Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak this afternoon on Bill C-25. I will reread its title, if I may. It is an act to modernize employment and labour relations in the public service and to amend the Financial Administration Act and the Canadian Centre for Management Development Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, a very substantial bill of 282 pages, the short title of which is the Public Service Modernization Act.
I am all the more pleased to speak because, as the member for Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, I am the Bloc Quebecois member whose riding is closest to the National Capital Region. The borders of my riding are contiguous to the edge of the NCR's territory,so a number of people from the riding work or have worked for the federal government or are still under contract to it. In fact, in recent years, the federal government has developed a new employment strategy that makes greater use of contract workers. These people also lived through the problems that occurred in the early 1990s.
You will understand that the public service was looking forward to this bill. In fact, in the early 1990s, there were some major cuts to the federal public service, to such an extent that a special committee had to be struck in the Outaouais region to look at how the economy of this region and a portion of Basses-Laurentides could cope with the major job losses of the time.
A committee was struck and a report—the Beaudry report—was produced. The chair of the committee that produced it, Marcel Beaudry, is now better known as the Chairperson of the NCC. It is obvious that not everyone was a loser as a result of the discussions and debates of the early 1990s. At least one person got a job out of it and is now the Chairperson of the National Capital Commission.
What did the Beaudry report ask for? Naturally, it recommended that the number of public servants in the Outaouais region be stabilized because the drain had to be stopped, but it also said that a way be found to facilitate economic diversification in the Outaouais and part of the Lower Laurentians. That is how the first economic diversification society was created, established and developed. The Society for the Economic Diversification of the Outaouais was the forerunner of all economic diversification societies created afterwards in Quebec, and adopted by the Quebec government.
That is the reality. At the beginning of the 1990s, the federal government caused a serious crisis with the drastic cut in the number of jobs. The federal government took part in the creation of the Beaudry committee. Then, naturally, there was the Beaudry report. Afterwards, Mr. Beaudry became the Chairperson of the National Capital Commission. Of course, the goal was to diversify the economy, but it was twofold; new niches were to be found in order to reduce dependency on the federal public service, and also to ensure the stability of the public service. One of the tasks was to review all the laws in order to guarantee job protection. That was the goal.
However, those drastic cuts occurred in the early 1990s. We are in 2003 and it is only now, 10 years later, that this massive 282-page bill, the Public Service Modernization Act, is being introduced to amend four important acts. I can understand the public servants. I had to work with them and the union stewards at the beginning of the 1990s, when we tried to prevent the drastic, massive and sometimes brutal cuts of the federal government.
I understand the unions who want to fight today so that, once the bill is passed, they never have relive past experiences. I have some reservations. However, I do want to congratulate my colleague, the member for Châteauguay, who worked hard and moved 120 amendments, in cooperation with the central labour bodies.
Basically, for everyone but the Liberals, the role of committee members is to strive for an agreement. In this case, we are talking about legislation to modernize the public service. We would have hoped for an agreement that is acceptable to and accepted by both the employer and the employees.
Today, we have a bizarre situation where there is a bill before the House which, with the exception of APEX, the association representing the managers to whom this bill is giving more powers, all the unions oppose.
Ten years ago, the Outaouais and certainly the Ottawa area, and eastern Ontario, experienced a major crisis because of drastic cuts. One of the recommendations at the time was to amend the legislation to protect employees. Parliament came up with Bill C-25, which has been denounced by every labour union except the one representing managers, the bosses, those who, with this bill, will be able to make personal choices and, of course, make their own policy, which is often the Liberal Party's policy.
I am saying this very candidly. I am not in the same league as my hon. colleague from Châteauguay who sits on the committee, where he reviewed each and every clause of the bill. He considered the bill clause by clause, naturally, and proposed amendments where amendments were considered necessary and desirable by the employees, the public servants, and their union representatives as well as the Bloc Quebecois.
