Hon. MaryAnn Mihychuk
moved that the bill be read the third time and passed.
She said: Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to be here once again to speak to the House about this legislative package, which would help all Canadians, businesses, and workers. That is really the ultimate purpose of the bill, to reduce conflict and ensure that our economy will be working as harmoniously as possible so that we can create jobs and have a healthy, strong economy, which is what every single member of the House is working toward.
This is the final reading of Bill C-4.
Our relations with the labour movement are not based on conflict, and should not be. Rather, the solution and the best approach is collaboration. We believe in co-operation with the labour movement because it benefits all Canadians. This was a promise that our leader made last year during the election campaign and introduced through the legislation known as Bill C-4. We believe that our system of open negotiations serves in the interests of both the employer and the employee, as was clearly evident in the recent negotiations between Canada Post and CUPW.
The bill not only is a significant step forward, it also has a strong symbolic value. It sends the message that a partnership, rather than adversity, is now the basis of our relationship. Our government takes an approach to labour relations that is based on collaboration, respect, and engagement, not the Conservative approach. We believe in fairness and justice for Canadians.
Truth be told, the labour movement has been an essential building block for a stable and strong economy, which we have now in our country, as well as a fair and inclusive society. The labour movement provides a collective voice for workers in their negotiations with employers. Unions have had a historical concern for the interests of the middle class, whether they are members or not, and strive for fair wages for all workers. They have been instrumental, in fact they have been central, in the movement to achieve fairness for women in the workplace, for indigenous workers, for workers with disabilities, and for all workers across this land.
This is in harmony with our values and our thinking as a government. This is also in harmony with our values and thinking as Canadians. This is why we believe our labour laws should be balanced and fair. Why have we put so much effort into this piece of legislation? Simply stated, we wanted to restore fairness and balance in labour relations because it has been missing for the previous 10 years.
The objective of Bill C-4 is to repeal the legislative changes brought in by Bill C-377 and Bill C-525 and supported by the previous government and delivered via a backdoor, sneaky approach to governing. The situation is very straightforward. These two bills upset the balance that has been carefully maintained for years. They upset a balance that ensured fair treatment for employers and workers, and that served as a solid foundation for collective bargaining and for our economy.
I do not mind calling this what it is. Those bills were anti-union legislation, and we would now correct the state of affairs.
During the committee hearings, we heard from a number of key stakeholders who provided specifics about the serious flaws in Bill C-377 and Bill C-525. For example, we consider the fact that Bill C-377 forces labour organizations and labour trusts to provide very detailed financial information such as expenses, assets, debts, salaries of certain individuals, and other information to CRA. This private information would then be publicly available on that website.
They would also have to provide details on the time spent on political and lobbying activities, as well as any activities not directly related to labour relations. Thankfully, the Minister of National Revenue has already taken steps to suspend these obligations in 2016, while Parliament has been examining Bill C-4.
We must all understand that if this key financial information, including strike funds, were made public, these measures would put unions at a huge disadvantage, because employers are not required to publicly disclose similar financial information. It is totally unfair and unbalanced.
As well, Bill C-377 imposes a large financial and administrative burden on labour organizations and labour trusts, information that is not required from others. Why would unions be the only ones forced to comply with these requirements while other organizations, including professional organizations, would be exempt? Frankly, it is difficult to see how that legislation could actually benefit hard-working Canadians.
Some think that Bill C-377 was necessary to improve fiscal transparency. They say that it was necessary to guarantee public access to information. I fail to see the link between Bill C-377 and transparency. The rules contained in Bill C-377 are one-sided and discriminate against unions, and they upset the balance in labour relations. They add nothing to the current regime.
We already have legislation in place to ensure that unions are financially accountable to their members at both the federal and provincial levels. For example, section 110 of the Canada Labour Code requires unions and employer organizations to provide financial statements to their members upon request and free of charge. This is more than sufficient to ensure that both parties can negotiate in balanced conditions.
