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House of Commons Hansard #8 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was servants.

Topics

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10 a.m.

Conservative

Jay Hill Conservative Prince George—Peace River, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise again today to present some petitions on behalf of my constituents and other citizens of Canada. I have two petitions this morning.

First, for the third day in a row I have yet another petition from the residents of Mackenzie, B.C. demanding Parliament immediately act to reinstate their eligibility for the northern residents tax deduction.

The boundary line determining eligibility for this deduction, which is designed to counter the higher costs of living associated with residing in a northern remote community, was altered eight years ago to make an incomprehensible and indefensible jog around Mackenzie. The federal government has never even adequately provided an explanation to my constituents. I would say that Mackenzie residents have waited long enough for the government to come to its senses.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10 a.m.

Conservative

Jay Hill Conservative Prince George—Peace River, BC

Mr. Speaker, the second petition is yet another one. Again, it is the third day in a row that I have risen to present petitions on behalf of citizens of Canada.

This petition is from residents of Enderby, B.C. who wish to draw to the attention of the House that housing accommodations provided by the Canadian Forces Housing Agency are, in many instances, substandard. The housing provided has seen dramatic increases in annual rent charges.

Therefore they call upon Parliament to immediately suspend any future rent increases for accommodation provided by the Canadian Forces Housing Agency until such time as the Government of Canada makes substantive improvements to the living conditions of housing provided for our military families.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10 a.m.

Conservative

Maurice Vellacott Conservative Saskatoon—Wanuskewin, SK

Mr. Speaker, these petitioners, 147 people from the Saskatchewan riding of Saskatoon—Wanuskewin, deem that since the dawn of civilization marriage has been the union between one man and one woman. They call upon Parliament to support the traditional historic heterosexual sacred definition of marriage.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have three petitions this morning.

The first petition concerns firefighters or public safety officers. The petitioners would like to draw to the attention of the House that firefighters are required to place their lives at risk in the execution of their duties on a daily basis and that the employment benefits of public safety officers are often insufficient to provide compensation to the families of those who are killed on duty.

The petitioners therefore call upon Parliament to establish a public safety officers compensation fund for the benefit of families of public safety officers who are killed in the line of duty.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, the second petition is on stem cells.

The petitioners would like to draw to the attention of the House that Canadians do support ethical stem cell research which has already shown encouraging potential for the cures and therapies for the illnesses and diseases of Canadians.

They also point out that non-embryonic stem cells, also known as adult stem cells, have shown significant research progress without the immune rejection or ethical problems associated with embryonic stem cells, which we know has been an issue in the presidential election in the U.S.

Therefore the petitioners call upon Parliament to focus its legislative support on adult stem cell research to find the cures and therapies necessary to treat Canadians.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, the final petition is on the issue of marriage.

The petitioners would like to point out that marriage is an institution which pre-existed the state and is based on a profound human need for having children and continuing the family from generation to generation.

They also want to point out that marriage is an institution so basic to the human condition and common good that its nature is beyond the reach of civil law.

They therefore call upon Parliament to take all necessary means to support the definition of marriage.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

Cheryl Gallant Conservative Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, ON

Mr. Speaker, the petitioners of Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke believe that the federal government has abandoned rural communities under the weight of urban socialism and government regulations, and that it is destroying the rural foundation our society was founded upon; that the government has enforced gun control, animal control, unnecessary pollution and waste control, farmland, bush and forest control, and a debt for which they are not responsible.

Therefore they are petitioning Parliament to correct the mistake of 1982 and amend the Constitution Act of 1867 to include the right to own, use and earn a living from private property.

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

October 14th, 2004 / 10:05 a.m.

Beauséjour New Brunswick

Liberal

Dominic LeBlanc LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I ask that all questions be allowed to stand.

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

The Speaker

Is that agreed?

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Bill C-11. On the Order: Government Orders

October 8, 2004--The President of the Treasury Board--Second reading and reference to the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates, of Bill C-11, an act to establish a procedure for the disclosure of wrongdoings in the public sector, including the protection of persons who disclose the wrongdoings.

Public Servants Disclosure Protection ActGovernment Orders

10:05 a.m.

Winnipeg South Manitoba

Liberal

Reg Alcock LiberalPresident of the Treasury Board and Minister responsible for the Canadian Wheat Board

Mr. Speaker, I move:

That Bill C-11, an act to establish a procedure for the disclosure of wrongdoings in the public sector, including the protection of persons who disclose the wrongdoings, be referred forthwith to the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates.

Mr. Speaker, I wish to start by recognizing a lot of hard work that has gone on in the journey that has brought the bill before the House. A number of the members of the original Standing Committee on Government Operations were seized of this when we began work on the original Bill C-25, which was not the bill that presented whistleblowing in the last House but the Bill C-25 that was the Public Service Modernization Act, which came before the committee more than a year ago.

At that time, when we were first looking at how we restructure the way in which services are provided to public servants and the way in which we manage our public service, there were concerns raised about the adequacy of whistleblowing, the identification of wrongdoing within the public service.

While looking at it, the committee noted the fact that the Public Service Commission was undergoing a change, that it had been around for a very long time as that entity which stood to ensure high quality ,meritorious appointments into the public service of Canada, but there was a feeling that through the modernization we wanted to delegate more of that responsibility to line ministries to facilitate a better process, better accountability and faster accessing of new employees, et cetera, and that the Public Service Commission should evolve into more of an audit function, that it would become the auditor of the human resource function as opposed to the manager of the human resource function.

This was a fairly substantial change. As we approached that debate in the bill, there was a lot of discussion about what that meant for public servants and for departments. It was decided, really, on a motion from the member for Etobicoke North. The committee agreed to modify the appointment process for the president of the Public Service Commission and took the appointment process from the parliamentary officers, the privacy commissioner and the access to information commissioner. That is what was used and that is what is embedded in the legislation now for the Public Service Commission.

When the work came about to hire a new president for the Public Service Commission, that person was, as is contained for the other parliamentary officers, presented to the House, presented to committee and approved by motions in both Houses. This was done to ensure greater independence for that organization as it begins its journey to this new role.

That is important, I think, because when we moved into the work on whistleblowing, the committee had had an experience with the then privacy commissioner's office and encountered some of the difficulties that are inherent in the way our system was structured. In particular, there was a problem that a lot of public servants were experiencing at that time in that it was unclear to them, or certainly their confidence in the current system for bringing forward concerns about wrongdoing was not strong enough to allow them to overcome their fear of what it would mean to their careers.

The committee, having had that experience, then undertook a piece of work that was co-chaired by the member for Winnipeg Centre and the member for Laval—Les Îles. They took a look at the experiences we had had with dealing with whistleblowers and they took into consideration some studies that had been done and some examination of what the workers were saying and came forward with a series of recommendations.

One of them was that it was not sufficient to have a policy base for this, that we had to have a legislative base for it. The second was that it should be embedded in an organization that was by definition independent so the organization would be independent of the management infrastructure of government, and that it should have a framework both for assessing the validity of the concern and, having ascertained that there was a legitimate concern, for it to have powers to protect a person so that there would be no impact on his or her career in the future.

I am pleased to say that the Prime Minister, upon coming to office, supported the development of a bill with these provisions. That bill was presented to the previous Parliament by the member for Bourassa.

The committee had a period of time to look at it. I believe it heard 14 witnesses who came forward with testimony from some of the associations and unions that represent workers, as well as others. The committee was properly and heavily engaged in that work when the election was called.

I had the opportunity, having been given the responsibility for the bill, to review all the work that had been done and, with the support of the Prime Minister, restructured the bill to address some of the concerns that had been raised. Rather than go through all of the bill, I think it is important today to simply frame those areas where the bill has been modified, and modified in direct response to concerns raised by people before the committee and by members of the previous committee.

Before I get into the three areas where there were specific concerns, there are a couple of things that I think are also important additions. The preamble of the bill recognizes the importance of the federal public service as a “national institution” and commits the government to establishing “a Charter of Values of Public Service to guide public servants in their work and professional conduct”.

The definition clause of the bill sets out, among other items, the range of public sector employees the proposed legislation covers. It will apply to employees in all sectors of the public service, including crown corporations and executives.

However, there is one area where there have been concerns raised which the bill does not address directly. It does not encompass them in this legislation. This includes members of the security establishment, CSIS, the uniformed members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the uniformed members of the Canadian Forces. It is important to make that distinction. The bill does cover civilian members of the armed forces defence department and civilian members of the RCMP, but in the case of the uniformed forces, they are required under this legislation to establish comparable codes themselves within those unique areas. They will be subject to that legislation or will be able to account to the codes they establish, but they are not encompassed directly in the civilian procedures.

The bill requires the Treasury Board to establish a code of conduct for the entire federal public service. Chief executives, that is, deputy heads of departments and chief executive officers of crown corporations, may also establish codes of conduct for their own organizations. If so, their codes must be consistent with the one established by the Treasury Board.

A new feature of the bill also commits the government to consult bargaining agents on the development of a code of conduct.

The next section of the bill defines wrongdoing, which has not changed from the previous bill. The proposed legislation then sets out the procedure for the disclosure of wrongdoing. Each chief executive must establish an internal disclosure mechanism, including the appointment of a senior officer to take disclosures and act on them. A public servant who believes that he or she is being asked to commit a wrongdoing or who believes that a wrongdoing has been committed may report it to his or her supervisor or to the designated senior officer.

However, the public servant may also report wrongdoing directly to the president of the Public Service Commission if he or she feels it would be inappropriate to disclose it to the supervisor or senior officer, or if he or she has disclosed it to one or the other of these people and believes the matter has not been addressed.

