Public servants handcuffed by unreasonable expectations of political neutrality

Or are they unreasonable?

Certainly from my time in government, serving both Liberal and Conservative governments, I believe neutrality essential to government trust in public servants.

Certainly, Amy Kishek expresses valid observations regarding neutrality and how difficult neutrality is. But labelling it completely as a hoax is equally extreme.

Readers may know how I explored the issue in Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias: Resetting Citizenship and Multiculturalism, recounting the challenge of being confronted my biases and preconceptions faced with the challenge of different beliefs and ideology under the Conservatives.

At senior levels (EX and above), really hard to see how providing advice to a Minister while having public positions or learnings cannot harm government trust in the public service.

Price to pay if one wants to rise in the ranks. Post-retirement, of course, one has greater latitude (but I would argue not without limitation).

At lower levels, less of an issue:

On June 25, Blacklock’s Reporter broke a story that a prominent quasi-partisan Twitter personality, Neil Waytowich (a.k.a. “Neil Before Zod” on Twitter), was actually a former public service worker by day and anonymous Twitter political commentator and podcaster by night. Hot on the trail were MPs who quoted the public service code of conduct on political activities, paying no mind to the state of the law and workers’ rights to freedom of expression.

As we near the federal election many public service workers are surely already wondering whether they can play any part in our democratic system, beyond simply casting a hidden ballot.

According to the Public Service Employment Act, an employee can “engage in any political activity so long as it does not impair, or is not perceived as impairing, the employee’s ability to perform his or her duties in a politically impartial manner.” For its part, the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that a public service workers’ right to freedom of expression under section 2(b) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms must be balanced against their duty of loyalty to their employer, the government of Canada. There was a time when, indeed, all public service workers were banned from political activity, a law that was found to be unconstitutional. The court ruled that the government must take into account that the need for impartiality, or its appearance, varies depending on the type of work being performed and the employee’s relative role, level, or importance in the public service.

That balancing act is the crux of this issue. Unfortunately, despite numerous decisions on the question, the Public Service Commission (PSC) continues to actively dissuade public service workers from expressing their political views and exercising their political rights outside of work, via information spread through its online tools, and education materials, as well as in their application of the legislation. Not only has this infringed on the rights of workers, it has had a chilling effect on all employees who self-police to avoid attracting the ire of the PSC. 

“Politics” is a dirty word in the federal public service, and yet it is everywhere.

We need to unpack the notion of what it means to be politically engaged, and ensure that loyalty to the employer, although an integral aspect of any employment relationship, does not override an individual’s right to express themselves, and in particular where to do so is a necessary part of expressing and protecting one’s identity.

Politics is everywhere, and everything is political. Neutrality itself is a hoax. Our experiences, our beliefs, and how we live in the world are political, and they are also politicized without our say. Dammit, even believing in climate change is political, and considered highly partisan by some.

The politics of existing are especially obvious to young people, women, Black, Indigenous, and racialized people, persons with disabilities, religious minorities, and members of LBGTQ2+ communities whose identities and existence are under constant attack in partisan and nonpartisan political spheres alike.

Even those for whom the status quo is peachy keen are engaged in a political act or belief when they uphold existing practices, or even in going about their daily life—say, by unapologetically benefiting from property rights on unceded Indigenous land. Infringements on freedom of expression may then have a disproportionate effect on members of equity-seeking groups.

Yet somehow public service workers are expected to suddenly become apolitical once those golden handcuffs are on.

Showing up at the Women’s March, attended by partisan political leaders, holding a sign with a political slogan, shouldn’t be cause for investigation or discipline. Neither should door-knocking with a political candidate as a volunteer on one’s down time. Nor writing a letter to the editor about a policy issue where one signs the letter without mention of their job in the public service. These are all legitimate and protected forms of expression. In fact, most public service workers, whose work is “completely divorced from the exercise of any discretion that could be in any manner affected by political considerations,” to use the language of the Supreme Court of Canada, would be permitted to engage in these activities based on the legal test set out by the court.

Sadly, most public service workers don’t know this.

The code of conduct and false notions of the “political” are weaponized to silence public service workers, and chill freedom of expression. This has never been easier to do than with social media, where a comment or an Instagram photo can turn into a complaint very quickly.

Why then all the fear-mongering from the PSC to NDP and Conservative MPs alike?

To completely disregard workers’ fundamental right to freedom of expression in favour of a model of subservience to their employer is an injury to the dignity of workers who keep our society running everyday—from the guarding our coasts, inspecting our food, issuing our employment insurance, preserving our parks, the list goes on—and all in the face of their own pay issues and workplace struggles.

