An Act to amend the Parliamentary Employment and Staff Relations Act (members' staff)

This bill was last introduced in the 37th Parliament, 3rd Session, which ended in May 2004.

This bill was previously introduced in the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session.

Sponsor

Alexa McDonough  NDP

Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)

Status

Not active, as of March 20, 2003
(This bill did not become law.)

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Parliamentary Employment and Staff Relations Act (Members' Staff)Private Members' Business

June 3rd, 2003 / 3 p.m.
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The Speaker

Order. It being 3:02 p.m., pursuant to order made on Wednesday, May 28, 2003, the House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on the motion at second reading stage of Bill C-419 under private members' business.

Call in the members.

(The House divided on the motion, which was negatived on the following division:)

Parliamentary Employment and Staff Relations ActPrivate Members' Business

May 28th, 2003 / 6:30 p.m.
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NDP

Alexa McDonough NDP Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, it is a great privilege to wrap up the debate on my Bill C-419.

I want to thank my colleagues for the incredible support that they have given. I want to also thank other members who have spoken in this debate and even some who have not spoken but who have been here attentively listening, if I may say, including the Minister of Labour. I think that is a positive sign and is very welcome.

I acknowledge without any hesitation that when I introduced Bill C-419 with the unanimous support of my colleagues, there were some members who expressed quite strong reservations. They had the courage and the commitment to participate in the debate. They raised some questions about how this would work or expressed reservations about how it could work to have employees on the Hill exercising their right to organize and collectively bargain.

I suppose this is the whole point about private members' bills and private members' debates. As a result of the debate that has taken place in the House and as a result of the dialogue that was stimulated by the introduction of this bill, I am pleased that a number of members who started out with some reservations have now indicated their full support to move ahead.

Let us be clear that all we are talking about is the fundamental right to organize if employees so choose in their workplace and to have the opportunity to bargain collectively. After all, it is a fundamental democratic right.

When parliamentarians recognize that not only is this an important principle but that in practice it now exists with the employees of one caucus, surely it would be unthinkable to deny that it is time to extend those benefits to all employees of members of Parliament, ministers, senators, et cetera, on the Hill. What possible argument could there be that only some employees on the Hill would have the opportunity to exercise those very fundamental democratic rights?

Not only has there been good discussion back and forth between members of the NDP caucus who have been living with collective agreements and organized staff for many years, but discussion has actually taken place between members and their employees. Understandably their employees are asking how is it that the NDP staff have the benefits of a collective agreement and they do not. That is very encouraging.

I want to take the last moment or two to pay tribute to our employees on Parliament Hill who chose through a democratic vote to be represented by CEP 232. That is their union local. They have chosen to associate with an outstanding union that has a wonderful reputation. They could have made another choice and they would have been well represented by other unions as well, but that was their choice. I have to say from the perspective of the employers, and I know I speak on behalf of all of my colleagues when I say this, that this relationship has been exceedingly important not just because it respects fundamental rights, but because it is about respect. It is about dignity.

I want to be really clear and this is like a moment of truth. It might even be like a true confession to stand here and say this. We are not saying either on our own behalf or on behalf of our employees that it is heaven on earth to work for the New Democratic Party caucus. Our staff work exceedingly hard.

There is some irony in the fact that other employees on the Hill are not permitted to organize in the way our staff is. Our employees enjoy better wages and have somewhat better control over their working conditions but they also work under more adverse conditions in some respects. Because other staff are underpaid in many cases and their rights are not fully respected, this means that more dollars and cents are used to provide various support services, whether they are in the form of equipment or expense moneys to be used to improve their ability to get the job done. There is a discriminatory aspect toward our employees that we should recognize. We appreciate that that makes their job even more difficult.

I want to conclude by saying how much we appreciate the genuine engagement of many members in trying to understand more about how this works. I want to say clearly to all members of Parliament staff that our staff, the proud members of local CEP 232, have indicated that they stand ready to answer questions that employees of other caucuses may have about how this works. This is understandable. The employees, the staff members of other caucuses, of ministers, of the Senate and of the Library of Parliament may say that they are not interested in hearing what the member for Halifax or any of the other NDP members of Parliament have to say. They may be interested in talking with employees who have chosen to organize, to avail themselves of their basic right to join a union and bargain collectively. They may want to hear from them how this actually works. At the end of the day it is a question of people making an informed choice about whether they would want to join a union.

As parliamentarians, when we vote on this matter next week, it will be an opportunity for all members of Parliament to speak with one voice in saying that we acknowledge the rights of our employees to organize and that we do so by way of expressing our respect and appreciation for the work they do. That is a very important signal for us as employers and parliamentarians to send to all employees in this country of ours to say the same kind of respect, dignity and rights should be extended and accorded to all working people in this country.

Parliamentary Employment and Staff Relations ActPrivate Members' Business

May 28th, 2003 / 6:25 p.m.
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NDP

Judy Wasylycia-Leis NDP Winnipeg North Centre, MB

--and the dignity, as my colleague from Windsor says, to have the power and control over one's day to day life in the workplace.

This is about unfinished business and it is also about being consistent with the recent court ruling referenced in the debate. That of course was the decision by the Federal Court of Appeal in November 2002 which ruled that members of Parliament are required to abide by basic human rights legislation. It was a unanimous decision. The court rejected the argument put forward by the House of Commons that parliamentary privilege somehow exempted MPs from the provisions of the Canadian Human Rights Act.

It is certainly accurate to say that Bill C-419, the matter before us today, would complement that important court ruling by providing the vast majority of Parliament Hill employees with some protection in their workplaces.

Staff members who have worked for the NDP over the years have provided a very important pioneering effort in this regard. The proposal before us today dates back some 10, 15 or 20 years ago when NDP members of Parliament pooled their efforts and resources to form the Parliamentary Association of Support Staff. That became the first initiative in this place for a collective association, for cooperative efforts on the part of staff in order to advance the needs and concerns of workers in this place.