I would like to emphasize this. A public servant has the choice of using his or her organization's internal disclosure process or going directly to the proposed neutral third party for disclosures, the president of the Public Service Commission. This choice was also part of the previous bill, but in response to confusion among stakeholders we have made the language clearer. I think there was a lack of clarity as to whether or not the individual had to go first to the internal mechanisms. It was felt that in serious cases people should have the right to go directly to the independent party.

Now that I have made mention of the president of the public service, I want to skip ahead in the bill to talk about the responsibilities of the president of the Public Service Commission.

Some hon. members will remember that the previous bill proposed the creation of a public sector integrity commissioner as the neutral third party. As I said earlier, there was concern about the power and independence of the proposed commissioner. That is why this new bill assigns the role to the president of the Public Service Commission.

The PSC has a long history, almost a century, of playing an independent role in government. It is proud of its long tradition of protecting the merit principle in federal staffing. The president of the Public Service Commission would have the same reporting relationship to Parliament for disclosure of wrongdoing as he or she, in this case she, has for staffing. For example, the president of the Public Service Commission would be required to make annual reports of disclosures to Parliament.

It is true, as many hon. members know, that the president submits these annual reports to Parliament via a minister. However, in addition, the bill authorizes the president to make special reports directly to Parliament at any time and on any matter within the scope of her powers under this proposed act.

This new role of the president of the Public Service Commission is backstopped by new investigative powers for disclosure.

The bill would give the president powers under part II of the Inquiries Act. This would include the power to subpoena and the authority to access premises in the course of an investigation. The president would also be able to set deadlines for chief executives to respond to her recommendations.

Assigning the neutral third party role to the president of the Public Service Commission is a strong, effective, practical and reasonable option. I must admit that it was not, by the way, an idea that the government came up with alone. It was an option put forward by the previous all party government operations and estimates committee in its 2003 report on the issue. I would recommend that piece of work to members of the House. It was co-chaired by the member for Winnipeg South and the member for Laval—Les Îles. The former member for Châteauguay and the member for New Westminster—Coquitlam were also heavily involved in the development of that report.

My time has run out so I will leave it to the debate. I have already met with the critics and I would be prepared to meet with any of the critics for further discussion and briefing should they require it.

Public Servants Disclosure Protection ActGovernment Orders

10:20 a.m.

Conservative

Guy Lauzon Conservative Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry, ON

Madam Speaker, I wish I could say it is an honour to speak today to Bill C-11, the government's latest attempt to contain disclosures of wrongdoing in the public sector, but the bill tabled by the government is really a disappointment.

We are only in the second week of Parliament and already it is obvious how the government intends to operate. Last week I listened to the same throne speech for at least the third or fourth time. It has hardly changed since the Liberals took office more than a decade ago. They pull it out, dust it off and make Canadians listen to it all over again. I guess they have to keep using it because it is so hard to think of new ways to say absolutely nothing for 45 minutes.

Then I took part in an emergency debate on BSE. Why are we still talking about this issue a year and a half after the U.S. border has been closed to Canadian beef? How many emergency debates has Parliament heard on this issue? How many more will we have to hear before we correct the problem?

Bill C-11 is yet another case of déjà vu. It has all the major deficiencies we saw in the government's last phony attempt to legislate in this area.

The government has been touting Bill C-11 as a major revision of Bill C-25 but in reality only the window dressing has changed. The last bill would have created a toothless commissioner who would hear a disclosure of wrongdoing and then feed it right back into the system that was responsible for the wrongdoing in the first place. Of course everyone with any interest in the bill said that it was a farce. Now the government says that Bill C-11 addresses everyone's concern. That could not be further from the truth.

Instead of setting up a distinct office, the bill authorizes the president of the Public Service Commission to receive disclosures of wrongdoings from public servants and to investigate them.

Under the bill, the president of the Public Service Commission will report to a minister and not directly to Parliament.

This is exactly the same reporting system that the last bill had, and the exact reporting system that caused the Public Service Alliance of Canada, the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada, the public service ethics officer, every opposition party and the media to condemn the last government bill. I do not know why the government thinks it will get an easy ride on this bill.

The reporting process proposed in Bill C-11 creates opportunities for the same kind of interference that apparently took place with respect to an audit report on the sponsorship program that was prepared for Public Works and Government Services. Somewhere between the draft and the final report it was mysteriously watered down so it did not raise any of the alarms it should have raised.

One cannot make someone responsible for rooting out and correcting wrongdoing in government and then have that person report to someone in government. One cannot tell someone “We cabinet ministers are going to give you a well paying job, decide how much power you have, how much you will get paid, how high your operating budget is and how long you stay in office. Now sit down with me and tell me what is wrong with government”. It just does not work.

Anyway, the president of the Public Service Commission needs to receive disclosures of wrongdoings in order to prepare a report. Here again, the Liberals have seen to it that the bill is worded in such a way as to deter disclosures of wrongdoings instead of supporting them.

The Public Service Commission works hand in hand with cabinet, Treasury Board and deputy heads of government departments to address all kinds of issues concerning terms and conditions of public service employment. Public servants regard the Public Service Commission as part of senior management structure. They will not be inclined to disclose wrongdoings in their departments to anyone so closely tied to their departmental and political bosses.

I was a member of the public service for 22 years. I served as a union president of an association in Sudbury, Ontario and later in management in Sudbury, Ottawa and Cornwall.

You can believe me when I say that most public servants will think twice before disclosing any wrongdoing by their bosses to the president of the Public Service Commission. This government institution is just not the right one to listen to and protect whistleblowers.

What is needed for this job is a truly and completely independent body, its resources, operations and chain of accountability must be completely separate from the government of the day and from the public service.

The bill would require public servants to report wrongdoings of their masters to their masters. In fact, it expressly states that public servants cannot even go to the president of the Public Service Commission unless they have already disclosed the matter to their direct supervisor or they have what the bill calls reasonable grounds for not reporting to a direct supervisor. If a public servant discloses wrongdoing through any channel not sanctioned by the bill, then the public servant will not be protected from reprisals. If a public servant reveals government wrongdoing to the public, then the public servant will not be protected from reprisals under this act.

That is totally unbelievable. The government is basically saying that it is all right to punish public servants who dare to tell taxpayers when their money is being wasted. It is all right to discipline public servants if they tell Canadians about abuse of power and corruption. It is all right to do that.

That is simply indefensible. When a public servant takes the initiative to draw attention to wrongdoing involving public money or the public trust, that public servant should not only be protected but he or she should be applauded. Telling Canadians when bad things are happening to their tax dollars is a public service. It is incredible that the government cannot understand this.

This bill tells federal public servants that the only authority to whom they can disclose wrongdoings within their departments without fear of reprisal is someone who reports to the government in office.

Even when someone reports wrongdoing through the prescribed channels, if the boss fires that person to get even, the person has no recourse except what is available right now.

Bill C-11 sets up no new mechanism to receive reports of reprisals against whistleblowers. Those who are punished for coming forward in good faith to make disclosures of wrongdoing have to bring their plight to the attention of the applicable labour boards. They could have done that without the bill. It gets worse.

If someone makes a disclosure through the prescribed channels and his or her boss takes reprisals against the person for it, what happens? The individual complains to the applicable labour board and has to suffer while the case makes the long difficult journey through the labour board process where finally it is found that the individual was unfairly punished for doing the right thing, but nothing happens. The person who took reprisals against that individual is not even punished. The individual making the disclosure receives no reward or retribution for his or her suffering. The person gets back only what the ordeal cost him or her in terms of money and job status. Nothing else happens.

On one hand the bill says that public servants deserve to be punished for making disclosures of wrongdoing to the public, but on the other hand it says that supervisors in the public service do not deserve to be punished for taking reprisals against those who disclose wrongdoing, even through the proper channels.

The bill is clearly intended to contain disclosures of wrongdoing and not to facilitate such disclosures or to protect those who make them.

The Conservative Party would support an act that created a truly independent body to receive and investigate all disclosures of wrongdoing by all public servants and to protect those public servants from reprisals. Bill C-11 would not do that.

All 308 members of the House would say, without exception, that the employees of our public service are one of our country's finest resources. Today every member of Parliament has a chance to show their respect for public servants by providing them with legislation that reflects our respect and commitment to them.

I urge every member in the House to seriously consider the bill and to support the changes that need to be made in order to ensure that public servants realize how much the House values them.

Public Servants Disclosure Protection ActGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

Bloc

Benoît Sauvageau Bloc Repentigny, QC

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.

Public Servants Disclosure Protection ActGovernment Orders

10:40 a.m.

NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Madam Speaker, as this is my first opportunity to rise to speak in this 38th Parliament, I would like to take a moment to recognize and pay tribute to the good people of Winnipeg Center who saw fit to send me back to this honourable place. Every day that I take my seat in the House of Commons, I am reminded of what an honour it is to be here and what an honour it is to serve the good people of my riding.

It is also the first speech that I have the honour to make with you in the Chair, Madam Speaker, looking over this House with your wisdom. Let me add my voice to the unanimous chorus of members of Parliament who are very pleased to see you there in that very fitting place. I can only say that I hope your eyesight is as good as your judgment so that you will continue to recognize those of us who are banished to the far reaches of the House of Commons, although I am one who believes there is no such thing as a bad seat in the House of Commons. It does not matter where we are sitting.

I come from a trade union background, and as a union leader of a carpenters' union I have some personal knowledge of the importance of employees to feel comfortable when bringing forward information and being led to believe that they can do the honourable thing safely. It has always been my view, and it is still my view, that good managers welcome whistleblowing.

Good managers want to know of any wrongdoing or maladministration or any efficiencies they may gain in the enterprise they have control over by this information. It is only managers who have something to hide who are reluctant to put in place a truly free and open whistleblowing regime.

The NDP is committed to good whistleblowing legislation. We are committed to working with this bill to make it that piece of legislation. We do not want to jeopardize this bill going down without some measure of success and without improving the status quo. I want to introduce my comments by making that statement because I do have some serious criticisms of the bill.

