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House of Commons Hansard #56 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was foreign.

Topics

Food and Drugs ActGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

Conservative

Steven Fletcher Conservative Charleswood—St. James, MB

Madam Speaker, regulations that have no basis in legislation are a constant problem that only recently has been addressed in any significant way.

Often when legislation is made, the regulations that allow for the implementation and enforcement of the law are made after the fact, by the relevant department or ministry. Essentially, Parliament confers upon the minister the power to create regulations, provided they do not exceed the parameters of the legislation. What often happens, however, is that the lengthy and convoluted process required creating regulations results in regulations that are technically not legal. Powers that have not been conferred by law are given through regulation to the minister.

Not only does this situation violate the supremacy of Parliament, it effectively allows law to be made without any accountability or oversight. While some irregularities are due simply mistakes, others are deliberate attempts to ignore the intent and alter the outcome of legislation.

The Standing Joint Committee of Scrutiny of Regulations is responsible for the line by line analysis of regulations. It is charged with the often thankless and tedious task of ensuring that regulations made outside of Parliament adhere to the intention and letter of the legislation made by members of Parliament.

Thanks to the rare passage of a private member's bill, Bill C-205, in 2003, which may I add, was the result of the hard work of its sponsor, the Conservative member from Newton—North Delta, Parliament now has greater powers to ensure that law by regulation is curtailed.

The Standing Joint Committee of Scrutiny of Regulations was given the power to disallow any regulations made pursuant to authority delegated by Parliament. Canada's elected officials now have a greater ability to ensure that Parliament, and not unelected bureaucrats, have the ultimate law-making authority. Democracy has been strengthened.

The bill is the direct result of five years of pressure by the Standing Joint Committee of Scrutiny of Regulations on Health Canada. The irregularity of the regulation was first pointed out in 1999, and it is only now, after years of resistance, that the department has finally brought the bill forward.

The bill is an amendment to the Food and Drugs Act. Currently, a regulation allows the direct, in this case the deputy minister of health responsible for health products, to issue notices of interim market authorizations. The regulation gives the director administrative discretion that exceeds the legislative authority granted by Parliament to the governor in council. In other words, the regulation contradicts the authority of the original legislation. The bill seeks to correct this discrepancy.

The regulation was created in 1997, and since that time 82 interim market authorizations have been made. Because the regulation violates the legislation to which it applies, all these authorizations have technically been illegal.

The amendment seeks to fix this irregularity by giving the minister the authority to make interim market authorizations. The bill also seeks to exempt any food that contains an agricultural chemical at or below a limit specified under the new Pest Control Products Act. Those foods containing safe levels of substances can be sold because their sale poses no harm to consumers.

Interim market authorizations are made to allow, by providing exemptions from the Food and Drug Act's requirements, the sale of foods that contain substances at or below specified levels. This will allow Canadians faster access to food products. The bill applies to the immediate sale of food products that contain pesticides, veterinary pharmaceuticals, added vitamins, minerals and amino acids at or below the specified maximum limit.

This bill is not creating from scratch a new practice, but is simply making legal or enshrining in law a practice that has been taking place for years.

The Conservative Party supports this amendment because regulations that violate the letter and/or the intent of the law should not be tolerated. Any action that eliminates irregularities should be encouraged.

We also support the writing into law of interim market authorizations. As long as the safety of Canadians is accounted for, there is no reason that food and other products should not be allowed for sale if the substances they contain do not exceed the specified safety levels.

These measures allow Canadian food producers and manufacturers to quickly bring their products to market, increasing their ability to compete. Canadian consumers also benefit by gaining quicker access to new and modified products.

Like other smart regulations, interim market authorization creates a level playing field for Canadian business especially within the U.S. market. Currently the U.S. government allows food products in the approval stage to be marketed, given that they are not harmful or restricted by other laws.

That being said, caution is needed. Although interim market authorizations have been common practice since 1997 supposedly without incident, this is not to say that unsafe food products have not been prematurely authorized for sale. Not only might their sale pose a health risk, but the government may be liable for damages in the event of unsafe food causing problems.

Interim market authorizations are necessary and welcome, but must be used only when it is known beyond a doubt that whatever substance is in a food product is at or below an already approved safe level.

In summary, Bill C-28 is a corrective measure to bring an existing regulation into line with the legislation to which it applies.

We want to reduce the number of regulations that contradict the authority of the legislation. This will take years, but it is a necessary undertaking worth the effort. We support this change as a small step toward better laws and better law making.

Food and Drugs ActGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Hon. Jean Augustine)

Is the House ready for the question?

Food and Drugs ActGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

Some hon. members

Question.

Food and Drugs ActGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Hon. Jean Augustine)

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

Food and Drugs ActGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Food and Drugs ActGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Hon. Jean Augustine)

I declare the motion carried.

Accordingly, the bill stands referred to the Standing Committee on Health.

(Motion agreed to, bill read the second time and referred to a committee)

The House proceeded to the consideration of Bill C-8, an act to amend the Financial Administration Act, the Canada School of Public Service Act and the Official Languages Act, as reported (with amendment) from the committee.

Financial Administration ActGovernment Orders

5:35 p.m.

Toronto Centre Ontario

Liberal

Bill Graham Liberalfor the President of the Treasury Board and Minister responsible for the Canadian Wheat Board

moved that the bill, as amended, be concurred in.

