Mr. Raymond Skelly (North Island-Powell River):
Mr. Speaker, I too take pleasure in having an opportunity to add a few comments to the record about the treatment of the Public Service of Canada.
I am concerned about the fact that both the present Conservative government and the previous Liberal government have treated that Public Service very badly. The morale in the Public Service is extremely bad in many areas because of that treatment. I think the dedication and commitment is there, but certainly uncertainty and difficulties have come up.
We can start with pointing out in one area the kind of betrayals that have occurred with the Liberal Party and the absolute classic betrayal of Pierre Elliot Tbudeau who during the 1974 election promised Canadians, the workers of the Public Service and all workers that there would be no wage and price controls, that the order of the day would be fair collective bargaining. He did that while campaigning against Robert Stanfield.
To the credit of the Conservative Party, it may not be palatable and certainly Robert Stanfield went to the sword for his sins, but the Conservatives stood up and said exactly what they believed in. The Canadian people responded accordingly, as we do in a democracy. They believed the Liberals. I think by 1975 they clearly regretted that decision.
The government of the day was so extremely unpopular it was forced to go a full five years right to the end of its mandate before it lost to the Clark government. It did so by betraying people I think principally on that six and five issue. You cannot trust Liberals.
The Public Service of Canada has learned that today and it has learned it through the years. The Liberals prior to an election will tell you anything you want to hear. Ultimately when the day draws near, when the election is over, those promises on the election platform are betrayed.
The Liberal Party also began the process of cuts to the Public Service. Prior to making the cuts in the Public Service the Liberal Party adopted a process by which it criticized the Public Service first. The Liberals thought it would be much easier and they could gain public support. This was again during that period from 1974 to 1979 when they began a process of saying the cost of government was too high. They believed Stanfield's lines.
The Conservatives and the Liberals simply believed what the Conservatives had said and then they tried to convince the public of the fat and the inefficiency of the Public Service. Nothing could be further from the truth. They began the process which we see today with the cuts to the Public Service, attempts to convince the public that these are legitimate because the Public Service is inefficient and the private sector is much better. That is nonsense.
Through the years we have had tremendous loyalty and great service to the people of Canada, commitment and dedication from that Public Service and it has been very badly handled by both the Liberal and the Conservative governments, right to the point of the bill before us today.
The process of the cutbacks has been so deep and so devastating at this point in time that the uncertainty and difficulty in carrying out the tasks within the Public Service create a great demoralization.
Labour relations in the post office are catastrophic. There is systematic harassment by management. Thousands and thousands of grievances are dragged out on to arbitration. The privatization process is throwing people who are making reasonably good wages out of work and replacing them with the low wage category of workers on contract.
It is interesting how in many cases the Public Service and the labour legislation that protects them has seen this take place. Incidents from some of the employees within the post office who are very apprehensive about the security of the mail are saying that low wage contract workers have been given keys and access to a security system. Regular employees have been laid off and moved out. This has created an enormous problem.
I mentioned before the case of the Transport Canada employees on the west coast, the Canadian Coast Guard. We had a situation with light keepers on the coast of British Columbia, a tremendously dedicated group of people, who work in isolation, whose sole purpose is the protection of the travelling public and of mariners and aviators on the coast of British Columbia. That group owes a great deal to these people.
In two enormous battles, first with the Liberal government and then with the Conservative government on the destaffing of these light stations, automating them, turning those people out, those battles were won. There
seemed to be a political commitment that they would not in fact destaff the lighthouses. That is what the political end from the minister's office indicated.
Yet at the same time the operations side of it is completely replacing the equipment in the lighthouse system so that they will have in place the ability to destaff these lighthouses.
Can you imagine being an employee working within the bargaining process and the grievance process and having an absolute betrayal of commitments that are being made?
The interesting thing is the political decision not to destaff them. Yet on the other side of the coin they are preparing for destaffing. They are talking about technological changes so they can destaff. Equipment is being upgraded for automation, changing air horns to electric horns on the light stations. They are changing to a new type of light that is tremendously expensive to taxpayers and will facilitate automation. They are talking about reworking the radio system so that it can transmit automatic data from lighthouses.
Information has been dropped from the continuous marine broadcast reports. The barometric pressure has been dropped from the manned lighthouse stations but not from the automated ones. As you move forward on the issue the government has given a political statement that lighthouses will not be destaffed. Yet an enormous amount of taxpayers' money is being spent to put this process in place. Imagine how your employees are going to feel, or would feel, with that kind of betrayal.
