Mr. Kevin Lamoureux (Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, Lib.):
Madam Speaker, as many will know, when there is an opportunity to talk about the issue of labour relations in Canada, as much as possible people can count on the fact that I love to be able to share my thoughts on what I believe is a very important issue. It is an important issue not only for me but also for the Prime Minister and the Liberal caucus as a whole. That is very clearly demonstrated in the degree to which labour relations has been made a parliamentary priority by the government.
I can recall having discussions about labour-related legislation prior to our being in government, when we discussed two private members' bills. I will comment on that because at times it was fairly emotional for my colleagues opposite when we indicated the manner in which the past government, the Harper government, had changed the labour laws.
One of the discussions that took place had to do with the sense of unfairness about what the Conservative government was doing at the time in introducing private members' legislation. Therefore, no one should be surprised that the new government, led by our current Prime Minister, has made a fairly bold statement that we want to establish a new attitude and a new relationship between labour and management, given the harm caused by the former government. It did not take long for our new government and the Prime Minister to bring forward legislation that will ultimately assists in setting the stage.
Bill C-4 is a genuine and effective attempt to repeal legislation that was previously introduced in the House by private members. I was there during the debate when those private members' bills were brought forward to fulfill what we believed at the time was the Conservative Harper government's agenda with respect to labour relations.
Over the years, I have had the opportunity to walk on picket lines and to support workers. I have had opportunity to meet with management groups to talk about labour relations. I understand the importance of balance. At one point, I was even the labour critic in the Province of Manitoba. I understand how important it is that there be balance, because balance is what provides for an effective bargaining process.
Although we have only held the reins of power here at the national level for a relatively few months, I believe we have made significant strides forward. I was really encouraged by our ministries here today that were so effective in sending the message to Canada Post and the union not to expect the current government to jump in with back-to-work legislation.
The government's expectation is that the stakeholders in this case, the management and the union, will be able to negotiate in good faith. I believe that in good part they have understood that the government wants to see that different attitude toward negotiations and that it believes it is in their best interest, both management and the labour side of Canada Post, to reach a negotiated agreement. In essence, that is what we have witnessed. When there is an opportunity for a negotiated agreement between the stakeholders, I believe this is what we should be striving for at all times. I do not believe the previous government really appreciated that fact.
Hansard will clearly demonstrate that I would comment back then that everyone knew at the time that the government of the day would institute back-to-work legislation virtually immediately if a strike took place. How did that influence negotiations? It was not just in respect of Canada Post. Indeed, the government needs, as much as possible, to respect and allow for negotiations in good faith. It does not necessarily mean that we are limited. We act in the best interests of Canadians at all times.
The former government did not recognize the importance of labour harmony. That is one of the reasons why we, as a government, had to deal with labour legislation right from the get-go. That is exactly what our Prime Minister and our government did with the introduction of Bill C-4. First reading was back in January and the bill was brought forward for second reading in February.
What was the Conservative Party's official response? The Government of Canada said that Bill C-4 was a priority piece of legislation and that we should debate it. Back then, the Conservatives did not think twice. They brought forward an amendment to the legislation. The amendment read:
|| That the motion be amended by deleting all the words after the word “that” and substituting the following therefor: “this House decline to give second reading to 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, because the bill violates a fundamental principle of democracy by abolishing the provision whereby the certification and decertification of a bargaining agent must be achieved by a secret ballot vote-based majority”.
Right away, the Conservative Party attempted to reject Bill C-4. It did that because it prefers those private members' bills, no matter who was offended by them. I am very proud that the government continued to push forward boldly with the legislation, understandably so, and we saw it go to committee.
When we deal with bills like C-525, C-377, and C-4, they go to committee and we get all sorts of different types of presentations on them. However, in this case, both labour and management argued that the approach established by Bill C-525 and Bill C-377 set a dangerous precedent for labour relations and law reform, wherein the tripartite consultation process—referring to employer, union, and government—had traditionally been considered as essential by the stakeholder to maintaining a workable labour-management balance.
We saw both sides make that claim. Many members in the Liberal caucus have raised that issue. I listened to my colleague from Atlantic Canada, when he was the critic for labour, stand up many times and articulate how important that balance was and how we had to respect the importance of the stakeholders. That was one of the fundamental flaws with the private members' bills that were being advanced at the time, which we are repealing through this legislation.
We have an hour of private members' business every day, almost without exception. There was substantive labour legislation. When changes are made to labour legislation, there is an obligation to take those stakeholders, the labour and management sides, and bring them to the table and sit down with them to get a good understanding of where consensus could actually to built. That allows the government to be involved in this well-established process that has proven to be fairly effective in Canada. Other jurisdictions look to Canada to see how we are able to provide balance between labour and management, and the different stakeholders.
That is something that is so critical, yet both of those private members' bills did not go through that process. In fact, if we had applied the same rules of procedure to Bill C-4 as we did to the two private members' bills, then we would not be debating the bill right now. The bill would have been limited in terms of the amount of time allowed for debate.
