An Open Letter to the Right Honourable Stephen Harper

Dear Prime Minister:

Re:       Stop the Attack on Employment Equity

As Canadians who believe in a discrimination-free society, we are writing to express our grave concerns regarding recent comments made by the Hon. Stockwell Day, President of the Treasury Board, who insinuated that the Federal Employment Equity program is barring qualified Canadians from job opportunities in the federal public service. 

We are equally dismayed by similar comments made by the Hon. Jason Kenney, Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism, who stated that all Canadians should have an equal opportunity to work for their government based on merit, regardless of race or ethnicity, as if to suggest that unmerited candidates from racialized communities are taking over the jobs of qualified white candidates, thanks to affirmative action.

The truth, as you are well aware, is the opposite.  Employment equity guarantees merit-based hiring because it removes artificial barriers to employment.  All too often, qualified candidates from racialized communities do not get hired because of their race or ethnicity.

The current legislative framework that supports employment in the federal public service is found in the Employment Equity Act, 1995, s. 15 (2) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and provincial human rights legislation and policies. The purpose of this framework is to ameliorate the historical and current marginalization of members of designated groups not only in hiring practices, but in promotion and retention practices as well.

Yet despite nearly 25 years since the Employment Equity Act was first put in place, there continues to be serious under-representation of workers from the Aboriginal communities, visible minorities, women, and people with disabilities in the federal public service, the single largest employer in Canada.   

In a recent report of the Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights, Reflecting the Changing Face of Canada:  Employment Equity in the Federal Public Service, the Senate Committee examined issues of discrimination in the hiring practices of the federal public service and found that employment equity targets among the four designated groups were not fully being met, especially for visible minorities.  Based on data available for the core public service in 2008-2009, visible minorities were represented at 9.8%, a figure that was much lower than their workforce availability rate at 15.3%.  

The fact that discrimination persists despite governments’ best efforts should motivate our political leaders to redouble their resolve to advance policies and programs to make our workplace truly inclusive.   That Minister’s Jason Kenney and Stockwell Day are now asking for a review of the Public Service Employment Act suggests either a lack of understanding of the purpose or the mechanics of the Employment Equity Act, or an attempt to divert attention away from the Government’s failure to deliver on its obligation to eradicate discrimination in employment.

Contrary to the Ministers’ assertion, employment equity has proven to be an effective measure to ensure candidates from marginalized groups get the jobs that they are qualified to do.  It also promotes diversity in the workplace, something that most Canadians value.  For these reasons, an increasing number of business leaders have embraced employment equity as the model for their corporations.  In short, employment equity makes good business sense because it works.

Rather than perpetuating the myth about employment equity as replacing merit-based hiring, we need you to affirm your Government’s commitment to equity and diversity by strengthening employment equity measures, and by educating all Canadians the need for such programs.

Yours truly,