Public service managers must be held accountable for failing to hire minorities

Public service managers must be held accountable for failing to hire minorities

If we leave this problem to a few senior bureaucrats we might well be
squandering what Canadians generally have proudly worked to build

By David Kilgour and Mark M. Persaud, The Hill Times
February 11, 2008

Unlike the United States, where racial discrimination is generally accepted as a reality that must be addressed, in Canada we often believe that we don’t have any significant problem in regards to racial discrimination. However, repeated studies have established that racism in Canada is experienced differently by some communities – blacks and aboriginals feel very discriminated against. Whites perceive significantly less discrimination. Recently, the president of the Federal Public Service Commission of Canada, Maria Barrados, identified a very serious issue of workplace discrimination on the basis of race within the public service, which is unfortunately getting worse. This matter must no longer be ignored. 

As a result of the recommendations of the Embracing Change task force to hire more minorities in the federal public service, the federal government approved a number of targets in 2000 which included hiring one minority in every five new hires by the year 2003 and the same ratio for executive promotions by 2005. Similar initiatives have been implemented for women over the years, with varying success, to address the deficit of women in managerial roles. Addressing the barriers faced by minorities in accessing jobs within the public sector was long overdue.
The federal government had earlier invested millions of dollars to reduce its deficit in minority workforce participation. Barrados, however, revealed that, despite a hiring spree by departments, the percentage of minorities hired decreased last year. The hiring of minorities dropped from 9.8 per cent to 8.7 per cent of all hires.
The tired old argument that “maybe not enough minorities apply for federal public sector jobs” has no factual basis according to statistics obtained by the Public Service Commission. The Commission’s study also concluded that the discrepancy is worse in some regions, departments and occupations.
Other studies have found that minority applicants are more educated than non-minority applicants. Language doesn’t seem to be a barrier; nor does the preference for Canadian citizenship, especially for entry level job. In many regions in Canada, federal public service sector jobs generally do not require one to be bilingual in Canada’s two official languages.
For a nation that prides itself in our multicultural policies and openness to people of all backgrounds, the indicated failure by federal government managers to respect mandated practices should be greeted with outrage. There can be rational disagreements on affirmative action or quotas, but there should be zero tolerance for any institutionalized racial discrimination within the federal public service.  

The Senate human rights committee has proposed sanctions against senior bureaucrats, such as cuts in pay and withholding performance bonuses for deputy ministers for failing to comply with approved federal policy.  This may seem too punitive to some, but given the seriousness of this issue and the continuing failure of some senior bureaucrats to respond to government policy, stern sanctions would appear to be appropriate now since all else has failed. The proposed sanctions are relatively insignificant compared to the humiliation that minorities feel when they experience racial discrimination. 

What of the potential damage to Canada’s international reputation?   We are respected abroad for our commitment to human dignity. We have taken strong international  positions and, more importantly, walked our talk in places like South Africa during the 1980’s. Violating human dignity domestically will severely affect our capacity to speak out on rights violations internationally. At a time when Canada desperately needs skilled workers, it will affect also our ability to attract future professional immigrants to Canada, many of whom come here hoping to find opportunities especially because of our reputation as a society which welcomes people of all backgrounds and provides equal opportunity for all.
“Canada should also expect to experience tears in its social fabric and deterioration of its social cohesion as a growing number of minority workers and second generation children of minorities could be expected to get increasingly agitated and annoyed at the federal government’s inaction. In all essentials, it continues to relegate them to second class citizenry,” says Ahmed Hussen, the president of the Canadian Somali Congress.  He adds: “Even in the relatively new Canadian Somali community, which is the largest African Diaspora community in Canada, like other Canadians, people are already moving to the United States to pursue opportunities not readily available in Canada”.
We Canadians should learn from the experiences of alienated second generation minorities in Europe, who are known to express their frustration through public protests and violence. Second generation Canadians from minority backgrounds, like their European counterparts, generally have greater expectations of Canada than their parents.  These parents generally work very hard to ensure that their children will have better opportunities than they did.
We have here an opportunity and duty to improve a successful pluralist society that usually respects and treat all members fairly. The international community often looks to Canada for leadership and if we leave this problem to a few senior bureaucrats we might well be squandering what Canadians generally have proudly worked to build.
The Hon.David Kilgour is a retired Member of Parliament from Edmonton.  
Mark M. Persaud is a commuity leader and lawyer, who has worked for many years with various minority communities.

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