House of Commons Hansard #8 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was servants.

Topics

Petitions
Routine Proceedings

10 a.m.

Conservative

Jay Hill Prince George—Peace River, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise again today to present some petitions on behalf of my constituents and other citizens of Canada. I have two petitions this morning.

First, for the third day in a row I have yet another petition from the residents of Mackenzie, B.C. demanding Parliament immediately act to reinstate their eligibility for the northern residents tax deduction.

The boundary line determining eligibility for this deduction, which is designed to counter the higher costs of living associated with residing in a northern remote community, was altered eight years ago to make an incomprehensible and indefensible jog around Mackenzie. The federal government has never even adequately provided an explanation to my constituents. I would say that Mackenzie residents have waited long enough for the government to come to its senses.

Petitions
Routine Proceedings

10 a.m.

Conservative

Jay Hill Prince George—Peace River, BC

Mr. Speaker, the second petition is yet another one. Again, it is the third day in a row that I have risen to present petitions on behalf of citizens of Canada.

This petition is from residents of Enderby, B.C. who wish to draw to the attention of the House that housing accommodations provided by the Canadian Forces Housing Agency are, in many instances, substandard. The housing provided has seen dramatic increases in annual rent charges.

Therefore they call upon Parliament to immediately suspend any future rent increases for accommodation provided by the Canadian Forces Housing Agency until such time as the Government of Canada makes substantive improvements to the living conditions of housing provided for our military families.

Petitions
Routine Proceedings

10 a.m.

Conservative

Maurice Vellacott Saskatoon—Wanuskewin, SK

Mr. Speaker, these petitioners, 147 people from the Saskatchewan riding of Saskatoon—Wanuskewin, deem that since the dawn of civilization marriage has been the union between one man and one woman. They call upon Parliament to support the traditional historic heterosexual sacred definition of marriage.

Petitions
Routine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have three petitions this morning.

The first petition concerns firefighters or public safety officers. The petitioners would like to draw to the attention of the House that firefighters are required to place their lives at risk in the execution of their duties on a daily basis and that the employment benefits of public safety officers are often insufficient to provide compensation to the families of those who are killed on duty.

The petitioners therefore call upon Parliament to establish a public safety officers compensation fund for the benefit of families of public safety officers who are killed in the line of duty.

Petitions
Routine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, the second petition is on stem cells.

The petitioners would like to draw to the attention of the House that Canadians do support ethical stem cell research which has already shown encouraging potential for the cures and therapies for the illnesses and diseases of Canadians.

They also point out that non-embryonic stem cells, also known as adult stem cells, have shown significant research progress without the immune rejection or ethical problems associated with embryonic stem cells, which we know has been an issue in the presidential election in the U.S.

Therefore the petitioners call upon Parliament to focus its legislative support on adult stem cell research to find the cures and therapies necessary to treat Canadians.

Petitions
Routine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, the final petition is on the issue of marriage.

The petitioners would like to point out that marriage is an institution which pre-existed the state and is based on a profound human need for having children and continuing the family from generation to generation.

They also want to point out that marriage is an institution so basic to the human condition and common good that its nature is beyond the reach of civil law.

They therefore call upon Parliament to take all necessary means to support the definition of marriage.

Petitions
Routine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

Cheryl Gallant Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, ON

Mr. Speaker, the petitioners of Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke believe that the federal government has abandoned rural communities under the weight of urban socialism and government regulations, and that it is destroying the rural foundation our society was founded upon; that the government has enforced gun control, animal control, unnecessary pollution and waste control, farmland, bush and forest control, and a debt for which they are not responsible.

Therefore they are petitioning Parliament to correct the mistake of 1982 and amend the Constitution Act of 1867 to include the right to own, use and earn a living from private property.

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

October 14th, 2004 / 10:05 a.m.

Beauséjour
New Brunswick

Liberal

Dominic LeBlanc Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I ask that all questions be allowed to stand.

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

The Speaker

Is that agreed?

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Bill C-11. On the Order: Government Orders

October 8, 2004--The President of the Treasury Board--Second reading and reference to the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates, of Bill C-11, an act to establish a procedure for the disclosure of wrongdoings in the public sector, including the protection of persons who disclose the wrongdoings.

Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act
Government Orders

10:05 a.m.

Winnipeg South
Manitoba

Liberal

Reg Alcock President of the Treasury Board and Minister responsible for the Canadian Wheat Board

Mr. Speaker, I move:

That Bill C-11, an act to establish a procedure for the disclosure of wrongdoings in the public sector, including the protection of persons who disclose the wrongdoings, be referred forthwith to the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates.

