Bill C-25 (Historical)
Public Service Modernization Act
An Act to modernize employment and labour relations in the public service and to amend the Financial Administration Act and the Canadian Centre for Management Development Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts
This bill was last introduced in the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session, which ended in November 2003.
Lucienne Robillard Liberal
This bill has received Royal Assent and is now law.
Public Service Modernization Act
June 3rd, 2003 / 11:10 a.m.
Diane Bourgeois Terrebonne—Blainville, QC
Mr. Speaker, this is truly an extraordinary opportunity for me to express my view this morning on Bill C-25. It is a bill that interests me tremendously, especially because its purpose is to change the culture in the public service.
Treasury Board wants to use this bill to deal with the constant reduction of the work force in the public service and the growing competition from the private sector.
With this bill, the government believes it could overcome problems relating to representation, the aging staff and professional skills.
Finally, the purpose of this bill is to improve the public's perception of the public service. There seems to be little interest in having a career in the public service because of its bad reputation. This results in poor recruitment. The goal of this bill is to change the approach with regard to the public's view of the public service.
It is also a substantial bill. We would have preferred to debate it in parts since it deals with human beings, the men and women in this work force that we are to manage, or the government is to manage.
It includes amendments, among other things, to the Financial Administration Act. This bill will also improve accountability through the tabling of reports. The President of the Treasury Board is required to prepare reports on the administration of the legislation in terms of human resources management, a report on the obligations that stem from the Employment Equity Act, and a report on the Treasury Board's powers under the Public Service Employment Act.
I felt the need to list these points simply to establish the purpose of this bill. We are disappointed because we know these objectives will not be met. This legislation is meant to make working in the public service an attractive prospect. Again, we doubt very much that these objectives will be met.
I will discuss two points, the amendments made to the Public Service Employment Act, and the fact that it is incumbent on the government as a responsible employer to ensure a healthy work environment where its employees are treated with dignity and respect.
My attention was immediately drawn to one particular provision, that is paragraph 30(2)( b ) of the Public Service Employment Act, which reads as follows:
—the Commission is satisfied that the person to be appointed meets the essential qualifications for the work to be performed, as established by the deputy head, including official language proficiency.
The Bloc Quebecois proposed an amendment to change this paragraph by deleting the word essential. We believe that the candidate should meet all the qualifications. Limiting the requirement to essential qualifications creates ambiguity regarding the proficiency level required. In other words, essential could be construed to mean minimal proficiency, and not maximum proficiency.
We fear that the deputy head or any senior official could make patronage appointments either by setting requirements that only one person can meet or by selecting among the candidates one who meets the essential qualifications without necessarily being the best candidate.
I would like to draw attention to a program concerning employment equity in the public service. In 1998, the government set up a temporary, four-year program which ended last year: the Employment Equity Positive Measures Program. This program provided the tools to support the aggressive application of employment equity principles in the workplace, thereby enhancing the representation of the four designated groups, that is, women, aboriginals, persons with disabilities and visible minorities.
This program also provided additional resources, services and funding to help departments and agencies turn their good intentions into lasting results.
The program costs were $10 million annually, which means that over four years, they totalled $40 million. This was to help the public service modernize, among other things. Imagine. Through this program, the Public Service Commission's centre for excellence was established and supported. Also, an electronic tool was developed in connection with employment equity positive practices.
When we talk about the public service and modernization, this is a first step. The bill before us does not include any of the outcomes of the Employment Equity Positive Measures Program, which cost $40 million.
This program included four components, three of which were managed and delivered by the Public Service Commission on behalf of the Treasury Board Secretariat. One was the Employment Equity Partnership Fund, the purposes of which were first to build the capacity for employment equity, second to promote a workplace which is supportive, and third to improve representativeness of the workforce and of course to improve retraining.
How is it that, after a program that cost $40 million and delivered a series of suggestions and proposals from public servants, none of this is to be found in the bill before us?
This bill does not guarantee that all the work that has been done through the Employment Equity Positive Measures Program to improve the representativeness and the distribution of designated groups will go on, since the word essential in clause 30(2)( b ) will create confusion.
We spent $40 million to try to include people, train them, give them a position in the public service, but with the addition of this tiny word, essential, to the statement of qualifications, these people will not be able to benefit from employment equity. From now on, it will be a matter of choice, and officials will decide which qualifications are essential.
The basic requirements and the best skills will not necessarily be a factor. How sure can we be that we will protect these four designated groups under the Employment Equity Act? One has to wonder.
Before moving on to the other component, I would just like to point out to our colleague from Mississauga East, who has just spoken, that the Public Service Alliance sent us a little document on the eve of International Women's Day: an advertisement from the Monday, February 17 issue of Hill Times . It contains a demonstration to the effect that not everything to do with employment equity is necessarily respected—at any rate, not the wishes of Treasury Board as far as employment equity is concerned.
They told us that their union represents approximately 1,600 workers at the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, the majority of whom are women. In that department, they calculated the numbers of women and men, and realized that at the ministerial level there were five men and one woman, in addition to one secretary. There were three parliamentary secretaries, two men and one woman. In the minister's office there were four men and no women. As for assistant deputy ministers, there were six men and two women. This is all very revealing. In Bill C-25, the Public Service Modernization Act, perhaps the four designated groups ought to have been taken into account.
Now, I have a question, which I might have liked to ask the minister. When she drafted this bill, did she take into consideration the gender analysis. According to Status of Women Canada, this year $11 million were made available to the departments to do a gender analysis, in order to know how to draft legislation to reflect what is due to men and to women.
I wonder: with $40 million here and $11 million there, it seems there is money available. Yet there is no money to invest in our work force. Our colleague from Mississauga East has just said that public servants should be considered part of the solution. Indeed, they must be considered people, human beings entitled to a healthy environment.
I will continue with the second part of my speech, which deals with harassment. The Bloc Quebecois is very concerned about the concept of harassment that may exist in the workplace; indeed, psychological harassment should have been included in the provisions relating to this phenomenon.
With regard to this type of harassment in the public service, the latest numbers tell us that more than 21% of Canadian public servants are affected by harassment. Formal written complaints have been made. How many people in the federal public service do not dare to say a word because they are confronted with this famous oath of allegiance, the oath of confidentiality on what is happening within departments? This is a two edged sword. This famous oath of allegiance says that nothing that happens in the workplace must get beyond the workplace. A a result, people keep their mouths shut, say noything and go on being harassed.
I will get back later to the definition of psychological harassment. This type of harassment must be known and acknowledged by public service managers. The Bloc Quebecois had proposed amendments that would have made the implementation of the policy mandatory for each of the departments.
So I will give you a short definition of psychological harassment. It may happen through words, actions and behaviours that tend to put employees down, to belittle them by treating them as subordinates, to prevent them from getting ahead.
This form of violence shows up as workplace harassment, the abuse of power and the abuse of authority.
A little study was done. There is, of course a policy to deal with psychological harassment on the job, or harassment in the workplace. This policy originates with Treasury Board; it was introduced in 1994 and modernized in 2001. We might expect that, if there is a policy issued by the Treasury Board Secretariat, it would be applied everywhere, in all departments. Unfortunately, it was found that of 83 departments, only 7 truly applied the Treasury Board policy. The 76 others have their own policies, and it is not clear to what extent they apply any policy.
Each of these departments has different methods. Sometimes, the policy is applied or action is taken when there is a formal complaint; in other departments, when there are oral complaints, they are dealt with. But that is the extent of it.
I would simply like to remind the House that in terms of harassment, if the process does not work at the departmental level, the person being harassed cannot charge the harasser. Those who are harassed become isolated, fall silent, fall ill, and that costs Treasury Board money.
Many of these policies are incomplete. They do not specify the timeframe within which managers must resolve a case of harassment. Several cases were brought to our attention and, in each instance, managers did not act diligently. Quite often, managers are unaware of this policy.
Also, many harassment complaints have yet to be resolved. Some fall under directive 255, from 1994, and others come under the new policy that came into force on June 1, 2001. If these complaints remain unresolved, it is because many managers and public servants have little or no interest in respecting other people or their rights.
Some 40% of departments adopted in full the policy as of June 2001. When I say 40% adopted it, they did so in writing, but only seven departments apply it. This is significant. It means that there are public servants—over 30%, according to our figures—who are being harassed and do not report it. It could be vertical harassment, meaning by their bosses, or it could be horizontal, meaning by co-workers. Unfortunately, the new bill makes no mention of this.
In closing, I want to say that it is surprising that Bill C-25, which seeks among other things a change in culture and the improvement of labour-management relations, does not ensure a more effective application of the policy on the prevention and resolution of harassment in the workplace.
If the minister truly wants to change the culture of the public service, if she wants to make it an attractive place to work, she must ensure, among other things, the continuity of the employment equity positive measures program, which cost $40 million. She should ensure, as a responsible employer, that all employees have access to a workplace that is not only free of harassment, but that recognizes the existence of harassment and that implements measures and ethical practices to protect workers, like any other responsible employer.
Public Service Modernization Act
June 3rd, 2003 / 10:40 a.m.
Mac Harb Ottawa Centre, ON
Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to speak to Bill C-25, the public service modernization act.
Before I start I want to congratulate the minister, the minister's staff and all those who have participated in the development of the legislation. I also want to thank every public servant who works for the Government of Canada. I am sure members will agree with me that this country is well-served by the fine, high quality public servants who keep the government functioning and who provide quality service to Canadians.
The government has put tremendous effort into bringing about an act to, as one might say, put the house in order. Some of the key objectives of the bill are to ensure a transparent hiring process in the public service, to look at the issue of merit in the public service, to improve employee-employer relations, to deal with issues affecting the services that we provide Canadians and many other issues that will render the public service even more efficient in the way it conducts its business.
However, like every legislation that comes before the House, it goes to committee and consultation. As well, witnesses appear before committees with ideas and suggestions.
I must admit, Mr. Speaker, I am standing before you today a bit late with what I have to put before the House basically because the information came to my attention at a very late hour. It was after the House dealt with the report stage of Bill C-25, as well as after the committee had the chance to deal with the bill.
I had a meeting last week with a representative of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, Mr. Edward Cashman, who is the regional executive vice-president for the national capital region who was elected to this position. I want to congratulate him on his election and that of his colleagues who came with him to make a presentation concerning Bill C-25.
This was the first interaction I had with the representatives of the union on these issues. As far as I was concerned, there was widespread support for the bill. In essence, I concluded that because my office had not received any kind of a communication to the contrary. We did not receive the amount of calls we normally would have received on legislation that comes before the House.
Nonetheless, that is not to say that the concerns raised by Mr. Cashman, on behalf of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, are not important concerns for which the House needs to take note.
I have promised Mr. Cashman two things. The first was that I would put on the record some of the concerns that his group outlined and brought to my attention, and that I would speak with the minister and her office with regard to the points that the union reps raised.
