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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Methodology

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.

Source: https://policyoptions.irpp.org/magazines/septembe-2021/will-the-removal-of-the-canadian-citizenship-preference-in-the-public-service-make-a-difference/

‘Enough is enough’: Black civil servants vow to press on with discrimination suit as Liberals promise change

Update on the proposed class-action lawsuit:

Carol Sip spent three decades inside the federal public service, but her retirement plaque is the last thing she wants to see on her wall.

Instead it sits stored away in the original packaging.

“Why would I hang it up? It will only bring back awful memories,” Sip said. “It should be something that you should be proud of, but I’m not proud of it because I know what I went through.”

Sip is one of a group Black federal employees involved in a proposed class-action lawsuit launched last December against the federal government alleging years of discrimination and seeking some $2.5 billion in damages.

Earlier this year, federal employee Monica Agard broke her silence about being Black in the public service after a senior colleague at the Immigration and Refugee Board’s Toronto office allegedly praised “the good old days when we had slaves.”

Since then, the proposed class-action lawsuit has become one step closer to reality after a motion was filed for it to be certified. It will fall to the newly elected government to decide whether to challenge that.

But as Canadians head to the polls, the Liberals appear to be changing course on the issue with a policy plank promising support for Black workers.

Liberals now promise support for Black workers

The federal government had maintained that its workers could find help through the employee assistance and health-care programs, which the plaintiffs have long said fail to address the specific trauma of anti-Black racism.

Now, if elected, the Liberal Party says in its platform it will “establish a mental health fund for Black public servants, and support career advancement, training, sponsorship, and educational opportunities for Black workers.”

Party spokesperson Alex Wellstead wouldn’t explicitly say if a Liberal government would support certifying the class action to go forward, but acknowledged “Black Canadians face unique challenges when it comes to mental health in the workplace.

“That is why we’ve committed through our platform to work with community partners on the design and establishment of this fund, which directly responds to calls from Black employees in the public service and will ensure that Black public servants are supported.”

As the employer of the federal public service, the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat said the courts have not set a timetable for next steps on certifying the suit and that at this stage, it would be “premature” to comment.

Lawyer Hugh Scher, who’s assisting with the suit, hopes whichever party forms government will work with Black civil servants to address their needs.

“If they do, then they will have a willing partner,” he said. “If they don’t, they they will have a worthy adversary in court.”

‘A living nightmare’

Sip’s ordeal began in the early 1980s, shortly after she became an employee at the federal customs department under what is now the Canada Revenue Agency. Over a number of years spent working there, she says she experienced repeated incidents of harassment and discrimination by a supervisor who behaved with impunity.

And she says never in her 26 years was she promoted beyond her clerical position.

“It became a living nightmare,” she told CBC News. Sip filed multiple grievances and won two. But she felt blacklisted for complaining and says nothing was done.

“If they had a project with lifting boxes, only the Black ladies were chosen to lift the boxes,” she recalled.

In the late 90s, Sip was diagnosed with both breast and uterine cancer. She was off work on disability in 1999, when she was told her department was being restructured. Sip says her manager told her to resign. Believing she had no other option, she did.

In a statement, the CRA told CBC News it cannot discuss specific cases but that it is “firmly dedicated to diversity inclusion and anti-racism in the workplace.”

“The CRA has launched, and will launch further, targeted executive staffing processes for visible minorities and Indigenous peoples who are underrepresented at the leadership levels,” the statement said, noting that CRA encourages all employees to come forward if they experience or witness any discrimination or harassment.

As for why she joined the proposed class action, Sip said: “I look at the young children growing up and I don’t want them to go through what I personally went through, or the others have gone through.”

‘It kills you a little bit inside’

It’s been four months since Marcia Banfield Smith left her job at the Department of Justice.

But she says the scars from her time there run deep.

Over the years, she says she endured racist jokes at meetings and watched as non-Black colleagues rose up the ranks. Meanwhile, despite applying for higher-paying roles, she was stuck in a paralegal role at the same pay — for 19 years.

“It kills you a little bit inside,” she said.

Source: ‘Enough is enough’: Black civil servants vow to press on with discrimination suit as Liberals promise change

Remaking government: Here are the parties’ plans for a post-pandemic workforce

Will be interesting to see:

It’s one of the big questions in the dozen or so local campaigns in this federal election: when will government employees return to their offices, and under what conditions?

The answers, for one thing, will determine just how robust will be the economic recovery in the two downtown ridings. Ottawa Centre and Hull-Aylmer respectively account for 45 per cent and 20 per cent of the federal government’s owned and leased office space in the capital region.

The return to the office, if it happens, will also have a significant impact on commuting patterns throughout the city.

Pre-pandemic, the capital’s rush hour was defined by a small army of federal government workers who made their way, usually by public transit, from a handful of suburbs to the core. For the past 18 months, most of these office workers have been doing their jobs from home in the bedroom communities of Orléans, Barrhaven, Kanata and Aylmer.

The resistance to abandoning this new way of working is apparently strong.

The department in charge of the federal government’s massive real estate holdings — Public Services and Procurement Canada — said it does not have “a target date for the return to the workplace for all employees. We are currently exploring various possibilities.” This, essentially, is the Liberal Party position.

“Having done a lot of canvassing these past few weeks, I know that public servants in Orléans have different perspectives on returning to work in person,” said Marie-France Lalonde, the Liberal incumbent candidate for Orléans. “A majority seem to be leaning towards a hybrid model,” she added in reference to the arrangement that allows employees to work from home some of the time.

Lalonde stressed the government should not rush into potentially profound changes of the workplace. “The realities are not the same from one department to another,” she said, “and I know that each is working to determine the best way to proceed internally.”

Earlier this summer, PSPC launched its “pathfinder project” calling on volunteers to return to the office to test various configurations. In the first few weeks, a couple of hundred employees in the capital region stepped up.

At the beginning of the economic lockdown early last year, some 126,000 workers were directly employed locally by the federal government, representing nearly 17 per cent of the region’s workforce. Add in municipal and provincial government employees and you’ve got close to 24 per cent. Then include thousands of specialists working under contract and it’s easy to see why the region’s commuting and shopping patterns have been so radically upended during the past 18 months.

The politics associated with the mostly-closed offices is complicated. Consider the Ottawa Centre riding currently held by the Liberals. Hundreds of retailers and restaurant owners depend for their livelihood on the physical presence of government workers. But, says New Democratic Party candidate Angella MacEwan, the latter shouldn’t be pushed back to the office before they’re ready, and that means consulting the unions.

“Government offices should re-open when provincial and municipal health guidance has allowed it,” says MacEwan, “and when workers and their unions have come to an agreement that these workplaces are safe for workers.”

Which leaves the question of what to do for all those businesses adjacent to the federal towers. “We should also have targeted supports for our downtown small businesses,” adds MacEwan, pointing out these have been some of the hardest hit by the pandemic-inspired lockdowns.

For suburban ridings, the economic imperative to re-open government offices is less of a force. Nepean, for instance, accounts for less than eight per cent of the federal government’s office space in the region. The same is true of Ottawa South and Ottawa West. Most other ridings in the census metropolitan area of Ottawa-Gatineau have a minuscule federal government presence in terms of office infrastructure.