I was a member of the government operations committee, as was the current President of the Treasury Board as chair of that committee, when we heard the Radwanski affair. There has never been a more graphic illustration to demonstrate the need for whistleblowing legislation than what we went through in that committee. We would never have learned about the Radwanski scandal were it not for courageous public servants willing to come forward to tell us what they knew.

The sad thing about it, and the reason I raise it, is that those very public servants felt it was necessary to bring their own legal counsel with them in order to come before a House of Commons standing committee made up of members of Parliament, made up of their own representatives in Parliament. They could not be assured that they could speak freely without bringing their own legal counsel. That rang the alarm bell for me that something was tragically wrong with the current status quo. Obviously, public servants in this country did not believe that they could speak freely even when it was the right thing to do.

As a result the government operations committee did undertake a great deal of work leading to whistleblowing legislation. First of all there was a subcommittee struck, which I had the honour to co-chair along with my colleague from Laval--Les Îles. We co-chaired a small working group that came back with recommendations to the larger committee as to what this whistleblowing legislation might look like.

What was presented to the committee, however, in the form of Bill C-25, did not resemble the recommendations of that subcommittee working group. In fact, every leading authority on whistleblowing in the country condemned Bill C-25 which came before our committee, and said that it did not meet any of the tests of a quality piece of whistleblowing legislation. Members can excuse us if we are frustrated on this subject because everyone knew what needed to be done, everyone was clear.

The Bloc Québécois had a wonderful private member's bill in 1996 that achieved second reading. It articulated a good, clear regime which would provide that assurance to public servants. In that articulation the Auditor General would have been the office to whom complaints were made.

We heard from 14 witnesses at the committee, as the President of the Treasury Board pointed out. They all condemned Bill C-25. They said Bill C-25 was an act to protect ministers from whistleblowers, not an act to protect whistleblowers.

We need to emphasize clearly to public servants that we will protect them, that we appreciate them and that we will reward them. I am not talking about a monetary reward, but there should be some sense of reward for doing the honourable thing in coming forward with information. However, I point out that in some jurisdictions in the United States, there are cash rewards for whistleblowers. They get 10% of the money saved by the bringing forward of any wrongdoing. I am not recommending that, but I want to emphasize that if we are to create some confidence in the public service, we have to make it abundantly clear that we welcome and value the information of public servants, that we are on their side in this and that we will protect them. The legislation is about protecting public servants, not just putting in place a mechanism through which the information can be filtered.

We are critical of a couple of things in the bill, which we will have the opportunity to amend at committee stage. I compliment the President of the Treasury Board for forwarding the bill to committee prior to second reading and getting the tacit approval in principle from the House. I am optimistic that it will be easier to effect some of these changes if it hits the committee sooner rather than later.

One of the fears we have is that we are not convinced the Public Service Commissioner will be viewed as a neutral third party to whom information can be brought. I may become convinced. I know there is a possibility we can, as a consequential amendment, modify the act that created the Public Service Commission to ensure that it is more arm's length than what the public perception currently may be. We are looking into that idea.

One thing that has to be clarified, if we are to give confidence to public servants, is that currently in the act there is swift punishment contemplated for anybody who makes a frivolous or vexatious complaint or a complaint in bad faith. People can be disciplined severely, as they should be, if they do that. There is also serious discipline contemplated for any manager who is caught in wrongdoing by virtue of a complaint. However, there is no immediate satisfaction for whistleblowers who may feel they are being disciplined for having brought information forward.

Their avenue of recourse, as was pointed out by my colleague from the Conservative Party, is to file a complaint with the Canada Industrial Relations Board or the Public Service Staff Relations Board. As an old union representative, I can tell the House that this can be an 18 month agonizing journey, the result of which is frankly like rolling the dice at the other end because of the arbitrator at the Canadian Industrial Relations Board. Like any court case, we may be perfectly innocent and found guilty or we may be guilty and found innocent. We really do not know, so this is no real satisfaction. How many public servants will risk their jobs, and by virtue of losing their jobs, they lose their homes, their family stability, et cetera, if they are not absolutely guaranteed 100% that if they get persecuted as a result of coming forward with information, the government will back them up. They would not have to roll the dice at the Canada Industrial Relations Board or appear with their legal counsel to argue the case. There would be real protection for whistleblowers. Without that, I would have to advise the public servants whom I know to zip their lips.

The legislation comes on the heels of the firing of the three most prominent whistleblowers in the country. What a glaring contradiction. The government just got rid of three nuisance doctors, whom I call heroes. They should be nominated for the Order of Canada. These people protected Canadians by keeping the bovine growth hormone off the market because they believed it was hazardous. If we cannot protect the three most prominent whistleblowers in the country, what kind of message does that send to the rest of the public service? We have a lot of work to do to build confidence that they will be safe if they come forward.

Imagine the gains, the waste eliminated, the corruption we could reveal and eliminate if whistleblowers felt free to come forward. However, we are not convinced they will as a result of the bill.

Public Servants Disclosure Protection ActGovernment Orders

10:50 a.m.

Sudbury Ontario

Liberal

Diane Marleau LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board and Minister responsible for the Canadian Wheat Board

Madam Speaker, let me start by congratulating you on your new position. I am sure you will do very well. It is nice that I have the opportunity to stand and speak before you this first time in this session.

I must take this opportunity as well to thank the people of my riding of Sudbury for sending me to Ottawa for a fifth consecutive term. I hope they keep sending me many more times.

I also very pleased to speak on this legislation. It is such an important part of what we can do to ensure that there is a process and that public servants are protected when they blow the whistle on any form of wrongdoing.

As the House knows, the bill was introduced last Friday by the President of the Treasury Board. I believe the bill will build an environment that encourages public servants to report cases of wrongdoing in the workplace. It does so by setting out an objective and complete process to govern the disclosure of wrongdoing in the federal public sector.

With this bill, public servants who disclose wrongdoings will be protected from retaliation or threats of retaliation. In addition, both those who make the disclosure and those about whom it is made can rest assured that investigations will be conducted in a fair and objective manner and that their privacy will be protected.

As most members know, the predecessor of this public servants disclosure protection bill was introduced in March. Consideration of this bill by Parliament was interrupted last spring when an election was called. The bill was debated in the House and reviewed by the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates. It was even referred to this committee before second reading to give members an opportunity to make a significant contribution early on, which they did.

I am pleased to say that Bill C-11 benefited from discussions on the earlier bill. One key area where the proposed legislation has been strengthened is around the nature, independence, powers and accessibility of the neutral third party.

The neutral third party is the person to whom public servants can report wrongdoing directly. While each department must set up an internal disclosure mechanism, if a public servant feels uncomfortable using that internal system, and this is very important, he or she can go directly to the neutral third party. The neutral third party would also investigate allegations of wrongdoing and make recommendations on his or her findings.

The previous bill proposed a public sector integrity commissioner to act as a neutral third party. Some stakeholders worried that the commissioner would not have enough independence or power to be an effective recipient or investigator of reports of alleged misconduct. This is why the new bill assigns the role of neutral third party to the president of the Public Service Commission.

The Public Service Commission is the organization responsible for protecting the integrity of the federal staffing process. Its overarching goal is to provide Canadians with a highly competent, non-partisan and representative public service, one in which appointments are based on merit.

Bill C-11 confers upon the President of the Public Service Commission the tools and powers required to fulfil this new responsibility. The bill confers powers on her under part II of the Inquiries Act, in particular the power to summon persons to appear, and to have access to offices as part of an investigation. The President of the Public Service Commission may also set the deadline within which chief executives must act on her recommendations.

Some hon. members might question the connection between staffing matters and wrongdoing. I would point out that other governments that have adopted similar legislative measures have found that most disclosures of wrongdoing have been personnel-related human resource management matters.

In fact, the integrity officer referred to a similar phenomenon in his first annual report. It makes sense, therefore, to assign responsibility for disclosure of wrongdoing to an organization with a mandate to oversee federal staffing.

This role suits the Public Service Commission for another reason as well: next year the commission will be assuming more responsibility for audit and evaluation when the new Public Service Employment Act comes into effect.

The President of the Public Service Commission made reference to this in her statement in response to the introduction of this bill, saying that the proposed responsibilities fit well with the direction set for the Public Service Commission by the new Public Service Employment Act.

I know that some hon. members continue to be concerned that the president of the Public Service Commission is not neutral enough, not independent enough, not powerful enough to take on these additional responsibilities.

The commission has a long history, almost a century of playing an independent role in government. It is justifiably proud of its established tradition of protecting the merit principle in federal staffing. The Public Service Commission has a reputation for both service and independence in performing very similar functions around staffing, as are proposed in the bill for disclosure.

Some might argue that the Public Service Commission is not independent because its annual reports to Parliament are submitted through a minister. I would like to point out that Bill C-11 clearly and explicitly authorizes the president to make special reports directly to Parliament at any time and on any matter within the scope of her powers under this proposed act.

This is not a timid organization that hesitates to demonstrate its independence, an organization that is unwilling to use its power. Let me read a portion of the Public Service Commission's most recent annual report, tabled in Parliament last October. It says:

Under the Public Service Employment Act, the Commission has the authority to revoke an appointment and impose corrective action if an inquiry determines that a fraudulent practice or breach of the Regulations during a selection process has occurred. During the past year, the PSC revoked 20 appointments.

As a result of investigations, the Commission also removed from eligibility lists the names of 13 candidates to prevent their appointment. The Commission ordered other corrective actions in 120 competitive processes that had resulted in appeals that were upheld. These actions included orders to conduct new assessment processes, consider additional candidates, or cancel selection processes. No departments/agencies had their delegation authorities revoked; however, a number of actions were taken to help departments manage their delegated authorities better.