We owe a debt a debt of gratitude to those individuals back in the mid-1970s to the late 1970s who actually planted the seed that led to an active union on the part of staff working for NDP members of Parliament and forms the basis for this legislative proposal today.

We are talking, as many have said, about the fundamental rights of a civil society. The rights to join a union, to bargain collectively, to pursue one's rights in the workplace and to be able to refuse to work in unsafe, unhealthy conditions are fundamental to our notion of civil society.

Today we urge all members who have turned away from this initiative before, who have said no in the past when this matter was before the House, to reconsider and give their support and their blessing to this legislative proposal, because it means a great deal to workers in this place and it means that we have provided the kind of leadership that is so necessary and that people turn to us for.

I urge all members to support Bill C-419 to ensure that all staff working for members of Parliament, for senators and for the Library of Parliament are able to enjoy this matter of simple justice.

Parliamentary Employment and Staff Relations ActPrivate Members' Business

May 28th, 2003 / 6:15 p.m.
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NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am glad to see we will have an opportunity on Tuesday to test the interest of the House of Commons in the bill put forward by the member for Halifax, Bill C-419, which would amend the Parliamentary Employment and Staff Relations Act to give the right to organize and unionize to our Parliament Hill employees.

Other representatives from the NDP have spoken about the importance of the bill. It is something to which we are ideologically committed. The NDP is very proud to say that we are the only political party in the House of Commons today that has a unionized workforce, represented by the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union, Local 232. We can speak from experience and can give some comfort and solace to those members from other parties who are apprehensive about the idea of extending the right to organize to Hill staff.

I do not really think we should have to have this debate in this day and age. Frankly, the right to organize, the right to bargain collectively and even the right to withhold services in the event of an impasse are basic tenets of any modern democracy, certainly basic tenets of any western civilization. That much is not in question.

The only reservations we have heard put forward by members are perhaps that they may lose some of the flexibility they believe they need because of the unique workplace in which we all work. I believe we can provide some comfort or solace to those people who are apprehensive by looking at our own experience.

We have a unionized workforce. Our staff have the same challenges that the staff of any member of Parliament may have. They need flexibility in our workplace, but nothing in our collective agreement precludes that flexibility if someone has to work through lunch or stay late. What our collective agreement does preclude is the exploitation of those same workers by members of Parliament who may get too busy to pay due attention to workplace conditions in their office, which is their workplace.

This place has a terrible reputation for its treatment of employees, and this goes back many years. A lot of members of Parliament tell employees that it is a privilege for them to work on Parliament Hill, and it is, but they use that as justification to pay them terribly. We pay our employees a living wage, a fair wage. It is our belief that fair wages benefit the whole community and that there are many good reasons to provide fair compensation, obviously above and beyond any moral and ethical reasons. However we do hear horror stories from other offices.

I was not surprised when our employees felt they needed protection from this exploitation. As members of Parliament get so busy and so caught up in their work, they often forget the human aspects of the employees who work for them and the fact that these people have lives and deserve fair compensation, fair working conditions, fair working rules, fair benefits, fair holidays, et cetera. That is the point here.

I am very proud that the member for Halifax has brought this issue to the forefront. I know the history of this issue has been outlined by other speakers and I will not spend a lot of time on it other than to say that since 1986 all the elements have been in place. It has just been up to the ruling party to give royal assent to phase two and phase three of the Parliamentary Employment Staff Relations Act.

I do not want to be critical in the time I have but I notice the Minister of Labour is listening to the debate, and I am pleased to see she is giving her time to listen to it. However the Liberal Party in another example, with the rural route mail couriers, has seen fit to deny the basic right to organize to that group of workers as well.

There is very little justification, although we do hear people standing up and saying it, for not allowing our employees to unionize. We cannot really make the case that it would grind Parliament to a halt and therefore do a disservice to the country, because in other situations, for instance, firemen or policemen, they do have the right to organize and they do have the right to bargain collectively. In those instances they do not have the right to withhold their services. There is some other type of binding third party arbitration that takes the place of a strike or a lockout.

That is something that can be dealt with if the case can be made that Parliament, especially during times of war, et cetera, cannot be stopped because of labour unrest, but it is certainly no excuse for not allowing these basic freedoms to the many hardworking Canadians who work on Parliament Hill.

In my own experience as a labour leader for the carpenters' union, I had the opportunity to organize many workplaces, speaking with workers and employees in their kitchens. We had to sneak around many times in order to organize a workplace. I do not think the employees on Parliament Hill deserve to be treated that way when their employer is the Government of Canada, the Parliament of Canada, the members of Parliament, who surely accept that Canadians believe in the right to free collective bargaining.

The rigidity that some members fear in a collective agreement, as I said before, is no excuse. I am holding a recent Hill Times article in which some staff employees of members of Parliament were interviewed. One individual works for one of our members of Parliament and he points out that it is not unusual for him and his colleagues to have to be very flexible in their working rules. He also points out the benefit of having an avenue of recourse if there are disagreements with an employer, whether it is about holiday time or working conditions or working rules.

Being a unionized employee is not all about money. Frankly, negotiating the actual salary and wage is something that happens once every two or three years when people bargain the terms of their collective agreement. Being unionized employees means knowing they have an avenue of recourse that does not put their jobs in jeopardy if they do have a comment or a criticism to make of the work rules, or a simple avenue to air their views and their opinions.

We believe it is wrong to deny these basic freedoms. I can point out some recent examples on the Hill when Hill employees have had difficulties when they were laid off without cause, for instance. Their only avenue of recourse was going to the courts or, I suppose, asking for an audience with the Speaker and asking him to intervene. That system cannot be relied on. We need a better process than that.

