Should it stay or go? Ottawa weighs the vaccine mandate for the public service

Will be interesting to see what government decides and whether it is applied consistently across departments and organizations:

The timing and pace of return-to-office plans for Canada’s public servants will hinge on what the federal government decides to do with its vaccine mandate for employees.

The federal Office of the Chief Human Resources Officer is leading a review into the six-month-old mandate, seeking input from unions and other stakeholders, but a decision will be based on the advice of public-health officials. The results of the review will be given to Treasury Board President Mona Fortier.

While the review had to start by the six-month anniversary on April 6, it is not a deadline for a decision.

Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, said public-health officials are at a “very important juncture” in reviewing COVID-19 policies such as mandates, which are shifting from “an emphasis on requirements to recommendations.”

But Opposition MPs repeatedly pressed Tam and Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos at the Commons health committee this week on when mandates for travellers and public servants will be lifted. Tam said the situation is unstable because of surges caused by the latest Omicron variant. She said Canada is taking a phased approach with the lifting of mandates that must be closely watched.

“I think this is just waiting to see what happens with that situation, ensuring the provinces are still able to cope as they release measures. They are just doing that at the moment and (with) that observation, the federal government makes a decision,” Tam told the committee.

Dany Richard, co-chair of the National Joint Council, a joint union and management committee, said the review is a political “hot potato” for the government. The factors to consider are many, including the risk of lifting the mandate too soon or appearing to be capitulating to the pressure of the February convoy protests.

“They might play it by ear, extend for three months, but if they remove it, we’ll have people saying ‘Hey, I don’t feel comfortable returning to work’ knowing they’ll be working with someone who is not vaccinated,” said Richard.

Last October, the government introduced a vaccination policy requiring all public servants and RCMP employees to prove they’re fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or face unpaid leave. Today, more than 98 per cent of public servants are fully vaccinated. Vaccine mandates are also imposed on employees of federally regulated industries.

Benjamin Piper, an employment lawyer at Goldblatt Partners, said keeping the mandate has become more difficult as provinces drop COVID-19 restrictions with recent declines in serious illness and death.

“There’s no doubt that the law would say that at some point, if the situation has improved sufficiently, this will no longer be justifiable. The question is when you reach that point,” Piper said.

Health officials say the two-dose vaccine mandates that initially proved effective in increasing vaccine uptake and limiting spread aren’t offering much protection in reducing transmission of Omicron.

“We know is that, with the Omicron variant, having two doses – the protection against infection and further transmission goes really low,” Tam said during a recent news conference. “You really need a third dose to provide augmentation against transmission. All that should be taken into account as the federal government looks at the policies going forward.”

But Tam suggested expanding the mandates to three doses isn’t in the cards now. It would difficult because eligibility for a booster varies by age. Also, people who have Omicron infection are asked to wait up to three months before getting the third dose.

The mandate review also comes as the more contagious COVID Omicron variant called BA.2 is on the rise and expected to create another surge in cases. The BA.2 sub-variant is on its way to becoming dominant in Ontario and across Canada. Although more transmissible than the original Omicron, it does not appear to be as severe.

All these factors are converging as the government tries to ease the workforce it sent home to work during the pandemic back to the workplace after two years.

The government is moving to a hybrid workforce, a mix of working at home and remotely. Departments are returning at their own pace and the progress is slow. Many don’t expect a major return until the fall but a new variant could change all that.

Many argue scrapping the vaccine mandate could derail imminent return-to-office plans. Many public servants want to continue working from home. Employees could resist returning to the workplace without a vaccination policy or assurance the employee next them is vaccinated.

Richard said unions would press for workers to work from home if safety fears rise. They are particularly concerned about departments that issued blanket orders for all employees to return to the office two or three days a week.

It is an open question whether the government can justify imposing the mandate and proof of vaccination on remote workers who don’t come to the office. Since the pandemic started, the government has hired hundreds of remote workers who don’t have an office to go to.

Meredith Thatcher, co-founder and workplace strategist at Agile Work Evolutions, argues keeping the mandate for now, along with social distancing and other precautions will help get people back to the office sooner.

“I think having a mandate in place will make people feel more comfortable. If I am told I have to return to the office three days a week and there’s no vaccine mandate, I may say, ‘I’m sorry; I have an immunocompromised person in my house. I’m not coming.’”

Lifting the mandate could also fuel a wave of internal churn as employees pick up and move to departments that will allow them to work remotely.

“I’m telling you there’s going to be a kind of Darwinian natural selection. My members have mobility. They can go work where they want and if telework is a big deal for them, they’ll go and work somewhere else,” said Richard.

Whether the mandate stays or goes, unions argue it’s time to stop punishing the unvaccinated and let them go back to work.

Greg Phillips, president of the Canadian Association of Professional Employees (CAPE), argued the 702 unvaccinated employees should be provided with accommodations such as remote work or daily testing and personal protective equipment if they have to go to the workplace.

