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Evidence of meeting #47 for Government Operations and Estimates in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was million.

A video is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Daniel Jean  Deputy Minister, Department of Canadian Heritage
René Bouchard  Executive Director, Portfolio Affairs, Department of Canadian Heritage
Robert Hertzog  Director General, Financial Management Branch, Department of Canadian Heritage
Anne-Marie Robinson  President, Public Service Commission of Canada
Guy Giguère  Chairperson, Public Service Staffing Tribunal
Lisanne Lacroix  Registrar and Deputy Head, Public Servants Disclosure Protection Tribunal
Casper Bloom  Chairperson, Public Service Labour Relations Board
Clerk of the Committee  Mr. Marc-Olivier Girard

4:35 p.m.

Anne-Marie Robinson President, Public Service Commission of Canada

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair and honourable members.

I'd like to thank you for the opportunity to meet with you this afternoon to discuss our main estimates and our report on plans and priorities for this fiscal year. The Public Service Commission is accountable to Parliament for safeguarding the integrity of the public service staffing system and the political impartiality of public servants.

In our main estimates for 2012-13, the PSC is authorized to spend $92.7 million and it has an authority to recover up to $14 million of the costs of our counselling and assessment services and products provided to federal organizations.

Mr. Chair, the main estimates do not reflect the contributions that the PSC is making to Budget 2012. As a result, the PSC's budget will be reduced by $8.9 million. This is a reduction of 10% of the review base, and it will be implemented over a period of three years.

In developing our proposals for reduction, the PSC was guided by several imperatives. Our priority was to protect our ability to carry out our mandate. We focused on ensuring that the PSC will continue to be able to inform and support Parliament as well as support departments, conduct effective oversight, and deliver innovative staffing and assessment services to departments. The PSC will achieve its reduction targets through a variety of means, including redesigning work processes; leveraging advancements in technologies; and benefiting from mature audit and investigation methodologies.

Mr. Chair, I wish to inform this committee that the PSC was able to contribute its share while maintaining its ability to carry out its mandate. As a result of our reductions, some 87 positions will be eliminated over the next three years. Through vacancy management and attrition, we have already achieved a reduction of 38 positions. As a result, up to 49 PSC employees may be declared surplus. All PSC employees who are directly impacted have been personally informed. I am also pleased to inform the committee that seven of the employees declared surplus have since been placed in other jobs.

In order to minimize the number of involuntary departures from the PSC, staffing controls will remain in place at our Executive Management Committee for the foreseeable future. This period will be difficult for organizations and for employees. I can assure you that, at the PSC, all employees affected by these reductions will be treated with respect.

Now I'd like to turn to our strategic priorities for this year. They reflect the evolving context for the public service and set the course for our organization in responding effectively to those realities.

This brings me to the support that the PSC has provided and will continue to provide to the departments and agencies in responding to their staffing activities related to workforce adjustment. While Treasury Board Secretariat has the lead responsibility in managing workforce adjustment, the PSC has two specific roles with respect to workforce adjustment: first, by providing policy guidance and support to departments in selecting employees for retention or layoff; and second, in managing priority entitlements.

We recently updated our policy guidance tools to provide managers with more detailed and concrete guidance on how to run merit-based structured processes for selecting employees who will be retained or laid off. To date, the Public Service Commission has provided intensive training to some 3,700 managers and human resource advisers. Our approach has been to support departments to ensure that their decisions are based on merit and their processes are fair and transparent.

The PSC is also responsible for managing priority entitlements. Under our legislation and regulations, priority persons are eligible to be appointed ahead of all others to vacant positions in the public service, provided they meet the essential qualifications of the positions. Surplus employees and laid off individuals have entitlements to priority appointments. These entitlements help the public service retain and redeploy skilled and competent people and therefore avoid the cost of hiring new employees.

The PSC is responsible for ensuring that these entitlements are respected, and it does so through the priority administration program. During this time of transition, it is critical that this program functions well, as the priority system will become a key source of public service hiring over the next couple of years. Internally, we have reallocated resources to this important program and we continue to closely monitor its performance.

