Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to debate Bill C-25, a bill to modernize the 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.
As a member of the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates, we had an opportunity to review the bill which was forwarded to us by the House. It has been 40 years since these acts have been looked at and amended. I think a good question for members to pose would be why it has taken so long, particularly since there are so many substantive amendments that are considered in the bill.
In addition, a special task force was formed to research and make recommendations with regard to the changes in the bill, and to make other proposals which would deal with the structure of the bill.
I want to talk briefly about the structure and the way in which Bill C-25 was put together because it caused substantial concern at committee stage.
Clause 2 of the bill states “ The Public Service Labour Relations Act is enacted as follows”. Bill C-25 is a bill that has within it two other bills which currently exist. Part 1 attempts to enact the Public Service Labour Relations Act, which already exists. We also find amendments at the end of the bill which in fact would repeal the existing act. We will find similarly in another clause a rewrite of the Public Service Employment Act. Again the existing Public Service Employment Act is repealed.
We also have consequential amendments to other acts, the Financial Administration Act and the Canadian Centre for Management Development Act. This is the first time I have come across a bill that is structured in this fashion. If we look for instance at clause 2, clause 2 in itself is actually an entire bill. It is an entire bill with each of the clauses that we would find in a bill on a stand-alone basis, and similarly for clause 11 in the bill on the rewrite of the Public Service Employment Act.
When the committee did its work we considered about 120 amendments put forward by the opposition. We worked through a number of other amendments from the government one at a time. It took a great deal of time.
Since the task force had been formulated and it was making recommendations to the Privy Council Office with regard to how we were going to proceed on this, a number of questions were raised for outside experts to comment on. One of the questions had to do with the hierarchy that was contemplated for the public service.
There are three elements within this whole regime of the public service: the Treasury Board, the Public Service Commission and the public service itself. One of the areas we discussed had to do with why they decided to have a hybrid responsibility for the Public Service Commission, where it had auditing responsibilities, i.e. management responsibilities, in addition to having those representing the employees and, as with the other unions, representing the best interests of employees and protecting their interests vis-à-vis the laws of the land.
Questions were asked. I do not want to get into the details but there was a point at which information and copies of letters for which we had asked in order to better understand why certain decisions were taken to structure the bill, Bill C-25, in a fashion that put two other bills entirely within Bill C-25, were denied to the committee.
The response we received was that they were privileged documents that the committee could not see. I think this was one of the first opportunities that a committee had basically challenged the privacy, the confidentiality or the protection of documents. As a result, I put forward the motion in committee to suspend our clause by clause proceedings so we could pursue the acquisition of documents that we thought were relevant to our consideration of Bill C-25.
I am pleased to say that it did not take very long for the Privy Council Office to provide us with a complete binder of documents. I read all the documents that were received. Unless one is a management consultant, a labour relations consultant, an employee consultant and every other kind of expert we can imagine in terms of expertise related to the public service, it is a very difficult to appreciate the insights that these people were giving to the government with regard to how to structure the bill.
However I am glad we were able to get those documents because it helped me to understand that the experts had some concern about having a hybrid role for the Public Service Commission. They felt that since the legislation related to the public service, which had not been dealt with for some 40 years, that the culture had been so deeply rooted, so deeply embedded in the system that it would be extremely difficult for us to get exactly to where we wanted to be over the long term in the best interest of the structure for the benefit of the public service.
Ultimately, the recommendations and some of the documents that I read were basically saying that this was as far as we could push it. I think this was the first time that I realized there was some concern about how the public service would receive the changes to the legislation.
The issues were: could the public servants take it? Would they take the change? Would they accept it? Would they embrace it? Would it be able to cause a paradigm shift or a cultural shift? Would it be able to break the very deep roots of the way the system had been operating?
We know there were situations within the hiring practices of the public service that it was easier to hire people on a part time or on a contract basis than it was on a full time basis. It was shorter. It could in fact get people quicker.
I guess the bottom line was that we needed a human body to be in that role, to do that job and to make sure all the responsibilities were discharged very quickly. This was endemic of the kind of problems that it had incurred over the period within the public service, t this culture of how it operated, and I think the word “cynicism” was used , and there were questions.
I asked questions about whether the public service would accept the kinds of changes that were being asked, changes to concepts such as merit and whistleblowers, political involvement. Everyone knows that public service involvement in the political process at various levels is an issue that has been dealt with in the bill and it has been controversial over the years. I think there are now guidelines which people will understand.
As a consequence I am very comfortable with the steps that have been taken. I concluded and I think the committee members concluded that carrying the public service modernization process at least to this extent, this step forward, was all that we should do at this time and that every intent is that we will continue to look for ways to improve the administration of the public service and the relationship between the employer and the employees, and to further clarify the role of the Public Service Commission.
I should say as well that the committee was very interested in working with members of the Public Service Commission, who were very active and well represented at the hearings. They provided input to the committee and they addressed a number of concerns they had. It was very clear that the issues being raised were tremendously complex and broad because we were dealing not only with the modernization of certain aspects, but with the modernization of two existing acts and consequential amendments to others.
The bill is not an easy bill to deal with. Therefore part of my intervention today is to suggest to the House and to the leaderships of the parties that bills in this form do not do Parliament a good service. They are too complex and too detailed to ask parliamentarians to get into. It is like an omnibus bill. It deals with far too many things: labour relations, the Employment Act, amendments to the Financial Administration Act and to a number of other acts.
When we get into that level of detail and go through the various processes that we go through, with the limitations that parliamentarians have to study this information, it becomes very problematic for members of Parliament to discharge their responsibilities as committee members simply because there is not enough time allotted to the process and questioning of witnesses to examine all the areas relevant to the bill. It is clear to me that this, if I did not know better, was an attempt to make absolutely sure that we could not get into it in the detail that we should have.
The bill should have been at least two, if not three, separate bills. However I do understand that there is a sense of urgency, that we want a bill to go forward very quickly because it has been a long time. However if it has taken 40 years to get around to modernizing the public service legislation and two years for a task force, that clearly reflects how long it takes to do the job properly.
I am concerned about the process, the form of the bill and the fact that two bills are buried in it. Members should grab the bill and look through it. If they are told to look at clause 19, they should be very careful because clause 19 appears three times.