Mr. Don Davies (Vancouver Kingsway, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to stand on behalf of the New Democratic Party of Canada to speak in favour of Bill C-43, An Act to enact the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Labour Relations Modernization Act and to amend the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts.
Our party supports this legislation at second reading, because the bill is generally in line with our party's long-stated support for the right of RCMP officers to engage in collective bargaining, if that is their wish as democratically expressed by the membership.
We, of course, support sending the bill to committee where we look forward to studying it in detail and proposing amendments to deal with a number of specific concerns that we have with the current drafting, to which we have every hope that goodwill on all sides of the House will help us effect positive changes.
The background to the bill is quite straightforward. Bill C-43 was introduced in response to a decision of the Ontario Superior Court, referred to as the MacDonnell decision. Justice MacDonnell ruled in April 2009 that the existing labour relations regime pursuant to the RCMP Act was a violation of the constitutional right of RCMP officers to engage in free collective bargaining, if that is in fact their choice.
Although the government was initially hostile to RCMP unionization and engaged in repeated appeals of judicial findings against the existing system, it appears that the government has come to accept that some form of unionization within the RCMP is not only desirable, but is actually legally required.
Bill C-43 would provide a new labour relations regime for employees of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police who are engaged in policing. The proposed legislation is once again the government's response to the Ontario Superior Court of Justice decision I just referred to, and, again, that court held that to deny RCMP police employees the right to engage in collective bargaining, a right that forms part of the right to freedom of association in section 2(d) of the charter, was indeed unconstitutional.
Once that court decision was made in April 2009, there was no longer any mechanism for establishing a collective bargaining framework for RCMP management to police employees. Recognizing that potential vacuum, the court suggested that Parliament consider establishing a legislation framework for collective bargaining. While the court emphasized that a statutory framework was not a precondition to the establishment of an effective process of collective bargaining, such a statutory framework would, in his words, greatly facilitate this outcome.
In light of this recommendation the court suspended the declaration of invalidity of section 96 of the regulations, that is the part of the act that was struck down, for 18 months to allow the government an opportunity to introduce labour relations legislation for RCMP police employees, and I would like to offer my congratulations to the government for complying with that direction of the court.
I want to start back in June 2008, just before the last federal election. At that time the RCMP had been engaged in a long discussion with the government about the long-standing recruitment and retention problems that it had experienced. Also, there are a number, and have been a number, of pressing issues facing the RCMP that I will go over in a few minutes that require not only resolution, but also the important input of the RCMP officers and civilian members to join into the discussion to find a resolution for those issues.
The Conservative government negotiated increases in the summer of 2008 to address those very real recruitment and retention issues identified by the front-line RCMP officers, and in fact RCMP management, and they actually came up with percentage increases that would help to start the process of alleviating those issues.
What happened? The election occurred and intervened in September and October. On October 16, after the election, we found that the Conservative government reneged on its promises. As soon as it was elected in October 2008, the government betrayed its promise on the very percentage increases that it had agreed to for the RCMP just before the election.
I was engaged in collective bargaining for 16 years. One of the cornerstones of labour relations in this country is the concept of good faith. It is the concept that, when parties come to a table and make an agreement, they keep that agreement.
The Conservative government did not do that. It broke its promise. It broke its commitment. It broke its word. The government betrayed the officers who came, in the summer of 2008, and shook hands across the table on a modest percentage increase that the government did not see fit to honour. That is simply unacceptable misconduct, and that is one of the prime reasons why workers consider unionization. When the employer comes to the table and proves itself unworthy of good faith negotiations, the workers then pursue a regime where the other side is compelled to sit down at the table and bargain under a statutory framework because it cannot be trusted.
The Conservative government that broke its promise to RCMP officers are the same people who, in the provincial election of 2009, also told the people of British Columbia that they would not bring in an HST. It is the same politicians. British Columbia Liberals are federal Conservatives. They also misled the voters of that province. They are getting into a habit of breaking their promises and telling voters one thing before an election, when they want their vote, and then acting in a different way after the votes are counted. I come from a riding where democracy is highly prized. The people of Vancouver Kingsway do not tolerate any longer politicians who say one thing before an election and act a different way after an election.
