[Recorded by Electronic Apparatus]
Tuesday, October 3, 1995
The Chair: I'd like to call the meeting to order, please, and invite Mrs. Jennings to do her presentation.
You have five minutes. We're a little flexible; we'll let you go to five and a half sometimes.
Mrs. Daphne Jennings, MP (Mission - Coquitlam): Basically, I'd like to start on my motion 459, which is a suggestion that we make the Senate triple E: elected, effective and equal.
Madam Chairman, it is indeed a pleasure to be back in front of your subcommittee once again. As I have in past appearances before your subcommittee, I wish to address the criteria for the selection of votable items.
Motion 459 is a motion, and as such seeks to define the opinion of the House of Commons on the creation of a true triple-E Senate - elected, equal and effective - to better represent the people of the less populous provinces in our central Parliament.
My first argument in favour of this motion being chosen as votable is that it is of both national and regional significance and certainly of great significance in both western Canada and Atlantic Canada.
Two, this motion does not discriminate against any part of Canada, as the adoption of a triple-E Senate would benefit Canada as a whole. The people of all provinces would feel they were equal in at least one chamber of our central Parliament.
Three, it does not affect electoral boundaries at this stage. Of course, if the proper constitutional amendment were passed some time down the road, constituencies would have to be established in nine provinces and probably adjusted in Quebec.
Four, this motion does not need amendment to be effective.
Five, I do not believe that a triple-E Senate is on the government agenda.
Six, while Senate reform was a topic in the last Parliament, it has not been in this Parliament.
Seven, I believe that a debatable motion, which will come to a vote, is the best way for the House to deal with this issue at the present time.
Eight, this motion is not worded in partisan terms.
Nine is not applicable as this is not a bill.
Ten, this matter has not come to a vote in this session.
Finally, eleven, it is also not similar to any other motion selected as votable.
This exhausts the eleven points. I would be pleased to answer your questions.
The Chair: Okay, Mrs. Jennings.
Are there any questions from members of the committee? None?
Thank you, Mrs. Jennings.
Mr. Philip Mayfield, MP (Cariboo - Chilcotin): Thank you, Madam Chairman.
Following constituent complaints about the misuse of personal information, I began to research this whole privacy issue over a year ago. I have learned that there's a widespread perception of rampant abuse of personal information by companies, either by themselves or by other companies that have obtained this information second-hand.
My research also included a visit with the privacy commissioner, Mr. Bruce Phillips. He concurred with me that there is widespread misuse of personal information. He was concerned that the gathering of bits of personal information from a variety of sources over a period of time allows personal profiles to be established that can be used to target people for specific purposes. On the other hands, these profiles can also be used to set aside or exclude other people from pursuing legitimate interests.
Mr. Phillips estimates that the average Canadian has their name crunched through computers five to ten times daily. The end result is a serious threat to personal privacy and the unauthorized use or misuse of information that was given in good faith. The privacy commissioner is also concerned that this problem becomes more acute as information technology improves.
Through my research, I have learned that there are specific limits on federal jurisdiction in this area of personal privacy. Bill C-315 would leave provincially regulated businesses unaffected.
This bill is simple and straightforward. It is fundamentally based on Quebec's Bill 68, which itself resembles data protection measures in western Europe. Bill 68 is necessarily narrow in scope, as it addresses Quebec's provincial concerns regarding this matter.
Bill C-315 is also narrow in scope to address more thoroughly privacy concerns in the federal sector, most particularly banks and telecommunications companies, which process large personal information databases.
Except for Bill 68, there is no personal security regulation offered in the rest of Canada. A bill such as Bill C-315 would send a message to the rest of Canada about the importance of protecting personal information and could induce other provinces to enact their own legislation for their own sectors.
Specifically, Bill C-315 includes protection for an individual's name, home address or phone number, business address or phone number, race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, family status, education, income, and financial transactions in which the individual is engaged.
A summary of the bill is included on page 1(a) of the printed text. I've taken into consideration the criteria for the selection of votable items and assured myself that Bill C-315 falls within these parameters.
While my research has been ongoing for more than a year, new items keep revealing the growing need for this type of regulation. Last week, the report of the Information Highway Advisory Council pointed out the need for legislation to address the problems that Canadians have in maintaining their privacy.
Bill C-315 is a serious step towards offering this protection, and I'm requesting that this committee allow the House of Commons to debate this bill as a votable item.
Thank you very much.
The Chair: Thank you.
Are there any questions? Mr. Bélanger.
Mr. Bélanger (Ottawa - Vanier): Can you expound briefly on the cost implications for those who would want to sell or buy lists?
Mr. Mayfield: There would be costs in advising people whose names are on their lists and of adding or deleting these names from those lists.
Mr. Bélanger: If someone does not respond to the request from the seller of the list to determine whether or not the name can be sold, what happens then?
Mr. Mayfield: The responsibility in this instance is upon the person whose name is on the list, if they have been advised. They also have the option at a later time of requesting that their name be removed from the list. It is meant to give some control to the person whose name is on the list and to regulate that, which is not at the present time being done.
Mr. Bélanger: Which agency would be responsible for ensuring that this is done, should the bill pass?
Mr. Mayfield: This would come under the Department of Industry.
The Chair: Any other questions?
