Union wants top bureaucrat to help restore public service ‘neutrality’ | Ottawa Citizen

Various commentary on the decision by unions to play a partisan role in the election. I agree with the overall message that this harms the overall public service-political relationship:

This wasn’t the first election in which unions opposed the government of the day but many say it was the most aggressive.

“The decision of unions to campaign against Harper … was unfortunate and harmful because it legitimizes the Conservative view that the public service is a partisan institution. I don’t think it is, but the actions of unions certainly makes it appear to be,” said Ralph Heintzman, a University of Ottawa professor who has proposed various reforms to restore public service neutrality.

He said a Liberal or NDP government would have to wonder about whether the public service could turn on them.

“No party can rejoice in public servants becoming actively involved in electoral politics against the government,” said Heintzman. “Mulcair and Trudeau … can’t be thrilled with unions campaigning against the Conservative government because it suggests that if unions don’t like what you do, they will become partisan again.”

That trust was further called into question when a secret policy briefing, prepared by the Department of Foreign Affairs for deputy ministers on Canada’s shrinking international clout, was leaked during the election campaign. Charette called in the RCMP to find the leak. In a separate incident, the deputy minister at Citizenship and Immigration called the Mounties to track down who leaked that the Prime Minister’s Office had directed bureaucrats to stop processing Syrian refugees pending an audit.

Donald Savoie, a Canada Research Chair in Public Administration and Governance at Université de Moncton, said leaking information to embarrass the government in an election is such a breach of the public service’s ethos that the clerk had to play hardball and call the Mounties.

“They hurt the institution they service. What is the opposition supposed to think if they do this to the government of the day; what will stop them from leaking when we’re the government?” said Savoie.

But Daviau is convinced the public service will have the trust and respect of the Liberals or NDP because both parties were “forthright” in their promises and consulted with unions on their proposed reforms months before the election.

“I feel confident that with the declarations of the other parties to revert back to the traditional way of doing business, that the genie can be put back in the bottle, but now comes the work to get us back to where we were,” said Daviau.

But Heintzman said the eroding neutrality of the public service goes much further than unions’ electoral activism and the system needs a structural overhaul.

He said the Conservative government “exploited all the ambiguities of the parliamentary system for its own partisan advantage,” pushing public servants over the line that used to be drawn between politics and public service.

A big problem, he said, is that deputy ministers didn’t challenge this politicization of the public service, particularly “turning the PCO into a partisan communications machine.” The most talked-about example was a video Employment Minister Pierre Poilievre had public servants produce with department funds to promote the Conservatives’ universal child-care benefit.

“The clerk is part of the problem. (Her) role corrupts the public service by creating a hierarchy of power that no deputy minister will challenge. The deputy minister is appointed by the clerk, looks to the clerk as boss and won’t challenge directions from PCO,” said Heintzman.

David Zussman, the Jarislowsky Chair on Management in the Public Sector at the University of Ottawa, has written a book on transitions from one government to another called Off and Running. He said questions about neutrality will have to be dealt with but they won’t be on the priority list of a new government.

But the public service is the key player in managing a transition, giving it a “chance to shine” – which can go a long way to rebuilding trust, Zussman said.

Source: Union wants top bureaucrat to help restore public service ‘neutrality’ | Ottawa Citizen

Harper wants to ‘examine’ ban on niqab in public service and the ‘duty to accommodate’

Beyond playing identity politics on the issue, there is a need for a more substantive discussion, based upon evidence (including the data on the religious affiliation of public servants as in my background note Religious Minorities in the Public Service) and how the “duty to accommodate” policy would be applied in the case of a request (and how any previous requests – if they exist – were handled).

Any request would not just be handled at the working level but would most likely involve HR officials and more senior officials and would likely emerge into the public domain.

A quick review of TBS’s Duty to accommodate guide for managers shows it largely focuses on accommodation for persons with disabilities, with little guidance with respect to religious accommodation. The Canadian Human Rights Commission and provincial equivalents provide more guidance and examples, but no examples of niqabs or gender-based segregation based upon my quick review (corrections welcome).

And a reminder, the duty to accommodate does not mean agreeing to the specific request or the specific form of accommodation requested:

A re-elected Conservative government would “examine” whether to prohibit public servants from wearing the face-covering garment known as the niqab, leader Stephen Harper said Tuesday.

“That’s a matter we’re going to examine,” Harper told Rosemary Barton during an interview on CBC’s Power & Politics Tuesday. “Quebec, as you know, has legislation on this. We’re looking at that legislation.”

The prime minister was referring to Bill 62, introduced by Quebec’s Liberal government in June, which contains measures to prohibit public servants from wearing niqabs in provincial offices.

Harper’s notion earned swift denunciations.

“Stephen Harper is trying to play politics with sensitive issues. It smacks of political manipulation,” said Paul Dewar, the incumbent NDP candidate in Ottawa Centre.

Catherine McKenna, the Liberal candidate in Ottawa Centre, agreed. “The niqab in the public service is not a serious issue, it’s a diversion tactic.”

Ron Cochrane, co-chairman of the National Joint Council, called it an “example of Harper trying to create a problem where there isn’t one now.”

“If there are people who wear the niqab providing services to Canadians, no one has ever complained about their dress, so why is he making it an issue when it hasn’t been before?”

“This election is too important to be distracted by Mr. Harper’s questionable tactics,” said Debi Daviau, president of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada. “Unlike this prime minister, we respect the rule of law and our focus is on defending our ability to deliver essential public services to Canadians.”

The niqab issue has become a hot-button election topic in recent days, as the Federal Court of Appeal rejected the government’s application for a stay of a Federal Court decision in favour of a Muslim woman, Zunera Ishaq, who wants to wear a niqab during her citizenship ceremony.

Source: Harper wants to ‘examine’ ban on niqab in public service | Ottawa Citizen

PS fighting for respect in election, not sick leave

Reaction by public sector unions to PM Harper’s letter (Stephen Harper writes open letter to Canada’s ‘world-class public service’ in order to correct ‘misinformation’), appropriately focusing on the higher level issues of the relationship and trust:

Canada’s public servants won’t buy Conservative leader Stephen Harper’s last-minute love letter to them because respect and the ability to do their jobs — not sick leave benefits and pensions — are what they are fighting for in this election.

Debi Daviau, president of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada, said Harper’s recent open letter to public servants, patting them on the back and offering assurances that sick leave reform will be fair and pensions untouched, totally missed the mark of what public servants and their unions are campaigning for.

“We aren’t active in this election because of sick leave and pensions … These aren’t public servants’ issues and I don’t think our members will be fooled by it,” said Daviau.

“What it comes down to is that we don’t believe that Canada’s public service can survive another Harper government mandate.”

Harper’s letter zeros in on sick leave and pensions — the terms and conditions of public service employment that have been under attack by the Conservatives. Sick leave is the big hot-button issue in the ongoing round of collective bargaining with federal unions.

But Daviau said those are “Harper’s issues” and the letter is a “trap” — a last-minute effort to woo the public service vote in Ottawa while portraying public servants for Canadians as “petty” and only concerned with pay and benefits.

Federal unions have been very active in this campaign, their focus on eroding public services caused by budget cuts and the deteriorating relationship between public servants and the government. For many public servants, the big concerns revolve around the culture of fear and erosion of the traditional role of the public service.

The Liberals and NDP have both announced public service platforms aimed at rebuilding the relationship and restoring trust.

Source: PS fighting for respect in election, not sick leave | Ottawa Citizen