Source: Public servants handcuffed by unreasonable expectations of political neutrality

Black civil servants passed over for promotions, says Independent MP

Census data for public servants, broken down by visible minority group, can be seen in the above chart. Compared to the population, Black Canadians are slightly over-represented at the federal and provincial levels.

However, median income data indicates that these tend to occupy lower-paid positions than other visible minority groups.

Part of this may be explained by the overall lower university graduation rates of Black Canadians compared to other groups in addition to the factors mention by MP Celina Caesar-Chavannes.

I haven’t recently done a recent breakdown of EX positions (ADMS EX4-5, DGs and Directors, EX1-3), so hard to comment on her statement regarding any “thinning out” at the ADM level:

Qualified black Canadians are being passed over for promotions to senior positions in the federal government due to systemic racial barriers, says Independent MP Celina Caesar-Chavannes.

Caesar-Chavannes, who is not running for re-election in October, used her final act in the House of Commons last week to shine a light on what she says is discrimination in the civil service.

She says in all of Canada’s history, no black person has been appointed as a federal deputy minister, the bureaucratic head of a department. There has also been a “thinning out” of visible minorities at the assistant-deputy-minister level, she said.

That’s why she tabled a private member’s bill that would require the Canadian Human Rights Commission to more specifically report annually on the progress — or lack thereof — of government’s efforts to promote black Canadians and other visible minorities to more senior positions within the federal ranks.

“It saddens me to know that this is the current state of our federal system,” she said in an interview.

She has heard from current and former civil servants who say they have the qualifications to be promoted, but report being passed over for more senior jobs in favour of candidates they say were sometimes less qualified.

One man she spoke with had a master’s degree, a chartered professional accountant certification and spoke French, English and German — and yet he couldn’t get promoted to a managerial position.

“They present their credentials to me and they’re frustrated,” Caesar-Chavannes said.

“A lot of others have multiple degrees, speak French and English, are dedicated public servants and they’re not able to get ahead. And I think there’s a general sense of frustration.”

Caesar-Chavannes had previously tried to get the House of Commons to unanimously adopt a motion asking the government to study barriers facing black federal employees and to seek to understand their lived experiences. The motion also called on the government to consider implementing equity and anti-racism training for all federal employees.

The motion did not receive the necessary support and it was not adopted.

Her subsequent private member’s bill, which was seconded by Independent MP Jody Wilson-Raybould — like Caesar-Chavannes, a former Liberal — streamlined the request to simply call for the Human Rights Commission to provide an annual report to the minister on the progress made in “dismantling systemic barriers that prevent members of visible minorities from being promoted within the federal government.”

The bill will die on the order paper once the election writ is dropped, as will any other bills left unpassed. But she hopes another MP will take up the cause and reintroduce it when Parliament convenes after the election.

“Let’s ensure that the largest employer in the country leads by example and sets the tone for other organizations to follow suit,” she said.

“Let’s establish some metrics, some criteria by which we can measure ourselves such that our federal public system is reflected, at all levels of management, of the population we serve.”

The Human Rights Commission is mandated to look broadly at the representation of visible minorities in federally regulated workplaces, but said in its recent annual report it finds this term in the Employment Equity Act antiquated.

It has recently employed new auditing tools to better understand why women, Indigenous people, people with disabilities and racialized groups still face barriers to achieving equal representation in the federal workforce. Caesar-Chavannes says more data should be gathered to get a clearer picture of the different experiences of marginalized groups.

Farees Nathoo, a spokesperson for Treasury Board President Joyce Murray, said the government believes Canadians are best served by a public service that reflects the country’s diversity, which is why a “centre for diversity and inclusion” within the public service was created, as was a joint union-management task force on diversity and inclusion. The Treasury Board oversees the federal public service as a workforce.

“As Minister Murray noted in her recent meeting with the federal black employees caucus, more work needs to be done to have a public service that looks like Canada,” Nathoo said.

Canadian Heritage and Multiculturalism Minister Pablo Rodriguez’s spokesman Simon Ross acknowledged that many Canadians still face racism and discrimination, including anti-black racism.

Rodriguez is to launch a new national anti-racism strategy on Tuesday “because we refuse to turn a blind eye and pretend that racism and discrimination do not exist in Canada,” Ross said.

Source: Black civil servants passed over for promotions, says Independent MP

The Liberal government wants to pin more medals on bureaucrats

This article does beg the question of whether this is a real issue compared to other under-representation. While the public service initiative is with respect to the wide range of awards under the Governor General, I have looked at Order of Canada recipients.

