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

Mélanie Joly: révolutionner la fonction publique pour freiner l’érosion du français

Will be interesting to see the details and how this understandable push will be balanced with efforts to increase representation at senior levels of Indigenous peoples and visible minorities:

Aux prises avec une fonction publique qui ne respecte « pas toujours » la Loi sur les langues officielles et un réseau diplomatique anglicisé, la ministre Mélanie Joly dit avoir donné un « coup de barre » et montré une« volonté politique claire » pour freiner l’érosion du français dans la machine fédérale, au pays et dans le monde. Passées plutôt inaperçues lors du dépôt de son « document de réforme » sur le français, des propositions spécifiques au secteur public pourraient, si elles se réalisent, créer une petite révolution au sein du gouvernement.

« Les gens savent très bien qu’il y a une culture qui fait en sorte que, normalement, quand une personne parle anglais autour de la table et qui ne parle pas français, tout le monde s’ajuste », dit la ministre Mélanie Joly pour illustrer des problèmes bien ancrés dans la culture de l’administration publique. En entretien téléphonique avec Le Devoir, celle qui a hérité du portefeuille des langues officielles fin 2019 dit vouloir envoyer un message aux fonctionnaires : cette culture doit changer.

Lors du dépôt, en février, de son « document de réforme », que la ministre appelle parfois son « livre blanc », le gros de l’attention médiatique a été consacré au fait que le gouvernement libéral exprime son désir d’utiliser désormais la Loi sur les langues officielles pour protéger le français aussi auQuébec, et non seulement comme langue minoritaire dans le reste du pays. Cela, pour atteindre une « égalité réelle » entre le français et l’anglais d’un océan à l’autre.

Or, de nombreux passages du document de 30 pages laissent entrevoir un changement assez radical dans la manière dont les deux langues sont appelées à être mises sur un pied d’égalité au sein des bureaux du gouvernement fédéral, dont presque la moitié des employés francophones des régions bilingues disent qu’ils se sentent mal à l’aise de s’exprimer en français. De grandes sections sont aussi consacrées à l’importance du rôle du français dans la conduite de la diplomatie canadienne dans le monde, après qu’une enquête du Devoir eut révélée que la haute direction d’Affaires mondiale Canada est constituée essentiellement d’anglophones faisant accéder d’autres anglophones aux postes les plus importants.

Exigence du français

Selon la vision de la ministre Joly, le gouvernement doit abolir le double standard des exigences linguistiques entre, d’une part, les francophones desquels on exige une excellente maîtrise de l’anglais écrit pour accéder à des postes de gestion et, d’autre part, les anglophones pour qui un français simplement fonctionnel peut très bien faire l’affaire. Pour ce faire, les exigences linguistiques sont appelées à être rehaussées, et plus de formation doit être offerte pour mettre à niveau les fonctionnaires. « Il faut aussi une bonne maîtrise du français écrit [en plus de la bonne maîtrise de l’anglais]. C’est ça, l’idée. C’est ça, le réel bilinguisme », explique Mélanie Joly.

Encore faut-il assurer un suivi auprès des différentes branches administratives du gouvernement fédéral. « Le problème qu’on avait, c’est que c’était une loi [sur les langues officielles] qui n’était pas toujours respectée », dit la ministre. Puisqu’ils sont isolés chacun dans leur coin, les ministères ont pris la mauvaise habitude de ne pas prendre toujours au sérieux leurs obligations en matière de langues officielles, a-t-elle constaté, rapports administratifs à l’appui. « C’est comme si, chaque fois, il fallait que j’appelle mes collègues pour savoir s’ils avaient fait le suivi, ou [comme si] l’équipe et moi voyions dans leurs propositions qu’il y avait des choses quine fonctionnaient pas au niveau des langues officielles », se rappelle-t-elle.

Dans sa nouvelle version, promise d’ici la fin de l’année 2021, la Loi sur les langues officielles devrait bénéficier non seulement d’un commissaire qui aura plus de pouvoirs pour faire appliquer ses recommandations, mais aussi d’une « unité » au sein du Conseil du Trésor qui aura pour mission de faire respecter la loi auprès de tous les employés.

« Il faut être capable de trouver une façon pour que, lorsqu’on est francophone, on puisse exercer notre travail en français au sein de notre fonction publique », fait valoir Mélanie Joly. Se basant sur les grands progrès réalisés au cours des 50 dernières années pour rendre l’État fédéral bilingue, alors qu’il peinait autrefois à donner des services en français, la ministre Joly croit que son document de travail donne un « coup de barre » à l’administration, lui indiquant les orientations du prochain chantier visant à l’égalité au sein des employés.

« Maintenant, on sait que le système n’est pas parfait, et on peut bâtir à partir de nos acquis pour nous assurer qu’il n’y a pas d’érosion du français au sein de notre fonction publique, alors que ce sont de nouvelles générations de fonctionnaires qui rejoignent les rangs des ministères et qu’elles ont eu accès à des cours d’immersion en français [au Canada anglais]. »

Dans le reste du monde

Le 18 mars dernier, les quatre sous-ministres d’Affaires mondiales Canada ont conjointement signé une lettre, envoyée à tous les employés, qui réaffirme que « le bilinguisme fait partie intégrante du Canada » et que l’organisation « a le rôle unique de représenter les intérêts et les valeurs du pays sur la scène internationale dans les deux langues officielles ».

« Nous incitons tous les employés à utiliser davantage le français et nous demandons à tous les gestionnaires de donner l’exemple dans leurs propres communications », peut-on lire dans le courriel obtenu par Le Devoir. Il ne s’agit pas d’un hasard. La conduite de la diplomatie en français est explicitée à de nombreuses reprises dans le document de réforme que la ministre Joly a présenté en février. « Ça a des impacts et c’est normal que notre fonction publique réagisse. Elle voit venir [les changements] et elle s’adapte parce qu’on a dit qu’on allait déposer un projet de loi », indique la ministre.

Tout en faisant le constat d’« une migration vers l’anglais pour tout le monde, pour tous les peuples », Mélanie Joly souhaite essentiellement tirer profit du caractère bilingue du Canada dans les relations avec les autres pays, ainsi que contribuer davantage aux instances internationales qui en font la promotion, comme l’Organisation internationale de la Francophonie (OIF).