Most of Nepean’s 14,000 government workers pre-pandemic commuted to other ridings, including to the downtown core. Now they are pondering whether they should ever resume that sort of regular journey again.

“The NDP would continue to work closely with public sector unions, who are already consulting their members about permanent work-from-home solutions,” says Sean Devine, the NDP candidate for Nepean, adding that “our goal would be to arrive at mutually accepted options for where and how to work, so that the Canadian public can continue to benefit from the skill and dedication of public servants, while also ensuring that workers have choices for their own health and safety needs.”

The federal public sector unions have so far not been pressured by any of the major political parties to see their members return to the office.

Nevertheless, the Conservatives’ campaign platform framed the issue in a manner that has raised suspicions within the Public Service Alliance of Canada, the largest federal government union. PSAC focused on a couple of lines in the Conservatives’ campaign playbook that emphasized achieving savings “by making government more efficient.”

PSAC interpreted this to mean a Conservative government would trim employment and contract out more work to the private sector, though the context of the policy document suggests government employees would be permitted to work from home wherever possible, thus offering potential savings from reduced office space downtown.

“We have no intention of cutting the public service,” Matt Triemstra, the Progressive Conservative candidate for Nepean stressed during the riding’s first all-candidates’ debate. “We’re going to continue to let them work remotely.”

Which leads naturally to the issue of what to do with whatever empty space emerges.

This could provide an important opening for whichever party controls the next government. Roughly half of all federal properties are in poor condition, according to Public Services and Procurement Canada. Depending on location and building type, it might be more economical to convert such properties into apartments, or sell these properties to a private developer for the same purpose.

“The post-pandemic economy presents a unique opportunity to examine new ways to address our critical housing needs,” says Devine. “If we were to support a transition of these physical workspaces into living space, this might also help address how we re-vitalize our downtown core.”

The federal government also has flexibility with a portfolio that consists of owned and leased properties in roughly equal measure. Selling off owned properties in favour of leased offices would likely allow the government to better accommodate the unpredictable demands of a hybrid or work-from-home workforce. It would also generate some gains that could be deployed for other purposes.

Source: Remaking government: Here are the parties’ plans for a post-pandemic workforce

Taking Action to Address Potential Barriers in Staffing: Public Service Employment Act amendments receive Royal Assent

Some interesting changes announced by the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat.

I think the change that will have the earliest and largest impact will be Canadian citizens and Permanent Residents having the same preference in external advertised hiring processes.

We will see over the next few years the extent to which this has an impact through the annual EE reports and which groups, given disaggregated data, are impacted most:

Too many Canadians continue to face bias, barriers, and discrimination based on their race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, disability, or other factors.

The Government of Canada has amended the Public Service Employment Actto address systemic barriers for equity-seeking groups in public service staffing.

These amendments represent foundational work that will help departments take measures in their staffing actions to reduce barriers and encourage more inclusive recruitment practices. 

Over the past several months, the Treasury Board Secretariat worked with employee networks, bargaining agents and senior officials for Employment Equity, Diversity and Inclusion to better understand the experiences of members of equity-seeking groups in public service staffing.

Amendments to the Public Service Employment Act reaffirm the importance of a diverse and inclusive workforce and strengthen provisions to address potential bias and barriers in staffing processes.

With these changes:

  • All new or revised qualification standards must be evaluated for bias and barriers for members of equity-seeking groups. 
  • Permanent residents now have the same preference as Canadian Citizens when appointments are made through external advertised hiring processes.
  • The design and application of assessment methods must include an evaluation of bias and barriers, and reasonable efforts for mitigation.
  • The Public Service Commission now has explicit authority to audit for bias and barriers that disadvantage members of equity-seeking groups.
  • The Commission and deputy heads will have explicit authority to investigate bias and barriers for members of equity-seeking groups. 

These Public Service Employment Act amendments form one part of a set of initiatives and activities to increase diversity and inclusion in the public service so that it is reflective of the Canadian population it serves and a place where all public servants feel a true sense of belonging.

The work of eradicating bias, barriers, and discrimination, which have taken root over generations, demands an ongoing, relentless effort. The Government of Canada is committed to this effort and will use all available levers to improve the experiences of public servants in their workplace and ensure that they are able to realize their full potential.

Source: https://www.canada.ca/en/treasury-board-secretariat/news/2021/07/taking-action-to-address-potential-barriers-in-staffing-public-service-employment-act-amendments-receive-royal-assent.html?utm_campaign=tbs-sct-20-21&utm_source=lnkn&utm_medium=smo&utm_content=7-27l122-en

‘A deal to be silent’: Public servant paid to keep quiet about discrimination on the job

An annual government report on public servant NDAs would be helpful, which could provide some breakdowns on the nature of complaints, departments and amounts to help identify overall problem areas that should be addressed. Given that Liberal MP and parliamentary secretary Greg Fergus is on record as favouring more information, the government should act:

A Black federal public servant who launched a racial discrimination complaint against the Canadian government says she felt uncomfortable signing a gag order because she feared it could further entrench a culture of silence around racism within the bureaucracy.

“I was signing a deal to be silent about the discrimination I’ve been through,” said the woman, whom CBC/Radio-Canada has agreed not to name because she fears losing her job. “Throughout my entire career, I noticed colleagues, mostly white colleagues, getting privileges that I didn’t.”

The woman said the federal government paid her several thousand dollars in exchange for withdrawing the racial discrimination complaint.

Radio-Canada obtained a copy of the legal document, which was initialled by both the employer and the woman’s union. It contains a confidentiality clause preventing her from speaking out about the racism she says she experienced on the job.”They’re putting a price on it,” she said. “It’s completely inadequate, and those agreements are immoral and they need to stop.”

The woman said the agreement did resolve her specific issue, which she chose not to disclose because she worries it could identify her. However, she said the agreement did little to address the bigger problem of systemic racism within federal departments.

Around 800 current and former Black public servants have launched a class-action lawsuit against the federal government, alleging it has discriminated against Black employees for decades. It was filed with the Federal Court of Canada in December, but the government has yet to file a statement of defence.

The suit, which has not been certified, accuses the government of excluding Black employees from promotions.

‘Making the problem invisible’

Such agreements cover a range of issues from racial slurs to workplace harassment.

Doug Hill, a grievance and adjudication officer for the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) in Halifax, said about 70 per cent of the complaints he handles are resolved through settlements that contain a similar confidentiality clause. He also said the compensation offered sometimes goes well beyond the maximum $40,000 that can be paid under the Canadian Human Rights Act.

“There is no maximum amount” when it comes to the federal government, Hill said.

But critics say these arrangements are problematic because they cover up the real problem instead of addressing it.

“By making the problem invisible we’re making the victims invisible, and we basically have no precedent to build on and no lessons to learn,” said Fo Niemi, executive director of the Centre for Research-Action on Race Relations (CRARR) in Montreal.

Every year, the non-profit civil rights organization helps about 200 people who are victims of discrimination based on race, gender or disability. Niemi said often, people don’t realize the implications of signing an agreement that includes a confidentiality clause.

