Issues and Interests
of the federal public service upheld
recent bullying of Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand by the
House of Commons Committee on Procedure and House Affairs--and
his firmness and grace under pressure--have raised a number
of troubling public policy issues.
The House Committee, representing all
four parties, unanimously asked M. Mayrand to change his ruling
that veiled Muslim women do not have to reveal their faces when
they vote. He rightly refused to do so, citing the unambiguous
wording of the Canada Elections Act, and the fact that he had
twice brought the implications of that wording to the attention
of the parliamentarians engaged in drafting the legislation.
The Act specifically allows alternatives to photo identification
of voters (indeed, the Minister's second reading speech stressed
the need for alternatives to photo ID). The danger to the rule
of law posed by the conduct of various members of the House
Committee is obvious: they were in effect asking a public employee
to ignore the law and to take their political direction instead.
His response was measured, respectful and firm: the Committee
is not Parliament, and cannot amend legislation-and neither
can he. After this exercise in Civics 101, which some Committee
members, particularly on the government side, apparently found
difficult to grasp, M. Mayrand went off to supervise three Quebec
Little has been said up to now
about what else was at stake during this exercise, namely the
integrity of Canada's federal public service as a whole. Political
impartiality has been a cornerstone of the public service since
the beginning of the twentieth century. While this has often
simply been taken to mean that political partisanship must be
avoided in the appointment process and in the conduct of duties
by public employees, a reasonable interpretation would extend
to, and exclude, political interference of any kind in the carrying
out of those duties.
In that light, the House Committee
disgraced itself by attempting to circumvent the rule of law
and to strong-arm a public employee into making what was, in
effect, a political decision. Had M. Mayrand bent, he would
have compromised not only his own ethics, but the integrity
of the entire public service. A values-based public service
is considered integral to public service modernization, and
every public employee must adhere to a Values
and Ethics Code for the Public Service, which states,
Public servants must work within the
laws of Canada and maintain the tradition of the political neutrality
of the Public Service.
Public servants shall perform their duties
and arrange their private affairs so that public confidence
and trust in the integrity, objectivity and impartiality of
government are conserved and enhanced.
M. Mayrand himself, as an Officer
of Parliament, is not technically bound by this Code. But by
upholding the law and insisting upon his duty to do so, in the
face of unconscionable political pressure, M. Mayrand upheld
the values enshrined in it. Certainly in the popular mind he
is a civil servant, and indeed the epitome of what a civil servant
should be. Shaken by recent scandals like Adscam, the public
needs to be reassured. And it is precisely his sort of exemplary
courage and integrity that may begin to restore the public's
trust in its own institutions.
—September 14, 2007 [Home]
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Expenditure Review of Federal Public
Sector Compensation Policy and Comparability
Under the leadership of former Treasury Board official James
Lahey, a comprehensive, although admittedly management-oriented,
report on federal public sector compensation has just
report covers a number of areas:
components of total compensation (including salaries, pensions,
medical and dental plans, "terminable allowances,"
leave entitlements, severance pay, and disability and life insurance;
o the fragmented nature of compensation policy in the federal
public service, and lack of effective overall coordination;
o changes in federal public sector compensation since 1990-91;
o comparability of the components of federal public sector compensation
with those of the private sector;
o pay equity; and
o collective bargaining
The document is exhaustive,
and concludes with a lengthy series of recommendations grouped
under five broad themes:
1. Transparency and accountability;
2. Coherent management of compensation;
3. Substantive compensation issues relating to salaries;
4. Substantive compensation issues relating to pensions and
other benefits; and
5. Possible areas for updating the legislative framework.
Emerging from a sea of figures, statistics, charts and sometimes
conflicting studies are a number of conclusions, on occasion
set out in a somewhat tendentious manner (e.g., with respect
to pay equity and collective bargaining). On the fragmentation
of the federal public sector compensation regime and the need
for coordination, transparency and accountability, the authors
are on firm managerial ground. They also demonstrate at length
that, overall, benefits in the federal public sector compare
favourably with those offered by other Canadian employers, public
Sifting through a mountain of
data, the authors also put to rest the notion that wide wage
gaps exist between public sector and private sector compensation.
