Canadians’ health data are in a shambles

Unfortunately, all too true, with too few exceptions, based upon my admittedly anecdotal experience in Ottawa:

Canadians see new and increasingly powerful computerization in almost every facet of their day-to-day lives – everywhere, that is, except for something as fundamental as our health care, where systems are too often stuck in the past.

When we go to the doctor, we get prescriptions printed on paper; lab results are sent via fax; and typically, medical offices have no direct links to any patient hospitalization data. And while the pandemic sparked a mad scramble to set up many new data systems – to track who was infected, where there were ventilators, who has been vaccinated and with which vaccine – this has happened in a largely unco-ordinated way, with Ottawa and provincial governments each developing systems separately.

As a result, even these newest computer systems are duplicative, and they do not communicate across provincial boundaries, or even within some provinces – not even, for example, to connect vaccinations, infections, the genotype of the virus, hospitalizations, other diseases and deaths so they are centrally accessible. And so Canada’s recent health-data efforts have wasted millions of dollars while failing to provide the evidence base needed for real-time effective responses to the fluctuating waves of COVID-19 infections..

This kind of failure is not new. Even before the pandemic, key kinds of data have long been imprisoned by data custodians who are excessively fearful of privacy breaches, even though the data are generally collected and stored in secure computer databases. A broad range of critical health care data remains unavailable – not only for patients’ direct clinical care, research and quality control, but also for tracking adverse drug reactions, showing unnecessary diagnostic imaging and drug over-prescribing. The result is that major inefficiencies in the systems remain hidden – and may actually cause health problems, and even deaths by medical misadventure.

There are many directions one could point the finger of blame, but as a new report from the Expert Advisory Committee to the Public Health Agency of Canada found, the root cause is a failure of governance. Federal and provincial governments have failed to agree on strong enforcement of common data standards and interoperability, though this is not only a problem of federalism. Health-data governance problems are also evident within provinces where one health agency’s data system is not connected to others within the same province.

What Canada and the provinces have now is essentially provider-centric health-data systems – not just one but many kinds for hospitals, others for primary care, and yet others still for public health. What Canadians want and need is patient- or person-centric health data. That way, no matter where you are in the countryyour allergies, chronic diseases and prescriptions can be known instantly by care providers.

Private vendor-centric health-data software also pose a threat, as do data collected by powerful tech companies from new wearable technologies that offer to collect your health data for you. If Canada does not act swiftly and decisively to establish the needed governance, competing vendor software and individual data will continue the rapidly growing cacophony of proprietary standards. This trend is raising new concerns about privacy, along with untracked increases in health care costs.

The fundamental importance of standardized, interoperable, securely protected health data has been known for decades. There have been repeated efforts to achieve a modern effective health-data system for Canada. But federal cajoling and even financial incentives have failed. Much stronger governance mechanisms are required, and urgently, as the global pandemic has revealed.

The federal government has the constitutional authority to play a much stronger role, given its powers in spending, public health, statistics, as well as “peace, order and good government.” It also has readily available regulatory powers under the Canada Health Act.

Of course, high-quality data collection and data software have costs. But given the tens of billions of health care dollars the federal government is providing to the provinces through fiscal transfers, it is long past time they leveraged this clout – using both carrots and sticks – so Canadians can finally have informed, accessible health data when and where they need it most.

Michael Wolfson is a former assistant chief statistician at Statistics Canada, and a current member of the University of Ottawa’s Centre for Health Law, Policy and Ethics. Bartha Maria Knoppers is a professor, the Canada Research Chair in Law and Medicine, and director of the Centre of Genomics and Policy at McGill University’s Faculty of Medicine. They are both members of the Expert Advisory Group for the Pan-Canadian Health Data Strategy.

Source: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/article-canadians-health-data-are-in-a-shambles/

Ottawa, provinces must create agency to reform how health data is collected and used, report says

East to agree, hard to implement given provincial agreement needed. Even integration within a province is far from being implemented in a comprehensive manner:

The federal and provincial governments must create a national agency to set standards for the collection and sharing of health data to respond more quickly to threats such as pandemics and to improve patient care, a new report says.

The report, from a federal advisory group to be released on Tuesday, says governments across the country also need to change privacy laws to allow health records and data to be more easily shared – with patients, medical providers and public-health officials. That would require a significant culture shift away from a system that focuses solely on keeping data secure and private, and toward one that ensures health records and data can be used and shared safely.

The report says the systems across the country that aren’t standardized and can’t talk to each other have limited Canada’s ability to respond to COVID-19, including managing vaccines and tracking variants. More broadly, that reality is also hurting patient care, and could hamper the response to other health crises, the report says.

“We haven’t had this concept that people holding this data should be promoting its appropriate use, its timely use for the benefit of the individuals or for the entire population of Canada,” Vivek Goel, a public-health expert who chaired the review and is also president of the University of Waterloo, said in an interview.

The report is the second of three from the Pan-Canadian Health Data Strategy Expert Advisory Group, which the federal government launched last year to examine data problems exposed by COVID-19. While the group’s work was spurred by the pandemic, its recommendations are far broader, and call for dramatic changes to how Canadians’ health data are stored and managed.

The report says the systems for managing health records, and the privacy laws that oversee them, were designed and created for paper records and haven’t sufficiently been updated for a primarily digital system.

Most people can’t access their own health records, which also aren’t readily available to health care providers as patients move through the system, the report says. The document calls for a “person-centric approach” that would give patients control of their records and allow all of their health care providers to access them easily and securely.

“An integrated, person-centric health data structure ensures that all health data follows an individual through the course of their life-long care,” the report says.

It adds that creating a national system would require governments to agree on standards to ensure those records can be accessed regardless of where a patient is or which doctor they see.

While the report does not make detailed recommendations about managing such a system, Dr. Goel said it should be overseen by a body controlled by Ottawa, the provinces and the territories that would recognize – and address – the reality that health care falls under provincial and territorial jurisdiction.

“We need an entity that is co-owned, co-managed, co-supervised by the federal, provincial and territorial governments together in setting those standards,” he said.

It would also require changes to privacy laws. The report says current privacy laws turn health care providers into “custodians” of data, which, in turn, creates a “privacy chill” that prompts them to restrict access even if not required. Instead, the report proposes a model of “data stewardship” that “champions data sharing, access, use and protection.”

Dr. Goel said a system that standardizes health data and facilitates sharing with officials and experts in other jurisdictions would help governments identify and track public-health threats such as infectious diseases including COVID-19. He said the pandemic revealed how ill-equipped federal, provincial and local health agencies were to gather and share data.

For example, he said as new variants of COVID-19 emerge, such as the Omicron variant that is dominating headlines, it is crucial to track who is getting sick and how transmission and patient outcomes are affected.

To do that effectively, health officials need access to information not just from their own provincial or local health unit, but the entire country. That doesn’t require the same system for everyone, just systems designed to communicate.

He compared it to the Interac network, which allows transactions to be tracked between banks even if they are all using different systems. “There are models that we can learn from the private sector.”

Dr. Goel said governments would need the public’s buy-in to increase data sharing in this way, but he thinks they can be persuaded. He says patients may actually be surprised to learn how little information is shared for wider public-health surveillance, such as the details they provide to COVID-19 contact tracers.

Ewan Affleck, a doctor and an expert in health informatics who sits on the advisory group, said he routinely runs into problems accessing his patients’ records from other providers or jurisdictions.

He treats patients in the Northwest Territories, which sends many people to Alberta for surgery and other procedures, but he often can’t access their information easily – or at all.

“I have no means of getting it because of jurisdictional legislation laws, privacy concerns, and this impairs my capacity to provide care,” Dr. Affleck said in an interview.

“So we make mistakes, and those mistakes damage Canadians. This is happening all the time.”

Dr. Affleck said the same issues hamper Canada’s ability to track and respond to population-level health issues such as pandemics.

“Whether it is guiding our response to COVID or whether we’re treating a patient for a urinary tract infection, this is all based on our adjudication of information,” he said.

“Digital health in Canada is legislated to fail. We have to change that model, because it’s an antiquated model from the age of paper-based information, which worked well then, but it works terribly now. And it is actually damaging Canadians.”

