Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Science and Technology
Issue 3 -- Evidence
Ottawa, Tuesday, May 14, 1996
The Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology, to which was referred Bill C-11, to establish the Department of Human Resources Development and to amend and repeal certain related acts, met this day, at 9:30 a.m., to give consideration to the bill.
Senator Mabel M. DeWare (Chair) in the Chair.
The Chair: Honourable senators, we have with us this morning three members of the department. Peter Harrison is Associate Deputy Minister and Vice-Chairperson; Gordon McFee is Acting Director General of Insurance Policy, Insurance; and Robert Cook is General Counsel, Legal Services.
Gentlemen, please proceed.
Mr. Peter Harrison, Associate Deputy Minister and Vice-Chairperson, Department of Human Resources Development: Honourable senators, Bill C-11 formally establishes Human Resources Development. This is obviously an important milestone for the department. Human Resources Development Canada was created in 1993, and it resulted from a fundamental review of the way in which the government does business.
The department was proposed to provide an integrated national approach to the whole question of Human Resources Development. The bill before you today brings this integrated approach to fruition. It amalgamates the former Employment and Immigration Department and the Department of Labour, as well as the social development programs from the previous departments of Health and Welfare and the Secretary of State. It brings these into a single department.
Part I of the bill establishes the Department of Human Resources Development to be presided over by a Minister, Deputy Minister and Associate Deputy Ministers. It also sets out the department's mandate and makes provision for the optional appointment of a Minister of Labour who would make use of the services and facilities of the department.
This will ensure that the government can continue to pay special attention to labour matters. The Honourable Alfonso Gagliano was appointed Minister of Labour in January 1996.
Part II of the bill provides for the continuance of the Canada Employment and Immigration Commission under the name of the Canada Employment Insurance Commission. The powers of the Commission remain unchanged.
Part III maintains in place the legislative base for the Program for Older Workers Adjustment which currently comes under the Department of Labour Act.
Part IV lists a number of transitional provisions and related amendments resulting from the merger of former departments.
Perhaps I could review briefly the objectives of the new department. Human Resources Development Canada is responsible for labour market adjustment, national labour-related activities, employment and unemployment insurance programs, post-secondary education payments to the provinces, student loans and social development programs, income security programs such as Old Age Security, the Guaranteed Income Supplement and the Canada Pension Plan, and the National Literacy Program.
The objectives of the department are set out in clause 6 of Bill C-11. These objectives are to develop, promote, and implement social policies and programs that facilitate the development, participation and well-being of members of Canadian society; to promote and strengthen the income security of seniors, persons with disabilities, survivors, families with children, and migrants; to promote economic growth and flexibility by providing temporary income support to unemployed workers who qualify for benefits under the Unemployment Insurance Act, without placing an unnecessary burden on individuals, groups or regions; and to facilitate and sustain stable industrial relations and a safe, fair and equitable workplace. Finally, it is to develop and support the use of Canada's human resources in order to promote economic growth and social well-being.
Briefly, in terms of roles and responsibilities, the Minister of Human Resources Development is responsible for all matters relating to these objectives according to this bill. In addition, at the present point in time, the Secretary of State for Training and Youth, who reports to the minister, assists with issues related to youth, training, the interests of the disabled and aboriginal issues. The Minister with Special Responsibility for Literacy also reports to the Minister of Human Resources Development and has delegated authority for the National Literacy Secretariat's funding program.
As laid out in the bill before you, the Minister of Labour is responsible for the Canada Labour Code and matters related to industrial relations in a safe, fair and equitable workplace.
Finally, in terms of roles and responsibilities, the Canada Employment Insurance Commission will report to Parliament through the Minister of Human Resources Development. The two commissioners representing workers and employers make recommendations regarding policies, programs, regulatory changes and other matters which affect employment and insurance programs.
Bill C-11 neither increases nor reduces the powers of the Minister or the federal government with respect to manpower and social programs. Its sole purpose is to combine and merge the statutory authority already provided for in the enabling legislation of former departments. Basically, Bill C-11 is a housekeeping bill in that it established a unified legislative base which clarifies the mandate and authority of the department without assigning to it any new powers.
As I already stated, the objectives are set out clearly and simply in section 6 and I quote:
...enhancing employment, encouraging equality and promoting social security.
The bill neither increases nor reduces the department's powers. It simply establishes the necessary legislative base. Thank you, Madam Chair. We will be happy to answer your questions.
The Chair: I should like to start with a question. Is it correct that the legislation does not introduce anything new, no new programs or cuts?
Mr. Harrison: That is correct.
The Chair: I understand you now will be responsible for overseeing the OAS, GIS and CPP, but the decisions for those particular programs will be through the Minister of Finance and not the Minister of Human Resources Development.