Under the previous government, there were efforts to improve representation with respect to regional representation (e.g., under-representation in the West, over-representation in Ontario and Quebec) and under-representation of the business community (see my earlier The Order of Canada and diversity).

Recently, it appears that Indigenous representation has increased substantially, and is now greater than their percentage of Canada’s population. Visible minorities, reflecting in large part their relatively newer presence in Canada, but also likely some network effects of not visible minorities, remain under-represented. And women’s representation seems to have plateaued at about one-third with a few exceptions.

And, as the article correctly points out, there are already a considerable number of existing public service awards, both general and department specific:

The Liberal government wants to see more medals pinned on the chests of public servants, and so has established a kind of quota system to make sure they’re nominated more frequently.

Michael Wernick, clerk of the Privy Council and Canada’s top public servant, has pressed all federal departments to submit the names of at least five of their employees each year to the Governor General’s office for various awards.

“We encourage you to task the senior managers responsible for employee recognition within your department to begin nominating at least five public servants per year for Canadian honours,” says a letter co-signed by Wernick and Stephen Wallace, then-secretary to the Governor General.

The fall 2017 missive to deputy ministers, obtained by CBC News under the Access to Information Act, was followed up last year directly by the Governor General’s office to ensure departments were co-operating.

“We look forward to hearing about your department’s strategy to recognize deserving individuals in your department whose achievements, contributions or accomplishments have made a difference or have had a positive impact on your organization,” says an email from Sylvie Barsalou, administrative officer with the Chancellery of Honours.

The Liberal government initiative was triggered by an internal assessment that concluded public servants historically have been “underrepresented” within the Canadian Honours System, which includes a broad range of medals and decorations.

“[W]e are taking steps towards reversing this phenomenon,” says the Wernick-Wallace letter.

Called ‘underrepresented’

A spokesperson for the Governor General cited statistics for the Order of Canada, one of the Government of Canada’s highest honours, to support the claim that public servants are underrepresented.

“Between 1976 and 2018, people whose contributions were considered ‘public service’ made up, on average, 2.4% of annual appointments to the Order of Canada,” Sara Regnier-McKellar said in an email.

“Over this time period, public servants comprised an average of 5.9% of Canada’s employed labour force each year.”

The phrases “public service” and “public servants” in this context, she said, refer to those working in all kinds of governance and government, including Indigenous governments and municipal, provincial and federal governments.

The impact of the new nominating initiative is unclear. Both the Governor General’s office and the Privy Council Office (PCO) say they are not counting nominations submitted by federal departments.

“We do not monitor or track nominations and have no plans to do so,” said PCO spokesperson Stephane Shank.

At least one department – Innovation, Science and Economic Development – formally launched the PCO initiative internally on Aug. 15, 2018, says a briefing note to the deputy minister.

“It is anticipated that most nominations will be submitted for the Meritorious Service Decorations,” says the note, also obtained under the Access to Information Act.

Civilians in silver

Civilian versions of the Meritorious Service Decoration – either a service cross or a medal, both of silver – were introduced in 1991, complementing a military variant. A formal nomination requires the names of three people as references, as well as a full description of the reasons for making the award.

More than 800 civilian service crosses and medals have been awarded since 1991 — about 28 each year.

The Wernick-Wallace letter also says departments might consider nominating their employees for the Order of Canada. Wernick himself sits on the committee that vets such nominations.

There’s no shortage of other awards specifically reserved for federal public servants. The annual Public Service Award of Excellence, for example, recognizes five categories, including “outstanding career.” There were 123 recipients last year (131 in 2017); each one receives a medal.

And new awards are being added each year. The newly created Parliamentary Protective Service, which has provided security on Parliament Hill since June 23, 2015, recently launched an awards program involving gifts such as jewellery, art and show tickets to recognize excellence, long service and retirements.

Canada’s new information commissioner, Caroline Maynard, also created a new award last year for access-to-information officers, selecting two employees (at the Canada Revenue Agency and the Canada Border Services Agency) as the inaugural recipients.

The Canadian Press reported in 2013 that the Treasury Board of Canada was spending an average of more than $100,000 a year on gifts and prizes for public servants in that department.

The Governor General’s office alone is responsible for 13 categories of national awards, and lists a total of 413,526 people in its database of previous and current recipients.

ICYMI: Harper’s dissatisfied public servant more myth than reality, new research shows

Interesting study, using the Public Service Employee surveys that include all government core public administration employees (core public administration and participating agencies: Participating departments and agencies).