Source: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/canada/article-ottawa-provinces-must-create-agency-to-reform-how-health-data-is/

May: What are we losing with the elimination of our digital government minister?

Good discussion of some of the deeper issues and considerations, none of which are easy to address or resolve:

The Trudeau government’s decision to drop a digital government minister from the cabinet lineup comes when many argue just about everything on its agenda requires some kind of digital transformation to fix or implement.

Digital technology is central to tackling any policy issue whether it’s fighting the rest of the pandemic and rebuilding a shaken economy, climate change, child care, housing and Indigenous services. Digital tools are used to gather and mine data to develop policies, implement them and deliver services Canadians can use.

In fact, FWD50, an Ottawa conference of the world’s leading digital experts is virtually meeting this week to discuss using technology “to make society better for all.” They argue technology is policy. Can’t have one without the other.

The pandemic that forced thousands of bureaucrats to work remotely created a level of basic digital literacy so quickly that the Treasury Board is now rethinking policies around the future of work and modernizing technology.

So why is the government separating them with two ministers, one responsible for policy and the other in charge of technology?

Joyce Murray, Canada’s fourth digital government minister, was shuffled to Fisheries and Oceans with no one appointed to replace her. Her job appears to have been carved up between Treasury Board President Mona Fortier and Public Services and Procurement Minister Filomena Tassi.

The loss of digital cabinet clout is being criticized as a significant setback. It takes away much-needed political leadership, a single voice at the cabinet table and a focus to navigate a responsibility that is already fractured among too many players.

“We’re now living in a world where every policy issue is a digital issue,” said Ryan Androsoff, director of digital leadership programs at the Institute in Governance.

“Government can have the greatest policy ideas in the world, but if they can’t execute on them, it gets them nowhere,” he said. “Today, good delivery and execution inevitably means digital. It’s tough to imagine any area of government activity that won’t have some kind of technological underpinning to how policy is delivered and implemented.”

The decision came out of the blue for the technology industry, setting off concerns that the government is backing off from its digital strategy as progress toward a co-ordinated approach was being made. The government spends more than $7 billion a year on technology.

“A digital minister at least brought it to the forefront,” said Michele Lajeunesse, senior vice-president of government relations and policy at industry association TECHNATION.

“It showed government recognized a need to focus on its digital transformation… and I would say it progressed somewhat. The fear is this is taking a potentially major step back, and if the decision is to split it between TBS and PSPC (Public Services and Procurement Canada) will we be better off? We don’t think so.”

It also comes when the world is scrambling for tech talent in the face of a global shortage.

Countries like the U.S. and U.K. are bolstering the role of tech to better manage remote work, attract more tech workers and make sure citizens have easy online access to government services.

The head of the U.S. General Services Administration recently summed up the shift: “It’s super clear that bad delivery sinks good policy. To be able to deliver anything, we have to have the tech talent in the room at the beginning of the discussion, not bolted on at the end.”

Digital experts boil digital transformation down to technology, data, process and organizational change – and people with the skills in each are the lynchpins to make it work.

Murray, who was also the first standalone digital minister, launched a digital strategy with four overarching goals that the government isn’t close to achieving:

  • Modernize the way government replaces, builds and manages IT systems;
  • Provide services to people when and where they need them;
  • Co-ordinate the approach to digital operations;
  • Transform the way public servants work.

From the start, however, many argued the kind of big, transformational change that digital can bring requires a fundamental rethinking of the government’s rules and policies underpinning how public servants work – from human resources, staffing and hiring to budgeting and procurement.

Former treasury board president Scott Brison was the first to throw the spotlight on digital in the aftermath of the disastrous Phoenix pay system, which brought urgency to changing the way government does business and provides service to Canadians.

He successfully pressed to have digital minister included in his title, pitching a digital strategy as a way to improve the lives of Canadians and restore the trust and confidence they have lost in all governments.

But the success of the digital minister has been much debated.

Amanda Clarke, a digital and public management expert and associate professor at Carleton University, said the job had little clout, no effective carrot-and-stick to force change. The minister didn’t control contracting decisions on major modernization projects. And most of the powers to push needed reforms rest with Treasury Board.

“I don’t actually think it’s a strategic loss for the bigger movement,” said Clarke.

As digital minister, Murray had some key pieces of the government machinery. The biggest was Shared Services Canada, the giant IT agency that operates with a $2-billion budget and more than 7,000 employees.

The long-troubled agency redeemed itself with an almost overnight rollout of equipment, network access and digital tools so public servants could work remotely during the pandemic. It is being folded into PSPC, which some worry could shift its focus to procurement and compliance rather advancing the digital strategy.

She oversaw the Office of the Chief Information Officer (OCIO), which provides direction to departments on information management and technology. She also had the Canadian Digital Services, the U.S.-inspired swat team of tech geeks to tackle IT problems and harness digital to help departments design and build better services.

But there is a constellation of all the other departments and agencies, each of which had their own CIOs who report to their deputy ministers. Several executives from technology firms admit they didn’t even bother with the digital minister and went directly to departments where decisions are made on what to systems to upgrade or buy.

The government has yet to explain the rationale for dropping the cabinet post and the fate of digital strategy is expected to be answered in the ministers’ mandate letters. In a statement, Shared Services Canada said its mandate to accelerate digital transformation and build a more open, people-centric and resilient digital government will continue under PSPC.

Digital transformation requires leadership

Androsoff argues it’s political leadership, not bureaucrats, that has to drive changes in governance and accountability to make such sweeping changes happen.

“I think there has to be a recognition that… the governance structure we have for digital right now is not set up to deliver on results,” he said. “If the government is serious about trying to really change how government works for the digital era, it has to do some real thinking around how to put in place the type of authorities and decision-making structures that’s going to actually let change happen.”

But that takes time, and Clarke argues the talent crisis is the most urgent problem, and some changes could be made during the typical two-year governing window of a minority government.

Some of these reforms could dovetail with the Treasury Board’s planning for the future of work as pandemic restrictions are lifted and public servants can return to in-office work.

The government is widely expected to move to a hybrid workforce – a mix of employees working in office and remotely – to attract and retain talent, which could force a rethink of the hiring and classification policies.

That resonates with former privy council clerk Michael Wernick, who as Canada’s top bureaucrat pushed for a top-to-bottom structural reform – delayering, fewer levels of executives and a massive overhaul of its human resources regime, including reducing the 670 occupational groups and 80,000 rules that affect public servants’ pay.

The limits of the killer app

Wernick argues the government has made improvements to public-facing online services but can’t go much further without a deeper overhaul of back-end systems and how government works.

“The fork-in-the-road question is: are you going to continue to look for cool apps and outward-facing things we can do? Or are you going to deal with some of the deep structural issues in the public service?” he said.

Under the hood of some of those online services and apps are old mainframes and technology, some on the verge of collapse. And under that are the lumbering operational processes and procedures created by outdated rules and policies.

Right off the bat, Clarke argues the government needs new job titles and descriptions so departments can hire and develop the kind of in-house skills needed and wean off the IT consultants it spends billions of dollars on.

Job classifications for IT workers were written before the internet, and jobs like product managers and user-experience specialists didn’t exist. Job listings that describe positions designed for another era – which also scream a dated organization – hold no attraction for tech job seekers. They won’t apply.

“A lot of the problems we see with technology today in government are a people problem. When you don’t have people on staff who know how to design modern services, projects will fail,” said Clarke. “They also have to know how to be smart shoppers when it comes time to select partners and to procure new solutions.”

A multi-disciplinary team working on a new policy, for example, used to be not able to bring in IT workers to help figure out how to deliver the program to users because of an old rule that required IT workers to report only to CIOs. This also forced the team to recruit consultants from outside to advise them. That rule was changed, but the practice is still deeply rooted in departments.

And then there’s the months it takes to fill a job, which sends managers to the private sector, which can fill openings with consultants within days.

“This is how the rigidity of the classification becomes antithetical to good policy work,” said Clarke. “One of the best practices in modern digital government is bringing in experts around technology and implementation early in the policy design process so that you kind of set up the project for success.”

But Clarke said the government also has to get a handle on its over-reliance on outsourcing, which has hollowed out the skills of in-house IT staff. The government should track who gets contracts, how competitive they are and potential conflicts of interest. She said it’s shocking how many companies that worked on bungled or failed projects are then hired back to fix them.