We heard about one member of Parliament not too long ago who laid off one of his staff because she became pregnant. The woman had no avenue of recourse. She was not covered by the Canada Labour Code nor was she covered by employment standards legislation. She could not go to the Ontario Labour Relations Board. This woman had no one to advocate on her behalf other than going to the courts, and that is ridiculous. That is why employment situations need a process by which grieved employees can seek justice. Surely in a case like that it is terribly unjust treatment.

There is another example. Some members of Parliament lay off their staff over the summer months because they do not need them. Some of these individuals are long term employees. It is a terribly unfair thing to do in order to save a few dollars in their budgets.

I will end by saying that I am very proud to be involved with this initiative. I again compliment the member for Halifax for tirelessly bringing this issue forward again and again. Hopefully it is starting to resonate with enough other members of Parliament so they will see that fair wages benefit the whole community and Canadian workers have a right to be represented by the union of their choice. It is our duty to be an example to the public in that way.

Parliamentary Employment and Staff Relations ActPrivate Members' Business

May 28th, 2003 / 6:15 p.m.
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NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, I rise a point of order. Discussions have taken place between all parties, as well as the member for Halifax, concerning the last hour of debate on Bill C-419. I believe you would find consent for the following motion. I move:

That at the conclusion of today's debate on Bill C-419, all necessary questions to dispose of the motion for second reading be deemed put, a recorded division deemed requested and deferred to 3 p.m. on Tuesday, June 3, 2003.

Parliamentary Employment and Staff Relations ActPrivate Members' Business

May 28th, 2003 / 6:05 p.m.
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NDP

Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—St. Clair, ON

Mr. Speaker, we always stand up and say we are happy to have the opportunity to speak to a bill. That is really true this time as opposed to most of the other times when we are dealing with diplomacy and diplomatic speech. I am very happy to support Bill C-419 by the member for Halifax.

It was rather interesting when I was first elected because I felt to some degree like I was going through a repeat of one of my earlier historical periods. I am not that old, but that is what I felt like. The reason for that was I was appointed to help carry on negotiations between our caucus and the staff who worked for us. As I got familiar with the situation in the House and in preparation for those negotiations, I felt to some degree like I was going back through some history of mine.

Two incidents in particular come to mind. One was I had only been practising law in private practice for about a year when I had cause to hire a staff person, a secretary, who had attempted to organize a union in the city of Windsor in the legal profession. She had been locked out for the better part of a year, and eventually lost her position. She was looking for work at the time I needed staff, and I hired her.

I remember some of the discussions we had about the attitude of the legal profession, what I will call the very archaic attitude of the legal profession at that period of time toward collective bargaining and unions. I cannot help but think, when I hear some of the speeches in response to this bill, of a similar type of attitude.

Parliamentary Employment and Staff Relations ActPrivate Members' Business

May 28th, 2003 / 5:45 p.m.
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NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to rise to address the House on Bill C-419 introduced by the New Democratic Party member for Halifax. It is time that this bill came to the House for us to debate.

Bill C-419 will show us which political party in Canada truly supports unions and which party is truly opposed to them. The test will take place when it is time to vote.

The Liberal Party will certainly say, “Ah, the workers and the unions support us”. Finally, this bill will give the members' employees an opportunity to unionize, but now they will come to say they are not ready to give that opportunity to the employees. In fact, they say that if there are risks at work they can refuse to work.

Imagine that. In the private sector this has been a topic of negotiation for many years, and any worker who thinks his or her life is in danger has the right to refuse to work and can initiate an investigation of his or her workplace.

And the Liberals are afraid that people could refuse a task if they believe it could be a threat to their health and well-being. This is unheard of, and I never thought I would hear any such thing from the government.

Governments should leaders, both nationally and provincially. And this kind of bill scares the government. Just think of the message it is sending to private sector companies.

The private sector is opposed to unions because they negotiate good benefits for their members and that affects the bottom line. Today, in the House of Commons, the government is telling us basically the same thing: the way it operates must not change, must not be questioned, must not allow representation.

The remark that gets to me the most is the one just made by the Liberal member who said, “Imagine, staff could refuse to perform work they consider dangerous to their health or safety. We can't have that”.

God forbid that someone from outside Parliament should come and check whether jobs are safe. Incredible. The Liberals are to be thanked. On behalf of the workers, I wish to thank the Liberals for being so supportive of workers when they say, “We do not want anyone to represent you, but we want you to work for us”. As some would say, the same way that you have good companies and bad ones, you have good bosses and bad ones. Normally, when a union is formed it is because the workers want one, because there are bad bosses and bad companies. That is when the workers seek to unionize. Something has to happen to set that process in motion, something like abuse by the employer. That is when workers want to unionize.

Are the Liberals in this House this evening telling us that, as far as they are concerned, they want to continue abusing their employees in this day and age? Since they contend that they are not abusing their employees, they should have nothing to fear from unionization. Are they afraid of collective bargaining and free bargaining?

There are even some surprising questions in the speech by the Bloc Quebecois member for Laurentides. She too had some questions relating to the union. We will wait for their speech this evening, but I have heard there is a possibility of their supporting the bill. They wondered how they could manage to negotiate salaries when the budget comes from Parliament and they have no control over the money.

It is like a company, with no control. If it makes a profit it has money, if it does not, it has no money. The two parties negotiate. As for the NDP, I am proud to represent them here; it will be six years on June 2. We have had a union for our staff, and I have experience with that. We have had collective agreements. We accepted a union for our staff and it did not kill us. In fact, our relationship is a really good one.

Another point that was raised by the Bloc Quebecois member for Laurentides is that it must not be the same union, because of the risk of conflict of interest. I have always thought that it was not up to the employer to decide on the union, but rather that it was the workers' choice that determined the union that would represent them. That is not up to the employer. It is like having a company or an employer decide which chamber of commerce will represent it, it is not up to the population to tell it which one to go with.

I have a problem when such things are said in the House of Commons, particularly when it is something to do with workers. In this bill, all that is being asked is for workers to have the right to unionize and for this to be accepted by Parliament.

