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S-201: An Act to amend the Public Service Employment Act

Honourable senators, I have the honour today of beginning debate on second reading of Bill S-201 entitled An Act to amend the Public Service Employment Act, which I tabled on April 5.

The intent of this bill is twofold.

First, it would disallow the establishment of geographic criteria to determine an area of selection for the purposes of eligibility in appointment processes.

Second, the bill would ensure that appointments to or from within the public service are free from bureaucratic patronage.

Currently, the Public Service Commission uses geographic criteria to define eligibility for internal and external public service competitions.

This geographic restriction to obtaining federal government jobs is set by regulation and, for the most part, limited to a 50-kilometre radius of the official site of the competition, which prevents qualified Canadians from getting a job.

This current selection process limits access by all Canadians to public service jobs. This situation concerns federal government jobs in an entire region and even an entire province, since a person's candidacy is automatically rejected if they live outside the 50-kilometre radius.

For instance, in the greater Ottawa region, the capital region that includes portions of Ontario and Quebec, the population is almost 1 million. Those 1 million residents have almost exclusive access to 60 per cent of the federal public service jobs, and that excludes Crown corporations, agencies and employees on Parliament Hill.

With a small percentage of these jobs located in Montreal and Toronto, we therefore have 0.3 per cent of the Canadian population that has sole access to roughly 60 per cent of federal government jobs. Sixty per cent of federal government jobs amounts to 200,000 jobs. If you averaged the salary at a low of $55,000 per year, this represents an annual payroll of $11 billion, with about $7.5 billion in Ontario alone.

Along the same lines of argument, and in the spirit of equity and justice, the 0.3 per cent of the population within the capital region does not have access to the other 40 per cent of federal government jobs located outside the national capital. Therefore, 99.7 per cent of Canadians have access to 40 per cent of federal government jobs, as long as they live within 50 kilometres of that job.

For instance, people living in Kingston cannot apply for a job in Ottawa. People in Hamilton cannot apply for a job in Toronto. People living in Edmundston, Grand Falls and Woodstock, New Brunswick cannot apply for a job in Fredericton, Bathurst or Moncton, New Brunswick.

The official website for job openings for the Government of Canada is I go regularly to that site. The last time I went there, there were four options listed. For jobs with no geographic restriction, there were 43 listed and they were various across the country. Jobs in this region — the national capital area and eastern Ontario — had 30 jobs listed.

For the national capital region and eastern Ontario, 30 jobs were listed; 18 of them were exclusively for this region and 12 were for various regions. All in all, 60 per cent were exclusive to Ottawa.

In New Brunswick, there were 11 jobs listed, but two for New Brunswick only. That means only 18 per cent were exclusive for New Brunswickers. In Quebec, 24 jobs were listed, 14 restricted to 50 kilometres, which is 58 per cent exclusiveness. This is not a very proud moment for this situation.

I will now highlight for you some facts as stated in the 2004-05 annual report of the Public Service Commission that was tabled last fall.

In 2004-05, nearly 35,000 people were hired into the public service. Hiring is still predominantly for a contingent work force for a specified period. In Ottawa, the public bureaucracy calls these positions "term." When these positions are referred to in Atlantic Canada or in eastern Quebec, they are called "seasonal," just to make sure that we all understand the terminology here.

The number of new indeterminate permanent hires fell to 9,426 in an organization of 153,000 permanent employees. Of these indeterminate permanent hirings, only 3,400 or 10 per cent, were recruited from outside the public service, the remainder being hired from the specified period — the term pool group.

Let us go to the term pool group. Only 26 per cent of those 35,000 hired as term or casual were from outside the public service. Workers hired from the contingent work force clearly had an advantage in competitions for permanent jobs, having enjoyed privileged access to the workplace and the opportunity to learn about the job and the public service prior to competing for the position.

Managers have met the minimum policy requirements to recruit nationally for all senior level positions but otherwise have opted for provisions to limit competitions by geographic area. This option is used to manage a large number of candidates. As a result, 19 per cent of all externally advertised jobs and 28 per cent in the national capital region use a national area of selection.

Under Bill C-25, managers will have greater discretion over the appointment process. Managers will determine whether or not to advertise positions and how many candidates to consider for a position.

These facts do not take into account other backroom tactics used by managers to undermine the equity and impartiality of the recruitment process, by hiring casual or term employees without holding a competition and by going to various placement agencies or head hunters.

I invite you to consult the very long list of placement agencies in Ottawa's Yellow Pages. Managers regularly use the services of many of these agencies to hire employees, thereby getting around existing rules.

Honourable senators, these data provided by the Public Service Commission and the promises that were made to us two years ago so that we would not amend Bill C-25, the Public Service Modernization Act, show how important it is that we pass Bill S-201 quickly.

Two years ago, the minister responsible for the Treasury Board received $40 million to implement Bill C-25, which included funding to update electronic recruitment technology in order to eliminate geographic restrictions on recruitment.

This has not yet been done. As most of us predicted, the increased flexibility that Public Service Modernization Act gives managers allows them to continually impose geographic restrictions or bend the existing rules.