I will not dissect this bill clause by clause, nor will I indicate which clause I am quoting. In response to the remarks made in this House by members of the ruling Liberal Party, however, I will simply read the bill's summary. In theory, it should contain the substance, the very essence of the bill. Let me read the summary found at the very beginning of the bill:
Part 1 enacts the Public Service Labour Relations Act to provide for a labour relations regime in the public service which is based on greater cooperation and consultation between the employer and bargaining agents, notably by requiring labour-management consultation committees—
When we read this bill, this summary, this description of part 1, we are entitled to think that all the employees should agree. That is what the purpose of the act should be. Yet, the labour unions have denounced part 1, among other things.
In the summary, we are told that we should establish, and I quote:
—a labour relations regime in the public service which is based on greater cooperation and consultation—
All the labour associations, except for APEX, are against this bill. What a good start that is. What a way to start a summary, to start a discussion on this bill in the House.
Right off the bat, in Part I, there is a big difference; employers and employees do not agree. However, Part I says that there should be a regime “based on greater cooperation and consultation”. Maybe we should continue this cooperation and consultation. Because, at this very moment, the employees and union representatives are not satisfied with the bill now before us.
The summary goes on to say:
Part 2 amends the Financial Administration Act to put direct responsibility for certain aspects of human resources management in the hands of deputy heads, subject to policies and directives of the Treasury Board.
Having read Part 2 of the summary, I can understand why senior managers and public servants are satisfied. They have just been told in no uncertain terms:
Part 2 amends the Financial Administration Act to put direct responsibility for certain aspects of human resources management in the hands of deputy heads.
Of course, they would have more power in terms of human resources, more latitude for political patronage. That is what my colleague from Châteauguay explained earlier. But the employees, and hopefully the employers as well, wanted something totally different. But no, we come up with legislation that gives more powers and responsibilities to deputy heads for human resources management.
Later, I will explain to you what those increased powers are, in terms of the merit principle and the use of the word “essential” to rig the criteria so that they get the person they want for the job.
So, they are being given more latitude. Obviously, some powers are being taken away from employees to appeal decisions made by administrators. That is the purpose.
That is what was described earlier. That is what was happening in the early 1990s when the public service was downsized. There were a lot of discussions because there was patronage. Ten years later, everyone is expecting a bill that will eliminate patronage. But no, quite the opposite, the summary of the bill, on page 1, describes it quite plainly:
Part 2 amends the Financial Administration Act to put direct responsibility for certain aspects of human resources management in the hands of deputy heads, subject to policies and directives—
It even specifies that:
New deputy head responsibilities include determining learning and developmental requirements, providing awards and setting standards of discipline.
Unbelievable. In the summary, it says that:
New deputy head responsibilities include determining learning and developmental requirements—
They will decide for themselves how staff will be trained.
—providing awards and setting standards of discipline
I can see why employees and union representatives are confronting APEX, the Association of Professional Executives of the Public Service of Canada. They want to prevent everything they feared could happen, and which will happen if this bill goes through. The government is in the process of creating a network of public administrators who will have direct control over employees under their jurisdiction. That is the antithesis of what the public service and the employees wanted.
Obviously, there are very important reasons why the Bloc Quebecois is against this bill, and my colleague, the member for Châteauguay, explained them. I would like to read the position because it is clear, “The Bloc Quebecois is opposed to this bill, since no amendments were put forward, especially with respect to protecting public servants who expose dubious, immoral or fraudulent practices or policies, but also with regard to the active promotion of linguistic duality. No significant amendments were made with regard to the contentious notion of merit”.
Let me explain. First, on the matter of dubious, immoral or fraudulent policies, we need to keep in mind that the sponsorships scandal, the inevitable result of Liberal party management, gave rise to some very important recommendations, one of which was to allow public employees to blow the whistle.
Of course the acts mentioned in Bill C-25 were not modernized, for instance, the Public Service Labour Relations Act, the Public Service Employment Act , the Financial Administration Act, and the Canadian Center for Management Development Act. We would have expected that under the bill those who lend a helping hand, namely those who are willing to report any unethical, questionable or fraudulent situation would have been afforded some protection with regard to the information given so that they would not suffer the consequences.
