Mr. Luc Berthold (Mégantic—L'Érable, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-4. Every time I speak in this place, as each of us does, I remind myself that I do so as the representative of the constituents of Mégantic—L'Érable.
As a newly elected member, I could easily get swept away by our magnificent nation's capital and its surroundings. It was with my constituents in mind that I prepared this speech.
If my colleagues do not mind, I would like to take this opportunity to point out that yesterday, the Eastern Townships public health department released its report on the health of the people of Lac-Mégantic, following the tragedy in that town. This report revealed that residents are still struggling and still need the support of members of the House. I think that all parliamentarians here would publicly agree to support the people of Lac-Mégantic, who have suffered as a result of this tragedy. I urge the government to work with all parliamentarians to help everyone get through this tragedy, which was, of course, a very difficult experience for the people of Lac-Mégantic. We will have to use the necessary resources, and we will all work together, across party lines, in a non-partisan and non-political manner, to ensure that the people of Lac-Mégantic get the services they need.
I want to start by saying that my speech on Bill C-4 is in no way an attack on unions or union leaders, and is certainly not an attack on the unionized workers who work hard to earn a living and support their families.
What I would like to talk about today is in fact the thousands of workers who have no corporate or partisan interests. They are happy in their jobs. They like being properly represented by their unions, and when they go home at night, they are just as happy to be with their families and forget about work until the next morning. That is the daily life of most workers, those whose voices we do not hear, those whom we tend to take for granted.
Here in the House and at the various levels of government, whether local, provincial, or federal, many people claim that they speak for those silent workers. Lobby groups and unions all claim that they speak on behalf of all of their members and in their place. It is easy to do so, because those individuals do not hear us. They do not attend meetings with the decision-makers and, at the risk of disappointing members, when they go home tonight, they probably will not read today's Hansard.
Why? Because they are busy. They work hard to earn their paycheques and take care of their families and their homes. They are also busy paying the bills. They expect us, their MPs, to do our work like they do theirs. They expect us to take care of business in our ridings and in our country, to manage their money as though it were our own, and to build a better future for Canada. That is what those thousands of workers expect from us.
They expect that from their union too. They expect their union representatives to deal with their working conditions and employer-employee relations and to be there when problems crop up. Like us, union representatives are elected. Like us, they do their best to represent their members, as we do for our constituents.
I would like to take a moment to thank the unions that have helped build the country we have now by improving the lives of all workers.
Bill C-4 repeals two statutes, the purpose of which was quite clear, namely to allow union members to vote for union certification by secret ballot without worrying about the pressure and corporate interests of the big unions.
We have all heard the questionable stories about people being pressured to sign union membership cards by three or four people who are not necessarily well intentioned. Often those people are not even co-workers.
I cannot see how a worker is supposed to refuse to sign when those three or four people threaten to stay at his apartment, home, or the restaurant where he is eating, until they get what they want.
The legislation gave that worker a way out by ensuring that his final decision would be made by secret ballot. In other words, when faced with two or three individuals insisting that they would not leave his home until he signs the card, he could always say yes, knowing that he had a way out.
That person would be able to vote by secret ballot, to make an informed decision, free from pressure from either the unions or those three or four people who wanted to force the person to sign the membership card.
With this bill, those three or four individuals would not have stuck around at the worker's front door long, trying to get a signature. That is the truth. I have to wonder why certain unions still use such methods to represent workers. Are they truly trying to defend the interests of their members or future members? Or are they simply acting in their corporate interest, to grow their own organization and to get the associated union dues?
What is really at stake with this old method is workers' money. Unfortunately, some unions are prepared to do anything to get the workers' money and do not care about what is good for them.
As the saying goes, the union wants what is good for you and wants your goods as well. That is the truth. Why are the Liberals, in one of their very first actions in government, going after Canadian workers and this democratic safeguard? I would truly like to understand.
Setting partisanship aside, how can this Liberal government, which from the beginning of the session has been spouting democratic principles, sabotage at the first opportunity a law that finally gave a voice to workers who work hard and want to avoid problems?
This law gave them a way out, a means to finally have their say, without fear of reprisal, on whether they want to be part of a union or not.
I listened to the comments of the members opposite, and since the beginning of the debate on this bill, I have not heard a clear answer. I heard the arguments of my colleague, who has done a fine job since the start.
He has a lot of experience as an opposition member. He highlighted the benefits of these two bills. I listened to the answers the minister gave him, but, unfortunately, I still do not understand.
I must therefore come to the conclusion that Bill C-4 has only one goal, namely to allow the unions to perpetuate their old ways of doing things. We tried to correct the situation in the interest of workers.
Why is the Liberal government doing this? You can find the answers if you look hard enough. If the other side does not provide the answers, you have to look a little harder and go back in time. You try to think about what happened before that could explain why the Liberal government absolutely wants to let the unions go back to their old ways. I think that I found part of the answer when I considered all that was said in the last federal election.
Last year, well before the election campaign began, the major unions ran a huge campaign against the Conservative Party using millions of dollars given to them by workers to represent them and negotiate their working conditions. The cat is out of the bag.
Here are a few examples of what was said in the union propaganda that was given to all unionized workers in my riding over the past year. Some of the key phrases were “the Conservative government's track record” and “what you need to know to vote for a better quality of life”. Those statements were then explained.
That is electioneering, and it was paid for with public funds. All Canadians paid for those documents through tax credits, and they were handed out to all unionized workers so that they could take a stand.
There was other fine rhetoric included in these pamphlets, such as “contempt for Parliament” and “actively anti-union”. On one page, the unions claimed to understand workers' values better than did the workers themselves. It read, “your values and vision for the future”. The unions were telling workers what to think. That is what they told unionized workers using Canadian taxpayers' money.
Later on, the unions told workers what they needed to know to vote for their safety and the safety of their loved ones. They said that transportation was less safe. They used the Lac-Mégantic tragedy to oppose what we had done. It is absolutely unbelievable.
As I mentioned at the beginning of my speech, some people want to use tragedies to score political points and advance their cause. As we saw recently in the Quebec City region, people are talking about Lac-Mégantic just to promote themselves. We do not want that. I just wanted to mention that as an aside.
Here are some other excerpts: “many reasons to vote against Harper”, “the Conservative track record”, “what you need to know before voting“, and so on.
Mr. Luc Berthold:
Madam Speaker, you are right, and I am sorry.
Let me get back to that question: “Why do we have to dump the Conservatives?” I found some quotes, and here is one of the best ones:
|| Get involved! Take the time to help make change happen! We are looking for volunteers in various ridings. Our goal is to talk to as many people as possible to tell them to vote for a change in government.
They were even offering training on how to vote. It is democratic, but I am skeptical about the reasons and motivations underlying our unions' big democratic push. That message was sent to all union members.
Here is another good quote I found when I listened to the debates and read some accounts of our debates.
In response to my colleague from Louis-Saint-Laurent, who asked the minister to explain how it could be undemocratic to have a secret-ballot vote for unionization, this is what the minister said:
||...it is undemocratic because the process used by the previous government did not include consultation. They did not go out into our community and apparently did not even consult with employers.