Mr. Harrison: In regard to the CPP, Madam Chair, there is a process of consultation under way which is sponsored by the Minister of Finance. The Minister of Human Resources Development has responsibility for the programming which is attached to the Canada Pension Plan.
The Chair: Whatever decisions are made, the minister is responsible for carrying them out?
Mr. Harrison: That is correct, and those changes would be brought forward in future legislation.
Senator Rompkey: Senator Cohen may have raised this already, and it has been raised in the house.
Is the Status of Women part of the new department? If not, why not? Could you explain why that particular program was not moved to the new department? It seems to me that would make some sense since it is an affirmative action program, essentially an assessment and support program, the same as programs for students or aged workers or like categories. Why was the status of women not moved to the new department?
My second question deals with literacy. The minister responsible for literacy reports to the minister. I am concerned about the support for literacy across the country. What we are doing about this as a nation? Many of these things are moving to provincial administration. There is obviously a pattern there. Perhaps we will be out of training. Could you elaborate on the future federal role in training?
I am most concerned with the lack of support for literacy, which is a fundamental requirement. We can talk about post-secondary education, the retraining of workers, and about people learning new skills; however, if you do not do something about literacy, all of those things fall by the wayside.
We now have an illiteracy rate of about 30 per cent. That means that about 30 per cent of our citizens cannot properly read a newspaper article. We have an innumeracy rate of 45 per cent, which means that people cannot add and subtract properly. That is a real comment on the secondary education system, which is not a federal responsibility but a provincial responsibility.
I am bothered by the fact that the literacy rate rises as you go across the country from west to east. My own province is number one, I expect. We have to be number one in something.
Senator Phillips: I thought you were number one in most things.
Senator Rompkey: Thank you, senator. However, my province has the least capacity to attack these problems. The budget which will come down on Thursday will make pretty drastic changes. Things may start to pick up in a few years, but, at the moment, the province is teetering on the brink. We find ourselves in a very difficult position. For example, there will be no capital construction for roads at all in our province.
I make that point just to reinforce this idea. The federal government may transfer responsibilities and tell Newfoundland, in the face of lower transfer payments, that it can enjoy more flexibility. Yes, we can juggle less money and put some of that into literacy if we so choose. On the other hand, there is no real national literacy program either. The budget for that department -- correct me if I am wrong -- is in the vicinity of $2 million. That is peanuts in any attack on a national illiteracy problem of 30 per cent.
It seems to me that literacy is fundamental, but I do not see a national plan to attack illiteracy. This is not a criticism of the secretariat or the minister, and far from it. The minister wanted to take on this cause, and she did so long before she became minister. When she was a senator, she espoused this cause, and I give her credit for the job she is doing. Rather, it is my intention to highlight this problem.
Senator Bonnell: I thought it was your intention to ask a question.
Senator Rompkey: This is my preamble. Do you want me to go over it again? Did you understand all that I said?
Senator Bonnell: Go ahead.
Senator Rompkey: This problem concerns me. The poorer provinces particularly have little ability to deal with this fundamental problem. I do not see any national plan to deal with this either. Could you comment on that?
Mr. Harrison: Senator, the Status of Women Canada, you are absolutely correct, is not affected by this bill. The program review process undertaken by the government essentially brought together three key programs affecting women. The Secretary of State for Women was created. These programs report through that secretariat which is separate from our department.
I can only surmise that that decision by the government gives greater visibility to those programs, but the bill before you today does not affect that.
Senator Rompkey: The Secretary of State responsible for women's programs reports to another minister too. Is it the Minister of Health?
Senator Cohen: Heritage.
Senator Rompkey: In terms of visibility, the minister is still a junior minister reporting to another minister, and the same thing could have been accomplished through employment.
Mr. Harrison: I am not in a position to discuss the reasoning.
Senator Rompkey: Of whom should we ask that question?
Mr. Harrison: I think that could be asked when Heritage comes before this committee. I can say, senator, that we pay great attention to issues relating to women, and as a department we work very closely with the rest of government on those issues.
In terms of literacy, the bill before you, once again, does not affect literacy programs. That having been said, the Estimates for our department, in terms of spending directly on the literacy program in this fiscal year, amount to $22.3 million. That is what is reported in the Estimates.
I should also indicate that the department and the minister are working very directly on the issue of youth and programming for youth. While decisions have yet to be made and brought forward, the issue of literacy is directly related to the issues of youth and youth employability.
Senator Cohen: Is it right that we could make a recommendation, before we pass the bill or with the bill, that the Government of Canada look into a national literacy program that has teeth? I firmly support everything that Senator Rompkey said, and I should like to suggest that we do make that recommendation with the passing of the bill.