The government fought the simple request by officers of the RCMP to have the right to choose or not to choose to collectively bargain. We must remember that RCMP officers have not chosen to join a union yet, and New Democrats are neutral in this regard. However, we will stand up for all workers in this country to have the right to make that choice for themselves and the right of those workers to make those decisions unmolested, unintimidated and of their own free will and accord, as they measure the pros and cons of collective bargaining. That is a choice purely of the workers. In this case, it is purely the choice of RCMP officers and civilian members across this country to determine if they want to collectively bargain or not.
The Conservative government spent millions of taxpayers' dollars fighting that simple proposal. The courts found that the government's position was unconstitutional, that the longstanding prohibition in law that prohibited RCMP members from collective bargaining in this country was a violation of their charter rights.
The Liberal government that went before the present government also participated in that violation of constitutional rights, so we will hear no great words of wisdom or principle from the Liberal Party about this issue either, since those members did nothing as the constitutional rights of RCMP officers of this country were violated, abrogated and abridged for decades.
I might point out that the RCMP is the only police force in this country that has been prohibited from unionizing. It is high time we corrected this problem. I am proud that New Democrats are the only party that has stood up for the rights of RCMP members to unionize from the get-go.
I also want to talk a bit about RCMP officer input. It has been my experience that successful economies bring to the table the ideas of the management and the entrepreneurs, the ideas and the energy of workers who carry out those directions, and also a government framework that provides a healthy environment for business and labour to flourish at the same time. What is really important about the unionization process in this case is that it can provide a vehicle for RCMP officers to bring to the table their important input into the workplace. That voice has been missing up until now.
I want to congratulate a few people. RCMP officer Patrick Mehain has courageously and with absolute selfless commitment dedicated himself to the fight to allow his brothers and sisters in the RCMP to decide to unionize or not. He has done that at great personal cost to his career. He has demonstrated time and time again the bravery that one would expect from an RCMP officer, but bravery that goes above and beyond the call of duty.
I also want to give great plaudits to the Canadian Police Association and particularly its president, Charles Momy. The Canadian Police Association has been steadfast in lending its support to its sisters and brothers in the RCMP in helping them achieve the very same thing that every other police officer in this country has, which is the right to collectively bargain.
I want to talk a bit about some concerns with this bill, because it is not perfect.
First, it limits the choice of bargaining agent. Right in the bill, it says that the officers can choose any union they want, as long as it is a union that has an established collective bargaining relationship in the policing world. In theory, that is an unacceptable abridgement of a worker's right to choose the collective bargaining agent as they wish. However, I leave it to the RCMP officers to determine if they can find an appropriate bargaining agent. I think that actually they can.
Second, the legislation prohibits certain topics from being discussed at the bargaining table. Once again, that is an unacceptable violation, in theory, of the rights of people to come to the table and to be able to put on the table whatever issues in the workplace they wish. In this case, the legislation prohibits the bargaining agent from talking about these issues: pensions, appointments, promotions, layoffs and classifications.
One can understand pensions, because most public sector employees fall under an already established pension scheme, and I can see that. However, there is no principled reason, in law or in practice, why the bargaining agent or the workers should not be able to come to the table and talk about how their work is classified and give their input and suggestions about how that should work in practice. There is no principled reason to state why those workers should not be able to talk about a layoff process or a fair promotion process.
These are aspects of collective agreements across this country that unions have been dealing with for decades and decades, so we are going to be looking forward to exploring at committee why the government thinks that the bargaining agent should not be allowed to discuss those cases and have input, just input, into how those important aspects of their work relationship operate in practice. We will be working to try to amend the bill in that regard.
I also want to raise a concern of the civilian members of the RCMP who work very closely with the officers. These are people who provide very critical and important support to the RCMP officers in their day-to-day activities. They do scientific and forensic work. They run the full gamut of the policing work and work intimately with the RCMP officers in the field.
This legislation gives the autocratic ability to the minister of the Treasury Board to determine which bargaining unit they may go into, and that as well is an unacceptable infringement of those people's rights to choose who their bargaining agent is and how they choose to bargain.
There are pressing issues that I mentioned that are facing the RCMP, many issues that have challenged the force. I think I speak on behalf of all Canadians when we say that the RCMP has a long and proud tradition in this country. It has been known as one of the pre-eminent police forces in our country for a long time and it has a storied history, one that is full of its triumphs and also, it is fair to say, some of its tragedies. However, the issues that we face today with the RCMP, as parliamentarians, and that the RCMP force itself has to deal with, include the following.
