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House of Commons Hansard #109 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was employees.

Topics

Business of the HousePrivate Members' Business

12:05 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

(Motion agreed to)

Members of Parliament Retiring Allowances ActGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell Ontario

Liberal

Don Boudria LiberalMinister of State and Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-39, an act to amend the Members of Parliament Retiring Allowances Act and the Parliament of Canada Act.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

Members of Parliament Retiring Allowances ActGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

When shall the bill be read the second time?

Members of Parliament Retiring Allowances ActGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.

Some hon. members

Now.

Members of Parliament Retiring Allowances ActGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell Ontario

Liberal

Don Boudria LiberalMinister of State and Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

moved that the bill be read the second time and referred to committee of the whole.

—Mr. Speaker, Bill C-39 presents various remedial amendments proposed by parliamentarians.

The bill rectifies the provision by which additional allowances were provided to chairs and vice-chairs of standing committees but not of special committees. This error occurred when the bill was adopted just over one year ago.

The second measure concerns a process called rounding off. Generally, the salary of parliamentarians is rounded off to the nearest hundred dollars to facilitate salary administration by the House of Commons and the staff of the Treasury Board.

In 2001, when amendments were made, the salary of ministers was excluded inadvertently from this formula. The bill therefore remedies this error, dealing not in fractions, as it were, but rounding off. Accountants and others in this House will understand the need for this measure.

The bill would also provide greater certainty for calculating the disability allowance for parliamentarians who unfortunately must resign because of a disability. Since I have been here I remember only one case which occurred a little less than a year ago.

The current provisions unfortunately, and again this is inadvertent, do not specify the salaries for the calculation. As a result additional salaries on top of the sessional allowance might not be covered in the calculation of the disability allowance should there be such a case. There is no such case before us, so it makes the debate easier at this point. However, people in the administration of the program have advised us that it is necessary to clarify that.

The chief actuary has additionally commented in his 2002 annual report that the accrual rate provision for the parliamentary pension plan for service after 2001 should be clarified again for greater certainty. The bill would clarify the application of the accrual provisions for post-2001 service. There would be no changes to pension policies at all. There are no policy issues at all in the bill. They are merely technical corrections

In summary then, the bill would make several technical corrections and does not in any way affect existing policies. I want the House to be assured of that. The bill has been prepared in consultation with other House leaders and I thank them for their support. It has been prepared together with officials of the Privy Council Office, the Treasury Board and I believe House of Commons administration as well in order to clarify the actual functioning of the legislation.

I trust that members from all sides will give support to the measure as quickly as possible.

Members of Parliament Retiring Allowances ActGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ken Epp Canadian Alliance Elk Island, AB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to make a few brief statements on this bill. I would like to reiterate what I said way back when the rules were changed so that committee chairs and vice-chairs received additional compensation. As we know, this was not done until just a couple years ago.

I objected to that and I do so again. Indeed, chairs of committees work hard and perhaps there could be some additional compensation for them, but vice-chairs should not be receiving additional compensation as in the current agreement that we have for compensation for members of Parliament.

The reason is simple. Generally, when one works harder, one should get more money. When one works less hard, one should get less money, or at least the same. There are a number of duties which we have as members of Parliament, which we accept as part of the job, and being a vice-chair of a committee is one of those.

I had the privilege of being the vice-chair of the finance committee for a while and frankly, I did nothing to earn that money. I attended the committee regularly, as I would have whether I was the vice-chair or not. I was there every time that committee met. There were a couple of times when I sat in the chair. To be honest, I did not work as hard when I was in the chair as I did when I was getting ready for the opening question. As a member of the official opposition in the committee I always had to pay close attention to what the witnesses were saying and to prepare for that opening question. Very often other members of the committee would carry on with the thread that I started. That was hard work. But I did not do that because I was the vice-chair of the committee. When I sat in the chair, all I did was determine who would speak next and I was happy to do that.

I would simply reiterate that even though this is in that bill, I object to the fact that there is additional compensation for vice-chairs of committees.

I want to make a comment about this rounding up, rounding down, or rounding off. I am an amateur mathematician and I always took exception to that. To take a number and say it works out to $5,998 and then round it down to $5,900 does not make any sense. I have seen actual cases where that has happened. This necessity to round down to the nearest $100 and call that a devise that is necessary for administration is absurd on two points. First, what about calculators and electronic computers? This was done way back when everything was done by hand, and sure there was some merit to working in multiples of $100 but that is no longer the case. Second, the rounding is done down and not to the nearest, which is mathematically indefensible.

Lastly, and I find this very ironic, the rounding to the nearest $100 is done on an annual basis. When one divides a number that is a multiple of 100 by 12, one gets a fraction to the nearest fraction of a penny in many cases. One still has to compute to the nearest penny on the monthly salary cheque. The defence of this rounding down for administrative purposes is totally specious. It is just an absurd thing.

I am opposed to that and we ought to do better. I will challenge the House leader in future revisions of the compensation for members of Parliament. He should correct some of these anomalies and do a better job at it.

