The timing of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s sudden replacement this month of the government’s top public servant seemed like an odd move to some, even those who support what appears to be a move to create a formalized process for appointing Privy Council clerks. On Jan. 22, the Prime Minister’s Office sent a press release from Davos, Switzerland—where Mr. Trudeau was attending the World Economic Forum—announcing that Janice Charette would be replaced as Privy Council clerk by Michael Wernick. It said that Ms. Charette would remain a “senior adviser” to the Privy Council Office, “pending a new assignment.” Mr. Wernick, the PMO said, had been given the mandate of moving forward with “the renewal of the professional, non-partisan public service,” and would advise the Prime Minister on “a process to fill the position on a permanent basis.” The PMO would not elaborate when asked for further comment. Ms. Charette had been on the job for a little more than a year after replacing Wayne Wouters in October 2014. She was a deputy clerk of the Privy Council immediately before that and was deputy minister of Intergovernmental Affairs between 2010 and 2013.She held other deputy ministers’ roles before that, as well as senior positions within the Privy Council Office (PCO) between 2001 and 2004. Before becoming clerk, Mr. Wernick had been a deputy clerk in the Privy Council Office since October 2014, and had spent eight years as deputy minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada up until then. Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre (Carleton, Ont.) said: “I’m disappointed with the way the Prime Minister has treated Ms. Charette. I think that he owed her more respect than he showed in the way that he made his transition.” Mr. Poilievre added that Ms. Charette “will be very successful in whatever she pursues in the future. As for Mr. Wernick, he has an outstanding reputation as a public servant. I believe he has the potential to do great work in his new role. I wish him well.” Emmanuelle Tremblay, president of the Canadian Association of Professional Employees, which represents more than 10,000 federal government employees, said the change in Privy Council clerks was surprising, given how much trust the Liberal government seemed to place in Ms. Charette when it took office. “When Justin Trudeau travelled, for example, very early in his mandate, he was accompanied by Janice Charette,” she said. “So, in a sense, I think he trusted her as the top bureaucrat to be supporting him during the transition.” Ms. Tremblay speculated that Ms. Charette might have wanted to leave the position. Donald Savoie, Canada Research Chair in public administration and governance at the Université de Moncton, said he agrees with the government’s move to reform how Privy Council clerks are appointed, though he said the way the PMO made its recent announcement was “confusing.” He said it’s unclear what prompted the timing of this change in the PCO. “We don’t know,” Mr. Savoie said. “It may be that Janice Charette said, ‘Look, I want to move on to other things.’ … It may be that she told the Prime Minister, ‘Look, I’ve done the transition, we did it well, you said we’ve done it well.’ “She was asked to go on a couple of tours with the Prime Minister, which for a clerk is unusual,” Mr. Savoie said, noting her apparent value to the Liberal government during its first few months of power. He speculated that, as has been the case with past Privy Council clerks, an ambassador’s job might be awaiting Ms. Charette, and she might have taken the opportunity now to make herself available for such an opportunity. “She would know better than anybody in the system which ambassadorial positions are going to open up or what are the opportunities. Perhaps she spotted one and said, ‘This is what I would like.’ But I don’t know.” While the PMO did not specify how long Mr. Wernick would serve as clerk, Mr. Savoie noted that he has 35 years of experience in the federal public service and could retire with a comfortable pension. “He has certainly put in the years and has earned retirement, if that’s what he chooses,” Mr. Savoie said. David Zussman, the Jarislowsky Chair on Management in the Public Sector at the University of Ottawa, and author of Off and Running, a book about government transitions, said issuing a press release from out of the country to announce a change in the country’s top bureaucrat was odd, as is the fact her replacement is seemingly there on only an interim basis. “I guess it was more of the way it was done, rather than what was done,” he said. Mr. Zussman said, typically, a new federal government waits six months to a year before ousting an existing Privy Council clerk with a choice of its own. Mr. Savoie had positive things to say about both Mr. Wernick and Ms. Charette. “I know Charette has a good reputation, was well regarded, highly respected,” he said. Noting Mr. Wernick’s tenure as a deputy minister with Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, which lasted eight years up until 2014, Mr. Savoie said: “He walked out of there with his head high, which in itself is quite a plus.” NDP MP Charlie Angus (Timmins-James Bay, Ont.), the party’s critic of indigenous affairs, was not so complementary of Mr. Wernick’s contribution to First Nations issues. Citing the recent decision from the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal that found discrimination on the part of the federal government against First Nations children, Mr. Angus said in the House of Commons on Wednesday that Cindy Blackstock, who launched the complaint in 2007, “identified Michael Wernick as a key player in fighting her human rights case. He was also lambasted