Dr. Dawg

Election 2011: Public Service Commission squelches political rights

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Free speech zipper.jpg

Canada’s Public Service Commission is at it again, trying to pre-empt political activity by public employees during the current election campaign.

A little history:

In 1991, the Supreme Court of Canada, in Osborne v. Canada (Treasury Board), [1991] 2 S.C.R. 69 struck down provisions in the Public Service Employment Act (PSEA) prohibiting political activity by federal public employees. These restrictions were rightly held to violate the Charter rights of Canadian citizens who happened to be employed by the public service of Canada.

In 2003, finally filling a legislative void created by Osborne, a new PSEA came into force, and with it the following provision:


(1) An employee may engage in any political activity so long as it does not impair, or is not perceived as impairing, the employee’s ability to perform his or her duties in a politically impartial manner.


(2) The Governor in Council may, on the recommendation of the Commission, make regulations specifying political activities that are deemed to impair the ability of an employee, or any class of employees, to perform their duties in a politically impartial manner.

Up to this point, there appear to be no regulations that specify precisely what is, or is not, allowed.

The Public Service Commission has always been strongly opposed to federal public employees engaging in the democratic electoral process. They were an opposing party in Osborne, and they seized upon the new PSEA language, which as readers can see is very general indeed, as an opportunity to frighten rank-and-file employees into political silence.

Their latest weapon is a “self-assessment tool” which can be found here. Check it out. If you aren’t employed by the Harper Government™, pretend that you’re a fairly junior public employee.

I was one of those employees once, although, strictly speaking, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada is a so-called “separate employer.” I handled grant applications from the academic community. I had contact with applicants and I made recommendations, until committees took over that function. But we then participated as secretaries to those committees, we had voice, and we were listened to.

I answered the “self-assessment” questions honestly. And I went deep into the PSC red zone—despite the fact that my work could not conceivably have been affected by my outside political involvements.

The Commission’s little quiz, in other words, has been rather obviously constructed to scare employees out of exercising their political rights. The PSC seems to have borrowed the Chinese government’s principle: if something is not expressly permitted, it is forbidden.

My old union, the Public Service Alliance of Canada, is mad as hell about this. So should we all be.

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This page contains a single entry by Dr. Dawg published on April 8, 2011 3:50 PM.

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