« On est dans un monde où, essentiellement, on a tout avantage à développer des accords de libre-échange, des ententes culturelles, à créer des ponts entre les nations. Si on ne le fait pas, d’autres vont le faire. Donc, pourquoi ne pas utiliser nos racines, ce qui nous unit comme francophonie ? »

Mélanie Joly précise que les nombreux éléments abordés dans son document de réforme ne se retrouveront pas nécessairement tous dans la nouvelle Loi sur les langues officielles promise par le gouvernement Trudeau, qu’ils pourraient prendre d’autres formes. Par exemple, le souhait de donner un coup de pouce à la vie en français dans la capitale, Ottawa, sera plutôt traduit par des aides financières. Il est également toujours trop tôt pour savoir si le droit de travailler en français dans les entreprises privées de compétence fédérale au Québec sera inclus au projet de loi ou s’il fera partie d’une éventuelle réforme du Code canadien du travail. Un groupe d’experts mandaté pour se pencher sur la question doit remettre ses conclusions le 8 mai.

Source: Mélanie Joly: révolutionner la fonction publique pour freiner l’érosion du français

‘It’s long overdue’: unions, FBEC weigh in on top leadership’s push for greater diversity, inclusion in federal public service

Some reactions (including mine):

Liberal MP Greg Fergus says he thinks the government’s launch of new priorities to increase diversity and inclusion within the federal bureaucracy ‘will make a better, stronger public service—one that reflects the richness of Canada’s diversity at all levels, and that will make more resilient policy choices and provide better options that will reach all Canadians.’

Union leaders and a Federal Black Employee Caucus representative say the steps are “long overdue,” following Privy Council Clerk Ian Shugart’s recent “call to action” to senior bureaucrats to diversify the leadership ranks in the federal public service, and Treasury Board President Jean-Yves Duclos’ recent announcement to increase diversity and inclusion within the larger bureaucracy and address glaring gaps in staffing of Indigenous, Black and other racialized employees. 

But both Mr. Shugart’s call to “encourage and support the voices that have been long marginalized in our organizations” as well as Mr. Duclos’ recognition that “too many public servants continue to face obstacles” and it’s “time to close the gaps and eliminate the barriers that remain,” preceded an internal audit conducted by the Public Service Commission showing three equity groups—Indigenous peoples, persons with disabilities, and members of visible minorities—aren’t proportionally represented in public service hiring processes.

On Jan. 26, Mr. Duclos and Liberal MP Greg Fergus (Hull-Aylmer, Que.), parliamentary secretary to the president of the Treasury Board, announced a number of key initiatives surrounding diversity and inclusion in the public service, including a focus on disaggregated data, increasing the diversity of the bureaucracy’s senior leadership, a review of the Employment Equity Act as well as possible amendments to the Public Service Employment Act.

“As I’ve said before, I’m committed to achieving this ambitious change, and I know that co-developing our policies and programs with our partners will lead to more innovation, more experimentation, and new way to address the challenges ahead,” said Mr. Duclos in a press release. “In time, we will build a public service that is the true reflection of our pluralism and diversity.”

In an interview with The Hill Times, Mr. Fergus said that the release of these new priorities “have been in the works for a while” and that it’s “great to see it come to fruition.”

“I think this will make a better, stronger public service—one that reflects the richness of Canada’s diversity at all levels, and that will make more resilient policy choices and provide better options that will reach all Canadians,” said the Liberal MP.

“I think the overall aim is bang on, and the way to do that of course is through disaggregated data—you can’t change what you don’t measure—and we want to make sure that you have the right people in place, there will be more mentorship and sponsorship of people with talent throughout the system and making sure that they’re able to accede to leadership roles, there will be a centre for diversity within the public service to continue working on that,” said Mr. Fergus.

“I think Canadians truly appreciate how much the machinery of government is important for collective action—for our health, for income support, for making sure that people are getting what they need,” said Mr. Fergus.

‘These issues aren’t anything new for us’ 

“I think it’s great, I think it’s long overdue,” said Atong Ater, member of the Federal Black Employee Caucus’ (FBEC) core team when asked about the government’s Jan. 26 announcement.

“These issues aren’t anything new for us, working in this area for a couple of years,” said Ms. Ater. “But it’s a good first step—I think the action comes afterwards, but as an instructive or signaling piece from a central agency, I think it’s a good piece of work.”

Focusing on disaggregated data is a major priority for FBEC.

“What we’re seeing, particularly with these releases and announcements, is that the data reinforces what we’ve been hearing anecdotally from our members, and that’s why data has been so important to our work, particularly in this era of big data and how data is used to drive policy decisions,” she said. “It’s of the utmost importance, and we applaud the direction that the federal government is taking, that they’re taking this seriously, and also sharing the information.”

Atong Ater, member of the Federal Black Employee Caucus’ (FBEC) core team. Ms. Ater said ‘data reinforces what we’ve been hearing anecdotally from our members, and that’s why data has been so important to our work.’ Photograph courtesy of Atong Ater

The annual Public Service Employee Survey was conducted from Nov. 30, 2020 through to Jan. 29, 2021, and measures employees’ opinions about engagements, leadership, workforce, workplace well-being, compensation, diversity and inclusion, as well as the impacts of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Results of the survey are expected later this year.

Clerk of the Privy Council issues ‘call to action’ 

Mr. Shugart, Canada’s top civil servant, issued a call to action on anti-racism, equity and inclusion in the federal public service on Jan. 22.

“The past several months have precipitated deep reflection on the unjust treatment of Black people, other racialized groups, and Indigenous peoples in our society,” wrote Mr. Shugart. “As public servants come forward and courageously share their lived experiences, the urgency of removing systemic racism from our institutions and from our culture becomes more evident.”

In his note, Mr. Shugart called on leaders within the public service to appoint Indigenous employees and Black and other racialized employees to and within the government’s executive group, sponsor high-potential employees within these groups to prepare them for leadership roles, support the participation of these employees in leadership development programs, and recruit highly-qualified candidates from across all regions in Canada.