Members know full well that a private member's bill is treated quite differently than a government initiative or government legislation. There is more debate time for government bills. There is a different process, whether it is the lead-up, the making of the legislation, ensuring that there is that consultation and that the consensus is built between and labour management, all the way to the second reading, third reading, report stage, and so forth.
There are time limits that are instituted in our rules to deal with private members' bills. That is why many thought it was intentional on the part of the Harper government to have private members bring legislation in through the back door. We have made reference to that in the past. Many on the other side get very upset or are offended when we talk about that back door approach, but they need to recognize that there is a difference in the process. That offended both labour and management stakeholders. At the time, the Harper government completely ignored that.
Now we are going through the process. What was Bill C-525? It was the Employees' Voting Rights Act. It was introduced in the House of Commons as a private member's bill on June 5, 2013, by the Conservative member for Red Deer—Lacombe. The bill received royal assent on December 16, 2014, and ultimately came into force on June 16, 2015. It suggested that the card check certification model, which we believe is quicker, more efficient, and more likely to be free of employer interference, was something the Conservative Party adamantly disagreed with. It articulated that it needed to be gotten rid of.
However, it did not go through the process. The private member, heavily supported by the government, brought forward that piece of legislation and it offended a great number of people, not only union personnel.
Then Bill C-377, An Act to amend the Income Tax Act (requirements for labour organizations), was introduced in the House of Commons on December 5, 2011, again by a Conservative member. The bill ultimately did pass on December 12, 2012. On June 26, 2013, amendments were made to the bill in the Senate and it was referred back to the House of Commons for review; however, the bill was restored back to its original version. Keep in mind, that was a majority Conservative Senate. Even the Senate recognized the imbalances being caused by this piece of legislation, but the Harper government used its majority to kick it back. Ultimately it was accepted and then put into force after royal assent in June 2015 and took effect in December 2015.
It is no wonder we have made this a high priority for this government. We heard some criticisms at the time about Bill C-377. That it could upset the existing labour relations balance between unions and employers was a comment we heard continuously, whether it was through debates or at the committee stage. That union financial disclosure was already addressed in the Canada Labour Code and in many provincial labour statutes was also something that was raised on many occasions, as well as why the Conservative government was singling out unions. What was the driving factor behind the Conservatives doing that?
It must be pointed out that the bill is discriminatory against unions and ignores other types of organizations such as professional associations, which also receive favourable treatment under taxation law. The bill would invade the privacy of labour organizations and their members.
It is interesting to note that the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees launched a constitutional challenge to Bill C-377. I understand that challenge is now in abeyance until we see what takes place with Bill C-4. There were a great many concerns dealing with privacy. Even the Canadian Bar Association and the Office of the Privacy Commissioner provided comments to that effect. The CBA suggested that the bill may be subject to legal challenges on those grounds alone.
It is amazing the number of provinces that voiced opposition to Bill C-377. A majority of the provinces also criticized the bill for potentially crossing over and destabilizing the labour relations environment. This is where I started my discussion. When we talk about Bill C-4, it is all about righting a wrong. It is restoring a sense of fairness and balance to our labour laws and that is of the utmost importance.
The Conservative government lost touch with Canadians on labour issues, as it lost touch on many different issues with Canadians. Bill C-4 is a good bill and should be supported by all members because it brings back and restores balance to labour relations.
Ms. Dianne L. Watts (South Surrey—White Rock, CPC):
Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup.
Madam Speaker, I rise in this House today to speak to 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.
The bill would reverse a number of pieces of legislation that made it easier for union members to have a fair say within their unions via a secret ballot. It also ensured that union leaders were accountable to their membership and taxpayers by having their financial statements disclosed, as they operate tax free. This is no different from political members of Parliament, MLAs, crown corporations, charities, and native reserves, which I now understand has been reversed as well.
I have heard much throughout this debate, from all parties. I heard some of the most disturbing comments last week from members, and again from one of the members today, calling this original legislation “backdoor”, “anti-union”, “an attack on labour unions”, “union busting”, and that we, as Conservatives, hate unions.
I not only find those comments absurd; I find them frankly offensive. Many of our members have worked with unions and many have belonged to unions. There are seven out of 10 provinces that have financial disclosure requirements. Union members, past and present, along with the general public, supported disclosure, by over 80% in polling data when the bills were first introduced in 2013. When did accountability and transparency become so abhorrent to the government?
I have personally worked with numerous union leaders, union executives, and union organizations over many years. We did not always agree on every topic, but we still worked together. We still resolved issues. We still respected each other's opinions. More important, we respected each other's differences. In past elections, I have been publicly endorsed by unions, and even in this past federal election, as a Conservative, I was endorsed by a union.
The reason I say this is to allow some balanced perspective to enter into this debate. Bill C-377, passed by the previous government, added an additional tool of confidence and transparency for workers, requiring unions to disclose the way that they spent their money. It did not regulate how unions could spend their money, nor did it regulate any other activity. It simply helped to give Canadians a more open and transparent picture.
Bill C-525, also passed by the former government, helped strengthen the rights of union members. It gave them the power to vote by secret ballot.
However, this bill, Bill C-4, would take those rights away from union workers. It begs the question of why a government, which insists that it is all about openness and transparency, is so insistent on taking away workers' rights.