Members of Parliament Retiring Allowances ActGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.

Bloc

Michel Gauthier Bloc Roberval, QC

Mr. Speaker, on behalf of my party, it is my pleasure to announce that we will support the bill for the following reasons.

First, we have carefully reviewed each of the points submitted by the government House leader. For the most part, this is a technical bill. The chief actuary, who did the necessary checks in terms of the pension plan, observed and set out in a report that the legislation as drafted by parliamentarians could be open to interpretation. I think it is good practice and our most pressing duty to ensure that legislation is clear and does not leave any room for interpretation requiring additional legislation for clarification. There must not be any room for interpretation when we are talking about something as serious for everyone as pension plans.

Second, the disability allowance has been referred to. When a member is unable to continue working because of a disability, as in any other field, he or she is entitled to some financial compensation. To avoid past problems, when things had to be clarified, let us say that this legislation will allow everyone to understand the same thing, that all parliamentarians' salaries are calculated for compensation purposes, if needed. This is perfectly normal and appropriate.

As for rounding off ministers' salaries to the nearest $100, the legislation does allow rounding off of parliamentarians' salaries to simplify the calculation of benefits. It is not a question of whether computers can do the calculations or not, we can always calculate to the 22nd decimal. That is not the issue.

The problem is that the act allows for all parliamentarians' salaries to be rounded off to the nearest $100, and no one is going to go hungry over that. It is a detail, except that there was an oversight in the act with respect to ministers. When an act is passed and there is an oversight, it seems to me the right thing to do to amend it. There is not a single minister who, at the end of his or her four-year term, will have made more than $250 or $300 because of it, probably not even that much. So, it is not a question of money, it is a question of treating everyone equally and doing the right thing. If we cannot understand that, then something is wrong.

In the end, the only measure that will lead to additional costs is the remuneration for chairs and vice-chairs of special committees. I will simply say that everywhere, in all sectors of the economy, in businesses that are held up as examples of sound management and even in the Government of Ontario and the Government of Quebec, supplementary remuneration is paid to those who are given responsibilities.

Directors of of companies, which do not throw money down the drain, are given compensation for carrying out their duties. The chair receives a very generous compensation on top of the standard compensation, but that is not the case for chairs of special committees.

Parliamentarians do not receive astronomical salaries when they take on special duties; it is a compensation. People are paid for these additional responsibilities. It is the status and the new responsibilities that are compensated, not the work. I know people who work 90 hours a week, and they are not necessarily the highest paid people. These people do not get paid by the hour. I simply wanted to point out that the responsibility is recognized. I think that this is right and treats people fairly. Once again, we are not talking about huge amounts of money.

For these reasons, we will support this bill. This bill seems to us to be of a rather technical nature, one that is needed for sound management.

Members of Parliament Retiring Allowances ActGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ken Epp Canadian Alliance Elk Island, AB

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. It is important for members to know that the legislation does not say rounded off. It says rounded down and that is an important difference.

Members of Parliament Retiring Allowances ActGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

The point is well taken. I am sure that someone out there is listening.

It is my duty to interrupt the proceedings. Pursuant to order made earlier today, the bill is deemed to have been read a second time on division, deemed referred to a committee of the whole and reported without amendment, deemed concurred in at report stage on division and deemed read a third time on division.

(Bill read a second time, considered in committee, reported, concurred in, read a third time and passed.)

The House resumed from May 28, 2003 consideration of the motion that Bill C-25, an act to modernize employment and labour relations in the public service and to amend the Financial Administration Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts , be read the third time and passed.

Public Service Modernization ActGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Liberal Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Mr. Speaker, I welcome this opportunity to speak briefly to this important bill. This bill basically reflects the government's obvious commitment to modernizing the legislation governing its public service, how one becomes a public servant and how our managers can staff positions in the public service. The current staffing process is so complex and outdated that it was imperative that we modernize our way of doing things. That is what this bill all about.

It is the culmination of a very comprehensive consultation process, of many efforts and of the resolve of the Secretary to the Treasury Board in particular. I would be remiss not to take this opportunity to speak to the bill.

During the negotiations and discussions that led to this bill and to some 40 amendments being approved in committee, there were many opportunities for everyone to express their views. Union representatives appeared before the committee after participating in many consultations conducted by the Treasury Board before the bill was even drafted. There have also been several commission of inquiry.

All this to say that the bill before us at third reading is the result of a collective effort, a serious effort to modernize the machinery of government and the public service.

A number of things have been said, and I wanted to take this opportunity to read into the record a letter dated May 14, 2003, from the President of the Association of Professional Executives of the Public Service of Canada. I wanted to read it because it sums up pretty well the association's position, and also in light of criticism voiced recently through the media by the Public Service Alliance.

