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C-25: Public Service Modernization Bill

Honourable senators, as a French Canadian and a native of New Brunswick, I am very pleased to be able to speak to Bill C-25 at second reading stage.

I am the product of the concept of equal chance put in place in New Brunswick by the Honourable Senator Louis J. Robichaud. As you listen to my words, I would like all of you to consider the value this concept of equal chance, now called equal opportunity, represents to me. It is the reason I have a lot to say about Bill C- 25, which in reality combines four different bills.

I would like to underline at least four major elements within one of the four bills that are of major concern to me as a New Brunswicker and as a Canadian.

The first one is that Bill C-25 re-establishes the criteria of geographic zone in order to be eligible to apply for a job in the federal public service. That zone is 50 kilometres. Another major issue we have to consider when reviewing Bill C-25 is the fact that in the next five years almost 25 per cent of the public service of Canada will be renewed. People are retiring. That is a quarter of the public service.

Senator Bolduc mentioned another major element a few days earlier. We are talking about the level of qualifications now referred to as "satisfying the criteria." We are no longer looking for the "highly qualified," which is very important when one realizes that 25 per cent of the public service will be replaced within the next five years with people who can only be required to "satisfy the criteria" and need not be "highly qualified."

Another major issue that I have been hearing constantly for the last 10 years is that there is bureaucratic patronage in our public service system. The Fathers of Confederation knew very well what they were doing when they established, in our Constitution, the Senate. The balancing of regional representation in the Senate compensates for the other place where the most populous areas hold the most power over government and over our country.

Bill C-25 represents the perfect example of how we, as senators with the responsibility of this institution, can stand for equality of treatment among the population of our regions. We also have a responsibility to our Constitution and to its valuable Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which includes mobility rights.

I quote from article 6:

6.(1) Every citizen of Canada has the right to enter, remain in and leave Canada.

(2) Every citizen of Canada and every person who has the status of a permanent resident of Canada has the right

a) to move to and take up residence in any province; and

b) to pursue the gaining of a livelihood in any province.

Taking into consideration clause 34 of Part 3 of Bill C-25 dealing with the proposed public service employment act, the commission may establish geographic criteria for the purpose of eligibility for both internal and external competition. As I said earlier, this geographic criteria has now been set — by regulation probably — to 50 kilometres.

For instance, in the greater Ottawa region, we have about 1 million in population but 40 per cent of the federal public service jobs. In other words, 0.3 per cent of the Canadian population has sole access, exclusive access, to 40 per cent of federal government jobs.

About 20 per cent of the jobs in the public service are in Montreal, where we have about 10 per cent of the Canadian population. Approximately the same numbers apply for the Toronto area. One does not need to be an accountant to add these numbers.

I must also state, though, that this group of 20 per cent of the Canadian population within Montreal and Toronto are not allowed to compete for the 60 per cent of federal government jobs outside the 50-kilometre zone.

Basically, 80 per cent of the jobs will be restricted to 20.3 per cent of the Canadian population, leaving only 20 per cent of possible federal jobs for the 80 per cent of our population who live outside those three major cities of our country.

For instance, people living in Kingston cannot apply for a job in Ottawa. People living in Hamilton cannot apply for jobs in Toronto. People living in Edmundston cannot apply for jobs in Fredericton nor in Moncton, New Brunswick, because of these restrictions that a major institution has imposed of its own will.

With years of restrictions, roughly 80 per cent of public employees come from those three major centres.

What is the impact of that 80 per cent of the public service on policies and programs? They analyze issues, make recommendations and implement programs as per their heritage and their knowledge of the country. Eighty per cent of those people probably come from the three cities.

Let me relate a personal experience to show how our public servants are somewhat disenfranchised with the reality outside Central Canada. In 1995, I was the Member of Parliament for Madawaska—Victoria. There was a discussion about changes from UI to EI. I met with the director of the program who was a very nice lady, by the way, and I said this to her: Take into consideration that we, the federal government, decide when our fishers can fish, from this date to this date. We are the ones who tell them when they can work. On the other hand, in order to qualify for EI, the limited time frame, which we impose on them, should be three times longer.

