‘It’s long overdue’: unions, FBEC weigh in on top leadership’s push for greater diversity, inclusion in federal public service

Some reactions (including mine):

Liberal MP Greg Fergus says he thinks the government’s launch of new priorities to increase diversity and inclusion within the federal bureaucracy ‘will make a better, stronger public service—one that reflects the richness of Canada’s diversity at all levels, and that will make more resilient policy choices and provide better options that will reach all Canadians.’

Union leaders and a Federal Black Employee Caucus representative say the steps are “long overdue,” following Privy Council Clerk Ian Shugart’s recent “call to action” to senior bureaucrats to diversify the leadership ranks in the federal public service, and Treasury Board President Jean-Yves Duclos’ recent announcement to increase diversity and inclusion within the larger bureaucracy and address glaring gaps in staffing of Indigenous, Black and other racialized employees. 

But both Mr. Shugart’s call to “encourage and support the voices that have been long marginalized in our organizations” as well as Mr. Duclos’ recognition that “too many public servants continue to face obstacles” and it’s “time to close the gaps and eliminate the barriers that remain,” preceded an internal audit conducted by the Public Service Commission showing three equity groups—Indigenous peoples, persons with disabilities, and members of visible minorities—aren’t proportionally represented in public service hiring processes.

On Jan. 26, Mr. Duclos and Liberal MP Greg Fergus (Hull-Aylmer, Que.), parliamentary secretary to the president of the Treasury Board, announced a number of key initiatives surrounding diversity and inclusion in the public service, including a focus on disaggregated data, increasing the diversity of the bureaucracy’s senior leadership, a review of the Employment Equity Act as well as possible amendments to the Public Service Employment Act.

“As I’ve said before, I’m committed to achieving this ambitious change, and I know that co-developing our policies and programs with our partners will lead to more innovation, more experimentation, and new way to address the challenges ahead,” said Mr. Duclos in a press release. “In time, we will build a public service that is the true reflection of our pluralism and diversity.”

In an interview with The Hill Times, Mr. Fergus said that the release of these new priorities “have been in the works for a while” and that it’s “great to see it come to fruition.”

“I think this will make a better, stronger public service—one that reflects the richness of Canada’s diversity at all levels, and that will make more resilient policy choices and provide better options that will reach all Canadians,” said the Liberal MP.

“I think the overall aim is bang on, and the way to do that of course is through disaggregated data—you can’t change what you don’t measure—and we want to make sure that you have the right people in place, there will be more mentorship and sponsorship of people with talent throughout the system and making sure that they’re able to accede to leadership roles, there will be a centre for diversity within the public service to continue working on that,” said Mr. Fergus.

“I think Canadians truly appreciate how much the machinery of government is important for collective action—for our health, for income support, for making sure that people are getting what they need,” said Mr. Fergus.

‘These issues aren’t anything new for us’ 

“I think it’s great, I think it’s long overdue,” said Atong Ater, member of the Federal Black Employee Caucus’ (FBEC) core team when asked about the government’s Jan. 26 announcement.

“These issues aren’t anything new for us, working in this area for a couple of years,” said Ms. Ater. “But it’s a good first step—I think the action comes afterwards, but as an instructive or signaling piece from a central agency, I think it’s a good piece of work.”

Focusing on disaggregated data is a major priority for FBEC.

“What we’re seeing, particularly with these releases and announcements, is that the data reinforces what we’ve been hearing anecdotally from our members, and that’s why data has been so important to our work, particularly in this era of big data and how data is used to drive policy decisions,” she said. “It’s of the utmost importance, and we applaud the direction that the federal government is taking, that they’re taking this seriously, and also sharing the information.”

Atong Ater, member of the Federal Black Employee Caucus’ (FBEC) core team. Ms. Ater said ‘data reinforces what we’ve been hearing anecdotally from our members, and that’s why data has been so important to our work.’ Photograph courtesy of Atong Ater

The annual Public Service Employee Survey was conducted from Nov. 30, 2020 through to Jan. 29, 2021, and measures employees’ opinions about engagements, leadership, workforce, workplace well-being, compensation, diversity and inclusion, as well as the impacts of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Results of the survey are expected later this year.

Clerk of the Privy Council issues ‘call to action’ 

Mr. Shugart, Canada’s top civil servant, issued a call to action on anti-racism, equity and inclusion in the federal public service on Jan. 22.

“The past several months have precipitated deep reflection on the unjust treatment of Black people, other racialized groups, and Indigenous peoples in our society,” wrote Mr. Shugart. “As public servants come forward and courageously share their lived experiences, the urgency of removing systemic racism from our institutions and from our culture becomes more evident.”

In his note, Mr. Shugart called on leaders within the public service to appoint Indigenous employees and Black and other racialized employees to and within the government’s executive group, sponsor high-potential employees within these groups to prepare them for leadership roles, support the participation of these employees in leadership development programs, and recruit highly-qualified candidates from across all regions in Canada.

