Budget 2023 pledges mental health fund for Black public servants

One day after being urged to drop its challenge of a proposed class-action lawsuit brought by Black…

Budget 2023 pledges mental health fund for Black public servants

One day after being urged to drop its challenge of a proposed class-action lawsuit brought by Black workers claiming discrimination, the federal government has announced a new mental health fund for Black public servants.

The $45.9 million action plan for Black employees in the public service, unveiled in Tuesday’s federal budget, also
includes funding for dedicated career development programs, specifically “to prepare Black public service leaders for executive positions” within the federal bureaucracy.

“Systemic racism has been a reality for Black Canadians for far too long. All too often, Black public servants face barriers to career advancement and lack adequate support for the challenges they face — particularly for their mental health,” according to the 2023 budget document tabled in Parliament on Tuesday afternoon.

“The federal government is committed to ensuring that Black public servants can work in a safe and healthy environment that is equitable, diverse, and inclusive.”

A woman in front of Canadian flags looks up.
Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland ponders a response as she speaks during a news conference before delivering the federal budget on Tuesday. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Spending over 3 years

The budget proposes spreading the money out evenly over the next three years, beginning with $15 million in 2023-24.

According to a supporting document, the program will “address systemic racism, further increase diversity, and create a culture of inclusion in the public service.”

The targeted programs will “address specific issues of trauma and barriers to career advancement” facing Black employees, and help create a federal public service that more accurately reflects Canada’s diverse population and is “better positioned to design and deliver programs and services that reflect their diverse needs.”

According to the document, the action plan was designed “with input from Black Employee Networks.” Last year’s budget set aside some funding to begin that process.

In an email obtained by CBC News last year, however, Black federal civil servants who helped develop the mental health action plan for their colleagues said they were facing anti-Black racism from senior government officials who were supposed to be working with them on the plan.

Separately, the government proposes providing $6.9 million over two years to the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat to “advance a restorative engagement program to empower employees who have suffered harassment and discrimination, and to drive cultural change in the public service.”

The money would start flowing this year, and $1.7 million would be drawn from “existing departmental resources,” according to the budget document.

The money would also be used to review the existing processes for addressing “current and historical complaints of
harassment, violence, and discrimination.”

NDP leader Jagmeet Singh, right, looks on as he joins Nicholas Marcus Thompson, Executive Director of the Black Class Action Secretariat to hold a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2022.
Thompson is a member of the Black Class Action Secretariat, seen here speaking in September 2022. He is helping to lead the class-action lawsuit against the federal government. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Survey revealed discrimination

According to the 2020 Public Service Employee Survey, public servants who identify as Black are among those who are more likely to experience harassment, racism and discrimination in the workplace.

On Monday, unions representing more than three million workers urged the federal government to drop its challenge of a proposed class-action lawsuit brought by Black federal public servants alleging racial discrimination in the federal public service.

Three unions — the Canadian Labour Congress, the Public Service Alliance of Canada and the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada — told a joint news conference that the federal government lacks grounds to continue its court challenge.

“Now is the time for the federal government to step up and do the right thing,” said Larry Rousseau, executive vice-president of the labour congress, the country’s largest labour organization.

In addition to the proposed funding to support Black employees of the federal public service, the 2023 budget includes ongoing funding for Canada’s anti-racism strategy, which was renewed in last year’s budget.

The 2023 budget also proposes allocating $25 million in 2024-25 to Employment and Social Development Canada for what it’s calling the Supporting Black Canadian Communities Initiative, “to continue empowering Black-led and Black-serving community organizations and the work they do to promote inclusiveness.”