Feds creating ‘inventory’ of racial minorities to fill senior public service posts

Reasonable approach. I recall when I worked for Global Affairs in the 90s, that a similar practice existed, run by HR, to identify promising women foreign service officers for development assignments and advancement. Some 20-30 years later, most of the names became senior officials:

The Liberal government wants to create an “inventory” of Black, Indigenous and other racialized people who could play high-ranking roles in the federal public service.

It is looking for an executive search firm to create and maintain the list of candidates from minority groups, as well as people with disabilities, who could be considered for deputy minister and assistant deputy minister positions.

Details of the planned database are contained in a request for proposals posted on the federal government’s procurement and public tenders website.

They were first reported by the True North Centre for Public Policy on its news site.

The call for the staffing consultant to do this work was put out by the Privy Council Office, a bureaucratic operation that supports the prime minister and cabinet.

The request for proposals does not disclose how much the contract will cost.

“The federal public service is stronger and most effective when it reflects the diversity of the Canadians it serves,” says the request for proposals.

“While progress has been made in recent years to achieve gender parity in the senior leadership community, there is more progress to be made in increasing representation of Black people and other racialized groups, Indigenous people, as well as persons with disabilities.”

Ordinarily, public servants rise through the ranks before attaining the most senior executive posts of deputy minister and assistant deputy minister.

However, the Employment Equity Act, which applies to federally regulated industries, Crown corporations and some portions of the federal public service, designates women, Indigenous Peoples, other visible minorities and people with disabilities as groups requiring special measures to overcome barriers to employment.

According to an analysis by Andrew Griffith, a former director general at the Immigration Department, in the October 2017 issue of Policy Options, less than four per cent of executive positions in the federal public service were Indigenous and less than 10 per cent were other visible minorities.

Caroline Xavier is the only Black assistant deputy minister, appointed in February at Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.

“We are in 2020. How come it took so long? It shouldn’t have,” she told the CBC in June.

The winning bidder will be required to update the list every two months.

Source: Feds creating ‘inventory’ of racial minorities to fill senior public service posts

Five years on, Trudeau’s vow to build a diverse public service still unfulfilled

I find this report unbalanced and does not reflect that the government largely met its commitment to increase diversity in appointments as I wrote in 2019 (Taking stock of Ottawa’s diversity promises) while public service diversity continues to increase for women and visible minorities for both employees and executives albeit at a slow but steady pace.

The main issue is with respect to Black Canadians at senior levels and I will be looking at data to take this concern from the anecdotal and symbolic (only one Black DM) to quantify the occupational groups and levels where this is most prevalent, as well as looking at other relatively under-represented particular visible minority groups.

I agree with Michael Wernick that while the employment equity act is ripe for a review, opening it up would indeed be a hornet’s nest. And looking back over the over 30 years of EE data, hard to argue that it has not been a success in improving representation given its focus on representation:

When they took power in 2015, the Trudeau Liberals promised to “build a government that looks like Canada.”

But their government, now in its second mandate, still hasn’t hired enough minority senior staff members to truly reflect the country’s diverse makeup.

Only four chiefs of staff to 37 ministers are people of colour — roughly 11 per cent of the total — while they constitute more than 22 per cent of the national population, according to the last census in 2016.

As protests against anti-black racism — triggered by George Floyd’s police custody killing in Minneapolis — have grown in size and spread around the globe, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been talking more about “systemic” racism in Canadian institutions. The prime minister also kneeled in a crowd of anti-racism protesters in Ottawa last Friday as a symbolic gesture of support for their calls for change.

“Systemic racism is an issue right across the country, in all our institutions, including in all our police forces, including in the RCMP. That’s what systemic racism is,” Trudeau said Thursday morning.

“Here are the facts in Canada. Anti-black racism is real, unconscious bias is real, systemic discrimination is real,” the prime minister said in a speech in the House of Commons last week, vowing that his government is committed to breaking down barriers and providing opportunities for marginalized communities.

The lack of diversity among Liberal staffers was keenly felt by Omer Aziz, who worked briefly as an adviser to Chrystia Freeland when she was foreign affairs minister.

“I would go into meetings and I’m the only non-white person there. I felt that when I would raise my voice and give my advice, that it wasn’t taken seriously,” Aziz told CBC.

“That is eventually why I left what was my dream job.”

Getting better … slowly

Other senior staffers told CBC that while being one of just a few people of colour around the table may not be an ideal job situation, diversity in the higher ranks of the federal public service has come a long way in the past decade.

The government is also responsible for appointing people to hundreds of bodies outside the core public service, such as agency boards, foreign missions and Crown corporations.