“This call to action represents specific and meaningful actions. My expectation is that progress will be measured and lessons shared. While senior leaders are accountable, this set of actions demands our collective responsibility—at all levels—and a recognition that the existing equity work underway must continue,” wrote Mr. Shugart.

‘Much work remains to be done’ 

On Jan. 28, the Public Service Commission released an audit report that reviewed the representation of employment equity groups throughout five stages of the recruitment process: job application, automated screening, organizational screening, assessment, and appointment, and found that Black candidates experienced a greater drop in representation than members of other visible minority groups both at the organizational screening stage as well as at the assessment stage.

The report also found that the representation rate of persons with disabilities decreased at the assessment and appointment stages, that the representation rate of visible minority groups declined at the organizational screening and assessment stages, and that Indigenous candidates’ representation rate decreased at the assessment stage.

“While progress has been achieved in making the federal public service more representative, much work remains to be done. This audit is a call to action. All Canadians applying to public service jobs should have an equal opportunity to highlight their unique talents,” according to a joint statement from PSC president Patrick Borbey and commissioners Fiona Spencer and Daniel Tucker.

The events of the last two weeks follows the release late last year of a proposed class-action lawsuit by 12 former and current Black federal public servants alleging that Black employees have been systematically excluded from advancement and subjected to discrimination within the government for decades.

Staffing one of the most common issues raised by PSAC members, according to union president  

Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) president Chris Aylward told The Hill Times that his union welcomes the review—and that staffing is one of the most common issues raised by PSAC’s members.

“An overhaul of the federal government staffing system is long overdue to address the systemic barriers that impact our members, especially our members from equity groups,” said Mr. Aylward.

“We hear countless stories from our members who experience racism, sexism, ableism and discrimination during the hiring process, and the recourse mechanisms that are in place are truly insufficient. They are without any enforcement, they are without any teeth.”

But Mr. Aylward said any legislative changes to the Employment Act can’t be made without meaningful consultation with PSAC and with other bargaining agents.

“A lot of it is stemming from several years ago when the Public Service Commission basically delegated the authority to individual departments and managers, and now it’s simply viewed that managers can hire whoever they want,” said Mr. Aylward. “So we think it’s the right step forward, it’s long overdue, these issues are long-standing within the public service.”

Mr. Aylward told The Hill Times that he and other bargaining agent representatives met with the Treasury Board and with the PSC on Jan. 28, where he said he hoped that this was the beginning of an inclusive, consultative, and collaborative approach to staffing issues.

Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC) National Capital Region director Waheed Khan echoed Mr. Aylward’s comments.

“Things need to change, this is long, long overdue, and [the government needs] to take action,” said Mr. Khan. “This is not the first time we’re getting excited, I’m still very hopeful that this will lead to some real changes, but I always have to be cautious.”

Mr. Khan said he had the opportunity to meet with Mr. Shugart early in January ahead of his call to action.

“It seems that senior government leaders always want to put their own stamp on things, they want to start a new initiative, and they forget about anything else that has happened in the past,” said Mr. Khan. “Because in government, everything takes time, so by the time you gain momentum and start getting things done, you have new people who want to start new things, so I pointed out to Mr. Shugart: you need to own the work that has been done.”

‘They’ve already moved the bar a fair amount’

Andrew Griffith, a fellow of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute and Environics Institute keeps a close eye on public service data, and said the ongoing commitments made by the Treasury Board in that area is “a really good thing.”

“I think quite frankly that they’ve already moved the bar a fair amount by actually reporting data broken down by each visible minority group,” said Mr. Griffith. “There’s obviously more that can be done there—it’s always a good idea to have better data—but sometimes you do get to the problem where you have too much data and you wonder whether we have the capacity to analyze it, but better to have too much than not enough.”

Mr. Griffith said he didn’t believe the government is just virtue-signalling on these renewed commitments to greater diversity and inclusion, and that the events of the last week have been consistent with the government’s overall commitment—however it’s implemented—to greater diversity and inclusion in all institutions.

Source: https://hilltimes.us10.list-manage.com/track/click?u=a90bfb63c26a30f02131a677b&id=59998b8fc3&e=685e94e554

The federal government has a toxic workplace problem. Julie Payette is the tip of the iceberg

A bit overblown given the selection of departments, CBSA and CSC enforcement departments. A broader look at departments would indicate a range of workplaces, some better than others.

For example, 19 percent of CBSA employees reported harassment compared to 14 percent for the total public service, satisfaction with resolution, 28 percent CBSA, 35 percent public service.

For CSC, 26 percent compared to the same 14 percent, satisfaction with resolution, 30 percent compared to the same 35 percent.

For contrast, take IRCC; 11 percent, lower than the government-wide 14 percent, satisfaction with resolution, 35 percent, same as the government-wide average.

Analysing 2017-19 staffing data (hirings, promotions, separations) and it is showing a modest improvement compared to the PSC audit. Hope to get this analysis out shortly:

The federal Liberal government has a deepening workplace problem.

Despite all the promises, targets, legislation and regulations, and all the good intentions to bring equity, harmony and respect into the federal public service, things seem to have gotten worse, not better.

For years, news stories have documented harassment or “toxic” workplaces in the unlikeliest spaces, be it in the RCMP, the military or now at one of the top public offices in the country — the governor general’s.

An independent review has described a “reign of terror” at Rideau Hall under Julie Payette and her friend and top aide, Assunta Di Lorenzo.

Its conclusions were powerful enough to lead Payette and Di Lorenzo to resign last week.

And it was maddening to read, in black and white.

The report, rife with redactions to protect the confidentiality of workers who suffered their wrath, was full of adjectives to describe a nightmare work environment: “hostile,” “negative,” “poisoned.”

Employees described “walking on eggshells” and reported “yelling, screaming, aggressive conduct, demeaning comments and public humiliations.”

But by blacking out details of specific incidents, it missed an opportunity to do everyone in the public service — and beyond — a public service. It needed to “show, not tell” exactly what cannot be tolerated in a modern workplace.

Because clearly, people still don’t get it.

Other federal workplaces are undergoing a similar crisis.

Mark O’Neill, the president of the Canadian Museum of History and the Canadian War Museum, is currently on leave, and a review of complaints of workplace harassment is reportedly complete.