We knew from the onset that Bill C-377 was unnecessary and redundant. Not only does it disadvantage unions during collective bargaining, it is also an impediment to the bargaining process itself.
This brings me to Bill C-525. This bill has made changes to the Canada Labour Code, the Parliamentary Employment and Staff Relations Act, and the Public Service Labour Relations Act, and affects how unions are certified and decertified. It replaces the previous card check system with a mandatory vote system, despite the fact that the traditional system worked well for decades and there was little pressure to change it. In fact, the Conservatives hide the evidence in a labour department report that showed the success of the card check approach. It is shameful.
Bill C-525 makes it harder for unions to be certified as collective bargaining agents and makes it easier for bargaining agents to be decertified. However, it is not just a problem for unions. Consider the implications to the Canada Industrial Relations Board and the Public Service Labour Relations and Employment Board. These boards are responsible for the full cost and logistic responsibilities involved in holding representation votes.
Under these changes, the Canada Industrial Relations Board is required to hold a vote to certify a union, not just in roughly 20% of the cases where less than a majority of workers have signed union cards but in all cases. That translates into roughly five times the board's current workload. Unions now have to obtain support from 40% of workers before a mandatory secret ballot vote can be held. That is a great way to ensure that the unionization process is as complicated as possible.
Perhaps more alarmingly, the changes would also mean that the process is more susceptible to employer interference. During our committee hearings, Dr. Sara Slinn, associate professor at York University's Osgoode Hall Law School, agreed.
|| Employees require greater protection from employer interference under a vote system. These include access to expedited unfair labour practice procedures and more substantial interim remedies, but such necessary protections were not provided by Bill C-525.
It is evident that Bill C-525 does not represent a positive contribution to labour relations in Canada, not to mention that it is simply not necessary. The card check certification process that had been in place in the federal jurisdiction for decades worked well. We see no need to change that.
Bill C-4 represents the kind of positive contribution we want to see and that Canadians deserve. This action to repeal Bill C-377 and Bill C-525 is part of a larger effort to repair damaged relationships with those who are producing prosperity and quality of life for Canadians.
Our premise is simple on this side: we know that working people are not the enemy. We also know that a backdrop of conflict and mistrust cannot be productive for either side when it comes to reaching agreements.
I am not implying that all is perfectly smooth and that there are not points of contention between us and the labour movement. The point is that discussions must take place on a level playing field and in a setting of respect and transparency.
Canada watched as recent negotiations stalled between Canada Post and the Canadian Union of Postal Workers. We were asked if we would get involved and introduce back-to-work legislation. However, we did not go there. We respected the process, and alone, together, Canada Post and CUPW came to a tentative agreement.
We are also seeing this in provincial jurisdictions. Earlier this week, General Motors Canada and Unifor came to their own tentative agreement without any work stoppage.
Our conviction in the collective bargaining process is not misplaced. We are seeing real problems turn into real results through respect at all levels. When we give a little, we get a little.
We know that the labour movement deserves fairness from the federal government, and we have delivered in Bill C-4. This is only one of a number of initiatives we are undertaking to improve the workplace in this country, and we are just getting started.
Not only do we have a focus on fairness, but the fact is that in many respects, we have to get with the times. In this respect, we have pledged to amend the Canada Labour Code to allow workers the right to formally request flex work arrangements from their employers. This will help federally regulated workers balance their professional and personal responsibilities.
We are also working on reforms to facilitate flex parental leave, which will allow parents to create a plan that makes sense for their unique families and workplace circumstances as they expand their families. Both those initiatives are good for the middle class and good for our economy.
We are also putting forward many other measures that will benefit hard-working Canadians and their families. I hope that in both our actions and our words members can see that our government is committed to achieving real results for Canadians.
When it comes to dealings with the labour movement, I am the first to admit that we might not always agree on everything, but it is essential that our larger relationship be based on trust. Our rapport is built on the bedrock of common goals, goals like helping the middle class and those working hard to join it and creating good jobs for hard-working Canadians.