Financial Administration ActGovernment Orders

5:35 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Hon. Jean Augustine)

Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Financial Administration ActGovernment Orders

5:35 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Financial Administration ActGovernment Orders

5:35 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Hon. Jean Augustine)

I declare the motion carried.

(Motion agreed to)

Financial Administration ActGovernment Orders

5:35 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Hon. Jean Augustine)

When shall the bill be read a third time? By leave now?

Financial Administration ActGovernment Orders

5:35 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Financial Administration ActGovernment Orders

5:35 p.m.

Toronto Centre Ontario

Liberal

Bill Graham Liberalfor the President of the Treasury Board and Minister responsible for the Canadian Wheat Board

moved that the bill be read the third time and passed.

Financial Administration ActGovernment Orders

5:35 p.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, I am pleased to begin the debate at third reading of Bill C-8, a bill aimed at giving legislative confirmation to the Public Service Human Resources Management Agency of Canada which was created by order in council as a result of the government reorganization of December 12, 2003.

As reported to the House, Bill C-8 was reviewed by the government operations and estimates committee on February 1. All clauses of the bill were approved unanimously, including one amendment made by the Bloc Québécois to subsection 4.2 of the Financial Administration Act in order to stipulate that the President of the Treasury Board is not only responsible but also accountable for the coordination of the activities of the secretary of the Treasury Board, the president of the Public Service Human Resources Management Agency of Canada, and the comptroller general of Canada.

While this precision makes more explicit in Bill C-8 what is in fact already part of the normal responsibilities of any minister of the crown, we accept this amendment. This is just consistent with the government's goal to foster an effective, clear and transparent accountability regime across the public service at all levels. This being said, let me take this opportunity to remind hon. members of the origin, the purpose and the benefits of Bill C-8.

First, as mentioned in the introduction, it dates back to over a year ago to the government reorganization which took place in December 2003. One of the goals of the changes made in December 2003 was to restore the confidence of Canadians in their public service. How? Through resource reallocation from low to high priorities, through strengthened financial management controls and leadership capacity, and through the implementation of the highest standards of ethics, accountability, transparency, and openness.

To this end, significant changes were made to how the administration of the federal public service was structured and organized. As part of this reorganization, the Treasury Board Secretariat was streamlined to better focus on comptrollership and financial management while the Public Service Human Resources Management Agency of Canada was established by orders in council to modernize and foster excellence in human resources management and leadership across the public service.

In this context the purpose of Bill C-8 is simply to confirm by legislative means the orders in council that established the agency and placed it within the Treasury Board's portfolio. It does not change powers or functions already conferred on the agency. It merely enshrines in legislation what exists in fact.

Essentially Bill C-8 does four things. First, it adds the position of president of the agency to the Financial Administration Act, just as the secretary of the Treasury Board and the comptroller general of Canada are already identified in the act.

Second, it specifies the nature of the powers and functions that may be delegated by the Treasury Board to the president of the agency in the same manner as set out in the Financial Administration Act for the secretary of the Treasury Board and the comptroller general.

Third, it stipulates that the President of the Treasury Board is responsible and accountable for the coordination of the activities of the secretary of the Treasury Board Secretariat, the comptroller general and the president of the agency.

Since the position of the president of the agency is included in the Financial Administration Act, this bill requires amendments to two other acts.

First, it requires an amendment to the Canada School of Public Service Act to appoint the president of the agency as an ex officio member of the school’s board of governors, replacing the president of the Public Service Commission.

It also requires an amendment to the Official Languages Act to stipulate that it is the president of the agency, rather than the Treasury Board secretary, who will provide the Commissioner of Official Languages with any audit reports that are prepared under the responsibility of the Treasury Board.

That was the “what” of Bill C-8. Let me now finish by outlining the “why”.

First, a legislative basis will provide greater visibility, legitimacy and stability to the agency that only a legal framework can offer.

This will facilitate implementation of its policies, programs and services.It will help the agency provide the leadership that is needed to modernize human resources management and leadership throughout the public service.

Second, a legislative basis will clarify the role of the agency within the system, including with unions. In particular, it will clarify its relationships within the Treasury Board portfolio, as well as with the Treasury Board in its role as employer.

Third, a legislative basis will support better integration of activities relating to human resources management within the Treasury Board portfolio.

Finally, and perhaps most significantly, it signals the government’s recognition that its most precious resource is its employees, the people who are in the service of Canadians. It shows the commitment and determination of the government to develop and sustain excellence in modern and exemplary management of its human resources.

The federal public service is Canada's largest employer. Setting up a true human resources management agency for the federal public service sends a strong signal to all managers, public servants and union representatives that sound human resources management is a priority for the Government of Canada.

Financial Administration ActGovernment Orders

5:45 p.m.

Conservative

Cheryl Gallant Conservative Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, ON

Madam Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise to speak to Bill C-8, an act to amend the Financial Administration Act, the Canada School of Public Service Act and the Official Languages Act. I participate in this debate to express the concerns that have been brought to my attention regarding this piece of legislation.

I come to this debate with a clear conscience knowing that I voted against Bill C-25, the Public Service Modernization Act. I had a number of concerns regarding that legislation and it would appear that my concerns were well-founded. This piece of legislation, Bill C-8, as has been acknowledged by the governments members, is a continuation of Bill C-25, which is another public service reorganization.

