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S-219: An Act to amend the Public Service Employment Act

Honourable senators, I am pleased to speak to the second reading of this bill — which I have tabled for the third time in the Senate, first as Bill S-44 in September 2005, then as Bill S-201 tabled in April 2006. The current Tory government accuses us of delaying their bills.

Bill S-201 was tabled on April 2006 and sent to our National Finance Committee in September 2006, which committee reported the bill with a slight amendment on October 3, 2006. That all seems reasonable, so far as delay is concerned. However, it took two Tory senators seven months to comment on this bill for a maximum of 20 minutes each. Now, that is certainly a delay tactic.

Bill S-201 received third reading and was sent to the other place last May.

However, honourable senators, I am pleased to report that, even with the delay tactics of our Tory friends, there has been slow but constant progress. The president of the Public Service Commission expressed to us in committee last week her commitment to removing the restrictive geographic areas of selection in external competition for federal public jobs anywhere in the country. She has promised that by December 2008, in 13 months, the objective will be achieved.

I applaud Madam Barrados, the current president of the Public Service Commission. She is a woman of great determination, and I am thankful that she has put in place this policy — and I stress the word "policy."

May I remind my colleagues that, as I just indicated, removal of the geographic restriction is based only on a policy, championed by the current president of the commission, Ms. Barrados. With respect to policy change, as we have seen on other issues, depending on the government of the day and, in this particular situation, the sole person who presides over the Public Service Commission, policies are changed without warning from and for all parts of government operations.

Policies and even agreements have been changed by this government in the last 20 months. That is why I am continuing my quest to remove the geographic barriers with legislation, so that the PSC will have to ask to amend future legislation if it wants to reintroduce geographic barriers for federal jobs.

It has been an issue for over 13 years for me and for thousands of Canadians wanting to have at least an opportunity to compete for a federal public job, wherever it is and wherever they reside. It is a question of respect of our Charter's mobility rights for our citizens, and equity in opportunity.

May I also remind honourable senators that only 20 per cent of federal hiring last year was done via the external competition route. Incredible to believe, that this service-based industry is hiring 80 per cent of its staff as part-time, term or indeterminate. At 80 per cent, we are talking about over 45,000 hirings last year. Only 5,700 jobs were jobs advertised on the Public Service Commission website, while permanent appointments were at 7,720. Seventy-five per cent of the new permanently hired public servants had prior experience as either part-time, term or casual employees.

I am certain that the private sector looking at these statistics would have a very good laugh at us. Eighty per cent of hiring without competition speaks directly to the second part of Bill S-219, since it would prohibit bureaucratic patronage. A recent survey done by the Public Service Commission indicated that 73 per cent of public servants acknowledge that bureaucratic patronage is happening in their work unit. Other Commonwealth nations, U.K. and Australia, for example, have put forth legislation in addition to rules prohibiting bureaucratic patronage.

No wonder the commission is preoccupied by the current practices. Honourable senators, it is cause for alarm for the entire apparatus of government and how it will service our citizens.

Considering the importance of the issue and its current and future implications, I strongly believe we should mandate a Senate standing committee to look at staffing in the federal public service along with staffing in the private sector done via immigrants and working visas.

There is a looming revolt, and, as the economy goes into stagnation, citizens will not stand for the actual unfairness of treatment.

Honourable senators, I could go on and on, and I have been going on and on. I have spoken about this issue many times. Therefore, I move that Bill S-219 be deemed to have been read a second time, that we accept the committee report dated October 3, 2006, and that we move the third reading of Bill S-219.