Merit, quota and other terms of exclusion

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Pat Watson By Admin
Wednesday November 11 2015




The Government of Canada has three job postings for biomedical engineer requiring an earned doctorate degree and specialization in science and physics. Despite a growing curiosity in physics, I won’t be applying for any of the positions. I don’t have the knowledge, skills or prior experience to fulfill the requirements of the positions. Good luck to whoever gets those posts.

But, if I were willing to relocate to Kars, Ontario, I should stand for consideration for the government position of Postmaster/Postmistress. Of course, given the state of flux that Canada Post is currently in, it would be an iffy personal decision.

Provided their required qualifications are met, whether I would merit the Canada Post job should not be a point of debate. Neither should it be after voluntarily choosing to identify myself as a member of a demographic that has been shortchanged on equitable hiring. I should be considered for the post as a qualified applicant, in the effort by the government to have the public service look more like the nation as it currently exists ethnically and otherwise.

Merit. The word was trending in the days running up to the introduction in Ottawa last week of the new 30-member Liberal government cabinet.

The question of merit arose after Liberal leader, and now Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, announced that he would follow through on his promise to select a cabinet that would have an equal number of men and women.

There was much clever wrangling about why it was wrong of Trudeau to go this route. The status quo worried that he would have to force his selections from among the elected women and would have to go for numbers over “merit” to meet his “quota” commitment.

This foolishness is so tiring. This argument of merit versus meeting quota arises only when it gives consideration to people who keep being denied an equal opportunity to fulfill high level positions that have long been awarded to men, White men in particular.

In contrast, the main argument that the pro-equity voices had against this 50/50 split was that it might deny cabinet posts to even more women who would have been better qualified than any number of men who had been selected for this current cabinet.

What is it about having a level playing field when it comes to top jobs that so disturbs? Why isn’t the thinking that if we select individuals who are the best choice rather than the best White male, we will in fact enrich our organization by adding dimension through varying perspectives and sensibilities?

The subtext is that when you select a White male, you are selecting from among what is normal. Anyone else is perceived as “other”. Moreover, should any candidate outside the default standard be allowed in, she or he is expected to approximate White male culture. The schismatic functioning results in stress related health conditions and other unwelcome consequences.

On a related matter, when Trudeau presented that cabinet of 15 women and 15 men, he characterized it as “a cabinet that looks like Canada”.

Well, nice effort, but not quite. Do Canadians of African ancestry consider themselves represented by the appearance of this new group? Any Canadian of East Asian ancestry?

Canada has a way to go on the matter of inclusion and adjustment about who we really are. When the mainstream takes to patting itself on the back for presumed liberal approaches to diversity, which to the rest of us looks like a compromise to placate internally and externally, then the mainstream is only fooling itself into feeling like the good guy who is not racist.

A note on one more increase…

The Toronto Transit Commission got it right by moving the starting time for subway service to 8 a.m. on Sundays. But, please TTC, don’t give with one hand and take away with the other. Now that children can use public transit without fare payment, do not increase the cash fare to make up for it. It’s important to pay heed to Councillor Josh Colle’s warning that these ongoing increases will eventually reach a tipping point. Should fare cost keep moving out of reach for the average commuter, watch for Uber ‘taxis’ to diversify in response.

Pat Watson is the author of the e-book, In Through a Coloured Lens. Twitter@patprose.

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