They have to deal with issues of RCMP oversight and developing a structure that can restore the confidence of the public so we know that, when there are complaints against RCMP officers, there is a fair, transparent and accountable process to deal with those complaints.
We have the issue of the government closing single-member detachments all over this country, particularly in rural areas, and that is certainly not the way New Democrats would like to see this force going. We say we should be beefing up those single-member detachments, because the NDP thinks that a having a single member in a small town provides an unsafe, unacceptable working condition for that officer, but the answer is not to close that detachment and leave that community unpoliced.
The New Democrats have heard from rural politicians who tell us that they may be an hour and a half or two hours away from the nearest policing resource. What happens when there is an emergency, when there is a domestic assault case going on or something more serious such as a murder or a sexual assault occurring? The government likes to talk about how tough on crime it is, but really, it is closing single-member detachments, which is going to leave hundreds of thousands of Canadians farther away from a police officer.
We have issues of member burnout, stress and post-traumatic stress disorder, very real issues facing RCMP officers in the line of duty, who are called upon to do a very difficult job on our behalf. They are often the very first person at the scene of an accident, sometimes with fatalities. They have to go to domestic situations where there is spousal assault and children involved. They are the people who have to investigate gruesome crimes of a sexual nature sometimes involving children. They are people who we put into the line of duty every day, into the line of assault and danger to their life and limb. Officers deal with that, and we need to support our officers in that regard.
There are issues of officer morale and at present issues of leadership and management styles in the RCMP. There is the issue of taser use. Just the other day, we found out another person died in this country from the use of a taser, and we need to have a serious look at getting meaningful limitations on the use of that weapon because it clearly is not being used appropriately at the present time. We have issues of RCMP accountability, as I talked about, with civilian oversight.
We also have service delivery issues. I recently met with the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, which told me that the federal Conservative government has downloaded $500 million of policing responsibilities on to the municipal and rural areas of this country without a dime of compensation. There is a lack of responsiveness to local policing needs. They told me they cannot get the RCMP to do bylaw enforcement because it does not have the time or resources. Once again, the Conservative government likes to use crime as a political issue and likes to talk and say how tough it is, but it has not put the money behind its word. The Federation of Canadian Municipalities said this to me.
I also want to talk briefly about what unions do and why this is important. Over the last 30 years, the middle and working classes in this country have been hit hard, primarily because of Conservative policies, the policies of the Mulroney government that were carried on by the Liberal Party in the 1990s. The neo-Liberal policies talked about cutting government spending and downloading expenses to the provinces, policies that saw a downloading of costs that resulted in public services being eroded over the last 25 years.
Here are the statistics. Canada's richest 1%, 246,000 Canadians whose average income is $405,000, took almost one-third, 32% of all growth in incomes between 1987 and 2007. That is the period of Liberal and Conservative governments.
Since the 1970s, the richest 1% in this country has seen its share of total income double. The richest 0.1% has seen its share triple. The richest 0.01% has seen its share increase by more than 500%. In 2009, 3.8% of Canadian households controlled $1.78 trillion of financial wealth or 67% of the total wealth in Canada. This is what has happened under Conservative and Liberal rule in this country. The rich have got richer and the middle class and working class have got poorer.
That is why unionization, which has been proved to show that workers will gain more of their fair share of the economic pie in this country, is so important to the RCMP. It is why the New Democrats will continue to stand up for the rights of Canadian workers of all types, including the RCMP, to access collective bargaining if that is their wish, so that they can have a say in their workplace and in bargaining the terms and conditions of their work, including their compensation packages, which will help build better lives for them and their families.
Mr. Mark Holland (Ajax—Pickering, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak to this bill. It is an opportunity to reflect on the incredible work that the men and women in the RCMP do. If there is anything this House can agree on, it is the work that front-line officers do in keeping our communities safe and putting their lives on the line.
I had the opportunity, as the public safety and national security critic for the Liberal Party, to visit attachments across the country and talk with officers. I am always amazed by the work they do and the quality people we have been able to attract to the force.
In that regard, I am pleased to stand and speak to the bill and the portions that are supportable. I will also talk about some areas of weakness that need to be examined in committee.