The points that were raised were in three categories. One of the issues the union people raised dealt with merit. They were concerned that the changes to merit could create a situation where there could be abuse by managers when it came to staffing.
The second point raised by the union rep concerned essential services and the issue of voting. On the issue of essential services, they wanted to know what would constitute an essential service employee.
The union also had a concern on the notion of voting. If there is a strike vote, the union is mandated to notify all those who are in the work unit. Members of the union told me that this might be somewhat problematic in that in some cases when a strike vote is called they may or may not be able to communicate with every person who works in the unit simply because some of them may not be members of the union. As a result of that, they may have difficulties dealing with this issue.
I have raised all three points with the minister and she has assured me that, first, she is willing to meet with the union rep at the earliest possible opportunity; and second, she is eager to ensure that once the bill goes through the House and the policy is introduced to do the implementation, the employee reps will be included in the consultation process that will be taking place and that in fact their views will be heard. The minister is willing to address some of the points and hopefully she will provide answers that will meet the interests of the public servants, both in terms of employees as well as employers.
On the notion of merit, I have been told that the merit laws, by virtue of this legislation, have been made stronger than they were before.The clause that has been included in the legislation would not only ensure that employees meet the minimum and basic requirements, but that the employer looks for additional qualifications the potential employee may have, such as language skills, level of education and other talents that might be of use in the public service. It not only talks about the minimum requirements, which would bring it into harmony with what existed before, but it goes beyond that.
In other words, I wanted the employee to score a certain percentage, but also I wanted it to go beyond that. If they have the qualifications and could score even more that would be an asset and that would be taken into consideration. This was the explanation the minister provided to me. It is a positive thing to consider and to look at in a positive fashion.
However, in addition to that, I have been informed that in the event the agent of the employee, which is the union, has a concern about a specific item it would still have the ability to appeal it or question it. In this particular case I think it is a positive thing. It would give the employee rep the opportunity to question in the event something like that takes place.
The second concern raised by Mr. Cashman deals with the potential for abuse by an employer. Provisions in the act make it difficult for an employer to do that. In essence it strengthens the merit clause and makes it literally impossible for an employer to abuse its position. Should that take place, then the employee representative as well as the employee would have provisions under Bill C-25 to appeal and go to the next step.
I would like to raise the points of union representatives specifically and put them on the record for the interest of the House. While I know we are in third reading and there is no provision to introduce any type of amendment at this stage, I want to put them on the record because I promised Mr. Cashman I would do so.
In the section that deals with prohibitions and enforcement, division 14, the union asked for the following:
That Bill C-25 in Clause 2 be amended by deleting lines 11 to 17 on page 84.
That Bill C-25 in Clause 2 be amended by deleting line 20 on page 84 and replacing it with: “189(1) or section 195 is guilty of an”.
That Bill C-25 in Clause 2 be amended by deleting line 28 to 29 on page 84 and replacing them with: “contravenes section”.
That Bill C-25 in Clause 2 be amended by deleting lines 7 to 11 on page 85.
Then we move on to the merit clause. In essence the union would liked to have sees the following:
That Bill C-25 in Clause 12 be amended by deleting line 15 on page 126 and replacing it with: “person to be appointed meets the”.
That Bill C-25 in Clause 12 be amended by deleting lines 19 to 29 on page 126.
That Bill C-25 in Clause 12 be amended by deleting line 6 on page 127 and replacing it with: “graph 30(2)(a)”.
That Bill C-25 in Clause 12 be amended by replacing lines 36 and 37 on page 128 and replacing them with: “paragraph 30(2)(a)”.
That Bill C-25 in Clause 12 be amended by replacing lines 40 and 41 on page 128 with: “-cations referred to in paragraph 30(2)(a), other than language”.
That Bill C-25 in Clause 12 be amended by deleting lines 7 to 16 on page 129.
That Bill C-25 in Clause 12 be amended by deleting lines 34 to 40 on page 129.
All these amendments would have been in order if they had been made at the committee level. If in the event a member of Parliament was unable to introduce them under special circumstances, Mr. Speaker, you could have made a ruling whereby the amendments could have been introduced in the House during report stage.
Unfortunately that was not the case. The amendments did not come in at a time where it could have been possible to introduce them, either at committee or at report stage. Therefore, for the interest of the House, I have tabled them here. There may have been other amendments that did not come to my attention, and I would suggest that as the bill sees its way through the House on the way to the Senate, that the union representative will have an opportunity at that time to go to the Senate and make those suggestions there.
However I would like to stress the importance of the union working with members of Parliament on both sides of the House, like it happened in this case. Unfortunately, it arrived at the last minute.
I hope in the future the relations between both the employee representatives and the employers will move to the next step, and that is a positive cooperation, a dialogue, a cohesive interaction whereby the minister will be informed at an early stage when legislation is about to come before the House and where a discussion will take place in an atmosphere of willingness to move things forward in the best interests of both the union and the government.
I remember the Prime Minister once stating that the government looked at its public servants as being a part of the solution, not part of the problem. That is really what has defined the government, what has defined the actions of this minister and what has defined the actions of all members on this side of the House. We look at the public service employees as being a part of the solution. They are a part of the team that makes the country so great, one of the greatest countries in the world.
Having said all that, it is my hope that this legislation will go through the House and that at the earliest possible opportunity the union representatives will take the minister on her offer, which she made to me yesterday, to meet with them. The minister is willing to talk specifically with regard to the concerns that have been brought to my attention and that I have brought to the attention of the minister on their behalf. Specifically, they deal with some of the details and clarifications that are required in my view to bring about a positive conclusion to this legislation.
This is long overdue. We know the Auditor General raised a number of concerns dealing with the public service act and some of the provisions within that act. I am happy to see this coming before Parliament at a very opportune time, not only to deal with the concerns raised by the Auditor General in her latest report but to address some of the issues which need to be addressed as well.
I thank the House for giving me the opportunity to speak on this very important issue. I thank both the government as well as the union for giving me the opportunity to speak today.
Public Service Modernization Act
June 2nd, 2003 / 6:30 p.m.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)
The hon. member for Gander--Grand Falls will have eight minutes remaining when the debate resumes on Bill C-25.
A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.
Public Service Modernization Act
June 2nd, 2003 / 6:10 p.m.
Rex Barnes Gander—Grand Falls, NL
Mr. Speaker, it is very interesting some days to come into the House, to sit and listen to some of the debate and to see from where people are coming.
The public service sector really does not care if they swear allegiance to the Queen, themselves, their mothers or their fathers. What they care about is ensuring that government leaves it up to the people to be hired in the proper form, in the proper manner and that friends, neighbours and political interference is gone so the public service can do the job they are required to do, and that is to serve the people of this country and make it is easier for them to get the job done. For one reason or another, we forget about that and we worry about to whom we will swear allegiance.
As parliamentarians we swear to the Queen because that is our job and we do it. The public service should swear to the people for whom they will do the work, and that is the taxpayers. Who cares if they swear an allegiance to other people.
I was not going to say that but I thought it was interesting to hear the debate.
By the government's own admission, over the past few decades the public service has remained structurally and functionally a top-down organization. It is somewhat stiff in its functioning, a lumbering giant that actually requires a department to go through a maze of several months of paperwork and meetings to hire an ordinary person.
If we were to get rid of the red tape, if we were to make it easier to get people into vacant jobs, we would not hear the outcry from the general public. People say that they cannot get any answers, or they cannot get a job done or there are delays. Every time there is a delay in the public service of getting an answer or getting the job done, it costs business people and ordinary citizens money.
Bill C-25 would provide for more flexibility in staffing and in managing people. Managers with certain limits would have more power over hiring and who they hire, just like in the real world. Applicants who felt they had been short-changed in the staff process would be given access to redress at a public service staffing tribunal.
The key should be that employers get the best qualified people to do the job, regardless of where they come from geographically. The key is we must get people in the public service who can do the job. If we limit it to certain areas and friends or friends of friends, it normally does not work. Any businessman or businesswoman will tell us that hiring friends or friends of friends normally does not work. If we had hired people because of their qualifications, we would not have had half the problems we now have.
The bill also stresses the need for a cooperative approach to labour management relations. The intent is to make employees part and parcel of the process of running the workplace. Nobody really knows how to do the job like those who do it every day. If the intent of the bill follows through, we should have a happier federal workplace.
When employees are happy campers, they do better jobs. If they come to work every day and are under pressure, they will not perform to full expectations, and the only people who lose are the employers. If staff members and employees are involved in decision making, we will have a happier staff.
The bill provides for an overhaul and consolidation of the staff training and development process of the federal public service.
Many of the changes are long overdue with regard to improvements to the nation's public service. If carried out properly, they could lead to a much happier, less strike prone and more productive public service.
I can just reflect back to the province of Newfoundland and Labrador. Right now we have two airport strikes on the go. If these airports had employees under the federal government's control, I would suggest there may not be strikes today. We got rid of some of our public servants because we got rid of our airports. If the airports had come under the umbrella of the federal government employees, I firmly believe there could have been an easier settlement, and we would not have the travelling public held at ransom because of these strikes.
If we are going to allow individuals and special interest groups to take over our airports then we should make sure we keep our employee base intact so they can provide the services the general public requires rather than contracting the services out to a new group. That could result in one strike after another and it could last a long period of time. It would be like what we are seeing in Newfoundland and Labrador right now. I am glad to hear that things may be working out but it has taken a long time.
Many public servants are about to retire. We have been told that 7,000 new people are needed every year just to keep pace with retirements. The hiring process can lumber on for months and we often see the best and brightest applicants being scooped up by the private sector. As I stated earlier, we must make the hiring process easier and get rid of the red tape so we do not lose some of our brightest to the private sector. People have a great future with the federal and provincial governments. We have to make it easier on the federal scene to make sure that application access and individual rights are easily looked at so the best possible person is hired regardless of geographics.
It is also important that managers have a greater say in the hiring process, after all, the people being hired are people they will have to work with every day. One of the things I would add to that is the importance of their justifying why they hired a person so that the fear and threat that they will hire a friend will be eliminated. Hiring has to be done on qualifications. If it is done on qualifications, then I firmly believe production in the workplace will be greater.
This extra power on the part of managers has been met with a strong grievance procedure. Managers must be required to account for their hiring decisions. Hiring people because of political pressure is forbidden. Hiring friends who do not meet the basic qualifications is not allowed. This is where we get ourselves in trouble. This is where we do not get the best bang for our buck. This is where we run into major problems later on down the road when we find out that the best qualified person was not the one hired or the person hired was not qualified in the first place.
The hon. member for Cumberland--Colchester has done a tremendous job asking questions and bringing up many concerns regarding the federal public service, the job situation and the hiring practices. Every time he raises the issue it seems like some people take it as a joke. It is a very serious thing when a line is drawn in the geographics of Canada where people can only apply for jobs in certain areas. As far as I am concerned this is discriminatory. This is Canada, and it should not be like that. If someone lives in Nova Scotia, it is discrimination if they cannot apply for a job in Quebec, Alberta, Newfoundland or the reverse. As long as someone fulfills the maximum qualifications for a job they should be the person with the utmost opportunity to get the job. If people are hired with minimum qualifications, they are getting in through the back door. If we are looking for a high standard we should stay with a high standard so people who are the most qualified will be hired.
