Mr. Mac Harb (Ottawa Centre, Lib.)
Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to speak to Bill C-25, the public service modernization act.
Before I start I want to congratulate the minister, the minister's staff and all those who have participated in the development of the legislation. I also want to thank every public servant who works for the Government of Canada. I am sure members will agree with me that this country is well-served by the fine, high quality public servants who keep the government functioning and who provide quality service to Canadians.
The government has put tremendous effort into bringing about an act to, as one might say, put the house in order. Some of the key objectives of the bill are to ensure a transparent hiring process in the public service, to look at the issue of merit in the public service, to improve employee-employer relations, to deal with issues affecting the services that we provide Canadians and many other issues that will render the public service even more efficient in the way it conducts its business.
However, like every legislation that comes before the House, it goes to committee and consultation. As well, witnesses appear before committees with ideas and suggestions.
I must admit, Mr. Speaker, I am standing before you today a bit late with what I have to put before the House basically because the information came to my attention at a very late hour. It was after the House dealt with the report stage of Bill C-25, as well as after the committee had the chance to deal with the bill.
I had a meeting last week with a representative of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, Mr. Edward Cashman, who is the regional executive vice-president for the national capital region who was elected to this position. I want to congratulate him on his election and that of his colleagues who came with him to make a presentation concerning Bill C-25.
This was the first interaction I had with the representatives of the union on these issues. As far as I was concerned, there was widespread support for the bill. In essence, I concluded that because my office had not received any kind of a communication to the contrary. We did not receive the amount of calls we normally would have received on legislation that comes before the House.
Nonetheless, that is not to say that the concerns raised by Mr. Cashman, on behalf of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, are not important concerns for which the House needs to take note.
I have promised Mr. Cashman two things. The first was that I would put on the record some of the concerns that his group outlined and brought to my attention, and that I would speak with the minister and her office with regard to the points that the union reps raised.
The points that were raised were in three categories. One of the issues the union people raised dealt with merit. They were concerned that the changes to merit could create a situation where there could be abuse by managers when it came to staffing.
The second point raised by the union rep concerned essential services and the issue of voting. On the issue of essential services, they wanted to know what would constitute an essential service employee.
The union also had a concern on the notion of voting. If there is a strike vote, the union is mandated to notify all those who are in the work unit. Members of the union told me that this might be somewhat problematic in that in some cases when a strike vote is called they may or may not be able to communicate with every person who works in the unit simply because some of them may not be members of the union. As a result of that, they may have difficulties dealing with this issue.
I have raised all three points with the minister and she has assured me that, first, she is willing to meet with the union rep at the earliest possible opportunity; and second, she is eager to ensure that once the bill goes through the House and the policy is introduced to do the implementation, the employee reps will be included in the consultation process that will be taking place and that in fact their views will be heard. The minister is willing to address some of the points and hopefully she will provide answers that will meet the interests of the public servants, both in terms of employees as well as employers.
On the notion of merit, I have been told that the merit laws, by virtue of this legislation, have been made stronger than they were before.The clause that has been included in the legislation would not only ensure that employees meet the minimum and basic requirements, but that the employer looks for additional qualifications the potential employee may have, such as language skills, level of education and other talents that might be of use in the public service. It not only talks about the minimum requirements, which would bring it into harmony with what existed before, but it goes beyond that.
In other words, I wanted the employee to score a certain percentage, but also I wanted it to go beyond that. If they have the qualifications and could score even more that would be an asset and that would be taken into consideration. This was the explanation the minister provided to me. It is a positive thing to consider and to look at in a positive fashion.
However, in addition to that, I have been informed that in the event the agent of the employee, which is the union, has a concern about a specific item it would still have the ability to appeal it or question it. In this particular case I think it is a positive thing. It would give the employee rep the opportunity to question in the event something like that takes place.
The second concern raised by Mr. Cashman deals with the potential for abuse by an employer. Provisions in the act make it difficult for an employer to do that. In essence it strengthens the merit clause and makes it literally impossible for an employer to abuse its position. Should that take place, then the employee representative as well as the employee would have provisions under Bill C-25 to appeal and go to the next step.
