National Council of Visible Minorities in the 
Federal Public Service
Symposium 2000

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Notes for an Address by

Mel Cappe
Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet

at the

October 30, 2000

Check Against Delivery


  • Good morning.
  • First, let me thank Scott Serson for the introduction and insight on values and diversity.
  • I want to begin by saying that I am sorry to be here today for two reasons:
  • First, we should not need a National Council for Visible Minorities in the Federal Public Service, but we do; and
  • Secondly, I believe that I am speaking to the wrong audience. The audience for "embracing" diversity is everyone who is not here.
  • All of you know why diversity is important and you have all been delivering the message within your organizations.
  • I commend you for that and encourage you to continue your efforts.
  • You are the "catalysts for change".
  • I also would like to congratulate all who have played a role in organizing this event.
  • The theme of Symposium 2000 makes reference to change and action.
  • The momentum for change is building.
  • And each of you - as "partners for change"- plays a key role in helping to make the public service a diverse workforce for the knowledge age.
  • Today I want to focus on the need for action - I am not satisfied with the status quo.
  • Despite much effort to address issues of employment equity, problems related to the under-representation of visible minorities persist - and this must change!
  • Building a diverse workforce, and this is my key message, will make for better outputs and for better outcomes of government and is one of my top priorities - a priority that I take very seriously.
  • Why? Because having a diverse public service is critical.
  • Not simply because it is the right thing to do, which it is, but, as I outlined in my Seventh Annual Report to the Prime Minister,
  • "We value diversity because we believe that when we take account of diverse views as we develop policies, and design and deliver services and programs, we get better outcomes."
  • As we strive to meet our domestic needs as well as the demands and opportunities of globalization, it is obvious that diverse ideas are the only way to ensure a strong economy and society.
  • And for that we need a strong Public Service of Canada that draws its strength from its diversity.

The Changing Face of Canada and the World

  • The face of Canada is changing and we are witnessing significant demographic shifts across the world.
  • Just consider these statistics...
  • It is estimated that by 2010, over half the population of major urban centres will be first-generation Canadians.
  • Of that population, a majority will be members of visible minorities with ethnic origins that span the world.
  • The diversity of the Canadian population is a source of great strength for Canada.
  • It makes us a more credible player around the world.
  • And helps make us more competitive as we bring different ideas together.
  • We need to bring that strength into the Public Service of Canada.
  • As we embark on this new century, diversity will ensure that the Public Service of Canada is capable of supporting a high quality of life for all Canadians.
  • It will create stronger policies that lead to programs and services that are relevant to Canadians.
  • Indeed, without embracing diversity, public servants will not represent the citizens they serve and we will not achieve the outcomes that are necessary for a strong economy and society.
  • And while we, the public service as a whole, do not yet represent the public, the political class does a much better job.
  • The Government of Canada recognized the importance of diversity in the public service when it reinforced its commitment in the 1999 Speech from the Throne,
  • "To ensure that the Public Service of Canada remains a strong, representative, professional and non-partisan national institution..."

A Representative Public Service

  • As most of you know, in March of 2000, The Task Force on the Participation of Visible Minorities in the Federal Public Service, chaired by Lewis Perinbam, released a report entitled Embracing Change in the Federal Public Service.
  • The fact that the government accepted this report is a major turning point and sends a clear message to all public servants and Canadians.
  • The report is an action plan - a call for leadership.
  • The action plan calls for a "benchmark" of one in five hirings and sets out practical ways to help managers achieve this.
  • It challenges managers to be creative and use the tools that are available for building a diverse workforce.
  • And in no way is this in conflict with the merit principle, in fact, it reinforces the modern view of merit that Scott Serson spoke about.
  • There, I've said it, the "M" word - merit.
  • I want everyone to understand that equitable representation and merit are not in conflict.
  • In fact, a diverse public service exemplifies the proper application of the merit principle.
  • Diversity goes beyond representativeness - it speaks to creating a culture that recognizes the contributions of everyone.
  • The work of the Task Force on an Inclusive Public Service, chaired by Janet Smith, recognized the importance of creating a culture of inclusiveness in the workplace - not a culture that tries to homogenize but rather one that values all differences.
  • It is an environment that is open to debate and welcomes different points of view.

