Home Page Election 2019 News Opinion Foreign Policy Politics Policy Legislation Lobbying Hill Life & People Hill Climbers Heard On The Hill Calendar Archives Classifieds
Hill Times Events Inside Ottawa Directory Hill Times Store Hill Times Careers The Wire Report The Lobby Monitor Parliament Now
Subscribe Free Trial Reuse & Permissions Advertising
Log In

‘Systemic racism’ in Senate Administration: Senator Oliver

By Vongdouangchanh, Bea      
Share a story
The story link will be added automatically.

The Senate just released a report on its hiring practices in the last four years, and Conservative Sen. Donald Oliver calls it’s disgraceful.

Systemic racism exists in the Senate and is “so glaring and so problematic,”says Nova Scotia Senator Don Oliver that it will only add to the public’s appetite to abolish the Upper Chamber.

“It’s disgraceful and shameful,”Sen. Oliver told The Hill Times.”It’s in the senior and middle management positions where the Senate’s record is especially shameful.”

According to a Senate Human Resources Directorate Employment Equity report released last month on the 425 members of the Senate’s Administration, there were no visible minorities appointed to senior and middle management positions in the Senate between 2000 and 2004.The Senate is not covered by the Employment Equity Act, but adopted the Employment Equity Policy in 2000 and the Senate wanted to look at its hiring progress.

The report, released in September, showed that while there was a 0.9 per cent increase in visible minority representation between 2000 and 2004, visible minorities currently make up 6.8 per cent of the Senate’s 425 employees.The report did not look at the Senators and their staffers.

The reason there is such an under-representation of visible minorities is systemic racism, Sen. Oliver said in his speech to the Senate.”Why is that? In a word, honourable Senators, it is racism – systemic, well-entrenched, institutionalized racism that is leading to Canadians of colour routinely being paid less, treated worse and denied the same opportunities for advancement as other Canadians.

“The Senate’s lack of diversity is so glaring and so problematic to the future of our institution that it heightens the desire of many Canadians to have our Upper Chamber abolished because it is irrelevant and unrepresentative of Canada’s cultural mosaic,”Sen. Oliver said, pointing out that the visible minorities in the general population is 18 per cent while the labour market availability is 10.4 per cent.

“In their representative role, [Senators] reflect Canada’s cultural diversity – they are men and women from all walks of life and from many different backgrounds,” the report states.

The Senate derived its own Employment Equity Policy on May 31, 2000 and “is committed to making the Senate a truly representative and inclusive institution.”

The report acknowledged the need to increase the number of employment equity groups hired for senior and middle management, but does not specify which is more in need. While no visible minorities were appointed to these senior and middle management levels between 2000- 2004, no aboriginal people were appointed while the number of women, on average, increased over the four years.The majority of visible minorities were employed in the “operational”employment category.

In 2003-2004, the Senate hired 33 people, five of whom were visible minorities. In the last four years, 59 promotions took place in the Senate – six promotions went to women and four went to members of the three other employment equity groups – aboriginals, persons with a disability and visible minorities – but the report does not disclose which ones in order “to maintain confidentiality.”

In addition to the Senate’s administration, Sen. Oliver took aim at the recent rounds of Senate appointments Prime Minister Paul Martin has made.”Not one was a visible minority,”Sen. Oliver said. “How can that be?”

The Senate just released a report on its hiring practices in the last four years, and Conservative Sen. Donald Oliver calls it’s disgraceful.

Systemic racism exists in the Senate and is “so glaring and so problematic,”says Nova Scotia Senator Don Oliver that it will only add to the public’s appetite to abolish the Upper Chamber.

“It’s disgraceful and shameful,”Sen. Oliver told The Hill Times.”It’s in the senior and middle management positions where the Senate’s record is especially shameful.”

According to a Senate Human Resources Directorate Employment Equity report released last month on the 425 members of the Senate’s Administration, there were no visible minorities appointed to senior and middle management positions in the Senate between 2000 and 2004.The Senate is not covered by the Employment Equity Act, but adopted the Employment Equity Policy in 2000 and the Senate wanted to look at its hiring progress.

The report, released in September, showed that while there was a 0.9 per cent increase in visible minority representation between 2000 and 2004, visible minorities currently make up 6.8 per cent of the Senate’s 425 employees.The report did not look at the Senators and their staffers.

The reason there is such an under-representation of visible minorities is systemic racism, Sen. Oliver said in his speech to the Senate.”Why is that? In a word, honourable Senators, it is racism – systemic, well-entrenched, institutionalized racism that is leading to Canadians of colour routinely being paid less, treated worse and denied the same opportunities for advancement as other Canadians.

