Good morning. I am pleased to be here with Donald Lemaire, Senior Vice-President, Policy Branch, and Gaston Arsenault, Vice-President, Legal Affairs Branch, to discuss our special report on Merit and Non-Partisanship under the Public Service Employment Act (2003), which we tabled in Parliament earlier today. This report reflects the views of the commission as it approaches the end of its mandate. We hope it will also provide useful input into Parliament's five-year statutory review required by the act.
The Public Service Employment Act (PSEA) reaffirmed the mandate of the Public Service Commission of Canada (PSC) as a guardian of merit and non-partisanship in the federal public service, first enshrined in federal statute over one hundred years ago. With the passage of the November 2003 act, the commission's role is clear. We have put in place a highly delegated staffing system, with appropriate oversight, guidance and support measures, as well as regular reports to this committee.
As we noted in our 2009-10 annual report to Parliament, the essential elements of the act are now in place. Significant progress has been made. Five years after the full coming into force of the PSEA, it is too early to draw final, definitive conclusions about its implementation. However, we believe the essential structure of the act is sound and will stand the test of time.
Our report focuses on three key issues that, in our opinion, need attention, and we offer some recommendations for addressing them. Number one, we need to improve the effectiveness of the staffing system. Number two, we need to enhance the approach for safeguarding the non-partisanship of the public service. And number three, we need to strengthen the governance and operation of the commission.
An effective staffing system is the backbone of a modern, well-run professional public service. There are, however, substantial opportunities to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the staffing system. Our report describes four of those.
First, our experience over the past five years has confirmed the ongoing need for some centralized services to assist deputy heads and managers in assuming their roles under the act. These services, which include our electronic recruitment system as well as several national recruitment programs, can foster greater efficiencies and improvements in the staffing system. A delegated system needs to be balanced with centralized support functions.
Second, we need more proactive, integrated planning to better manage the entire workforce--not only the permanent workforce, but also the contingent workforce. The use of temporary employees, casuals, contractors, and temporary help workers should be part of the planning.
Third, there are difficulties in the recourse system that need to be addressed. The statutory requirement for double notification of appointments has proven to be administratively burdensome for large processes. We've also made recommendations to address a gap in the system where deputy heads are directly involved in an internal appointment process. Under the Public Service Employment Act, PSEA, the commission currently cannot investigate these processes.
Fourth, continued effort is required to improve data analysis and measurement.
I would like to turn now to the issue of non-partisanship of the federal public service. The PSC's mandate to independently safeguard this core value is clearly laid out in the preamble of the PSEA and part 7 of the act, which sets out specific obligations regarding political activities by public servants. There are always tensions between the non-partisanship of a public service and the need for a public service to respond effectively and loyally to the direction of elected officials. Scholars have pointed to the pressures to politicize bureaucracies. While these pressures are not as prevalent in Canada, there are ongoing questions. We have identified gaps that need to be addressed with respect to processes involving Governor in Council appointments, political activities of public servants, and relations between the public service and the political sphere. I'd like to briefly elaborate.
In our professional, non-partisan public service, it is established that appointments must be independent of ministers, merit-based, non-partisan, and independently overseen. The Privy Council Office has processes in place with respect to Governor in Council appointments; however, there is no independent assurance that the appointments to positions of leadership are merit-based and not politically influenced. We recommend that further steps be taken to ensure that external appointments--that is, those from outside the public service--of deputy heads, associate deputy heads, and members of separate agencies and boards to the core public service are merit-based, non-partisan, and subject to independent oversight. This could be done by an organization such as the public appointments commission, which was provided for in the 2006 Federal Accountability Act. Alternatively, it could be added to the responsibilities of the Public Service Commission of Canada.
We identified a need for increased awareness by organizations and individuals about non-partisanship as set out in the preamble and part 7 of the PSEA. Work needs to continue on providing greater clarity to public servants through policy or regulation. We also recommend a statutory change that would allow the PSC to investigate any complaint of improper political activity on the part of a deputy head.
