House of Commons Hansard #266 of the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was employees.


The House resumed from December 13, 2017 consideration of the motion that Bill C-374, An Act to amend the Historic Sites and Monuments Act (composition of the Board), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Historic Sites and Monuments ActPrivate Members' Business

11:05 a.m.


Cathy McLeod Conservative Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am certainly honoured to stand in this place today to speak to Bill C-374, an act to amend the Historic Sites and Monuments Act. I know that the bill has its inspiration in a very practical call to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. It is from recommendation 79, which reads:

We call upon the federal government, in collaboration with Survivors, Aboriginal organizations, and the arts community, to develop a reconciliation framework for Canadian heritage in commemoration. This would include, but not be limited to: i. Amending the Historic Sites and Monuments Act to include First Nations, Inuit, and Métis representation on the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada and its Secretariat.

Currently the board consists of one representative from each of our provinces and territories but no formal representation from indigenous peoples or organizations. This would add three more seats to the table: one for first nations, one for Métis, and one for Inuit.

I know from my colleague on the opposite side of the House that this issue is very near and dear to his heart. We all bring our life experiences to our work in this chamber in making decisions on behalf of our constituents and all Canadians. For him, it is over 30 years at Parks Canada, including the last 10 with historic sites. He saw the need to increase the voices of Canadians in making, frankly, very important and challenging decisions about which places to protect, which individuals to promote, and which stories to preserve for future generations.

I agree that this is a significant, practical step toward long-term reconciliation. That is why I am looking forward to supporting my colleague's private member's bill. I want to congratulate him and his team for bringing it before us today.

l will take a moment to talk about a project I undertook over the past year. I wanted to find an appropriate way to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Canada's Confederation in my riding of Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo. I know that for many indigenous peoples, it was something they were somewhat hesitant to celebrate, but we wanted to make sure that we had an inclusive conversation.

With my team, we decided that we wanted to recognize 50 people, 50 places, and 50 events across our communities. Among these, I explored the trails near the ice caves on Bridge Lake, known to local first nations as the entrance to the bear world. I will not try to pronounce the indigenous word, because it is not up to the standard that would be expected.

I watched the unveiling of stunning totem poles carved by local artist Jerome Boyce. I visited the Secwepemc Museum and Heritage Park. This is situated along the South Thompson River in a building that was once the Kamloops Indian Residential School, where first nations children were taken after they were removed from their homes, their families, and their culture. I welcome my colleagues to visit that area with me when they are in Kamloops.

For me, the Secwepemc site symbolizes that not all Canadians have had the opportunity for their history to be celebrated, and this is a key area where the Historic Sites and Monuments Board could do good work.

We are at a pivotal time. Communities across the country are struggling with challenging questions of what to do with the awkward, messy, painful parts of our history. They are looking at statues, at plaques, and at other memorials that have for many years been at the centre of our communities. There are serious questions. How do we commemorate the accomplishments of men and women while learning from their failures? How do we recognize that Canada's history, and its very creation, was shaped by imperfect people?

One hundred and fifty years of Canadian history have passed, and now is the opportunity to chart a path forward for the next 150 years. Part of that, I believe, is ensuring that there are more voices at the table to make these vital decisions. There is definitely reason for hope.

The Historic Sites and Monuments Board has evolved several times since its genesis in 1919. I would like to point out that there are currently, I believe, six female members of the board, but for the last 30 years, it typically consisted of white men of European descent, as was typical for that period. It certainly could be argued that the merits of national commemoration of individuals and locations came from that vantage point.

We have come a long way since then, and now we are looking to add voices specifically from indigenous peoples, voices that could help provide a more complete picture of the journey Canada has taken: the moments to celebrate and the failures from which to learn. Commemorating and recognizing the history of Canada's indigenous peoples is a key step along the road of reconciliation, and that is why the TRC made it part of its calls to action.

I was very proud to be a member of the former Conservative government when the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was created. I stood in the room and listened to former prime minister Stephen Harper's powerful apology on behalf of the government. Actually, I was not quite elected yet, but I certainly watched. I did not stand in this room, but I was certainly profoundly impacted, like so many others.

I heard, too, the apology for Canada's relocation of Inuit families to the high Arctic and the honouring of all Métis veterans at Juno Beach. As I said in this place on February 14, “The contributions and challenges of Canada's indigenous peoples were, and must continue to be, recognized and addressed.”

This is just a small step. Much more work will need to be done. We firmly believe that economic reconciliation must be part of this journey. Governments at all levels and private businesses can empower indigenous communities to share in the wealth Canada is so capable of creating for its citizens. Conservatives can and will urge the government in its consultations to consider what impediments exist to the financial success of indigenous communities and how they can be removed. That would ensure long-term prosperity rather than continued reliance on short-term solutions. It is in this way that the horrific poverty so pervasive in this country can be reduced.

We know that there were a number of calls to action put forward as part of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. We have made a good journey toward many of them. I know that the government indicated that it was going to implement all 94 calls to action. One of my concerns is that the Liberals have never really come out with a costed plan that indicates what the implementation will be and what the impacts will be. I still wait for a more comprehensive look at how they have analyzed those 94 calls to action and what the impacts will be, what laws will have to change, and what the financial implications will be. Certainly there are many of them that we, as Conservatives, on this side of the House are very pleased to support. The private member's bill that has been put forward is a welcome and good step in the right direction, and I would again like to congratulate the member.

Historic Sites and Monuments ActPrivate Members' Business

11:10 a.m.


Pierre Nantel NDP Longueuil—Saint-Hubert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am thrilled to rise today to speak to Bill C-374, which would amend the Historic Sites and Monuments Act to create three new Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada positions, thereby providing for first nations, Inuit, and Métis representation on the board.

This subject is of tremendous importance to me. When I was re-elected, our oath of allegiance was changed to reflect this. Although many people find it odd that we still swear allegiance to Queen Elizabeth II, we nevertheless added a sentence to the oath about how, in carrying out our duties, we will honour and respect the treaties signed with first nations. That was particularly important to me because, as a proud Quebec nationalist, I am acutely aware of some of our gravest misconceptions about this country.

Although I am very proud of NDP members across Canada who chose to recognize the 1982 repatriation of the Constitution as a historical error that violated Quebec's rights, I can also certainly understand the perspective of first nations representatives who feel that their rights were ignored.

We are living in very interesting times, both politically and socially. Many things are no longer considered acceptable. As I myself have had the privilege of attending one of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings, with the member for Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, I truly appreciate how urgently these changes are needed.

There is nothing more fundamental in a society than its heritage, including its historic sites and the significance attached to them. Adding these three additional representatives to the board is just common sense. Looking at the bill, one has to wonder why this was not done sooner. When was the tipping point finally reached? Was it two years ago or 12 years ago? In any case, our colleague's bill can only be commended at this point, and I know the NDP fully supports it. We think it is quite obvious that the bill should be supported. It is the right thing to do for our friends, with whom we share so much.

I think it is a great idea for the Historic Sites and Monuments Board to embrace the first nations' belief that we need to recognize more than just physical sites. We must also recognize places where people have had significant or important experiences, whether they are natural sites or built heritage. Accordingly, I am delighted that our colleague's initiative in sponsoring Bill C-374 has been exceptionally well received by all stakeholders aware of the issues and injustices that need to be fixed. One person who comes to mind is Karen Aird of the Indigenous Heritage Circle, who had this to say:

We feel that in this time, this time of reconciliation, this time when we see a new change in government, there's a need for people to start thinking differently about heritage, and moving it beyond built heritage, and thinking about how indigenous people perceive it and how we want to protect it. We do have our own mechanisms. We do have our own methods and approaches to protecting and interpreting heritage, and we feel it's really time now for indigenous people to have a voice in this.

