Mr. Todd Doherty (Cariboo—Prince George, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, it is indeed an honour to stand before this House and once again speak to Bill C-7, as it deals with our brave men and women of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
As I stand today, I was looking over my previous speech. I think it is incumbent that we do that once again. We should always remember the sacrifices, not only of our veterans but of those who put their uniforms on and run toward danger every day when others would run away.
RCMP members are moms, dads, sisters, and brothers. They are volunteers within our communities. They coach minor sports. They work with charities. They contribute to the health and wellness of our communities, not just when they have their uniforms on but every day.
We spoke previously of the legend of the Mountie from 1873, the North West Mounted Police, the 150 first recruits, who had the core values of integrity, honesty, professionalism, respect, and accountability. We talked about the legend of the Mountie always getting his man, Dudley Do-Right and Captain Canuck. We also talked about our national symbols of the red serge and the campaign hat, travelling internationally with Mounties in the promotion of Canada, and how proud we are of our RCMP force. These brave men and women are indeed our silent sentinels, so that we can rest comfortably every night. They face human tragedy and danger every day.
Today, we are talking about Bill C-7 and how it impacts the 28,461 members.
As we talk about the history of our RCMP, we should talk about what our RCMP members face today. Today, the RCMP is among the lowest-paid police force in Canada. It has slipped from the number one ranked police force in the world to well below that.
Mr. Speaker, I should also mention that because I was very excited and very passionate about getting into this speech, I forgot to mention that I will be splitting my time with the member for Barrie—Innisfil. I apologize for not mentioning that sooner.
The RCMP are paid 30% lower than their municipal colleagues. Morale is indeed at a low point. We are seeing the numbers every day. Regular force members are faced with increasing workloads and capacity. Time and again, our RCMP members' rights and freedoms are secondary to that, and to those who are committing the crimes.
Since 1974, RCMP members have worked under a non-unionized labour relations regime. They had a secondary group staff relations representative program, SRRP. This was the group that represented the members' rights to management. That was the only group that was able to collectively represent the interests of the employees and our regular force members to management. Despite the consultative role of the SRRP, management has always had the final say in all human resource matters.
In 2015, the Supreme Court ruled, in Mounted Police Association of Ontario v. Canada, that the existing labour relations program, the one currently in place, violated the rights and freedoms of RCMP members.
Under subsection 2(d), “freedom of association”, of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the Supreme Court found that indeed the rights and freedoms of RCMP members had been violated. Bill C-7 was introduced by this Liberal government in response to this decision last January. It was ruled that the Mounties should have the right to unionize and engage in collective bargaining. It should be noted that the RCMP are the only police force in Canada without that right.
The Liberals took this legislation a little too far. Bill C-7 contains a list of issues that are excluded from the bargaining table, as well as a controversial proposal to ship Mounties hurt on the job to the provinces they are working in. Among the items that were left out of collective bargaining were staffing levels, workplace harassment, sexual harassment, conduct, discipline, uniforms, and scheduling. These are clauses and issues that not just RCMP workers, but any workers should have. They should have the right for a safe environment, a safe workplace. They should have the right to a say in those areas.
The Conservatives and the opposition were able to strike down, through the Liberal majority on the committee, clauses 40 and 42. These are clauses that would have effectively moved RCMP members' health benefits to provincial entities. Indeed, workers' compensation claims would have been dealt with provincially. This would mean that Mounties would have a different standard of benefits, whether health or workers' compensation benefits, depending on the province they work in. Conservatives, through the committee, were able to strike that down. While this is a positive development, sadly, it took the spouses of existing and retired RCMP members to convince the Liberal government to finally see reason.
It was my sincere hope that through debate, the Liberals would listen to the other concerns, not just from the Conservative side but the NDP, and indeed other members in government, who also shared some of their concerns before the bill went to committee. We had hope on this side that by allowing that bill go to committee, there would be further amendments. Sadly, that was not the case.
Bill C-7 fails to support the brave men and women of the RCMP. It will take away their democratic right to a secret ballot and to negotiate other core issues that impact their work environment, their personal lives, and the lives of their families.
Let us talk about the democratic right to a secret ballot. The Conservatives will always stand behind the RCMP. We will always support legislation that allows for the democratic right for a secret ballot vote. However, we will not support legislation that so blatantly violates the wishes of its members.
I have been stopped a number of times on the street and in shopping centres. I have received emails and letters from RCMP members, wishing to be anonymous because they have been told not to speak about this issue. They have voiced their concerns about Bill C-7. Instead of forcing RCMP members to disclose their votes publicly, the Liberals should listen to the everyday rank and file, the RCMP members who are concerned that their vote will impact their workplace situations.
I think I speak for all members in the House when I say that we proudly support and defend the men and women who wear the RCMP uniform. We thank them for their service every day. However, we, as the official opposition, respect the Supreme Court's decision that RCMP officers are entitled to bargain collectively. Some Conservatives even voted in favour of Bill C-7 to get it to the committee, but we were only able to strike down clauses 40 and 42. The Liberal government, in its open and transparent ways, was unwilling to require secret ballot certification, an essential requirement in the democratic process.
We cannot support any legislation that would deny employees that fundamental right to vote in a secret ballot on whether to unionize. We do not use a show of hands or public petition in our democratic elections, nor should we in our workplace.
Mr. John Brassard (Barrie—Innisfil, CPC):
Madam Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for Cariboo—Prince George for sharing his time with me today.
I rise to speak to Bill C-7, but I would first like to thank all members of the RCMP for the incredible service they provide to our country not just from coast to coast to coast but across the globe. RCMP members are stationed all over the world, and they provide incredible service to our country and its residents. I am 100% supportive of the RCMP for what it does. I have tried to encourage my son to become an RCMP officer because of the pride and tradition the RCMP brings to our great country.
I would like to start with just how we arrived at this point, and my hon. colleague brought this up earlier. Since 1974, RCMP members have worked under a non-unionized labour relations regime in which the staff relations representative program, the SRRP, has been the only body recognized by management that represents the interests of employees. Despite the consultative role of the SRRP, management has the final word with respect to HR matters.
Section 2(1)(d) of the Public Service Labour Relations Act excluded RCMP members from unionizing. The Supreme Court of Canada ruled in the Mounted Police Association of Ontario v. Canada that the existing labour relations program violated the rights of RCMP members under section 2(d), freedom of association, of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In the ruling in January 2015, the government was given one year to pass new legislation. In January 2016 that deadline was extended to April 2016.
Bill C-7 would allow members of the RCMP and its reservists to collectively bargain. According to the bill's summary, it would create a process for an employee organization to acquire collective bargaining rights for members and reservists and include provisions that regulate collective bargaining, arbitration, unfair labour practices, and grievances.