by a parliamentary committee for dragging his feet on the child welfare crisis.” Mr. Angus added: “For reconciliation to be real, action must be louder than words. What kind of message is the Prime Minister sending to indigenous families by appointing Mr. Wernick to oversee the entire civil service?” In an interview with The Hill Times, NDP ethics critic Alexandre Boulerice (Rosemont-La Petite-Patrie) brought up the email Mr. Wernick wrote to fellow members of Carleton University’s board of directors last spring, complaining of disruptions to a board meeting by protestors using a megaphone and chanting. Wernick compared the protesters’ behaviour to that of “Brownshirts and Maoists.” Brownshirts were a parliamentary wing of the Nazis under Adolph Hitler, while Maoists is a reference to followers of Mao Zedong, who led the Communist revolution in China. “It’s strange that Mr. Trudeau appointed him ,” Mr. Boulerice said. “This is a really pivotal position. For a party that says it defends civil liberties and freedoms, I don’t really understand it.” There has been speculation that Matthew Mendelsohn—who was appointed late last year as deputy secretary to the PCO, with a focus on results and delivery, and has connections within the PMO— is well positioned by be the next Privy Council clerk. Mr. Savoie said he’s not that familiar with Mr. Mendelsohn, however, he did say that the head of the Privy Council should be someone with vast experience within the federal public service, and noted that Mr. Mendelsohn’s government experience is primarily with the Ontario provincial government. “I think it’s always best to have someone that’s very familiar with the federal public service and somebody that has worked with and knows the deputy minister community, that’s part of that community,” Mr. Savoie said. Mr. Mendelsohn helped found the Mowat Centre for Policy Innovation and held multiple deputy minister jobs with the Ontario government between 2004 and 2009. While at the province, he worked with Katie Telford and Gerald Butts, now Mr. Trudeau’s chief of staff and principal secretary, respectively. Mr. Mendelsohn was also a senior adviser to the PCO between 1996 and 1998, according to a bio on PMO’s website. Ms. Tremblay, on the other hand, said there is nothing wrong with having someone with a history primarily outside of the federal public service taking on senior positions inside the PCO. “From my own experience, having cross-fertilization between the public service and other experiences — academic experience, provincial government — actually is valuable and it can bring best practices to the fore,” she said. However, she said it would be disappointing if the process Mr. Trudeau wants for picking future clerks ends up being “rigged” in favour of Mr. Mendelsohn. Mr. Savoie said having Mr. Wernick advise Mr. Trudeau on a process for appointing future Privy Council clerks is in line with his campaign promise to reverse the trend—started by his late father Pierre—of power becoming increasingly centralized within the PMO. “To want to put in place a process to appoint future clerks, I only hope that they extend that to future deputy ministers as well,” Mr. Savoie, noting that Alberta has such a process in place for deputy ministers. While the way Privy Council clerks are hired tends not to be high-profile news, Mr. Savoie said there has been talk for some time about the potential for increasing the transparency behind the process. “I don’t think it’s been on the front page of newspapers, but people like me and others in the academic community have called for a much more transparent process,” he said. Mr. Savoie said any process established could still maintain the Prime Minister’s ability to choose a Privy Council clerk they can work with. For example, he suggested a committee could tasked with nominating three qualified candidates, with the Prime Minister getting the final say on who gets the job. Ms. Tremblay also expressed support for a new process of selecting the head of the Privy Council. She said she hopes such an initiative might stem what she feels has been an increased politicization of the public service, especially among senior officials, during the last decade under Stephen Harper’s Conservatives. “I think this helps provide some safeguard to ensure a de-politicization of the senior functions of government,” she said. Mel Cappe, who was Privy Council clerk between 1999 and 2002, declined comment on the way the government handled the recent change in clerks, or the merits of establishing a new process for appointing Privy Council clerks. He did praise the qualifications of both Ms. Charette and Mr. Wernick. “Janice, in her short time as clerk, did a superb job serving the government and managing the transition,” Mr. Cappe said. “The essence of clerkness is to have the permanent public service manage the transition to a new government, and she did that and she did that very, very well. Michael Wernick is an excellent clerk to the Privy Council and, as a strategic thinker and good operational manager, will do an excellent job.” Whoever ends up holding the Privy Council clerk’s position over the long term will face several challenges in the years ahead, including the job of replenishing the public service as many workers approach retirement. The annual report on the public service from the Privy Council clerk to the Prime Minister last March—when Mr. Harper was in power and Ms. Charette was clerk —cited a need to “attract, develop and retain talent to avoid creating a demographic hole that will lead to problems in the years ahead.” The report said the average age of federal employees in March 2014 was almost 45, and it was older than 50 for executives and 58 for deputy ministers.