Senator Phillips: I agree with that, but I suggest that it have eyes rather than teeth.
Senator Rompkey: The "eyes" have it.
Senator Phillips: When the witness listed the responsibilities of the department, he mentioned student loans. Does that include both the granting and the collection of loans that are in arrears?
Mr. Harrison: That is correct. It includes both.
Senator Phillips: Formerly, collection was a responsibility of the Department of National Revenue, was it not?
Mr. Harrison: I could ask my advisors about the Department of National Revenue, but there is a collection program within the Canada Student Loans Program within our department.
We are not aware of the arrangements in Revenue Canada, but certainly our department has that function.
Senator Phillips: I am not sure I understood you correctly. Did you say the Secretary of State reported to the Minister of Human Resources Development on aboriginal affairs?
Mr. Harrison: To the extent that there is programming within the Human Resources Development portfolio, that is correct. As you may be aware, senator, over the years, the whole question of aboriginal employability has been an issue which our department has supported. A program which ended at the end of last fiscal year called Pathways has been replaced by a similar program, and it is essentially for aboriginal people. That is within the programming of the department.
The role of the Secretary of State for Training and Youth includes a direct interest in reporting to the minister on the issues related to that program within the Department of Human Resources Development.
Senator Phillips: Do you have any liaison with the Department of Indian Affairs? It seems to me that the function and responsibility of that department has become rather dispersed among other departments. Employment ends up in Human Resources Development, and yet we are supposed to be giving preference to them in certain regards. I find it a bit strange that this did not remain under Indian Affairs. As far as I am concerned, all programs affecting aboriginals should be under Indian Affairs. This new department will be working with a large number of Canadians, and I do not see aboriginals getting a very high priority among them.
Mr. Harrison: In answer to your question, senator, we work closely with the Department of Indian Affairs. The programs within Human Resources Development are available to a broader group of aboriginal people than would normally come under the mandate of the Department of Indian Affairs. We work together closely to ensure that our programming is complementary and is not in competition, if you will, with what is provided by the Department of Indian Affairs.
This matter raises some issues about the mandate of Indian Affairs, but in terms of the bill before you today, it raises no issues about the mandate of Human Resources Development.
Senator Rompkey: I have a follow-up question relating to education. Senator Bonnell has introduced an inquiry in the Senate on the issue of post-secondary education. We await that with interest, as it is an important issue. What is the role of the department in coordinating a strategy for education across the country?
We have 12 different jurisdictions over universities and schools and so on. There is a council of ministers. However, there are now many organizations in Canada which are attempting, through a networking process, to come together to focus on what we as a nation are doing about education. If we lived in Britain, there would be a national strategy. Even in the United States, which is a federal country, there is a national Secretary of Education. There is no national secretary for education in this country. This new department is the closest we have ever come to it in this country. Perhaps much will be expected of you in that regard, from the federal level.
I am thinking about a national strategy. Do you have a mandate at all, or do you see it as a responsibility of the department, to facilitate a national strategy for education? I mean both secondary and post-secondary.
Mr. Harrison: The mandate for education is provincial. Consequently, the department traditionally has been involved in a number of forums, including the council of ministers, as a partner in terms of deliberating on the whole question of education.
We continually discuss with the provinces the link between employability, learning, training, and education. To that extent, and within the mandate of the department related to employability, yes, indeed, we work on a strategy in concert with the provinces.
Strictly speaking, however, it would be incorrect to say that we have the mandate to provide a national strategy for education in the way you described. This is essentially a provincial jurisdiction.
Senator Rompkey: You are the closest, and you do not have the mandate, so therefore no agency of the Government of Canada has a mandate or responsibility for coordinating or devising an education strategy in Canada. Is that right?
Mr. Harrison: That is correct.
Senator Losier-Cool: Further to that, what is your relationship with the ministers...
...the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada.
Mr. Harrison: The Council of Ministers of Education, Canada. We are involved in the discussions as officials. If I am not mistaken -- I have to check this -- I believe the minister is invited. However, the council was neither created nor is it administered by the federal government, since education comes under provincial jurisdiction.
Senator Bosa: I did not have an opportunity to follow Bill C-11 in the House of Commons. Has there been any criticism of this bill and what the department is proposing to do?
Mr. Harrison: There has been some questioning, if my memory serves me correctly, related to whether or not this creates further mandates or changes the fundamentals of the department, to which the answer is clearly no; this is an administrative bill.
The concern your colleague raised about status of women and the reporting relationship was raised in the Senate. There may have been other questions. We will have to check through Hansard to find that out. Essentially, those are the ones that were dealt with in a substantive manner.
