Standing up for the merit principle

One of the things that Canada stands for is equality of all people. We stand up to discrimination in our own country and elsewhere in the world. As a nation, we strive to protect our diverse population and ensure equality of opportunity for all.

Canadians want our federal public service to be representative, as much as possible, of our nation as a whole. Sometimes we learn that specific groups within our population are ‘disenfranchised’ or perpetually unable to have the opportunity to work for the federal government.

This causes us to ask why, and how to go about doing something about it. Affirmative action programs have been around a long time and their goal is to increase the participation of those people who have been marginalized.

Since 1986, the federal public service and federally regulated companies with 100 or more employees have provided affirmative action hiring policies for four “employment equity groups”: visible minorities, aboriginals, people with disabilities and women. While most federal public service positions are open to all applicants, “from time to time, certain positions may be limited to applicants from members of employment equity-designated groups.”

The danger of providing special rights for specific groups of people is that it usually requires depriving others of their rights. As well, the merit principle -where the most capable applicant wins the job – is abandoned.

Last week, a media frenzy erupted surrounding an Ontario woman trying to apply for a position with Citizenship and Immigration Canada. She was told she could not proceed with an online job application once she identified herself as “white” responding to a question about her race.

She objected to being disqualified based on her race, and went public with her complaint.

Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney was the first to respond on behalf of our Conservative government. He said, “I strongly agree with the objective of creating a public service that reflects the diversity of Canada, and with fair measures designed to reach that goal.

But we must ensure that all Canadians have an equal opportunity to work for their government based on merit, regardless of race or ethnicity.”

He launched an investigation into the hiring practices of his own department and contacted the Hon. Stockwell Day, President of the Treasury Board which oversees all hiring policies in the federal government. Minister Day announced that his department will review the Public Service Employment Act, and the related practices and policies in all federal departments. Our Conservative government believes that the Canadian public service should hire based on merit alone.

If you have any questions or concerns regarding this or previous columns you may write me at 4945-50th Street, Camrose, Alberta, T4V 1P9, call 780-608-4600, toll-free 1-800-665-4358, fax 780-608-4603 or e-mail sorenk1@parl.gc.ca.

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