Public Service Remains Short on Visible Minorities’ Proportional Representation

September 17, 2009 Updated: September 19, 2009

Proportional representation of visible minorities in the public service—or lack thereof—was one of the topics covered at a conference held by the National Council of Visible Minorities (NCVM) in the Federal Public Service in Toronto recently.

The three-day conference, which was attended by about 200 people, marked the 10th anniversary of the establishment of the council, a voluntary organization of federal public service employees founded in 1999.

Some who attended the event expressed their frustration that although there has been headway made on the issue of proportional representation of visible minorities in the public service, progress is slow compared to how fast the Canadian demographic is changing.

Jacqueline Edwards, former president of the council, said that when one chooses to become a Canadian citizen or an immigrant, that decision should be what matters in the recruitment of a public servant.  

“The additional expertise and experience one has should be the only factor, not the colour of their skin.”

She believes it is possible to achieve proportional representation of visible minorities in the public service.

“There are not many things in life  we do not either have the intelligence, the tools, the ability to do—we do brain surgeries, we put people on the moon, so there is not much we cannot do as a people, and that is why I will not accept that this problem cannot be corrected.”

Ms. Edwards said past generations of immigrants have endured in order for those who came after them to have a better life, and that each successive generation has a responsibility to continue this trend.

Max Brault, a human resource manager at Correctional Service of Canada, said that while he has seen an increase in visible minorities in the public service, there’s still plenty of room for improvement.

“There are thousands of individuals from visible minority communities who have all the checks in the right places and they just cannot seem to get the opportunities they deserve,” he said.

He believes the government should play a more active role, adding that he doesn’t believe it is the personal responsibility of visible minorities to overcome the barriers on their career paths in the public service.
“It is the government that needs to break down the barriers for those who are from the visible minorities,” he said, adding that he remembers a time when even talking about recruiting visible minorities was taboo.
One improvement the government could make is to actually enforce current legislation, including the Employment Equity Act, said Ms. Edwards.  

“There is the Multiculturalism Act that is not enforced, there is the Employment Equity Act that is not enforced, and there is the Bilingual Language Act that is very much enforced.”  

She suggests creating a position in which the Employment Equity Commissioner would report to the prime minister and hold the federal and provincial governments accountable to move the agenda forward.

She added that if people keep viewing themselves as visible minorities, then no matter how much visible minorities improve as a community, they will always be a minority. But what puzzles her, she said, is how people seem to be selective in how they view visible minorities.

“Canadians can come together in churches and supermarkets and restaurants, in football fields or hockey stadiums and it is not an issue. But whenever there is an issue of authority or an issue of being in a position to make a decision, how people look will become an issue.”
Mr.Brault said it will be “years down the road” before the impact of NCVM’s efforts to build a representative and inclusive federal public service will be seen.
In the meantime, the groundbreaking Perinbam Report on the participation of visible minorities in the federal public service and forums such as NCVM “have put the issue on the forefront so there is accountability and responsibility the government has to answer to.”