There is another thing with the Public Service on the coast of British Columbia. There is a certain pride in providing the kind of service it does yet at the same time the government refuses to provide the capital equipment and the operating budgets to make these services effective.
It is interesting that there is a hovercraft station at Vancouver airport operated by the Coast Guard and there is another one in Parksville. The hovercraft station in Parksville is where my brother the hon. member for Comox-Albemi is the representative. He is working hard to retain that facility. However, the service is not only in his area but covers the whole northern end of Georgia Strait, which is in the area I represent.
February 25, 1993
This absolutely critical service cannot be replaced by conventional ships. The travelling public is put in tremendous jeopardy with the removal of that simply because the government wants two of them in Vancouver. It does not want to provide effective search and rescue services to the people on the northern part of Georgia Strait, a tremendously populous area, with a tremendous number of people on the water.
The people providing this service are extremely demoralized because of the continuation of the cuts. These cuts are not only demoralizing on the Public Service, creating enormous problems in gaining from it the kind of support it is capable of giving but they are also presenting an enormous danger to the travelling public.
Another example of these cutbacks is the removal of two Coast Guard vessels from the coast of British Columbia. We had been promised a major improvement in the ships on the coast of British Columbia to provide offshore protection to upgrade the aids to the navigation program and the lighthouse servicing program but how did this government handle that? It decided to take the two vessels that would have fit the bill, the George R. Pearkes and the Martha L. Black to Quebec.
What did the government do? It gave us in return an old beater by the name of the Norman McLeod Rogers which is tied up because it is full of asbestos. I guess no decision has been made whether the government is going to spend the money to clean that ship out even if it is not appropriate for the kinds of tasks for which we need it.
Obviously the Minister of Transport has made some decisions that really affect the Public Service on the coast of British Columbia and the conditions of work in an asbestos-ridden ship. It is a difficult situation. We should have proper ship equipment there so that people can carry out the kinds of tasks for which they have been trained and the experience they have to deliver to the public.
However, at the same time these cutbacks are occurring. The ship program with the Coast Guard on the west coast is abysmal. The Narwhal which is an old buoy tender really is not an acceptable vessel for outside
search and rescue on the Pacific Ocean but that is its function now that the main resources have been taken away and sent to Quebec.
It is interesting in the area of aviation. Because of privatization people are booted out of their jobs in the Public Service in order to give them to the private sector. It is often so that friends of the Conservative government can benefit from a position at the public trough.
There is a lot of talk now that the flight service stations are going to be privatized and they are looking at a proposal to take Transport Canada employees and turn over those flight service station positions to privatization. They of course went through a number of cutbacks which again created demoralization in the Public Service. To my way of thinking, this is really a tragic situation. We need quality service aimed at safety for British Columbians who must travel in difficult areas and this government seems not to care that there is an arbitrary rule to do those cutbacks in spite of the consequences.
The other thing is the Coast Guard helicopters. Again, friends of the Conservative government come along and make a suggestion saying: "Wouldn't it be great if we privatized and took over the operation of Coast Guard helicopter services". The employees who fly and service those helicopters are extremely concerned about their future. There is an uncertainty involved with this wrongheaded approach.
What happens is if you are out doing a medical evacuation or you are doing search and rescue work, the bottom line is the bottom line. If a private company has it then you get to a situation where it will say: "Well, maybe we will not do the kind of upgrading that is needed, we will not do the kind of training that is needed and we will not put on the equipment that is needed". The thing then begins to fall down.
They can also work it the other way, and this has been happening in many departments where you get a cost plus situation, where friends of the government move in, a very lucrative contract has been obtained and they virtually work at cost plus.
February 25, 1993
We have an extremely effective Public Service. We have a very good Coast Guard helicopter service. The employees themselves have recommended many upgrades that could improve the efficiency, effectiveness and cost picture of operation, but the government continuously turns a deaf ear to those suggestions because of the philosophical fixation that I think is really leading to the destruction of our Public Service and in many cases irreparable harm to the country. This is creating an enormous problem.
There is the shutting down of the Cape St. James weather station. This is one of the most important weather stations on the Pacific coast. You cannot travel from one end of that coast without travelling through an extremely bleak area in which there are very few resources and the Cape St. James weather station. All kinds of promises were made about automated facilities that would give good weather briefing, but there is no replacement for a good set of eyes and an Environment Canada weather briefer or meteorologist to give you an indication of what you are going to be facing three hours from now when you arrive right in the middle of that cauldron with no information about what is happening.
