Fixing a broken culture: public service in the wake of Phoenix

Good representative set of comments. Minister Brison has a valid point: service delivery is a very poor cousin compared to policy and communications, with most senior execs having moved up the ladder largely on their ability to deliver on policy:

In no uncertain terms, auditor general Michael Ferguson laid bare last month his belief that a “broken government culture” enabled the Phoenix pay system fiasco to play out, despite bureaucratic safeguards that should have been enough to prevent the failure.

However, after explaining the “why” of Phoenix — “an obedient public service that fears mistakes and risk,” unwilling or unable to hear and convey “hard truths” — in a message accompanying the audit of its building and implementation, Ferguson left it up to the federal government to puzzle out a remedy.

That solution depends on who you ask.

THE FORMER PBO: New leadership needed Kevin Page, president and chief executive of the Institute of Fiscal Studies and Democracy at the University of Ottawa, proposed a stark fork in the bureaucracy’s road forward. “You either get rid of the top echelon of the public service — all the deputy ministers in the central agencies go, and replace them with a new group that we feel confident have the competency and the values and make sure that this stuff won’t repeat over and over again, or we just wait for the next generation.” Page, who served as Canada’s first parliamentary budget officer, and at various central agencies during a 27-year federal public service career, called Phoenix a “failure of values.” While they might not always be emphasized, he said, qualities such as integrity, stewardship and excellence comprise a public service “code.”

In his eyes, the negligence of executives charged with the Phoenix project — cancelling a pilot run, pressing forward without an adequate contingency plan — speaks to a deeper disregard for the values that should underscore public service. “It’s not just a few project managers. It cuts right through all the work that’s done by senior managers and central agencies who are responsible to support decision-making and oversight for the executive,” Page said. “There’s going to have to be new leadership in the public service.” While the current cadre of senior executives could ostensibly have a “come-to-Jesus moment” in which a post-Phoenix reckoning leads to commitment to examine these underlying values, Page said he’s not hopeful. Despite the AG’s self-professed “bleak” assessment of its workplace culture, Page said he works with many students who continue to aspire to public service. In fact, he said, it’s possible that this recent bit of bad press could actually spur on those who believe they can be part of a culture and values shift in the bureaucracy. “The time to buy is when the market is low,” Page quipped.

THE EXECUTIVES: It’s time to move forward The head of the association that represents the more than 6,000 executives — typically directors and above — in the federal public service, sees things very differently. “The executive community is as frustrated as any other group with this, and we’re being tarred with a brush with respect to Phoenix,” said Michel Vermette, CEO of the Association of Professional Executives of the Public Service of Canada.

The auditor general made some important recommendations, Vermette said, including the need for project oversight and independent review mechanisms for government-wide IT projects — to which Public Services and Procurement Canada and the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat have agreed for all such projects, moving forward. Ferguson’s comments about public service culture have also provided a “good reminder” to executives about the nature of their job — to provide advice to ministers, and implement the decisions those ministers ultimately make, according to Vermette. But after two AG reports and an independent study by the Goss Gilroy Inc. consulting firm, Vermette said, it’s time to move forward, implement the audits’ recommendations, and work on fixing the pay problems Phoenix has given rise to. He rejected calls from the Public Service Alliance of Canada for a public inquiry into the project’s failure, and a freeze on executive performance bonuses until employee pay issues are resolved. “That’s damning an entire community of people who are working hard to make sure their staff get paid, but have little control over the system.”

THE PUBLIC SERVANTS: A public inquiry Meanwhile, PSAC national president Chris Aylward says a national public inquiry into Phoenix is the public service’s only hope for changing the culture of “incomprehensible failures” that Ferguson cited. PSAC, the largest union representing federal public-sector workers, will submit a formal request for an inquiry in the coming weeks.

“We need people to be compelled to come and testify under oath to say exactly what had happened,“ Aylward said, describing a culture that often discourages public servants from speaking out about perceived or possible flaws. “I think the broader issue is that workers don’t want to come forward and say, ‘Hey there might be an issue here,’ because they’re afraid of reprisal. “Then, a lot of times, the senior bureaucrats at the deputy level or the assistant deputy level, they don’t want to hear it because they’ve got the political pressure coming down from their ministers and from parliamentarians saying, ‘This has to get done,'” Aylward said.

