Merit hiring down sharply in provincial government, MLAs told

B.C. has seen a sharp decline in the number of government employees who are hired on merit and clearly qualified for their jobs, the province’s merit commissioner has told MLAs.

Only 56 per cent of government appointments in 2012 were done with clear documentation of selection criteria and relevant qualifications, said Fiona Spencer. That’s down from 80 per cent in 2007, and is the lowest level since independent audits began, she said.

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“I find these results concerning,” Spencer told MLAs on the legislature’s finance committee.

The best way to reverse the downward trend is to keep making recommendations to the government’s Public Service Agency and bringing up concerns to deputy ministers in charge of hiring, she said.

In response to Spencer’s report, the government said that her work confirms that the majority of government hires are based on proper qualifications but there are issues relating to documentation that continue to be improved.

Spencer said she’s also unimpressed that there has been little to no improvement in the large number of employees who are hired for short-term contracts, then promoted into long-term or permanent work. That’s potentially used to circumvent the principle of hiring on merit, she said.

NDP MLAs on the committee expressed worry at the findings.

“It just raises concerns in terms of politicizing the civil service and not hiring on merit and concern with regards to accountability and just ensuring that those measures are taken forward,” said Mable Elmore, Opposition deputy finance critic.

The merit commissioner’s presentation came as she asked MLAs for a $10,000 increase to her annual operating budget of $1.04 million to cover wage increases.

Independent legislative officers, such as the information and privacy commissioner, conflict commissioner and auditor general, also made budget submissions.

Interim auditor general Russ Jones asked for hundreds of thousands of dollars to help move his office to a new building near the Bay Centre in downtown Victoria. The money is needed for a security system, new furniture and audio-video equipment, among other things, Jones said.

Representative for children and youth Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond asked for $190,000 extra for renovations and computer upgrades.

Ombudsperson Kim Carter requested $78,000. Privacy commissioner Elizabeth Denham asked for $72,000 mainly for staff and service level increases.

B.C.’s chief electoral officer, Keith Archer, asked MLAs for $700,000 extra to upgrade computer systems and shipping software. Archer also asked permission to pull $149,000 from contingency funds to prepare Elections B.C. to meet a proposed new mandate to oversee local election financing.

The committee takes several weeks to decide on what budgets to approve for the watchdog offices.

rshaw@timescolonist.com

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