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C-8: Amend the Financial Administration Act, the Canada School of Public Service Act and the Official Languages Act

Honourable senators, I am very pleased to move second reading today of Bill C-8, concerning the Public Service Human Resources Management Agency of Canada.

This bill was recently adopted at third reading by the other place. Although it essentially deals with the apparatus of government and is intended to provide legislative confirmation for the Orders-in-Council of December 12, 2003, which established the agency, this bill is a turning point in the administration of the public service.

Therefore, before I go into the details of this bill, I would first like to highlight its importance and list its advantages.

Allow me, if you will, to go back to the recent origin of the agency and talk about its mandate, the primary functions transferred to it, and its priority.

First, as I already mentioned, the agency was established by Order-in-Council as part of the government reorganization on December 12, 2003. The agency reports to the President of the Treasury Board and its purpose is to modernize and foster ongoing excellence in human resources management and leadership throughout the public service.

It was essentially created to rejuvenate, strengthen and modernize human resources management in the public service, a field in which most practices and procedures had not changed in nearly four decades. In order to carry out this ambitious mandate, the agency has assumed most of the human resource management functions formerly belonging to the Treasury Board Secretariat and the Public Service Commission.

One of the objectives of this governmental reorganization was to reinforce the convergence and the capacity of these organizations, which have a central role to play in strengthening overall public sector administration.

That is precisely why the Treasury Board was streamlined and the Public Service Human Resources Management Agency was created. Once streamlined, the Treasury Board Secretariat will be able to focus on administration, management of expenditures and its duties as comptroller, which is a priority for Canadians. Conversely, the new agency will be able to focus essentially on human resources management, including the implementation of the Public Service Modernization Act, formerly Bill C-25, which we adopted last year, and the enforcement of the highest ethics standards throughout the public service, which are also priorities for Canadians.

You will probably remember that before December 12, 2003, most of these functions, whether they related to human or financial resources, were administered by a single entity: the Treasury Board Secretariat. Before the reorganization, this secretariat had to simultaneously manage numerous complex issues related to human and financial resources, including the official languages.

However, in a rapidly evolving and increasingly complex environment, such a diverse series of responsibilities became too onerous, thereby hindering efficiency and effectiveness. The reorganization of December 12, 2003, corrected this.

Now, we have more focused and more visible organizations with a clearer mandate, for which the Treasury Board is still the employer but that are now better able to concentrate their expertise and energy on their own priorities.

As a result, today, the agency incorporates the functions needed to lead the way forward and constitutes the necessary central focus to promote and support a style of human resources management and leadership that is modern, effective and results-based throughout the public service, while ensuring respect for the highest standards with regard to integrity, transparency and accountability.

These functions include implementing the new Public Service Modernization Act, which received Royal Assent on November 7, 2003; development and management of government planning and accountability systems for human resources; reform and management of the public service classification system; management of employment policy; management of professional development programs for managerial staff; implementation of the Values and Ethics Code for the Public Service; and implementation of the Employment Equity Act and the Official Languages Act.

In 2005-06, among other priorities, the agency plans to work with its partners to introduce two major components of the Public Service Modernization Act: the new Public Service Staff Relations Act, in April, and the new Public Service Employment Act, in December.

To further this modernization, the agency will reinforce its legislation through non-legislative measures including reforming the classification system, establishing a more effective integrated planning system for human resources and activities, developing a more vigorous accountability system in terms of human resources management, and helping the departments and agencies adopt more up-to-date, more cost-effective and better integrated methods for delivering human resources services.

In addition, but still related to modernization, the agency will try to rejuvenate and integrate professional development programs for managerial staff recently transferred from the Public Service Commission. The resulting increased consistency will facilitate the training of the leaders of tomorrow.

This leads to another of the agency's key responsibilities: promoting values and ethics in the public service. Specifically, the agency actively supports the departments and agencies in their efforts to integrate the new values and ethics code for the public service. The agency is also responsible for supporting the government in the development and ultimately in the implementation of the public servants disclosure bill currently being debated in the other place.

Finally, with regard to the Employment Equity Act and the Official Languages Act, the agency is focused on making targeted improvements in each of these areas while developing simplified and more effective tools to make the task easier for departments and agencies. As you can see, the agency is working on a large number of files of the utmost importance, files that not only affect the public administration in general but also directly reflect the concerns of Canadians with regard to the functioning of their public service.

