Federal government still battling chronic backlog of appointment vacancies

Slow progress. Latest numbers:

More than a year after the federal Liberals launched a new process meant to reduce patronage and increase the transparency of the government appointment process, a huge number of positions remain unfilled — affecting everything from refugee appeals to courtroom delays to the independent watchdogs of Parliament.

The new process, announced in February 2016, was meant to create a more arm’s-length method of filling the roughly 1500 positions to which the government appoints its preferred candidates — at federal agencies, on boards, commissions and administrative tribunals, as well as at the head of Crown corporations. Nearly every such position is now advertised online, and committees sort through applications and recommend applicants with a mandate to improve gender and ethnic diversity.

But the introducton of the revamped process caused appointments to virtually grind to a halt for a year. A CBC study in March found the number of vacancies and expired terms had ballooned to nearly 600 — roughly a third of all positions. Things only started moving again in June, when the government made more than 100 appointments. But a National Post evaluation this week found about 300 remaining vacancies and 150 instances where somebody continues to serve in a job beyond the expiration of their term, with hundreds more expiring this fall.

The effects reach far beyond Parliament Hill. In June, immigrations appeals in B.C. and Alberta had to be scaled back because of vacancies on the boards that conduct hearings. Today there are still 41 vacancies, accounting for almost half the appointed positions.

In May, the outgoing head of the Military Grievances External Review Committee complained it was severely restricted in its ability to review complaints from Canadian Forces members due to vacancies, saying “our men and women in uniform deserve better … I deeply regret that the committee could not do more this year.” Three of the four appointed positions remain empty.

The government brought the same new approach to appointing judges, but it took the better part of a year to staff up the judicial advisory committees that make recommendations. A Senate report in June slammed the government’s sluggish pace in appointing judges , saying it was contributing to the court delay crisis. As of July 1, there were still 49 vacancies across Canada .

Liberal officials have said it just takes time to find the right people, and that the delay is worth it in the long run — particularly when it comes to improving diversity. Statistics provided by the Prime Minister’s Office say that as of mid-June the government’s nominees have been 70 per cent women, 12 per cent visible minorities, and 10 per cent Indigenous.

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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