Making it Happen: A Focus on People

  • As many of you know, I have made people issues central to my management agenda as Head of the Public Service.
  • Last year, I established three committees of senior officials, better known as Committee of Senior Officials (COSO) Sub-Committees, to analyse the issues of recruitment, workplace well-being, and learning and development within the federal Public Service and to present plans to ensure that progress continues.
  • Achieving diversity was recommended as a critical priority by all three committees.
  • I chose to personally chair the COSO Sub-Committee on Recruitment.
  • Because I firmly believe that recruitment is a powerful lever and an opportunity to make progress on diversity.
  • The Public Service Commission and the Treasury Board Secretariat have developed a joint action plan for recruitment and are making good progress in implementing the plan.
  • But, while central agencies are part of the solution, we can't sit back and expect them to do it all.
  • If we are going to make real progress on recruitment, departments and managers must be more strategic and proactive.
  • Now is our chance to be more aggressive in our outreach efforts.
  • We should tap into different talent pools to search for qualified candidates - you can help to identify the areas that we could target.
  • We should not wait to fill vacancies as they occur, but actively recruit people now with the diverse backgrounds and potential we need to deliver services and programs so that future governments can continue to rely on a professional public service.
  • We need to recruit differently in today's knowledge age, to be more flexible, responsive, and inclusive - to better respect the merit principle.
  • But diversity is about much more than just numbers.
  • It starts with creating workplaces with the right conditions that embrace diversity in every sense of the word, to attract and retain a more representative workforce.
  • A public service where public servants are comfortable working in a cross-cultural setting - that is not natural or even easy for some people, but a public service which is culturally diverse can better serve Canadians.
  • A public service where there is room for debate and different points of view - all leading to better, more relevant outcomes.
  • And where younger Canadians want to work and make a difference for Canada - younger Canadians who are not only comfortable with diversity, but who expect nothing less.
  • The first step is to pay close attention to our people and workplace issues.
  • Frank Claydon, Chair of the COSO Sub-Committee on Workplace Well-being, recently released a report entitled Workplace Well-being - The Challenge.
  • The Sub-Committee began its work by examining the results of last year's Public Service Employee Survey and identified four priorities for immediate and long term action:
  • Workload;
  • Career development and learning;
  • Fairness in the selection process; and
  • Harassment and discrimination.
  • These are the four major issues that were identified by the survey.
  • Leaders, at all levels, across all departments and regions, have a role to play in encouraging a work environment of respect and teamwork.
  • At a minimum, the challenge is for all of us to ensure that we move to harassment- and discrimination-free workplaces.
  • There is a lot that can be done right now - for example, enhancing training and awareness on harassment and discrimination issues.
  • Now is the time for action - to create a workplace where each and every person is valued for who they are and the contributions and perspectives that they bring to the table.
  • Each of you can help to make a difference by working with your colleagues to create informal networks that can help build momentum to make changes towards a more diverse workforce and a welcoming workplace.

What the Privy Council Office is doing as a department

  • So far I have been speaking as Head of the Public Service but I also have a department and we are making progress on diversity.
  • I appointed a deputy minister champion who developed an action plan. He is a deputy minister of a key business line - he is not from human resources and is not a visible minority.
  • Under his leadership, and with the support of every member of my management team, we are taking action to make Privy Council Office the kind of workplace that will attract people from a wide variety of backgrounds and cultures.
  • Within the next three months, the Privy Council Office will develop and deliver half-day mandatory workshops on key issues including diversity, anti-harassment and representative staffing.
  • We are creating developmental positions that will integrate diversity into the key business lines at the Privy Council Office.
  • Right now, I am being audited by the Canadian Human Rights Commission and I don't know the results. But, I can tell you that I am pleased with the progress that we are making at the Privy Council Office and I am commited to going even further to make sure Privy Council Office can deliver the best possible advice to prime ministers now and in the future.


  • To conclude, change is the order of the day - in every facet of the social, political and economic context in which we live and work.
  • By "embracing" diversity, we will ensure that the Public Service of Canada is able to meet the challenges of the 21st Century.
  • It will help us build a workforce which is innovative and adaptable.
  • It will help us build social capital and improve opportunities for international trade and other global exchanges.
  • And finally, it will ensure that the Public Service of Canada continues to be a strong, representative, professional and non-partisan national institution that provides Canadians the highest quality of service.
  • The Public Service of Canada leads the world in so many ways - and we can and should lead on diversity as well.
  • I would like to take this opportunity to thank the members of the National Council for Visible Minorities in the Federal Public Service for their work.
  • I fully support the work of the Council and encourage you to continue working with departments and agencies in influencing their actions.
  • You have influence - use it!
  • You have moral authority - use it!
  • You have the credibility behind you to make change happen and it is very important to maintain your present role and avoid becoming an interest group.
  • And, I challenge all of you to look forward and use your influence to "embrace change" and not be caught up in the past.
  • And you can count on me to do my part - as Head of the Public Service and as deputy minister at the Privy Council Office, to develop a culture that "embraces" diversity.
  • I would also like to recognize and thank three deputy ministers for their leadership as key supporters of this Symposium and the work of the Council - Alex Himelfarb, Janice Cochrane and Frank Claydon.
  • The future success of the Public Service of Canada and the difference we make in the lives of Canadians depends on each and every one of us doing our part to make our workforce rich with diversity.
  • I look forward to a time when it will not be necessary for a Clerk of the Privy Council to have to address the National Council for Visible Minorities in the Federal Public Service because we all will have "embraced change" and diversity.
  • Thank you.