These are not the words of a shrinking violet organization. These are the words of an organization clear and comfortable in its powers, authority and oversight role.

Assigning the neutral third party role to the president of the Public Service Commission is a strong, effective, practical and reasonable option. The government believes that the president has the independence and legal powers required to effectively receive reports of alleged wrongdoing, carry out the investigation and make recommendations on corrective action. I would like to point out that it is not only the government that is of this view. Assigning this role to the president of the Public Service Commission was an option put forward by the previous all party government operations and estimates committee in its 2003 report on the issue.

I am convinced that this energetic and effective bill will create an environment in which public servants will feel confident in reporting wrongdoing. I encourage hon. members to support its progress through Parliament.

Public Servants Disclosure Protection ActGovernment Orders

11 a.m.

Conservative

Gurmant Grewal Conservative Newton—North Delta, BC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise on behalf of the constituents of Newton--North Delta to participate in the debate on Bill C-11, an act to establish a procedure for the disclosure of wrongdoing in the public sector, including the protection of persons who disclose the wrongdoing.

It has taken more than a decade for the government to accept the need for whistleblower legislation. It took a lobby by the whistleblower community, public outcry, official opposition pressure, highlights by the media, my Bill C-205, and a series of scandals including the George Radwanski affair, the gun registry cost overruns, the HRDC scandal, the scathing report by the current public service integrity officer, and the sponsorship scandal, for the Liberals to finally make good on their 1993 red book promise. Even now it is obvious that their hearts and souls are not in this legislation.

Up to now it seems that the Liberal government's policy has been to control occupational free speech rather than permitting it. They have bullied whistleblowers, intimidated and harassed them, fired them from their jobs, and have ruined their professional and personal lives rather than rewarding them as is done in the United States and other countries.

The Liberals have always believed in secrecy, confidentiality and cover-ups rather than transparency, accountability and corrective action.

Bill C-11 fails to respond to the cynicism of public servants and lack of confidence. It fails to provide adequate protection. It does not promote a climate in the federal public service that encourages bureaucrats to expose wrongdoing and corruption in government.

The biggest problem with the bill is that it authorizes the president of the Public Service Commission to report through a minister rather than directly to Parliament. The minister will then have 15 days, five more than in the previous bill, to table that report in Parliament, more than enough time to plan his counterspin.

For over a decade the PSC has been the third party. It had a mandate to deal with harassment complaints, but was given no authority or mandate to provide any restitution for damages. The public interest is served when employees are free to expose mismanagement, waste, corruption, abuse or cover-ups within the public service without fear of retaliation and discrimination.

Under Bill C-11 only those who make disclosures through the prescribed channels and whose disclosures meet specific criteria are protected. That is not good enough. If whistleblowers want to safely make a disclosure under this legislation, they must report to a supervisor first or ensure they have reasonable grounds for going directly to the president of the PSC. This disclosure must not be deemed unimportant, frivolous or vexatious, and the person must not go public. That is shameful. These provisions describe a process for containing disclosures, not encouraging them.

The scope of Bill C-11 has been somewhat improved from the previous bill when it was first introduced. Some crown corporations have been included. However, the legislation still excludes the RCMP, military personnel, CSIS, CSE and others. This means that a whistleblower, like RCMP Corporal Robert Reid, who had to go public when the authorities covered up his investigation of visa selling in the Hong Kong immigration office, would have no protection under this proposed legislation. What good is a whistleblower protection bill when it cannot provide protection to whistleblowers?

Aside from these important exclusions, the bill includes several other government agencies listed in the schedule to the act; however, cabinet may amend the schedule at any time even after the act is passed in Parliament. That gives blanket power to cabinet. As a result the government could create roadblocks anytime as it deems itself embarrassed and federal government employees may find themselves without whistleblower protection.

Bill C-11 prescribes no punishment, fines or sanctions for those who make reprisals against a whistleblower. Reprisals must be reported within 60 days of the time the whistleblower knew or ought to have known a reprisal was taking place. Although this is twice as long as the time allowed in Bill C-25, the timeline is still far too restrictive.

As I mentioned earlier, three years ago, in the face of government opposition, I introduced legislation to protect whistleblowers. That was a time when many members and many people did not know what whistleblower protection was all about. Last year the Liberals refused to support my bill. They simply lacked the political will to provide protection to whistleblowers. When I blew the whistle on whistleblowing, the Liberals had their ears plugged. They did not even want to go there.

Next week I will be introducing that legislation again because the present legislation is not capable of providing legitimate protection to whistleblowers.

My bill is unique and comprehensive. It is unique because whistleblowers like Brian McAdam; Joanna Gualtieri, founder of FAIR, Federal Accountability, Integrity and Resolution; and Louis Clark, executive director and founder of GAP, Government Accountability Project in the U.S. were consulted to take advantage of their experiences. I thank them for their input and help in drafting my bill.

Let us compare my bill and the government's bill. My bill would permit public servants to disclose alleged wrongdoing to public bodies, including the media, whereas Bill C-11 attempts to keep allegations within the department and restricts the person's right to go to the public.

In my bill an employee who has alleged wrongdoing and suffers from retaliatory action as a consequence would have the right to bring civil action before a court, whereas with Bill C-11 employees must take their claims of reprisals to an applicable labour board whose deliberations could be a very long and tedious process.

In my bill every employee would have a duty to disclose wrongdoing, whereas Bill C-11 warns that disclosure must not be unimportant, frivolous, or vexatious.

In my bill a supervisor, manager or other person of authority who harasses a whistleblower would be subject to criminal prosecution and face a fine of up to $5,000. As well, they would be subject to personal liability for any resulting damages that may be awarded to the employee pursuant to any civil or administrative proceedings. Bill C-11 prescribes no punishment for those who make reprisals against whistleblowers. Where is the protection?

In my bill, an employee who successfully blows the whistle would be recognized with an ex gratia award, whereas Bill C-11 makes no reference to these rewards, even though the current public service integrity officer states that rewards are essential. The government forgot about that.

In my bill, written allegations would be investigated and reported upon within 30 days of receipt, whereas in Bill C-11, no deadlines are set. That means it is open ended, maybe there would be an investigation or maybe not. It only says that investigations are to be conducted as informally and expeditiously as possible.

When I drafted my bill, public service whistleblowers were consulted extensively, whereas the Liberals bullied the whistleblowers and they have not even talked to the whistleblower community.

Whistleblowers should be praised, not punished. They should not pay for their public service by putting their jobs on the line. In fact, I would allow the government to steal from my whistleblower bill and put it into its bill. I am a small l liberal as far as my bill is concerned.

I will ensure that the government definitely looks at my bill in committee. I will allow it to liberally steal from my bill as much as it has been stealing part and parcel from the platform of the Conservative Party.

I believe the bill will be amended in committee, otherwise I would be forced to vote against the bill and force the Liberals, as well as all members in the House, to pass my bill and not the government's bill.

Public Servants Disclosure Protection ActGovernment Orders

11:10 a.m.

Liberal

Raymonde Folco Liberal Laval—Les Îles, QC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to speak to the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act. Bill C-11 was introduced on Friday by my hon. colleague the President of the Treasury Board of Canada.

Bill C-11 establishes a procedure for the disclosure of wrongdoings in the public sector. However, this bill is not just about a procedure for disclosing and investigating wrongdoings. This bill goes beyond that.

Bill C-11 would create an environment that would encourage public servants to report misconduct in the workplace, an environment in which public servants who report wrongdoing would feel safe from reprisals or even the threat of reprisals. It would create an environment in which both those who make disclosures and those accused of misconduct could rest assured that the case would be investigated fairly, objectively and in confidence.

I was a member of the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates and Chair of the Subcommittee on Whistleblowing. It was the work of this committee, in part, that encouraged us to conduct an investigation first and then table a bill.

Some hon. members may recall a disclosure bill introduced by the government last spring. Because of the subsequent election call, that bill did not progress through Parliament. After the election the Prime Minister made a public commitment to early reintroduction of the disclosure protection bill. The proposed legislation is one element of the government's work to ensure transparency, accountability, financial responsibility and ethical conduct in the public sector.

Bill C-11 is not what it was before; it is not just the number of the bill that has changed. Bill C-11 is different from its previous version and surpasses it on many levels.

The previous version of the bill received a lot of attention in this House, in committees, in the public service and in the media. The government welcomed the attention and interest it received. In fact, as some hon. members of the House may recall, the government referred the bill to committee for consideration before second reading, in order to give members the opportunity to make a significant contribution to its content. The committee sat for several days and heard representations from more than a dozen organizations.

The government heard their views and took them into account in the follow-up measures.The current bill provides whistleblowers with a very different form of protection than did the bill presented in March.

What were the opinions that we heard? The most common and most important concern had to do with the fact that the proposed impartial third party did not have the independence or authority necessary to effectively receive disclosures of wrongdoing, conduct investigations on them and report the findings.

We took note of that concern and have enhanced the independence of the third party. We have also appointed the president of the Public Service Commission, the PSC, as the impartial third party. Not only will the president of the PSC receive disclosures of possible wrongdoings, but she will investigate them and make appropriate recommendations based on the investigation results.

The PSC is an organization with almost a century of experience playing an independent role in government. It is the oversight agency for federal staffing, working in a neutral fashion to protect the integrity of the appointments process and ensuring that it is based on merit.

Bill C-11 would boost the legal authority of the president of the PSC to investigate disclosures under part II of the Inquiries Act. This would include the power to subpoena and the authority to enter offices in the course of an investigation. The bill would also authorize the president to make special reports directly to Parliament.

The current government listened to what it was told. We have strengthened the independence of the third party and increased his or her powers. We have also made it very clear in the bill that public servants will have the right to disclose wrongdoings directly to an impartial third party if they do not feel comfortable using the internal process set up in their department.

