Elections: You have political rights!

One of the hallmarks of a healthy democracy is the ability of citizens to participate freely and actively in determining who they elect to govern and make decisions on their behalf. However until 1988, the Public Service Employment Act did not allow federal public sector workers to take part in political activities beyond simply casting their vote.

In 1991 the Supreme Court of Canada upheld a Federal Court decision that struck down these restrictions and confirmed that restrictions on political activities should not apply to the vast majority of federal workers.

In the Osborne v. Canada (Treasury Board) case, four PSAC members challenged the prohibition on political activity on the grounds that it violated their freedom of expression and freedom of association under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. With PSAC’s help, they won – the majority of the Supreme Court judges held that the prohibition on political activity was not a reasonable limit (as permitted under section 1 of the Charter) on the freedom of expression – and federal government workers were finally able to take an active role in the democratic process.

Now more than ever, PSAC members are encouraged exercise their democratic political rights by:

  • Signing a candidate’s nomination papers.
  • Wearing a party or candidate button in public.
  • Placing an election sign on your property.
  • Giving political opinions in public or elsewhere.
  • Working as a canvasser for a political party or candidate.
  • Working in a campaign office.
  • Participating in the formation of party or candidate policies.
  • Taking part in election-day activities on behalf of a party or candidate.
  • Attending peaceful demonstrations on political topics.
  • Soliciting funds from the public for political campaigns and parties.
  • Attending a political convention as a delegate.
  • Writing letters to the editor endorsing a candidate or party.

For some PSAC members — those covered by the Public Service Employment Act — some restrictions apply. None of the activities listed above should be carried out during your working hours.

There are also separate and special rules that apply if you wish to be a candidate in a federal, territorial, municipal or provincial election. When determining how you want to exercise your democratic rights, follow some guiding principles:

  • Don’t conduct any political activity on the job.
  • Don’t identify yourself as a federal public sector worker when working on a campaign, e.g. canvassing, making phone calls, etc.
  • Don’t identify yourself as a federal public sector worker when communicating opinions about election issues, political parties and politicians through blogs, Facebook, Twitter or other social media.
  • Don’t wear your uniform if you are required to wear one at work, or your government identification, at public meetings such as candidates’ meetings.
  • Don’t drive a government identified vehicle when participating in election activities.

If you are disciplined in any way for participation in a political activity, this can be grieved. If you are disciplined, contact your Local/Branch or your Component for representation and advise your PSAC regional office. Any attempts by management to restrict your political rights should also be brought to the attention of the PSAC regional office.