“This call to action represents specific and meaningful actions. My expectation is that progress will be measured and lessons shared. While senior leaders are accountable, this set of actions demands our collective responsibility—at all levels—and a recognition that the existing equity work underway must continue,” wrote Mr. Shugart.

‘Much work remains to be done’ 

On Jan. 28, the Public Service Commission released an audit report that reviewed the representation of employment equity groups throughout five stages of the recruitment process: job application, automated screening, organizational screening, assessment, and appointment, and found that Black candidates experienced a greater drop in representation than members of other visible minority groups both at the organizational screening stage as well as at the assessment stage.

The report also found that the representation rate of persons with disabilities decreased at the assessment and appointment stages, that the representation rate of visible minority groups declined at the organizational screening and assessment stages, and that Indigenous candidates’ representation rate decreased at the assessment stage.

“While progress has been achieved in making the federal public service more representative, much work remains to be done. This audit is a call to action. All Canadians applying to public service jobs should have an equal opportunity to highlight their unique talents,” according to a joint statement from PSC president Patrick Borbey and commissioners Fiona Spencer and Daniel Tucker.

The events of the last two weeks follows the release late last year of a proposed class-action lawsuit by 12 former and current Black federal public servants alleging that Black employees have been systematically excluded from advancement and subjected to discrimination within the government for decades.

Staffing one of the most common issues raised by PSAC members, according to union president  

Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) president Chris Aylward told The Hill Times that his union welcomes the review—and that staffing is one of the most common issues raised by PSAC’s members.

“An overhaul of the federal government staffing system is long overdue to address the systemic barriers that impact our members, especially our members from equity groups,” said Mr. Aylward.

“We hear countless stories from our members who experience racism, sexism, ableism and discrimination during the hiring process, and the recourse mechanisms that are in place are truly insufficient. They are without any enforcement, they are without any teeth.”

But Mr. Aylward said any legislative changes to the Employment Act can’t be made without meaningful consultation with PSAC and with other bargaining agents.

“A lot of it is stemming from several years ago when the Public Service Commission basically delegated the authority to individual departments and managers, and now it’s simply viewed that managers can hire whoever they want,” said Mr. Aylward. “So we think it’s the right step forward, it’s long overdue, these issues are long-standing within the public service.”

Mr. Aylward told The Hill Times that he and other bargaining agent representatives met with the Treasury Board and with the PSC on Jan. 28, where he said he hoped that this was the beginning of an inclusive, consultative, and collaborative approach to staffing issues.

Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC) National Capital Region director Waheed Khan echoed Mr. Aylward’s comments.

“Things need to change, this is long, long overdue, and [the government needs] to take action,” said Mr. Khan. “This is not the first time we’re getting excited, I’m still very hopeful that this will lead to some real changes, but I always have to be cautious.”

Mr. Khan said he had the opportunity to meet with Mr. Shugart early in January ahead of his call to action.

“It seems that senior government leaders always want to put their own stamp on things, they want to start a new initiative, and they forget about anything else that has happened in the past,” said Mr. Khan. “Because in government, everything takes time, so by the time you gain momentum and start getting things done, you have new people who want to start new things, so I pointed out to Mr. Shugart: you need to own the work that has been done.”

‘They’ve already moved the bar a fair amount’

Andrew Griffith, a fellow of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute and Environics Institute keeps a close eye on public service data, and said the ongoing commitments made by the Treasury Board in that area is “a really good thing.”

“I think quite frankly that they’ve already moved the bar a fair amount by actually reporting data broken down by each visible minority group,” said Mr. Griffith. “There’s obviously more that can be done there—it’s always a good idea to have better data—but sometimes you do get to the problem where you have too much data and you wonder whether we have the capacity to analyze it, but better to have too much than not enough.”

Mr. Griffith said he didn’t believe the government is just virtue-signalling on these renewed commitments to greater diversity and inclusion, and that the events of the last week have been consistent with the government’s overall commitment—however it’s implemented—to greater diversity and inclusion in all institutions.

Source: https://hilltimes.us10.list-manage.com/track/click?u=a90bfb63c26a30f02131a677b&id=59998b8fc3&e=685e94e554

Clerk’s Call to action on anti-racism, equity, and inclusion in the Federal Public Service, DM performance commitments

While the call to action is the high level message, the implementation approach is covered by the 2020-21 DM commitments on diversity and inclusion, included below the call.

These are significant given that DM commitments cascade down to all executives, with the strongest one, from a measurement and accountability perspective, being:

Deputies will be required to present a staffing plan demonstrating the rate of hiring and promotions of individuals at the executive and non-executive levels, who self-identify in at least one of the EE groups, that will aim close the gap within the next 4 years, with demonstrable and steady progress made annually starting in 2021.

As the above chart shows, there has been a steady increase in visible minorities and Indigenous peoples representation at both the all employee and EX levels.