Senator Lavoie-Roux: Clause 20 of the bill was discussed either in the House of Commons or by the House committee. I do not know which it was for certain. This particular provision reads as follows:
For the purpose of facilitating the formulation, coordination and implementation of any program or policy relating to the powers, duties and functions referred to in section 6, the Minister may enter into agreements with a province or group of provinces, agencies of provinces,...
The agency of a province is accountable to the government of that province.
...financial institutions and such other persons or bodies as the Minister considers appropriate.
Sometimes these arrangements are made without the knowledge of the provincial governments. This has long been the case, which is not to say that this is a good thing. We know that the federal government always uses its spending power in the narrower sense of the word to intervene in various areas and often even to contradict the initiatives taken by the provincial government. It can decide to hand out money to anyone it wants. This may be good for patronage, but logically, when it comes to coordinating efforts, I am not certain that this a very wise approach to take.
Mr. Harrison: To answer your question, the department already has arrangements and agreements in place, as you indicated, with many provincial institutions and agencies. Let me give you an example. Provinces occasionally set up institutions which are not departments, but rather provincial Crown agencies.
Senator Lavoie-Roux: I understand.
Mr. Harrison: We make arrangements with them for providing compensation to injured workers. However, we do maintain a series of ties with associations and groups. For example, in the private sector, we have helped to set up institutions and sectoral councils. This gives the minister an opportunity to work with these groups.
Senator Lavoie-Roux: I understand when it comes to a group, but the federal government may enter into agreements with one or two provincial agencies, with a financial institution or with any person or body it considers appropriate. The door is wide open. Anyone can request some funding and there is no guarantee that these efforts will be coordinated with the policies of the province in question. The scope of this provision is quite vast. Anyone can come and request funding and the government can decide to provide financial assistance to anyone it wants.
Mr. Harrison: Many provisions in the bill can be interpreted in this manner, including clause 20. They are subject to other laws which regulate the activities of the minister and of the department.
Clause 20 should not be interpreted as meaning the minister is free to do anything with anyone. This provision merely gives him the authority, pursuant to other legislation, to enter into agreements with these individuals and with other groups.
Senator Lavoie-Roux: I will take your word for it. Earlier on, there was some discussion of illiteracy. All provinces receive federal funding for literacy initiatives. I know that this is true of Quebec. However, here again, the federal minister is the one who decides on the level of funding. I will talk about the provinces that I am familiar with. Quebec is critical -- and this is not a constitutional disagreement -- of the government's interference in a kind of parallel literacy program and of its failure to take into consideration provincial priorities in this area. This has proved to be an irritant in terms of the operations of both governments. And now, I see that the federal government is continuing to take similar action; it feels no remorse.
Mr. Harrison: The literacy programs to which you alluded were implemented in accordance with standards set by the Council of Ministers. The standards define the funding criteria.
In the Throne Speech, government policy determined our department's programming. Through these initiatives and with the help of our partners, the spirit of consultation that you mentioned is reflected in the bill. This bill merely establishes a department, without assigning to it the authority to implement specific programs.
Senator Lavoie-Roux: Nevertheless, literacy can be equated with education. This is an area where caution is warranted. I do not wish to be critical of the efforts that any worthy official might make with a view to improving public literacy. However, this legislation gives you the power to make arrangements with virtually any group or individual.
How do the provincial government and the federal department coordinate their literacy policies? Undoubtedly you are aware of the criticism that has been voiced regarding this issue. Should the legislation not stipulate that the department may enter into an agreement with a province, group of provinces or any other body it considers appropriate only after it has consulted with the government of that province? Literacy is only one example. There are other areas of concern. There is no point perpetuating a system or creating a situation which could give rise to often useless or sterile disputes.
Clause 20 should, in my opinion, be a little more specific or a condition should be attached to it. Perhaps it should read: "...financial institutions and such other persons or bodies as the minister considers appropriate following consultations with the government of the province in question." As it now stands, there are no limitations. I am not going to make this a matter of principle. What I want to avoid are useless disputes merely for the sake of advancing ideas or ideologies.
Mr. Harrison: Clause 20 must be read in conjunction with clause 6 which outlines the powers, duties and functions of the Minister. This particular section reads as follows:
...all matters over which Parliament has jurisdiction relating to the development of the human resources of Canada not by law assigned to any other Minister,...
Therefore, my understanding is that the minister would not enter into agreements either with provinces, institutions or other persons in areas over which it has no jurisdiction.
Senator Lavoie-Roux: I understand, except that in clause 6 to which you referred, it says:
...not by law assigned to any other Minister, department, board or agency of the Government of Canada...
Provincial agencies and departments do operate in the same field. I agree. This bill does not target any other departments, only this one.
Senator Rompkey: Clause 7(b) says:
cooperate with provincial authorities with a view to the coordination of efforts made or proposed for preserving and improving human resources development.