The certification of unions speaks to the three requirements it must meet. It must have a primary mandate, the representation of employees who are RCMP members. It cannot be affiliated with a bargaining agent or other association that does not have a primary mandate of the representation of police officers, and it cannot be certified for any other group of employees.
Bill C-4, and this is what I find to be somewhat disturbing, would strip employees of their right to a secret ballot, and I will speak more on that later on. On the certification and decertification of unions, the combination of Bill C-4 and Bill C-7 would leave RCMP members without a secret ballot vote on future union drives, and it runs contrary to my view, that of giving workers the right to a vote that is free of intimidation prior to being forced to join, pay dues, or be represented by a bargaining agent.
With respect to collective bargaining, the bill would restrict what is up for bargaining. The collective agreement cannot include any term or condition that relates to law enforcement techniques, transfers, appointments, probation, discharges, demotions, conduct including harassment, basic requirements of RCMP duties, uniform order, or dress.
Given the unique nature of the RCMP, there are several aspects of that part of the bill that I certainly agree with, such as postings, uniforms, demotions, conduct, etc., and the increase in the size of the Public Service Labour Relations and Employment Board to 12 from 10 and the requirement that at least two of those members have knowledge of police organization. It also speaks to dispute resolutions and grievances.
As I said earlier, one of the things that is somewhat disturbing to me is the fact that there would be no requirement for secret ballots.
The legislation was really watered down when it came to Parliament. I supported it at second reading because I thought there was more work that could be done at committee, and I was very glad to see that there was. With respect to clauses 40 and 42 of the legislation, it was actually amended, in large part because of a push on the part of our Conservative members of the committee.
With respect to the legislation itself, obviously this side of the House respects the Supreme Court of Canada decision. One of the things we do not respect, and I do not personally respect, concerns the right of an individual to have a secret ballot. I was president of a firefighters' union for 30 and a half years. I can say that everything was done with a secret ballot. I believe fundamentally and principally in the right of an individual to maintain a secret ballot, especially in an organization like this, because one of the unique natures of being a police officer or a firefighter, particularly a young firefighter or police officer, is the fact that one is on a career path and often some of the decisions made can have an impact later, on every aspect of one's career.
As the member for Durham said, it is one of the fundamental tenets of democracy. All of us in this House have been elected as a result of a secret ballot. The Speaker of the House was elected on a secret ballot. Leaders of political organizations are elected on a secret ballot. The irony of this whole thing is that, as I stated in my comments, not only are RCMP officers charged with protecting us domestically and protecting Canadian interests around the world, but they often go into new democratic countries and are there to ensure that the democratic process is adhered to. I think that is sometimes forgotten around here. Many times, RCMP officers will go to new democracies in Africa and in Europe and will actually be there to ensure that individuals' right to a secret ballot, free of intimidation, free of coercion, free of influence is ensured in those democracies. The irony I find in this whole process is the fact that RCMP officers are not being given the very right that they go and protect in faraway lands. That to me is a complete irony.
Why is it that the Liberal government would ensure we are seeing not just a continuation of Bill C-4 in Bill C-7 with respect to the secret ballot? That is up to speculation, but if one were to be a good speculator, it could be nothing more than just political payback to the promises that were made to the union leadership with respect to the last election, which was that there were going to be secret ballots.
Having been a union president myself, I have first-hand experience and I can say that there is some element of intimidation, especially, as I said earlier, with young police officers or young firefighters. They sometimes do not know what they do not know. When they get into a situation where they are voting or are in a process of unionization, it can be intimidating for young firefighters. In my involvement in the firefighter movement, at one point I was intimidated by the process of which I was not really aware. The fundamental right of the secret ballot is something that is Canadian. It is not just something that belongs in this legislation for RCMP officers, but it is something that is fundamentally rooted in Canada.
There are several aspects of this legislation that we are supporting but one that we cannot support, based on a fundamental principle of having a secret ballot. The fact that it is not in this legislation is something that I cannot support. I support 100% our RCMP officers, the men and women who protect our country and Canadian interests abroad, but this legislation in some ways is flawed, and I cannot support it.
Mr. Marco Mendicino (Eglinton—Lawrence, Lib.):
Madam Speaker, before I begin, I should say that I will be sharing my time with my hon. colleague from Oakville North—Burlington.
I am very pleased to rise today and speak in support of Bill C-7, which is an important piece of government legislation intended to recognize and give life to the constitutionally guaranteed freedom of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police members and reservists to engage in meaningful collective bargaining.
I want to take a moment to reiterate some of the comments made by hon. colleagues with respect to the RCMP. It is a world-class police service. In some respects it is very unique. It is the only police service in the country that provides protection and law enforcement at the municipal level, at the provincial level, and at the federal level, as well as internationally. It provides important services and protection for our communities and our country with respect to national security and terrorism. It provides protection with respect to monetary enforcement and fraud. It provides day-to-day protection for many of the local communities, including first nations and indigenous communities, right across the country.
As a former federal prosecutor and having played an important role in law enforcement, I know that I speak on behalf of my constituents, and hopefully on behalf of all members in the House, when I thank them for the service and sacrifice they are prepared to make every day.
Bill C-7 represents a watershed moment in the history of the RCMP. As I mentioned before, I was the president of an association representing the working interests of federal prosecutors and Department of Justice lawyers. I know first-hand how important the collective bargaining process is to provide employees with meaningful input in pursuit of their collective goals.
The purpose of Bill C-7 is to accomplish exactly that fundamental objective. From the point of first principles, it will do so in the following two ways. First and most fundamentally, it will provide RCMP members and reservists with the freedom to choose whether they wish to be represented by a bargaining agent. Of course, historically, all RCMP members were statute-barred from engaging in collective bargaining. However, the bill would remove that statutory prohibition, thereby giving members the opportunity to organize and associate under the auspices of a bargaining agent.
Second, assuming RCMP members and reservists choose to avail themselves of the opportunity to organize, Bill C-7 will also afford them with the ability to choose which bargaining agent will represent them. Once certified by the federal Public Service Labour Relations and Employment Board, this bargaining agent will have the capacity to collectively pursue workplace objectives.
As RCMP members and reservists embark on these two key decisions, I want to underline that Bill C-7 will ensure that they are able to make their choice freely and voluntarily, and in a manner that is independent of management.
Consistent with these two principles, our proposed legislation will also provide for a single, national RCMP bargaining unit composed solely of RCMP members appointed to a rank, and reservists; require that the RCMP bargaining agent have as its primary mandate the representation of RCMP members; and statutorily exclude certain officers, as well as other managerial and confidential positions, from representation, as is the case across the federal public service.