“Sometimes the complainant or the victim goes alone, feels very much pressured into signing something that that person may not be able to fully understand,” he said.

Need for transparency

Treasury Board President Jean-Yves Duclos directed Radio-Canada to his parliamentary secretary Greg Fergus, who said he believes these agreements are only acceptable if they are signed at the request of the complainant.

“You want to really recognize that the problem happened, you want to be transparent so you can fix the problem so that we can go ahead and create a better public service,” the Liberal MP for Hull–Aylmer said.

Fergus, who also chairs the Caucus of Black Parliamentarians, said the government needs to keep more detailed data regarding complaints that are withdrawn after the complainant signs a confidentiality clause.

“We can’t change things if we can’t measure them,” Fergus said.

Source: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/ottawa/public-servant-signs-deal-to-withdraw-racial-discrimination-complaint-1.6041139

Is it time to move Ottawa out of Ottawa?

Valid question given experience over more than a year with remote work. Some colleagues who are still working have indicated much easier to engage the regions given everyone on the same platform, rather than the Ottawa folks meeting in person and regional staff being on a telephone conference call.

And of course, the broader question of what percent of public servants, or what percentage of their time, requires physical presence compared to working remotely, along with the associated (but often overstated) management challenges:

The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in much of the federal public service shifting to remote work. Ottawa invested in telecommunications and found new ways for employees to work effectively from far-flung locations.

The transition was sufficiently successful that the federal government is considering continuing some remote work, possibly reducing its office rental spaces.

This raises the question — if work doesn’t need to be done in Ottawa-area offices, does it need to be done in Ottawa at all?

The centralization of federal jobs

Canada has more than 300,000 federal employees, with over 230,000 in core public administration (CPA) and just under 70,000 employed in separate agencies like the Canada Revenue Agency. 

The proportion of agency jobs concentrated in the National Capital Region, which includes Ottawa-Gatineau and surrounding areas, has declined since 2016. The opposite is seen with CPA jobs. The concentration of CPA employees was only 33 per cent in 1995, but was up to 46 per cent in 2020. 

graph shows the number of federal public service jobs in the capital region
The number of federal public service jobs in the Ottawa region, according to the Government of Canada Open Data Portal. Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat, 2020

Most CPA workers are skilled knowledge workers. These are good jobs. It is time for more federal jobs, including CPA jobs, to decentralize.

The case for decentralization

Research suggests decentralizing public service jobs reduces costsstrengthens national security by spreading government functions across the country and reduces cynicism toward government

Decentralization also distributes the economic benefits of the public sector across the country. According to one 2019 British study, “the arrival of 10 civil service jobs in an area spurs the creation of about 11 jobs in the private sector,” including professional service jobs like law and consulting.

Most importantly, it gives federal governments more ability to directly engage with communities. Regional voices within government increase as career opportunities are more accessible to qualified people nationally. Advocacy and community groups across the country enjoy a more level playing field to engage in the policy process. 

This increased geographic diversity of voices working within and connecting with government can result in improved strategic policy advice. 

Creating a national strategy

Now is the perfect time to make a serious effort to decentralize Canada’s federal jobs.

The COVID-19 remote work experience demonstrates the remarkable potential of technology to overcome distance. We have learned how efficiently we can use technology to reduce unnecessary travel and connect easily across the country. We must use the disruption of the pandemic to rethink what jobs and services need to be in Ottawa at all.

We can expect growing calls for this in Canada’s economic recovery, particularly from Alberta. Just before the COVID-19 shutdown, four MPs identified the centralization of federal headquarters as an example of systemic unfairness towards Alberta. A few months later, Alberta’s Fair Deal Panel recommended western premiers request “a distribution map of federal civil servants across Canada and a list of federal government agencies and decision-making bodies that can be recommended for relocation to Western Canada.” 

Recent surveys find decentralizing jobs may be publicly popular. The 2021 Viewpoint Alberta survey, which included over 800 respondents in Alberta and Saskatchewan, found strong support for increasing federal jobs in each province.

Similarly, the 2021 Confederation of Tomorrow survey of more than 5,800 Canadians found almost three-quarters (73.5 per cent) support “moving more government offices from Ottawa to other cities in the country so that more Canadians would have access to jobs in the federal public service.” 

A graph shows support for moving federal public service jobs out of the Ottawa area.
Support for moving federal public service jobs out of the Ottawa area. Confederation of Tomorrow 2021 Survey, Author provided

The time for action is now. In fact, Canada faces an immediate decision regarding the location of the new Canada Water Agency. While the decision process has yet to be announced, Regina and Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., are already vying for the agency headquarters. Other cities may also be planning to do so.

Canada already has experience in decentralizing federal jobs, including moving the National Energy Board headquarters from Ottawa to Calgary and creating regional Canada Revenue Agency tax centres. These serve as precedents for a bold new strategy.

Moving forward on a national strategy

To be sure, decentralization faces political challenges. As the benefits of job decentralization are long-term and the challenges are immediate, politicians more focused on the next election might be disinclined to take up the task.

Vested interests are loud. Strategies are needed to address relocation costs, including staff turnover and the associated loss of experience, though remote work options can reduce these.

A national strategy is required. The United Kingdom’s Places for Growth program will move thousands of London jobs, including policy advisory roles, to 13 regional hubs over the next decade and could provide ideas or a blueprint. 

Canada might also consider efforts to shift civil service work out of national capitals in Mexico, Norway, South Korea, Denmark and Malaysia

The COVID-19 remote work experience suggests that distance is not insurmountable for federal government work. No one is suggesting that public servants work from home forever, but the public’s business does not always have to be done in Ottawa. Let’s use this as an opportunity to rethink how we distribute federal work across Canada.

Source: https://theconversationcanada.cmail20.com/t/r-l-tlidhrg-kyldjlthkt-o/

When they came to power in 2015, the Trudeau Liberals promised to ‘build a government that looks like Canada.’ Now those words have slowly been transformed into actions

Nice profile of a former IRCC colleague and her leadership in anti-Black racism both within IRCC and more broadly.

The percentage of visible minority executives is incorrectly stated at 4.6%, not the 11.1% in the latest employment equity report (for the numbers, see https://policyoptions.irpp.org/magazines/october-2020/what-new-disaggregated-data-tells-us-about-federal-public-service-diversity/):

As she watched the George Floyd story and anti-Black-racism movement unfolding worldwide last summer, Farah Boisclair emailed her colleagues at Canada’s immigration department and called a town-hall meeting to talk about racism.

“I was going through a lot of emotions showing up to work. There’s a global movement and it was plastered all over the media, but no one was talking about it at work,” says Boisclair, director of the anti-racism task force at Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.

“Part of me saddened, part of me frustrated. Why isn’t anybody saying anything? That’s when I woke up and said, ‘You are a leader. You have the power. You have people who work with you, who look like you and who may be feeling a certain way, like you.”

With the blessing of her boss, she made her first presentation to more than 300 of her colleagues on topics such as experiences of microaggression, white privilege and racism.

Boisclair, whose mother is Haitian and father Guyanese, is now a member of the Federal Speakers’ Forum on Diversity and Inclusion, a platform where public servants share their lived experience with colleagues and management.