If I follow the minister's logic and understand what she said, Bill C-4 must be undemocratic.
When is the minister going to come to my riding, Mégantic—L'Érable, to consult the workers there? It is unbelievable. When is she going to come and consult the businesses in my region? Will she commit, here and now in the House, to visiting every riding in Canada to ask each and every worker their opinion on Bill C-4?
I invite the minister to come to my riding and I invite all of my colleagues across the aisle to do the same. I will arrange quite a visit for them.
Not only will the minister be able to consult each and every worker, explain her position, and hear the workers' opinions, but at the same time, she will also discover a very vibrant region full of motivated entrepreneurs and hard-working people.
However, she will also meet workers who do not agree with her on Bill C-4 and who cannot afford to make the trip here to the nation's capital to make the government hear what they have to say. Most of all, she will meet people who have absolutely no desire to come and listen to what we say here, because they are too busy earning a living and taking care of their families.
Between us, without mentioning anyone by name, since the vote was held by secret ballot, I will share a little secret with the House. I know that it will stay within these walls. When the minister comes to my riding, she will also meet unionized workers who voted for the Conservative Party. Indeed, she will.
A number of unionized workers voted for the Conservative Party and chose to support the party despite the millions of dollars that the big union bosses decided to spend to fight the big bad Conservatives, who asked them to be accountable to the workers.
She will hear that they are not at all pleased with how their boss spent their union dues during the election campaign. These people feel cheated because their money was used to fight their own democratic convictions. They are angry because their money was not used to defend their working conditions, but to promote a partisan political ideology that they do not share.
What 86% of unionized workers want is for their hard-earned money to be used properly and not for campaigning for or against a party.
Unions are the only organizations to receive so much public money without having to be transparent. Why is the Liberal government against that?
For all these reasons, I will be voting against Bill C-4.
Mr. Arif Virani (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, Lib.):
Madam Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Fredericton.
I am proud to stand today to speak in support of Bill C-4. The war on organized labour is over. This legislation would reverse the legacy of the previous government, which rushed through two anti-union measures, Bill C-377 and Bill C-525, just prior to the last election. Those measures put in place redundant reporting requirements and made it harder to certify and easier to decertify a union. With Bill C-4, our government would repeal both of these punitive pieces of legislation.
The reasons we are doing this are threefold. The old combination of legislation under Bills C-377 and C-525 was unnecessary, impeded collective bargaining, and was ideologically driven.
Argument number one is that the old legislation is unnecessary. No one asked for Bills C-377 and C-525. Employees did not ask for them, unions did not ask for them, and even employers were not clamouring for this legislation. These bills constituted a solution to a problem that did not even exist. The only champions of Bills C-377 and C-525 were the members of the previous government. The ostensible reason they asserted was that they were trying to promote increased financial transparency and accountability for unions and to inject democratic principles into their processes. This rationale was defective then, and it remains defective now. First, to the idea that unions are not transparent and that members do not get to see the financial statements or expenditures, this information was and has always been made available to union members. Unions are member-based organizations that release information to their members, information that is confidential.
My colleagues across the way keep harping on about how unions are undemocratic organizations. Once again, that is incorrect.
Unions meet regularly, and all members are welcome to participate. At meetings, members are empowered to hold their leaders accountable. Discussions and debate take place during the meetings, differences of opinion are aired, and solutions are put forward. Taken together, those aspects are features of a democratic system.
Unions also hold membership votes. Decisions are made by the members themselves. The members are the ones who make decisions and issue instructions. Leaders are elected by union members and can be removed from their positions. That is another key principle of a democratic system.
I say this with some experience. I am the product of an organized workplace. For the past 12 years, before being elected, I served as a civil servant with the Ontario public service, practising law as a crown attorney. I have first-hand knowledge of the transparency and accountability parameters by which unions abide.
Yet another argument offered by the previous government in support of the old package of legislation was that it represented a modest increase in the financial disclosure obligations for unions. Again, this is incorrect. The reporting requirement in old Bill C-377 calls for at least 24 detailed statements to be submitted by unions of any size, from the smallest groups to the largest national bodies. The collection and managing of these submissions would cost the government millions of dollars, $11 million to start the oversight mechanism and $2 million every year thereafter. Those are not my figures. They come from the Canada Revenue Agency and the parliamentary budget officer. Just so we are clear, under Bills C-377 and C-525, the previous Conservative government increased the size and scope of government and government regulation, adding to the amount of red tape and, more important, adding to the amount that Canadian taxpayers would be required to shell out for such additional bureaucracy. The irony is palpable.
Argument number two is that the old legislation impeded collective bargaining. As I said at the outset, Bill C-525 made it harder to certify and easier to decertify a union. With the new Bill C-4, we would repeal those provisions. Our government recognizes that certification of a union is an important part of the collective bargaining process.
As I mentioned, I spent 12 years as a crown attorney specializing in the area of constitutional law. Section 2(d) of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects freedom of association. That has been interpreted by the Supreme Court to include “the right to a meaningful process of collective bargaining”. Why is collective bargaining so important as to warrant constitutional protection? The Supreme Court has explained that, in paragraph 58 of a decision called MPAO.
The Supreme Court said:
|| The guarantee functions to protect individuals against more powerful entities. By banding together in the pursuit of common goals, individuals are able to prevent more powerful entities from thwarting their legitimate goals and desires. In this way, the guarantee of freedom of association empowers vulnerable groups and helps them work to right imbalances in society. It protects marginalized groups and makes possible a more equal society.
Collective bargaining is important because it helps to promote fairness and equality. We get that and we are not going to waste more taxpayer dollars litigating these types of cases in the courts. On that point, I would simply note that the charter challenge launched by the Alberta Union of Public Employees against the old Bill C-377 was suspended immediately upon our government's announcement that we would be repealing the government's punitive legislation.
However, it is not just me who understands the utility of collective bargaining as a vehicle for addressing inequality, it is also my constituents in Parkdale—High Park. It is people like Mr. Hassan Yussuff, the President of the Canadian Labour Congress, who is my neighbour in Roncesvalles Village and a tireless advocate for workers' rights. It is people like Wyatt Bilger, a hard-working carpenter and resident of my riding and a member of Carpenters Union Local 27. It is people like the countless artists, filmmakers, performers, and television producers in my riding who contribute so much culturally to our community, who are also proud members of ACTRA, the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists. It is people like the hard-working tradespeople and manufacturing employees in Parkdale—High Park who are members of LiUNA, Unifor, and the CAW.
All of these individuals and groups appreciate what this newly elected government recognizes, that workplaces that include collective bargaining are a net positive, not a net negative for our communities.
Argument number three is that the old legislation was ideologically driven. There was no rationale whatsoever that informed the passage of Bill C-377 and Bill C-525 other than rigid, anti-union sentiment. To illustrate this point, let us look no further than the rushed passage of the bills through Parliament. Bill C-377 was one of the four bills to get to the Senate just before the writ was issued for the last election. It was expedited to the Senate and was made made into law. But one of the four bills that received support from all parties in this chamber was left to die on the Senate order paper in place of passing Bill C-377.