Now I would like to turn to our responsibility for conducting independent oversight on behalf of Parliament. We do this through our audits, investigations and ongoing monitoring. Our oversight findings also enable organizations to improve their staffing performance.

Mr. Chair, in a time of restraint and reduced hiring, our staffing values take on greater importance. We continue to work with stakeholders, particularly the Office of the Chief Human Resources Officer and bargaining agents.

We want to ensure that our policies, guides, tools and programs provide effective direction and support, and we will continue to adapt them to reflect changing needs. A more effective priority administration program will play a key role in hiring.

However, the public service may need to conduct recruitment for those occupational groups where there are shortages. We will also continue to conduct effective and enabling oversight and report to Parliament, all the while focusing especially on those higher-risk areas of activity.

Thank you. We will be happy to take your questions when it is convenient to do so.

4:40 p.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP Pat Martin

Thank you very much, Ms. Robinson.

Next we will hear from the Public Service Staffing Tribunal, Mr. Guy Giguère.

4:40 p.m.

Guy Giguère Chairperson, Public Service Staffing Tribunal

Mr. Chair, Vice-Chairs and honourable members, thank you for this opportunity to appear before you to explain the operations of the Public Service Staffing Tribunal, a first time visit for us.

This year marks our seventh year as the Public Service Staffing Tribunal. The tribunal was established in 2005 under the Public Service Employment Act, as an independent, quasi-judicial body to address complaints related to internal appointments and lay-offs in the federal public service, in other words, staffing matters.

Our legislated mandate is to provide adjudication and mediation of complaints. We are also called upon to interpret and apply the Canadian Human Rights Act in certain situations. In fulfilling our mandate, we conduct hearings, mediations and settlement conferences. The outcome we seek is the fair and impartial resolution of these disputes.

The unpredictable number and complexity of our caseload represent a constant challenge. We have seen an increase in the number of complaints, from 400 in 2006 to nearly 1,900 in the last fiscal year, for an annual average of almost 1,000 complaints over the last five years.

Our vision, from the outset, was to put in place a complaint resolution process that promotes the settlement of complaints. That is why over 90% of complaints are either resolved or withdrawn at some point during the process. Generally, we close 70% to 80% of files within nine months of receiving the complaint.

ln 2011-2012, we held over 40 hearings, 227 mediations, and 38 settlement conferences. In addition to the decisions on our web site, we also issued 1,159 unpublished decisions with respect to motions filed by the parties. These decisions were usually issued within a matter of days.

Settlement conferences have recently been added to the tribunal's "tool kit" to assist with case load and to provide another mechanism for parties to resolving their dispute.

Of note, 82% of mediations result in a withdrawal of the complaint while 74% of cases scheduled for a settlement conference also result in a withdrawal.

Since its inception, the tribunal has managed its ever growing case load and the increasing complexity of complaints through innovation, increased efficiencies and case management processes. This has allowed us to deliver our mandate within our allocated budget and to maintain our operating costs to a reasonable level. Some of these include: settlement conferences; telephone/video conferencing for mediations and settlement conferences; an expedited hearing pilot project for 2012-2013, which limits the hearing to one day with reasons provided in a shorter time frame for less complex cases; part-time mediators in the regions; early case management and consolidation of cases for hearing whenever possible.

While these on-going improvements aim to reduce time and cost required for both the parties and the tribunal, they also simplify the complaint process, improve its timeliness and help ensure that parties to a complaint achieve more satisfactory results and make good use of dispute resolution mechanisms available.

ln closing, I wish to emphasize that our objective is to provide parties with opportunities to resolve complaints effectively and to deliver decisions that are fair, consistent and well-reasoned.

In closing, I would like to thank you for your invitation and the opportunity to meet with you and answer your questions.

4:45 p.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP Pat Martin

Thank you very much, Mr. Giguère.

Next, from the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Tribunal, we have Lisanne Lacroix.

May 28th, 2012 / 4:45 p.m.

