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Shakeup at PCO as Wouters leaves office that oversees PMO's daily operations

OTTAWA – Canada has a new top civil servant — and she’s only the second woman to hold the position of clerk of the Privy Council.

Janice Charette was named to the post Wednesday by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who issued a statement on her appointment just moments after current clerk Wayne Wouters announced his retirement.

Charette has moved steadily up the bureaucratic ladder in Ottawa since becoming a public servant in the 1980s, most recently holding the deputy clerk’s job.

But she also has political roots in the former Progressive Conservative party.

Wouters announced his departure Wednesday in a short statement on Twitter and his office’s website.

He had been in the public service for nearly 37 years, starting with his first government job in Saskatchewan.

And he was among the longest-serving PCO clerks, having been appointed by Harper in 2009 to replace Kevin Lynch.

Wouters worked for the Saskatchewan government for five years before moving to Ottawa in 1982 and a job at what was then known as the Department of Energy, Mines and Resources.

Wouters has not said whether he will be taking on a new job outside of the public service.

“After nearly 37 years, I’m retiring from public service,” he said in his statement. “It’s been a true honour and privilege to serve as clerk.”

Harper thanked Wouters for his contributions to the federal government.

“I would like to express my sincere gratitude to Mr. Wouters for over 37 years of outstanding public service and for his important contributions and accomplishments as clerk over the past five years,” Harper said in a statement.

He also welcomed Charette to her new job.

“Ms. Charette’s knowledge and many years of experience will be a tremendous asset and I look forward to continuing to work with her.”

Charette, who is also currently associate secretary to the cabinet as well as deputy clerk of the PCO, has taken on ever-increasing responsibilities over the years, including deputy minister roles at Human Resources, Immigration, Health and Justice.

But she also has a political background, having worked in the late 1990s as chief of staff to then-Progressive Conservative leader Jean Charest.

There was no mention of that role in the lengthy biography released Wednesday by the Prime Minister’s Office.

Charette is the second woman to hold the top civil service job behind Jocelyne Bourgon, who was the Privy Council clerk in the mid- to late-1990s under then-prime minister Jean Chretien.

The privy council clerk’s role is to act as a non-partisan adviser to the prime minister and cabinet.

The clerk is responsible for ensuring a smooth transition between successive governments, keeping the records of previous administrations and ensuring that the conventions of Canada’s constitutional monarchy are upheld.

Charette’s appointment is effective Oct. 6.