The unions have fought IT contracting as too expensive, locking in the government to specific vendors and atrophying skills among in-house technical workers. A 2020 report found spending on IT consulting more than doubled between 2011 and 2018, when it hit $1.3 billion.

“Big projects are still business as usual. They’re still massive and they still involve these classic players who have their fingers all over every digital failure and yet keep getting hired by government to lead digital projects,” said Clarke. “It’s absolutely baffling.”

Source: https://irpp.us7.list-manage.com/track/click?u=f538f283d07ef7057a628bed8&id=1261e9c10f&e=86cabdc518

Canada’s Public Service Employee Survey: using advanced data analytics to focus workplace culture change

Good to have more people like Philip Lillies looking at the Survey and probing the meaning of the findings, whether by organization or group, along with combining findings with the Staffing and Non-Partisanship Survey (SNPS). More complex analysis than I can do!:

Since 2005, summaries of overall Public Service Employee Survey (PSES) results have been posted on the Government of Canada open portal. The summaries of overall results have facilitated the analysis of shortcomings in the culture of the workplace by human resource personnel, internal auditors, and researchers. Notably, two researchers, Andrew Griffith and Jake Cole have recently published in The Hill Times analyses that have complemented the summaries of overall results posted on the Government of Canada portal.

However, summaries of overall results have a glaring deficiency: they may indicate that corrective action is necessary, but they provide insufficient guidance as to what action might be most effective or which employee groups are most in need of this action. Comparison of variations across departments and across employee groups can make up for this insufficiency. These comparisons can be used to derive associations between responses; these associations often indicate the potential causes and consequences of the variations across groups. And causes and consequences are an important guide to action.

In 2020, I retired from my position as a senior internal auditor in the public service. During my first year of retirement, I have endeavoured to make up for shortcomings in the usual analysis tools by writing a Python program that had the capacity to use response variations to find associations between responses. It then attributed these associations to causes and consequences for particular departments and employee groups. In what follows, I build on the work of Griffith and Cole by presenting some examples of what I have found using my Python program.

Measuring and improving happiness

Cole states that the pandemic has been good for public service employees. According to him, “Whatever the reason, they are a happier bunch.” There are no questions about happiness in the PSES, but many experts, including Cole suggest that employee engagement is a good indicator of happiness. Under the theme of “engagement,” the PSES has seven questions. Across the entire public service, there are, nonetheless, variations in the level of engagement. By focusing corrective action on those groups that show the lowest scores to engagement questions and to associated questions, we can improve the efficiency of the corrective action.

So, from among these seven engagement-themed questions, here are the four that show the most variation across the public service:

  • Q11: Feeling valued at work.
  • Q50: Recommendation that my department is a great place to work.
  • Q51: Satisfied with my department or agency.
  • Q52: Prefer my workplace over others in the federal public service.

But to take focused corrective action we need to know which employees in which departments are suffering from lack of engagement. It turns out that there are eight departments that show below average scores in responses to these four questions. Questions associated with these four questions will be the questions from which we can derive causes and consequences and those groups with below average responses to these four questions will be the groups to which corrective action needs to be applied.

To take a concrete example, it turns out that border services employees are one of the most disengaged groups within the Canadian Border Services Agency and the potential causes of their disengagement can be found in the below-average scores of their responses to career-related questions, such as:

  • Q41: my department or agency does a good job of supporting employee career development.

Corrective action can be applied accordingly.

Combining results from two surveys

Another important government survey is the Staffing and Non-Partisanship Survey (SNPS), which is also directed at employees, and publishes its results on the government’s open portal in a separate cycle to the PSES. Using Python to combine results from the two surveys is both trivial and insightful.

Table 1 lists the ethical questions that show a high variation in response scores when the SNPS is combined with the PSES. Associated with all of these questions from the PSES, except one, are two questions from the SNPS:

QALL_05D: The process of selecting a person for a position is done fairly.
QALL_05B: I believe that we hire people who can do the job.

Not only does the association of these questions with so many of the PSES ethical questions highlight the importance of the work of the Public Service Commission, which is responsible for staffing practices, but one would also be inclined to draw the conclusion that these SNPS questions are two important ethical questions that should be included in the PSES rather than the SNPS.

Table 1: Questions from the PSES with High Variation when SNPS is combined with PSES

Ethical workplace
Q19: Satisfactory resolution of interpersonal issues.
Q38: Know where to go for help on ethical issues.
Q39: Promotion of values and ethics.
Q40: No fear of reprisal.
Leadership: senior management
Q31: Leadership by ethical example.
Q32: Confidence in senior management.
Q33: Effectiveness and timeliness of decisions.
Q34: Effectiveness of essential information flows.
Harassment
Q60: Satisfactory harassment resolution.
Q61: Satisfactory harassment prevention program.
Discrimination
Q63-B: Discrimination from individuals with authority over me.
Q67: Satisfactory discrimination resolution.
Q68: Satisfactory discrimination prevention program.

Empowerment of Black employees

Griffith, in his November 2019 article, reaches the conclusion that Black employees are among the least empowered. His conclusion is based on the overall scores of Black employee responses to organizational culture indicators in the PSES 2019 survey. Interestingly, my Python program indicates that there are nine departments that show not only below average scores in responses to these empowerment questions, but also below average scores in their responses to questions associated with these questions. What is surprising is that among these nine departments are the Public Service Commission of Canada, the Military Police Complaints Commission of Canada, the Courts Administration Service, Canadian Human Rights Commission, the Public Prosecution Service of Canada, and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council. These are ethically oriented regulatory and research bodies that should be the first to understand the mechanisms and implications of discrimination; hence, should already be taking the necessary corrective actions. Perhaps, these results indicate that understanding is only a first step in overcoming discrimination, in which case discovering what corrective actions are required to go beyond understanding points to the need for further investigation.

Conclusion

I can only agree with Cole that the PSES provides a rich source of information that, if properly assessed and acted on, could result in positive changes for the employees and subsequently for the Canadians they are there to serve. However, assessment cannot be limited to discussion and comparison of overall results. As I hope the examples provided show, this rich source of information can only be fully exploited by making use of computerized data analytics techniques that highlight associations between responses and pinpoint employee groups where follow-up is needed. Nonetheless, associations should not be confused with definitive results; rather they should be taken as guidance for further assessment and investigation. Speaking from my own professional experience, I would say that the need for this informed cultural analysis provides an exciting opportunity for the next generation of internal auditors if they can rise to the challenge.

Source: Canada’s Public Service Employee Survey: using advanced data analytics to focus workplace culture change

May: The pandemic upended the federal workplace. What comes next?

Good overview of the issues and challenges:

The pandemic blew up the norms and structure of work behaviour in Canada’s public service and now bureaucrats want new rules and a say in how work fits into their lives as the federal government readies for a return to the office.

Everything about working in the public service is up for grabs.

After nearly two years, the pandemic proved public servants can work in many jobs from anywhere. That’s upended the conventional approach to work, including the 37.5-hour work week, endless in-person meetings, a soulless cubicle culture and how to climb the hierarchy. It’s an opportunity for change reformers have dreamed about for 25 years.

“Look, if I could press an undo button and make sure COVID never happened, I would… but it happened, and the silver lining is we have exponentially adopted telework,” said Dany Richard, a union president and co-chair of the National Joint Council, a joint union and management committee. “That allows us now to reassess how the future of work will be.”

With a global talent shortage and an economy favouring workers, public servants couldn’t be in a better position to make demands on their employer about their future work lives.

There are high hopes for a new telework policy being hashed out behind closed doors with unions and senior management. Advocates promise a new mobile workforce that would break the Ottawa-Gatineau monopoly on headquarter jobs. It would improve workforce diversity and work-life balance and reduce real estate and operational costs along with pollution from commuting.

The pandemic also picked up the pace of digital transformation of the public service by three to five years, said Ryan Androsoff, director of digital leadership at the Institute on Governance.

In a blink, public servants went en masse to work at home. After a mad scramble for enough laptops, bandwidth and network access, public servants learned to work in real time, mastering videoconferencing, text and chat software and editing documents collaboratively.