As I alluded to, the Public Service Labour Relations and Employment Board would be designated as the administrative tribunal for matters related to RCMP member and reservist collective bargaining, as well as for grievances related to a collective agreement. In making recommendations for an appointment to that board, the chairperson of the board must take into account the need to have two members with knowledge of police organizations. Both the board and the Public Service Labour Relations Act would be renamed to reflect the addition of RCMP members and reservists to collective bargaining and to that inherent jurisdiction.
Finally, the bill before us today would establish independent binding arbitration as the dispute resolution process for bargaining impasses, with no right to strike.
These are some of the highlights of what Bill C-7 sets out to accomplish. By no means is my summary exhaustive, and indeed there are many other detailed amendments that will have to be enacted in order to create this new regime in which RCMP members and reservists will be permitted to collectively bargain.
Let me say a few words about the broader historical context in which Bill C-7 has come to be presented in the House.
The proposed act is, in effect, a legislative response to a decision by the Supreme Court of Canada issued more than a year ago in January 2015. In that year, at that time, the Supreme Court of Canada released a case called Mounted Police Association of Ontario v. Canada (Attorney General). The court made a number of key findings flowing from that decision.
Among other things, the court struck down the exclusion of RCMP members from the definition of “employee” in the Public Service Labour Relations Act as unconstitutional.
In addition, the court held that sections of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police regulations infringed on the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Those regulations established the staff relations representative program as the labour relations regime for RCMP members. The aim of the program was that, at each level of hierarchy, staff relations representatives and management consulted on human resources initiatives and policies, with the understanding that the final word always rested with management.
The Supreme Court of Canada found that the staff relations representative program did not meet the criteria necessary for meaningful collective bargaining. RCMP members were represented by an organization they did not choose and did not control. They had to work within a structure that lacked independence from management. That process failed to achieve the balance between employees and the employer that is essential to a meaningful collective bargaining structure. Accordingly, the court held that this violated the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and in particular the right to freedom of association guaranteed under section 2(d).
The court suspended its judgment for one year to give the government time to consider its options. The government sought an extension and was given an additional four months to introduce legislation in the House of Commons that would provide a new labour relations framework for RCMP members and reservists. The government took steps, including consultations with RCMP members in the summer of 2015, to bring this framework into compliance with the Supreme Court of Canada's ruling.
I pause here to note that the consultation process was robust. Town hall meetings, teleconferences, and video conferences were conducted right across the country. A survey was also conducted, with thousands of members having participated and over 600 pages of comments received and reviewed. I believe that the input provided has been reflected in the drafting of the bill.
Bill C-7 passed second reading, as members know, and was given due consideration by the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security. The government has the utmost respect for the parliamentary process and for the role of committees in our system of government.
I am happy to say that changes, which were recommended in light of witness testimony and written submissions, were both discussed and approved by the committee. I would hasten to add that while the bill does include exclusions with respect to collective bargaining, those proposed exclusions are very much consistent with the rest of the public service where collective bargaining is permitted.
I also wish to point out that, aside from collective bargaining, there are other avenues that RCMP members and the bargaining agent can access to pursue their workplace goals. For instance, the labour-management committee is a forum where employee representatives and management can discuss issues collaboratively around the process for conduct and harassment. Those issues can be discussed and strengthened in that forum. Safety concerns with uniforms that are worn by members of the RCMP can also be discussed in the occupational health and safety committee. There they can study the issue and make evidence-based recommendations.
I also feel it imperative to emphasize that Bill C-7 permits collective bargaining on issues that are related to more than just pay and benefits. Leave and conditions of work, for example, can be collectively bargained, as well as matters that pertain to the National Joint Council directives on workforce adjustments.
As members can see, the purpose of Bill C-7 is to usher in a new labour relations regime for the RCMP. However, I would be remiss if I did not point out that the suspension of the Supreme Court of Canada's decision has now expired. As a result, this issue is of even more urgent importance.
Delaying the passage of this new legislation raises numerous problems. For one, there is currently an overlap between the RCMP Act and the Public Service Labour Relations Act in grievance processes, which could result in confusion and conflicting interpretations. In addition, RCMP members could be represented by multiple bargaining agents, making it difficult for the RCMP to maintain a coherent, national approach to labour relations.
Passing the legislation would avoid confusion and uncertainty among RCMP members. We owe this to the men and women of the RCMP, as has been expressed before the House, who protect Canadians on so many fronts.
The bill before us today gives the RCMP members and reservists the respect they are due and I know that all hon. members are committed to supporting the dedicated and proud members of Canada's national police service. That is why I encourage all members to vote in favour of the bill.
Ms. Pam Damoff (Oakville North—Burlington, Lib.):
Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise today in support of Bill C-7. The bill before us today would uphold the constitutionally guaranteed freedom of RCMP members and reservists to engage in meaningful collective bargaining.
Collective bargaining is a right that other police officers in Canada have enjoyed for many years, but it is a right that has not been given to the members and reservists of the RCMP, individuals who over the past 143 years have contributed so much to our proud, strong, and free nation.
As the Minister of Public Safety said when he appeared before the public safety committee, RCMP members are dedicated to their work and to serving Canadians and they must perform their jobs while often facing immense challenges and very real dangers. He stressed that it is important that our government support the work of our RCMP members and take all proper steps to ensure they can exercise their charter protected freedoms, including freedom of association. In fact, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police regulations imposed on members a specific form of employee representation called the staff relations representative program. This program was found to be unconstitutional as it was not independent of management and RCMP members could not choose the employee association that represented them. Moreover, staff relations representatives were limited to giving advice. Management still had the final decision.
Bill C-7 is a clear and reasoned response to the Supreme Court of Canada's decision in the case of Mounted Police Association of Ontario v. Attorney General of Canada. The Supreme Court found key parts of the current RCMP labour relations regime unconstitutional. In particular, the court struck down the exclusion of RCMP members from the definition of “employee” in the Public Services Labour Relations Act. The court also held that a section of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police regulations infringed on the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. However, the court affirmed that section 2(d) of the charter “...protects a meaningful process of collective bargaining that provides employees with a degree of choice and independence sufficient to enable them to determine and pursue their collective interests”.
In the case of the RCMP, the court determined that the staff relations representative program did not meet the criteria necessary for meaningful collective bargaining. Therefore, the court held that this violated the charter right to freedom of association.
Bill C-7 would provide RCMP members and reservists their independence and freedom of choice in labour relations matters while recognizing the unique operational reality of policing.
The bill in question is a product of careful consideration of the results of consultations with key stakeholders. The first was with regular members of the RCMP through online and in-person consultations. The second was with the provinces, territories, and municipalities that have policing agreements with the RCMP.