The Canadian Human Rights Museum in Winnipeg issued an apology and replaced its top executive after an independent review of complaints of systemic racism, homophobia and workplace issues.

The federal auditor general in 2019 criticized two other sprawling federal departments for failing to maintain respectful workplaces.

Investigations found the Canada Border Services Agency and Correctional Services Canada knew they had problems in the workplace, “yet neither organization had developed a comprehensive strategy to address them.”

“Employees feared reprisal if they made complaints of harassment, discrimination, or workplace violence against fellow employees or supervisors. They also had serious or significant concerns about a lack of civility and respect in their workplaces,” the auditor general found.

It was only on Thursday — the day after the Payette report was released — that the parliamentary public accounts committee examined that 2019 audit.

“A lot of the culture we’re seeing coming out at the governor general’s is embedded in almost every aspect of the public sector,” said NDP MP Matthew Green, “and a good snapshot of that is in CBSA and CSC.”

In the past, Ottawa has tried to effect change, usually through legislation.

In 2015, Justin Trudeau campaigned on a pledge to “take action to ensure that Parliament and federal institutions — including the public service, the RCMP and the Canadian Armed Forces — are workplaces free from harassment and sexual violence.”

His government passed legislation in 2018 to address harassment and violence in Bill C-65. New regulations under that law finally took effect this month.

The new law emphasizes employer accountability to prevent workplace harassment and violence. It defines harassment and violence, and expands the definition to include — as the Defence Department has informed its employees — “a full spectrum of unacceptable behaviours, ranging from teasing and bullying to sexual harassment and physical violence.”

On Thursday, by sheer coincidence, the federal Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety flagged three online training courses for all federal managers and employees on the new workplace regulations.

Too late for Rideau Hall.

The federal government has also set itself equity in employment goals using federal laws like the Employment Equity Act, yet it has failed to diversify the ranks of federal employees and managers.

An audit by the Public Service Commission published Thursday showed visible minorities, Indigenous people and people with disabilities are still not making it past the recruitment and hiring process.

Only women showed an increase in representation through hiring for the federal public service between 2016 and 2017.

The audit tracked more than 15,000 applications across 30 federal departments and agencies.

Disabled people saw the biggest drop, while among visible minority groups, Black Canadians fared worst.

It is likely the federal government wanted to get ahead of the dim picture painted by the Public Service Commission’s audit.

On Tuesday, it floated the notion of bringing in even more legislative changes to make the public service more diverse, this time through “possible amendments” to the Public Service Employment Act.

But the sad reality is, despite existing laws, even when women, visible minorities, Indigenous people and people with disabilities do succeed in getting their feet in the door, their work environments can be oppressive.

A lawsuit filed by a group of Black public service employees in December says they face systemic discrimination, racism and employee exclusion.

So far, some 400 Black public servants, current and former, have joined the effort to have a court certify the claim as a class-action lawsuit against the Canadian government on behalf of 45,000 Black public servants.

Jennifer Phillips, who retired on Dec. 30 after 30 years at the Canada Revenue Agency, is one of the founding plaintiffs.

Based in Toronto, she first started working in CRA’s client services department and got only one promotion in all those years, to collections. She worked with the union to help other employees through the hiring and promotion process, and says she witnessed Black employees passed over, including herself, for jobs, while she saw others face demeaning comments. 

“I’ve seen it happen to others. It exists, but I’m one to brush things off,” she said.

It was after George Floyd’s death last spring, and a tone-deaf response by the department, that Phillips decided to mobilize with another founding plaintiff to organize the lawsuit and seek real change.

When she read about the report into Payette and Di Lorenzo’s treatment of their workers, Phillips said it all sounded very familiar, and she felt for the employees.

The prime minister, she says, owes them “a huge apology.”

“Could you imagine the mental health trauma to these individuals, of having to live it day after day, some of them keeping it to themselves before they start talking about it?”

Finally talking about toxic workplace environments is a relief, she said. “It’s like a weight off your shoulder. But you’re now second-guessing yourself — ‘Why did I take so long? Why did I let it happen?’”

Phillips said Trudeau should follow the example of U.S. President Joe Biden who, on his first day in office, said he would fire any staff member he finds showing disrespect to others. “Have a talk to all your leaders and let them know this type of behaviour is unacceptable and it will not be condoned.”

But Matthew Green, the New Democrats’ government operations critic, said the time for talk is over.

“Trudeau is big on branding and very, very short on delivery,” he said in an interview. “Time and time again, we see policies that on their face look progressive, but as soon as we scratch the surface it’s clear that they’re not actually resulting in outcomes.” 

He said if the Trudeau government “followed through on just a fraction of the promises they made to improve equity and workplace culture, we’d be a lot further along. Time and time again, reports are showing us that the culture remains, and there is zero accountability,” for what Green says is “ongoing workplace harassment and violence that’s being widely reported on.”

Source: https://www.thestar.com/politics/federal/2021/01/28/ottawa-has-a-toxic-workplace-problem-julie-payette-is-the-tip-of-the-iceberg.html

Trudeau government considers legislative changes to make public service more diverse

Of note. The most significant aspects IMO are:

  • ongoing improvements in data (the disaggregated data for visible minorities, Indigenous peoples and persons with disabilities is incredibly useful);
  • the push for increased diversity among executives is buttressed by the DM performance commitment on diversity and inclusion;
  • review of the Employment Equity Act and representation benchmarks (review of the Act will likely generate some debate from all quarters although it’s approach of self-identification and annual reporting has resulted in increased in ongoing increased representation of the EE groups);
  • Review of the Public Service Employment Act and possible amendments to reduce systemic barriers (unclear what that will entail): and,
  • It remains to see how effective the various consultation and related initiatives such as the Centre for Diversity and Inclusion will be in affecting change.

For my analysis of disaggregated data see my What new disaggregated data tells us about federal public service … and What the Public Service Employee Survey breakdowns of visible minority and other groups tell us about diversity and inclusion:

The Trudeau Liberals are eyeing changes to the law governing public service hiring to help make federal departments and agencies more diverse.

They also plan to do further research on the makeup of the federal public service and will try to hire more senior leaders with varied backgrounds.

