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House of Commons Hansard #110 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was aboriginal.

Topics

Public Service Modernization ActGovernment Orders

11:40 a.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

Public Service Modernization ActGovernment Orders

11:40 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

In my opinion the yeas have it.

And more than five members having risen:

Public Service Modernization ActGovernment Orders

11:40 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Call in the members.

(The House divided on the motion, which was negatived on the following division:)

Public Service Modernization ActGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I declare the motion lost.

Public Service Modernization ActGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

Bloc

Claude Bachand Bloc Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to debate Bill C-25. As a matter of fact, I must say that last week I was afraid that it might come before the House, as I had promised my labour friends that I would speak to it.

In a previous life, before I entered politics, I was a union representative in my work place. I started out rather timidly. My workplace was not very big. There were around 200 workers. During the summer, there were a lot of students too.

Why did I get involved with the labour movement? I will tell you a little bit about my personal history by way of explanation. I found there were a lot of injustices in my workplace. I say injustice because I believed the employer was abusing certain people. I called it “employer tyranny”. I could see also that some people were treated differently than others and I thought it essential that there be something to counterbalance the employer tyranny, management and personnel management.

It happened very simply around a table. People told me, “Claude, we would like you to become president of the union”. I agreed. As a result, I was involved with labour unions for 20 years not only in my workplace but also at the local and regional levels, where I assumed certain responsibilities. This is why today I am able to talk about this type of bill.

Today, we believe we should vote against Bill C-25 because of the way it was put to the House of Commons and dealt with in committee.

As a matter of fact, this is not the first time such a thing has happened in a committee. When the opposition suggests valid amendments, often the government majority will just turn them all down. This morning, I even heard some of my colleagues suggest some changes to the bill, and they were told on procedural grounds that it was too late to put them forward. However, while it might have been too late to do so, we put forward amendments in committee and they were flatly rejected.

I have been here for almost ten years now and I have found that the Liberal government is not a government for workers, and this is not the first time that I have said this. It is against workers and I have several examples to illustrate this.

In our first term, Parliament was reconvened to pass special legislation to force rail workers back to work. Supposedly, we were given all kinds of time to speak our minds on the subject. We said, “Madam Speaker, we are moving too fast, the government wants to pass special legislation too quickly and we have not given the union and management enough time to work out their issues”. The result was that people had to go back to work under the yoke of special legislation.

The same thing happened to Vancouver dock workers, where all kinds of national reasons were invoked, and where the government said, “The west coast is being paralyzed, we must force employees back to work”. Once again, the parties were not given time, or enough time, to try to resolve the dispute themselves.

The same is true when it comes to federal trusteeship. There is another example, from my riding, in fact. Workers, or rather former workers, at Singer—since they are before the courts right now—were demanding money from the government, which was supposed to act as a trustee and protect their pension fund. The federal government allowed the company to dip into its surplus. The result is that today, these people, whose average age is 85, under this system of trusteeship, find themselves making $10, $15 or $20 a month. It makes no sense.

Instead of telling the company to dip into its surplus, to stop making contributions, the government missed the opportunity to ensure that the surplus could be used to help Singer employees, which would have made their retirement much rosier than it is presently.

And then, to our amazement, after we asked a dozen questions, we understood why the government had refused to return the money to the Singer employees. It wanted to get its hands on the surplus in the federal government employees' fund. Around four or five years ago, the government said, “We think this surplus is ours”, and it grabbed it.

To me, all this means that, when it comes to workers, the only thing that the government is interested in is collecting taxes. It is not interested in providing benefits to these workers through special or effective measures. We have evidence once again with the antiscab legislation. We want something equivalent to what the Quebec government has, that is the banning of scabs, and the government refuses and even argues that unions agree with it that the legislative framework must remain unchanged. This is yet more blatant evidence that the government does not care about workers.

So what is happening today with Bill C-25? The government now argues that the act is 35 years old. The government says that this act must be changed. Now, we find ourselves with a bill that has the same regressive view toward workers. This is why the Bloc Quebecois is opposed to it. For numerous reasons, this bill does not contain the elements required to maintain a good work environment.