I am sure the minister is aware that people in Atlantic Canada are faced with federal job advertisements that require applicants to be from certain geographical areas. In Newfoundland and Labrador, for example, a job opening in St. John's might be restricted to applicants from the Avalon Peninsula. People living in Gander or Labrador City could not apply. Many jobs in central Canada are only offered to applicants within restrictive geographical areas.
Shortly after being elected I had a phone call from a lady friend who said that she had applied for a job within the federal government but that she was outside the geographical area. She could not understand that and I told her that I could not understand it either. I thought that when someone lived in Canada they could apply anywhere in Canada if a job came up with the federal government. If they are the most qualified person then they should get the job. However it did not happen. Like everything else, we learn by some of these hidden rules.
In the January 30, 2001 Speech from the Throne, the government committed to needed reforms in the Public Service of Canada to attract and develop the talent needed to serve Canadians into the 21st century. It is now 2003, two years after that statement was made in the throne speech. What happened to the commitment over the last two years? Why, all of a sudden, is it being done now? It should have been done by now. A lot of opportunities have been missed for our young people. We have missed an opportunity to have great service, an even better service for Canada. I do not know what happened, but unfortunately the commitment to modernize the public service took a holiday as did the commitment to end child poverty.
In February the President of the Treasury Board said that the bill ensures the capacity of the public service to provide the best service to Canadians today and into the future. This is where the government has it wrong again. Bills do not ensure top quality service; people do; hard workers do; people who are proud to serve their country in any capacity.
Bills tabled in Parliament with the accompanying fanfare do not ensure anything. It is the people we hire who do. It all goes back to the employees. It all goes back to whom we hire and how they fit into the system. The only way they can fit into the system is if we hire the people who are qualified for the job.
Canadians will get top-notch service from the public service once the government does the same. Treating Canadians with respect and truly serving them begins with the government, not with a bill. Once the government gets its act in place, the public service will follow suit.
There are a lot of public servants in the federal government who provide an amazing service way beyond the call of duty, but the problem on a lot of occasions is the bureaucracy. When I speak to people all across the country, they tell me the only problem they have is trying to get the bureaucrats to understand the way things should be done. Employees do the work in a certain way because they have been instructed that is the way it is done.
As I said a few minutes ago, if we are to do the job right for the federal public servants, we have to make sure that we hire the right people. If we are serious about modernizing the act, let us modernize it for the future. We should get rid of all the red tape. We should open it up to all of Canada. We should forget to whom people will swear allegiance.
We should be making sure that confidentiality is important. We should make sure that people's business is not known out in the street. It is also important that if public servants find out about problems in the government, they have the right to tell politicians, so that we can make it a better place for everyone. If there are things going on that should not be going on, it adds stress to the federal government's purse.
It also adds stress for MPs because we get calls on certain things and we know there are problems, but we cannot fix them because people are afraid to come forward. When people are afraid to come forward, it is total craziness in the workplace and people get stressed out. Then people go on sick leave. They are not content because they sometimes know there are things going on that should not be going on.
Time is short and there is a lot that could be said, but I just wanted to stress some things I have observed while listening to the debate.
Public Service Modernization Act
June 2nd, 2003 / 5:50 p.m.
Julian Reed Halton, ON
Mr. Speaker, I rise today as a proud member of the Parliament of Canada, a constitutional monarchy, with the Queen of Canada as the head of state. Today is the 50th anniversary of the coronation of our Queen.
It gave me no pleasure to vote against Bill C-25 last week, the proposed public service modernization act. I did so for one reason only and it was because the oath of allegiance to our monarch has been removed. I find the continuing erosion of our constitutional monarchy, the finest form of governance on the face of the earth, completely unacceptable.
I would like to remind the President of the Treasury Board that the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration has declared that the proposed oath of citizenship in Bill C-18 will retain a pledge of allegiance to Her Majesty the Queen. In fact, it would read:
From this day forward, I pledge my loyalty and allegiance to Canada and Her Majesty Elizabeth the Second, Queen of Canada. I promise to respect our country’s rights and freedoms, to uphold our democratic values, to faithfully observe our laws and fulfil my duties and obligations as a Canadian citizen.
I am in no way opposed to the idea of reforming the public service. I am opposed to the chipping away at the basis of our institutional framework. It is a slippery slope and I fear that, after one little chip here and one little chip there, in 20 or 50 years the bedrock of the Canadian system will be gone and we will pretend not to know how it happened.
The constitutional monarchy is part of our Constitution, history and heritage. I remind all members that the head of state of Canada is the Queen of Canada. When public servants swear their oath to the Queen, our head of state, they are swearing it to Canada. The oath does not involve the Queen in her personal capacity but rather as the symbol of our country, our Constitution and our traditions. Some might argue that the monarchy is no longer relevant, but I fail to see how it could not be relevant. As members of Parliament, we take the oath, which reads:
I [full name of member] do swear, That I will be faithful and bear true Allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
Without taking the oath, we cannot even take our place in the House.
Public servants hold positions of public trust. By taking an oath, they are pledging to conduct themselves in the best interests of the country. It reminds the person taking the oath of the serious obligations and responsibilities that he or she is assuming. Not for a minute am I suggesting that Canada has some kind of backward colonial mentality. I would argue that the oath of allegiance to Her Majesty serves a useful function in three ways.
First, it reaffirms to the public servant that responsibility and accountability are vertical concepts. The authority of a public servant derives from the Queen. There is a vertical chain of command that must be respected in the form of advice that makes its way up through the ranks to Her Majesty or representative, and in the form of orders and instructions that must be executed that make their way down through the ranks. Public servants are ultimately accountable to the Crown, not just the public, the minister or their manager.
Second, the oath of office is an important initiation ceremony. Just as we ask new citizens to take the oath, we ask those who wish to join our legal and administrative institutions to make a personal commitment by taking the oath. Third, by removing the oath of allegiance the basic framework of our system of government is undermined. Only last year the Department of Canadian Heritage, through the golden jubilee celebrations, played a terrific role in filling the gaps in our knowledge and appreciation of our distinct constitutional heritage.
Allow me to remind the House what the Minister of Canadian Heritage said when she launched the federal golden jubilee initiatives. She said:
Fifty years after her accession to the throne, Elizabeth II remains a symbol of continuity, stability and tradition in a world that is under a barrage of constant change. Canadians of my generation have known only a single sovereign, faithful and loyal to our people.
The Queen and the heritage she gives to us is not just a part of our past but part of our common future. As a mature country, we do not need to break our ties with the past. The oath of allegiance fulfills an important function. We should take this opportunity to send this back to the committee so it can be reconsidered for the sake of consistency with the member's oath and with other government bills, like Bill C-18, which expressly mentions Her Majesty in the oath. It is unfortunate that that will not happen now.
The Ottawa Citizen is against dropping the oath of allegiance. An editorial on February 17 stated:
The monarchy is symbolic of the continuity of Canada's constitutional government, and the Queen is our head of state. It's not too much to ask that those who choose to serve the public be reminded of that by having to swear allegiance to Her Majesty.
Let me remind my Alliance colleagues across the floor what the member for St. Albert said:
At the same time, if our public servants are not required to swear to the head of state that they would execute their office to the best of their ability, then what are we as a country?
I would also like to remind the members of the fourth party in the House what their leader, who was then the member for Calgary Centre, wrote to a concerned Canadian, “I can assure you that I and the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada remain firm in our support of the Canadian constitutional structure and our support for the monarchy. The Queen, and indeed the entire monarchy, represent an important foundation of Canadian tradition and heritage, and have contributed to our country's formation and development in countless ways”.
I expect then that they would be concerned with the dropping of the oath of allegiance from Bill C-25 and would support returning it to committee for further consideration.
In these politically fractious times it is important that our civil service remain beyond the fray, always providing Parliament with the non-partisan professionalism that is renown around the world. As my friend from the NDP, the member for Winnipeg--Transcona, said:
[The Queen] symbolizes for many the merits of a constitutional monarchy in which the head of state...is separate and apart from the ongoing political struggles of the day.
It is a significant reminder to us in the House that politicians will come and go, but Parliament and the public service will remain. Swearing the oath of allegiance is an important reminder to our civil service. It is a symbol of the requirement for serving to the utmost of their abilities in the best interests of Canada.
There is talk about adopting principles to provide a framework for the public service. There were amendments to make the values upon which human resource management is based more explicit. Amendments to commit to transparency, linguistic duality, and the strengthening of the merit principle are all good things, but in modernizing the public service let us not throw away things that actually work, like the oath to our head of state.
As the public service moves from a rules based system to a value based system, it is important to have an organizational culture that articulates and lives the principles that are the basis of its everyday work. At the same time, the oath is an important symbol of initiation into that culture, and a personal and moral obligation to work to the best of one's ability.
The House does not have the opportunity to act and take responsibility for the legislation proposed by the government because of the motion now on the floor by the member for Ottawa—Vanier.
I thank God there is the other place where amendments may be made in sober second thought and I pray that never again will we find our constitutional monarchy diminished or otherwise altered without full national debate. Let this mischief be now ended.
Public Service Modernization Act
June 2nd, 2003 / 5:05 p.m.
Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON
Mr. Speaker, let me conclude on this point. The difficulty is that if we incorporate a rewrite of an existing bill or existing act of Parliament, an existing law of the country, into a proposed bill, changes are being made from the existing legislation to what is in Bill C-25 which are not evident on their face unless we get supplementary binders.
I would like to quote from one of these binders, which shows the proposed text with regard to the oath or affirmation of office. It gives the proposed text, the current wording, and the explanation. This particular change would eliminate “so help me God” from the oath of office for public servants. I wanted to change that and in fact at committee stage I got it changed to get it back in. The explanation states that it had been removed to reflect the diversity of the Canadian public and respect for different religious beliefs.
We can imagine what it is like when we have to go through three binders of this. With all the work we have to do, it becomes very problematic. This is not a good model to follow in terms of legislation. I would ask Parliament and I would ask the House leaders and the government House leader to ensure that when bills come to this place we are not faced with a situation where parliamentarians cannot do an adequate job on the legislation. We cannot do our job when we are faced with pressure to get bills through but not given the time.