Treasury Board President Jean-Yves Duclos and his parliamentary secretary, Greg Fergus, are spelling out the priorities today to foster greater diversity, inclusion and accessibility in the public service.

The government says while there has been some progress for Black Canadians, Indigenous Peoples and others who face racial discrimination in the workplace, too many public servants continue to face obstacles.

The Treasury Board Secretariat has begun discussions about the framework for recruitment in the public service and is specifically looking at “possible amendments” to the Public Service Employment Act.

The act is intended to ensure federal hiring is fair, transparent and representative.

The move would complement a review of the Employment Equity Act planned by Labour Minister Filomena Tassi.

The government recently released data that provides more detail about the composition of the public service.

Duclos and Fergus say the annual public service employee survey will help the government identify more precisely where gaps remain and what is needed to improve representation.

The government plans to increase diversity through promotion and recruitment, including introduction of the Mentorship Plus Program to allow departments to offer mentoring and sponsorship opportunities to high-potential employees who might currently face barriers.

The government says although progress will take time, the public service can be a model of inclusion for employers across the country and around the world.

“In time, we will build a public service that is the true reflection of our pluralism and diversity,” Duclos said in a statement.

Just last week, Privy Council Clerk Ian Shugart issued a call to action on anti-racism, equity and inclusion in the public service, setting out federal expectations for current leaders.

The government has also launched the Centre for Diversity and Inclusion, supported by a budget of $12 million, to create an ongoing discussion about change.

“There is much to do before all public servants can feel they truly belong in a public service that values inclusiveness and differences,” Fergus said.

“Outlining these key areas of focus is a key step in taking concrete action.”

Source: Trudeau government considers legislative changes to make public service more diverse

And the TBS announcement of the government’s strategy of January 26:

The public service has long made diversity and inclusion a core value and continuously reflects on the treatment of Black Canadians, Indigenous Peoples, and other individuals who face racial discrimination and other barriers in the workplace, and who are often underrepresented at the most senior levels of the public service. While there has been progress, too many public servants continue to face obstacles. It is time to close the gaps and eliminate the barriers that remain, ensuring the public service is truly representative of the people it serves.

The President of the Treasury Board, the Honourable Jean-Yves Duclos, along with Greg Fergus, Parliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board, has announced the government’s priorities to foster greater diversity, inclusion and accessibility in the public service. Among these efforts, there are several key initiatives:

Generating and publishing data for a more accurate picture of representation gaps

Already, the government has released disaggregated datasets, providing first‑ever views into the composition of public service employees who self‑identify in Employment Equity sub-groups, such as Black or Métis for example.

The annual Public Service Employee Survey, now underway, will generate data and insights to better understand the workforce at even more detailed levels. The results will help us identify more precisely, in particular demographic or occupational groups for instance, where gaps remain and what actions are required to improve representation. 

Increasing the diversity of the senior leaders of the public service

Departments, supported by the Treasury Board Secretariat, will work to increase diversity among senior leaders of the public service and establish a culture of inclusiveness that will combat racism and address systemic barriers. This includes increasing representation through promotion and recruitment and the introduction of the Mentorship Plus Program to allow departments to offer mentoring and sponsorship opportunities to high-potential employees who may currently face barriers. 

Ensuring appropriate benchmarks

The Treasury Board Secretariat will continue to work closely with partners, which includes supporting Employment and Social Development Canada on the review of the Employment Equity Act, to ensure that the public service applies appropriate benchmarks for diversity. 

Addressing systemic barriers

The Treasury Board Secretariat has initiated discussions with key stakeholders about the framework for recruitment in the public service and is specifically looking at possible amendments to the Public Service Employment Act and to support the review the Employment Equity Act, planned by the Minister of Labour.  

In addition to these initiatives, on January 22, 2021, the Clerk of the Privy Council and Head of the Public Service, issued a Call to Action on anti-racism, equity and inclusion in the federal public service. The Call to Action sets out common expectations for leaders to take practical actions that will form the basis for meaningful change.

Engagement, and education will underpin all this work. To that end, the President of the Treasury Board and his Parliamentary Secretary held a roundtable last week with employee communities and stakeholder groups that continue to face barriers to representation and inclusion. And the Government of Canada recently launched the Centre for Diversity and Inclusion. The Centre, supported by a budget of $12M outlined in the 2020 Fall Economic Statement, will co-develop initiatives with these communities, leveraging the lived experiences of public servants to foster an ongoing dialogue for positive change. At the same time, the Canada School of Public Service is refreshing its diversity and inclusion curriculum and has launched an Anti-Racism Event Series.

Progress will take time. But concrete steps in these areas will bring the public service closer to its goal: to be more reflective of Canada and a model of inclusion for employers across the country and around the world. 

Source: https://www.canada.ca/en/treasury-board-secretariat/news/2021/01/government-announces-priorities-for-action-to-increase-diversity-and-inclusion-in-the-public-service.html

Association of Justice Counsel files grievance against Canadian Human Rights Commission, amid ongoing complaints of racism, discrimination

Of note and to watch:

The Association of Justice Counsel filed a grievance against the Canadian Human Rights Commission last week on behalf of its Black and racialized members, and, according to a number of sources with information about the commission’s operations, they say there is ongoing systemic discrimination and a disproportionate dismissal of race-based complaints at the commission.

The AJC, which represents around 2,600 lawyers employed by the federal government who work for the Department of Justice, the Public Prosecution Service of Canada, and provide in-house legal services to various federal agencies, tribunals and courts across the country, also includes members who are lawyers with the Canadian Human Rights Commission.

The AJC says it reactivated its policy grievance on Dec. 17, which it previously filed with the Treasury Board on behalf of their Black and racialized members at the CHRC, in October, after employees raised issues of system racism with CHRC management and after CHRC Chief Commissioner Marie-Claude Landry issued a statement on June 2 in support of Black Lives Matters.

The AJC says Black and racialized employees took the CHRC chief commissioner up on her statement in support of Black Lives Matters and provided the CHRC with a list of recommended actions to address “the complaints process, practices, and operations as well as shared Black and racialized employees’ experiences,” but said the CHRC responded by conducting a “unilateral, non-inclusive investigative process.”

