Michael Wernick

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Michael Wernick
Wernick in 2017
23rd Clerk of the Privy Council
Secretary to the Cabinet
In office
January 22, 2016 – April 18, 2019[1]
Prime MinisterJustin Trudeau
Preceded byJanice Charette
Succeeded byIan Shugart[1]
Deputy Clerk of the Privy Council
Associate Secretary to the Cabinet
In office
October 6, 2014 – January 21, 2016
Preceded byJanice Charette[2]
Succeeded bySerge Dupont
Deputy Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development
In office
May 5, 2006[3] – July 11, 2014
MinisterJim Prentice
Chuck Strahl
John Duncan
James Moore
Bernard Valcourt
Succeeded byColleen Swords
Personal details
Born1957 (age 65–66)
Alma materUniversity of Toronto (BA, MA)
  • Public servant
  • academic
  • consultant

Michael Wernick (born September 1957) is a Canadian retired public servant who served as the 23rd clerk of the Privy Council for Canada from 2016 to 2019. Following his tenure as clerk, Wernick joined the University of Ottawa, where he was named Jarislowsky chair of public sector management.

Wernick joined the public service in 1981. Before becoming clerk, Wernick was the deputy clerk under Janice Charette.[4] He was previously the deputy minister for the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development from May 2006 to July 11, 2014.[5] He has held several other positions in the Privy Council Office and as associate deputy minister for the Department of Canadian Heritage.[3]

Personal life[edit]

Born in Montreal, Quebec, Wernick attended Nelson High School in Burlington, Ontario, graduating in 1975. Wernick graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in 1979 and a Master of Arts in economics in 1980 from the University of Toronto. He has been a member of the board of governors for Carleton University in Ottawa.[6] He is a recipient of the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal.

He and his wife adopted both of their two children, and wrote about meeting his son's biological mother in 2011.[7]

Wernick's parents immigrated from the United Kingdom in August 1956, landing in Montreal and moving on to Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario in 1959. Wernick attended Queen Elizabeth Public School and Alexander Muir Public School in Sault Ste.Marie in the 1960s and John T. Tuck Public School and Nelson High School in Burlington in the 1970s.[citation needed]

His sister is Rachel Wernick, now retired, who was a senior official at Employment and Social Development Canada responsible for skills training and youth programs underlying the WE charity controversy that unfolded in 2020.[8]


Wernick joined the federal public service in June 1981 and worked at the Department of Finance until 1987. He worked at Privy Council Office from 1987 to 1990 and from 1991 to 1993 at the constitutional affairs unit of the Federal Provincial Relations Office, and in its successor unit when the Office was merged into the Privy Council Office in 1993, leaving in the summer of 1996. Wernick was deeply involved in the process leading up the Charlottetown Accord of August 1992, supporting the Cabinet Committee chaired by Joe Clark and chairing the multi-jurisdiction committee that drafted the political accord. He was the Assistant Secretary, Constitutional Affairs at Privy Council Office in the period leading to and including the 1995 Quebec referendum on secession.[citation needed]

From 1996 to 2002, Wernick was an assistant deputy minister at the Department of Canadian Heritage. He worked on cultural policy issues, including disputes surrounding Canadian cultural protectionism, such as surrounding film policy, copyright, and the trade dispute with the United States regarding the Canadian government's excise tax on "split-run" magazines (where a title whose main edition is published in another country, such as Time Magazine or Sports Illustrated, is republished in Canada with a few pages of special Canadian content, in order to take advantage of Canadian advertising sales revenues), as well as the entry of Amazon into the Canadian book market and music policy in the face of disruption of traditional industry practices by the internet. In 2002 his first appointment at the deputy minister level was as associate deputy minister at Canadian Heritage.[citation needed]

In 2003 he returned to the Privy Council Office as deputy secretary, where he supported the transition from Prime Minister Jean Chrétien to Paul Martin and later from Martin to Stephen Harper in 2006. Wernick attended the last meeting of the Chrétien Cabinet, the first and last meetings of the Martin Cabinet and the first meeting of the Harper Cabinet.[citation needed]

In May 2006 Wernick was appointed deputy minister for the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs, where he remained for eight years until June, 2014.[citation needed]He was appointed Deputy Clerk of the Privy Council in October, 2014 and Clerk of the Privy Council in January, 2016.

