Report of the Review of the Public Service Modernization Act, 2003

Executive Summary

This Report is the culmination of the legislative review of the Public Service Modernization Act, which was passed into law in and came into force during the two years that followed. It was described at the time as "the single biggest change to public service human resources management in more than 35 years."Footnote 1 Two component statutes, the Public Service Employment Act (PSEA) and the Public Service Labour Relations Act (PSLRA), require that a review of the acts, and their administration and operation, be conducted five years after coming into force, following which a report is to be tabled in Parliament. In , a team was established to conduct the Review. The Review Team received input from a cross-section of organizations, stakeholders and experts. The team's research and analysis are contained in the following pages, accompanied by a series of recommendations by which the potential of the legislation can be realized.

The introduction of the PSMA was preceded by numerous calls, over several years, for significant change to both employment and labour relations legislation in the federal public service. The Government responded by establishing the Task Force on Modernizing Human Resources Management in to design a modern policy, legislative and institutional framework for the management of human resources. The result was the Public Service Modernization Act (PSMA), which was intended to transform the way the Government hires, manages and supports its employees by modernizing staffing, improving learning opportunities, fostering collaborative labour relations, and clarifying managerial roles and accountability.

A significant investment was made between and , as the legislation came into force, notably in meeting the requirements of the legislation to create new entities, mechanisms and processes and in training HR staff and managers. The Auditor General concluded in that, technically speaking, the legislation had been implemented.

However, maximizing the potential of the legislation through its administration and operation required more than technical and structural changes. Behaviour and culture change were also needed, but the attention and effort to realize them were not sustained. The progress that has been witnessed since was not sufficiently widespread or shared to allow the Review Team to conclude that the behaviour and culture change envisaged by the architects of the PSMA has been realized.

As a result of listening to stakeholders, as well as its own research and analysis, the Review Team concluded that the legislation is adequate and provides an appropriate framework for people management in the federal public service. Nonetheless, among the recommendations are some possible legislative changes, which reflect the experience of stakeholders administering the PSEA and PSLRA during the five years since they came into force.

Proposals to amend the legislation were also received, largely from three central HR organizations, most of them related to their internal operations. A small number of proposals originated with bargaining agents. Each proposal was assessed against a common set of criteria. When the proposed changes would enhance the effectiveness of the legislation and/or the organization, they were retained. However, proposals were not accepted when the Review Team felt they would limit flexibility, or blur or complicate roles and responsibilities. Similarly, when results could be achieved more effectively through non-legislative means or when the legislative change was disproportionate to the challenge identified and the risk it presents, legislative change was not advocated.

Although some of the recommendations can be achieved only through legislative change, the Review Team does not believe that amending the Acts is urgent because the proposed changes will not have a tangible impact on public servants as they serve Canadians. Moreover, non-legislative changes offer considerably greater promise for bringing about discernible change, even though they will often be difficult and will demand sustained commitment and effort.

Despite countless reports, recommendations and changes, the federal public service still faces some of the same challenges in people management as it has faced over the last 50 years. These challenges do not originate in the legislation, nor will productive responses to them lie in legislative changes. The answers lie in how those challenges are confronted and in how change is pursued. Without a new approach to change, there is a risk that the opportunity to maximize the benefits of the PSMA will be missed.

The Review Team developed a "proposition for change" which outlines such an approach. Active effort is necessary in each of four interconnected areas. A broadly shared and frequently communicated vision (or destination) for the change initiative is imperative. Productive relationships among individuals and organizations must be developed. Individuals and organizations must be capable, confident and sufficiently knowledgeable to be ready to be held accountable for their actions. Finally, supportive changes may be needed to the "wiring" or structural supports (legislation, policy, courses, organizations, etc.). However, reliance on any one area is unlikely to yield the improvements in people management that the architects of the PSMA had intended.

Therefore, in addition to sustained attention, the Review Team believes that efforts should be devoted to developing a clear vision of the end-state for the PSMA and frequent and consistent communication to employees. The vision must be modelled by leaders. Once managers and HR staff are equipped to play their new or different roles, the assessment of their performance must reinforce the vision. Relationships need to be strong and active. New tools, processes, technology and organizations may also be required to support changes in the other three areas but they will not be sufficient on their own. Wiring changes alone cannot be a substitute for, nor should they be mistaken for, real change to behaviour and culture.

The Review Team encountered almost no one who was unequivocally positive about people management in the federal public service, despite the improvements that have been achieved. Senior officials, deputy heads, managers, HR staff, employees and bargaining agents alike were disappointed that more progress has not been made, although their concerns, frustrations and interests differed. The Review Team found there is recognition that the legislation is not being used as it might be and that there is an appetite for change. This readiness presents an unprecedented opportunity for public servants at all levels and their representatives to demonstrate their creativity, determination, dedication and professionalism in making changes to people management. The Canadian public service aspires to excellence, including management excellence. The way in which the public service manages its most important asset, its people, should meet those standards of excellence, to which employees aspire and which Canadians expect and deserve.

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