Trying to have a conversation about race and racism is tough, let alone at work in a professional setting. However, it’s one of the many initiatives the federal government is banking on in its attempts to make strides in creating and promoting a diverse and inclusive public service.

Earlier this year, with little fanfare, the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat unveiled the government’s priorities to increase diversity in hiring and appointments within the public service — a commitment that was reaffirmed in the federal budget in April.

Collecting and breaking down its employee data by disability, ethnic backgrounds and executive roles, and ensuring the statistics are made public;

Launching the Centre for Diversity and Inclusion to lead and keep track of departments and agencies in their efforts to address systemic racism and boost diversity representation through collaboration with diverse community groups;

Revamping the government’s existing mentorship program and starting a sponsorship program to groom civil servants from under-represented groups into leadership and executive roles in their organizations; and

Setting up a speakers’ bureau, to help raise awareness about diversity and inclusion within the public service through a roster of speakers who share their experience across departments and ministries.

“There is good momentum across the government and a desire to make significant progress on diversity and inclusion,” said Paule-Anny Pierre, executive director of the new Centre for Diversity and Inclusion.

“Our actions will help ensure that decisions, initiatives and programs across the public service foster and promote a workplace that is respectful, diverse and inclusive, that represents the population it serves and that enables each employee to feel valued and contribute at their full potential.”

There’s a lot of work to be done to boost diversity in the public service, especially among those in the leadership roles. The latest government data shows visible minorities made up only 4.6 per cent of all executives and Blacks accounted for 1.6 per cent in those roles. [Note: Correct figure is 11.1 percent]

The 2020 Public Service Employee Survey, its results released in May, also added new questions to measure employees’ perceptions of anti-racism in the workplace.

Almost 80 per cent of the 188,786 respondents said they would feel free to speak about racism in the workplace without fear of reprisal and felt comfortable sharing concerns about issues related to racism in the workplace with a person of authority.

Born and raised in Ottawa, Boisclair said no one around her worked for government. However, a co-op opportunity with the federal government while studying finance at the University of Ottawa opened the door for her.

In her 13 years with the government, she has worked in various departments, including Industry Canada (now Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada), Natural Resources Canada and Infrastructure Canada.

On many occasions, she said, she would find herself one of the few or the only person who was a visible minority in her teams.

“I felt hyperaware of myself in these environments. I was constantly like, ‘Be careful what you say, be careful what you do, be careful how you interact.’ With that, I think, I held myself back a lot (in terms of) speaking up on my ideas and my thoughts,” said Boisclair.

“It’s very much like: ‘I’m here to do a job. They’re going to tell me what to do and I’m going to do it.’ … I knew I was different from the others. You don’t want to stick out too much. You try to go along to get along.”

As a Black woman, Boisclair said, she has experienced microaggression at work many times and felt invisible in board rooms.

“I will be joined by a white colleague, a woman around the same age, same group in level, both managers from the same team. I remember the treatment of my colleague when I was working with her for three years, it was very different,” she recalled.

“When we’d go to meetings together, I felt like it’s her race and even the standard of beauty in the North American context, she got very different treatment, more eye contact, more interaction with her. It’s hard and you don’t want it to get into your head.”

The experience, she said, made her feel less important and less valued.

Although the faces in the rank and file of the federal public service are changing, she said all her managers, until now, were predominantly white.

Periodically, Boisclair would have a mentor in her department but only recently was she assigned a Black woman as her official sponsor at work.

“It’s really important to have mentors from different groups and genders, because they each offer different perspectives and each can relate to you on different levels,” she said.

“I have had mentors who professionally give you really good advice but when it came to some of those deeper conversations about race and my identity in the workplace, that’s a bit tough with the white mentors,” she noted.

Dahabo Ahmed Omer, a policy development and employment equity expert, says mentorship/sponsorship and speakers’ bureau initiatives are important tools in building understanding and trust in order to create awareness and cultural change within the organization.

A former human resources specialist with the federal government herself, Ahmed Omer said government mandates, strategies and practices are set by senior leaders who play a key role in the building of an inclusive public service.

“There’s the history of slavery, anti-Indigenous racism. You build trust by listening actively and by implementing solutions that directly come from the community,” said Ahmed Omer, now the executive director of BlackNorth Initiative, an effort led by the Canadian Council of Business Leaders Against Anti-Black Systemic Racism.

“The voices of the most marginalized have to be at the forefront.”

Organizations must pick the right mentors, give access to as many mentees as possible and make sure the under-represented groups have opportunities to apply what they’ve learned so they can seize those opportunities when they arise at work, she noted.

From reviewing staffing plans to budget priorities and resource allocations through a diversity lens, Ahmed Omer said the effort must be “deliberate” and she is liking the federal plan she has seen so far.

Boisclair said she is grateful to have a sponsor at work, who gives her pointers in her career development, sends her articles to inspire and equip her, expand her network and champion her in the immigration department, which had 8,500 employees in 2020.

Last year, after seeing her anti-racism presentation with her staff, her sponsor invited her to speak to a couple of dozen deputy ministers from different departments in October. Since then, she has done about 25 townhalls within the federal public sector to share her experience and stories.

These conversations are difficult, said Boisclair, because they are “too raw” for a lot of people.

“You are talking about deep, deep, deep emotions, trauma and, in a lot of cases, some people just don’t know how to deal with emotions in the workplace. When some of the people are sharing some of the more intimate experiences, it’s hard,” she said.

“A lot of people don’t want to deal with the feelings of guilt. People don’t like to get uncomfortable,” she said. “It doesn’t make sense for them. Why would I put myself in an uncomfortable position?”

The experience from these candid conversations has also been refreshing and empowering.

“At the time, I was feeling like, I’m just tired of putting on a filter. I need to show my lived experience as a woman, as a Black person, as a Canadian, the full essence of who I am. That doesn’t often happen at the workplace for racialized people,” said Boisclair.

“I have had these dialogues for many, many years in close circles at home. You would never, never have these conversations at work. For me, it’s time to open people’s minds up to the reality of systemic racism and the harmful impacts of it.”

While these conversations, along with the mentorship/sponsorship program, can drive awareness of racial understanding and organizational cultural change, Ryerson University professor Wendy Cukier says disaggregated data can provide the barometer to identify gaps and measure results.

“We need good data to tracking things like what works and what doesn’t work. We need to apply the same gender and diversity lens to how government spends money and who it’s serving. There’s the inward piece but also the outward reaching piece,” said Cukier, founder and academic director at Ryerson’s Diversity Institute.

“It’s not that anybody deliberately puts up bars or gates, but you need the data to see if certain segments of the population are applying for jobs in my department and what I can do to increase engagement.”

The latest statistics on employment equity populations published by the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat provide a glimpse at the diversity representation of the federal public service:

Overall, visible minorities made up 656 or 4.6 per cent of all executives;

Black people made up 96 or 1.6 per cent of all executives;

Indigenous peoples made up 239 or 4.1 per cent of all executives;

There were 1,387 persons with disabilities working in administrative support, which was 7 per cent of all these employees; and

People who are blind or visually impaired made up 767 or 0.4 per cent of all employees.