“It would have taken multiple years before departments would have reached the point where 100 per cent of their workforce could work in a distributed and remote way,” Androsoff said.

Public servants aren’t expected to return to offices until the pandemic is declared over, but everyone is braced for a hybrid workplace, a mix of working in office and at home.

Is government ready? Not quite. The Treasury Board’s Office of the Chief Human Resources Officer is putting together a short- and long-term plan for the future of work with a “spotlight on telework” that rolls out as COVID restrictions are lifted and public servants can return to in-office work.

Richard argued working remotely during an emergency like the pandemic worked because everyone is in the same boat. The challenge now is how to “optimize” remote work and make the most of it.

“I think the employer will generally be open to telework,” said Richard, who is president of the Association for Canadian Financial Officers. “I don’t think it’ll be 100 per cent of the time. But as long as an employee commits to, I’d guess, two days a week in the office, the employer will say, ‘Okay let’s try three days at home and two days in the office.’”

Not all federal jobs can be done from home. Ship crews, prison guards, border guards and meat inspectors can’t. Call centres, science laboratories and operations like the Canada Security Establishment need people at the workplace.

Most office workers, however, don’t want to return to the old ways. Surveys found most want to work from home full-time or several days a week. As one senior bureaucrat said, the “pinch point” is whether location of work is an employee’s right or preference. Or is it an “operational requirement” that managers should define?

“We just spent a year and half working from home on a mandatory basis. We had to work from home. Employees see the benefits and want the flexibility to choose where they work,” said Stéphane Aubry, vice-president of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC).

As part of that flexibility, Aubry said the union wants jobs classified as remote or telework positions and no longer attached to a city or a building. It argues the government should pick up some of the cost employees bear working at home. It also wants all tasks and activities that have to be done at the office clearly laid out.

“We want a position to be officially classified as a telework job so when there’s a job opening it is put on paper as a telework job,” said Aubry. The government can then look for employees across Canada. It would change the way they do recruitment.”

At the moment, Treasury Board has left it up to departments to decide how their employees will work. The board sets guidelines but deputy ministers are responsible for how their departments run.

Some have already indicated they want workers back in the office some of the time; others are encouraging people to work from home full-time or to decide where they want to be based. Departments like Transport and Public Services and Procurement Canada have been singled out as among the most flexible. Meanwhile, unions are irked the RCMP have ordered some civilian employees back to the office before restrictions have been lifted.

That’s why some are looking for a more consistent policy. One senior bureaucrat said the approach is too “muddied” and sets the stage for expectations and conflicts between departments and unions.

“Instead of having a common approach they’ve left it scattered, which is a problem because deputy ministers are not willing to make a decision that might be precedent-setting and everybody gets stuck,” said the bureaucrat, who we are not identifying because he is not authorized to speak on the subject.

A big challenge with hybrid work is how to treat everyone equitably. The unions are worried about two tiers of employees: those who work in-office and those who don’t. It’s expected those who work in the office, where they are known by management, will have an edge for promotions and special projects.

What if deputy ministers and other senior executives return to the office? Won’t more employees follow suit and come to the office to be seen?

It could create a gender gap for women, who are disproportionately drawn to remote work to better manage parenting or other caregiving needs they juggle.

“I would love to see a situation where if government goes to a hybrid model that they actually say everybody in the organization has to work remotely two or three days a week, so that everybody’s having that same experience,” said Androsoff.

Nearly 42 per cent of public servants work in the National Capital Region. Stories abound of public servants who moved to the countryside or to the east or west coasts to work remotely during lockdown and have no plans to come back. Managers started filling Ottawa jobs with people outside the region and not requiring them to relocate.

There are far more ministers and MPs from outside Ottawa who have long tried to decentralize federal jobs to the regions. The argument for the capital’s disproportionate share of jobs was based on the location of Parliament, ministers and senior management. If the pandemic allowed MPs and Parliament to meet virtually, why wouldn’t they press for more jobs to be done remotely?

Former privy council clerk Michael Wernick says relocating Ottawa jobs is inevitable, adding it could happen in a “very conscious way” or “by stealth.” There are plenty of examples of departments operating outside the capital – Veterans Affairs in Charlottetown, Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency in Moncton, National Energy Board in Calgary or the pay centre in Miramichi.

“The political pressure for geographic decentralization, plus work moving out to people’s homes, means a much less gravitational pull from Ottawa,” said Wernick.

“Maybe it won’t be the big departments and central agencies in the core public service, but there are 300 federal entities. And I think they may start maybe with some of those. Why does a tribunal, for example, have to hold hearings in Ottawa?”

Remote work would attract a more diverse pool of applicants who better represent Canada, including those who don’t live in urban centres, Indigenous people, visible minorities and people with disabilities.

A national recruitment strategy, however, will quickly collide with the public service’s bilingualism requirements.

“It opens doors for people from across the country to be part of the federal government in a way never possible before, but how to do that with existing bilingual policies is going to have to be explored,” said Androsoff.

A new telework policy assumes managers will shift to results-based management and hold people accountable for what they do and not just showing up for work.

But Wernick said the public service must sharpen its competitive edge to keep and attract employees in a global talent shortage. That shortage could worsen with an exodus of public servants, burned out and ready to leave after two years of going full tilt in the pandemic. Others put off retirement during lockdown and will leave rather than go back to the office.

Many argue departments will offer remote work to attract and retain people. That could also spark an internal war for talent as people flee to departments that offer the most flexibility and remote work.

The government’s technology is still years behind the private sector, but the pandemic brought all public servants to a basic level of digital literacy with new skills they want to use. Some argue home network and internet connections are now much better than what employees had at the office.

Canadians also have much bigger expectations of government. They are living more digitally now, banking and shopping online, and expect the same easy and rapid service from the government.

But Androsoff said there’s still a powerful pull from the traditionalists who would rather return to the old ways: nine to five, back to the office, in-person meetings and assigned desks.

“The federal government, by virtue of its size and history, has institutional inertia. In previous waves of reform, that inertia always pushes to go back to the way it was,” said Androsoff.

“I’m hoping for lasting change, but it remains to be seen whether this push is permanent or the pressure to go back to its institutional comfort zone wins the day.”

Source: http://click.revue.email/ss/c/LCzjJVqW3iU4uG4vv7g712DvWoe4-HnZ6yJuZDLvqqZTWNZA8CLYLQoJ2EVmLXJp-f6BAtGnwYi0Q6Mw3UjQsLzr_UnLo0Fnpd0RcU5oiRvFLh9yghjGFq7Vv2-uOpezpkZY7Qp04k28XTtLF5caIey_vLzyw6XWxvb_cl_CgSP9leyi9fT0NvRuqwg1SidLPh_ASB2mAAFiThIythTBpjCaMmAmtkFELrXsmCrcA48GoNCZQIxnBmAI_OU34jPWa1KBH4rBUZwH-PE9QsUBqv0NOVPBLuYWb7bspcRLb3-yovnR12M8WE2EzQoCd9yV/3ge/iqphGK5cTsG72MpEUAlaYQ/h10/DzzJWvLO7r53KBmOgWCEkBgiOISsXNZvF1iSJtuUysI

Bloc leader’s threat to unleash ‘fires of hell’ over Quebec seat proposal might just backfire

