Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan.
It is with mixed feelings that I stand to speak in the House today. On the one hand, I am deeply grieved that we even have to have this conversation right now with regard to this topic of sexual harassment. On the other hand, I am glad that we are having this conversation to bring attention to a very important matter, and my hope is that we are able to do something about it going forward.
All parties in this place agree that there is zero tolerance for sexual harassment, but if we were to pick up a newspaper or watch the newscasts at night, or if we were to read through the comments staffers from the Hill have posted to social media, we would see that there are far too many stories with regard to sexual harassment taking place in the workplace.
The issue before the House is not a partisan issue, and we must begin by agreeing not to make it so. This is an issue of power and the balance of power between an employee and an employer.
When it comes time to hire or fire, members of Parliament have complete control over this process and the staff in their offices. For every paid staffer, it is important to understand that there are a dozen interns hoping to take that job. This places employees in an extremely precarious position and makes them very vulnerable. Add to this the lack of an independent process for handling harassment allegations and it is no wonder employees can quickly find themselves in a position where they feel that they have no option but to keep silent and hope not to rock the boat. For those reasons, I welcome the initiative of the government to implement a more formal structure for preventing and responding to sexual harassment in the public workplace.
I believe it is very important for this bill to make it to committee as soon as possible, where it can be further assessed. At that stage, legislators would have the opportunity to examine it closely and make the necessary changes to strengthen it going forward.
To serve all employees and all employers well, sexual harassment must be clearly defined. That said, we must discuss whether it is better to define sexual harassment through legislation or to allow cabinet to define it through what is called regulation. Traditionally, sexual harassment has been defined in part III of the Canada Labour Code. However, clause 16 of the bill before this House would delete the legislated definition of sexual harassment from the code. In its place, the Liberals would give authority to cabinet members to define sexual harassment through part II of the Labour Code. This means that the government of the day would be empowered to define what sexual harassment is in both the House of Commons and all federally regulated workplaces, with zero input from this place, Parliament.
As a general principle, important changes like this should be enshrined within legislation.