“We feel that those that remain unvaccinated should be allowed to start working again and start earning a living again, and that if people are going into the office, they should probably be vaccinated,” Phillips said.

Phillips said the mandate was introduced as a temporary measure and the 98-per-cent vaccination rate shows it was a success. If extended, CAPE wants a plan that explains the rationale and outlines milestones.

“We want to know the game plan for when they see an end to the policy,” said Phillips. “Every sporting event has a time limit or a score limit. You always know when the game is going to be over.”

Source: Should it stay or go? Ottawa weighs the vaccine mandate for the public service

May: Never tweet. Social media is complicating the age-old neutrality of the public service

Easier in my time when the major worry was appearing in the press regarding a leaked document. Safer to never tweet on public policy issues and debates while in government, as tweets can give the perception that the public service is not neutral and impartial by the political level.

Public service did give the impression of not being impartial at times during the Harper government:

Social media is a part of life that is increasingly treacherous for Canada’s public servants, who may need better guidance to navigate their public and private lives online.

The blurring of that line was on display during the so-called freedom convoy protest that paralyzed downtown Ottawa. Some public servants took to social media to oppose or support the protest, sometimes with funds. Other public servants criticized colleagues who backed the protest as well as government mishandling of the nearly month-long blockade.

The storm of often anonymous allegations of misbehaviour on social media underlined an absence of transparency in the government agencies responsible for the ethical behaviour of bureaucrats. Neither the Treasury Board Secretariat nor the Office of Public Sector Integrity Commission were willing or able to say if any investigation or other action has been taken against any public servant.

On Reddit, members of public servant forums questioned the loyalty of federal workers who donated money to a convoy with an underlying mission to overthrow the government. Public servants on Twitter chided anyone who may have used government email to send a donation; accused them of ethical breaches. One suggested any of them with secret security clearances or higher should face a loyalty interview from CSIS, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.

Some demanded they be investigated or have security clearances revoked. Others called for dismissal. One senior bureaucrat told Policy Options public servants should be dismissed if they funded anything to do with removing the elected government to which they pledged loyalty.

Meanwhile, eyebrows were raised when Artur Wilczynski, an assistant deputy minister for diversity and inclusion at the Communications Security Establishment, tweeted a stinging criticism of Ottawa police’s handling of the protest. As a rule, senior bureaucrats, especially from such a top-secret department, keep such opinions to themselves. The CSE called Wilczynski’s criticism a personal opinion, noting it would be inappropriate for the CSE to comment on matters that don’t fall within its mandate.

It’s unclear whether any public servants are being investigated or disciplined for an ethical breach – or an illegal act.

Public servants typically have a lot of latitude to engage in political activities before risking an ethical breach. That changed when the Emergencies Act was invoked, making a peaceful protest an illegal occupation.

The Treasury Board Secretariat, the public service’s employer, knows some public servants supported the protesters, a spokesperson said. But it is unaware of whether any were warned or disciplined by their departments for any public support online or offline.

“We do not collect information about complaints or disciplinary actions against employees,” the Treasury Board said in an email.

Social media users suggested at least a dozen public servantswent to the Office of Public Sector Integrity Commission to report the possibility that a handful of bureaucrats were on a leaked list of convoy donors that was exposed when a hackers took down the crowdsourcing website GiveSendGo. The commission investigates wrongdoings that could pose serious threats to the integrity of the public service.

Commissioner Joe Friday refused to say whether he has received or is investigating any complaints. His office sees a spike in inquiries and disclosures when hot-button public issues dominate the news, he said.

Social media is here to stay. But how public servants use social media to balance their duty of loyalty to government with their right to free speech and engage in political activity seems to be an open question.

Public servants have rules for behavior at work and during off-hours, though the line between on and off the clock has increasingly blurred after two years of working at home. The rules come from the Public Service Employment Act, the Values and Ethics Code and the codes of conduct for each department.

But some argue there’s a grey zone now that partisan politics and political activities have moved online.

Jared Wesley, an associate professor of political science at the University of Alberta, said governments have not done a good job updating their ethics protocols, standards of practice and codes of conduct to manage social media. They amount to deputy ministers offering a rule-of-thumb “if your boss wouldn’t like, don’t post it,” he said.

Carleton University’s Amanda Clarke and employment lawyer Benjamin Piper examined the gap in guidance in a paper, A Legal Framework to Govern Online Political Expression by Public Servants. Clarke, a digital and public management expert and associate professor, said this uncertainty about the rules cuts two ways.

“What we can learn from this incident is that there is already a grey area and it’s dangerous for public servants who are not equipped with sufficient guidance,” said Clarke.

“There are two outcomes. One: they over-censor and unnecessarily give up their rights to political participation …. The second is they go to the other extreme and abandon their obligation to be neutral, which can put them into dangerous positions, personally and professionally and, at the larger democratic level, undermine the public service’s credibility.”