The confidentiality provisions also had some stakeholders worried. They feared that under some legislation, like the Access to Information Act, the government might have to identify parties to a disclosure case, which could prevent some public servants from speaking out.

Once again, the government has listened. Bill C-11 proposes amendments to the Access to Information Act, the Personal Information Protection and Electronics Documents Act and the Privacy Act to strengthen the ability of chief executives to protect the identity of parties to a disclosure case.

A third concern was that the previous bill did not adequately protect whistleblowers from reprisal. Again, the government took that concern into consideration.

The new bill would strengthen reprisal protection. It doubles the time period during which a public servant can make a reprisal complaint and makes it clear that the clock starts ticking on the day the public servant becomes aware of the alleged reprisal, not the date that it occurred. It would also ensure reprisal protection for authorized public disclosures.

As requested, Bill C-11 would also provide retroactive protection to February 10, 2004, for disclosures made in the course of a parliamentary proceeding or official inquiry.

We listened and we responded, and we are prepared to listen again to the informed views of our colleagues in the House, the proof of which is our intention to have the bill proceed to committee after first reading.

To conclude, I would say that Bill C-11 reflects the spirit and intent of the recommendations that were made about the previous whistleblowing bill. I look forward to hearing the positive comments hon. members will be making in committee and at subsequent stages of the legislative process.

Public Servants Disclosure Protection ActGovernment Orders

11:20 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Jean Augustine)

The bill is going to committee before second reading and therefore, by the rules, there are no questions and comments.

Continuing debate, the hon. member for Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup.

Public Servants Disclosure Protection ActGovernment Orders

11:20 a.m.

Bloc

Paul Crête Bloc Rivière-Du-Loup—Montmagny, QC

Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to speak to this bill today. The Bloc's critic, the hon. member for Repentigny, has covered our party's position very well. Still, there are some additional elements that can be added for information purposes.

Perhaps we should look at the debate on this issue, the protection of whistleblowers in the public service, in the context of the sponsorship scandal we are now experiencing, for which a commission of inquiry has been established. The debate should be viewed in this context because public servants who might have wanted to denounce the situation could not do so. We saw this again in the testimony yesterday afternoon. Some people, who took their orders from former minister Gagliano and other ministers of the Liberal government that had organized this system, were very uncomfortable about blowing the whistle.

That such a bill, a second version of a previous bill, is now being considered is because there is a need to ensure that the government can no longer use its authority to blackmail public servants who want to do their work in good faith,and who want to report excesses like those we have seen in the sponsorship scandal.

The Bloc Quebecois thus agrees in principle with this bill as such, which gives the president of the Public Service Commission a third-party role, which applies protection against reprisals retroactively to February 10, 2004, and which prolongs the time limit for presenting complaints relating to reprisals. Certain improvements to the original bill had already been made several months ago, before the election.

Nevertheless, when the Bloc Quebecois analyzes this bill, it sees there are still major improvements to be made. Such improvements must be considered before we decide if we will vote for or against this bill when it comes back from the committee.

Fortunately, committees now have a majority of opposition members, because the principle of minority government—our current situation—has been applied. Therefore, opposition MPs will be in the majority. That will be a concrete example of each member having more influence. Since the minority government is a result of the sponsorship scandal, that is a concrete example of the action that should be taken. Let us hope that an acceptable bill will emerge from the committee.

The first recommendation for change that the Bloc Quebecois will put forward is to replace the president of the Public Service Commission by a third party acting as an officer of Parliament. In other words, we do not want the president of the Public Service Commission to be both judge and jury, receiving complaints while at the same time being the head of the public service as a whole. Should that be the case, we would find ourselves in the same situation we were in for years with the ethics counsellor, who reported to the Prime Minister and who would bend with the wind depending on what the Prime Minister said. The Prime Minister would start by making a decision, and then the PM-appointed ethics counsellor would come and say that the Prime Minister was right or that the Minister of Finance who became the Prime Minister was right.

It later turned out that several of these decisions were indefensible, that they were defended only because, essentially, the decisions were made for the man hired to make them by the one paying him to do so. We would not want this kind of situation to happen again under this legislation because, when a public servant decides to make a disclosure, this is not easy or gratuitous; this is an action that has public ramifications. We must make sure that public servants can trust the person to whom they make their complaints, so that we do not end up with no one making complaints because the person receiving them is both judge and jury. We have seen this before in other situations, and we want it to be corrected.

In addition, with respect to the need to exhaust other procedures, the Bloc Quebecois is very concerned about certain consequences. Bill C-11 says, and I quote:

  1. (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 when someone makes a disclosure in good faith, it becomes public knowledge and the person is then told, “You may have a good case, but you should have gone through this or that process before doing this”, namely the disclosure. There is a danger that this clause might be interpreted as meaning that a whistleblower must have exhausted all procedures before the courts in order to be protected under the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act. This would negate the positive effects of this legislation.

It is as if the government had put the principle forward but set up all kinds of obstacles and roadblocks to prevent public servants from fulfilling their role regarding disclosures.

If the President of the Public Service Commission is acting as judge and jury, and if public servants must first exhaust all procedures other than those provided in this bill, this legislation will not have any effect. Even if we pass this bill, it will not achieve the results that the legislator had hoped for.

The Bloc Quebecois also wants another amendment. We wonder about the lack of transition measures that would allow a whistleblower to ask, for example, for a transfer or a paid leave. In the sponsorship scandal, if the public servants involved had made a disclosure without the existence of transition measures, the situation would soon have become unbearable for them.

When he testified before a public committee, former minister Gagliano said he had nothing to do with the whole thing, when, in fact, he was up to his neck in the transactions. In addition, the current Prime Minister claimed that he did not know about this scandal, when in fact his office intervened to obtain a $250,000 grant.

Certainly a public servant who had disclosed a situation like that ought to be allowed to change work locations to avoid any unpleasantness. This is another factor that can discourage disclosure, because people know that they will not have an easy time of things afterward.

We would also like to see a right to grievance adjudication to give unionized public servants recourse to it. Thus, it would be possible to restrict the number of procedures a public servant must undertake when faced with a disciplinary measure relating to a disclosure. This would eliminate cases of multiple proceedings, and was one of the recommendations in the Professional Institute of the Public Service's report of May 6, 2004.

These are amendments we feel are important. As far as the union role is concerned, I would add that we would like to see the legislation modified to specify that public sector employees have the right to be represented by their bargaining agent at all stages of the disclosure process.

We have already seen cases of employees coming before a government representative with insufficient knowledge of the procedures. We need only look at how disadvantaged people are when it comes to the Employment Insurance Act. The burden of proof lies with them, while on the other side there are investigators and other people paid to do this sort of thing. The pressure on the individual can be pretty heavy.

When a disclosure comes from union members, it would be important for them to be able to call upon a union representative to accompany them if they felt it appropriate and provide a helping hand with the process.

We would also like to see the legislation apply to the armed forces and the RCMP. There is no need to say much on this, since we have a very special situation in Canada with the sponsorship scandal. Investigations have been called for. The RCMP itself is involved in them, but we also know that the RCMP profited from this scandal through transfers of money. Funds were also transferred to ad agencies. As a result, the RCMP was both judge and accused. These agencies ought not, therefore, to be exempted from application of this legislation.

I think the sector they work in is very sensitive. There have been wrongdoings committed in the past by members of the administration and senior management, which should be disclosed. The same is true of the Canadian Forces.

Look at the saga of the submarines, which, unfortunately, ended in the death of an officer. Maybe if we had had proper legislation, we might have had disclosure, which would have stopped the problem before it began. The submarines could have been confined to port three or four years ago rather than after the accident and their seaworthiness checked before they set sail.

So, there is no reason for the RCMP or the Canadian Forces to be excluded from the application of this bill. The Bloc Quebecois hopes these amendments will be heard.

In the past when amendments were moved, it was hoped they would be passed. We debated the amendments in committee. As I was saying earlier, now, with this minority government, opposition members will make up the majority on each committee. Each member will have a greater role. These amendments will have a chance to be passed. I hope so.

I hope when this bill returns from committee that it will be changed significantly in keeping with the Bloc Quebecois position so that we can finally have a proper and effective Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act.

In the future, situations like the sponsorship scandal need to be eliminated at the source. We have to be able to nip the problem in the bud rather than go through something like what we are going through now. The integrity of the entire government and elected officials is compromised. Let us hope that bill will be amended along the lines of what the Bloc Quebecois proposes.

Public Servants Disclosure Protection ActGovernment Orders

11:30 a.m.

Conservative

John Williams Conservative Edmonton—St. Albert, AB

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-11, the whistleblower protection act, which like every other act tabled by this government has its failures and omissions. We will try and fix that. Unfortunately, we only have three hours of debate before it is hived off to committee.

As will be recalled, only a few minutes ago I rose on a point of order to see if I could ask a question of the Liberal member who spoke immediately before me. It seemed to me that she was reading a speech prepared by the Treasury Board, rather than giving the House her own observations on the bill.

We have had far too many speeches in this House prepared by the government bureaucrats behind the scenes. The government members come in here and present them as if it were their own ideas, which they are not.

I have not had the time that the bureaucrats at the Treasury Board have had to look at the legislation. I have had a quick look at it and I already see some problems with it. The Liberal member made some reference to the retroactivity in the bill, which goes back to February 10 or 11. That of course was the day the sponsorship scandal broke upon the land. It says that there will be no recourse or recriminations against anyone who discloses anything to a parliamentary committee on or after February 10 .

Members may recall that we had Mr. Cutler before the committee. His career had been sidelined and basically terminated, although he was still maintained in the public service. However, his capacity for promotions and advancement within the public service were completely stopped because he blew the whistle back in 1996 on the sponsorship program. Of course that had an audit. We know from the Gomery inquiry that the external independent auditors agreed with their employer, the Government of Canada, to water down the contents of their external independent audit so it would not look quite so bad as what they found it to be.