I have a couple of questions. My understanding of what you've said is that if an organization like the United Way were to have you on a list as a donor, before they could sell your name on that list to another organization, they would have to send you notification.
Mr. Mayfield: That is correct.
The Chair: This would inhibit, I would suggest, a lot of list selling because the postage alone would be phenomenal.
Mr. Mayfield: It may do that. On the other hand, the abuses of these lists at this time are causing people to call for some regulation.
The Chair: No, no I don't dispute the concept. I get harangued constantly myself. It almost makes you reluctant to give money to anybody.
What mechanism would be in place with this bill that people could guarantee they got the notification or they didn't? Would it have to be registered mail or would it be just regular Canada Post?
Mr. Mayfield: I've never envisioned, in putting this together, that it would have to be registered mail. The onus would be upon the person to respond. If they didn't respond, they would be free to request at a later date that their name be removed if they found it was on a list. It would be expensive enough without adding to the expenses.
The Chair: Yes, it would. Absolutely.
No further questions? Thank you very much.
Mr. Mayfield: Thank you very much.
The Chair: Mr. Thompson.
Mr. Myron Thompson, MP (Wild Rose): Thank you. I didn't prepare a written statement; I wasn't sure how you do this. I finally got lucky and got it on a draw. But it's very short, and I think it's very much to the point as to what I'm attempting to do with Bill C-343.
Bill C-343 would amend the Criminal Code to enable the police to include in their list of individuals that they may arrest without warrant those individuals who are out of jail on conditional release.
I base this on my involvement with police forces throughout the country, mainly in Toronto, Calgary, Vancouver and the cities, and numerous places with the RCMP. They have indicated to me that the only action they can take when individuals are obviously breaking probation rules is to report these incidents. When they do, usually due to the lack of probation officers and parole officers, the response is nil or very, very slow, and consequently other tragedies have followed. They know they could prevent a number of crimes if they had the ability and the authority to take these people into custody when they are obviously breaking the rules of their conditions of release.
I believe it's essential for the safety of Canadians that we look at this seriously. The police have indicated to me, as I said, that it would be a worthwhile preventive measure, and they are anxious to have that authority. For example, if a person is found in an area where he is not supposed to be, so many feet from a house or whatever, they would have the authority with this bill to arrest without warrant. It would give them grounds to do so if probation or conditional release rules were being broken.
There have been a number of examples. When I rode with the Toronto police they pointed out at least a half dozen people who were out on probation after serious drug offences, who were not to be on the streets, and who were to be in by 7 p.m.
The police know who these people are. They know the rules they must comply with. And obviously, when they are not complying, trouble follows. The police have no authority to do anything but report. Unfortunately, in most cases they don't even bother to report because the number of officers in the parole and probation area is so limited that it's difficult to reach anyone. As all of you probably know, they are extremely busy.
I think this would go a long way toward assisting in what all of us believe would make Canada safer for Canadians. I think that's what every party in the House wants to see. Certainly that's what Canadians want to see, and because that belief is national and very broad throughout the country, I believe this meets all of the criteria required to become a votable item. I request that it become one.
The Chair: Are there any questions? Mr. Stinson.
Mr. Stinson (Okanagan - Shuswap): Do I understand you correctly? If the police see somebody out on parole or on release in a place where he shouldn't be, do they have to take the time to get a warrant in order to go back and restrain him?
Mr. Thompson: No. The only thing they can do, according to the law today, is report to a probation officer or a parole officer.
In section 495 of the Criminal Code, there are three situations in which a person can be arrested without warrant. The three items are listed. This amendment would include a fourth item: those persons who are out on conditional release.
Mr. Bélanger: What are the first three?
Mr. Thompson: A peace officer may arrest without warrant in these three situations:
Mr. Bélanger: What happens in the case of an error made when an officer makes an arrest without a warrant because he or she mistakenly thinks someone is not to be on the streets after a certain hour?
The Chair: Can I interrupt? Have you finished your questions, Mr. Stinson?
Mr. Stinson: Yes.
The Chair: Okay. Mr. Bélanger jumped in.
Mr. Thompson: At the present time, the police are required to report these individuals to the proper officers. They know the rules for each and every one, and if they see them breaking the rules they have the obligation to report. This would entitle them to arrest without warrant.
Mr. Bélanger: If there's a mistake, what are the consequences?
Mr. Thompson: I assume there wouldn't be a mistake, because they wouldn't arrest unless they were certain the individual was breaking the probation order or the parole rules.
Mr. Bélanger: Thank you.
Mr. Caron, MP (Jonquière): Now I'm going to start speaking French.
Mr. Thompson: In a minute, I will.
The Chair: Have you mastered it yet?
Mr. Thompson: I'm working on it.
How can you expect a person who can't even unwrap the coil to speak French?
Mr. Ken Epp, MP (Elk Island): I thought you were going to say ``who can't even speak English''.
Mr. Thompson: Yes, there's a problem there too.
Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
Mr. Caron: You said in your presentation that when the police find that someone is violating the conditions of his parole, they have to file a report. But because the parole officials aren't available, or are overloaded with work, the police consider that there's no point filing a report and they don't do it. Have I understood correctly?
Would arresting someone who had evidently violated his parole be a more effective way of dealing with the situation than the current way, i.e. reporting the violation, which according to you is totally ineffective because the police don't do it?