The strength of this study lies in its coverage of all employees, but the weakness lies in that it aggregates all their views together (at least based on this article) rather than breaking them down by employee group, organization etc.

A more interesting article would be to contrast the survey results of executives, generally with more exposure to the political level, and other employees, with less, along with departmental comparisons broken down similarly:

The portrait of the disgruntled public servant, beaten down by a poisonous workplace culture and years of disregard under Stephen Harper’s Conservative government is oft-painted — and, generally speaking, pretty inaccurate, according to a research article published Dec. 17 in Public Personnel Management, an academic journal for human resource and public sector executives.

While job satisfaction among federal bureaucrats decreased slightly during Harper’s time as prime minister, it remained “quite high” overall, writes Jocelyn McGrandle, the article’s author and a PhD candidate at Concordia University. McGrandle based her findings on data from the federal government’s 2008, 2011 and 2014 Public Service Employee Surveys.

“Over the past five years in the Canadian political landscape, there have been numerous calls for rejuvenating the federal public service due to toxic work cultures and a general disrespect for public servants,” McGrandle wrote. “Much of this was directed at the Conservative government under Stephen Harper.”

So strong was this outrage that the Public Service Alliance of Canada rolled out an anti-Harper campaign prior to the 2015 federal election, McGrandle pointed out. Then-Liberal leader Justin Trudeau also penned a letter to public servants promising a new era of trust and respect for the bureaucracy, if elected.

And let’s not forget “Harperman,” the 2015 protest song crafted by Environment Canada scientist Tony Turner that called for Harper’s ousting and led to Turner’s suspension from his job.

“2015 was such an interesting election with the public service very clearly coming out, not in favour of a particular party, but certainly against one party,” said McGrandle in an interview, when asked to explain her desire to research this particular topic. “That was sort of my puzzle: Is the public service that dissatisfied? Or is this a bit of political posturing?”

Having analyzed the data, she’s inclined to believe the latter.

“Much of the lack of satisfaction seems to be mostly political rhetoric,” McGrandle concludes in her article. While overall job satisfaction — ranked by survey respondents in the public service on a five-point scale — declined from an average of 4.14 to 4.05 between 2008 and 2014, “satisfaction, even at its lowest point in 2014, still remains relatively high.”

The significance of this finding goes beyond debunking a popular political mythology, according to McGrandle. It also underscores the importance of surveys like the triennial PSE survey, which the government committed to conducting more frequently starting in 2018.

“These employee surveys … can be used to measure how public servants actually feel, not how they are told they should feel during the course of an election.”

Paul Wilson, an associate professor in Carleton University’s political management program, says he’s not surprised by the result of McGrandle’s research. Not only does it align with some of the findings of his own work on a related subject — he co-authored a book chapter that looked at the relationship between political staffers and public servants under Harper — but it reflects what he witnessed firsthand as director of policy in the prime minister’s office from 2009 to 2011.

While certain personalities and departments in the public service may have clashed with Harper’s government — it’s hard to forget the affectionate mobbing of newly-elected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau by foreign affairs officials — Wilson said relations between both parties were “generally good.”

He’s readily admits he’s far from an unbiased observer but offered his account of a relationship about which many have speculated but few experienced directly.

“One criticism I heard about prime minister Harper was that he didn’t listen to the public service.”

In fact, said Wilson, Harper read every single memo that came his way, cover to cover.

“He wanted advice from the public service, he carefully considered the advice from the public service, and then he made a decision on things — and sometimes he agreed, and sometimes he didn’t.”

“I think that was a significant thing for the public service, to know that they could always get information to the prime minister and that he would always take it seriously.”

Wilson also noted that direct interactions between the low- and mid-level bureaucrats who make up the majority of the public service and their political leaders are limited.

“Most public servants don’t interact with the political types — they don’t meet the minister, they don’t meet the political staff … so most people know the political side through what they read in the media and things filtering down from people who are engaging directly.”

The extent to which political leadership actually has an impact on job satisfaction among public servants was not a relationship McGrandle was able to investigate directly in her research for the article, as it wasn’t asked about on the Public Service Employee Survey.

“I think there’s certainly an argument for looking at that,” she said. “How satisfied are public service employees, does it really have to do with who is in power? And maybe their own political leanings, or just how that party or leader happens to treat the public service?”

Further, McGrandle wasn’t able to measure pre-Harper job satisfaction as the question she used to measure the variable wasn’t asked on the 2005 PSES. Nor has she had a chance to look at the results of the 2017 PSES, the first conducted under the current Liberal government.

“Maybe we saw a decrease or an increase under Justin Trudeau, I have no idea.”