In labour relations, there are some very important themes we should always keep in mind. They are also the themes in fashion in labour relations today. One is the issue of corporate culture. Here we see the state as employer, with thousands of workers at its disposal, and the employer's response to problems of corporate culture is to create a bill. Another issue was the way the bill was introduced. There has been very little consultation with the unions. That is completely congruent with the position and tactics the federal government has been employing for many years in its relations with the federal public service unions.

I do not think a bill can make corrections to a corporate culture. A corporate culture is imposed from the top down, starting with the Department of Labour or the Treasury Board. It is then reflected in the delegation of powers to local administrators.

Unfortunately, what we have seen for 35 years, and what is still true today, is that there is no respect for the workers. I know something about that. In my riding there is a military base and an agricultural research station; their employees are all federal public servants. The attitudes in these workplaces are very difficult to live with.

As a former union officer, I have a great deal of trouble accepting that in this corporate culture it is the local administrators who impose their views on the workers. They care nothing for any grievance procedure. They will always object to any and all employee demands. Because of this, grievances often have to go all the way to the top level—and that often is quite costly—instead of the employer investing in employee recognition.

One of the reasons given by the President of Treasury Board during her introduction of this bill was that there were recruitment problems in the federal public service. It is not surprising that there are problems. It will take more than a bill to correct a regressive attitude toward workers. There must be a change in corporate culture and this is not necessarily achieved with a little legislation.

The government must recognize and respect its federal public service. It must prove this on a daily basis and with a legislative framework that should be much more open. This means that, when changes to a workplace need to be made, the union must be consulted. The union must be respected. After all, it, and not the employer, represents the workers. The employer likely represents Treasury Board or any other department with federal employees. So, the union must be recognized, and it is the means through which employees should have more say. It is not about handing down measures, imposing them and saying, “Now, we have legislation. This is what is in the act and you are going to implement it”.

With regard to consultations and the unions, at a senior level, they failed, there were practically no consultations. And today, the unions must appeal to members of Parliament. Each of us has, in turn, received phone calls asking us to try to block Bill C-25.

They realized that the attempts to improve the bill in committee, through amendments, failed almost entirely; perhaps one or two amendments were agreed to. So, the business culture cannot be changed by a bill.

As for the bargaining process, let us consider what has happened since the federal public service and the government started bargaining. In the past ten years, I have taken part in at least two bargaining sessions with the federal public service. What happens? The government, which is the employer, is also the legislator. It continues to maintain draconian positions when it comes to the unions. It is impossible to bargain logically. Either the government drags out the bargaining process or else it starts, after some time, to threaten its employees with special legislation.

We know what special legislation means. It means astronomical fines for individuals, the union and union leaders. No one is exempt from this. It is simple, either the government drags its feet at the table or it takes a completely draconian and closed approach to the union. Then we get closer and closer to a black hole, that is special legislation. I gave a few examples earlier of the rail workers strike and the strike at the Port of Vancouver. This does not include all the so-called projects set up by the government for the workers or the non-responses it gives to the workers. I also talked about that earlier.

As for the grievance process, let us not be under any illusions. I think that in matters of arbitration the government will not budge. The only recourse employees have is to file a grievance. I know this from experience. There are hardly any discussions between the union and the employer. The latter is not interested in negotiating anything to do with accommodation on the work site. It says, “I am the local administrator”. I went through the whole bill and took note of the powers that are given to local administrations. It is unbelievable to see how the employer has complete control of the workplace.

The employer might say to the employee, “If you are not happy, file a grievance. I know it will take years before it is settled. If we lose, we will appeal. We will take it further”. The employee waits for years for justice. Often, employees give up because they see they are at a dead end.

As far as essential services are concerned, this is another example I have seen in this bill. The employer is the one that determines essential services. That is just great for a union. I have already seen employers in my province announce, “In our workplace, 100% of services are essential services. Staff has been cut to a minimum and we cannot afford to have a single person absent”.