They find evidence of only a modest “premium” for
federal public sector employment. But they hasten to qualify
this: in the five-year period 1998-2003, after long-suspended
collective bargaining rights were restored, they find that real
wages rose by 14.1%. Collective bargaining by itself, they note,
is responsible for a 7.9% real increase in that period. The
authors warn that, if this becomes a continuing trend, the gap
will indeed become a wide one.
In this, the authors appear contradictory.
Collective agreements above the level of inflation call into
question, for them, the nature of the collective bargaining
process itself. The average public service salary, they note,
stayed fairly constant in real terms from 1982 until 1997. Wage
freezes or imposed settlements were in place for seven of those
fifteen years. When collective bargaining rights were restored,
real gains in wages were made for the first time in a decade
and a half. But the authors concede:
It is important to note that in Canadian
society as a whole, median family after-tax income in constant
dollars exhibited a similar pattern of stability from the early
1980s through the late 1990s, followed by an increase of similar
magnitude to that experienced by average federal public service
In other words, those gains appear to
have allowed federal public employees to stay abreast of a country-wide
trend. In real terms, then, where is the widening gap?
After many years of determined
resistance, Treasury Board lost the battle over pay equity in1999,
when more than $3 billion were awarded to past and present members
of the Public Service Alliance of Canada. One can feel some
continuing frustration in the report: “on-going salary
costs” of pay equity are broken out, which is odd given
the fact that the award simply brought pay rates into line with
the requirements of the Canadian Human Rights Act.
Those so-called “on-going salary costs” constitute
the portion of salary that should have been paid from the very
beginning. The authors go on to make a number of recommendations
on the subject of pay equity, one of which is to “recognize
that Canada is a market economy in which salaries generally
reflect the forces of supply and demand; federal jurisdiction
employers should not be expected to stray far from market norms
in implementing pay equity.”
The report is weakest, however,
on labour relations, and contains much that will be bitterly
disputed, reflecting as it does the authors' managerial point
of view. They note, for example, that collective agreements
arising from the conciliation/strike route and those awarded
through the arbitration process, have yielded similar results
over time. But they conclude that both the right to strike and
arbitration should be abolished, the latter for a number of
reasons, including possible “upward bias”; they
recommend that an alternate framework for dispute resolution
be imposed by legislation. “[T]he use of strikes to resolve
public sector labour disputes,” they assert, “is
of doubtful public policy merit.” (Reference is made to
Report of 2001, but that report, while offering substantial
recommendations for an alternative labour relations framework,
explicitly calls for the retention of the right to strike.)
What the authors appear not to understand
is that, from the union perspective, the public service would
have to be fundamentally restructured, along entirely different
principles, to make an alternate dispute resolution mechanism
a remotely realistic option. The current hierarchical structure,
with its unequal distribution of power and its fragmentation
of the workplace into competing groups, is what gives rise to
adversarial relations. One cannot effectively tackle this piecemeal,
especially by removing the already limited power of the unions,
and expect that those adversarial relations will simply disappear.
Strikes are the last resort,
not of union officials, but of the union members: they exercise
it with reluctance, but exercise it they do. As the authors
themselves put it, “raising money for strike pay forces
substantial union dues, and aside from militants, it appears
that federal public servants are uncomfortable with leaving
their work serving the public.” But the fact that they
periodically do so, despite the odds being so clearly stacked
against them, is deserving of an analysis that is completely
absent from this report. Any serious proposal for an alternative
labour relations regime, however, must begin there—and
go well beyond compensation issues.
Meanwhile, there's not a lot
of consternation in union ranks. There may be some tightening
up of the current fragmented compensation regime; there may
be some new employer initiatives at the bargaining table. But
on pay equity, it's all over but the shouting—the big payouts
are done, other than the one expected at the end of the continuing
24-year-old Canada Post struggle, and the small separate employer
cases are before the courts. As for the future, the Liberal-appointed Pay
Equity Task Force recommended a proactive law on
pay equity in 2004 to replace the time and money-consuming complaints-driven
system now in place. As late as this past May, the opposition
parties expressed support for such a law, but the Harper government
is stonewalling. In this context, the proposals in the report
with respect to pay equity methodology may find a sympathetic
ear in some quarters, but they have nowhere to go at present.
Regarding the right to strike,
there is no feeling that the government will act: even the report
itself talks about a lengthy canvass of possible alternative
dispute resolution models before legislation is contemplated.