First, it is important to look at the origins of where this bill came from. The hon. member for Vancouver Kingsway, who spoke earlier, talked about the fact that it has been a long time that the RCMP has not unionized. However, what the member left out is that it was not an issue until 2008.
I remember in 2008 when the Prime Minister made a commitment to RCMP officers that they would be given simple parity with other forces, that they would be paid the same for the same job essentially. This was brought forward because there was a real problem with retention and recruitment. The feeling was that they had to be paid the same as other forces that were out there. The Prime Minister gave his word in 2008, shook hands with those RCMP officers who were there and made a speech about how important it was to achieve parity.
Mere months later, that promise was broken. The commitment was tossed out the door and the words soon forgotten. The RCMP were left shocked, bewildered and feeling betrayed. As a result, many felt that the time had come to ask for the right to unionize.
Collective bargaining is a right enjoyed by every other police force in the country. One would assume that when the RCMP members asked for the opportunity to put this to a vote and allow them to decide that the government would have said, of course, as that was their democratic right. However, the government did no such thing. It stood in their way and the matter had to be taken to court.
In April 2009, before the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, it found that section 96 of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police regulations breached the freedom of association in accordance with the RCMP under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom. It concluded that the 20,000-plus members of the RCMP did in fact have a right, as did every other police force, to make a decision on whether they wanted collective bargaining and who they wanted as their bargaining agent.
It is not as if this was given freely by the government. The RCMP had to fight for it after the betrayal in 2008.
However, it is not as if the government then pounced upon the finding of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice. In fact, we had to wait from that point until June 17, 2010. It was more than a year later before the government then tabled this bill. This bill was tabled in June and yet we are only just now beginning the process of debating it at second reading.
Committees are going on right now and, in fact, I am taking a brief break to speak here before I head back. However, in committee we will be talking about whether we should immediately go to clause by clause on a pardon bill. We have already dealt with half of the bill, which was Bill C-23A, and we will be dealing with Bill C-23B, but the government is attacking us for not passing this bill immediately.
However, if we look at the state of that bill, it is already on the verge of going to clause by clause. The government itself has admitted that the bill is flawed and needs amendments, which we still have not seen, and yet the government is saying that we are holding it up.
Here is a bill that is in front of us that essentially nothing has happened with since June. In fact, nothing really has happened since the court decision in April 2009 and yet government members feel free to stand and attack myself and other members, who are diligently trying to do work at committee, saying that we are not moving those bills fast enough. Obviously this has not been a high priority for the government and, as a result, this matter continues to stick and linger.
I will talk about some of the things that the bill does initiate and some of the things that we support. I also will quickly go through some of the items that are weaknesses in the bill.
If implemented, Bill C-43 would give RCMP members the right of choice whether they want to continue to work in an non-unionized environment or to pursue a unionized option where they would be represented by a certified bargaining agent. Under a unionized scenario, RCMP members would not be able to withdraw their services.
It would further give the RCMP commissioner new powers to appoint, promote, discipline, demote or terminate the employment of all members, including commissioned officers.
On that point, the committee will need to look in more detail at what exactly is the scope of these new powers and how they would be applied. That is an area of some concern. On the first point, just simply giving the choice to members to unionize or not is something that should be taken as a given and something that RCMP members should not have had to fight for over the last number of years.
It would further establish a total compensation advisory committee to provide recommendations to the President of the Treasury Board with recommendations on overall compensation of RCMP members who are not represented by a certified bargaining agent. Under a unionized scenario, this would include RCMP officers, executives and other non-represented or excluded employees of the RCMP.
Further, it would establish a consultation committee to address workplace issues. Through a series of local, divisional, regional and national consultative committees and working groups, members would be given the opportunity to bring their views and concerns directly to managers, either individually or as a group.
It would maintain the existing informal conflict management system whereby options will continue to be offered to resolve conflicts above and beyond the formal grievance process, such as mediation through a third party. The use of these options would be voluntary, confidential and impartial.
It would provide the commissioner the authority to implement a restructured discipline system that would seek to resolve conduct issues transparently, consistently and promptly. RCMP members would have the right to refer certain decisions or actions of management to the Public Service Labour Relations Board, an impartial and external decision-making body.
