Parliament 2015: Political Staffers_-29_FebMy piece in The Hill Times:

The Liberal government included in its mandate letters to all ministers a “commitment to transparent, merit-based appointments, to help ensure gender parity and that indigenous Canadians and minority groups are better reflected in positions of leadership.”To recall, the Prime Minister appointed a Cabinet with gender parity (15 each of men and women) and almost 17 per cent visible minority ministers (four Sikh and one Afghan Canadian).

Gender parity was not attained for parliamentary secretaries (12 positions out of 35 or 34 per cent) or other leadership positions such as whips and House leaders, visible minority parliamentary secretaries are over-represented (nine positions or 24 per cent) in relation to their share of the voting population (15 per cent).

Given this commitment and action, is the Liberal government also applying diversity and inclusion to its hiring of political staff? What about the official opposition?

To assess this, I looked at the Prime Minister’s Office (59 total positions and 12 senior staffers), the Leader of the Official Opposition’s office (OLO, 23 positions), and ministerial offices (senior staff defined as chief of staff, directors of communications, policy, issues and parliamentary affairs, along with press Secretaries, total number of 101 positions filled at time of writing).

Sources for the data include the regular ‘Hill Climbers’ updates in The Hill Times, other relevant press articles, and the imperfect Government Electronic Directory Services (GEDS). Gender and visible minority status were identified through names, LinkedIn profiles, biographies and photos where available.

From a gender perspective, women are under-represented at the senior level in PMO (one-third), but close to 40 per cent for all 59 PMO staffers. OLO has slightly lower representation of women (30 per cent). For minister’s offices, the percentage of chiefs of staff is slightly less than the overall per cent of close to 40 per cent who are women.

Visible minorities are consistently under-represented, save for the overall numbers in PMO (15 per cent). OLO and senior ministerial office staff all range between four to seven per cent, less than half of the percentage of visible minority Canadian citizens, with chief of staff visible minority representation slightly higher at 10 per cent.

While I have focused on gender and visible minority status, diversity includes of course other dimensions such as regional diversity (many, if not most Liberal staffers come from, or have worked in, Ontario and Toronto), sexual orientation, religion, education etc. R. Paul Wilson’s A Profile of Ministerial Policy Staff in the Government of Canada provides the best most recent analysis of the different aspects of diversity among staffers under the Conservative government October 2012 to June 2013.

Does this matter? In many ways, it does not. Gender parity in Cabinet and relatively strong Parliamentary Secretary representation set the tone for the government and Parliament.

Being a political staffer may not necessarily lead to a direct path to becoming a future MP. Staffer experience is not necessarily perceived as an asset in local riding associations or to the broader public. Staffers may be asked by the party to be its flag-bearer in unwinnable ridings. The most famous example of a staffer becoming an MP is, of course, former Prime Minister Harper, who was a staffer to Reform Party leader Preston Manning among other positions.

All three major parties were able to recruit an impressive number of visible minority candidates (women less so).

However, staffers play an important role in government (and opposition) decision-making. Having a diversity of backgrounds and experience generally helps inform decision-making.

The Liberal government’s commitment to diversity and inclusion, so well executed at the public level for both women and visible minorities, is lacking in the backrooms, particularly for visible minorities. Given the role that staffers play in preparing ministers for debates and discussions, this may impact on the degree to which the overall diversity and inclusion agenda is implemented.

Photo: Patty Hajdu – / Fair Use

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