Mr. Thompson: Yes, that's correct. For example, in Toronto at 2 a.m. when I was on a ride-along, they identified at least four different individuals. Their statement to me was that there was absolutely no way they'd be able to get in touch with an officer at 2 a.m., so they would wait to report it the next day.
They have no authority to detain or arrest. So what happens from 2 a.m. until an officer finally sees him the next day? That's when problems occur. They have said if only they'd had the authority, certain crimes wouldn't have occurred, or that particular incident wouldn't have happened.
To me it's simply a preventive method that is not allowable by law at the present time.
Mr. Caron: The person the police saw was not necessarily committing a crime or in their opinion getting ready to commit a crime. It simply means that the police saw someone in the street who shouldn't have been there at two in the morning and there didn't seem to be any purpose in reporting this the next day. It would have been preferable to arrest them on the spot.
Certainly these people were violating their parole, but the fact remains that they hadn't committed a crime and they didn't necessarily appear to be committing one. In your opinion, arresting them wouldn't be excessive, but it seems to me that the police would have an awful lot of arresting to do.
Mr. Thompson: I don't think you'll find this applies to a lot of individuals. What they're referring to is that there have been too many occasions where something could have been prevented had they been able to make an arrest. It's sort of an exception to the rule. It's not the rule that these kinds of things happen, but they have happened often enough that they really wish they had the authority to help prevent crime. That's their job. They want to do that and they know it would help them prevent it from happening, rather than investigating something that did happen two days later. That's what's going on with too many of these kinds of individuals.
They look at it much the same as a pit bull running loose without a leash, with somebody on the other end. It may not bite, but you don't take a chance with a pit bull. That's what they tell me.
The Chair: I have a couple of questions. The way the probation terms work right now and with the authority the police have right now, if that person on the loose is in the act of committing a crime, obviously they can arrest him or her on the spot.
Mr. Thompson: That's correct.
The Chair: How would you respond to someone who says you're really setting up the police to be empowered to harass citizens? My dad was a metro cop for 37 years and there were a lot of times when he drove around and said he knew that guy and that guy, but sometimes it was a case of mistaken identity. He could have jumped out of the cruiser and decided this guy was supposed to be in the house by 7 p.m., but it was the wrong guy.
Do you not worry that you're giving the police discretionary power to harass the citizens of this country?
Mr. Thompson: No, I'm not worried about that. I think they have a duty to perform and I think they want to perform their duty. Their duty is to protect people. If they do make a mistake and jump out of their car and discover they have made a wrong identification, I'm sure they could do the proper things through apologies and whatever it takes to make it right. But I'm simply saying that if it does prevent a death or a major property catastrophe, whatever it may be, it's worth empowering them to do so.
The Chair: Are there any other questions? Thank you, Mr. Thompson.
Mr. Thompson: Thank you.
The Chair: Mr. de Jong.
Mr. Simon de Jong, MP (Regina - Qu'Appelle): I'm requesting the committee to approve my private members' bill asking the government to extend a formal apology to the strikers who were involved in the Regina riot of 1935.
Briefly, the city police, the RCMP and the railway police set upon a peaceful assembly on July 1, 1935. In fact, of the 2,200 who had gathered at Market Square in Regina, only 300 were trekkers. So while the police were hoping to get the trekkers, there weren't many trekkers at all.
This was when the unemployed workers were on the trek to Ottawa and the Conservative federal government of the day was determined to stop them in Regina.
While the trekkers were negotiating with the Liberal provincial government of the day under Mr. Gardiner, the federal government, unbeknownst to the province, set in motion the events that led to this riot. Certainly the trekkers and impartial observers have claimed that the riot was really instigated. The RCMP at the time insisted on arresting seven of the leaders in front of the rally.
As I mentioned before as well, the provincial government was not made aware of what was happening. In fact, there was a very serious abuse of provincial powers.
It's important that this be a votable motion so Parliament has an opportunity to redress a past wrong. I know there are many past wrongs and we can't spend all of our time redressing past wrongs, but I think this is an important one. It was surely a black mark in our Canadian history.
Certainly when this was debated the last time on a motion of mine in 1985, the present Deputy Prime Minister, Ms Sheila Copps, had this to say:
Making it also a votable motion is the only possible vehicle to redress the situation in a proper and responsible fashion.
The Chair: Thank you. Are there any questions?
Mr. Caron: As I understand it, they decided to march on Ottawa during the Great Depression 60 years ago. Did they start from Regina?
Mr. de Jong: No, the march started in Vancouver, British Columbia. It was a time when they were riding the rails and they had made it to Regina.
Mr. Caron: And they were travelling by train?
Mr. de Jong: Yes.
Mr. Caron: And so the RCMP stopped the march in Regina? Were there problems? Were the marchers mistreated?
Mr. de Jong: Yes. A fair amount of violence was used. I think the commission of inquiry that was established afterwards agreed that much of the violence could have been avoided.
Certainly the marchers had been peaceful up to that point. But it was also a time, I suppose, if I wanted to find some rationale for the government, when the governments of the day were afraid of the Bolsheviks and possible revolution. Maybe they were fearful that if the marchers got to Ottawa the revolution would come. So they thought they would stop the revolution in Regina.