Hard to have much sympathy for the “outrage” given the demographic decline reflects in part Quebec’s decision to admit fewer immigrants than elsewhere in Canada (despite or because they manage economic immigration) and the xenophobic Bill 21 and the weakening of bilingualism in Bill 96. Commentaries, starting with Konrad Yakabuski highlighting the consequences of lower immigration levels, and Randy Boswell’s more sympathetic take:
Le premier ministre de l’Ontario, Doug Ford, a suscité un tollé cette semaine lorsqu’il a livré un avertissement à tous ceux qui espèrent immigrer dans sa province, laquelle fait face à un manque criant de travailleurs puisque plus de 290 000 postes demeurent vacants. « Si vous pensez que vous pouvez venir ici pour toucher le B.S. et rester assis à la maison, ça n’arrivera pas », a martelé M. Ford lors d’un point de presse, se faisant immédiatement accuser d’exprimer tout haut ce que de nombreux Ontariens pensent tout bas. Si M. Ford a refusé de s’excuser pour ses propos, il s’est néanmoins empressé de se déclarer « pro-immigration » et de se vanter d’accueillir des immigrants de partout dans le monde au « Ford Fest », le barbecue estival que sa famille organise chaque année dans un quartier très multiculturel à Toronto. En effet, le gouvernement conservateur de M. Ford appuie sans réserve la hausse des seuils d’immigration annoncée l’an dernier par Ottawa, qui vise à accueillir 401 000 résidents permanents au pays en 2021, soit une augmentation de 18 % par rapport à 2019. Si le nombre d’immigrants a chuté en 2020 en raison de la pandémie, tombant à 184 000, le gouvernement fédéral presse le pas pour atteindre ses objectifs en matière d’immigration pour les années 2021, 2022 et 2023. En tout, ce sont plus de 1,2 million de nouveaux résidents permanents que le Canada compte accueillir pendant cette période, dépassant ainsi un ancien record qui date du début du XXe siècle. À lui seul, l’Ontario devrait accueillir plus de 540 000 nouveaux arrivants, ce qui pousserait sa population au-delà du seuil des 15 millions d’habitants. La politique d’immigration du Québec Quoi qu’on pense de la politique d’immigration du Québec, son résultat à long terme mènera vers une baisse du poids démographique de la province dans la fédération canadienne. La province compte accueillir entre 51 500 et 54 500 nouveaux immigrants cette année, si on inclut le « rattrapage » de 7000 nouveaux arrivants que le gouvernement caquiste prévoit d’effectuer après la baisse de 2020 liée à la fermeture des frontières. En 2019, durant la première année du gouvernement de François Legault, le Québec a reçu 40 565 nouveaux résidents permanents, ou seulement 11,89 % du total canadien. L’Alberta, qui compte la moitié moins d’habitants que le Québec, en a reçu 43 691, ou 12,81 % du total. L’Ontario a accueilli 153 395 nouveaux arrivants, ou 45 % des 341 000 nouveaux résidents permanents acceptés en 2019. Le Québec ne recevait déjà pas sa part d’immigrants en fonction de sa population au sein de la fédération canadienne avant l’arrivée de M. Legault au pouvoir. En 2016, quand le Québec comptait pour environ 23 % de la population canadienne, il avait reçu 18 % des immigrants arrivés au pays au cours de cette année-là. Il n’est pas impossible que ce taux atteigne les 10 % dans les prochaines années. En effet, les voix s’élèvent dans le reste du pays pour qu’Ottawa augmente ses seuils annuels d’immigration à 450 000 ou à 500 000 nouveaux arrivants. Un groupe d’influents Canadiens, réunis sous la bannière de l’Initiative du siècle, préconise une politique d’immigration visant à hausser la population canadienne à 100 millions de personnes en l’an 2100 afin de s’assurer de la prospérité nécessaire au maintien des programmes sociaux et d’augmenter l’influence du Canada sur la scène internationale. Le groupe, présidé par l’ancien chef de la direction du fonds d’investissement du Régime de pensions du Canada, Mark Wiseman, compte parmi ses membres le p.-d.g. du Conseil canadien des affaires, Goldy Hyder, et Dominique Barton, l’actuel ambassadeur du Canada en Chine. Il jouit aussi de l’appui de l’ancien premier ministre Brian Mulroney. Or, dans son discours inaugural prononcé cette semaine à l’Assemblée nationale, M. Legault a réaffirmé son refus aux « voix qui réclament un nombre toujours plus élevé d’immigrants ». Le Québec reçoit déjà plus d’immigrants que la plupart des pays développés, a-t-il dit, et il n’est pas question qu’il emboîte le pas au reste du pays. « Le Québec ne peut pas avoir le même modèle d’immigration que celui du Canada anglais. La survie du français exige une approche différente. » Ce choix n’est pas sans conséquences. Le directeur des élections du Canada, Stéphane Perreault, a annoncé la semaine dernière que le Québec doit perdre un siège à la Chambre des communes dès 2024, ce qui porterait le nombre de ses sièges à 77, selon une nouvelle répartition des sièges basée sur la formule de représentation prévue dans la Constitution. Les réactions à cette annonce n’ont pas tardé, le chef du Bloc québécois, Yves-François Blanchet, et la ministre caquiste des Relations canadiennes, Sonia LeBel, s’étant tous deux insurgés contre toute tentative de diminuer le poids du Québec au Parlement fédéral. Vendredi, M. Legault a lui-même sommé M. Trudeau de « préserver le poids de la nation québécoise à la Chambre des communes ». Toutefois, sans modification constitutionnelle, il semble inévitable que le Québec voie sa proportion de sièges à la Chambre des communes diminuer de façon importante au cours des prochaines décennies. Cette proportion est déjà tombée de 36 % des sièges en 1867 à 23 % en 2011. Selon la proposition de M. Perrault, elle glisserait encore à 22,5 %. Qu’en sera-t-il dans dix ans, alors que le reste du Canada s’apprête à accueillir de plus en plus d’immigrants pendant que le Québec referme davantage ses portes ?
Source: https://www.ledevoir.com/opinion/chroniques/642273/chronique-la-marginalisation?utm_source=infolettre-2021-10-23&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=infolettre-quotidienne
A proposed rejigging of Canada’s electoral map could see Quebec lose one of its seats in the House of Commons by 2024 while Alberta gains three and Ontario and B.C. each gain one.
The changes would increase the total number of federal ridings to 342 from 338. There are reasonable arguments for and against implementing the exact changes recommended by Elections Canada. But Bloc Québécois leader Yves-François Blanchet’s opening salvo in the debate — that the BQ would “unleash the fires of hell” if his province’s seat count is dropped to 77 from 78 — is the wrong way to begin what needs to be a calm, cool conversation about updating the country’s political geography. How are we supposed to respond to Blanchet’s Trumpian explosion of outrage? Can thoughtful discussion follow a toddler’s tantrum?
Injecting apocalyptic rhetoric into a decision-making process that must be driven by the fundamental democratic principle of representation by population — and basic math — is precisely how to inflame prejudices, fuel interprovincial pettiness and polarize the nation. Blanchet, of course, knows this. Driving wedges wherever possible between Quebec and the rest of Canada is crucial, by definition, to the political project of any diehard separatist.
So we shouldn’t be too surprised that Blanchet has zeroed in histrionically on the planned removal of a single Quebec seat from the Commons as if it were a sign of the End Times. Although Elections Canada proposed the change for the benign reason that Quebec’s population is not growing at the same pace as the populations in Alberta, Ontario or B.C. — and because Quebec is (relative to those other big provinces) already more fairly represented in the current parliamentary seat count — Blanchet is invoking biblical imagery of the final battle between Good and Evil.
Sonia LeBel, Quebec’s minister responsible for relations with the rest of Canada, has employed more moderate language — and advanced a more compelling rationale — in urging special considerations for the province in the latest redistribution of federal ridings. “We are part of the founding peoples of Canada,” she said this week. “We have three seats guaranteed at the Supreme Court for judges. We have seats guaranteed in the Senate, a weight that is important and represents much more than just a simple calculation of population.” All of this is why Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and other political leaders interested in preserving the peace in our mostly peaceable kingdom need to rise above Blanchet’s blatant bullying while finding a sensible solution to the seat-count conundrum — one that delicately balances numerical fairness with other considerations endemic in a land of complexity and compromise. Remember: there’s no purely mathematical justification for granting a federal seat to each of Canada’s three territories — none of which has a population above 50,000 — when the average number of Canadians represented by each MP is more than 110,000. There’s no logical reason, either, for Prince Edward Island — with a mere 0.43 per cent of the national population of about 38 million — to have four seats representing 1.19 per cent of the elected positions in Parliament.
So there may well be legitimate reasons to avoid reducing Quebec’s seat count at this time. In 2011, the Conservative government of Stephen Harper implemented legislation that increased the number of seats to 338 from 308 to reflect population changes. At the time, the Harper government — with much prodding from Quebec, the BQ and other opposition parties — chose to inflate the overall size of the House of the Commons so that the number of Quebec seats would increase (by three, to 78) instead of remaining static at 75 — as an earlier, hotly rejected, purely mathematical proposal had called for. The government’s thinking at the time was that tweaking the formula for allocating seats in a way that would better recognize Quebec’s special status as a nation within the nation was politically prudent.
It also happened to keep the province’s seat total roughly proportional to its percentage of Canada’s population, even as those two numbers remained unfairly out of whack for faster-growing provinces.
The Quebec-friendly adjustment wasn’t immediately embraced by Harper’s own caucus. The additional Quebec seats, according to a Globe and Mail report at the time, “caused consternation among Conservative backbenchers, who were concerned that Canada’s French-speaking province was benefiting from a bill meant to address under-representation in the three large and fast-growing anglophone provinces” — Alberta, Ontario and B.C. Sound familiar? The Conservative caucus was ultimately convinced by Harper to accept the plan for the sake of national unity. But despite the Quebec-friendly compromise, the pre-Blanchet Bloc Québécois still slammed the 2011 reconfiguration of the House as falling short of true recognition of the province’s “unique status with regard to its political weight.” You can’t please everyone. As then-B.C. premier Christy Clark, who supported the 2011 changes, said at the time: “Perfection in these things is impossible because it’s a big and complicated country.” A decade later, the scenario confronting Elections Canada, the federal government and the provinces is much the same. And maybe a little massaging of the numbers to mollify Quebec is warranted yet again. Would it be so bad if Quebec kept its 78 seats and we had 343 federal ridings instead of 342? That would represent about 22.7 per cent of the seats in the House for a province with about 22.6 per cent of Canada’s population. (Meanwhile, Ontario’s proposed 122 seats would then account for 35.6 per cent of 343 seats for a province with almost 39 per cent of the country’s population.)
But Blanchet’s bluster about unleashing the “fires of hell” risks torching the good will required for the rest of Canada to grant Quebec some latitude in its allotment of seats in the national legislature. It’s the kind of talk that’s more likely to unleash cynicism and stinginess. And eventually, if population trends continue in the current direction, maintaining Quebec’s present share of federal seats as its population drifts towards one-fifth of Canada’s total will become untenable from a democratic point of view — Blanchet’s fires of hell notwithstanding. Randy Boswell is a Carleton University journalism professor and former Postmedia News national writer.
Source: Bloc leader’s threat to unleash ‘fires of hell’ over Quebec seat proposal might just backfire

