Mr. Speaker, on February 6, 2003, the President of the Treasury Board of Canada and member for Westmount—Ville-Marie introduced in Parliament legislation claiming that it would modernize human resources management in the federal public service.
Bill C-25 brings with it a fair amount of Liberal boasting when the minister says the bill is the first wide-ranging legislation reform of human resources management in over 35 years. She says the current system is cumbersome and outdated. I have to ask, who has been minding the store for over nine years? We know that union and management do not get along. However, legislation alone will not save the government in labour relations.
The federal government gets the union behaviour it deserves or, more specifically, the Liberals have historically set the tone as the employer that has created its own unreasonable response from the union side. With this bill, the minister now finally admits that a more collaborative, consultative approach is needed. She is right, but the government has only arrived here in this last year. How fairly did it negotiate when it took over $30 billion out of the workers' pension plan. That whole story sounded more like basic theft rather than negotiations. Employees remember bitterly.
My point is that all the joint councils in the world will not solve the human problem. Consultative and collaborative mechanisms can be created everywhere, but until there is a government that has an inherent philosophy that values employees and over time earns their respect by being always fair and honest with its workers, it will not realize its stated hopes for a balanced approach for human resources modernization.
Before me I see a bill of technicalities. Where is the commitment by the government to a set of values it would impose on itself first while, through this bill, it is prescribing values for others? Through this legislation it is prescribing values for the public service. I am sorry, we are now going to call it public administration. Where, at the same time in this so-called new era, is the government boldly describing self-imposed standards through which it could actually earn respect and create a culture of cooperation with workers?
The Liberals should apologize to Canadians and come clean with workers about broken promises. A new culture and climate must come from government first. It is my assertion that more can be accomplished in 10 minutes when everyone has learned through experience to trust each other and that they can all pull together than what could be accomplished in 10 years of bureaucracy making and rules manoeuvring.
I am talking about leadership. Leadership for a country so that we have some idea where we are going and we have a set of ideals of circumspection for political conduct as we journey on that national road to the future as a society. Wise and inspirational leadership is the only way in the long term for the grand hopes for a new collaborative management-labour culture.
One cannot legislate or coerce employees away from their sense of historical justice. The government cannot legislate away the memories and the deep sense of grievance. It has to earn it year in and year out.
That being said, I agree that the public service needs to have a renewed legal framework for its staffing and management practices to allow it to operate more effectively and to better meet the needs of Canadians. However, right off the top we are now going to call it public administration rather than public service. It sounds like an imperious government that claims to know best for everyone, that it will render what it knows as good for us all and administer instead of striving to serve need, serve the taxpayer in whose name we have government departments who serve the public interest, and serve to be accountable. Will citizens now be mere supplicants who will be administered?
The bill would provide for a new Public Service Employment Act, a new Public Service Labour Relations Act and would amend the Canadian Centre for Management Development Act and the human resources provisions of the Financial Administration Act.
The minister claims it is a balanced approach. However, it could be seen that under the guise of flexibility, while the employer makes room to adjust, it may also make room to manipulate and run rough over the plight of workers who would then increasingly turn to their union for a confrontational response.
The last situation we want to create is where the most prominent document on a worker's desk is a union contract. It can happen when a power shift occurs and new flexible authority is not implemented wisely. The government as a manager has started in a deep hole and if it ever hopes to get to higher ground, the powers that come through increased flexibility would have to be used carefully to obtain objective outcomes in a manner that makes sense to all those involved.
I hope that through better leadership from government, the increased flexibility in staffing and management of people will have safeguards to sustain a merit based, non-partisan public service. The minister sees the need for more constructive and cooperative labour-management relations to support a healthy, productive workplace. Does the government have any clue as to how to operationalize it?
Certainly, a greater commitment of resources to appropriate kinds of training is a start, especially skills in human relations and business, understanding organizational behaviour, industrial psychology, the science of decision-making, team building and people management. They all need to become part of the regular culture.