“The Senate’s lack of diversity is so glaring and so problematic to the future of our institution that it heightens the desire of many Canadians to have our Upper Chamber abolished because it is irrelevant and unrepresentative of Canada’s cultural mosaic,”Sen. Oliver said, pointing out that the visible minorities in the general population is 18 per cent while the labour market availability is 10.4 per cent.

“In their representative role, [Senators] reflect Canada’s cultural diversity – they are men and women from all walks of life and from many different backgrounds,” the report states.

The Senate derived its own Employment Equity Policy on May 31, 2000 and “is committed to making the Senate a truly representative and inclusive institution.”

The report acknowledged the need to increase the number of employment equity groups hired for senior and middle management, but does not specify which is more in need. While no visible minorities were appointed to these senior and middle management levels between 2000- 2004, no aboriginal people were appointed while the number of women, on average, increased over the four years.The majority of visible minorities were employed in the “operational”employment category.

In 2003-2004, the Senate hired 33 people, five of whom were visible minorities. In the last four years, 59 promotions took place in the Senate – six promotions went to women and four went to members of the three other employment equity groups – aboriginals, persons with a disability and visible minorities – but the report does not disclose which ones in order “to maintain confidentiality.”

In addition to the Senate’s administration, Sen. Oliver took aim at the recent rounds of Senate appointments Prime Minister Paul Martin has made.”Not one was a visible minority,”Sen. Oliver said. “How can that be?”

Prime Minister Paul Martin did appoint two aboriginal women to the Senate in the past few months out of his 17 appointments to the Senate. While some aboriginals self-identify as visible minorities, such as Saskatchewan NDP Senator Lillian Eva Dyck, aboriginals are not defined as visible minorities under the Employment Equity Act because aboriginals themselves are also under-represented and have their own employment equity category.

NDP Sen. Dyck said she was proud Mr. Martin appointed her to the Senate. “Where else in the world could someone like me, the daughter of non-white parents who endured severe hardships, poverty and overt racism, be able to receive an excellent education, obtain a doctor of philosophy degree, become a scientist, a university professor, an associate dean, and in March 2005, be summoned to the Upper Chamber by the Prime Minister!”

But Prime Minister Martin has failed more than five million visible minority Canadians by not appointing any visible minorities to the Senate, Sen. Oliver said. “I’ve talked to the Prime Minister and he has said he would do something to correct the disparity but I haven’t seen it.”

In comparison, Sen. Oliver pointed to the fact that in the House of Commons, there are 20 MPs who are visible minorities, while in the Senate there are only four.This shows, Sen. Oliver said, that while Canadians are slowly promoting diversity, the Prime Minister, who is responsible for appointing Senators, is not making nearly as much of an effort.

“In the House, people are elected and Canadians have said that there’s nothing wrong with voting in brown or black people,”Sen. Oliver said.”This indicates that the people of Canada want Parliament to be reflective of society as opposed to the Prime Minister who hasn’t appointed one visible minority to the Senate.”

There’s a business case for diversity that has nothing to do with money, Sen. Oliver told The Hill Times.”If you have 10 visible minorities and you put them in a room to resolve an issue, their conclusions will be much better,”Sen. Oliver said.”Conclusions that are diverse are always better than if you have the same white guys in black suits making decisions. We need diverse points of view from diverse people.”

In response to Sen. Oliver’s speech in the Senate, Ontario Liberal Senator Jerry Grafstein said Sen. Oliver makes a case for systemic racism in the Senate, adding that it should not go unchallenged. He called for an action plan to get rid of the discrimination.

“The honourable Senator makes an overwhelming case for systemic discrimination within the confines of the Senate as an institution,”Sen. Grafstein said.”I would hope that [the Senate] would take action and respond within a given period of time before the end of the calendar period with an action plan to implement specific strategies and employment practices that would dissolve his words, with which I agree, ‘systemic racism and discrimination.'”

Sen. Oliver said he has already met with senior officials of both the House and the Senate such as the Clerks and members of the House Board of Internal Economy and the Senate Internal Economy Committee and Speakers of both Chambers. He said their discussions have been encouraging and he will meet with them again.

Meanwhile, Sen. Oliver also said there was “systemic racism”within the public service, but praised Public Service Commission President Maria Barrados,Service Canada deputy minister Maryantonett Flumian, and Privy Council Office Clerk Alex Himelfarb for actively working to promote visible minorities’ advancement in the public service.

Ms. Barrados is responsible for “spearheading”an initiative that will hold deputy ministers accountable for the promotion of senior, executive positions.

Ms. Flumian, whom Sen. Oliver said “is truly a star,”conducted an employment equity staffing initiative to hire at least 10 people from members of an employment equity group to executive level positions – she promoted 13 employment equity group members to executive levels, eight of whom were visible minorities.