What I am talking about is Bill C-279 that had been introduced as private members' legislation by my NDP colleague, the member for Esquimalt—Saanich—Sooke. Bill C-279 was going to amend the Canada Human Rights Act to include gender identity as a prohibited ground of discrimination. All parties supported and passed that private member's bill in the House in the 41st Parliament. However, instead of championing that bill in the Senate, the previous Conservative government decided to promote the passage of Bill C-377. Conservatives chose to attack organized labour rather than back Bill C-279, which would have protected the rights and freedoms of gender and gender variant Canadians who deserve the same treatment and rights as every other Canadian.
Not only did the Conservatives attack unions, they told trans and gender variant Canadians that their rights were not a priority. Thankfully that was yet another mistake of the Conservatives that our government has pledged to rectify. The commitment to amend the Canada Human Rights Act to add gender identity as a prohibited ground for discrimination is in the mandate letter for the Attorney General of Canada.
We have seen this ideological pattern before in terms of the old war on the environment, the war on the civil service, and the war on evidence-based policy. We have taken stands to reverse all of those previous battles. Now with Bill C-4, our government brings to an end the war on organized labour.
The role of this government, of any government, is to create jobs, but it is not just about creating any jobs, it is about creating good quality, secure, well-paying jobs. We recognize that unions help to do this. They ensure fair compensation for workers, promote safety for individuals, and protect workers' job security and their well-being.
A secure worker is a more productive worker and productive workers are good for the economy. We understand this. The previous government did not. As I said, the war on organized labour is over. Unions are not the enemy of progress, they are a partner in that progress. Our government is committed to working with them, not against them, to further the economic development of this country.
For these reasons, I urge members in the House to vote in favour of Bill C-4.
Mr. Matt DeCourcey (Fredericton, Lib.):
Madam Speaker, the government is repealing two laws that have changed the way unions operate.
Bill C-377 has created unnecessary red tape and has put organized labour at a disadvantage in the collective bargaining process.
Bill C-525 makes it more difficult for employees to unionize and easier for a bargaining agent to be decertified.
The measures the government is taking in Bill C-4, are part of a plan designed to ensure that Canada's labour laws best serve employees and employers.
This new bill is part of the government's plan to strengthen the middle class in our great country and to fully recognize the important role that unions play in protecting the rights of Canadian workers.
This government started with a tax break for hard-working Canadians. In the riding I represent, that is a tax break for hard-working nurses, teachers, soldiers, and many other public servants.
We will follow that tax break with the new Canada child benefit, a monthly tax-free, income-tested benefit that would lift hundreds of thousands of children out of poverty, a benefit that will help nine out of ten Canadian families.
We will also support our veterans by restoring the option of the lifelong pension and by caring for their physical and mental health, and that of their families. It is the sacred obligation of the government to unconditionally support those who have unconditionally served for our safety and freedom.
The government will rebuild its relationship with indigenous Canadians on a nation-to-nation basis, a relationship based upon mutual respect, recognition of rights, and understanding of traditional knowledge.
This bill is also about respect and fairness, national economic prosperity, and supporting the middle class, which is made up of those dedicated workers who contribute to the growth of our communities and our economy.
It is clear that the previous government did not believe in fairness or the importance of unions and the role they play. Its actions were motivated by a desire to undermine the union movement.
Bill C-377 and Bill C-525 were counterproductive to a positive working relationship between employees and employers. Furthermore, it was not a widespread request of the business community. It was unnecessary and caused difficulties for unions.
The two anti-labour bills, which this bill seeks to reverse and reset, were direct attacks on unions by the previous Conservative government. They undermined the right for workers in federally regulated sectors to form a union, and imposed unnecessary and onerous reporting burdens on all unions.
The current government is taking a different route, which consists in listening to the union groups, communities, and legal experts who sounded the alarm about these bills that likely violate charter rights. A number of constitutional experts felt that Bill C-377 was likely unconstitutional.
Privacy experts said that the bill would compromise the private information of millions of Canadians. The bill also discriminates against unions. It does not take into account other types of organizations, such as professional associations. What is more, seven provinces are against the bill because they feel it encroaches on their jurisdiction.
As my friend, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour has so eloquently stated, Bill C-525 was simply a solution looking for a problem.
Simply put, in over 10 years and after thousands of rulings by the Industrial Relations Board, there were merely two judgments against unions for questionable practices during union organizing.
That is why the government has taken significant steps to rebuild labour relations after a decade of acrimony between unions and the Conservatives. It is why the government has introduced legislation to repeal these two anti-labour bills.
I have the honour every day of representing the riding of Fredericton, which is home to many dedicated workers who have been unfavourably and unfairly affected by Bills C-377 and C-525, which are mean-spirited.
Educated, professional, proud public servants, many of whom are taking care of our aging population, live in the riding.
We are home to university scientists and researchers, themselves fostering creative approaches and solutions to the existential challenges we face as a society, as well as making new discoveries to the way we view the world and how we provide economic opportunity, social well-being, and environmental sustainability to our community.
We are also home to almost 1,000 civilian employees at Base Gagetown, employees who, amidst all the coming and going of our men and women in uniform, keep the lights on, the roads safe, and the buildings operational at Canada's largest military training base.
The economic and fiscal contribution of these professional public servants is enormous. Base Gagetown alone contributes upward of $600 million annually to the New Brunswick economy.
The base, the largest federal government asset and largest contributor to our socio-economic vibrancy in the riding, would simply not remain operational without the diligence and hard work of civilian employees, the support of their families, and, in fact, the support of the entire town of Oromocto, Canada's model town, which sprung up just over a half century ago to provide service and a home for the base.
Bill C-377 and Bill C-525 were not mere attacks on the civilian workforce at Base Gagetown. They were seen as an attack on the community of Oromocto. As I knocked on doors last winter, spring, summer, and fall, clear across the Oromocto community, I heard time and time again how the community felt largely betrayed by the former government and how it felt it was time for a positive change.
On October 19, the people of Oromocto spoke clearly and they spoke for that real change.
As the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour has said many times, we promised to repeal these bills because they are detrimental to labour relations. In Oromocto, labour relations have had a negative impact on the morale of the community.
Unions have a major role to play in protecting workers' rights and growing the middle class. The former government trampled on many basic labour rights that were hard won by the unions. That made it more difficult for workers to enjoy freedom of association, bargain collectively in good faith and work in a safe environment.
The government plans on restoring fair and balanced labour legislation that recognizes the important role unions play in Canada and respects their major contribution to the growth and prosperity of the middle class.
This begins with repealing Bill C-377 and Bill C-525, legislation that diminishes and weakens Canada's labour movement. This side of the floor knows that the bill may face a stiff test in the Senate. It is, however, sad to hear members opposite say that they will direct the Senate to kill the bill and continue to disadvantage the organized labour movement in Canada.
I believe the Senate exists to study and recommend improvements and enhancements to legislation. I hope the upper chamber will serve to do just that and will work collaboratively with all parliamentarians in the House.
Canadians elected a government that would ensure evidence based decision making. On balance, there was very little evidence to support the passing of these two bills. Canadians elected a government that work hard to reinstitute fairness in decision making. Over and above balance, there was nothing fair in these bills.