In her article, McGrandle did identify a number of variables most likely to have the largest impact on levels of job satisfaction among Canadian federal public servants, from a list of personal characteristics (age, gender, level of education, visible minority status), job characteristics (job fit with skills, interests, levels of training and opportunities for promotion), and organizational characteristics (satisfaction with superiors and positive relationships with coworkers).

Exploring this area is important for policy-makers, she reasoned, given the potential link between improved job satisfaction, increases in organizational performance, and lowered costs that can result from absenteeism and employee turnover.

Wilson also pointed out that satisfied bureaucrats are an important recruitment tool.

“We want to be able to recruit excellent people into the public service, and if people feel that it’s a dead end, or that they aren’t listened to, then who’s going to want to work there?”

McGrandle found that the strongest determinant of job satisfaction was job fit with the respondents’ interests. She hypothesized that “employees reporting a higher level of job fit with interests will report higher levels of job satisfaction,” and was proved correct.

The second strongest determinant of job satisfaction was the respondents’ view of their relationship with their supervisor, followed by their relationships with coworkers and job fit with their skills. Positive views towards all three were associated with increased job satisfaction.

If the public service were to act on these findings with the goal of improving employee job satisfaction, McGrandle said, that could look like ensuring an individual’s interests as well as their skills match with the job they’re applying for during the hiring process, as well as fostering healthy employee-employee and employee-superior relationships.

While McGrandle said that overall, she was happy with the variables she was able to examine in her research, she wasn’t able to investigate specifically how salary might affect job satisfaction. She also noted that it’s possible that short-term factors like Phoenix-induced disruptions in pay could affect a public servant’s satisfaction with his or her job, and influence the results of more recent PS employee surveys.

Source: Harper’s dissatisfied public servant more myth than reality, new research shows

Sharp increase in number of government employees fired for misconduct, incompetence

Although from a small base, some progress:

The number of federal public servants fired for misconduct or incompetence has risen sharply in recent years, according to figures obtained by CBC News.

The government sacked 1,316 full-time public servants between 2005/06 and 2015/16 — 726 of them for misconduct and 590 for incompetence or incapacity.

An additional 862 were let go before they finished their probation.

While it’s a small percentage of the more than 260,000 people who work in federal government departments, the number of people being fired for incompetence or misconduct has been on the rise.

The number of public servants who lost their jobs for misconduct rose 67 per cent, from 55 in 2005/06 to 92 in 2015/16, the last year for which figures were available from Treasury Board.

The number of people fired for incompetence has also increased. In 2005/06 the government fired 49 people for incompetence or incapacity. In 2015/16 that number rose to 77 — a 57 per cent jump.

Union leaders say the number of people fired is just the tip of the iceberg. Most federal public servants who are disciplined face lesser sanctions, such as reprimands or suspensions.

Neither unions nor the Treasury Board can say exactly how many federal government employees have been disciplined for misconduct or incompetence without being fired.

Chris Aylward is president of the largest public service union, the Public Service Alliance of Canada. He said the number of public servants fired each year is only a fraction of the number of those who are disciplined.

“That’s certainly just the tip of the iceberg. Certainly there’s a lot more public sector workers, I would think, being investigated and being disciplined but at a lower level — either written reprimands or oral reprimands.”

Experts say one reason for the jump in the number of people being fired is a change that went into effect in 2014 in the way the government tracks the performance of its employees.

Nick Giannakoulis, vice-president of the Canadian Association of Professional Employees (CAPE), said his union has noticed an increase in the number of public servants being fired in the past two years — largely as a result of that new management system.

“Now, from an infrastructure perspective in terms of how PSPM (public service performance management) is managed electronically within departments, that is a much tighter process. So there’s not as much latitude as there once may have been.”

Former Conservative Treasury Board president Tony Clement says technology is making it easier for the government to catch bad behaviour by public servants.

Conservative MP Tony Clement, who was president of the Treasury Board when the change went into effect, said the push for the new performance management system came from top public servants, not from cabinet.

“It was, I believe, in a sense of continuous improvement, the public service — particularly at the senior management levels — wanted to root out people who were taking advantage of taxpayers or taking advantage of their positions or involved in some other form of malfeasance.”

Changes in technology are also playing a role, Clement said.

“If there’s somebody who is using time for a moonlighting job or is stalking someone — all of this stuff is now online or can be found on the e-mail servers. So, if you have a reasonable apprehension that somebody might be involved in malfeasance, there are ways to trace this now that weren’t there before.”

In June, the head of the public service, Privy Council Clerk Michael Wernick, sparked controversy when he complained that it was too hard to fire people who work for the federal government.