I am going to read this letter, which is addressed to me:

On behalf of the Board of Directors of the Association of Professional Executives of the Public Service of Canada (APEX), I am writing to follow up on our recent appearance before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates with regard to Bill C-25, the Public Service Modernization Act. APEX is the national association of federal government executives and is dedicated to advancing management excellence and professionalism within the public service.

APEX supports Bill C-25 and is concerned with recent public statements by the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), in which the integrity and professionalism of public service managers and executives were impugned. I refer to media interviews following the Alliance's recent meetings in Montreal and to the front-page article “PSAC goes on attack against reform bill” in the May 4 edition of the Ottawa Citizen. The Alliance says it believes that Bill C-25, the Public Service Modernization Act, will allow managers to “rig” competitions and to hire whom they want and whom they know.

APEX has advocated human resource management reform for several years, and we were pleased in mid-2001 to be asked by the Task Force on Modernizing Human Resources Management to conduct a series of consultations with public servants across the country. The Association met with close to 850 public servants—executives, managers and young public servants—from coast to coast to coast. Its observations from those sessions were submitted to the task force in early October 2001 and participants, unionized or not, expressed a strong desire to have access to a significantly simpler, faster and more responsive staffing system, one which is backed up by clear accountability measures. In the absence of a greatly reformed system, the public service will have difficulty replacing the significant numbers of retirement age public servants who will leave in the next few years, developing employees with a broad range of experience and competing with other organizations on the open market for bright people with the right mix of skills. APEX's own position paper, which is based on wide-ranging consultations with executives over several years, was published shortly thereafter. (This is available on the Association's Web site at www.apex.gc.ca.)

Executives' interest in the reform proposed by C-25 is not based on a desire to run roughshod over the public interest and the legitimate aspirations of public servants who want to work in interesting jobs, in healthy, productive work environments. The charge that managers are keen to subvert prescribed processes in order to indulge in a spot of patronage is insulting. What managers want is to be able to hire, with as little delay as possible, someone who is qualified to do the work. Given their extensive experience, it is natural that managers will sometimes hire people whose work they already know and value. Managers at all levels are assessed on how well they serve the public interest, including how they hire, so it makes sense for them to ensure the process they use is fair and transparent. But “fair and transparent” shouldn't mean “slow and cumbersome”.

It is useful to consider how well hiring managers are respecting the rules now. According to the Public Service Commission's annual report for fiscal year 2001-02, 102,557 hiring and staffing activities were carried out. Of those, roughly 70,000 were appealable. Just 1,432 of these cases were in fact appealed—and of those, only about 8% were allowed. We agree there are occasional problems, but the bottom line is that they are caught and corrected.

The strengthened oversight mechanisms proposed in Bill C-25, which includes a new, independent tribunal, will continue to catch mistakes, just more quickly. APEX believes the draft legislation provides for more than adequate recourse, including third party reviews and a number of other checks and balances to ensure fairness in the staffing process. In fact, we believe that employee rights under the new legislation will be protected and enhanced. We have endorsed the strengthening of the Public Service Commission's audit and oversight role.

The association also strongly supports changes to promote greater union-management collaboration, in line with the report of the Fryer committee. Executives and managers are keen to work with their union colleagues to build a more collegial environment. In that context, the association applauds the provisions in the legislation, which require each DM to create a labour-management committee within his or her agency. This will result in better communication among executives, managers and unions at all levels and ensure that our labour relations become more collaborative and less confrontational.

APEX believes that the time has come to modernize the public service's human resources management regime since a generation of public servants has come and gone under the present legislative framework. What we need are laws and regulations that reflect today's values, management style and employee expectations.

Our conversations with executives, managers and unionized employees across the country revealed their strong desire to improve the dialogue between management and unions—at the shop level, in the regions and in work units. Based on the mandate given by the hon. Lucienne Robillard to the task force, the new legislation takes an important step in that direction.

Yours truly,

Robert Edmond, President

As I was saying, this is from the president of APEX, the Association of Professional Executives of the Public Service of Canada.

I thought that it was important to read this letter and that it be on the public record because it establishes certain facts that we need to take into account when examining this bill.

I myself have had the opportunity to speak with several members of the Public Service Alliance of Canada and APEX and most support this bill. I cannot say that there is nothing they would like to change, some amendments they would like to see, but by and large, in terms of the big picture, most people feel that this bill is an important step towards modernizing the legislation governing the public service.

Most of this legislation goes back 30, 35, or 40 years.

In closing, I move:

That the question be now put.

Public Service Modernization ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

I find the motion in order.

Public Service Modernization ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

Bloc

Pauline Picard Bloc Drummond, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak on Bill C-25, an act to modernize the federal public service.

This bill will revamp the 35-year-old legislation and its rather obsolete provisions. It is the result of over thirty reports and studies on the need to renew the management of recruiting and staffing procedures in the public service.

These reports and studies all came to the same conclusion, that a change in culture is needed in the public service. After examining the many reports recommending a change in culture in the federal public service, the Presidentof the Treasury Board took a stand and set the goals she wanted to reach, based on her own perception of the situation.