Lisanne Lacroix Registrar and Deputy Head, Public Servants Disclosure Protection Tribunal

Thank you, Mr. Chair, for this opportunity to meet with you today.

I have with me Ms. Virginia Adamson, the registry's senior counsel, should there be questions of a legal nature.

I'm happy to answer any questions the honourable committee members may have, but first, with your indulgence, I would like to make a few brief introductory remarks.

The registry of the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Tribunal was established in 2007 to support a new tribunal charged with the duty of protecting public servants who report wrongdoing in the federal public sector. The tribunal hears complaints of reprisal referred by the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner. It has the power to order remedies in favour of complainants and disciplinary sanctions against public servants who take reprisals. The tribunal consists of Federal Court judges who free themselves when necessary to hear cases.

The tribunal got off to a rocky start for reasons that we all know. However, the tribunal has everything it requires, at the present time, to fulfill its mandate under the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act. The chairperson, the Honourable Luc Martineau, was appointed by the Governor in Council in June 2010 for a four-year term. The members of the tribunal, the Honourable Sean Harrington and the Honourable Marie-Josée Bédard, were appointed in March 2011, for a four-year and five-year term, respectively. The tribunal has adopted rules of procedure, which were published in the Canada Gazette, and the registry has posted, on its website, a procedural guide to help parties understand tribunal proceedings. It has also set up a consultation committee, made up of the tribunal's clients, to ensure the efficiency and effectiveness of proceedings.

The tribunal received its first application for a hearing from the Office of the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner in May 2011. Since then, two other applications have been sent to the tribunal. The tribunal has rendered five interlocutory decisions on jurisdiction and procedure, decisions which clarify the scope of the act and the role of the tribunal. The future decisions of the tribunal will bring greater clarity and will allow Canadians to assess the effectiveness of the act.

Since its establishment in 2007, the registry has never spent its full budget. Although it is very difficult to predict the number of cases the tribunal will hear this year, and consequently to assess the human and financial resource requirements to continue to support the tribunal in carrying out its mandate, the registry expects to spend its entire funding allocation this year. According to the latest information, there are about 20 reprisal complaints being investigated by the Office of the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner.

That said, the registry will continue to ensure that public funds are managed with prudence and probity and that resources are used effectively, efficiently, and economically to achieve objectives.

Thank you.

4:50 p.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP Pat Martin

Thank you very much, Ms. Lacroix.

Finally, we'll have the Public Service Labour Relations Board representative.

4:50 p.m.

Casper Bloom Chairperson, Public Service Labour Relations Board

Thank you, Mr. Chair, for the opportunity to speak with the committee today about the Public Service Labour Relations Board. I'm accompanied by Mr. Guy Lalonde, the executive director of the board.

I'd like to begin by describing who we are and what we do. The board is an independent, quasi-judicial tribunal. We are mandated by the Public Service Labour Relations Act to administer the collective bargaining and grievance adjudication systems in the federal public service. We are also mandated by the Parliamentary Employment and Staff Relations Act to perform the same role for the institutions of Parliament.

Established on April 1, 2005, the board replaced the Public Service Staff Relations Board, which had existed since 1967, when collective bargaining was first introduced in the federal public service.

We provide three main services: adjudication, mediation, and compensation analysis and research services.

Our adjudication function sets us apart from other labour relations boards in this country. We are unique. We are one of the few bodies in Canada that combine both adjudication services—that is, we hear and decide grievances—and impartial third-party services in the collective bargaining process. That is, we certify bargaining agents, manage complaints, and deal with the conciliation or arbitration of labour disputes.

Through our mediation services, we offer timely, impartial services that help the parties reach mutually acceptable solutions to their issues. What I would like to mention that's not in my notes is that the jurisdiction we cover is from one end of the country to the other. Some 350,000 public servants fall under our jurisdiction.

Our compensation analysis and research service, or what we commonly refer to as our CARS program, responds to the government's need for an accurate, impartial comparison of federal government employee compensation and that of other employers across the country, both public and private. To date, we have put in place the necessary tools, processes, and systems to ensure that we are in a state of readiness to conduct surveys and studies.