Senator Lavoie-Roux: Of course it expresses the good intention to collaborate, but it does not restrain article 20.
Senator Rompkey: They must be read together. Which is more important, clause 7 or clause 20?
Senator Lavoie-Roux: It is not clear. I make the point simply in an attempt to avoid useless quarrels.
Mr. Harrison: If I may, senator, the purpose of the bill is not to create quarrels.
Senator Lavoie-Roux: I am sure it is not.
Mr. Harrison: As I have indicated, the way in which the minister and others will exercise the powers and duties, other than as outlined in this bill, will clearly be affected by other legislation which the government has in place or will bring forward from time to time.
The spirit of clause 7(b) --
(b) cooperate with provincial authorities with a view to the coordination of efforts made or proposed for preserving and improving human resources development.
That is the spirit of this provision.
Senator Lavoie-Roux: I agree with you that there is something to restrain the "ambitions" of a minister, but that does not completely answer the objection I raised in terms of clause 20. However, if no one else feels that way, I will live with it. When the problems come up, I will remind you.
Senator Cohen: In response to the discussion on status of women, during second reading debate in the Senate, Senator Kinsella mentioned that the mission of the new department is to give focus to the development of human resources in Canada with sensitivity to all Canadians. He believes that because of the unfair pay practices exercised against women, a natural resting place for Status of Women Canada would be under the aegis of this department. We are talking about seniors, students and aboriginals, which include all human elements of Canadian society.
Somehow, Status of Women has gone from pillar to post. I would much rather see it here than with Parks Canada. I think this would be its natural corner.
I say that simply to support Senator Rompkey and to put Senator Kinsella's statement on the record.
Senator Lavoie-Roux: How do you feel about Status of Women being with Parks Canada?
Mr. Harrison: It would not be appropriate for me to give you my opinion. However, I can say that the issues of gender equality and women's access to our programs are very central questions in the way in which we design and deliver our programs. It would be inappropriate for me to give my opinion.
Senator Cohen: You act in concert with other departments such as Status of Women and Indian and Northern Affairs Canada. Is it similar to partnerships?
Mr. Harrison: It would be fair to say that we work with every department in the federal government in one way or another. We work very closely with provincial departments which have similar mandates and enter into agreements on an ongoing basis. We work closely with the private sector in terms of partnerships with it.
The spirit of partnership is very much the way in which we go about our business and interpret the mandate which is given to the minister and to the department.
Senator Losier-Cool: When Status of Women was incorporated into Heritage Canada, I was on the Advisory Council on the Status of Women in New Brunswick. We were told that now all women's issues would be dealt with within each department.
With regard to the parts of this bill dealing with the National Training Act and the Old Age Security Act, did someone in your department do a gender analysis, as we were told would be done and as was done with the budget?
Mr. Harrison: Yes. There is, within the department, a Women's Bureau, the purpose of which, among other things, is to analyze the operations of the department and the impact of our programs from many different points of view, including the impact on women. The analysis of gender impact is central to what we do.
Senator Cohen: It is unfortunate that it is not included somewhere in the bill. Had it been included, I would never have asked the question. Having it in the bill would have satisfied me. Any woman reading this bill would not know that there is a department within Human Resources Development looking at all aspects of gender equality.
Senator Lavoie-Roux: You say this gives you the responsibility to look at issues such as gender and other women's issues. It might not be fair to ask you this question today since you will probably be back before us with the employment insurance bill. With respect to that bill -- and I do not want to get into this question too deeply -- there is much argument about the fact that it is not fair to women. It is said that those who will be penalized most by the employment insurance bill are women because a majority of them work part time.
Would an issue like this be one that would interest you in view of your responsibility regarding the status of women, gender equality, and that sort of thing? Would you be consulted in that regard?
Mr. Harrison: If I may, I believe the substantive question in terms of the employment insurance bill is, indeed, related to that bill as it comes forward.
However, I would indicate that the Employment Equity Act, which was passed by Parliament recently, is the responsibility of the Minister of Human Resources Development which he has delegated to the Minister of Labour because of the many issues related to the workplace. Through the Employment Equity Act, the department, and in particular the Minister of Labour, clearly has a direct interest in and responsibility for matters related to employment equity.
Senator Rompkey: Senator Lavoie-Roux raised the issue of Bill C-12, which I do not think is irrelevant. We will be dealing with Bill C-12 and examining the impact of that bill on women. In fact, the impact most likely will be positive. The movement to a hour-based assessment, for example, will include, perhaps, more women than before. At least that is what is anticipated.