Mr. Caron: Apart from the Japanese whose rights were violated during World War II, are there a lot of groups calling for reparations or apologies from the Canadian government? There is the case, for example, of the Ukrainians during World War I. Are there a lot of groups who have been given apologies by the federal government in similar situations?
Mr. de Jong: No, I would say that the major group would be the Japanese. There are some elements of apology to the people of Ukrainian descent, although the apology wasn't acceptable to one group of the Ukrainian community because there was no financial compensation for the losses the Ukrainian people experienced.
I am not aware of other major groups.
The Chair: Thank you very much.
Mr. Michel Guimond, MP (Beauport - Montmorency - Orléans): This is the first time I have appeared before my peers to explain why a motion deserves to be votable. I hope the experience will not be too traumatic for either you or me.
To prepare for my presentation, I studied a document that explains the criteria for a motion's being votable. I will start by reading you the motion, which in my opinion should be votable:
Mr. Bélanger: Madam Chair, the motion that Mr. Guimond read and the one that I have are not the same.
The Clerk of the Committee: It is motion M-494.
Mr. Bélanger: M-494, not M-404?
The Clerk: Yes, M-494.
Mr. Guimond: The wording was amended. The motion was originally tabled on February 22, and called for a review of the Western Grain Transportation Act and so forth. The motion was worded differently, and the most recent budget from the Minister of Finance made it redundant. With yesterday noon's unanimous consent, it was agreed to amend it. Now it is number M-494, isn't that right?
Mr. Bélanger: It's useful to know that, because it isn't the same one that was tabled on February 22.
The Chair: In fact, it is my error. I should have pointed out to everyone that it had been changed. Sorry.
Mr. Guimond: What I want to explain is that this is a transitional motion, bridging the gap between the system that used to be in effect and its coming into effect again if Bill C-101, which is currently before the House, is passed without amendment.
Under the old National Transportation Act, 1987, a railway company that decided to abandon a branch line had only to prove to the National Transportation Agency that it was impossible to run the line at a profit. With all due respect to the Agency, which is a creature of Parliament, the process was what you might call rubber stamping - most applications to abandon a line were approved automatically.
After the fact it would transpire that there were interested groups or companies or communities who said that if they had known that the line was available they might have offered to buy it.
It seems probable that this motion would prove a nuisance to the big railway companies, in that they aren't always that keen to see small companies pop up to operate local lines, what are known as "short lines". Instead of offering them for sale to interested groups, the big companies go ahead and abandon them.
I want to point out to my colleagues that for a private Member's motion to be votable, it must among other things be of national, regional or local interest, and non-partisan.
I think the national interest is at stake here. This is not exclusively a concern in Quebec. You might think that because I am a member of the Bloc Québécois, I just want to table a motion, but I am sure you will not impute that kind of motive to me.
All the provinces are concerned. Applications to abandon lines are being made in British Columbia, the Maritimes, Ontario and of course Quebec. There are examples in every province. I don't think I'm telling you anything you haven't heard before when I say that a railway, like a seaport or an airport, is a tool for regional economic development.
If we want regional economic development, job creation, people getting back to work, there are plenty of companies, industries and plants that want to set up shop in the regions, on condition that skilled and capable workers can be found there. Usually there's no problem finding the workers, but we also have to be able to offer transportation infrastructures, so the firms can get their products out of the region to market.
Why do you think the paper companies set up shop in my native region, Saguenay - Lac-Saint-Jean? The reason is simple. The raw material was there, the black spruce, but there were also transportation infrastructures to carry the newsprint out of the region. The same is true of a good many Northern Ontario plants, in Kapuskasing, Smooth Rock Falls, White Rock Falls. It's the same in the west and the Maritimes.
There is one last criterion, which is that motions cannot be designated votable if they discriminate in favour of or against a particular part of the country.
I said earlier that this motion does not favour one region of Canada over another. I think that all regions and all provinces are concerned. The purpose of the motion is to compel railway companies that have received authorization to abandon a line to put them up for sale before they formally abandon them.
The National Transportation Agency sometimes used to impose a delay before a line could be abandoned. When the Agency gives its approval to an abandonment, the thing doesn't happen overnight. There is often a transition period of six or nine months or a year. The purpose of the motion is to open a window to saving or recovering these lines of local importance.
Thank you for your attention to my remarks.
Mr. Caron: Would passage of Bill C-101 make this motion redundant?
Mr. Guimond: Bill C-101 provides for a new procedure, which broadly speaking corresponds to the motion. So my motion is transitional. In the Bill, of course, no allowance is made for applications to abandon lines that were submitted two or three years ago or for lines that have already been torn up.
For example, CP has authorization to isolate the entire Outaouais region, by abandoning the line between Lachute and Saint-Augustin I think it was. So service is going to be cut off. The line will be abandoned in 1996. Our motion would oblige CN and CP to offer such lines for sale before abandoning them.
To answer your question, Bill C-101 provides for this new procedure in the future. Instead of focusing solely on the economic benefits of abandoning a line, companies will have to prove that they tried to sell the line on the open market, offered it to private investors or to provincial or municipal governments that might decide to keep it running. If really no one is interested, then of course the line would be abandoned.
