Merit - Achieving Representativeness

March 2008

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Why a statement from the Public Service Commission?

The Public Service Commission (PSC) is an independent agency reporting to Parliament, mandated to safeguard the integrity of the public service appointment system and the political neutrality of the public service.

In 2002, the PSC issued a statement: Merit - A Competent, Non-partisan and Representative Public Service to clarify the concept of merit and how it is applied to achieve representativeness. On December 31, 2005, the current Public Service Employment Act (PSEA) came into full force.

"Merit" is now defined in the PSEA. In addition, under this legislation, the PSC has delegated most of its authority to appoint to departments and agencies, holding deputy heads accountable for how they and their sub-delegated managers use this authority.

Although there has been much progress in building a public service that reflects the diversity of Canadian society, work must continue to achieve representativeness.

Purpose of this statement

This statement reaffirms the integral link between merit and representativeness under the PSEA in achieving a public service that is diverse, builds on excellence and is able to serve Canadians in their official language of choice. It provides:

  • a tool that deputy heads can use to promote representativeness in their organizations; and
  • a foundation of communications for PSC front-line staff, organizational hiring managers and human resources advisors as they implement the provisions in the PSEA and deal with enquiries about representativeness, employment equity and achieving the government's objectives.

Maria Barrados, PhD
President

Table of Contents

Executive Summary

The preamble to the Public Service Employment Act (PSEA) refers to Canada gaining from a public service that strives for excellence, is representative of Canada's diversity and that is able to serve the public with integrity and in their official language of choice.

The PSEA provides tools to achieve a representative public service. Overall, there has been considerable progress in the representation of all four employment equity (EE) groups (women, Aboriginal peoples, persons with disabilities and visible minorities). Despite an increase in the number of visible minorities in the public service, their significant under-representation compared to their workforce availability persists.

In the PSEA, merit is defined. First, everyone who is appointed must meet the essential qualifications of the position, including official language proficiency. Second, the manager may take into consideration current and future asset qualifications, operational requirements and the organizational needs of the department or agency, as well as current and future organizational needs of the public service as a whole. EE can be part of the merit criteria when it is a need of the organization or of the public service as a whole, as identified by the employer.

The federal government, as an employer, must recruit from a diverse labour pool if it is to ensure that Canada continues to have a strong, dynamic and innovative public service that is geared to excellence, is capable of addressing future needs, can carry out its mission and deliver its priorities.

Public service renewal at all levels is important to the Canadian government. The variety of career options, complemented by a range of benefits, commitment to employment equity, linguistic duality, and an inclusive workplace positions the public service to be an employer of choice for Canadians.

Canadian demographics are changing rapidly. Projections show that by 2017, visible minorities are expected to make up 20% of the population. The Aboriginal labour force is young and growing more rapidly than the overall labour force in Canada. The number of persons with disabilities is on the rise and more are able to work as a result of social and technological advances. The participation of women in the paid workforce and the proportion with a university degree have both increased significantly in the past quarter century.

The Public Service Commission (PSC) promotes and protects the core appointment values of merit and non-partisanship, as well as the guiding values of fairness, transparency, access and representativeness. The PSC assists departments and agencies, managers and human resources advisors with guidance on the appointment system, programs, policies and tools to help them meet the challenge of building and sustaining a competent, non-partisan and representative workforce.

Introduction

The preamble to the Public Service Employment Act (PSEA), 2003 states:

"Canada will also continue to gain from a public service that strives for excellence, that is representative of Canada's diversity and that is able to serve the public with integrity and in their official language of choice."

Provisions exist in the PSEA to enable departments and agencies to achieve the vision of the public service set out in the preamble.

Understanding merit and employment equity

Merit and representativeness are key values underpinning both the PSEA and the Employment Equity Act (EEA). Merit, the foundation upon which public service hiring is based, is defined for the first time in the current PSEA.

Merit has two components. First, everyone who is appointed must meet the essential qualifications of the position established by the deputy head, including official language proficiency. Second, the manager sub-delegated by the deputy head to make appointments (or other delegates of the deputy head) may take into consideration any current and future asset qualifications, operational requirements and organizational needs of the department, and any current and future organizational needs of the public service as a whole.

The essential qualifications, asset qualifications, operational requirements and organizational needs form the basis for the assessment of merit, and are collectively referred to as the "merit criteria".

The PSEA gives deputy heads the authority to establish merit criteria. The deputy head sets essential and asset qualifications in conformity with standards established by the employer.

Employment equity (EE) has two components: first, it concerns fair treatment and removal of barriers, and second, it relates to the correction of past imbalances through the implementation of positive measures to accelerate the achievement of a representative workforce.

These measures include targeted EE recruitment programs designed to attract and appoint qualified members of the four EE groups, that is women, Aboriginal peoples, persons with disabilities and visible minorities, to correct gaps in their under-representation in a particular organization or in the public service as a whole, by occupational category or group.

Achieving merit and employment equity

Employment equity (EE) cannot be treated as an add-on or an afterthought. It should be integrated into every day business, starting with plans and priorities. The PSEA provides the tools to departments and agencies to meet the government's workforce objectives for the EE designated groups.

The current PSEA provides more avenues for meeting the government's commitment to increase the representativeness of the public service. It provides new options for customizing the appointment process to meet the needs of organizations, while respecting the values of access, fairness and transparency.

An important feature of the PSEA is that deputy heads can include EE as part of the merit criteria, by identifying EE objectives as current or future needs of the organization or of the public service as a whole. Other options available to address EE representation gaps include: establishing areas of selection which are open only to members of one or more designated groups under the EEA, when this is consistent with the EE or human resources (HR) plan; or expanding an area of selection to provide for greater participation of EE group members.