In order to deal with the persistent personnel reductions within the public service and the increasing competitiveness of the private labour market, the President of the Treasury Board has come up with the following objectives: the inclusion of the merit principle; the implementation of a more flexible staffing system; the enhancement of labour-management relations; and the integration of a development and learning framework for the public service.

The government also intends to address demographic problems within the public service. The government believes that, with this bill, it will be able to resolve the deficiencies relating to representativeness and the aging of the public service. We must add to this the shortage of those with the right job skills. The government has identified this as a critical issue.

Finally, the bill aims to improve the public's perception. Due to the bad reputation of the public service, it would seem that few people are interested in pursuing a career there, so recruitment has been difficult. This last point, in particular, must be addressed by a change in culture.

This is a lengthy, and particularly ambitious bill. It would amend technical aspects related to public service administration, as well as the entire approach to the public service's vision.

I would first like to say that 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.

During our work in committee, we put forward no fewer than 120 amendments that were rejected by the government members. When this bill was announced, it raised many hopes. In its current form, the bill is unfortunately very disappointing, contrary to what the government member has just said; there is great disappointment.

I am thinking here about the public servants who blow the whistle on abuse. They deserve protection, and they had hoped that the proposed modernization would provide it, but the Public Service of Canada is hardly rushing to their aid.

The minister should have provided federal public servants with mechanisms so they could raise problematic issues, without fear of reprisals. This is the position expressed by the former Auditor General of Canada, Denis Desautels, before the parliamentary committee. He admitted that his former office could not protect the anonymity of individuals all the way through to the end of the investigation.

The government must stop procrastinating when it comes to implementing provisions to protect public servants who want to blow the whistle on scams, waste and misconduct.

To this end, in addition to the investigative power of the Office of the Auditor General, the minister must offer protection to the informer, who out of good faith and with evidence, is relieving his conscience and fulfilling his duty to serve the state, because he feels he cannot live in silence and go along with the lie that has become systemic.

The government can say it is walking on eggshells on this issue, but the prudence it claims to be using should not prevent it from taking action. Sooner or later, such rules will have to be adopted.

This government has often been mired in scandals that have called its management abilities into question. We are entitled to wonder about the fate of a public servant who decided to denounce the attitude of his bosses.

Take for example the sponsorship scandal that continues to embarrass the Liberal government. Would the informer have been believed? What lengths would they have gone to, to undermine his credibility? Would he have been transferred, demoted or fired?

This clearly illustrates why public servants who denounce abuse should be protected against harassment. Modernization, as proposed, does not provide for such protection.

Moreover, a survey commissioned by the government and conducted in December 2002 showed that 21% of public servants say they fear being victims of harassment and discrimination.

There is no improvement on the horizon, since this bill essentially grants more power to senior officials for managing their employees. They will have more latitude for firing public servants.

This was denounced by the vice-president of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada, Michelle Demers, during a radio interview on Radio-Canada. The second largest union of public servants is worried about the increased powers given to departmental managers under the reform. Ms. Demers said:

It is as though the employer had all the latitude to fire employees it finds unsuitable and employees were on probation, because there is nothing to protect them from being fired.

In addition, the institute fears that the new rules will allow managers to set hiring criteria, which leaves room for abuse of power.

The vice-president of the union added:

It is leeway that would ultimately allow the employer to choose whomever he wants for position x. This would open the door to abuse and bureaucratic patronage.

The same note was sounded by the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada, whose President appeared before the committee to express his reservations and request amendments to the bill. According to Steve Hindle, Bill C-25 is not only a ominous threat to the merit principle as it affects hiring, but the changes proposed by the minister would have the effect of placing the employees on permanent probation. Mr. Hindle said that the flexibility provided to Deputy Ministers under the new provisions, could “increase the incidence of bureaucratic patronage”.

I shall quote his exact words:

Section 30 grants wide discretion to senior management to abuse the merit principle. Once the basic qualifications are set, the deputy head has the legislated authority under subsection (2)(b) to use his or her discretion to narrow down the choice of candidates to one individual. In short, if the deputy head were intent on hiring his brother-in-law and as long as his brother-in-law possessed the basic qualifications, there is ample opportunity to construct additional criteria specific to one candidate to conceal what otherwise would be a deviation from merit and an abuse of authority.

People watching this debate might be surprised to learn that at present, some 40% of all appointments are made without competition. I think it is completely justified to wonder how high that percentage might rise once this bill is passed.

What the representatives of public servants came to tell the minister—and she remained generally inflexible—was that they wanted the new regime proposed in the bill to create a structure that would make it possible for all parties to establish a positive working environment in which employees could have satisfying careers.

The largest federal government union, The Public Service Alliance of Canada, PSAC, believes Bill C-25, the Public Service Modernization Act, is not likely to help the Government reach its goal of more constructive, cooperative labour-management relations in support of a healthy, productive workplace, and may well have the opposite effect.

