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A Call for Canadian Public Service Reform

Canadian Public Service Recruitment Problems are Urgent

Dateline: 03/06/01

The management of the Canadian federal public service is desperately in need of reform, says Denis Desautels, in a report summarizing his ten-year term as Canada's Auditor General.

In "Reflections of a Decade Serving Parliament", the departing Auditor General devotes a long section to human resources management in the public service, and concludes that a decade of initiatives like Public Service 2000 and La Relève have not succeeded.

Recruitment problems in the public service have become urgent.

  • There is intense competition for knowledge workers from the private sector.
  • Salaries for some occupations are not competitive.
  • Skilled young people "may" not look at the public service as an attractive employer.
  • More than half of public service executives are eligible to retire in the next five years, and the group of employees that would normally replace them are in the same age group.

Desautels says the government is not responding quickly enough to the challenge of turning entry-level workers into managers and executives, and is hiring for short, fixed terms to avoid the frustrations of a complex staffing process.

The public service has made major headway in work to reform the job classification system, partly to ensure pay equity, and also to make job classifications more accurately reflect the work being done in government departments today. But the massive project is a long way from completion.

Desautels says that a new compensation strategy must be developed to support the introduction of the new classification system, as it will affect the pay of many federal government employees.

He also says Treasury Board must make sure enough money is allocated to finish the classification work which will affect billions of dollars of payroll costs and the recruitment abilities of the public service for decades. Desautels says Treasury Board seriously underestimated the complexity and cost of the project, and departments have already taken "advances" against future funding of $60-million.

The Auditor General concludes that real reform of human resources management in the public service will require systemic legislative change, and a change in attitudes, practices and organizational culture. He says the government has to get out of the study phase and find a real solution.

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