The policy grievance argues that a contract has been breached. Following the filing of a policy grievance and when the employer responds, the parties involved negotiate to understand if compensation is possible. The Federal Public Sector Labour Relations and Employment Board administers the collective bargaining process and the adjudication of grievances and complaints for the federal public sector and parliamentary employees.

“Together, the AJC and other bargaining agents representing Black and racialized members at the CHRC, have been pressing the CHRC to revisit its plans to ensure meaningful collaboration, transparency, fairness, inclusivity, credibility and psychological health and safety in their approaches,” according to the AJC’s Dec. 17 statement. “While the AJC and other [bargaining agents] have been engaging with the CHRC over the past few months, it’s apparent that trust in management’s ability to appropriately deal with the challenges before them has been put to the test as management appears to have lost the trust of those Black and racialized employees who have come forward.”

The AJC originally filed the grievance relating to racism and systemic discrimination at the commission in October, according to David McNairn, president of the counsel.

“We asked for that policy grievance to be held in abeyance while we tried to work on this issue, and recently, we’ve decided that it’s appropriate to move ahead with that,” said Mr. McNairn in an interview with The Hill Times last week.

“That policy grievance, unless it’s resolved, it would end up going directly before the board,” said Mr. McNairn, who also said that the AJC has had discussions with the management of the CHRC and have communicated about a number of items which they believe need to be done to address the situation.

“It’s a very sad and tragic story where the Canadian institution which is entrusted with protecting Canadians from racism and discrimination is itself, apparently, a source of racism and discrimination,” said Mr. McNairn. “There cannot be a greater tragedy than that, in my view. Obviously the commission has an incredibly important leadership role in setting standards for eliminating racism and systemic discrimination and has a mandate to protect Canadians.”

“So it’s extremely difficult to understand, but we have members who are employees there who are raising these issues with us, and we obviously want to stand behind our members and bring about some sort of meaningful change,” said Mr. McNairn.

According to the AJC’s website, earlier this year, employees at the commission raised issues of systemic racism with CHRC management and sought the assistance of their unions.

“When the CHRC issued a statement in support of Black Lives Matters, Black and racialized employees took the chief commissioner up on her invitation in that statement and provided the CHRC with a list of recommended actions to address the complaints process, practices, and operations as well as shared Black and racialized employees’ experiences,” according to the AJC’s website. “The commission responded by conducting a unilateral, non-inclusive investigative processes involving outside parties without consulting employees or their bargaining agents.”

‘The CHRC needs to be reformed’

Billeh Hamud, a lawyer who has represented clients at the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, Divisional Court, the Federal Court of Canada, and the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, told The Hill Times that “as someone who has practiced in this area, [the CHRC] needs to be reformed.”

“Based on my experience, part of the problem with the commission’s complaint process is their application of the case law with respect to racial discrimination,” said Mr. Hamud. “The commission applies a stricter test of racial discrimination when reviewing complaints than the courts and tribunals. As a result, cases with merit are being rejected by the commission.”

“It’s always subtle,” said Mr. Hamud.

Mr. Hamud also said the current system is contrary to our adversarial system of justice in Canada and that specifically, complainants do not have direct access to a third party decision maker who has heard the evidence, the merits of the complaint and can make a decision.

“What’s happening with the commission right now is because you have people who do not understand the case law in terms of racial discrimination when it comes to employment, for example, and they’re making decisions [and] not referring it to the Tribunal when in most cases, they should,” said Mr. Hamud.

According to documents obtained by The Hill Times, which outline the complaints referred to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal by ground of discrimination from 2014 to 2020, 18 complaints were received from 2014-2017 on the grounds of race, with 56 referred between 2018-2020, for a total of 74.

Accepted complaints by grounds of discrimination from January 1, 2020 to November 11 2020, came to 261, with national/ethnic origin complaints coming in at 263.

Complaints referred to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal by grounds of discrimination between January 1, 2020, to November 11, 2020, came to 47. Complaints referred as a function of national/ethnic origin came in at 44.

The Hill Times requested an interview with the Canadian Human Rights Commission, a request which was originally granted with a scheduled discussion with Chief Commissioner Marie-Claude Landry shortly before spokesperson Véronique Robitaille informed our paper that “because of shifting circumstances around the litigation process, we are unable to provide an interview for you today.”

According to the CHRC’s statement, “more than two years ago, we began a commission-wide process of internal reflection to strengthen the commission and its processes. Like many organizations, we recognize that there is much work to do to fully achieve equality and inclusion. That is why the commission has been examining how racism may manifest itself within our organization and what steps might be needed to address it.”

“While we’re pleased that the Treasury Board Secretariat reported this year that the commission was the only public service organization of its size to meet or exceed the Government of Canada’s targets for representation of all employment equity groups, we are committed to doing even more. We recognize that the Employment Equity Act, which is the basis for the TBS evaluations, needs to be modernized, and the CHRC will continue to advocate for this,” according to Ms. Robitaille.

“We know that Indigenous, Black and other racialized people face many societal, institutional and structural barriers to equality. That is why work is underway to ensure that the views and perspectives of Indigenous, Black, and other racialized employees on barriers that may exist within the Commission are heard and addressed.”

Ms. Robitaille also told The Hill Times that regarding the commission’s complaints screening process, they have solicited advice from experts over the past year, including from racialized communities from across the country, on how we can improve our complaints processes.

“Based on this and staff feedback we are making significant changes to the complaints screening tools that we use. We have also brought in experts to train our employees and commissioners, including specialized training on handling of race complaints, and launched a project to collect disaggregated data on our race-based complaints, a key recommendation which has been put forward by staff and stakeholders,” said Ms. Robitaille. “Early indications are that these changes are having a positive impact on the treatment of race-based complaints.”

Current model of the commission as ‘gatekeeper’ of complaints should be eliminated, according to report

Former Supreme Court of Canada judge Gérard La Forest, who was appointed to the top court in January 1985 and retired in 1997, chaired a panel’s report called Promoting Equality: A New Vision in June 2000 that was tasked with reviewing the Canadian Human Rights Act, decades following its passage in 1977.

According to the Canadian Bar Association at the time, “the current model of the commission as a ‘gatekeeper’ of complaints should be eliminated.”