The union expressed its views clearly in a press release on March 26, 2003. The President, Nycole Turmel, said:

The PSAC fears that the new PSEA has the potential to usher in a new era of patronage, favouritism and a lack of accountability that is inconsistent with the Government’s stated objectives.

Reservations expressed by the Alliance are similar to the ones of the Bloc Quebecois and, with the 120 amendments that we proposed in committee, we tried to convince the government, but we were unsuccessful. These reservations were related to the exclusion of staffing and classification from collective bargaining, the dilution of the merit principle, as well as the provisions on essential services and picket lines.

What workers are concerned about is that, with this new legislation, directors will now only have to examine the application of a single candidate meeting the minimum requirements of a position. Moreover, Bill C-25 limits appointment challenges to cases of abuse of power and cases relating to the language of choice of the applicant.

Another significant effect of the bill concerns the right to strike. The right to strike is threatened, because the definition of essential services is too broad. The bill gives the employer the exclusive power to determine the level of essential services required during a strike. Employees do not agree with this, as they said once again in response to the bill, and I quote:

If the government is serious about wanting to modernize the public service, the first changes must be made by the employer. It is counterproductive to present the union with a bill that is already in its final form. We would have appreciated a really consultative approach, where we could have talked about the problems and tried to find mutually agreeable solutions.

Once those directly concerned, that is the public servants, expressed their disappointment with this bill, we in the Bloc Quebecois learned to our chagrin that most of our recommendations were set aside when Bill C-25 was drafted, and all but one of our 120 amendments rejected.

I attended several of the committee meetings and discussions in order to present amendments for my colleague, the public service critic for our party.

The officials who turned down our amendments, which had been proposed by the Alliance and by public servants, never provided any clarification or justification for doing so.

It is regrettable to include public servants in an act that is close to being final, without having consulted them. They are the ones who will have to live with it, once again. There is no modernization, and the bill does not help employees to carry out their duties, nor does it provide a suitable framework. Instead, it is the administrators who are being protected. This is legislation that was designed for administrators, for public service managers.

Understandably, therefore, we are opposed to this bill, since no changes have been made to it, particularly in connection with the protection of public servants who report dubious, immoral or fraudulent practices, and also in connection with the active promotion of linguistic duality. In addition, there has been no significant change relating to the controversial merit principle.

Our concerns about merit stem from the fact that essential qualifications only are required, which creates some ambiguity as far as the level is concerned. The word essential might indicate minimal competency, not optimal, thus creating concern about possible favouritism.

Our concern about the current whistleblowing policy is that it does not have force of law and could be changed without anybody knowing about it. Its scope is too limited to meet in any real way the objective, which is to build trust in deputy heads, so that employees can disclose fraudulent actions they come across.

Under the bill, remedies are few in that only abuse of power and the denial of the right to be assessed in the official language of one’s choice are covered. Abuse of power is very difficult to prove. That is why we believe it is essential that the scope of the remedies available to employees be expanded, so that they can take any abuse or breach of law to an administrative tribunal or to the courts.

With respect to harassment, we asked that Bill C-25 be amended to reflect changes already made to the Act respecting Labour Standards in Quebec. We wanted to address psychological harassment in particular, which affects more than 20% of the Canadian public service.

The commissioner's recommendations focused mainly on incorporating the concept of linguistic duality to ensure representativeness and making enforcement mandatory when it comes to training and litigation.

We thought that codetermination would greatly help promote merit as a selection criterion and reduce the risk of cronyism in the selection process. Our amendments asking for a codetermination mechanism have all been rejected at committee.

I will remind hon. members once again that we are opposed to this bill. We put forward 120 amendments. I would say that the Bloc Quebecois did what it had to do to ensure that the officials went back to the drawing board and that the minister, who was totally inflexible, reconsidered this bill. We would like her to reject the bill, go back to the drawing board and start over. This is not legislation for those who work in the public service, but legislation for those who wield power.

Business of the HouseGovernment Orders

June 2nd, 2003 / 12:50 p.m.

Northumberland Ontario

Liberal

Paul MacKlin LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Mr. Speaker, discussions have taken place among all parties, as well as with the member for Leeds—Grenville, concerning the recorded division scheduled for next Wednesday on Motion No. 385.

I believe you would find consent, Mr. Speaker, for the following:

That the recorded division scheduled for Wednesday, June 4, 2003 on Motion No, 385 be taken on Tuesday, June 3, 2003 at 3 p.m.

Business of the HouseGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Does the House give its consent?

Business of the HouseGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-25, 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, be read the third time and passed; and of the previous question.

Public Service Modernization ActGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

Bloc

Robert Lanctôt Bloc Châteauguay, QC

Mr. Speaker, we heard the member for Ottawa—Vanier tell us that the unions supported this bill. I would like to ask my colleague from Drummond what she thinks of what the member for Ottawa—Vanier may have suggested here.

He read a letter that was sent to him by APEX, the association representing executives, those who wield power, the deputy ministers and all those who gravitate around the centres of power. He said, among other things, that the unions were in favour of this bill.

