Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak this morning on Bill C-11.
Before I do, I would like to do what needs to be done during a person's first speech after the opening of a new Parliament: thank those who sent me here. I thank the people of the riding of Repentigny, the many campaign workers and the people who have supported me since my first election in 1993 and continue to do so. I would also like to welcome some new municipalities to my riding, namely the two L'Épiphanies, L'Assomption, Le Gardeur and Saint-Sulpice.
It is important, and appropriate as well, to provide a little background, a brief review of how and why we find ourselves today with Bill C-11 before us, one of the first bills to be introduced in this 38th Parliament.
As the President of the Treasury Board has said, this bill originated with the member for Bourassa, among others, as Bill C-25. Amendments have been made, and a degree of open-mindedness on the part of the Liberals may be seen. Improvements are still needed, however.
As we are all aware, the roots of Bill C-25 lie in the sponsorship scandal. During the hearings of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts we, unfortunately, heard public servants testify that they did not make public what was going on in front of them, for fear of reprisals.
Perhaps in a few months, or a few years, we will find out that other public servants were hesitant to speak out about the firearms scandal. That program was slated to cost $2 million or $3 million, and now is up to $2 billion. This is even more scandalous than the sponsorships. Perhaps this bill will make it possible for public servants to tell us what really went on.
I believe there are good intentions behind Bill C-11. Its purpose is to enable public servants to disclose wrongdoings when they become aware of them in the performance of their duties.
When the bill goes to committee, however, it will be very important to examine whether it will really meet its intended goal: to make it possible for public servants to disclose acts and omissions within their position or work unit.
It is important to know how Bill C-11 will differ from the Policy on the Internal Disclosure of Information Concerning Wrongdoing in the Workplace—a policy that already exists. Too often the Liberal government tries to reinvent the wheel. When something does not work, the government sets out to reinvent something new.
What does Bill C-11 add to the Treasury Board Policy on the Internal Disclosure of Information Concerning Wrongdoing in the Workplace? In committee, we will have to come up with a meaningful answer to this question to avoid simply creating something new again that falls short of the expectations for this bill.
My colleague from the Conservative Party of Canada was quite passionate in expressing our disagreement with certain aspects of this bill. He disagrees with it and so do we. However, we will give this minority government the benefit of the doubt and see whether the Liberals will listen to us at committee and be open to making a few amendments, as far as the legislative process allows.
We also have a serious problem with the fact that the third party—in this case the person ultimately responsible for receiving complaints and disclosures—is the President of the Public Service Commission.
I would point out that two complaints from the Treasury Board and National Defence were deemed admissible in connection with a serious breach in the application of the Official Languages Act within the public service and National Defence.
At that time, the Public Service Commission did have a president. We have seen how, even though there was someone responsible, the Canadian government, the public service, could ignore the rules and administrative procedures and contravene certain acts and regulations.
As my Conservative colleague was saying and as we have been saying concerning Bill C-25—this is not a new position for the Bloc Quebecois—we think it is very important for the designated third party to be independent; it cannot be the president of the public service, or like Howard Wilson, a phony ethics counsellor who has coffee with the Prime Minister to tell him whether he agrees and what it is he agrees with.
We want the person in such a position to be truly independent. Look at the credibility Sheila Fraser has when she presents her reports and the credibility she enjoyed when her report of February 10 came out on the sponsorship scandal. She is an independent officer of the House.
Look at the credibility of Dyane Adam, when she presents her reports once a year—now three times a year, if I am not mistaken—because she is an independent officer of the House.
If the Liberals really want to make this a credible position; if they really want to honour part of the promise in their 1993 red book to restore confidence in the public service, elected officials and the government; then they must establish an independent position of commissioner with this bill. We said this about Bill C-25 and we say it again, and so do the Conservatives.
If they do not want to do this, they must give us rational arguments and explanations. If they refuse, they will be sending the following message, as my Conservative colleague said, to the people: we want to look as if we are solving the problem to get it out of the way, and people will forget about it when something new comes along.
We feel there must be an officer of the House, someone appointed by and responsible and accountable to Parliament, like the Auditor General or the Commissioner of Official Languages.
I wonder about certain aspects of the bill. Take clause 8. I see the President of the Treasury Board is listening attentively. So, we might even be able to get some answers for the beginning of the committee's work: subclauses 8 (c), (d) and (e) read as follows:
This Act applies in respect of the following wrongdoings:
(c) a gross mismanagement in the public sector;
(d) an act or omission that creates a substantial and specific danger to the life [...];
(e) a serious breach of a code of conduct [...];
Why were the terms “gross”, “substantial” and “serious” used in each case? If I am a public servant, is the fact, for example, that Jean Carle buys for $165,000 worth of golf balls with Jean Chrétien's initials on them serious or not?
For a public servant, is the fact that we buy all our sweaters from Jean Lafleur of Communications Lafleur serious or not? What is serious in a wrongdoing that should be disclosed to a supervisor?
The President of the Treasury Board will have to tell us, at least in committee, what is deemed to be serious. All wrongdoings that can be disclosed by a public servant under clause 8 will have to be serious. What is serious? It will probably be up to the line supervisor, who will unfortunately be the culprit, to decide whether the wrongdoing is serious or not.
I saw some pretty serious stuff in the sponsorship scandal and I hope that everyone would have agreed that these were serious wrongdoings.
We also feel that, in its present form, a second aspect of the bill is flawed. I am referring to the requirement to exhaust other procedures.
Bill C-11 provides, and I quote:
24.(1) The President of the Public Service Commission may refuse to deal with a disclosure if he or she is of the opinion that:
(a) the public servant has failed to exhaust other procedures otherwise reasonably available;
This means that a public servant who is not an expert in parliamentary procedures—in the case of Bill C-11, for example—who contacts the President of the Public Service Commission—if he is the one in charge, although we do not want this to be the case—will be told to go back to square one. It is already difficult enough to disclose a wrongdoing, so if this is the route disclosure will take, we will insist on getting some clarification on clause 24(1).
I will conclude by asking this question: What about the public servant who files a complaint under this procedure? Do we let that person continue to work with his colleagues? Perhaps there should be some transition measures. Will the union be able to continue to support the public servant who made the disclosures? The bill is silent on this issue.
The government will have to explain in committee why the armed forces and the RCMP are excluded from the application of this bill. We think they should be included.
In conclusion, we support the principle of referring the bill to a committee. We hope that the Liberals will act in good faith and with an open mind. We want to amend this legislation which, in its present form, is unacceptable to the Bloc Quebecois.