Mr. Speaker, it is with great pleasure that I rise today to speak on Bill C-25, the Public Service Modernization Act.
Those who may have had the chance to flip through the bill have no doubt noticed how thick it is, with its 279 pages. This is an incredibly thick bill. The least we can say is that what the government is seeking to do constitutes an ambitious undertaking. Change may have been due for 35 years, as the minister said, but there are pros and cons in this bill, and we are going to discuss its various aspects.
It is important to mention that the federal government has been taking steps to reform the public service for quite a long time. In the 2001 Speech from the Throne, the government stated, and I quote:
The Government is committed to the reforms needed for the Public Service of Canada to continue evolving and adapting. These reforms will ensure that the Public Service is innovative, dynamic and reflective of the diversity of the country—able to attract and develop the talent needed to serve Canadians in the 21st century.
Here we are, as parliamentarians, discussing a bill with which the federal government is seeking to achieve the objectives stated in that throne speech.
Bill C-25 was referred to the Standing Committee on Governmental Operations and Estimates for consideration and to hear witnesses on the subject. The NDP had an opportunity to attend. The NDP heard various witnesses state their positions on this bill.
Since February 27, the committee has been meeting regularly to further consider this bill, and mainly to assess its scope. The great number of witnesses who appeared before the committee is a clear indication of the importance of the bill. And the committee submitted to the government the amendments it felt were necessary. I must say that while valid, these amendments do not reflect all the concerns of public service employees.
When we read the bill, we note that the employer did not put any constraint upon itself, especially since it was the main drafter of the bill. It has set its own rules regarding labour relations without consulting its employees much at all.
The NDP raised several important points that can be found in the bill but remain vague or hard to justify.
Where are public service employees' interests at this stage? We understood, as did the federal government, that providing the best service to Canadians is important to public service employees. However, we do not feel this should be done on the backs of workers.
It is important to remember that since the early 1990s, public service employees have been under a lot of pressure at work. Salaries were frozen for seven years. Program review resulted in the laying off of civil servants, which increased the workload for others.
I would like to make a point. Last week in my riding, the government announced it would lay off public service employees, who had almost reached three years of employment and therefore entitlement to government benefits. It did this to get around the system and to save money. Again, this was done on the backs of the workers.
Seventeen people were laid off without justification, in my view, since we need services. When people call offices, they cannot get service and are connected to answering machines. No service is provided, and the government is still laying people off.
It is odd that the people who are close to three years of service, on the verge of becoming unionized and being entitled to benefits, finally being able to live a normal life—like all workers in Canada—are the ones the government lays off. The same thing happened in Chatham, New Brunswick. Just before people reached three years of service, the government let them go.
I am certain—and time will tell—that, within six months, we will be hearing, “Oh, we are short of services. We are going to do more hiring”. That is the way this government operates.
About the pension fund surplus, that $30 billion that has been removed—I would like to say stolen but I know you would catch me on it—this is money that has been taken from the workers. The $30 billion comes from the pension fund. It represents pressure and stress the workers have to cope with. Yet this bill is touted as intended to help public servants.
It seems to me that employees in the public service have plenty of worry and stress, yet here comes a bill that will only add to their headaches. For whose benefit? For the people of Canada?
It is true that the committee did propose some amendments, but their scope is restricted to certain terms or reworking of content.
I want to congratulate the Bloc Quebecois in this connection, because it proposed 120 amendments to the committee. The government, however, accepted only one. We said to ourselves, “Maybe the Bloc Quebecois was not reasonable to bring in 120 amendments, so we will propose 10”, but none was accepted. As a result, no opposition amendments were accepted.
Does this mean that, in reality, we cannot think for ourselves, we cannot represent the people in our ridings, cannot represent the workers? Is that what it means? Does it mean that we are not smart enough? Is that the message the Liberal government wants to send to Canadians? I find it shameful that the committee was working ever since February, and yet the government adopted only those amendments it wanted to see adopted, in its own interests, not the interests of the workers. There is absolutely nothing in it for them. I will address this further later on in my speech.