Believe it or not, in spite of the amendments moved by my colleague, Liberal members refused to include in the bill protection for those who might give information or report their colleagues' questionable, unethical and fraudulent practices. This of course is how the Liberals speak from both sides of their mouth. They are very proud of their whistle blower program. But when employees ask that whistle blowers be protected, the only bill introduced in the House in this respect does not do it.
We are talking about modernizing the public service. We have been waiting 10 years for this bill, since drastic cuts have affected the public service mainly in the Outaouais area and in eastern Ontario. Every current and future public servant had been waiting for this act to be significantly modernized.
We tried to clarify the bill so that employees would feel comfortable reporting questionable, fraudulent and unethical practices or policies on the part of the government—any government of course since the Liberals will not be in power for ever—but the government refused the amendments proposed by my colleague with the support of union representatives. This is one of the reasons why the Bloc Quebecois will vote against the bill.
The second main reason concerns of course the active promotion of linguistic duality. In this respect, I must again remind the House that the Official Languages Commissioner, Dr. Dyane Adam, made very important recommendations asking that the bill make direct reference to the Official Languages Act with regard to anything that has to do with official languages. That was the objective.
All the more so since part 1 provides for ways, namely with reference to official languages, for staffing, qualifications, and so on. We can also read the following in the summary:
Part 4 amends the Canadian Centre for Management Development Act, which becomes the Canada School of Public Service Act. The School becomes responsible for learning and development activities for employees in the public service.
As you can see, a way to train staff is being devised. We want to ensure, with the official languages commissioner, Dr. Dyane Adam, among others, that the Official Languages Act is enforced.
Believe it or not, despite repeated calls and amendments moved by my colleague, Liberal members refused to approve what the Commissioner of Official Languages was asking for and what amendments were requested with regard to official languages. I think this is dreadful, because being the Bloc Quebecois member whose riding is closest to the National Capital Region, I have the good fortune to be told what is going on in the public service. A taxpayer told me that he had been invited to participate in a training session with everyone in his unit. It was very important training that was supposed to be given during the weekend. A place, which I will not name, had been booked. It was very important training, especially as it was supposed to be given in both official languages. Believe it or not, when the staff arrived, the training documents they received were in English only. Despite the concern expressed by the taxpayer, he was simply told that there had not been enough time to translate the documents and that explanations would be translated simultaneously. That is how things were done. This is what we have to deal with.
I am quite happy that this bill announces the Canada School of Public Service. However, I am less happy that this school will not have to fully comply with the Official Languages Act, as my colleague, the member for Châteauguay, wanted to ensure by making specific reference to the act. That is what we have to deal with.
The Liberals always manage to talk out of both sides of their mouth. They support linguistic duality and official languages, but when it comes time to put it in writing in a bill, and make reference to the Official Languages Act, to require that it be complied with, the Liberals vote against it. They vote against amendments and say, as they have in many other committees, that “the Official Languages Act is part of all legislation. It must be complied with”.
Why is the government not referring to this, particularly when it talks about the Canada School of Public Service, which should provide documentation in both languages to all public servants in bilingual positions? It must never be forgotten that, in Quebec, more than 50% of positions offered in the federal public service are bilingual. This is the reality while in British Columbia hardly 10% of positions offered must be bilingual. This is what the French minority in Quebec has to go through. When it wants to become part of the public service and have some opportunities, it must be bilingual, because more than 50% of positions offered in the federal public service in Quebec—I am not speaking about those offered elsewhere, but those offered in Quebec—must be bilingual. So, unilingual francophones are once again under attack by the federal government.
In the House, we tried to have the Official Languages Act applied in this bill, on the recommendation of the commissioner of official languages. My colleague from Châteauguay did not propose amendments just for the sake of it. He asked questions to the commissioner of official languages, Dr. Adam, as a witness, who proposed some changes, who proposed that amendments be added. All these amendments, all these changes, all these proposals were rejected by the Liberal members.
I will conclude by telling you about the last finding, the last major point to which the Bloc Quebecois is opposed, that is the contentious concept of merit. A whole part of this bill would allow senior officials to staff positions on the basis of merit. My colleague from Châteauguay had the chance to explain to you what the relevant clauses might mean. I will read the section of the Public Service Employment Act—