Once again, the Bloc asked a question, “Will we be forced to do it? Will employees be forced to unionize?” No, only if they want to. We cannot turn up at some workplace today, Tim Hortons for example, and tell the workers, ”From now on, by law, you may unionize and in fact you have to unionize”. It is up to the employees to decide.

I would just like to reassure the members of the Bloc Quebecois that they need not worry, our employees have been unionized for years. We think we have a good collective agreement with them—that is what our employees tell us—and we have free bargaining. The union that represents them is the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada. We have established good relations and employees seem happy.

However, I can say one thing. I do not know if there are members who are afraid, whether they are Liberal members, or members of the Canadian Alliance, or members of any other party who want to vote against the bill. I do not know how they treat their employees. Perhaps when Parliament adjourns, they lay off their employees and these people have to go on employment insurance. Perhaps they are afraid of trying to negotiate that in their collective agreement.

I think that with the office budgets we are given, we can support employees and do constituent work. We are in a better situation than private sector employers when it comes to our budgets, for the simple reason that the private sector may or may not make a profit.

We have to be honest. As members of Parliament, we have a fixed budget. It does not grow or shrink. We can adjust, with our budget. We are able to negotiate collective agreements and adjust. We have to give our employees some credit. They know that if members do not do their job, if they are not able to work for their constituents, they will lose their job.

The Bloc Quebecois raised another question. They asked what happens if out of 50 members, 25 of them do not get re-elected? If 25 members are not re-elected, the employees are laid off, as is the case with members of Parliament. This is in the collective agreement. You cannot give someone a job if there is no employer. The member of Parliament is the employer, and if the employer no longer exists, the employees no longer exist. We negotiated all of this. We negotiated collective agreements and the employees seem satisfied with all of it. They say so openly.

Moreover, if there is something that is not going well, they are not embarrassed to come and see the employer to say so. They are not shy about raising issues with us. They are protected. Our employees are subjected to a great deal of pressure. There is pressure from the riding and its issues. Sometimes, perhaps, we are not very tolerant toward our employees. I can guarantee that it gives us some structure, and it says to us, “Take the time to sit down and talk. Sort out your problems by using a negotiated collective agreement”.

In a collective agreement, there are all kinds of rules and situations described. If an employee does not do his work, there are provisions for a first, oral warning, a written warning and, in the end, dismissal. There are also provisions related to arbitration.

I just want to tell the Liberals not to worry. You are telling the workers that you support them, and if that is the case, vote for this bill. The only time you support the workers is when you want their votes, but when it is time to protect them, you are ready to say no to this bill. I think it is very sad to see the Liberals taking such a position—

Parliamentary Employment and Staff Relations ActPrivate Members' Business

May 28th, 2003 / 5:40 p.m.
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Liberal

Joe Peschisolido Liberal Richmond, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to take part in today's debate on Bill C-419, an act to amend the Parliamentary Employment and Staff Relations Act.

It is fitting that we are considering this bill as part of private members' business. The bill would directly affect all members in the way we conduct our work and organize our offices, so it is appropriate that we are able to consider these issues in a non-partisan and thoughtful manner.

The government has considered many issues raised in the bill since the enactment of the original act in 1986. The government has not acted on these issues since there has been no agreement among parliamentarians, among ourselves, on how to proceed.

Let me now go through various aspects of Bill C-419. Bill C-419 proposes three main changes to the Parliamentary Employment and Staff Relations Act.

First, the bill would amend part I of the act to allow the staff of each MP and senator to negotiate collective agreements. These provisions would apply to parliamentary staff, constituency staff and caucus staff. Each MP and senator would be considered as an employer in relation to their staff. Parliamentary staff would therefore be covered by the same legislation as the employees of the House of Commons, the Senate, and the Library of Parliament. By including parliamentary staff under part one of the act, employees would have recourse through the Public Service Staff Relations Board arbitration and grievance procedures.

Second, the bill would add a new provision to the act to forbid employers to lock out their employees. This prohibition would apply to the House of Commons, the Senate, the Library of Parliament, and each member of Parliament and senator in their role as employers. The bill also includes penalties for employers who cause lockouts.

Third, the bill would bring into force parts II and III of the act. Part II of the act provides for labour standards such as hours of work, wages and leave, et cetera, and incorporates part III of the Canada Labour Code. Part III of the act provides for occupational health and safety standards by incorporating part II of the Canada Labour Code. Parts II and III of the act apply to the staff of MPs, senators, the House of Commons, the Senate and the Library of Parliament.

As I mentioned earlier, although the Parliamentary Employment and Staff Relations Act was enacted on June 27, 1986, parts II and III of the act covering labour and health and safety standards have never been brought into force, given concerns among members that these provisions should not apply to parliamentary staff. One concern has been the financial and operational implications that these provisions would have on members of Parliament and senators.

Bill C-419 could result in significant costs to MPs and senators as a result of the labour and health and safety standards under parts II and III. The new provisions in Bill C-419 for collective bargaining for parliamentary staff could also have significant financial implications for individual members of Parliament and senators.

Another concern raised by parts II and III of the act is that they could interfere with the independence of members of Parliament and senators and their parliamentary privileges. For instance, staff could refuse to perform work they considered dangerous, which could prevent the House from sitting or could interfere with the operation of the offices of members of Parliament. In addition, government inspectors would have access to parliamentary premises, including the offices of members of Parliament. I am sure we would all agree that as parliamentarians we must be careful to ensure that our privileges are not unduly constrained so that we can perform our duties and our functions as members of Parliament, as representatives of the people of Canada.

We must therefore find the correct balance between maintaining our privileges while obviously ensuring that the interests of our employees are properly and carefully addressed.

The House of Commons, the Senate and the Library of Parliament have effectively addressed labour issues through other informal ways and means. The House, Senate and Library of Parliament employees have coverage similar to that provided under the Parliamentary Employment and Staff Relations Act without interfering--and this is the key point--they have the same coverage and protections without interfering with parliamentary privilege.