I think that education is fundamental in terms of the status of women. In fact, one of the fundamental elements in improving the status of women is education. That is dealt with in Bill C-12. The question remaining is: Why is responsibility for the status of women not part of the new department? After all, the idea was to coordinate a number of functions that were separate before but which are now deemed to be together for the purposes of coordination and the ease of working together. I refer to issues involving labour, the CPP and the OAS. If it is deemed important to coordinate in one department issues concerning young people, older people, displaced workers and literacy, then why is the status of women not included?
Mr. Harrison: With respect, senator, again, I cannot surmise as to the thinking of the government in doing that.
Having said that, the information which I have is that the pulling together of several programs into the Status of Women Canada Program resulted from the program review process and, therefore, was reviewed by ministers. I must assume that the pros and the cons were considered at that time.
Senator Rompkey: There may be good justification for this; we just do not know what it is.
Senator Lavoie-Roux: It is strange to see responsibility for the status of women put into this other department. It is not a very logical move.
The Chair: Honourable senators, we will draw our meeting to a close. I thank the officials for being with us today.
Honourable senators, there are 107 clauses in the bill before us. The officials have told us that there is nothing new in this bill. Is it your pleasure to deal with the bill now?
Senator Rompkey: Madam Chair, I move that we report the bill without amendment. I make that motion for the followsing reasons: We have raised legitimate concerns here today. It might be in order for us to send with the bill a recommendation that the government examine moving the responsibility for the status of women into the new department. However, I do not think we should delay the bill on that account. I say that because most of our attention should be focused on Bill C-12. In essence, the bill before the committee is not that controversial. It is merely a housekeeping bill.
The Chair: My understanding is that those responsible for the status of women did not ask to appear before the committee.
Senator Rompkey: There could be explanations about which we are unaware.
The Chair: I agree that a recommendation should be attached to our report.
Senator Rompkey: I move that we report the bill without amendment but that we include a recommendation that the government examine the feasibility of including responsibility for the status of women in the new department.
The Chair: Is it agreed, honourable senators?
Senator Lavoie-Roux: I wish to abstain from voting on this motion, Madam Chair. My reason for doing so is clear. I have not had enough time to go through all of this material. I do not wish to adopt something which may cause me to say one year from now, "Gee, did I accept this?"
I am not against the motion; I am merely abstaining from voting on it. This is the first time in my life that I have done this.
The Chair: Honourable senators, could we have a show of hands with respect to the motion of Senator Rompkey?
Senator Cohen: Do you wish to include a literacy recommendation as well?
Senator Rompkey: No.
The Chair: I see that seven honourable senators are in favour of the motion. Therefore, I declare it adopted.
Senator Lavoie-Roux: There is the one abstention as well, Madam Chair.
The Chair: There is one senator against and one abstention.
The committee continued in camera.
Ottawa, Tuesday, May 14, 1996
The Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology, to which was referred Bill C-3, to amend the Canada Labour Code (nuclear undertakings) and to make a related amendment to another Act, met this day, at 4:20 p.m., to give consideration to the bill.
Senator Mabel M. DeWare (Chair) in the Chair.
The Chair: Honourable senators, we will resume consideration of Bill C-3. We have officials with us, should we need their advice.
Senator Lavoie-Roux: Several groups who appeared before us, as well as the labour department of Saskatchewan, raised the issue of the proposed section 121.2 (5). They expressed the wish that the word "consultation" be replaced with the requirement that the two governments come to an agreement because consultation does not create an obligation. You can consult and then do what you want. If the word "consultation" were replaced by the word "agreement", it would be much safer for everyone.
We must not forget that we are dealing with the domain of labour relations. We are all familiar with how easy it is to interpret things in a way which creates conflicts, sometimes very uselessly.
I believe that everything that can be done to make this clearer, without changing the objective of the law, should be done. I do not wish to block the bill. I suppose at this point we can only make recommendations. If the minister does not want to act on them, he will live with it. However, I suggest this for the purpose of improving the functioning of the law.
The Chair: The minister made a comment about that. My understanding of it was that they used the word "consultation" rather than "agreement" because, when dealing with four different provinces -- in this case New Brunswick, Quebec, Ontario and Saskatchewan -- they would have to set up a separate agreement with each province dealing with collective bargaining between atomic energy and the provinces.
Senator Lavoie-Roux: It is not an impossibility to make four agreements. They do it all the time with various provinces. Agreements are not always the same with every province. The various ministries have to take into account certain specificities. He may have said that, but we do not always have to believe the minister.
The Chair: We are talking about the difference between consultation with the provinces and an agreement with the provinces.
Mr. Warren Edmonsdon, Director General, Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service: As a result of the Supreme Court decision, we know that federal undertakings related to the supply of nuclear power fall within the federal jurisdiction. We are trying to ensure that there is some uniformity between operations in Ontario and Quebec as well as, in the case of Quebec and New Brunswick, trying to remove the void which exists as a result of this Supreme Court decision.