And it would establish the Public Service Labour Relations Board as an independent, external third party to make final and binding decisions relating to discipline issues and some grievances of RCMP members.
There are many items that have been called for over a long period of time, certainly that Liberals have been pushing for, that are commendable and laudable and can be supported. One of the areas that is concerning and will have to be looked at in committee is provisions in the bill that would limit who the bargaining agent might be. I am not sure what the reason is for those limitations and why they would be put into force, but it is certainly something that would have to be explained and at the moment seems contrary to the spirit of the decision that was made by the Ontario Superior Court.
On the fact that it would limit certain matters to be discussed, I am concerned about limiting the ability to discuss classification of work, how layoffs might happen, and matters dealing with promotions. These are normally things that would be included in the collective bargaining process. It seems unusual that they would be cut out. It would certainly not be in the tradition of other collective bargaining processes enjoyed by other police forces. So that is going to have to be described and given some consideration.
As for the provision for the Treasury Board president to be able to decide who the bargaining agent is for civilian members, there has been no good explanation provided for that and obviously has a number of civilian members scratching their heads and being concerned as to why the government would put that provision in and why that power would be granted to the Treasury Board president. That will need to be looked at in committee.
Further, I am also concerned about the additional powers given to the commissioner. These powers need to be explained more fully. The powers are particularly concerning in the context of things that we have been hearing about within RCMP, about the head of the organization, about the structure at the top of the organization not being in shape relative to the rest of the organization.
In that regard, because it really reflects on the overall issue of morale, recruitment and retention, we have to talk about some of the other things happening within the force. I am going to start with those that have a direct impact on this notion of extending additional powers to the RCMP commissioner.
Let us start with the commission of inquiry conducted by Justice O'Connor. Justice O'Connor found that the oversight mechanisms provided to the RCMP were wholly inadequate. To give an example, the RCMP public complaints commissioner was not empowered to proactively initiate an investigation when something went wrong. He did not have the power to force information from individuals and it could only be provided to him voluntarily.
Also, as many of the operations conducted by the RCMP, particularly those dealing with intelligence and security operations, deal with more than one agency, there is no power to follow the bouncing ball. If something happens within the RCMP, there is no power to see what happened at immigration or what happened at the Canada Border Services Agency, so everything exists in a silo.
The notion of giving the RCMP commissioner additional powers in the absence of having adequate oversight, I think, is deeply troubling. If Justice O'Connor's report was new, the government could be forgiven for not implementing it. However, we are coming up to nearly the five-year mark of Justice O'Connor's report being tabled. The government said it agreed with the conclusions of Justice O'Connor, agreed that those had to be implemented immediately, yet those recommendations still sit collecting dust, with no action taken.
This is particularly concerning given the fact that we saw what happened with Mr. Arar and the terrible ordeal he went through in a Syrian prison.
It was repeated with Mr. Almalki, Mr. Abou-Elmaati and Mr. Nureddin, in the report done by Justice Iacobucci where he repeated the call, the need for these reforms to take place and to have that oversight.
For I and other members to sit in a room where we had a replica of the cell that these gentlemen were confined to, as they told their stories of listening and waiting as footsteps went by, wondering when they were going to be pulled from their cell and tortured next, and knowing that detention and torture had at its heart many failures within the Canadian intelligence system, we would think the government would be urgently trying to remedy that so that these horrific circumstances and the torture that these men went through would not be repeated. Yet here again we have a bill giving the commissioner new powers, with no oversight.
I would remind this House that Paul Kennedy, who was the RCMP public complaints commissioner, also talked about the urgent need of reform within his office. He spoke about the import of some of these changes and oversight. Of course, like anyone who criticized the government, he was fired, ostensibly his contract was not renewed, because of the fact that he was being critical, because he was showing what needed to change, what needed to be done. The government got rid of him, which is a terrible tragedy. This is somebody who did tremendous work.
Who replaced Mr. Kennedy? Essentially, it was a wills and estate lawyer who had made all kinds of contributions to the Conservative Party, who we have never heard from since and I do not suspect we ever will.
It is hard to think of a week that went by where we did not hear from Mr. Kennedy, stepping forward and speaking out on behalf of the changes that needed to happen within the RCMP. Yet, of the new commissioner, we hear essentially nothing, which given his background and connections to the Conservative Party is probably exactly what the government was hoping for.