Mr. Speaker, I wish to start by recognizing a lot of hard work that has gone on in the journey that has brought the bill before the House. A number of the members of the original Standing Committee on Government Operations were seized of this when we began work on the original Bill C-25, which was not the bill that presented whistleblowing in the last House but the Bill C-25 that was the Public Service Modernization Act, which came before the committee more than a year ago.

At that time, when we were first looking at how we restructure the way in which services are provided to public servants and the way in which we manage our public service, there were concerns raised about the adequacy of whistleblowing, the identification of wrongdoing within the public service.

While looking at it, the committee noted the fact that the Public Service Commission was undergoing a change, that it had been around for a very long time as that entity which stood to ensure high quality ,meritorious appointments into the public service of Canada, but there was a feeling that through the modernization we wanted to delegate more of that responsibility to line ministries to facilitate a better process, better accountability and faster accessing of new employees, et cetera, and that the Public Service Commission should evolve into more of an audit function, that it would become the auditor of the human resource function as opposed to the manager of the human resource function.

This was a fairly substantial change. As we approached that debate in the bill, there was a lot of discussion about what that meant for public servants and for departments. It was decided, really, on a motion from the member for Etobicoke North. The committee agreed to modify the appointment process for the president of the Public Service Commission and took the appointment process from the parliamentary officers, the privacy commissioner and the access to information commissioner. That is what was used and that is what is embedded in the legislation now for the Public Service Commission.

When the work came about to hire a new president for the Public Service Commission, that person was, as is contained for the other parliamentary officers, presented to the House, presented to committee and approved by motions in both Houses. This was done to ensure greater independence for that organization as it begins its journey to this new role.

That is important, I think, because when we moved into the work on whistleblowing, the committee had had an experience with the then privacy commissioner's office and encountered some of the difficulties that are inherent in the way our system was structured. In particular, there was a problem that a lot of public servants were experiencing at that time in that it was unclear to them, or certainly their confidence in the current system for bringing forward concerns about wrongdoing was not strong enough to allow them to overcome their fear of what it would mean to their careers.

The committee, having had that experience, then undertook a piece of work that was co-chaired by the member for Winnipeg Centre and the member for Laval—Les Îles. They took a look at the experiences we had had with dealing with whistleblowers and they took into consideration some studies that had been done and some examination of what the workers were saying and came forward with a series of recommendations.

One of them was that it was not sufficient to have a policy base for this, that we had to have a legislative base for it. The second was that it should be embedded in an organization that was by definition independent so the organization would be independent of the management infrastructure of government, and that it should have a framework both for assessing the validity of the concern and, having ascertained that there was a legitimate concern, for it to have powers to protect a person so that there would be no impact on his or her career in the future.

I am pleased to say that the Prime Minister, upon coming to office, supported the development of a bill with these provisions. That bill was presented to the previous Parliament by the member for Bourassa.

The committee had a period of time to look at it. I believe it heard 14 witnesses who came forward with testimony from some of the associations and unions that represent workers, as well as others. The committee was properly and heavily engaged in that work when the election was called.

I had the opportunity, having been given the responsibility for the bill, to review all the work that had been done and, with the support of the Prime Minister, restructured the bill to address some of the concerns that had been raised. Rather than go through all of the bill, I think it is important today to simply frame those areas where the bill has been modified, and modified in direct response to concerns raised by people before the committee and by members of the previous committee.

Before I get into the three areas where there were specific concerns, there are a couple of things that I think are also important additions. The preamble of the bill recognizes the importance of the federal public service as a “national institution” and commits the government to establishing “a Charter of Values of Public Service to guide public servants in their work and professional conduct”.

The definition clause of the bill sets out, among other items, the range of public sector employees the proposed legislation covers. It will apply to employees in all sectors of the public service, including crown corporations and executives.

However, there is one area where there have been concerns raised which the bill does not address directly. It does not encompass them in this legislation. This includes members of the security establishment, CSIS, the uniformed members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the uniformed members of the Canadian Forces. It is important to make that distinction. The bill does cover civilian members of the armed forces defence department and civilian members of the RCMP, but in the case of the uniformed forces, they are required under this legislation to establish comparable codes themselves within those unique areas. They will be subject to that legislation or will be able to account to the codes they establish, but they are not encompassed directly in the civilian procedures.

The bill requires the Treasury Board to establish a code of conduct for the entire federal public service. Chief executives, that is, deputy heads of departments and chief executive officers of crown corporations, may also establish codes of conduct for their own organizations. If so, their codes must be consistent with the one established by the Treasury Board.

A new feature of the bill also commits the government to consult bargaining agents on the development of a code of conduct.