I have obtained from TBS disaggregated date for visible minorities and Indigenous peoples covering hirings, promotions and separations for the years 2017-19 and will publish my analysis when complete in a few weeks which will refine the baseline by which to measure the impact of the performance commitment and call to action:

The past several months have precipitated deep reflection on the unjust treatment of Black people, other racialized groups, and Indigenous peoples in our society. As public servants come forward and courageously share their lived experiences, the urgency of removing systemic racism from our institutions and from our culture becomes more evident.

Our leadership across the Public Service must be more diverse. Unless swift action is taken, we will fall short of effectively supporting the Government and serving Canadians. We have an obligation to our employees, and to all Canadians, to do better by ensuring that we are putting the full capacity of our entire pool of talent at the service of Canadians.

Grassroots networks and communities have opened conversations, often reliving their own personal traumas, in an effort to increase our collective awareness and to build paths forward. More data is being disaggregated, helping us to further understand where gaps exist and to inform direction and decisions. Training and new recruitment models are being developed. We are by no means where we want to be and much work still remains, but these efforts across the Public Service are creating a foundation for change.

As we focus on combatting racism, it is not sufficient to simply equip ourselves with knowledge and tools. We must take action in ways we know will be meaningful in addressing all barriers and disadvantages. Being a leader means taking an active role in ending all forms of discrimination and oppression, consciously and constantly challenging our own biases, and creating an environment in which our employees feel empowered and safe to speak up when they witness barriers to equity and inclusion. Inaction is not an option.

With the Accessibility Strategy for the Public Service of Canada, we have seen how concerted, system-wide efforts, together with strong commitment and leadership, can generate necessary momentum. Although much work remains, setting out a plan with concrete actions, bringing the voices of those most impacted to the forefront, and holding ourselves accountable for success is a model worth following.

We must encourage and support the voices that have long been marginalized in our organizations. We must create opportunities where they have long been absent. We must take direct, practical actions to invoke change. This is a true test of leadership, and one we must meet head on. Now.

I am therefore calling on all Public Service leaders to:

  • Appoint Indigenous employees and Black and other racialized employees to and within the Executive Group through career development and talent management
  • Sponsor high-potential Indigenous employees and Black and other racialized employees to prepare them for leadership roles
  • Support the participation of Indigenous employees and Black and other racialized employees in leadership development programs (for example, the Executive Leadership Development Program) and career development services (for example, official language training)
  • Recruit highly qualified candidates from Indigenous communities and Black and other racialized communities from across all regions of Canada

I am further calling on all Public Service leaders to invest in developing inclusive leadership skills and in establishing a sense of belonging and trust for all public servants, as well as those joining us now and in the future, regardless of race, ethnicity, sex, age, disability, sexual orientation or gender expression by:

  • Committing to personally learning about racism, reconciliation, accessibility, equity and inclusion, and fostering a safe, positive environment where these conversations are encouraged throughout our workplaces
  • Combatting all forms of racism, discrimination and other barriers to inclusion in the workplace by taking action on what we have learned, empowering employees to speak up about bias and oppression, and better equipping managers to address these issues
  • Enabling and advancing the work of grassroots networks and communities within the Public Service by providing necessary resources and bringing them into discussions at senior executive tables
  • Including voices from diverse backgrounds in the identification of systemic racism, discrimination and barriers to inclusion, and the design and implementation of actions to address them
  • Measuring progress and driving improvements in the employee workplace experience by monitoring disaggregated survey results and related operational data (for example, promotion and mobility rates, tenure) and acting on what the results are telling us

This call to action represents specific and meaningful actions. My expectation is that progress will be measured and lessons shared. While senior leaders are accountable, this set of actions demands our collective responsibility – at all levels – and a recognition that the existing equity work underway must continue. We have already seen the value of this work in early implementation of recommendations from reports such as Many Voices One Mind: A Pathway to Reconciliation.

As we are bringing these actions to life, we must also recognize that experiences vary across different regions of Canada, and that interconnected dimensions of identity, such as race, ethnicity, religion, age, sexual orientation, gender identification and expression, physical or mental ability, and other individual characteristics, often create varying and complex experiences of bias. As persons with visible and invisible disabilities continue to face physical and technological barriers, the approaches we develop must be truly inclusive by also being truly accessible.

Building a diverse, equitable and inclusive Public Service is both an obligation and an opportunity we all share. We must advance this objective together, acting both individually and collectively, and recognizing that our progress will rely on amplifying the voices of those within our organizations to help lead the way. In my role as the Head of the Public Service, I will keep close to the voices of public servants. I am calling on you to do the same.
Ian Shugart
Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet

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And the substance behind the statement:

2020/2021 Deputy Minister Commitments on Diversity and Inclusion 

The Federal Public Service is stronger and most effective when we reflect the diversity of Canada’s populations we serve.  While progress has been made in recent years to achieve gender parity in the Deputy Minister community, there is more progress to be made in increasing representation of Black people and other racialized groups, Indigenous People, and persons with disabilities. At the enterprise level, strong partnerships are in place between departments, the Office of the Chief Human Resources Officer, the Public Service Commission and the Canada School of Public Service on horizontal initiatives, such as data analysis, training and development programs as well as recruitment.

