More women, few minorities: Docs show results of Liberal patronage overhaul

‘The Government is striving for gender parity,’ spokesman Stephane Shank told The Canadian Press

The Liberal government’s overhaul of the patronage system has led to gender parity in government appointments, but new figures show few of those women are in leadership posts and visible minorities are being left out.

Documents from the Privy Council Office obtained through the access-to-information law, show that as of last year, 55.5 per cent of appointees to federal agencies, boards and organizations were women, slightly above their proportion in the Canadian population.

But the Liberals’ “merit-based” process for appointments has screened out 61.8 per cent of visible-minority candidates as insufficiently qualified, compared to 37.6 per cent of applicants who are not visible minorities.

Visible-minority applicants who made it past that cut and into job competitions were less likely to be recommended or appointed.

“This is one of the reasons why we need to know what constitutes merit,” said Kathy Brock, a politics professor at Queen’s University who has studied the changes in the appointments system.

“What are the criteria that are being used to screen people, and embedded in that criteria are there certain considerations that have a negative impact on those communities?”

Despite the changes, final say still sits with the responsible minister or the Prime Minister’s Office, meaning a partisan lens remains in place on appointments, Brock said.

Months after taking power in late 2015, the Liberals changed how the government makes hundreds of appointments each year to positions such as the boards of Crown corporations and tribunals that make decisions on benefit payments and immigration claims. The majority are part-time. They don’t include senators, judges or officers of Parliament such as the ethics commissioner, who are not chosen with the same process.

Before 2015, governments simply decided who would get what position, often giving posts to party loyalists. The Liberals promised to make appointments based on merit, where applications are open to anyone and selection committees recommend names based on precise criteria.

READ MORE: Gender pay gap widest at top of the corporate ladder, new report says

“The Government is striving for gender parity, and seeks to ensure that Indigenous peoples and minority groups are properly represented in positions of leadership,” spokesman Stephane Shank said in an email, calling the number of visible minority applicants “encouraging.”

He said that as of April 30, 2019, the Liberal government has concluded 1,100 appointments under the new process, and that 13 per cent of the appointees self-identified as visible minorities. Another nine per cent identified as Indigenous.

The percentage of visible minorities currently serving in the roles, nearly doubled, from 4.4 per cent in November 2015 to eight per cent in May 2019.

About 4.5 per cent of appointees identified themselves as having disabilities, below the 15.5 per cent people with represent in the Canadian population.

The government documents show that eight per cent of female appointees had been placed in leadership positions. But they don’t offer the same information for male appointees, so it’s not clear how the sexes compare.

The figures were smaller for visible minorities and Indigenous people: two from each group had been put in “leadership” positions. Like visible minorities and Indigenous people, only two persons with disabilities have been appointed to leadership positions.

“It’s that whole analogy of a big ship that has a big wake and you have to give it some space to move. That’s what we’re seeing here with the appointments,” said Carole Therrien, who worked on such appointments in Jean Chretien’s Prime Minister’s Office.

Although upcoming openings are supposed to be flagged a year out, and recommended candidates vetted by Privy Council Office within four weeks, the new system has been oft criticized for leaving too many positions unfilled for too long.

The documents show that at the end of 2018, the selection processes for 181 positions had yet to start, including for some openings as distant as February 2020. The documents don’t identify those positions.

A similar number of appointments – 183 – were sitting with the Prime Minister’s Office or a minister’s office awaiting approval.

Jordan Press, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

PHOTOS: Heartland Youth Centre has named the winners in this year’s fundraising raffle

Nan Gardner has won the grand prize of the 2020 GMC Terrain

House of Commons can manage virtual voting securely if MPs want it, Speaker says

House of Commons can manage virtual voting securely if MPs want it, Speaker says

Liberals detail changes to COVID-19 aid as they ask MPs to OK new spending

Liberals detail changes to COVID-19 aid as they ask MPs to OK new spending

Town of Stettler adopts 2020 tax budget

Rates were selected to accommodate the financial strain of the COVID-19 pandemic

How proceedings in the House of Commons during pandemic differ from normal

How proceedings in the House of Commons during pandemic differ from normal

Feds continue to add to COVID-19 supply stores to meet future demand

Feds continue to add to COVID-19 supply stores to meet future demand

Feds continue to add to COVID-19 supply stores to meet future demand

Feds continue to add to COVID-19 supply stores to meet future demand

Ontario mulls collection of race-based COVID-19 data; some argue it’s essential

Ontario mulls collection of race-based COVID-19 data; some argue it’s essential

NFL tells teams they must hold training camps at home

NFL tells teams they must hold training camps at home

MLS players skip training again but reports suggest a deal may be close

MLS players skip training again but reports suggest a deal may be close

Jets captain Blake Wheeler on racism: ‘You can’t be silent anymore’

Jets captain Blake Wheeler on racism: ‘You can’t be silent anymore’

Canadians seem OK with possibly being benched as playoff venue: survey

Canadians seem OK with possibly being benched as playoff venue: survey

Most Read