The committee made no major amendments. What happened to the existing bargaining table and right of recourse? The federal government had the opportunity extend the deadline for giving a notice to negotiate to four months when a collective agreement or arbitral award is in force. Yet, it did not take advantage of this opportunity.
As for two-tier bargaining, it is not very clear.
What happened to merit-based staffing and classification? The amendments contained in the bill would allow managers to consider only one candidate who has the skills essential for the position. It refers to essential skills. Why set up a satffing process when the employer plans to hire based on such a limited number of candidates?
I was surprised earlier to hear my colleague, the member for St. John's East—and I want to underscore this part—say, “We have some concerns about this bill, but there are some good points”.
There is a question I would have liked to ask him, but due to a lack of time I was not able to do so. My question is this: What is the position of the Progressive Conservative Party on this? With respect to the bill's good points, he said, “Now the government has more powers when it comes to hiring”. Does the Progressive Conservative Party accept hiring based on the merits of one single person?
In the past, in Canada, we have experienced the situation whereby if you do not vote Conservative, you will not get a government job, or if you do not vote Liberal, you will not get a government job. And the same holds true today. This provision in the bill puts senior officials in a position whereby a government member can phone them up and say to them, “Now I want you to hire my aunt's daughter, or my uncle's daughter. She is the one I want you to hire. She worked on my election campaign. I want you to hire her”. This sets up a process that will make this type of hiring easier.
This bill eliminates the democratic process that would give every Canadian a chance for a job. This is shameful. I thought that in 2003 we had finally gotten beyond this. I thought that at the federal level, we were above this. I apologize for what I am about to say, but at the provincial level, people come and see me and they say, “Yvon, the only way for me to get a job is to work on the Conservative or Liberal campaign, in case they win the election”. I thought that we were through with this type of situation in Canada, in this so-called best country in the world.
The provisions on essential services in this bill are very punitive and retrograde.
How can it be justified on the basis of improved labour relations when, instead, it is going to widen the chasm between the employer and the unions?
And what about the basic right to strike all unionized employees have? Imposing limits and barriers on the union is an attempt to wipe out this right.
There have been a lot of discussions. Our hon. colleague from the Bloc Quebecois talked about them. It is in his speech. Once again, something is being taken away from workers' rights.
As a former union representative, I can assure you that taking away any part of this right from a union member is of no benefit to the employer. I have learned that through experience.
The bill on the modernization of the public service was a promise made by the Liberal government, and the New Democratic Party thinks that this promise has not been completely met. Simply bringing in a bill, declaring publicly that the government is proud of keeping its word, is worthless. It is a misrepresentation, as far as I know, because I can see no value at all in this commitment as it is expressed in Bill C-25.
The 297 pages of complicated legal terminology will not, in the end, improve labour relations between the two parties.
Should we be sorry for the thousands of Canadians employed in the public service who were hoping that this modernization would make a positive change in their workplace and would establish close cooperation between union and management?
Yes, I can do something other than being sorry for all those people, including some in my riding. The government talked about wonderful goodies, but in the end, they just got crumbs.
Now, it is up to the members of this House to represent the interests of these thousands of employees and to tell the government that Bill C-25 is nowhere near what public servants need. Why wait until everything is in place to realize that Bill C-25 is not adequate? We must act now if we want to make it adequate.
In the beginning, Bill C-25 was well received by my party. We believed that things had taken a turn for the better and that the public service would get what it deserved.
It is with heavy hearts that we are concluding consideration of this bill. It seems that the federal government does not want to modernize the public service. Instead, it wants to use it to its own advantage and for its own interests. I doubt that the federal government can build a modern-day public service with Bill C-25. Too many elements were amended in the interests of a single party. This will not allow Canada to boast about providing Canadians with the best services.
I would like to give other examples with regard to protecting whistleblowers, which was the subject of one of our amendments. How can a government refuse something so logical? It is as if I told my children, “If you notice one of your brothers or sisters stealing from one of your siblings, do not tell me”. It is like saying, “I do not want to hear about it if a senior official does something wrong”. There must be a reason for this.