THE EXPERT: Change the reward structure The subjugation of the bureaucracy by political priorities was among Ferguson’s grim observations about what ails today’s public service. It’s something Christopher Stoney, an associate professor at Carleton University’s School of Public Policy and Administration, has observed. “When it comes to culture, it seems to be very top-down as a hierarchy,” he said. “It cascades down from the political priorities and timing to the managerial, then it goes down to the public service themselves, who are then under pressure to try and meet these deadlines, which may be unrealistic.” With Phoenix, Ferguson pointed out that executives were “more focused on meeting the project budget and timeline than on what the system needed to do,” as evidenced by decisions such as removing pay processing functions from Phoenix, compressing the project schedule and reducing the number of employees assigned to it, rather than asking for more time or money. Stoney said this kind of perversion of priorities is enabled in part by the reward system in the public service. “I would do away with performance bonuses, I think it gets too much tied into what we call goal displacement, so the people start trying to achieve things for the wrong reasons and the public interest gets lost because of self-interest and short-term thinking.” In 2015-16 — the most recent period for which figures are posted by the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat — more than $75 million was spent on performance pay for nearly 5,500 executives. The value of the Phoenix experience, Stoney said, lies in the insight it has offered into the public service culture. “There are some projects that are so important, so big, and so time-sensitive vis-à-vis elections,” that the cracks start to show, and what lies beneath is laid bare and talked about. “Otherwise how the heck do we know what it is?”

TREASURY BOARD PRESIDENT: Tend to the plumbingThis underlying “plumbing of government,” said Scott Brison, president of the Treasury Board, is what his government has been working to improve since taking office in 2015. “The two shiny objects to which people are attracted in government are usually policy and communications,” the longtime parliamentarian said. The Liberals, according to Brison, are delving deeper.

“We have taken and continue to take concrete actions to strengthen the culture of the public service, and to encourage a culture of experimentation and innovation,” evidenced, he said, by such policies as the “unmuzzling” of government scientists and new standards for government digital projects. According to Brison, the public service needs to look less hierarchical, more agile and innovative in its approach to problem-solving and citizen engagement, and more enticing to millennials. As for why the Phoenix failure was not averted under his government’s tenure — the auditor general held accountable both the previous Harper Conservative government under which Phoenix was first approved, and the current Liberal government for the decision to green light the pay system’s launch — Brison said culture change doesn’t happen overnight. “We have made significant changes in the last couple of years, but we have a lot of work to do.” “We feel actually the auditor general’s report helps reaffirm that we are heading in the right direction.”

Source: Fixing a broken culture: public service in the wake of Phoenix

Ottawa pilots ‘name-blind’ recruitment to reduce ‘unconscious bias’ in hiring

This pilot will provide some real world data to the existing blind cv studies that have been conducted by Oreopoulos and Reitz.

Wisely, the government has chosen to pilot this in a number of departments with different representation challenges, as shown in the table below:

As the government has largely met the goal of being representative of the population it serves, implicit bias may be less of a factor in the government sector. Representation is somewhat less at more senior levels, where implicit bias is likely less of an issue given that candidates are known.

It would be ironic indeed if the pilot, intended to test for bias against visible minorities, would show a bias for visible minorities, given some of the “over-representation” in some departments. In any case, a valuable exercise.

Ottawa has launched a pilot project to reduce biases in the hiring of federal civil services through what is billed “name-blind” recruitment, a practice long urged by employment equity advocates.

The Liberal government’s move came on the heels of a joint study by University of Toronto and Ryerson University earlier this year that found job candidates with Asian names and Canadian qualifications are less likely to be called for interviews than counterparts with Anglo-Canadian names even if they have a better education.

“It’s not just an issue of concern for me but for a lot of people. A number of people have conducted research in Canada, the U.K., Australia and the U.S. that showed there is a subliminal bias in people reading too much into names,” said Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen, who first delivered the idea to Parliament last year as a rookie MP from Toronto.

“Name-blind recruitment could help ensure the public service reflects the people it serves by helping to reduce unconscious bias in the hiring process.”

Some companies in the private sector, including banks and accounting firms, have already adopted the practice, which removes names from application forms in order to stop “unconscious bias” against potential recruits from minority backgrounds.

In the United Kingdom, the government now requires name-blind applications for university admissions service and other applications for organizations such as the civil service, British Broadcasting Company and local government.

U of T sociology professor Jeffrey Reitz said the initiative is an important step forward but cautioned officials they must consult independent experts in developing the process and reviewing the results to make sure it is done correctly.