I have mentioned the oath. Let me say that not only was I disturbed that the oath eliminated reference to “so help me God”, but also disturbed that it eliminated reference to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
People have different views on the monarchy, but today is the 50th anniversary of the coronation of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, today we have a new coin coming out with the new image of the Queen on it, and today we are debating a bill that eliminates reference to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
The last time I looked, Mr. Speaker, this was the Parliament of Canada, based on the parliamentary model of Britain, Parliament being the Queen through her representative the Governor General, together with the Senate, and together with the House of Commons. That is Parliament. How is it that a bill could eliminate reference to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II without our having a debate in this place? We wanted to have a debate here. The Queen has been to Canada 22 times since she became Queen. That alone tells me that Queen Elizabeth II loves Canada, and from the reaction of Canadians when she comes here, it is clear that Canadians love Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
If we are going to change oaths, we have to change them in a transparent way. There was an attempt to move a motion before debate to have the bill sent back to committee so that it could reconsider eliminating the reference to Her Majesty in the legislation. However, there is now a motion before us that the question be now put. That prohibits anybody else from putting a motion to the House.
However, I am aware of at least three different items in the legislation that have to be repaired. Clauses 118 and 119 are inconsistent and have to be repaired. There is one clause in which the reference to “so help me God” has still not been reinstated because of a technicality at committee, which should be remedied. I think the House should have an opportunity to debate whether or not references to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II should be eliminated, rather than after only four speakers at third reading being pre-empted from making a motion to that effect.
I really believe that omnibus bills are not very helpful to parliamentarians. They allow us to get through the back door what we cannot get through the front door. If Canadians and parliamentarians at large knew that the references to God and to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II were being summarily taken out of the oaths of office, given what we did with a private member's bill recently and the Citizenship Act, why is it that Parliament cannot debate here in the House what our oath should be in Canada? Where are our values?
Let me refer to today's Ottawa Citizen , in which I was absolutely amazed and delighted to see an editorial that stated:
Her Majesty is the embodiment of an institutional order that allows us to be the kind of nation that we are.
It went on to state that “the Crown represents order and justice...as an institution that transcends politics”. In short, the Crown is the “guardian of law and liberty”.
I believe that we should have an opportunity to discuss this in an open and transparent way and therefore I would propose a motion. I would like to ask for the unanimous consent of Parliament to withdraw the motion now before the House and to recommit the bill back to committee to reconsider the elimination of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II from the oath of office.
Public Service Modernization Act
June 2nd, 2003 / 4:50 p.m.
Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to debate Bill C-25, a bill to modernize the employment and labour relations in the public service and to amend the Financial Administration Act and the Canadian Centre for Management Development Act and to make consequential amendments to other acts.
As a member of the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates, we had an opportunity to review the bill which was forwarded to us by the House. It has been 40 years since these acts have been looked at and amended. I think a good question for members to pose would be why it has taken so long, particularly since there are so many substantive amendments that are considered in the bill.
In addition, a special task force was formed to research and make recommendations with regard to the changes in the bill, and to make other proposals which would deal with the structure of the bill.
I want to talk briefly about the structure and the way in which Bill C-25 was put together because it caused substantial concern at committee stage.
Clause 2 of the bill states “ The Public Service Labour Relations Act is enacted as follows”. Bill C-25 is a bill that has within it two other bills which currently exist. Part 1 attempts to enact the Public Service Labour Relations Act, which already exists. We also find amendments at the end of the bill which in fact would repeal the existing act. We will find similarly in another clause a rewrite of the Public Service Employment Act. Again the existing Public Service Employment Act is repealed.
We also have consequential amendments to other acts, the Financial Administration Act and the Canadian Centre for Management Development Act. This is the first time I have come across a bill that is structured in this fashion. If we look for instance at clause 2, clause 2 in itself is actually an entire bill. It is an entire bill with each of the clauses that we would find in a bill on a stand-alone basis, and similarly for clause 11 in the bill on the rewrite of the Public Service Employment Act.
When the committee did its work we considered about 120 amendments put forward by the opposition. We worked through a number of other amendments from the government one at a time. It took a great deal of time.
Since the task force had been formulated and it was making recommendations to the Privy Council Office with regard to how we were going to proceed on this, a number of questions were raised for outside experts to comment on. One of the questions had to do with the hierarchy that was contemplated for the public service.
There are three elements within this whole regime of the public service: the Treasury Board, the Public Service Commission and the public service itself. One of the areas we discussed had to do with why they decided to have a hybrid responsibility for the Public Service Commission, where it had auditing responsibilities, i.e. management responsibilities, in addition to having those representing the employees and, as with the other unions, representing the best interests of employees and protecting their interests vis-à-vis the laws of the land.
Questions were asked. I do not want to get into the details but there was a point at which information and copies of letters for which we had asked in order to better understand why certain decisions were taken to structure the bill, Bill C-25, in a fashion that put two other bills entirely within Bill C-25, were denied to the committee.
The response we received was that they were privileged documents that the committee could not see. I think this was one of the first opportunities that a committee had basically challenged the privacy, the confidentiality or the protection of documents. As a result, I put forward the motion in committee to suspend our clause by clause proceedings so we could pursue the acquisition of documents that we thought were relevant to our consideration of Bill C-25.
I am pleased to say that it did not take very long for the Privy Council Office to provide us with a complete binder of documents. I read all the documents that were received. Unless one is a management consultant, a labour relations consultant, an employee consultant and every other kind of expert we can imagine in terms of expertise related to the public service, it is a very difficult to appreciate the insights that these people were giving to the government with regard to how to structure the bill.
However I am glad we were able to get those documents because it helped me to understand that the experts had some concern about having a hybrid role for the Public Service Commission. They felt that since the legislation related to the public service, which had not been dealt with for some 40 years, that the culture had been so deeply rooted, so deeply embedded in the system that it would be extremely difficult for us to get exactly to where we wanted to be over the long term in the best interest of the structure for the benefit of the public service.
Ultimately, the recommendations and some of the documents that I read were basically saying that this was as far as we could push it. I think this was the first time that I realized there was some concern about how the public service would receive the changes to the legislation.
The issues were: could the public servants take it? Would they take the change? Would they accept it? Would they embrace it? Would it be able to cause a paradigm shift or a cultural shift? Would it be able to break the very deep roots of the way the system had been operating?
We know there were situations within the hiring practices of the public service that it was easier to hire people on a part time or on a contract basis than it was on a full time basis. It was shorter. It could in fact get people quicker.
I guess the bottom line was that we needed a human body to be in that role, to do that job and to make sure all the responsibilities were discharged very quickly. This was endemic of the kind of problems that it had incurred over the period within the public service, t this culture of how it operated, and I think the word “cynicism” was used , and there were questions.
I asked questions about whether the public service would accept the kinds of changes that were being asked, changes to concepts such as merit and whistleblowers, political involvement. Everyone knows that public service involvement in the political process at various levels is an issue that has been dealt with in the bill and it has been controversial over the years. I think there are now guidelines which people will understand.
As a consequence I am very comfortable with the steps that have been taken. I concluded and I think the committee members concluded that carrying the public service modernization process at least to this extent, this step forward, was all that we should do at this time and that every intent is that we will continue to look for ways to improve the administration of the public service and the relationship between the employer and the employees, and to further clarify the role of the Public Service Commission.
I should say as well that the committee was very interested in working with members of the Public Service Commission, who were very active and well represented at the hearings. They provided input to the committee and they addressed a number of concerns they had. It was very clear that the issues being raised were tremendously complex and broad because we were dealing not only with the modernization of certain aspects, but with the modernization of two existing acts and consequential amendments to others.
The bill is not an easy bill to deal with. Therefore part of my intervention today is to suggest to the House and to the leaderships of the parties that bills in this form do not do Parliament a good service. They are too complex and too detailed to ask parliamentarians to get into. It is like an omnibus bill. It deals with far too many things: labour relations, the Employment Act, amendments to the Financial Administration Act and to a number of other acts.
When we get into that level of detail and go through the various processes that we go through, with the limitations that parliamentarians have to study this information, it becomes very problematic for members of Parliament to discharge their responsibilities as committee members simply because there is not enough time allotted to the process and questioning of witnesses to examine all the areas relevant to the bill. It is clear to me that this, if I did not know better, was an attempt to make absolutely sure that we could not get into it in the detail that we should have.
The bill should have been at least two, if not three, separate bills. However I do understand that there is a sense of urgency, that we want a bill to go forward very quickly because it has been a long time. However if it has taken 40 years to get around to modernizing the public service legislation and two years for a task force, that clearly reflects how long it takes to do the job properly.
I am concerned about the process, the form of the bill and the fact that two bills are buried in it. Members should grab the bill and look through it. If they are told to look at clause 19, they should be very careful because clause 19 appears three times.
Committees of the House
June 2nd, 2003 / 3:55 p.m.
Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON
Mr. Speaker, I had hoped to be speaking on Bill C-25, but as one of the members has raised a motion to concur in the fourth report of the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans to do with aquatic invasive species, uninvited guests, I took a copy of the report and had an opportunity to read a few of the areas.
The work the members have done on this report is excellent. In fact in one particular area, and that is with regard to zebra mussel control, it is a matter which I know quite a bit about because my daughter is in a masters program right now and is doing her thesis on zebra mussels in Lake Erie. She has done a lot of diving and is now analyzing her samples in the lab trying to look for some of the solutions.
If we were to take a copy of the current Maclean's magazine, we would see one of the beaches on Lake Erie that is totally covered with zebra mussels. It really dramatizes the significant problem that we have with unwanted species, or what the report calls, uninvited guests, what it means to other aquatic life and what it means to the peaceful and enjoyable use of our resources. Of course these so-called uninvited guests do in fact migrate by a number of means. It is a very serious problem.
I know the fisheries committee must have had a very important set of reviews and hearings on issues such as zebra mussels, sea lampreys and other aquatic species that are invasive species in our waterways.
I want to go back to the zebra mussels simply because I think it is probably worth giving a few more details. I note in the report that the zebra mussels are described as small molluscs about the size of a fingernail, and originally from the Black and Caspian Seas area. They spread through eastern Europe in the 18th century and in the mid-1980s in Lake St. Clair. They are believed to have been introduced by ballast water discharged from an ocean going vessel. That is important to understand. Obviously we need to have the kinds of rules and safeguards to ensure that we protect ourselves from the migration, naturally or by other means, of some of these invasive species into our systems because of the disruptive effect it has on the balance of the environment and the aquatic environment in Canada.
As well, these species, like the zebra mussel, are carried by boat traffic and normal flows of water, and the mussel has spread rapidly through the Great Lakes and beyond. This is one of the reasons why my daughter is undertaking this research on zebra mussels. It is very important that we find out, not only the damaging effect they have but what effect they have had on other species within not only the aquatic life but also the plant life as well. These are very critical issues.
The committee dealt with a number of issues. I note that it went right back to reports from the 1995 on the biodiversity convention, such as the Canadian biodiversity strategy released by Environment Canada. There were a number of government commitments in there and I thought it would be useful to advise members of the House of them if they have not had an opportunity to look at this. I know the Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister is on the committee and probably will want to speak as well.