I have witnessed the certification of manufacturing plants. I can assure members that this is not an easy nor a smooth process. I have personally witnessed the intimidation by both union workers and management personnel. A secret ballot lets an individual's true opinion be heard without fear of repercussions. By not allowing a secret ballot, we are putting workers, on both sides of the issue, in a very awkward and intimidating situation.
Let us never forget that all parties must work together to create a healthy and productive working environment. Jobs need to be created; they need to be sustained. Opportunities need to be provided for workers, and industry sectors need to grow. It is a symbiotic relationship, one that cannot survive without the other.
Canadians across this country have the democratic right to vote for their elected representatives by secret ballot. Abolishing the secret ballot is one of the most undemocratic actions that a government can take, and this is exactly what would happen with this legislation. A government cannot and should not pick and choose who gets the right to a democratic process. However, the current government is continuing down this path.
Not only are we seeing the lack of democratic process through Bill C-4, but we are seeing this play out in communities across this country with the so-called consultation on electoral reform. There is an overwhelming desire by the general public to have a referendum. We have seen it over and over again, in dozens of polls, in letters, newspaper articles, and in petitions across this country. People want a say in the way that they elect their political representatives. To have a few people gathered at town halls is not representative of the people's voice. It is one element to gather information. However, we cannot base our decisions solely on a few people showing up at a town hall.
By note, there were about 70 people in my riding who came to a town hall: the EDAs, the last candidate of record for the Liberals, some of their friends, and a very small number of people who were non-partisan. That does not represent the majority. However, I did send out a questionnaire to every household in my riding to ask about electoral reform, as well as having an online questionnaire. Overwhelmingly, the people want a referendum. They want a say in how they elect their representatives. They do not want politicians deciding for them.
Another funny little anecdote is that the issue of electoral reform was at the bottom of their concerns. People are concerned about health care, jobs, rising taxes, and a litany of other things. It certainly is not electoral reform.
This tells us many things, and it gives us an indication of what the current government thinks of openness, transparency, and accountability. People want a referendum on electoral reform and for workers to have a right to a secret ballot. Whether they use it is up to them, but they should have that right. Conservatives value transparency, accountability, and democracy, which is why we introduced those pieces of legislation in the first place. Bill C-4 is the complete opposite of transparency, accountability, and democracy. Therefore, I cannot support Bill C-4.
Mr. Bernard Généreux (Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, CPC):
Madam Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague from South Surrey—White Rock for sharing her time with me. Clearly, it is much easier to say the name of her riding than to say Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup.
I also want to thank the member for Louis-Saint-Laurent and the member for Lévis—Lotbinière, who participated in last week's debate. They did an excellent job of pointing out the importance of the bills passed a few years ago by our government, specifically Bill C-377 and Bill C-525. They were very important bills.
The government seems to be saying that these bills are not as important because they are private members' bills. Today, the government is trying to make it seem that these bills are less important, even though the Liberals themselves have some bills of this nature on the table at present.
We should also applaud the contributions of former member Russ Hiebert and the member for Red Deer—Lacombe, who is still with us. They sought to make the labour movement fairer, more transparent, and more democratic.
If Bill C-4 is passed, the government will be denying workers two fundamental rights. The first is union transparency, which is very important. Members pay union dues and must therefore have the opportunity to vote in a transparent process. That is what we believed at the time and what we still believe today. We also believe that unions need to be transparent, particularly with regard to the dues they receive.
Workers must be able to exercise their right to vote by secret ballot without fear of reprisal from their colleagues or superiors. We know that there have been instances of retaliation in the past. Intimidation occurs within the labour movement. That has always been the case and will likely always be the case.
These two rights are common sense and taken for granted. They should have the unanimous support of all members of the House, but they do not. The Liberal Party feels indebted, not to ordinary workers, but to big union bosses who obviously worked behind the scenes to help the current government get elected.
Whether they are members of a union or not, all Canadians have a vested interest in ensuring that labour groups are transparent with their members and with all Canadian taxpayers, since $4 billion in union dues are collected every year. As a result, unions are entitled to tax credits for labour-sponsored funds, such as Fondaction CSN and the Fonds de solidarité FTQ in Quebec. These funds are paid for by all Canadians.
We therefore believe, and rightly so in my opinion, that full transparency is needed when it comes to these funds and the taxes that are paid. That is why Bill C-377 was so necessary.
As our colleague pointed out last week, $500 million in taxpayers' money goes into these funds annually. That is a huge amount of money. The government opposite believes that requiring unions to make public any expenditures of $5,000 or more places a heavy administrative burden on them.
As members of Parliament, to get reimbursed for a taxi ride we are required to submit a receipt if the total is equal to or greater than $25. We have to substantiate our claims.
I think this government has a lot to learn from what happened in the past few months because by all accounts transparency was lacking. This government claims to be extremely transparent. However, we learned that the Minister of Health claimed $1,700 in expenses for her limousine, the Minister of Environment and Climate Change claimed $6,000 in expenses for a photo session, not to mention everything we learned last week about the moving expenses for key government employees, including employees of the Prime Minister. Hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars have been spent by a number of departments.