To conduct name-blind screening, he said, recruiters must remove any information on a resumé that would reveal the ethnicity of the person, such as name, birth place and membership in an association before coding the candidates in the talent pool.

“If the government is serious about it, they need to make the process transparent and allow researchers to look at the new procedures and the results,” said Reitz, a co-author of the Canadian study on name discrimination against Asians.

Debbie Douglas of the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants said she hopes the pilot could benefit other minority groups, given studies have shown that white English- and French-speaking able-bodied women have been the primary beneficiaries of current employment equity programs.

“We hope as the government moves proactively to ensure diversity in hiring it will review the existing program and strengthen it to ensure the intentional inclusion of racialized and indigenous job seekers,” said Douglas.

Treasury Board President Scott Brison, who championed Hussen’s initial idea, said he welcomed the opportunity to explore new ways of recruiting talent for the public service.

“A person’s name should never be a barrier to employment. Diversity and inclusion in the workplace is critical to building an energized, innovative and effective public service that is better able to meet the demands of an ever-changing world,” said Brison at the launch of the pilot at Ryerson Thursday.

The six departments participating in the pilot include Department of National Defence; Global Affairs Canada; Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada; Public Services and Procurement Canada; Environment and Climate Change Canada; and the Treasury Board Secretariat. A report on the pilot is expected in October.

Using data from a recent large-scale Canadian employment study that examined interview callback rates for resumés with Asian and Anglo names, U of T and Ryerson researchers found Asian-named applicants consistently received fewer calls regardless of the size of the companies involved.

Although a master’s degree can improve Asian candidates’ chances of being called, it does not close the gap and their prospects don’t even measure up to those of Anglo applicants with undergraduate qualifications.

Compared to applicants with Anglos names, Asian-named applicants with all-Canadian qualifications had 20.1 per cent fewer calls from organizations with 500 or more employees, and 39.4 per cent and 37.1 per cent fewer calls, respectively, from medium-sized and small employers.

Source: Ottawa pilots ‘name-blind’ recruitment to reduce ‘unconscious bias’ in hiring | Toronto Star

Liberals issue openness directive, scrap most Access to Information fees

Very good first start (for those responsible for my pending ATIP requests, please note and process accordingly):

The Liberal government is immediately waiving all fees associated with access to information requests — apart from the $5 application charge.

It is also telling federal agencies to make information available in the format of the requester’s choice, such as handy data spreadsheets, wherever possible. [one of my and other’s biggest peeves]

The measures are included in an interim directive on openness from Treasury Board President Scott Brison.

Brison told a Commons committee studying changes to the access law Thursday the steps represent early progress on Liberal commitments for reform.

He said the openness directive is guided by the principle that government information belongs to the people it serves and should be open by default.

It also emphasizes that providing access is paramount to serving the public interest.

The Access to Information Act allows people who pay $5 to ask for everything from expense reports and audits to correspondence and briefing notes. Departments are supposed to answer within 30 days or provide valid reasons why they need more time.

However, the system has been widely criticized as slow, out of date and riddled with loopholes that allow agencies to withhold information rather than release it. The law has not been substantially updated since it took effect almost 33 years ago.

The Liberals plan to introduce legislation late this year or in early 2017 to implement several other short-term changes to the law based on election campaign commitments. They promise a full review of the Access to Information Act once the initial bill passes and every five years thereafter.

“This act is out of date,” Brison told MPs on the committee. “We never want to be in this place again.”

Brison said the next wave of measures would:

  • Give the information commissioner, an ombudsman for requesters, the power to order release of government information — something she cannot do now;

  • Ensure the act applies appropriately to the offices of the prime minister and his cabinet members, as well as administrative institutions that support Parliament and the courts;

  • Address the issue of frivolous and vexatious requests so that the purpose of the act is respected;

  • Improve government performance reporting on Access to Information.

Source: Liberals issue openness directive, scrap most Access to Information fees – The Globe and Mail

Trudeau government asks for ideas on open government

Where do I begin?:

The Liberal government is asking Canadians for their ideas on making government more open.

Treasury Board President Scott Brison announced the national consultation today.

Brison says the transparency bus has left the station.

The minister says he believes that an open government is a more effective government.

Beginning today, people can go to to offer their views on what should be in the next federal strategy on open government.

Officials will also hold in-person discussions across the country and the resulting plan is to be released this summer.