Federal immigration department employees reporting racist workplace behaviour, says survey

Looked at the IRCC 2020 Public Service Employee Survey results to help understand the context.

  • Q55 Harassment: With respect to having been a victim of harassment, IRCC is marginally better than PS average: 9 vs 11 percent, down from 11 vs 15 percent in 2018. With respect to types of harassment, IRCC generally tracks either close to the government-wide numbers or lower levels. In terms of resolution of harassment issues, IRCC also tracks government-wide numbers.
  • Q62 Discrimination: With respect to having been a victim of discrimination, IRCC numbers are the same as government-wide numbers: 7 percent, no change from 2018 IRCC numbers while the government-wide number was 8 percent. However, IRCC had a significantly higher percentage of race-based discrimination, 40 to 28 percent, a significant increase from 2018 27 percent, which may have prompted the focus group study. IRCC also had higher numbers with respect to discrimination based on national/ethnic origin, colour, but not with respect to religion. In terms of resolution of discrimination issues, IRCC also tracks government-wide numbers.
  • Q69 Victim satisfaction with resolution of discrimination complaints: No major difference but overall satisfaction (very strong, strong) is low at 8 percent.

IRCC, of course, will have this data disaggregated by visible minority group, likely highlighting some of the issues mentioned in the focus groups, which is informing its policies and practices. Expect to have my analysis of the overall government harassment and discrimination responses in a few weeks once survey demographic data up on open data:

A report examining workplace racism at Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) describes repeated instances of employees and supervisors using offensive terms with their racialized colleagues.

The 20-page document, compiled by the public opinion research company Pollara Strategic Insights, was presented to IRCC in June and recently posted online.

The report is based on ten two-hour focus groups with 54 IRCC employees Pollara conducted for the department in March.

Multiple employees told Pollara they’d heard racist language used in the workplace. The report describes what it calls multiple reports of racist “microagressions” in the IRCC workplace, including:

  • Staff members describing a department section known for having a lot of racialized employees as “the ghetto.”
  • Staff members asking to touch a racialized employee’s hair, or mocking the hairstyles of racialized employees.
  • A manager calling Indigenous people lazy, or calling colonialism “good.”
  • “Widespread” references in the workplace to certain African nations as “the dirty 30.”

“You just feel like, now that I’m speaking out, am I also going to be looked like as one of those angry Black women for speaking up?” the report quotes one employee as saying.

Racialized employees also told Pollara they’ve been passed over for international assignments and “professional development opportunities.” The report says one manager claimed that their evaluation of a racialized employee was overridden “by someone above them to promote a non-racialized employee instead.”

Racialized IRCC staffers told Pollara that they’re marginalized in the workplace — kept in “precarious temporary contract positions disproportionately and for a long time” which prevent them from “advocating for their own rights” to promotion or from speaking out against racist incidents.

Pollara also said participants in the focus groups warned that racism in the workplace “can and probably must impact case processing.” They cited “discriminatory rules for processing immigration applications for some countries or regions,” including additional financial document requirements for applicants from Nigeria.

Source: Federal immigration department employees reporting racist workplace behaviour, says survey

PSES 2020 IRCC Link

Wells: Michael Wernick has some advice

Good and informative interview and comments:

Brian Mulroney was the prime minister the first time Michael Wernick sat at the back of a cabinet committee room, taking notes. One time the young civil servant found himself transcribing John Crosbie’s remarks as the powerful fisheries minister recited arguments Wernick himself had put into Crosbie’s briefing notes. That particular ouroboros of influence was “quite exciting for a young desk officer,” Wernick said in an interview shortly before the recent federal election.

The venue was my back yard. The occasion was the release of Wernick’s new book, Governing Canada: A Guide to the Tradecraft of Politics (UBC Press). Wernick was a senior official for decades in Ottawa, a deputy minister under Paul Martin and Stephen Harper. Justin Trudeau made him Clerk of the Privy Council, a position from which Wernick retired amid the SNC-Lavalin controversy in 2019, after Jody Wilson-Raybould released a surreptitious recording of a conversation with Wernick.

Wilson-Raybould, clandestine recordings, and the doctrines of independence for attorneys general are not topics of Wernick’s book, and he made it clear he preferred that they not figure in our interview. I relented, mostly. I’ve known Wernick for 26 years. He’s been learning how Ottawa works for longer than that. The lore he’s accumulated, poured between the covers of a slim volume aimed at students of political science, is a valuable contribution to Canadians’ understanding of how they’re governed.

“I didn’t want to write a memoir,” Wernick said. What came out instead is “a kind of an amalgam of many experiences with different ministers and three prime ministers that I got to work with reasonably closely. I was trying to capture those conversations—what it’s like to sit across from the new minister after swearing in, or some of the conversations that go on. Particularly in the early days of a government as they’re finding their feet or learning their skills.”

For the longest time he couldn’t settle on a format. He finally found a model in Renaissance Florence.

“I have a daughter who’s studying political science at U of T. She was doing a political theory course. And she was home for Christmas, but still working on a paper. And one of the things on that second-year political science course, that I took umpteen years ago, is [Niccolo Machiavelli’s] The Prince. It’s second-person advice on statecraft. It’s held up for a long time. And that gave me that sort of lightbulb moment. ‘Oh, I can do something that way. I could do it direct and second-person advice to somebody who’s coming into that position.’ That unlocked the whole thing for me.”

The resulting book is nearly devoid of juicy insider gossip—never Wernick’s style—but full of pithy advice to political leaders in general. “If you can end a meeting early and gain a sliver of time,” he tells prospective prime ministers, “get up and leave.” And, elsewhere, “It is rarely to your advantage to meet the premiers as a group.” And, ahem, “The longer you are in office, the more courtiers you will attract.”

From various perches in the senior ranks of the public service, Wernick watched three prime ministers land in the top job and try to figure out how to govern. “There is a skill set involved in governing,” he said. “We seem to expect people to learn that skill set on the job quickly, without a lot of help.”