Bending the rules has become easy and even commonplace for them, which is why we need this bill to ensure that all Canadians are respected.

The Public Service Commission's national hiring policy applies to only 19 per cent of jobs in all regions. Fortunately, as of April 1, 2006, 60 per cent of all jobs in the National Capital Region are open to the public.

Honourable senators, I do understand that opening the hiring process for federal jobs to all Canadians will increase the administrative work of managers, but my scale tips for equity and fairness. The administrative burden should not be a factor in order to respect Canadians' mobility rights under article 6 of our Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The former minister, Reg Alcock, announced a gradual increase in the percentage in terms of the selection process.

I welcome this effort. However, two wrongs do not make it right. Let me explain. It is like reverse discrimination. It is not because that, for the last three decades of discrimination based on geographic barriers for the 60 per cent of federal jobs in Ottawa, as parliamentarians and Canadians, we should accept this concept. Reality is that for jobs that are advertised to the public, still 40 per cent of federal jobs across the country will have geographic barriers for all Canadians, including those living in the capital region.

Opening up the 60 per cent federal jobs that are advertised publicly for Ottawa is not opening the access to 100 per cent of federal jobs to all Canadians, which is the priority objective of this bill. We need this bill to legislate equity and fairness to all Canadians in order that a national area of selection is mandatory, not a rule. I repeat that it is mandatory.

I also want to alert honourable senators that out of the 5,000 employees on Parliament Hill, many are permanent employees that are not hired by MPs or senators. They are employees of the House of Commons and the Senate and the necessary units to make this place work. Here, also, we witness discrimination in regard to most of the competitions on the basis of geography. Last September, the Library of Parliament opened competition No. 05F13, closing September 28. This was an indeterminate position for a senior officer, accounting operations, with Finance and Material Services. This was limited to 50 kilometres.

It is ironic how, even within Parliament Hill, with parliamentarians representing the voice of all Canadians, even we allow geographic barriers to employment on the Hill, the centre of our country's democracy. This bill, Bill S-201, does not remove the geographic barriers for employment on Parliament Hill. We, of all places, should not require legislation to include all Canadians. It should be a given here on Parliament Hill, of all places.

I therefore request that senators who are members of any committee dealing with the administration of Parliament officially ban geographic barriers from any competition for employment with and for the administration of Parliament Hill.

After second reading of that bill, the first time around, I wrote to the Speakers of each House calling for their attention on this issue. I regret to say that I have received passive reply.

It is funny that, for decades, successive Canadian governments, the diplomatic core, and all Canadians, have taken great pride in promoting equity and fairness around the world. It is time that we bring equity and fairness right here, at home, for all Canadians living from coast to coast to coast. It is most unfortunate that we must legislate equity and fairness for our own people so that their access to federal government jobs is not curtailed and so that their mobility rights under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms is not undermined by the federal government administration.

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms mobility rights clearly state, in article 6, that every citizen of Canada and every person who has the status of a permanent resident of Canada has the right to pursue the gaining of livelihood in any province.

Honourable senators, in this age of advanced technology and easy access to rapid communications, why does the government staff public service positions only with candidates who live where the jobs are located?

This might have been justifiable in 1900 or 1910, but not in 2006. Most would agree that competent people who find jobs that match their training and experience, whether in the private or the public sector, are willing to relocate.

For years, the federal government's hiring practices have been subject to geographic restrictions. As a result, 80 per cent of federal officials are from Montreal, Ottawa or Toronto, and they hold 60 per cent of the jobs.

We can imagine the influence that 80 per cent of the public service has on policy and program development. They analyze the issues, formulate recommendations and implement programs based on their communities, their heritage and the knowledge they have acquired in their part of the country.

Parliamentarians and the general public then wonder why the programs do not address regional needs; why the policies and programs are designed with urban communities in mind; why there are so many administrative formalities; why applicants have to speak to a voice mailbox rather than a real person; why public servants do not understand how natural resource processing industries such as fisheries, forestry and farming work; and why they do not understand the needs of seasonal workers and these industries.

Essentially, many public servants know nothing about the realities of the industries I have just listed. They know only the data they analyse and form hypotheses about.

Residents of rural areas and communities cannot get federal jobs. They therefore feel marginalized and dissatisfied with their central government.

The current process prevents them from taking advantage of opportunities that should be available to them as Canadian taxpayers. The tax man does not care about the place of residence of taxpayers who pay their taxes, and applications from qualified job seekers should not be rejected because of their place of residence, because we are all taxpayers. These geographic restrictions are unacceptable.

As senators with the responsibility and mandate of this institution, it is our duty to stand for equality of treatment among the population of our diverse regions that compose this country. Today, by presenting this accessibility bill, that is exactly what I am doing. In the new Public Service Modernization Act, ascended in 2003, managers have greater responsibility and flexibility to consider a number of factors when recruiting and selecting a person for a position. This, for me, is a greater cause of concern with regard to limiting national candidates' access and increased concerns about the potential for bureaucratic patronage. I have been constantly hearing about this serious issue for the last 13 years. This problem is also being highlighted by a lack of planning surrounding human resource management. In many departments, this amounts to inefficient staffing practices.