On March 18, 2019, Wernick announced that he would be retiring from his position as the clerk of the Privy Council amid the SNC-Lavalin affair.[9] He retired from the federal public service on April 18, 2019.[10]


University tuition protest email exchange[edit]

Wernick was criticized for his comments made in an email among Carleton University board of Governors members regarding a university student tuition protest that disrupted and prevented the March 30, 2015 meeting of the Board from continuing. In the private email exchange which was leaked to the media by one of the Board members, he deplored the tactics as authoritarian, similar to those used by brown shirts and Maoists to intimidate their political opponents by disrupting gatherings and physically preventing the meeting from proceeding. This was reported in social media as labelling the protesting students as Nazis.[11] The New Democratic Party called for Wernick to apologize for the comments, and the school's graduate student association called for Wernick to resign.[12] Wernick was later elected to serve as Vice Chair of the Board of Governors for the 2016-17 term and the Board of Governors defeated a motion tabled in September 2016 to revisit the controversy.

SNC-Lavalin Affair[edit]

On February 7, 2019, The Globe and Mail published an article that spurred investigation into the SNC-Lavalin Affair.[13] The article claimed that the Prime Minister's Office had pressured Jody Wilson-Raybould while she was Attorney General of Canada into pursuing a deferred prosecution agreement for SNC-Lavalin. The article also claimed that Wernick had rebuked Wilson-Raybould for having suggested that politicians had engaged in doublespeak on Indigenous issues.[13] Wilson-Raybould resigned her current post as Minister of Veterans Affairs on February 12, 2019.

Wernick appeared before the House of Commons Justice Committee on February 21, 2019, where he disputed the allegations of undue pressure on Wilson-Raybould and stated that The Globe and Mail article contained errors and unfounded speculation.[14][15] Wilson-Raybould testified on February 27 that Wernick was among those who had placed undue pressure on her[16][17] and that Wernick had made "veiled threats" to her.[18][19] This led to calls by opposition parties for Wernick's resignation.[20] Wernick appeared at the Justice Committee for a second time on March 6 where he stated in his testimony that he had made no threats and had raised public interest considerations.[21] Wernick announced his retirement in a letter to the prime minister on March 18. A secretly recorded telephone call between Wernick and Wilson-Raybould was released on March 29 wherein Wernick told Wilson-Raybould that Prime Minister Trudeau wanted a deferred prosecution agreement for SNC-Lavalin "one way or another".[22][23] Wernick retired on April 19, 2019 and was succeeded by Ian Shugart.

On March 10, 2020, Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion, released his report on an allegation of conflict of interest against Wernick that had been referred to his office by the Public Sector integrity Commissioner. In the report Dion concluded "I do not have any reason to believe Mr. Wernick may have contravened section of the Act on the basis of the alleged facts. I will, therefore, not initiate an examination under section 45 of the Act and consider the matter closed."[24][25]


Governing Canada[edit]

In October 2021, Wernick published a book titled Governing Canada; A Guide to the Tradecraft of Politics. Wernick described it as a "how to" rather than a tell-all style book, describing his audience as prospective politicians, public servants and academics.[26][27]

Academic roles[edit]

From August 2020 to June 2022, Wernick was a fellow and adjunct professor at Carleton University's School of Public Policy and Administration.[27] In May 2022, the University of Ottawa announced that he would take up an appointment as the Jarislowsky Chair in Public Sector Management on July 1, 2022.[28] Wernick has contributed articles on a range of topics to Policy Options, Canadian Government Executive, Global Government Forum and was interviewed for podcasts and articles by the Globe and Mail, Hill Times, OMNItv, CTV, CBC TV and Radio, TVO, CFRA radio, RadioCanada and Journal de Montreal.