To further expand on actions meant to tackle racism and improve representation at all levels, the April 1, 2020 Treasury Board Directive on Employment Equity, Diversity and Inclusion requires Deputies to designate a senior official responsible for developing a comprehensive action plan, in collaboration with equity-deserving groups that will explain how barriers to inclusion will be identified, removed and prevented, and that:

  • Establishes a baseline of where the Department is at today;
  • Sets out objectives, to increase representation through recruitment and promotion within the organization and to respond to Public Service Employee Survey (PSES) results related to the perception of harassment and discrimination;
  • Explains how equity-deserving groups are engaged in the plan’s development and will continue to be; and
  • Is updated annually, and results reported publicly.

Targets play an important role in driving organizations to achieve measurable change in advancing diversity and inclusion objectives. As a goal for 2021, departments will consider their Workforce Availability statistics as the floor and not the ceiling with regards to diversity targets.

Deputies will be required to present a staffing plan demonstrating the rate of hiring and promotions of individuals at the executive and non-executive levels, who self-identify in at least one of the EE groups, that will aim close the gap within the next 4 years, with demonstrable and steady progress made annually starting in 2021.

In keeping with the Treasury Board Directive and the Performance Management Program’s Corporate Priorities, Deputies must also add focus on efforts and results to build a more inclusive and diverse workforce. Therefore, they are to select three measures from the list below that will enable their leadership teams to advance measureable change in their organizations. As such, they are encouraged to select these measures from one or more themes that go beyond what is currently being done in their organizations, and recognize the different scope of authority at various executive levels within the organization. In reporting on these commitments, Departmental management teams will need to provide clear and measureable results on what the measures have accomplished in achieving progress to address under-representation.

Changing the Public Service Culture
Establish a culture of inclusiveness that values diversity and will combat racism and address systemic barriers
  • Fostering inclusive leadership by:
    • Ensuring all executives complete anti-racism and unconscious bias training by March 2021; and
    • Engaging senior management tables on anti-racism via facilitated group discussions on unconscious bias and systemic racism to start the de-stigmatization of discussions on racism and particularly anti-Black racism.
  • Providing adequate support by:
    • Ensuring that employee mental health and wellbeing supports are culturally sensitive and adequately tailored to address issues of racism, discrimination and hate in the workplace; and
    • Ensuring departmental Ombudsman Offices are trained and equipped to create safe spaces for employees facing racism or experiencing discrimination. Also, providing concrete tools for employees to respond to micro-aggressions in the workplace.
  • Engaging in dialogue that will de-stigmatize discussions on racism and systemic barriers by:
    • Hosting monthly organizational fireside chats where subject matter experts deliver relevant presentations on racism, ableism or other discrimination-related topics;
    • Developing a value statement on anti-racism and ableism and proactively seeking opportunities to talk about the value of diversity and inclusion;
    • Promoting and supporting the planning of organizational initiatives, celebrations and respectful incorporation of diverse histories and cultures into the workplace; and
    • Frequently meeting departmental employee equity committees and/or networks and inviting representatives of these committees and/or networks to attend meetings of the senior executive on a regular basis in order for a diversity of perspectives to be considered.
Reflecting Diversity and Promoting Inclusion
Increase the representation of Black, other racialized and Indigenous People as well as persons with disabilities within all levels of the organization
  • Actively supporting the recruitment and retention of Black people and other racialized groups, Indigenous People, and persons with disabilities by:
    • Establishing clear targets to increase the representation of Black people and other racialized groups, Indigenous People, and persons with disabilities within all levels of the organization through recruitment, with particular attention to and especially key organizational communities such as human resources and communications;
    • Partnering with equity-deserving communities to attract and retain new talent that reflects Canada’s diversity;
    • Reviewing and ensuring that hiring processes are culturally sensitive and driven to remove barriers to appointment for Black people and other racialized groups, Indigenous People, and persons with disabilities;
    • Supporting non-imperative staffing and language training for managerial positions where Black people and other racialized groups, Indigenous People, and persons with disabilities are being considered for appointment.
  • Actively supporting the promotion, sponsorship and career development of Black people and other racialized groups, Indigenous People, and persons with disabilities by:
    • Establishing clear targets to increase the representation of Black employees and other racialized employees, Indigenous employees, and employees with disabilities within all levels of the organization through promotions, with particular attention to and especially key business lines, including human resources and communications;
    • ADM or DM-level sponsoring of Black employees and other racialized employees, Indigenous employees, and employees with disabilities who are identified by their managers as high-potential for executive roles or to advance to the ADM level;
    • Reviewing and ensuring that talent and performance management processes are culturally sensitive and driven to remove systemic barriers to Black employees and other racialized employees, Indigenous employees, and employees with disabilities;
    • Supporting language training for career development of Black employees and other racialized employees, Indigenous employees, and employees with disabilities;
    • Adopting the Aboriginal Leadership Development Initiative (ALDI) operating at Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada / Indigenous Services Canada to identify and cultivate Indigenous talent;
    • Implementing a mentoring program for Black employees and other racialized employees, Indigenous employees, and employees with disabilities within the organization and requiring that all DMs and ADMs shadow mentees that belong to one of the aforementioned equity-deserving groups.
Updating Policy and Programs: Our Future Workplace
Ensure that internal and external policies and programs are inclusive and free of systemic racism and barriers
  • Reviewing and adapting all external public oriented policies and programs to ensure they meet the government requirements for accessibility, equity and transparency by:
    • Identifying and addressing systemic racism and barriers to accessibility and disability inclusion within those policies;
    • Ensuring transparency and accessibility of departmental Grants and Contributions’ programs with specific initiatives targeted at equity-deserving groups and individuals;
    • Reporting on the year over year incremental departmental measures in place to support the intent of s. 10.1, 10.2 and 11 of the Indigenous Languages Act if applicable.
  • Establishing and overseeing a review of all internal systems, policies, programs and initiatives by:
    • Setting up panels to hear how existing programs and policies are being experienced by equity-deserving groups and what they think needs to be addressed;
    • Reviewing HR, Procurement, Communications policies, programs and initiatives using Gender-based Analysis Plus (GBA+) and considering various identity factors including race, ethnicity, religion, age, sexual orientation, gender identification and expression as well as and mental or physical disability to identify systemic racism and barriers to accessibility and disability inclusion;
    • Ensuring Black employees, other racialized employees, Indigenous employees and employees with disabilities have membership and their view represented at executive tables, advisory councils, occupational health committees and other horizontal committees to foster diverse perspectives on internal policies, programs and operations.
  • Increasing accessibility internally by:
    • Ensuring new systems, including internally developed or procured hardware and software, meet modern accessibility standards;
    • Requiring that any documentation distributed across the organization (e.g. presentations, videos, briefing notes and papers, publications) be accessible and ensuring staff have the necessary training to achieve this goal;
    • Addressing systemic discrimination and barriers to accessibility and disability inclusion within all internal operational policies, programs and initiatives;
    • Developing and communicating proactive, streamlined workplace accommodation processes and practices in the organization, including for those working from home, as well as putting in place the necessary supports for employees and their managers.