I am proud to confirm my record of supporting the men and women who are members of the Public Service of Canada. When civilian jobs were threatened on Canada's military bases, I joined the picket line to protest a visit by the Prime Minister to my riding of Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke. That was when he was spending all his time trying to depose Jean Chrétien and not attending Treasury Board meetings.

The Prime Minister was not doing the job of finance minister by his own admission while on the witness stand at the Gomery commission. Canadians will never know, if the Prime Minister had attended some of those Treasury Board meetings he allegedly missed, whether some of the 100 million ad scam dollars would not have gone missing. That protest was our successful campaign to stop the supply chain proposal at the Department of National Defence. Bill C-8 sounds like the supply chain proposal all over again, except this time, rather than just pushing it on to the Department of National Defence, this is the supply chain for the entire public service.

The experience of Canadians, whenever the federal government seeks to reorganize, has been higher user fees, fewer public servants leading to longer wait times for basic services, more regulations, reduced accountability, and a reduction of service and higher cost, ultimately leading to higher taxes.

In centralizing personnel functions, will this allow for greater accountability of public servants or will this allow another sponsorship scandal to occur with no chance of anyone getting caught taking taxpayers' dollars? Is Bill C-8, and Bill C-25 before it, a case of closing the barn door after the horses have already been let out?

Canadians monitoring the Gomery inquiry into government corruption have been shocked while listening to the testimony of former elected Liberals, like the public works minister. He claimed the fraud and corruption schemes described as money laundering as being the fault of public servants.

Today's editorial page of the Ottawa Citizen sees this bureaucratic reorganization as nothing more than shuffling the deck chairs on the SS Liberal , or does it mean the Titanic , as a way to buy votes rather than improve administration of the Government of Canada? This is what the Ottawa Citizen says about the government procurement:

What about government procurement? There used to be two separate departments--Public Works, and Supply and Services. Jean Chrétien combined them into Public Works and Government Services in 1993 and eventually put Alfonso Gagliano in charge. Just ask the Gomery Inquiry how well that worked.

Canadians must ask, will Bill C-8 make it harder or easier for another sponsorship scandal, the worst scandal involving financial mismanagement in this country and perpetrated against the people of Canada?

Canadian confidence in how this country is run is further diminished when Canadians are told by the Prime Minister that once funds are allocated to a program, there is no accountability on how the money is spent and whether or not the program objectives are being met. Where is the justice in a Prime Minister who feels it is more important for the taxpayer to buy golf balls with his name on them to give away to his golf buddies or a minister of public works, who has a box of expensive pocket watches beside his desk to hand out to his political contributors, when there are children in this country who are going to bed hungry at night? There are a million Canadians who do not have a family doctor.

We fight separatism with good government, not monogrammed golf balls and Canadian lapel pins made in China. Where is the justice in that sort of activity?

It was evident from the arrogant testimony of the former Prime Minister that in his mind, his mistake was not in setting up a program that resulted in the defrauding of tens of millions of dollars from taxpayers, but the very way he presented himself to the corruption inquiry made it clear that he and those who supported his way of thinking felt that their mistake was in getting caught. An independent public service makes it far more difficult to perpetrate the type of corruption and mismanagement that Canadians are listening to, which took place at the senior levels of the government.

If Canadians are looking for a single reason to be skeptical when the government talks about costs, programs and how costs are managed, they should look no further than the horrendous example of the bloated out of control Liberal gun registry to understand why a majority of Canadians do not trust the government when it comes to accountability and how it manages programs that involve taxpayers' dollars.

When Bill C-68, the gun registry, was introduced, the Liberal Party assured Canadians that the program would operate at a net cost of $2 million. Where is it today? As of March 31, the hated gun registry will have cost the taxpayers of Canada $1 billion.

One billion dollars would have funded a lot of day care spaces. One billion dollars would have saved a lot of lives with the purchase of needed medical equipment like MRIs. One billion dollars could have been used toward the purchase of strategic lift for our armed forces, so they could deliver humanitarian aid on a timely basis. That first billion dollars is only the direct costs.

Even the CBC, which has supported that program in its newscasts, estimates that another billion dollars has been wasted on the indirect costs of the gun registry. Some $2 billion for a program that was promised by the government to cost $2 million. These are the indisputable facts.

The sad part of this miserable episode is to hear government ministers continue to defend this terrible waste of money. It is with this record in mind that I look at what Bill C-8 really means. This legislation is part of an internal services modernization program that will encompass the whole Government of Canada. The idea of a common infrastructure and service delivery review is now being driven by 9/11.

The federal government found that with so many departments using different platforms, there is a basic inability of the various departments to communicate with one another. With about 800 interfaces to other systems and more than 100 data centres, this means that Big Brother effectively does not know what is going on within its own organization.

Centralizing the functions of government, including the personnel function in this legislation, is meant to increase control. There is no evidence that efficiency will increase as well. The planned layoffs of government employees that will follow this legislation are necessary in order to sell this plan to some elements of the government party.

Bill C-8, along with the previous bill, Bill C-25, is part of a seven year plan to radically change how information technology is handled. That in and of itself is not a negative goal, but will it improve services to taxpayers? Past experience says no.