And the recent Supreme Court decision on collective bargaining,
recognizing it as a Charter-protected right, could have some
effect on any new legislation abolishing the strike option.
In other words, while the report
sets out management thinking on compensation issues at some
considerable length, complete with recommendations and the outline
of a plan for putting them into effect, it doesn't portend major
policy changes. The unions will have to remain vigilant as always,
but at this point it must be said that there is nothing particularly
alarming or indeed very surprising to be found in this 800-page magnum opus.
2, 2007 [Home]
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UK passes corporate manslaughter
Without much notice in Canada,
the UK's Labour government has passed legislation that would
hold corporations strictly accountable for deaths at work due
to managerial negligence. The Corporate
Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act took
ten years to become law. Much of the delay was a result of the
government fighting to exclude deaths in official custody from
the Bill, leading to reversals in the House of Lords. With only
days to go before Parliament prorogued, the government finally
conceded the issue. The law will not only apply to corporations,
but to trade unions, police and prison services, and partnerships.
Previously, at least one senior
official in a corporation (a “directing mind”) had
to be found guilty of negligence before the company as a whole
could be found liable. Large corporations with accountability
spread over a number of actors, and with poor communication,
were able to escape responsibility. This law permits corporations
as a whole to be prosecuted without the need to identify any
correspondent and professor of law Gary Slapper reminds
us, “more people are killed each year at work
than are killed in wars.” Over the past forty years, an
average of 1,000 people per year died under company-related
circumstances in the UK. Yet only 37 companies were prosecuted
for wrongful death, and only seven convictions were registered.
Slapper reminds us of some celebrated cases in which companies
On September 19, 1997, a high-speed
train travelling from Swansea to London was racing at 125mph
about 10 minutes from Paddington when it passed a red signal.
Soon afterwards it collided with a freight train. Seven people
were killed and 151 inured. About £10 million worth of
damage was caused by the incident. The passenger train was operated
by GWT, a company with an annual turnover of £300 million
at the time. The train was being operated with its automatic
warning system switched off because it did not work, and the
automatic train protection system was also inoperative. There
was no second driver in the cab. Those were not just individual
mistakes; they were part of a systemic failure of safety management.
A prosecution of the company for manslaughter (using the old
common law crime of manslaughter) failed, as had one in 1990
against P & O Ferries (Dover) after the Herald of Free Enterprise
capsized, killing 192 people. In both cases there were difficulties
in finding one senior person in the company who knew enough
to incriminate him.
While the new law does not go
as far as Canadian legislation (which took twelve years after
the Westray mine disaster to become law in 2004, and which applies
to injury as well as death), the current UK law is nevertheless
expected to redress the balance in favour of victims of corporate
negligence by effectively removing the requirement for a “directing
mind” and replacing it with something akin to the Australian
“corporate culture” model. While it does not make
senior managers, including CEOs, personally accountable for
injury and death caused by lack of due diligence in the organization
that is under their watch, the notion of collective corporate
responsibility has at least been recognized. It will now, of
course, be up to the legal system to determine the degree to
which corporations will be sanctioned for their negligence.
20, 2007 [Home]
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electoral reform debate continues...
...if only in the press. Recently (July 18) we heard from a self-described “long-time Liberal activist” whose op-ed, in the Globe & Mail, is headed “Ontario must wake up to the mixed-member threat.”
He is not, it appears, referring to the threat to the fortunes of his party, which has long benefited from false majorities created by the “first-past-the-post” Single Member Plurality (SMP) system at both the provincial and federal levels, but to democracy itself.
There is little new in the arguments presented.
Mixed Member Proportional*, the proposed
replacement for first-past-the-post, will allegedly produce
decreased accessibility to government, a more elite legislature,
irresponsible, unaccountable government, and resistance
to positive change.
The concern for accessibility to government
advanced by the proponents of the status quo is a real one.
