Public servants in the Westminster system of government are obligated to maintain a level of political neutrality in their personal lives. Existing case law and public service rules determine the limits that can be imposed on public servants when engaging in political activities generally, but it remains unclear how these rules can be applied to online contexts, where political activities are often much more open, public and networked than their offline equivalents. Benjamin Piper (National Judicial Institute) and I address this issue in a new article published with the Canadian Labour and Employment Law Journal.
We draw on case law dealing with an employer’s ability to regulate out of work conduct, and focus in particular on existing decisions addressing the uniquely limited scope that public servants are granted to engage in political activities, given their duty of neutrality, as enshrined in the Westminster system of government. We underscore the prominence of online political activities in Canadian society, and argue that despite certain draconian directives passed down from managers in the federal government, public servants must be granted some scope to participate in online politics. Given this, in the third part of the paper, we develop a framework that can be used to define the scope a public servant is granted to engage in the highly public and networked political activities that are increasingly the norm in Canadian democratic life.
The article can be accessed on the Canadian Labour & Employment Law Journal website or on SSRN.