Fri. Mar 1st, 2024

Federal Civil Service: political interference and loss of pride

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Deputy ministers from different departments conducted a review of values ​​and ethics in the public service with officials last fall.

  • Estelle Côté-Sroka (View profile)Estelle Côté-Sroka

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Overwhelmed by communication problems ethics, political influence, unequal treatment in the management of human resources and outdated technologies, the federal public service must regain the trust of Canadians so as not to endanger democracy.

It is now more difficult to be proud of being a public servant because of people's perceptions of the institution, says a civil servant who testified as part of a review into values ​​and ethics in the public service.

This exercise was piloted last fall by five senior executives for the Clerk of the Privy Council. Their mandate was to take the pulse of public servants frankly and without filter.

It is frustrating to see how public servants are sometimes portrayed […]. We are sometimes characterized as disinterested or ineffective.

A quote from a Public Servant cited in the Deputy Ministers' Task Force on Values ​​and Ethics report to the Clerk of the Privy Council

The pandemic has radically changed the public service, believes the team of deputy ministers. This has eroded people's trust in public institutions, increased their expectations and lowered their overall satisfaction with government services, reads his devastating report.

LoadingWhat if Canada focused on solar energy?

ELSELL ON INFO: What if Canada focused on solar energy?< p class="StyledBodyHtmlParagraph-sc-48221190-4 hnvfyV">To be effective, public servants must provide frank and professional advice, without partisan considerations or fear of criticism or political reprisals, the research team finds. However, the criticisms of the civil servants consulted are numerous and severe.

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A federal civil servant at work

The report's authors find that civil servants defer to hierarchy and regulations because of the culture of compliance.

However, this creates a feeling among junior officials that they cannot raise issues of harassment, racism or discrimination because they think they will not be taken seriously.

One ​​of the officials who participated in the consultations warns that […] it is necessary to ensure that ministerial work is free from political influence.

The division between the civil service and the political side is very important. However, in organizations that serve the public like mine, there is no division, testifies another worker.

I have middle managers who deal directly with the minister's office every day. They can't run the civil service, but you know what? They're doing it. […] This is something we are considering, especially as the elections approach, he reveals.

These examples are far from reassuring, according to the deputy leader of the New Democratic Party (NDP) of Canada, Alexandre Boulerice.

The federal public service must not serve as an electoral machine.

A quote from Alexandre Boulerice, deputy head of New Democratic Party of Canada

Civil servants must be able to maintain their independence, their integrity, and a certain distance from politics, insists the elected official from Rosemont–La Petite-Patrie.

Many civil servants are very little aware of the existence of the code of values ​​​​and ethics and do not understand how they are supposed to apply it in their work, we learn in the report.

< p class="StyledBodyHtmlParagraph-sc-48221190-4 hnvfyV">It’s quite worrying, wonders the deputy leader of the NPD Alexandre Boulerice. This means that this document has no value or influence on the work of civil servants, whereas it should serve as a compass, analyzes the politician. In the long term, this could impact the independence and integrity of public officials.

However, it is fundamental for public trust, believes Wayne G. Wouters, former clerk of the Privy Council appointed by Stephen Harper in 2009.

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Wayne G. Wouters has had a long career in federal public service. After successively serving as Deputy Minister and Secretary of the Treasury Board, he was appointed Clerk of the Privy Council in 2009. He held this position until his retirement in 2014.

According to him, the government is facing a particular context. The size of the civil service has increased in recent years and the number of civil servants retiring has increased. New civil servants are therefore more numerous than ever and must be well trained, notes Mr. Wouters, who is now a strategy and policy advisor at the law firm McCarthy Tétrault.

Professor at the National School of Public Administration and holder of the research chair in exploitation of information resources, Daniel J. Caron, adds that a similar effort must be made with immigrants who enter the public service with values ​​that are theirs.

Several civil servants have a very personal, very individual understanding of their role and expectations in relation to their work environment, says Mr. Caron. Someone who was deputy minister for Libraries and Archives Canada for several years notes that there is currently a clash […] of ideas and values.