The mechanism chosen in the legislation is one to incorporate the provincial laws, notwithstanding that we retain jurisdiction federally, by reference into legislation.
If we are actually going to work with any one of the four provinces affected, we need to understand in some detail the legislation that we are attempting to incorporate by reference. We need to be able to amend where necessary to ensure that that legislation applies to these now federally regulated undertakings. This will only work where the two governments, after extensive consultation, are able to reach, through regulation, letters of understanding which work out the details as to how these laws will be applied.
The understanding would be that we would draft regulation which would reflect the labour laws that we are incorporating by reference and consult in detail with the provinces as to how these laws would be applied.
Minister Gagliano, in his commitments to the provinces, has basically said that this is not an attempt to select certain laws and reference them back to the province. This would effectively be used as a mechanism to consult with the provinces and work out, through regulation, how to apply the entire set of labour laws which the province wished to have applied.
Without that kind of consultation and cooperation, it will not work.
Mr. Robert Cook, Legal Counsel, Department of Human Resources Development: We are presently meeting with officials from the government of Ontario. For this mechanism to work, there will have to be a memorandum of understanding in place between the parties to this particular arrangement. Practically speaking, there will be discussions and there will be a memorandum of understanding in place.
Senator Lavoie-Roux: There could be a memorandum for each province then?
Mr. Cook: That is right.
Senator Lavoie-Roux: I still do not understand your reluctance to use the word "agreement". If you are willing to prepare an addendum, why refuse to put the words "come to an agreement" which are much clearer than "consultation"? You know what consultation means in every aspect of society. I believe that the word "agreement" is clearer and will achieve the same objective as would the word "consultation", which you describe as discussion that would likely end up with addenda for various provinces.
Mr. Cook: From a constitutional point of view, the federal Minister of Labour has ultimate responsibility for labour relations in these particular undertakings. That may be one of the reasons why "consultation" was put in the text. The minister would have ultimate responsibility, but before incorporating any provincial laws he would consult with the provinces and take their views into consideration.
Senator Bosa: If I understand the situation correctly, there is no analogous situation when it comes to these consultations or agreements. You need the flexibility to deal with these situations which differ from one another. You cannot have a uniform agreement with all provinces. I cannot recall the minister's words, but he explained to us that that was the reason they used the word "consultation" rather than "agreement".
Senator Lavoie-Roux: The proposed subsection 121.2(1) reads:
A regulation made under subsection (2) incorporating an Act or instrument shall, after consultation by the Minister with the appropriate provincial minister, be administered and enforced by the person or authority that is responsible....
Therefore, "agreement" would do the same thing and would, in my view, be safer than "consultation".
Senator Bosa: We have had extensive explanations on the meaning of this word. We can explore it to death, but it will not change matters. To me it is clear.
Senator Lavoie-Roux: Several groups expressed the same concern. They have studied this in more depth than have I and probably know more about the labour laws in their respective provinces than do I. As they raised the point, they must have had some real concerns.
Senator Bosa: They are not the only ones who raised it. We raised it ourselves and received the explanation from the officials and the minister.
Senator Lavoie-Roux: However, the explanation was not very satisfactory.
You raised the question yourself, Senator Bosa. You said:
Some witnesses who will appear before our committee have expressed some concerns with regard to clause 5. Are you aware of any suggestions that have been made about this?
This clause reads:
A regulation made under subsection (2) incorporating an Act or instrument shall, after consultation by the Minister with the appropriate provincial minister, be administered and enforced by the person or authority that is responsible for the administration and enforcement of the Act or instrument.
Has it come to your attention that there are some difficulties with this particular clause?
Mr. Gagliano: I do not know what kind of difficulty you are referring to. We have received no such notice. The bill simply creates the framework for each province to negotiate with the federal government how the transfer of authority will be done. That is what that clause refers to.
The Chair: A concern has been expressed about that section. Is there any action to be taken?
Senator Lavoie-Roux: I move that we change the word "consultation" to "agreement".
The Chair: Will all those this favour of changing the word "consultation" to "agreement" in the proposed subsection (5) please raise your hands.
Will those opposed please raise your hands.
Senator Lavoie-Roux: Obviously, we have been defeated.
The Chair: Senator Lavoie-Roux has another area of concern.
Senator Lavoie-Roux: I apologize if this is annoying to my colleagues, but one other concern that was expressed was the period of transition. Some witnesses did not feel that their vested interests would be totally respected and they were concerned about which code would apply during the overlapping period. Saskatchewan expressed that concern quite clearly, I believe.
Was this also raised with the minister when he appeared here?
The Chair: I am not sure about that.