Mr. Caron: If I have understood correctly, the companies that have already got authorization from the National Transportation Agency to cease operating a particular line would not be affected by passage of Bill C-101.
Mr. Guimond: That's right.
Mr. Caron: So the motion would be a net to catch -
Mr. Guimond: Exactly. It would cover the period before the Bill passes. After first reading, the Bill will be sent to the Standing Committee on Transport. There's no way of knowing what its final form will be. And even if it stays the way it is, it won't apply retroactively.
Mr. Caron: I see.
The Chair: Mr. Bélanger.
Mr. Bélanger: Don't Crown corporations already have an obligation, when they dispose of property, to offer it to federal departments or agencies, provincial ministries and municipal governments? Isn't that already what they have to do?
Mr. Guimond: That may be the case with other Crown corporations, I don't know. But I can tell you that as far as railways are concerned, and certainly in the case of CP, the companies are regarded as private entities.
Mr. Bélanger: I was thinking of CN.
Mr. Guimond: CN follows the same procedure as CP under the Transportation Act, 1987. In any case, it doesn't apply to either CN or CP.
Mr. Bélanger: In this region CN has sold properties including rail lines.
Mr. Guimond: I would think that's because they reached a private mutual agreement with someone.
Mr. Bélanger: It should be checked.
Mr. Guimond: But they were under no obligation to do so.
Mr. Bélanger: You're sure of that?
Mr. Guimond: I'm convinced. If tomorrow morning CN decided it no longer wanted to provide service on the line between Garneau and Jonquière in the Saguenay, it would not be required under the terms of the Transportation Act, 1987, to put the line up for sale.
Mr. Bélanger: Thank you, Mr. Guimond.
The Chair: Mr. Stinson.
Mr. Stinson: My question was answered.
The Chair: He does a good job of getting all my questions. It's mental telepathy. Thank you very much.
Mr. Ron MacDonald, MP (Dartmouth): Colleagues, I want to thank you for scheduling me toward the end because I did have another committee meeting downstairs. At least I was able to start it, and it's now in the capable hands of Francis LeBlanc, so I feel comfortable.
The motion that -
The Chair: Don't get too comfortable, Mr. MacDonald.
Mr. MacDonald: I haven't even started and I'm being told I'm speaking for too long. That's amazing. My reputation precedes me.
The Chair: That's right.
Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
Mr. MacDonald: The motion I seek consent on today to have as a votable motion is one that I pursued in the last parliament. I pursued it in the lead-up to our election campaign when I was part of our platform committee. I've continued to pursue it since we've become the government.
It's not one that the government of the day has adopted. It's one that the party of the day, now in government, supported while in opposition. All too often positions we take in opposition are sometimes not immediately acted upon in government.
This bill does a very simple thing. It ends a system of discrimination against federal public employees that has been going on for many years. It's a system of regional rates of pay.
By way of background, in years gone by the federal government, through negotiation with the various unions in the federal public service, agreed to various wage rates that were dependent not just on the classification, which is currently the case, but also on the region in which the job was being done.
It might have been fine to do that 25 or 30 years ago when the economies were not nearly as integrated as they are now; however, in today's modern, integrated Canadian economy, it is clearly a discriminatory practice.
I'll give you a quick example.
A few years ago a strike of the ships' crews took place. The ships' crews are the men and women who work for the Canadian Coast Guard. They work primarily on both coasts and in the Arctic Ocean. There are two regions for the Canadian Coast Guard: one is the western region and the other is the Atlantic region. The employees on both coasts do one job, which is to try to rescue ships and individuals that are in distress.
The average pay scale for these individuals who are going out in 15-metre swells, on both coasts and in the Arctic Ocean, was about $21,000 per year. However, because of the system of regional rates of pay, the individuals on the east coast who were doing that job were getting paid considerably less than those on the west coast who did it.
As George Baker, an eloquent and long-standing parliamentarian, said during debate on strike-breaking legislation back in 1990, there is at least one case where crews from both the east and west coasts had to work together to rescue a ship going through the Northwest Passage that had got into distress. Both were doing the same job, both had the same qualifications, and both worked for the same employer, but there was a vast difference in wage scales.
In some classifications, indeed with the general trades and labour group, these wage differentials can be fairly striking. In the case of some of the employees who work in the general trades and labour, specifically at the naval dockyards on both coasts, on the east coast some of these classifications are getting paid up to 22% less than their counterparts on the other coast.
The issue is not one just of coasts and east versus west; it also a matter that has come under some scrutiny among various regions for some categories and classifications within central Canada.
The bottom line on this is that over the years, each time a collective agreement has been negotiated, where those collective agreements could not be concluded, where it has gone to binding arbitration, each and every time an arbitrator has been appointed the first thing they have done was to collapse the regional rate as discriminatory and having no place in a modern relationship between an employer and its employees.
Indeed, to go back to the ships' crews strike, which cost the Canadian economy a lot of money because the St. Lawrence Seaway froze up while there were still ships in it without the benefit of having the coast guard to navigate and open those waters, the very first thing that happened through binding arbitration was that they collapsed the regional rate of pay as discriminatory.
That was the issue that the federal government at the time hung its hat on and that actually caused the strike. It was number one. It was the outstanding issue.