Bill C-7 has a number of important features. First, it provides for independent binding arbitration as the dispute resolution process for bargaining impasses. Consistent with other police forces across the country, the members of the RCMP bargaining unit would not be permitted to strike. This was the strong preference of those members who participated in the 2015 consultation. The bill would provide for a single, national bargaining unit composed solely of RCMP members appointed to a rank and reservists. Also, the RCMP bargaining agent, should one be certified, would have as its primary mandate the representation of RCMP members. Again, regular members showed clear support for these provisions. The bill also excludes officers appointed to the ranks of inspector and above from representation in the union. Finally, the Public Service Labour Relations and Employment Board would be designated as the administrative tribunal for matters related to RCMP member and reservist collective bargaining, as well as for grievances related to a collective agreement.
The board, and the Public Service Labour Relations Act, would also be renamed to reflect the addition of RCMP member and reservist collective bargaining to its jurisdiction. In making recommendations for appointment to that board, the chairperson would take into account the need to have two members with knowledge of police organizations.
Bill C-7 was introduced on March 9. After second reading, the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security carefully studied the legislation.
The committee heard from numerous witnesses, both labour and management, and had a fulsome debate on the legislation. These witnesses spoke about the opportunity this legislation would provide to create improved working conditions and the importance that RCMP members placed on representation. As a result of their testimony, the committee amended the legislation to remove clauses 40 and 42, which dealt with health coverage for members.
There were concerns expressed about these clauses by almost every witness who testified. I am proud to be part of the committee that listened and, as a result, improved the legislation before us today.
I share the concerns expressed by some witnesses about harassment in the RCMP. The mandate letter of the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness states that he will take action to ensure that the RCMP and all other parts of his portfolio are workplaces free from harassment and sexual violence. Through conversations with the minister and his staff, I know that the minister has made it a priority to address harassment in the RCMP.
One of his first acts last February was to ask the chairman of the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission to evaluate how the force has responded to his 2013 recommendations. Since concurrence at report stage, the extension given to the government by the Supreme Court of Canada to put in place a new labour relations regime for the RCMP has expired. Given this, the delay in passing Bill C-7 could have numerous adverse affects. As it now stands, there is currently an overlap between the RCMP Act and the Public Service Relations Act regarding grievance procedures, which could result in confusion and conflicting interpretations.
The longer the delay, the greater the uncertainty among RCMP members regarding proposed labour relations and how it could apply to them. This is why we must show our support for the dedicated and proud members of Canada's national police service. It is incumbent upon us to give RCMP members and reservists the respect they are due by passing this legislation, so I invite all of my hon. colleagues to join me in supporting this bill.
Mr. Jim Eglinski (Yellowhead, CPC):
Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan.
I am pleased to rise today to speak to the third reading of Bill C-7, an act to amend the Public Service Labour Relations Act, the Public Service Labour Relations and Employment Board Act and other Acts and to provide for certain other measures.
Before I begin, I would like to take this opportunity to thank all RCMP members, both past and present, for their service and putting public safety before their own safety every day.
I had the opportunity to speak to the bill when it was at second reading. In my speech I stated that we supported Bill C-7 going to committee, where we would ask the government to amend its legislation to explicitly allow RCMP members the right to vote on whether to unionize through a secret ballot.
I respect the Supreme Court decision that RCMP officers are entitled to bargain collectively. The purpose of Bill C-7 is to satisfy this ruling and ensure the RCMP has the framework in place to bargain collectively if its members so wish.
If we look to the court's decision, we will see that employees' choice was the cornerstone. It is my opinion that a secret ballot is the most appropriate method of ensuring members have that choice free of intimidation and negative ramifications. A lot of young and new members may feel unsure about how they are supposed to vote when they are working in a ranked structure. Their management in the field detachments is older than they are and will have an understanding that is different from theirs.
Many members across the force want to see change. Speaking from personal experience as a former RCMP member for 35 years, people tend, especially in police roles, to be very private about individual concerns due to the chain of command structure in the police environment.
However, with a secret ballot, members would have the ability to vote honestly on whether they wished to unionize without fear of ramifications. That is why I believe it is very important that members feel secure in their decision that the choice should be something members are able to reflect on in private.
I will not be splitting my time after all, Madam Speaker. The member for Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan has a lot to say. I will take the full 20 minutes and leave him 20 minutes on his own. I apologize.
As promised during the second reading of the bill, our Conservative Party requested in committee that C-7 be amended to require secret ballot certification. I was very disappointed that the government was unwilling to make this essential change. While I support the intent of the legislation to allow the RCMP to collectively bargain, I cannot support the bill as it is currently written. In the certification process for a bargaining agent, a secret ballot should be in place to allow all members to freely express their own opinions.
The Supreme Court judgment was silent on the method of choice in that it did not clarify whether the certification process should be by 50% plus one majority or by secret ballot, and that is too bad.
It has been argued by other members that the principle of a card check should be upheld as a sufficient and appropriate method for the RCMP, because that is how workers in the private sector and other federally regulated groups will decide on collective bargaining once 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 passes its final reading.
We do not use a show of hands or a public petition in our democratic elections, nor should we in the workplace, especially in this set of circumstances.
The right to peaceful association is granted to workers through the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, but the unmitigated right union leaders feel they have to represent a particular workplace is not protected by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This leadership is something that must be earned from the membership. Union leaders need to remember that representation is contingent upon workers placing their trust in the particular union of their choice through a democratic selection process.If union membership can elect its national president or any of its executives, directors, or leadership by way of a secret ballot, then in all fairness the workers should be afforded the very same right to have a secret ballot during the union certification process.
The right to be able to vote one's will free of intimidation or threat is a fundamental freedom and a right that should be extended to all workers. That is why when we were government we passed Bill C-525, the employees voting rights act, which required that certification of bargaining agents under the Public Service Labour Relations Act be achieved by a secret ballot vote based on the majority.
As noted earlier, Bill C-4 would reverse the procedures for the certification of bargaining agents that existed before Bill C-525; that is back to card check.
It has been argued that the RCMP, a public service, should not be treated any differently from other groups of workers. If it is good enough for every other federally regulated group to certify under a card check system, then it should be good enough for RCMP members.
I would like to remind my colleagues that the requirement to unionize was a consequence of a Supreme Court of Canada ruling. It was not a consequence of the majority of RCMP members wanting this type of method to govern the way they protected themselves.
Following the court ruling, the government launched a consultation process that took place over the summer of 2015. It consisted of a survey, town halls and video conferences. With over 9,000 members completing the survey, there was a clear expression that they would like a regime designed specifically for the RCMP. They did not want to be lumped in with other civil servants.
The government needs to realize that the RCMP is a police force with a unique role and a unique chain of command structure. It is clearly different from other federally regulated groups and therefore should be, in my view, treated differently. The RCMP should have the ability to decide whether to unionize through the most appropriate method for it, not for another group. Members deserve a secret ballot.