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Clerk of the Privy Council End-of-Year Message: Increased Religiosity

A friend of mine passed on this Christmas and Hanukah message of the Clerk, Ian Shugart (most senior federal public servant).
It is unusual compared to previous clerk messages in how explicit the religious references are (the previous Clerk Michael Wernick’s message, below, is much more neutral and secular).
To my ears, overly so for a senior public servant and one that could be read by non-Christians and non-Jews as exclusionary, or at least less inclusive, in a way that the more banal holiday or seasons’ greetings of his predecessor are not.
On the other hand, Shugart’s message is more personal and was likely written by him, in contrast to the “safer” version likely prepared by PCO Communications.
While politicians regularly issue statements or press releases for religious festivals and occasions (when I was in government working on multiculturalism, we were assiduous in ensuring all groups were included).
Curious to know how others in the public service and beyond react to this kind of end-of-year message (without situating this in a “war on Christmas” context):

“Nous sommes dans cette période de l’année où les jours sont les plus sombres – littéralement. À l’approche du solstice d’hiver, je songe à l’importance que revêt la lumière et à l’ampleur de ce que souvent les gens vont ressentir en raison de l’obscurité hivernale. La lumière est un symbole d’espoir.

La lumière est aussi au cœur même des fêtes que sont Hanoukka et Noël. Qu’elle rappelle le miracle de la fiole d’huile dans le temple nouvellement consacré ou l’étoile annonçant la naissance de Jésus, c’est un symbole d’espoir pour les fidèles de confession juive ou chrétienne.
Que vous célébriez Hanoukka, Noël ou ni l’une ni l’autre, je vous suis reconnaissant de votre dévouement et des excellents services rendus au public tout au long de cette année mouvementée qui tire à sa fin. Si vous devez travailler pendant cette période, je vous dis merci. Si vous êtes en congé, profitez du répit.
Joyeuse Hanoukka! Joyeux Noël!
Ian Shugart
Greffier du Conseil privé et secrétaire du Cabinet
These are the darkest days of the year – literally. As the winter solstice approaches, I have been reflecting on how important light is, and how people often really feel the dark days of winter. Light is a symbol of hope. 
Light is also a central theme of the festivals of Hanukkah and of Christmas. Whether remembering the oil that miraculously burned in the newly dedicated Temple, or the star announcing Jesus’ birth, light is a symbol of the hope that both faiths celebrate. 
As the year comes to an end, and whether you will be celebrating Hanukkah or Christmas or neither, I want you to know that I am grateful for your dedication and capable service to the people of Canada throughout this eventful year.  If you remain on duty during this period, thank you. If you are taking some leave, enjoy the break.
Happy Hanukkah!  Merry Christmas!
Ian Shugart
Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet”

For comparison, the previous clerk’s message:

“The holiday season is here, and so is the end of a very successful year.