This government promised to stand up for Canadians, and this is exactly what we have set out to do, and Bill C-4 would do that.
Ms. Karine Trudel (Jonquière, NDP):
Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Essex.
I am pleased to rise in the House to debate Bill C-4, an act to amend the Canada Labour Code, the Parliamentary Employment and Staff Relations Act, the Public Service Labour Relations Act and the Income Tax Act. First of all, I would like to indicate that I will be supporting this bill. The NDP strongly opposed the previous Conservative government's attempt to limit the rights of unions and change the rules governing labour relations.
This bill reflects one of the promises made by the NDP during the election campaign. Although I support this bill, I must mention how much work still needs to be done with regard to workers' rights and their working conditions.
The bill restores and respects workers' rights. Like thousands of other people in my riding of Jonquière, I am very proud to have been a part of the labour movement. I was the president of my local chapter for eight years, and I managed it well.
Since we started debating Bill C-4, I cannot help but feel a twinge of sadness about many of the comments I have heard here in the House. For eight years, I was directly accountable to my members at meetings and even at my workplace. I had to deal with some very sensitive issues with my members and defend both long-time and new employees.
At union meetings we had a duty to present our financial statements to members. The same goes for all locals, in all unions. The members themselves must decide whether they agree with the spending their union is doing within their own organization. We must be transparent and accountable to our members. That is enshrined in all of our laws, and all unions must comply.
Over those eight years, I did so and we even implemented an audit system, which also exists in all unions. Our union has an officer to look over all the books and statements. I must say that when there is an anomaly, for example, if an invoice is missing or if an expenditure was left out or made by mistake, we are set straight and we are always accountable to this movement and our members.
Unions and their members do not need a government telling them what to do because they already have their regulations. They already have their own rules, rules that the members voted on either in meetings or in committees that are themselves elected by the members. Transparency is already part of the process, and leaders are accountable to union members every step of the way.
If a worker finds fault with the union's internal processes or the representatives, there is a great organization to handle that: the Canada Industrial Relations Board, the CIRB. The board is there for those people. It is impartial, and it exists to protect workers who feel their rights have been violated. There is even a complaints process. We do not need laws like the ones the Conservatives brought in to dictate how unions should be organized.
The union movement is very happy about Bill C-4, which would repeal the previous government's unfair bills C-377 and C-525. The New Democrats opposed those bills at every stage in the process because they were useless and irresponsible legislative measures that made a mockery of the very ideas of equality and fairness in negotiations between the parties and that undermined people's basic right to free collective bargaining.
It was a partisan assault on the men and women who go to work every day to provide for their families. Those same people voted to elect representatives to the House of Commons to defend their interests.
I was very disappointed that the member for Louis-Saint-Laurent reiterated his support for his party's bills, when he was not even a member for the party at that time.
Blaming the unions for his party's defeat is a little like blaming the groundhog for a longer winter. Ultimately, the workers spoke, and the Conservatives did not have their support, essentially because the Conservatives trampled all over workers' rights.
I would like to provide some direction for my colleague from Louis-Saint-Laurent, since he seems to have lost his way somewhere between Quebec City and Ottawa.
The World Bank found that a high rate of unionization led to greater income equality, lower unemployment and inflation, higher productivity, and a quicker response to economic downturns. I think our economy could use a good boost right about now.
The Conservatives put all their eggs in one basket and we are seeing the consequences of that today. Unfortunately, people often forget what the union movement has done for workers: minimum wage, paid overtime, occupational safety standards, parental and maternity leave, paid vacation, and protection from discrimination and sexual harassment.
Just yesterday, we voted for a motion on pay equity moved by the NDP. I thank all the parties who supported the motion. I am still scratching my head about the fact that the Conservatives refused to support our motion, and especially that their leader refused to support our motion, considering that until recently she was the minister of status of women.
Bill C-4 is an excellent first step. However, there is still a lot of work to be done to fix past mistakes, such as the attack on sick leave introduced in the omnibus Bill C-59.
We also have to take a look at what we can improve, beyond the repairs that need to be made because of the Conservatives' bad decisions. It is high time that we modernized some of the outdated provisions of the Canada Labour Code.
It has been almost 60 years since the Canada Labour Code was overhauled. I join with my colleague from Saskatoon West in highlighting the importance of following up on the recommendations of the report released after the 2006 review of the Canada Labour Code.
That follow-up is already overdue. A good number of those recommendations and the vital updates would benefit many workers. For example, take the issues of workplace safety and preventive withdrawal for pregnant women. In Quebec, under the CSST regulations, once women are 26 weeks pregnant they are entitled to preventive withdrawal for their protection and that of their foetus. There is no such provision in the Canada Labour Code. Thus, we still have far to go. We must do more to improve working conditions for our women, our future mothers, and for all workers. Every worker deserves to be protected.
Some workers have a very hard time putting food on the table every day. Therefore, we urge the government to restore the federal minimum wage, to pass anti-scab legislation and to fight for greater pay equity.
I am pleased to have had this time and the opportunity to debate this bill, because the rights of workers across Canada have been violated by the Conservatives' actions.
Unions have many procedures, bylaws and rules. Consequently, this whole movement is already well established.
I see that my time is up, but I could talk a long time about this subject.
Ms. Tracey Ramsey (Essex, NDP):
Madam Speaker, I rise today in support of Bill C-4, an act to amend the Canada Labour Code, the Parliamentary Employment and Staff Relations Act, the Public Service Labour Relations Act, and the Income Tax Act. This bill represents an important effort to reverse the anti-union and anti-worker legislation that was ushered through Parliament by the previous Conservative government.
The NDP worked tirelessly to oppose Bill C-377 and Bill C-525 at every step of the way, so it should come as no surprise that our party is in full support of repealing these bills.
While I welcome the changes tabled by the government as a good first step, there is so much more to do for workers' rights and conditions. New Democrats are calling on the government to reinstate a federal minimum wage, to adopt anti-scab legislation, and to implement proactive pay equity legislation, as per the NDP motion passed in this place just a few days ago. The NDP is also calling on the government to restore good-faith bargaining with our public service workers by repealing Division 20 of Bill C-59, related to sick days.
After a decade of Conservative darkness, I am encouraged to see the Liberal government taking the first steps to restore some of the rights of working people that were under attack under the previous government.
As the member of Parliament for Essex, I am determined to be a strong voice for working people both in my home riding and across Canada. The struggle of working people in Canada for unionization and their gains have benefited all Canadians. The fight of unions for a fair workplace for all workers in our country began with the fight in 1872 to have a shorter workday, but it has included changes to maternity and parental leave, the right to a safe workplace, and more.
My riding has proud union members working in auto manufacturing, health care, long-term care, education, municipalities, trades, retail, and the public sector. The benefits of being a unionized worker include a legally binding contract that guarantees working conditions, job security, paid holidays, wages, benefits, health and safety, and more.
On average, unionized workers earn $5 more per hour than non-unionized workers. For women, the difference is $6.65 an hour. Higher wages negotiated by unions inject an additional $786 million into the Canadian economy each week.