Teleworking also risks making the transmission of values ​​and ethics more complex.

For the former Clerk of the Privy Council, Wayne G. Wouters, who had a 37-year career in public service, the government will have to find other avenues to get there.

I learned a lot […] by observing my colleagues or my superiors and seeing how they approach problem solving, how they treat people, how they [exchange with the] ministers, he says .

The fish rots from the head, says ethicist and Bloc MP René Villemure. Politicians – including the Prime Minister – therefore have a crucial role to play since their behavior influences that of civil servants, says the elected official who participated in the first work on values ​​and ethics at the federal level in 1995.

< p class="StyledBodyHtmlParagraph-sc-48221190-4 hnvfyV">[In the case of Justin Trudeau], the subject of ethics is a bit ordinary, in his case it is not a concern, it is rather casual in the face of the thing, deplores René Villemure.

He references several events involving the prime minister, such as his recent controversial vacation to Jamaica, one to the Aga Khan's private island in the Bahamas in 2016 and the political scandal surrounding the WE Charity Movement. Everything is legal, [but] was it the best decision in the circumstances, he asks?

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the House of Commons.

Mr. Villemure is of the opinion that the casualness of one leads to the casualness of the other, […] therefore there is an example which must be given […] by the politician on the high administration [and thus immediately].

What is sad is that these problems are known and they continue.

A quote from René Villemure, member of the Bloc Québécois and ethicist

The grievances reported by civil servants are similar to those denounced about ten years ago, relates the elected official from Trois-Rivières, fearing the long-term effects of the demotivation that this causes.

It is therefore urgent, according to him, to establish a culture of exemplarity to put an end to this window dressing ethic. This way, the employee will not feel threatened if they have to make a complaint, for example, or if they have to discuss behavior with their superior, he says.

It's urgent and it's going to take more than a ministerial declaration to calm things down.

A quote from René Villemure, Bloc Québécois MP and ethicist

These are problems that are not new, indicates the executive vice-president of Public Service Alliance for the National Capital Region, Alex Silas. The trade unionist notes that over the years, the devaluation of the work carried out by the public service has led to several deep problems, such as the impression of not being respected.

People don't have the same good ''feeling' ' when they go to work, because they know they are not valued.

A quote from Alex Silas, executive vice-president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada for the capital region national

Civil servants who do not feel respected by their employers have increased in number in recent months, argues this defender of workers' rights.

They have devoted themselves to provide services to Canadians during the pandemic and then they had to go on strike to obtain a fair wage, he puts into perspective. This affected the motivation and dedication of many of them.

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Alex Silas, regional executive vice-president at the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC ) for the National Capital Region

Alex Silas believes that the government is not putting its commitments to equity and inclusion into practice. The key part, what the employer often lacks, is that actions follow words, that shoes walk the talk, he insists.

Mr. Silas is calling for better protection for whistleblowers, as many officials remain silent for fear of reprisals. When someone wants to report mistreatment or unacceptable behavior from a superior, we often find that – unofficially – this person […] may suffer consequences, quote- there is an example.

The unionist is convinced that healthier, safer and more respectful workplaces will lead public servants to offer better quality service to the population. He adds that to put an end to this vicious circle, we must not neglect investments in public services.

Large-scale work [must be] carried out to relaunch training and dialogue on values ​​and ethics, recommends in particular the team of deputy ministers who looked into these issues.

The President of the Treasury Board, Anita Anand, attests that the code of values ​​and ethics is essential to preserving public confidence in democratic institutions. The minister also encourages all civil servants to denounce any problematic behavior.

He It is very important to me that managers and every public servant feel comfortable denouncing and combating all forms of discrimination, including harassment.

A quote from Anita Anand, President of the Treasury Board

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Anita Anand, President of the Treasury Board.

The Treasury Board says it is working in conjunction with the Privy Council Office on these issues, for whom it is a priority.

The Clerk Privy Councilor John Hannaford has asked senior leaders to play a crucial role in continuing to broaden conversations in their organizations [and] he expects deputy ministers to report on their progress, says email, Pierre-Alain Bujold, media relations manager.

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