Academic journal article Canadian Public Administration

Evidence and Equity: Struggles over Federal Employment Equity Policy in Canada, 1984-95

Academic journal article Canadian Public Administration

Evidence and Equity: Struggles over Federal Employment Equity Policy in Canada, 1984-95

Article excerpt

John Grundy is a doctoral candidate, Department of Political Science, York University. Miriam Smith is professor, Department of Social Science, York University. This research was supported by a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada grant to Professor Smith. An earlier version of this article was presented at the annual meeting of the Canadian Political Science Association, Concordia University, Montreal, 1-3 June 2010. The authors thank Barbara Cameron and Leah Vosko and the journal's anonymous reviewers for helpful comments. Evidence-based policy-making is central to government modernization initiatives across a range of jurisdictions, including Canada. Based in part on the ascendance of evidence-based medicine in the 1990s (Mykhalovskiy and Weir 2004), this model of policy-making emphasizes the need for rigorous appraisal of scientific evidence in the formulation of policy. Proponents of evidence-based practice argue that incorporating the best available social scientific evidence into policy deliberation results in public policies that are more effective and rational than those forged on the basis of consensus, partisanship or ideology (Packwood 2002). The influence of the evidence-based model is further evident in the field of public administration as public-sector organizations increasingly adopt quasi-scientific performance measurement strategies. In this way, the evidence-based movement is closely aligned with the principles and techniques of "new public management" (Clarke 1998; Saint-Martin 2000; Solesbury 2001).

A growing body of scholarship calls into question the tenets of the evidence-based policy paradigm (see Laforest and Orsini 2005; Parsons 2002). According to a number of researchers, the enthusiasm shown by policy-makers for evidence-based practice reflects an increasingly technocratic approach to policy-making and implementation that is associated with neoliberal governmentality (Hall 2005; Peck and Theodore 2010). In this light, the evidence-based model serves not simply to augment the knowledge base of policy-makers but to contain fundamental disputes over the direction of public policy by imposing new technocratic policy discourses that further limit the kinds of knowledge and actors that count in decision-making processes (Grundy and Smith 2007). Evidence-based policy-making is cast from this perspective as a mode of anti-politics, usefully defined in recent work by the anthropologist Tania Murray Li as the practice of "reposing political questions as matters of technique; closing down debate about how and what to govern and the distributive effects of particular arrangements by reference to expertise; [and] encouraging citizens to engage in debate while limiting the agenda" (2007: 265).

This article examines federal employment equity policy in Canada through the lens of evidence-based policy-making. While developments in this policy field are well documented (Abu-Laban and Gabriel 2002; Agocs 2002; Lum 1995; Timpson 2001), revisiting them yields a range of insights that can inform and advance recent critical scholarship on evidence-based policy-making. The Employment Equity Act of 1986 represented the Mulroney government's response to growing political pressure to address the problem of systemic employment discrimination in the federally regulated sector. The act committed extensive resources to the development of an administrative machinery for the collection, analysis and dissemination of statistical data on the representation of four designated equity groups (women, aboriginal people, visible minorities, and people with disabilities) employed in this sector. Rather than imposing measures that would directly interfere in employer practices, the only enforcement measure contained in the act was a $50,000 fine that could be levied on employers who failed to submit annual statistical reports on the representativeness of their workforce to the federal government. …

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