when the honour comes from one’s peers based on the nomination of respected colleagues.  It is triply so when the honour is conferred by the Lieutenant Governor in Government House.

Forgive the self-indulgence if I say, “Not bad for a kid who started out on a chicken farm and woodlot in Miramichi,” which happens to be, for those of you who don’t know, in New Brunswick. In today’s more cosmopolitan world, it probably does not seem noteworthy that a New Brunswicker should be honoured for public administration by the Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia.  But from where I started in life, it seems like a miraculous thing. As an adopted Nova Scotian, who owes so much to Nova Scotia, it makes me very proud.

Recently, I attended a moving three day Reconciliation Roundtable co-hosted at Algoma University by Algoma and several other universities (including our Cape Breton University) and the Anishinaube people of that part of Ontario.  A speaker from the Cherokee Nation of the United States quoted Sandra Day O’Connor, the former Justice of the United States Supreme Court, who was asked by a student after giving a lecture at a law school what was the secret of a fulfilling professional life.  The Justice gave a three word answer: “work that matters”.  At a very early age, I absorbed that exact philosophy from my parents, our church and the teachers and coaches who mattered in my life. The philosophy became a mission statement once I was given the opportunity and the duty that comes with being a Rhodes Scholar.

I don’t want to imply I think I am deserving of this award.  But I do want to say this award says to me and to my family, specifically to my kids, that I have done work that matters.  That is such a great gift to receive.  Thank you.

Thank you especially to Your Honour and to IPAC Nova Scotia for honouring my contributions to our province and to public administration in our province.  In doing so, you honour all of the colleagues, in and outside of government, who I have been fortunate enough to work with and learn from over the course of my career.  They know and I know, that each of the contributions that I am associated with was the work of many hands, as all good work in public administration must be.

I accept this award as testament to the quality and value of what we have done together, in each case with the many organizations, communities and individuals that have contributed to each of the projects we have worked on.  When all is said and done, what will remain are the relationships we have built and the memories of our combined service to Nova Scotia and thereby to our neighbours and our country.  At the core of those memories are the feelings we shared of professional fulfillment when we were successful in making lives better and of disappointment when success alluded us.

Thank you also to Your Honour and to IPAC for everything you each do to recognize, celebrate and support excellence in public administration and all who serve the people of our province by practicing that profession.  Thank you particularly for maintaining and offering this award annually, and to Davis Pier for provided the sponsorship to make it possible.  As a young civil servant and through the course of my career, I was and have been inspired by this award and by the people who have received it, a number of whom have been my mentors in work and in life.  I have received a few emails from the younger professionals of today suggesting that they feel the same way about today’s events.  That gives me joy.

Thank you to the colleagues who nominated me – Bernie Miller, Julie Towers, Kim MacNeil, Meinhard Doelle and Ryan Grant.  Being your nominee is an honour in itself, and honour enough.  I have loved the opportunities to work with each of you that our overlapping journeys have provided.  I hope life gives us further opportunities to work together.

Bernie and I have known each other since our earliest days at McInnes Cooper. We share an understanding that lawyers have a mission to serve society as well as their clients, including by contributing to public administration.  Julie, Kim and I first met and got to know each other when they worked for me.  I love that I have since had the opportunity to work for each of them.  Meinhard and I have been conspiring on ways to save the world by greening Nova Scotia for 15 years – working on aquaculture with him was an experience of a lifetime.  Then I was foolish enough to try forestry without him – which is how I came to know and to admire Ryan, including for his skill as a penetrating listener who asked few questions because each question he asked was exactly the right one.

I want to acknowledge the political leaders, from all three of the parties who have formed our government, for continuing to place trust and confidence in me and my colleagues. Having the opportunity to work closely with those who carry the burden of political office has been a great privilege.  Their collective dedication to the public good has been an inspiration.  The crucial collaboration between them and public servants depends on public servants being able and willing to propose big and ambitious ideas that address our core challenges and opportunities, including when such ideas are not welcomed.  In my opinion, that is part of the public servant’s credo of “speaking truth to power” that is not sufficiently stressed or rewarded.

I also want to acknowledge the Schulich School of Law and the University of King’s College, for being consistently indulgent of my wayward ways.  Specifically, I want to thank Dawn Russell, Phillip Saunders, Kim Brooks and Camille Cameron, my deans at the law school, and Dale Godsoe and Doug Ruck, my board chairs at King’s.  They have all put Nova Scotia first by supporting my forays into public policy.  I also want to thank all my colleague at King’s and at Efficiency Nova Scotia, especially my administrative colleagues at one and Board and administrative colleagues at the other, for filling the void when I was off thinking about forestry.

I have been privileged to be a teacher for the last twenty years.  That means I have had the privilege of learning from students for the past twenty years.  These days, I am literally surrounded by students 24/7, given the location of the President’s Lodge inside the enclosed world … or secret garden … that is the University of King’s College.  The evolution of my thinking on environmental policy and the need for an economy that is inclusive and sustainable owes everything to the influence on me of students and my own children.  I am more in their debt than they could possibly know.  I am optimistic about the future because I know the future is in good hands.

This brings me to my closing comment.  I am excited by the opportunity we have in Nova Scotia to build a society and an economy of prosperity, inclusion, reconciliation and stewardship of this beautiful territory that is governed under the treaties of Peace and Friendship that are the constitutional foundations of this province.

I look forward to participating as I can in our progress towards that vision. But even more, I am looking forward to watching and applauding the contribution future generations of public servants, like the students being honoured this afternoon, will make to the realization of that Nova Scotia.

Thank you.

Credit: Courtesy of Government House