In fact, public servants believe impartiality is important, a recent survey shows, and 97 per cent steer clear of political activities beyond voting. Eighty-nine per cent believe expressing views on social media can affect their impartiality or the perception of their impartiality. But it found only about 70 per cent of managers felt capable of providing guidance to workers on engaging in such activities.

Clarke argues the modernization of public service must address how public servants reconcile their online lives with their professional duties.

“You can’t expect public servants not to have online political lives. This is where politics unfolds today. So, anybody who is trying to say that is the solution is missing the reality of how we how we engage in politics today.”

More than 40 years ago, the Supreme Court’s landmark Fraser ruling confirmed public servants’ political rights – with some restrictions. They depend on factors such as one’s rank or level of influence in the public service; the visibility of the political activity; the relationship between the subject matter and the public servant’s work and whether they can be identified as public servants.

David Zussman, who long held the Jarislowsky Chair in Public Management at the University of Ottawa, said the rules should be the same whether a public servant pens an op-ed, a letter to the editor or a tweet.

“Public servants should be able to make personal decisions about who they support, but the overriding consideration is keeping the public service neutral and apolitical.”

Shortcomings of existing rules, however, were revealed in the 2015 election, when an environment scientist, Tony Turner, was suspended for writing and performing a protest song called “Harperman” that went viral on YouTube.

His union, the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada, argued he had violated no restrictions: he wasn’t an executive, his job was tracking migratory birds, he wrote the song on his own time, used no government resources and there was nothing in the video or on his website to indicate he was a public servant. He hadn’t produced the video or posted it to YouTube.

About the same time, a Justice Department memo surfaced, warning: “you are a public servant 24/7,” anything posted is public and there is no privacy on the Internet. Unions feared public servants could be prevented from using social media, a basic part of life.

Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and YouTube have complicated the rules for public servants posting an opinion, signing an online petition or making a crowdsourced donation, Clarke and Piper argue.

Social media can amplify opinions in public debate and indiscriminate liking, sharing, or re-posting can ramp up visibility more than expected.  Assessments of whether a public servant crossed the line have to consider whether they used privacy settings, pseudonyms or identified as public servants.

Clarke and Piper question whether public servants who never mention their jobs should be punished if they are outed as government employees in a data breach – like those who donated to the convoy protest. What about a friend taking a screenshot of a private email you sent criticizing government, sending it others or posting it online?

The Internet makes it easy to identify people, Piper said. Public servants who avoid disclosing their employer on their personal social media accounts can be identified using Google, LinkedIn or the government’s own employee directory.

So back to the convoy protest. Before the emergency order, would public servants have unwittingly crossed the line by supporting the protest or donating money to it?

The protest opposed vaccines and pandemic restrictions, though the blockade also became home to a mix of grievances. Many supporters signed a memorandum of understanding by one of the organizing groups calling for the Governor-General and Senate to form a new government with the protestors.

“It’s hard for me to see how a private donation by someone who has a job that has nothing to do with vaccine mandates or the trucker protest could attract discipline. That would be a really aggressive application of discipline by the government,” said Piper.

But Wesley argues that the convoy was known from the start as a seditionist organization and anyone who gave money to the original GoFundMe account should have seen the attached MOU. It was later withdrawn.

“Most public servants sign an oath to the Queen and should have recognized that signing or donating money to that movement was an abrogation of your oath,” he said. “I think a re-examination of who they are, who they work for and implications of donating to a cause that would have upended Canada’s system of constitutional monarchy is definitely worth a conversation with that individual.”

Perhaps part of the problem is the traditional bargain of loyalty and impartiality between politicians and public servants is coming unglued.

The duty of loyalty is shifting. The stability and job security that once attracted new recruits for lifelong careers in government aren’t important for many young workers, who like remote work and expect to work for many employers.

A recent study found half of the politicians surveyed don’t really want an impartial public service. Brendan Boyd, assistant professor at MacEwan University, suggests they prefer a bureaucracy that enthusiastically defends its policies rather than simply implements and explains them. However, 85 per cent of the politicians say that outside of work hours, public servants should be impartial.

“There will be further test cases, and how we define a duty of loyalty is going to either be confirmed or adapted or changed,” said Friday.

“But public servants are still allowed to communicate, hold or express views as a means of expression. And the pace at which the views, thoughts and opinions are expressed is so phenomenal that I think it fundamentally changes the playing field.”

Source: Never tweet. Social media is complicating the age-old neutrality of the public service

Ottawa and unions agree to simplify pay rules for public servants

Ottawa and unions agree to simplify pay rules for public servants

Government has far too long expected technology as a solution for the harder work of simplification and streamlining of payrolls, processes, and definitions. Harder work to do (remember the Universal Classification Standard fiasco of the 90s and how much time was spent to no avail).

