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Parliamentary Employment and Staff Relations Act - Bill to Amend - Second Reading—Debate Adjourned


Hon. Serge Joyal moved second reading of Bill S-218, An Act to amend the Parliamentary Employment and Staff Relations Act.

He said: Honourable senators, it is a privilege this afternoon to draw your attention to Bill S-218. Bill S-218 is not a new bill. In fact, this is the third time this bill has appeared on the Order Paper. It was first introduced as Bill S-219, voted on at second reading and sent to the Rules Committee on May 31, 2007. In other words, the house has already voted a first time at second reading and sent it to the Rules Committee. Of course, what subsequently happened is that Parliament was dissolved, there was a general election, and the bill fell off the Order Paper.

When Parliament reconvened after the general election, Bill S-219 reappeared on the Order Paper as Bill S-212. Bill S-212, again, was voted on at second reading by this house on April 17, 2008, and was sent to the Standing Committee on Rules, Procedures and the Rights of Parliament.

I am looking at Senator Oliver, who is now the Chair of the Rules Committee. On May 13, 2008, about 10 months ago, the Rules Committee began its study. Senator Andreychuk and I appeared as witnesses and testified for an hour and a half. I testified on Bill S-219 and Senator Andreychuk testified on the motion that appears today on our Order Paper as Motion No. 13, at page 23.

Why am I referring to Senator Andreychuk's motion? The simple reason, honourable senators, is that Bill S-218 addressed one aspect of the problem and Senator Andreychuk addressed the overall picture of the problem.

What is the problem? I will give a quick presentation because I do not want to bore honourable senators by repeating the same speech. My speech is not exactly the same, because I will not read notes, but I will explain the essential purpose of Bill S-218.

The purpose of Bill S-218 is essentially to correct a situation whereby employees of Parliament find themselves without the same protection that public service employees enjoy under the Labour Relations Act.

The Supreme Court of Canada, in May 2005, issued a unanimous decision of the nine judges on the bench. The court ruled that an employee of Parliament who feels aggrieved or discriminated against would have to go through the grievance procedure that is provided under the Parliamentary Employment and Staff Relations Act in order to obtain redress, compensation or repair of damages that he believes he is entitled to.

The Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the Human Rights Act applies to employees of Parliament but that they have to go through the grievance procedure and not through the redress process provided in the Canadian Human Rights Act. The question that is raised is whether employees of Parliament are protected on an equal footing as employees of the Public Service Commission. The answer is no.

The Parliamentary Employment and Staff Relations Act was adopted in 1985, while the Public Service Labour Relations Act was adopted in 2003. The Public Service Labour Relations Act is a much more recent act, and it is an act that has been modernized by this chamber, as a matter of fact. It went through a lengthy process of study by a committee of the Senate.

The Public Service Labour Relations Act provides that if a public service employee feels aggrieved, he can call upon the Human Rights Commission in support of his grievance, and the Commission decides whether it will intervene to promote arguments, to seek a settlement, compensation or redress, and of course to help the employee receive fair treatment.

The Supreme Court of Canada ruled that an employee of Parliament must go through the grievance procedure, but the Parliamentary Employment and Staff Relations Act does not provide for similar assistance. Therefore, the objective of Bill S-218 is to provide for equal treatment of employees of Parliament and employees of the Public Service Commission.

Honourable senators, there are about 5,000 employees of Parliament: 400 in the Library of Parliament; 600 in the Senate; 2,000 in the House of Commons; plus, of course, the employees of the individual members of Parliament. This is a large group of people. Honourable senators will understand that those women and men working for Parliament would expect to have the same kind of protection that is enjoyed in the public service, generally speaking.

Senator Andreychuk's motion essentially calls upon our chamber to review how the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is applicable in the Senate. The courts have already ruled that the court cannot intervene to assist an employee in seeking redress in relation to the Charter, as far as Parliament is concerned.

We find ourselves in the strange situation that Parliament, which should be a model of respect for human rights and for the Charter of Rights, does not have a formal system for the application of the Charter. The courts do not want to intervene, for obvious reasons, because Parliament is outside the limits of the court. As an employer of 5,000 employees, we do not afford to our employees the same kind of protection that exists in the public service. Honourable senators will understand that the two objectives provided by Bill S-218 and the motion of Senator Andreychuk's are complementary. That is why, in two instances in the past, this house has voted that second reading in support of the study of those bills. That study started last spring, but was cut short with the dissolution of Parliament and the new election.


Today, I draw the attention of honourable senators to this matter and seek their concurrence so that we can continue at the Rules Committee. Nine of the senators who were on the Rules Committee in May 2008 are still members of the committee, although the committee has new senators now and a new chair. In May, Senator Keon was the chair of the committee.

Senator Andreychuk and I made a joint presentation regarding our complementary objectives so that Parliament could come forward with both recommendations and initiatives that would put Parliament at par with what is offered in the public service and what we find generally in public administration in Canada. Essentially, that is the objective of this bill, the third incarnation of the bill. For the third time, we seek the concurrence of the Senate this afternoon to send the bill to the Rules Committee for proper study and recommendation.

Honourable senators, I cannot help but ask for your concurrence not only of the motion of Senator Andreychuk but also of this bill because they are complementary initiatives. I feel strongly that this Parliament and the Parliament of Canada should be an exemplary Parliament in the way it treats its employees, and in the way it implements its objectives of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.