Testifying before the House of Commons Public Accounts committee looking in the Phoenix payroll scandal, Wernick said that deputy ministers have “precarious employment” with no job security or formal employment contracts, but it is difficult to dismiss people at other levels.

“Below the level of deputy ministers, if you’re covered by the Public Service Employment Act, then you have very strong job security. You can only be terminated for cause, which is a legal test.

“It is extremely difficult to fire people in the public service for poor conduct or poor performance.”

Wernick’s comments angered public service union heads like Aylward, whose members are still struggling with the error-plagued Phoenix payroll system.

“If he wants to start firing public servants, maybe he should start with the ones who were responsible for implementing Phoenix,” he said.

It can take months, if not years, for the government to fire someone — particularly if it’s a case of incompetence rather than misconduct.

Giannakoulis said before a government employee can be fired, their manager has to first do a performance evaluation documenting problems with their performance. They then have to draft an action plan to help an employee and to give the employee a chance to improve or work on the problems that were identified.

“It depends, really, on the complexity of a matter,” he explained. “Generally, it’s not something that can be done overnight. They do have to follow due process, natural justice. So sometimes it could take the better part of six months to a year, depending on the circumstances.”

Even then, the employee and the union can fight the dismissal.

“In some instances they are well documented cases,” said Giannakoulis. “In other instances, the employer often doesn’t do a good job in terms of following their own internal process.”

Debi Daviau, president of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada, said it’s important for the government to have to demonstrate cause before firing someone for not being able to do the job.

“It takes about a year if you want to do it right.”

In cases of misconduct, however, it can happen much faster, she said.

“If it’s something like an employee has been caught with child pornography on their computer, it doesn’t take a year to demonstrate cause. It can happen overnight.”

Michel Vermette is the chief executive officer of APEX, which represents public service executives. He said the goal of the performance management system is to improve the performance of employees.

However, the increase in the number of public servants being fired demonstrates that the government does have the tools to get rid of employees when other measures don’t work.

Those tools aren’t always used, he said.

“It is onerous. You have to document it. You have to have those discussions. You have to offer the opportunity to the employee (to improve).”

Source: Sharp increase in number of government employees fired for misconduct, incompetence

Ontario puts moratorium on suspending racialized public servants

Strong step:

The province has put a moratorium on suspending racialized public servants while it reviews how it processes complaints on racial discrimination.

The announcement came a day after more than 20 Black employees, mostly women, brought their concerns directly to Michael Coteau, Ontario’s minister of children and youth services, who is also in charge of the province’s anti-racism initiatives.

At a meeting Jan. 18, past and present public servants said they suffered racial harassment and faced reprisal when making complaints.

Coteau heard stories from Black employees who said their roles were steadily diminished despite years of positive reviews. Others had trained new staff, only to see those new employees be given higher, more lucrative positions. Some said their complaints about racial discrimination were mishandled. A majority of the participants said they had been suspended, demoted or fired while the staffers they had complained about faced no repercussions.

“When I started at the ministry, I was confused for the hired help,” Hentrose Nelson, who has worked in the public service since 2004, told Coteau. Nelson was one of the organizers of the meeting and she spoke about her experience with the complaints and suspension process.

Nelson is also a plaintiff in a lawsuit against provincial Citizenship and Immigration Minister Laura Albanese, alleging systemic racism in the department.

None of the accusations has been tested in court.

Boafoa Kwamena, a spokesperson for the Ontario Public Service — which encompasses over 60,000 employees in the province’s ministries, agencies and Crown corporations — would not comment on specific complaints. She also declined to answer Metro’s questions about what prompted the moratorium or how long it will last, saying in an email this week only that it is in place pending the review of existing policies and procedures.

Where there is a clear case of wrongdoing such as theft or violence against another staff member, the moratorium does not apply as those cases are reviewed by the province’s Public Service Commission.

“Creating a safe, inclusive and respectful environment for everyone in the OPS is a top priority,” Kwamena wrote in an email.

She added that officials are working with the Black OPS Network, an internal employee network, on a three-point plan. It includes an independent third-party review of complex cases; an independent review of the Workplace Discrimination and Harassment Prevention policy with an anti-racism methodology; and developing an anti-racism policy. Attendees of the January meeting also called for these actions.

The review of the complaints process is intended to start by this March. A private sector lawyer will manage the review of complex cases. The OPS has declined to name the lawyer until a contract has been finalized.

“This is really something that we wanted to do for other Black women,” explained Jean-Marie Dixon, who has worked as a lawyer in the civil service.