Senator Gigantès: On page 3 of the bill, proposed section 121.4 (5) reads:
Any rights, privileges or duties acquired under this Part by the bargaining unit, bargaining agent, employer or employees before the time when a regulation is made are deemed to have been acquired pursuant to the regulation on the day on which they were acquired.
They are fully protected. Naturally, they are over-anxious and I understand that; I would be too. However, the bill has taken care of that.
Senator Lavoie-Roux: Are you sure that this is foolproof?
Senator Gigantès: Nothing is. In human affairs, nothing is foolproof.
Senator Lavoie-Roux: We are trying to ensure that a problem does not arise.
Senator Cohen: We want it to be as foolproof as possible.
Senator Gigantès: This is as close as you can get to giving people absolute protection.
The Chair: The matter has duly been brought to our attention. Thank you, senator.
We would like a motion to proceed with the bill.
Senator Bosa: I so move.
The Chair: It has been moved by Senator Bosa that the bill be reported back to the house without amendment.
Senator Lavoie-Roux: Other witnesses said that, for purposes of clarity, they believe it would be beneficial to expressly state that the procedure of the provincial law is adopted together with the substantive law.
The Chair: Could you comment on that?
Mr. Cook: I believe this question relates to provincial procedures applying if there is a prosecution. The bill is drafted in such a way as to provide that if any offence has been committed, it is an offence against this particular statute. It is our understanding that, therefore, the Criminal Code procedures would apply to a prosecution.
Senator Lavoie-Roux: That is fine. I am asking these questions because I do not know the answers and I want those who have raised these issues to feel that we have paid proper attention to their representations.
The labour minister of Saskatchewan said:
...my officials had a specific question around the proper venue to seek judicial review of decisions made by provincial tribunals, when the tribunal makes a decision pursuant to a regulation made under the Code. Our reading was that since the tribunal, for example the Saskatchewan Labour Relations Board, would be receiving its authority from the Code to hear matters pertaining to employees within the exclusive jurisdiction of the federal government, then one would have to go to the Federal Court to have the decision reviewed.
They have some problem with the fact that it would not be decided by their own tribunal but, rather, by the federal tribunal.
Mr. Cook: Their lawyers will no doubt review the jurisprudence in this area, but there are cases which provide that if a tribunal is created by a statute of the province, the provincial judicial review legislation will apply. I suspect that when they research the cases in this particular area, this matter will be clear.
Senator Lavoie-Roux: Have you read the brief from Quebec?
Mr. Cook: I am not sure which documents you are referring to, but we were aware of the Saskatchewan comments.
The Chair: Is Senator Bosa's motion agreed to?
Senator Lavoie-Roux: On division.
The Chair: I propose that we make the following report to the senate:
The Subcommittee on Agenda and Procedure of the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology has the honour to present its
Your Subcommittee met in camera on Tuesday, May 14, 1996, to consider matters of agenda relating to its budget on legislation and communication proposals.
Present at the meeting: The Hon. Senators Bosa, DeWare and Rompkey (3).
Your Subcommittee recommends the following:
1. That, of the three communications proposals before the Committee, Newman Communications' proposal be adopted, at a decreased rate of $500 per day;
2. That the budget on legislation be adopted as follows:
We have the budget with us and changes have been made to it.
I will respectfully submit this as chairman of the steering committee. The only changes to the budget are in the communications area. You will notice that the amount for communications has been increased.
Senator Lavoie-Roux: Then I will not vote for it.
The Chair: The original amount is to deal with Bill C-12. The increase of $5,000 would be for the rest of our mandate in this session of Parliament.
Senator Lavoie-Roux: Which firm will do the communications?
The Chair: Newman Communications.
Senator Lavoie-Roux: I was in favour of the Humphreys proposal.
The Chair: Yes, you were, and the steering committee recommends Newman Communications with a reduction in their proposal from $9,600 to $5,000.
Senator Bosa: I move the adoption of the budget.
Senator Lavoie-Roux: I still think this is a lot of money for communications.
Senator Cohen: Let us wait until the end of the year and see what kind of PR we get out of it. It may be worth every cent we spend.
The Chair: Is it agreed to adopt the motion?
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
The Chair: We will report Bill C-3 tomorrow. We will report Bill C-11 tomorrow with a recommendation about the status of women. We will report our budget. We decided this morning to do some television, which cannot be requested from the Senate until we have the bill before us.
Is there anything else to come before committee?
Senator Bosa: There is the request by Senator Haidasz concerning publicizing his bill. If I recall correctly, we decided to deal with that situation when it is before the committee. Right now it is hypothetical.
The Chair: That is correct.
Senator Rompkey: We should give Senator Haidasz an undertaking that the committee will give his bill maximum publicity.
The Chair: Within the resources available to us.
The committee adjourned.