I would also like to quote Mr. Sinclair, of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation:

the [Truth and Reconciliation Commission] has described the mountain, the calls to action issued by the TRC represent the path to the top. The Calls to Action represent the synthesis of one of the largest engagement sessions with indigenous peoples in the history of the country. We must understand these calls as the articulation of the collective voices of thousands upon thousands of Survivors, families and communities across the Country.

Central in the work of reconciliation is this is the recognition that Canada, as a nation, has not accurately or effectively portrayed the perspectives of indigenous peoples in the telling of our collective history. So long as this continues, Canadians and visitors to this country will be prevented from knowing not only who we were, but will be denied an understanding of what we can become.

Including indigenous perspectives and histories in commemorating national historic sites is paramount. Ensuring there is a clear strategy to commemorate and honour community perspectives on the residential schools is in our national interest.

Through these collective steps, we have the potential to tell a much more accurate, richer and honest story of who we are and where we are going.

For these, and many other reasons, we offer our full support for this bill and encourage all parliamentarians to do the same.

At a time when many things are being challenged, when many foundations are being rocked by shifting paradigms, I am proud to say that this Friday I will be using some of my constituency time to visit the community of Kahnawake in a neighbouring riding. This community is part of the greater Montérégie area and lies on the fringes of Montreal's south shore.

It is crucial that we recharge and reconnect with the first nations. I urge all of my colleagues to attend the Secret Path screening being held somewhere in this building this evening.

I call on all of us, as Quebeckers and Canadians of unquestionably mixed origins, perhaps because of the French regime, to discover the roots that we share, either by blood or by spirit, with the first nations.

On June 21, I got to attend the summer solstice ceremony on Victoria Island with Dominique Rankin and an elder who lit a fire. Moments like these make us realize that what these people care about is not buildings, or stained glass windows, or statues. What they care about is the fundamental principle behind these places and these activities.

As vice-chair of the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage, I consider it a privilege to acknowledge how relevant this private member's bill is. I also want to acknowledge how enthusiastically the NDP stands behind this bill. Naturally, we support this initiative, and we hope to see as much concrete and immediate action taken as possible.

Everyone saw these images over the weekend. We need action, and we are taking parliamentary action here. I am keeping my fingers crossed. I urge the government and all parliamentarians to support concrete action to make this bill a reality.

Once we have a board that will establish what we deem to be part of the official heritage of this country, first nations, Inuit, and Métis people will be able to express their views in an atmosphere of full respect and equality.

Historic Sites and Monuments ActPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

North Vancouver B.C.


Jonathan Wilkinson LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Environment and Climate Change

Mr. Speaker, thank you for the opportunity to participate in this important debate regarding Bill C-374, an act to amend the Historic Sites and Monuments Act.

I preface my remarks with an acknowledgement that we are on the traditional territory of the Algonquin and Anishinaabe peoples. Acknowledgements such as this are increasingly common today, as more and more Canadians recognize that indigenous peoples have been marginalized for far too long in this country. Bill C-374 proposes a tangible way to address this problem by legislating first nations, Métis, and Inuit representation on the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, which recommends which historic places, persons, and events receive official designation to the minister responsible for Parks Canada.

I salute my colleague, the hon. member for Cloverdale—Langley City, for championing Bill C-374, and I am pleased to say that the Government of Canada will support this bill with amendments that would strengthen the legislation now before us.

To date, nearly 1,000 sites, 700 people, and 500 events have been given national historic designation. Behind every designation there is a story that is part of Canada's broader history. Canada's network of historic sites helps define us as a country.

The important role that indigenous peoples have played and continue to play in Canada has consistently been ignored or downplayed. As a result, most Canadians are not aware of indigenous history in the way that they should be. This is precisely why the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, led by Senator Murray Sinclair, called for a concerted effort to educate Canadians about indigenous history.

Among the commission's 94 calls to action are more than a dozen specific appeals for greater education about the history of indigenous peoples in Canada. Call to action 79 addresses the lack of indigenous representation on the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada. Private Members' Bill C-374 responds directly to this call to action.

Since its establishment in 1919, the board has played a central role in this country's official historic designations. Ensuring additional first nations, Métis, and Inuit representation on the board will help in the long process to promote recognition and understanding of the history of indigenous peoples, and the important contributions they have made to Canada and their nations.

Under the current Historic Sites and Monuments Act, the board is comprised of 16 members. They include a representative from each province and territory, the librarian and archivist of Canada, and representatives from the Canadian Museum of History and Parks Canada.

Bill C-374 would authorize three additional representatives, for first nations, Inuit, and Métis, alongside existing provincial and territorial representation. By modernizing the board in this way, Canada would take one more step towards reconciliation with indigenous peoples.

For my colleagues to fully appreciate the context of Bill C-374, it is important to note that the Historic Sites and Monuments Act was first proposed in a Speech from the Throne in November 1952, to give a statutory basis to the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada in response to recommendations in the Massey commission report of 1951. To say that the government at the time paid little attention to indigenous history would be an understatement, given the history of assimilationist policy in Canada.

There have been many attempts by the board over the years to look in a serious way at indigenous history, but there have always been issues in reconciling the history with the existing narratives in the commemoration of Canada's history. I believe that can be partly attributed to the fact there has never been a legislative requirement for indigenous representation on the board.

Launched in 2000 by the then Canadian heritage minister, Sheila Copps, the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada and Parks Canada created the new commemorations initiative, one of the most effective programs for improving the representation of groups identified as under-represented within the national historic designation system. The purpose of the initiative was to enhance awareness of the history of indigenous peoples, women, and ethnocultural communities.

Before coming to a close in 2011, the initiative had a significant and positive impact on Canada's network of national historic sites, people, and events. The number of official designations for women and ethnocultural groups, for example, increased by 81% and 112% respectively. The number of official designations relating to the history of indigenous peoples increased by 31%.

The board, with the support of Parks Canada, continues to take steps to broaden the representation of indigenous peoples and historic designations. The text on many plaques, for instance, has been revised to more appropriately reflect indigenous perspectives on history. In some cases, indigenous language text has been added. However, these efforts are not enough to fill the gap. With indigenous representation, the board will be better able to include indigenous history and heritage values in the designation and commemoration process.

A report published in December by the Standing Committee on the Environment and Sustainable Development reached the same conclusion. To quote from the report, “Preserving Canada's Heritage: the Foundation for Tomorrow”, it states, “Indigenous peoples must be included on the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada so that the Board integrates Indigenous history, heritage values and memory practices into Canada’s national heritage and history.”

With respect to the amendments I mentioned earlier, we will propose to amend Bill C-374 to ensure that the text of the bill aligns more closely with the wording of call to action 79. Three other proposed amendments would further strengthen Bill C-374. One would clarify that the board can comprise up to 19 members. Two other amendments address matters related to expenses for board-related travel, accommodation, and for administrative and clerical work. With the proposed amendments, Bill C-374 would allow us to take another step toward reconciliation with indigenous peoples and implementing the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

More than ever before, Canadians appreciate the relationship between the policies of past governments and the current circumstances of indigenous peoples. Canadians believe in justice. They believe that indigenous peoples should be able to participate equally and contribute fully to the commemoration of our shared history. This is part of what reconciliation is all about. The passage of Bill C-374 is only one step in the work required, as in order to fully implement call to action 79, we also need to revise the policies, criteria, and practices of the national program of historical commemoration to integrate indigenous history, heritage values, and memory practices into Canada's national heritage and history.

The time has come to modernize the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada in keeping with the recommendation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The legislation now before us from the member for Cloverdale—Langley City, along with the amendments I have outlined, will help to continue Canada's path toward reconciliation with indigenous peoples. I encourage my hon. colleagues to join me and support Bill C-374.