Wherever there is a supervisory role, even at lower levels, the incumbent must be given the people management training and be required to meet standards for supervising people. More coherent skill building can help employees pursue professional development to help meet the corporate needs of the public service. Clarified roles and strengthening accountability for institutions and individuals responsible for managing the public service should be an ongoing environment of review. Leaders cannot manage what they do not measure and assess.
A transparent culture of evaluation for both outcome and means must become the natural way of being rather than just an emergency reaction to the Auditor General or creating another crisis management project. There is a sound role for a vibrant, independent public service commission. Instead of trying to go around it, when it does not appear responsive enough, a better approach would be to fix it. Let us give the public service real resources to do its job and make it produce timely results, then receive the true potentials that such an independent role can deliver. Let us fix it instead of diluting and bypassing it.
This bill does appear to sufficiently maintain the role of the Public Service Commission as an independent appointment agency, accountable to Parliament for protecting merit, but the meaning of merit is watered down from striving for the best person who is most qualified to any from a group who may meet minimum requirements.
The minister claims the new approach to merit would improve a manager's ability to appoint people more quickly, when and where they are needed, while providing safeguards against abuse. My warning is that if the new direction is not done wisely, the broad system malaise that has been talked about so widely by the professional observers of the public service would only deepen and there would be no renewal of the public service culture. Nevertheless, I remain hopeful for the new independent public service staffing tribunal that would review internal staffing complaints and protect employees against abuse of authority.
My message to the minister is to give the tribunal a lot of capacity up front, as it is likely to be swamped in the beginning until things settle down. The start-up window for credibility would be very short and there would be little room for mistakes on this one. Let us make it comprehensive and capable. Let us resource it fully and ensure that it works for the benefit of everyone across the country.
The minister, through the bill, also realizes the need to assist the oversight role of Parliament. The statute outlines the requirement for the Treasury Board to report annually on human resource management issues. If this were to become one more feel good document that is so typical from the government, then the whole exercise would be lost. I would prefer an element of outside government assessment and certification as part of this reporting exercise, including computer access to the raw data. If the government wants to become transparent, here is its real chance.
The minister hopes the bill, to which we refer as the PSMA, would set the stage for a more constructive dialogue between managers and bargaining agents representing more than 85% of the public service workforce. They hope to improve collective bargaining through enhanced mediation and provide for more flexible methods to resolve conflict. This is very nice, but they certainly do not need to wait for a new act to behave more wisely, for it was always within the grasp of government to behave.
The government will try to fix things with new public interest commissions which will replace existing conciliation boards, supposedly to help parties resolve disputes and recommend settlements in consideration of the public interest. However, the government gets the union behaviour it deserves based upon years of previous conduct. While management must have both the legal power and the skill to manage, we have not yet seen an attitude from the Liberal political masters that any of the system tinkering in this bill would make much difference.
The government would also create a new Canada school of public service by amalgamating Training and Development Canada and the Canadian Centre for Management Development to provide coordinated and innovative learning for employees and managers.
I have optimism for this new arrangement. The government says that it has a strategy to equip the public service to adapt with excellence to the changing needs of Canadians. It makes a lofty claim when it says that through training it is committed to fair and respectful employment practices and effective workplace dialogue.
The government claims that the PSMA is a balanced legislative package resulting from research and consultation conducted by the task force on modernizing human resource management in the public service. We will be hearing from members of the task force at the committee stage process whether enough of their recommendations are in the bill.
Concerning the changes to the Public Service Labour Relations Act, it is to improve the labour-management relationship in the public service while maintaining the existing basic labour relations framework with a view to contributing to a healthy and more productive public service workplace. I note a change in the name of the act, which employs labour relations instead of staff relations to modernize the vocabulary.
A new preamble in the bill tries to underscore the value of co-operative labour relations within a context where the public interest remains paramount. The government says that it is committed to a fair, credible and efficient resolution of matters arising in respect of the terms and conditions of employment. I hope it can lead by example. Certainly the disrespect it has shown Parliament in the past does not help its credibility when dealing with the workers who administer the people's business across the country. It seems some cabinet ministers and even backbench Liberal MPs think that the public service works for the Liberal Party.