Now imagine what will happen in federal government workplaces if the word comes down from local administrators that 100% of services are essential services. What means will be left to employees who want to object and force progress at the bargaining table? None whatsoever. All of them are expected to report to work the next day, because 100% of services have been designated essential.

So, in this bill the employer has total control over training, learning, and retraining. He can decide which employees in which units—ones of which he is particularly fond—are to be freed up from work and paid to take training. To the less favoured, he announces, “You keep working. There is no training for you. We are the ones to decide who gets training and retraining”.

This again makes no sense whatsoever. The employer also has the upper hand as far as bonuses and rewards are concerned. In other words, he can authorize lump sum payments or take a certain number of favoured employees out to a restaurant. There will be a great deal of arbitrary judgments involved. All this is what I have fought against in the past, and here it is again in this bill. It is arbitrary and employer-biased, from A to Z .

The same goes for disciplinary measures and sanctions. It is the employer who will decide, on his terms, what sanctions and disciplinary measures to apply. I have seen plenty of these also, of all kinds.

I have a lot of people come to my office and say, “I am sick and tired. My employer is constantly on my back even though I am not any worse than the rest of them in such and such unit on the military base or at Agriculture Canada or the research centre. I have been disciplined for a certain behaviour and colleagues with the same behaviour have not”.

Again, this is an example of the employer's arbitrariness. Employers will be able to determine what the needs of the public service are. They may make mistakes. Again, there is no mention of negotiating that with the union. Is anybody in a better position than front line workers to say, “This is what we believe we need in the near future. We are at work everyday in the field and we can see how things are evolving. We can see that service is diminishing. We can see that the demand for service is going up, and this is what we suggest”. But this is not how it will happen. The needs of the federal public service will be determined by the employer, who will decide, “In this area, there will be cuts. In that area, there will be increases”. The employer will proceed without necessarily having the support of the union and without necessarily consulting the union.

It would have been proper to recognize the unions by saying that there should be an agreement or negotiations between the two parties before any cut or increase in service went ahead. As I said before, is anybody in a better position than workers to assess that? They are the ones who are doing the work day in and day out.

As for the power to determine job qualifications, I have also seen that abused. I have seen job ads that practically say, “We are looking for a 25-year-old woman”. It was fair as long as it did not state that the qualifications also included blond hair and blue eyes.

A good number of people are automatically disqualified. So, employers can determine the job qualifications, and in doing so they can also choose the person they want for the job. If this is not the employer being arbitrary, then I do not know what it is.

There is also the whole issue of merit. Who is going to assess merit? The bill refers to essential qualifications. The employer is the one who determines them, and then the employer will say that a person cannot be hired because he or she does not merit the position. Obviously, we will be told that if employees are not happy, all they have to do is file a grievance. However, given what I explained earlier regarding the grievance process, the employee will suffer the injustice for years before an arbitrator rules that he or she is right or wrong. I am citing these examples to demonstrate that all of the powers are in the hands of the employer.

As for psychological harassment, there is an employee from the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency who lives in my riding and works in Lacolle. He has seen me regularly because he has been subject to psychological harassment for years because of his political convictions. This person had to put up with systematic abuse from his employer as well as other workers who had the same political beliefs as his employer, and treated him terribly. This person could complain to his immediate supervisor at the regional level until he was blue in the face, nothing changed.

I would have liked to talk about whistleblowers and provisions to protect those who witness abuse in government. Unfortunately, this bill does not contain any such provisions, and the amendments to include them were all rejected.

The same applies to official languages. Contrary to the Act to promote physical activity and sport, there are no provisions on official languages in this bill.

Lastly, we moved almost 120 amendments to try to improve this bill. The Liberals rejected them all.

To close, for all the above reasons, the Bloc Quebecois does not support Bill C-25, and we will vote against it.

Public Service Modernization ActGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.