However, there is more to do on many other fronts, including ensuring fair and equitable conditions for workers and building a sustainable economy. Let me remind my hon. colleagues that we can only achieve these goals by having frank and honest discussions about the things that matter, by sticking to our values, and by never forgetting just who we are here to represent.
As I have said before, sound labour relations are essential for protecting the rights of Canadian workers and for helping the middle class grow and prosper.
I thank members for their time and attention and for the ability to put these comments on the record.
Mr. Gérard Deltell (Louis-Saint-Laurent, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, it is always a pleasure to rise in the House to speak, but I would rather not have to do so on the subject of Bill C-4. Today is not a good day for Canadian democracy.
This is the final stage of debate on Bill C-4, a bill that takes aim at union democracy, the transparency that must be present in certain unions, and the accountability that is so vital not only within unions, but everywhere. People are becoming increasingly aware, particularly this week, that the government is no no position to lecture anyone on accountability.
Bill C-4 seeks to literally kill two bills that passed during the previous Parliament, two private bills that we, the Conservative Party, fully respected. We fully respect private bills, because we believe that all members of the House are equal, and all bills introduced here are equal. There is no such thing as front-door bills and backdoor bills. Every bill is voted on by members who all enter through the front door. Why? Because we are all accountable to our constituents. Regardless of whether a member is a government member, a cabinet minister, an opposition member, or an independent member, we are all members of the House of Commons. We all have the same authority to introduce bills. Shame on this government for referring to private bills as backdoor bills.
I want to repeat what I said earlier. I offered the minister the opportunity, the possibility, the chance, and the privilege to recognize that she has made a mistake. Everyone makes mistakes. Referring to the private bills we passed during the previous Parliament as backdoor bills is insulting to the House of Commons, and it is insulting to the 338 people duly elected by Canadians, our constituents.
I did not want to have to say this, but unfortunately I have to repeat that when a private member's bills is introduced, it is a front-door bill, not a backdoor bill. If we apply the Liberals' logic to the bill that was passed a few weeks ago, the one introduced by the Hon. Mauril Bélanger on the national anthem, are the Liberals prepared to say that that was a backdoor bill?
Are the Liberals ready to say that Mauril Bélanger's bill was a backdoor bill, yes or no? If they are ready to say that, they can rise up and say it.
It is impossible. We cannot say that a bill tabled by a minister or by an opposition member, or any member, is a two-tier bill. We are all members.
Bill C-4 seeks to kill Bill C-377 on accountability, and Bill C-525 on transparency. Let us look at them one at a time.
In our opinion, one of the fundamental principles in any organization is democracy. We want people who operate in a democracy to be accountable to their constituents, and also to earn that mandate. That is why when it comes to forming a union, we think all potential employees should have the opportunity to express themselves freely by secret ballot.
We were elected here, to the House of Commons, by secret ballot. Did we go to people's homes asking them to vote for us and sign a document? Of course not because we respect the voters' secret ballot.
However, this government prefers to uphold the old union ways, which require people to sign an application for union certification. We think that people would be more comfortable forming a union by secret ballot. For that matter, we think that would put the unions on a stronger footing.
A union formed by secret ballot proves that a majority of the workers really want it and that no one was subjected to undue pressure, whether from people wanting to unionize or from the company's executives who do not want the union.
We often think that unions are the only ones putting pressure on the workers by telling them they have to sign a certification application, but the opposite is true as well.
A business owner could go see new employees and tell them that they just got hired and that it would not be a good idea to sign. That would make employees think twice about doing so. However, allowing employees to vote by secret ballot on forming a union would respect the fundamental principle of democracy. That is why Bill C-4 is no good. It seeks to do away with this notion of democracy.
Let us also remember that union democracy is based on Canada's fundamental principles, and the best way to establish that democracy is to ensure accountability. On that note, I would like to mention another bill that will be killed by Bill C-4, and that is Bill C-525.