However issues such as developing and implementing effective means to identifying and monitoring alien organisms obviously makes some sense. Determining priorities for allocating resources for the control of harmful alien organisms based on their impact on native biodiversity and economic resources and implementing effective control, or where possible, eradication measures, obviously is a very important aspect where there are negative impacts identified. Also important is identifying and eliminating common sources of unintentional introductions.
When we consider the number of ships that we have in the Great Lakes or the St. Lawrence from all around the world, ballast water can in fact contain alien species. Canadians would like to know what efforts we are taking to ensure that we are protecting our natural resources, the Great Lakes and other waterways.
A further recommendation in that biodiversity strategy was the development of national and international databases that would support the identification in anticipation of the introduction of potentially harmful alien organisms in order to develop and control prevention measures. That is an important aspect. That work has to be done because these things not only can happen, they have happened.
That is why we asked for our best and brightest to work on the science to find out how we can prevent or at least mitigate substantial damage.
Another recommendation was that we should ensure that there is adequate legislation and enforcement to control introductions or escapes of harmful alien organisms, and to improve preventive mechanisms such as screening standards and risk assessment procedures. This follows the other recommendations.
One of the other important areas was the recommendation to enhance public education and awareness of impacts of harmful alien organisms, and the steps that can be taken to prevent their introduction. It is like a lot of things in this world. Public education is probably the common element in the resolution of most problems, whether we are talking about child poverty, domestic violence or family breakdown. If we have a problem to deal with, public education is a very important aspect of it because we all have a role to play. There is the Kyoto commitment.
How do Canadians participate, for instance, in ensuring that we meet our targets in terms of greenhouse emission reductions? The House will know that business and industry had a tremendous amount to say about Kyoto and its impact on their businesses. This morning I had a visit from the cement industry who wanted to talk about how we could still pursue our Kyoto objectives but not in a way which would create substantial impacts on business and industry. The aspect of public education and awareness not only on the impacts but on what we can do to have an impact is extremely important.
The committee had a large number of recommendations and I do not intend to go through them. The committee concluded that, while very well intentioned, the federal initiative presented at the hearings came too late. That is unfortunate. It also felt that it was focused on processes and purposes rather than on immediate actions.
It is important to raise with the House the work that committees do along with the aspect that we have not brought forward an action plan. We may agree with principles and concepts. The fisheries committee has done a service to Parliament by raising the concern that we have not pushed forward with action plans on this urgent matter.
The committee favours an approach in which immediate actions will be taken in four specific areas. First, is the adoption of balanced water management regulation and development of treatment standards. Second, is the inclusion of species of Asian carp in schedule II of the regulations. This is another aspect, other than the zebra mussels, which they call an uninvited guest or invasive species. Third, is the prohibition of the sale and trade of Asian carp under section 43 of the Fisheries Act. Fourth, is the contribution to the full extent of our commitment to the budget of the sea lamprey control program.
I know that this is good news to the member for Huron—Bruce who has been a champion in this place for a number of years with regard to the sea lamprey problem. I recall when he actually brought to Parliament a large tank with sea lamprey so that members could see what they looked like. They are a very unusual species.
The fisheries committee has brought all of these issues to the attention of the House. With regard to the impact, the House will find that the issues that the committee has raised are the kinds of issues that we would fully expect from a committee. I am not sure whether it is just a matter of getting concurrence in a report, or whether we should also take note that committee reports should never just sit there without a prompt response from ministers and ministries, and other parties in the government.
This is an important process we have gone through. I thank the member for raising the concurrence motion for the House to consider. I move:
That the House proceed to orders of the day.
Public Service Modernization Act
June 2nd, 2003 / 1:50 p.m.
Mario Laframboise Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC
Mr. Speaker, I will just read the comments of the Public Service Alliance of Canada in its submission on this bill. It said:
The preamble states that Canada will continue to benefit from a public service where appointments to positions are based on merit, that the principle of merit will be independently safeguarded, and those exercising staffing authority will be accountable to the Public Service Commission, an independent tribunal and Parliament.
That is what the alliance wished and said in its submission.
Here is what the alliance had to say:
Part 3 of Bill C-25, in its current form, represents a wholesale retreat from a public service defined by the appointment of the best-qualified individuals. Bill C-25 delivers on its promise of increased flexibility for management, but contains very little protection for employees or the principle of merit.
This was the Public Service Alliance of Canada condemning the fact that the principle of merit was a matter of choice for officials and protected the employees less and less.
Public Service Modernization Act
June 2nd, 2003 / 1:30 p.m.
Mario Laframboise Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak this afternoon on Bill C-25. I will reread its title, if I may. It is an act to modernize employment and labour relations in the public service and to amend the Financial Administration Act and the Canadian Centre for Management Development Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, a very substantial bill of 282 pages, the short title of which is the Public Service Modernization Act.
I am all the more pleased to speak because, as the member for Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, I am the Bloc Quebecois member whose riding is closest to the National Capital Region. The borders of my riding are contiguous to the edge of the NCR's territory,so a number of people from the riding work or have worked for the federal government or are still under contract to it. In fact, in recent years, the federal government has developed a new employment strategy that makes greater use of contract workers. These people also lived through the problems that occurred in the early 1990s.
You will understand that the public service was looking forward to this bill. In fact, in the early 1990s, there were some major cuts to the federal public service, to such an extent that a special committee had to be struck in the Outaouais region to look at how the economy of this region and a portion of Basses-Laurentides could cope with the major job losses of the time.
A committee was struck and a report—the Beaudry report—was produced. The chair of the committee that produced it, Marcel Beaudry, is now better known as the Chairperson of the NCC. It is obvious that not everyone was a loser as a result of the discussions and debates of the early 1990s. At least one person got a job out of it and is now the Chairperson of the National Capital Commission.
What did the Beaudry report ask for? Naturally, it recommended that the number of public servants in the Outaouais region be stabilized because the drain had to be stopped, but it also said that a way be found to facilitate economic diversification in the Outaouais and part of the Lower Laurentians. That is how the first economic diversification society was created, established and developed. The Society for the Economic Diversification of the Outaouais was the forerunner of all economic diversification societies created afterwards in Quebec, and adopted by the Quebec government.
That is the reality. At the beginning of the 1990s, the federal government caused a serious crisis with the drastic cut in the number of jobs. The federal government took part in the creation of the Beaudry committee. Then, naturally, there was the Beaudry report. Afterwards, Mr. Beaudry became the Chairperson of the National Capital Commission. Of course, the goal was to diversify the economy, but it was twofold; new niches were to be found in order to reduce dependency on the federal public service, and also to ensure the stability of the public service. One of the tasks was to review all the laws in order to guarantee job protection. That was the goal.
However, those drastic cuts occurred in the early 1990s. We are in 2003 and it is only now, 10 years later, that this massive 282-page bill, the Public Service Modernization Act, is being introduced to amend four important acts. I can understand the public servants. I had to work with them and the union stewards at the beginning of the 1990s, when we tried to prevent the drastic, massive and sometimes brutal cuts of the federal government.
I understand the unions who want to fight today so that, once the bill is passed, they never have relive past experiences. I have some reservations. However, I do want to congratulate my colleague, the member for Châteauguay, who worked hard and moved 120 amendments, in cooperation with the central labour bodies.
Basically, for everyone but the Liberals, the role of committee members is to strive for an agreement. In this case, we are talking about legislation to modernize the public service. We would have hoped for an agreement that is acceptable to and accepted by both the employer and the employees.
Today, we have a bizarre situation where there is a bill before the House which, with the exception of APEX, the association representing the managers to whom this bill is giving more powers, all the unions oppose.
Ten years ago, the Outaouais and certainly the Ottawa area, and eastern Ontario, experienced a major crisis because of drastic cuts. One of the recommendations at the time was to amend the legislation to protect employees. Parliament came up with Bill C-25, which has been denounced by every labour union except the one representing managers, the bosses, those who, with this bill, will be able to make personal choices and, of course, make their own policy, which is often the Liberal Party's policy.
I am saying this very candidly. I am not in the same league as my hon. colleague from Châteauguay who sits on the committee, where he reviewed each and every clause of the bill. He considered the bill clause by clause, naturally, and proposed amendments where amendments were considered necessary and desirable by the employees, the public servants, and their union representatives as well as the Bloc Quebecois.
I will not dissect this bill clause by clause, nor will I indicate which clause I am quoting. In response to the remarks made in this House by members of the ruling Liberal Party, however, I will simply read the bill's summary. In theory, it should contain the substance, the very essence of the bill. Let me read the summary found at the very beginning of the bill:
Part 1 enacts the Public Service Labour Relations Act to provide for a labour relations regime in the public service which is based on greater cooperation and consultation between the employer and bargaining agents, notably by requiring labour-management consultation committees—
When we read this bill, this summary, this description of part 1, we are entitled to think that all the employees should agree. That is what the purpose of the act should be. Yet, the labour unions have denounced part 1, among other things.
In the summary, we are told that we should establish, and I quote:
—a labour relations regime in the public service which is based on greater cooperation and consultation—
All the labour associations, except for APEX, are against this bill. What a good start that is. What a way to start a summary, to start a discussion on this bill in the House.
Right off the bat, in Part I, there is a big difference; employers and employees do not agree. However, Part I says that there should be a regime “based on greater cooperation and consultation”. Maybe we should continue this cooperation and consultation. Because, at this very moment, the employees and union representatives are not satisfied with the bill now before us.
The summary goes on to say:
Part 2 amends the Financial Administration Act to put direct responsibility for certain aspects of human resources management in the hands of deputy heads, subject to policies and directives of the Treasury Board.
Having read Part 2 of the summary, I can understand why senior managers and public servants are satisfied. They have just been told in no uncertain terms:
Part 2 amends the Financial Administration Act to put direct responsibility for certain aspects of human resources management in the hands of deputy heads.
Of course, they would have more power in terms of human resources, more latitude for political patronage. That is what my colleague from Châteauguay explained earlier. But the employees, and hopefully the employers as well, wanted something totally different. But no, we come up with legislation that gives more powers and responsibilities to deputy heads for human resources management.
Later, I will explain to you what those increased powers are, in terms of the merit principle and the use of the word “essential” to rig the criteria so that they get the person they want for the job.
So, they are being given more latitude. Obviously, some powers are being taken away from employees to appeal decisions made by administrators. That is the purpose.
That is what was described earlier. That is what was happening in the early 1990s when the public service was downsized. There were a lot of discussions because there was patronage. Ten years later, everyone is expecting a bill that will eliminate patronage. But no, quite the opposite, the summary of the bill, on page 1, describes it quite plainly:
Part 2 amends the Financial Administration Act to put direct responsibility for certain aspects of human resources management in the hands of deputy heads, subject to policies and directives—
It even specifies that:
New deputy head responsibilities include determining learning and developmental requirements, providing awards and setting standards of discipline.
Unbelievable. In the summary, it says that:
New deputy head responsibilities include determining learning and developmental requirements—
They will decide for themselves how staff will be trained.