NDP

Brian Masse NDP Windsor West, ON

Madam Speaker, thank you for giving me the opportunity to ask a question of the member from the Bloc who I know has been very active on this case file. The Bloc has put over 120 amendments because Bill C-25 is so deficient with a number of different working relationship issues that it will make the services more difficult for people being employed by the federal government.

This should be an opportunity to create a bill that will improve morale and increase the efficiency of the workers. The problems, as outlined by the member, will lead to more difficult times I believe.

There are a couple of things the government could have done to fix things. One was the amendment by the member from the New Democratic Party, the member for Winnipeg Centre, on whistleblowing. We believe is a very important issue. We have seen the scandals that have plagued the government for the last few years, the waste and other different problems. The government is spending a tonne of money on the RCMP right now to investigate these matters, which costs the taxpayers.

We were hoping to get some type of amendment to the bill to provide for whistleblowing. I will quickly read the three major parts to it. The Auditor General would be involved when a wrongful act or omission is:

(a) an offence against an Act of Parliament or legislature of a province or any instrument issued under the authority of any such Act;

(b) likely to cause a significant waste of public money;

(c) likely to endanger the public health or safety of the environment...

It goes on further to explain how whistleblowers would be protected so they would be assured that they would not lose their jobs, or would not be intimidated, or would not lose promotion, all those different things. It would save hopefully a lot of the problems which we have had in the past.

I know the hon. member has a number of different amendments from his party that were put forth, many of them that could actually have made this a good piece of legislation. It has not happened.

This is an amendment we had, and I would like to hear his remarks about it.

Public Service Modernization ActGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.

Bloc

Claude Bachand Bloc Saint-Jean, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for giving me this opportunity to talk about whistleblowers. And what an evocative term that is. It would have been very important that the bill include mechanisms to protect these people.

At present, the oath of allegiance is often cited. One must be careful not to say too much; there is a cloud of secrecy surrounding all decisions, as if they were state secrets. At present, government employees who are given tasks which are against their personal ethics can do nothing about it, except resort to the brown envelope system. I am referring to the envelopes one can slide under someone's door to provide details about a given situation.

But why not do things in the open, transparently? For instance, why not allow employees who feel that their ethics are being compromised and that people are going too far to say so? Why not put in place the whistleblower protections necessary? Because they know what might happen to them if they blow the whistle and there is no protection in place. It may well spell the end of their career in the public service.

I think that the government has missed a great opportunity. Recently, there have been scandals where it might have been good for us, as a society, to have public servants say, “Look, what we are being asked to do is not right”. There has been much talk about the sponsorship scandal. There has also been the HRDC scandal, with the billion dollars that disappeared.

Had public servants been protected under a bill like this one, it would probably have saved the government and the taxpayers money. With transparency, the matters could have been resolved and the wrongdoing stopped before it was too late, as in the two scandals I just mentioned.

Once again, the New Democratic Party and the Bloc Quebecois brought in amendments to try and define the concept of whistleblowing, so that problems could be dealt with quickly. Unfortunately, the federal government and the government members rejected these amendments out of hand.

Public Service Modernization ActGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

Liberal

Bob Speller Liberal Haldimand—Norfolk—Brant, ON

Madam Speaker, I want to refer to comments made previously by some of my colleagues. They essentially stated that they thought that the bill was going in the right direction. However they, like myself, have heard over the last couple of days from constituents who are concerned with the fact that the oath of allegiance would be taken out of the legislation.

I certainly have received a number of phone calls, e-mails and faxes from constituents who feel that part of the traditions of Canada, part of what we particularly in rural Canada have believed, are somehow slipping away and that their voice on this is not being heard. I want to assure them, as I can assure all Canadians, that we on this side of the House have heard them. I have had the opportunity to speak with the minister on this issue, as have a number of my colleagues. We will be looking at this issue further.

Recognizing all that the member said about the importance of protecting people who may want to speak out at times but also making sure that the government can function in certain ways, what does he feel about the practice of an oath of allegiance, particularly in terms of a civil servant giving a commitment to the head of state of a country?

