When the Beaufort Delta Regional Health Authority began advertising for a new chief operations officer to replace retiring Arlene Jorgensen, Wanda McDonald saw she met all the qualifications, so she applied.

Following the numerous hurdles in the competition, McDonald said she was given a formal interview for the position on Oct. 20, 2022. After presenting herself to a panel and answering their questions, McDonald was informed she was moving to the next phase of the hiring process and was asked to provide her references.

She did so, and then heard nothing back. None of her references said they were phoned. Then, on Nov. 18 McDonald said she was informed the competition had been cancelled due to an “error in process.”

Rather than start the competition over from the beginning, however, the NWT Health and Social Services authority filled the position with a priority-three candidate by way of a “transfer agreement” effective Feb. 6.

Candidates for positions in the GNWT are classified as either priority one, two or three. A “P1” candidate is an Indigenous or Inuit person who was born in the territory, a “P2” candidate is a non-Indigenous person who has lived in the North for at least half their life and “P3”s are everyone else.

“I’ve gone this far in the process,” she said. “I thought I had a job. And then now I realized yesterday I have no opportunity for a job.

“(But) it’s a bigger picture issue. That is I’m impacted. I’m personally impacted, because that was my livelihood.”

McDonald said she’s not alone, but most priority one candidates who are bypassed through this system keep quiet out of fear of repercussions for whistleblowing.

“I know that there probably repercussions, repercussions for me, coming out and publicly stating what I’m saying, but I’m further along in my career.”

A communications officers for the Department of Finance told Inuvik Drum 43 out of 6241 competitions had been cancelled due to procedural errors in from Dec. 31, 2018 to Dec. 22, 2022. Of those 43 competitions cancelled due to procedural errors, four were filled with transfer agreements.

He added the reason for the transfer agreement was to ensure the position was not left vacant, which would have caused significant headaches to health care operations in the Beaufort Delta.

“Operational stability in the leadership of the region is critical in light of other significant pressures within the Health and Social Services system,” said Matthew Mallon. “Any time an error is identified in the hiring process, the file is reviewed and a recommendation to cancel the competition may be made to ensure fairness and equality for all applicants. The procedural errors were regarding inconsistent screening and inconclusive interview results.

“Transfer assignments are available to employees who have indeterminate or term positions and are qualified to fill the position they are transferring to. Developmental transfers also exist, in which an individual who only partially meets the requirements could transfer as long as a skills development plan ensuring they will meet the criteria is put in place.”

Mallon added the decision to fill a position with a transfer agreement, which carries the same weight as a normal job offer, comes down to the government department making the hire. Final approval is made by the deputy minister of each department.

Pointing out the mandate letter for Health and Social Services Minister Julie Green specifically states her duties include building “a territory where all persons, including Indigenous people and people of all racial backgrounds, have an equal opportunity to succeed,” McDonald said the fact that Indigenous candidates never seem to get past middle management is a sign the system isn’t working.

“I would say the mandate letter issued by the premier identifies the department has systemic issues and this hiring practice confirms the premier’s comments,” she said. “I’m a single parent who owns my own home and supporting a daughter in university.

“I worked very hard to get to where I am in a system that does not support Indigenous women.”

Affirmative Action policy to be replaced

In place since 1989, the GNWT’s Affirmative Action policy is being reviewed this year as part of the Legislative Assembly’s priorities.

A group of representatives from the department of Finance were at Ingamo Hall Feb. 22 to get feedback on the current policy and what the future policy should look like.

”Over the years, the GNWT has heard from Indigenous governments and the public about the limitations to the current policy,” said manager of diversity and inclusion Krista Carnogursky. “Unfortunately, despite the gains in real numbers, the representative percentage of the affirmative action policy status categories have not all increased and in some cases has actually dropped.

“There are many reasons for this, including that the GNWT Public Service has increased in size and a much faster rate than the population of the NWT from 2007 to 2022.”

Some of the GNWT’s diversity hiring practices have worked out quite well, while others haven’t. Since 2007, the number of “Indigenous Aboriginal” employees in the public service has dropped 2.6 per cent and “Indigenous non-Aboriginal” employees have dropped 0.7 per cent, now comprising just 10.9 per cent of the government workforce. Efforts to employ women in traditionally male-held jobs has had limited success, with the number of women in non-traditional occupations only increasing 0.4 per cent since 2007. While the percentage of “Indigenous Aboriginal” employees has dropped off, the share of “Indigenous Aboriginals in Senior Management” has increased 4.6 per cent, making up 20.7 per cent of the overall workforce.

In actual hires, that translated to 411 Indigenous Aboriginal employees, 168 Indigenous Non-Aboriginal, 14 women in non-traditional occupations and 24 Indigenous Aboriginals hired to senior management hired since 2007.

On the other hand, efforts to create gender parity in upper management have had tremendous success. Women in senior management have skyrocketed from 32.7 per cent in 2007 to 58.7 per cent of the total people employed by the GNWT —a 26 per cent increase. In total, 94 women have been hired to upper management since 2007.

Carnogursky said the GNWT was considering replacing the Affirmative Action policy with two policies — an Indigenous Employment Policy and an Employment Equity policy.

The former would take precedence over the latter, prioritizing the hiring of descendants of the Dene, Inuit or Metis people of the NWT. Only if a position cannot be filled by one of the above would human resources move to the latter policy which prioritizes hiring Indigenous Canadians from outside the territory and other visible minorities, as well as long-term Northerners.

If a candidate cannot be found in those two categories, then the hiring practice would move to a P3 candidate.

Following feedback from the public meeting, Carnogursky added performance reviews of management would be tied to their adherence to the new policy.

Accessing training grants will also be made easier for Indigenous employees seeking to further their careers, as the department will no longer have to match them, which was identified as a barrier for many employees.

Lastly, she noted job openings would be reviewed to determine if they can be done remotely so people don’t have to relocate to Yellowknife.

Feedback on the policy is being accepted online. Visit https://tinyurl.com/3xp4zht5 to have your say.

Eric Bowling

Your source for all things happening in the Beaufort Delta. Eric jumped at the chance to write for the Inuvik Drum after cutting his teeth in Alberta. He enjoys long walks, loud music and strong coffee....

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  1. So, a discriminatory policy to replace a previous discriminatory policy?
    It is obvious there is not much interest. How long do we have to cater to and accommodate?