And as to the union demand that the most beneficial provision be the basis, using the median would likely be more reasonable .

But needs to be done, otherwise IT solutions will never work well:

For the first time, the federal government and its 17 public service unions have agreed to discuss simplifying the thousands of pay rules and processes that derailed the troubled Phoenix pay system from the start.

This simplifying, which could take years to unfold, is a key piece of the government’s pilot project to build a new system – the Next Generation Human Resources and Pay (NextGen) – to replace Phoenix.

A joint union and management committee for NextGen has been examining issues around the new pay system for several years. The upcoming round of collective bargaining will be the first to take a stab at simplifying the rules and processes that have gummed up Phoenix since its launch in 2015.

However, there are many potential problems.

“They (the government) can’t let technology drive their business processes. They have to fix business processes before implementing new technology. In the case of Phoenix, the opposite occurred. Not having fixed those processes and collective agreements dooms NextGen,” said a source familiar with the project who is not authorized to speak publicly.

Some say this willingness to simplify a myriad of contracts could be a watershed moment in federal labour history, which has been rocky since the Lester B. Pearson Liberal government introduced collective bargaining in the 1960s. Public service reformers have pressed for decades to modernize compensation and a human resources regime built for another era.

They are also heading into these talks at a time when COVID-19 has upended work. As provinces lift pandemic restrictions, departments are gearing up for a partial return to the office with a hybrid workforce, part of which will continue to work from home. The federal government is also studying the future of work in a world where technology, automation and AI are changing jobs and the skills needed in the public service.

Despite the pressure to modernize, it remains to be seen how far the two sides are willing to go. Unions say no proposals have been put on the table.

Phoenix was built on PeopleSoft 9.1, an off-the-shelf software. IBM built the system, which was heavily customized to handle the complicated public service regime with 80,000 pay rules and 105 collective agreements for 300,000 employees.

Technology experts long argued the complexities of the pay rules were a root cause of Phoenix’s problem. They say rules and processes should have been reduced before the government started work on Phoenix, and they argue that these remain a significant challenge for any new system. On top of that, the government has a mishmash of 37 human resource systems that feed into Phoenix, each with its own processes.

Canada’s auditor general has issued the same warning over the years and said in this year’s audit of Phoenix’s continuing pay errors that it would be closely monitoring the NextGen project.

“We continue to be concerned that the new HR to pay system could repeat weaknesses we found in the HR to pay process and could pay some employees inaccurately,” said the report.

This time, however, the government wants a new combined pay and human resource system that can be configured to handle the pay regime without rewriting code to customize the software. That makes paring down the myriad of rules all the more critical.

Shared Services Canada (SSC), a federal agency responsible for technology across all federal departments, is leading the NextGen project. In an email, SSC said Toronto-based Ceridian, which bills itself as a global “human capital management” company, is configuring Dayforce, its flagship software, for a test run with the Department of Canadian Heritage to see if it can “support the government’s human resources and pay activities.”

However, concerns remain.

“What we don’t want here is for the employer to think: ‘Well, the reason why NextGen is having issues implementing is because the collective agreements are too complicated.’ Fine, let’s simplify them. We’re not against that,” said Dany Richard, president of the Association of Canadian Financial Officers, who co-chairs the joint management-union committee for NextGen.

As much as both sides are on board for the sake of getting a pay system that works, the pinch point will be cost. Unions don’t want their members to take a hit on their pay or benefits

The Public Service Alliance of Canada, the largest union, is having preliminary discussions with Treasury Board about the pay system and harmonizing the language of its contracts.

“We’re going in curious and with an open mind to see what’s being proposed, and what they want to talk about, and seeing what we can come to agreements on,” said Greg Phillips, president of the Canadian Association of Professional Employees, the third-largest public service union.

“But at the end of the day, it’s the employer’s responsibility to pay employees and they need to have the system in order to do that. And for modernizing HR, that’s their decision. It shouldn’t be done on the backs of employees.”

Unions have previously argued that if the government wants to reduce rules, the fastest way is to pick the most beneficial provision and make it the standard for everyone. Take, for example, the nearly 40 different rules for overtime. The unions want the government to pick the most generous of the overtime rules and apply it to everyone.

Unions argue that bringing employees up to the most generous provision may cost more in the short term, but it would be considerably cheaper than continuing to sink millions of dollars into fixing and maintaining Phoenix, which has already cost $1.4 billion in fixes.

“Let’s just put it to the common denominator, whatever it is, and write it off. It may sound like public servants gain and will get more benefits. But having clear collective agreements that are consistent will help simplify the pay system,” said Richard.

The government already spends about $53 billion a year on salaries and benefits for employees, which is 60 per cent of its total operating costs. After the spending spree to combat COVID-19, there is little appetite to pay public servants more.

Another complicating factor is that the unions have negotiated rules for pay and benefits over 60 years that are specific to each of more than 80 occupational groups in the public service.