“Leaders have to represent the people they are leading, otherwise they are not going to be very effective. When organizations have leaders who look like the people they are leading, they have higher levels of engagement,” said Cukier.

“People tend to associate with people who look like them. If you’re from a racialized population, you are less likely to have a social network that will help you understand the unspoken rules that will mentor you and promote you at work.”

Cukier said the dominant group in the workforce should not feel threatened fearing that the progress for their under-represented peers will be made at their expense, given the civil service is full of boomers, many of them will be retiring in the near future.

“There is a huge challenge in digital and technological transformation in the public sector, which has one of the most acute skill shortages. This is not a question of new people pushing the established group out, this is a question of meeting concrete need for skills and new thinking,” she said.

“It doesn’t make a lot of sense to rely on the same kind of people if your goal is to drive transformation. We know there’s a strong link between diversity and innovation.”

Quebec MP Greg Fergus, parliamentary secretary to Treasury Board President Jean-Yves Duclos, agreed.

“You don’t make this a ‘I win, you lose’ kind of equation. It’s not an ‘either or.’ It’s a ‘both and.’ We all benefit by growing the pie. We’re better together,” said Fergus. “This is not about cutting anybody’s career short. This is about building a more resilient public service.”

Source: https://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2021/05/23/when-they-came-to-power-in-2015-the-trudeau-liberals-promised-to-build-a-government-that-looks-like-canada-now-those-words-have-slowly-been-transformed-into-actions.html

Action needed to end anti-Black racism in public service: advocates

As you may recall, I have analysed both the overall numbers (What new disaggregated data tells us about federal public service …) and the hiring and promotions data (Diversity and inclusion: public service hirings, promotions and separations) which show that:
 
“Black Canadians are the visible minority group with the strongest numbers in the public service compared to their share of the citizen population, but their representation is overwhelmingly in the two administrative categories. This is not unique – there is significant under-representation among Latin American, Chinese, Filipino and South East Asian groups in the executive ranks of the public service. A similar general pattern can be found with Indigenous public service representation.”
 
Striking how the advocates do not appear to be aware of the availability of this data (its posted on open data).
 
Even stranger is PSAC not acknowledging that disaggregated data exists as they surely should know that it does (“He said the current data collected by the government only allow people to self-identify as visible minorities, so it’s not clear how many Black employees are working in each level of the public service.”
 
An earlier study I did regarding the use of non-advertised processes showed little impact on hiring diversity (much to my surprise), ‘Non-advertising’ hiring up due to feds’ new appointments policy, data shows:
 
…the shift towards non-advertised staffing processes does not appear to affect the ongoing trends towards increased representation of women and visible minorities and to a lesser extent, Indigenous peoples. The slight decline in representation of persons with disabilities cannot be attributed to the new appointment policy, given that there was no shift towards non-advertised process that involved persons with disabilities.”
 
As we have evidence, albeit imperfect, advocates and their allies need to use and understand the disaggregated date rather than relying on anecdotes or previous data gaps:

The federal government must address anti-Black racism in the public service by implementing timely changes to staffing processes and effective training programs for public servants, not by long-term promises, advocates say.

The Liberals pledged in the 2021 budget to make changes to the Public Service Employment Act that aim to promote a more diverse and inclusive workforce and to spend $285 million over five years to collect disaggregated data that will help in understanding the experiences of people of colour in Canada.

Nicholas Marcus Thompson, one of 12 current and former Black federal workers who filed in December a proposed class-action lawsuit in Federal Court against the government, said their action is one of the reasons that the government made these promises.

He said it shouldn’t take the government five years to collect disaggregated data to understand the underrepresentation of Black workers in the upper echelons of the public service and to take down barriers they face.

“The time frame is very long and Black workers continue to suffer and show up to work injured every day,” he said.

“There’s a lot of mental health issues associated with the discrimination, the systemic discrimination, that Black workers have faced and continue to face — a lot of racial trauma that Black workers are facing.”

The plaintiffs are alleging systemic discrimination in how the federal government has hired and promoted thousands of public servants for nearly half a century.

“There’s a glass ceiling at the bottom of the public service for Black workers, and the top of the public service is reserved for white folks,” he said.

None of the allegations has been tested in court. The plaintiffs are waiting for a certification hearing scheduled for June.

Treasury Board spokesperson Martin Potvin said it’s premature to comment on the lawsuit, but the government will consider all options, including alternative dispute resolution, as it seeks to address the concerns raised.

The national president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada said anti-Black racism in the federal public service is widespread.

Chris Aylward said there’s limited opportunities for career growth or advancement due to systemic exclusion of Black employees.

“Canada’s public service represents itself as merit-based, inclusive and non-partisan but ongoing systemic discrimination and racism basically show that this is not the reality,” he said.

“There’s no doubt in my mind about that and it’s not specific to any one department or agency. I think it’s government-wide.”

He said the current data collected by the government only allow people to self-identify as visible minorities, so it’s not clear how many Black employees are working in each level of the public service.

“We believe (the disaggregated data) is crucial to understanding the disparities for specific marginalized communities in Canada, and in particular the Black community,” he said.

Potvin of the Treasury Board said more work is needed to eliminate bias, barriers and discrimination in the public service.

“We must take deliberate and continual steps to remove systemic discrimination from our institutions and from our culture,” Potvin said in a statement.

Norma Domey, executive vice-president of the Professional Institute of Public Service of Canada, said she is the first Black executive in her institute’s 100-year history.

“It’s heavy on me to try to push the envelope for our folks and push diversity, and it just makes my job harder,” she said.

Domey said staffing process in the public service is not transparent, and there’s limited recourse provided to candidates that makes it very difficult for them to challenge the system.

She said non-advertised appointments have dramatically increased to 60 per cent in 2020 compared to 29 per cent of all appointments in 2016.

Black employees fear retaliation if they challenge the process, she said.

“It’s the excessive use of non-advertised processes that add to the exclusion to the (marginalized) groups and given the demographics and the biases of hiring managers, it ends up being a huge disadvantage to folks like ourselves,” she said.

Domey said her institution was initially consulted on possible changes to the Public Service Employment Act, but it’s still unclear what changes to the act the government is considering.

“We’re hoping there’s going to be some progress on this whole staffing process, and the revamp of the Public Service Employment Act,” she said.

Potvin of the Treasury Board said information about the changes the government will propose to the act will be made available once legislation has been introduced in Parliament.

Thompson said the government should create a separate category for Black workers under the Employment Equity Act in order to guarantee better representation in the public service.

He said Black people are currently considered a part of the visible minority group.

“What we’ve seen is that they’ve consistently picked one or two groups from the entire visible minority category, (so) they meet (the requirements of) the Employment Equity Act,” he said.

Aylward of the Public Service Alliance of Canada also said federal departments meet the act requirements by hiring non-Black people of colour.

“They say ‘Oh, we’re on target. We’ve met our quota,’ kind of thing. And that’s simply not right,” he said.

He said a complete review of the Public Service Employment Act and the Employment Equity Act has to happen at the same time.

Domey said there also is a need for more bias-awareness training in the public service.