Historic Sites and Monuments ActPrivate Members' Business

11:25 a.m.


Jim Eglinski Conservative Yellowhead, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House to speak in support of Bill C-374, which seeks to update and amend the Historic Sites and Monuments Act. Specifically, it is a direct response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's call to action 79, which calls on the government to include first nations, Inuit, and Métis representation on the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada.

The Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada has been mandated to provide advice to the Canadian government on the designation of places, persons, and events that have marked and shaped Canada. Every year, new subjects are added to the list of designations, which the board considers.

National historic sites are organized according to five broad themes: peopling the land, governing Canada, developing economies, building social and community life, and expressing intellectual and cultural life. These sites represent significant stages in the development of Canada, symbolize cultural traditions, and recognize meaningful people and locations of national historic significance.

As of 2018, there are 171 national historic sites administered by Parks Canada. The remainder are administered or owned by other levels of government or private entities. The sites are located across all 10 provinces and three territories. There are even two sites located in France, the Beaumont-Hamel Newfoundland Memorial and the Canadian National Vimy Memorial.

I have been very fortunate to have visited nearly half of Canada's historic sites, from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean and north to the Arctic Ocean. It is one of the pleasures in life that I treasure, and I hope to work toward the other half in my lifetime.

I had the pleasure of serving with the member for Cloverdale—Langley City on the environment and sustainable development committee for a year and a half. During that time, we heard from indigenous people from across the country on issues relating to the environment, sustainable development, and the use of their land. They have been on these lands for thousands of years, and they have a lot of knowledge and history to share with us.

In my own riding, I have a number of historic sites, almost all of which are related to the exploration of western Canada. These sites include the Rocky Mountain House, Jasper House, Yellowhead Pass, and Athabasca Pass.

In September, I attended the plaque unveiling of the Maligne Lake Chalet and Guest House in Jasper National Park. This is one of Canada's newest historic sites. Also in attendance was a representative of the Big Horn Stoney Nation, as well as the great-niece of explorer Fred Brewster. In 1908, members of the Stoney Nation drew a map by hand for explorer Mary Schaffer that led her to Maligne Lake in the Rocky Mountains near Jasper. Later, Fred Brewster built a chalet to lodge travellers who wanted to experience the great beauty the region has to offer. The site represents a century of shared history between explorers and the indigenous people in the region. In fact, the majority of national historic sites in Alberta, and many more across Canada, have their roots in the interaction between explorers and indigenous peoples. Indigenous involvement is an important component in the management and development of establishing historic sites and monuments in Canada.

When I lived in Fort St. James, British Columbia, I was privy to watching the opening of the new interpretive centre at Fort St. James National Historic Site, a former Hudson's Bay Company fur trading post. The site was recognized as a historic site while Hudson's Bay Company still operated it as a fur trading centre, up until 1952. In the wisdom of Parks Canada, it now rents out the old Hudson's Bay Company manager's home as a bed and breakfast. What a great way for Canadians to experience what it was like to live in the past. The site is located right next door to the Nak'azdli First Nation reserve, where I have many friends.

That is why I support the bill, which would ensure that first nations, Métis, and Inuit communities are represented on the National Historic Sites and Monuments Board.

I do have a concern with the bill that I know has been shared by my colleagues. Adding three members to the board would require additional government expenditures. This is something that cannot be done by a private member's bill without a royal recommendation. Mr. Speaker, I understand that you also expressed concern over this issue on November 22.

As far as I am aware, the member for Cloverdale-Langley City has not requested a royal recommendation. According to his comments on December 13, he is hoping to deal with this specific issue at the committee stage. In recognition of this, I want to support the suggestion from the member for Saskatoon—Grasswood to amend the bill to keep the number of members on the board the same and require that three of those members be first nations, Inuit, and Métis. This would eliminate the need to increase expenditures, and therefore eliminate the need to obtain a royal recommendation, while ensuring that there is representation from indigenous Canadians on the board. This could be done relatively easily.

We all know that this year, British Columbia, New Brunswick, Northwest Territories, and Ontario will all have vacant seats. All these vacancies are opportunities to appoint indigenous Canadians to the board and fulfill call to action 79 of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The final report of the TRC helped to explain this dark chapter in Canadian history, and the calls to action advance the process of reconciliation.

In the wake of the commission's work, it is important that the Government of Canada continue to work toward meaningful reconciliation. This bill is a step in that direction.

I want to thank the member for Cloverdale-Langley City for bringing this bill forward. I look forward to hearing how he plans on resolving some of the concerns that have been raised today.

I see I have a couple of minutes.

I had the great privilege, as the mayor of Fort St. John, to build an international monument on the side of the Alaska Highway near Charlie Lake. We built that monument when we heard the sad and very tragic story of 12 United States soldiers who lost their lives in 1942. There were 17 of them on a barge going across Charlie Lake, a lake just outside of the city of Fort St. John, and bad weather overcame them. The barge was swamped and went down with all 17 people. A local trapper, who lived on the shores of the lake at that time, saw the tragedy happen. He rowed out there and managed to save five of them. Some drowned as he was trying to get them back to shore, as they were hanging onto his boat in the cold, freezing water in April.

We contacted the U.S. government, and a bunch of us from the community of Fort St. John got together and built a monument to recognize those 12 heroes who lost their lives trying to build a highway to protect Canada and the United States. The monument sits at the edge of the lake. When one looks through a window in the monument it is possible to see where the boat went down on the horizon.

It is important to recognize historic events in Canada. I am glad the hon. member brought this bill forward.

Historic Sites and Monuments ActPrivate Members' Business

11:35 a.m.


Robert-Falcon Ouellette Liberal Winnipeg Centre, MB

[Member spoke in aboriginal language]

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to rise in the House today to debate Bill C-374, an act to amend the Historic Sites and Monuments Act, and to be doing so on Algonquin territory.

I fully support Bill C-374, which was introduced by my friend, the member for Cloverdale—Langley City, especially with the addition of a few amendments proposed by the Government of Canada. Bill C-374 will modernize the membership and the operational activities of the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada and provide for first nations, Inuit, and Métis representation on the board.

The proposed legislation represents an important step in Canada's journey towards reconciliation with indigenous peoples. The amendments proposed by the government will improve the original version of the private member's bill in a few important ways, for example by clarifying that the board may include up to 19 members, modernizing the language dealing with board members' expenses, and ensuring that the bill is more in keeping with call to action 79 of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Bill C-374 is based on a number of fundamental facts. Canada is a progressive country, and Canadians are people of principle who care about Canada's history, our nation, and the way it is commemorated. Canada and our attitude toward commemoration continue to evolve. Therefore, it only makes sense that a mechanism such as the board should evolve as well.

About a century ago, Canada established an advisory board on the conservation of national historic sites. One of the first official measures taken by that board was to adopt its current official name, the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada. The six members of the board then began identifying the most significant historic sites in the country and recognizing their importance with bronze plaques mounted on stone cairns. Some of those cairns still exist today.

In 1953, the Historic Sites and Monuments Act gave the board the legal authority to carry out its duties. The board's role of advising the government on historical issues has evolved since then. Today, the board advises the government on the designation of people, places, and events of national historic significance, on the designation and conservation of heritage railway stations and lighthouses, and on the preservation and commemoration of the grave sites of Canadian prime ministers.

Today, Canada's network of national heritage designations encompasses nearly 1,000 sites, 700 persons, and 500 events. This network celebrates our rich and varied heritage and provides opportunities for Canadians and other visitors to learn more about this land we call home. Each designation recounts a unique chapter of Canada's history and gives a temporal, geographic, and identity-based perspective to our country's larger story. Together, these designations show who we are, we we have done, and, in some cases, what we have lost along the way. These designations ultimately help people connect the past to the present and to think about the future.

