Madam Speaker, I wish I could say it is an honour to speak today to Bill C-11, the government's latest attempt to contain disclosures of wrongdoing in the public sector, but the bill tabled by the government is really a disappointment.
We are only in the second week of Parliament and already it is obvious how the government intends to operate. Last week I listened to the same throne speech for at least the third or fourth time. It has hardly changed since the Liberals took office more than a decade ago. They pull it out, dust it off and make Canadians listen to it all over again. I guess they have to keep using it because it is so hard to think of new ways to say absolutely nothing for 45 minutes.
Then I took part in an emergency debate on BSE. Why are we still talking about this issue a year and a half after the U.S. border has been closed to Canadian beef? How many emergency debates has Parliament heard on this issue? How many more will we have to hear before we correct the problem?
Bill C-11 is yet another case of déjà vu. It has all the major deficiencies we saw in the government's last phony attempt to legislate in this area.
The government has been touting Bill C-11 as a major revision of Bill C-25 but in reality only the window dressing has changed. The last bill would have created a toothless commissioner who would hear a disclosure of wrongdoing and then feed it right back into the system that was responsible for the wrongdoing in the first place. Of course everyone with any interest in the bill said that it was a farce. Now the government says that Bill C-11 addresses everyone's concern. That could not be further from the truth.
Instead of setting up a distinct office, the bill authorizes the president of the Public Service Commission to receive disclosures of wrongdoings from public servants and to investigate them.
Under the bill, the president of the Public Service Commission will report to a minister and not directly to Parliament.
This is exactly the same reporting system that the last bill had, and the exact reporting system that caused the Public Service Alliance of Canada, the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada, the public service ethics officer, every opposition party and the media to condemn the last government bill. I do not know why the government thinks it will get an easy ride on this bill.
The reporting process proposed in Bill C-11 creates opportunities for the same kind of interference that apparently took place with respect to an audit report on the sponsorship program that was prepared for Public Works and Government Services. Somewhere between the draft and the final report it was mysteriously watered down so it did not raise any of the alarms it should have raised.
One cannot make someone responsible for rooting out and correcting wrongdoing in government and then have that person report to someone in government. One cannot tell someone “We cabinet ministers are going to give you a well paying job, decide how much power you have, how much you will get paid, how high your operating budget is and how long you stay in office. Now sit down with me and tell me what is wrong with government”. It just does not work.
Anyway, the president of the Public Service Commission needs to receive disclosures of wrongdoings in order to prepare a report. Here again, the Liberals have seen to it that the bill is worded in such a way as to deter disclosures of wrongdoings instead of supporting them.
The Public Service Commission works hand in hand with cabinet, Treasury Board and deputy heads of government departments to address all kinds of issues concerning terms and conditions of public service employment. Public servants regard the Public Service Commission as part of senior management structure. They will not be inclined to disclose wrongdoings in their departments to anyone so closely tied to their departmental and political bosses.
I was a member of the public service for 22 years. I served as a union president of an association in Sudbury, Ontario and later in management in Sudbury, Ottawa and Cornwall.
You can believe me when I say that most public servants will think twice before disclosing any wrongdoing by their bosses to the president of the Public Service Commission. This government institution is just not the right one to listen to and protect whistleblowers.
What is needed for this job is a truly and completely independent body, its resources, operations and chain of accountability must be completely separate from the government of the day and from the public service.
The bill would require public servants to report wrongdoings of their masters to their masters. In fact, it expressly states that public servants cannot even go to the president of the Public Service Commission unless they have already disclosed the matter to their direct supervisor or they have what the bill calls reasonable grounds for not reporting to a direct supervisor. If a public servant discloses wrongdoing through any channel not sanctioned by the bill, then the public servant will not be protected from reprisals. If a public servant reveals government wrongdoing to the public, then the public servant will not be protected from reprisals under this act.
That is totally unbelievable. The government is basically saying that it is all right to punish public servants who dare to tell taxpayers when their money is being wasted. It is all right to discipline public servants if they tell Canadians about abuse of power and corruption. It is all right to do that.
That is simply indefensible. When a public servant takes the initiative to draw attention to wrongdoing involving public money or the public trust, that public servant should not only be protected but he or she should be applauded. Telling Canadians when bad things are happening to their tax dollars is a public service. It is incredible that the government cannot understand this.
This bill tells federal public servants that the only authority to whom they can disclose wrongdoings within their departments without fear of reprisal is someone who reports to the government in office.
Even when someone reports wrongdoing through the prescribed channels, if the boss fires that person to get even, the person has no recourse except what is available right now.
Bill C-11 sets up no new mechanism to receive reports of reprisals against whistleblowers. Those who are punished for coming forward in good faith to make disclosures of wrongdoing have to bring their plight to the attention of the applicable labour boards. They could have done that without the bill. It gets worse.
If someone makes a disclosure through the prescribed channels and his or her boss takes reprisals against the person for it, what happens? The individual complains to the applicable labour board and has to suffer while the case makes the long difficult journey through the labour board process where finally it is found that the individual was unfairly punished for doing the right thing, but nothing happens. The person who took reprisals against that individual is not even punished. The individual making the disclosure receives no reward or retribution for his or her suffering. The person gets back only what the ordeal cost him or her in terms of money and job status. Nothing else happens.
On one hand the bill says that public servants deserve to be punished for making disclosures of wrongdoing to the public, but on the other hand it says that supervisors in the public service do not deserve to be punished for taking reprisals against those who disclose wrongdoing, even through the proper channels.
The bill is clearly intended to contain disclosures of wrongdoing and not to facilitate such disclosures or to protect those who make them.
The Conservative Party would support an act that created a truly independent body to receive and investigate all disclosures of wrongdoing by all public servants and to protect those public servants from reprisals. Bill C-11 would not do that.
All 308 members of the House would say, without exception, that the employees of our public service are one of our country's finest resources. Today every member of Parliament has a chance to show their respect for public servants by providing them with legislation that reflects our respect and commitment to them.
I urge every member in the House to seriously consider the bill and to support the changes that need to be made in order to ensure that public servants realize how much the House values them.