Recognition of this should have been taken by the government in order to realize the RCMP was not like other federal departments. However, the Liberals have refused to amend Bill C-7 to allow RCMP members the right to vote on whether to unionize through a secret ballot. Therefore, I cannot support the bill.
I am extremely proud of the RCMP and its members, and to have served in that organization myself. Its members risk their lives every day and should hold great pride in serving Canada's police force. The least we can do is give them the right to vote, free of all intimidation, on whether to unionize.
Earlier today there was talk about the staff relations program, which was brought in in the early 1970s. Unlike some of the comments that were made with respect to it, it was a program wherein the representatives were voted in by the members. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, it negotiated in good faith with the management of the RCMP and Treasury Board, and it provided strong representation to the members. We remained in the top three police forces per pay and benefits for many years under that program.
Somewhere throughout the1990s and 2000s, when things got tight in all governments, the system declined and the pay and benefits of the members of the RCMP declined with the cuts made by the Liberal government and by the Conservative government afterward.
The unionization of the RCMP is profoundly different than any other union that has ever been formed in our country. It is a legislated requirement. I do not believe any member in the House could stand before me and tell me of any other union in Canada that was formed by a legislated order and members told that they had to vote but not it could not be a secret vote. Right off the bat that is intimidation by the government down to the people in the field.
Yes, there are groups in the RCMP across Canada that want to see a union. Other members do not want to see a union. However, the one thing they all will agree on is that they are at the bottom of the police totem pole when it comes to salaries and benefits.
I mentioned earlier that in the 1970s, 1980s, and even into the early 1990s, we were always part of the top 10 police forces. In fact, we did not even recognize the police forces that ranked 11 down to 50-something. We only looked at the top 10. Staff relations negotiated to keep us in the top, and it kept us in the top three for many years.
However, today the RCMP is ranked 56th. It is a sad situation for Canada's national police force to be number 56 on the totem pole of police forces. It should be in at least the top 10, and it should be in the top 3. It is Canada's police force. It is Canada's international police force. It is internationally recognized as one of the best police forces in the world. Yet we are only paying its members at the bottom of the scale.
It was mentioned earlier that a survey was done in 2015 to determine how the members of the RCMP felt about unionizing, or to determine if there were concerns with respect to people representing them in some type of bargaining. Approximately 9,000 members said that they needed a better system. That is only roughly one-third of the membership.
Clearly, from speaking to the members of the RCMP who are stationed in my community, many are uncomfortable about the fact that the RCMP may become unionized. They are proud to serve their country. A lot of them joined the RCMP for one specific reason: not to be in a unionized organization. They wanted the freedom to serve and not be controlled by an internal organization. Now they will have to vote in that regard.
I just want to state an opinion here, which is this. If they voted against it, would we be back here in another year and a half when another group challenges it through the Supreme Court?
I want to talk a bit about the discomfort of the members in the field. I am talking about western Canada specifically, eastern Canada, those members who are stationed in small detachments. I will give a brief example of what I mean by small detachments. It could be a detachment of two members, with a corporal in charge. It could be a detachment of six members, with a sergeant in charge. It could be a detachment of eight members, with a sergeant and then a corporal. That is how the rank structure works within the force. As the numbers go up, so does the number of NCOs in the detachment. A staff sergeant would command a detachment of 14 members with one sergeant. Once it gets up to 18 or 20 members, there are two sergeants and then there is a corporal.
However, the problem is that the members all work together to protect their communities, to protect the safety of the people within that community, and to protect each other's safety. They go out there, as mentioned earlier by other members, and they are the first ones at the scene. They are the first ones to go to the shootings, the violent assaults, the fatal accidents. They have to work hand in hand with each other. How can the Liberals expect a young constable in, for example, a staff-sergeant detachment with a staff sergeant, two sergeants and two corporals, to vote, when he has to vote in front of them on the way he thinks it should be, knowing they or the other constables that he works with may feel totally different from how he does? However, he has to stand up there and wave his little card and vote. Do they think he is not going to be intimidated? Members will be completely uncomfortable about voting on whether they should become unionized if they have to vote in front of their peers.
The thing that is very unique about the RCMP, and very similar to fire departments, is that the rank and file in the smaller detachments, going even to an inspector's detachment, which comes in at 50 people, or a superintendent's, which comes in at 100 members, work hand in hand. Those members deserve the right to decide whether they want to unionize, but they should also have the right to vote privately and secretly so that they do not put themselves in an awkward position with their peers, with their supervisors, and with their buddies with whom they work side by side, with whom one day, or even the next day, they may have to go back to back in a scuffle in a hotel. Sometimes it is hard. One member might be mad because a guy voted the other way and might not work as hard as she or he should.
It is a dangerous precedent that we are setting here. The RCMP, fire departments, and even police departments are unique. They are a proud lot of people who go out there to fight for their communities, to keep their communities safe, and to keep each other safe. However, their pride is individual. They are proud of serving an organization, but they want to make their important decisions on their own, and we would take that fundamental right away from them. We should not. We must look at that aspect of it.
I cannot support the bill, simply because we would not give the members of the RCMP the right to vote secretly on the decision of whether they want to unionize.
Mr. Garnett Genuis (Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan, CPC):
Madam Speaker, it is a real pleasure for me to join this important debate on Bill C-7.
I appreciate hearing the thoughtful comments from all members in this House, especially the contribution of members like the member for Yellowhead who just spoke, who have significant experience themselves, or, in other cases, experience through their families with the RCMP. We are all very grateful for their service and for the context that members coming from different walks of life bring to this place.
For people elsewhere who may have just started watching this debate, I want to start my remarks by reviewing some of the basic groundwork in terms of what this bill does.
This legislation seeks to implement a Supreme Court decision that opened the door for the RCMP to form a union. We, in the official opposition, respect the decision of the Supreme Court and recognize that RCMP members are entitled to pursue membership in a union.
We think there are many aspects of Bill C-7 that are positive. In general, it is a reasonable response to the court ruling.
However, on this side of the House, we have consistently taken a very clear position on the importance of a secret ballot. I will talk more about why a secret ballot is important in this specific context and in general. However, that is the principle stumbling block on this legislation for those of us in the official opposition.
We think there are a lot of good things about this legislation, but it is not acceptable to us that a mechanism would be created for joining a union, for electing officials, for anything of that nature, that does not involve a proper democratic process.
Also, by way of context, it is important that the public knows that wage disputes will still be resolved through binding arbitration. This does not open the door to police officers being on strike or anything like that. That is an important element of context as we approach this legislation and the discussion around it.