I remember trying to negotiate at the time with Robert de Cotret, who was the President of the Treasury Board. We had a deal. It was on a Thursday afternoon at 5 o'clock. The agreement was that he would send the reference over to the Public Service Staff Relations Board to deal with this dispute if we would agree to pass it in the House and that he, as minister, in the note to the Public Service Staff Relations Board, would agree to see the regional rate of pay as discriminatory and collapse it.
What this motion seeks to do is to affirm that regional rates of pay are discriminatory in and of themselves and to encourage the federal government to proceed, when possible, to collapse them.
In conclusion, just to give you some sense of this, in years gone by, there were dozens and dozens of regional rates. Through successive collective agreements and negotiation, those numbers are now away down. Currently there are about 22,000 individuals in the federal public service who are still suffering under regional rates of pay. They are primarily in the following occupation groups: education, nursing, occupational and physical therapy, general labour and trades - which is by far the largest group - printing, charge hands, ship repair east and west, educational support, hospital services, and general services.
If you look at the individuals who are currently discriminated against by their employer, which is the federal government, the numbers go down yearly.
Both Mr. Martin and Mr. Eggleton have made public statements that indicated that after the period of restraint we're currently under, when it starts to ease up and when we see some efficiencies in the public service, if further savings can be realized through reorganization and change in the way we do our business, over and above the savings that were indicated in the legislation, they would be prepared to try to find a way to put that back out to the public servants.
I would hope, if this motion were a votable motion and if it were voted in the affirmative, that it would send a strong signal to both Treasury Board and our Minister of Finance that when the time comes for those additional savings to be identified and put back over to the pay packets, one of the first areas to be dealt with is the elimination of the regional rate of pay so that people who work for this government are paid the same no matter where they work.
If you want to take into consideration the fact that it costs more to live in northern Canada, you do that by a special living allowance. That's how it's done, and that's not what we're talking about here.
For instance, the members of Parliament in this place, the members of the Quebec National Assembly and the members of the B.C. or Alberta parliaments, no matter where they live, get paid the same. I, as a member of Parliament from Dartmouth, get paid the same amount of money as a member of Parliament from Toronto, from Ottawa, from the Northwest Territories or from Vancouver. There is no discrimination from the taxpayers through our governmental system to say well, you live on the east coast, so you should get 22% less.
The principle here is equality. If the job description is an equal job description, if the employer is the same and if the skill level is the same, then the pay rate should be the same.
The argument that will be made on the other side - and it has been made in the past - is it will disrupt local wage rates. We've done a study in the past - and I'm prepared to answer questions on it - that shows that simply is not the case. Treasury Board has said it in the past, and when we've asked them for specific examples, they've been unable to bring them forward.
In conclusion, I would ask that you review carefully my request that this be made a votable motion. It doesn't encumber the government. It simply says that when the time is right - when those dollars do become available to be applied through to the public service wage package - this is one of the areas it should be applied to first, to eliminate the discriminatory practice of regional rates.
The Chair: Mr. MacDonald, if I might just add a comment, why would we not lower it to the rate that is on the east coast?
Mr. MacDonald: Well, Ms Parrish, if you can go and negotiate that through the unions, more power to you.
The reality is that you're dealing with a very small percentage of the public service. They've had their wage rates frozen for a number of years. Some of our caucus may support that. I certainly wouldn't. I think the public service in Canada is by and large a very professional one, and we're losing people every day. We're losing them because in some cases the private sector offers - it's hard to believe, but times have changed - more security and more potential for advancement.
However you want to do it, that's fine, but we're dealing with 22,000 employees who have come to successive governments and have worked through successive collective bargainings to try to get that playing field level.
It's very hard for me to look at a charge-hand or someone in the general trades and labour council who works very hard for the people of Canada in the ship repair unit in my colleague's riding in Halifax and tell them they're not worth the same rate of pay as are others who are in the same classification, doing the same job, with the same skill level, for the same government in another part of the country.
Mr. Bélanger: Mr. MacDonald, you said the situation has been improving.
Mr. MacDonald: Yes.
Mr. Bélanger: Can you elaborate on that? For instance, up to 22,000 employees are currently covered by regional rates of pay. What was it five, ten or fifteen years ago? How fast is it shrinking? How fast is the problem getting solved?
Mr. MacDonald: The problem wasn't getting solved initially because the unions did agree this was the best way, because they were negotiating national contracts. It became a problem probably about seven or eight years ago. The government started to recognize and close those gaps by reducing the number of categories and the number of classifications.
I don't have the numbers in front of me, but I would suspect we've probably gone from about 38 classifications down to maybe a dozen. So the movement is in the right direction.
Where the difficulty comes in is that for the last number of categories where wage discrimination via regional rates of pay have been eliminated, it's been done not through collective bargaining, but through the collapse of collective bargaining and through binding arbitration.
This has been done to the point that if our government had not imposed the wage restraint legislation, I can assure you the general trades and labour people down at the ship repair unit on the east coast would not have negotiated. They would have wanted binding arbitration imposed upon them because the likelihood was a much greater advance for negotiation based on the four previous years of the regional rate getting collapsed through binding arbitration. In actual fact, there's a bit of a problem there.
Mr. Bélanger: I have one more question.
Do you have a ballpark figure of how much Treasury Board would require tomorrow morning if this were accepted as government policy?
