By: Ambrose Lin, Stacy B., Stacy A., Matt, Marcus & Connie

“Canada’s Public Service is recognized as among the best in the world. I encourage Canadians to learn more about the talent, professionalism, and dedication of our hard-working public servants. I look forward to working with the Public Service to better tackle today’s challenges so we can meet the changing needs of Canadians now and in the future.”
The Rt. Hon. Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada

Historical Overview

Canada’s public sector includes “all government controlled entities such as ministries, departments, funds, organizations, and business enterprises which political authorities at all levels of government use to implement their social and economic policies” (Hurley, 2007). The exact genesis including specific information about the historical development of Canada’s public sector Canada’s could not be located. However, greater information is available about the historical development of Canada’s public service (previously known as civil service), a
prominent sub-sector of the broader public sector. The two terms are often used interchangeably, and a search for information about Canada’s public sector will typically produce public service information. This section presents the historical overview of the public service in Canada. Prior to the establishment of an official Canadian government, “government officials were selected by either the crown or by the colonial administration” (Hurley, 2007). In 1868, the Canada Civil Service Act was enacted (Hurley, 2007), followed by “six public service inquiries
between 1868 and 1913” (Hurley, 2007), although little significant change occurred.

Additionally,“in 1907, Sir Wilfrid Laurier eliminated the patronage lists for government contracts and the Civil Service Amendment Act of 1908 created a Civil Service Commission to oversee competitive examinations (the so-called merit system) for the appointment and advancement of civil servants working in the Ottawa area” (Hurley, 2007). Subsequently, “the Civil Service Act of 1918 (as amended in 1919) constituted a major change and replaced patronage across Canada with competitive examinations, which were largely predicated upon the ability to perform efficiently in English in a non-partisan public service” (Hurley, 2007). In 1924, “the Civil Service Superannuation Act established public service pensions that were designed to deter efficient officers from leaving, attract better applicants, and promote and protect a career in civil service” (Hurley, 2007). Eventually, “in 1932, staff control regulations were established and the Treasury Board was given authority over the Civil Service Commission’s (CSC) staffing responsibilities” (Hurley, 2007). During the second world war, civil service quickly expanded. Consequently, “the Financial Administration Act of 1951 gave Treasury Board authority over a broad range of financial and human resource matters, including the awarding of contracts” (Hurley, 2007). Next, “1957 saw the CSC establishing the Pay Research Bureau. Later, “the new Civil Service Act of 1961 gave civil servants the right of appeal against not only promotions, but also transfers, demotions, suspensions and dismissals” (Hurley, 2007).

The “early 1970s saw rapid expansion of the public service, but by the late 1970s, there was significant reduction” (Hurley, 2007). Eventually, “in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the public service sub-sector in Canada experienced rapid growth, which led to the reformation of the Canada School of Public Service in 2005 as well as a new Public Service Employment Act, which was released with significant changes to the staffing system” (Hurley, 2007). Overall, there have been a number of Public Service renewal exercises over the past 50 years
driven by particular issues and usually leading to a final report and action. For example, “Blueprint 2020: Building Tomorrow’s Public Service Together, launched by the Clerk of the Privy Council in 2013, was an initiative of unprecedented scope driven by increasing globalization, accelerating technological change, changing demographics, a growing demand for openness, transparency and accountability, and evolving workforce expectations (Hurley, 2007).

Who works in this sector?

According to Statistic Canada, “employment in the public sector accounts for twenty percent of employed Canadians” (Statistic Canada, 2018). Furthermore, “more than 3.6 million Canadians currently work for the public sector” (Matteo, 2020). Public sector employees work in all three levels of government- Federal, Provincial and Municipal. Public sector employees generally include police service and law enforcement workers; postal service workers; public transit workers; health care workers; fire service workers; emergency service workers; social service workers; infrastructure workers; education workers; hydro workers; gas and oil workers as well
as waste management workers.

The positions held by public sector employees are commonly regarded as “compulsory to retain a safe, productive community” (Lazzari, 2019). Public sector employees typically include individuals that have acquired some form of post secondary accreditation or relevant, specific apprenticeship preparation. In view of the fact that “the public sector is not revenue driven and jobs are funded by taxpayers” (Lazzari, 2019), conventionally employees are “part time, full time, seasonal and contract workers” (Lazzari, 2019) contingent on funding availability and
public needs.

There appears to be a large variance in terms of which sex dominates certain professions in the public sector. Historically, white males have dominated certain public sector professions such as police officers, firefighters, and military personnel. On the other hand, women dominate professions such as social work, nursing and teaching. According to Statistics Canada (2018), “women comprised eighty-four percent of all elementary school and kindergarten teaching positions in Canada in 2016”. Furthermore, “women constitute a small portion of all the firefighters in Canada, approximately 4.4%” (Affandi, n.d.) and “as of May 15, 2017, women accounted for twenty-one percent of all sworn police officers” (Conor, 2018). Some improvements have been noticed in terms of the number of women being promoted in the Canadian police force. As per Connor (2018), “women accounted for fifteen percent of senior officers in 2017, the highest proportion ever recorded, compared to seven percent in 2007 and less than 1% in 1986”.