I would like to thank you for all the work you do to serve Canadians and to help make Canada such an extraordinary country. Your extraordinary service is unparallelled; and you should be proud to be a part of the most effective public service in the world.

Each of you helps us, as a Public Service, to achieve our common goals – whether it is ensuring the health and safety of Canadians, improving services and operations, or advancing the priorities of our democratically elected government.

I hope that many of you are able to take some time during the holidays to rest and celebrate with your loved ones. If you have to hold down the fort at work for your team, please know that your dedication is noticed and appreciated.

At the close of this busy and productive year, I look ahead to 2019, which will bring new opportunities to achieve great things together.

I wish you, your friends and your families a safe and peaceful holiday season, as well as happiness and health in the New Year.

Michael Wernick
Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet”

Top bureaucrat rejects auditor general’s ‘opinion piece’ on broken government culture

Fairly combative appearance, perhaps reflecting ongoing frustration with auditor general reports. Phoenix, however one looks at it, is a classic large-scale bureaucratic failure.
My memory is long enough (as it the Clerk’s!) to remember the universal classification system (UCS) initiative in the 1990s that consumed an enormous amount of time in reviewing job descriptions and criteria only to be abandoned. IMO there are cultural factors that make such large-scale transformations high risk, and there is enough collective experience to be more wary about proposing these kinds of initiatives given the implementation challenges:
Top bureaucrat Michael Wernick has rejected the auditor general’s assertion last month of a broken culture in the federal government that enabled the Phoenix pay system disaster. While there’s room for improvement, and Phoenix was a failure, the kind of deep malaise that Michael Ferguson described in his message accompanying his spring reports to Parliament does not reflect the reality of the public service, the Clerk of the Privy Council said during a House of Commons committee meeting Tuesday,.
“I believe it contains sweeping generalizations, it’s not supported by evidence, and it does not provide you any particular guidance on what to do to move forward,” Wernick said in his opening comments to the committee, calling the auditor general’s message “an opinion piece which I take issue with.”
Wernick told the parliamentarians who comprise the public accounts committee, many of whom greeted his words with skepticism, that he saw Phoenix as a “perfect storm,” the culmination of multiple factors that have already been laid out in two auditor general reports and an independent study by consulting firm Goss Gilroy Inc.
David Christopherson, a New Democrat MP and committee vice-chair, challenged Wernick on his conclusions.
“With all due respect … either we have a (Clerk) of the Privy Council who has his head buried in the sand and is in complete denial with what the cultural problems are, or we’ve got an auditor general that is off the rails. “Where does that leave us?”
But Wernick said that contrary to what the auditor general observed, the public service does not have a pervasive problem with deputy minister turnover. Of the 33 deputy ministers over which Wernick said he has some influence and the last three terms they’ve each completed, 49 of 99 were more than three years, 27 more than four years, and 16 more than five years.
And Public Services and Procurement Canada, the same department that oversaw the botched Phoenix rollout, delivered parliamentary precinct construction projects on time, on budget, and fully-functioning, he said. “I’m not saying the public service culture is perfect … We are risk-averse, we are process and rules-driven, we need to be more nimble, we need to be more creative, we need to be more assertive,” Wernick later concluded.
“What I take issue with is the insinuation that it is a generalized broken culture, which implies a generalized broken public service, and I have to contest that.”
He registered his belief that the public service needs structural reform. It has too many layers, he said, having climbed 15 of them to get to the position he holds today. The hundreds of classification groups and thousands of special pay groups and allowances make building an effective pay system extremely challenging, he said.
He also recommended the committee consider the incentive structure under which public servants operate. There are numerous layers of oversight and feedback around the senior bureaucrats, Wernick said, and almost all are negative. The exceptions are performance pay and promotion.
“Culture is shaped by incentives and disincentives,” he said, and there are opportunities to create those “which reward innovation, creativity, or that stifle it.”
But MPs continued to raise the question of a larger cultural crisis throughout the bureaucracy. Conservative MP Lisa Raitt pointed out that Ferguson isn’t the first to come to this conclusion.
Last year, public service integrity commissioner Joe Friday flagged a culture of fear silencing public servants from speaking out about wrongdoing. And Kevin Sorenson, committee chair and Conservative MP, cited letters his office had received from public servants “saying this culture has to be fixed.”
Wernick pointed out these letters and emails come from those motivated enough to write, and “officers of parliament have their role and have their opinion, but they are outside observers.”
For the most part, Canada’s public service is free of nepotism, corruption and partisanship, he said.
“It’s important in this day and age that Canadians have some confidence in their public institutions, and I am committed to making them better as we go along.” But, he cautioned, “be very careful on the diagnosis before you start prescribing remedies. There are a lot of governance quacks out there, and I think it’s important to listen carefully to people with some expertise.”
Wernick also extended some cultural advice of his own to the committee: create a space in which questioning the auditor general is possible. For a decade or more, he said, government was taught the only way to respond to auditor general recommendations was with agreement. “It should be OK to challenge the analysis and the findings of the auditor general. It will make for a healthier, richer debate.”