 Some initial thoughts on my short list:
  • The hardest issue of all: changing the culture and enforcing a default obligation of openness;
  • Provide information in electronic formats that allow manipulation for analytical purposes. The previous government only released public opinion research data tables in pdf format, rather than in spreadsheets. More recently, PCO was unable (or unwilling) to export its database of GiC appointments in spreadsheet format, requiring me to recreate this already public information;
  • Expanded data sets, issued regularly in a timely fashion. My initial list, starting with citizenship:
    • in addition to top 10 (consider top 25)  countries of birth, have complete table or one mapped to IRCC operational regions (top 10 only covers about 50 percent of new citizens)
    • naturalization rate after 6 years of permanent residency, broken down country of birth mapped to IRCC operational regions
    • naturalization rate after 6 years of permanent residency by immigration category, gender and province
    • citizenship test pass (language and knowledge) results by country of birth mapped to IRC operational regions
    For passports, numbers related to:
    • top 25 countries of birth (all)
    • top 25 countries of birth (foreign-born)
    • number of passports issued abroad mapped to IRC operational region (to give sense of Canadian expatriates)
    • breakdown by country of birth of passports issued abroad

    Appointments: regular employment equity type reporting for all GiC appointments.

Source: Trudeau government asks for ideas on open government –

Liberals push Access to Information overhaul back to 2018

I am more forgiving of the Government than some of the critics. Better to take some time to get it right, given the policy and operational considerations, but in the meantime, Canadians need to hold the Government to account, provide input to the consultation site, and continue to provide examples of where the system is not working (my experience under the previous government can be found in my  ATIP Delay Log):

The Liberal government is pushing their pledged overhaul of the outdated Access to Information system to 2018, Treasury Board President Scott Brison revealed Thursday.

The government will still move within a year to make some smaller changes to the 33-year old system, which allows Canadians to obtain government information for a $5 fee.

But the larger reforms to address well-documented problems such as delays and aggressively applied secrecy provisions will have to wait two years.

“This act hasn’t been updated since 1983. Getting it right is really important,” Brison told reporters Thursday.

“We feel we can move forward with some specific changes over the next several months . . . but that doesn’t obviate the need to do a deeper consultation in 2018, which will look at other areas of improvement.”

Once a world-leading law, the Access to Information Act has been allowed to decay under successive Liberal and Conservative governments. It has not been substantially updated since the early 1980s, when most government business was conducted on paper.

The situation reached a point where, in 2015, Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault was forced to call the system a “shield against transparency.”

In their election platform, the Liberals pledged to make government information “open by default” — the principle being Canadians ultimately own their government’s work, and should be able to access it unless their government has a compelling reason to keep it secret.

The government also promised to eliminate the sometimes exorbitant fees departments charge for searching for and photocopying documents to release.

While those changes will have to wait, Brison’s department is moving forward on other commitments: applying the system to ministers’ offices, including the Prime Minister’s Office, administrative bodies in Parliament and federal courts, as well as giving Legault’s office the ability to issue binding orders for departments to release documents.

Treasury Board is expected to unveil legislation incorporating those changes, and potentially others from a parliamentary committee and public consultations, either in 2016 or 2017.

Fred Vallance-Jones, a journalism professor at the University of King’s College in Halifax, said the government appears to be moving in the right direction. But he questioned why more dramatic changes need to wait.

“I don’t think there’s any lack of advice that’s been given to the federal government over the last number of years about what is wrong with how the act is working,” Vallance-Jones, who leads Newspapers Canada’s annual Freedom of Information Audit, said Thursday.

“Those kinds of things have been on the table for quite a long time.”

Source: Liberals push Access to Information overhaul back to 2018 | Toronto Star

Canadian Heritage shows how public service seeks to foster innovation

Good initiative and equally good debate about its utility (I had tried equally to institute the Google 20 percent time set-aside – without much success):

As part of a push in the bureaucracy to find new ways to work, Canadian Heritage is one of a dozen departments taking a page from Google and letting employees spend up to 20 per cent of their time working on temporary projects outside their usual job descriptions and the usual procedures.

Deputy minister Graham Flack said the initiative – called “micro-missions” – was developed to bring some flexibility to the rigid organization of departments.

“The theory behind micro-missions is, in government, it’s actually very difficult with our traditional HR systems to move people around,” Mr. Flack said.

Mr. Flack also chairs a committee of top bureaucrats who work on new ideas, and the group invites junior employees to join their discussions to get fresh ideas and a better view on the ground.