The government itself recognizes the importance of this service in supporting the collective bargaining and compensation decisions in the public service and the future requirements of the Public Sector Equitable Compensation Act. We will be able to provide these impartial compensation comparative analyses when the board receives appropriate funding for the data collection.

The government further expanded our mandate under the Budget Implementation Act of 2009, which transferred the responsibility for public-sector pay equity complaints from the Canadian Human Rights Commission to our board. As a result, we deal not only with complaints that were, or could be, filed with the Human Rights Commission, but also with those that may arise under the Public Sector Equitable Compensation Act when it comes into force. We are awaiting rulings in those matters.

We accept our various mandates, and indeed we have successfully confronted the challenges they have presented to us. The five-year review of the Public Service Modernization Act supports our position. The report describes the current regime as adequate, and that it provides an appropriate framework for people management in the federal public service.

I can also point to our 2010 Client Satisfaction Survey results, which demonstrate that our board has consistently met both its mandated responsibilities and its clients' needs—be it the Treasury Board, the Canada Revenue Agency or Parks Canada—or the various bargaining agents such as the Public Service Alliance of Canada, the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada, the Canadian Association of Professional Employees, or the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers.

Our survey revealed that clients were satisfied with our ability to improve labour relations, not only in terms of the everyday work that we do but also with the quality of assistance, reports and tools that we provide. Specifically, about 80% of the respondents said they are satisfied or very satisfied with the PSLRB's services overall.

While we are progressing well in terms of meeting our mandate in clients' needs, we continue to find innovative ways to help us manage our robust and increasingly complex caseload. Since the beginning of my tenure in 2007, I have witnessed a steady increase in the volume of cases that are referred to the board. More than a decade ago, there were about 1,200 cases in our registry. Today, that number has grown to nearly 6,000. Rest assured, however, on average we are able to close about 1,500 cases per year, which is an excellent effort, but we need to go further and use analytics and strong case management tools to cater more specifically and efficiently to the needs of certain parties.

For example, I note that, of all the grievances currently before the Board, 55% have been filed by employees of the same occupational group. In other words, this equates to one grievance being referred for every three employees in that bargaining unit. Since over one-half of the board's workload has been filed by a single group, our board has established a special task force to address the particular needs of those parties. This includes grouping the grievances together, dealing with policy issues by priority—the latter of which provides a benchmark for dealing with similar grievances—and consistently appointing arbitrators or mediators who have experience with the parties.

As well, we are investing in a more robust and thorough case management system that will enable us to cross-reference cases and deal with similar cases in a similar fashion.

But we must do more than focus on closing case files. We continue to review, analyze, and streamline our adjudication and mediation processes to optimize our resources and enhance our efficiency. From the moment we receive a grievance, we move into proactive case management mode. Often this means we aim to resolve matters brought before us through mediation. There are three-quarters of our cases in collective bargaining disputes referred to mediation that are resolved through our mediation interventions. That's almost 85% that we resolve through mediation.

This success of our mediation program and the calibre of our mediators are also supported by our client satisfaction survey results.

We also seek to make our hearings as productive and efficient as possible, through the use of pre-hearing conferences in which procedural matters are dealt with, and by dealing with hearings through written submissions or early analysis of the underlying issues.

It goes without saying that our ongoing efforts are particularly important in the current economic environment. Although we weren't asked to identify specific reductions in the government's strategic operational review, we nevertheless took it upon ourselves to thoroughly examine our operations, identify efficiencies, and look for cost-saving measures where possible.

Of note, over the past few years we have engaged in partnerships with other independent federal tribunals. The board currently provides certain corporate services—IT, web, finance, compensation, and HR services, and use of its library—to the Public Service Staffing Tribunal, from whom you've just heard, and other similar smaller tribunals under formal shared services agreements.