There is a plan in this internal services overhaul to create an information technology shared service organization as a special operating agency within Public Works. I would remind the minister that Canadians still do not have answers regarding the $161 million that went missing from the Department of National Defence as a consequence of its information technology reorganization changes and the lack of financial controls and proper accountability of how taxpayer dollars were spent.

When the Prime Minister tells Canadians he does not care how dollars are spent, which is what he told the Gomery inquiry, he is sending a clear signal that nobody should care, including the individuals who administer these programs.

I recognize the element of Bill C-8 that restores the comptrollership function that was cut back so extensively by the former finance minister, now Prime Minister, that led to the missing millions from DND and ad scam, but is reinstituting the comptroller enough?

The status quo projection for the next seven years is that the program areas themselves will spend an additional $9 billion performing similar related functions. Program managers and employees will spend approximately $17 billion on administrative matters. The likely spending by identifiable corporate function organizations in the areas of human resources, financial, materiel and information technology services is in the order of $40 billion. That is a lot of money.

What will it cost to implement this internal services modernization program? We can look for an expenditure in the upcoming budget of $2 billion for the corporate administration of this project over its seven year projected life, with a further $1.5 billion over five years to purchase the information technology to go with the program.

What is the human cost of this plan? Bill C-8 is all about human resource management so why does the government feel it needs legislation to supercede orders in council, which is the preferred way of sneaking change to avoid democratic oversight?

When this program was originally presented it was done so on the premise that “harvested savings” would pay for the reorganization. Now it has been determined that the so-called savings do not appear before year four of the seven year plan. The need for new money has resulted in Bill C-8. If the government is going to save $1 billion in annual operating costs, the money has to come from somewhere and once the master plan is announced the last thing the government wants is public scrutiny.

The projected impact of this plan, measured in full time equivalents, is 32,000 people. That means 32,000 positions in the public service will be directly affected by this program. The number of employees expected to lose their jobs is 13,000. Let me repeat that the federal government expects that 13,000 employees will lose their jobs implementing this program.

Moving public servants into the shared service organization that is envisioned by this plan will allow for processing functions to leave Ottawa, which is the carrot to get scared cabinet ministers from vulnerable ridings to sign on to this program.

What this has traditionally meant is pork-barrelling into the areas of the country the government is afraid of losing, as The Ottawa Citizen so aptly pointed out today. The concern is not the lost jobs in Ottawa, and I hope Mayor Chiarelli is listening. It is moving the remaining jobs to ridings outside of Ottawa.

The tactics of this new program have been laid out: get control quickly and centralize that control. Constituents of my riding of Renfrew--Nipissing--Pembroke are already suffering from the effects of the government's reorganization plan.

The federal government has identified the recently reconfigured Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, HRSDC, as a department with a pressing need to transform service areas within that department. HRSDC clients are the latest victims in this current experiment in government reorganization.

What this has meant for unemployed insurance claimants, seasonal workers applying for benefits in my riding, is that a 28 day waiting period for benefits has become, in some instances, a two and a half month wait. That kind of delay is clearly unacceptable.

The federal government knows that come late fall seasonal workers will be coming forward with their unemployment insurance forms. This is not new. This is the reality of certain kinds of employment in Canada.

What is new is when my constituency office is told by HRSDC that somehow it was taken unaware of the fact that for certain types of employment those workers are laid off during the winter and, surprise, surprise, will be applying for unemployment insurance benefits to tide them over to the next season. Two and a half months is a long time to go without any money in a household when one has bills to pay and children to feed.

It is bad enough that the government is running a $46 billion surplus in the employment fund, a fund for which workers pay in the form of a payroll tax. The economy pays for the payroll tax with fewer jobs since dollars that could have been used to create employment are paid out, in a payroll tax, in a fund that has a $46 billion surplus. However the government is trying to make it as difficult as possible for workers to draw from a fund that they pay directly into to protect against times of unemployment. To qualify and to then be told that one has to wait 6, 8, 10 or even 12 weeks for benefits is a symptom of everything that is wrong with the government.

This is the latest bureaucratic reorganization. It is recognized as having the potential to make a few individuals and their companies very wealthy. The number of vendors who will be able to provide services to the Government of Canada will be rationalized, in the words of the federal government. In the process of cutting suppliers, the opportunities will be presented to the favoured few, and that is a lobbyist's dream.

Any human resource reforms must have the support of the people they affect if they have any chance to succeed. What the public servants of Canada do not want is another top down plan imposed upon them without their consultation. Before any of these plans are implemented, I encourage the government to talk to and engage the people they affect before the plans are implemented.

As it has been noted elsewhere, 40 years of restructuring have never produced the results that are promised every time a bill like Bill C-8 is written. If the federal government were seriously committed to managing government more proficiently, it would start with ministerial accountability and it would start at the top with the Prime Minister.

Financial Administration ActGovernment Orders

6 p.m.

Bloc

Benoît Sauvageau Bloc Repentigny, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened to the eloquent speech of the hon. member for Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke and of the hon. member of Sudbury before her. She talked about the part of Bill C-8 dealing with the amendments to the Official Languages Act.

Does the hon. member for Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke consider adequate the amendments in Bill C-8 on the Official Languages Act, the transfer of responsibilities from the President of the Treasury Board to the president of the agency, and this horizontal transfer, which does not include greater responsibilities?