Dixon says the action employees are taking now is for future generations. She wants to see people who have engaged in racism and discrimination fired as well as more funding and support for Black women going through a grievance, complaint or lawsuit.

Nelson welcomes the news of the moratorium and echoes the hope for more change to come.

“It’s not about our struggle only,” she said in an interview following the announcement. “It’s a systemic beast which we are trying to fight. It’s a huge win.”

via Ontario puts moratorium on suspending racialized public servants | Toronto Star

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No sign of bias against government job-seekers with ethnic-sounding names, pilot project finds

Given the overall employment equity numbers, and how representation at both the all employee and executive levels has continued to increase, not overly surprising but nevertheless helpful to have tested for bias:

Hiding ethnic-sounding names from resumes has no real bearing on who’s picked from the pile of applications for jobs in the federal public service, according to a pilot project on blind hiring.

A report released Tuesday by the Public Service Commission shows visible minorities were short-listed at roughly the same rate through a name-blind recruitment process (46 per cent) as through a traditional process (47 per cent).

“For visible minorities, results indicated no significant effect on the screening decisions of applications,” the report concludes.

The federal government launched the name-blind hiring pilot project last April to reduce bias in recruitment based on the names and ethnic origins of potential candidates.

In a blog post today, Treasury Board president Scott Brison said the pilot project aimed to see if unconscious bias was undermining hiring processes and the government’s efforts to build a more diverse public service.

He called the pilot “ground-breaking” and says it’s in line with the government’s focus on innovation and experimentation.

“The project did not uncover bias, but the findings do contribute to a growing body of knowledge,” he wrote.

“They provide us with insights to further explore in our steadfast support of diversity and inclusion in the public service; two critical characteristics of an energized, innovative and effective workforce, able to meet the demands of our ever-changing world.”

17 departments participated

The pilot project included 17 departments and 27 external hiring processes between April and October 2017. It had a sample of 2,226 applicants, including 685 members of visible minorities (just under 31 per cent.)

Jobs were in the scientific and professional, administrative and foreign service, technical and administrative support, and operational fields.

Applications in the blind process had the name, citizenship, country of origin, mailing address, spoken languages, references to religion, and names of educational institutions removed. The objective was to determine if applicants with ethnic-sounding names were disadvantaged in the screening process.

While the findings did not reveal any bias, the report notes that reviewers were aware they were participating in the blind recruitment project, and that “this awareness could have potentially affected their assessment.”

Because the number of candidates who self-declared as Indigenous (73, or three per cent), or disabled (102, or five per cent,) was small, the analysis was limited to visible minorities.

Among the participating departments were National Defence; Natural Resources; Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship; Global Affairs, the RCMP and Statistics Canada.

Similar studies

The report notes other studies on blind hiring have had mixed results.

A 2011 study in the Australian Public Service found that de-identifying applications at the short-listing stage did not appear to help promote diversity.

“In fact, when all candidate’s information was made available, reviewers discriminated in favour of female and visible minority candidates,” the report reads.

Benefits of name-blind recruitment may be partly dependent on the context of the organization, including whether discrimination is present in the hiring process and whether the organization has policies aimed at improving diversity.

In October 2015, the U.K. Civil Service implemented name-blind recruitment to reduce unconscious bias and boost diversity, but no systematic review of the impact has been carried out yet.

via No sign of bias against government job-seekers with ethnic-sounding names, pilot project finds – Politics – CBC News

‘Sunshine’ approach to diversity in federal public service working, [Policy Options] study says

Toronto Star article (excerpt) based on my Policy Options article, Diversity in the public service’s executive ranks:

An employment equity regimen that relies on public disclosure rather than a mandatory quota system seems to have improved representation from women, visible minorities and Indigenous people in the public service, according to a new study.

Women now make up 54.4 per cent of federal government employees while visible minorities and Indigenous people account for 14.5 per cent and 5.2 per cent of the workforce, respectively, according to the report by the Institute for Research on Public Policy.

The latest government statistics say 50.4 per cent of Canada’s population are women, 20 per cent are visible minorities, and 4 per cent are Indigenous. The Canadian government defines visible minorities as non-white people other than Indigenous people.

Under the Employment Equity Act, the federal government is obligated to report annually on diversity within the government and in the federally regulated private sector.

The growth has been steady for both women and Indigenous people, who started at 46.1 per cent and 2 per cent respectively in 1993 when data became available, said report author Andrew Griffith.

And the almost quadrupling of representation for visible minorities from a mere 3.8 per cent in 1993 was remarkable, he noted.

