Madam Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Portneuf—Jacques-Cartier.
I wish it were unnecessary for me to stand here today to speak to this bill. I wish that harassment and violence were actions of long ago and things of the past. I wish that discrimination were eradicated with the movement of Martin Luther King, Jr. and that when women were granted equal rights before the law, including the right to vote and own property, they were also guaranteed fair treatment at all times. I wish there were no need for Bill C-65, that it could be ruled redundant, outdated, or altogether unnecessary, but sadly, that is not the case, so here I am speaking to this piece of legislation.
“You look more beautiful than I remember,” he says, as he stares her up and down.
“Nice skirt. It shows off the best parts of you,” he says, as he leans over to get a better look.
“It's just fact. Men are better MPs than women,” he says to his colleague. “Women are too emotional to make good leaders.”
“It is really nice to see you,” he says, as he moves his hand over her knee and toward her thigh.
These are just a few examples of the comments and gestures women all too often face in this place and in other workplaces across this country. They might seem like innocent or playful comments or gestures to some, but they are, in fact, altogether inappropriate and unacceptable. While women are not the sole targets of harassment and violence, it is right to point out that women disproportionately are the recipients of unwanted gestures and comments like these.
That said, it is important for me to state that the issue before the House is not a male-only issue, nor is it a female-only issue, nor is it a political partisan issue. In fact, the matter before the House is largely a power issue. Specifically, in this place, it has to do with the power imbalance that exists between employees and employers. Staff find themselves at the mercy of their employers. When it comes to hiring and firing, MPs have complete freedom to do so at will. At present, there are no overarching protocols or mechanisms of accountability in place to give guidance to this structure. An MP can hire or fire someone simply because he or she wishes to do so.
For every paid staffer, there are also dozens of interns who are looking for jobs, which then leaves staff having to be very careful about whether they report an incident. After all, they might lose their jobs, or they fear some other form of reprisal.
We heard at committee that those who are mistreated by their employers are often afraid to speak out, because they fear what the repercussions might be. This imbalance of power without proper preventive measures and reporting mechanisms can create an environment that is incredibly unsafe for people to work in and can leave staff feeling as if they have no other option than to keep silent.
For these reasons, my colleagues and I welcome the initiative the government has put forward through Bill C-65. We have to work together as parliamentarians to create an environment that is free of harassment and violence, and to this end, those of us on this side of the House are committed.
As members of Canada's Parliament, we are meant to serve as role models. That is part of our job. We should strive for excellence in everything we do. We are called to function with the utmost level of integrity; to treat others with dignity, respect, and honour; to be humble; to work hard; and to serve the betterment of others. This is true public service. It is what we signed up for. That is why we are in this place.
Bill C-65 is only a first step. On its own, the document before the House is not enough to put a complete stop to harassment and violence within this workplace or any other publicly funded workplace. Instead, I would contend that a culture change is needed. It is incumbent upon each and every one of us as members, as senators, as employers, and as role models to act rightly and to be above reproach at all times. We must take personal responsibility for our actions, and we must choose to treat others well. I will comment further on this in just a moment, but first permit me to summarize what Bill C-65 would achieve.
Right now, federally regulated workplaces, including Parliament Hill, are without a streamlined approach when it comes to policies and rules on harassment and violence. Bill C-65 would actually amend the Canada Labour Code to require employers to do all they can to prevent harassment and violence from taking place in the workplace. Should a concern arise, the employer would then be required to investigate and report any incident brought to his or her attention. As part of this initiative, federally regulated employers would be required to have a sexual harassment policy in place and to report to Parliament how many complaints had been put forward over the course of time and how they had been handled.
We have always supported the intent of this bill, but before it went to committee, we had a few amendments we wanted to see made. Although we feel the legislation could be further strengthened by taking a stronger stand on behalf of victims, we are pleased with this bill overall and with where we are landing.
There were a number of Conservative amendments that were adopted. One of the biggest concerns I had when this bill was first introduced was the fact that the labour minister would have the power to investigate himself or herself if a complaint were brought against him or her by an employee. This concerned me because it would put the employees who work for the minister in a very precarious situation. If one goes to their boss to complain about their boss only to have them investigate themselves, then that is a problem. We were able to put forward an amendment to fix this, which would take the power out of the hands of the minister and instead put it with the deputy minister, thereby allowing for the protection of a victim who might come forward with a complaint.
Furthermore, my Conservative colleagues and I successfully introduced an amendment that would protect against political interference regardless of the party that might be in power at the time. Originally, the legislation would have allowed the minister to conduct the investigation into any member of Parliament in this House. It would mean that the minister of labour could investigate a Conservative one way, an NDP another way, a Bloc Québécois another way, and a Liberal member another way. It would not have set a complete streamlined fashion by which all these investigations would have to be completed. It was partisan in nature.
Therefore, it also concerned me that there could be potential for political interference given the party of the day, whichever party that might be. This problem was resolved at committee by amending the legislation, again by putting the investigative authority or power into the hands of the deputy minister and out of the hands of the partisan minister who serves as minister for labour. Ultimately, this would preserve the integrity of the investigative process. I am extremely proud of the work accomplished in committee, and the fact that it had all-party support going forward.
Nevertheless, there is one amendment I feel very strongly should have made its way into this legislation, and unfortunately it did not. As Conservatives, we always take a stand for the victim—always. To this end, we introduced an amendment that would implement strict timelines for investigations into incidents of harassment to make sure that a victim's concern would be dealt with in a timely manner. Unfortunately, this amendment was voted down by the Liberals. As a result, an employee could effectively make an official complaint and the investigation could take one year, five years, or 10 years without there being any sort of recourse for that complainant. This concerns me, because that means the victim would be tied up in this process of a long investigation, perhaps could be re-victimized in that process, and there would be nothing that he or she could do about it. There needs to be a timeline placed on this in order to protect those coming forward with their vulnerable stories.
While this legislation would help create a more wholesome work environment, I believe more is required than just policy. As stated earlier, I believe it is incumbent upon each one of us in parliamentary roles to ensure we are doing all we can to prevent harassment and violence, including sexual harassment and violence, from becoming an issue in the first place. We can do this in a few ways. We can have clear, comprehensive policies in place, and make our expectations very well known within our offices. Furthermore, we can participate in sensitivity training and ask our staff to do the same.
When we witness inappropriate conduct, we can also call it out for what it is. It is not okay to make sexual jokes, touch without consent, intimidate others, use rude or insulting language or gestures, use derogatory language or name-calling, make sex-related comments about a person's physical characteristics or actions, and it is certainly not okay to share intimate photos. These are the types of behaviour that we can start to call out in this place, thereby allowing ourselves to participate as a collective in creating an environment where everyone gets to thrive.
To see lasting change, I believe a cultural change is necessary. This is a matter of the human heart, and we will need to work together in order to achieve the culture we desire in this place. This policy before the House is one good step in that direction. It is incumbent upon all of us to make a personal choice to participate in the lasting changes.