Bill C-525 sought to increase transparency and accountability. We believe that, when a union receives nearly $500 million in tax refunds, it needs to be accountable. That is not just peanuts. It is half a billion dollars. That is a lot of taxpayer money that is being given out in the form of tax refunds. That is why we believe that the salaries of executives, the way they manage their money, and the choices they make when it comes time to support political parties must be made public. However, Bill C-4 seeks to eliminate the transparency that we Conservatives think is critical.
My NDP colleague was saying that she organized and presided over a postal workers' union where all financial information was made available, but only to members. If that information is available to members, why not make it available to all Canadians, who contribute to unions through tax refunds? If that information is so public, why not make it really public? What do they have to hide? Making the information public would not bother anyone who did not have anything to hide. Why then are some members opposed to accountability and transparency?
That is why I am saying that Bill C-4 is a bad bill and that this is a bad day for democracy, because this legislation undermines the fundamental principles of democracy, accountability, and transparency.
When it comes to accountability, this government has a long way to go, and that is putting it mildly. Day after day, we discover situations that embarrass the government. It is not a good sign when the Minister of Health uses a limousine service and gives out contracts to a Liberal friend but only apologizes and promises to repay the bill after she is caught.
Over the past few days we have learned that the Prime Minister's advisors expensed $200,000 in moving costs. At first, the Liberals said that this is no big deal. Then, they said these expenses would be repaid. That is definitely proof that the Liberals are not very proud of their record on accountability. However, accountability is vital.
MPs file a quarterly expense report, which includes travel expenses. It is very public. Woe to anyone with an ineligible expense, because they will be taken to task very quickly. Clearly, these are fundamental principles that we all support. However, when the time comes to make unions accountable, the Liberals, and I assume the NDP as well, do not want to have anything to do with it. That is unfortunate. Democracy, accountability, and transparency are fundamental principles in this place, and they must also apply to labour organizations.
The truth, as everyone knows, is that the Liberals wanted to thank the big union bosses who helped them out so handsomely during the election campaign. Let us not forget that PSAC was prepared to spend $5 million in August alone to attack the former government before the writ was even dropped. The former prime minister had to call the election in August so that unions spending massive amounts of money to attack a political party—spending that was not approved by all union members—would not completely destabilize our democracy.
That is why we had the longest election campaign in history. Unions wanted to spend millions attacking one party without even getting their members' approval.
I know what I am talking about. In my Quebec City riding, which many federal and provincial employees call home, I met a woman who told me that she actively opposed her union's choice, that she strongly condemned it, and that she was not even given the right to vote on whether the union should spend the money. That is what has been happening. The unions spent millions helping the Liberal Party rise to power, so the party is thanking its union friends by introducing a bill that will destroy everything we did for democracy, accountability, and transparency.
Maybe the government could have paid more attention to what union members and even some union leaders are saying. Not everyone is comfortable with Bill C-4. In fact, some union leaders are very comfortable with the principles of transparency, democracy, and accountability. People have spoken out about this a number of times.
For example, PSAC's Robyn Benson said:
|| PSAC has no issue with voting by secret ballot. We do it regularly to elect our officers, ratify collective agreements, and vote for strike action, as examples.
That is not a Conservative or a right-wing group talking. That was Mr. Benson of the Public Service Alliance of Canada. I have other quotations, too.
Dick Heinen of the Christian Labour Association of Canada said:
|| We think that workers should have the right and be free to make their own choices when it comes to which union represents them or whether they want to be represented by a union at all.
Brendan Kooy, Christian Labour Association of Canada, said, “To be clear, CLAC would support a secret ballot vote where possible.”
Here is another quotation, this one from John Farrell, executive director of the Federally Regulated Employers, Transportation and Communications:
|| Members prefer a secret ballot vote to a card check system for the purpose of determining if a union is to become a certified bargaining agent for employees. A secret ballot vote is the essence of a true democratic choice and is entirely consistent with Canadian democratic principles.
I agree with him.
Also, Paul Moist, national president, Canadian Union of Public Employees, said, “Asking Canadians a question about voting — most Canadians, me included, would say voting is good.”