I am proud to say that public nominations drive the commemoration process. Members of the public submit most of the subjects examined by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada. The participation of Canadians is important. The board carefully examines every nomination and often conducts additional research. The board currently has 16 members: one representative from each province and territory, one representative from the Canadian Museum of History, one representative from Parks Canada, and the Librarian and Archivist of Canada.

Every year, the board makes recommendations to the minister responsible for Parks Canada, who is authorized to designate symbols of national historic significance. Parks Canada is responsible for announcing new designations, organizing ceremonies, and installing and maintaining plaques.

Canada's designation system works well and is admirable to be sure, but many past designations and some of the criteria used to assess subjects are rooted in our country's colonial history. These shortcomings are becoming obvious to a growing number of Canadians.

As a progressive country, we need to take the appropriate steps. More and more Canadians are recognizing that there is no relationship more important than the relationship with indigenous peoples. Canada, as a country, and Canadians themselves have made considerable progress in recent years in the process of reconciliation. Two years ago, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission published calls to action, a list of 94 concrete measures to strengthen ties between Canada and indigenous peoples. This private member's bill is a direct response to the recommendations set out in call to action No. 79.

As my hon. colleagues have pointed out, indigenous peoples have been living in what is now known as Canada for thousands of years. Long before the Vikings established settlements on the east coast and Samuel de Champlain paddled up the river that flows past these very Parliament buildings, indigenous communities were flourishing across the country. Despite that fact, few of the historic designations go further back than the past 450 years, and very few of them highlight the many contributions of indigenous peoples. We have every reason to ask why this is so, and the answer to that question should prompt us to do better. No, we cannot change the past, but that should not prevent us from creating a better future and providing other perspectives on our past.

Parks Canada works with more than 300 indigenous partners and communities to preserve, restore, and promote our natural and cultural heritage sites. Bill C-374 will build on those achievements for the good of all Canadians.

Reconciliation demands that we recognize two fundamental facts: first, for centuries, indigenous peoples have been prevented from fully participating in society and benefiting from prosperity like everyone else; second, indigenous peoples have so much to contribute to Canada economically, socially, and culturally.

Canada's network of national historic designations should encompass all aspects of this great country's history and cultivate a sense of wonder at the people, places, and events not only of past centuries but also of past millennia. To better appreciate Canada and this country's defining moments, as well as its cultural and creative traditions, we need a wider lens that enables us to peer further back in time. We need to take steps to achieve that goal.

[Member spoke in aboriginal language]

Historic Sites and Monuments ActPrivate Members' Business

11:45 a.m.


John Aldag Liberal Cloverdale—Langley City, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise today to close debate on my private member's bill, Bill C-374, which seeks to amend the Historic Sites and Monuments Act and provide the much-needed inclusion of indigenous representation on the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada.

I would like to thank my hon. colleagues on both sides of the House who have risen to offer their perspectives and support for this legislation, including members for Saskatoon—Grasswood, Kootenay—Columbia, Saint Boniface—Saint Vital, Richmond—Arthabaska, Yukon, Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, Longueuil—Saint-Hubert, North Vancouver, Yellowhead, and Winnipeg Centre. In particular, I would like to thank Senator Murray Sinclair for his work at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

I would like to acknowledge that we are on the traditional territory of the Algonquin people. As my hon. colleagues know, this recognition is a small but important way in which to advance reconciliation. Similarly, Bill C-374 seeks to advance this very same goal of reconciliation. Drawn from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's call to action 79(i), this bill would enshrine first nations, Métis, and Inuit perspectives on the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada. These perspectives are crucial to ensuring that our designation of historic places, persons, and events reflects and incorporates the perspectives of indigenous peoples.

In their summary of the final report, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission discussed the assault on indigenous memory, reflecting the implications of the presence and absence of indigenous voices in commemorations and history telling:

One of the most significant harms to come out of the residential schools was the attack on Indigenous memory. The federal government's policy of assimilation sought to break the chain of memory that connected the hearts, minds, and spirits of Aboriginal children to their families, communities, and nations. Many, but not all, Survivors have found ways to restore these connections. They believe that reconciliation with other Canadians calls for changing the country's collective, national history so that it is based on the truth about what happened to them as children, and to their families, communities, and nations.

Our government has been steadfast in its commitment to advance reconciliation and build a renewed relationship with indigenous peoples based on recognition, rights, respect, co-operation, and partnership. As the Prime Minister put it in his remarks on a new legal framework with indigenous peoples, “To truly renew the relationship between Canada and indigenous peoples, not just for today but for the next 150 years...we need a comprehensive and far-reaching approach. We need a government-wide shift in how we do things.”

That process is taking place, with progress having been made on two-thirds of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's calls to action under federal and shared responsibility, including $2.6 billion in first nations education, collaboration for updated language to the newcomers' citizenship guide, and full support and steps taken to implement UNDRIP. However, the work does not end there. In fact, it is only a beginning.

Reconciliation is a journey. It is a Canadian issue and it requires each and every one of us to make a conscious and meaningful effort to advance it. That is why I have brought Bill C-374 before the House, to hopefully make a small but not insignificant contribution toward advancing reconciliation with indigenous peoples.

Through my 32-year career with Parks Canada working in commemorations, I witnessed first-hand the implications that the absence and presence of indigenous perspectives had in capturing the way in which we recognize historic people, places, and events. We cannot hope to repair and strengthen our relationships with indigenous peoples unless we take a new approach that moves beyond the colonial and paternalistic approaches of the past and allows us to more authentically commemorate our collective past.

Bill C-374 would provide the opportunity for us to advance meaningful reconciliation with indigenous peoples. It would implement the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's call to action 79(i) and ensure that indigenous perspectives are more directly considered in our commemorations process.

Members in this place no doubt recognize the critical importance of reconciliation and the need for us to move beyond outdated colonial structures and better integrate indigenous perspectives into government decision-making processes. When it comes to the involvement of indigenous peoples in commemorating our history, we must do better and we can do better. Bill C-374 offers the opportunity to do just that.

I would like, once again, to thank my hon. colleagues for joining me in the debate and consideration of this bill. I am hopeful that all members in this place will join me in supporting Bill C-374 and send it to committee for consideration.

Historic Sites and Monuments ActPrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

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

Historic Sites and Monuments ActPrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

Some hon. members


Historic Sites and Monuments ActPrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

Accordingly, the bill stands referred to the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development.

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

Sitting SuspendedHistoric Sites and Monuments ActPrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

We will now suspend until noon.

(The sitting of the House was suspended at 11:53 a.m.)

(The House resumed at 12 p.m.)


Opposition Motion—Phoenix Pay SystemBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders



Karine Trudel NDP Jonquière, QC


That, in the opinion of the House, the government committed a gross error in judgement when it operationalized the previous Conservative government’s Phoenix pay system over the clear objections of both the affected unions and departmental staff, and that the House call on the government to: (a) pay all employees correctly and on time, every time, for the work they do; (b) exempt those who have been overpaid by Phoenix from having to pay back the ‘gross’ amount, despite actually receiving a substantially lower ‘net’ amount; (c) compensate those in the public service who have experienced damages from Phoenix, both financial and otherwise; and (d) publicly apologize to all of those who have endured hardship as a result of the government's error.

Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to be sharing my speaking time with my colleague from New Westminster—Burnaby, to talk about a problem that has been plaguing hundreds of thousands of public service employees for months now. This is a colossal administrative scandal and an unprecedented financial and social drain.