Let us be mindful that the bill before us today must be viable, regardless of which political party forms the government in the years to come. What we are doing today should represent more leadership through partnership rather than control through rules.
The bill would affirm in law both the employers right to manage, to determine its own organizations, the assignment of duties and classification of positions, as well as some employee freedoms related to union activity. I hope the government will have the common sense to negotiate with the unions a more reasonable, practical amount of union activity that will be permitted on employer time and on employer premises.
There also would be a new public service labour relations board. The board's mandate would be broadened to provide adjudication, mediation and compensation research and analysis services. It is hoped that the individuals who are appointed to the board will be of the highest calibre the country can produce and who can inspire confidence from all sides, for their role is so important. The board would also continue to provide facilities and administrative support to the national joint council, which is recognized in the bill.
In respect of compensation analysis and consequent bargaining, it should be clarified that in general, public sector compensation levels should be referenced to and follow the benchmarks of the private sector and not lead them.
Two tier bargaining would allow for service wide bargaining to set the broad parameters for terms and conditions of employment in a bargaining unit, while permitting precise details to be negotiated in departments if the employer, the bargaining agent and the deputy head jointly agree. It is designed to result in terms and conditions more appropriately tailored to the needs of the job. The concept of a single master agreement, completed or complemented by sectoral agreements, is very well established across Canada.
Conciliation boards and conciliation commissioners would be replaced by public interest commissions. Public interest commissions would be non-permanent bodies consisting of one of three persons appointed by the minister responsible to assist the parties to resolve their dispute and make recommendations for settlement. The chairperson of the PSLRB would be able to recommend the appointment of a public interest commission, either at the request of the parties or on his or her own initiative. I would hope that if we ever get to that poor situation that one of these needs to be appointed, it would not be used for the government to negotiate through the media.
The right to strike would not be acquired until 30 days after an essential service agreement had been concluded. No essential service employee would be allowed to participate in a strike and it would be prohibited for any person to impede or prevent employees who provide essential services from entering or leaving their place of work.
Concerning strike votes, the bill would require bargaining agents to hold secret ballot strike votes in order to declare a strike. I think that is very wise.
The bill also would ensure that all bargaining unit employees have the right to vote and to be given a reasonable access to the vote. Strike votes would have to be held within 60 days preceding any strike. A majority of those voting would have to be in favour in order for a strike to be declared.
Concerning the informal conflict management system, each deputy head in the core public administration would be required, in consultation with bargaining agents representing employees in the department or organization, to establish an informal conflict management system and inform the employees in the department or organization of its availability.
Concerning amendments to the Financial Administration Act, the delegation of authority and responsibility to deputy heads, considerable sweeping power is given for their human resource requirements and their allocations. With deputy heads receiving such tremendous authority, it is hoped that ministers will keep them accountable. May we never see another HRDC scandal.
Concerning the Public Service Employment Act, the government claims to modernize staffing in the public service, clarify roles and responsibilities and give new meaning to merit, create new arrangements for staffing recourse and establish a regime for political activities of public service employees.
The preamble to the bill has some nice sounding commitments of appreciation for the public service, which later may be undermined in its implementation. It talks about the importance of a modern, flexible staffing regime based on merit without political interference. It mentions excellence, integrity and reflecting national diversity, whose members are drawn from across the country.
That very ideal is too frequently undermined by the geographic prohibitions against all Canadians having equal opportunity to apply for a competition. Such practice by the government hurts national unity and is a stain on our international reputation as a free and democratic society. I call on the minister to immediately prohibit any such discrimination in hiring, for the free goods, capital and labour is fundamental to a market economy and a functioning democracy.
Responsibilities would be clarified among the Public Service Commission, Treasury Board, the employer, deputy heads and the new public service staffing tribunal. The PSST, as we would call it, would adjudicate complaints against internal appointments and establish regulations regarding complaint procedures. As I have mentioned, it is a very important entity.
