Mr. Speaker, as a general principle, important changes like this should be enshrined in legislation. Now, it stands to reason that most Canadians, including the employers bound by the Canada Labour Code, believe that the definition of sexual harassment is something worth preserving in law and that it is the process we should be going through.
The second thing that will need to be examined by the committee is how we ensure that all employees, including those who work for government members, enjoy the full protection of this legislation.
The House of Commons is not like other federal government workplaces. This place, by design, is meant to be partisan. Democracy is best served by the official opposition skilfully testing the government's policies and bringing them to the Canadian public's attention. The ability of the opposition to do its job without fear of reprisal or retribution by the Prime Minister, or any member on that side of the House, is foundational to our democracy, which is why I am a little concerned about how this legislation would actually be applied to the House of Commons.
The bill before us would bring members of Parliament and their staff under the authority of part II of the Canada Labour Code. It is important, then, to understand how this code uniquely empowers the Liberal Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour to personally initiate investigations and make compliance orders under the act.
Upon receiving a complaint from an employee or employer, it is the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour who would be authorized to conduct an investigation. Once an investigation was conducted, it would also be the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour who was authorized to issue compliance orders. This would be done, of course, through the member of Parliament who was brought forward through a complaint.
The minister also has the power to issue emergency directives to an employer and to make those orders public. We can see how devastating this could potentially be to a member's career if, in fact, a complaint was found not to hold water.
For those watching from their homes and workplaces today, let me take a moment to quickly outline the implications. An employee would have the opportunity to make a complaint directly to the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour. At this point, the minister could decide not to investigate if she felt that the complaint was vexatious or made in bad faith. Right away, this should raise some red flags, given the circumstances.
The question we must ask is whether Canadians can have complete confidence that the minister, behind closed doors, would impartially judge complaints when she had the power to protect her Liberal colleagues from allegations that could potentially end their careers.
What also worries me is that there would be no appeal process. Once the minister made her ruling, the complaint would simply go away. On the other hand, if the minister decided to launch an investigation, she would then have the power to enter the workplace to compel the production of documents and to force testimony from staff.
Let me be clear on this point. This legislation, as it is worded now, would grant a Liberal minister the legal right to enter an opposition MP's office to compel the office to turn over any record she deemed necessary for the investigation. This could include emails, private or personal calendar pages, social media accounts, text messages, etcetera.
The minister and her staff could be entitled to snoop through the member's data and records, which would then give them access to a ton of politically sensitive information, information that may or may not find its way into the hands of, let us say, a journalist. I am sure all members are able to see how this could be used for partisan gain. Of course, we hope not, but nevertheless, I must highlight the potential.
Even if the minister delegated the initial decision to investigate and also delegated the actual investigation, the minister would still need to sign off at the end. There would be no way for the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour to completely excuse herself from the process. The question then becomes this: Could Canadians rightfully expect that the Liberal minister would treat a Conservative MP and a Liberal MP the exact same way?
Furthermore, the minister would also determine whether an order had been complied with. If, in the minister's opinion, an order was not observed, a subjective determination, I might add, she would have the power to table the order in Parliament publicly, thus shaming the member.
Finally, the minister would have the authority at any point after a complaint was made to issue an emergency compliance directive if she believed that the health of an employee was at risk. Emergency orders would be immediately tabled in the House of Commons, and made publicly known, announcing that an investigation was under way, before any facts of the situation had actually been determined.
It is hard to imagine that the minister would not be tempted to perhaps use this provision by announcing an investigation into an opposition MP, perhaps as soon as possible or when it seemed necessary or to the advantage of the party in power.
If we are serious about providing equal protection for employees of members of the government and members of the opposition and about ensuring the non-partisan application of this law, then we need to ensure that there is an arm's-length, neutral, third-party regulator put in place who will make decisions about whether a complaint is valid and about how to conduct the investigation.
One may think that no one would seriously consider using something such as sexual harassment as a tool for political advantage. I would certainly hope not, but I believe we must do everything in our power to ensure the safety of employees without risking the potential of partisan gamesmanship.
We owe it to every current and future employee of this House to get this right, including the staff of the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour, who, let us be really honest, is quite unlikely to investigate and prosecute herself should a complaint be made. This begs the question: Where do her employees go?
I urge my hon. colleagues to send this bill to committee, where its members can work with expert advisers to figure out how to ensure that the integrity and impartiality of this process is upheld. We owe it to the staff of the House of Commons. We owe it to the members in this place. We must address this issue with regard to sexual harassment and create a safe and secure work environment for all.