The government committed an error in judgment when it green-lighted the costly second phase of the Phoenix pay system despite clear objections from the unions and affected departmental staff. The NDP is moving this motion to secure the future and heal the past.

First, we call on the government to:

(a) pay all employees correctly and on time, every time, for the work they do;

It is not normal for employees who work all week, some of them for more than 40 hours, and for contract workers to not be paid properly and in full for the hours they worked.

I worked at a convenience store when I was a student. I have fond memories of those days. Whether the store was busy or not so busy, I always got paid for the number of hours I worked.

It is unacceptable that we have to move a motion in the House to ask that federal public servants be properly compensated.

To come back to our motion, secondly, we are calling on the government to:

(b) exempt those who have been overpaid by Phoenix from having to pay back the ‘gross’ amount, despite actually receiving a substantially lower ‘net’ amount;

Unfortunately, the long and the short of it is that many people, including regular employees, contract workers, and even retirees keep getting payments they should not be, or overpayments. Some have received upwards of $50,000. That boggles the mind.

For example, a worker receiving a gross monthly overpayment of $1,000 will end up with $600 in their bank account after all the deductions have come off. We do not want that employee to be required to pay back $1,000 because that is not what ended up in the account. We want those who have been overpaid to have all the time and latitude they need to pay back only the net amount.

Third, we are calling on the government to:

(c) compensate those in the public service who have experienced damages from Phoenix, both financial and otherwise;

It is unfortunate, because many people have been and continue to be impacted because of the problems with the Phoenix pay system. We, as members of Parliament, are all being paid. We all had careers in the past and we will still have one when we are no longer MPs. When we receive our pay, it has to cover certain expenses. We have to pay for expenses related to our cars or our homes, and we have to buy food for our children.

When people do not receive the pay they were expecting for the hours worked, and they have to take an advance from their credit card, skip mortgage payments, and get into debt, they are seriously impacted both psychologically and financially.

We can name a number of people who now have a bad credit score. They have lost their sense of pride.

Blaming the former Conservative government no longer works. The Auditor General's report is clear: the current government failed to do what was required to fix the Phoenix pay system. I am not the one saying it. Public Services and Procurement Canada as well as Treasury Board did not recognize early enough the scope and severity of the problem with Phoenix.

That is why we are asking the government to accept responsibility for its poor management of the situation and to publicly apologize to all of those people who have endured hardship as a result of this situation. Unfortunately, there are many of them. Today, more than 193,000 public servants are affected by the government's failure to resolve the Phoenix pay system problems.

In my riding of Jonquière, no less than two-thirds of public servants have been impacted by the Phoenix fiasco. I could spend all week sharing the stories that I have unfortunately heard, or have had the misfortune of hearing, in my office. I was able to spend time with these people in order to understand their situations, and today I am proud to be their voice and I hope to bring about change.

One example is a young contractor who came to see me and who is owed more than $8,000. This job was perfect for him, since he could continue his studies and work at the same time, but the debt started piling up when he did not receive his pay. He has been owed $8,000 for two years, to the day. Although this young man should have had access to EI, since he is a contractor, the Phoenix pay system messed up his work hours and EI asked him to pay back the money. This whole situation is like quicksand, and, at the end of the day, workers are the ones paying the price. This is just one of so many examples.

I also heard from civilian employees on the military base who do not want to join the summer team because they cannot get paid on time. They have to talk to their employers to ask questions, and it never ends. These people go without income all summer.

I also had the opportunity to meet a woman while I was at the hair salon. She has been a victim of the Phoenix pay system for the past two years. She lives alone, her husband is deceased, so she is alone to pay the bills. She has no idea when she will get her money and be able to pay them.

The government is unable to tell these contract workers when they will be paid for their hours of work. When people have to accumulate credit card debt and are unable to pay their mortgage, it has a major impact on their family, the people around them and their financial situation.

The government promised public servants a good pay system that would allow them to manage their own requests through the wonders of technology. Now, it is threatening those workers to try to force them to pay back the costs associated with problems for which they are not responsible by a certain date. Workers are once again getting the short end of the stick.

For months, public servants have not been receiving their proper salaries, retirement pensions, and overtime payments because of Phoenix. Thousands of government employees are living with the financial stress of not being paid properly. Some workers are even turning down promotions because they know that they will not receive the pay increase associated with their additional duties. The worst part is that they do not even know when they will get paid. We are all worse off because we are depriving ourselves of high quality workers.

Thousands of government employees are living with the financial stress of not being paid properly, but that did not stop the senior executives responsible for overseeing Phoenix from receiving nearly $5 million in bonuses and performance pay over the past few years. That is ridiculous, when we know that many families are having trouble putting food on the table. The Liberal government continues to defend these executives who are receiving public funds when they did not fulfill their obligation to ensure that workers are paid for their hours of work each week.

In closing, it is high time that the Liberals give us a date by which they will fix this financial and human disaster.

Opposition Motion—Phoenix Pay SystemBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.

Gatineau Québec


Steven MacKinnon LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Services and Procurement

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for her speech. The minister and members of our parliamentary group will obviously have a lot more to say over the course of the day, but I will begin by asking my colleague from Jonquière a question.

As her motion states, the government committed a gross error in judgment when it operationalized the Phoenix pay system over the clear objections of departmental staff. I would ask her to provide any evidence she might have on the matter, since she did not do so in her speech.

Opposition Motion—Phoenix Pay SystemBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.


Karine Trudel NDP Jonquière, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for the question and for listening so closely to my speech. It is quite simple. The unions and departmental officials issued a number of warnings. There were countless newspaper articles. This is documented. There were investigations.

I would also say to my colleague that it was his government that implemented phase two. February 28 will mark two years already. It was his government that pushed the red button before any testing was done, before listening to the unions and departments.

It is easy for them to wash their hands of this and say they had nothing to do with it, but they were in charge. Just look at what happened in Australia. There were warning signs, and testimonies. A 30-second search on Google will spit out all the failings and the fiasco of the Phoenix pay system. It is not complicated. The government should have stopped for five minutes before pushing the red button. It should have researched the situation properly and not implemented the system before doing all the proper testing.

Opposition Motion—Phoenix Pay SystemBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.


Peter Julian NDP New Westminster—Burnaby, BC

Mr. Speaker, I sincerely thank the hon. member for Jonquière for her excellent speech and for being there for public service employees across this country. I think that is extremely important. She is fighting hard for the rights of those workers.

I would like her to tell us a little more about Australia. The same debacle happened in Queensland, and the Liberals should have known that. The Queensland government had everything fixed in four months. I would like the member for Jonquière to tell us why this situation has been dragging on for two years. The Liberals have done nothing, and yet when similar problems occurred in other places, they were able to fix everything in four months.

Why are the Liberals dragging their feet?

Opposition Motion—Phoenix Pay SystemBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.


Karine Trudel NDP Jonquière, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question. I mentioned Australia earlier. According to several documents, Australia unfortunately had the same problem and warned Canada to not go ahead with the system, because it does not work. A number of steps were taken.

My advice to the government would be to listen to the unions. The unions are ready. We also have public servants who specialize in computer science who could work on this and help. We need to listen to the solutions they are proposing. Maybe we need to scrap the Phoenix pay system and build a new one with specialists on the ground, people who are in the best position to make changes, improvements, and even introduce programs that are more suitable. Based on what we are seeing now, this system is a complete failure. We need to listen to those people.

I urge the government to follow the example of Australia, where a similar problem was fixed in four months. In Australia, people pitched in and worked hard to resolve the situation. That is what we are asking the government to do. This is not about passing the buck. We want the situation to be resolved and ask that workers be paid for the hours that they work each week. If public servants want to volunteer, they will find a charity that needs their help. Here, we are asking that they be paid properly.