The only reason has to do with what happened to Groupaction. Things unfolded, and public servants could have blown the whistle, but they did not because they were afraid of losing their jobs. That is the only reason this bill and these amendments were not adopted.
It is disgusting to see that the government is protecting the unacceptable. I said and I am going to say it again that it is like telling your child, “If you see your sister stealing in a store, I do not want to know about it, because I do not want to have to punish her”. That is the simplest and most logical way of putting it that I can find.
It is as though the government is telling its employees, “If you denounce someone in a senior position because he did something improper, you will be fired”.
That is why I take issue with this legislation, because we put forward amendments for the well-being of Canadians. I know the Liberals think that the government has belonged to them for 100 years, but the government does not belong to the Liberals. It belongs to Canadians. There should be provisions in the bill to protect our workers.
I worked for a company where I told the boss, “I am sure you hate the union”. He said he did not hate the union because if anyone in management did something wrong, the union would tell him about it and he would have to correct the situation.
At the time, I thought my employer had a good attitude. I did not always agree with my employer but on that occasion I said, “That makes sense”. I thought my boss was anti-union, but he was not. He said it was good to have a union because the union would report any shenanigans bosses got up to that the big boss did not know about.
The Liberal government does not want its employees to denounce senior officials. It does not want its employees to denounce the deputy minister if he does a favour for Groupaction, for instance, or for the owner of Auberge Grand-Mère. I am not saying he did that. No, it does not want public servants to inform it of this type of thing.
I think it is because it would have to punish people who have handed out goodies, those who have given out money during election campaigns. Is that the problem? What do the Liberals have to hide? I do not understand what the Liberals have to hide that they would say to employees, “Don't make these problems public”. I have a hard time understanding any of this.
Then there are the job openings for the National Capital Region. People from New Brunswick for example cannot get a job in Ottawa unless they have an apartment, an address in Ottawa. People from British Columbia cannot get a job in the capital of the country, in Ottawa, where almost all of the buildings house public servants. They cannot work for their government, for the taxpayers—since the public service belongs to the taxpayers, to all the people of Canada—unless they rent an apartment in Ottawa.
Now, renting an apartment takes money. The candidate is required to provide a home or business address in Ottawa. This means that a person who has a company address in Ottawa, but does not live there himself, can get a job.
But the poor unemployed young person who has been looking for a job within his or her province for six months and has all the qualifications for a job in Ottawa has to acquire an address in Ottawa or west Quebec—which certainly is just another way of saying the Gatineau region. To get that address, the young person must pay for an apartment. How can a young person be given a chance at a job?
It is so ridiculous that a person from Bathurst cannot get a job in Fredericton, but someone from Halifax or Newfoundland can, because of the kind of employment posters they have. I hope the commission is listening to what I have to say this evening, not just the government, and will find some solutions for this, because it is the commission that does the hiring.
I could give a lot more examples, because I have plenty. A francophone from Shippagan needs to speak English. He has to know both languages in order to get a job on a fishing boat. Well, I never knew fish spoke only English, so the workers on the boat needed to as well. His application is rejected because he does not speak English.
However, in Halifax, jobs are posted in English only. Anglophones can get a job in Halifax, but francophones in Shippagan have to have two languages. There are all sorts of injustices like this in the public service which will have to be resolved because it is completely unacceptable.
As Canadians and as taxpayers, they should have the opportunity for employment with Canada's public service, across the country.
I only have one minute left, so I would like to come back to the fisher I was talking about, a man who had a contract with the federal government for six months, aboard the Opilio at sea. There was a competition and he won it. After being given his assignment, he decided to try the bilingualism exam. He was told, “If you fail your bilingualism exam, you will lose your job as ship's captain”.
I spoke with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, and they told me, “No, a francophone from Shippagan should be able to operate a boat; we will give him a job”. After I spoke to the minister, they said, “Now the second candidate had accepted a position in Saint John, but he decided to come back to Shippagan”.
This was unheard of in the public sector and in the public service. However, once again, given the power that the government has, with the power that senior officials have, they completely abused it. I find this unfortunate.
I hope that this bill is not passed. We will not be supporting it because it does not do enough for workers.