Unions also provide great support for communities. In my riding of Essex, unionized workers give generously and selflessly to the United Way and other non-profit organizations, which has made a vast difference in the lives of people in all of our communities, not just in the lives of union members. Gaps that exist due to government cuts and program reductions are picked up by caring union members who continue to dig deep into their pockets, even when they are suffering in their own industries.
I spent much of the last year knocking on doors and talking with people from every community in my riding of Essex. Their stories and struggles were the struggles of all hard-working Canadians: high unemployment through no fault of their own, and in our region, one of the highest unemployment rates in Canada, with many still ineligible for EI.
Workers are struggling to make ends meet. Our communities are filled with the working poor, who are left no choice but to work in minimum-wage jobs and part-time or casual jobs, often piecing together two or three different jobs just to make ends meet. Sadly, this is a growing reality across Canada. Statistics tell us that 60% of all new Canadian jobs are considered precarious, part-time, temporary, contract-based, freelance, and self-employed positions. These workers are taxi drivers, contract teachers, office cleaners, and clerks. They often have no workplace pension, no job benefits, and no job security.
As parliamentarians, it is our responsibility to work together and advocate for solutions that will improve the lives of all Canadians. Instead, in the previous Parliament, the Conservatives pushed through legislation, Bill C-377 and Bill C-525, designed to weaken unions and make it more difficult for Canadians in federally regulated workplaces to join a union.
These two bills moved through Parliament as private member's bills, although it was crystal clear that these were government-led initiatives. Even now, the Conservatives are threatening to use their power in the Senate to block legislation that would restore labour rights. Canadians are fed up with the unelected, unaccountable, under-investigation Senate. There is no place in our democracy for these senators to upend the work done by Canadians' representatives here in this place.
Bill C-377 was an unnecessary, discriminatory law designed to impose onerous and absurdly detailed reporting requirements on unions. Guised as a move to improve transparency, those who actually know how union locals operate also know that Bill C-377 had absolutely nothing to do with transparency. As a union member, I know the direction of the union members' funds and how they are determined, in fact, by the membership. Transparency between union members and their elected governing executives is never an issue. Members are always able to access the financial disclosure of their allocation of dues. Not a penny is spent that is not reported to the membership.
Reporting requirements in Bill C-377 would bog down unions in so much red tape that it would severely interfere with their ability to serve their membership. According to the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, this bill went against the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms by violating Canadians' right to the freedom of association and privacy rights of those who work for a union.
Bill C-377 would also cost millions of dollars to implement. The parliamentary budget officer estimated it would cost more than $2.4 million allocated by the Canada Revenue Agency. In fact, it was estimated that it would cost the CRA approximately $21 million to establish the electronic database over the first two years, and approximately $2.1 million in each subsequent year. Repealing the contents of Bill C-377 would save millions of dollars for both the government and the unions, and, as I previously mentioned, would continue the critical support that unionized workers provide for their communities where government gaps exist.
Bill C-4, the government bill before us today, also seeks to repeal Bill C-525, another bill introduced by a Conservative backbencher and ushered through by a Conservative government intent on attacking the labour movement. Bill C-525 fundamentally changed the process for certifying or decertifying a union under federal jurisdiction, essentially making it harder to certify a union and easier to decertify. It should come as no surprise that workers would want to unionize. As I outlined earlier, unionized jobs tend to have higher wages, better benefits, and better working conditions than non-unionized jobs. Bill C-525 would impact all federally regulated workers seeking to certify or decertify as a union. Workers under this jurisdiction include the energy sector, airline sector, telecommunications, rail, and postal workers.
For these federally regulated workers, to certify as a unionized workforce it was previously the case that a union was automatically certified if more than 50% of employees sign a card indicating they wish to be a member of a union. It is called the “card check system”. If between 35% and 50% of employees sign a card, a vote is triggered to ask employees if they wish to be unionized. Bill C-525 changed all this by outlawing the card check model and replacing it with a two-step process. First, the card-signing process where the percentage of signed cards required to trigger a vote increased from 35% to 40%. The second step included a government supervised vote. These changes were fundamentally unfair and put workers wanting to unionize at a serious disadvantage.
Bills C-377 and C-525 were not in the best interests of workers. Instead, they were designed to further attack and erode the labour movement in Canada. New Democrats will always stand for the interests of working Canadians. I am proud of how our party provided strong and effective leadership in opposing these bills in the House, at committee, and in the media. Today's legislation to repeal Bills C-377 and C-525 is a step in the right direction. I am also proud of our successful NDP motion this week calling for immediate action on pay equity. Let us also move forward on restoring and enhancing collective bargaining rights as well as fairer working conditions for all Canadians.
Mr. Michael Levitt (York Centre, Lib.):
Madam Speaker, I would like to inform you I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Winnipeg North.
Madam Speaker, I am here today to ask for the support of the House for Bill C-4, which would repeal the legislative amendments enacted by Bills C-377 and C-525 of the previous Parliament.
I am proud to call York Centre home to a large number of businesses and manufacturers. I have met people and heard stories from businesses that started in their garages and have grown into international brands. These range from storefronts to factories, many of which are local success stories that now have national, and even international, reach.
Not so coincidentally, York Centre is also home to a large number of unions and unionized workers. These are employees across a broad spectrum, from construction and the skilled trades, to factory workers, administrative employees, teachers, and public servants. It is no coincidence that my riding is home to so many thriving businesses and labour organizations. Both go together and have to worth together for our economy to thrive.
As we have stated before, our government believes that fair and balanced labour relations are absolutely essential for the prosperity of Canadian workers and our country's economic growth. Both employers and unions play critical roles in ensuring that workers receive decent wages and are treated fairly, in safe and healthy work environments.
It is our labour laws that help ensure there is a balance between the rights of unions and the rights of employers. However, in the previous Parliament, a number of pieces of legislation were passed that changed our labour relations system. Bills C-377 and C-525, private members' bills supported by the previous government, upset the delicate balance between unions and employers.
Under Bill C-377, labour organizations and labour trusts are required to provide the Canada Revenue Agency with details of their assets, liabilities, income and expenditures, as well as salaries paid to their officers, directors, and other specified employees. They are also required to provide information on the time spent by officers on political lobbying and non-labour relations activities. This information is then to be made publicly available on the CRA's website.
This creates unnecessary red tape for unions. Under the Canada Labour Code, unions in federally regulated workplaces, as well as employers' organizations, are already required to provide their financial statements to their own members, free and on demand. It is worth noting that eight provinces have similar financial disclosure requirements.
Why should unions be subject to these onerous and redundant reporting requirements, requirements that do not apply to other organizations that also benefit from similar status under the Income Tax Act, such as professional organizations?
Then there is the issue of this information being publicly available. Publishing this information on the CRA's website means that employers will have access to key union information, including how much they have set aside in a strike fund. It is not difficult to see how this puts the unions at a serious disadvantage during the collective bargaining process.
Essentially, Bill C-377 imbalances the system. This brings me to Bill C-525, which also tilts the scales in favour of employers.