Additional gender analysis of Canada’s public sector employees indicated that “women comprise fifty percent of Canada’s public service” (“Women Make Up”, 2015), a sub-sector of the larger public sector. Although ostensibly a highlight for Canada when compared to other developed countries, the reality remained that this cohort “lack the power and policy clout that men enjoyed when they dominated this sub-sector” (“Women Make Up”, 2015). Ergo, “women’s ascendancy in public service has not necessarily translated into an increase to their monopoly grip to establish significant impact where policy making for instance is concerned” (“Women Make Up”, 2015). This begs the question of what is the point of appointing more women if women continue to have less prospect to establish policies and programs in the same way as their counterparts in the past.

On one hand, immigrant workers seemingly dominate certain domains of Canada’s public sector such as shelter workers in social services and personal support workers in healthcare. However, a closer analysis would perhaps indicate that those who work in Canada’s public sector, especially in management ranks were born in Canada. For instance, Ranosa (2020) reported that ninety percent of Kitchener’s civic workers are born in Canada whilst more than a quarter of city residents are immigrants (Ranosa, 2020).

Generally, who works in Canada’s public service is not reflective of who these workers are required to provide services to. Conclusively, significant efforts are still needed to make certain that Canada’s public sector mirrors the gender equilibrium, linguistic and ethnic diversity commonly promoted as intrinsic to Canada’s social fabric.

Dominant Ethnic/Racial groups in this Sector?

Historically the professions in Canada’s public sector have been dominated by white people. Today, the government ostensibly has been implementing efforts, as a response to public pressure and a changing cultural milieu, to diversify- have a more balanced and inclusive public sector. For instance, in the public service domain, the Canadian military has historically been a white-male dominated profession. However, the house of commons has recently been trying to diversify the military by improving their recruitment efforts. According to Fur et al, (2019), “the Canadian military is aiming to increase the number of female employees from 14.9% in 2016 to
25% by 2026; the number of Indigenous employees from 2.6% in 2016 to 3.5% by 2026, and visible minorities from 6.7% in 2016 to 11.8% by 2026”. Looking at such recruitment efforts by the government bodies through critical lens, it can be argued that these efforts are not significant efforts and begs the question as to why do there continue to be only small increases in the amount of workers when it comes to racialized groups and a maintenance of the larger cohort of white workers?

In general, an analysis of the labour force typically indicates an ethnic divergence among those who work in the public sector. For instance at the municipal level, “statistics from a survey of public sector workers in the city of Kitchener revealed a primarily white labour force even though one in five denizens are of a racial background” (Ranosa, 2020). Furthermore, “almost ninety percent of Kitchener’s municipal employees are white although twenty two percent of the populace are a visible minority” (Ranosa, 2020). This example of ethnic divergence highlights a common disparity between public sector employees and the communities they serve in the sense
that the ethnic makeup of civic workers usually is not representative of the diversity found in the corresponding populace. The racial disparity amplifies as you assess the ethnicity of public
sector workers in management positions.

The social work industry, for example, is both historically and currently dominated by white employees. See-Toh (2012) indicates that racialized people comprised 16.3% of Winnipeg’s population in 2006, but only 5% of all social workers in Winnipeg were racialized social workers. As a result, See-Toh (2012) asserts that “Non- white social workers do not experience social work practice the same as their counterparts” (See-Toh, 2012). Moreover, racism in the workplace affects whether clients and coworkers view a racialized social worker as competent.
See-Toh’s (2012) research indicate that “non-white social workers feel by virtue of being visible minorities they are perceived differently by their employers, co-workers and clients”. In addition, racialized social workers report that they “are not immediately assumed to be professionals and must consistently prove that they are educated and skilled” as well as that “they feel tokenized in their work environments” (See-Toh, 2012).

Ranosa (2020) argues that “racial employees bring with them a wide-ranging diversity of lived experiences, perspectives that are advantageous to the public sector”. An even more diverse public sector workforce will ensure cross cultural competency which is necessary to better be able to respond to the needs of Canada’s diverse communities.

Special Skills & Characteristics

The skills and characteristics often required to work in Canada’s public sector are similar to those needed to work in other professions, depending on the nature of the job. According to Bean & Hussey (2012), public sector employees need “to be able to identify, anticipate and satisfy customer needs”. Additional qualities and skills commonly solicited by employers on job postings include organization, negotiating, decision-making ability, team working skills, independent working skills, good verbal and written communication skills and leadership skills. A characteristic that is perhaps central to the public sector is flexibility and having an open availability. Many positions in Canada’s public sector are shift work and employees might be required to work irregular hours such as statutory holidays, weekends and nights.