—providing awards and setting standards of discipline
I can see why employees and union representatives are confronting APEX, the Association of Professional Executives of the Public Service of Canada. They want to prevent everything they feared could happen, and which will happen if this bill goes through. The government is in the process of creating a network of public administrators who will have direct control over employees under their jurisdiction. That is the antithesis of what the public service and the employees wanted.
Obviously, there are very important reasons why the Bloc Quebecois is against this bill, and my colleague, the member for Châteauguay, explained them. I would like to read the position because it is clear, “The Bloc Quebecois is opposed to this bill, since no amendments were put forward, especially with respect to protecting public servants who expose dubious, immoral or fraudulent practices or policies, but also with regard to the active promotion of linguistic duality. No significant amendments were made with regard to the contentious notion of merit”.
Let me explain. First, on the matter of dubious, immoral or fraudulent policies, we need to keep in mind that the sponsorships scandal, the inevitable result of Liberal party management, gave rise to some very important recommendations, one of which was to allow public employees to blow the whistle.
Of course the acts mentioned in Bill C-25 were not modernized, for instance, the Public Service Labour Relations Act, the Public Service Employment Act , the Financial Administration Act, and the Canadian Center for Management Development Act. We would have expected that under the bill those who lend a helping hand, namely those who are willing to report any unethical, questionable or fraudulent situation would have been afforded some protection with regard to the information given so that they would not suffer the consequences.
Believe it or not, in spite of the amendments moved by my colleague, Liberal members refused to include in the bill protection for those who might give information or report their colleagues' questionable, unethical and fraudulent practices. This of course is how the Liberals speak from both sides of their mouth. They are very proud of their whistle blower program. But when employees ask that whistle blowers be protected, the only bill introduced in the House in this respect does not do it.
We are talking about modernizing the public service. We have been waiting 10 years for this bill, since drastic cuts have affected the public service mainly in the Outaouais area and in eastern Ontario. Every current and future public servant had been waiting for this act to be significantly modernized.
We tried to clarify the bill so that employees would feel comfortable reporting questionable, fraudulent and unethical practices or policies on the part of the government—any government of course since the Liberals will not be in power for ever—but the government refused the amendments proposed by my colleague with the support of union representatives. This is one of the reasons why the Bloc Quebecois will vote against the bill.
The second main reason concerns of course the active promotion of linguistic duality. In this respect, I must again remind the House that the Official Languages Commissioner, Dr. Dyane Adam, made very important recommendations asking that the bill make direct reference to the Official Languages Act with regard to anything that has to do with official languages. That was the objective.
All the more so since part 1 provides for ways, namely with reference to official languages, for staffing, qualifications, and so on. We can also read the following in the summary:
Part 4 amends the Canadian Centre for Management Development Act, which becomes the Canada School of Public Service Act. The School becomes responsible for learning and development activities for employees in the public service.
As you can see, a way to train staff is being devised. We want to ensure, with the official languages commissioner, Dr. Dyane Adam, among others, that the Official Languages Act is enforced.
Believe it or not, despite repeated calls and amendments moved by my colleague, Liberal members refused to approve what the Commissioner of Official Languages was asking for and what amendments were requested with regard to official languages. I think this is dreadful, because being the Bloc Quebecois member whose riding is closest to the National Capital Region, I have the good fortune to be told what is going on in the public service. A taxpayer told me that he had been invited to participate in a training session with everyone in his unit. It was very important training that was supposed to be given during the weekend. A place, which I will not name, had been booked. It was very important training, especially as it was supposed to be given in both official languages. Believe it or not, when the staff arrived, the training documents they received were in English only. Despite the concern expressed by the taxpayer, he was simply told that there had not been enough time to translate the documents and that explanations would be translated simultaneously. That is how things were done. This is what we have to deal with.
I am quite happy that this bill announces the Canada School of Public Service. However, I am less happy that this school will not have to fully comply with the Official Languages Act, as my colleague, the member for Châteauguay, wanted to ensure by making specific reference to the act. That is what we have to deal with.
The Liberals always manage to talk out of both sides of their mouth. They support linguistic duality and official languages, but when it comes time to put it in writing in a bill, and make reference to the Official Languages Act, to require that it be complied with, the Liberals vote against it. They vote against amendments and say, as they have in many other committees, that “the Official Languages Act is part of all legislation. It must be complied with”.
Why is the government not referring to this, particularly when it talks about the Canada School of Public Service, which should provide documentation in both languages to all public servants in bilingual positions? It must never be forgotten that, in Quebec, more than 50% of positions offered in the federal public service are bilingual. This is the reality while in British Columbia hardly 10% of positions offered must be bilingual. This is what the French minority in Quebec has to go through. When it wants to become part of the public service and have some opportunities, it must be bilingual, because more than 50% of positions offered in the federal public service in Quebec—I am not speaking about those offered elsewhere, but those offered in Quebec—must be bilingual. So, unilingual francophones are once again under attack by the federal government.
In the House, we tried to have the Official Languages Act applied in this bill, on the recommendation of the commissioner of official languages. My colleague from Châteauguay did not propose amendments just for the sake of it. He asked questions to the commissioner of official languages, Dr. Adam, as a witness, who proposed some changes, who proposed that amendments be added. All these amendments, all these changes, all these proposals were rejected by the Liberal members.
I will conclude by telling you about the last finding, the last major point to which the Bloc Quebecois is opposed, that is the contentious concept of merit. A whole part of this bill would allow senior officials to staff positions on the basis of merit. My colleague from Châteauguay had the chance to explain to you what the relevant clauses might mean. I will read the section of the Public Service Employment Act—
Public Service Modernization Act
June 2nd, 2003 / 1 p.m.
Larry Bagnell Yukon, YT
Mr. Speaker, I am happy to speak to Bill C-25.
A few days ago representatives of the Yukon Branch of the Public Service Alliance of Canada came to visit me. I would like to use my time today to put on the record some of the reservations brought forward by them.
Before I start though, I just want to emphasize a point I made earlier in this debate. I am very supportive of the President of the Treasury Board's effort to try to improve the representative now of the public service, especially employment in Ottawa, so that it is available to and filled by people from across this nation, therefore representative of the people from all distant sides of the nation. The public service will make decisions and implementations that would be sensitive to the various regions of the country.
I want to just go on the record with the eight concerns the local branch of PSAC.
The first item is removal the relative merit, replacing it with allowing the hiring of only people with essential qualifications. For a government that prides itself in bureaucracy based on merit, the union is concerned that this will reduce the ability to select the most meritorious person on a list. This could lead to more favouritism, although there could be abuse already in the present system that might exacerbate the situation, and could have the same effect on government downsizing as people leave the government.
The second point is a strike vote would be valid for only two months. I think this is a particular northern concern. First, two months may not allow time for the alternative dispute mechanisms to solve the problem. Of course I think we would all like it solved in a way other than a strike. However in the north, especially in the high Arctic and in Old Crow, it takes a longer time to get mail and communications through, and two months may not be enough time. A longer period would be more helpful.
The third point is the employer would have the exclusive right to determine the level and frequency of service during a strike.
The fourth concern is the union feels the proposed legislation would give the employer control over the designation process, making it more difficult for people on the picket line to be aware of who is designated. Now someone can be convicted of a summary offence by unknowingly preventing a designated worker from entering the premises. This could lead to an inadvertent conviction.
The fifth point relates to the fact that any employee can question a vote based on an irregularity. However an irregularity is not defined in the act. Therefore the union feels this could lead to abuse.
The sixth point is a new point and that is the fiscal position of the government needs to be taken into consideration during the negotiations. The union feels it is not obvious why this needs to be included in legislation.
The seventh point concerns a reintroduction of controls over the involvement of federal servants in elections. This would limit the involvement of federal civil servants in the political process. The union is worried that this clause, along with others, would have a spinoff effect on our local public service union in the Yukon government, which often mirrors federal legislation.
At one time there were extensive controls on involvement of federal public servants and this was struck down in the Supreme Court in the case of Barnhart et al, I believe, as unconstitutional. The union is concerned that by putting this back in, it could lead to another challenge, another loss and excessive taxpayer money spent on the case.
The union felt that some of these eight points and other points in its detailed submissions did not evolve from the Fryer and Quail studies on reforms.
I reviewed the legislation myself again and the detailed submission it made, sometime after midnight last night. There were two points it did not discuss with me which I would like to bring up at this time.
One is it said that it was in favour of legislation that was more mirrored on the Canada Labour Code specifically, and that this was quite different. The other point was related to the fact that essential workers could have to report to duty in off-hours or work overtime during a strike. What if a person is a single parent? What about people who might be caregivers and have other responsibilities?
I would like to thank the House for allowing me to put these concerns on the record.
I have subsequently had discussions with those involved in working intensively on this new act because I wanted to get replies to these concerns. I said that I really needed results on these concerns. I would like to provide feedback and more details on these 11 issues which I brought up.
First, the major one I think for a lot of people is the relative merit issue. I am told that merit was not defined in the old act so one of the new improvements in the proposed new act is it is now defined. I think everyone agrees, the unions and everyone else involved, that there have to be improvements to the act. What those are is what is under debate. In the old system there were a number of people stuck in appeals. As someone said a few minutes ago, there will be a large changeover in the public service soon and the act has to be efficient.
In some cases I have been told there is even more protection in the proposed new act for employees who think someone may not be the most meritorious, or should not get the job, or who has been abused. First, a new tribunal will deal with situations like that. This has never been in place before. Employees will have access to this. If they think they were not properly treated, they can appeal to the tribunal for abuse of authority, which includes two areas, bad faith or personal favouritism. This would help eliminate the concern of favouritism or nepotism, which I mentioned earlier. They also can appeal on skewing of qualifications or bureaucratic patronage. This would also apply to layoff discrimination. Therefore, in some ways, there are more protections against abuse of the system which were not there before. This new system will be there for some people who might be concerned about that abuse.
This is also new. The public service can audit the setting of qualifications. In either the old or the new system the setting of qualifications could be a back door to achieving abuse. Now the public service commission has the ability to audit those to remove that level of abuse. The public service commission also has broader authorities of inquiries.
There is a new informal mechanism to find out exactly why an employee may not have been hired before he or she would go into the formal steps, and the employer must provide that. This makes things faster and less bureaucratic.
The second item is the two month limit on the strike vote. I am not satisfied that this could not have been changed. I would have been happier to have had the time period extended. Once again, it is regionally sensitive in the north. We could use more time. I would have liked to have that changed. I understand that provision is in the Canada Labour Code. The union brief which I read mentioned that it was in favour of legislation more like the Canada Labour Code. I am assuming that if it is in the Canada Labour Code and it is working well, that is the argument why is not being extended. However personally I would like it extended if possible for the north.
The third item is the employer's exclusive right to determine the level and frequency of service. There are some new provisions in this part of the bill that are beneficial for unions. They can start conciliation while the labour board settles disputes about what essential services are. That could not happen before, and it will speed up the process.