“People don’t even recognize when they’re being racist, so there’s something wrong with that picture,” she said.

She said the training courses need to be ongoing and entrenched into the public servants’ day-to-day activities.

“I hope it’s not just, ‘Oh, I’ve done my presentation. I’m the champion for diversity. Now, I can tick off that box and get my bonus.’ “

Source: Action needed to end anti-Black racism in public service: advocates

Wells: Emmanuel Macron, l’ENA, and the old weird France

Interesting take by Paul Wells:

We haven’t updated you on French President Emmanuel Macron in a while. It’s not going great. The next presidential election is a year away and polls suggest Macron could lose to Marine Le Pen, leader of the populist Ralliement National, the successor to her father Jean-Marie Le Pen’s Front National. The older Le Pen made it to the second round of presidential elections in 2002, the younger in 2017. Each time respectable opinion told French voters they must vote against Le Pen to save the Republic; both times voters did as they were told. The second time the result was Macron’s presidency. He can’t be sure it will work again. He’d become France’s third consecutive one-term president. His successor would open a can of worms. A belated sequel to Trump and Brexit.

Macron needs to get his mojo back. His choice of project is surprising. Last week he announced the closure of France’s École nationale d’administration, or ENA. It’s a graduate school for the bright young men and women who will form the senior ranks of France’s public service. Four of its graduates have become president. Nine have been prime minister. Countless others run government departments, city halls, banks, retail giants, museums. Because énarques (as ENA alumni are called) are so superbly adaptable—super-generalists, the Swiss army knives of the country’s management apparatus—they tend to flit from one job to another, with little apparent connection between positions except that each is the sort of job an énarque would have.

L’ENA is also the school Macron attended. The school that made his presidency possible, certainly the only thing that made his presidency possible. There’s drama in this assault on what made him. Something almost oedipal. It’s like when Ralph Klein had the Alberta hospital where he was born demolished. It’s as if Justin Trudeau had closed McGill University, or some ski lodge at Whistler, or whatever made him what he is today. Twenty-four Sussex? Actually, come to think of it, he has closed 24 Sussex. Hey, wait a minute…

But I digress. To an outsider, it’s hardly obvious why a stalled politician would close a fancy school. The answer hardly seems to match the question. The explanation lies in the distinctive place l’ENA occupies in the French cultural myth. As for why Macron would be the guy who’d decide to pull the trigger… well, therein lies a tale. For one thing, his reform project goes back quite literally to the day Macron graduated from the school 17 years ago.

This will take some telling. I’ve met a number of énarques. The school admits foreign students, so the odd Canadian gets in and graduates. French graduates sometimes find themselves posted to the stately French embassy on Sussex Drive, next door to 24. The current ambassador, Kareen Rispal, just won a prize for alumnae who dedicate themselves to advancing women’s rights. Énarques are, with no exception that I’ve met, cool, eloquent, poised in complex situations. Absolutely superb talkers, but not pushy. They know they’ll get their chance to shine. They always have. I once got invited to speak to alumni of the ENA and one of its main feeder schools, the Institut d’Etudes politiques de Paris, which I attended for a year on a lark ages ago. I’ve rarely been so nervous before a speaking gig.

To get into l’ENA, you have to pass a tough battery of written and oral exams on law, economics, public finances, current events, the European Union and more. Students typically study for a year at a prominent university simply to prepare for the exams. If you fail you’re free to try again the following year, but there is no other recourse or appeal. French higher education is bracingly unsentimental. One of Nicolas Sarkozy’s speechwriters famously failed the entry exam three times as a young man and has carried an epic grudge against the place ever since.

Students spend two school years at the school, divided between courses in Paris, courses at the seat of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, and work terms in government departments. At the end, another brutal round of exams. If you finish in the top 15 of a class of 100-odd, you get to pick your spot in the most prestigious departments in government. Finish much lower and you may wonder whether l’ENA was worth the trouble.

The point of it all is that social connections are no help. You can’t survive all these tough exams because you come from the right family or you have the right accent. L’ENA was founded in 1945 as France crawled from the rubble of occupation and liberation. The old French civil service was like old bureaucracies everywhere: file clerks, stenographers and power brokers who landed jobs for life because they knew someone or had a cousin return a favour. A prewar minister of education, Jean Zay, came up with plans for a school to replace all this cronyism and inertia with something more merit-based. An elite public-service corps, chosen by merit and trained with care. But after the Nazi invasion Zay was arrested by the collaborationist Vichy regime for resisting the occupation and for being a Jew. In 1944 he was murdered by the Nazi-collaborating militia. Soon after France’s liberation Charles de Gaulle put Maurice Thorez, the former French Communist Party leader who’d become the minister for the public service, in charge of implementing Zay’s plan.

Within a decade the énarques were key to a highly-planned postwar economy. By the ’60s there were signs of resentment. For all its egalitarian inspiration, the school had a knack for collecting and promoting cohorts that looked a lot like the same old hereditary leadership class. In France as anywhere else, money buys tutors, quiet study time, and connections that shape your life before the entrance exam even if they don’t play a direct role after. That sense of resentment, of a reform that had entrenched privilege instead of erasing it, deepened over time.

Each graduating class at l’ENA holds a party early on to select a name for their promotion, or graduating class. It’s an emblem of the solidarity that comes from shared stress. The class of 1949 was the Promotion Nations unies, after the United Nations. Later classes named themselves after writers (Tocqueville, Proust) or politicians (de Gaulle, the ’70s West German Chancellor Willy Brandt). Some promotions achieve legendary status. The promotion Voltaire, class of 1980, was legendary: it produced a president, François Hollande; a presidential candidate, Hollande’s longtime partner Ségolène Royal; and a prime minister, Dominique de Villepin.

But then along came Macron, who arrived in 2002 and graduated in 2004. There were already magazine articles about Macron’s class at l’ENA before anyone suspected he would be a presidential candidate. The charming kid from the northern city of Amiens didn’t particularly stand out in a class of rapid climbers who moved into key posts in government and business soon after they graduated in 2004. Here’s the piece in French Vanity Fair from 2014. Twenty members of the class of 2004 were already chiefs of staff or senior advisors to government ministers, it says. Others ran insurance companies or worked at the United Nations. “Their names aren’t known to the general public but they constitute what must be considered a rising power network. And there’s no reason to think they’ll stop there, when it’s all going so well.” Much of the material for my own article, the one you’re reading, comes from Les Jeunes Gens, a book that the Vanity Fair article’s author, Mathieu Larnaudie, published after Macron’s 2017 election.

From their first days at l’ENA, the class of 2004 had a sense of themselves as a unique group, blessed—and tested—by their good fortune. Things were happening.

On April 21, 2002, Jean-Marie Le Pen had been one of two winners in the first round of the country’s presidential election. He soon lost big to Jacques Chirac in the run-off, but the unprecedented breakthrough by a far-right populist seemed an unprecedented challenge to France’s Republican values. This was also the first class at l’ENA after Chirac abolished compulsory military service for young French men. A double cohort, comprising returning conscripts and men who’d never have to serve, swelled the class’s ranks (134 French students aiming for choice spots in the civil service, plus 51 international students) and made it more lopsidedly male than usual.

