June 3, 2003 (37th Parliament, 2nd Session)


Diane Bourgeois

Bloc Québécois

Ms. Diane Bourgeois (Terrebonne—Blainville, BQ)

Mr. Speaker, this is truly an extraordinary opportunity for me to express my view this morning on Bill C-25. It is a bill that interests me tremendously, especially because its purpose is to change the culture in the public service.
Treasury Board wants to use this bill to deal with the constant reduction of the work force in the public service and the growing competition from the private sector.
With this bill, the government believes it could overcome problems relating to representation, the aging staff and professional skills.
Finally, the purpose of this bill is to improve the public's perception of the public service. There seems to be little interest in having a career in the public service because of its bad reputation. This results in poor recruitment. The goal of this bill is to change the approach with regard to the public's view of the public service.
It is also a substantial bill. We would have preferred to debate it in parts since it deals with human beings, the men and women in this work force that we are to manage, or the government is to manage.
It includes amendments, among other things, to the Financial Administration Act. This bill will also improve accountability through the tabling of reports. The President of the Treasury Board is required to prepare reports on the administration of the legislation in terms of human resources management, a report on the obligations that stem from the Employment Equity Act, and a report on the Treasury Board's powers under the Public Service Employment Act.
I felt the need to list these points simply to establish the purpose of this bill. We are disappointed because we know these objectives will not be met. This legislation is meant to make working in the public service an attractive prospect. Again, we doubt very much that these objectives will be met.
I will discuss two points, the amendments made to the Public Service Employment Act, and the fact that it is incumbent on the government as a responsible employer to ensure a healthy work environment where its employees are treated with dignity and respect.
My attention was immediately drawn to one particular provision, that is paragraph 30(2)( b ) of the Public Service Employment Act, which reads as follows:

—the Commission is satisfied that the person to be appointed meets the essential qualifications for the work to be performed, as established by the deputy head, including official language proficiency.