It is not uncommon for core competencies to be looked at as well. According to the Public Service Commission of Canada (2010), competencies are defined as “characteristics that contribute towards an individual’s behaviour and performance at work”. The Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs (1995) lists “organizational leadership, management, collaboration, innovation and interpersonal abilities” as general key competencies assessed in the public sector. The institute explains that organizational leadership, for example, is required because “workers need to know how to acquire relevant resources while simultaneously understanding the organizational culture” (List of Skills 1995). Furthermore, an example of a public sector job requiring the competency of understanding how to acquire needed resources would be a caseworker working in employment and social services.

Associated Risks

Public sector jobs encompasses a broad range of jobs within organizations that are, at least in part, owned or operated by the government and exist to serve communities. Such a broad range of professions comes with a broad range of financial, physical, and mental risks. Furthermore, there are different circumstances and contexts in which certain public sector workers face greater risk than others. Given the incredibly abundant public sector jobs, this is in no way a comprehensive review of the many risks that public sector employees face. One of the risks that affects the public sector as a whole is changing government objectives and agendas. Job security, financial security, and job opportunities are very much contingent on whether or not the ruling government sees a need to invest or divest in the public sector. Furthermore, people employed in the public sector interact with community members on a daily basis. Consequently, there is always a risk of negative interactions, compassion fatigue, emotional duress from witnessing or hearing about clients’ trauma first hand etc. that can be a
detriment to their mental health. Furthermore, professionals in the public sector also face the possibility of getting injured on the job, such as firefighters, police officers, infrastructure workers, gas and oil workers etc. due to the highly physical nature of their jobs.

Individual interactions aside, certain public sector workers face increased government-level discrimination. For example, on June 16th, 2019, the government of Quebec passed the incredibly controversial Bill 21, which prohibits the public service workers in Quebec’s public sector from wearing religious symbols and garments covering their face (Ahmad, 2019). These public services workers “have vocalized feeling torn between preserving their religious practices and pursuing their profession” (Ahmad, 2019). The passing of the bill “has also warranted public outcry and condemnation from civil rights groups and Muslim groups, such as the National
Council of Canadian Muslims” (Shingler, 2019). Bills like this undoubtedly put Black and Brown Muslim as well as Sikh workers at higher risk. In fact, it institutionalizes and justifies discrimination. Therefore, not only do certain public sector workers face individual discrimination from the communities they serve, but they also face system-level discrimination from the state.

In the current COVID-19 pandemic, it is hard to ignore the very real physical risks healthcare workers face going to work each day. Not only do healthcare workers risk getting COVID-19 themselves, they also risk unintentionally spreading it to their loved ones. Recent articles have examined the physical risks the pandemic poses to healthcare workers (Ng et al., 2020), as well as the mental toll it takes on them (Brooks, 2020). An article published in Medscape on March 26th reports on the alarming rates of anxiety and depression in healthcare workers on the frontlines of this pandemic (Brooks, 2020).

State Intervention

The state regularly intervenes in numerous public sector jobs either in support for or against certain practices, procedures and/or policies made by the organizations in the public sector or issues happening. These interventions can yield [perceived] positive or negative outcomes for the country and/or for those who work in the public sector. For instance, the government intervened with Canada Post in the early 21st century when it encouraged and enforced the use of “greener” transportation methods. This intervention “led to policy changes that introduced more environmentally friendly trucks, and methods of delivery to reduce energy consumption”
(Fenerty-Mckibbon, 2005). The state can also intervene with a back-to-work legislation which puts an end to a strike. For instance, the government “halted the 2018 Canada post strike which continued as a result of failed negotiations concerning wages and paid holidays, by enforcing a back to work legislation due to the importance of the mail delivery system to the personal and professional functioning of Canadian life” (Bryden, 2018).

The Ontario teachers’ strike of 2015 is another example of state intervention in the public sector. This strike kept highschool students out of school for almost four weeks. The main dispute between the teachers and government was the increase of class sizes, which would translate into increased workloads and decreased individual attention to each student. However, the Ontario Labour Relations Board found that “the strikes were not only damaging, but illegal” (Rushowy, 2015). Therefore, “the government promptly ordered the teachers back to work, resulting in seventy thousand teenagers returning back to school” (Rushowy, 2015).

The most notable example of state intervention in Canada’s public sector is in 2020. The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has germinated unprecedented and uniform interventions from both the federal and provincial governments. As this disease continues to spread, provincial and federal governments have intervened in ALL work sectors. In the most extreme cases, the governments have intervened by mandating that non-essential businesses or a number of government offices be closed during the Covid-19 response period. However, due to the nature of most public sector jobs, many public sector employees are required to continue to provide services either in a reduced or rotational or in some case full time capacity as their roles are considered necessary to
maintaining and rebuilding the lives of Canadians during this time.


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