However, when these voices are killed, these independent voices that shine light into dark corners, that give us an opportunity to know what the truth is and what is going on, the whole process is undermined. Frankly, it is offensive that the government would come and ask to give even more powers to the commissioner in absence of moving forward at all with any of these oversight mechanisms.
It is also important for us to reflect upon the work that was done in the Brown report, in the wake of the RCMP pension scam, where he said there had to be important structural changes happen to the RCMP as an organization. Mr. Brown gave the government two years. He thought it was an aggressive but achievable timeline in which to make those changes. The government did nothing. It did not recommend a single one of Mr. Brown's changes. Despite the fact that it said, yes, it agreed with what he said needed to be done, it did not implement those changes. In fact, some six months ago we celebrated the two-year mark he had given for the changes to be implemented.
So it is not surprising, when we look at this, why we are having some problems within the RCMP in terms of morale. Those brave men and women who are on the front lines doing their job are looking and asking why these changes are not taking place; why is reform not happening at the top of the organization; why is the government consistently ignoring commission after commission, inquiry after inquiry?
The public safety committee has issued many recommendations on this, and it too is ignored. The government's response is, “Yes, we are going to do it”, and then it does not.
We also know that Mr. Kennedy spoke very clearly about the need to take action with respect to conducted energy weapons. The report that he did on the death of Mr. Dziekanski and the lessons that came from there still largely has not been implemented. Most of the recommendations, some of them very simple around providing direct guidelines and direction for use of conducted energy weapons, still sit not implemented.
As an example, in the case of Mr. Dziekanski, who was fired upon multiple times, the second and third time even after he was already subdued and riling on the ground in pain, one simple recommendation would simply be that once somebody is incapacitated, to stop shooting them. It would seem a fairly straightforward thing to be able to implement, yet even that is not there.
We also know with respect to conducted energy weapons that it really needs to be placed into that continuum of force training that happens at depot, yet at depot that does not happen. Right now when they are getting their continuum of force training, conducted energy weapons are not part of the training. They have guns, a stick, and pepper spray, but left out of that continuum is the taser and the question of where exactly in application of force it should be put.
When we reflect upon all of this overwhelming desire for change, all of the self-evident changes that need to happen and the fact that the government continually does not do it, I am completely baffled as to why.
I get asked by many members, if all of these things are so self-evident, if these reports have been done with clear and concise recommendations and timelines and it is made clear how the implementation should happen, why has it not been done?
The latest excuse, when we get an excuse, was that they were waiting for Justice Major's report on Air India. After Justice Major tabled his report some seven or eight months ago, there was a lot of hope that we would finally get movement on all of these things that have been outstanding forever.
Yet last week the government tabled its so-called action plan on Air India and absent from the action plan was any action. Instead of actually moving on all these things that have been standing and waiting to move forever, there were some vague, general aspirational statements that we would have expected the day after Justice Major's report came out. There is still no movement whatsoever on oversight.
In the case of Justice Major's report, where there were a number of new things that were talked about, including somebody who could head up counterterrorism to break through those different silos there, the victims of Air India had to wait all that period of time only to be told that after the government had said six months ago that it would accept the recommendation, it is now tossing it out. Too bad.
When it came to compensation for those families, too bad. Wait and maybe one day they will hear from the government.
If Justice O'Connor's report is any example at all, it has been five years and we are still waiting. I wonder if the Air India families are going to be asking the same kind of questions that Mr. Arar's family is asking five years later, or Mr. Abou-Emaati's or Mr. Almalki's or Mr. Nureddin's.
I will conclude with this. I think it is important that we empower the RCMP to make the choice of whether or not it wants to unionize.
The bill needs to proceed to committee. There are a number of areas that are weak. However, I would call upon the government, for the sake of the RCMP, this national symbol that is in desperate need of renewal, with Canadians really calling out and begging for the government to make the changes that do service to the organization, that it act on what has been asked of it and move on what needs to be done, not just on this but on all outstanding matters.
Mr. Jim Maloway (Elmwood—Transcona, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-43. We would not be dealing with the bill in the House today had it not been for an Ontario court decision last year. The government has fought this issue for quite some time.