On that subject, I can tell the House that I sit on the government operations committee which has put forward over 120 amendments. Many of these amendments—and I would even say the vast majority of them—dealt with security for workers, not for senior executives.

Unfortunately, it may be the only letter from an association that he has read. If we turn to the Alliance or the CSN, we even heard evidence from one of the experts that was mandated by the present government to look into this whole issue of public service modernization. Mr. Fryer produced a report that was used as a basis for many of the amendments that we put forward. Indeed, we relied on this report that goes back to 1998.

So, in view of the statement made by the hon. member, I would like to hear the comments of the hon. member for Drummond. The preamble to the bill talks of new and better labour-management relations, while all the witnesses and nearly all the union representatives—the unions representing the public service workers, not those representing the managers and senior bureaucrats—came to tell us that this bill should not be thrown out or set aside, but that the 120 amendments we proposed ought to be accepted, at least. It is clear that when the government saw that astronomical number of amendments, it said, “Hey, this does not make any sense. It amounts to taking the bill and throwing it out”.

Between you and me, if the unions or their negotiating agents had truly been consulted, these public servants would have been able to take an active part in drafting this bill. They were shoved aside and then the government had the nerve to write in the preamble that this bill is going to improve labour-management relations. I would like to hear my hon. colleague's comments on this aspect.

Public Service Modernization ActGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

Bloc

Pauline Picard Bloc Drummond, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague from Châteauguay for his comment.

Incidentally, I congratulate him on his fine work in committee and on the amendments he presented. He became the advocate of the public service workers by presenting 120 amendments, which have been ridiculed and rejected by the officials without a clear explanation. This is an enormous amount of work, but Bloc members are willing to do this kind of work because we are here to look after the interests of the people, of Quebeckers and of federal public servants.

I am in total agreement with my colleague's comment, and all the more so because the purpose of this bill is to improve the image of the public service. Because of its bad image, it was necessary to raise the level of interest for a career in the public service. It is obvious that we have a hard time recruiting for the public service the people who have all the required skills. They would rather work for private companies instead of the Canadian public service, because of its shortcomings.

There are many instances of abuse of power and harassment. Public service managers have a very bad reputation. Everyone thought that this bill could improve the situation and the quality of life of public servants. This is not currently the case.

As my hon. colleague was saying, this bill must be reviewed from start to finish. With regard to its substance, its objectives were commendable but, in reality, what we got on paper does not fulfill the initial objectives.

So why did we not adopt the amendments presented? These amendments were the result of meetings with public servants and the unions. The amendments were proposed by these front line workers who spend every day working in the public service; it is part of their daily life. At work, they have seen deficiencies, and they had hoped that this bill would resolve them for the most part.

The Liberal member read us a letter from senior managers; I cannot remember what the association is called—

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12:55 p.m.

An hon. member

APEX.

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Bloc

Pauline Picard Bloc Drummond, QC

It is APEX.

He is trying to distract us with a letter that he thought he alone received. I think that all the committee members got a copy. It is not new to anyone. He told us that, yes, there are perhaps some deficiencies in the bill, that most public servants will be very happy to live with this bill, which will likely be passed.

At this stage, the government side will vote in favour of the bill. Once again, the thoughts of workers and their quality of life are being ignored. This government will once again demonstrate its power over the taxpayer and its own employees. It is telling them, “You can be abused, you can be harassed and things are great as they are”.

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Bloc

Robert Lanctôt Bloc Châteauguay, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask a supplementary question of my colleague from Drummond.

When she was examining the issue, how could she have thought that these public servants were interested in being part of a public service where employers will make the decisions, and not the Public Service Commission, as was done before?

The Commission still has this power, but it can now delegate the staffing, the recruiting function. It may tell its managers, its deputy ministers: “You choose someone”. Imagine that, Mr. Speaker. The manager may simply look at the essential qualifications to choose the best candidate. I would like to hear my colleague from Drummond on this.

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Bloc

Pauline Picard Bloc Drummond, QC

Mr. Speaker, as I did earlier, I would like to quote the union's vice-president in response to my colleague's question. She says:

It is leeway that would ultimately allow the employer to choose whomever he wants for position x. This would open the door to abuse and bureaucratic patronage.

The same note was sounded by the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada, whose President appeared before the committee to express his reservations and request amendments to the bill. According to Steve Hindle, Bill C-25 is not only a ominous threat to the merit principle as it affects hiring, but the changes proposed by the minister would have the effect of placing the employees on permanent probation.

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Liberal

Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, I am happy to speak to Bill C-25.

A few days ago representatives of the Yukon Branch of the Public Service Alliance of Canada came to visit me. I would like to use my time today to put on the record some of the reservations brought forward by them.

Before I start though, I just want to emphasize a point I made earlier in this debate. I am very supportive of the President of the Treasury Board's effort to try to improve the representative now of the public service, especially employment in Ottawa, so that it is available to and filled by people from across this nation, therefore representative of the people from all distant sides of the nation. The public service will make decisions and implementations that would be sensitive to the various regions of the country.