If it were not for the fact that transparency is mandatory in this Parliament, we would be none the wiser. It is therefore essential that the same level of transparency required of governments and elected members be required of unions and of big union bosses.
If I were a factory worker in La Pocatière, Montmagny, Rivière-du-Loup or l'Islet, which are four towns in my riding, I know that union dues would be deducted from my paycheque every week in order for the union to protect my interests. However, that money must be spent wisely.
Any government or organization must be transparent for its taxpayers or its members. We cannot stress this enough. We must ensure that all members of an organization have a full accounting of how their money is spent, because it is their money. As MPs, we manage taxpayers' money. Thus, the government must be transparent. It says it is, however, it is not even exercising its own prerogatives.
If this government believes that $5,000 is too low a threshold for a detailed accounting of expenditures, what amount does it believe is more appropriate? That is an excellent question because $4 billion in union dues is paid every year. Five thousand dollars is a minimum. That was our belief back then and that is what we continue to believe today. Does the government have a different minimum threshold?
It is important to remember that, as MPs, we have to report any expense of $25 or more. I do not see why a union should not have to do the same for expenses of $5,000 or more so everyone knows how people's union dues are being spent.
The government has to answer for how it spends taxpayer money, and charities also have to account for their spending to comply with Canadian law.
Any charity that supports a particular candidate or party during an election campaign runs the risk of being stripped of its special tax status under the Income Tax Act. Why should unions be exempt from similar neutrality and impartiality obligations?
The Liberals say they are all about evidence-based policy, but they often seem willing to turn a blind eye to union activities whenever it suits them.
We believe that Bill C-4 will destroy all the crucial measures we included in those bills. Transparency being a priority, union leaders must demonstrate the same degree of respect, integrity, and care as government and opposition MPs. As those in charge of managing taxpayer money, we must be transparent about how we spend it.
Bill C-4 gets rid of all that. Those two essential pieces of legislation worked very well together. I think they are necessary and should continue to be necessary. That is why I am going to vote against Bill C-4.
Mr. Marwan Tabbara (Kitchener South—Hespeler, Lib.):
Madam Speaker, I would like to inform you that I will be splitting my time with the member for Laurentides—Labelle.
It is great to be back on Parliament Hill. I hope everyone had a great summer and time well spent with their families and loved ones.
Prior to the election, I was a member of United Steelworkers Local 4610 for over 12 years. Early on, as a teenager working in a unionized manufacturing facility, I was unaware of the role unions played for their members. As I matured and grew older, I quickly realized the great value of unions in protecting workers' rights. Today I am proud to rise in this chamber to talk about the role of the unions in the country and how Bill C-4 will reinstate a fair and balanced federal labour policy.
Unions are a fundamental element of Canada's social and economic fabric and are at the core of our middle class. They help create well-paying jobs, safe communities, and a prosperous economic environment. They set standards for working conditions and quality of life for working people.
Canada has a relatively high rate of unionization, with 30% of workers belonging to unions.
Union-negotiated wages and benefits are usually superior to what non-union workers receive. Higher wages foster a thriving middle class. Higher wages mean more money spent in our consumer-driven economy. Higher wages mean a healthier population.
Unions have been a driving force for economic equality and social rights in Canada, including pay equity for women, safer workplaces, and better pensions for retirement. These advantages are not restricted to union members. Indeed, when unions raise the bar, they raise it for every worker in Canada. The five-day work week, minimum wage, maternity and parental leave, vacation pay, and protection from discrimination: we owe them to the actions of unions.
I have worked in both non-union and union environments. To elaborate, with respect to safety, I remember working in a unionized environment, and the thoroughness of the orientation it provided on safety was superior to any place I had worked before. I had worked in non-unionized places, and although there was a lot of training on safety, the unionized places ensured the safety of their workers to the highest level I had seen.
When Bill C-525 and Bill C-377 were presented under the previous government, they were perceived by many as an ideologically driven and unwarranted attack on unions and collective bargaining.
Bill C-525 was introduced in June 2013. The provisions contained in the bill were designed to make it harder for unions to be certified. It was proposed and enacted without consultation with relevant stakeholders, and because of that, a number of labour organizations and employers expressed their opposition to the bill.
Bill C-377 was also introduced under the previous government—
Mr. David de Burgh Graham (Laurentides—Labelle, Lib.):
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to take part in this third reading debate on Bill C-4. This bill was tabled to kill Bill C-377 and Bill C-525, which were rammed through by the previous government.
I support this bill for many reasons. Today, I would particularly like to point out the lack of transparency and consultation that marked the passage of Bill C-377 and Bill C-525. In both cases, the previous government distorted the legislative process and made it completely unfair. Yet, these two bills made significant changes to Canada's labour laws.
Our government firmly believes in taking a fair and balanced approach to legislating on labour relations issues. It firmly believes in striking a balance between the rights and responsibilities of employers and those of employees.