As we are talking about the RCMP, I want to acknowledge the important work that RCMP officers do across this country, especially in my riding of Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan. We do not have municipal police forces in my constituency. We are fully served by the women and men in the RCMP, and the great work that they do.
The RCMP is an icon. It is one of those recognizable Canadian icons around the world. At the local level, I have personally seen the great work that the RCMP does with the community. That is not just front-end policing, but also engaging in a constructive way with members of the community and with community organizations on issues like education, crime prevention, and those kinds of things.
I am very grateful for the contribution of the RCMP in my constituency and across the country, as well as here on Parliament Hill. We are supported in our work and our functions here by the security that members of the RCMP provide.
I talked earlier about the importance of the secret ballot for us. It is surprising that the government does not get it. I have said before that I would have thought that the debate on the secret ballot was concluded in the 19th century. To coin a phrase, it is 2016. It is strange that there still is no recognition by the government and by other parties of the importance of the secret ballot.
I will say that it is not only this bill but the process that brings this bill forward that marks a double attack against democracy. We not only have an attack on the principle of the secret ballot, but we also have the government not respecting the prerogative of members who wish to speak to the bill by moving forward with their overly aggressive approach to time allocation.
I do think there are appropriate uses of time allocation, of course. These are cases where maybe opposition parties are engaging in deleterious tactics. The government does, in certain contexts, have to move legislation forward. However, in a fairly short time, we have seen the government ramping up the scales on the use of time allocation or closure. This bill is no exception, in spite of the goodwill from the opposition and the effort to work constructively on allocation of time around these things.
We have had this on the euthanasia and assisted suicide bill, and on the budget bill. With regard to this legislation, which is under the gun of time allocation, what the government is doing here is perhaps not as egregious as we have seen in some other cases. I have mentioned. Bill C-14 as one of the most difficult and challenging issues that Parliament has dealt with in a very long time. However, there is still a failure to recognize the importance of the secret ballot and the prerogative of members wanting to speak to and have a fulsome debate on legislation like this. It is a concerning pattern that we see of the government not respecting the principles that should be very important to a well-functioning democratic polity.
That puts this in some important context. On the substantive side, as we talk about the issue of the secret ballot, I want to start by talking about responses to some of the different kinds of arguments we have heard today in this debate, and some of the specific issues around the secret ballot in the context of the RCMP. After that, I will talk about some of the underlying foundational and motivating arguments about the secret ballot and why secret ballots are important. Again, I do not think these are arguments that should have to be made, but clearly they need to be made.
In the context of this specific bill and the RCMP, I want to talk specifically about secret ballots in the context of government certification. We can look at the workplace in some sense as a sort of negotiation, maybe a competition, between workers and their employers. There are certain tools that workers have, and there are certain tools that employers have. It is worth acknowledging that in that sort of imagined competition, public sector workers have an additional advantage. They can bring public pressure to bear on the government to try to bring about concessions in the process of collective bargaining or other forms of negotiation over wages. This is a strategic advantage in that competition or relationship that does not exist in the private sector.
A group of private sector employees cannot organize to vote out their employer, but that is something that public sector employees can do. Therefore, there are additional tools that are available to the public sector. That needs to be recognized and acknowledged as we talk about these dynamics. That helps us to understand the history of why there are higher levels of unionization in the public sector, and also why every certification vote in the public sector has happened via secret ballot, which has led to these higher rates of unionization. There is this strategic advantage.
To the extent that members may raise concerns about employer intimidation preventing certification, it would have to be acknowledged that it is much less plausible in the context of the public sector, again because of these strategic dynamics. Taking that into consideration, it is difficult to justify not allowing a secret ballot in this specific context. The worries that might exist around this in other sectors could be plausibly applied in the case of the public sector.
One of the other strands we have heard in this debate is members saying that a secret ballot could still happen, that, after all, the legislation does not effectively prohibit the use of a secret ballot but simply leaves that determination to a subsequent discussion and evaluation. That is true. There is nothing in this legislation that prohibits the use of a secret ballot. It is possible that a secret ballot could be used or not, but I do not think it is good enough. If one believes that a secret ballot is important, and I think members would acknowledge in many cases how critical a secret ballot is, I do not think it is sufficient to say that there might be a secret ballot.
If I told my constituents that in the next election some ridings in Canada will have secret ballots if we determine they need them and other ridings will not have secret ballots if we determine they do not need them, I do not think my constituents would be particularly satisfied with that. They would say that if a secret ballot is the most fair, honest, reasonable, and democratic way of conducting an election, then why should that not be available to everyone? Why should it not be a guarantee instead of just a possibility? I do not think the argument that there might be a secret ballot holds much water.
We have had some discussion in this debate about the extent to which the RCMP is like the rest of the public service and the extent to which the RCMP is different. It was interesting. I listened to the speech of my friend from Oakville North—Burlington. In the context of questions and comments, she effectively gave very different answers to that question, first in response to my question, and then in response to a question from the member for Esquimalt—Saanich—Sooke. She said on the one hand that we need to have the same process as other public sector individuals, and then she said the RCMP is different. Which is it? This would be our take on that.
Certainly there are important differences between the RCMP and other organizations within the public service. That is why it was important to have some of the variations, some of the exclusions, which were put in this legislation. I think at least our party and the government acknowledged the importance of those exclusions, and our members worked very hard at the committee to refine and deepen those exclusions.
However, the secret ballot is important for everyone. We would advocate a secret ballot in all cases, as we have done on a variety of different measures. The principle of a secret ballot for choosing representatives, for choosing which bargaining unit, or if an individual would like to associate with a particular bargaining unit, is so important that it should not be left to chance. It should not be maybe sometimes and maybe not elsewhere. That is why we have advocated for this consistently across the board.
As well, it is particularly important to have a secret ballot in the case of the RCMP. These are, after all, the women and men on the front lines who are defending us, protecting the physical security of our democracy. We call on the RCMP to ensure the safety and stability of the democratic process and of our lives within this country. For us to then deny the RCMP the same rights that others have in other contexts when they elect people, to deny them the right to the secret ballot in this case, would seem particularly perverse, to me at least. At the same time that they are protecting our fundamental democratic rights, that we would deny those rights to them as members of the RCMP— notwithstanding that we think the secret ballot should be available to all—in that particular situation is quite perverse.
The discussion has also been around the alternative to the secret ballot and how that would look in practice in the RCMP. Some members favour a card-check system. For those who do not know, a card-check system basically involves some members who are seeking a certification asking other members of a potential bargaining unit who want to certify to then sign and check on a card that they would like to sign up. If a certain threshold is achieved in terms of these sign-ups, then there is no subsequent process of deliberation or election; the certification simply then occurs after that card-check system has been evaluated. It occurs automatically.