And yet the days after a gruelling election campaign are nearly the worst time to be starting a new job. “One of the things I try to emphasize is the human element of it. People come in off an election campaign, exhausted. Physically exhausted. And in a state of considerable disruption. Often they’re new to being a minister. They’re also new to being an MP. They have to make decisions about their family, relocate or not to Ottawa. They’re changing locations. They’re changing careers, fundamentally. And I was always warning public service colleagues, ‘You have to allow for that. Allow for some of that exhaustion and shock.’”

New governments have only a few weeks to get up to speed. And habits that are formed early are not likely to be substantially revised later, with the benefit of hindsight. By then it’s too late. “The Prime Ministers I saw settled into the job very quickly. But then it’s hard to change. They get into a comfort zone or routines and patterns. It’s a very human thing to do. So part of my purpose in the book is just to say, ‘Pause and be a little bit mindful of the how of governing before it all gets locked in.’”

One of the recurring themes in Wernick’s book is how little time everyone has. A federal cabinet will have 100 hours in a year for all of its plenary discussions. Maybe 120. It’s never enough. “It’s overbooked from day one until the day they leave. And you’re always making choices: to do one thing means not doing something else. And mindful management of the allocation of time is really important. It can get away on you.”

The cabinet is going to need a lot of help. That was Wernick’s job, and that of all his bureaucratic colleagues, as well as countless political staff, operating with different aims and methods. “When it works well, you have a certain balance in what I call a triangle between the decision-maker—could be the PM, could be a minister—the support network they get from the public service, and the support network that they get from the political side.”

Sometimes the triangle gets out of balance. “The system gets into trouble when the public service tries to anticipate politics too much. And it clearly gets into trouble when the political side starts trying to run departments administratively. If people keep in their swim lanes and understand each other’s roles, each can add something. I always found it irritating when people chided ministers for being political. They’re supposed to be political in a democracy.”

I asked Wernick about a favourite Ottawa worry, that the public service is losing its ability to generate new ideas and policies. He didn’t bite. “I think there’s a little bit of a mythology that there was some other time when the great and good mandarins of the town—all white males, by the way—generated the ideas and pushed them towards the political system,” he said.

“I think there’s a competing narrative that the policy space is much more open and inclusive than it ever was. The costs of entry are much lower. Anybody with a laptop and a Google account can be a policy analyst. When I joined government, we had a quasi-monopoly on the ability to run big simulation models on income-security programs. Now many university professors can do it better.”

Besides, “I don’t think it’s really the role of the public service to be the originator of new ideas. Those usually come from democratic politics: ‘We wish to decriminalize cannabis.’ And then you work through the problem of how to do it competently.”

Governing Canada includes some pointed advice to cabinet ministers about the fact that they’re probably not going to get a chance to choose the date of their departure from politics. Prime ministers and voters have a way of making those decisions quickly and at inconvenient moments. Did I detect an autobiographical element to these passages?

“That’s largely true of clerks and public servants as well,” Wernick said. “Or hockey coaches. Like, there’s a lot of job jobs where you can’t arrange a perfectly-timed departure. I’m not the only person who’s been backed into a corner where it was impossible to continue to do the job. It’s unfortunate, but it happened.”

“But it’s happened to other people. Circumstances get away on people. People fall into all sorts of things that make it untenable for them to continue in the job.”

When things got weird for Wernick, did he draw any comfort from those earlier examples?

“No. I mean, that’s not the way I’d put it. I was conscious, during those last few months, that I was drifting towards a zone where I couldn’t do the job anymore. I was becoming part of the story. You have to enjoy at least some basic level of trust from the opposition leaders. I didn’t have that. And that just made it impossible to carry on.”

If he had a do-over, would he handle SNC-Lavalin differently? “That’s probably for another day, in another interview. I did not pick up on some of the warning signs about the trouble that was coming…. But I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about that. You work and live in the moment and you do the best you can at the time.”

I tried one more question that was a little closer to the concrete example of the current government than to the trends and aphorisms Wernick’s book prefers. In the book, he writes to a hypothetical prime minister: “You will not be successful if you hang on to the same closed circle of close advisors and confidants for your whole time in office. There is an inevitable drift into a comfort zone and a form of groupthink that can create blind spots and put you at risk.”

Gee, did he have anyone in mind?

Butter would not melt in Wernick’s mouth as he told me he had no examples from current events. “The example I was actually drawing on was Stephen Harper in 2011. You know, the opposition leaders [Erin O’Toole and Jagmeet Singh, in the election that had not yet happened when Wernick and I spoke] probably have a transition team, who will give them some advice on how to set things up. And I worked with Derek Burney from the Harper team, and Mike Robinson from the Martin team, and Peter Harder from the Trudeau team.” Those new governments are always “very conscious and mindful about how they want to set things up.” But re-elected prime ministers “tend to just start up again, with the same people in the same processes. People have argued, and I think I agree, that Stephen Harper missed an opportunity in 2011, to pause and think.

“I would say to any Prime Minister, when they’re going into a second or third mandate: ‘You should pause. It’s going to be different. Think about the processes and the people.’”

Source: Michael Wernick has some advice

Will the removal of the Canadian citizenship preference in the public service make a difference

My latest:

In recent employment equity reports, the federal government has provided disaggregated representation for visible minorities, Indigenous people and persons with disabilities to help assess how well the public service represents the public it serves. Previously, disaggregated data for visible minority and Indigenous groups in public administration was available only through census data every five years.

The 2020 speech from the throne included a commitment to implementing an action plan “to increase representation in hiring and appointments, and leadership development” within the public service, which was later confirmed in changes to the Public Service Employment Act.

The changes include longer-term and more-complex policies to address “bias and barriers” that impact all equity-seeking groups, as well as one change that will have an early impact for visible minorities  ̶  removing the preference for Canadian citizens: “Permanent residents now have the same preference as Canadian Citizens when appointments are made through external advertised hiring processes.”

There was no debate on this change when the legislation was considered by the House of Commons finance committee  ̶  despite its impact  ̶  because it was included in an omnibus budget bill.

A recent Public Service Commission study on the “citizenship of applicants and external appointments” highlighted the impact of this policy: while visible minority citizens were 17.2 per cent of all applicants and 19.5 per cent of all hires, visible minorities who are only permanent residents formed 5.1 per cent of all applicants and only 1.2 per cent of all hires in 2018-19.

The former preference for citizens was subject to criticism by some visible minority groups because it effectively reduced the opportunities for non-citizen visible minorities. Its removal should ensure more equitable opportunities for all visible minorities at all stages of selection, although other barriers  ̶  such as education, official language knowledge and possible bias  ̶  may remain. Whether this change represents a theoretical or practical change will be known only after a few years when we can compare pre- and post-change hiring numbers.

Table 1 (below) looks at overall visible minority representation, contrasting the total visible minority population, the older citizenship-based benchmark, the 2019-20 employment equity report numbers, and the degree to which there is over-representation or under-representation, compared to the new and old benchmarks.

By way of comparison, the government estimates that the visible minority workforce availability (WFA)  ̶  the share of the Canadian workforce eligible for public service work  ̶  based on the 2016 census is 15.3 per cent based upon the citizenship preference. The removal of the citizenship preference and the inclusion of permanent residents will result in WFA being revised upward closer to the overall visible minority population number following its recalculation in the 2021 census.

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The representation of most groups is relatively close to their share of the citizenship population and greater than WFA for all employees, with larger gaps for executives. The population benchmark shows larger gaps, particularly with respect to executives. Non-identified and mixed-origin visible minorities are relatively over-represented for all employees and executives.

Table 2 takes the same approach with respect to Indigenous representation with the exception that total and citizenship-based populations are identical. It shows relative over-representation of Métis, and under-representation of First Nations and Inuit for all employees, with all groups under-represented at the executive level. The government Indigenous workforce availability estimate, based on the 2016 census, is 4 per cent.

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Table 3 compares the representation of each visible minority by occupational group, expressed as the percentage difference with employees who are not a visible minority and not Indigenous for 2020. Visible minorities are slightly under-represented among executives, more so among technical, with the greatest gap in operational groups. Visible minorities are over-represented in scientific and professional with some exceptions, and in administration and foreign service, although there is a mixed pattern with respect to admin support.