Finally, on Valentine’s Day 2003, France’s foreign minister, Dominique de Villepin (ENA 1980, promotion Voltaire) gave his speech at the United Nations opposing the Bush administration’s plans for war in Iraq. Here was France carving its own path, standing against the tide, putting Anglo-Saxon noses out of joint.

All these events seemed to pose questions to the young classmates: what’s France for in the world? What’s the nature of public service? Who owes what to whom in this world? The questions were all the more pressing because, looking around, it was pretty obvious to the bright young kids that many of them were born lucky and that the hard work had come later. One was the grandson of a legendary cabinet minister. Most came from prominent families. Their school was France’s highest-pressure meritocracy, but it wasn’t only that.

The class gave a hint that it might have a rebel streak when it came time to name itself. On a long, boozy night, a few surprising names for the promotion were proposed. One was “Les Héritiers,” after a 1964 book that described how France’s higher education system reinforced privilege instead of  opportunity. The group finally decided their class would be known forever as the promotion Léopold Sedar Senghor, after a Senegalese poet who, educated in Paris and elected to the prestigious Académie Française, became Senegal’s first democratically elected president.

But that gesture was nothing compared to the coup de théâtre the class of 2004 pulled off on the last day of school. Here was the moment when students would learn how they scored on the exams and the top 20 would have their pick of civil-service jobs. The highest-scoring student in the class—the major, in the lingo—was Marguerite Bérard, daughter of an énarque and another énarque, living with a classmate she would later marry, on her way to jobs as senior advisor to Sarkozy and then as a bank president. She accepted a handshake from the director of l’ENA and then handed him a 20-page manifesto, ENA: The Urgent Need for Reform, signed by 132 of the class’s 134 students. Emmanuel Macron, 6th in his class, was one of the signatories.

The surprise was complete. The school’s leadership was humiliated. The students all received letters from a French cabinet minister berating them for their cheek. They also received the jobs they wanted and the future the ENA had been built to deliver. But 17 years later, the most relentless and seductive and unstoppable member of the promotion Senghor is implementing the reform they called for on the day when it seemed they really could write their own future.

Will it make a difference? It’s hard to say. Macron has already announced that ENA will be replaced with a new Institute for Public Service, with more entry paths than the single round of brutal exams, but with the same exit ranking as the old school. Instead of going to central coordinating agencies of government, the new school’s top grads will have to get out into the country and work in departments that actually deliver services to citizens. My hunch is that to the great majority of French citizens, it’ll be a distinction without a difference: a factory for producing a leadership class that, after it finishes its stint on the ground, will go on to run everything else.

The option of replacing ENA with nothing—leaving France without a dominant dedicated public-service school, an absence that would make it more like Canada and a lot of other countries—seems not to have occurred to Macron. Old habits die hard, even in people who think they’re dedicated to change. I do hope Macron, or some other politician who shares a certain idea of France, beats the latest Le Pen next year. For all its quirks, indeed in most cases because of them, it’s still a great country.

Source: Emmanuel Macron, l’ENA, and the old weird France

Remaking the public service: After a year of COVID, what has the federal government learned about how it operates?

Useful and informative overview:

Not since the Second World War has the federal government loomed so large over the affairs of Canadians. During the first ten months of the pandemic — from April 1, 2020 to January 31, 2021 — the government shelled out half a trillion dollars compared to $287 billion during the same period in 2019.

The vast majority of the increase was courtesy of emergency spending on an extraordinary range of anti-virus measures.

About $78 billion was taken up by programs to help individuals directly affected by COVID-19. Another $66 billion went towards subsidizing wages of employees who would otherwise be laid off. Billions more were directed at shoring up the weakening balance sheets of small business, and to secure vaccines, testing equipment and personal protective gear.

At times, it seems scarcely a segment of the economy has been left untouched by Liberal government largesse, which by the end of January had pushed the federal net debt to $1.1 trillion. This represented more than half the country’s gross domestic product, not a record by any means, but up from less than one-third practically overnight. This does not include the rapidly deteriorating balance sheets maintained by the provinces.

While the potential risks associated with this level of debt have been put off until the virus has been tamed, the impact of the sudden spending spree on government operations has been profound.

In the year of COVID, dozens of federal agencies and departments have been forced to behave in starkly uncharacteristic ways.

Deep-rooted policies were re-crafted on the fly, procurement moved at warp speed and multiple departments were tasked with building a health products industry nearly from scratch.

On top of this, key ministries are about to be tasked with managing an ambitious program, to be outlined in the April 19 federal budget, to refurbish the country’s infrastructure and help jumpstart the post-COVID economy.

Behind the scenes, government executives are ramping up plans for modernizing operations. They are also asking themselves what permanent lessons they should draw from the tumult of 2020.

These range from the profound: how to prepare for a new pandemic, to the practical: how should government better organize itself for the digital world?

The first lesson involves drilling into the overarching weakness of Canada’s response to the coronavirus — not just the egregious intelligence failure of the Public Health Agency of Canada, but also the relaxed oversight of a cabinet that could not bring itself to accept a worst-case scenario.

PHAC had assured Canadians the health risk to them was low early last year even as the coronavirus was circulating widely.

At heart, this was a failure of leadership culture, not a lack of early warning. The infection that became known as COVID-19 was in plain sight from the start. What PHAC missed, or at least declined to act upon, was the fact that COVID-19 was spreading asymptomatically, despite evidence that had been brought to its attention.

The result was a sharp, early rise in the number of infections, followed by a sub-par rollout of COVID-19 vaccines, which reflected a general lack of preparedness.

For other departments and agencies, the lessons of COVID are more straightforward.

The rapid spread of the coronavirus has demonstrated clearly the importance of the digital world. While the federal government has built one of the country’s largest communications networks, much of it is in need of refreshing and very little is easy to use.

The technology gaps were particularly shocking when it came to tracking stockpiles of personal protective equipment, conducting tests for the coronavirus and tracking the networks of people affected. This was both a provincial and federal government failure.

Anxious to avoid a repeat, federal departments in the past few weeks have developed ambitious plans for upgrading their infrastructure, and expediting new online services for Canadians. Whether these actually succeed will depend heavily on the government’s willingness to reverse its traditional antipathy for investing in operations. Encouraging executives to bear direct responsibility for projects will help.

“The path set out during the early days of the pandemic points to a new way of doing business,” the Canada Revenue Agency declared in its priorities report for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2022.

The agency, which spends half a billion dollars annually on information technology and was a key player in the delivery of the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit, is making permanent adjustments to its networks to give it more flexibility in the event of future crises. It is also developing a series of software applications to simplify tax returns, permit more tax verification information to go online and automate more of the tax filing process.

Employment and Social Development Canada is managing a massive, multi-billion dollar upgrade of the systems that deliver Canada Pension Plan, Old Age Security and other payments. While that was in train before the pandemic, the urgency has increased.

“Past decisions to defer maintenance and updates have increased the risk of systems failure,” the department noted bluntly in its most recent plan, “Modern applications need up-to-date technology.”

During the first few days of the economic lockdown a year ago, ESDC’s system for delivering employment insurance claims very nearly crashed. The department now has in place a program for accelerating its investments in information technology until 2026 to try to make up the gap in its capacity.