Source: Top bureaucrat rejects auditor general’s ‘opinion piece’ on broken government culture

PS must step up recruitment to offset exodus of retiring baby boomers

Good overview of the latest Clerk’s report on the public service. Parts I found more interesting below, with the culture change the hardest challenge, along with harassment, a perennial issue:

Wernick’s report clearly indicates there will be no single plan when the task force releases its final report.

Rather, each department will develop its own “action plan” rather than shoehorn a master set of rules on all departments. That’s because the nature of federal workplaces varies wildly from white-collar office jobs to employees working in call centres, on Coast Guard ships, in prisons or the military.

Those plans will focus on changing culture with leadership, training, support for employees and managers, and then measuring the impact of those changes.

Wernick’s report noted that the last public service survey showed that harassment, discrimination and lack of empowerment are key barriers to a “respectful” workplace.

“These types of behaviours must be addressed,” he said.  “There is no place for them in society or in the workplace. Every manager and every employee is accountable.”

On the policy front, Wernick has taken exception to critics who argue the public service lost its policy-making skills over the Conservative decade.

His report, however, says the way policy is developed has to be modernized and a policy community project is underway to strengthen policy-making in a rapidly changing world.

“It will be important never to return to a time where policy was developed in splendid isolation from the operations and services that implement it, or the people affected by it. Nor should policy be developed in silos and stovepipes. All of the important issues facing Canada are broad and multi-faceted.”

Source: PS must step up recruitment to offset exodus of retiring baby boomers | Ottawa Citizen

Trudeau tasks top bureaucrat to help reform patronage appointments

Will be interesting to see what system is developed and, after a number of years, whether the quality and diversity of appointments improves.

Just another aspect to implementing the “commitment to transparent, merit-based appointments, to help ensure gender parity and that Indigenous Canadians and minority groups are better reflected in positions of leadership:”

Michael Wernick, recently installed as the new Clerk of the Privy Council and the Prime Minister’s most senior adviser from the public service, has been given an important assignment by the man who appointed him: to advise on how to make a wide range of cabinet appointments – including that of his own future replacement – subject to more scrutiny.

In an interview with The Globe and Mail in his Langevin Block office, the career bureaucrat and head of the public service said the hundreds of political appointments at Crown corporations, tribunals and other agencies are “gifts” handed out by cabinet that should be subject to a more thorough hiring process.

That will mean opening up political appointments, including part-time positions, to more applicants, using more rigorous head-hunting, and setting clearer selection criteria. The goal is to increase accountability, ensure better representation and recruit higher quality talent for appointments to Canada’s public institutions, a reform of mainly patronage jobs that would be in line with the Liberal plan for merit-based appointments to the Senate.

“[Mr. Trudeau] wants to work his way around the appointment powers of the prime minister and put some process, some rigour, some inclusion and some transparency in front of those appointments before he makes them. I completely support that as a matter of good governance,” Mr. Wernick said. “You will see in the coming weeks a more rigorous process around Governor-in-Council appointments, like all of the 1,500 appointments or so that are the gift of cabinet to give.”

…Without any new process in place for appointments, Mr. Trudeau has already made some patronage appointments for senior positions, including new ambassadors and, in the Privy Council Office, Matthew Mendelsohn to head a new unit called “results and delivery.” Mr. Mendelsohn is an academic with the Mowat Centre in Toronto and former Ontario government deputy minister who last year worked on the Trudeau campaign.

Ironically, experts such as Donald Savoie, professor of public administration at Université de Moncton and Canada’s authority on the centralization of government, suggests the appointment of a Liberal campaign worker to a key position in PCO further centralizes power when Mr. Trudeau says he wants the opposite. But Dr. Savoie adds that bringing more transparency to appointments, starting with that of the clerk, would help diffuse PMO power. Transparency could come through a committee that recommends a public list of possible clerks to the Prime Minister who makes the final selection.

….Mr. Wernick has identified two priorities as Clerk. One is delivering the Liberal government’s agenda, and the second is increasing the capabilities of a public service whose employees are passionate and engaged but also frustrated. Without the latter priority, the first will be more difficult.

“We need to get better at being agile and responsive while still providing that sober advice on implementation. We have too many layers and too much middle management. We have too much process. We have people who take refuge in rules and process, and what we want is people to be guided by their values and competencies,” he said. “We have very strong foundations but we’re a bit of a fixer-upper… I’m quite optimistic we can get there.”

Source: Trudeau tasks top bureaucrat to help reform patronage appointments – The Globe and Mail

Top federal bureaucrat targets hiring, policymaking and mental health in her first report

Twenty-Second_Annual_Report_-_Report_-_Clerk_of_the_Privy_CouncilClerk Janice Charette on her three priorities for the public service in her first report to the Prime Minister on the public service:

In her report, Charette said she is “unequivocally and personally” committed to the Blueprint 2020 vision, unveiled by her predecessor, Wayne Wouters, as the road map for the public service in the digital age.