I would like to raise the points of union representatives specifically and put them on the record for the interest of the House. While I know we are in third reading and there is no provision to introduce any type of amendment at this stage, I want to put them on the record because I promised Mr. Cashman I would do so.
In the section that deals with prohibitions and enforcement, division 14, the union asked for the following:
That Bill C-25 in Clause 2 be amended by deleting lines 11 to 17 on page 84.
That Bill C-25 in Clause 2 be amended by deleting line 20 on page 84 and replacing it with: “189(1) or section 195 is guilty of an”.
That Bill C-25 in Clause 2 be amended by deleting line 28 to 29 on page 84 and replacing them with: “contravenes section”.
That Bill C-25 in Clause 2 be amended by deleting lines 7 to 11 on page 85.
Then we move on to the merit clause. In essence the union would liked to have sees the following:
That Bill C-25 in Clause 12 be amended by deleting line 15 on page 126 and replacing it with: “person to be appointed meets the”.
That Bill C-25 in Clause 12 be amended by deleting lines 19 to 29 on page 126.
That Bill C-25 in Clause 12 be amended by deleting line 6 on page 127 and replacing it with: “graph 30(2)(a)”.
That Bill C-25 in Clause 12 be amended by replacing lines 36 and 37 on page 128 and replacing them with: “paragraph 30(2)(a)”.
That Bill C-25 in Clause 12 be amended by replacing lines 40 and 41 on page 128 with: “-cations referred to in paragraph 30(2)(a), other than language”.
That Bill C-25 in Clause 12 be amended by deleting lines 7 to 16 on page 129.
That Bill C-25 in Clause 12 be amended by deleting lines 34 to 40 on page 129.
All these amendments would have been in order if they had been made at the committee level. If in the event a member of Parliament was unable to introduce them under special circumstances, Mr. Speaker, you could have made a ruling whereby the amendments could have been introduced in the House during report stage.
Unfortunately that was not the case. The amendments did not come in at a time where it could have been possible to introduce them, either at committee or at report stage. Therefore, for the interest of the House, I have tabled them here. There may have been other amendments that did not come to my attention, and I would suggest that as the bill sees its way through the House on the way to the Senate, that the union representative will have an opportunity at that time to go to the Senate and make those suggestions there.
However I would like to stress the importance of the union working with members of Parliament on both sides of the House, like it happened in this case. Unfortunately, it arrived at the last minute.
I hope in the future the relations between both the employee representatives and the employers will move to the next step, and that is a positive cooperation, a dialogue, a cohesive interaction whereby the minister will be informed at an early stage when legislation is about to come before the House and where a discussion will take place in an atmosphere of willingness to move things forward in the best interests of both the union and the government.
I remember the Prime Minister once stating that the government looked at its public servants as being a part of the solution, not part of the problem. That is really what has defined the government, what has defined the actions of this minister and what has defined the actions of all members on this side of the House. We look at the public service employees as being a part of the solution. They are a part of the team that makes the country so great, one of the greatest countries in the world.
Having said all that, it is my hope that this legislation will go through the House and that at the earliest possible opportunity the union representatives will take the minister on her offer, which she made to me yesterday, to meet with them. The minister is willing to talk specifically with regard to the concerns that have been brought to my attention and that I have brought to the attention of the minister on their behalf. Specifically, they deal with some of the details and clarifications that are required in my view to bring about a positive conclusion to this legislation.
This is long overdue. We know the Auditor General raised a number of concerns dealing with the public service act and some of the provisions within that act. I am happy to see this coming before Parliament at a very opportune time, not only to deal with the concerns raised by the Auditor General in her latest report but to address some of the issues which need to be addressed as well.
I thank the House for giving me the opportunity to speak on this very important issue. I thank both the government as well as the union for giving me the opportunity to speak today.
Topic: Government Orders
Subtopic: Public Service Modernization Act