Mr. MacDonald: Yes. If the government accepted and did it tomorrow - which is not what we're asking them to do -
Mr. Bélanger: I understand.
Mr. MacDonald: - and were basing this on figures given by Treasury Board in the last government, we would be looking at about $50 million to $70 million out of the overall government pay packet, which is a considerable sum of money.
Mr. Bélanger: Is that for the 22,000 or for the 38,000?
Mr. MacDonald: That would be for the 22,000. We've tried to adjust our figures a little bit because it had been at 28,000.
The Chair: Mr. Stinson.
Mr. Stinson: You mention that this wouldn't affect what we commonly know as northern allowances.
Mr. MacDonald: No.
Mr. Stinson: Let's say we've run into a situation where we know it costs more to live in Vancouver, British Columbia, than it does in my home town of Vernon. How would you set up a contract?
The union would be looking at having to have something in place for the differences in the cost of living. Northern Affairs is looked after that way, under the pay scale as set up. Now this is usually used as part of the bargaining tool of the union of the region. How would you offset that with the union members themselves?
Mr. MacDonald: I think you'd find general support in the union membership at this time for elimination of regional rates of pay. In all of these groups when the negotiations start this is always the number one issue.
For instance, when we had the ships' crew strike in December 1989, the union's position was that it was the number one issue they felt had to be reconciled. The individuals on the west coast also believed it had to be reconciled.
The issue of cost of living is raised mostly in the context of Vancouver. I suggest to you that because of growth patterns other cities across the country have exhibited rates of inflation and rises in the CPI. Toronto did a few years ago. The system that was in place did not say, well, we will start having regional rates of pay for Toronto. The national wage rate seems to be an accepted direction in which to go, the same as it would be in the province of British Columbia. I don't know how they operate their school system, but I know Nova Scotia. Let me stick to what I know.
In Nova Scotia the teaching scale is the same whether you're in a rural or an urban area. The individual will choose whether or not he or she will go into the teaching profession and work in Halifax or in Digby. To buy a home in Digby is one-third of the cost to buy in Halifax. However, the quality of life in Halifax is perhaps a little better for some people than it is in Digby if they want to expose themselves to the arts and some other things like that. Or if they're an outdoors person they would want to stay in Digby.
I don't think those types of spikes and variances in cost of living are best addressed by government screwing around with wage rates. I think they should negotiate national contracts and establish national rates. Then it's up to the union to sell it to their membership. We shouldn't do their job.
Mr. Stinson: Have you questioned the union members in regard to this lately to see if this is -
Mr. MacDonald: Yes. You'll have to forgive me, but my area is one of the areas most grievously affected by this. The people in my area still see it. They've accepted the public service wage restraint actions we've taken. They have accepted the cutbacks we've made. They have accepted the voluntary and involuntary lay-offs within the federal public service.
They still tell me they know all this stuff is necessary to get the deficit under control and to deal with your debt, but they say, for goodness' sake, when times get a little better and when Mr. Martin and Mr. Eggleton do reach their targets of savings through these actions and a few dollars do become available, please try to get this issue addressed.
It's been raised. I've raised it with Mr. Eggleton and with Mr. Martin. It is an outstanding issue.
It will be dealt with either by government policy or by arbitration boards. Historically, arbitration panels have ruled in favour of the collapsed regional rates in every case in the last six years.
The Chair: Do you have any other questions, Mr. Caron?
Mr. MacDonald: Thank you.
The Chair: Mr. Epp.
Mr. Epp: I am here to represent Mr. Speaker, who is not able to be here due to an illness in his family.
Motion 476, which is 18 on your list, reminds me actually of the problem of the person who had a dream and in his dream he dreamed he had a dream. Was the dream in the second or third instance a real dream?
This is a motion that deals with private members' business so it's a private member's motion that deals with private members' business, and it is a very important one.
The frustration of many back-benchers on the government side, as well as those in opposition, is that they don't have a real effect in Parliament. They are limited in their ability to represent the wishes of their constituents and perhaps some personal goals they have.
This motion says that one of the hurdles the private member has to go through in order to get a bill passed should be removed, and that is the time restriction. In this particular case it's a very specific motion, which deals only with this particular parliament. I suppose, subject to how it works out, it would be a matter of passing it into a law that would be a general rule applying to all parliaments.
The rule is simply that any private members' bills that have passed the second reading during the first session should then be allowed to continue in the second session of this parliament. In other words, in the event of prorogation, the private members' business should not have to start all over again.
We're almost at the second anniversary since the election, as I'm sure we're all aware except Mr. Bélanger, who has been here a little less. But the rest of us fondly remember October 25, 1993. In those two years, there have been some 150 private members' bills introduced.
We submit that they represent many hours of work getting them ready, presenting to this committee, then proceeding to the process of the House and getting them drawn. If they have already gone through the second reading, it is really a shame at that stage to just have them cut off.
It's like being in a race, although it's something I'm not particularly familiar with. But if you were in a race, had run around the track three times and had one more lap to go to complete the mile and somebody said ``We're just going to start the counter over again. Keep going'', that's really what happens with private members. Of those 150 private members' bills that have been introduced so far, only 3 have been passed.