On top of basic salary — and any raises or promotions — public servants are entitled to various allowances, such as for education, living in remote areas, acting in a higher job classification, bilingual bonuses and shift premiums. The pay for part-time or hourly employees is even more complex. Layered on top of that are rules within rules — with arcane language that often has conflicting interpretations.

One solution is harmonizing language so that all definitions are the same, such as for “family” which is key to various types of leave. Or acting pay, which kicks in for some employees after one day of filling in for someone in a higher job classification but which in another contract requires three days of doing that.

For vacation pay, some employees are entitled to four weeks after eight years of service and others get it after five years. With overtime, some employees get double time on Sunday whether they work Saturday or not, while others get double time on Sunday only after working Saturday at time and a half. In short, the rules are many and are all over the map.

The government has a pile of allowances, which employees receive on top of salaries that could, for example, be rolled into base salaries. They include retention allowances, extra pay for employees whose skills are in short supply, and allowances for meals, vehicles, travel, and clothing, such as uniforms, safety boots, and glasses.

SSC officials were unavailable to expand upon the project or its possible scale and scope beyond a brief message.

SSC said in an email that NexGen has now moved into the design and experimentation stage “which will continue to inform and define the way forward.”

“NextGen HR and Pay initiative will produce options and recommendations for a human resources and pay system that meets the complex needs of the (government),” it added.

Source: Ottawa and unions agree to simplify pay rules for public servants

Feds deny delay as lawyer in multi-billion-dollar Black bureaucrats’ class-action suit calls Crown’s ‘overlap’ arguments ‘insulting’

Watching with interest. In terms of the data, clear that the lawyers have cherry-picked the worst departments, and not the overall picture which indicates that Blacks are not unduly under-represented compared to other visible minority groups (see Will the removal of the Canadian citizenship preference in the public service make a difference?):

The leading lawyer in a multi-billion-dollar class-action lawsuit representing current and former Black federal public servants, filed against the federal government and now involving nearly 1,300 individuals, says the government’s lawyers are attempting to delay proceedings by claiming the Black class action overlaps with other ongoing cases—an argument which he calls “insulting.”

“It’s not a secret, we’ve laid it out, we’ve argued it over and over in court. The government has one goal right now: do not let this matter go to court in September,” said Courtney Betty, a former Crown attorney at the federal Justice Department’s Toronto office in the early 1990s, who is leading the class action filed on Dec. 2, 2020.

In March 2021, The Hill Times reported that more than 520 class members had joined a proposed $900-milllion class-action lawsuit alleging decades-long government discrimination, lack of advancement opportunities, and harassment. As of Sept. 21, the number of class members had increased to 1,031, who are now seeking $2.5-billion in damages following an amendment to the claim made on May 13.

The number of class members has increased to 1,293, as of Feb. 28, according to Nicholas Marcus Thompson, who was among the first of the current and former federal employees who filed the class-action lawsuit as a representative plaintiff.

“The Crown’s argument really is that the government is facing a number of class-action lawsuits that raise the issue of systemic levels of discrimination against visible minority groups and racialized groups in government,” said Kofi Achampong, principal lawyer and government relations adviser with Achampong Law.

“Presumably, some of the pleadings in those class actions would cross over or would have some level of consistency with some of the pleadings in the Black class action lawsuit, and therefore it’s difficult for the government to determine who they are responding to in relation to the causes of action for racialized employees,” said Achampong, who is a lawyer and legal strategist for the class-action lawsuit.

“In essence, they are saying there is too much overlap,” he said.

Betty said the government “came up with a very creative argument,” calling it “insulting.”

“What the government says, is that any case in Canada … an Indigenous case, a woman’s case, could be any case—as long as there is racism and discrimination mentioned, then there’s an automatic overlap with the Black class action.”

“That argument carries no weight at all,” said Betty, who noted that this particular case deals with hiring and advancement within the public service.

“Our case is about the hiring and promotion of Black public service workers—there are no other cases that are out there that deals with the hiring and promotion of Black public service workers.”

“The reality is that the basis, the pith and substance of the Black class action, is really the unique experience that Black public servants have undergone across over 100 government departments,” said Achampong, adding that this is “the only legal action, the only class action in the history of Canada, that has ever explicitly sought to address that particular issue.”

Alain Belle-Isle, spokesperson for the Treasury Board Secretariat, said the Government of Canada “has no intention of delaying the certification hearing.”

“The parties in this case continue to discuss the best means of addressing the issue of overlapping claims with the Court, while also preparing for the certification hearing scheduled for September 2022,” wrote Belle-Isle in an emailed response to the The Hill Times. 

He reaffirmed the government’s commitment to creating a “diverse and inclusive public service free of discrimination, harassment and violence,” which was reflected in the most recent mandate letter to the president of the Treasury Board, Mona Fortier (Ottawa-Vanier, Ont).