Opposition Motion—Phoenix Pay SystemBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.


Peter Julian NDP New Westminster—Burnaby, BC

Mr. Speaker, the member of Parliament for Jonquière gave a very eloquent speech. I will say that I was very disturbed by the questioning coming from the Liberal side, but I will come back to that in a moment.

I will start, as I think all members of Parliament need to start, by paying tribute to the incredible diligence and dedication of the public servants who run our government and provide services to our citizens right across the length and breadth of this land. They are incredibly dedicated. They are people who give their lives to public service. In the national capital region, in my riding of New Westminster—Burnaby, in every part of the country, they make sure that citizens receive good, quality services. Public servants are an incredibly dedicated group.

We are now facing a situation in this country that has no parallel in any other industrialized country. We see a situation where public servants, working with such dedication, do not receive the paycheque they so richly deserve at the end of the week all because of government mismanagement. It is hard to find a parallel. It is only in terms of warfare or insurrection that public servants end up in the situation such as we have here. We have a government that simply refuses to take responsibility and refuses to take the important measures that would actually lead to fixing the system.

On February 28, 2016, the Liberals had been in power for a number of months, and they made the decision to operationalize the Phoenix system. Now, we just heard a very disturbing question from a Liberal MP trying to say that it was not their fault. I find that deplorable. The heart of our democratic system is governments taking responsibility for the decisions they make. Yes, of course, the Conservatives should not have started down the path of putting Phoenix in place, but the Liberals had the choice to make, and they chose on February 28, 2016, after months in power, to operationalize Phoenix.

What should they have done? As my colleague the member for Jonquière just pointed out, people in the public service had pointed out the problems that would arise with Phoenix, but the Liberals ignored them. It would have taken a 30-second Google search for them to find out what had happened in Queensland with a similar system.

In Queensland, they did not have the benefit of a debacle occurring with a similar system before, and they moved forward with IBM and put in place a system that was catastrophic. Within weeks they realized that public servants in the Queensland area were not getting their paycheques. Within weeks the Queensland government realized it had to take action. Paradoxically, for a system that was supposed to save them money, they ended up paying over $1.2 billion to fix the boondoggle that was the Phoenix-like system in Queensland.

We should have learned from that error. We should have had maybe one Liberal MP just do a Google search and find out if they should have put the system in place. The Liberals had been in power for months, and they had this important decision to make: move forward with the Phoenix system on February 28, 2016, or take a step back, the way so many public servants requested they do, not put it in place and save the public money, and save the public servants the heartache of working as hard as they do and yet not receiving a paycheque at the end.

The Liberals made that choice. In this democratic system, they are the government. They made the decision. They put Phoenix in place, and today we are saying that they have to fix it. They have to fix the problems with Phoenix.

What has the impact been? The Liberals could have avoided it. They could have learned from the Queensland example. They could have rapidly moved once it became evident that Phoenix was a debacle, that public servants were not getting their paycheques, that there were catastrophic personal and family impacts for the bad decision they made on February 28, 2016.

In the Queensland case, they were able to fix it in four months with the investment of money. Here with Phoenix, it is two years later and the system has not been fixed. The government does not even seem interested in fixing it. The Liberals love to point fingers at the Conservatives. I would too, if the Conservatives were at fault. The Liberals made that operational decision, and the Liberals have to fix what they broke.

What has this meant? I have had public servants visit me in my office in New Westminster—Burnaby with tears in their eyes. They are so dedicated to the country. They believe so strongly in public service. They want to give to the population and serve our citizens, yet they are going deeper and deeper into debt because they are not getting a paycheque. Some have lost their homes, as we know. There is the embarrassment of public servants who are working full time going into a grocery store and not being able to buy food for their children because their credit cards are maxed out. The government has done nothing to fix it.

In each one of those cases, and there are thousands of these tragic cases, the emotional stress takes a toll on the family and on the individual. It is not a little thing to work full time and not receive a paycheque. Then to compound this, when there are occasional overpayments, the Liberal government made the decision to start doing what most loan sharks do across the country. It is not a laughing matter. When a public servant receives a paycheque that is a little higher than it should be, instead of asking to be paid back for the amount that the public servant actually received, the Liberal government has vastly inflated that amount. Yes, in some cases the public servant was overpaid, but is now facing the stress of having to pay back far more money than was actually received. That again was a Liberal decision. That again is something that is addressed in our motion. We say very strongly that this kind of activity has to stop.

It is not just the toll on the individual; it is also the toll on communities. As we know, cities like Prince Albert have written to the government saying that it is not only the toll on families and public servants but the toll on the whole community. Businesses are impacted because public servants are not getting their money. Local businesses are struggling now because of the government's refusal to fix the system. The impact goes all the way down the line.

I would encourage people who are listening today to contact their city councillors and have them write, as Prince Albert did, to the federal government and say that it has to fix this system. The impact has been tragic on so many Canadians who are of good faith, hard-working, and go to work every day and want to serve the country. All they ask for in return is a fair paycheque so they can take care of their family, pay their rent, and put food on the table. That is not asking too much.

For two years now this has festered, with the government refusing to take the actions that the Queensland government did. It fixed it in 120 days, albeit with a significant investment. However, as the Auditor General has mentioned, the Liberal government failed public servants in this country. Yes, that bad decision will cost us $1 billion or possibly more, but it needs to be fixed and those public servants need to be compensated.

Liberal MPs will have to make a decision when this comes to a vote. I am encouraging public servants across the country, who work so hard, to take time to phone or email their local member of Parliament and tell their MP to vote yes on this motion. We cannot have this become a partisan issue, where Liberals say, “We are not going to take responsibility, so we are not going to vote for the motion.” We have to fix this system. We have to respect our public servants. We have to respect the communities they serve as well. We have to respect them, and that means adopting this motion this week.

That means every member of Parliament will have to make a choice. Do they choose politics or do they choose to support the hard-working public servants who are the backbone of public administration in Canada?

Opposition Motion—Phoenix Pay SystemBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

Gatineau Québec


Steven MacKinnon LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Services and Procurement

Mr. Speaker, I did not have much of an opportunity to speak in my first language earlier, so I will now try to speak in the other official language.

This is a very serious charge. The motion says, “the government committed a gross error in judgment when it operationalized the...Phoenix pay system over the clear objections of...departmental staff..”.

The member for Jonquière has failed to produce any substantiation for that allegation. This is in the motion, a solemn motion, in front of the House of Commons.

I would ask the member, like I asked the member for Jonquière, could he produce for the House documented evidence of the very serious charge and the serious allegation that his party is making in the motion?

Opposition Motion—Phoenix Pay SystemBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.


Peter Julian NDP New Westminster—Burnaby, BC

Seriously, Mr. Speaker, that is unbelievable. I hope that member is not representative of his party. If he is representative of his party, what he has just shown public servants right across this country is a profound lack of respect.

The member wants evidence that Phoenix has failed. He wants evidence that it failed in Queensland. He wants evidence that unions spoke out about Phoenix before his government implemented it on February 28. Is he serious?

I expected the Liberals to try to weave out of this, but I did not expect them to deny the problems with Phoenix, to deny the problems in Australia, to deny that unions came forward and said there are problems with Phoenix, and to deny that the Liberals operationalized what has led to catastrophic repercussions for public servants across the country.

I would hope that Liberal MPs disavow what was just said in the House. I hope that Liberal MPs will vote for their constituents and vote yes for the motion when it comes up for a vote later this week.

Opposition Motion—Phoenix Pay SystemBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.


Tony Clement Conservative Parry Sound—Muskoka, ON

Further to that, Mr. Speaker, and to support the hon. member in his response, if the hon. member opposite on the Liberal benches wants evidence, it is called the Auditor General's report, which those members solemnly said they agreed with and would support and are now denying.

