Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with my colleague, the member for Bellechasse—Les Etchemins—Lévis, the shadow minister for employment, workforce development and labour.
I am pleased to take this opportunity to speak to Bill C-65, which amends the Canada Labour Code, the Parliamentary Employment and Staff Relations Act, and the Budget Implementation Act, 2017, No. 1. I would like to state right from the start that I look forward to supporting the bill so as to ensure it is sent to committee for further study.
The broad themes addressed in Bill C-65 are very important, particularly in light of the recent reports that we received related to sexual misconduct and sexual harassment, both on Parliament Hill and elsewhere. It is necessary to ensure that whether in this place or anywhere in Canadian society sexual misconduct and harassment are not tolerated.
Unfortunately, we have a systemic problem in our culture where we spend so much time on rights and freedoms and not enough time on obligations and responsibilities to create safe, healthy, non-toxic workplaces. It needs to be a priority of all employers, of all members of Parliament, of all senators that our places of employment here on the Hill and in our constituencies are places where all employees feel valued, feel safe, and feel respected.
I want to reference the good work that was done by my colleague from Peace River—Westlock. His Motion No. 47, which went to the health committee, asked what the health effects of online violent pornography were to men, women, and children. That is a study that was very worthwhile. Unfortunately, the report does not really reflect the testimony that was provided by witnesses and seems to have been somewhat homogenized.
This is a bill which protects vulnerable people from exploitation, which is a noble goal. It is my hope that we in the House will achieve the goal that is set out in the bill. Despite the important objectives outlined in the bill, there are some questions that must be addressed. Sending Bill C-65 to committee will allow us to ensure that we meet the high expectations Canadians have for us as legislators as we deal with these critical issues.
We know that sexual harassment is not a new phenomenon. Unfortunately, there have always been occurrences. However, now victims are starting to speak up and out against those who use their positions of power to sexually harass those who have less power. It is important that harassment claims be dealt with appropriately and that they be seen to be dealt with appropriately. This inspires greater confidence in the systems which are in place, prevents abuses, and ultimately ensures that victims and perpetrators are both dealt with in a way that reflects the spirit of the law. We know that beyond the toll harassment can take on a victim, there are significant costs to a workplace where harassment is tolerated. Lost productivity, absenteeism, higher turnover all have an economic cost that undermines an office or a business.
By way of background, part 1 of Bill C-65 amends the Canada Labour Code to strengthen the existing framework for the prevention of harassment and violence. This includes sexual harassment and sexual violence in the workplace. Bill C-65, if passed into law, would put sexual harassment under the purview of workplace health and safety. Areas of federal jurisdiction would be under the new regime, including the federal public service. Part 2 amends the Parliamentary Employment and Staff Relations Act with respect to the application of part II of the Canada Labour Code to parliamentary employers and employees, without impacting the privileges and immunities of this place, the other place, and their members. In essence, harassment policies will be also be expanded to cover parliamentary workplaces. The bill will not change the way complaints are handled between parliamentarians. Sexual harassment complaints between members and senators will continue to be handled as they have been previously. Finally, part 3 amends a transitional provision of the Budget Implementation Act, 2017, No. 1.
In essence, the bill puts forward a multi-step process for dealing with complaints of harassment or violence. It aims first to prevent harassment and violence, but when it does occur, a system is to be in place for a complaint to be filed. An employer must try to resolve the complaint. If that does not work, mediation is an option. If that option fails or is bypassed, an individual identified as a competent person is to report on the incident and make recommendations to the employer, who then is required to implement the recommendations. I will not go into all the details here, but if the complaint remains unresolved, the minister of labour steps in to ensure compliance.
There are some issues I have with the bill, mostly with the lack of precision in the drafting. The first concern I would like to highlight is related to the fact that the minister of labour is given a great deal of power in the complaint process. The minister of labour is set up to be the arbiter of matters that proceed through the initial steps of the process but go unresolved. The trouble here is obvious, especially as we consider that this new regime is meant to provide protections to staff here on Parliament Hill. For example, if an individual who works within the office of a Liberal MP is harassed and he or she proceeds through the process that would be in place, he or she may find his or her situation being addressed by a colleague, maybe even a friend of the perpetrator.
The minister of labour would be in an awkward position here, to put it mildly. As anyone watching the news in the last week will realize, a sexual harassment situation arising in a political office can end a career. Are the Liberals seriously saying that the minister of labour, whether in this government or any other successive government, would be able to rightly deal with a situation of this type from an unbiased perspective, without any concern for political consequences? I doubt it.
A victim must have access to a process that is reliable and cannot be improperly interfered with. Even the perception that there could be interference calls the whole process into question. An independent third party would serve employees and employers much better here.
There are other problems within the legislation that require some further clarification as well. Throughout our time in government, Conservatives always placed a strong focus on supporting victims. It is our intention to ensure that the Liberals focus on supporting them as well through this legislation, as they have said they would. One of the concerns related to this point is the option of mediation as an avenue to solve harassment complaints.
The government must be absolutely clear about what is meant and intended with these sorts of areas of concern. The Liberals have said there would be a campaign that would focus on sexual harassment awareness. To date, there has been no mention of the cost of this campaign, where it would be targeted, or what the specific goals of the campaign would be. A campaign will not be successful unless it has defined goals and a strategy to meet them.
Similarly, there needs to be a plan for outreach to those people who have experienced sexual harassment. The plan is to help those who have been aggrieved to navigate the process of resolution and to direct victims to the support services that would be available to them. The bill needs to have an accurate costing estimate to accompany it. All Canadians have a stake in ensuring any campaign has a meaningful impact. The Liberals would do well to map out their plan for this campaign as quickly as possible to that end.
Bill C-65 also identifies a number of exemptions that need to be clarified. To give one example, there is an exemption to opt out of the regime for harassment complaints if workplaces have an equivalent regime of their own already in place. What would this look like? How would such requests be handled?
Finally, certain terms in the bill are not presently adequately defined in the law. The term “competent person” is someone a person could go to for help rendering a decision in the case of a complaint. What does a competent person look like? How would we describe a competent person? There needs to be an expansion in that part of the bill. Is it the law of contract definition of the competent person, which is someone who has the mental capacity to enter into an agreement? Is that what was meant by a competent person? Then such a person could be any individual in an office. Is it someone who has the required skills, training, experience, and other characteristics to truly be helpful? Someone in human resources or a counsellor might be more appropriate in a case like that. What does competency mean in relation to addressing complaints of sexual harassment, and for the purpose of Bill C-65?
These are all areas that could be more neatly defined to make this a better piece of legislation. Bill C-65 must be clear. It must be clear what it means. It also must be clear what it does not mean.
The intent of the bill is noble. However, it leaves many questions unanswered. I look forward to seeing the bill debated more fully at committee. I am sure that all members of Parliament, staff, and all Canadians want to see workplaces free of sexual harassment. I hope this bill, after some improvements and clarifications, will be helpful and will contribute to greater safety in the workplace.