Access is an essential part of accountability, however little
it is presently used. The writer expresses his concern that
riding MPPs will have larger areas to serve and so will
be less accessible. But experience in such countries as
Germany, a stable electoral democracy that has had MMP for
decades, does not bear this out. All representatives are
accessible to constituents. There is no two-tier system,
and in fact the electorate does
not distinguish between list and riding representatives.**
The proposed model for Ontario, furthermore, will actually
increase the number of MPPs to 129, hence offering easier
The spectre of an “elite legislature,” with list MPPs seated by senior party brass as “rewards for faithful service,” is easily dispelled as well. In the German example, cited by Louis Massicotte, most list representatives have run in constituencies. The Ontario system would require parties to disclose publicly how their lists are assembled. If the process is offensive to voters, this could be costly for the party involved. (Under SMP, of course, the parties choose their candidates as well—and, as we have seen in recent years, this is sometimes done against the wishes of the local riding association.)
The author insists that list MPPs will
be unaccountable, and have fewer responsibilities than riding
MPPs, but be paid the same. Experience elsewhere, once again,
is to the contrary.** There is no
reason why list MPPs will not do their share of regional
constituency work. Indeed, constituents whose candidates
did not win might prefer to chat with list MPPs from their
preferred parties. And, of course, each party as a whole
becomes accountable to the electorate for its list choices.
Predictably, we are warned
that coalition governments will be the norm, and allow fringe
parties to have disproportionate influence over policy;
and “brokerage politics” will make positive change more
difficult. But a host
of counter-examples--Germany, Hungary, Scotland
and Wales--spring immediately to mind. Indeed, the same
arguments may be made with much more force against the SMP
system. Our large big-tent national parties are coalitions,
within which brokerage politics is the norm. Such parties
play it safe, and trail behind the electorate through polling.
When was the last time that a genuinely new concept or idea
was advanced by these parties?
Under our current system, relatively minor swings in public opinion can produce legislative earthquakes that result in wild swings in public policy. That’s not the “positive change” desired by the long-suffering electorate. Under MMP, modest changes in the public mood would be reflected by equally modest changes in the legislature. And, contrary to alarmist speculation, fringe parties do not end up with major influence under MMP, as the European experience bears out.
There are two issues here, however, that need to be more fully addressed. The first is what we mean when we use the word “democracy.” The term often refers to the formal aspects of the Westminster system, about which Jean-Jacques Rousseau once famously remarked that “The English Nation deceives itself when it imagines itself free, it is so in fact, only during the election of members of Parliament; for as soon as a new one is elected, it is again in chains and counts for nothing.” Is it possible, in fact desirable, to take a wider view? Perhaps democracy at its most fundamental is a culture of active involvement, not once every four years or so, but on a continuing basis. Electoral reform, by itself, will not generate that culture, but it offers at least a possible first step—a legislature that will reflect far more faithfully the desires of the electorate.
The second issue is whether a sometimes
abstruse discussion amongst academics and activists will
decide the question, in Ontario or elsewhere. Without cultivating
that active involvement, in this case by the citizens of
Ontario who will vote on electoral reform this Fall, will
the proposed change, despite its promise, simply be perceived as the replacement of
one remotely-operating structure by another?
*A system in which some representatives are elected in ridings, as under the “first-past-the-post” (Single Member Plurality) system, while others are assigned seats if necessary to ensure that the number of seats each party has in the legislature reflects the over-all percentage of the vote that the party receives.
**See Massicotte, L. “In Search of a Compensatory Mixed Electoral System for Quebec.” Gouvernment du Quebec, 2004. http://18.104.22.168/publications/mode_scrutin_rapport_en.pdf [July 20, 2007].
Typically, a list member starts out by running unsuccessfully in a constituency. To run, he or she has to become familiar with the local issues. The person tries again in the next election. If his or her party comes to power, its number of list seats will decline noticeably and the only way to get elected will likely be by running in a constituency. For this reason, such a person will remain active in the constituency during his or her term of office and give such activities almost as much effort as a “directly” elected member. . . the phenomenon is recognized in official literature for the public and some parliamentary websites even explicitly indicate the constituency in which each list member works. (Federal Parliament, provincial parliaments of North Rhine-Westphalia and Lower Saxony.) For example, the 1998 federal election saw a major constituency shift. Victorious in 221 constituencies in 1994, the CDU/CSU won only 112 in 1998. Meanwhile, the SPD went from 103 to 212 direct seats. No fewer than 124 members changed category: 73 incumbent list members (all from the SPD, except 2) became constituency members, whereas 51 incumbent constituency members (all from the CDU/CSU) held their seats thanks to party lists. 
