Mr. Speaker, it is very interesting some days to come into the House, to sit and listen to some of the debate and to see from where people are coming.
The public service sector really does not care if they swear allegiance to the Queen, themselves, their mothers or their fathers. What they care about is ensuring that government leaves it up to the people to be hired in the proper form, in the proper manner and that friends, neighbours and political interference is gone so the public service can do the job they are required to do, and that is to serve the people of this country and make it is easier for them to get the job done. For one reason or another, we forget about that and we worry about to whom we will swear allegiance.
As parliamentarians we swear to the Queen because that is our job and we do it. The public service should swear to the people for whom they will do the work, and that is the taxpayers. Who cares if they swear an allegiance to other people.
I was not going to say that but I thought it was interesting to hear the debate.
By the government's own admission, over the past few decades the public service has remained structurally and functionally a top-down organization. It is somewhat stiff in its functioning, a lumbering giant that actually requires a department to go through a maze of several months of paperwork and meetings to hire an ordinary person.
If we were to get rid of the red tape, if we were to make it easier to get people into vacant jobs, we would not hear the outcry from the general public. People say that they cannot get any answers, or they cannot get a job done or there are delays. Every time there is a delay in the public service of getting an answer or getting the job done, it costs business people and ordinary citizens money.
Bill C-25 would provide for more flexibility in staffing and in managing people. Managers with certain limits would have more power over hiring and who they hire, just like in the real world. Applicants who felt they had been short-changed in the staff process would be given access to redress at a public service staffing tribunal.
The key should be that employers get the best qualified people to do the job, regardless of where they come from geographically. The key is we must get people in the public service who can do the job. If we limit it to certain areas and friends or friends of friends, it normally does not work. Any businessman or businesswoman will tell us that hiring friends or friends of friends normally does not work. If we had hired people because of their qualifications, we would not have had half the problems we now have.
The bill also stresses the need for a cooperative approach to labour management relations. The intent is to make employees part and parcel of the process of running the workplace. Nobody really knows how to do the job like those who do it every day. If the intent of the bill follows through, we should have a happier federal workplace.
When employees are happy campers, they do better jobs. If they come to work every day and are under pressure, they will not perform to full expectations, and the only people who lose are the employers. If staff members and employees are involved in decision making, we will have a happier staff.
The bill provides for an overhaul and consolidation of the staff training and development process of the federal public service.
Many of the changes are long overdue with regard to improvements to the nation's public service. If carried out properly, they could lead to a much happier, less strike prone and more productive public service.
I can just reflect back to the province of Newfoundland and Labrador. Right now we have two airport strikes on the go. If these airports had employees under the federal government's control, I would suggest there may not be strikes today. We got rid of some of our public servants because we got rid of our airports. If the airports had come under the umbrella of the federal government employees, I firmly believe there could have been an easier settlement, and we would not have the travelling public held at ransom because of these strikes.
If we are going to allow individuals and special interest groups to take over our airports then we should make sure we keep our employee base intact so they can provide the services the general public requires rather than contracting the services out to a new group. That could result in one strike after another and it could last a long period of time. It would be like what we are seeing in Newfoundland and Labrador right now. I am glad to hear that things may be working out but it has taken a long time.
Many public servants are about to retire. We have been told that 7,000 new people are needed every year just to keep pace with retirements. The hiring process can lumber on for months and we often see the best and brightest applicants being scooped up by the private sector. As I stated earlier, we must make the hiring process easier and get rid of the red tape so we do not lose some of our brightest to the private sector. People have a great future with the federal and provincial governments. We have to make it easier on the federal scene to make sure that application access and individual rights are easily looked at so the best possible person is hired regardless of geographics.
It is also important that managers have a greater say in the hiring process, after all, the people being hired are people they will have to work with every day. One of the things I would add to that is the importance of their justifying why they hired a person so that the fear and threat that they will hire a friend will be eliminated. Hiring has to be done on qualifications. If it is done on qualifications, then I firmly believe production in the workplace will be greater.