I suppose it's a matter of practicality on the part of the government, but it's also a matter, I think, of restricting the private member from getting the business done for which he was elected by asking members to start a process over again if they've already gone that far.
Remember that by the time they've reached second reading, all of these bills have already passed this stage. They've been at this committee. The members presenting these bills have been successful in persuading this committee that they should go to the House. They have already been successful in getting the members there to vote in favour of the bills at the various levels; otherwise the bills would be out of the picture.
Presently, nine private members' bills that have passed second reading are affected; at least, there were nine when Ray wrote this stuff up for me. I think maybe several this week have gone past that.
It is interesting that of those nine, four are sponsored by Liberals, three by Reformers and two by Bloc members. So this is definitely a non-partisan bill. It's a bill that is simply intended to enhance the ability of the private member to conduct his or her business.
It is certainly a non-trivial bill in the sense that it would substantially improve the efficiency of Parliament. It costs the taxpayers a lot of money to put us here, and it is certainly not trivial to make our work effective by allowing us to continue what we started.
I should also point out that this is in the spirit of what certainly all of the Liberals and the Reformers ran on. I must express my ignorance: I'm not aware of any specific area of the platform of the Bloc in this particular regard; I don't know if they had something. But we all ran on this idea, this concept, that the private member should have more meaningful input into the law. It was certainly in the red book, and it was in our documentation as well.
In addition to that, parliamentary reform efforts such as that of the McGrath committee in 1985 made exactly the same point. So it has support and it has a logical basis.
Therefore I'd like to submit on Mr. Speaker's behalf that you should give very careful consideration to making this particular motion one that's acceptable for debate in the House, one that would be votable, and one that would perhaps set a precedent for the consideration of future parliaments to change the rule in total with respect to private members' bills, that there shouldn't be a total loss of all the efforts expended. Thank you.
The Chair: Thank you, Mr. Epp. Mr. Speaker would be proud of you.
Are there any questions?
Mr. Stinson: You'll have to forgive me here, I think. Are you telling me that after the bills have gone this far, as it sits now, if the House was to be prorogued or something else was to happen, these bills would have to go back to the draw stage?
Mr. Epp: Yes. It's a clean state.
The Chair: Government bills, private members' bills - everything. It's the clean-slate concept.
Mr. Stinson: Okay. I didn't think I had got that quite clear.
Mr. Epp: The concept is that during most parliaments governments become aware that certain bills don't have a market. At least this is my interpretation of it. It's a polite, face-saving process of being able to take bills off the Order Paper. Later, those that they want, that they think will be successful, they reintroduce. But the others are just quietly dropped. It's a face-saving device.
I don't think it should apply to private members' business.
Mr. Bélanger: In the scheme that is proposed, would the originator of the private member's business in question first be asked whether or not he or she would want continuance?
Mr. Epp: Of course that's not necessary, because at any time a member can ask for the unanimous consent of the House to withdraw a motion.
Mr. Bélanger: Yes, but that's unanimous consent. I'm having it the other way around, consent of the person concerned.
Mr. Epp: I don't think Mr. Speaker, in making this up, contemplated that.
Also, I think it's generally accepted that once a motion is in the House, even though there is an individual sponsoring it, at that stage it belongs to the Parliament.
Mr. Bélanger: I ask the question because some members might be put in an awkward situation if, after prorogation, they are lucky enough to be invited into the cabinet but they are the sponsor of a private member's bill that might or might not square with government policy. In that case, I would see a very awkward moment for that member.
Mr. Epp: Yes, the member would try to withdraw the bill -
Mr. Bélanger: Without unanimous consent.
Mr. Epp: - and some nasty guy in the opposition would deny consent. I would never do that.
Mr. Bélanger: Of course you would not.
Mr. Epp: There might be some in the opposition who would, but....
That's an interesting concept, and I am sure that we would be open to a small amendment. It certainly wouldn't be a substantial amendment to this to say that it would be subject to the -
The Chair: If the bill is decided upon at this committee as being votable, then it goes intact. It doesn't get changed at this stage.
Now, if were to decide amongst us that it is votable bill, then once it gets on the floor I imagine that -
Mr. Bélanger: It's an interesting concept.
Mr. Epp: It's amendable once it's on the floor, but not here. I'm aware of that.
The Chair: What do you foresee if the parliament is ended and we have an election?
Mr. Bélanger: That's it.
The Chair: It's sure that it would be finished there? You're not trying to -
Mr. Epp: No, we're not contemplating -
The Chair: It's within a session.
Mr. Epp: This says specifically the 35th Parliament. It says, strictly speaking, from the first session to the second session. In the event that there's an election, you move on to the next parliament.
That's not contemplated.
The Chair: I am just wondering if this is the thin edge of the wedge, that's all.
Mr. Epp: No, I don't think so. Don't worry about the slippery slope in this one.
The Chair: Thank you, Mr. Epp.
Mr. Epp: Thank you for having me. I appreciate the opportunity.
The Chair: Would committee members like to go in camera now and begin the discussions? We are going to be called to vote at 5:15 p.m. Would you like to warm up? There might be some on which we can all agree quickly in one way or another.
Mr. Stinson: I'm agreeable. We'll probably have to leave here by 5 p.m.
The Chair: Yes. That gives us 25 minutes.
[Proceedings continue in camera]