The next section of the bill defines wrongdoing, which has not changed from the previous bill. The proposed legislation then sets out the procedure for the disclosure of wrongdoing. Each chief executive must establish an internal disclosure mechanism, including the appointment of a senior officer to take disclosures and act on them. A public servant who believes that he or she is being asked to commit a wrongdoing or who believes that a wrongdoing has been committed may report it to his or her supervisor or to the designated senior officer.

However, the public servant may also report wrongdoing directly to the president of the Public Service Commission if he or she feels it would be inappropriate to disclose it to the supervisor or senior officer, or if he or she has disclosed it to one or the other of these people and believes the matter has not been addressed.

I would like to emphasize this. A public servant has the choice of using his or her organization's internal disclosure process or going directly to the proposed neutral third party for disclosures, the president of the Public Service Commission. This choice was also part of the previous bill, but in response to confusion among stakeholders we have made the language clearer. I think there was a lack of clarity as to whether or not the individual had to go first to the internal mechanisms. It was felt that in serious cases people should have the right to go directly to the independent party.

Now that I have made mention of the president of the public service, I want to skip ahead in the bill to talk about the responsibilities of the president of the Public Service Commission.

Some hon. members will remember that the previous bill proposed the creation of a public sector integrity commissioner as the neutral third party. As I said earlier, there was concern about the power and independence of the proposed commissioner. That is why this new bill assigns the role to the president of the Public Service Commission.

The PSC has a long history, almost a century, of playing an independent role in government. It is proud of its long tradition of protecting the merit principle in federal staffing. The president of the Public Service Commission would have the same reporting relationship to Parliament for disclosure of wrongdoing as he or she, in this case she, has for staffing. For example, the president of the Public Service Commission would be required to make annual reports of disclosures to Parliament.

It is true, as many hon. members know, that the president submits these annual reports to Parliament via a minister. However, in addition, the bill authorizes the president to make special reports directly to Parliament at any time and on any matter within the scope of her powers under this proposed act.

This new role of the president of the Public Service Commission is backstopped by new investigative powers for disclosure.

The bill would give the president powers under part II of the Inquiries Act. This would include the power to subpoena and the authority to access premises in the course of an investigation. The president would also be able to set deadlines for chief executives to respond to her recommendations.

Assigning the neutral third party role to the president of the Public Service Commission is a strong, effective, practical and reasonable option. I must admit that it was not, by the way, an idea that the government came up with alone. It was an option put forward by the previous all party government operations and estimates committee in its 2003 report on the issue. I would recommend that piece of work to members of the House. It was co-chaired by the member for Winnipeg South and the member for Laval—Les Îles. The former member for Châteauguay and the member for New Westminster—Coquitlam were also heavily involved in the development of that report.

My time has run out so I will leave it to the debate. I have already met with the critics and I would be prepared to meet with any of the critics for further discussion and briefing should they require it.

Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act
Government Orders

10:20 a.m.

Conservative

Guy Lauzon Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry, ON

Madam Speaker, I wish I could say it is an honour to speak today to Bill C-11, the government's latest attempt to contain disclosures of wrongdoing in the public sector, but the bill tabled by the government is really a disappointment.

We are only in the second week of Parliament and already it is obvious how the government intends to operate. Last week I listened to the same throne speech for at least the third or fourth time. It has hardly changed since the Liberals took office more than a decade ago. They pull it out, dust it off and make Canadians listen to it all over again. I guess they have to keep using it because it is so hard to think of new ways to say absolutely nothing for 45 minutes.

Then I took part in an emergency debate on BSE. Why are we still talking about this issue a year and a half after the U.S. border has been closed to Canadian beef? How many emergency debates has Parliament heard on this issue? How many more will we have to hear before we correct the problem?

Bill C-11 is yet another case of déjà vu. It has all the major deficiencies we saw in the government's last phony attempt to legislate in this area.

The government has been touting Bill C-11 as a major revision of Bill C-25 but in reality only the window dressing has changed. The last bill would have created a toothless commissioner who would hear a disclosure of wrongdoing and then feed it right back into the system that was responsible for the wrongdoing in the first place. Of course everyone with any interest in the bill said that it was a farce. Now the government says that Bill C-11 addresses everyone's concern. That could not be further from the truth.

Instead of setting up a distinct office, the bill authorizes the president of the Public Service Commission to receive disclosures of wrongdoings from public servants and to investigate them.

Under the bill, the president of the Public Service Commission will report to a minister and not directly to Parliament.

This is exactly the same reporting system that the last bill had, and the exact reporting system that caused the Public Service Alliance of Canada, the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada, the public service ethics officer, every opposition party and the media to condemn the last government bill. I do not know why the government thinks it will get an easy ride on this bill.