Many organizations testified before the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities. Many of them criticized the fact that Bill C-377 and Bill C-525 were drafted without proper consultation with unions, employers, the provinces and territories, and the Canadian public. In his testimony before the committee, Hassan Yussuff, president of the Canada Labour Congress, indicated that these private members' bills represented a fundamental and dangerous attack on the rights and freedoms of working people in Canada to organize unions free from outside interference. He went on to say that the bills were developed without consultation with the labour movement. They threatened to polarize federal labour relations and fundamentally tip the balance between employers and unions.
Our government does not support an approach that does not include consultation, and that is why we need to repeal the amendments that these two bills made. They are unfair and also harmful to our economy. The reform of Canada's labour laws is far too complex and important of an undertaking to be taken lightly.
While drafting Bill C-4, we took the concerns of our provincial and territorial partners into account. That kind of constructive approach is the only appropriate way to go about changing the legislative framework that governs labour relations.
Bill C-4 will help restore fair and balanced labour relations and will ensure prosperity for Canadian workers and employers. Bills C-525 and C-377 were clearly very problematic.
For example, Bill C-377 was a direct attack on the collective bargaining process because it required unions to disclose detailed financial information about their activities, including information on strike funds, which gave employers an undue advantage over unions.
There was a reason why Michael Mazzuca, a representative of the Canadian Bar Association, told the committee that, because of its major concerns, the association fully supported the provisions of Bill C-4 that repealed those of Bill C-377. He also indicated that the latter bill was fundamentally flawed and triggered serious concerns from a privacy, constitutional law, and pension law perspective.
Bill C-525 attacked union certification and decertification. The former government's intentions were crystal clear: to make it harder for Canadian workers to organize. This measure, just like Bill C-377, gave employers an unfair advantage over workers. It is time to restore balance and fairness to a system that has been working for a long time.
Stable labour relations are crucial to moving our economy forward. It was high time to restore that stability because Bills C-525 and C-377 were adversely affecting the climate of labour relations and bargaining in Canada.
In committee, a number of people shared their concerns over the impact of these bills on privacy, their constitutionality, and the fact that they are seriously weakening the labour movement.
Let us not forget the important role that unions historically played in Canada. They have always stood for protecting labour rights and ensuring the development and prosperity of the middle class across the country. We owe many of our rights to labour unions. We are proud of them.
Bill C-4 will make things right again by restoring the balance of power between the parties. We made that commitment during the campaign and now I am proud to say we are honouring it.
If the former government had bothered to hold real consultations, if it had not been driven by ideological beliefs, and if it had done its homework, we would not have to clean up this mess today.
Fortunately, Bill C-4 will fix everything. I urge all members to give it their enthusiastic support. Canadian workers and employers will be glad for it.
Mr. Garnett Genuis (Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan, CPC):
Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to rise to join in the debate. Having listened to some of the different comments that members have been making and given the broad strokes in which this discussion has been discussed, let us get back and talk about the actual provisions in the legislation.
I think it is important to talk about the role of unions in society more broadly, and I will be making comments about that in my speech as well, but let us first be clear about what we are actually substantively debating.
What the government proposes to do in Bill C-4 is to whole hog repeal two pieces of private members' legislation that were passed under the previous government: Bill C-525, with respect to guaranteeing a secret ballot in the context of certification in federally regulated areas, and Bill C-377, which is a bill about financial disclosure for unions.
We are talking about some fairly specific things. We are talking about secret ballots and we are talking about financial disclosure. I would posit that one can be in favour of secret ballots and financial disclosure and still very much believe in the important role that unions have played, and continue to play. I think we can have an honest conversation about the provisions in Bill C-4, agree or disagree, while still recognizing that there are some points of common ground insofar as there are also points of disagreement.
One of the first lines of attack we see from the present government on these two private members' bills, and it is quite striking that it is doing this, is to attack the very legitimacy of private members' legislation, at least as a vehicle for putting forward substantive ideas.
I would argue, as an individual member of Parliament who takes my rights and responsibilities very seriously, that we are sent here to represent our constituents individually and private members' business is the only vehicle we have, and it is based on a draw, depending on where our names line up, for putting forward bills that we personally believe are important and for having the opportunity to have those bills discussed and then voted upon.
It is not only legitimate, but it is valuable for members of Parliament to use those private members' bill opportunities in very substantive ways. With the exception of bills that spend money, private members' bills are allowed to, and should, cover a wide range of different important and substantive topics.
Members opposite know the process that exists for private members' legislation. Of course, there is less time allocated in the day for a private member's bill debate than there is for government bill debates, but there are no such restrictions upon the ability of parliamentary committees to study that legislation once it proceeds to committee. Indeed, when private members' legislation makes it to committee and it is debated at committee, committees can call many different kinds of witnesses. They can take the time they need to consult, to hear from a broad range of stakeholders. Also, if a bill is going to become law, it will have gone through that process in both the House and in the Senate, providing two different opportunities, again, for stakeholders to be engaged. That is in addition to any consultation that individual members of Parliament do or that the sponsor also does.
There is a process in place, and it is important to underline that other than private members' legislation, there is no channel for anyone other than the government to bring forward bills in this place. Wherever members stand on the bill, I say, let us stop this attack on the legitimacy of private members' business, because it hurts all of us when members across the way make the kinds of comments that we are hearing about private members' bills somehow not being a legitimate place to have important and substantive debates.
