House of Commons Hansard #110 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was aboriginal.

Topics

Question No. 227
Routine Proceedings

10:30 a.m.

Some hon. members

No.

Points of Order
Routine Proceedings

10:30 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I am now prepared to rule on the point of order raised by the hon. government House leader on May 29, 2003, concerning the procedural acceptability of the third report of the Standing Committee on Transport presented earlier that day.

I thank the hon. government House leader for having drawn this matter to the attention of the House. I would also like to thank the hon. members for Thunder Bay—Superior North; New Westminster—Coquitlam—Burnaby; Saanich—Gulf Islands; Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel; Acadie—Bathurst; Beauport—Montmorency—Côte-de-Beaupré—Île-d’Orléans; Kootenay—Boundary—Okanagan; and Ottawa West—Nepean for their comments.

In questioning the receivability of the transport committee's third report, the government House leader drew four points to the Chair's attention. He indicated, first, that in order for a properly constituted committee meeting to take place simultaneous interpretation services must be available.

Second, he contended that provision must be made for the recording of committee deliberations so that a permanent record of the deliberations, corresponding to the debates of the House, may be produced.

Third, he noted that committee meetings are usually open to the public and to members of the media, who are also entitled to simultaneous interpretation services.

Finally, the government House leader indicated that no notice had been sent out for the committee’s meeting on May 29.

The government House leader raised concerns that these four elements had been ignored by the transport committee, which met in a room in the parliamentary restaurant rather than in one of the fully equipped committee rooms. In the absence of these elements, he argued that the report of the committee must be regarded as not having been adopted at a properly constituted meeting and, therefore, the Speaker should rule it out of order.

In replying to these concerns, the chair of the transport committee, the hon. member for Thunder Bay—Superior North, stated that at its meeting on May 28 the committee had decided to continue its deliberations on the morning of May 29. When quorum was lost, the committee was prevented from taking any decisions with respect to the estimates it was studying so the chair suspended the meeting until the next day.

The chair pointed out that the committee met in a room in the parliamentary restaurant only because none of the regular committee rooms were available at 8:00 a.m. on May 29 and the committee was working to respect the reporting deadline for main estimates set out in Standing Order 81(4).

Hon. members will be familiar with the beginning lines of Standing Order 81(4), which read:

In every session the main estimates to cover the incoming fiscal year for every department of government shall be deemed referred to standing committees on or before March 1 of the then expiring fiscal year. Each such committee shall consider and shall report, or shall be deemed to have reported, the same back to the House not later than May 31 of the then current fiscal year—

This year, May 29 was the last sitting day prior to the May 31 deadline on which reports on the estimates could be presented

The hon. member for Thunder Bay—Superior North indicated that a recording was made of the proceedings at the meeting and that an interpreter from the Interpretation and Parliamentary Translation Service was present. He also stated that the quorum requirement was satisfied and that the clerk of the committee was present to ensure that the committee's decisions were properly recorded in its minutes.

Most important, the chair also pointed out that no objections to any of the committee's arrangements were raised by the members who attended the meeting.

I have examined the minutes of the transport committee Meeting No. 30, the only documents available to the Speaker since the meetings were held in camera, and the minutes confirm the committee chair's statements.

I would now like to respond to the four objections raised by the hon. government House leader with respect to this case.

First, there is the question of simultaneous interpretation. Like the hon. members who spoke to this issue, I too would like to underline the obligation that we have to respect the rights of members to use the official language of their choice. Hon. members at the committee acknowledge that ad hoc arrangements were made for interpretation and that these were considered satisfactory by the committee members present.

Second, there is the matter of recording. There is no disputing that the committee chose to meet in a room where the usual services could not be provided and that recording for transcription and subsequent publication was not available. Nevertheless, it must be acknowledged that, in the view of the members of the committee present, the meeting room was adequate to their needs since the committee was meeting in camera, transcription was not required and publication was not contemplated.

On the fourth point at issue, the matter of notice, here again since the meeting was in camera, neither the public, the media nor other members would be entitled to attend the meetings so the matter of notice in their regard is moot.

Your Speaker is, however, somewhat troubled by the notion of an overnight suspension of proceedings. As hon. members know, if the Speaker's attention is drawn to a lack of quorum and no quorum is found, the House must adjourn forthwith. While it may be argued that no such obligation exists for committees, I would not consider the unorthodox actions of the transport committee in this particular instance to be a precedent in committee practice.