The reporting process proposed in Bill C-11 creates opportunities for the same kind of interference that apparently took place with respect to an audit report on the sponsorship program that was prepared for Public Works and Government Services. Somewhere between the draft and the final report it was mysteriously watered down so it did not raise any of the alarms it should have raised.

One cannot make someone responsible for rooting out and correcting wrongdoing in government and then have that person report to someone in government. One cannot tell someone “We cabinet ministers are going to give you a well paying job, decide how much power you have, how much you will get paid, how high your operating budget is and how long you stay in office. Now sit down with me and tell me what is wrong with government”. It just does not work.

Anyway, the president of the Public Service Commission needs to receive disclosures of wrongdoings in order to prepare a report. Here again, the Liberals have seen to it that the bill is worded in such a way as to deter disclosures of wrongdoings instead of supporting them.

The Public Service Commission works hand in hand with cabinet, Treasury Board and deputy heads of government departments to address all kinds of issues concerning terms and conditions of public service employment. Public servants regard the Public Service Commission as part of senior management structure. They will not be inclined to disclose wrongdoings in their departments to anyone so closely tied to their departmental and political bosses.

I was a member of the public service for 22 years. I served as a union president of an association in Sudbury, Ontario and later in management in Sudbury, Ottawa and Cornwall.

You can believe me when I say that most public servants will think twice before disclosing any wrongdoing by their bosses to the president of the Public Service Commission. This government institution is just not the right one to listen to and protect whistleblowers.

What is needed for this job is a truly and completely independent body, its resources, operations and chain of accountability must be completely separate from the government of the day and from the public service.

The bill would require public servants to report wrongdoings of their masters to their masters. In fact, it expressly states that public servants cannot even go to the president of the Public Service Commission unless they have already disclosed the matter to their direct supervisor or they have what the bill calls reasonable grounds for not reporting to a direct supervisor. If a public servant discloses wrongdoing through any channel not sanctioned by the bill, then the public servant will not be protected from reprisals. If a public servant reveals government wrongdoing to the public, then the public servant will not be protected from reprisals under this act.

That is totally unbelievable. The government is basically saying that it is all right to punish public servants who dare to tell taxpayers when their money is being wasted. It is all right to discipline public servants if they tell Canadians about abuse of power and corruption. It is all right to do that.

That is simply indefensible. When a public servant takes the initiative to draw attention to wrongdoing involving public money or the public trust, that public servant should not only be protected but he or she should be applauded. Telling Canadians when bad things are happening to their tax dollars is a public service. It is incredible that the government cannot understand this.

This bill tells federal public servants that the only authority to whom they can disclose wrongdoings within their departments without fear of reprisal is someone who reports to the government in office.

Even when someone reports wrongdoing through the prescribed channels, if the boss fires that person to get even, the person has no recourse except what is available right now.

Bill C-11 sets up no new mechanism to receive reports of reprisals against whistleblowers. Those who are punished for coming forward in good faith to make disclosures of wrongdoing have to bring their plight to the attention of the applicable labour boards. They could have done that without the bill. It gets worse.

If someone makes a disclosure through the prescribed channels and his or her boss takes reprisals against the person for it, what happens? The individual complains to the applicable labour board and has to suffer while the case makes the long difficult journey through the labour board process where finally it is found that the individual was unfairly punished for doing the right thing, but nothing happens. The person who took reprisals against that individual is not even punished. The individual making the disclosure receives no reward or retribution for his or her suffering. The person gets back only what the ordeal cost him or her in terms of money and job status. Nothing else happens.

On one hand the bill says that public servants deserve to be punished for making disclosures of wrongdoing to the public, but on the other hand it says that supervisors in the public service do not deserve to be punished for taking reprisals against those who disclose wrongdoing, even through the proper channels.

The bill is clearly intended to contain disclosures of wrongdoing and not to facilitate such disclosures or to protect those who make them.

The Conservative Party would support an act that created a truly independent body to receive and investigate all disclosures of wrongdoing by all public servants and to protect those public servants from reprisals. Bill C-11 would not do that.

All 308 members of the House would say, without exception, that the employees of our public service are one of our country's finest resources. Today every member of Parliament has a chance to show their respect for public servants by providing them with legislation that reflects our respect and commitment to them.

I urge every member in the House to seriously consider the bill and to support the changes that need to be made in order to ensure that public servants realize how much the House values them.

Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

Bloc

Benoît Sauvageau Repentigny, QC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak this morning on Bill C-11.