Since her party has a special sensitivity as concerns the implementation of the Official Languages Act in the public service, I would like to know what she thinks.

Financial Administration ActGovernment Orders

6:05 p.m.

Conservative

Cheryl Gallant Conservative Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, ON

Mr. Speaker, my main concern with Bill C-8 is how it is being purported to be just a minor housekeeping bill. However, with the recent revelation last Friday, it appears to be enabling legislation to allow the government's new internal management modernization program to go forth. On that basis I give my concerns to Parliament.

As outlined by the plan, this would have an impact on 32,000 full time equivalent jobs, which could be 64,000 part time workers. In all, as the program is implemented, 13,000 people will lose their jobs. That is a lot of jobs.

Having seen how the government has put forth proposals in the past, like the gun registry which was supposed to cost $2 million and is now approaching $2 billion, I am very concerned that we will not see these so-called harvested savings outlined by the program which Bill C-8 would enable.

Financial Administration ActGovernment Orders

6:05 p.m.

Bloc

Benoît Sauvageau Bloc Repentigny, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for her excellent answer. The only problem is she did not answer the right question. I will repeat my question: What does she think about the Official Languages Act and Bill C-8? I did not talk about the firearms registry or the sponsorship scandal, but about the implementation of the Official Languages Act under Bill C-8.

Financial Administration ActGovernment Orders

6:05 p.m.

Conservative

Cheryl Gallant Conservative Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, ON

Mr. Speaker, my concern with the legislation is focused on the fact that it is an enabling program that would result in thousands of jobs being lost, regardless of the legislation's primary language.

Financial Administration ActGovernment Orders

6:05 p.m.

Bloc

Yvon Lévesque Bloc Nunavik—Eeyou, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened to the remarks of the hon. member for Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke. I am a little taken aback. I thought she was from some place much farther away from Quebec. Apparently, she does not live that far from Quebec. She might do well to pay a visit to Quebec.

I would like to tell her that we do not fight separatism. Separatism is a consequence of actions that lead people to find a better system than the one they have.

It is difficult to ask people not that interested in politics to understand this, but a person who is well informed enough to run for office does not seem to understand either.

Here is my question: Does she believe that, instead of fighting separatism, fighting anglophone hostility to an equitable sharing and the creating of a sound and honest public administration would be a more efficient way to build a united Canada?

Financial Administration ActGovernment Orders

6:05 p.m.

Conservative

Cheryl Gallant Conservative Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for describing where my riding of Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke lies. It is right across the river. Pontiac county is right across and both communities get along very well. Any language barriers are overcome because of the goodwill of people to understand one another.

My hon. colleague should also be concerned about the people in that riding who will be impacted by the modernization program once it is implemented by this enabling legislation, Bill C-8.

It is when people do not have access to job opportunities that are available in other parts of the country that they become discontent and begin looking for various solutions to achieve a better life for themselves. It is through affording genuine and meaningful employment to people across the country that we attempt to have unity in Canada.

Financial Administration ActGovernment Orders

6:10 p.m.

Bloc

Benoît Sauvageau Bloc Repentigny, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-8. I am a little disappointed by the lack of response from the hon. member for Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke. Bill C-8 affects mainly two aspects, one of which is very important and that is official languages. My colleague from Sudbury emphasized this very well. I think she would agree it is sad to see that the Conservative Party critic has no idea how the Official Languages Act will apply or influence the new tenor or philosophy in the federal public service.

I gave them a chance to say a few words about it. During the election campaign there was some bad press, but sometimes people are quoted out of context. We thought we would give our opponents a chance and allow them to say a few words about this. We will have to wait for the next time to get an explanation on their party's position on this.

This is the second time I am speaking to Bill C-8. As I was saying, I listened closely to the speech by my colleague from Sudbury, who summarized this bill very well. I will mostly repeat what she said. However, I will try to make concrete arguments on certain aspects of the changes made by this bill.

One of the main objectives of Bill C-8 is to amend the Financial Administration Act to establish the office of the President of the Public Service Human Resources Management Agency of Canada. That is clause 1. This bill only makes official what has already been done. Indeed, on December 12, 2003, Michelle Chartrand was appointed by order in Council, order PC-2003-21-13, President of the Public Service Human Resources Management Agency of Canada.

The president of the agency has the powers of a deputy head of a department and is appointed by cabinet and can be removed at any time. This is not so for the Commissioner of Official Languages or the Auditor General, which is not a problem, I simply want to clarify that there is a difference in terms of their status and independence from the House.

The powers of the president are assigned to him or her by the Treasury Board, not by Parliament. Clause 1(2) provides that the President of the Treasury Board is responsible for the coordination of the activities of the Secretary of the Treasury Board, the President of the Public Service Human Resources Management Agency of Canada and the Comptroller General of Canada. As I recall—correct me if I am wrong—this provision was amended in committee to add that he or she is responsible for the coordination but must also be accountable. I thought that was what I heard the hon. member for Sudbury say.

Why should the president be accountable? Hon. members know that the wording is important when amending bills or drafting legislation. Allow me to say a few words about the ambiguous nature of the word “coordination”. Clause 1(2) provides that the President of the Treasury Board is responsible for the coordination.

I was official languages critic for a few years and I have learned that, in theory, the Minister of Canadian Heritage is responsible for the coordination of the Official Languages Act. In practice however, the minister with the least responsibility in connection with the Official Languages Act is the Minister of Canadian Heritage.