The chair of the committee has explained the circumstances of his decision to suspend the meeting on Wednesday night having lost the quorum needed to adopt a report and to reconvene at the earliest possible moment on Thursday so as to be able to report on the estimates within the timeframe provided by the standing orders. Your Speaker is bound to accept the explanation of the hon. member.

However, the fact remains that, like my predecessors, I am very reluctant to interfere in the work of any committee. I think it is worth reminding the House of the liberty that it grants to committees. House of Commons Procedure and Practice , page 804, states:

—committees are bound to follow the procedures set out in the Standing Orders as well as any specific sessional or special orders that the House has issued to them. Committees are otherwise left free to organize their work. In this sense, committees are said to be “masters of their own proceedings”.

The actions of the Standing Committee on Transport in this instance might well have given rise to various questions perhaps about the overnight suspension, perhaps about meeting without the usual services or notice, but the fact is, as the chair of the committee has stated, no such questions were raised in the committee itself, nor did anyone who rose to speak in response to the government House leader's point of order make that claim.

Hon. members know that should they have procedural concerns about matters related to the arrangements that a committee has made for its meetings or the conduct of its business, it is in the committee itself that they should raise them.

I have said that committees are granted much liberty by the House but, along with the right to conduct their proceedings in a way that facilitates their deliberations, committees have a concomitant responsibility to see that the necessary rules and procedures are followed and the rights of members and the Canadian public are respected. Issues concerning such matters should be brought before the committee for resolution.

As I have said, in the present case, no such questions were raised and no evidence has been presented to suggest that the transport committee exceeded its authority to conduct its proceedings as its members saw fit.

On that basis, after reviewing the minutes of the transport committee's meeting and the contents of the third report itself, I find that the report was adopted by the committee in conformity with our rules and practices, that the report has been duly presented in the House and that it is now properly before the House.

The House resumed from June 2 consideration of the motion that Bill C-25, 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, be read the third time and passed; and on the motion that the question be now put.

Public Service Modernization Act
Government Orders

June 3rd, 2003 / 10:40 a.m.

Liberal

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
Government Orders

10:55 a.m.

Bloc

Claude Bachand Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to my colleague's speech. I find it rather strange that he presented us with a series of valid amendments or suggestions regarding the bill. Unfortunately, after going through the whole list, he said that under current House procedures, they were out of order. His intentions were good but, as we know, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

In conclusion, he noted that the union had proposed amendments at the very last minute, and that in future there should be some kind of dialogue with the department and the minister beforehand.

In this regard, if we look at the history of labour relations in the federal public service, we see that dialogue is not the government's forte. It has always favoured strong arm tactics. What is happening today is that we have this bill and everybody will have to comply with it. I think the government is not giving unions the chance to engage in dialogue beforehand so that the act contains provisions that suit everybody.

What I see happening here is the government coming in at the very last minute and saying that the act is 35 years old and has to be revamped, without consulting the unions. Then, it tells them that they should have given notice earlier because now the proceedings in the House are so far advanced that amendments are no longer possible.

Should my colleague not acknowledge that in addition to its role as legislator, the government is assuming the right to impose its will? As he mentioned earlier, they want to clean up the public service. They come and say, “Here is what we have cooked up. You cannot change one iota of it because the procedures of the House will not allow it. End of discussion. Now you have to comply”. I find that the government is pretty heavy-handed with this bill.

Public Service Modernization Act
Government Orders

11 a.m.

Liberal

Mac Harb Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, my hon. colleague has long been a member of this House, and he is very familiar with its procedures. He is well aware that a bill gets introduced at first reading and that it is referred to a committee after second reading. Then, the bill comes back before the House for consideration at the report stage. Finally, there is a debate at third reading, but no amendments may be proposed.

Second, I do not know if my hon. colleague was listening when I said that the minister responsible for this bill said unequivocally yesterday—during a discussion we had about issues raised by the union representatives—that she is very willing to meet with them and to consider how to address positively the issues raised and how to resolve them. Finally, if further clarification is needed, the minister and the government will provide it.

