featured Racism

For once Matt Whitman is right: City’s Auditor General should look into workplace racism at City Hall

Photo Robert Devet

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – At last Tuesday’s council meeting councillor Matt Whitman announced that he will propose a motion that the city’s Auditor General become involved in the city’s efforts to deal with widespread racism allowed to fester in city workplaces for decades.

I didn’t think I’d ever write this, but on this issue Whitman is absolutely right.

In July 2016 first NEWS 95.7 and then the Nova Scotia Advocate wrote about a consultant’s report that described widespread racism, ableism and sexism at HRM’s Municipal Operations Programs (MOPS) division. We posted the scanned report on our website, over the next two years we published several follow ups, and we issued FOIPOP requests to find out what the city was doing about this god awful mess.

Yet councillors say they didn’t know anything was amiss until African Nova Scotian city workers rallied in front of City Hall earlier this summer.

That admission alone should tell you something. Councillors are the folks who live and breathe city politics, but they didn’t know. They should ask themselves how come. 

It’s also not what what the city told the Nova Scotia Advocate in August 2016.

“Council has received an update regarding the report and staff will be presenting any recommendations as they relate to changes to the Employment Equity Policy, for Council’s approval, in the coming months,” wrote city spokesperson Adam Richardson, a Senior Communications Advisor.

Maybe management’s update wasn’t very good. Or maybe councillors weren’t paying attention during these briefings, just like councillor Zurawski last Tuesday, who, ten minutes into the discussion about workplace racism asked a question about water conditions, given the drought this summer.  

Deputy mayor Waye Mason was onto something when he suggested that the problem goes deeper than simply completing the report’s recommendations. After all, some 60% of these recommendations have been checked off by now, but for the workers on the ground, the ones who took time off from work to rally, it appears not that much has changed.  

Even the 2016 consultant’s report observes that on the surface things are actually pretty good. Policies and procedures may require some tinkering, but they’re mostly fine. The Halifax website includes lots of photos of culturally diverse workers. There are even units and positions on the org chart to make sure HRM lives up to these commitments.

Yet the real mess, “the climate of fear and intimidation,” was hidden behind this bureaucratic facade. So far management has further tinkered with that same facade, a policy here, a process there, but has failed to address the workers’ real concerns.

On Tuesday we found out there hasn’t even been an effort to find out what the African Nova Scotian workers actually think about the current situation, no workshops, no dialogue, nothing. Nor do we yet know how diverse (or not) the city workforce actually is, something the 2016 report identified as a big problem. Cost was an issue, and we wanted to do the workforce survey first, a bureaucrat told the councillors on Tuesday, two years and three months after the report came out.

Meanwhile we have also learned about racism at Halifax Transit, misogyny at Halifax Fire, and through the work of Equity Watch, of bullying in many other divisions as well.  

The notion of pulling in the City’s Auditor General is a good one. She’s tough, she has the know how, and most importantly, her office operates independently from management.

See video of Council’s discussion (at 39 minutes).

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