Would the hon. member think it would be germane to the NDP motion if he were to hear that the minister in charge of the file on the Phoenix pay system during the Conservative rule, the hon. member for Haldimand—Norfolk, had a presentation made to her in July 2015, wherein the people in the bureaucracy responsible for the pay system said, “We are ready to go. Please press the start button.” She refused to press the start button because she realized there were still problems with the system and it was not ready to go.

It did not occur during a Conservative government, because the minister responsible did the right thing and did not press the start button. The Liberals did press the start button when they were not ready and when there were still problems in the system. Is that germane to the motion?

Opposition Motion—Phoenix Pay SystemBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.


Peter Julian NDP New Westminster—Burnaby, BC

Yes, of course, it would be, Mr. Speaker.

However, I am still stunned by the lack of remorse from members on the Liberal side. I did not expect this. I expected some weaving back and forth. The Liberal government generally does not take much responsibility for its own actions. I expected that, but I did not expect an outright denial of Liberals being involved in the decision-making process, pushing the start button, operationalizing the system, while knowing that it was going to have catastrophic results. All of that is on the record, as the member pointed out by mentioning the Auditor General's report. The Auditor General said that the Liberal government failed public servants. The evidence is there. I did not expect to hear Liberals basically say, the way that Donald Trump would say, “Well no, you are all public service or inventing your facts.”

This is not fake news. This is a tragic reality for far too many public servants. The Liberal government has to make right what it broke, and that is why Liberal MPs have to vote yes on the motion this week.

Opposition Motion—Phoenix Pay SystemBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

Delta B.C.


Carla Qualtrough LiberalMinister of Public Services and Procurement

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the debate on the motion put forward in the name of the hon. member for Jonquière. I thank the hon. member for her initiative, which gives us all an opportunity to discuss this very important issue with respect to the problems with the Phoenix pay system and their impact on the everyday lives of hard-working public servants and their families.

I have said this before and I will say this again: It is completely unacceptable that our hard-working public servants are not being paid properly. Every day, I am troubled by stories of hardship, anxiety, and stress caused by the failings of the pay system. I hear from and speak regularly with affected public servants from across the country. I read their stories in the news, and I hear regularly from unions about the personal toll that this is taking.

I hear about the family who has a hard time making ends meet during a maternity leave, of the parent who had to tighten his belt during the holidays to buy gifts for his children, and of the young professional who is worried about accepting a promotion in case she will not get a paycheque. These stories remind me daily of the impact on the lives of Canadians, and they are heartbreaking.

I want to assure every public servant and their families that our government is doing everything necessary to resolve this intolerable situation. We recognize that we have lost their trust and realize that they have been more than patient.

Since I have been named the Minister of Public Services and Procurement, I have put a renewed focus on clear communication with employees, in a genuine effort to be open and transparent. As we work toward stabilizing the system and resolving outstanding transactions, it is important for public servants to understand the nature of the issues, the work being done to address them, and, most importantly, the support that is available when experiencing Phoenix-related pay issues.

I will take this moment to call on public servants who are still experiencing pay issues to contact their manager directly to discuss the situation. Managers should be the first point of contact when experiencing Phoenix pay issues.

We know that the strain of pay issues is also being felt by the numerous public servants working hard to resolve this issue. I want to acknowledge the employees at the pay centre in Miramichi, satellite offices, and the departments and agencies across the public service who are working hard to help their fellow public service colleagues. I deeply appreciate their tireless efforts.

Resolving employee pay issues has been the most important file on my desk since my appointment as Minister of Public Services and Procurement six months ago. The challenges are complex and numerous. The project was a long time in the making, and the problems run deep.

Public Services and Procurement Canada is responsible for administering the pay of more than 290,000 federal public servants in the over 100 departments and agencies that make up the federal public service.

The need to modernize the public service pay system was raised in 2008 by the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates. Shortly thereafter, in 2009, the Conservatives began to make plans to transform the administration of pay services. In 2011, the Conservative government acquired the PeopleSoft pay system from IBM and decided to centralize front line pay services for the entire government in a new public service pay centre in Miramichi, New Brunswick.

The goal was to acquire a cost-effective, sustainable pay system. However, it goes without saying that this transformation was an utter failure.

An independent review conducted by Goss Gilroy in 2017 provided a detailed analysis and some 17 lessons learned in six different areas. According to the report, the project failed because the government underestimated its complexity.

Why can the government not now, in 2018, ensure that its employees are paid properly and on time?

The implementation of such a complex business transformation initiative across the entire Government of Canada was a massive undertaking that I believe history will record was set up to fail. The reality is that the Harper Conservatives botched the Phoenix pay system from the start. They chose the high-risk, cost-cutting route that has landed us in this present situation.

To put it bluntly, this project was designed to save money. It should have been focused on serving employees. As we have seen, it accomplished neither. Technology was stripped of important functionality to meet budgets and timelines. The Conservative government chose not to purchase expert training and change management support, and instead tried to handle this internally as cheaply as possible. It ended up being ineffective and insufficient.

I cannot overemphasize the extent to which the lack of proper governance oversight, business processes, technical and human resource capacity, and change management in the early stages of this initiative have contributed to getting us to where we are today. The Harper Conservative government spent $309 million to create an unproven and flawed pay system, and prematurely booked savings of $70 million per year.

The design and implementation were rushed and staff were not trained. It was so rushed that in the summer of 2015, the function of supporting retroactive transactions was postponed indeterminately. Years later, the decision to descope this feature still has a significant impact on employees accepting acting positions, and on pay advisers processing collective agreements.

There was no change management strategy in place. In fact, 700 specialized compensation staff were fired before Phoenix was launched. Many were given notice as early as April of 2014. Perhaps the former president of the Treasury Board, the hon. member for Parry Sound—Muskoka, will help us understand the decisions that were made under his watch. It seems that he made decisions about slashing the back office without understanding the full impact of what they were doing. The second report of the Auditor General, which we expect later this spring, may provide further information and insight into these decisions and their impacts.

When Phoenix was launched, the existing pay system slated for decommissioning was in poor shape and at high risk of failure. Senior officials advised that Phoenix was ready to go. Let me be clear: there was no other option. The employees responsible for delivering pay service using the old system had already been informed that their positions were cut, and many had already left.

Once launched, the Phoenix problems ran so deep that it took time to understand what was wrong and identify solutions to stabilize the system. In addition, there was a backlog of 40,000 existing employee cases that were unresolved from the previous system. To make matters worse, the learning curve associated with Phoenix was underestimated, so transactions were not processed as quickly as planned. More importantly, there was inadequate capacity. The public service no longer had enough experienced and knowledgeable pay experts in its ranks to help transition to the new system. Those 700-plus compensation advisers would have been a game changer had they not been cut by our predecessors.

How did our government respond? We opened satellite offices and hired over 200 compensation staff. These were critical first steps in helping to make some progress in reducing the backlog. We shifted resources, at the request of the union, to prioritize transactions involving parental and disability leave. As a result, those transactions have been processed on time.

However, as the 2016 tax season approached, employees were rightfully concerned with the implications of overpayment for their tax returns. The resources required to handle the overpayments and issue accurate tax slips meant that the backlog of outstanding transactions increased.

Last spring, the department shifted its attention to implementing the 21 collective agreements that our government had signed with public service unions. I should note that these agreements had been ignored by the Conservatives. When we took office, the Harper Conservatives had let all 27 public service union collective agreements expire. Some had been expired for several years. Our government made negotiating these agreements a priority, and, as we said, we have successfully negotiated 21 agreements, which will cover over 90% of represented public servants. This is a great news story, one that has been lost in the shadow of the irresponsible behaviour of the previous Harper Conservative government.