There is also a potential advantage to unions in this clause with regard to the setting of levels of service. This also could not be done before. The employer could reduce the level of essential services and therefore allow more employees to partake in the strike. I have been told that under the present system even if 1% of individuals are considered essential, then those individuals would be excluded from striking. This new system might change that and once again free up more employees to take part in the strike.
The fourth item is related to employer control over the designation process which makes it more difficult for people on the picket line to be aware of who has been designated essential.
There are certain things both in the old act and the new act that are still negotiated such as what are essential services, how many and which positions. These still go through the same process as before. The fear was there would be challenges such as someone being stopped on the picket line who had been defined as an essential service employee.
I have been told by the people who worked on the bill that there are a lot of safeguards against that. It happens very seldom, if ever. Because of the safeguards, an individual would need leave from the labour relations board to lodge such a complaint. The complaint would obviously have to be reasonable or that neutral board would not allow the charge to proceed. The prosecutor would have to be convinced. One person I talked to said that this type of charge proceeded successfully once and it led to a $1 fine. It is virtually never used and certainly not abused because of the safeguards in place.
The fifth point is anyone can abuse the system by challenging a vote because of an irregularity and thus causing an investigation into a vote. Irregularity is not defined in the new act. This challenge could only be made within 10 days. It could be dismissed summarily by the labour relations board. If the charge is considered trivial or unwarranted and does not make any sense, it can be dismissed. Even if it is warranted, it could be dismissed if it did not make a difference. If the vote had gone ahead, the claim could be dismissed if the problem did not affect the vote.
The sixth point is a suggestion that the fiscal position of the government must be taken into consideration. Is that not obvious? Would that not obviously be included in negotiations? The point made to me was that it obviously had not been taken into consideration all the time in the past. In the 1990s an 18% increase was given. This works both ways however. It could be a definite advantage to employees and unions in that if the government is in a good fiscal position, it would be hard to argue against increases in wages and benefits that are due. This apparently was one of the suggestions that came from the Fryer report.
The seventh point has to do with controls on federal public servants being involved in the electoral process and the fact that they were limited before they were challenged. By putting that back in, it will lead to a challenge. However it is not the identical situation. What has been put in is actually related to the outcome and recommendations from a 1991 court case by Osborne, I believe, which, although it did not allow the blanket elimination of federal civil servants, it had control over it. However, because the system at the time had blanket provisions, that was not allowed. They think that under certain circumstances federal civil servants should be limited. Their point was that people with different jobs and different responsibilities could not be treated all the same in this situation.
Some people have different responsibilities, different profiles and there is a different public perception of the work they do. Of course no one wants partisan influence in the public service, so different situations have different ramifications.
The new proposals would allow people to be involved in the federal election process, unless it impairs or it is perceived to impair one's ability to fulfil one's duties impartially. That requires a review of the nature of the activity one wishes to participate in, the nature of the duties people have and the level and visibility of the position. As everyone is aware, conflict of interest is both a real and a perceived conflict of interest.
The last point I discussed with the union had to do with the fact that management would now automatically be excluded in this proposal. Previously they were automatically in the union unless the labour board exempted them. In the new and old act, executives were always excluded. In the new act the employer still has the burden to approve that non-obvious managers should be excluded. The employees only have to have the burden for the obvious ones, such as EXs, personnel staff and collective bargaining staff who are normally excluded. If employees want one of those not to be excluded, they would have to make that case.
In extension to the points that related to where all these changes came from and were discussed, although they were not all from the Fryer and Quail reports, there were, as I think earlier speakers mentioned, extensive discussions and development of this with various public service unions and others. The differences in relation to the Canada Labour Code relate to essential services and public services as opposed to what would be expected in private business or commercial services by Canadians.
Finally, in relation to the point about forcing someone with other responsibilities, such as a single parent or a caregiver of an elderly or infirm person, to go to work in their off hours, this would only apply to people on call out or standby in their regular positions. It would not apply to people who had accepted jobs on the grounds that they would never be called out and now all of a sudden are being forced to. It would only apply to those people where this was part of the position that they were involved in.
I was happy to receive all those points. I will be bringing them forward to the union. I will be watching to make sure the negative outcomes that some people feel might evolve do not evolve from these mechanisms and that we take what action needs to occur if they do.
Public Service Modernization Act
June 2nd, 2003 / 1 p.m.
Pauline Picard Drummond, QC
Mr. Speaker, as I did earlier, I would like to quote the union's vice-president in response to my colleague's question. She says:
It is leeway that would ultimately allow the employer to choose whomever he wants for position x. This would open the door to abuse and bureaucratic patronage.
The same note was sounded by the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada, whose President appeared before the committee to express his reservations and request amendments to the bill. According to Steve Hindle, Bill C-25 is not only a ominous threat to the merit principle as it affects hiring, but the changes proposed by the minister would have the effect of placing the employees on permanent probation.
Public Service Modernization Act
June 2nd, 2003 / 12:30 p.m.
Pauline Picard Drummond, QC
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak on Bill C-25, an act to modernize the federal public service.
This bill will revamp the 35-year-old legislation and its rather obsolete provisions. It is the result of over thirty reports and studies on the need to renew the management of recruiting and staffing procedures in the public service.
These reports and studies all came to the same conclusion, that a change in culture is needed in the public service. After examining the many reports recommending a change in culture in the federal public service, the Presidentof the Treasury Board took a stand and set the goals she wanted to reach, based on her own perception of the situation.
In order to deal with the persistent personnel reductions within the public service and the increasing competitiveness of the private labour market, the President of the Treasury Board has come up with the following objectives: the inclusion of the merit principle; the implementation of a more flexible staffing system; the enhancement of labour-management relations; and the integration of a development and learning framework for the public service.
The government also intends to address demographic problems within the public service. The government believes that, with this bill, it will be able to resolve the deficiencies relating to representativeness and the aging of the public service. We must add to this the shortage of those with the right job skills. The government has identified this as a critical issue.
Finally, the bill aims to improve the public's perception. Due to the bad reputation of the public service, it would seem that few people are interested in pursuing a career there, so recruitment has been difficult. This last point, in particular, must be addressed by a change in culture.
This is a lengthy, and particularly ambitious bill. It would amend technical aspects related to public service administration, as well as the entire approach to the public service's vision.
I would first like to say that the Bloc Quebecois is opposed to this bill, since no amendments were put forward, especially with respect to protecting public servants who expose dubious, immoral or fraudulent practices or policies, but also with regard to the active promotion of linguistic duality. No significant amendments were made with regard to the contentious notion of merit.
During our work in committee, we put forward no fewer than 120 amendments that were rejected by the government members. When this bill was announced, it raised many hopes. In its current form, the bill is unfortunately very disappointing, contrary to what the government member has just said; there is great disappointment.
I am thinking here about the public servants who blow the whistle on abuse. They deserve protection, and they had hoped that the proposed modernization would provide it, but the Public Service of Canada is hardly rushing to their aid.
The minister should have provided federal public servants with mechanisms so they could raise problematic issues, without fear of reprisals. This is the position expressed by the former Auditor General of Canada, Denis Desautels, before the parliamentary committee. He admitted that his former office could not protect the anonymity of individuals all the way through to the end of the investigation.
The government must stop procrastinating when it comes to implementing provisions to protect public servants who want to blow the whistle on scams, waste and misconduct.
To this end, in addition to the investigative power of the Office of the Auditor General, the minister must offer protection to the informer, who out of good faith and with evidence, is relieving his conscience and fulfilling his duty to serve the state, because he feels he cannot live in silence and go along with the lie that has become systemic.
The government can say it is walking on eggshells on this issue, but the prudence it claims to be using should not prevent it from taking action. Sooner or later, such rules will have to be adopted.
This government has often been mired in scandals that have called its management abilities into question. We are entitled to wonder about the fate of a public servant who decided to denounce the attitude of his bosses.
Take for example the sponsorship scandal that continues to embarrass the Liberal government. Would the informer have been believed? What lengths would they have gone to, to undermine his credibility? Would he have been transferred, demoted or fired?
This clearly illustrates why public servants who denounce abuse should be protected against harassment. Modernization, as proposed, does not provide for such protection.
Moreover, a survey commissioned by the government and conducted in December 2002 showed that 21% of public servants say they fear being victims of harassment and discrimination.
There is no improvement on the horizon, since this bill essentially grants more power to senior officials for managing their employees. They will have more latitude for firing public servants.
This was denounced by the vice-president of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada, Michelle Demers, during a radio interview on Radio-Canada. The second largest union of public servants is worried about the increased powers given to departmental managers under the reform. Ms. Demers said:
It is as though the employer had all the latitude to fire employees it finds unsuitable and employees were on probation, because there is nothing to protect them from being fired.
In addition, the institute fears that the new rules will allow managers to set hiring criteria, which leaves room for abuse of power.
The vice-president of the union added:
It is leeway that would ultimately allow the employer to choose whomever he wants for position x. This would open the door to abuse and bureaucratic patronage.
The same note was sounded by the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada, whose President appeared before the committee to express his reservations and request amendments to the bill. According to Steve Hindle, Bill C-25 is not only a ominous threat to the merit principle as it affects hiring, but the changes proposed by the minister would have the effect of placing the employees on permanent probation. Mr. Hindle said that the flexibility provided to Deputy Ministers under the new provisions, could “increase the incidence of bureaucratic patronage”.
I shall quote his exact words:
Section 30 grants wide discretion to senior management to abuse the merit principle. Once the basic qualifications are set, the deputy head has the legislated authority under subsection (2)(b) to use his or her discretion to narrow down the choice of candidates to one individual. In short, if the deputy head were intent on hiring his brother-in-law and as long as his brother-in-law possessed the basic qualifications, there is ample opportunity to construct additional criteria specific to one candidate to conceal what otherwise would be a deviation from merit and an abuse of authority.
People watching this debate might be surprised to learn that at present, some 40% of all appointments are made without competition. I think it is completely justified to wonder how high that percentage might rise once this bill is passed.
What the representatives of public servants came to tell the minister—and she remained generally inflexible—was that they wanted the new regime proposed in the bill to create a structure that would make it possible for all parties to establish a positive working environment in which employees could have satisfying careers.
The largest federal government union, The Public Service Alliance of Canada, PSAC, believes Bill C-25, the Public Service Modernization Act, is not likely to help the Government reach its goal of more constructive, cooperative labour-management relations in support of a healthy, productive workplace, and may well have the opposite effect.
The union expressed its views clearly in a press release on March 26, 2003. The President, Nycole Turmel, said:
The PSAC fears that the new PSEA has the potential to usher in a new era of patronage, favouritism and a lack of accountability that is inconsistent with the Government’s stated objectives.
Reservations expressed by the Alliance are similar to the ones of the Bloc Quebecois and, with the 120 amendments that we proposed in committee, we tried to convince the government, but we were unsuccessful. These reservations were related to the exclusion of staffing and classification from collective bargaining, the dilution of the merit principle, as well as the provisions on essential services and picket lines.