  1. ^ a b "Top bureaucrat Michael Wernick to step down April 19 after SNC-Lavalin controversy - National | Globalnews.ca". globalnews.ca. 2019-03-29. Retrieved 2019-04-07.
  2. ^ Fekete, Jason; May, Kathryn. "Janice Charette faces challenges as new Clerk of Privy Council". Ottawa Citizen. Retrieved 7 April 2016.
  3. ^ a b "Archived - Prime Minister announces changes in the senior ranks of the Public Service". News Release - Office of the Prime Minister. Government of Canada. Retrieved 7 April 2016.
  4. ^ "Trudeau names Michael Wernick as new clerk of Privy Council". The Globe and Mail. The Canadian Press via The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 6 April 2016.
  5. ^ Tasker, John Paul (20 January 2016). "Trudeau names Michael Wernick new Clerk of the Privy Council". CBC News Politics. CBC News. Retrieved 6 April 2016.
  6. ^ "Michael Wernick - Board of Governors". Carleton.ca. Carleton University. Retrieved 6 April 2016.
  7. ^ Wernick, Michael (April 11, 2011). "Meeting our son's birth mother". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 3 August 2020.
  8. ^ Lum, Zi-Ann (July 16, 2020). "WE Charity Could Have Made $43.5 Million In Now-Cancelled Deal: Minister". Huffington Post. Retrieved 3 August 2020.
  9. ^ "Privy Council Clerk Michael Wernick retiring amid questions over his role in SNC-Lavalin affair - National | Globalnews.ca". globalnews.ca. 2019-03-18. Retrieved 2019-03-18.
  10. ^ Office, Privy Council (2019-04-18). "Michael Wernick's farewell message to public servants". www.canada.ca. Retrieved 2023-01-30.
  11. ^ "Canada's new Head of the Public Service compared students protesting tuition fees to Nazis". Press Progress. Broadbent Institute. Retrieved 7 April 2016.
  12. ^ Lum, Zi-Ann. "Trudeau Grilled Over Top Bureaucrat's Remarks About Students, Nazis". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 7 April 2016.
  13. ^ a b "PMO pressed Wilson-Raybould to abandon prosecution of SNC-Lavalin; Trudeau denies his office 'directed' her" – via The Globe and Mail.
  14. ^ National Post (2019-02-21), Michael Wernick speaks to justice committee, retrieved 2019-02-21
  15. ^ "No 'inappropriate pressure' on Jody Wilson-Raybould in SNC-Lavalin affair, top civil servant says - The Star". thestar.com.
  16. ^ "Can Wilson-Raybould and the clerk of the privy council both be right? - The Star". thestar.com.
  17. ^ "Top Civil Servant 'Compromised' In SNC-Lavalin Affair Must Quit: Angus". HuffPost Canada. 4 March 2019.
  18. ^ "Privy Council Clerk Michael Wernick must resign over SNC-Lavalin affair testimony: Angus - National - Globalnews.ca". globalnews.ca. 4 March 2019.
  19. ^ "Who is Michael Wernick and what's the role of the Privy Council clerk? - CTV News". www.ctvnews.ca.
  20. ^ "Top bureaucrat facing calls to resign, concerns raised over his role in next election - CTV News". www.ctvnews.ca.
  21. ^ Tasker, John Paul (March 6, 2019). "'I made no threats': Key moments from the Privy Council clerk's testimony on the SNC-Lavalin affair". CBC News.
  22. ^ Harris, Kathleen (Mar 29, 2019). "PM wanted SNC-Lavalin deal 'one way or another,' Wernick told Wilson-Raybould in secretly recorded call". CBC News. Retrieved Apr 7, 2019.
  23. ^ Politics, Canadian (2019-03-30). "Secret recording of Wernick by Jody Wilson-Raybould backs interference allegations in SNC-Lavalin scandal | National Post". Retrieved 2019-04-07.
  24. ^ "No ethics rules broken by former top bureaucrat in SNC-Lavalin scandal: watchdog | Globalnews.ca". Global News. Retrieved 2023-01-24.
  25. ^ "Wernick Report". ciec-ccie.parl.gc.ca. Retrieved 2023-01-24.
  26. ^ "Government 101: Adjunct Prof's New Book A 'How To' For Political Leaders". Carleton Newsroom. Retrieved 2023-01-24.
  27. ^ a b Kirkup, Kristy (2021-07-30). "Former top public servant Michael Wernick pens book on experience with ministers, prime ministers". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 2023-01-24.
  28. ^ "uOttawa welcomes Michael Wernick as Jarislowsky Chair in Public Sector Management". About us. Retrieved 2023-01-24.

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