Mr. Speaker, the bill before us seeks to establish an agency that will have a number of powers and responsibilities regarding the food industry.
As you know, in Quebec, we already have a body, namely the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, that assumes all the powers and responsibilities necessary in any state to ensure the public has access to food that meets modern safety and quality standards, and does so in a cost effective way.
This morning, I speak on behalf of the Bloc Quebecois primarily to make sure the agency to be established will satisfy the probity criteria that Canadians and Quebecers should expect.
This is why the Bloc Quebecois proposed a series of amendments and, this morning, we are debating the sixth group of these amendments. I will now discuss them.
The first one deals with clause 12, lines 28 and 29, on page 4 of the bill. The amendment that we propose provides that the agency is exempt from the application of section 7 and subsection 69(3) of the Public Service Staff Relations Act. It also states that, for the purposes of paragraph 92(1)( b ) of the Public Service Staff Relations Act, the agency is deemed to be designated pursuant to subsection 92(4) of that act.
Why do we propose this amendment? Because, in its current form, the agency would be a "separate employer" under the Public Service Staff Relations Act, which means that some employees would lose vested rights.
The purpose of this act is not to take anything away from public servants, but to ensure a better integration of functions currently being fulfilled by three different bodies.
This amendment is also in response to a request from the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada. Given the parliamentary procedure, should the amendment we discussed in previous days be adopted, it would obviate the need for this particular amendment.
I should point out that PIPS agrees with the view expressed by the Public Service Alliance of Canada, except that it is asking that the bill be amended to allow it to negotiate a number of issues that are important to its members.
Again, the purpose of the bill is not to wrong public servants, but to better serve the public from coast to coast.
If the government does not vote in favour of the amendments being proposed by the Bloc Quebecois, the result will be that bargaining agents for the agency's future unionized employees will not be able to continue to bargain in a certain number of areas. These areas are as follows: organization of the public service, assignment of duties to positions within the agency, and classification, appointment, evaluation, promotion, demotion, transfer, lay-off, and release of employees for other than disciplinary reasons.
You can see, the whole House can see, that important rights, substantial protection that is there for the majority of employees under the Public Service Employment Act will no longer apply to agency employees when the initial two-year transition period comes to an end.
This is a situation that must be drawn to the attention of this House. It was incumbent on the Bloc Quebecois to condemn this situation because, I repeat, the law must not be used, directly or indirectly, to tamper with the rights of public servants.
We also have another amendment. The agency is deemed to be included in the definition of "federal undertaking" in section 2 of the Canada Labour Code, and that that act applies, with such modifications as the circumstances require, to the agency and its employees.
We are proposing this additional amendment because, in its present form, the agency will be a separate employer as defined in the Public Service Staff Relations Act.
I would also remind members that we are introducing this amendment at the request of the Public Service Alliance of Canada. With respect to the alliance, the government unfortunately did not take into account the legislative positions put forward by the unions during consultations held by the government to determine the agency's status. Workers whose positions must be transferred to the new agency would lose benefits negotiated or integrated with the National Joint Council. They would thus lose any benefits they had under the work force adjustment directive. They would also lose their protection with respect to staffing and classification.
You will understand that, in order to resolve this situation, and at the same time allow it to improve conditions for its members, the alliance is therefore asking that the government designate the agency as covered by the Canada Labour Code. The Bloc Quebecois, through its amendment, is backing the alliance's request because it is a reasonable one. It meets these criteria: that bills passed should be for, not against, improving the well-being of public servants.
I hope the House will also be receptive to this amendment, which is so obviously justified, as you can see.
In the few minutes I have left, I will move on to another amendment in the same block, this one affecting clause 13, lines 30 to 34. This amendment follows on, of course, from the previous one by the Professional Institute of the Public Service, which also recommended this one to us.
More specifically, the employees of the agency are to be appointed pursuant to the Public Service Employment Act, and not, under the Public Service Staff Relations Act, as the bill reads at present.
We are bringing in this new amendment because, as it stands at present-again we must remember that the agency will be a separate employer under the Public Service Staff Relations Act and employees must not lose vested rights.
What the Professional Institute of the Public Service is calling for is along the same lines as the Alliance, except that the latter also wants to amend the bill in a way that would allow it to negotiate a number of important matters for its members.
Again, if our amendment were not supported by this House, there are a number of important matters which could no longer be negotiated by the agency on behalf of its future unionized staff.
In short, once again the situation is worthy of the attention of this House, and we are pointing it out because we believe proper protection is in the best interests of future employees.
I know my time is very nearly up, so I will conclude by bringing to the attention of members that, generally speaking, this bill rather freely opens the door to possible political appointments to the board and staff of this agency. It would be regrettable, you will agree, if we were to end up with a bill which might tempt a political party in power to take advantage of a number of openings to exercise what is generally called patronage.
When human beings are involved there is always the risk of human weaknesses, which is why I feel it is the duty of this House to ensure that such patronage could not be possible, by quite simply making the appropriate changes to the bill to prevent any possibility of political appointments by the party in power.