If the Minister of Canadian Heritage is the minister responsible under section 42 of the Official Languages Act, this should also be the minister responsible—I realize I am not speaking directly to Bill C-8, but I just want to make a quick point about the word “coordination”—for implementing the official languages action plan. But this responsibility was assigned to a different person at the time, namely the current Minister of the Environment.

The Official Languages Act provides that the Minister of Justice is responsible for part of the act, that the Minister of Canadian Heritage is responsible for the coordination, that the Prime Minister shall appoint a minister responsible for the act, that the President of the Treasury Board—as the agency's secretary—is responsible for the act as it relates to the public service, with the result that the individual responsibilities have been diluted to the point that no one is responsible for anything anymore.

When they appear before the committee and are asked why they have failed with regard to some aspect of the legislation, there is full latitude—since there are 22 individuals responsible, so none—for them to say that it is not them and that someone else is responsible.

That is why the Bloc Québécois amended one little word that may seem completely inconsequential. However, given our experience with the Official Languages Act, this little word is extremely important. In fact, this amendment means that the President of the Treasury Board is no longer the only one responsible for coordination of this legislation, but accountable for it too. Consequently, if there is a problem, he cannot say that it was the fault of the commissioner, the president of the agency, his brother-in-law or anyone else; he is the one who is ultimately responsible.

We know too that ministers appeared before the committee—Gagliano, to name just one—and they told us that ministers are not responsible for their department. In this case, the minister responsible is the President of the Treasury Board. This is the first question I asked him when he appeared before the committee, “Are you responsible for your department? If you are not responsible for your department, there is no point in our asking you questions, since you are not responsible for anything”. To my great surprise, he said that he was responsible for his department. If he is responsible for his department, he is therefore accountable for the actions taken during his mandate. That is why the Bloc Québécois sought this amendment—and we are happy that it passed—to subclause 1(2), which provides that the President of the Treasury Board is responsible and accountable for the coordination of activities.

Further on in the bill, they are amending—as I have said, and will keep on saying—the Canada School of Public Service Act, section 2, and the Official Languages Act, section 3, to ensure that the president of the agency is an ex officio member of the school. The second point is an interesting one, The supposed purpose is to ensure that it is the president of the agency, rather than the president of the Treasury Board, who will provide the Commissioner of Official Languages with any reports concerning the monitoring and auditing of observation by the federal institutions of the principles, instructions and regulations originating by either himself or the governor in council concerning official languages.

The purpose of all that verbiage is to say that the head of the agency will be the one to provide the COL with these files.

I have another problem here. When the president of the agency receives these reports and passes them on to the COL, there should be both responsibility and accountability in place. This is not the case. The person who receives them and passes them on is not assigned any responsibility.

I filed a complaint nearly a year ago to the COL about the Treasury Board. My complaint was that the Treasury Board policies and action plans state in black and white that it will not comply with the Official Languages Act. It is not set out in so many words that: “We are going to go against the Official Languages Act”, but it is there in connection with the position designated bilingual. For instance, it indicates that 60% of army positions designated bilingual are staffed with unilingual anglophones, and that in a specific sector, 22% of positions designated bilingual are staffed with unilingual anglophones. Finally, Treasury Board writes that it has an action plan whereby, in the next two, three or four years, they will bring those figures down by 2%, 3% or 4%. It we look at this carefully, what that comes down to is stating “We hereby inform you that we will continue to break the law for the next three, four or five years.”

I thus filed a complaint with the Commissioner of Official Languages and that complaint was deemed to be in order and is currently being investigated. Accordingly, when people say that the president of the agency will receive the annual reports relating to the implementation of the Official Languages Act and will be in charge of follow-up, I have a little problem. Indeed, what was done before was not proper. We are renewing what was done before. It will not be proper.

I seem to recall, Mr. Speaker, that you too used to sit on the Standing Committee on Official Languages. You must have heard this part of my pet question, which goes like this, “Why is a unilingual person hired to fill a bilingual position, if the hiring criterion is being bilingual?”

I often asked the question of all the ministers who appeared, namely how many lawyers in the Department of Justice are not lawyers, but carpenters, who managed to get hired on a promise that they would eventually become lawyers. My impression is there are none. How many people who formerly worked at Jean Coutu's have been hired in the Department of Finance as accountants on the promise that eventually, since they know how to operate cash registers, they will become accountants? I think that the hiring criterion to be a lawyer in the public service is to be a lawyer. Similarly, the hiring criterion to be an accountant in the public service is to be an accountant. Why is that the hiring criterion to be bilingual in the public service would not be to be bilingual?

In this respect, I would be willing to accept—it is called non-imperative staffing—that we extend this criterion to the public service as a whole, if we want to apply it this way. In other words, if criteria do not matter, let us hire truck drivers—for whom I have a lot of respect—as management executives or accountants at the Treasury Board, on the promise that they will one day become accountants.

You know that, with exception clauses, some people are being hired in designated bilingual positions, on the promise that they will become bilingual one day. Afterwards, they go through their career as unilingual employees in the designated bilingual position. Then, when they retire, other people make sure that their farewell party is in one language, because they would not understand if it was in another one.