We are talking about giving RCMP members the ability to form a union of their choice if they wish. This issue has been discussed for quite a number of years and governments, whether Liberal or Conservative, have made no effort to be helpful and allow this to happen.
Members of the organization spent a considerable amount of money and time to take this issue to court. When they won the court decision, the government quickly introduced legislation, which appears to take away some of the rights the members wanted by going to court in the first place.
RCMP members want to select their own bargaining agent. This legislation dictates that only a bargaining agent which primarily represents workers in the field of policing is eligible to be certified as a recognized union for RCMP officers. To the average person, this may make a lot of sense, but it is a fundamental restriction on the right of workers to choose who they want as their bargaining agent.
The same issue comes into play with respect to civilian members. The RCMP has now grown to around 24,000 members. The minister indicated today that there were perhaps 3,000 to 4,000 civilian members in the RCMP. They too are being restricted in ways that they perhaps would not have contemplated when the decision to go to court was made. It is left in the hands of Treasury Board to decide their fate.
The Conservative government knew for several years that this issue was before a court. It knew there was a possibility that it might lose, and that is what happened. The government lost the decision and because of a court order, it introduced the legislation.
The government could have quickly consulted with members of the RCMP before it brought the legislation to the House. It could have asked civilian members for their opinion as opposed to simply introducing the legislation, saying it could not consult because it was operating on the basis of a court order, that consulting would happen once the bill went to committee.
The NDP has agreed to support this legislation to get it to committee. However, the civilian members who are contacting me will now have to go through the process of making arrangements and representations to the committee.
We all know that the committee process is not like the process in the Manitoba legislature, which I am familiar with, where we let anybody make a presentation. Provided that the presenters know about the bill they are presenting on in the first place and when the committee is meeting, they can come and register at the last minute, show up by the hundreds if they want and they are given their 10 minutes to present and answer questions. That is how it is dealt with.
However, in this case we are talking about a committee that is held here in Ottawa. How are these members supposed to travel in from outside the Ottawa area at their own expense to present before the committee? The way these committees operate in Ottawa is different from the provincial committees. The provincial committees allow anybody to come in, whether people are experts in the area or whether the come in off the street, and give their opinion. It is a totally different environment here.
These members will not be invited to present to the committee unless they are recognized experts. Certainly that was my experience with the air passenger bill of rights and any other legislation in which I was involved. It is a very selective process in Ottawa.
I am not in any way happy with how this is happening because the civilian members who are contacting me are absolutely right. They missed the consultation before the bill was drafted. We can tell them all we want that they will have a chance at committee but we know better than that. We know they will not be invited to the committee because the committee is very restricted. The committee will only sit for a few days and it will want to hear from expert witnesses.
However, that does not mean that the issue will not be aired. The committee will hear from the experts and, hopefully, the civilian members who are contacting me will be happy. However, the civilian members should have been given more opportunity to make a presentation to the committee.
I want to read an email correspondence from Ms. Deneene Curry from Edward Avenue in Transcona in my riding. She is one of the civilian members of the RCMP who will be affected by this legislation. She expresses concerns about the bill, perhaps concerns that could have been dealt with had she had proper consultation in advance of the bill being introduced.
She talked about a section 20(1)(a) that would place the positions of civilian members under threat of conversion to public service positions, and that the Treasury Board, as we have indicated, would ultimately determine the category of an employee within the RCMP. She is concerned that at no point does it seem that the civilian members will be allowed to collectively vote on the issue or decide on their future status.
I thought this was all about giving freedom of choice to members to decide whether they want a union in the first place and, if they do decide to have one, to at least let them freely choose which union it is will be.
However, that is not what is happening here. It appears that is being preordained. In the area of the civilian members, it appears that the Treasury Board would tell them and in the area of the officers themselves, the legislation would tell them who they can have representing them.
I ask the member for Hamilton East—Stoney Creek to bear me out on this. In any other walk of life, in dealing with representation across the country, if workers in any other province decided to change representation or change unions they can vote and change representatives. However, that does not seem to be an option here. Members are being told that, in much the same way that they have had the company union association dealing with their concerns over the last several decades, now we would tell them who their representatives will be and, if they do not like them, l really do not know how many other options are out there.
We know that the RCMP, which has 24,000 members, is the last police force without union representation and they are ready for it. I believe every police force in the country with over 50 members has union representation. The member for Hamilton East—Stoney Creek might know that.