I believe that as parliamentarians we should always strive to uphold our duties in our roles as members of Parliament to our constituents, but also importantly as employers, to ensure that our own parliamentary staff have proper working arrangements and proper working conditions.

Perhaps it would be more appropriate for the Board of Internal Economy to create a parallel non-legislative structure to achieve the objectives of the act without the difficulties raised in a more rigid statutory approach.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

May 13th, 2003 / 5:50 p.m.
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Canadian Alliance

Gurmant Grewal Canadian Alliance Surrey Central, BC

Mr. Speaker, I applaud the opportunity to rise on behalf of the constituents of Surrey Central to participate in the debate on Bill C-269, which of course will be sent to the committee. This is an act to amend the Criminal Code in regard to firefighters. It was initially introduced as Bill C-419 in the last session. The stated purpose of Bill C-269 is to amend the Criminal Code and to give greater protection to firefighters by creating two new offences of aggravated assault and first degree murder when the victim is a firefighter acting in the course of his or her duties.

I wish to congratulate the member for Nepean--Carleton for bringing forward this issue as a private member's bill. The protection of firefighters is an issue that has also been high on my agenda. As I mentioned, two years ago I introduced a motion in the House which called upon the government to take a tough stand in regard to those responsible for firefighters killed in the line of duty. Motion No. 376 read:

That, in the opinion of this House, the government should amend Section 231(4) of the Criminal Code to expand the definition of first-degree murder to include the death of a firefighter acting in the line of duty and amend Section 433 of the Criminal Code dealing with the crime of arson by adding language that addresses the death or injury of a firefighter engaged in combating a fire or explosion that is deliberately set.

Although we went about it in a slightly different manner, both the member for Nepean--Carleton and I have sought changes to the Criminal Code that would have a similar effect, but as I said in the question, and I am not talking about the hon. member for Nepean--Carleton, I would like to reiterate that the Liberals generally oppose any good idea coming from the official opposition. They criticize it and sometimes even ridicule an idea, but then they steal the ideas of the official opposition. The Liberal government has stolen many ideas from the official opposition, as hon. members know.

Let me give another example. The Liberals defeated my motion calling for legislation to recognize foreign academic credentials. They opposed it, but then they stole the idea and put it into their next Speech from the Throne. I always say that we in the Canadian Alliance, the official opposition of Canada, carry the flashlight to show the Liberals their darkness.

I took up the cause of firefighter protection at the urging of the Surrey Firefighters Association, which has been lobbying to change the law since 1995. There were about 14,000 arson fires in Canada last year. I was alarmed to learn that over one-third of the fires in Surrey are the result of arson and a very high percentage of them contain booby traps. It is very disturbing.

The Surrey Firefighters Association president, Mr. Lorne West, moved the issue of Criminal Code protection for firefighters on behalf of his 350 members. He took it from being a local Surrey issue to the national stage by raising the matter with the International Association of Fire Fighters. Later, the International Association of Fire Fighters, along with the Surrey Firefighters Association and the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs, went on to warmly endorse my motion. They sent letters in support of my motion.

Firefighters want to classify as first degree murder the act of an arsonist whose mischief leads to the death of a firefighter. As well, they want every person who intentionally or recklessly causes damage to property by fire or explosion, whether or not that person owns the property, to be guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for life where the fire or explosion causes bodily harm to a firefighter acting in the line of duty. They request life imprisonment as a minimum penalty.

As public safety officers who risk their lives in the course of protecting the lives and property of the public, firefighters are deserving of specific protection and measures under the law that will reduce the incidence of exposure to situations that could cause serious injury or death.

Firefighters, who command the highest trust of any professionals, face an on the job mortality and injury rate four times higher than that of other occupations but they should never have to accept criminal acts that are intended to injure or kill them.

No one would say that a firefighter's life is worth less than a police officer's, but that is precisely what our Criminal Code says. When police or firefighters are called to enter drug labs or illegal marijuana grow operations, firefighters go in first. Firefighters are our first line of defence but they are not afforded the same Criminal Code protection as our law enforcement officers. Regrettably, too often fires are deliberately set, often with the sinister intention of covering up illegal activities like marijuana grow operations or methamphetamine labs.

At other times, firefighters respond to calls only to find the premises booby trapped with crossbows, propane canisters ready to explode, cut away floor boards, or other intentional hazards. These malicious devices are intended to kill or injure anyone who interferes with a drug operation, including firefighters.

Firefighters in Surrey are especially at risk considering the increasing number of marijuana grow operations that plague the city. An RCMP report recently announced that there are 4,500 marijuana grow operations in the city of Surrey. That represents about 6% of the households. In a cul-de-sac, 9 out of 12 new homes have been linked to the illegal marijuana growing trade. But this Liberal government has done nothing to control the illegal marijuana grow operations except to talk about decriminalizing its simple possession.

Eight U.S. states have already moved to protect their firefighters under criminal law. Since no one would say that a Canadian firefighter's life is worth less than that of a U.S. firefighter, we obviously need to take steps to improve the Criminal Code.

As the member for Nepean—Carleton is undoubtedly aware, the government is already moving toward providing firefighters with added Criminal Code protection. Two weeks ago we debated Bill C-32 at second reading. I was particularly pleased to see that the bill creates a Criminal Code offence of setting a deadly trap in a place used for criminal purposes. This is to protect first responders such as firefighters and police, et cetera, whose lives could be endangered by entering such a place in the performance of their duties.

The maximum sentence for this offence depends on the outcome of the situation. It is generally 10 years. If injury occurs, the maximum sentence increases to 14 years. If death occurs, then the maximum sentence is life. Currently, section 247 of the Criminal Code provides for the offence of setting a trap with a maximum sentence of five years' imprisonment only.