Prior to Bill C-525, federally regulated private sector workers who wanted to organize could do so in a relatively simple and straightforward manner. If a majority of employees signed a union card, they could go to the Canada Industrial Relations Board, show it the signed union cards, and the CIRB could certify them as the bargaining agent for those workers. If less than a majority of employees signed union cards, but at least 35% did, a certification vote could be held. The card-check system worked well for many years, so why was it replaced by a system that many stakeholders, such as the Canadian Union of Public Employees, feel is less efficient and more vulnerable to employer interference?
Under Bill C-525, unions are required to show at least 40% membership support before holding a secret ballot vote, making it more difficult to get the right to vote. In addition, even when the majority of workers have clearly demonstrated their support by signing union membership cards, a secret ballot vote must be held before they can be certified as a bargaining agent.
The card check system, which is based on obtaining majority support, is no less democratic than a mandatory vote system. It has also proven to be an efficient and effective way to gauge employee wishes. According to the National Union of Public and General Employees, this two-stage process essentially forces those in favour of a union to vote twice. By slowing the process, the employer has the opportunity to intimidate, harass, and unethically induce employees to vote no. Not all employers would attempt to prevent unions from organizing. However, there are examples of those who have.
The bottom line is that Bill C-377 and Bill C-525 put unions at a disadvantage and make it more difficult for Canadian workers to unionize in the first place.
Why would we want to make life more difficult for unions and the workers they represent? We recognize the important role that unions play in protecting the rights of Canadians. As Canadian Labour Congress president Hassan Yussuff stated, Bill C-377 and Bill C-525 were “nothing more than an attempt to undermine unions’ ability to do important work like protecting jobs, promoting health and safety in the workplace, and advocating on behalf of all Canadian workers”.
The federal labour relations system used to be respected and supported by both labour and employers as a result of genuine and proven consultative and consensual processes that had been followed for decades with respect to amending the Labour Code. As I mentioned earlier, the prosperity of Canadian workers and the Canadian economy relies on those same fair and balanced labour relations. Repealing the legislative amendments made by Bill C-377 and Bill C-525 will help restore that balance.
I sincerely hope that all of my colleagues in the House will support Bill C-4 so we can achieve this.
Mr. Kevin Lamoureux (Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, Lib.):
Madam Speaker, it is always a pleasure to rise and address important issues facing the chamber.
I look at the bill before us as a bill that would right a wrong. The previous government made a mistake when it brought in a private member's bill through the back door, legislation that was to make a political statement which was to the detriment of the union movement in Canada. However, it goes far beyond just the union movement, as it affects every aspect of our economy, which is something I will take a bit of time to highlight.
In my former years as a member of the Manitoba Legislative Assembly, I had the opportunity to be engaged in a number of different debates regarding unions and labour legislation. In fact, in 1988, we had our most controversial days inside the Manitoba legislation, and it was surrounding labour legislation.
Some might recall the use of the tool called the “final offer selection”. It was brought in by a New Democratic government. When the New Democratic government fell, it was replaced with a Conservative government, and one of the first things on its agenda was to get rid of the final offer selection tool.
I recall very vividly how much resistance there was to that. When we went into committee, there was well over 100 people, from all different sectors of society, who wanted to contribute. We met for hours and hours, sometimes until three or four o'clock in the morning on several evenings. That was my baptism to the whole issue of labour relations. Through that, I got a better appreciation of the importance of getting it right, which is something the previous government failed to do.
If the Conservatives recognized the importance of labour relations, they would never have attempted to introduce, through the back door of the House of Commons, through a private member's bill, labour legislation that was inappropriate. The government had a choice back then, and it chose confrontation with organized labour in Canada.
I truly believe that the Conservatives do not understand or appreciate the valuable work that unions not only do today but have done in the past, and the important role they will have into the future. This is something that we in the Liberal Party have always respected. We understand and value the contributions that unions make and will make.
When we take a look at Bill C-4, members should be aware that it is here because of two private members' bills, as has been talked about extensively here today. We heard government members say how wonderful those private members' bills were. We heard New Democrats say that they were bad bills. We also heard government members point out why those two pieces of legislation should never have seen the light of day.
To give a different perspective, if the previous Conservative government truly wanted to change labour legislation of that nature, it should have brought the bills in the form of government legislation, much like we see here, with the new Prime Minister and minister responsible for the labour act. That is what should have happened, but it did not happen that way.
Members asked what the result was of the bills being put forward in that sort of format. There is an obligation on ministers to consult and work with the many different stakeholder groups out there. However, the opportunity to be consulted, and for the minister at that time to conduct consultations and work with the different stakeholders, which I would suggest is their responsibility, was never done. It was never done because it was introduced through private members' legislation and there were limits.
Members will have more debate on the legislation before us than we did on one of those bills that went through second reading, third reading, and ultimately passage. It is because there are severe limitations when proposed legislation is brought in through a private member's bill. The process in terms of going to committee is also changed.
Even if somehow, in some sort of twisted way, the government wanted to bring it in through government legislation, I suspect there is a very good chance that it would not have passed. There is no doubt in my mind, they never would have reached consensus.
The former government should have taken this seriously. However, it did not. It was more concerned about scoring political points than improving harmony or consensus within Canada's labour movement, industry as a whole, and our economy. The Conservatives were more interested in being able to tell whoever their stakeholders and vested interest groups were that they were hitting hard on the unions. They were doing it in an unfair fashion, and they had no qualms about doing that.
I sat on the opposition bench as those votes proceeded. It was quite disappointing. We in the Liberal Party understand how important it is that we have, promote, and encourage labour harmony. That is what governments should be doing, not trying to cause divisive mechanisms or change the system to make it more lopsided. That is not what the government should be doing. We should be trying to encourage that harmony and consensus. That is something we would see with Bill C-4.
The only group of people who will oppose this piece of legislation will be led by the Conservative Party in most part. However, let us recognize that the real reason we have the legislation before us today is because it was a commitment.
My colleague from the Atlantic region, our critic at the time, enunciated just why the private member's bill that was being proposed was fundamentally flawed. He was right. It was and is fundamentally flawed. That is why it needs to be changed. That is why the leader of the third party back then, today's Prime Minister, made a commitment to rectify the wrong. That is what Bill C-4 would do.
I hear a lot about labour legislation coming from the New Democratic Party, and I would caution members. In one of the committees, the Ontario minister of labour made a presentation. She indicated that the private members' bills, if passed, would have the federal government overstepping its constitutional boundaries and stepping into an area of provincial jurisdiction. I am grateful my New Democratic friends are supporting the bill. I applaud them. However, they need to keep in mind that there is some legislation that might be better seen at the provincial level. We have to respect that jurisdictional issue, or at the very least, have that discussion with our provincial counterparts.
For example, the anti-scab legislation was talked about a lot in Manitoba during the late 70s and early 80s. It was not passed through the Manitoba legislature. Instead, the government of Howard Pawley made the decision to bring in the final offer selection, which I made reference to earlier. My understanding is that the only government that has ever brought in anti-scab legislation in a true form, from what I recall, was a Liberal administration in Quebec. It might have changed in recent years. I do not know. We see many different labour laws brought up at the provincial level.