In keeping with the authority the PSEA provides, the PSC has made a regulation for the purpose of facilitating the implementation of EE programs. This regulation excludes the appointment of a designated group member from consideration of priorities, unless the priority person is a member of the designated group to which the EE program applies. The employer or the deputy head must have an EE program in order to benefit from this regulation.

There is an increased emphasis on HR planning associated with the implementation of the PSEA and the merit criteria. A department or agency should make EE part of its integrated business and HR planning to derive maximum benefits from the increased opportunities in the PSEA to attract and hire the people it needs, both internally and externally.

A representative public service

A representative workforce, reflective of the rich geographic, linguistic and cultural diversity of the country, enables the government to provide excellent service to its citizens in both official languages.

Canadians expect their needs, concerns and interests to be reflected in the policies, programs and services that governments provide to their citizens. Diverse perspectives and approaches contribute to better programs and stronger policy advice, for the benefit of all Canadians.

A highly skilled workforce is essential for Canada to sustain its place in a knowledge-based economy. Human capital is the essence of the global economy and the labour market is tight and competitive.

The public service, as an employer, must recruit from a diverse labour pool if it is to ensure that Canada continues to have a strong, dynamic and innovative public service that is geared to excellence, is capable of addressing future needs and can deliver the federal government's mission.

A career of choice for Canadians

The federal public service offers an unparalleled diversity of employment opportunities in dynamic and challenging career options. These jobs are located in numerous locations across Canada and internationally, in an office setting or in the field, in cities or in rural areas.

This vast breadth of career options, complemented by a range of benefits, commitment to employment equity, linguistic duality, and a workplace that does not create systemic barriers, positions the public service as an employer of choice for Canadians.

The federal public service is generally older than the Canadian labour force as a whole and will be at the forefront of the retirement wave. Based on Statistics Canada data, the wave of baby boom retirements that has already started in the federal public service is projected to peak at the rate of 3.5% in 2012-2013 compared to 1.6% in 1999-2000.

This demographic turnover poses a significant recruitment challenge to the public service. The private sector and other levels of government face the same economic and demographic challenges. As a result, the public service must be competitive in the search for talent among Canadians, including most notably today's young knowledge workers who increasingly are women and visible minorities.

Public service renewal at all levels of the public service is a priority of the Canadian government. This is an opportunity, through HR and succession planning, to appoint employees to progressively senior levels and executive positions, from a diverse talent pool that already exists in departments and agencies. This also means many very interesting career opportunities for Canadians seeking employment, including students and graduates, all of whom represent the diversity of Canadian society.

A changing Canadian society

Canadian demographics have changed. The natural birth rate has been falling in Canada, and roughly two-thirds of the population growth has been due to migratory increase. It is estimated that by 2017, a majority of the population in major urban centres will be first-generation immigrants. Currently, members of visible minorities make up about 13.5% of Canada's population, a figure that is expected to reach 20% by 2017. Statistics Canada's population projection scenarios estimate that by 2017, visible minorities in Toronto and Vancouver would represent half of the population in these cities.

The Aboriginal labour force is young and is growing more rapidly than the overall labour force in Canada. Aboriginal peoples are most present in Western Canada and the North. This will have an ongoing impact on the proportion of Aboriginal peoples in the labour market.

The number of persons with disabilities is also on the rise, due to an aging population and a greater willingness of persons with disabilities to self-identify. In addition, social and technological advances enable more people with disabilities to contribute in the workplace.

The increased participation of women in the paid workforce has been one of the most significant social trends in Canada in the past quarter century. Despite a dramatic increase in the proportion of women with a university degree, they tend to pursue fields of study in the social sciences and humanities and are making smaller inroads in fields such as physical sciences and engineering.

The Public Service Commission - protecting merit and representativeness

The Public Service Commission (PSC) protects the core appointment values of merit and non-partisanship, as well as the guiding values of fairness, transparency, access and representativeness. This contributes to a workforce that is representative of Canada's diversity, embodies the linguistic duality of our country, and is able to serve the public in their official language of choice. The PSC is also designated as an employer, according to its mandate, under the EEA, and is committed to using the full scope of its authorities and provisions under the PSEA to advance representativeness and EE objectives.

The PSC assessment policy requires that the assessment of merit criteria be designed and implemented without bias and in a manner that does not create systemic barriers. The assessment process and methods aim to effectively and objectively assess the essential qualifications and other merit criteria identified, and are to be administered fairly. This includes accommodating the needs of persons with disabilities so that all applicants can fully demonstrate their qualifications.

The PSC is playing an active role in providing greater access to talented Canadians from across the country by using a national area of selection (NAOS) for more federal public service jobs. As of April 2, 2007, the NAOS applies to recruitment for all officer level jobs located across Canada. The plan is to expand the NAOS to all government jobs, subject to the results of the PSC's impact assessments.

In its strengthened oversight role, the PSC is building EE issues and questions into its monitoring and audit plans as it assesses the effectiveness of approaches and activities in the appointment process that could have an impact on the representativeness of the public service. The PSC will closely monitor and report on how federal departments and agencies use the appointment authorities to make progress in achieving a representative public service.

The public service is not yet fully representative of the diversity of Canada. The PSC, departments and agencies must continue their efforts to attract and retain members of designated groups. The PSC will assist departments and agencies, managers and HR advisors with guidance on the appointment system, programs, policies and tools to help them meet the challenge of building and sustaining a competent, non-partisan and representative workforce.

Tools and Resources