I want to just go on the record with the eight concerns the local branch of PSAC.

The first item is removal the relative merit, replacing it with allowing the hiring of only people with essential qualifications. For a government that prides itself in bureaucracy based on merit, the union is concerned that this will reduce the ability to select the most meritorious person on a list. This could lead to more favouritism, although there could be abuse already in the present system that might exacerbate the situation, and could have the same effect on government downsizing as people leave the government.

The second point is a strike vote would be valid for only two months. I think this is a particular northern concern. First, two months may not allow time for the alternative dispute mechanisms to solve the problem. Of course I think we would all like it solved in a way other than a strike. However in the north, especially in the high Arctic and in Old Crow, it takes a longer time to get mail and communications through, and two months may not be enough time. A longer period would be more helpful.

The third point is the employer would have the exclusive right to determine the level and frequency of service during a strike.

The fourth concern is the union feels the proposed legislation would give the employer control over the designation process, making it more difficult for people on the picket line to be aware of who is designated. Now someone can be convicted of a summary offence by unknowingly preventing a designated worker from entering the premises. This could lead to an inadvertent conviction.

The fifth point relates to the fact that any employee can question a vote based on an irregularity. However an irregularity is not defined in the act. Therefore the union feels this could lead to abuse.

The sixth point is a new point and that is the fiscal position of the government needs to be taken into consideration during the negotiations. The union feels it is not obvious why this needs to be included in legislation.

The seventh point concerns a reintroduction of controls over the involvement of federal servants in elections. This would limit the involvement of federal civil servants in the political process. The union is worried that this clause, along with others, would have a spinoff effect on our local public service union in the Yukon government, which often mirrors federal legislation.

At one time there were extensive controls on involvement of federal public servants and this was struck down in the Supreme Court in the case of Barnhart et al, I believe, as unconstitutional. The union is concerned that by putting this back in, it could lead to another challenge, another loss and excessive taxpayer money spent on the case.

The union felt that some of these eight points and other points in its detailed submissions did not evolve from the Fryer and Quail studies on reforms.

I reviewed the legislation myself again and the detailed submission it made, sometime after midnight last night. There were two points it did not discuss with me which I would like to bring up at this time.

One is it said that it was in favour of legislation that was more mirrored on the Canada Labour Code specifically, and that this was quite different. The other point was related to the fact that essential workers could have to report to duty in off-hours or work overtime during a strike. What if a person is a single parent? What about people who might be caregivers and have other responsibilities?

I would like to thank the House for allowing me to put these concerns on the record.

I have subsequently had discussions with those involved in working intensively on this new act because I wanted to get replies to these concerns. I said that I really needed results on these concerns. I would like to provide feedback and more details on these 11 issues which I brought up.

First, the major one I think for a lot of people is the relative merit issue. I am told that merit was not defined in the old act so one of the new improvements in the proposed new act is it is now defined. I think everyone agrees, the unions and everyone else involved, that there have to be improvements to the act. What those are is what is under debate. In the old system there were a number of people stuck in appeals. As someone said a few minutes ago, there will be a large changeover in the public service soon and the act has to be efficient.

In some cases I have been told there is even more protection in the proposed new act for employees who think someone may not be the most meritorious, or should not get the job, or who has been abused. First, a new tribunal will deal with situations like that. This has never been in place before. Employees will have access to this. If they think they were not properly treated, they can appeal to the tribunal for abuse of authority, which includes two areas, bad faith or personal favouritism. This would help eliminate the concern of favouritism or nepotism, which I mentioned earlier. They also can appeal on skewing of qualifications or bureaucratic patronage. This would also apply to layoff discrimination. Therefore, in some ways, there are more protections against abuse of the system which were not there before. This new system will be there for some people who might be concerned about that abuse.

This is also new. The public service can audit the setting of qualifications. In either the old or the new system the setting of qualifications could be a back door to achieving abuse. Now the public service commission has the ability to audit those to remove that level of abuse. The public service commission also has broader authorities of inquiries.

There is a new informal mechanism to find out exactly why an employee may not have been hired before he or she would go into the formal steps, and the employer must provide that. This makes things faster and less bureaucratic.

The second item is the two month limit on the strike vote. I am not satisfied that this could not have been changed. I would have been happier to have had the time period extended. Once again, it is regionally sensitive in the north. We could use more time. I would have liked to have that changed. I understand that provision is in the Canada Labour Code. The union brief which I read mentioned that it was in favour of legislation more like the Canada Labour Code. I am assuming that if it is in the Canada Labour Code and it is working well, that is the argument why is not being extended. However personally I would like it extended if possible for the north.

The third item is the employer's exclusive right to determine the level and frequency of service. There are some new provisions in this part of the bill that are beneficial for unions. They can start conciliation while the labour board settles disputes about what essential services are. That could not happen before, and it will speed up the process.