In addition, they were precluded from going to other sources to look at documents. If they had, they would have perhaps uncovered this whole rats nest of problems of the sponsorship scandal back in 1996. Because the government constrained them and then leaned on them to water down their report, we ended up with something that they subsequently claimed did not blow the whistle. However, Mr. Cutler's career was sidelined.

The public accounts committee in its second report this past spring said:

That a mediation process involving the Public Service Commission and the Public Service Integrity Officer be established to resolve matters relating to federal employees past or present who have allegedly suffered monetary loss or career damage as a consequence of having reported instances of wrongdoing with regard to the Sponsorship Program; and that the instances that have been judged to have merit be reported to the House.

As far as I am aware, the President of the Treasury Board is still obviously cogitating on this complex matter. I am not aware that he has reported to the House on the issue of Mr. Cutler who would not be covered by this legislation, although the government takes all kinds of credit for saying that it has backdated it, that all is well and that nobody needs to worry. However, Mr. Cutler's career has come to a crashing end and he has not been dealt with at this point in time. That issue needs to be resolved if the government is to have any integrity on this matter.

I said I have taken a quick look at the bill and I see some problems with it right off the bat. I have looked at clause 5 which says that the Treasury Board will establish a code of conduct for the government. Then it goes on to say that each deputy minister can have his or her own code of conduct. If a person is transferred from department A to department B, all of a sudden that person is working under a different code of conduct. We would have thought that it would not have been a big thing for the Government of Canada to say that integrity is integrity in this department and that department and indeed every department.

Why does every department have its own code of conduct? It is the same way perhaps that the government thinks there should be a code of conduct for MPs and a different one, with perhaps even lower standards, for cabinet ministers. These convoluted problems build complexity into the issue rather than make it simple, clean and obvious so that it will work.

I also have looked at clause 10, which says that each deputy minister and chief executive officer must establish internal procedures to deal with disclosure. In the next paragraph it say that if the department is big enough, the person can designate it to someone else. Then when we get down to subclause (4), we find out it negates paragraphs 1 and 2 by saying they do not apply if the chief executive or the deputy minister declares that it is not practical to do so. Complexity in these issues allows the government to wriggle around and say that it is complying with the legislation, when perhaps it is not complying with the legislation at all.

Again, on the sponsorship scandal, as we know the deputy minister, Mr. Ran Quail, said that he was kept out of the loop. He did not know what a middle manager in the far end of his department was doing. We never did get the answer at the public accounts committee as to why the organizational chart of his department showed at the far side the sponsorship program under the leadership of Chuck Guité. He was completely and absolutely independent from everybody else in the department.

We have this concept of checks and balances. If someone wants to get an invoice out of the Government of Canada, that person sends a request to somebody else who checks to see that the goods are received, which is confirmed by somebody else, and so on. Then when it seems to all work together, someone sends out the money. Mr. Guité was able to do that completely.

When Joy MacPhail, the deputy minister at Public Works, the successor to Ran Quail, was asked why the organizational chart was that way, she said that she did not have a clue, and she was the deputy minister. Mr. Quail did not have a clue what was going on either. We have a serious problem with deputy ministers coming to committees saying they do not know the answers when they are supposed to have them.

Then it turns out that the minister, Mr. Gagliano, was dealing with Mr. Guité, a middle manager, bypassing the deputy minister. All was well because these guys were getting along famously, as far as we can understand. Now we are finding out at the Gomery commission that a few other people around the department were not happy with what was going on. We were aware of this in the public accounts committee.

The issue is that these people were being intimidated. They were being told they could not blow the whistle. The political staff in the minister's office were all in cahoots, by the sounds of it, to engineer this $100 million disappearance of funds from the Government of Canada.

That brings me to clause 23. It says that the president of the Public Service Commission, who will be the person doing the investigations, cannot do an investigation if anybody else in government is doing one Superficially, one may say that is okay. However, everyone may recall the sponsorship program, which actually broke two years earlier, where $600,000 each was paid for three contracts and only one was received. The second one was just the same report with a new cover, and there was no third report.

The government referred that to the Auditor General. She reported that the situation was so bad. She was incensed and alarmed, and she said that she would to do a full audit. Because the Auditor General is involved, the public service commissioner is denied the right to be involved. It does not sound right to me.

This bill is full of holes. Now that the government does not have a majority in the House, I hope we will fix the problems with the legislation at committee.

Public Servants Disclosure Protection ActGovernment Orders

11:40 a.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Madam Speaker, this is the first time you have been in the chair when I have been up on my feet. Let me congratulate you on your appointment. It is good to see you there. We hope we can provide you with the cooperation you deserve, and which the Speaker generally deserves, from this end of the House. We wish you well in your endeavours in trying to provide us with some guidance in the coming months.

I am taking this opportunity to speak to the bill because Canadians have to appreciate the significance of this type of legislation to the public service in Canada. It is not for no reason that the bill has been brought forward.

In the last Parliament we had a litany of incidents where, had the public service felt comfortable in coming forward, a great deal of the scandal and abuse that went on in a number of areas would have been dealt with at a much earlier stage. Perhaps we have the right to believe, if not hope, that those incidents would never have taken place had we had a regime where the public service felt comfortable in coming forward. People thought they could get away with the type of conduct we saw in the Radwanski affair and the sponsorship scandal. That type of conduct, if considered, would have stopped before it ever got off the ground. If the culprits knew in advance that they would be exposed, they would not have felt comfortable conducting themselves in that way.

We also have to appreciate the fear that is within the public service. Look what has happened to staff within the public service, the Department of Health and more recently in the Department of Agriculture, who have dismissed out of hand. They did what Canadian citizens would expect them to do, and that is protect us from an abusive process. The last three employees in particular, the professional staff in the Department of Agricultural, were dismissed. How that could happen in light of what we have experienced in the last three of four years is impossible to imagine. The senior level of government felt they had the ability to get away with dismissing those people for the exposure they made about GMOs. There is no explanation for why that can happen. It should not have happened. What will we now be faced with, lawsuits? None of that needed to happen. We badly need this type of legislation, but not this one.

I want to speak for a moment about the reality of how the legislation got to the stage it has, which is not far enough in our minds. We would not even see the amendments in the legislation from its last incarnation in the last Parliament if it were not for the fact that there is a minority government. It is quite clear the minister and the government were quite prepared to work the legislation, which was of no use whatsoever in protecting the public servants if they felt compelled to come forward with abuses.

When that bill was put forward in the last Parliament, somebody conducted a survey of the public service in Ottawa. Over 75% of the people in the public service said that they were less likely to go public with their complaints or raise concerns around abuses than they were under the old system. That new legislation would have inhibited further public servants coming forward.

Admittedly in this bill we have seen some improvement. I do not want to deny that, but it does not go far enough. It is quite clear again, I believe, that if we took that survey of the public service we would still see a majority of them saying, “I am not comfortable. I do not feel protected by this legislation”. They say to us, “I know there is abuse going on but I am not comfortable in coming forward because I will not be protected. That is my belief”. Those are the kinds of statements we get from public servants when we talk to them now. In light of this current bill, those are the discussions we have had in the last few days with them.

Clearly, the NDP as a party is going to be looking for substantial improvement in the bill. We are signalling quite clearly that we are not satisfied it goes far enough. My colleague from Winnipeg, who will be responsible for this bill, made that very clear in his opening address earlier today. That is a clear message from the party. It is interesting to hear the same thing from the other opposition parties.

I hope and expect that at the end of the day we are going to see improvements so that when we next speak to the public service in this country, we will hear them say,“Yes, we are satisfied that the bill now protects us. We are satisfied that we can speak out without fear of repercussions to our career and to our well-being as public servants in this country”.

I want to echo some of the comments we heard from the last member who spoke for the Conservatives. I as well sat in and listened to Mr. Cutler when he testified. I could not help but think that in this new millennium in a democracy like Canada's this person should not have suffered the consequences he did. We should be well beyond that in terms of protecting the people who work for the citizens of this country. We had a man whose career was severely curtailed and we were not there. By “we”, I mean this House and the government. We did not have a system in place to protect him. He suffered the consequences. That should not happen.

If nothing else, we as a party are going to do whatever we can to see that when the bill gets to its final stages a man like Mr. Cutler will in fact be protected, will feel safe in coming forward and will feel safe that he will be protected by the system.

Public Servants Disclosure Protection ActGovernment Orders

11:50 a.m.

Conservative

Ed Komarnicki Conservative Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Madam Speaker, I count it a privilege to rise in the House and speak to the matter of the bill we are debating today. Certainly Bill C-11 is a significant and important bill and we have to give due diligence to it. I appreciate that many of the comments that have been made are valid ones.

Let us look at the purpose of the bill. It is “to establish a procedure” for the reporting or disclosure of wrongdoing and to protect those who so report, and to set a code of conduct. The bill states that the code of conduct would be set by Treasury Board and a minister must consult with the employee organizations' certified bargaining agents. That is well and fine. The bill goes on to state, “Every chief executive may establish a code of conduct applicable” to their particular department. The bill does not give any guidelines as to what that code of conduct ought to be or should be. I find that there is a bit of a looseness there in terms of the definition and who may be involved in that process. I would like to see something that would define what the general guiding principles of the code should be in order that the parties may work toward that end.

When I look at the process, which is one of three important things, I find a fundamental flaw in the process, that is, it happens internally. Subclause 10(1), dealing with the disclosure of wrongdoing, states that “Each chief executive must establish internal procedures to manage disclosures of wrongdoings made by public servants...”. Either the process should be set out in legislation or it should happen altogether independently and outside of the employee-employer relationship. If the employer sets out the process, as we will see in the subclauses following subclause 10(1), it becomes an internal matter and probably will be the reason why many wrongdoings will not get reported. They will not be reported because of this internal process.