“We operate in a very hierarchical organization, and sometimes [we have] to give them a reality check,” said Francis Nolan-Poupart, a 27-year-old policy analyst at Employment and Social Development Canada, who sits on the committee.

But just because an idea worked for Google does not mean it will work for the government – or even for other tech companies. Konval Matin, the director of culture at Shopify in Ottawa, and Anna Lambert, the director of talent acquisition, said their company – a rising star in Canada’s tech world – tried giving employees time every week for special projects, but it just did not work.

“We realized you would get so enthralled in your day-to-day that you wouldn’t actually set aside the 20-per-cent time,” Ms. Matin said.

Marianne Hladun, an executive who leads the Public Service Alliance of Canada’s young-worker file, said the union has some concerns that projects might just add work for already stressed employees.

“In a lot of cases, people are just trying to keep their heads above water,” Ms. Hladun said. “In some departments, which I believe Canadian Heritage falls into, … people are doing special assignments but they’re not being compensated at appropriate levels. That’s a bit of a concern to us.”

Leaders at both the political and bureaucratic level have warned that many areas of the federal public service are suffering from poor workplace environments that are hampering service delivery and the mental health of the work force. In her final annual report last year as the top bureaucrat in Ottawa, Janice Charette said there was an urgent need to create a “healthy, respectful and supportive work environment.”

Donald Savoie, a professor at the Université de Moncton and a leading expert on public administration, said he thinks some of the innovative projects are just “band aids” that do not fix deeper problems affecting morale in the public service. “For a government to say, we’re going to have hackathons, or collaborative events, or spaces, that, my friend, is the easy part. The much more difficult part is redefining the role of the public service so that it would resonate.”

Shopify holds townhalls on Fridays where employees are encouraged to share what they are working on, and talk about what is going well and what is more challenging than expected – just as Canadian Heritage tried to do with its pizza lunch.

Ms. Matin of Shopify said even the executive team takes part occasionally – and the exercises have been good not just for morale, but also for productivity as workers from different teams pick up tips from each other.

“The stuff that’s really easier said than done is the trust and the autonomy,” Ms. Matin said. “Not being afraid of letting people experiment and try new things and potentially fail. But the cool thing is, let them fail, let them talk about it.”

Traditionally, the public service is not known for taking risks. Mr. Brison acknowledges the potential for failure as more public institutions and individuals are empowered to try new things and make more decisions on their own. As a political leader, he could be held responsible if something goes wrong. But he says that is part of pushing the public service to do better.

“The only way to avoid ever making any mistakes is to do nothing,” he said.

Source: Canadian Heritage shows how public service seeks to foster innovation – The Globe and Mail

The young and the restless: Liberals look to infuse public service with new blood

Good overview by Kathryn May of the demographics of the public service and recruitment challenge:

Knowing the talent pool of the public service will need to be renewed to push forward its agenda, the Liberal government is trying to figure out how to attract more young people to a sector where the average age of a new hire is pushing 40.

The rising age of new recruits was flagged for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who is also the minister of youth, as an “area in need of increased attention.”

According to Privy Council Office briefing documents, the average age of new hires has hit 37, and few young people are being hired. Once hired, however, people stay in the public service until they retire at about age 60.

“Sustained efforts are needed to recruit young people and to attract highly skilled professionals from other sectors, especially those with the skill sets needed for the future work of the public service,” say the briefing documents.

The average age of entry into the public service has been creeping up, rather than decreasing, as more and more jobs require university degrees. A decade ago, the average age of a new hire was 36 — 35 for women and 36 for men.

The public service is an older workforce compared with the private sector. It emerged out of the restraints of the Conservative era smaller and slightly older. Today, it is largely middle-aged, with more than 60 per cent of the employees between 35 and 54, and the largest concentration huddled between 40 and 54.

Over the past five years, the number of bureaucrats under 35 decreased and those over 50 increased. The average age is now 45, and more than half have worked in the public service between five and 14 years.

It’s an issue Treasury Board President Scott Brison quickly seized upon when he made a pitch last month at the World Economic Forum in Davos to the millennial generation — those under 35 — to work in government.

In an interview, Brison signalled he is reviewing how to tackle the problem to give millennials the “chance to make a difference in the future of the country.

“The complexity of decisions today is greater than it has ever been in the history of government or democracy, and now more than ever at any point in our history we need bright, talented people in government,” he said.

“And we also have the most talented, most educated, and most globally connected generation. So it seems pretty obvious to me that we need to find ways to bring millennials into these key decision-making roles in government.”