I am pleased to report that we continue to enhance our efficiency in the daily management of our hearings. Only one adjudicator hears a case, without the support of staff, and he or she travels to a location near the workplace, which limits the need for the grievor and witnesses to travel. Other tribunals use three-person panels, but we rely on a single member. We also use the hearing rooms of the Federal Court, and other administrative tribunals, whenever possible to minimize our costs.

Throughout the years we have demonstrated a proven record of success that has resulted in an enviable reputation in the labour relations world. What sets us apart, I believe, is our unique role and mandate of independent adjudication, mediation, and compensation analysis and research that we uphold. To do so, we work closely with federal workplace parties and support their efforts. In fact, just this morning we met with our client consultation committee, composed of employer and bargaining agent representatives, to discuss among other things hearing postponements and their regulation, which are an unproductive use of the board's resources.

In conclusion, we have the necessary experience, dedication, and commitment to continue our work and to meet the challenges before us. Our ability to resolve labour relations issues in an impartial and efficient manner will ensure that the delivery of programs and services to Canadians is not compromised.

That concludes my remarks. I will be pleased to respond to any questions you may have.

Thank you.

5 p.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP Pat Martin

Thank you very much, Mr. Bloom, and thank you to all of our witnesses.

While we hear from the Public Service Commission relatively frequently, I don't believe we've ever had some of these agencies and tribunals appear before our committee. Given that we're the oversight committee, I think getting some insight as to what you do was time well spent.

We only have time for one round of questioning for each party. If that's acceptable to everyone, it will be five minutes per party.

We do need to conclude at about quarter after or 20 after, to do some votes regarding the main estimates.

We'll begin then with the NDP. Linda Duncan, for five minutes, please.

5 p.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Obviously there's a lot to deal with and we needed you here for two hours.

I will try to be precise and share with my colleagues, given our limited time to question.

My questions are to do with the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Tribunal. To go straight to the point, based on the speaking notes it was reported in the last year that only half of the money was spent. We have an indication that there are very few cases coming forward, and yet the registry is reporting that they intend to spend all of the money despite there being no clarity on a number of cases.

I have two questions related to that. How can you determine that you will spend all the money when there's no certainty there will be any cases at all? Second, what happens if all of a sudden you finally have a flood of cases?

5:05 p.m.

Registrar and Deputy Head, Public Servants Disclosure Protection Tribunal

Lisanne Lacroix

Thank you for the question.

First, it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to predict exactly how much money we're going to spend this year. However, I'm going out on a limb, saying that I think we're going to spend our full budget for the first time in our history. I'll tell you why.

Last fiscal year was the first time we received cases from the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner. As I mentioned earlier, my understanding is that the office of the commissioner is actively investigating about 20 reprisal complaints at the moment, which means that the tribunal can expect to receive a much larger number of cases.

The other thing is that in his remarks before the Senate Committee on National Finance in January, the commissioner, Mario Dion, said that he was seeing a significant increase in the number of disclosures of wrongdoing that were being made to his office, as well as a number of reprisal complaints. So I have to say that, again, a number of factors will have an impact on cost—not just the number of cases, but where the cases are going to be heard, whether they're going to be here in Ottawa or outside the national capital region, which entails travel, etc. There is also the complexity of cases, because in cases where the matter is considered complex, the three tribunal members will preside, instead of just one. That's already happened in one case.

There's also the question of how long the hearings will take. It's very difficult to tell because we don't have any experience.

5:05 p.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

If you end up with a complex case and it can go on for several days, I notice that the statute provides that legal advice can be provided to the complainant. This is a quasi-judicial process, but a maximum of $1,500 is set. Reputable labour lawyers charge that an hour.

How is this a fair process if government lawyers are well paid? We've got Federal Court judges sitting on this. It is a quasi-judicial process. How do you defend this process as fair? Does your budget include the potential for at least upping to the maximum of $3,000 per complaint?

5:05 p.m.

Registrar and Deputy Head, Public Servants Disclosure Protection Tribunal

Lisanne Lacroix

The short answer to that question is that we don't have any flexibility because the legislation was designed the way it is. The tribunal is there to interpret the legislation and nothing else. However, you're probably aware of the fact that the act does call for a review of the legislation five years after its coming into force, which means that this review should take place in 2012. It will be up to the President of the Treasury Board to launch that process. In that context, if the committee members or any other party feels that changes should be made to the legislation, that would be the appropriate venue to raise the respective issues.