There are a lot of obvious problems with that. This is a form of public ballot. It does not respect the privacy of the individuals who are being asked to sign. However, a card-check system, as has been pointed out, is particularly inappropriate in the context of the RCMP. We have a very hierarchical structure in which people have to rely on each other all the time.
Members of the RCMP may wish to discuss their political conviction in the context of that environment. They may feel comfortable doing so, and they may feel that their ability to work with their colleagues is not compromised by that. However, that should be their choice. The effect of having a card-check system for certification in this context would be that members might be forced to declare their union convictions through other members. This could have a negative effect, in certain cases, on the collegiality that is so important for the functioning of our national police force.
Therefore, why not simply ensure that members have the privacy they deserve? Why not ensure we have a guarantee of a secret ballot?
My friend from Esquimalt—Saanich—Sooke said something interesting. He said that the proposal for a secret ballot does not need to apply in this case because we are not talking about a public vote. He said that in a sense individuals could choose whether or not they want to join the organization and therefore there is no need for a secret ballot, if I understood what he was saying correctly.
Of course, it just needs to be said that we are talking about what would be a closed shop union. If the RCMP chose to certify, all members of the RCMP, even if they were individually not interested in being part of the union, would have to at least pay dues to the union. This is the process that exists. This is not analogous to simply whether or not an individual chooses to sign up with the local Rotary Club, or Elks, or something like that. This is a question of a whole professional group being brought into a union, potentially against the preferences of some of those members. This is more analogous to a general election in which we would respect and widely recognize the importance of a secret ballot.
Another comment that some members have made during this debate is that secret ballots reduce the rate of unionization. Frankly, that tips their hand a bit because the goal should not be to ensure the maximum level of unionization. The goal should be to ensure a fair process whereby workers can decide if they want to be part of a union. Of course, one could design a system, maybe a card check or something else, that would maximize the rates of certification, but if that happens at the expense of a fair and democratic process in which workers can actually express themselves, then that is not the best direction to go. The goal should be a fair process, and then we would let those who are involved in a fair process decide. A fair process in a democracy will produce the best outcome according to democratic principles, but if we do not have a fair process just because we want a particular outcome, that being higher rates of unionization, that is obviously hardly fair.
That deals with some of the strands in the debate today. I want to just mention what I see as the foundational motivating arguments for a secret ballot. Why do we generally accept that secret ballots are important? First, I think we all understand that people have a right to privacy with respect to their political opinions. Of course, people have the right to express their opinions on issues like certification and other issues, but they also have a right to not express their opinions, to not wish for their co-workers, their employees, even members of their family to know how they vote or how they feel about difficult political questions. This right to privacy really emanates from the idea of autonomy, the idea of self-ownership, that our political opinions are our own and therefore we have the right to decide if we wish to dispose of them in one particular way or another. This sense of the separation of the private space from the public space is foundational to our concept of liberal democracy. It is why we have a secret ballot.
Of course, the secret ballot ensures protection from reprisals. I talked before in the House on a previous bill about the history of secret ballots and how one time when we had public ballots people could be intimidated. They could face reprisals, or could lose employment as a result of how they voted in the then-public ballot. Thus we moved to a secret ballot.
Another reason we have secret ballots is protection against corruption. If we see how someone votes there is a greater risk of someone being offered an inducement. That cannot happen if there is a secret ballot.
Finally is the importance of a vote being preceded by deliberation. This is not possible in the context of a card check system, where someone might sign the card and then read an article or develop new information and think something different later on. One does not have the option of changing one's mind in a card check system but in a secret ballot process there is deliberation, debate, good discussion, and then individuals can come to their conclusions at the appropriate time.
For these reasons, despite some good aspects, I will have to oppose the bill unless the government accepts an amendment to respect the right of members of the RCMP to vote by a secret ballot.
Mr. Randall Garrison (Esquimalt—Saanich—Sooke, NDP):
Madam Speaker, I would like to start in a way that almost all members have when they began speaking to Bill C-7 and express my thanks to the RCMP for the work its members do every day in our communities and at the federal level in policing to keep us safe. We have one of the most dedicated and skilled police forces anywhere in the world, but it can be improved. It can be better.
I know it is going to get better because, like others who have already spoken, I know one of the new people out front this week. He is one of the people I met as a young leader when he was in high school in Esquimalt; he eventually became our house- and dog-sitter, and now he is out front as a new RCMP officer, defending this House instead of our house at home.
I have also seen the RCMP at work in my own constituency. The West Shore RCMP polices over half of my riding, by geography, with 65 sworn members, and it was fortunate enough to get four added in 2015, which did a little bit to catch up with the population growth. I have a riding that is growing very rapidly in population, and it is most rapid in the areas policed by the RCMP. They always have a challenge in keeping up with that.
I personally have also seen the RCMP at work as part of UN peacekeeping missions. I served in East Timor, where the RCMP played a very important role in training the new police force that was being established in that country, and it did a really excellent job, which was well respected by others who were also involved in police training. I also saw the RCMP at work in Afghanistan when I was part of an international human rights mission there, and I saw the very difficult task that Canadian RCMP members had taken on in trying to help train the Afghan police in a real absence of a tradition of independent and rights-based policing like the one we have in Canada.
I think there are some 84 RCMP members who are serving on UN peacekeeping missions around the world at this time. So like everyone in the House, we do appreciate the service of the RCMP and its dedication.
I am also familiar with the issues of policing because I taught criminal justice for 20 years in a program at Camosun College in Victoria, which is largely a police and prison guard training program. Many of my former students have gone on to be RCMP members. At very large demonstrations or walks in my riding I have been talking to some of the police, and once someone came over and asked if I was in some kind of trouble and offered to help. I said that, no, they were my ex-students and I actually knew the police and there was no problem.
I am probably also one of a very small number of members in the House who sat across from a police union as the employer in bargaining, so I started my public career as a member of a municipal police board. As a member of the police board, I drew the short straw, as we all thought it was, and I was assigned finance and collective bargaining. I actually did sit across from the police union of a very small municipal police force and hashed through the kind of issues that are of concern in the RCMP today. Therefore, I know something about that from personal experience, and I will come back to that.
As the NDP public safety critic for the last five years, I have worked very closely with the Canadian Police Association and also with the Mounted Police Professional Association. They have been very concerned to make progress after the Supreme Court decision almost a year and a half ago now toward getting organization in place to represent the rank and file RCMP. I want to credit the work of both Tom Stamatakis as president of the Canadian Police Association and Rae Banwarie as president of the Mounted Police Professional Association for working with all members of the House in trying to make sure we get the right kind of legislation in place.