I want to talk a bit about the role of unions, from my perspective and I think, probably, from the perspective of my colleagues on this side of the House, as well. I believe, we believe, that unions have a very important role to play in our society, that they have had and continue to have an important role.
First, they have a role in advocacy. We know that many of the basic, accepted notions of workers' rights that we have that are now protected in law for all workers are things that were initially advocated for by unions. Unions have provided that general social advocacy on behalf of certain reforms that have been important and helpful for workers.
Unions have also provided advocacy at a collective bargaining level on behalf of a whole bargaining unit. That continues to be an important role that unions play. Also, they provide advocacy for individuals who may have grievances or challenges in the workplace and need the support of a broader group such as a union acting on their behalf to ensure their rights and interests are protected. This advocacy is an important function that unions have and continue to carry out, and this is something I think we would find broad agreement on in the House.
Perhaps a role of unions that gets less attention, but is still very important, is the way unions provide training, mentorship, and elements of social community to people within the workplace. Members of my extended family who have been members of unions have really benefited from the mentorship structures that exist in unions. Therefore, unions play an advocacy role as well as a community role, and they provide a lot of value when they play that role.
Unions can also help to instill a deeper sense of pride of vocation. For many of us work is not just a way to earn a living, but something we invest aspects of our identity in and we appreciate the dignity and value that comes to us through our opportunity to contribute to the work we do. Unions can help instill that sense of pride in work, and often they do that.
On our side of the House, certainly from my personal perspective, we would strongly affirm that unions have an important role to play.
It is perhaps also worth recognizing that unions come in different forms. Some of the functions I just described, whether it be community, training, or advocacy, can often happen in a different form in a non-unionized workplace as well. Therefore, I would not say there is one model that is necessarily better than another. It is up to individual workers to evaluate and consider what type of workplace model best reflects their interests.
That is why it is important to have a democratic model for deliberation about certification and for workers coming to those decisions, as well as having a truly democratic model for deliberation about which union. There is increasing diversity of union options out there. It is logical to regard that as a positive thing, when we have different kinds of union models that provide workers with some choice in the process of certification, such as which union, what kind of union, or perhaps no union at all, in terms of how they proceed with their certification. There is an important role for unions and it ought to be one in which those functions are fulfilled.
Unions are at their best when they respect the internal diversity of opinion, the rights of their members, and democratic principles in their activities. Many unions do that. Unions are at their best when they consider their work in the context of universal human solidarity, when they are invested in the needs and interests of their workers, as well as the unemployed, as well as the long-term well-being of the company that supports their activity. Unions are at their best as well when they work to encourage excellence in the workplace. That is very common. That is something many unions do.
We can have a conversation about the details of how unions operate from a place of respect for the role they have and continue to play, but also we need to dig into these specific provisions and, recognizing the role that unions play, ask what the best way is to maximize their success.
As I was reflecting on that I thought it would be worthwhile to draw on some opinion data. I found a survey that Leger did in 2013 with some really interesting data about the opinions of the general public, as well as the opinions of members of unions, about some of the different aspects of the legislation. It it important that we listen to individual union members who have bought into this model, see the value of the work their unions do, and who also may have specific opinions about the kind of structure under which it could operate. This is from 2013, but I suspect there has not been a radical change in the opinions of union members on these types of issues.
The first question that was asked was whether they agreed or disagreed with the statement, “It should be mandatory for unions from both the private and public sectors to publicly disclose detailed financial information on a regular basis” .
Members might be interested to know that 61% of union members in that sample completely agreed with the statement that unions of both the private and public sectors should publicly disclose detailed financial information on a regular basis, and 23% somewhat agreed, so of current unions members, over 80% either completely or somewhat agreed with the idea of public disclosure of financial information on a regular basis. If we are going to call some of these things “anti-union”, I think we should listen to what union members are saying and reflect on that feedback.
It was interesting to look through the full range of questions that the study asked. One of them was whether workers felt that their dues were being well spent. In terms of the numbers, 57% of unionized workers said they thought their dues were being well spent; 27% said they were not being well spent. Therefore, that is a positive number for unions. Unionized workers saying, yes, they see the value of their membership in unions, they see the value of the dues they are spending, but at the same time also saying that they see the importance of financial disclosure.
There has been some discussion of the use of union dues for certain kinds of political activities. It was interesting that 62% of unionized workers in this sample felt that making contributions to advocacy groups unrelated to workplace needs was something that they disagreed with. They did not want to see their dues used to fund advocacy groups unrelated to workplace needs. A full 77% of unionized workers said they did not want to see their dues being used to fund political parties.
That was some feedback. Workers are saying, yes, they see generally their dues being well spent, but they want to see that they are going to things related to workplace needs, not things unrelated to workplace needs, and that they see the value in public disclosure.
This one really stuck out for me, “A secret ballot vote should be required when forming or removing a union from a workplace.” Of current unionized workers, 62% completely agreed with that, and 24% somewhat agreed with that. According to this particular survey, 86% of current union members said they believed that a secret ballot should be required when forming a union in the workplace.