ESDC is hardly alone in playing catch-up.

Federal departments across government currently maintain some 14,000 software applications, ranging from weather forecasting to applications for business loans. Many are built on technology so old the original providers have simply stopped supporting it. In order to keep the entire apparatus humming, the government relies on thousands of software jocks familiar with products now past their prime. Many are employed by private sector specialist firms.

“We have to deal with the legacy stuff we inherited, fix it, replace it, modernize it,” Shared Services president Paul Glover acknowledged last fall before a House of Commons committee.

One way to look at it: older software programs need to be upgraded or replaced before they can be shifted from legacy locations to one of the pristine data centres now up and running. To date, just five per cent of the workloads associated with the software have migrated from old data centres to new ones, with another 40 per cent in various stages of planning.

What’s needed, in other words, is a concerted effort to modernize government faster than it’s aging. Departments and agencies will have to stretch.

Thanks to the experience of COVID-19 they now understood just how quickly they can move. Some of the more inspiring examples include:

  • Canada Revenue Agency and ESDC developed generous financial assistance programs for millions of Canadians in a matter of days.
  • Shared Services Canada boosted by 50 per cent the capacity of its networks serving Canadians online, and doubled to nearly 300,000 the number of secure connections used by government employees working from home.
  • Global Affairs seconded more than 600 employees to an emergency response centre at Lester B. Pearson headquarters. There they organized the repatriation of more than 60,000 Canadians from 100 plus countries in the largest post World War II exercise of its kind.
  • Public Services and Procurement Canada — the government’s contracting arm — arranged for the flights for repatriated nationals, and negotiated billions of dollars’ worth of medical supplies, testing equipment and other gear on behalf of the Public Health Agency of Canada. PSPC managed all this with a 3 per cent bump in the size of its procurement group.

So it was, across government. While Canadians in other parts of the country were suspicious that thousands of federal employees had simply booked time off for a COVID holiday, things actually got done.

Yes it was messy. Mistakes were inevitable in this environment, the prime minister acknowledged, but these would be corrected later, he promised. Indeed Canada Revenue Agency and ESDC are conducting audits of the billions of dollars of emergency payments, an exercise that will rely to some extent on artificial intelligence software.

Dealing quickly with the vast knock-on effects of COVID-19 was considered more important last year than upfront due diligence — an assessment with which Auditor General Karen Hogan agreed.

In some ways the government was lucky. Had COVID-19 struck a few years earlier, the response might have been an unholy mess. As recently as 2018, Shared Services Canada, the core supplier of data centres, Internet service and telephone networks, was working itself out of a deep hole created when Stephen Harper’s Conservatives cut its budget just as the department was launched.

The government only recently put in place a cloud services program with third parties, allowing departments to quickly expand network capacity in emergencies. It’s what saved the CERB program.

Just as fortunate, federal departments have been experimenting with pilot projects — such as work-from-home arrangements and automatic bank deposits — that allowed near instant responses to COVID developments.

These signs of flexibility and speed were the fruit of an extraordinary exercise in workplace consultation.

In June 2013, Wayne Wouters, the government’s top mandarin and clerk of the Privy Council asked federal workers what they thought of Blueprint 2020 — an analysis of global trends in technology and management. The document set out a series of principles that would govern how employees would do their jobs in light of these new realities.

The gist was that in order to properly serve Canadians by 2020, government workers would be equipped with state-of-the-art technology, and encouraged to be flexible, to experiment with ideas, and collaborate with other departments. They would also be given freedom to make mistakes and to learn from them.

More than 100,000 offered their views, most of them keen on the idea of making a difference. Others viewed the exercise with scepticism. They knew that as long as politicians felt they had to answer for errors in their departments, the business of running government would default to avoiding risk. Top-down management would prevail. In many ways, it still does.

Yet, fitfully, and somewhat improbably, the work culture began to shift. Here and there, departments and agencies set up those pilot projects. Government planners lost their enthusiasm for huge, all-encompassing programs following the botched rollouts of Phoenix Pay and email systems for federal employees. Both of these had been launched prior to the publication of Blueprint 2020.

Instead, the government has encouraged minimalism — the idea that new online services for Canadians or government employees should be developed in more manageable stages, with each one tested before moving to the next.

When responding to COVID, of course, there was little time for testing. But even there, the lessons of Phoenix Pay had been absorbed. In developing the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit for millions of people affected by the virus, the Canada Revenue Agency aimed for what it called a “minimum viable product” — a software application stripped to absolute essentials.

Along with making changes to the government’s electronic backbone, departments are wrestling with how to deploy their workers, post-COVID.

The Canada Revenue Agency — with 45,000 employees, including some 12,000 in the capital region — is also taking the lead on creating a permanently distributed workforce. In response to queries by this newspaper, the agency said it is looking to shift towards “a hybrid model” that will see a certain core work full-time from the office, while giving other employees the flexibility to work from home.

The collective decisions will have a profound effect locally. Not only do federal government employees make up more than 20 per cent of the Ottawa region’s total workforce, they work in buildings that account for nearly 30 per cent of the capital’s commercial real estate.

Managers and workers alike have learned much of their work can be done from anywhere, leading some to query why 42 per cent of the government’s 300,000 civilian employees need to be based in the national capital region. Departments with more than 80 per cent of their workforce located in Ottawa or Gatineau include: Finance, Statistics Canada, Treasury Board, Innovation and Global Affairs.

Real estate planners suggest the government’s future workforce will likely be split into three groups: small minorities who choose to work permanently from home or the office, and a majority who will work remotely for part of the week.

With thousands of work rules at play across dozens of union bargaining units, none of this will be easy to sort out.

“The work office will have to be re-thought,” says Stéphane Aubry, national vice-president of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada, which represents 60,000 government workers. “Some of our members will prefer to keep working at home,” he adds. “We will not be going back to what was before.”

Before the pandemic struck, the government had been nearing the end of a multi-year program to reduce the amount of office space available for each employee. Almost certainly this strategy will be reversed to accommodate workers still concerned about working in close proximity with colleagues. This means fewer workers for the same amount of office space.

This won’t necessarily be a problem, at least in terms of logistics, assuming sufficient numbers of employees work from home. But it will likely increase overhead costs for government workers overall.

In coming years, as the government starts winding down its spending, the nearly $50 billion it spends annually on payroll for permanent staff will likely come under increasing scrutiny, not to mention the $11 billion it spends each year on professional services.

A strong counter-argument would be to point to a sprawling organization that, prompted by COVID, learned to serve Canadians with dispatch and efficiency. Will it actually happen?

Put it this way: the federal government over the past decade wasted billions of dollars of taxpayers’ money on failed information technology projects — and both government and private firms were at fault.

Departments now have another opportunity to get things right and rehabilitate their reputations. Many of the pieces are in in place but the big unknown is whether the flexible culture foreseen by Blueprint 2020 will actually be permitted to flourish.

Source: https://ottawacitizen.com/news/postpandemic/remaking-the-public-service-after-a-year-of-covid-what-has-the-federal-government-learned-about-how-it-operates