This brings me to the relationship between the public service and the political sphere, particularly ministerial staff. There is a need for improved guidance to political staffers on their relationships with the public service. Accordingly, we are recommending that a code of conduct for ministerial staff be put in place to provide clear guidance on the relationship between ministerial staff and public servants.
Progress has been made in managing the movement of former ministerial staff into the public service following the December 2006 amendments to the PSEA.
I would like to turn now to the issue of strengthening the governance and operation of the Public Service Commission of Canada. Over the past five years, the commission has successfully reoriented itself to play a leadership role in the implementation of the PSEA. We have made changes in how the PSC operates within the statutory framework, and we have recommended additional measures to improve the capacity of the PSC to fulfill its mandate.
The commission itself has gone from full-time commissioners to part-time members. The statute did not go far enough in modernizing the governance and operation of the commission. We recommend that the PSEA confirm the current operation and division of duties between the president and part-time commissioners.
We further recommend a series of legislative amendments to increase the capacity of the commission. They include providing commissioners in office with a role in the appointment of other commissioners, using a fixed rate of pay for setting the president's salary, and allowing the PSC to table its reports directly to Parliament.
Our legislative proposals to remove barriers to our operations include providing authority to contract for goods and services, allowing some of our services to be provided to other jurisdictions--for instance, language testing to provinces--and providing protection to our auditors and investigators as well as our audit reports and documents.
Mr. Chair, for more than a hundred years, the PSC has protected merit and non-partisanship in the public service. We can be proud of the public service we have today. Our observations and recommendations are intended to help ensure the act's sustainability, so that Canadians will continue to have the professional, merit-based, non-partisan public service they need and deserve.
In closing, we would like to extend our gratitude to parliamentarians, and in particular to members of this committee, for your ongoing interest in the issues we have raised. We would like to thank deputy heads for their engagement and advice, and most of all, I would like to thank the staff of the Public Service Commission of Canada for their dedication and support in doing the important work of the commission.
Thank you. I'm pleased to answer any questions you may have.
Thank you for the question. We did the report because this commission is coming to the end of its seven-year mandate, and at the same time we have a statutory review of the Public Service Employment Act, so we thought it was important that this commission put forward its views on the totality of the act.
The act has two parts. It has a staffing part, but it also has the obligation to protect non-partisanship. A lot of our focus has been on the staffing and a lot of the conversations I've had with this committee have been about the staffing portions, but we felt it was important to raise the issues of non-partisanship.
The approach we have taken is an approach based on principle. We have looked at our experience, and I'll raise the specific instance that we looked at. We looked at the investigations we have, the complaints we get, the principles behind the act, and what we have developed over time.
The principles in the legislation are that appointments to the public service—and I'm talking about the core public service—should be merit-based, non-partisan, and independently overseen. The comments I'm making about senior appointments relate to the fact that these are the leaders of the public service. Our argument is that those same principles should apply to the leadership in the public service.
Your question was about specific examples in terms of interference by ministerial staff. We had a particular case that we discussed in one of our annual reports, and we've had a number of instances in which issues have been raised in relation to communications. The case was from the Department of Justice, where there had been an instruction to post something on the web; it was corrected in turn, because it was a fairly political statement that was on the Department of Justice website. When we did the investigation on that—and we follow a quasi-judicial process in doing these investigations—it was clear that the public servant didn't do anything that was partisan in the sense of a partisan activity, but it was also clear to us that there was a real lack of understanding of the two areas we're responsible for.
At what point is it appropriate for a political staffer to instruct a public servant, and at what point should the public servant say that this is not appropriate? Hence, we come to the conclusion that there should be a code of conduct, and that the code of conduct should articulate what those roles are. Everybody would have a better understanding.
Good morning. Mrs. Barrados, gentlemen, thank you for being here.