To succeed, we must also demonstrate new leadership; a leadership that is unifying and that facilitates and supports departments, agencies and central agencies in their collective effort to modernize human resource management across the public service. This is why the government has committed itself to doing things differently. The creation of the agency is a reflection of its determination to develop and support excellence through modern and exemplary management of its human resources.

The agency will make it possible to give the attention, direction and support needed to foster and maintain excellence in public management and leadership. It will make it possible to put in place the conditions that public servants need to provide Canadians with quality services while promoting the highest standards of integrity, transparency and accountability.

This is why also, last October, the government tabled in the other place Bill C-8, aiming to confirm by legislative means the Order-in-Council that created the agency. Indeed, by providing a legislative base, such a bill will give a greater visibility, legitimacy and stability to the agency that only a legal framework can provide. This will enable the leadership it needs to facilitate the modernization of human resources management across the public service, as well as the implementation of its policies, programs and services.

Second, a legislative mandate will clarify the role of the agency within the system, including with unions. In particular, it will clarify relationships within the Treasury Board portfolio, as well as with the Treasury Board in its role as employer.

Third, a legislative base will support better integration of activities relating to human resource management within the Treasury Board portfolio.

This is all fully consistent with the recommendation made by the Auditor General of Canada in the recently tabled report. This report recognizes that, for the most part, roles and responsibilities for human resources management have been clarified. However, it also recommends that the roles of the new agency be further clarified to define its expected contribution to human resources governance and its relationship to other stakeholders. This is precisely what Bill C-8 is contributing to.

Finally, and perhaps most significantly, giving a legislative basis to the agency demonstrates the importance that the government places on human resources management. It signals government's recognition that its most precious resource is its employees, the people who are in the service of Canadians. That is the "why" of Bill C-8.

I will now conclude with the content of this bill. As I mentioned in the introduction, Bill C-8 simply gives legislative confirmation to the Orders-in-Council that created the agency. It does not change powers or functions already conferred on the agency. It merely enshrines in legislation what already exists in fact.

Essentially, Bill C-8 does four things: It adds the position of president of the agency to the Financial Administration Act, just as the Secretary of the Treasury Board and the Comptroller General are already identified therein; it specifies the nature of the powers and functions that may be delegated by the Treasury Board to the president of the agency, in the same manner as is set out in the Financial Administration Act for the others. It also stipulates that the President of the Treasury Board is responsible and accountable for coordinating the activities of the Treasury Board Secretariat, the Comptroller General of Canada and the president of the agency.

Please note that the term "accountable" was added as an amendment at the time of the review by the Standing Committee of Operations and Estimates. This is the only amendment that was made to Bill C-8. It was unanimously adopted in the other place.

Finally, Bill C-8 requires correlative amendments to two other acts. It requires an amendment to the Canada School of Public Service Act to appoint the president of the agency as an ex officio member of the school's board of governors, replacing the President of the Public Service Commission; and it also requires an amendment to the Official Languages Act to stipulate that it is the president of the agency, rather than the Secretary of the Treasury Board, who will provide the Commissioner of Official Languages with any audit reports that are prepared under the responsibility of the Treasury Board.

As you can see, although there are relatively modest additions to the Financial Administration Act, Bill C-8 constitutes a key step for public service administration. As the largest employer in Canada, the government's ability to meet the expectations of Canadians depends on the quality, commitment and integrity of its public servants.

In doing so, the agency is working to modernize, improve and integrate into a coherent whole all the functions conferred upon it. It seeks not only to improve culture, value, behaviour and practice but also the tools that are essential to a modern public service that is capable of meeting the expectations of all Canadians, and that is worthy of their trust and respect. The agency's reason for being is rooted in change and the continued support for excellence in human resources management.

Creation of a true human resources management agency with a legislative framework sends the unequivocal message to all Canadians, all public servants and all union representatives, that sound management of human resources is a priority for the Government of Canada.

This is why, honourable senators, if the Senate is agreeable, I would like this bill to be referred to the Standing Senate Committee on National Finance as soon as possible.