What did that lady tell me in response? She said, "Well, maybe the people who are fishing in Newfoundland could go fish in Vancouver afterwards."

What I am saying to you, honourable senators, is of much value. This issue is inherent in our responsibility as the Senate — we must care for all the people of Canada. We must have an understanding of what is happening in all the regions of Canada. In order to have that understanding, we need a public service that comes from all the regions of Canada.

This is true not only for external competition; it is also true within the internal processes of the public service, even within the established geographic zone of 50 kilometres.

For 10 years I have been making arguments about the unfairness of the process. The process does not create opportunities. This is not right and does not concur with the mobility rights within our Charter of Rights.

It has been 10 years now. I have been told in the last few months, "We have pilot projects in the Toronto area. This will cost much money." I asked, "How much?" I was told, "Well, we can buy software to do that, but roughly, it will be $38 million." Honourable senators, $38 million, in the context of providing equity, fairness and opportunity to the citizens of this land is, in my words, "peanuts."

I will give you another example from my discussions. They said, "You know that it is very costly for us to provide linguistic certification for applicants." I said, "My God, you people. Do you know that across this land of ours we have human resources offices all over the place; we have university campuses all over the place. Why do you not allow the people who are in charge of education to certify the linguistic capability of the people who want to apply to become public servants? You do not have to bear the cost of that."

However, there is this certain silo way of looking at things that has to be broken. I therefore recommend that the Senate amend the legislation to remove the geographic criteria from internal and external competition for all levels of jobs within the federal public service.

Bill C-25 also includes an interesting thing, and that is the delegation of power from the commission to the deputy heads to managers. That is of grave concern to me because this means that whatever we close in regard to loopholes in this bill, and whatever we say must be removed in regard to zoning, this delegation of power provides that managers, any managers, can bring in people through the back door. We have always heard of political patronage.

Yes, the awful words — political patronage. Bill C-25 does deal with political influence.

Honourable senators, in the bill, at clause 68 and clause 69, provision is made for the commission to investigate complaints that deal with, in clause 68, political influence and, in clause 69, fraud. Nowhere in the entire Bill C-25 do we see the capability of either the commission or the tribunal to investigate complaints about bureaucratic patronage — the back door boys.

We have heard stories of bureaucrats who say, "You hire my son, and I will hire your daughter. Do you not have a cousin who is looking for a job?"

Honourable senators, we have all heard stories galore to this effect. Therefore, I also recommend that the Senate amend Bill C-25 to include, for the commission and for the new tribunal that is being created, the mandate to investigate complaints of bureaucratic patronage within and from the outside.

At the last committee meeting I attended, we were talking about the issue of a preamble in the bill. I would like to read you a few lines from the preamble of this bill:

Canada will continue to benefit from a public service that is based on merit and non-partisanship and in which these values are independently safeguarded;

Later in the preamble, it reads: the public service, whose members are drawn from across the country, reflects a myriad of backgrounds, skills and professions that are a unique resource for Canada;

How arrogant to put in the preamble of this bill such values and yet put in proposed section 34, Part 3, and restrict the opportunities of Canadians to put forward their skills to be good public servants.

In closing, I do believe that the public service is an extremely important national institution that plays a key role in responding to the Canadian public. We need the time to review this legislation; to give it sober second thought. Although I am not a member of the Standing Senate Committee on National Finance, which will be receiving this bill - I do intend to attend each meeting to question every clause of the four parts of the bill and promote amendments for equality of opportunity for every citizen, wherever they may live, in this great land of ours. I also intend to promote open and nonbiased advertised competition for both internal and external competition.

Honourable senators, I do hope that I will have your support in my endeavour to make this a fairer situation.