Canada's Governor General Julie Payette delivers the throne speech in the Senate chamber in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada September 23, 2020.
President of the Treasury Board Jean-Yves Duclos
Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada President Debi Daviau
In a section of Wednesday’s throne speech dedicated to addressing systemic racism, the federal government committed to implementing an action plan “to increase representation” in public service hiring, appointments and leadership development.
Given the nature of the throne speech – which lays out high-level government priorities for the new session of Parliament and will face a confidence vote – there was nothing more in the way of details about this action plan.
But the speech did note that “for too many Canadians, systemic racism is a lived reality” and “much more needs to be done for permanent, transformative change to take shape.”
Data from 2018-19 shows that although Indigenous people and members of visible minorities see slightly more representation in the federal public service than they do in the share of the workforce eligible for public service employment, both are underrepresented in executive positions. They also tend to be “overrepresented in lower salary ranges and underrepresented in higher salary ranges,” an August 2020 report from the Library of Parliament found.
At a meeting of the Federal Black Employees’ Caucus last February, Black civil servants called on the federal government to add more diversity to its senior ranks. Treasury Board President Jean-Yves Duclos promised he would work to accomplish this.
Over the summer, the government put out a request for proposals for an executive search firm to create and maintain an “inventory” of Indigenous, Black and other racialized individuals who could be considered for deputy minister and assistant deputy minister positions.
“Truthfully, I think the public service has been (a leader) in the areas of diversity, and they’ve always been quite open to collaboration on how we improve” said Debi Daviau, president of the Professional Institution of the Public Service of Canada.
While Daviau said the throne speech promise for an action plan is a positive development in that it acknowledges “there’s more work to be done,” she also pointed out that actionable items from previous work on this issue — a 2017 report on “Building a Diverse and Inclusive Public Service” with 40-odd recommendations, for instance — have yet to be fully implemented
“Let’s hope they don’t reinvent the wheel on that, because we’ve got better things to do.”
Chris Aylward, national president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, said he hopes the action plan will address “systemic barriers to recruitment in the public service”, including limited access to second language training, the cost and effort required to prove foreign credentials, and the scarcity of affordable and accessible childcare.
“We still have a long way to go to ensure that federal workplaces are inclusive, representative, and free of systemic racism,” said Aylward.
Overall, Daviau said she was encouraged by throne speech commitments to building universal child care and modernizing government IT systems, as well as “the commitment around this not being a time for austerity.”
Traditionally, said Daviau, governments belt-tightening means cuts to the federal public service.
“Now would not be the time to do that, as we’re competently delivering on all of these urgent programs.”
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