Ms. Curry goes on to say that the civilian members are considered subject matter experts in their fields and they are individuals with specialized training and skills sets that are unique to the RCMP and its environment. The civilian members are required to work various hours of the day, often on short notice, to meet investigational demands and court deadlines and they may be transferred or dispatched in the event of an emergency, disaster, special events, such as the Olympics and the G8, or to fulfill resource shortages. She says that this may no longer be the case if the civilian members are forced into the public service realm.
She goes on to say that the civilian members are sworn in members of the RCMP and that they are therefore subject to the same sort of standards, expectations, regulations, security clearance and leave restrictions as regular members. Because of these factors, it is not an easy process to fill vacated civilian member positions with qualified individuals. They chose their civilian member positions over applying for other positions that they may have qualified for in other organizations. They are proud members of the RCMP and they devote their skill sets to the organization. If they are converted to public servants, there is a risk that many of these civilian members would seek employment opportunities outside of the RCMP, which would create a loss of valuable resources and put ongoing criminal investigations at a serious disadvantage.
She is certainly concerned, and I think rightly so, but perhaps if the government had made an effort to consult with people like her before it introduced the bill, she and others would not be writing emails to me in this situation. I am sure I am not the only member of Parliament who is getting representation on this issue. We will certainly be in touch with her to let her know that the committee will be meeting and that she should phone the appropriate secretary of the committee as soon as possible to try to get on the list.
I wanted to talk about the history of the RCMP and I found some very interesting historical facts. To make the argument that while it started small and has a very valuable role in our country, it has grown to 24,000 members. As with any organization, as it grows in size and develops there are different types of problems that are to be found in an organization of 24,000 people with the role and mandate of the RCMP.
The RCMP has international involvement as well. It has been deployed on UN missions in Namibia, the former Yugoslavia, Haiti, South Africa, Rwanda, Bosnia, Sierra Leone, Guatemala, Western Sahara, the Netherlands, Croatia, Kosovo and East Timor, and the role of the RCMP on these UN missions was not to act as official peacekeepers but rather to act as a temporary civilian police force.
The RCMP has a huge role, and I could get into all the other roles that it has, but it is the police force where there is no local force.
The organization has had a storied past and has been well respected over the decades in this country. However, in the last six years there have been numerous problems that point to an extreme level of difficulty within that organization. We heard about the stress on the job, the morale in the RCMP and the taser issues. At a certain point, the public started to ask questions. Maybe the first one or two problems within the force were simply greeted by the public as something that one should expect given the size and complexity of the organization, but there have been so many lately that I think the public have come to the conclusion that it is time to make some changes, and certainly this is a change.
Perhaps the government does not see this as a positive change and dreads the idea of having a unionized police force. However, in today's environment, with a force of 24,000 people and the complexity and variety of problems they must deal with, having a union involved, the type of union environment that they choose on their own, might be very helpful in improving morale in the force and, I hope, would have something to do with reducing the stress levels in the force.
The big problem right now within the force is that there does not seem to be any real avenue for people to express their opinion. Over the years that the company union was in place in the RCMP, there was much concern on the part of the officers to voice concerns in the workplace for fear they may not get a promotion, or they may not be seen as team players, or they may have some sort of retribution from their superiors.
In forming their own union, one would hope that this would help to alleviate some of these problems. However, at the end of the day we are not 100% sure whether they would proceed with a union. There is a lot of scare-mongering going on out there.
I am not sure of my time, but I know it is never enough.
Mr. Brian Jean: It is for us.
Mr. Jim Maloway: I thank the hon. member. It is only a couple more days before the probable election I would think. I guess we all hope to be back here.
The bill will be going to committee and we in the NDP do have several concerns that we will attempt to deal with by amendment. I did discuss one of them, which is the dictate of which bargaining agent the RCMP would have to deal with.
A second amendment to the bill that we would be looking at is in the area of the limitations on the topics that might be negotiated at the bargaining table, including some substantial components of a contract, such as pensions. That would something we would be interested in dealing with in committee.
I also indicated our concern with the civilian members' issues. We could deal with that in committee as well.
I regret that I will not be able to get into the very interesting history of the RCMP and its early trips out west to deal with particular issues at Fort Whoop-Up.