Before I do, I would like to do what needs to be done during a person's first speech after the opening of a new Parliament: thank those who sent me here. I thank the people of the riding of Repentigny, the many campaign workers and the people who have supported me since my first election in 1993 and continue to do so. I would also like to welcome some new municipalities to my riding, namely the two L'Épiphanies, L'Assomption, Le Gardeur and Saint-Sulpice.

It is important, and appropriate as well, to provide a little background, a brief review of how and why we find ourselves today with Bill C-11 before us, one of the first bills to be introduced in this 38th Parliament.

As the President of the Treasury Board has said, this bill originated with the member for Bourassa, among others, as Bill C-25. Amendments have been made, and a degree of open-mindedness on the part of the Liberals may be seen. Improvements are still needed, however.

As we are all aware, the roots of Bill C-25 lie in the sponsorship scandal. During the hearings of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts we, unfortunately, heard public servants testify that they did not make public what was going on in front of them, for fear of reprisals.

Perhaps in a few months, or a few years, we will find out that other public servants were hesitant to speak out about the firearms scandal. That program was slated to cost $2 million or $3 million, and now is up to $2 billion. This is even more scandalous than the sponsorships. Perhaps this bill will make it possible for public servants to tell us what really went on.

I believe there are good intentions behind Bill C-11. Its purpose is to enable public servants to disclose wrongdoings when they become aware of them in the performance of their duties.

When the bill goes to committee, however, it will be very important to examine whether it will really meet its intended goal: to make it possible for public servants to disclose acts and omissions within their position or work unit.

It is important to know how Bill C-11 will differ from the Policy on the Internal Disclosure of Information Concerning Wrongdoing in the Workplace—a policy that already exists. Too often the Liberal government tries to reinvent the wheel. When something does not work, the government sets out to reinvent something new.

What does Bill C-11 add to the Treasury Board Policy on the Internal Disclosure of Information Concerning Wrongdoing in the Workplace? In committee, we will have to come up with a meaningful answer to this question to avoid simply creating something new again that falls short of the expectations for this bill.

My colleague from the Conservative Party of Canada was quite passionate in expressing our disagreement with certain aspects of this bill. He disagrees with it and so do we. However, we will give this minority government the benefit of the doubt and see whether the Liberals will listen to us at committee and be open to making a few amendments, as far as the legislative process allows.

We also have a serious problem with the fact that the third party—in this case the person ultimately responsible for receiving complaints and disclosures—is the President of the Public Service Commission.

I would point out that two complaints from the Treasury Board and National Defence were deemed admissible in connection with a serious breach in the application of the Official Languages Act within the public service and National Defence.

At that time, the Public Service Commission did have a president. We have seen how, even though there was someone responsible, the Canadian government, the public service, could ignore the rules and administrative procedures and contravene certain acts and regulations.

As my Conservative colleague was saying and as we have been saying concerning Bill C-25—this is not a new position for the Bloc Quebecois—we think it is very important for the designated third party to be independent; it cannot be the president of the public service, or like Howard Wilson, a phony ethics counsellor who has coffee with the Prime Minister to tell him whether he agrees and what it is he agrees with.

We want the person in such a position to be truly independent. Look at the credibility Sheila Fraser has when she presents her reports and the credibility she enjoyed when her report of February 10 came out on the sponsorship scandal. She is an independent officer of the House.

Look at the credibility of Dyane Adam, when she presents her reports once a year—now three times a year, if I am not mistaken—because she is an independent officer of the House.

If the Liberals really want to make this a credible position; if they really want to honour part of the promise in their 1993 red book to restore confidence in the public service, elected officials and the government; then they must establish an independent position of commissioner with this bill. We said this about Bill C-25 and we say it again, and so do the Conservatives.

If they do not want to do this, they must give us rational arguments and explanations. If they refuse, they will be sending the following message, as my Conservative colleague said, to the people: we want to look as if we are solving the problem to get it out of the way, and people will forget about it when something new comes along.

We feel there must be an officer of the House, someone appointed by and responsible and accountable to Parliament, like the Auditor General or the Commissioner of Official Languages.

I wonder about certain aspects of the bill. Take clause 8. I see the President of the Treasury Board is listening attentively. So, we might even be able to get some answers for the beginning of the committee's work: subclauses 8 (c), (d) and (e) read as follows:

This Act applies in respect of the following wrongdoings:

(c) a gross mismanagement in the public sector;

(d) an act or omission that creates a substantial and specific danger to the life [...];

(e) a serious breach of a code of conduct [...];

Why were the terms “gross”, “substantial” and “serious” used in each case? If I am a public servant, is the fact, for example, that Jean Carle buys for $165,000 worth of golf balls with Jean Chrétien's initials on them serious or not?