“The transparency, sunshine-law approach and the politics of shame has shifted the representation of public services by a remarkable extent,” said Griffith, a retired director-general with the Immigration Department and now an independent policy analyst specializing multiculturalism and diversity.

“The organic and uncontroversial approach may have worked better than a quota system that would have created more resistance and tension.” 

Source: ‘Sunshine’ approach to diversity in federal public service working, study says | Toronto Star

John Ivison: Concerns raised as Liberals consider tougher French requirements for public servants

Good discussion by Ivison of some of the issues involved:

Canada is blessed with a bilingual public service – a bureaucracy mildewed with caution and capable of stifling innovation in both official languages.

We are, in fact, better at stopping things happening than anyone – Canada is number one in the International Civil Service Effectiveness Index.

Yet, nearly five decades after the passage of the Official Languages Act, the public service is not bilingual enough, it seems.

A new report by two senior bureaucrats, commissioned by the Clerk of the Privy Council Michael Wernick, has found many public servants working in bilingual regions do not feel comfortable using their language of choice at work.

The solution, according to Patrick Borbey, president of the Public Service Commission of Canada, and senior bureaucrat, Matthew Mendelsohn, is to raise the linguistic requirements for those in supervisory roles.

This sounds fair enough at first blush – people should be able to work in the language in which they can express themselves most easily. The complaint is that even when French is used, it is symbolic – typically introduced at the beginning or end of a discussion but not sustained.

However, the backdrop to this is a public service that is already over-represented in executive positions by French speakers. Twenty three per cent of Canadians identify French as their first language but 26 per cent of Canada’s 250,000 federal public servants are French speakers and fully 31 per cent of those in executive positions primarily speak French.

Raising the linguistic bar is likely to exacerbate the dominance of French speakers in the upper echelons of the public service – sparking more resentment inside the bureaucracy, where many view the existing requirements as an insurmountable hurdle to promotion.

The proposal is to raise the requirement for French oral expression and comprehension from level B to level C – a test which only 35-45 per cent of employees currently pass.

The Liberals point out that the move toward superior proficiency levels is just one of 14 recommendations made by Borbey and Mendelsohn – and none are likely to be adopted in isolation.

The hope is that by increasing training levels across the public service, proficiency would improve at all levels.

“We’re committed to ensuring English and French speaking Canadians have equal opportunities of employment and advancement in federal institutions, including through better and more accessible language training necessary to achieve higher language standards,” said Jean-Luc Ferland, press secretary to Scott Brison, president of the Treasury Board.

He blamed the Conservative government for cutting training budgets and said any proposed changes would be made in consultation with public sector unions.

That goes without saying since the report recommends the government fund increased training by “re-purposing” the $800 bilingualism bonus paid to public servants who meet the language requirements for their position. That goes without saying since the report recommends the government fund increased training by “re-purposing” the $800 bilingualism bonus paid to public servants who meet the language requirements for their position. (Full disclosure: my spouse qualifies for the bonus.)

Killing the bonus could prove counter-productive – many bureaucrats maintain their skills with the express purpose of passing their five-yearly language test and qualifying for the $800 bonus.

One wonders if Justin Trudeau would be mobbed by joyful civil servants in the future, as he was at the Global Affairs building two years ago, if he claws back the bilingualism bonus?

André Picotte, acting president of the Canadian Association of Professional Employees, said his union has not been consulted on what would constitute a hefty pay-cut for his members.

“There are several ways we can foster bilingualism in the work place. But not by axing benefits in place since the 1970s,” he said.

He called on the government to increase the training budget so that it is accessible to junior bureaucrats, who find it difficult to cultivate the language skills necessary for jobs requiring bilingualism.

It’s a long-standing criticism that language training is offered too late in the career of public servants, and is often allocated through performance management processes, with the result some staff never have access to in-person language training.

The report’s recommendations may mitigate some of those shortcomings – for example, the requirement for each institution or department to create a “personal language training account” to enable all employees to receive a certain number of hours of language training.

But outside of Quebec and New Brunswick, just eight per cent of Canadians are bilingual – for the vast majority, ordering quiche lorraine taxes their linguistic ability.

If the Liberals adopt a policy that makes the federal public service even less representative of the Canadian public than it is already, they will stoke the impression that the West, in particular, is being frozen out.

Source: National Post

Diversity in the public service’s executive ranks

My latest, looking at how women, visible minorities and Indigenous people are represented in the highest ranks of the federal public service (DMs and EXs).

The following two charts summarize the historical evolution of how transparency and regular reporting have resulted in a more diverse public service at the overall and executive levels:

Source: Diversity in the public service’s executive ranks