“Victims of discrimination should be able to pursue their complaints even if the Commission does not want to be involved. We suggest a model for individual complaints which gives less of a role to the Commission as an investigative body and more to the Tribunal as an adjudicative body. The Commission should be the first point of contact for a complainant, and the Commission should make a quick determination as to whether it wants to be involved,” according to the report.

Finally, according to the Coalition for Reform of the Ontario Human Rights Commission who were cited in the report, “the existing commission style model does not reflect this fundamental distinction between public and individual interests.”

“By forcing all individual complainants to pass through the gatekeeper, there is no opportunity to directly present evidence to a decision-maker with the power to issue an enforceable order. This model creates a system that is paternalistic, disempowering and ultimately discriminatory because the only people in Canada who are forced to go through the system are the ones who are already identified as disadvantaged,” according to the report.

Atong Ater, member of the Federal Black Employee Caucus’ (FBEC) core team, told The Hill Times that “given what we have been hearing from within the Commission, particularly over the past summer, we couldn’t necessarily, in good faith, continue to engage with them.”

Ms. Ater said they informed the commission that in September, they would be putting a pause on engagements until there was progress that adequately recognized and meaningfully addressed the concerns of their Black and other racialized employees that they were bringing forward.

The AJC’s resumption of the policy grievance comes on the heels of a proposed class-action lawsuit by 12 former and current Black federal public servants alleging that Black employees have been systematically excluded from advancement and subjected to discrimination within the government for decades.

The representative plaintiffs, who have or continue to work for a number of federal departments, are seeking $900-million in damages as well as a mandatory order to implement a Diversity and Promotional Plan for Black Public Service Employees related to the hiring and promotion of Black employees within the public service.

Source: Association of Justice Counsel files grievance against Canadian Human Rights Commission, amid ongoing complaints of racism, discrimination

Diversity isn’t a zero-sum game

Useful look at the linkages between official languages and employment equity, indicating little conflict between two complementary goals. Given that TBS now provides breakdowns by individual groups, further analysis of OL and diversity by group would be helpful given the differences between groups (see my What new disaggregated data tells us about federal public service … and What the Public Service Employee Survey breakdowns of visible minority and other groups tell us about diversity and inclusion).

Little new, however, on the various suggestions to further improve diversity:

Fostering Canada’s rich diversity continues to be a national priority, as emphasized in the latest speech from the throne. Yet, critics often view diversity as a zero-sum game. One recent argument insisted that promoting French-language diversity and racial diversity represents “deeply contradictory goals with little introspection,” claiming that French-language requirements discriminate against racialized people. This trade-off mentality is dangerous because it pits groups against each other. In reality, French-language diversity and racial diversity can thrive in tandem, and the federal workforce is a living example of that.

French-language diversity is increasing

French-language diversity in Canada has always faced challenges but it first gained legal representation in 1969 through the Official Languages Act. Today, its preservation is reinforced by the Liberal Party modelling bilingualism in its speeches and investing a record $2.7 billion over five years starting in 2018–2019 to make bilingualism more accessible to Canadians. Additionally, non-partisan government policies, such as the Directive on Official Languages for People Management,have promoted bilingualism in the federal workplace.

Such political and administrative dynamics have helped bolster the number of government positions requiring bilingualism or French-only from 40.1 per cent in 2017 to 45.1 per cent in 2019, according to the latest data from the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat. Interestingly, this same data set reveals a story of diversity complementarity rather than contradiction.

Racial diversity is also increasing

Two common ways of measuring diversity are (1) overall representation and (2) access to executive positions. For visible minorities (the government’s term for racialized people), both metrics have increased. Between 2017 and 2019, the number of government-employed visible minorities skyrocketed by 21.2 per cent, expanding their representation in the federal workforce from 15.1 per cent to 16.7 per cent (figure 1). Notably, Black representation increased the most, growing from 2.8 per cent to 3.2 per cent, and it did so without cannibalizing the representation of other visible minority groups (South Asian/East Indian, people of mixed origin, Chinese, and others).

Clearly, representation has improved but what about access to executive positions wielding power over decisions and resources? It has also improved. Between 2017 and 2019, the number of visible minority executives increased by 20.8 per cent, elevating their share of total executive positions from 10.2 per cent to 11.1 per cent. Again, there wasn’t any cannibalization across visible minority groups. However, this gain has been outpaced by the growth in visible minorities’ overall representation. What this means more broadly is that the pipeline of diverse candidates to fill the nation’s top bureaucratic positions has expanded quickly. Yet, more efforts to train, promote and retain these staff are required to ensure that senior leadership is more racially representative.

Promoting diversity can be inclusive

This complementary diversity is even clearer when French-language and racial data are combined. Since 2017, the federal government has added roughly 8,900 positions that require bilingualism or French-only speakers. Visible minorities have filled a whopping 28 per cent of these positions (which is almost double the percentage of working-age visible minorities in Canada who can speak French). This, in large part, is a result of greater access to language training and new initiatives to achieve departmental racial diversity goals. Simply put, visible minorities are fully capable of promoting the French language if they’re equipped with the proper resources.

Interestingly, these encouraging trends haven’t threatened many other diversity groups. For example, women’s representation and the share of Indigenous executives have both increased over the same period. This may be due to workers having intersectional identities. However, the myriad of diversity personified by top cabinet ministers signals the priority to reflect Canada’s true diversity in the government. Equally, the bureaucracy’s increasing emphasis on diversity since 2016 – through new studies, task forces, departmental diversity and inclusion councils, executive leadership development programs, and the like – has expanded diversity across multiple fronts.

A path forward for French-language diversity

French-language diversity and racial diversity in the Canadian government are increasing but more must be done to reflect Canada’s true diversity. To increase French-language diversity, the government should prioritize improving the quality of language training. Currently, departments use third-party language-training suppliers, which often entails high costs, as noted by the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat. This decentralization across departments translates into a lack of standardization, inhibiting a high and consistent quality of education, and limited coordination, preventing departments from pooling resources and sharing best practices to teach French.