Subclause 10(2) states that each chief executive “must designate a senior officer to be responsible for receiving and dealing with” those disclosures. This is again an internal process, and in regard to a lower level officer, this is actually not defined. The definition of senior officer in the definition section of the bill simply states “a senior officer designated under subsection 10(2)”. Clause 10(2) does not define who that is. It simply states that it must be someone appointed by the chief executive officer. We do not even know who that would be. To continue, clause 12 indicates that a public servant may disclose a wrongdoing to a supervisor within the system.

So what do we have in the bill? We have a supervisor, we have a senior officer and we have a chief executive officer. If we look at that process, we will see that it is totally internal, totally within the structure, and it will be the primary reason why public servants may find it difficult to report a wrongdoing, particularly if it relates to that person's department or those levels of employees. It is my view that the bill should provide for an independent, external reporting mechanism and an external person who could receive the disclosures so that they could be dealt with without any fear of reprisal or without any intimidation.

In fairness to the minister, clause 13 indicates that there may be a disclosure of wrongdoing to the president of the Public Service Commission but it preconditions that disclosure and that is where the problem lies. It states, “if...the public servant believes on reasonable grounds that it would not be appropriate to disclose the matter to his or her supervisor...”.

Why should the public servant be placed in the position of a judge or the judiciary to decide if there are reasonable grounds or not? If there were an independent, external person or agency that determination would not have to be made. The very simple question would be, “Is there a wrongdoing?” If it looks bad enough, the public servant could report it to someone and let them decide whether there is a prima facie case to proceed. The onus should not be put on the employee, the public servant.

Clause 13 goes on to state that a public servant may disclose a wrongdoing to the president if there are “reasonable grounds” or where “by reason of the subject-matter or the person alleged to have committed” the wrongdoing, it would be inappropriate to report to that person.

Again, who decides the issue of the subject matter of the wrongdoing and whether the person would justify the reasonable grounds to report to the president? That is far too great an onus to place on an employee or a public servant. All the employee should be required to do is report the matter to an independent person or body which would make the decision on whether the process needs to proceed. That would provide the comfort level people would need in this particular issue.

I realize that there must be balance in this process. I notice that clause 40 of the bill deals with the other side of the coin by saying, “No person shall, in a disclosure of a wrongdoing...knowingly make a false or misleading statement, either orally or in writing”.

I think that is the other part of the balance that we need to be careful of. We need to ensure that those types of things do not happen. In order to ensure that, there must be a consequence for those who knowingly make a false or misleading statement. In the previous Bill C-25, there was a provision as to what would happen to those who would be in that category, and there would be some disciplinary action. This bill does not deal with that in clause 9 and I would suggest that it should.

Finally, as I look at clause 24 of the bill, I see that it states:

The President of the Public Service Commission may refuse to deal with the disclosure if he or she is of the opinion that

(a) the public servant has failed to exhaust other procedures otherwise reasonably available;

It does not say what those procedures are. It does not say that it refers to applying through the supervisor or through the senior officer or executive officer. It just does not say so and it leaves that discretion solely in the hands of the president of the public service. I do not think that is right.

If we were to have a independent body dealing with the matter, a body separate and apart from the employee-employer relationship, we would see that discretion being exercised. The clause goes on to state that the president may refuse to deal with the disclosure if “the subject-matter of the disclosure is not sufficiently important...frivolous or vexatious or made in bad faith” or if “there is a valid reason for not dealing with the disclosure”.

What is that? What would that be? And do we want to leave it in the hands of someone who is tied to the employer?

Also, if a decision is made not to hear that process, there is no provision for appeal. There ought to be provision for an appeal. It seems to me that when employees or public servants are required to either go through the internal process or leave it in the hands of the president without having recourse to disagree with that opinion, there needs to be some objective person or body to deal with that.

I feel that when we deal with legislation such as this, when it is far-ranging, when it deals with wrongdoing of various kinds, we must ensure that for those who are legitimate, those who are not acting in bad faith, those who want to bring to the attention of the House the fact that there is something wrong within a department, there must be an easy process. That process must be separate from the internal workings, which have their own machinations of power. If people can have that assurance, the process will flow smoothly. It will be someone making decisions that will be based on an objective basis and not on bias, not on feelings and not on relationships. I think that is very important.

Public Servants Disclosure Protection ActGovernment Orders

Noon

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-11 with regard to its referral to committee after first reading.

I was the chairman of the government operations and estimates committee in the last Parliament which dealt with the previous bill on whistleblowers. As such, I am acutely aware of the sensitivities that the public service raised with the committee as well as interested parties. Members will know that the issue of independence within the process was extremely important and was expressed by many interveners. As well, the issue of whether or not crown corporations were under the umbrella of this legislation became an important consideration.

I am sure these will continue to be principal elements of discussion at committee. It is one of the reasons that it is probably advisable that the bill go to committee after first reading, so that the committee has the opportunity to examine the fundamentals of the bill to make sure we get it right. That is in the best interests of all and certainly of our public service.

The bill encourages public service members to report wrongdoing in the workplace and protects those who make such disclosures. There is ample evidence why this protection is absolutely necessary.

We went through the process with the former privacy commissioner, Mr. George Radwanski, who ultimately was found in contempt of Parliament. We found ample evidence of rewarding those who played ball and other negative consequences to those who were concerned about what was going on within that department.

I think a consensus point for all hon. members will be that we need to protect the public servants if, as and when they bring to the attention of parliamentarians allegations of misappropriations or other wrongdoing, et cetera.

As a chartered accountant, I am subject to the rules of professional conduct of the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants. Those rules obligate me to report to an independent person within the Canadian institute any suspected allegation of wrongdoing of another chartered accountant in the conduct of his or her business. I do not have an option. In fact, if it is subsequently determined that I knew but did not report, under the terms of that code of conduct, I would be equally culpable as the person who did the wrongdoing.

That is the kind of principle that should be part of the normal culture within the public service. I believe the public service wants to have that openness to be able to bring to the attention of someone suspicions. I think suspicions are a starting point, not full knowledge. Indeed it is not really up to the public servant to make the full case. It is important that that case be brought to the attention of independent persons outside their own department so that the details can be established. In the event that the concern is not properly founded, that can properly be discussed with the public servant raising the issue. There are some fundamental principles that could be built into the bill.

It is important for members to familiarize themselves with the bill. In our new committee of government operations and estimates there is a feeling of camaraderie and goodwill. We want to do good work on behalf of Canadians and we all respect the good work that is done by our excellent public service.

I would like to spend a few moments on the preamble. The preamble is very important. We often forget about reading the preamble in bills. It is an important statement not only to our public servants, but to Canadians. It sets the context for right doing and it recognizes the Public Service of Canada as an important national institution, part of the essential framework of our parliamentary democracy.

The preamble also acknowledges the public interest in maintaining and enhancing the confidence of Canadians and the integrity of our public servants, who it recognizes may sometimes be torn between democratic values and loyal service to the government of the day and their right to freedom of expression. This is a very important aspect to be reflected within our legislation. The bill is structured to give them a clear and safe avenue to raise the concerns and the confidence that they will be addressed.

The bill also provides that employee concerns be addressed at a source where they can be resolved the fastest. It also provides for critical safety valves for the protection of a person. Anonymity is a very fundamental part of that protection.

There are three parts of Bill C-11 that deal with the promotion of right doing. More specifically, the bill requires the Treasury Board of Canada to establish a code of conduct for the public sector. The importance of the code is such that Treasury Board must consult with the bargaining agents in its development and must table it in Parliament.

Bill C-11 also allows chief executives, being the deputy heads of departments and chief executive officers of crown corporations, to establish codes of conduct in their own organizations. These codes must be consistent with the code established by Treasury Board.

I point out that the federal public service and many public sector organizations already have good, strong codes for employees but the bill goes further in supporting employees to live up to those codes. The proposed legislation gives those codes the teeth they need to be effective, that is to say that serious breeches of these codes are also one of the definitions of wrongdoing within Bill C-11.

Any public servant who is asked to act contrary to the code of conduct would now have under the proposed law a safe avenue for refusal.

The proposed legislation also requires the minister responsible for the Public Service Human Resources Management Agency of Canada to promote ethical practices in the public sector. This would allow the important work on values and ethics that has been ongoing in the public service for almost a decade to expand and improve support to managers and public servants.

I must admit that there are some areas of the bill on which there will not be total consensus among the various stakeholders. Certainly the crown corporations issue is going to be raised again. I think the committee will have an opportunity to assess the best interests not only of our public servants but also of Canadians at large.

With regard to the protection and values, I know that the committee is very anxious to ensure that all our public servants feel that this bill provides them with the necessary protections so that there would not be negative consequences to their raising allegations of any wrongdoing. That is good parliamentary practice. It is certainly good business practice.

I am sure that the committee looks forward to hearing witnesses on the bill to ensure that we do get it right the first time.

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12:05 p.m.

Conservative

Garry Breitkreuz Conservative Yorkton—Melville, SK

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak to Bill C-11, which is going to committee before second reading.

I have listened very carefully to the government's defence of this whistleblower legislation. Except for the last member, I have been very disappointed with the Liberals' defence of this legislation which will really do nothing to improve the culture of corruption that we have been facing for years. The last member has given me hope that the Liberals are going to hear some of the suggestions that we are putting forward. He talked about an independent commissioner. That is what we need. That is one of the serious flaws in this legislation.

