Budget creates mental health fund for Black public servants

Nicholas Marcus Thompson

The federal government will invest $45 million contribution to a mental health fund for the benefit of Black public servants.

According to the budget release, the fund includes an investment in career development programs, and “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.”

The money will be spread over three years beginning in 2023. This is intended to “address systemic racism, further increase diversity, and create a culture of inclusion in the public service.”

Larry Rousseau

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.

An additional $6.9 million was voted to “advance a restorative engagement program to empower employees who have suffered harassment and discrimination, and to drive cultural change in the public service.”

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, said 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.”