For a public servant, is the fact that we buy all our sweaters from Jean Lafleur of Communications Lafleur serious or not? What is serious in a wrongdoing that should be disclosed to a supervisor?

The President of the Treasury Board will have to tell us, at least in committee, what is deemed to be serious. All wrongdoings that can be disclosed by a public servant under clause 8 will have to be serious. What is serious? It will probably be up to the line supervisor, who will unfortunately be the culprit, to decide whether the wrongdoing is serious or not.

I saw some pretty serious stuff in the sponsorship scandal and I hope that everyone would have agreed that these were serious wrongdoings.

We also feel that, in its present form, a second aspect of the bill is flawed. I am referring to the requirement to exhaust other procedures.

Bill C-11 provides, and I quote:

24.(1) The President of the Public Service Commission may refuse to deal with a disclosure if he or she is of the opinion that:

(a) the public servant has failed to exhaust other procedures otherwise reasonably available;

This means that a public servant who is not an expert in parliamentary procedures—in the case of Bill C-11, for example—who contacts the President of the Public Service Commission—if he is the one in charge, although we do not want this to be the case—will be told to go back to square one. It is already difficult enough to disclose a wrongdoing, so if this is the route disclosure will take, we will insist on getting some clarification on clause 24(1).

I will conclude by asking this question: What about the public servant who files a complaint under this procedure? Do we let that person continue to work with his colleagues? Perhaps there should be some transition measures. Will the union be able to continue to support the public servant who made the disclosures? The bill is silent on this issue.

The government will have to explain in committee why the armed forces and the RCMP are excluded from the application of this bill. We think they should be included.

In conclusion, we support the principle of referring the bill to a committee. We hope that the Liberals will act in good faith and with an open mind. We want to amend this legislation which, in its present form, is unacceptable to the Bloc Quebecois.

Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act
Government Orders

10:40 a.m.

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

Madam Speaker, as this is my first opportunity to rise to speak in this 38th Parliament, I would like to take a moment to recognize and pay tribute to the good people of Winnipeg Center who saw fit to send me back to this honourable place. Every day that I take my seat in the House of Commons, I am reminded of what an honour it is to be here and what an honour it is to serve the good people of my riding.

It is also the first speech that I have the honour to make with you in the Chair, Madam Speaker, looking over this House with your wisdom. Let me add my voice to the unanimous chorus of members of Parliament who are very pleased to see you there in that very fitting place. I can only say that I hope your eyesight is as good as your judgment so that you will continue to recognize those of us who are banished to the far reaches of the House of Commons, although I am one who believes there is no such thing as a bad seat in the House of Commons. It does not matter where we are sitting.

I come from a trade union background, and as a union leader of a carpenters' union I have some personal knowledge of the importance of employees to feel comfortable when bringing forward information and being led to believe that they can do the honourable thing safely. It has always been my view, and it is still my view, that good managers welcome whistleblowing.

Good managers want to know of any wrongdoing or maladministration or any efficiencies they may gain in the enterprise they have control over by this information. It is only managers who have something to hide who are reluctant to put in place a truly free and open whistleblowing regime.

The NDP is committed to good whistleblowing legislation. We are committed to working with this bill to make it that piece of legislation. We do not want to jeopardize this bill going down without some measure of success and without improving the status quo. I want to introduce my comments by making that statement because I do have some serious criticisms of the bill.

I was a member of the government operations committee, as was the current President of the Treasury Board as chair of that committee, when we heard the Radwanski affair. There has never been a more graphic illustration to demonstrate the need for whistleblowing legislation than what we went through in that committee. We would never have learned about the Radwanski scandal were it not for courageous public servants willing to come forward to tell us what they knew.

The sad thing about it, and the reason I raise it, is that those very public servants felt it was necessary to bring their own legal counsel with them in order to come before a House of Commons standing committee made up of members of Parliament, made up of their own representatives in Parliament. They could not be assured that they could speak freely without bringing their own legal counsel. That rang the alarm bell for me that something was tragically wrong with the current status quo. Obviously, public servants in this country did not believe that they could speak freely even when it was the right thing to do.

As a result the government operations committee did undertake a great deal of work leading to whistleblowing legislation. First of all there was a subcommittee struck, which I had the honour to co-chair along with my colleague from Laval--Les Îles. We co-chaired a small working group that came back with recommendations to the larger committee as to what this whistleblowing legislation might look like.

What was presented to the committee, however, in the form of Bill C-25, did not resemble the recommendations of that subcommittee working group. In fact, every leading authority on whistleblowing in the country condemned Bill C-25 which came before our committee, and said that it did not meet any of the tests of a quality piece of whistleblowing legislation. Members can excuse us if we are frustrated on this subject because everyone knew what needed to be done, everyone was clear.