They took the weather ships out of the Pacific many years ago. They figured they would put two buoys out there that would transmit weather information. My information is that those buoys are out there but they are floating around and they are really not sure where the heck they are. They break down. The Coast Guard has to use its limited ship resources to try to keep them up on behalf of the atmospheric environmental weather service people. I gather one is floating around broken off the north end of the Queen Charlotte Islands right now. That was a Liberal government contribution to safety, to the travelling public and to the Public Service in Canada.
We have watched a whole litany, and I have focused on the area of transportation safety, closing the Cape St. James weather station, two serious attempts by both governments, the previous Liberal and the present Conservative, to de-staff those lighthouses, and then a political commitment to keep the staff in the lighthouses and upgrade them. No upgrades, but the upgrades that have been going in are designed to facilitate an implementation of a de-staffing scheme which will automate them. This is just ludicrous.
We then have the cutbacks of hovercraft where they decided they wanted them both parked in Vancouver and
leave the whole of the Straits of Georgia, with all its reefs and shallow waters, where ships cannot penetrate to look for people out there who are lost. The hovercraft goes to Vancouver and it leaves the area I represent totally left out of that very valuable hovercraft service.
We then watched the suggested privatization of Coast Guard helicopters. A bad idea. We are now hearing things about the privatization of flight service stations. This is a worse idea, if you can get worse. We get to a situation where over and over and over again they are prepared to demoralize the Public Service, to cut that service and cause enormous harm.
While I have the opportunity, in my closing remarks I would like to talk about fisheries and oceans.
On the west coast of British Columbia we are currently going through a process by which the Government of Canada is working on an aboriginal fisheries strategy. We understand how that strategy has come into place because of requirements of the Supreme Court of Canada, but the implementation of this has been catastrophic. You could summarize it, as I guess the provincial government has done, by saying no conservation, no consultation, and no compensation.
On the conservation aspect, with the cutbacks over the nine years of this government, cutbacks to staff within the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, the bad treatment, mistreatment of people in the Public Service in fisheries and oceans, we have a situation where there is an enormous change, one that has to be carried out. Yet with that enormous change it does not have the resources to protect the fisheries resource on the coast of British Columbia.
We want the minister to stand up in this House and explain why there are no stream counts for escapements. It is a blind guess. Why can they not do stream clearing? Why can they not do a whole effective amount of things, not only on the Fraser River where it is extremely important, but along the coast of British Columbia where there are areas that are just absolutely untouched by fisheries and oceans. That is because of the cuts to the Public Service which this government has carried out over the years. It is extremely proud of this, but in being extremely proud of them, it has put that resource in jeopardy.
February 25, 1993
Those people cannot do surveillance, they cannot do enforcement, they cannot do proper habitat protection, they cannot do stream clearing, they cannot do proper counts. It is important that there be a guardian program so that it can be extended at critical times. It is going ahead. What we really need in this House are not the stupid remarks that are made by the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans about what the Reform Party policy or the Quebec bloc's policy is on the aboriginal fisheries strategy, but what he is doing with extremely limited resources in the Public Service to protect the valuable Pacific fisheries resource.
I am absolutely sick of the kind of thing that is going on in this House where, instead of providing information to the public of Canada, he is playing the fool in the House of Commons by failing to give those people the understanding of what he is doing and the kind of resources he is prepared to put in place to protect the Pacific fisheries resources. It is the same with the House leader being a smart ass here this afternoon by failing to deal with this critical issue.
We need that presentation by the minister. I do not think there is another option for the aboriginal fisheries strategy. You either have a fisheries agreement by agreement or you have fisheries by chaos. That appears to be the line taken by the Supreme Court of Canada, which this House cannot overturn.
There need to be agreements. If aboriginal people are prepared to put interim agreements together until proper consultation and full fair involvement of all stakeholders occurs, we are prepared to support that. In the meantime, we are getting no guarantee that that valuable resource is protected. They almost lost it in the previous year.
I see time is drawing to a close. There is no need to lose the fishery. If we could get the proper resources and the assurance from the minister that the government is not just going to continue to cut out fisheries officers but it will put those kinds of resources in place, I think people's minds would rest easier. They would be more able to accept the kind of major structural and operational changes that are going on. In fact, politically this government would stand to win instead of losing continuously.
Hopefully the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans will see the wisdom and the merit in coming before this House and sharing the information, not only with other members of Parliament who are willing to hear him out and support moves that would protect that resource, but with the people of Canada, giving them a fair shake on his fulfilling his responsibility and this government's responsibility to the protection of that resource.
Topic: GOVERNMENT ORDERS
Subtopic: CANADA LABOUR CODE