The Trudeau Liberals reformed that hiring process early in its first mandate to serve its goal of attracting diverse applicants. The result: a dramatically improved ratio of people of colour to other hires, from 4.3 per cent when the Liberals were elected in 2015 to 8.2 per cent as of June 2020.

As for the most senior civil servants (deputy and associate deputy ministers), the number coming from diverse backgrounds is still less than 10 per cent of the total — so low that the Privy Council Office won’t release the figure, arguing it would compromise privacy rights because it would be easy to work out who these senior civil servants are.

‘You have to represent’

“We are in 2020. How come it took so long? It shouldn’t have,” said Caroline Xavier, the only Black person serving as an associate deputy minister in the federal government. She was appointed to the post at Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada back in February.

“Sometimes the burden is heavy because you have to represent. It’s a burden I’m prepared to take on because it’s my job to open more doors for others.”

Xavier said there’s no easy solution, but conversations about breaking down barriers “are happening” within government.”There is a recognition at the most senior levels that this has got to be rectified.”The federal government fares far better when it comes to appointing women; the ranks of deputy ministers and other high-level positions are close to gender parity now.

The Trudeau government isn’t the first to pursue greater diversity in the upper ranks of the public service.

In 2000, a task force struck to look into the participation of people of colour in the federal public service cited an “urgent imperative to shape a federal public service that is representative of its citizenry.”

Seven years later, the Senate published a report on employment equity in the public service with the title: “Not There Yet.” Ten years after that, in 2017, a Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat task force reported that “many gaps in representation persist in the executive category … the very leaders who shape and influence the culture of federal organizations are not sufficiently diverse.”

‘People don’t want to admit that’s going on’

Since 2000, there has been a slow but steady increase in the number of Canadians of colour in the public service — from just under six per cent of the total then, to more than 16 per cent today.

But annual employment equity reports and the census show that Black civil servants, along with Filipinos and Latinos, are still grouped at the lower end of the salary ladder.

Liberal MP Greg Fergus, chair of the parliamentary Black caucus, told CBC News this week that he wants to see the government address that disparity.

“It doesn’t make sense that there’s been no Black deputy ministers — you can’t convince me that there aren’t Black people who are competent,” he said. “But there’s something that went into the calculation over time, that that person didn’t make the right fit, or didn’t get that promotion. We can justify any individual decision, but when you aggregate all these decisions, you end up with a biased result.

“Those are the things that we’ve got to take a look at. But it’s hard to do the things which are hard to do. And it’s hard to see bias. People don’t want to admit that’s going on.”

Trudeau has tasked his parliamentary secretary, Ontario MP Omar Alghabra, with looking at public service renewal. While the Black Lives Matter protests have given the file more urgency, the government has no clear plan yet.

Sharon DeSousa has suggestions. A regional executive vice president with the Public Service Alliance of Canada, she served on the 2017 task force on diversity in the public service. She points out that only one recommendation out of 43 was implemented.”We keep having committees and reports and, to be honest, we’re coming up with the same data,” DeSousa said.”We’ve got systemic barriers and we need to address them,” she said, adding that if the Liberals were serious about going after unconscious bias, they would take a hard look at how data on hiring are being collected, and the problems baked into legislation like the Employment Equity Act.

A ‘hornet’s nest’

The Employment Equity Act hasn’t been updated in nearly two decades and still uses the broad term “visible minorities” — a phrase the United Nations has called discriminatory because it lacks nuance and assumes the experience of a Black employee is the same as that of a South Asian one.

Former head of the privy council Michael Wernick said he believes now is the time to look at changing legislation.

“I think to get at issues in the 2020s, you’re going to want to dig down into each of those communities and have more precise strategies for them,” Wernick said, adding that employment equity laws are still an important tool for promoting diversity.

Still, he said, opening the act up for debate could be like turning over a “hornet’s nest” and coming to a consensus won’t be easy.The Liberals also have flirted with the concept of “name blind” recruitment for the public service — the practice of concealing a candidate’s name to protect those with more ethnic-sounding names from conscious or unconscious bias in the hiring process.A pilot project in 2017 produced a report suggesting name blind recruitment made no difference to outcomes, which prompted former Treasury Board president Scott Brison to declare that “the project did not uncover bias.”

But it turned out the methodology was flawed. Departments had volunteered to take part in the pilot and knew their hiring decisions would be evaluated.

The Public Service Commission is still examining other random recruitment processes.

Some factors that serve to prevent people of colour from being hired by the federal government — the country’s largest single employer — are harder to work around, said Andrew Griffith, a former director-general with Citizenship and Immigration Canada who has written extensively about the issue.

“There’s a preference in the public service to hire Canadian citizens and not all visible minorities have become citizens yet,” Griffith said. He said he believes that factor narrows the gap between the diversity of the general population and that of the federal public service.