In conclusion, I would like to again thank the member for Nepean--Carleton for bringing forward this private member's bill. As well, I would like to acknowledge the efforts of Mr. Lorne West and all Surrey firefighters who, through great perseverance, brought this issue to the national forefront.

Hopefully we will soon have changes to the Criminal Code in place that will provide a greater deterrent to those who deliberately set fires or booby trap buildings. Firefighters deserve this much at least. We need to protect the protectors. This should have been done a long time ago.

Parliamentary Employment and Staff Relations ActPrivate Members' Business

April 8th, 2003 / 6:45 p.m.
See context

Hull—Aylmer Québec

Liberal

Marcel Proulx LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour for me to take part in this debate on Bill C-419, An Act to amend the Parliamentary Employment and Staff Relations Act. I will speak primarily to the provision in the bill that covers the coming into force of parts II and III of the legislation.

This provision, clause 4, changes the provision of the act concerning the coming into force. The Parliamentary Employment and Staff Relations Act was passed by Parliament and received royal assent on June 27, 1986. Nevertheless, parts II and III of that act, the ones dealing with employment standards and health and safety standards, have never come into force.

Part II, establishing the obligations related to normal working hours, salaries and holidays, incorporated part III of the Canada Labour Code.

Part III of the act, setting health and safety standards, incorporated part II of the Canada Labour Code.

Both parts of the legislation were intended to apply to staff in the House of Commons, the Senate and the Library of Parliament as well as the staff of senators and members of parliament.

It may seem odd that they have never come into effect, since the bill has been law for 17 years. The government acknowledged that the unions, as well as a number of employees and members, have called for these provisions to be applied.

The government has acted upon their requests by addressing this matter and consulting parliamentarians and other stakeholders. It did not move on the matter after that consultation because of a lack of consensus. As well, the government feels that the requirements of the law are properly respected, albeit informally.

The standards imposed by part II are already in collective agreements. As well, parliamentary employers respect the spirit of the law as far as health and safety is concerned. In many cases, they go beyond what the law requires.

For instance, the House of Commons has struck a joint health and safety committee made up of representatives of management and labour.

The hiring of MPs' staff is governed by the regulations of the Board of Internal Economy, and employee benefits are set out in the directives of the Manual of Allowances and Services , which apply to parliamentarians in their capacity as employers.

Two main concerns were raised by members of Parliament concerning the coming into effect of parts II and III.

First, part II requirements might have financial and operational implications for MPs and senators.

Each parliamentarian is aware that we must carry out our activities within the framework of the limited funds made available for staff.

Second, the coming into effect of part III might impact upon the independence of members of Parliament and breach their privileges.

For example, employees might refuse to work if they deemed their working conditions to be dangerous, and this might be considered a matter of privilege it if prevented the House or its members from sitting.

Part III would give government inspectors access to the parliamentary precinct, in particular the MPs' and senators' offices, without the authorization of the person concerned or of the Speaker of the House.

As parliamentarians, we need to act with caution when laws are proposed which might conflict with parliamentary privileges.

As I have already noted, parts II and III apply the provisions of the Canada Labour Code to parliamentary staff. Yet that code was never designed to apply to the legislative branch.

It does not in any way take into consideration the distinct nature of the House of Commons or the Senate, rights and parliamentary immunity of MPs, or the constitutional independence of the House from the executive branch.

I would point out that the Parliamentary Employment and Staff Relations Act has not undergone a comprehensive parliamentary review since 1986.

It is now proposed in Bill C-419 that parts II and III come into force without our first ascertaining that they remain as relevant as they were 17 years ago.

As I just said, perhaps we should consider further amendments to the act before enacting parts II and III, to ensure that they do not conflict with parliamentary privileges.

We should make sure that all the amendments made to the Canada Labour Code since 1986 actually do apply to parliamentary staff.

That having been said, this bill only changes the coming into force of the act and does not make any substantive changes to parts II and III.

To conclude, it was in response to concerns expressed by parliamentarians that the government held off enacting parts II and III.

The working conditions of our staff matter greatly to us, but I believe that the House was able to settle the matter informally, without breaching our privileges in the process.

Parliamentary Employment and Staff Relations ActPrivate Members' Business

April 8th, 2003 / 6:25 p.m.
See context

Progressive Conservative

Norman E. Doyle Progressive Conservative St. John's East, NL

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to say a few words on Bill C-419, an act to amend the Parliamentary Employment and Staff Relations Act.

The purpose of the bill is to ensure that staff of members of the Senate and the House of Commons who serve the members in their capacity as member, leader, House leader or whip will not be prevented from being in a bargaining unit. Simply put, the bill affords collective bargaining rights to political staff. It would essentially turn political staff into quasi-civil servants. That is a move with which I think our party would have some very fundamental problems. I would have some fundamental problems with it as well.

This is not the general course I would normally pursue, because I generally support legislation that gives full collective bargaining rights, including the right to strike, to workers in the vast majority of situations. However, political staff are an entirely different kettle of fish. I do not know how it could possibly work when we consider the hours of work that political staff put in and the flexibility that is required of the political staff in putting in overtime and what have you. I cannot see how it could possibly work.

Political staff are not civil servants. Neither are they simply management level civil servants who are exempt from a given bargaining unit. Political staff are simply that, political staff. Their relationship to the member is essentially personal and political. The nature of that relationship is as varied as the number of members in the House of Commons. How could we possibly have one set of rules that would apply to everyone? In this particular instance I think it is fair to say that one size does not fit all.

Members hire a political staffer for a whole bunch of different reasons. There is no criteria set out to hire a political staffer. Sometimes a political staffer is hired because he worked on an election campaign with us, or he is a friend who has a talent we recognize in one particular area. He may not fit the criteria set out in a job description and it might be very difficult to fit him into a certain job description.

One of the ways in which the uniqueness of the relationship between a member and a staffer is acknowledged in the House is by the vacation pay a member's staff receives on an annual basis. That is in recognition of the fact that political staff often work long hours. They work very odd hours. They have no provision for overtime and have no realistic expectation of the usual annual vacation leave that applies in the case of a civil servant.