The assumption, that the two-vote system produces two kinds of MP, the constituency MP and the Landesliste MP, is empirically refutable. Contrary to widespread opinions, it is of absolutely no importance whether a mandate is obtained through the constituency and the Landesliste. Double candidatures are the rule. The voters do not perceive the difference at all. 
—July 20, 2007 [Home]
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It is instructive to compare Nunavut with
Kalaallit Nunaat, better known as Greenland. Greenland's fifty-six
thousand people achieved home rule in 1979. More than 80%
of the population is Greenlandic Inuit. Greenlandic and Danish
are official languages, and the schools operate in Greenlandic.
Greenlanders have a university in the capital city, Nuuk.
Per capita income is the equivalent of nearly $21K US, and
the unemployment rate of 10% is half that of Nunavut.
The news out of Nunavut continues to be depressing, with the odd ray of hope. The first Nunavut electrical engineer, Joannie Pudluk of Resolute Bay, graduated this week from the University of Ottawa. But a long-term epidemic of suicide continues, as do its companions, joblessness and despair. “It's just too late in Nunavut,” a Globe & Mail headline recently screamed. “Few take advantage,” the sub-hed says, “of available help for chronic alcohol and drug abuse.”
Nothing could sum up the underlying
problem of Nunavut better than that. The territory is
a classic instance of the contradictory Canadian policy
towards aboriginal populations—supposed autonomy within
a context of cheerless, hopeless dependency and continued
colonization. Inuit children go to English-only classes
starting from Grade Three. The Nunavut Public Service
Act is cobbled together from other jurisdictions,
and an Inuktitut/Innuinaqtun translation doesn't even
appear to exist. Lip service is paid to traditional
cultural values, Inuit
Qaujimajatuqangit but even with consensus
government, over-all governance is built upon the same
model as in the South: hierarchy, power imbalances,
fragmentation of the workforce, confrontation. The communities
are simply put on welfare, and the symptoms of the resulting
disease are then treated—and not very well. In short,
Nunavut is presently suffering from all of the consequences
of our Canadian version of indirect rule.
Greenland is not economically self-sufficient—half of government revenues consist of grants from the Danish government—but compared to Nunavut (90% of whose revenues come from the federal government), its economy is robust, if heavily dependent, at present, on the fishery and the public sector. Tourism is limited by the climate and season, and current mining possibilities will require some years to materialize.
Suicide among young people is a major problem in both Greenland and Nunavut, although Greenland’s statistics are marginally better, as they are for life expectancy. Given the Internet and television, it may be that young people in remote areas are presented with unbearable extremes: their probable future toiling in primary industries, or unemployed, and the lavish lifestyle showcased behind glass screens, forever out of their reach.
While Greenland is not Utopia, it still offers a startling contrast to Nunavut. Its relative success may be due to a form of self-government untrammeled by paternalism and chronic dependency, and to a people whose own values, language and traditions have pride of place in their own land.
We might profit from their example. Two
commentators this week have called upon the federal government
to employ Nunavummiut in its current push to maintain Arctic
sovereignty. Paul Kaludjak argues
forcefully that there are opportunities
for Nunavummiut here. He points out that a band of Inuit
hunters in 1969 stood in the way of the US supertanker Manhattan
as it tried to negotiate the Northwest Passage. He advocates
using the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement (NLCA) as part of
an overall Arctic sovereigty strategy. Peter Wilson makes
case, suggesting that Nunavummiut be trained
and employed to maintain Arctic sovereignty, at a fraction
of the $3.1 billion cost now envisaged by the federal government
to purchase patrol ships.
In the long term, a viable solution to chronic
unemployment, poverty and dependency in remote Northern
areas might be to participate fully in the “knowledge
which one’s immediate geography is not a limiting factor.
Investment in informatics infrastructure and training would,
at least on the surface, offer tremendous potential and
In the meantime, the federal government appears to have chosen the well-worn strategy of benign neglect, and is consequently facing a $1 billion lawsuit launched by Nunavut last December to force the full implementation of the NLCA—fourteen years after it was signed. And the suicide epidemic shows no signs of letting up.
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Holly White writes...
liked your article....
Residential schools and the speedy assimilation of the North
(ie. 50 years) are what separates it from Greenland. Explains
the rates of sexual abuse (above and beyond First Nations) which
directly or indirectly explains the suicide rate.