What workers are concerned about is that, with this new legislation, directors will now only have to examine the application of a single candidate meeting the minimum requirements of a position. Moreover, Bill C-25 limits appointment challenges to cases of abuse of power and cases relating to the language of choice of the applicant.
Another significant effect of the bill concerns the right to strike. The right to strike is threatened, because the definition of essential services is too broad. The bill gives the employer the exclusive power to determine the level of essential services required during a strike. Employees do not agree with this, as they said once again in response to the bill, and I quote:
If the government is serious about wanting to modernize the public service, the first changes must be made by the employer. It is counterproductive to present the union with a bill that is already in its final form. We would have appreciated a really consultative approach, where we could have talked about the problems and tried to find mutually agreeable solutions.
Once those directly concerned, that is the public servants, expressed their disappointment with this bill, we in the Bloc Quebecois learned to our chagrin that most of our recommendations were set aside when Bill C-25 was drafted, and all but one of our 120 amendments rejected.
I attended several of the committee meetings and discussions in order to present amendments for my colleague, the public service critic for our party.
The officials who turned down our amendments, which had been proposed by the Alliance and by public servants, never provided any clarification or justification for doing so.
It is regrettable to include public servants in an act that is close to being final, without having consulted them. They are the ones who will have to live with it, once again. There is no modernization, and the bill does not help employees to carry out their duties, nor does it provide a suitable framework. Instead, it is the administrators who are being protected. This is legislation that was designed for administrators, for public service managers.
Understandably, therefore, we are opposed to this bill, since no changes have been made to it, particularly in connection with the protection of public servants who report dubious, immoral or fraudulent practices, and also in connection with the active promotion of linguistic duality. In addition, there has been no significant change relating to the controversial merit principle.
Our concerns about merit stem from the fact that essential qualifications only are required, which creates some ambiguity as far as the level is concerned. The word essential might indicate minimal competency, not optimal, thus creating concern about possible favouritism.
Our concern about the current whistleblowing policy is that it does not have force of law and could be changed without anybody knowing about it. Its scope is too limited to meet in any real way the objective, which is to build trust in deputy heads, so that employees can disclose fraudulent actions they come across.
Under the bill, remedies are few in that only abuse of power and the denial of the right to be assessed in the official language of one’s choice are covered. Abuse of power is very difficult to prove. That is why we believe it is essential that the scope of the remedies available to employees be expanded, so that they can take any abuse or breach of law to an administrative tribunal or to the courts.
With respect to harassment, we asked that Bill C-25 be amended to reflect changes already made to the Act respecting Labour Standards in Quebec. We wanted to address psychological harassment in particular, which affects more than 20% of the Canadian public service.
The commissioner's recommendations focused mainly on incorporating the concept of linguistic duality to ensure representativeness and making enforcement mandatory when it comes to training and litigation.
We thought that codetermination would greatly help promote merit as a selection criterion and reduce the risk of cronyism in the selection process. Our amendments asking for a codetermination mechanism have all been rejected at committee.
I will remind hon. members once again that we are opposed to this bill. We put forward 120 amendments. I would say that the Bloc Quebecois did what it had to do to ensure that the officials went back to the drawing board and that the minister, who was totally inflexible, reconsidered this bill. We would like her to reject the bill, go back to the drawing board and start over. This is not legislation for those who work in the public service, but legislation for those who wield power.
Public Service Modernization Act
June 2nd, 2003 / 12:20 p.m.
Mauril Bélanger Ottawa—Vanier, ON
Mr. Speaker, I welcome this opportunity to speak briefly to this important bill. This bill basically reflects the government's obvious commitment to modernizing the legislation governing its public service, how one becomes a public servant and how our managers can staff positions in the public service. The current staffing process is so complex and outdated that it was imperative that we modernize our way of doing things. That is what this bill all about.
It is the culmination of a very comprehensive consultation process, of many efforts and of the resolve of the Secretary to the Treasury Board in particular. I would be remiss not to take this opportunity to speak to the bill.
During the negotiations and discussions that led to this bill and to some 40 amendments being approved in committee, there were many opportunities for everyone to express their views. Union representatives appeared before the committee after participating in many consultations conducted by the Treasury Board before the bill was even drafted. There have also been several commission of inquiry.
All this to say that the bill before us at third reading is the result of a collective effort, a serious effort to modernize the machinery of government and the public service.
A number of things have been said, and I wanted to take this opportunity to read into the record a letter dated May 14, 2003, from the President of the Association of Professional Executives of the Public Service of Canada. I wanted to read it because it sums up pretty well the association's position, and also in light of criticism voiced recently through the media by the Public Service Alliance.
I am going to read this letter, which is addressed to me:
On behalf of the Board of Directors of the Association of Professional Executives of the Public Service of Canada (APEX), I am writing to follow up on our recent appearance before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates with regard to Bill C-25, the Public Service Modernization Act. APEX is the national association of federal government executives and is dedicated to advancing management excellence and professionalism within the public service.
APEX supports Bill C-25 and is concerned with recent public statements by the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), in which the integrity and professionalism of public service managers and executives were impugned. I refer to media interviews following the Alliance's recent meetings in Montreal and to the front-page article “PSAC goes on attack against reform bill” in the May 4 edition of the Ottawa Citizen. The Alliance says it believes that Bill C-25, the Public Service Modernization Act, will allow managers to “rig” competitions and to hire whom they want and whom they know.
APEX has advocated human resource management reform for several years, and we were pleased in mid-2001 to be asked by the Task Force on Modernizing Human Resources Management to conduct a series of consultations with public servants across the country. The Association met with close to 850 public servants—executives, managers and young public servants—from coast to coast to coast. Its observations from those sessions were submitted to the task force in early October 2001 and participants, unionized or not, expressed a strong desire to have access to a significantly simpler, faster and more responsive staffing system, one which is backed up by clear accountability measures. In the absence of a greatly reformed system, the public service will have difficulty replacing the significant numbers of retirement age public servants who will leave in the next few years, developing employees with a broad range of experience and competing with other organizations on the open market for bright people with the right mix of skills. APEX's own position paper, which is based on wide-ranging consultations with executives over several years, was published shortly thereafter. (This is available on the Association's Web site at www.apex.gc.ca.)
Executives' interest in the reform proposed by C-25 is not based on a desire to run roughshod over the public interest and the legitimate aspirations of public servants who want to work in interesting jobs, in healthy, productive work environments. The charge that managers are keen to subvert prescribed processes in order to indulge in a spot of patronage is insulting. What managers want is to be able to hire, with as little delay as possible, someone who is qualified to do the work. Given their extensive experience, it is natural that managers will sometimes hire people whose work they already know and value. Managers at all levels are assessed on how well they serve the public interest, including how they hire, so it makes sense for them to ensure the process they use is fair and transparent. But “fair and transparent” shouldn't mean “slow and cumbersome”.
It is useful to consider how well hiring managers are respecting the rules now. According to the Public Service Commission's annual report for fiscal year 2001-02, 102,557 hiring and staffing activities were carried out. Of those, roughly 70,000 were appealable. Just 1,432 of these cases were in fact appealed—and of those, only about 8% were allowed. We agree there are occasional problems, but the bottom line is that they are caught and corrected.
The strengthened oversight mechanisms proposed in Bill C-25, which includes a new, independent tribunal, will continue to catch mistakes, just more quickly. APEX believes the draft legislation provides for more than adequate recourse, including third party reviews and a number of other checks and balances to ensure fairness in the staffing process. In fact, we believe that employee rights under the new legislation will be protected and enhanced. We have endorsed the strengthening of the Public Service Commission's audit and oversight role.
The association also strongly supports changes to promote greater union-management collaboration, in line with the report of the Fryer committee. Executives and managers are keen to work with their union colleagues to build a more collegial environment. In that context, the association applauds the provisions in the legislation, which require each DM to create a labour-management committee within his or her agency. This will result in better communication among executives, managers and unions at all levels and ensure that our labour relations become more collaborative and less confrontational.
APEX believes that the time has come to modernize the public service's human resources management regime since a generation of public servants has come and gone under the present legislative framework. What we need are laws and regulations that reflect today's values, management style and employee expectations.
Our conversations with executives, managers and unionized employees across the country revealed their strong desire to improve the dialogue between management and unions—at the shop level, in the regions and in work units. Based on the mandate given by the hon. Lucienne Robillard to the task force, the new legislation takes an important step in that direction.
Robert Edmond, President
As I was saying, this is from the president of APEX, the Association of Professional Executives of the Public Service of Canada.
I thought that it was important to read this letter and that it be on the public record because it establishes certain facts that we need to take into account when examining this bill.
I myself have had the opportunity to speak with several members of the Public Service Alliance of Canada and APEX and most support this bill. I cannot say that there is nothing they would like to change, some amendments they would like to see, but by and large, in terms of the big picture, most people feel that this bill is an important step towards modernizing the legislation governing the public service.
Most of this legislation goes back 30, 35, or 40 years.
In closing, I move:
That the question be now put.
Business of the House
Oral Question Period
May 29th, 2003 / 3 p.m.
Don Boudria Minister of State and Leader of the Government in the House of Commons
Mr. Speaker, to answer the last question first, as to whether we need to have late night sittings, I suppose it depends on the co-operation on the part of the opposition, which is usually quite good, I must say.
Going to the substance for the next few days, we will continue this afternoon with the opposition day motion. The House does not sit tomorrow because of the Conservative leadership convention.
We are now entering June, the month when we try to wrap up the year's work and we will be consulting other House leaders on a daily, sometimes hourly basis, in order to determine the precise order of bills. However for the next few days we will be dealing mostly with report stages, third readings and consideration of Senate amendments to bills we have already passed.
The bills that will be considered next week will be, and I will start with the one on Monday, although we intend to have a minor conversation about another minor issue later, but generally speaking they will be as follows. We will start with Bill C-25, the public service bill. We will then move on to Bill C-31 respecting certain pensions for veterans and the RCMP. When that bill is completed I would hope to start Bill C-7 respecting first nations governance; and because they are all government days next week we are going to take them probably in roughly that sequence, Bill C-17 public safety; then Bill C-13, the reproductive technologies bill which is presently at third reading.
It would be my intention to then call Bill C-32, the Criminal Code amendments. When the bill is reported to the House, which hopefully will be one day next week, we could then commence Bill C-24, the political financing bill. We also have the amendments from the Senate which I understand might happen on Bill C-15, the lobbyist bill, and Bill C-10B, cruelty to animals.
At some point, we would also like to debate the second reading of Bill S-13, respecting the census, and Bill C-27, the airport bill.
As a matter of courtesy, I wish to indicate to colleagues that it is my intention to call the final supply day on or after June 12. This is not, of course, an official designation of that day at this point but that is why I say on or after, but at least to try and give an indication to colleagues in the event that they will not take other commitments at or about that particular time in order for them to be able to plan their agenda.