The Bloc Québécois had a wonderful private member's bill in 1996 that achieved second reading. It articulated a good, clear regime which would provide that assurance to public servants. In that articulation the Auditor General would have been the office to whom complaints were made.

We heard from 14 witnesses at the committee, as the President of the Treasury Board pointed out. They all condemned Bill C-25. They said Bill C-25 was an act to protect ministers from whistleblowers, not an act to protect whistleblowers.

We need to emphasize clearly to public servants that we will protect them, that we appreciate them and that we will reward them. I am not talking about a monetary reward, but there should be some sense of reward for doing the honourable thing in coming forward with information. However, I point out that in some jurisdictions in the United States, there are cash rewards for whistleblowers. They get 10% of the money saved by the bringing forward of any wrongdoing. I am not recommending that, but I want to emphasize that if we are to create some confidence in the public service, we have to make it abundantly clear that we welcome and value the information of public servants, that we are on their side in this and that we will protect them. The legislation is about protecting public servants, not just putting in place a mechanism through which the information can be filtered.

We are critical of a couple of things in the bill, which we will have the opportunity to amend at committee stage. I compliment the President of the Treasury Board for forwarding the bill to committee prior to second reading and getting the tacit approval in principle from the House. I am optimistic that it will be easier to effect some of these changes if it hits the committee sooner rather than later.

One of the fears we have is that we are not convinced the Public Service Commissioner will be viewed as a neutral third party to whom information can be brought. I may become convinced. I know there is a possibility we can, as a consequential amendment, modify the act that created the Public Service Commission to ensure that it is more arm's length than what the public perception currently may be. We are looking into that idea.

One thing that has to be clarified, if we are to give confidence to public servants, is that currently in the act there is swift punishment contemplated for anybody who makes a frivolous or vexatious complaint or a complaint in bad faith. People can be disciplined severely, as they should be, if they do that. There is also serious discipline contemplated for any manager who is caught in wrongdoing by virtue of a complaint. However, there is no immediate satisfaction for whistleblowers who may feel they are being disciplined for having brought information forward.

Their avenue of recourse, as was pointed out by my colleague from the Conservative Party, is to file a complaint with the Canada Industrial Relations Board or the Public Service Staff Relations Board. As an old union representative, I can tell the House that this can be an 18 month agonizing journey, the result of which is frankly like rolling the dice at the other end because of the arbitrator at the Canadian Industrial Relations Board. Like any court case, we may be perfectly innocent and found guilty or we may be guilty and found innocent. We really do not know, so this is no real satisfaction. How many public servants will risk their jobs, and by virtue of losing their jobs, they lose their homes, their family stability, et cetera, if they are not absolutely guaranteed 100% that if they get persecuted as a result of coming forward with information, the government will back them up. They would not have to roll the dice at the Canada Industrial Relations Board or appear with their legal counsel to argue the case. There would be real protection for whistleblowers. Without that, I would have to advise the public servants whom I know to zip their lips.

The legislation comes on the heels of the firing of the three most prominent whistleblowers in the country. What a glaring contradiction. The government just got rid of three nuisance doctors, whom I call heroes. They should be nominated for the Order of Canada. These people protected Canadians by keeping the bovine growth hormone off the market because they believed it was hazardous. If we cannot protect the three most prominent whistleblowers in the country, what kind of message does that send to the rest of the public service? We have a lot of work to do to build confidence that they will be safe if they come forward.

Imagine the gains, the waste eliminated, the corruption we could reveal and eliminate if whistleblowers felt free to come forward. However, we are not convinced they will as a result of the bill.

Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act
Government Orders

10:50 a.m.

Sudbury
Ontario

Liberal

Diane Marleau Parliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board and Minister responsible for the Canadian Wheat Board

Madam Speaker, let me start by congratulating you on your new position. I am sure you will do very well. It is nice that I have the opportunity to stand and speak before you this first time in this session.

I must take this opportunity as well to thank the people of my riding of Sudbury for sending me to Ottawa for a fifth consecutive term. I hope they keep sending me many more times.

I also very pleased to speak on this legislation. It is such an important part of what we can do to ensure that there is a process and that public servants are protected when they blow the whistle on any form of wrongdoing.

As the House knows, the bill was introduced last Friday by the President of the Treasury Board. I believe the bill will build an environment that encourages public servants to report cases of wrongdoing in the workplace. It does so by setting out an objective and complete process to govern the disclosure of wrongdoing in the federal public sector.