The public service never has a problem attracting people, especially when the economy slows. The big challenges are getting people with the right skills and keeping them. Young people tend to see the public service as a slow, rules-bound hierarchy with little tolerance for risk or creativity. It has countered with campaigns over the years, including one branding itself as the “employer of a thousand opportunities.”

But Brison said the image of the public service took a major beating under the Conservatives, which mistrusted public servants and “gratuitously took pot shots at public servants whenever they had the chance”

“They toxified relations with the public which was incredibly stupid given governments need the engagement of public servants to implement their agenda … We have a progressive agenda and need a motivated public service. We recognize the importance of renewing talent.”

Linda Duxbury, professor at Carleton University’s Sprott School of Business, said Brison has every reason to be worried. After a decade of being “beaten down by the Conservatives the word public service has a bad connotation.”

The big attraction, she said, for many workers in their 30s is not the work as much as job security, pensions and benefits — reinforcing a long-standing characterization of public servants who join for the benefits and stay for the pensions.

But Duxbury said the problem is that employees attracted by such “extrinsic motivators” don’t tend to be the entrepreneurial, creative thinkers and innovators the government wants to shake up the way work is done and services are delivered.

“I would like to see what is attracting them to the public service at age 37,” said Duxbury. “This isn’t just an age issue but who is attracted by what you have to offer, and if what you have to offer are extrinsic motivators like a good pension and benefits, those may not be the people you want.”

The Public Service Commission in its 2013-14 report noted the number and proportion of employees under age 35 had declined four years in a row, even though the number of new hires from this group increased. At last count, they represent 17 per cent of all permanent employees after peaking at 21.4 per cent in 2010.

At the same time, the number of people leaving or retiring outnumbered those coming into the public service. The commission warned this gap could have “implications for the renewal and future composition of the public service.”

By the Numbers: Composition of the Public Service

  • 37: average age of new hires
  • 45: average age of public servants
  • 50.4: average age of executives
  • 50: percentage with 5 to 14 years experience
  • 22: percentage with 15 to 25 years experience
  • 58: average retirement age
  • 36: percentage of baby boomers in public service workforce
  • 21: percentage of millennials in the public service
  • 257,000: number of employees in public service
  • 87: percentage of employees who are permanent or indeterminate employees
  • 13: percentage of employees who are term, casual and student employees
  • 55: percentage of employees who are women
  • 42: percentage of public servants working in National Capital Region

Source: The young and the restless: Liberals look to infuse public service with new blood | Ottawa Citizen

Report calls for a ‘humanized’ public service

A good initiative of the previous government:

The report, which recommends implementing the Mental Health Commission’s national psychological standard across government, concludes that the way the public service is managed must shift from an “output-focused environment to one that is more people-focused.”

The recommendations revolve around fixes in key areas: leadership, engagement, education on mental health, training and workplace practices, communication, and promotion and accountability.

“We must humanize the workplace … A more people-focused environment contributes to a high-quality federal public service (and) compassion is fundamental to this shift,” said the report.

Treasury Board President Scott Brison said the report shows the government and unions have “common ground” where they can work together.

“Humanizing is consistent with our government agenda to create a culture of respect for the public service,” said Brison.

“Mental health is part of that, ensuring public servants have a healthy workplace,” he said. “It is the right thing and healthy workplaces are more productive.”

The task force grew out of the bargaining demand PSAC tabled nearly a year ago. It asked the government to adopt the Mental Health Commission’s national psychological standard across government and enshrine it in all collective agreements.

Clement took the extraordinary step of taking the proposal off the table, and setting up a task force to examine the standard and identify the toxic factors in the workplace that are making workers sick.

“The unions deserve credit … and I give full marks to Tony Clement for having helped to initiate this,” said Brison. “I told the unions that it this is just the beginning.”

Brison stressed the committee’s work won’t be used as a bargaining chip in “any way, shape or form” when Treasury Board negotiators and the 18 unions resume collective bargaining on sick leave in January.

The cost of mental illness, from absenteeism to productivity, has been on the government’s radar for the past decade, with mental health claims accounting for 47 per cent of all disability claims.

The 2014 public service survey found employees’ engagement was falling and one in five said they were harassed, mostly by co-workers or bosses.  Studies of executives and their health showed similar trends.

Last year, 40 per cent of all calls to the hotline for the Employee Assistance Program were about mental health.

Source: Report calls for a ‘humanized’ public service | Ottawa Citizen