This extra power on the part of managers has been met with a strong grievance procedure. Managers must be required to account for their hiring decisions. Hiring people because of political pressure is forbidden. Hiring friends who do not meet the basic qualifications is not allowed. This is where we get ourselves in trouble. This is where we do not get the best bang for our buck. This is where we run into major problems later on down the road when we find out that the best qualified person was not the one hired or the person hired was not qualified in the first place.
The hon. member for Cumberland--Colchester has done a tremendous job asking questions and bringing up many concerns regarding the federal public service, the job situation and the hiring practices. Every time he raises the issue it seems like some people take it as a joke. It is a very serious thing when a line is drawn in the geographics of Canada where people can only apply for jobs in certain areas. As far as I am concerned this is discriminatory. This is Canada, and it should not be like that. If someone lives in Nova Scotia, it is discrimination if they cannot apply for a job in Quebec, Alberta, Newfoundland or the reverse. As long as someone fulfills the maximum qualifications for a job they should be the person with the utmost opportunity to get the job. If people are hired with minimum qualifications, they are getting in through the back door. If we are looking for a high standard we should stay with a high standard so people who are the most qualified will be hired.
I am sure the minister is aware that people in Atlantic Canada are faced with federal job advertisements that require applicants to be from certain geographical areas. In Newfoundland and Labrador, for example, a job opening in St. John's might be restricted to applicants from the Avalon Peninsula. People living in Gander or Labrador City could not apply. Many jobs in central Canada are only offered to applicants within restrictive geographical areas.
Shortly after being elected I had a phone call from a lady friend who said that she had applied for a job within the federal government but that she was outside the geographical area. She could not understand that and I told her that I could not understand it either. I thought that when someone lived in Canada they could apply anywhere in Canada if a job came up with the federal government. If they are the most qualified person then they should get the job. However it did not happen. Like everything else, we learn by some of these hidden rules.
In the January 30, 2001 Speech from the Throne, the government committed to needed reforms in the Public Service of Canada to attract and develop the talent needed to serve Canadians into the 21st century. It is now 2003, two years after that statement was made in the throne speech. What happened to the commitment over the last two years? Why, all of a sudden, is it being done now? It should have been done by now. A lot of opportunities have been missed for our young people. We have missed an opportunity to have great service, an even better service for Canada. I do not know what happened, but unfortunately the commitment to modernize the public service took a holiday as did the commitment to end child poverty.
In February the President of the Treasury Board said that the bill ensures the capacity of the public service to provide the best service to Canadians today and into the future. This is where the government has it wrong again. Bills do not ensure top quality service; people do; hard workers do; people who are proud to serve their country in any capacity.
Bills tabled in Parliament with the accompanying fanfare do not ensure anything. It is the people we hire who do. It all goes back to the employees. It all goes back to whom we hire and how they fit into the system. The only way they can fit into the system is if we hire the people who are qualified for the job.
Canadians will get top-notch service from the public service once the government does the same. Treating Canadians with respect and truly serving them begins with the government, not with a bill. Once the government gets its act in place, the public service will follow suit.
There are a lot of public servants in the federal government who provide an amazing service way beyond the call of duty, but the problem on a lot of occasions is the bureaucracy. When I speak to people all across the country, they tell me the only problem they have is trying to get the bureaucrats to understand the way things should be done. Employees do the work in a certain way because they have been instructed that is the way it is done.
As I said a few minutes ago, if we are to do the job right for the federal public servants, we have to make sure that we hire the right people. If we are serious about modernizing the act, let us modernize it for the future. We should get rid of all the red tape. We should open it up to all of Canada. We should forget to whom people will swear allegiance.
We should be making sure that confidentiality is important. We should make sure that people's business is not known out in the street. It is also important that if public servants find out about problems in the government, they have the right to tell politicians, so that we can make it a better place for everyone. If there are things going on that should not be going on, it adds stress to the federal government's purse.
It also adds stress for MPs because we get calls on certain things and we know there are problems, but we cannot fix them because people are afraid to come forward. When people are afraid to come forward, it is total craziness in the workplace and people get stressed out. Then people go on sick leave. They are not content because they sometimes know there are things going on that should not be going on.
Time is short and there is a lot that could be said, but I just wanted to stress some things I have observed while listening to the debate.