Third, with regard to the process the government followed in introducing this bill, my hon. colleague, who is an experienced parliamentarian, is well aware that discussions took place with public servants. This bill did not just spring up out of thin air. Discussions were held.

As to the report, the parliamentary committee had the opportunity to discuss it. The union reps had the opportunity to appear before the committee and to make specific amendments in this regard.

When all is said and done, I did my duty as a member, which is to convey the wishes of my constituents. In this case, out of respect and duty, I must raise these points in the House and make known the government's response. As I indicated, I was very pleased with the minister's answer and with the clarifications that she and her team made yesterday.

There will be opportunities for input during the implementation phase, and the government intends to involve the union reps in policy development. They will therefore be able to work with the employers to find specific solutions to specific issues raised by the union reps.

I do not agree with my colleague that the government does not have good relations with its employees. That is simply not the case. I was here when the Tories were in power and I remember the kind of relations that existed between public servants and their employers. It was very sad. I remember those days when more that 60,000 public servants picketed on Parliament Hill. Relations were not that wonderful.

The member knows that all that has now changed. We have created a very positive relationship. Dialogue continues with the union reps. Our colleagues from the government side, the members of the Liberal caucus, talk with the union reps on an ongoing basis and I personally met with some union reps last week.

I am here today to convey to my colleagues, including the opposition members, the opinion of the unions who wanted some issues raised Parliament. This is what I have done today.

I also had the opportunity to speak with the minister. She told me quite categorically that she would agree to meet with them to find a solution, particularly regarding certain specific issues, and that clarifications would be provided on other issues.

Public Service Modernization Act
Government Orders

11:05 a.m.

NDP

Brian Masse Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, one concern I have is it seems from the last discourse that the amendments put forth by the union were done in a fashion that they were late or in a time frame that did not provide the opportunity to make improvements to the bill. That is not entirely accurate. We know that over 100 amendments were defeated at the committee. I would like the hon. member to address that. Those amendments dealt with some of the concerns that he discussed and as the hon. member noted, would have improved the bill and would have taken care of those things. Why were they defeated by the government when they would have addressed those very points?

Public Service Modernization Act
Government Orders

11:05 a.m.

Liberal

Mac Harb Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am not a member of the committee. As well, I do not know the details of those amendments.

Sometimes an amendment dealing with an item comes before a committee and the amendment may have been dealt with through the legislation in one way or another. Other amendments may be redundant.

I do not know the details of the 100 amendments my colleague is talking about. I do know the three main concerns that the employees' reps have raised with me. They deal with the issue of merit. They deal with the issue of taking votes. They deal with the issue of essential services and when and how employees can go on strike and to what limit they can take that issue.

I would say that with all three points that I have raised with the minister, I am totally satisfied that when we go to the next step of implementing the legislation, they will be dealt with.

I would suggest to my colleague that the minister has made a very important point, in that she is willing to meet with the union to provide clarification in order to address some of the concerns that were raised.

Public Service Modernization Act
Government Orders

11:10 a.m.

Bloc

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
Government Orders

11:30 a.m.

Bloc

Claude Bachand Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by congratulating my colleague for her excellent speech, which has captured our attention, particularly its second part dealing with harassment.

My colleague has very considerable expertise on the issue, and society needs women like her to advance the cause of women. I believe there can be no just and equitable society if women are treated inequitably.

Statistics still demonstrate very clearly that women continue to earn less than men with equal skills and education. There are also a number of other factors which lead me to conclude that women are not yet treated on an equal basis with men in our society. I think that, with women such as my colleague, we can advance this cause and move toward a fairer and more equitable society.

I will focus particularly on the second aspect she addressed in her speech: harassment. There is psychological harassment, but there is also sexual harassment. Judging by the Quebec labour department's 1999 report, it is my impression that the government of Quebec is a bit ahead of the federal government as far as the issue of harassment is concerned. I feel that they have taken this issue seriously, far more seriously than the federal government, which seems not to be particularly concerned about it. Moreover, as my colleague has said, a number of amendments have been proposed and rejected by the government.

I would like to hear from my colleague as to whether she thinks I am wrong in my analysis, or whether she shares my opinion that the Government of Quebec is well ahead of the federal government as far as harassment is concerned.

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11:30 a.m.

