Hon. FERNAND RINFRET (Secretary of State):
Mr. Speaker, in rising to speak to the motion for the second reading of this bill, I desire first to congratulate the hon. member for Bellechasse (Mr. Boulanger), not so much upon bringing down the bill as upon the moderate way in which he has advanced his argument. This is a matter with which parliaments are faced from time to time. The Civil Service Act is a very complex and involved one. If hon. members will look back they will find that at regular intervals the governments of the day have been asked to review or amend the act. When I first came into the house in 1920 one of the first debates to which I listened was on this matter, and it has been coming up every three or four years since then. It might be noted that this matter is usually initiated by a member of the party in power, but I do not say that in any spirit of criticism; the motive for that appears quite natural.
There is in the act itself a spirit of amendment. The act leaves to the civil service commission the devising of regulations which are very extensive in scope. Under section 59 the commission has power to exempt a certain number of positions from the provisions of the act when it considers that those positions cannot be properly filled in the ordinary way. Section 59 reads:
In any case where the commission decides that it is not practicable nor in the public interest to apply this act to any position or positions, the commission may, with the approval of the governor in council, exclude such position or positions in whole or in part from the operation of the act, and make such regulations as are deemed advisable prescribing how such position or positions are to be dealt with.
That is a very important section and it shows without any doubt that there was in the minds of those who framed the act the belief that it could not be applied one hundred per cent; that a certain number of positions should, if necessary, be freed from its
Civil Service Act
operations. This being so, it is only natural that individual members, having a conception of their duties as such, should come before parliament from time to time with suggested amendments to the Civil Service Act. The former government amended the act in 19(32 rather extensively, and on previous occasions the act has been modified or changed by preceding governments, either by straight amendments or by making use of this section 59.
The hon. member who introduced this bill has been careful not to make it a partisan one. In presenting his argument he has been careful to quote from all parties and groups and he has shown conclusively that there has been constantly in the minds of hon. members an anxiety to improve the act from year to year. He has pronounced himself in favour of the merit system and in that respect we are with him; we all desire to maintain the merit system. I can go even further-and I believe hon. members will be with me on this-and say that we desire also to take away from the ordinary business of hon. members and ministers the necessity of having to provide positions in a wholesale manner and in that respect waste precious time that could be much better consecrated to work for the general good. I am reminded of a remark once made to me by a visitor who found my office rather full with callers. He told me that he thought if I were able to bring down in parliament a single measure for the general welfare of the public,
I would be doing more good and helping more people than by securing appointments for all those who called on me. Let there be no mistake as to how the government and I stand on this matter. We stand for the merit system and we wish to maintain it as much as we can.
However, I should like to quote a very eminent member of this house. When he was Prime Minister, the leader of the opposition (Mr. Bennett), dealing with a bill similar to this one in its general aspect, asked who was to determine merit. The act itself foresees that there may be cases where positions cannot be filled by examinations, where the appointments would have to be made in another manner. In an effort to maintain the principle of the act, one parliament after another has made an effort to improve it in certain of its particulars. Because the present bill is sweeping in character, I for one, and in the name of the government, would not suggest that the house should accept it in its present form. It is only fair to state that the civil service itself has been somewhat ill at ease over this bill. I could quote from many docu-
ments received from different associations of civil servants to show that there is no disposition on their part to accept the bill in its present form. I have before me a letter from the president of the Civil Service Federation of Canada, and I have also a clipping giving particulars of a long interview with the national secretary of the Amalgamated Civil Service of Canada. I could give many quotations-I shall not as that is not my purpose in rising to-night-to show that the civil service, and I believe a large portion of the public, are not satisfied with the bill as it is.
The bill deals with many different questions. It deals first with the outside service; then with returned men, not only those who served with the Canadian forces but those who served with the allied forces as well; it then deals with returned men who did not reside in Canada at the time of the war, with promotions and other matters. These are different questions that could form the subject matter of different bills, and there is a danger that if we should take action on this bill one way or the other, on the one hand we might be approving of too much, or, on the other, in disapproving of the bill as a whole we might be setting aside some of its features which seem more desirable. Having all that in mind, I would suggest that the house might pass the second reading of the bill with the understanding that it will be at once referred to a special committee for study, and I have such a motion before me. That committee would report during the course of the session, and I think the house would then be in a better position to judge of all the features of this bill. I therefore suggest that we adopt the bill on second reading so that I may move its reference to a special committee. I hope the hon. member in charge of the bill will be satisfied with that suggestion