POLITICS

Federal Election 2015: Most Public Servants Seeking Nominations Allowed To Run

07/11/2015 11:38 EDT | Updated 07/11/2016 05:59 EDT
Although facing criticism — and even a court challenge — for barring some civil servants from running for office, Public Service Commission numbers show the vast majority of such applications are approved.

In a statement provided to CBC, the independent agency responsible for the civil service says it has granted permission to 34 public servants to take leaves of absence in order to run in October's election.

Two have so far been refused, while the cases of two others are pending.

Before 1991, there was a blanket ban on public servants partaking in political activities — up to and including running for office.

A Supreme Court ruling determined that rule violated a number of charter rights and ordered the government to balance the need for a non-partisan public service and the individual rights of those who hold the jobs.

Since then, bureaucrats have needed to apply for permission to run for any elected office in Canada — including at the municipal and provincial levels.

Unpaid leave

If they are able to convince the commission that running as a candidate for a given party would not compromise their non-partisan positions, they are allowed to take an unpaid leave of absence during the campaign.

If they are successful and become an MP, they would then have to formally resign. If not, they can return to their jobs.

But they don't always get the chance.

Emilie Taman, a lawyer with the Public Prosecution Service of Canada, says she was denied her request for unpaid leave to run for the NDP nomination in the Liberal-held riding of Ottawa-Vanier. She appealed the decision and lost, but this past week announced on Facebook and Twitter she is running anyway.

Taman, the daughter of former Supreme Court justice Louise Arbour, told the Ottawa Citizen she hasn't resigned but expects she will be fired.

'Politically impartial'

Claude Provencher was also denied a leave of absence to run in this election and is taking the government to court.

Provencher is general counsel and regional director with Justice Canada in Quebec and wants to run for the Liberals in a Quebec riding. 

The commission concluded Provencher's ability to carry out that role in a "politically impartial manner," could be, or could be perceived to be, "impaired in light of the nature of his duties and the increased publicity, visibility and recognition that would be associated with seeking nomination as and being a candidate in a federal election."

The PSC won't comment publicly on individual cases and decisions, but Provencher included the written decision from his case in support of his application to the Federal Court.

Beyond arguing the rules and the decision violate his charter rights to freedom of association, he also believes the system is backwards.

Currently, the onus is on the civil servant to demonstrate they can continue in their role in a non-partisan way, as opposed to the employer having to prove the applicants role would be compromised. Provencher argues that system should be reversed.

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