When I hear my colleagues across the way suggest that advocating for a secret ballot is somehow going against unionized workers, when well over 80% of unionized workers are telling a pollster that they want to have a secret ballot, there is obviously some dissidence there.
May I say, I wonder if that is why we hear so little discussion of the actual substantive provisions of the legislation. We hear members of the government saying that the old bills were anti-union and their new approach is eliminating those anti-union bills, without actually saying what the specific provisions in the bill were and whether those provisions in the bill accord with what union members are asking for. If we look at the numbers, it seems pretty clear that these things do accord with what union members are asking for.
When I spoke to the bill before, I talked about how one of the key arguments for a secret ballot is that a secret ballot provides an opportunity for prior deliberation. The card check system is one where members, seeking certification, may go around and get people to sign cards and then once a sufficient number of cards are signed, that is it, the union happens. However, when there is a secret ballot, there is an opportunity for discussion, for the employer and for those seeking certification to present arguments.
There was actually a poll question specifically about this issue of the process of deliberation. They were asked to agree or disagree with this statement, “During a union organizing drive, employees should be entitled to obtain information from both the union and the employer on the impact of workplace unionization”. Of unionized workers, 73% completely agreed with that and 24% somewhat agreed with that. A full 97% in this sample of current union members in Canada said that there should be an opportunity for the union as well as the employer to present information reflecting what their perspective is on the impact of unionization. These are some very telling numbers about the perspectives that union members have.
I want to conclude my discussion, of this poll at least, with reference to one additional question that asked for perspectives. They gave two options. One option was on whether unions are still as relevant today as they have ever been. The other option was on unions being needed and relevant at one time but whether today they are any longer necessary. There were 71 per cent of unionized workers who said that unions are still as relevant today as they have ever been.
A very large majority of unionized workers very much see the value and relevance of unions, and a majority of unionized workers believe that their dollars are being well spent. This is good news for unions in the present and in the future. However, at the same time, workers are saying that they want to have a secret ballot and that they appreciate the value of financial disclosure.
I think this is where we, as a House, need to be. We need to be listening to what workers are saying. We need to recognize what they are saying about the value of unions, for them, and for our society as a whole. We also need to recognize what they are saying about these very simple but important areas of having a proper process in place for certification, and also of ensuring that there is a proper mechanism in place for disclosure.
In the remaining time I have, I will come back to this issue of the secret ballot. It amazes me to hear colleagues in this House argue against the secret ballot. We are having a discussion about so-called electoral reform right now. I do not know if anyone has proposed in the conduct of these discussions that we should eliminate the secret ballot.
The idea of eliminating the secret ballot in our election system would be seen as totally ridiculous and would be very concerning to Canadians if anyone proposed it. However, for the purposes of union certification, it is like we are entering a completely different dimension. People who were elected by a secret ballot, who are very used to the principle of a secret ballot in every other kind of election, say it is not needed when it comes to certification.
The arguments we hear stretch credulity. For instance, they say that secret ballots provide a greater opportunity for employer intimidation. Did they miss the “secret” part of secret ballot? On what basis could it be argued that there is intimidation on a secret ballot?
Again, we do not hear the government arguing against the use of the secret ballot in federal elections because of the risk of intimidation. Obviously, not. That is exactly why we have a secret ballot, to eliminate the possibility of someone looking over another person's shoulder and saying that they should vote this way or that way.
Secret ballots also reflect something else. They reflect a fundamental right to privacy that every person should have with respect to their political opinions. Most of us here choose not to be all that private about our political opinions. However, Canadians have a right, if they wish, to not talk publicly about their views on certification within their workplace. Members might understand why not wanting to tip their hand one way or the other in terms of their views on certification would be a choice that some people would want to make.
If that is how they want to express their right to privacy, to vote in secret about certification, in elections or in any other cases, that is a fundamental function of the rights to privacy that we expect. People should be able to not expose their political opinions if they do not wish to do so.
In the context of the secret ballot, I talked about the importance of the process of deliberation, having an opportunity for debate without having a certification drive sneak up on people who are not aware of it or do not have an opportunity to have that conversation.
I will conclude by saying that this is an important bill, one on which we can and have had good debate. However, we should dig into the provisions. We should talk about the bill. I think we all accept that there is an important role for unions in society. We also need to listen to what unionized workers are telling us with regard to the specific provisions of the bill. Then we need to evaluate it accordingly.
Mr. Wayne Long (Saint John—Rothesay, Lib.):
Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure speak in support of Bill C-4.
I rise today a proud member of my riding of Saint John—Rothesay, which is the oldest incorporated city in Canada and one of the most historic. It certainly is one of the most industrialized and strongest union cities in Canada.
I was proud to attend the National Day of Mourning at the Lily Lake Pavilion six months ago on behalf of my government. I toured the Frank and Ella Hatheway Labour Exhibit Centre and learned first hand what a proud labour and union history our city had.
I was the only elected official this year to attend the Labour Day parade. I attended, with pride, with the firefighters from IAFF Local 771 Saint John Firefighters, its 9-1-1 service, and respected and remembered the fallen firefighters.