Let me talk about why it is needed. The phrase “culture of corruption” is often used. This is a plague on taxpayers. It is a plague on Canada. It is a plague on democracy. We need something to address this. That is why this bill could become a very important piece of legislation if it is amended to ensure that it truly becomes whistleblower legislation and protects those people in the public service, in crown corporations, in the RCMP who may see or suspect that there are problems and something that has been going on behind the scenes that should be corrected.

The words I have just used may seem a bit harsh, but I want to talk about my experience here in Parliament over the last 11 years. It will make it abundantly clear why we need something like this.

I was first elected to the House of Commons in 1993. I thought when I came here we would get the information that we need to do our job. I have become disillusioned. I was wrong. The government has done its best, or in this case its worst, to keep me and every member of this opposition Conservative Party in the dark.

Here is a fact. In the past 11 years, I have filed 496 access to information requests, nearly 500 access to information requests. If I randomly selected one of those, for example the one that I just received last week, and I showed it to the House, but I am not allowed to do that because we cannot use props, members would be shocked to see how much of it was whited out. In this last case it has been blacked out. There are huge black sections where information has been hidden from me and by extension all Canadians because the government is covering up some of the serious problems that exist behind the scenes.

In my experience we need more openness and transparency in government. We need to have bureaucrats who are working behind the scenes able to come forward and disclose things. Why do I get these access to information requests that are blacked out? That is the case with many of my replies; they come back and there are more blanks than there is information.

I believe it is because public servants are afraid to give me the documents I am requesting. They are afraid they might be fired, demoted, red circled, or punished in some other way if they release documents that are an embarrassment to their minister. That is not right.

We need to do the opposite. We need to encourage public servants to share the truth with members of Parliament. A good bill to protect whistleblowers would go a long way in alleviating the fears of public servants.

Let me also answer another question. Why should Canadians care about whether we have effective whistleblower protection? It is obvious from my introductory remarks that it is a key element in making democracy work. Let me explain.

Democracy cannot function effectively if there is not a free flow of information. We need to know what is happening behind the scenes in government. That is very important in our system of government here, that there be transparency, that government be open and accountable and that we know what is happening in all of the different divisions of government.

How, by extension, can Canadians make an intelligent and informed decision at election time if they do not have information? I submit that this information has been hidden from Canadians because we have not had effective whistleblower legislation and because access to information and all of the other mechanisms that should provide information to us are not working.

For democracy to work, we must have that free flow of information so that when Canadians go to the polls, talk to their members of Parliament or observe what is happening here, they will know actually what is happening.

Whistleblowing legislation can be an important part of a free flow of information. I would even go so far as to say that it should be the duty of public servants to disclose things that are not honourable or not honest going on behind the scenes. I think we should go way beyond this legislation and provide an incentive, a reward for those who are honest and honourable and want to do the right thing.

We as Conservatives have been pushing for this for a long time. In speeches that I made back in 1994 I was already saying that we needed effective whistleblowing legislation. My colleague from Newton—North Delta has been submitting legislation for years but the government has completely ignored it. Through private members' business he has tried to get whistleblowing legislation debated and passed in the House. The government has finally brought something forward. I just wish it would be more effective.

One of the problems that whistleblowers could address, which is one with which I am very familiar, is the gun registry. I have tracked this issue for a long time. The government hides information about what is going on behind the scenes. Problems are not reported.

I feel that one of the key problems with the legislation is that the reporting that the whistleblower does goes first of all to the people above him or her and to the minister. It does not encourage disclosure to some independent commissioner. That has to be foundational in any legislation for it to work.

The way the bill is set up now it would have the exact opposite effect. It would allow the minister or senior bureaucrats to put the thumbs on these people and deal with them in a way behind the scenes that we will not even know about. In fact, I believe this would have the opposite effect, which I will explain more in a minute.

We have been offering ideas to the government for years on effective legislation but it did not even consult us when it came to drafting the proposed legislation. I thought in a minority Parliament this would happen but it has not happened yet. My hope is that it will.

I believe that the proposed legislation is the government playing politics, at least what I see so far. By that I mean that the government is creating an impression that it is doing something effective just to get votes. It is actually pulling the wool over the eyes of the public by giving the bill a name, such as whistleblower legislation or public servants disclosure protection act.

I think we have to go beyond that. We have to find a mechanism for potential whistleblowers that would reward them rather than punish them. I think it will have the opposite effect.

In the bill's present form it should not be called the public servants disclosure protection act. It should be the public servants disclosure prosecution act. The way it is structured it would allow the people in positions of authority to actually put down potential people who would like to come forward.

I have a news release by the public servants that was put out on March 22 of this year which actually supports what I have just said. Because the integrity commissioner reports to the minister and not to Parliament and because whistleblowers must go to supervisors first instead of the commissioner, this cannot work. They would be punished rather than rewarded for doing something honourable.

In conclusion, I would like to say that the bill should include all public servants. The government should not be able to cherry-pick who it applies to. It should include the RCMP and crown corporations.

The key thing that has to happen, which the Conservatives have supported, is that we must create a truly independent body to receive and investigate the disclosures of wrongdoing by all public servants, either publicly or through formal channels. The bill falls short of that and we need to fix it so it will be effective. It is a good idea but, in its present form, unacceptable.

Public Servants Disclosure Protection ActGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.

Bloc

Odina Desrochers Bloc Lotbinière—Chutes-de-la-Chaudière, QC

Mr. Speaker, as I begin I would like to offer my congratulations on the important position you now occupy and I shall also take a few seconds to thank the people of Lotbinière—Chutes-de-la-Chaudière, a riding that has undergone profound changes. Some 65% of my constituents are new and they have placed their confidence in me. I am very happy to represent them. Today, I am very proud to speak about Bill C-11, which revives the former Bill C-25.

During my second term of office, and particularly between February and the election call, I spent hundreds of hours on the sponsorship scandal. The report of the Auditor General came out as our committee was beginning its work. The President of the Treasury Board was eager to tell us about legislation, measures, provisions that would protect public servants who might have been involved or who could have given us clarifications with regard to the work we were doing. And then we never saw him again. He disappeared. He became complicit in all we later heard about the Department of Public Works, that is, a good obedient Liberal who was trying all the time to hide the truth.

Here again, the President of the Treasury Board, reintroducing Bill C-25 as new Bill C-11, is offering the House just half a solution. Once again he is showing this House his lack of transparency. A step has been taken, but just one small step. There is still one giant step to take so that these things do not happen again. In this bill, we do not find the provisions that the Bloc Québécois was hoping for, such as what exactly disclosure is. Could disclosure not be a form of political pressure?

I sat on the public accounts committee. I sat on that committee in camera and I saw dozens of public servants tell us with embarrassment that they had been forced by the Gagliano gang to do things that led to the sponsorship scandal. In Bill C-11 there is nothing to define exactly what a disclosure is.

The bill uses the word serious. I would say that the situation is very serious. In fact, this government must understand that it is now in a minority and that its trademark arrogance will not work any more, because now, the opposition has the majority. This Liberal government must demonstrate that it is taking steps to ensure that public servants are protected for some of the actions they had to take during the Jean Chrétien administration, during the Alfonso Gagliano administration.

I do hope that this bill introduced by the President of the Treasury Board will protect people from political pressure. We all remember the Liberal big wigs who appeared before the Standing Committee on Public Accounts. One after the other, Alfonso Gagliano, Canada Post president André Ouellet, Via Rail CEO Jean Pelletier, Marc Lefrançois and many others lied to the committee, and the Liberals tried to put the blame on civil servants. This is shameful! It does not reflect what really happened.

Bill C-11 does not do enough to protect civil servants, who are often under political pressure. They often have to answer to a small time manager appointed by the big Liberal machine. They are afraid to act, to tell the truth. Bill C-11 should do something about that.

Let us not forget about labour relations mechanisms. Civil servants are represented by unions. Whatever measures are stipulated in Bill C-11 must be taken in cooperation with the unions.

The civil servants who have the fortitude to disclose partisan decisions and cover-ups will need the support of their unions. That has not been provided for in Bill C-11.

Yes, we in the Bloc Québécois support Bill C-11 in principle, but we also happen to believe that major changes need to be made to this piece of legislation.

I would like to ask a question of the President of the Treasury Board. We do have something called the Policy on the Internal Disclosure of Information Concerning Wrongdoing in the Workplace. We rarely hear about it, but it does exist. What does Bill C-11 introduced by the President of the Treasury Board add to this famous internal policy concerning wrongdoing in the workplace?

The Liberal government must realize that, with this scandal, which made the headlines not only at home but also abroad, Canada has been discredited. The image of our parliamentarians—not Bloc members but those of the ruling party—has been discredited throughout Canada. During the election campaign, people were asking me what would happen after the work of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts and the Gomery commission was completed, whether any actions would be taken against those found guilty, at fault or otherwise involved in the sponsorship scandal. The first action taken by the Liberal government is once again only half a solution. The efforts made by parliamentarians, witnesses, the Gomery commission and the Standing Committee on Public Accounts must not be wasted. With no follow-up, the Parliament of Canada will lose its credibility, and our image as parliamentarians will again be tarnished because of the Liberals' past.

The meaning of disclosure needs to be clarified. The people across the way also need to get through their heads what the word “transparent” means. The proposed process is not a transparent one. Once again, the plan is to appoint someone who will be both judge and jury. The president of the Public Service Commission runs the whole public service. Is this the right person to be the judge, receive disclosures, perhaps have to criticize his right-hand, or left-hand man? The most credible person right now is the Auditor General. Through her work, she revealed the sponsorship scandal. If this shortcoming of the bill is to be remedied, the person would have to be independent and accountable to Parliament.

It is time for an end to cover-up and secrecy among the friends of the government. It is absolutely essential that this minority Liberal government understand that things must change, as they said in the 1960s. And it has to show that there is a change. We in the Bloc Quebecois pledge to work hard on the committee to bring about changes that will meet the public's expectations.