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.