Public Service Modernization ActGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

Bloc

Claude Bachand Bloc Saint-Jean, QC

Madam Speaker, if the oath of allegiance could be an oath of allegiance to the Canadian taxpayers, I would not have much trouble with that. But an oath of allegiance to the Queen or the Prime Minister—I think it is not incompatible. We can certainly keep the oath of allegiance, but we also need to include a provision in the bill that would protect whistleblowers.

When public servants take an oath of allegiance, they must always remember that they are there to serve the Canadian taxpayer. Once public servants have taken an oath of allegiance and they are asked to do things that go too far, things that are contrary to the interests of taxpayers, I think there must be provisions for them to take action and be protected.

I do not see this as incompatible. On the contrary, I think that permitting public servants to blow the whistle on actions they think are wrong would be a significant counterweight to the oath of allegiance. I think that there is no incompatibility at all. I think it is an element that could be added to the oath of allegiance.

Public Service Modernization ActGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

NDP

Wendy Lill NDP Dartmouth, NS

Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak to Bill C-25. We in the House know how important this legislation is. There are some 170,000 civil servants in the country and I am told that if the RCMP, the armed forces and several others are added to that figure, the number gets up to almost half a million workers. This is an important piece of legislation that involves 16 bargaining units. We have a lot of work to do on this front to make sure we have a healthy and vibrant public service.

The role of the civil service has been the subject of no fewer than 37 indepth studies in the last 40 years. It is something that we certainly are trying to get right, but I am not sure how successful we have been.

I have received many letters, as have my colleagues, from people in the public service who have described the contents of Bill C-25 as a slap in the face. I would like to deal with some of the specific problems they have talked about, but first I would like to give a bit of a context for the bill.

We have to keep in mind that the 1990s was a terrible decade for our public service employees. There were seven or eight years of wage freezes with zero per cent increases. There was total devastation with the program review, where one-third of the civil servants were laid off. Many workers were demoralized by job cutbacks. Even though the civil service was reduced by one-third, the amount of work did not change. Employees were struggling with giving service to the public with fewer resources and fewer people to do the job. MPs know that this is the case because we see and hear from our constituents constantly about voicemail and never hearing a human being's voice at the other end of a government phone line because there have been so many cutbacks.

The ultimate insult was when the former president of the Treasury Board took the entire $30 billion surplus out of the employees' pension plan without even considering the fact that a surplus in a pension plan is the property of the employees. A pension plan should be viewed as wages being held in trust until such time as they are needed. When the pension plan went into surplus, the entire surplus of $30 billion was taken out of the employees' pension plan.

The government views surpluses very differently than the New Democratic Party does. In our time here we have certainly seen the massive EI surplus which has grown and grown over the last decade. That money also has not gone toward the purposes for which it was intended. It has gone into general revenues. At the same time a number of unemployed Canadians find that they are unable to collect EI because of the tightening of eligibility rules. The last I heard, only 40% of unemployed Canadians were able to receive EI.

A couple of years ago, the CLC estimated the amount of revenues taken out of Canadian cities because of cuts to EI. At that time the hit for my own community of Dartmouth was estimated to be $20 million. There would be $20 million less per year to be spent in our economy, to be used to support families, to provide a level of security at one of the most difficult junctures in people's lives, that is, when they are faced with unemployment.

The EI surplus also has disappeared. That money has been thrown into general revenues and is not being utilized for the purposes for which it was intended.

As I have said, during the process called program review in which the former finance minister got rid of the deficit, one-third of our civil servants were laid off. In my community of Dartmouth, there are thousands of families in which one or both spouses work for the federal public service. There are offices for DND, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Parks Canada, HRDC, the Department of Citizenship and Immigration, Heritage Canada, Environment Canada, Canada Post, ACOA, which is the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, and the Department of Veterans Affairs, just to name a few.

