John Dyble’s pending retirement wasn’t front page news, which is the last place he would want to be anyway.
For five years, John has been Deputy to the Premier and Cabinet Secretary – the head of the BC Public Service. It’s an incredibly demanding job. On a day-to-day basis, there are 18-19 ministries that must have oversight along with crown corporations, like BC Hydro and ICBC, that are among the largest companies in the Province. Managing the cabinet process alone is a daunting task – as Cabinet Secretary, he was responsible for flowing the agenda of government through the cabinet committee process to the Cabinet Table. Then there’s the constant public scrutiny and the persistent howls of stakeholders. Overall, the job looks over a $50 billion-plus enterprise, led by a humble, dedicated, career public servant.
There are no 7-figure salaries or major bonus packages for guys like John Dyble. He could run circles around many in the private sector, but he, like many in the public sector, do what they do because of their commitment to public service.
I recall the time that John was hired by Premier Christy Clark. Following her leadership win in 2011, there was a brief transition period where a cabinet had to be constructed, a caucus had to be consulted, and senior appointments had to be made. Most importantly, the question of who to lead the public service. John was an inspired choice that complemented the Premier’s leadership abilities. The Premier needed to bring her party and caucus together after coming from the outside to win. She needed stability, competence, and strong execution at the centre of government to provide her with the ballast needed as she set out to establish new direction. John had a reputation of getting things done whether it was Transportation, Forestry, or Health Care. He was highly regarded by his peers. That he had been a Deputy Minister to Kevin Falcon recommended him further. Kevin was a very able minister who had a busy agenda – he didn’t stand pat. That a deputy could keep pace with Kevin is noteworthy, let alone the accomplishments that took place. John’s appointment was an important signal that the Premier would choose the best, regardless of who he or she had worked with. After all, John has never been a partisan – he served NDP and BC Liberal governments and found creative and effective ways to meet the public policy goals for the government of the day.
When the Premier interviewed John for the role, he met with me afterward. Holed up in a downtown hotel, John and I talked at some length as the sun went down. Our conversation literally got darker until I basically couldn’t see him in his chair. That was the last time I was ever in the dark with John Dyble. We had a great relationship where, as the Premier’s first Chief of Staff, I had complete confidence in his ability to handle his side of the ledger, and he let me handle my side but we kept each other in the loop and pushed back at each other, respectfully, when necessary.
A key part of John’s legacy has been the disciplined management of government. Perhaps not fully appreciated at the time, the Premier’s leadership platform called for running a tight ship. Her fiscal plan received top marks from the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. She spoke, bravely, during that leadership campaign about the need to wrestle health care spending increases to the rate of economic growth – so that we could afford quality public health care, and other critical services, into the future. Over the past five years, Premier Clark – and her Finance Ministers – have met and exceeded expectations in terms of balancing the budget and setting a course for lower debt/GDP and ultimately creating a sturdy platform by which BC now leads the country in economic growth. That takes discipline from the top.
Earlier in the Premier’s mandate, the Jobs Plan was launched. This process brought laser-like focus to economic development within government. The implementation of the Jobs Plan, and the buy-in it received across government, required a lot of heavy lifting. The LNG strategy was another example of how John could harness the public service to ensure focus behind a critical policy goal. These don’t even begin to record John’s accomplishments on the job.
The Premier’s Office is a lean operation. It is not like the federal government’s Privy Council Office nor the “Cupcakes” of previous BC governments, where there was a more centralized policy approach. BC’s public service is quite decentralized, therefore, those directing traffic at the centre are stretched. In physical terms, the 2nd floor of the West Annex is where that happens and it is not a large workspace – kind of shocking actually how much goes through that floor considering the magnitude of their responsibilities. Despite these modest resources, John and his team have proven adept at reaching public policy goals. Compare BC to other provinces over the past five years.
The job is a gruelling one, made even more challenging by health issues that John has combatted. He’s tough and resilient, qualities that are very appealing to the Premier. But he’s not your showy “Tough Guy” tough guy; he’s quiet and leads by example – humble.
With the recent retirement of both Peter Milburn as Deputy Minister of Finance and Dan Doyle from full-time role as Chief of Staff, John Dyble’s departure marks an end to an impressive trio of Transportation Men who helped guide government from 2011-2016. All three having served as Deputy Minister in Transportation, all three playing different but critical roles for Premier Clark. Collectively, they have made an outstanding contribution.
And individually, John Dyble’s accomplishments stand well on their own.