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Table 4 highlights the change in representation from 2017 to 2020, comparing the percentage change in representation for each visible minority group with the percentage of all public servants who are neither a visible minority nor Indigenous for each occupational category. Overall, visible minority representation has increased by 35.9 per cent compared with only 11.8 per cent for those who are neither a visible minority nor Indigenous. This applies to virtually all groups and categories, with Japanese being the exception and Chinese having a relatively lower increase.

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Table 5 similarly compares the representation of each Indigenous group by occupational categories expressed as the percentage difference with employees who are neither a visible minority nor Indigenous for 2020 (for the executive and technical occupational groups, there are fewer than five Inuit and Other public servants and thus no reporting). All Indigenous groups are under-represented among executives, with the largest gap in scientific and professional categories, but are relatively over-represented in the admin and foreign service, and admin support areas.

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Table 6 highlights the change in representation from 2017 to 2020. Overall, the growth in Indigenous representation has been comparable to the growth of not-a-visible minority, not-Indigenous public servants, 11.9 per cent compared to 11.8 per cent. However, Inuit representation has increased significantly, as has that of Métis executives, with First Nations declining relative to not-a-visible minority, not-Indigenous employees.

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While this analysis highlights the differences in visible minority and Indigenous representation among the different occupational categories, it does not break it down by level or salary. Census data for the federal public service shows, however, that Black, Filipino and Latin American workers had the lowest median incomes compared to not-a-visible minority. Among Indigenous Peoples, First Nations have the lowest median incomes compared to non-Indigenous.

Given political and public service focus on Black representation, Blacks are the visible minority group with the strongest representation compared to their share of the population with respect to all public servants, and Blacks have stronger representation than South Asian, Chinese and Filipinos in the EX category. Moreover, the percentage increase over the past four years has been comparable or stronger than that of most other visible minority groups. Representation of visible minority groups has increased at three times the rate of not-a-visible minority, not-Indigenous public servants. In contrast, Indigenous representation has matched only the rate of increase, suggesting more effort is needed.

The public service is clearly making significant progress with respect to visible minority representation. The removal of the citizenship preference will likely accelerate this trend toward increased representation.

Given the expected upward revision of the WFA, the gap between actual representation and WFA will increase despite the public service already hiring and promoting more visible minorities. The degree to which the removal of the citizenship preference results in greater increases in representation will be known only after a few years and further public service analysis of citizenship status of visible minority hires and promotions.

Ironically, advocates for this change and greater representation will likely focus more on the larger gap due to the benchmark change, rather than the progress in representation.

Methodology

Data was provided by the Treasury Board Secretariat (TBS) for visible minorities, Indigenous Peoples and persons with disabilities, based upon self-identification for the fiscal years 2016-17 to 2019-20 by occupational group. 2020 data was compared to 2017 data to indicate changes over this period, with visible minority and Indigenous Peoples being compared against the not-visible minority and not-Indigenous for the different occupation categories on a percentage basis. The formula used: (2020 number of public servants minus 2017 number of public servants) divided by 2017 number of public servants. 

For example, in 2020, there were 99 Black executives compared with 73 in 2017 or an increase of 26. That is a (26 ÷ 73 =) 35.6 per cent increase. The overall increase in the number of executives who were neither a visible minority nor Indigenous was 5,244 – 4,592 or 652; 652 ÷ 4,592 = 14.2 per cent. Subtracting the percentage increase of all executives from the percentage increase of Black executives: 35.6 per cent – 14.2 per cent = 21.4 percentage points.

While the visible minority group definitions are similar to those used by Statistics Canada, TBS groups Arab and West Asians together under “Non-White West Asian, North African or Arab.” “Mixed Origin” refers to those with one visible minority parent. By contrast, Statistics Canada uses a “multiple visible minorities” category to include persons with more than one visible minority response.

While the employment equity reports also provide disaggregated data regarding persons with disabilities, the totals do not match with the disability total (10,622 persons) in the annual reports because one person can have multiple disabilities, making it difficult to perform a similar analysis by particular disability.

Source: https://policyoptions.irpp.org/magazines/septembe-2021/will-the-removal-of-the-canadian-citizenship-preference-in-the-public-service-make-a-difference/

Canada’s federal leaders show cowardice by denying the racist premise of Bill 21

Hard to disagree.

The other question that few seem to be raising is why participation in the English language debate is limited to national parties that run candidates in 60 percent or more of all ridings. Hard to see any value in Bloc participation in the English debate, unlike in the French debate:

The only thing offensive about Shachi Kurl’s question in Canada’s English-language debate regarding Bill 21 is the cowardly reaction from our federal leaders.

On debate night, Kurl, the president of the Angus Reid Insitute, asked a question about a law that bans wearing religious symbols for some public-sector workers in Quebec. Even though she never implied all Quebecers are racist, many threw her under the bus for suggesting that she did.

While the reactions of the Bloc Québécois’ Yves-François Blanchet and Quebec’s Premier François Legault were predictable, regardless of how the question would have been framed, many religious minorities are disappointed by the deflection by our other federal leaders postdebate — from condemning the premise of the question to demanding an apology from the debate consortium.

Rather than using the moment to take a stand and talk about how problematic Bill 21 is for Canadians, federal leaders have opted for expediency and protecting votes in Quebec by adopting the language of apologists, manipulating the question and largely avoiding what should be a moment for a serious conversation.

While Justin Trudeau said he wouldn’t rule out “intervening” against Bill 21, he also claimed he had a hard time “processing” Kurl’s question and that it implied all “Quebecers are racist.” Erin O’Toole, in response stated that “Quebecers are not racist and it’s unfair to make that sweeping categorization.” Jagmeet Singh, who called the Bill discriminatory also said that “It’s a mistake to imply that only one province has a problem with systemic racism.” Despite this, many saw these responses as serious levels of deflection from the actual question put by Kurl.

As much as supporters for Bill 21 like to suggest that it is a product of Quebec’s unique culture and relationship with laïcité (secularism) that isn’t the complete story and it only works to mask some of the disturbing realities and motivations for the law.

Bill 21 is also a product of Islamophobia, bigotry, and, yes, racism. The sentiments driving support for Bill 21 also exist elsewhere in the country and impacted religious communities want us all to fight back. Canadians need to stop pretending this is a localized issue, and our leaders need to know that their positions concerning fighting hate and racism in all its forms appear hypocritical in light of their reactions postdebate.

The research on Bill 21 is incredibly clear. It results in greater racism against religious minorities. It creates second-class citizens. It disproportionately targets minority communities. And it drives people out of Quebec, including my friend Amrit Kaur who as an Amritdhari Sikh teacher is now working in British Columbia instead of in her home province due to that law.

What is upsetting is that it took a question from a racialized woman to ignite a conversation on Bill 21 that our federal leaders had been trying to avoid. What is even more upsetting is that instead of confronting the issue for what it is, many commentators and politicians took the moment to instead chastise Kurl for suggesting the bill is discriminatory, as well as express dismay that challenging the issue head on has, amongst other things, disrupted partisan campaigns in the province.

It is as if calling a piece of legislation discriminatory or racist is worse than the piece of legislation actually being discriminatory and racist.

Some have even suggested that making this a topic only plays into the hands of Blanchet and the Bloc Québécois, as if that means we should just ignore the problem and pretend that it will somehow solve itself. It has been years of political tiptoeing and appeasement around Bill 21, and as someone who has helped in the fight against it, enough is enough.

What happens in Quebec is also not operating in a vacuum. Fears of similar legislation and sentiments creeping into other parts of Canada are very real.

For the Sikh community, a community I have worked in as the Executive Director for the World Sikh Organization of Canada, we have fought turban and Kirpan accommodation battles across Canada. The fights never end as we maintain a precarious relationship with religious accommodation.

Bill 21 just legitimizes the racism and discrimination our people face every day everywhere, not just Quebec. Seeking an apology from the debate consortium and Kurl for a perfectly appropriate question, rather from the law makers disproportionately impacting racialized Canadians, aids and abets the othering our people face coast to coast to coast.

Leaders claiming to understand the fears of minorities and the magnitude of hate in Canada comes up hollow when held up against their reactions to what was one of the most honest descriptions of the Bill 21 in the political arena to date.

Source: Canada’s federal leaders show cowardice by denying the racist premise of Bill 21