5:05 p.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Thank you very much.

I'll give the rest of my time.... That's it?

5:05 p.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP Pat Martin

This concludes our time. Time goes very quickly.

Mike Wallace, you have five minutes.

5:05 p.m.

Conservative

Mike Wallace Conservative Burlington, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

And thank you to our guests today. It was very interesting.

I'm going to try to go quickly.

First, since you were last to speak, the integrity commissioner has to refer the case to the tribunal before you look at it. Is that correct?

5:05 p.m.

Registrar and Deputy Head, Public Servants Disclosure Protection Tribunal

Lisanne Lacroix

That's correct.

5:05 p.m.

Conservative

Mike Wallace Conservative Burlington, ON

That is set out in legislation. The complainant, the whistle-blower—let's say what it is—goes to the integrity commissioner and says this needs to go to the tribunal. That's the concept, don't touch it, and they'll do it for you?

5:10 p.m.

Registrar and Deputy Head, Public Servants Disclosure Protection Tribunal

Lisanne Lacroix

That's the concept, except a refinement needs to be made.

The whistle-blowers can come forward to the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner; however, the tribunal only deals with complaints of reprisal. So if a whistle-blower feels that he or she has been the subject or the victim of reprisals, the commissioner does his investigation first, and then refers cases to the tribunal.

5:10 p.m.

Conservative

Mike Wallace Conservative Burlington, ON

I have a question for you all, other than the president of the Public Service Commission. I don't need to hear from her.

You can run down the line. I want to know about the back office.

I understand that you all do important work. I'm a little bit confused about the difference between a labour issue and a contract issue. I know that you do research also. The other board looks after the staffing tribunal. Those are obviously non-labour agreement issues, I'm assuming. You can tell me if I'm wrong.

I want to know if you all have your own financial officer. Do you all have your own accounting department? Who looks after all the back-office stuff? If it is all done by one organization, TB or whoever it is, I would like know that. Just tell me about the back-office operation and support, not about the actual commission itself.

5:10 p.m.

Chairperson, Public Service Staffing Tribunal

Guy Giguère

I could answer your question. My colleague, Casper Bloom, alluded to that.

When we established the tribunal back in 2005—I was the former deputy chair at the PSLRB—we entered into an agreement so that we could share the back office. Most of our services—financial, IT, and all that—are provided by the PSLRB.

We already have some form of sharing of our back office, which is what you're asking about.

5:10 p.m.

Conservative

Mike Wallace Conservative Burlington, ON

Do you have a chief of staff of sorts, somebody who heads the organization?

5:10 p.m.

Chairperson, Public Service Staffing Tribunal

Guy Giguère

One important thing I forgot to mention is that I'm accompanied today by Josée Dubois, who is our executive director and general counsel. She's the person who is doing that job.

We have different organizations. But our focus at the tribunal is our mandate. Our mandate is to hear complaints and address them. In that—

5:10 p.m.

Conservative

Mike Wallace Conservative Burlington, ON

Explain to me the difference between what they hear and what you hear.

5:10 p.m.

Chairperson, Public Service Staffing Tribunal

Guy Giguère

We hear staffing complaints. That doesn't come under a collective agreement. That's established by the Public Service Employment Act, which created the tribunal, and also the Public Service Commission, the staffing authority. That's not under a collective agreement.

Mr. Bloom could explain more. They deal with grievances. Those are contract interpretations and disciplinary measures, such as if somebody is terminated for a disciplinary reason. We do layoffs and notices.

5:10 p.m.

Conservative

Mike Wallace Conservative Burlington, ON

I'm an employee. Let's say that I'm a unionized employee with the public service. I have an issue. I have a problem. I'm being laid off. How do I know who to go to? How does that work? How do I know whether I should go to the labour board or the labour commission or to you?