Opening Statement by Anne-Marie Robinson, President of the Public Service Commission, at a meeting of the Government Operations and Estimates Committee concerning 2013-2014 Main Estimates and Report on Plans and Priorities

May 2, 2013

Check against delivery.

Mr. Chair, thank you.

I am accompanied today by Hélène Laurendeau, Senior Vice-President, Policy, Gerry Thom, Vice President, Staffing and Assessment Services, and Gisèle Côté, Director General, Finance and Administration.

I would like to thank you for this opportunity to meet with you today to discuss our Main Estimates and our Report on Plans and Priorities for 2013-2014.

The PSC is responsible for promoting and safeguarding merit-based appointments that are free from political influence and, in collaboration with other stakeholders, for protecting the non-partisan nature of the public service. We report independently to Parliament on our mandate. We also administer programs on behalf of departments and agencies that recruit qualified Canadians from across the country.

Under the delegated staffing system set out in the Public Service Employment Act, the PSC fulfills its mandate by providing policy guidance and expertise, conducting effective oversight, and delivering innovative staffing and assessment services.

Planned Spending

In our Main Estimates for 2013-14, the PSC is authorized to spend $89.9 million and, in addition, it has an authority to recover up to $14 million of the costs of our counseling and assessment products and services provided to federal organizations.

As a result of Spending Review 2012, our budget is being reduced by $8.9 million to be implemented over three fiscal years.  Last year, our reductions were $2.2 million, with another $2.2 million to be reduced this year and $4.5 million next year. Of the 88 positions that were to be eliminated, 38 were achieved through vacancy management and attrition. Of the 50 employees affected, 27 have been placed in other positions, 18 have opted to leave the public service with the assistance of transitional support measures and educational allowances, and we are still working on the placement of the remaining 5 employees. As a result of these reductions, in 2014-2015, the PSC will have the equivalent of 874 employees, as compared to 922 for this year.

Mr. Chair, during the past year, the Public Service Commission devoted considerable attention and effort to provide policy guidance and supporting tools to departments and agencies as they implement workforce adjustment.  We will continue to provide this support, in collaboration with Treasury Board Secretariat and the Canada School of Public Service as well as other stakeholders.

Today, the staffing system is adapting to a changing environment, most notably, a smaller public service and a reduced level of staffing activity. In 2011-12, just prior to Budget 2012, we found that the number of employees who come under the Public Service Employment Act had fallen by 2.4%.  We also reported that overall hiring to the public service had fallen by 10.3%, although student hiring has declined the least. We are now reviewing the data for the past fiscal year and we will be providing a full assessment in our 2012-2013 annual report, to be tabled this fall.  We look forward to discussing those results with your Committee.

Now, I would like to turn to our strategic priorities for this year.

Strategic Priorities

Our first priority is to provide ongoing independent assurance to Parliament in relation to the performance of the staffing system under the Public Service Employment Act. In doing so, we will continue to focus on, and further improve, our core activities.

We have had seven years of experience in implementing our responsibilities under the revised PSEA.  Our outreach and interaction, along with our monitoring, audits, investigations and studies, all of these activities provide opportunities to examine lessons learned, to identify areas for improvement and to take concrete actions.

We now have a unique opportunity to take advantage of our experience to improve our processes with the goal of developing a more efficient and integrated approach to our oversight and delivery functions.  We will continue to adapt our oversight activities, policies and services in line with a maturing staffing system and to meet the evolving needs of departments and agencies.

We will continue to work closely and collaboratively with organizations to help them build a stronger culture of prevention and compliance while we continue to deliver on our fundamental responsibility to provide independent oversight and assurance to Parliament.

Our second priority is to continue to enhance the Priority Administration Program which allows the public service to redeploy skilled and experienced employees.  The implementation of workforce adjustment has resulted in an increased number of surplus employees and laid-off individuals who are eligible to be appointed ahead of all others to vacant positions in the public service, provided they meet the essential qualifications of the positions.

We’ve made policy, program and service improvements to provide greater access, fairness and transparency, with the objective of placing as many priority persons as quickly as possible.

Mr. Chair, there are currently about 2,900 priority persons, an increase of 60% since last April when 1,800 persons had priority rights.  Since April 2012, 956 priority persons have been re-deployed in new positions – most of them (around 70%) were employees affected by workforce adjustment.  At the same time, we have also seen a drop in the placement of other priority persons including a significant decline in the placement of Canadian veterans who have been medically released.

We have been monitoring the situation closely, along with Veterans Affairs, which has overall responsibility for policy and programs for Canada’s veterans. At their request, the PSC provided technical advice regarding this priority entitlement to Veterans Affairs for their consideration.  We are ready to support the implementation of any additional measures.

I would now like to turn to our third priority, to work with stakeholders to foster increased awareness regarding political activities and to help public servants better understand their legal rights and responsibilities under the PSEA.  We will continue to collaborate with organizations, communicate regularly and improve our tools to increased awareness of non-partisanship as a core value of the public service.

We have recently launched a revised self-assessment tool, to help public servants make informed decisions about engaging in a political activity. Employees will be able to better assess whether their participation in a political activity could impair, or be perceived as impairing, their ability to perform their duties in a politically impartial manner. This comprehensive tool provides public servants with a detailed assessment including a more realistic rating with respect to their participation in certain political activities. The revised tool was launched as a one-year pilot and we will use this experience to identify further improvements.

I would now like to turn to our responsibilities under the Employment Equity Act.   The PSC is responsible for identifying and eliminating barriers in recruitment and staffing, and for developing policies and practices that promote a more representative public service.  Overall, we found that members of three of the four designated employment equity groups continue to apply, and be appointed to the public service at a proportion exceeding their respective workforce availability.  The exception is for the recruitment of persons with disabilities, who continue to be under-represented in terms of applications and appointments.

To continue our work, we are conducting a study on the rate of promotions from the employment equity perspective and on how members of the designated groups perceive the appointment process.  We are nearing completion of this study, and its findings will be published in our Annual Report in the fall.  This should inform future discussions in this area.

We also have important responsibilities to support Official Languages.  Our staffing polices clearly stipulate that all communication with candidates in appointment processes must be done in the official language of their choice.  In our oversight, we also verify that individuals meet the official language requirements for public service jobs.  We are also responsible for developing language tests to assess second language proficiency against the standards set out by Treasury Board. These tests ensure that second language requirements for bilingual positions are assessed fairly and consistently.

Conclusion

The PSC is committed to enabling departments and agencies in building a workforce to meet the current and future needs of the public service.

We will continue to foster strong relationships with all stakeholders, including Parliamentarians, departments and agencies as well as bargaining agents, so that Canadians will continue to benefit from a professional and non-partisan public service.

Thank you.

Mr. Chair, I would be pleased to respond to your questions.