What we have today is part of an election commitment, but when there are labour changes, we need to work with the stakeholders. That is what I would like to recommend when people look at this, especially the Conservatives. They should consider the way that labour and industry as a whole, the economy, was affected by introducing bills through the back door, which absolutely no one, outside of someone who belonged to the Conservative Party and happened to be a member of the House of Commons, was actually calling for. Bill C-4 is a bill that every member in the House should be supporting.
Mr. John Barlow (Foothills, CPC):
Madam Speaker, it is an honour to rise in the House today to debate on Bill C-4.
A lot of the things that have been discussed and debated today are of great concern to me, and I think many Canadians. We talked about things like a secret ballot being unnecessary red tape and going against the foundation of our democracy. I find it unbelievable that many of our Liberal and NDP colleagues have made such comments today. It is the secret ballot, the way we elect almost every political official in our country, federal, provincial, and municipal, and they find it to be unnecessary red tape.
I would like to ask them how they think they came into this House today. Would they prefer that there not be a secret ballot, or no ballot whatsoever? I question their frame of mind when they are talking about a secret ballot being undemocratic.
It is also quite ironic that the first piece of legislation from the new government, a government that campaigned quite passionately about openness, transparency and accountability, is a bill that will absolutely gut transparency and accountability in legislation that we put forward for unions. I find that to be incredibly ironic, and I would say another broken promise by the new Liberal government.
Equally as frustrating for me as a member of Parliament from Alberta is that I have to question the motives of the government and why they would be bringing this piece of legislation forward right now. I am getting calls every day, from welders, waitresses, pipefitters, rig hands. They ask me when the government will come up with some kind of strategy that will help them get back to work. When will the government announce some sort of plan that will help their families as they try to make ends meet? They could potentially lose their jobs, or they have already lost their jobs. Where is the priority of the government when thousands of Albertans have been laid off?
The labour study was released today, and 22,000 full-time jobs were lost in Alberta in January alone. Alberta's unemployment rate went to 7.4%, which is the first time since 1988 that it has been higher than the Canadian average. We have heard predictions that Alberta's unemployment rate will exceed 8% by the end of 2016, the highest it has been since the Liberal Party put through the national energy program.
With thousands of workers, not only from Alberta, but Saskatchewan, New Brunswick, Newfoundland, losing their jobs due to the downturn in the energy sector, the priority of the government is to reward the union bosses who helped get it elected instead of talking to Canadian families who have lost their jobs. I have to tell these families that in my discussions and debates in the House of Commons that Alberta is obviously not a priority. Canada's economy is certainly not a priority. The families who have lost their jobs are not a priority. However, what is a priority is rewarding those big union bosses who helped get the Liberals elected. I find that to be extremely frustrating.
The Liberal plan to repeal this legislation, a piece of legislation that was intended to ensure transparency and accountability for union leaders, I find very irresponsible. Despite what the minister would have us believe, repealing this piece of legislation and bringing forward Bill C-4 is an attack on Canadian workers.
The Minister of Employment said she believes that repealing Bill C-377 and Bill C-525 will restore balance to unions. The only balance that Bill C-4 will bring is tipping the balance away from union workers back to the union leadership.
I would like to point out that the overwhelming majority of union members are in favour of this type of legislation, the type of legislation that we put forward in Bill C-377 and Bill C-525. In a Leger poll, 86% of union members supported this kind of legislation. In a similar poll, 84% of all Canadians supported this type of legislation that brings accountability and transparency to unions. They want to be able to vote via a secret ballot on union leadership or union business, and they want to know how their union dues are being spent. I do not think that is too much to ask.
Canadians support transparency and accountability. Union members support transparency and accountability, and yet the Liberal government does not. This is a disturbing trend. It seems to be a sort of theme for the new Liberal government.
One of the first things the Minister of Indigenous Affairs did when she got her cabinet post was announce that she will ignore the First Nations Financial Transparency Act, where residents in first nations communities have the opportunity to see the finances of their leadership made public.
The first piece of legislation by the new employment minister is a bill that would gut transparency and accountability by unions. Do members see a recurring theme here? I do.
I heard today from a Liberal member, in her speech, that a secret ballot is in some way additional red tape that goes against the very foundation of our democracy. I just cannot believe that asking union members to vote in a secret ballot somehow puts them out, that we are asking them to do too much. Those members really need to rethink the stance they are taking. Without any credible rationale, or really any legitimate discussion with union members, the Liberal government is gutting two significant pieces of legislation that were a victory for union members.
The motive for Bill C-4 is really quiet simple. This is an opportunity to repay union leadership that helped get the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour, an NDP MLA in Manitoba, elected.
Last week, we heard that the Liberal Party was found guilty of accepting illegal union donations during a campaign event. The Prime Minister's own campaign team specifically asked the union to have members be props at a campaign event. His campaign team knew that they would be paid $100 each.
That was not the only campaign event he had. He had another campaign event with the Carpenters' District Council in Vaughan and another with the International Union of Operating Engineers in Oakville. This has been a cozy relationship with the unions, and I would be curious to know if there were illegal donations made at those two campaign events as well.
Since the election, the Prime Minister has met with the Teamsters three times, the engineers' union three times, and even the American Federation of Labour, the largest union in the United States. He has made meeting with the unions a top priority. He has met with close to a dozen of them. Yet during that time, we have lost thousands of jobs in the energy sector, with more to come. How many times has he met with people in the oil and gas sector? How many times has he met with stakeholders in the oil and gas industry? He has met with them once, and it was yesterday in Calgary. It shows us where the priorities of the Liberal government seem to lie right now.
The Liberal Party campaigned on accountability and transparency. It is obvious that it has no intentions of keeping that campaign promise. Canadians deserve better.
At the federal level, the previous Conservative government introduced extensive reforms to ensure that Canadians have trust in their political institutions. The first piece of legislation we brought in as a Conservative government was the Federal Accountability Act, something that we are very proud of on this side of the House. It brought accountability and transparency to Canadians. It did not gut it.
The Federal Accountability Act reformed the financing of political parties. It reduced opportunities to influence politicians with contributions by banning contributions from unions and corporations, and it levelled the playing field among individual contributors.
We also introduced Bill C-377 and Bill C-525, which made unions more transparent and accountable to both unions and Canadians. The specific intent of these bills was to preserve the democratic rights of Canadian workers and increase public confidence that unions spend their money wisely and effectively. With the passage of this legislation, the public was empowered to gauge the effectiveness, financial integrity, and health of their labour unions.
Some opponents today described Bill C-377 as anti-union. They said that union money should not be scrutinized by Canadians, let alone by their own union members. This is simply not true. These unions are subsidized by the Canadian taxpayer, and they are subsidized by a very significant amount. The federal government offers generous tax benefits to workers' organizations and a tax exemption on profits earned on investments, income from employers, and the profits generated by training centres. Despite receiving these substantial tax benefits, these organizations in the past were not required to disclose publicly how they used these tax advantages.
To put this in the same context, for the federal government, including me, and I am sure all of my colleagues in this room, every dime we spend is open to the public. It is on my website. People can check it out right now. Provinces, municipalities, and charities are asked to make these types of financial records public. The only ones who are not are unions.