Mrs. Barrados, you may have to repeat yourself, but I want to make sure I fully understand what you said about appointments. On page 3 of your opening statement, you said and I quote:
||We have identified gaps that need to be addressed with respect to processes involving Governor-in-Council appointments, political activities of public servants, and relations between the public service and the political sphere.
Further on, you said:
||The Privy Council Office has processes in place with respect to GIC appointments [but you have no] assurance that the appointments [...] are merit-based [...].
Two things. You identified gaps, and, according to you, the Privy Council Office has a process in place.
Could you elaborate on the gaps you identified? Could you tell me what the process in place at the Privy Council Office is?
I would like to make another comment, and you can feel free to respond. It is no great secret that there are flaws in the appointment process at the Privy Council Office. There clearly seem to be some flaws. Why are you telling us about it today? Are you naive enough to think that the Privy Council Office's appointment process has no flaws?
Madam President, I'd like to thank you and your colleagues for your service, as you indicated that the commission is coming to the end of its seven-year mandate. What's clear to me is that you provided very important information and constant feedback to Parliament. I want to acknowledge you and your colleagues, because that information is important to us. Thank you very sincerely for that.
I have a few observations and a couple of questions.
You noted that your special report to Parliament, “Merit and non-partisanship under the Public Service Employment Act (2003)”, was tabled in Parliament earlier today. I look forward to reading that report, which will give me an opportunity to get some better insights. I'm going to reference in a question or two some of the report from 2009-2010, just so you know. I look forward to going through that in some detail.
What you indicated in terms of the mandate of the PSC is that it is the guardian of merit and non-partisanship in the federal public service. I could not agree more. I think it's absolutely essential to show respect for Parliament and the offices held by our civil service. You also noted in your 2009-2010 report to Parliament that the essential elements of the act are now in place, and I give you and your colleagues kudos for doing that.
You indicate that your report focuses on three issues that need some attention: to improve the effectiveness of the staffing system, to enhance the approach for safeguarding the non-partisanship of the public service, and to strengthen the governance of the operation of the commission. Again, in all those areas I agree.
My question comes from this. You confirmed the ongoing need for “...some centralized services to assist deputy heads and managers in assuming their roles...”. You talked about some of the services, which include an electronic recruitment system and several national recruitment programs to foster greater efficiencies and improvements, and you said that a “...delegated system needs to be balanced with centralized support functions.”
You've identified that as a need. What progress has been made in that regard to ensure that this objective, which I think is very important in streamlining those efficiencies, comes into play?
Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
Ms. Barrados and gentlemen, thank you for coming today and joining us.
First of all, I don't know if you've been working over the past few months on more audits. Last year you did a number of audits of various departments, boards, and agencies, and in October of last year you mentioned recurring themes that “appear consistently across the organizations audited”.
First you mention that “A number of reports recommended that organizations need to improve their quality control practices; these practices should be designed to monitor appointments to ensure they are complete and compliant with the PSEA and allow for corrective actions as required”.
I should slow down for the interpreters. I'm sorry about that.
The second point was that “Appointment processes should be completely, accurately and reliably documented to demonstrate that they are based on merit”, and the report then goes on about merit criteria and so forth.
Then you say that “Several audit reports found poor rationales used for selecting non-advertised processes that did not link to the values of the PSEA...”, etc.
Have you done further audits since then, and are you still finding the same thing?
I'm reluctant to give concrete examples of things that I haven't examined in detail. When you look at things in more detail, you realize that it maybe isn't quite what it appears.
The comment is based on how the appointments are made in the senior positions. When you look at all the work that's been done on what is politicization of a public service and the bureaucracy, politicization means that there is a control over the appointment processes, meaning that there are politically oriented appointments.
In Canada, we have managed to maintain a strong public service commission that has guarded the core public service. I am saying that there are some questions about the senior leadership of the public service. That's why I'm making the comments about senior appointments.