The Public Service Commission 2004-05 Annual Report, chapter 2, page 44, states that only "36 per cent of organizations have a human resources planning process or plan in place." No service organization in the private sector would survive or be able to compete without a minimum of human resource planning. Currently, it seems that managers hire on a whim; no wonder they use the back door to recruit. They, the other 64 per cent of federal departments, have no human resource plans, thus, no idea what are the needs, current or future, of their departments.

The second objective of Bill S-201 is to prohibit geographic patronage or, as the Public Service Commission calls it, "personal favouritism." For many years, parliamentarians have suspected that managers were engaged in patronage appointments. In 2003, the Auditor General, Sheila Fraser, audited the hiring process for student jobs and did find that 25 per cent of students employed for summer jobs within the public service were hired with bureaucratic patronage.

During the hearings of the Standing Senate Committee on National Finance in 2003-04, this issue was raised with Ms. Barrados, President of the Public Service Commission. Thankfully, as a follow-up, the commission studied the issue and submitted its findings last October in a report entitled Study of Personal Favouritism and Recruitment within the Federal Public Service. Here are some interesting data on favouritism from page 11 of that report: First, 45 per cent of survey respondents believe it occurs often or always in their work unit; 28 per cent believe it occurs often; and 45 per cent believe it happens some of the time. Total response shows that 73 per cent acknowledge bureaucratic patronage in the system.

Further, page 14 of the report states:

We note that not all manipulation of qualifications is evident. In our recent audits, we have found examples of tailoring qualifications to favour a particular candidate or group of candidates in both competitions open to the public and those open only to public servants. This included changing education, language and security requirements to match a specific candidate's profile.

Another report tabled last October by the Public Service Commission, entitled Audit of Staffing File Documentation, states on page 2, that it found inadequate or missing documentation mostly in the assessment stage and that competitive processes were better documented than without competition processes. The rationale for the use of an appointment without competition was inadequate or missing in 15 per cent of the files; the assessment was inadequate in 38 per cent of the files; and the assessment was inadequate in 66 per cent of the files without competition.

In its 2004-05 annual report, the Public Service Commission reports no political patronage. Bravo and thanks to legislation, not rules or guidelines prohibiting this practice. However, it does link bureaucratic patronage or personal favouritism when analyzing and defining the issue of non-partisanship. At page 34, "bureaucratic patronage" and "personal favouritism" are defined as follows:

Within the federal public service's staffing and recruitment process, personal favouritism involves an inappropriate action or behaviour by a public servant who, by using knowledge, authority or influence, provides an unfair advantage or preferential treatment to: 1) a current employee or 2) a candidate for employment in the public service, for personal gain (benefit) and contrary to the good of the organization.

Most recognize that bureaucratic patronage can have a detrimental effect on the general public and particularly with the public service employees. It has been demonstrated that the mere perception of bureaucratic patronage in the workplace impacts on employee motivation and effectiveness. Imagine the impact when 73 per cent of our public servants surveyed acknowledged that it was happening in their work units.

This situation is not exclusive to Canada. Other jurisdictions have tried to deal with this problem. For example, in the United Kingdom, bureaucratic patronage or favouritism is referred to in the Recruitment Code. It establishes the fundamental recruitment principle that appointments must be based on merit. In New Zealand, this problem is addressed through Policy Conventions.

The Australian model deals with this issue in a more efficient way. Provisions against bureaucratic patronage are made on two levels in Australia. First, a direct provision was made when they modernized the Public Service Act in 1999. Section 17, entitled "Prohibition on patronage and favouritism," provides that a person exercising powers under the new act or regulation in relation to the engagement of Australian Public Service employees, or otherwise in relation to APS employees, must do so without patronage or favouritism. Second, there are provisions against bureaucratic patronage included in the Public Service Commissioner's Directions concerning three of the legislated values.

Australia has not only acted against bureaucratic patronage or favouritism, but it has also given an official legal status that includes a grievance procedure.

Honourable senators, in conclusion, I believe that every competent Canadian should be able to apply for government jobs regardless of their home address and where the job is located in Canada. It is a question of equity, fairness and rights under our Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The current selection process seriously limits job accessibility within the public service to all Canadians and thus deprives all Canadians from better equipped public employees. It is the objective of Bill S-201 to amend the Public Service Employment Act, and the act that will replace it, to enhance Canadians' access to public service jobs in all parts of Canada by removing geographic limits to the selection process and adding grievance options against bureaucratic patronage.

I have received calls, letters and emails from Canadians across this country in support of this proposed legislation. For example, we could be talking about an ex-military person living in Halifax, Nova Scotia, who wants to apply for a job in Moncton, New Brunswick, but the 50-kilometre barrier prevents him from doing so.

I, like all Canadians, hope that honourable senators will support this bill and not accept any delay tactics or rules and guidelines that might be proposed. If the Leader of the Government also wants to use delay tactics on this bill that calls on fairness and equity for all Canadians, then we will know where they stand.

I propose that this bill be sent today for further study to the Standing Senate Committee on National Finance.

I thank honourable senators for their attention.