We now come to the principle of merit that should apply throughout the public service at all levels. Initial appointments by the Public Service Commission would continue to be based on merit, free from political interference it is said, but with an approach to try and streamline the lengthy staffing process.
The following new definition is likely to be fought over and has already generated some national controversy in the media. An appointment would be based on merit when the Public Service Commission determines that the person meets the essential qualifications for the work to be performed and has regard to any additional qualifications that would be an asset or has regard to the operational requirements or current and future needs of the organization that may be identified.
The new meaning of merit would reflect the new roles and responsibilities of the PSC, the employer and the deputy heads. The employer would determine the needs of the public service, such as skill shortages and incapacities. The deputy heads would determine particular needs within their organizations, such as shift work availability and essential qualifications, as well as complementary qualifications that would be an asset for the job but that are not essential. It would be expected that the PSC would conduct the assessments and make the selection.
My problem is that the new, watered down definition of merit gives no direction to select the best person for the job within a specific competition process. Since that basic goal would no longer be required, no justification or accountability would be required to defend perhaps a sloppy selection process or even insider advantage to a favoured person.
There is nothing that will bring the whole system down faster than the informal social network of news among employees when it becomes known that a significantly less able employee was selected for promotion under the new proposed system, where this so-called winner met the basic qualifications but was clearly not the best person within any given competition. I say to the minister that she will have a disaster on her hands if she fails to fix this most basic definition.
Merit means exactly that, the person with the most merit within any given competition must be hired. That was the definition of the courts.
The parallel is the letting of contracts, which should be a straightforward business activity, but over which the government stumbles time after time.
The issue of contracts for the federal government is fraught with trouble across the country. It is because the government always seems to want to fudge the rules and play favourites and has insufficient standards that cannot be avoided. It is still too easy under present contracting rules to reward its political friends. That is why sealed bidding processes were developed for contracting in the private sector.
The minister knows all the trouble, the unfairness and the manipulation that goes on with contracting and picking a winner in a competition. The same potential for human nature will apply with a watered down definition of merit in the public service.
It is possible to be efficient and effective and still be fair. Alternately, can it be a wise use of human resource potential to not select the best person in a competition rather than just any from a group of unknown alternative criteria?
Since merit would now be just kind of incidental, why would a competition for promotion even be held? That operational hope is not acceptable. We can be efficient and fix the bottle necks without watering down the principle of merit.
Let us go to clause 33 which permits a secret or unadvertised appointment process. That is also unacceptable. It is not too onerous to post a competition on a computer database that is searchable on the net. Timely advertising of vacancies and promotional opportunities is an inherent part of the proper working of the merit principle. They are tied together.
Clause 34 includes the discredited language where it states:
--the commission may determine an area of selection by establishing geographic, organizational or occupational criteria....
This present definition in law cannot stand as it is so fundamental to all of what it means to have an independent and professional public service. It goes to the heart of why we have a Public Service Commission and what it was created for in the first place. Geographic discrimination is intolerable, and the public expects no less.
No system of appointment or promotion competition is perfect. I am pleased to see recourse for an employee is spelled out in the bill for internal appointment processes. The bill would allow informal discussion to occur between hiring managers and candidates throughout a staffing process to address concerns and correct errors with a view to reducing the need for formal recourse. Where formal recourse is necessary there would be a new, independent tribunal, called the public service staffing tribunal, to replace the current PSC appeal boards.
Employees who are in a competition would be able to make a complaint to the PSST for adjudication based on some grounds. These grounds would include abuse of authority, such as personal favouritism, or denial of the right to be assessed in the official language of one's choice.
The PSST would be able to interpret and apply the Canadian Human Rights Act if a discrimination issue were to arise, and if appropriate, give monetary relief in accordance with the act for pain and suffering and/or special compensation where the behaviour was wilful or reckless.