The mandate letter for Treasury Board President Mona Fortier, pictured during a press conference on Jan. 25, 2021, cites the government’s commitment to a ‘diverse and inclusive public service free of discrimination, harassment and violence.’ 

Black employees ‘last to be hired, first to be fired’: law firm analysis

According to Betty’s legal firm, which has analyzed numbers regarding promotions and demographics within the federal public service, the number of “Black employees” within Natural Resources and the Department of National Defence (civilian staff), was less than two per cent.

In the Department of Justice, less than 20 individuals were appointed on an intermediate basis from 1970 to 2000 who were identified as “Black.”

In Fisheries and Oceans Canada, as of March 31, 2019,  the number of “Black employees” was less than one percent.

And for the 2005 to 2018 period, 35.4 per cent of “Black employees” within the federal public service received zero job promotions.

“What we’ve done is we’ve looked at 30 years of government data, and we’ve demonstrated that on a percentage basis, Black public service workers are the last to be hired, the first to be fired, last to be promoted,” said Betty, pointing to the above data analysis provided to The Hill Times.

“We’ve demonstrated that statistically, so with the harassment of the individual, none of that comes in,” said Betty. “It’s a data analysis case, there’s none of the other cases that are even similar to that.”

Thompson expressed his dismay that there’s “been no appointment in leadership positions” for Black employees in the public service in recent months.

“We’re still in the same position that we were in last year and the year before and the year before,” said Thompson, who added that the government is trying to create a mental health plan, are trying to create developmental opportunities under the mandate of the Treasury Board, “and have acknowledged all of things that we’ve raised as issues that exists for Black workers.”

“But in the courtroom, they are fighting to avoid having to pay for those damages,” said Thompson.

The leadership of the public service continues to remain “almost exclusively white,” said Thompson, as Black workers “continue to be at the bottom of the public service and racialized workers just above.”

“The work of eradicating bias, barriers, and discrimination demands an ongoing, relentless effort, said Belle-Isle. “We are committed to this effort and to using all available levers to improve the experiences of public servants, to ensure that they are able to realize their full potential, and for Canada’s public service to fully reflect the diversity of Canadians.”

Proceed on a ‘case-by-case basis,’ says Justice Gagné

Associate Chief Justice of the Federal Court Jocelyne Gagné said during a Feb. 16 hearing a motion to stay would need ‘substantial overlapping.’ 

The class action will be moving towards certification following a Federal Court justice’s direction for the government and the class action members to file additional documentation.

During the most recent court proceeding on Feb 16, Associate Chief Justice Jocelyne Gagné directed the plaintiffs to serve and file their additional submissions on the issue of overlapping with any other class action brought before the court no later than March 26.

Justice Gagné also directed the Crown to serve and file its record no later than June 29, with the plaintiff’s reply to be file no later than July 14. Certification hearing dates have been set for Sept. 21-23, 2022.

In the Feb. 16 hearing, Gagné said a meeting had taken place amongst the judges who were seized with other class actions, “however all of them, but the two last ones, which quite frankly have nothing to do with the issue before the court on this file—and I can tell you that at this point, it is the general view that these cases should be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.”

“In my view, and in the view of many, a carriage motion or a motion to stay, I think you need substantial overlapping, which is absent here in these cases,” said Gagné.

“That said, I understand that the case before me is broader, and although encompasses only one group of people, it encompasses many departments of the government,” she said.

Source: Feds deny delay as lawyer in multi-billion-dollar Black bureaucrats’ class-action suit calls Crown’s ‘overlap’ arguments ‘insulting’

2021 Staffing and Non-Partisanship Survey Highlights Report

Overall, positive change from 2018

From the conclusion: 

The Public Service Commission of Canada is responsible for promoting and safeguarding a merit-based, representative and non-partisan public service that serves all Canadians. The 2021 Staffing and Non-Partisanship Survey makes available detailed information on the perceptions of public servants regarding staffing, and their awareness of their obligations related to political impartiality.

The survey results reveal that:

  • employees’ views on merit, fairness and transparency have improved since 2018 
  • differences persist in employment equity groups’ perceptions of merit, fairness and transparency
  • employees’ awareness of obligations related to political impartiality remains high 
  • there is a need to raise hiring managers’ awareness of persons with a priority entitlement as a valuable source of qualified candidates
  • despite staffing during a pandemic, managers and staffing advisors expressed a high degree of confidence in their organizations’ ability to recruit needed staff

Federal public service organizations will need to take a hard look at these results, identify gaps and develop measures to address them. More in-depth analysis will help pinpoint how to address key areas that still need improvement.