The public service is in the throes of a major transition and Blueprint has a strong appeal to young, tech-savvy public servants, as it is built around new technology and cutting red tape. It’s aimed at making the public service more networked, innovative, efficient, productive, better managed and tech-enabled.

A big complaint about it, however, is that it dodges some of the politically sensitive issues dogging Canada’s largest employer. These include: the lack of trust between bureaucrats and their political bosses; the public service’s diminished policymaking role and relevance; and what many call a “toxic” workplace that has one of the highest incidences of mental health claims in the country.

Charette’s three priorities could go a long way to address those perceived gaps.

The public service has faced an exodus of retiring baby boomers whom Charette said have to be replaced with recruits who bring new skills and fresh ideas to “manage in the modern world” dominated by technology and big data.

Charette said she isn’t setting hiring targets at this point, but departments must keep their human resource plans updated so they know which skills are needed for the future. With downsizing, departments have been preoccupied with shedding jobs.

The number of people leaving or retiring from the public service had been relatively stable over the years, until the 2012 budget cuts kicked in. Nearly 13,000 public servants retired or left in 2013-14, followed by another 12,283 the following year.

Charette said she isn’t looking to “grow” the public service, but new hiring hasn’t come close to replacing the record number of departures. About 4,300 permanent employees were hired last year and about 2,870 the year before. Rather than recruiting, departments are filling gaps with casual, term and student employees.

The recruitment and retention patterns are reflected in the experience levels of public servants. Today, 13 per cent of public servants have less than four years of experience compared to more than 17 per cent the previous year. The proportion with between five and 14 years’ experience, however, increased from 45 per cent to nearly 49 per cent.

The prime minister’s advisory committee on the public service sounded the alarm in a report last month, warning that departments averse to hiring could cause a “demographic hole” similar to the missing generation that dogged the public service for years when it stopped hiring in the 1990s. The report called for “top-down direction” from the clerk and deputy ministers.

“I think it is important for me to send a signal about where I see the priorities,” Charette told the Citizen. “Departments are making their own decisions right now about their HR priorities and I think it is important for me to signal that when I look at the public service as a whole, that this is one area where I think we have a public service-wide need.”

Here’s a quick look at what Charette said.


Specialists in data analysis will be a key recruitment target.

The public service should also examine how it recruits. It typically relies on a major post-secondary campaign on campuses, as well as online recruitment  The public service also needs an infusion of mid-career and senior talent from the private sector.

Policy development:

The public service is no longer the only or even the primary source of policy advice for ministers. Politicians expect public servants to consult and collaborate with stakeholders and it’s up to public servants to quickly “synthesize” the various interests to come with advice in the public interest.

Public servants also have to strengthen the links between policy and service delivery.

“Who is responsible for integrating that information, synthesizing it and trying to weed through what is in the public interest as opposed to the interests of the person who may be advocating a position is the job of the public service. (That’s) evidence-based public policy,” she said.

Mental health:

Charette has “no tolerance” for the situation in which one in five public servants complained about harassment in the last public service survey.

She also worries about the rising incidence of mental health claims that approach half of all long-term disability claims. Public servants’ reliance on medications to combat mental illness is also on the rise.

Some good use of infographics to communicate range of activities and related data in contrast to the previous text-driven reports as well as tables on employment equity (still using the dated 2006 labour market availability, however, which paints an overly rosy view).

Top federal bureaucrat targets hiring, policymaking and mental health in her first report | Ottawa Citizen.

New PCO Clerk Charette takes on ‘battered’ PS, reform issues in federal election year | hilltimes.com

Lots of positive comment on new PCO Clerk Charette and observations on some of the challenges she faces from previous Clerks, Donald Savoie and others:

“There’s no question the federal public service is crying out for some sense of direction,” Mr. Savoie said. “I think it’s been battered about, not just the past 10 years, but it’s been battered about for the last 20-30 years. In some ways it’s lost its moorings. It’s not anchored like it used to be, in terms of knowing it was there to provide evidence-based policy advice, it was there to deliver programs in a professional manner.”

Part of the problem has been the trend across English-speaking democracies to view “the latest management fad coming out of the private sector as a panacea to dress the public sector to look like the private sector,” Mr. Savoie said, which has undermined the public service’s values.

In his final report as chair of the Prime Minister’s Advisory Committee on the Public Service, former Conservative and Liberal Cabinet minister David Emerson warned that public servants had to work to remain relevant amid the digital revolution and global economy.

The report recommended pushing authority down in the organization and empowering people to make changes; streamlining business processes; investing in learning and leadership development, especially in middle management; and focusing on longer-term thinking.

Former clerk Mel Cappe, who served under prime minister Jean Chrétien, said keeping the bureaucracy relevant and attracting bright young people will be Ms. Charette’s biggest challenge.

“I think the challenge is going to be adapting to the Twitterverse and modern communications and the transformation that’s taking place in the political world, and keeping the public service relevant to be the privileged adviser to government,” he said in an interview.

New PCO Clerk Charette takes on ‘battered’ PS, reform issues in federal election year | hilltimes.com. (pay wall)