However, it is not so much about being pro-union or anti-union. It is about treating unions with respect, having a dialogue, and transparency with unions, which is why I rise today to speak in favour of Bill C-4. The bill would repeal Bill C-377 and Bill C-525, which I deem, as do people in my riding, particularly union members, union busting bills.
When I went door to door during the campaign, union leader after union leader spoke to me about these bills. They felt disrespected, that unions were degraded, demoralized, and they wanted change. This is why Bill C-4 is so important. It is the next phase of our government's attempt to reverse the degradation and demoralization of unions, which the Conservatives used in their decade of power.
This government was elected on a pledge to strength for the middle class, and we strongly believe that unions are a key partner in fighting that fight. My home town of Saint John, as I said, has a long history of unions and an industrial base. Unions help grow our economy, protect our workers, and they are there to produce a more vibrant community.
The former Conservative government neglected the middle class for more than a decade. Instead, the Conservatives focused their energy on attacking unions and dismantling them. This is a fact. The members opposite speak about how unions supported them. However, I cannot find a union or a union member in eastern Canada that supported Bill C-377 and Bill C-525.
Saint John's history is of a key shipbuilding and trading port, and the British Empire shows how trade unions can create a vibrant and strong community. Only with strong unions did Saint John thrive, and only with these things again can we make Canada's middle class, especially my constituents of Saint John—Rothesay, stronger than ever before.
My riding of Saint John—Rothesay is a proud union city. I will always be immensely proud to stand up for our unions, such as our local firefighters, local 771; our police union; IBEW and Matt Wayland; the Public Service Alliance, among others.
These unions are the backbone of our city and its economy, and I will always stand up for them. This is why I care passionately about Bill C-4. It is standing up for unions and the ordinary Canadians who reap the great things that unions provide.
Bill C-4 would repeal two laws that were not supported by evidence, were not wanted by either employees or unions, created additional and needless red tape, and were designed to pit employers against employees. We all know the best way to get anything done is to work together, to work with respect back and forth, and have open, transparent dialogue. This is why Bill C-377 and Bill C-525 must be repealed.
The Conservatives justified Bill C-377 by claiming there were complains by union members. Let us be clear. These complaints came from 0.002% of union members across Canada. It is a tiny portion of the four million Canadians who are members of unions. The Conservatives ignored the fact that federal and provincial laws already existed to ensure proper transparency about union spending to the proper people, the union members themselves.
This led to a massive administrative burden being placed on unions, as well as limited the ability of organized labour to effective collective bargain, reducing the ability of unions to help affect the landscape and help their members. Anything that hurts the ability of a union to collectively bargain for its members cannot be allowed to stand. An attack on collective bargaining is an attack on the union's ability to help its members, which hurts ordinary Canadians trying to get ahead.
Former Prime Minister Harper gave the best argument against the kinds of red tape that Bill C-377 created when, in January 2011, he said, “Cutting red tape is a most effective way to show that we are making government work for people, not the other way around”. He was right then, but then allowed red tape to hurt the union movement and stop it from doing good for ordinary, middle-class Canadians.
The Liberals could not justify supporting Bill C-377 then, and our resolve to help average Canadians who want to get ahead has not waned. Additionally, Bill C-525 was also something we could not support in 2014. It was without evidence then, and is certainly the same now. The government claimed the bill was the result of consultations with labour groups and employers, but there was no evidence ever given to show there were concerns about the way unions were certified. This bill was an answer in search of a problem, and a very bad answer.
Repealing Bill C-525 is also part of our government's commitment to evidence-based policy, listening to experts, and proper, thorough consultations. The mountain of evidence claimed by the Conservatives looks much more like a molehill: 6 complaints out of 4,000 Canada Industrial Relations Board decisions in the last 10 years. Actually, it is a molehill that was made to be bigger.
Bill C-525 is an anti-democratic attack. It eliminated card check certification and added an unnecessary second step for certification. It has become an invitation for employers to interfere with the democratic right of workers to choose representation. It has taken Canada away from a system of verification that worked quite well and has replaced it with one that is not fit for purpose.
Many local unions in my riding have talked to me about the new system of certification and the way the card check system is better, quicker, more efficient, fairer, and less open to employer interference, and I agree. It is right that we should listen to those in the community who have seen what the new system has done, the damage it is doing, and take what they say. We were elected to do and fight for ad back the middle class.
When I have gone door to door in my riding of Saint John—Rothesay and have talked to union members, I have yet to find a union or union member who supports Bill C-377 and Bill C-525.
The first time I spoke in the House was on this bill. I am proud to speak on it again. It is an immense privilege to stand here and fight for my riding and my union members, and the people of Saint John—Rothesay. I want to acknowledge union leaders like Dave Stevens, Peter Anderson, Abel Leblanc, Pat Riley, Bob Davidson, Darlene Bambridge, Debbie Ferguson, Clint MacGorman, Paul Britt, Terry Ferguson, and many others in my riding of Saint John—Rothesay, who stand strong and proud for unions. Unions built our middle class and the Liberal Party is here to support unions.