It is frustrating that unions that should be accountable to their members and that receive generous tax breaks with taxpayer dollars do not feel that they should have the same obligation to disclose their finances to the public.
In most cases the money is deducted from the payroll whether the employee wishes to be part of that union or not. The money is then subject to tax exemptions that keep $500 million out of the Canadian treasury each year.
I think, and it is obvious from the polls we have done, that most Canadians believe these dollars and what is being done with them should be made public. Bill C-377 is about that disclosure, and it was a positive step forward for unions and Canadian workers. It ensured that union members and Canadians could have access to the knowledge on how union money was being spent, how their membership dues were being spent, as well as the investment in taxes and dollars that resulted from these dues.
Bill C-377 simply imposed transparency and accountability on unions, nothing more. It required labour organizations to file public information a return with the Canadian Revenue Agency on an annual basis. We heard that today. They said that they were doing that in seven provinces. All of a sudden they are saying that now that we are asking them to do it across the country, it is some sort of unbearable burden. If they are already doing it in many cases, it is not that hard to make a second copy and give it to the CRA.
The disclosure requirements would include financial statements, including the amount paid for political and lobbying activities, and the salaries paid to executive and staff. Nothing more.
In addition, the bill requires the CRA to display this information on a website for the public to see. Far from targeting unions, Bill C-377 does nothing more than impose the same obligations that registered charities across Canada now face. I am a Rotarian and I have been one for many years. We do our financial audits. We do our year-end audits and ensure it is available for the public to see. We certainly do not consider that to be some incredible burden.
If charities across Canada can somehow manage to do this, unions that receive a half a billion dollars a year through taxpayer subsidies can manage to do this as well. Their members want them to do these things.
If the Minister of Employment believes that transparency and accountability is so devastating to Canadian unions, why do so many other countries have similar legislation, and their unions have thrived? The United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, Germany, even France, socialist France, asked their unions to have similar legislation and to put their financial documents forward to the public. Even some Canadian labour organizations already do this. If their head office is in the United States, they have to make their financials public as well.
Some people have said that this creates an unfair burden on unions. This type of legislation has been in the United States for decades and has not impacted their collective bargaining in any way. The fact is that this bill does not regulate the activities of trade unions, how they participate in collective bargaining or in any way how they spend their funds.
The bill does not violate their Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It has stood up to constitutional challenge. For example, former Supreme Court of Canada Justice Michel Bastarache released his opinion on Bill C-377, and said that it was constitutional and would be upheld in the court he sat on. This shows, a former Supreme Court justice has said that these pieces of legislation that we put forward are not unconstitutional.
The bills simply provide greater transparency and accountability, ironically, two things the Liberal government campaigned on but do not seem too eager to follow up on.
As I touched on earlier, a survey conducted by the Leger firm in 2013 showed that of the 1,400 Canadians it polled, 83% said they wanted to see this type of legislation to be adopted by unions, and 84% of current union members also agreed. A Nanos poll done in 2011 showed similar results. Therefore, this has not changed. For some reason, the Liberal Party wants us to think that between 2013 and 2016 there has been an incredible earthquake of change in position of union members.
When the Minister of Employment brought forward C-4, did she actually consult with union members before she brought this forward? If 84% of union members in 2013 supported the type of legislation that we put forward with Bill C-377 and Bill C-525, what has changed in three years? What has changed in three years that now the Liberal government believes the union membership has been crying for it to repeal this type of legislation.
I am certain there has been an outcry, but my bet is it is from the union leadership, not the union members who the Liberals failed to consult before bringing this forward.
Earlier this week I asked the Minister of Employment if she had actually consulted with union members before bringing this type of legislation forward. Her answer was a no answer. She could not answer. I think the fact is that the Liberals did not. What she said was that she had spoken to 22,000 residents in her constituency during the election campaign.
I would like to ask her this. Did she say to them that her bill would be in favour of less democracy? Did she ask them if they were okay with the government's stomping on the very foundation of our democracy and getting rid of secret ballots? Does she think her Manitoba riding spoke for the rest of Canada? I would be interested in seeing what her answer is on something like that.
It is in the public interest that the financial information of workers' organizations be disclosed because of the tax breaks they receive. It is a benefit of the union workers because they exercise their democratic right through a secret ballot. It is also the benefit of a government to consult with Canadians, as we did when we drafted this type of legislation. For example, Dan Kelly, president and CEO of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, said he supported Bill C-377. He said that almost all unionized workplaces are forced to pay union dues. Therefore, unions should be required to publicly disclose how they use those funds. He also stated that public financial disclosure for unions would enhance transparency and accountability with regard to trade union activities. He was not the only one. We had lawyers, union members, and professors all come and speak to the committee and Senate committee in support of this legislation.
Canadian labour laws are in place to protect the rights of workers, to ensure that they have a fair and productive workplace and can work in an environment where they feel they can speak with their conscience. This is about balance and it creates a fair environment in which workers are the ones making the choice so they feel it is better suited to their needs. It is a Liberal government that is attempting to repeal legislation that created accountability, transparency, and fairness for workers. The Liberals plan to go back to a system that was broken and balanced unfairly. This is not what Canadians want.
The Liberal Minister of Employment said that the government was repealing Bill C-377 and Bill C-525 in favour of creating a balanced network. This is exactly what our previous legislation did. The main principle of that legislation was that all federally regulated workers should have the democratic right to a free and fair secret ballot, especially when they are voting to certify or decertify their union. The legislation recognized the right to peaceful association is one that extends to all workers in Canada, should they wish to have a union represent them or not. The choice is theirs to make, and it should be theirs to make by way of a secret ballot. The choice should not belong to their union leadership. The system was open to abuse, where co-workers could be coerced or intimidated into voting for a union. It is not unreasonable, nor should it be unreasonable, to ask to have a secret ballot. It is consistent with every democratic system we have in this country. It is a basic right afforded to all voters, and should be reasonably extended to workers who are voicing their opinion on whether they want to be in a union. The only way to achieve this is through a secret ballot.
It seems that the Liberals' goal and mandate here is to change every voting system that we have across this country. It is absolutely clear that the Liberal government has no respect for Canadians' right to vote. They want to get rid of the secret ballot here in the House. They want unions to go back to the card check system. They also do not believe that Canadians have the right to vote in a referendum when we are talking about possibly changing the very system of how we select our government. Piece by piece, the current Liberal government is intent on dismantling our democracy.
During the spring of last year, I had an opportunity to meet with representatives of a union at a gas plant in southern Alberta. It had about 80 members. I wanted to ask them how they felt about the legislation we had put forward. They were honest. They said they were being pressured by their union leadership in eastern Canada to vote against the Conservatives because of Bill C-377 and Bill C-525. I asked them whom they supported and how they were going to vote. They said they were voting Conservative and supported the bills and information contained therein, that they wanted to see the financial records of their union leadership and to have the freedom of conscience to be able to vote in a secret ballot.
Right now, as we put forward Bill C-4, I want the Minister of Employment to come forward and be honest with Canadians. The reason she is putting forward Bill C-4 is that it is a way to repay the union leadership who helped get her elected. It is not a bill that is in the best interests of Canadians.