Bill C-8, in transferring the current powers of the President of the Treasury Board to the president of the agency, does not solve this problem, which I think is very serious. I heard Conservative members say there was somewhat of a void. However, this is a problem that we would like to see corrected in a speedy and concrete fashion with the new agency. However, we do not have much hope.

The bill also has a number of transitional provisions, consequential amendments and coordinating amendments to tie Bill C-8 with the coming into force of certain sections of the Public Service Modernization Act, that is Bill C-25.

So, we must make the connection between Bill C-25 and Bill C-8, which I will do briefly. Indeed, I spent too much time on official languages, but it is a subject dear to my heart. Since the essence of the work of the Human Resources Management Agency and of its president is to implement the provisions of the Public Service Modernization Act, it is important to remind the House about the main comments of the Bloc Québécois on this bill.

In the 2001 Speech from the Throne, the government said that it was undertaking:

—the reforms needed for the Public Service of Canada to continue evolving and adapting. These reforms will ensure that the Public Service is innovative, dynamic and reflective of the diversity of the country-able to attract and develop the talent needed to serve Canadians in the 21st century.

Bill C-25 contained four significant measures to reform the public service: it amended the Public Service Staff Relations Act; it repealed the Public Service Employment Act; it amended the Financial Administration Act to transfer certain powers with respect to human resources management to the Treasury Board; and it amended the Canadian Centre for Management Development Act to pave the way for its merger with Training and Development Canada, and the eventual birth of the new Canada School of Public Service.

In fact Bill C-25 significantly changes the legislative and institutional framework for the management of human resources in the public service. The role of the Treasury Board increases considerably with the consolidation of employer responsibilities. The Public Service Commission will refocus its activities on the protection of the merit principle and political neutrality in staffing.

This is an important principle. I have sat on committees with certain Liberals. One of the positions taken by the Bloc Québécois is that returning officers in each riding should be appointed based on their ability, merit and skills, rather than being appointed by the Prime Minister.

The Liberals are opposed. I keep telling them that I am sure that some Liberals will continue to be appointed as returning officers because there have to be a few competent ones in the bunch. They need not worry. I am not suggesting they will be the majority, but there could be five or six appointed in the 308 ridings. They need not worry. People can still be appointed on the basis of their qualifications.

Bill C-25 also dealt with the protection of whistleblowers. It has since been amended and has now become Bill C-11. It is under consideration at the Standing Committee on Governmental Operations and Estimates. It is designed to allow the disclosure of wrongdoing. The Bloc Québécois has two main reservations with respect to Bill C-11. First, there should be an independent officer of the House—like the Auditor General or the Commissioner of Official Languages—whom the employees throughout the public service could trust and whom they could tell about wrongdoing taking place in their departments or workplaces.

We have seen how difficult working for his department became for Mr. Cutler after he brought the whole sponsorship scandal to light. I am not referring to the minister, because I am not allowed to refer to Minister Cotler by name. I have to refer to his riding. I was talking about Mr. Cutler, the government employee.

Mr. Cutler had problems in his department when he disclosed what happened in the sponsorship program. We want to make sure public servants can divulge such information not to their supervisor, but to an independent officer of the House and that the public servant is protected from retaliation. All of this is laid out in Bill C-25.

Let me come back to Bill C-8. I do not know if I was sufficiently clear, but the Bloc Québécois supports Bill C-8, despite our many reservations. We have reservations about certain aspects of the bill, especially when it comes to the Official Languages Act. We support Bill C-8 because its purpose is to refocus some existing legislation and correct some legislative and administrative measures.

We are in favour of this bill because, despite several omissions, it will ensure better cohesion for human resources management within the federal public service. The Bloc Québécois accepts the principle of the bill since it is the first step to improving the coordination activities involved in human resources management in the Canadian public service. However, we will continue to expose the omissions that we feel are far too important.

While we reaffirm our confidence in and our admiration for the federal public service and while we say that it needs Bill C-11 to allow public servants to disclose possible acts of wrongdoing, we would not want to go as far as the President of the Treasury Board, who said on his website that, being the President of the Treasury Board of the very best country in the world, he wanted to have the best public service in the world. I have not checked today, but last October, when I made my first speech, this is what appeared on the President of the Treasury Board's website.

Again, I have a lot of respect for public servants. We must have an exemplary public service, that is respected and that respects itself. I hope that Bill C-8 will give these people better working conditions and that other laws will also allow them to tell us about serious wrongdoing. I know that we are dealing with a huge machine and a huge public service. Unfortunately, as we say “man will do what man will”. There will unfortunately always be wrongdoing. However, serious wrongdoing, such as we have seen lately, must be disclosed promptly to prevent serious situations like that to undermine public confidence in the politicians and the public servants.

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.

Financial Administration ActAdjournment Proceedings

6:30 p.m.

Conservative

Colin Carrie Conservative Oshawa, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to address something of great importance to the people of Canada. I want to talk about jobs, particularly jobs close to the heart of my constituents in Oshawa, automotive jobs.

In November last year I rose in the House to address the issue of jobs and the government's insistence on pushing forward with its implementation of the Kyoto accord. I am pleased to tell the House that since I last spoke about this issue, I along with members and senators of the Conservative auto caucus had the opportunity to travel across southern Ontario and visit all the Canadian automobile manufacturers.