I don't have anything more to add about specific senior appointments and the questions that are asked in the House and that you see in the papers. I just know that you have no way of getting assurance that these appointments are looked at systematically on a regular basis and made in a way that you're comfortable with.
The other comment and debate has to do with the tension that public servants experience in having to respond to elected officials. That's their role, so the public servants have to respond whoever is the government of the day, but are they too responsive?
Some of the questions that we have looked at are examples such as the big cheques. Were public servants involved with the big cheques? We did an investigation, and they were not. We found that they were not, but those are the kinds of questions that are asked when scholars are asking questions about politicization.
I think there's always a tension. You always have to have the discussion, and I think there always has to be a champion for the public service. I'm not sure how many strong voices there are for the public service. That's why this commission thought it was important to make these comments and observations.
It has had quite an impact. We've made some observations that during the period of time that we've had this commission in place, there have been some significant changes.
We now have a public service that has been basically renewing itself. You have over 50% of the public service that has had less than 10 years of experience in the public service. You have a lot of new public servants, and many of them use these new social media. It's become a concern for us in terms of how we maintain that non-partisan public service and maintain that distinction between the public and the private.
In another case that we investigated, a young individual who was working in the Privy Council Office--this is the bureaucratic office supporting the Prime Minister--had started work by saying he was politically active, and nobody took him aside and said, “You're now a public servant working in the Privy Council Office. Be very careful. You have private political rights, but be careful of how you exercise them publicly”.
He put a picture on his Facebook of a particular political leader that he was very fond of, who wasn't in the government in power. The Facebook got sent to friends, and then it got sent to friends, and all of a sudden something that was private--he was quite free to have those private views--became quite public. Of course, there was a great deal of embarrassment.
He was actually then called to task for this. He immediately took the Facebook page down. We investigated it. Obviously it was wrong for him to have made public something that was acceptable in private, but many of our young people are so comfortable with the social networking that they don't realize and aren't really sensitive to how something that is okay in private is not okay in public. It worries me--the commission--in terms of how we maintain that very non-partisan public service. What I tell all the people in the public service is that they have to always maintain a public position such that any government in power will feel comfortable with for their advice and support.
Mr. Chair, if I may, I will share my time with my colleague.
Mrs. Barrados, I find point 2 on page 33 of your report highly interesting. In my opinion, you deserve some praise for that, since you did not shy away from taking a stand. Under the heading “Appointment by Governor in Council”, you said that the current regime allows the Governor in Council to appoint deputy heads and special advisers to ministers.
You recommend eliminating the Governor in Council's ability to appoint a special adviser to a minister. According to your rationale, the clause in the current regime does not limit the number of people that could be appointed. Furthermore, ministers already have the ability to appoint their own staff members, including their executive assistant.
That brings me back to my earlier question, to which you responded that out of approximately 3,000 appointments, you had the authority to investigate about 400, if I understood correctly. Roughly 2,600 appointments were not subject to the act. Could those fall under this category of appointments by the Governor in Council?
Thank you very much, colleagues. We have completed the rounds of questioning a little bit early.
It gives me an opportunity, Madam Barrados, to thank you for your work. On behalf of our committee, we appreciate your dilligence in making us informed and your partnership over the last number of years. I've had the privilege of serving five years on this committee, and you've been before us several times. You were here even before I was, and I have appreciated your insight over the years and the friendships that have developed, I believe, among colleagues around this table and you and your office.
We don't know who your successor is and we don't know when that appointment will come, so you may be before our committee again, but I felt it would be remiss if I didn't thank you for your service and wish you well in the event that we don't see you before this committee again. I know you have many plans to use your expertise and to go abroad to share the things that Canada is doing, to be a shining light in other places where they need your expertise and the expertise that you've developed through your office.
We appreciate your contribution here and we appreciate the fact that you will be continuing to make contributions around the world. Truly, you are a remarkable Canadian. We want to thank you and your commission for your work and we wish you well in the future.
Some hon. members: Hear, hear!