Other factors that could be frustrating the push for a more diverse public service, he said, are language requirements and a need for regional representation in parts of Canada that are not so diverse.

That second factor could be less of a problem in the longer term, with a pandemic crisis forcing many civil servants to work from home. But Griffith said getting into government work is “just a long convoluted process.”

Source: Five years on, Trudeau’s vow to build a diverse public service still unfulfilled

Employment Equity in the Public Service: 2018-19 Numbers and report

The latest employment equity report shows a slight uptick in representation compared to the previous year of women EX (from 49.1 to 50.2 percent, visible minorities (all, from 15.7 to 16.7 percent and EX, from 10.1 to 11.1 percent) and Aboriginal (Indigenous) EX (from 3.7 to 4.1 percent).

This year report provides breakdowns within each group (intersectionality):

  • Women: 17.0 percent visible minorities, 5.8 percent Indigenous
  • Visible Minorities: 55.6 percent women, 2.4 percent Indigenous
  • Indigenous: 61.5 percent women, 7.7 percent visible minorities

TBS is also providing sub-group info, with the chart below summarizing the breakdown among visible minority groups:

Historical charts below:

Source:  Annual Report Publication

How COVID-19 could reshape the federal public service

Too early to tell but the opportunities are there:

The COVID-19 pandemic has handed the public service a grand-scale opportunity to experiment with new ways of operating, including rethinking the need for massive office buildings in Ottawa-Gatineau and embracing digital government more fully. What public servants learn in the next few months by working remotely and in crisis could jolt the bureaucracy into a re-ordering of practices and culture that reformers haven’t been able to do in 25 years.

Public servants rapidly mobilized over the past month to implement a massive financial aid package, abandoning play-it-safe and rules-bound processes to put the needs of Canadians first as they doled out billions in emergency funding.

“It’s not that the crisis is forcing us to reshape the public service, but the post-pandemic world could be the window of opportunity, or necessity, to accelerate the renewal and reforms in institutions,” former privy council clerk Michael Wernick said in an interview.

Alex Benay, the former chief information officer who led the government’s digital agenda until he left for the private sector, wrote the crisis unleashed a “new norm,” the “digital first” government he’s long pressed for.

“Sadly, it took COVID-19 for people to realize that the real problem was not technology, not necessarily the culture…The real ‘enemy,’ so to speak, has been the operating model of government has yet to change to adjust to the new digital realities,” Benay wrote in a recent LinkedIn post.

Crises sparks change, but not always lasting change

It’s not the first time the public service has roared into action to combat a crisis. Its rapid response was reminiscent of the moves it made during the “program review” budgetary cuts of the 1990s, after the 9/11 attacks, and during the 2008-09 financial crisis, which had lasting impacts on government.

These events didn’t, however, fundamentally change the culture of the public service and many argue it went back to its old risk-averse and hierarchical ways as the crisis receded. That culture is hard-wired into public service, built on rules developed to keep governments accountable for the decisions they make with taxpayers’ money.

The public service has been slow to embrace technology that’s changing the private sector at breakneck speed. Bureaucrats have been pushed to innovate, to use digital tools to rethink how they work and deliver services, to take risks, and even to fail as they experiment with new ways of working.

Mel Cappe, who was Canada’s top bureaucrat in the aftermath of 9/11, said today’s public servants rightly opted to get emergency aid out to those who needed it over a “bullet-proof system” that ensured no mistakes at the front-end. The thinking was that errors could be fixed later.

It allowed the public service to take just two weeks to distribute employment insurance payments to 2.4 million applicants, the number it normally handles in a year. Money “going to people undeserving is an error I would rather have than depriving people of the money they need in crisis,” Cappe said in a podcast.

“Work will change and services will change. Why does a call centre have to have a building?” he said in an email. “Our expectations of the role of government have increased dramatically. New programs, new services, new bodies. But we have no idea what or how.”

A smaller, more distributed public service?

Long before the pandemic struck, questions had been raised as to why nearly 42 percent of federal workers are clustered in office towers in the National Capital Region. In the blink of an eye, thousands of bureaucrats are working from home. Many predict it won’t be long before politicians will be asking why these home offices are in the nation’s capital. Why can’t those jobs be across the country?

The public service’s headquarters is in Ottawa-Gatineau – where it occupies about 3.5 million square metres of office space – because that’s where Parliament, ministers and deputy ministers are. The pandemic shows cabinet, Parliament and MPs can meet virtually, so it’s “inevitable there will be push to spread those jobs across the country,” said Wernick

“I think that 10 years from now the public service will be much smaller, more distributed, less concentrated in Ottawa and flatter in hierarchy. It’s been moving in that direction and this will accelerate it,” he said.

