Mr. Peter L. McCreath (Parliamentary Secretary to Minister for International Trade):
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have an opportunity to participate in this debate though my voice does not have its normal strength. I know it will distress all members present that I will be a little more low key than usual. However, this is such an important issue my hon. friend from St. Boniface has brought before the House that I did want to have an opportunity to make a few remarks.
I do not know exactly what his intent is but in reading this proposed piece of legislation I must say I have some concerns. I know it was not his intent to suggest that members of the Public Service of Canada ought not to receive fair, adequate compensation or anything like that. What this bill proposes to do is to take away the principle of incentive in relation to performance. Some people will disagree with that of course but it certainly is my belief that people work best when they have some incentive to do so. Fair compensation for employment and reasonable, safe working conditions are very important.
The advisory group on executive compensation in the Public Service known as the Bums group was named after the current chairman, Mr. James Bums, who is deputy chairman of Power Corporation. The group expressed the opinion and strongly held view that there should be a portion of the compensation package for senior executives put at risk, to use the group's expression, so there is some incentive.
I am not suggesting for one minute that people in senior positions in the Public Service of Canada would not give 100 per cent if their salaries were 100 per cent guaranteed. However, I think the concept that people should have incentives to work hard by having a percentage of the compensation made available by way of some sort of a bonus is important.
That is obviously one with which the advisory group agrees. I might say also it is one with which Public Service executives agree. They have agreed to that basis for compensation in their own bargaining process. I am sure it is not the intent of my hon. friend opposite to interfere with the collective bargaining process.
I realize if I start talking about the sanctity of the collective bargaining process I am sure members opposite are going to remind me very quickly it was this government that interfered with that process through the imposition of the wage restraint program on the Public Service a couple of years ago. That restraint program applied not only to members of the Public Service but also to members of this House and all people paid by the government.
That action is not normal practice. Certainly it is not the normal practice of this government because this government respects that the best way for these decisions to be made is through the collective bargaining process on the basis of market demand and so forth.
I simply remind my hon. friend and others who may wish to support this legislation that there is some potential problem inherent in an arbitrary decision being taken by Parliament. Certainly that would fly in the face
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of the position he and a number of his colleagues took with respect to the public sector contract that was there a year or so ago. I merely bring that to his attention.
Maybe part of the problem lies in the use of the word bonus. A bonus to me is like getting a little prize in a Cracker Jacks box. It is something extra, something one had not necessarily expected and presumably therefore is in addition to what is expected. All that is really expected inside a box of Corn Flakes or Cheerios is the cereal but a little prize might be found inside. That is a bonus because it is something extra. I suspect the root of the legislation in part may be in the use of that particular term when in fact one might prefer the term incentive.
It is important to recall the history of this particular provision. It was taken off the compensation package at the time when this process was implemented so that if there was a salary budget equal to 100 per cent a certain percentage of that was taken back. I believe it was 15 per cent. I may be wrong about my percentages but I am talking about the principle.
What has been done in effect is to not provide a bonus as an add on. The group of employees impacted by this provision is told it is guaranteed a certain amount, which is in fact lower, 85 per cent, and there is the opportunity based on performance to earn an extra amount. I think it is important to bear that in mind.
I recall when the subject of these bonuses came up in the House a year ago, there were very flamboyant speeches by some of my hon. friends about the size of those bonuses. I think that created the context in which people thought this was not an appropriate thing.
It is important for everybody to understand that these bonuses are not an add on. In fact they are a component of the salary package that is and was already there when it was brought in.
Having said that, a bonus which is paid automatically really ceases to be an incentive. It ceases to be what it was intended to be with the use of the nefarious word bonus. If there is concern about this, what would be helpful and might warrant review is some determination or clarification of the criteria by which it will or will not be paid.
It is not easy to determine or quantify progress in some Public Service jobs. These nights whether we want to or
not, when we turn on our television sets we are being treated to hockey games. It is very easy to determine whether a hockey player gets a bonus. How many goals did he get last year? How many assists did he get? How many minutes in the penalty box? How many games did the team win? However, it is much more difficult to assess a public servant. Certainly it is difficult to quantify the performance of the individual.
If one is to determine criteria and have a clear process by which decisions will be made as to whether or not people in fact qualify for an incentive, I can understand that. The point to be made is that we must have clear criteria. It must be understood that people have to earn the incentive. It is an assumption that possibly everybody is not going to automatically get it. The automatic aspect to it can also create some progress.
At the same time however, an unattainable incentive is not really an incentive at all. When a compensation system is set up that is targeted at rewarding a person's performance, then that particular criteria should be one that if a legitimate bona fide effort is made by the individual the intent is that he or she will obtain that. In other words, the intent of the process is to encourage high performance by rewarding individual employees for the work they have done.
Administered automatically, it is a very successful system. I think it can be a beneficial system, both for the public servants impacted and Canadian taxpayers. To change that system right now would create quite a disruption. I think that a kind of political mischief was played with the system in this House a year or so ago. Except when that goes on the system works well. It serves Canadians and it serves public servants.
At the same time it provides an opportunity and a recognition for the government to be aware of the fact that Canada does have a high quality of public servants. I think all members of this House will agree that although sometimes when issues get flowing back and forth, people sometimes forget that Canadians are very well served by their public servants. We have some extraordinarily capable people.
In the case of our senior people, the compensation is often not competitive with what might be earned in the private sector. But they are just like members of Parlia-
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ment. We know when we take the job what the salary and the compensation will be. That is the deal and if one does not like it then do not run for office.
I conclude with those remarks. I commend my hon. friend for bringing forward his initiative. However I cannot support it and I urge fellow members of the House to turn down this proposal also.
Subtopic: PUBLIC SECTOR BONUSES ACT
Sub-subtopic: MEASURE TO ENACT