With this bill, public servants who disclose wrongdoings will be protected from retaliation or threats of retaliation. In addition, both those who make the disclosure and those about whom it is made can rest assured that investigations will be conducted in a fair and objective manner and that their privacy will be protected.

As most members know, the predecessor of this public servants disclosure protection bill was introduced in March. Consideration of this bill by Parliament was interrupted last spring when an election was called. The bill was debated in the House and reviewed by the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates. It was even referred to this committee before second reading to give members an opportunity to make a significant contribution early on, which they did.

I am pleased to say that Bill C-11 benefited from discussions on the earlier bill. One key area where the proposed legislation has been strengthened is around the nature, independence, powers and accessibility of the neutral third party.

The neutral third party is the person to whom public servants can report wrongdoing directly. While each department must set up an internal disclosure mechanism, if a public servant feels uncomfortable using that internal system, and this is very important, he or she can go directly to the neutral third party. The neutral third party would also investigate allegations of wrongdoing and make recommendations on his or her findings.

The previous bill proposed a public sector integrity commissioner to act as a neutral third party. Some stakeholders worried that the commissioner would not have enough independence or power to be an effective recipient or investigator of reports of alleged misconduct. This is why the new bill assigns the role of neutral third party to the president of the Public Service Commission.

The Public Service Commission is the organization responsible for protecting the integrity of the federal staffing process. Its overarching goal is to provide Canadians with a highly competent, non-partisan and representative public service, one in which appointments are based on merit.

Bill C-11 confers upon the President of the Public Service Commission the tools and powers required to fulfil this new responsibility. The bill confers powers on her under part II of the Inquiries Act, in particular the power to summon persons to appear, and to have access to offices as part of an investigation. The President of the Public Service Commission may also set the deadline within which chief executives must act on her recommendations.

Some hon. members might question the connection between staffing matters and wrongdoing. I would point out that other governments that have adopted similar legislative measures have found that most disclosures of wrongdoing have been personnel-related human resource management matters.

In fact, the integrity officer referred to a similar phenomenon in his first annual report. It makes sense, therefore, to assign responsibility for disclosure of wrongdoing to an organization with a mandate to oversee federal staffing.

This role suits the Public Service Commission for another reason as well: next year the commission will be assuming more responsibility for audit and evaluation when the new Public Service Employment Act comes into effect.

The President of the Public Service Commission made reference to this in her statement in response to the introduction of this bill, saying that the proposed responsibilities fit well with the direction set for the Public Service Commission by the new Public Service Employment Act.

I know that some hon. members continue to be concerned that the president of the Public Service Commission is not neutral enough, not independent enough, not powerful enough to take on these additional responsibilities.

The commission has a long history, almost a century of playing an independent role in government. It is justifiably proud of its established tradition of protecting the merit principle in federal staffing. The Public Service Commission has a reputation for both service and independence in performing very similar functions around staffing, as are proposed in the bill for disclosure.

Some might argue that the Public Service Commission is not independent because its annual reports to Parliament are submitted through a minister. I would like to point out that Bill C-11 clearly and explicitly authorizes the president to make special reports directly to Parliament at any time and on any matter within the scope of her powers under this proposed act.

This is not a timid organization that hesitates to demonstrate its independence, an organization that is unwilling to use its power. Let me read a portion of the Public Service Commission's most recent annual report, tabled in Parliament last October. It says:

Under the Public Service Employment Act, the Commission has the authority to revoke an appointment and impose corrective action if an inquiry determines that a fraudulent practice or breach of the Regulations during a selection process has occurred. During the past year, the PSC revoked 20 appointments.

As a result of investigations, the Commission also removed from eligibility lists the names of 13 candidates to prevent their appointment. The Commission ordered other corrective actions in 120 competitive processes that had resulted in appeals that were upheld. These actions included orders to conduct new assessment processes, consider additional candidates, or cancel selection processes. No departments/agencies had their delegation authorities revoked; however, a number of actions were taken to help departments manage their delegated authorities better.

These are not the words of a shrinking violet organization. These are the words of an organization clear and comfortable in its powers, authority and oversight role.

Assigning the neutral third party role to the president of the Public Service Commission is a strong, effective, practical and reasonable option. The government believes that the president has the independence and legal powers required to effectively receive reports of alleged wrongdoing, carry out the investigation and make recommendations on corrective action. I would like to point out that it is not only the government that is of this view. Assigning this role to the president of the Public Service Commission was an option put forward by the previous all party government operations and estimates committee in its 2003 report on the issue.

I am convinced that this energetic and effective bill will create an environment in which public servants will feel confident in reporting wrongdoing. I encourage hon. members to support its progress through Parliament.