The Bloc Quebecois proposed an amendment to change this paragraph by deleting the word essential. We believe that the candidate should meet all the qualifications. Limiting the requirement to essential qualifications creates ambiguity regarding the proficiency level required. In other words, essential could be construed to mean minimal proficiency, and not maximum proficiency.
We fear that the deputy head or any senior official could make patronage appointments either by setting requirements that only one person can meet or by selecting among the candidates one who meets the essential qualifications without necessarily being the best candidate.
I would like to draw attention to a program concerning employment equity in the public service. In 1998, the government set up a temporary, four-year program which ended last year: the Employment Equity Positive Measures Program. This program provided the tools to support the aggressive application of employment equity principles in the workplace, thereby enhancing the representation of the four designated groups, that is, women, aboriginals, persons with disabilities and visible minorities.
This program also provided additional resources, services and funding to help departments and agencies turn their good intentions into lasting results.
The program costs were $10 million annually, which means that over four years, they totalled $40 million. This was to help the public service modernize, among other things. Imagine. Through this program, the Public Service Commission's centre for excellence was established and supported. Also, an electronic tool was developed in connection with employment equity positive practices.
When we talk about the public service and modernization, this is a first step. The bill before us does not include any of the outcomes of the Employment Equity Positive Measures Program, which cost $40 million.
This program included four components, three of which were managed and delivered by the Public Service Commission on behalf of the Treasury Board Secretariat. One was the Employment Equity Partnership Fund, the purposes of which were first to build the capacity for employment equity, second to promote a workplace which is supportive, and third to improve representativeness of the workforce and of course to improve retraining.
How is it that, after a program that cost $40 million and delivered a series of suggestions and proposals from public servants, none of this is to be found in the bill before us?
This bill does not guarantee that all the work that has been done through the Employment Equity Positive Measures Program to improve the representativeness and the distribution of designated groups will go on, since the word essential in clause 30(2)( b ) will create confusion.
We spent $40 million to try to include people, train them, give them a position in the public service, but with the addition of this tiny word, essential, to the statement of qualifications, these people will not be able to benefit from employment equity. From now on, it will be a matter of choice, and officials will decide which qualifications are essential.
The basic requirements and the best skills will not necessarily be a factor. How sure can we be that we will protect these four designated groups under the Employment Equity Act? One has to wonder.
Before moving on to the other component, I would just like to point out to our colleague from Mississauga East, who has just spoken, that the Public Service Alliance sent us a little document on the eve of International Women's Day: an advertisement from the Monday, February 17 issue of Hill Times . It contains a demonstration to the effect that not everything to do with employment equity is necessarily respected—at any rate, not the wishes of Treasury Board as far as employment equity is concerned.
They told us that their union represents approximately 1,600 workers at the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, the majority of whom are women. In that department, they calculated the numbers of women and men, and realized that at the ministerial level there were five men and one woman, in addition to one secretary. There were three parliamentary secretaries, two men and one woman. In the minister's office there were four men and no women. As for assistant deputy ministers, there were six men and two women. This is all very revealing. In Bill C-25, the Public Service Modernization Act, perhaps the four designated groups ought to have been taken into account.
Now, I have a question, which I might have liked to ask the minister. When she drafted this bill, did she take into consideration the gender analysis. According to Status of Women Canada, this year $11 million were made available to the departments to do a gender analysis, in order to know how to draft legislation to reflect what is due to men and to women.
I wonder: with $40 million here and $11 million there, it seems there is money available. Yet there is no money to invest in our work force. Our colleague from Mississauga East has just said that public servants should be considered part of the solution. Indeed, they must be considered people, human beings entitled to a healthy environment.
I will continue with the second part of my speech, which deals with harassment. The Bloc Quebecois is very concerned about the concept of harassment that may exist in the workplace; indeed, psychological harassment should have been included in the provisions relating to this phenomenon.
With regard to this type of harassment in the public service, the latest numbers tell us that more than 21% of Canadian public servants are affected by harassment. Formal written complaints have been made. How many people in the federal public service do not dare to say a word because they are confronted with this famous oath of allegiance, the oath of confidentiality on what is happening within departments? This is a two edged sword. This famous oath of allegiance says that nothing that happens in the workplace must get beyond the workplace. A a result, people keep their mouths shut, say noything and go on being harassed.
I will get back later to the definition of psychological harassment. This type of harassment must be known and acknowledged by public service managers. The Bloc Quebecois had proposed amendments that would have made the implementation of the policy mandatory for each of the departments.
So I will give you a short definition of psychological harassment. It may happen through words, actions and behaviours that tend to put employees down, to belittle them by treating them as subordinates, to prevent them from getting ahead.
This form of violence shows up as workplace harassment, the abuse of power and the abuse of authority.
A little study was done. There is, of course a policy to deal with psychological harassment on the job, or harassment in the workplace. This policy originates with Treasury Board; it was introduced in 1994 and modernized in 2001. We might expect that, if there is a policy issued by the Treasury Board Secretariat, it would be applied everywhere, in all departments. Unfortunately, it was found that of 83 departments, only 7 truly applied the Treasury Board policy. The 76 others have their own policies, and it is not clear to what extent they apply any policy.
Each of these departments has different methods. Sometimes, the policy is applied or action is taken when there is a formal complaint; in other departments, when there are oral complaints, they are dealt with. But that is the extent of it.
I would simply like to remind the House that in terms of harassment, if the process does not work at the departmental level, the person being harassed cannot charge the harasser. Those who are harassed become isolated, fall silent, fall ill, and that costs Treasury Board money.
Many of these policies are incomplete. They do not specify the timeframe within which managers must resolve a case of harassment. Several cases were brought to our attention and, in each instance, managers did not act diligently. Quite often, managers are unaware of this policy.
Also, many harassment complaints have yet to be resolved. Some fall under directive 255, from 1994, and others come under the new policy that came into force on June 1, 2001. If these complaints remain unresolved, it is because many managers and public servants have little or no interest in respecting other people or their rights.
Some 40% of departments adopted in full the policy as of June 2001. When I say 40% adopted it, they did so in writing, but only seven departments apply it. This is significant. It means that there are public servants—over 30%, according to our figures—who are being harassed and do not report it. It could be vertical harassment, meaning by their bosses, or it could be horizontal, meaning by co-workers. Unfortunately, the new bill makes no mention of this.
In closing, I want to say that it is surprising that Bill C-25, which seeks among other things a change in culture and the improvement of labour-management relations, does not ensure a more effective application of the policy on the prevention and resolution of harassment in the workplace.
If the minister truly wants to change the culture of the public service, if she wants to make it an attractive place to work, she must ensure, among other things, the continuity of the employment equity positive measures program, which cost $40 million. She should ensure, as a responsible employer, that all employees have access to a workplace that is not only free of harassment, but that recognizes the existence of harassment and that implements measures and ethical practices to protect workers, like any other responsible employer.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Public Service Modernization Act
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