We have the regional headquarters for the National Film Board. Until the deep cuts in the 1990s, it was a very important production centre for Atlantic filmmakers and a training ground for young, talented creators getting their start in film. Like dozens of other important government agencies, the Film Board saw devastating cuts in the 1990s. Many people were forced to take a package a number of years before they wanted to leave, stopping them in mid-career when they were just reaching their potential in their field. It is a tragedy how much collective wisdom and knowledge has been lost because of the government's shortsighted program review which saw thousands and thousands of dedicated and caring public servants go out the door.

Now there is Bill C-25, another bill to modernize the public service. The question is how successful is this effort? It falls short in many very important areas and I would like to mention some of them.

Bill C-25 waters down the merit principle by allowing only one person with the essential qualifications of a position to be considered for the job and removing relative merit from the public service employment act. This means that a manager could easily appoint one of his or her favourites to a position.

Bill C-25 also limits the grounds for complaints in a staffing process to abuse of authority and language of choice. Whether or not candidates were tested in their language of choice will be easy to prove, but abuse of authority is almost impossible to prove. This means that very few individuals will be able to successfully challenge any staffing decision that is made.

Bill C-25 also broadens the definition of essential services and gives the employer the exclusive right to determine the level and frequency of services during a strike. This means that the right of strike will be severely curtailed, if not removed completely.

Bill C-25 as it presently stands also gives the employer control of the designations process in a way that makes it difficult, if not impossible, to know which employees are designated and which are not. This means that there will be more problems on the picket line, not fewer.

Bill C-25 also calls for a striking worker who, perhaps unknowingly, prevents a designated worker from entering the workplace to be convicted of a summary offence. This means that the government does not trust its own workers to act responsibly.

Another area that is of very great concern to the New Democrats is that Bill C-25 continues to exclude fundamental workplace issues, such as staffing and classification from collective bargaining. This means that the government has no real interest in working more collectively with unions.

We have heard from some of our Bloc colleagues and also from members of the NDP who have worked hard in committee to try to get some of these important issues addressed. We see again and again a government which we do not believe recognizes the important contributions that the public service makes. Canada's public servants dedicate so much of their lives and talents to make this country work. They make our trains run on time and deliver our mail. Our military, coast guard, immigration and postal services are the meaning of this country and public servants work together to provide those services. The government is not giving the public service the due that is required.

The NDP and the Public Service Alliance of Canada have raised issues in committee, such as the merit principle, grievance procedures, the definition of essential services, strike breaking procedures, staffing and classification for collective bargaining. It is clear that until these issues are dealt with satisfactorily, we will not be able to support Bill C-25 as it currently is drafted.

Public Service Modernization ActGovernment Orders

1 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

Is the House ready for the question?

Public Service Modernization ActGovernment Orders

1 p.m.

Some hon. members

Question.

Public Service Modernization ActGovernment Orders

1 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Public Service Modernization ActGovernment Orders

1 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

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1 p.m.

Some hon. members

No.

Public Service Modernization ActGovernment Orders

1 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

Public Service Modernization ActGovernment Orders

1 p.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

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1 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

All those opposed will please say nay.

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1 p.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

Public Service Modernization ActGovernment Orders

1 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

In my opinion the yeas have it.

And more than five members having risen:

Public Service Modernization ActGovernment Orders

1 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

Call in the members.

And the bells having rung:

Public Service Modernization ActGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Dale Johnston Canadian Alliance Wetaskiwin, AB

Madam Speaker, since there is a vote already scheduled for 3 o'clock this afternoon, I suggest we defer this vote.

Public Service Modernization ActGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

The division on the motion is deferred.

The House proceeded to the consideration of Bill C-31, an act to amend the Pension Act and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Superannuation Act, as reported (without amendment) from the committee.

Pension ActGovernment Orders

June 3rd, 2003 / 1:05 p.m.

Simcoe North Ontario

Liberal

Paul Devillers Liberalfor the Minister of Veterans Affairs and Secretary of State (Science

moved that the bill be concurred in.

(Motion agreed to)