Instead, the government should offer more virtual group language lessons, workshops and resources through the Canada School of Public Service (the government’s central employee training hub). In-housing more teaching ensures greater quality control, broadens accessibility to more staff and saves on training costs in the long run. To help employees master French, the government should create short and immersive language-exchange programs – across departments and with international agencies – so that staff can work in a different official-language setting. These micro-assignments can include a language-mentoring component, which has also been suggested by the Privy Council Office. In turn, departments would benefit from these staff subsequently spurring more ideas, best practices and collaborations across departments and institutions.

A path forward for racial diversity

To increase racial representation, the government should invest in targeted recruiting programs. As the federal Joint Union/Management Task Force on Diversity and Inclusion suggests, recruiting racialized students has historically been challenging. Programs like the Indigenous Student Employment Opportunity and the Federal Internship Program for Canadians with Disabilitieselevate the importance of specific groups; a similar resource-backed program for racialized people would highlight them in recruitment. Another way to build the diversity pipeline is through sponsorship programs. In the United States, the Charles B. Rangel Graduate Fellowship Program(funded by the federal government) helps historically underrepresented U.S. minorities fund their graduate program, pairs them with mentors and places them in a full-time position at the U.S. State Department. This end-to-end program incubates talent from the start and fosters their long-term success with resources.

To boost racialized employees’ access to executive positions, the government should formalize a career mentorship program available across all departments. This government-wide approach would enable more standardization (while allowing for some departmental customization) and best-practice sharing. Additionally, departments should consider a reverse-mentorship program, whereby junior racialized staff act as mentors to senior non-racialized executives. Research and the United Kingdom Civil Service’s first-hand experiences reveal that such a program elevates a group’s visibility, unlocks more trust between groups and ultimately increases retention. These interactions also create a non-hierarchical feedback loop that enables executives to better understand lived realities and how the organizational culture interacts with those realities. Thus, they can more effectively address diversity and inclusion barriers.

Whether it’s targeted recruiting or mentorship programs, what’s crucial is that these initiatives be incremental to existing efforts and not cannibalize them. Additionally, accountability is integral to their success. For instance, this could mean factoring into executive evaluation and compensation how an organization performs based on its original diversity goals.

Diversity is just one piece of the journey

Canada’s commitments to cherish its French-language diversity and racial diversity deserve some praise. The federal workforce proves how these two can be complementary rather than a zero-sum trade-off. However, the Canadian government can’t rely on this positive trajectory because it’s far from being truly diverse and inclusive. That’s why it should standardize more official language teaching and bring it in-house, promote official language-exchange programs, invest in targeted recruiting for racialized people and institutionalize mentorship programs.

Beyond diversity, workplace inclusion equally needs attention. For example, the 2019 Public Service Employee Survey results show that visible minorities in the government are nearly twice as likely as non-visible minorities to report experiencing discrimination. This can negatively impact an individual’s sense of belonging, trust in a department, willingness to fully contribute at work and even retention.

Be it diversity challenges or inclusion challenges, resolving both is critical to reducing workplace inequities and socioeconomic disparities. Doing so is a necessary step to making diversity, inclusion and equity a reality in the Canadian government.

Source: Diversity isn’t a zero-sum game

What new disaggregated data tells us about federal public service diversity

My latest in Policy Options, taking advantage of disaggregated employment equity data:

Just how diverse is the federal public service? This question recently has attracted more scrutiny, particularly when it comes to the inclusion of Black Canadians in the bureaucracy. Before February, no Black person had made it to the deputy minister rank of the public service – Caroline Xavier is now associate deputy minister of immigration, refugees and citizenship. The 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.”

Now, for the first time, the federal government is providing disaggregated data related to the diversity of the public service as part of its Employment Equity Report. The Treasury Board Secretariat’s (TBS) report looks at the three fiscal years from 2016-19 by occupational group. Previously, disaggregated data for visible minority and Indigenous individuals employed in federal public administration (excluding the military) was only available through census data every five years. We now have the tools to do a more granular analysis of visible minority representation in each occupational group and see where work remains to be done. Table 1 looks at the overall visible minority representation in Canada, the visible minority population that are citizens, and the numbers shared in the government’s equity report. The citizenship number is taken here as a benchmark, since citizens are given preference in government staffing processes. This gives us a picture of the degree to which there is under-representation of certain groups compared to the citizenship-based benchmark. A note about the terminology: I have used the term visible minority, as do Statistics Canada and the Treasury Board Secretariat. Indigenous Peoples are their own category for data purposes, and do not fall under visible minority. 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. The representation of most groups is relatively close to their share of the citizenship population, with South Asian, Chinese and Filipino public servants less represented.Table 2 takes the same approach with respect to Indigenous representation with the exception that total and citizenship-based populations are identical, showing relative under-representation of First Nations and Inuit people.Table 3 compares the representation of each visible minority by occupational group, expressed as the percentage difference with non-visible minority, non-Indigenous employees for the three-year period 2017-19. For most groups, relative representation has not shifted dramatically from 2017 to 2019, with general under-representation in the executive, technical and operational categories.Among executives, no group has improved its representation by one percent or more from 2017 to 2019, with only individuals of mixed origins showing an increase of 0.6 percent, and Black, Filipino and Southeast Asian people showing marginal increases (0.1, 0.3 and 0.1 percent respectively). Table 4 similarly compares the representation of each Indigenous group by occupational groups, expressed as the percentage difference with non-visible minority, non-Indigenous employees for the three-year period 2017-19 (for the executive and technical occupational groups, there are fewer than five Inuit public servants, and thus the federal government does not provide numbers out of concern for privacy).While this analysis highlights the differences in visible minority and Indigenous representation among the different occupational categories, it does not break it down by seniority level. TBS declined to provide a disaggregated breakdown for assistant deputy ministers (level EX4-5) and directors and directors general (level EX1-3) given that breaking down the numbers to those subgroups would present a privacy risk. But TBS did say that of the 335 ADMs, 30 are visible minority (9.0 percent) and nine Indigenous (2.7 percent). 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. With this type of disaggregated data in hand, policy discussions and responses can be based more solidly on evidence rather than relying on examples and anecdotes about who works in the public service. With better data, the government can hopefully build a more representative and inclusive public service at all levels.

Source: What new disaggregated data tells us about federal public service diversity

For those interested, the TBS dataset used can be found here: Employment Equity Sub-Group Population in the Public Service of Canada

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