Chris Aylward, national executive vice-president and executive officer, Public Service Alliance of Canada, said that there was not issue with voting by secret ballot. He said:
|| But we're not sitting here saying that secret ballots are bad. As a matter of fact, in my submission I said that we have nothing against secret ballots. We use secret ballots at our own organization....So it's not that a secret ballot is now going to be imposed on employees and we're opposed to that. We're not.
It is hard to argue against a secret ballot vote as this is the basis of democracy.
Those are the foundations of democracy. Secret ballot voting is one of the foundations of democracy. Accountability is one of the foundations of democracy. Transparency in how union leaders spend union dues is one of the foundations of democracy. That is what we established, and that is what Bill C-4 seeks to destroy, specifically the foundations of democracy in the labour movement. That is troubling.
This is being done elsewhere. We did not invent anything new when we introduced this bill two or three years ago. On the contrary, we were inspired by what we saw being done elsewhere. Secret ballot voting exists in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario, and Nova Scotia. Why can it be done at the provincial level, but not federally? Does that mean that the people of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario, and Nova Scotia are against unions and against freedom of expression? Quite the contrary. If it can be done at the provincial level, why not at the federal level? So much for democracy.
The same goes when it comes to transparency and accountability. This exists in certain provinces, but also in certain countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, Germany, and even France. If there is a country that leans more to the left than Canada, it is France. If there is a country that has been led by the left for years, it is France. If there is a country where unions are fully free to be active and have a very powerful presence in the economy and society, it is France. France has provisions to ensure transparency. Who are they to say that France would not be open to the unions when we know how powerful and strong the unions are in France? It is absolutely false.
I invite the government to look at what is is being done in Canada and in the provinces, as well as what is happening in countries that are more to left than we are, where unions are more powerful than ours and have room for transparency, accountability, and democracy.
There have been court challenges, which is absolutely legitimate in our system. People brought challenges before the courts over certain legislation that was adopted by the provinces. Look at what was said in Saskatchewan by the court of appeal that ruled on whether changes like those the Conservatives made two or three years ago should or should not be made to the employment legislation of that province.
Let us look at the statement made by Justice Richards of the Court of Appeal of Saskatchewan, who says on page 38:
||...a secret ballot regime does no more than ensure that employees are able to make the choices they see as being best for themselves.
He also says, “The secret ballot, after all, is a hallmark of modern democracy.”
This is not coming from a Conservative, but from a judge of the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal. We know that Saskatchewan is not a right-wing province. Was it not in Saskatchewan that Canada's major social movements were born? Was it not in Saskatchewan that T. C. Douglas founded the party that would later become the NDP? Saskatchewan, which is not recognized as being the most right-wing province in Canada on the basis of its history, has acknowledged through an appeal court judge that the secret ballot is a good thing.
To summarize, Bill C-4 is not a good bill. It seeks to kill two bills that were duly debated and passed by the former Parliament, two private bills, which, for the Conservatives, are not backdoor bills, as touted by the minister and other Liberal members in such a mean, petty, aggressive, and haughty manner.
In our opinion, all bills are equal, starting with the bill Introduced by the Hon. Mauril Bélanger on the national anthem. It is exactly the same thing. It is not a backdoor bill, but a bill that was duly introduced by a member, a bill that came in the front door, and not the back door.
Unfortunately, Bill C-4 will likely soon be passed, even though it undermines principles that are fundamental to Canada and so important to Canadians. It undermines the principles of democracy. People should be allowed to vote by secret ballot rather than be asked to sign a sheet of paper. We want to protect the secret ballot. That is how everyone here was elected.
Bill C-4 seeks to attack a bill that would increase the transparency and accountability of unions. The government is sending the wrong signal to unions and all organizations because when it is time for accountability, they all need to do their part, to be accountable.
The bills that we passed under our government improved democracy, accountability, and transparency, while Bill C-4 undermines those principles. That is why today is a sad day for Canadian democracy.