One thing which struck me as strange was that temporary House committee staff are excluded from collective bargaining rights but they are lumped in with political staff to acquire those rights under Bill C-419. To me that is mixing apples and oranges. House and Senate committees serve all political parties, and committee staff, be they temporary or full time, are essentially civil servants. Therefore I cannot see them as being in the same category as political staff as far as collective bargaining rights are concerned.

I want to congratulate the member from the NDP for taking the initiative. Maybe it requires some debate but I cannot help but say that perhaps the relationship between the NDP caucus and its staff operates a little differently from the rest of the political world with which I am familiar.

I have been in political life since 1979 and this is the first occasion in which I have seen a serious proposal to significantly alter the collective bargaining rights of political staff. Of course, they have no collective bargaining rights at the moment.

Political staff are not rank and file civil servants. They are not public service management staff. They occupy a unique position in the governmental spectrum and one which I feel is not suitable for the stated intentions of the bill.

Regrettably, I do not believe we can support the bill. Again I want to congratulate the member and say that it probably requires some further debate, but on the surface of it, I think we would have some difficulty in granting collective bargaining rights to political staff. It just does not seem to fit.

Parliamentary Employment and Staff Relations ActPrivate Members' Business

April 8th, 2003 / 6:10 p.m.
See context

Laval East Québec

Liberal

Carole-Marie Allard LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour for me to take part in the debate on Bill C-419, an act to amend the Parliamentary Employment and Staff Relations Act (members' staff).

First, I think it is appropriate that this bill is being considered during private members' business, and it is not my intention to seem skeptical about the changes nor negative about unions, god forbid. I want to congratulate the member for bringing this issue forward again for debate in the House of Commons.

In my humble opinion and the opinion of my government, this bill would have a direct impact on how parliamentarians work and run their offices. It is, therefore, reasonable for us to discuss these issues in a non-partisan manner, which does not mean that we cannot try to come to some agreement.

Since the legislation was enacted in 1986, the government has considered many points raised by this bill. It must be said that no solutions were implemented because parliamentarians were unable to agree on these points.

Bill C-419, which the House is currently considering, proposes three major changes to the Parliamentary Employment and Staff Relations Act, passed in 1986.

First, part I of the legislation would be amended to allow employees of members and senators to negotiate collective agreements. These provisions would apply to Hill and riding office staff, as well as caucus employees.

Each member and senator would be considered an employer by his or her employees. Hill staff would then be subject to the same act as employees of the House of Commons, Senate and Library of Parliament.

Under part I of the act, staff of Parliament could appeal to the Public Service Staff Relations Board, for arbitration and settlement of grievances.

Second, the bill would add a new provision prohibiting lockouts by employers. This would apply to the House of Commons, the Senate, the Library of Parliament and each member and senator as employers. Furthermore, this bill includes sanctions for employers who resort to lockouts.

Third, this bill would ensure that parts II and III of the act would come into force. Part II sets standards for hours of work, salaries and leave, and integrates part III into the Canada Labour Code.

Part III sets occupational health and safety standards, and also integrates part II of the Canada Labour Code. These two parts, parts II and III, apply to staff of members of Parliament, the Senate and the Library of Parliament.

Even though the Parliamentary Employment and Staff Relations Act was enacted on June 27, 1986, parts II and III—which deal with health and safety standards—never came into force because of concerns expressed by parliamentarians from both chambers that these provisions should not apply to parliamentary staff.

One of the concerns of parliamentarians who did not want parts II and III to come into force was that these provisions have financial and operational consequences.

Let us refer to the financial consequences first. Bill C-419 could provoke considerable expenses due to occupational health and safety standards set out in parts II and III. The new provisions that would allow for collective bargaining could also have significant financial repercussions for members and senators.

More important still, there would also be possible repercussions from parts II and III on the independence of members of Parliament and on their privileges. For example, employees could refuse to carry out certain tasks, or claim that certain jobs are dangerous. We can immediately imagine the consequences, which would prevent the House from sitting.

The work of members' offices would be disrupted. Among other things, government inspectors would have access to Parliament Hill and to members' offices.

As parliamentarians, we must ensure that our privileges are not unduly jeopardized. We must find the right balance between maintaining these privileges and respecting the interests of our employees. The House of Commons, the Senate and the Library of Parliament have managed to solve labour disputes informally. Yet, employees benefit from protections similar to those provided under the Parliamentary Employment and Staff Relations Act. This act has the benefit of not breaching our privileges.

As parliamentarians, we must ensure that we fulfill our duties as employers in such a way as to provide our own employees with good working arrangements.

The purpose of this bill concerns each and every one of us. I am pleased to see that we can deal with this topic in a non-partisan manner. In the end, the government recognizes the concerns expressed on this matter by parliamentarians over the years. For this reason, it does not wish to move forward with this bill without consensus among parliamentarians.

The most appropriate compromise, and I do say compromise, rather than solution, would be for the Board of Internal Economy to create a parallel non-legislative structure with the same purposes as those set out in this bill, but without the problems that would arise under Bill C-419, introduced by the member.

Parliamentary Employment and Staff Relations ActPrivate Members' Business

April 8th, 2003 / 5:50 p.m.
See context

NDP

Alexa McDonough NDP Halifax, NS

moved that Bill C-419, an act to amend the Parliamentary Employment and Staff Relations Act (members' staff), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have an opportunity to debate second reading of Bill C-419. I introduced this bill on two previous occasions, but unfortunately in both instances it died on the Order Paper. I hope that all members representing all caucuses in the House of Commons will see fit to engage consideration of what is a matter of simple justice.

This bill proposes to amend the Parliamentary Employment and Staff Relations Act to ensure that staff of senators and members of the House of Commons who serve them in the capacity of member, leader, House leader or whip, would enjoy the benefit of being permitted, if they so choose, to organize a union, to belong to a union, and to enjoy the benefits of collective bargaining.