Appendix A


Survey results are based on the responses of full-time indeterminate or term public service employees, including members of the regular Canadian Armed Forces and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police who conduct staffing activities under the Public Service Employment Act. Part-time and seasonal employees, casuals, students, contractors, Governor-in-Council appointees and ministers’ exempt staff are excluded from this analysis. Responses of those who did not agree to share their data with the Public Service Commission of Canada are also excluded. The sample consists of 75 440 public service employees, including: 

  • 51 889 non-manager/supervisor employees (69% of respondents)
  • 23 444 managers/supervisors (31% of respondents) 
  • 633 staffing advisors (1% of respondents)

The 2021 survey response rate is 34.2% and the results are considered representative of the 234 757 federal public servants that are included in this broad definition. The data collection took place over a period of 9 weeks, between March 16, 2021, and May 14, 2021. For questions about their past experience, respondents were asked to refer to the previous 12 months, from March 16, 2020, to March 15, 2021 (for example, regarding the COVID-19 pandemic). 

As in the previous cycle of the survey, the 2021 survey frequently uses response categories that ask respondents the extent to which they agree with the question based on a 4-point scale: 

  • “Not at all”
  • “To a minimal extent”
  • “To a moderate extent”
  • “To a great extent”

In the rare exception where a question is posed negatively, the most positive response would be for those who say “not at all” or “to a minimal extent” and this is the result included. For simplicity, this report groups these results into 2 categories to highlight the share of respondents responding most affirmatively to a “moderate” or “great extent.” 

When drawing comparisons, it is important to note that in 2018, a 5-point scale was used for response categories for some questions mostly concentrated in the section on merit, fairness and transparency. For simplicity, the results for the unadjusted positive scores are reported for 2018 since more complex adjustments do not substantially alter the findings.

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The federal public service desperately needs renewal


The 28th Annual Report to the Prime Minister on the Public Service of Canada was released on Dec. 13, two weeks after the throne speech, one day before the economic update, and three days before the prime minister’s mandate letters to his cabinet.

The thread that connects each of these major transition milestone documents is the impact of the pandemic, the response to it, and its long-term economic and health implications for Canada. This report addresses the same theme with a focus on the professional public service.

Admittedly, the annual report to the prime minister generates few headlines in the mainstream media. Nevertheless, the report is one of the few public communications between the clerk of the Privy Council and the prime minister in his role as head of the public service. It’s one of his three roles, including deputy minister to the prime minister and secretary to cabinet. The latter two seldom lend themselves to regular or even annual public disclosure.

In broad terms, the report acknowledges the relationship or “partnership” that exists between the elected government and the professional non-partisan public service. While governments may change, the permanent public service supports peaceful transitions from one political party to the next, as well as continuity of services to Canadians, and, indirectly, a measure of predictability that financial markets crave.

The role of the public service is an important one and seldom discussed in any great depth. The annual report on the “state of the public service” provides a measure of transparency to the public, parliamentarians, and civil society. The report usually touches on the dominant issues, challenges, and opportunities that faced the country the previous year, and how the public service responded. While the clerk often highlights significant achievements, such as accepting 50,000 Syrian refugees in 2016, it also acknowledges failures, such as the Phoenix pay system.

This year’s report (April 2020 to March 2021) covered the standard “boilerplate” information contained in annexes, including the composition of the public service, key demographics, and the public service’s more notable achievements and successes that both the prime minister and the public should know about.

The report also looks forward. It recommends doing more to improve diversity and inclusion in the public service, as well as harnessing the “lessons from the pandemic.”

“Like an elastic band, we stretched to support the government’s response to the pandemic,” reads the report. “As the pressure eases, and, in time, it will, the natural inclination will be to ‘snap back’ to our previous state. That should not happen.”

Such strident language by the head of the public service reveals that the pre-pandemic situation wasn’t working particularly well, and the “suspension” of certain rules and procedures was necessary to respond to the public-health crisis at hand.

Yet, it would be a mistake to believe this was a call for the “swashbuckling” days of an older era in Canada that likely never existed in the first place. The clerk notes the need to ensure that probity, risk assessment, transparency, and accountability not be set aside, but perhaps applied in new, less cumbersome ways.

It also recommends exploring the benefits of going fully digital and increasing remote workforces. Each area interconnects with collective agreements, real property, official-language requirements, and possibly employment equity. The Accountability Act, which passed in 2006, would likely need updating.

Taken together, questions posed by the clerk in his report to the prime minister amount to a robust agenda for public-service renewal. Yet no such ambition was referred to in the throne speech, the ministerial mandate letters, or the economic update.

It’s interesting to note that the last reference to public-service renewal in a speech from the throne was under prime minister Stephen Harper in 2013. Admittedly, he didn’t have a global pandemic to contend with, but he did have his fair share of global problems, including the economic crisis of 2008, deficit reduction, and international events requiring the deployment of the Canadian military. Harper nevertheless made space on his policy agenda for altering the public service.

If public-service renewal isn’t in Budget 2022, it probably won’t be on the 44th Parliament’s agenda. It will be interesting to see what next year’s Annual Report to the Prime Minister on the Public Service of Canada says about the issues raised in this one.

