Opening Remarks by Anne-Marie Robinson, President, Public Service Commission of Canada at Senate National Finance Committee regarding 2014-2015 Estimates

October 28, 2014

Mr. Chair, Honourable Members, I am pleased to be here to discuss the Public Service Commission’s Estimates for 2014-2015.

The mandate of the Public Service Commission is to promote and safeguard merit-based staffing and, in collaboration with other stakeholders, to protect the non-partisan nature of the public service.

Main Estimates

In this fiscal year, the PSC’s Main Estimates are $83.7 million. We are now in the final phase of implementing reductions that were part of Spending Review 2012. We have adjusted our activities and we are well-positioned to implement our plans and priorities, and to effectively fulfill our mandate.

Oversight of the Staffing System

As Members may know, our 2013-2014 Annual Report was tabled in Parliament last week. The PSC oversees the staffing system through regular monitoring, audits and investigations. Based on these oversight and feedback mechanisms, we concluded that, overall, staffing management continued to improve.

The seven audits we conducted found that most of the key elements of effective staffing management were in place; and deputy heads and managers respected their delegated authority. However, there are some recurring issues. There is a need for improved monitoring of appointment processes, more effective controls surrounding the sub-delegation of staffing authority, and improvements in how appointment decisions are substantiated. We will be providing targeted support and guidance in these areas.

Last year, 20 investigations into appointment processes were founded. Nine of them involved fraud, for instance, where individuals provided false educational or professional credentials or cheated during examinations. However, I would like to point out that these numbers are very low in the context of the more than 72,000 staffing activities that took place within the federal public service.

Hiring and Staffing in the Public Service

Next, I would note some trends in hiring and staffing activities.

Mr. Chair, the public service population is changing. In 2013-2014, the population in the organizations coming under the Public Service Employment Act (PSEA) decreased by 2.6%. Following three consecutive years of decline, this population, in March 2014, was 10% lower than in March 2011.

Notwithstanding this, in 2013-2014, we saw an increase in hiring and staffing activities for the first time in four years. Overall hiring to the public service increased by 16.2% over the previous year. For example, student hiring was up by 8.6%, with 10,386 student hires in 2013-2014. However, permanent hiring of new graduates was down. We also noted that employees under the age of 35 represented 17% of permanent employees in 2013-2014, down from 21.4% in March 2010. The PSC is preoccupied by these trends, which have implications for the renewal and future composition of the public service.

Non-Partisan Public Service

I would now like to turn to non-partisanship. A non-partisan public service is one in which appointments are based on merit and are free from political influence, and where employees perform their duties, and are seen to perform their duties, in a politically impartial manner.

Mr. Chair, the PSC has a keen interest in Bill C-520, which is entitled An Act supporting non-partisan offices of agents of Parliament. It was introduced in the House of Commons on June 3, 2013. In order to contribute constructively to Parliament's study of the Bill, the PSC submitted a detailed statement outlining its concerns to the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics. The statement is available on our website.

Our merit-based appointment regime relies on a number of requirements set out in the PSEA. One of those is that only the qualifications required to perform the duties of a position are to be assessed when a position is being filled. That means the assessment of applicants is based only on the competencies required to do the job. And only information required for the assessment and appointment process is collected from applicants.

Bill C-520 proposes a substantial change to this regime, by requiring all applicants for positions in the offices of the Agents of Parliament, and not just successful candidates, to provide information on their past political affiliation as soon as possible in the selection process. Even though it may not be the intention of this Bill, asking for information on past political affiliation could be at odds with the PSEA and could lead to a perception that this information may be used in the selection process.

The fact that we do not ask for information on political affiliation is, the Commission believes, essential in ensuring confidence, on the part of the public and applicants, in the impartiality and fairness of the merit-based system. As a resource for both Parliament and the Government of Canada on matters related to safeguarding the merit principle and the non-partisan nature of the public service, the PSC will continue to engage as the proposed legislation proceeds through the parliamentary process.

Innovation

I would now like to turn to innovation. We made further advances in using technology such as on-line testing, which now represents 54% of all the tests administered by the PSC, including second language evaluations. Unsupervised on-line testing allows applicants to take a test at a location of their choosing and to have greater access to public service jobs no matter where they live. This greater accessibility can help to remove testing barriers for persons with disabilities who, for example, can now take advantage of their own adaptive technology at home to do our exams.

Mr. Chair, we recognize that our responsibilities form but one of the many elements of the overall framework for people management in the public service. In order that the whole remains modern, effective and responsive, we continue to explore ways we can better perform our roles with respect to merit and non-partisanship, and we look forward to working with departments and agencies in the coming year to promote innovation and improvement.

We will also continue to foster strong and collaborative relationships with Parliamentarians, bargaining agents, and other stakeholders so that Canadians will continue to benefit from a professional and non-partisan public service.

I would be pleased to respond to your questions.