Our findings confirm my concerns about the government's inaction on such an important file. I heard about the government's unrealistic proposal, legislation to decrease fuel consumption of automobiles by 25% by 2010. This arbitrarily chosen number will cause undue hardship on the automotive industry and lose automotive jobs.

In Ontario we build mid and large size vehicles, mini-vans, cars and trucks. Under the proposed legislation, virtually every car built in Canada could not be sold here. What does this mean for automotive jobs in Ontario? As one auto executive bluntly told me, “Why would we build cars in Canada if we cannot sell them here”?

The government is oblivious to the reality that these demands on the auto industry will have devastating effects on Ontario's auto based communities. One of the side effects of the legislation would be that Canadians would only be able to buy subcompact cars such as the Pontiac Wave or the Toyota Echo.

I have a friend and this friend just happens to be six foot three. His wife is six foot one. They have two kids who are also quite large. On the weekend he drives to the cottage with his family, his coolers, gear, the dog and occasionally grandma. Which car does the minister want him to take on his weekend trips to the cottage? The Wave or the Echo?

Another one of my questions is, where are the government's economic impact studies that provide numbers on how many automotive jobs will be lost because of the government's implementation of the Kyoto accord? My concern is of special importance at this time.

General Motors has recently announced its intention to invest $2.5 billion through its Beacon project, a project that would ensure retention of automotive jobs and would invest in research and development. Infrastructure would be put in place to ensure that the Ontario automotive industry has a prosperous future. It seems everyone but the federal government is on board. The local community is on board. The industry is on board. Our local university is on board. Even the Liberals' provincial cousins are on board.

The time has come for a solid commitment to this project. It is déjà vu for the people of Oshawa. Only a few years ago, we lost out on the ITER project, a project that would have brought international recognition and an estimated $10 billion benefit to our region. Oshawa lost the ITER project for only one reason. The federal government dithered for too long. The ITER proposal died because the government would not act.

As Oshawa's representative, I cannot and will not let history repeat itself. Oshawa's auto workers are the best in the world and we will not accept more inaction from the Liberal government. We are losing auto jobs as a result. The Beacon project deserves the support of the government. It is time to stop dithering, reverse the climate of uncertainty and inaction.

The minister thinks it is hogwash that Kyoto could affect 80,000 jobs. Well, the government was quick to have our very own Canadian flag made in China. How long will it be before our automobiles are made in China?

The Canadian International AutoShow begins in Toronto later this week. There is no better time to announce support of the Beacon project. I would like to know if my hon. colleague will take a moment tonight and assure the House and the people of Oshawa and Ontario that their jobs and their future are a priority for the government?

Financial Administration ActAdjournment Proceedings

6:35 p.m.

Richmond Hill Ontario

Liberal

Bryon Wilfert LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment

Mr. Speaker, the member's original question was directed to the Minister of Industry.

I want to point out to the member that the government takes the issue of automotive jobs very seriously. In fact in 2002 we created the Canadian Automotive Partnership Council, CAPC, to identify ways in which the Government of Canada and the private sector could work collaboratively to strengthen this particular sector.

CAPC recently released a report called, “A Call for Action: A Canadian Auto Strategy” which outlines a vision for making Canada the location of choice for automotive manufacturing in North America.

I can assure the House that the government is listening. The CAPC report will be an important contribution to a new national automotive strategy. We know that this is the best country when it comes to investing in automotive jobs. When Lexus was built for the first time outside of Japan, Cambridge, Ontario was picked because of the quality of the workmanship and the quality of workers.

The member talked about Kyoto. There is no question that we take our responsibilities regarding climate change very seriously. That is why we are working collaboratively with the automotive sector. It is important that we come up with a voluntary agreement.

It is important that economic competitiveness and the environment can and will work closely together. We announced a $100 million contribution to Ford's Oakville facilities, an important new research and engineering undertaking. This is tied to a commitment by Ford to proceed with a $1 billion investment which will introduce new manufacturing processes to secure the future of the site and related employment for years to come.

Clearly we are listening to the automotive sector and are working collaboratively. That is why these kinds of investments are being made by the government and by the auto sector.

The member for Oshawa said that the government is not listening to the sector at all. Clearly in budget 2004 the government committed to develop a new strategic automotive framework. Many of my colleagues on this side of the House in our automotive caucus have been working very collaboratively with the ministers affected.

The June 2004 announcement of $500 million to support major automotive projects and the explicit reference to the auto sector in the Speech from the Throne reaffirm this policy commitment.

I appreciate the hon. member's representations from his constituency. I know that those jobs in Oshawa are important. I want the member to be assured that we are not going to do anything that will affect any jobs in his constituency or anywhere else.

We want to emphasize that the support for auto initiatives will be linked to our overall national priorities, such as innovation, skills development, infrastructure and of course, the environment.

Ford, as I said, will invest heavily in innovation, training and new environmental technologies as part of its Oakville initiative. These are all very important. They are important for Canada. They are important for workers. They are important for society at large.

Ford recognizes the advances in technology, such as fuel cells and hybrid vehicles, in improving fuel efficiency and the environmental performance of its vehicles. We welcome that.

Rather than carrying a big stick, we are working collaboratively. Eventually if a voluntary agreement cannot be entered into, obviously we would have to look at other approaches, but I am confident that we will reach an agreement on a voluntary basis.