Ryan Androsoff, who teaches digital leadership at the Institute on Governance and is a co-founder of the Canadian Digital Service, calls the crisis an “inflection point” for remote work. Forced to work at home, public servants know they can do it.

He argues agents who work at the government’s 221 call centres could work remotely, as could many policy analysts and other knowledge workers. It could lead to a major reduction in federal real estate holdings across the country.

There are bugs to iron out – more laptops and tablets are needed; employees need access to software for video conferencing, cloud and collaboration tools like Slack and Microsoft Teams; and above all, they need more bandwidth. Employees not working on the pandemic or other critical jobs have been directed to stay off the network during peak hours because of limited available bandwidth. Protocols would also need to be developed for accessing confidential documents remotely and the setting of productivity goals.

By headcount, the public service is larger in the regions, but there has long been a divide between headquarters and regions. Senior management is in Ottawa, where policy and decisions are made, leaving operations to the regions. Regional workers have often complained they feel out of the loop and like second-class employees.

Technology and distance working will eliminate that divide and allow the government to recruit a workforce that better represents the country to help resolve the regional alienation dividing the country. Androsoff warned, however, that divide could worsen if the region’s operational workers make the switch to remote working, but Ottawa policy-makers go back to the office as normal.

“Moving to a remote and distributed workforce as the norm for everyone opens up all parts of the country to feel they are a part of the central government rather than isolated in regional outposts,” Androsoff said.

“I am a westerner, from Saskatchewan, and in Ottawa you tend to see far fewer people in policy-making or executive roles from the east and west partly because it requires a move to Ottawa.”

Office accommodation for 300,000 employees is one of the government’s biggest operating expenses. It may be cheaper to set up workers at home, but it will also require a new approach to management for some 15,000 supervisors and 7,000 executives.

“It’s never been a technology limitation. It’s the philosophy about managing the workforce that has to change,” said Michel Vermette, a former CEO of the Association of Professional Executives of the Public Service of Canada.

“It means making people accountable for what they produce, and the public service has not done that very well. It has substituted office presence for production.  Managers need to think differently; hold people accountable for what they do, not for showing up,” he said.

Vermette said the crisis is showing managers they can trust employees are actually working when not in the office because suddenly “they have no choice and people are demonstrating they can be productive at home.”

It could also help change the culture of endless meetings. Some hope the number of large in-person meetings could be curtailed and call for training on how to run them better. Meetings held online or by videoconferencing should treat everyone the same whether they are physically present at headquarters or calling in.

Improving digital access to services

Under lockdown, people are living even more digitally and will emerge expecting better and speedier digital service — especially after they received almost immediate relief benefits in their bank accounts, said Androsoff. He expects demand for digital services will accelerate and the 32 percent of Canadians who still visit federal offices will decline.

The Liberal government has put a lot of stock in modernizing digital services as a way to restore trust in government. The crisis, however, exposes the risks of aging technology that governments have been warned about for a decade. Systems are outdated; some more than 50 years old, costly to maintain and on the brink of failure.

That’s particularly the case at Employment and Social Development Canada, which with the Canada Revenue Agency, jumped huge technological and approval process hurdles to deliver emergency funding.

Debi Daviau, president of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada, argues a “silver lining” is the realization that technology is the backbone of government’s business, not just the back office.

“There will be a big push for improvement in technology because the government is way behind in investments in infrastructure and training,” said Daviau, whose union represents 17,000 federal information technology workers.

“But the downside is whenever there is an economic stimulus, they take it back from the public service, so I worry for the future. There will be a restraint budget. How will the public service be reshaped; what will be cut and what will government decide it can live without? This situation clearly highlights the importance of a public service that can act quickly.”

Government is already racing to figure out how to steer the country into a post-pandemic recovery, which will remain uncertain until a vaccine is found. Many bureaucrats are braced for a cost-cutting budget, whether in 2022 or 2023. They say national and health security will be top spending priorities, and will nudge technology upgrades off the table.

“I share concerns that the inevitable fiscal retrenchment in next couple of years will slam on the brakes,” said Wernick. “We could lose the best parts of the innovation of the public service that has already happened and the appetite for continuing to invest in back office, IT and service improvement.”

Source: How COVID-19 could reshape the federal public service

Public servants handcuffed by unreasonable expectations of political neutrality

Or are they unreasonable?

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

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

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

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

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

At lower levels, less of an issue:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: Public servants handcuffed by unreasonable expectations of political neutrality

Black civil servants passed over for promotions, says Independent MP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Liberal government wants to pin more medals on bureaucrats

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Called ‘underrepresented’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Civilians in silver

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Although from a small base, some progress:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Those tools aren’t always used, he said.

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

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

Ontario puts moratorium on suspending racialized public servants

Strong step:

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

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

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

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

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

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

None of the accusations has been tested in court.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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