Meanwhile, Mr. Himelfarb launched a new development program at the PCO aimed at three employment equity-designated groups. He also appointed University of Ottawa law professor Errol Mendes as a senior adviser to the Privy Council Office.

“The only person who’s let me down is Paul Martin,”Sen. Oliver said.”I hope I can see some changes.Visible minorities are terribly un-represented and concerns about the Senate are controlled 100 per cent by the Prime Minister. Someone needs to account for it – accounting starts with the Prime Minister.”

In her 2004-2005 Annual Report, Ms. Barrados highlighted the under-representation of visible minorities as something that needs to be worked on.”The federal government continues to have difficulty meeting its goal to increase the participation of visible minorities,”Ms. Barrados said last Thursday during a press conference to release the annual report.”Reasonable progress has been made for women, aboriginal peoples and persons with disabilities but members of visible minorities are still significantly under-represented. Furthermore, representation of members of visible minorities is not keeping up with the growing proportion of members of visible minorities in the Canadian workforce.”

According to the annual report, visible minority hiring decreased last year from the previous year – in 2003, hiring of visible minorities was at 10.5 per cent and in 2004 it was at 9.9 per cent of all appointments to the public service.

However, the numbers have increased when it comes to appointments within the executive level of appointments, with eight per cent of total appointments in 2003, and 8.3 per cent of total appointments in 2004. The report also states that 10.4 per cent of the Canadian workforce are visible minorities, but is only represented in the public service at 7.8 per cent.

Ms. Barrados said that the lack of critical mass, the structure of the public service and the bias are why visible minorities aren’t being hired.”The hiring practices work against visible minorities,”Ms. Barrados said.”When you talk about recruiting at the lower levels and the fact that most people are promoted from within the public service, hiring managers don’t look as widely or do critical screening when it comes to entry-level jobs. A lot of where the jobs are also works against visible minorities.”

Ms. Barrados also pointed out that there is no critical mass of visible minorities.”When you have the critical mass, you don’t have as many problems. It’s like women. I think the same applies for visible minorities.The more you have, the easier it is to find them.”

Ms. Barrados conceded however, that it could also be because of hiring managers’ biases.”I think there’s a tendency for people to hire people who are like themselves.”

In order to achieve the government’s Embracing Change Action Plan of 2000 whereby one in five or 20 per cent of new hires to the public service are visible minorities, Ms. Barrados said there will be an aggressive external national recruitment program to hire 16 visible minorities for executive level positions. “The recruitment policy states that the public service has to recruit from the inside before the outside, but that’s no longer a requirement,” Ms. Barrados said. “It will be easier to attract visible minorities to these positions.” bvongdou@hilltimes.com

The Hill Times

McKenna wins re-election in Ottawa Centre, trumpets voters’ support for climate fight

News|By Neil Moss
'I’m so relieved,' Catherine McKenna said, about continuing with the Liberal climate change plan.

Election 2019 was a ‘campaign of fear,’ say pollsters

'There may well be a message to this to the main parties, that slagging each other will only take you so far,' says Greg Lyle.

Election 2019 campaign one of the most ‘uninspiring, disheartening, and dirtiest’ in 40 years, says Savoie

News|By Abbas Rana
Green Party Leader Elizabeth May says she has never seen an election where mudslinging overwhelmingly dominated the campaign, leaving little or no time for policy discussion.

Strategic voting to determine if Liberals will form government, say political players

News|By Abbas Rana
As many as nine per cent of progressive voters could vote strategically in this close election potentially affecting the outcome in more than 100 ridings, says Innovative Research president Greg Lyle.

Turkish offensive should pressure feds to act on repatriation of Canadian citizens in Kurdish-controlled ISIS detention camps, says expert

News|By Neil Moss
The issue of repatriation will be less politically fraught after the election, says expert.

Business tops experience among 2019 candidates, one-third have run for office before

Here’s an analysis of the record 1,700-plus candidates running for the six major parties this election.

Pod save us all: the growing role of political podcasts in election 2019

News|By Mike Lapointe
The Hill Times spoke with some podcast hosts taking a deeper dive into the political nitty-gritty, within a medium that only continues to grow in popularity.

No-shows from Conservative candidate could hurt party’s chances in tight Kanata-Carleton race, say politicos

News|By Palak Mangat
The Conservative's candidate, Justin McCaffrey, has skipped two events, including a debate on the environment, intended to feature all candidates.

For whom will the bell toll in Peterborough-Kawartha?

In a riding where voters are deeply engaged in the political process, candidates avoid the low-hanging fruit and stay out of the mud as they grapple with who to send to the House of Commons.
Your group subscription includes premium access to Politics This Morning briefing.