Stephen Van Dine is senior vice-president of public governance at the Institute on Governance.

Source: The federal public service desperately needs renewal

Jewish federal employees form network to combat antisemitism in government service

Yet another group network. Sad that felt needed:

Jewish civil servants met the prime minister’s special envoy on fighting antisemitism to ask for support dealing with anti-Jewish abuse and slurs in the federal public service.

The government officials have formed a support network to provide a “safe space” where they can share experiences of antisemitism and to change the culture in the sector.

On Tuesday, they met Irwin Cotler, the prime minister’s antisemitism envoy, to relay to him the problem in government offices. Some expressed fears that anti-Jewish hatred risked becoming marginalized in the government’s fight against discrimination and racism in the public service.

Artur Wilczynski, Canada’s former ambassador to Norway, said this is the first time in his 30 years working in the public service that Jewish public servants have formed such a group, which met for the first time during Hanukkah this month.

He said while some government departments — including his own — take antisemitism seriously, some within the public service have been “tone deaf to the experiences of Jewish colleagues.”

The Jewish public service network, founded by public servant Jonathon Greenberg, met the Privy Council Office this month to voice their concerns and to try to ensure that inclusivity and diversity training in all government departments includes antisemitism. The group said the Privy Council was receptive to their concerns.

Kayla Estrin, a federal official for 30 years, said antisemitism “has caused many of us stress and anxiety.”

She said the network had been founded because antisemitism, including casually hurtful jibes at work and tropes about Jews in the office, was preoccupying many Jewish employees.

“This is very much being felt now,” she said. “There’s lots of dialogue about diversity and inclusion but antisemitism seems to be absent from that discussion. We just want to make sure that we are part of that dialogue and to raise awareness of antisemitism. We appreciate how receptive the Privy Council has been.”

The group wants to make sure that Jewish employees are not excluded from the terms of a “call to action” on anti-racism, equity and inclusion in the federal public service, published by Ian Shugart, Clerk of the Privy Council and head of the public service.

Cotler, a former justice minister, said he was concerned by a rising tide of anti-Jewish hatred and would seek to get antisemitism included in not just the call to action, but all strategies across government to combat racism and discrimination.

“I would like to see an express reference to antisemitism and its importance. If we don’t include antisemitism it relegates it to a subject of no concern at a time of an alarming rise,” he said. “What is happening is that antisemitism is being increasingly normalized with an absence of outrage when it occurs.”

The Treasury Board of Canada, which is responsible for federal public servants, said the “work of eradicating bias, barriers, and discrimination, which have taken root over generations, demands an ongoing, relentless effort.”

It said it would engage with Jewish employees along with other equity-seeking employee networks. In a statement it said its Centre on Diversity and Inclusion had a “mandate is to address barriers and challenges to a diverse and inclusive workplace and to prevent discrimination for all equity-seeking groups, including religious minorities.”

The public service has also faced allegations of anti-Black racism, with a group of former and current workers filing a proposed class-action lawsuit alleging systemic discrimination in hiring and promoting. The allegations have not been tested in court.

Wilczynski, an assistant deputy minister and senior adviser for people, equity and inclusion at the communications security establishment, says he has experienced — as a Jewish, gay man — more antisemitism than homophobia during his lifetime, including at work.

“I have never seen the community as vulnerable and concerned. People are worried,” he said. “There isn’t a good understanding of how antisemitism has permeated its way across society including the public service.”

Wilczynski said he was very encouraged that the government was devoting so much energy and resources to inclusion. But, he said, it should make sure it is “committed to creating a safe space for all its employees, including Muslim, Jewish, Black and Indigenous staff.

Doree Kovalio, a member of the Jewish public service network’s steering committee and public servant for 17 years, also welcomed the push for diversity and inclusivity training within government and outside. But she said it had become “acutely apparent” to Jewish public servants that acknowledging and addressing antisemitism was not a priority in these discussions.

Jewish federal employees have shared numerous accounts of antisemitism at work, she said.

“Thankfully we have a safe space for Jewish public servants where they feel open to share their experiences without judgment or reprisal,” she said.

Former Bloc Québécois MP Richard Marceau, of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, said it was very troubling that Jewish civil servants for the first time ever had to create an association to combat antisemitism.

“I commend them for standing up to combat antisemitism in the biggest employer in Canada. This shows that antisemitism has become mainstream in Canada.”

Tory MP Marty Morantz said he is glad Jewish civil servants are able to come together to offer each other support over antisemitism which he said is “pervasive.”

Source: Jewish federal employees form network to combat antisemitism in government service

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

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

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

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

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

Measuring and improving happiness

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

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

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

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

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

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

Corrective action can be applied accordingly.

Combining results from two surveys

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

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

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

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

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

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

Empowerment of Black employees

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


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

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

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

Good overview of the issues and challenges:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

My latest:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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