There is also a potential advantage to unions in this clause with regard to the setting of levels of service. This also could not be done before. The employer could reduce the level of essential services and therefore allow more employees to partake in the strike. I have been told that under the present system even if 1% of individuals are considered essential, then those individuals would be excluded from striking. This new system might change that and once again free up more employees to take part in the strike.

The fourth item is related to employer control over the designation process which makes it more difficult for people on the picket line to be aware of who has been designated essential.

There are certain things both in the old act and the new act that are still negotiated such as what are essential services, how many and which positions. These still go through the same process as before. The fear was there would be challenges such as someone being stopped on the picket line who had been defined as an essential service employee.

I have been told by the people who worked on the bill that there are a lot of safeguards against that. It happens very seldom, if ever. Because of the safeguards, an individual would need leave from the labour relations board to lodge such a complaint. The complaint would obviously have to be reasonable or that neutral board would not allow the charge to proceed. The prosecutor would have to be convinced. One person I talked to said that this type of charge proceeded successfully once and it led to a $1 fine. It is virtually never used and certainly not abused because of the safeguards in place.

The fifth point is anyone can abuse the system by challenging a vote because of an irregularity and thus causing an investigation into a vote. Irregularity is not defined in the new act. This challenge could only be made within 10 days. It could be dismissed summarily by the labour relations board. If the charge is considered trivial or unwarranted and does not make any sense, it can be dismissed. Even if it is warranted, it could be dismissed if it did not make a difference. If the vote had gone ahead, the claim could be dismissed if the problem did not affect the vote.

The sixth point is a suggestion that the fiscal position of the government must be taken into consideration. Is that not obvious? Would that not obviously be included in negotiations? The point made to me was that it obviously had not been taken into consideration all the time in the past. In the 1990s an 18% increase was given. This works both ways however. It could be a definite advantage to employees and unions in that if the government is in a good fiscal position, it would be hard to argue against increases in wages and benefits that are due. This apparently was one of the suggestions that came from the Fryer report.

The seventh point has to do with controls on federal public servants being involved in the electoral process and the fact that they were limited before they were challenged. By putting that back in, it will lead to a challenge. However it is not the identical situation. What has been put in is actually related to the outcome and recommendations from a 1991 court case by Osborne, I believe, which, although it did not allow the blanket elimination of federal civil servants, it had control over it. However, because the system at the time had blanket provisions, that was not allowed. They think that under certain circumstances federal civil servants should be limited. Their point was that people with different jobs and different responsibilities could not be treated all the same in this situation.

Some people have different responsibilities, different profiles and there is a different public perception of the work they do. Of course no one wants partisan influence in the public service, so different situations have different ramifications.

The new proposals would allow people to be involved in the federal election process, unless it impairs or it is perceived to impair one's ability to fulfil one's duties impartially. That requires a review of the nature of the activity one wishes to participate in, the nature of the duties people have and the level and visibility of the position. As everyone is aware, conflict of interest is both a real and a perceived conflict of interest.

The last point I discussed with the union had to do with the fact that management would now automatically be excluded in this proposal. Previously they were automatically in the union unless the labour board exempted them. In the new and old act, executives were always excluded. In the new act the employer still has the burden to approve that non-obvious managers should be excluded. The employees only have to have the burden for the obvious ones, such as EXs, personnel staff and collective bargaining staff who are normally excluded. If employees want one of those not to be excluded, they would have to make that case.

In extension to the points that related to where all these changes came from and were discussed, although they were not all from the Fryer and Quail reports, there were, as I think earlier speakers mentioned, extensive discussions and development of this with various public service unions and others. The differences in relation to the Canada Labour Code relate to essential services and public services as opposed to what would be expected in private business or commercial services by Canadians.

Finally, in relation to the point about forcing someone with other responsibilities, such as a single parent or a caregiver of an elderly or infirm person, to go to work in their off hours, this would only apply to people on call out or standby in their regular positions. It would not apply to people who had accepted jobs on the grounds that they would never be called out and now all of a sudden are being forced to. It would only apply to those people where this was part of the position that they were involved in.

I was happy to receive all those points. I will be bringing them forward to the union. I will be watching to make sure the negative outcomes that some people feel might evolve do not evolve from these mechanisms and that we take what action needs to occur if they do.

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NDP

Brian Masse NDP Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, one of the disappointing aspects of the bill is that whistleblowing has not been identified in it. This would have given workers the confidence they needed to bring forth situations in a way that would ensure their protection in the workforce and move forward on many of the sensitive issues that often complicate an area and a person's career.

A quick example that we have had in Ontario, for instance, is MFP, where a number of municipal employees have had to come forward to resolve a very complicated financing arrangement that has led to literally hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayer money being put at risk.

Could the hon. member comment on that aspect of it? Does he believe the bill would be better with a whistleblowing component added to it? Would that be an important issue for public servants to make sure they could bring forth injustices happening at their workplaces and be protected from any repercussions from management or other people?