Bloc

Diane Bourgeois Terrebonne—Blainville, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my hon. colleague from Saint-Jean for this question. Indeed, the issue of psychological harassment is a new, but important concept.

I will draw an analogy, which may seem strange, but we talk about harassment in schools where it is referred to as taxing. We could perhaps talk about workplace harassment, which can take the form of repeated actions or simply something which has been going on for a very long time and which undermines people's health and psychological well-being and causes them to become ill. This is very costly to society.

Moreover, my colleague from Saint-Jean is right. The Government of Quebec is the third in the world to have passed, in December, legislation to address workplace harassment. We can be proud that Quebec passed such legislation.

It is visionary legislation that was not embraced by all employers at first. After six months to put it in place and work the bugs out, now employers are saying, “How right it was to pass this legislation”, because an employer is responsible for the physical and psychological well-being of an employee in the workplace.

Hon. members know that, under the Criminal Code, employees can take their employer to court if, indeed, the employer did not react quickly enough on a harassment issue.

That having been said, there are two countries in the world which have legislation against harassment. France was the first to introduce such legislation, five or six years ago. Timid steps were taken and, in France, they are now changing this legislation somewhat to give it more teeth. Belgium was the second country to introduce legislation, but then again, this legislation being patterned on the French legislation, it is timid.

We hope that a bill can soon be passed in this House to make Canada the first country in the world to have legislation which takes into account whistleblowers, protects them and really addresses the issue so that employees do not experience harassment.

At present, in Canada, there is a policy. But as I demonstrated earlier, it is either not enforced, poorly or sporadically enforced, or enforced any old way. I find that appalling. While employees are being harassed, their employers, the managers, are doing nothing about it. They are not being mean; they just do not know how to recognize harassment. People are starting to talk about it.

I think that, eventually, as an employer, the public service will have to pay attention to the physical environment to ensure that the working climate is healthy and that assistance can be provided to employees.

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11:35 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Terrebonne--Blainville for raising that aspect of Bill C-25 in terms of the impact on our public service and what makes our public service a great public service. The member has often raised in this place issues on behalf of the interests of women, particularly with regard to abuse and harassment, and in this regard harassment in the workplace.

I do not think there is any disagreement in any quarter of the House that harassment of employees, regardless of gender quite frankly, is unacceptable. However the member will also know that we cannot legislate behaviour.

The member's final comments indicated that the responsible approach is education, because people do not know. It is not just those who would perpetrate harassment who have not been sensitized to the fact that their actions are harassing in nature, but also those who are harassed may not recognize or understand what they can do or how it should be done.

I will accept the member's representations with regard to the number of cases that may not have been resolved quickly. I agree with her that to go to court takes far too long to resolve those kinds of issues. We should also be aware that two years ago in the last collective agreement with PSAC, $7 million was allocated for a joint training program for employees and for so-called management on this very subject.

It raises the question as to whether it is the Government of Canada that should take these steps or the Public Service Commission and the employee representation that should raise those issues more forcefully, or continue to raise them more forcefully, so that programs, as necessary, will be implemented to mitigate and attempt to eliminate harassment in the workplace.

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11:35 a.m.

Bloc

Diane Bourgeois Terrebonne—Blainville, QC

Mr. Speaker, you know that there have been 498 formal complaints of harassment in the federal public service during the year 2000-01. These are the complaints that have really been filed because they are signed. Right now, some people who are being harassed do not file complaints because they are afraid.

I will give you an example. You said that $2 million have been spent to prevent harassment. The policy is not being implemented; only seven departments implement it. I could give you many examples. I even put questions here, in this House, to the Solicitor General of Canada, who is responsible for the Correctional Service of Canada. Some people have come to my office because they were found in a fetal position under their desk as a result of harassment.

Here is how the system works. The person who is being harassed tells his immediate supervisor, who has to intervene. If he does not, the complaint goes to the region. If the region does not intervene, the complaint goes a bit higher. Except that each individual decides whether there is harassment. But when one is not competent, how can one determine whether there is harassment?

My answer is somewhat brief. I would have liked to elaborate, but I will come back to it another time.

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11:40 a.m.

NDP

Brian Masse Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is my privilege to speak to Bill C-25, but we see that the government is not interested in the deliberations at this time, so I move:

That this House do now adjourn.

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11:40 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?