The job of implementing these collective agreements further exacerbated the strain on the pay system. Implementation added hundreds of thousands of transactions to the pay system. We had to calculate retroactive payments going back several years in some cases, and this required data to be pulled from the government's now decommissioned pay system, as well as requiring significant manual calculations. These agreements should have been dealt with much sooner. The Harper Conservatives' adversarial relationships with unions created an added pressure on the new pay system. Again, the department reassigned compensation advisers to process these agreements. The number of outstanding pay transactions continued to rise.

As the government has needed to respond to pay problems, Public Services and Procurement Canada has also been looking at the root causes. One of the major causes for pay delays was the inconsistencies between Phoenix and the patchwork of 32 HR systems in place across government. It is because pay is directly linked to human resources processes that we saw that an integrated pay and HR approach was necessary to address issues. It was also clear that one department alone could not identify or implement all the solutions. A whole-of-government approach was needed.

Addressing those challenges is front and centre in our approach. In November, the President of the Treasury Board and I outlined a series of measures focused on bringing the pay system to a point of stability. Our efforts to stabilize the pay system fall into four broad areas: governance and informed decisions; improved processes and technologies; increased capacity and service; and partnership and engagement.

We know that a whole-of-government approach with strong governance and oversight is crucial. We are addressing mistakes from the past, but the solutions remain imperative today. This is why the Prime Minister established the working group of ministers to ensure that all ministers and deputy ministers were focused on addressing the issues of paying public servants.

We have all hands on deck. An integrated team of senior officials from my department and Treasury Board Secretariat is leading an overall effort to stabilize the pay system, both at the pay centre and across the government. A strong governance model that brings together views and realities from across the public service is supporting the work of the integrated team. It is supported by a deputy ministers oversight committee and interdepartmental working groups.

Our government is also undertaking significant initiatives that underlay the stabilizing of the Phoenix pay system and will improve payroll processing for our employees. These measures include: implementation of legislative changes to deductions and tax rates; improvements to system functionality to process and manage retroactive payments; stabilize payroll processing and HR to pay integration, among others.

We have also signed a new application manage service contract with IBM to shift to outcome-based management on key functional streams. To improve process and technology, we are addressing the root causes of human resources-to-pay system problems, especially the way Phoenix interacts with these 32 HR systems.

Our current human resources pay and finance processes and practices do not align with Phoenix, resulting in many time-consuming manual calculations and delays for employees waiting for their pay. Solving these issues means looking at how pay requests are generated in departments, the HR processes to enter, approve, and send transactions to Phoenix.

This whole-of-government approach to examine and adjust these processes and practices should have been done well before the implementation of Phoenix. The integrated team is putting in place much-needed changes in how we manage our business processes from human resources to pay. We have to ensure the pay system is aligned from start to finish, from the initial staffing action to pay request to pay receipt.

We are also redesigning the HR processes that are creating many of the pay issues employees are experiencing, such as transfers in and out, termination, and pay for acting positions. We are also looking at how work is organized so transactions can be handled more efficiently. For instance, at the pay centre, we have piloted a new approach that organizes compensation experts and support staff into pods that specialize in specific departments on transaction types. Early results are promising and suggest that this approach can help reduce our backlog.

There is no question that the previous government's decision to lay off 700 experienced pay advisers had massive consequences. We are rebuilding that capacity, and I want to thank the public service unions for their valuable support for our efforts. Last May, the government invested $142 million in capacity and technology. An additional $56 million in new funding is included in this year's Supplementary Estimates (C). The bulk of this funding is being used to add capacity to the pay centre and satellite offices.

We have provided a suite of measures for recruiting and retaining pay advisers to help us do the work that needs to be done. We have more than doubled the number of pay advisers since Phoenix was launched, and we continue to seek out new ways to serve our employees better.

My department has also partnered with Veterans Affairs Canada to set up new temporary pay offices to process transactions in Charlottetown and Kirkland Lake. From day one, our focus has been on helping employees, in marked contrast to the approach taken by Mr. Harper's Conservatives. That is why there will soon be 100 people in our client contact centre who will have access to Phoenix, which means they will be able to respond directly to employees calling about pay problems and provide them with more details.

Lastly, we are reinforcing our partnerships and mobilization. Opinions and feedback from the unions, departments, and experts in human resources, pay, and technology are essential for getting this right.

A union-management committee on Phoenix meets regularly to discuss problems and potential solutions. We also provide departments and organizations with monthly dashboards to better orient decision-making. We are committed to implementing lessons learned as mentioned in the Goss Gilroy and Auditor General reports so that we will never again find ourselves in this kind of situation.

We are going forward with these measures, but it will take time and concerted efforts across all departments. There is no easier quick fix for the problem to fix the system. To think otherwise would see us repeat the mistakes that got us here: poor planning, rushed analysis, and an overly narrow focus driven by savings not service to employees.

The well-documented history of this file provides the reasons why we are having this debate, but I am not offering it as an excuse. To be clear, we did not create this problem, but it is ours to fix, and we will.

As a responsible employer, we will do right by our employees. Nowhere is this better demonstrated than on the issue of training.

We may never know how many pay problems could have been avoided had the previous government made proper investments in training. I will let the former president of the Treasury Board Secretariat explain why training was not a priority for his government. Better training is a key solution moving forward, and we are also looking at other ways to help employees. One of the most vexing problems being faced is overpayments, more specifically, how repayments are being handled.

One of the particularities of federal tax law requires employees who were overpaid in one tax year to repay what they received plus tax withholdings in the following tax year. This is complicated and unfair for employees who are already under strain and stress. We are working with the unions to address the situation so we can ensure no employees are out of pocket because of pay issues.

Clearly, public service pay is complex and issues with Phoenix have only made things more difficult. Understandably, many employees want to know why we did not simply scrap Phoenix and implement a new pay system. We are drawing from lessons learned, expert advice, and are exploring longer-term options to ensure we have a sustainable, reliable, and efficient pay system.

While we explore other options, we must forge ahead on addressing the Phoenix pay system issues and backlog. Public servants deserve a modern, state-of-the-art pay system. Our immediate goal is to stabilize the pay system, but we are exploring longer-term options to ensure we have the system. We have to keep paying close to 300,000 public servants every two weeks, so we have no immediate choice but to bring Phoenix to a point of stability, where pay is being provided accurately and on time. This is my number one priority.

We will get through these pay problems, but there is much hard work ahead. As I have said many times, we will leave no stone unturned.

With regard to the motion at hand, our government supports the spirit of the motion. This being said, the motion contains elements that are factually inaccurate. The NDP claims that our government made a gross error in judgment in implementing Phoenix. This is not the case. The die was cast when the previous government sacked hundreds of compensation advisers and the previous pay system was slated for decommissioning. There was no system to go back to.

The NDP also states that the system was implemented against the advice of our employees. With all due respect, there is conclusive evidence that demonstrates officials advised in favour of moving forward with Phoenix.

Opposition Motion—Phoenix Pay SystemBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.


Karine Trudel NDP Jonquière, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for her recap of the Phoenix pay system. I would just like to remind the Liberals that they have been in power for two years and that they were in power when the system was launched on February 28, 2016. They can blame the Conservatives for initiating the process all they want, but they are the ones responsible for launching phase two. We do not need to argue over who is at fault because they are the ones who gave it the green light. So much harm has been done, and I encourage them to read what public servants and unions have written in condemnation. There have been several press conferences. Public servants have appealed to the government to find solutions and figure out how to pay them what they are owed.

I would like to know if the minister has any plans to compensate people whose credit score has been affected or who have suffered psychological distress because not getting paid has cost them everything.