I do not need to tell members that this is a set of rights and privileges that is considered fundamental in a modern, democratic society such as Canada. In fact, we worked long and hard to ensure that those rights are protected and advanced for all working people.

I must say that for me it was a revelation. I was astounded when I arrived on Parliament Hill in 1995 to discover that only the New Democratic Party caucus had voluntarily recognized the organization of its staff on Parliament Hill in what is known as PASS, the Parliamentary Association of Support Staff. It was organized in the early eighties and not only were they the only staff on Parliament Hill working for members of Parliament or senators who enjoyed the benefit of that organization, but in fact they did not enjoy the full benefits of collective bargaining. It remains true to this day that neither the employer or the employee at this point in time enjoy the full recognition of a union or an employer that is engaged in a collective bargaining process and has obligations that go with that under the current legislation that governs this House.

As I said, it is a matter of simple justice. What these changes propose to do is alter the current legislation, the Parliamentary Employment and Staff Relations Act, so that parliamentary staff would not be prevented from organizing and negotiating with their employer through a collective bargaining unit.

I know there are members who have expressed concerns about what this would mean in the instance of confidential staff and political staff. This proposal would cover staff in a minster's office who would be hired under the Parliamentary Employment and Staff Relations Act but would not cover staff in a minister's office who would be hired under the Public Service Employment Act.

The bill proposes that staff working not just for ordinary members but for caucuses and for parliamentary committees would have extended to them the normal rights and protections that would be available to the majority of Canadian workers.

Let me outline what the bill would do. First, it would change the definition of employee in the act to exclude persons who are employees under section 2 of the Public Service Staff Relations Act, essentially confidential and political staff.

Second, it would change the definition of employer in the act to include members of the House and Senate who have staff to assist their work as members in Ottawa or in their constituency, to assist members who are ministers, and to assist members in their role as leaders, House leaders, whips of recognized parties, and staff who serve the caucus of a recognized party.

Third, the bill would prohibit the employer from engaging in lockouts and would provide penalties for those causing lockouts. In so doing, Bill C-419 would not affect any provision of the Parliament of Canada Act that currently forbids strikes. It would create an even-handedness or a level playing field in that regard.

Finally, the bill would cause the entire act, parts I, II and III, to come into force on a date chosen by cabinet or upon royal assent of the private member's bill, whichever occurs first.

In November 2002, the Federal Court of Appeal ruled that members of Parliament are required to abide by basic human rights legislation. In a unanimous decision, the court rejected the argument put forward by the House of Commons that parliamentary privilege somehow exempted MPs from the provisions of the Canadian Human Rights Act. It would be accurate to say that Bill C-419, which I am introducing for debate this evening, would compliment that important court ruling by providing that the vast majority of Parliament Hill employees would enjoy some of the labour rights enjoyed by other Canadian workers.

When I arrived in Ottawa in 1995 as leader but without a seat, I was astounded to discover that employees of members of caucuses and staff of ministers at the constituency level were not confidential or political staff, and were effectively prohibited from forming a union.

One might ask how it is then that employees of the New Democratic Party caucus, as far back as the early eighties, did in fact put in place an employees' collective bargaining structure. It did so only because of one of the important principles, and I would be prepared to say raison d'être, of the NDP which is to ensure that workers enjoy the right to organize and to bargain collectively.

In that regard, the New Democratic Party caucus entered into a voluntary recognition that first established the Parliamentary Association of Support Staff which has evolved over the years with the full support and appreciation of the NDP caucus. This was not just the simple justice of having workers enjoy those rights that are enjoyed by the majority of Canadian workers, but that the orderly collective bargaining process was a better relationship between employer and employee. The PASS organization evolved into a much more fully functioning union and for all practical purposes, except for the lack of support that exists under the legislation governing employees on the Hill, it has without a doubt created a more positive and harmonious working relationship.

Why should employees who serve for many years in this place have no orderly provisions whereby they can receive fair increments in their pay despite the fact that we know that as a result of recent legislation there are automatic increments in the budgets of members through their MOBs?

We know now that as a result of recent legislation there are automatically budgetary increments in the budgets of members, through the MOBs of members. Let me say from the employers' side that this is an issue should there be a situation where there may be a dispute, which one would hope to avoid but nevertheless that is not always the reality in a workplace, in which an employer and an employee in fact need some of the benefits of the supports that go with the collective bargaining process through the broader system and through legislation such as the amendments to the legislation that I am introducing tonight. In fact, the opportunity for the employer and the employee to avail themselves of mediation services or of arbitration is simply denied to the employer and the employee alike. This can create severe unfairness and injustices.

It really is a matter of simple justice. Although there is some apprehension, I understand, from some members who have expressed their opposition to moving in this direction, I think it is past time for us to recognize that fair treatment of our employees surely requires that they be accorded and extended the basic rights that are available to the majority of Canadian workers.

I ask members to consider this from the point of view of the employer, to consider it from the point of view of what kind of precedent it sets and what kind of model it is for members of Parliament who have it within their realm of opportunity and I would say obligation to improve the legislative provisions and protections for those who serve us so ably and so capably here on Parliament Hill and who are denied those very basic rights.

I look forward to hearing from other members and other caucuses as we move forward to improve both the legislative and the working environment for those who are employed here on the Hill, both by senators and by members of Parliament.

Parliamentary Employment and Staff Relations ActRoutine Proceedings

March 20th, 2003 / 3:10 p.m.
See context

NDP

Alexa McDonough NDP Halifax, NS

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-419, an act to amend the Parliamentary Employment and Staff Relations Act (members' staff).

Mr. Speaker, I beg leave to amend the Parliamentary Employment and Staff Relations Act. The bill grants to all personnel employed on Parliament Hill the benefit of full trade union rights and protections which, unbelievably, they are presently denied.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)