The Canadian Human Rights Commission would have the right to be notified if issues of discrimination were raised before the PSST and would have standing to make submissions to the PSST. This is designed to promote better decision making by the tribunal in the area of discrimination and employment and to streamline recourse.
However the provisions of the bill would not prevent an employee from making a complaint to CHRC.
The most practical and important part is missing from the legislation. What I do not see is that the PSST should have the clear power to negate a selection and require the process to be done over again with the opportunity for additional applicants to join in. That is the most appropriate, effective, corrective measure to ensure managers are fair, or, if they do not behave, they would have to do the same process over again next time and select the best person. The timelines could be quite fast and need not be seen as a bottleneck. This issue is so basic that it must be fixed.
It seems most reasonable that employees of separate agencies would automatically be able to participate in selection processes open to employees in the core public administration. Agency positions likely were formerly within the public service in any event, such as the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency. Separate agencies would also be able to request that the PSC approve its staffing regime so that its employees could be deployed into the core public administration.
In the act the Public Service Commission would be required to consult with bargaining agents on key issues, principles governing layoffs, priorities for appointments, qualification standards, the definitions of promotion, probation deployment and appointment to level. Staffing would continue to be outside the scope of collective bargaining.
The PSC would have the authority to investigate whether an appointment was politically motivated or whether fraud occurred in an appointment process and could take corrective action, including revocation, if it was determined that an appointment was tainted by political influence or by fraud.
Now let us talk about term employees. They would be automatically converted to indeterminate, or what I would call permanent status, at the end of the cumulative period of appointment specified by the employer in circumstances determined by the employer. Currently I think that time is three years and it should be reduced to two years, calculated in actual hours of a normal working year.
The use of casual workers should be a concern to all of us. The allowable period of casual employment would be limited to a maximum of 90 days in any calendar year under the act. The government should review where it is using this practice with an effort to severely limit its use unless absolutely vital.
Citizens working in public service should not necessarily lose their political rights. On this matter, I do not think the government has the right balance in the legislation. The new act does try to establish a regime for political activities which balances the rights of employees to engage in the political process with the principle of political impartiality in the public service.
The scope of prohibited political activities is established in the act and through regulations of the governor in council are made on the recommendation of the Public Service Commission. In the case of deputy heads, at that high level the act would limit their political activities to just voting, which is appropriate. However, the requirement to obtain leave from the PSC to be a candidate in a federal, provincial or territorial election would be retained and a requirement would be added to obtain permission from the PSC to be a candidate in regional and municipal elections. The same regime would apply in relation to seeking to be nominated as a candidate. These are unreasonable restrictions.
There is also no definition in the bill that requesting leave should not be unreasonably withheld. A decision to grant or not to grant should also be appealable to somebody.
The real problem arises in the long process of seeking a nomination. In my personal example, I was a permanent provincial public employee. I was able to seek a federal nomination without my employer's knowledge or permission as my volunteer time, as long as it was legal, was none of the employer's business. I won my nomination but I had to wait about a year before the writ was dropped and the campaign started. No one, except federal government insiders, knew when the election campaign would start. I was able to invoke the section of the labour agreement that granted unpaid leave for up to five years when I requested it, without having to obtain the employer's consent. Related to my ability to perform my public service job, I was able to amicably invoke the start date of my unpaid leave. This was in 1993 and it looks like the federal government has still not caught up to enlightened British Columbia on that matter.
Work performance is the business of the employer. A conflict of interest concerning confidential government information is the business of the employer. However beyond that it is not the employer's business whether people are politically active, whether they belong to a party, if they do volunteer political work in their leisure time and if they obtain a nomination for an election for some unknown time in the future.
The government attitude, as reflected in the bill, is still in the dark ages concerning basic political rights and the encouragement of the brightest and best in the federal public service to come forward and appropriately become politically active. The sections as they are written are unrealistically paternalistic and controlling and are actually quite insulting. They would never withstand a charter argument if one was created.
Therefore I look forward to the minister assigning some resources to review this section of the bill as, on the face of it, it is far too restrictive and flies in the face of our democratic ideals in this country.