There is a long history of controversy about police unions in this country. It stretches all the way back to when the first unions were certified, and that was in 1918, I believe, although I have not been teaching this now for a number of years. Toronto and Vancouver both certified unions for their police in 1918. We went through a series of strikes including the general strike in Winnipeg, a police strike in the U.K., and a police strike in Toronto. It ushered in a period of regulation of police unions and attempts to restrict rights to bargain and rights to strike. Up to World War II, we had periods of greater and lesser freedom of police to unionize, in all areas but never the RCMP.
At the end of World War II, in 1945, I think largely as a result of the idea that we had fought a great war for democracy and freedom, very large collective bargaining rights in the public sector began to be granted, including the Toronto police union, which was again certified as a bargaining agent for the Toronto police in 1945. That movement really grew over the next 20 years, until virtually all the police forces had unionized, except the RCMP.
In the 1960s, when public servants were granted the right to have unions, even to strike under some circumstances, the RCMP was specifically excluded. Therefore, what we are really dealing with today is that exclusion that was written down finally in law in the 1960s.
By the 1970s, there was already discussion about whether it would not be better to allow RCMP members to decide for themselves if they wished to have a union, rather than to keep them under a legislated prohibition. A predecessor here, the former MP for Burnaby—Douglas, Svend Robinson—I think it was in 1979—introduced one of the first bills calling for the removal of the restriction on the right of the RCMP to unionize.
Mr. Kennedy Stewart: Il est ici aujourd'hui.
Mr. Randall Garrison: I did see him in the precinct today, Madam Speaker. He now works for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, so he is still doing very good work.
The Supreme Court of Canada decision is what brought us to where we are today. It is interesting that the Supreme Court has very rarely overruled itself. It has very rarely overruled its previous decisions. In 1999, it had upheld the prohibition on an RCMP union, so I would say it was very unexpected in the legal community that there was such a clear decision in January 2015 in favour of the right of the RCMP members to unionize. It was a six-to-one decision at that time.
Let me read a couple of quotes from the Supreme Court majority in that decision. It states:
|| We conclude that the s. 2(d) guarantee of freedom of association protects a meaningful process of collective bargaining that provides employees with a degree of choice and independence sufficient to enable them to determine and pursue their collective interests.
It is saying that the regime that was in place, the staff representatives, did not provide what other Canadians were entitled to under the charter, which was to have a choice about who represents them and have those representatives be independent of the RCMP management in this case.
The decision went on to state:
|| While the RCMP’s mandate differs from that of other police forces, there is no evidence that providing the RCMP a labour relations scheme similar to that enjoyed by other police forces would prevent it from fulfilling its mandate.
What it is really saying is what we know to be true, that in order to have restrictions on rights in Canada, our Constitution requires that they be reasonable, demonstrably justified, and proportionate to some public interest. What the court found in this case is that there was no public interest that justified these kinds of restrictions on collective bargaining for the RCMP.
Quite often in the House, we have talked about “deadlines” set by the Supreme Court: in the case of assisted suicide and in the case of this bill on RCMP unionization. I have always argued, and will still argue, that these are not deadlines. What the court said in both of these cases is that it finds the existing laws unconstitutional, but it will give Parliament a chance to legislate if it wishes to do something different. If Parliament does not legislate by this date, then the law that was in existence will be unconstitutional and the normal legal framework will apply. If we did not pass this by the deadline, which we clearly have not, the RCMP would fall under the Public Service Labour Relations Act.
I am not arguing that we do not need a bill. I actually think there are some justifications for having a bill and for separating the RCMP out from other labour relations associations. The surprise, or not surprise, I guess I would say, is that the Canadian Police Association and the Mounted Police Professional Association also agree with that. There is no demand for all of them to become teamsters or steelworkers. That is not what they are looking for.
Bill C-7 says that there should be one national union representing police only, and that is not really a controversial point, so having a bill that would establish that framework is not a bad idea. However, that is probably about as far as I can go with Bill C-7, because the other main provisions of the bill take away all the aspects that really make meaningful collective bargaining.
I would submit that, just like the bill that was presented on assisted suicide, Bill C-14, Bill C-7 is probably unconstitutional. It is certain to launch another whole round of litigation and will force the spending of both RCMP members' money and public money, as well as the court's time on something we really do not need to do.
The court decision was quite clear at six to one. If we respected that decision in the proposed law, we would be done with this. The new regime of labour relations could then get on with the job of improving the RCMP and the working conditions, including the health and safety of RCMP members. Again, we must remember that our constitutional regime says that the limits are acceptable on rights only if they are reasonable and demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society, and if these limits are proportional to a specific public objective.
What is the public objective in saying that this new labour relations organization could not talk about staffing, deployment, harassment, or discipline? Again, in the quote I read earlier from the decision, it is very clear that the court said that there is no public objective that justifies limiting collective bargaining for the RCMP. Therefore, I would argue that, in parallel, there is also no public objective being achieved by these specific exclusions from collective bargaining.
I do not think we have heard from the government why it selected these things. I have not heard the justification for these exclusions, and the Liberals have not given me a legal argument of how they think this would stand up in court, if we get there again. As I said, I think Bill C-7 is bound for litigation, and that is an unfortunate thing.
Our courts are clogged with all kinds of important issues, and to have their time taken up with something that has been there in 1999 and 2015, to have it back sometime later this year or in 2017 is a waste of everyone's time and resources.
I, of course, as a member of the NDP, supported our position that these exclusions should have been taken out at committee stage. Unfortunately, the government failed to do that, and I believe the Conservatives also supported leaving these exclusions in. However, I will give credit to the government here that it did agree to remove clauses 40 and 42, which would have placed occupational health and safety under workers' compensation boards province by province.
Clearly, there are some exceptional things about the RCMP as a workforce, and it would not have been acceptable to establish a regime where RCMP members, depending on where they were stationed, would be eligible for different kinds of compensation, benefits, or rehabilitation. Therefore, I do applaud the government in agreeing with both the Conservatives and the NDP to take out clauses 40 and 42 and keep occupational health and safety a uniform regime across the country, so that it would not really matter where an RCMP member served, because RCMP members would be entitled to the same package of benefits and protections.
When we talk about staffing, deployment, harassment, and discipline being excluded, what does that actually mean? This is where I go back to all four things I dealt with almost 20 years ago when I first took on being the labour relations representative of my police board.
Staffing is the question of how much work one has to do, whether the vacant positions are filled, and how long is acceptable to leave positions vacant. I know from the RCMP in my own riding on the west shore, where the population was growing and the demands were very great, that there was concern from rank and file members over those four positions that they should have had, that were authorized, but I believe took six years to fill, and it could have been longer. My memory does not serve me so well, because it was so long in actually getting the people they needed.
What impact does that have on the operation of the RCMP? Well, one could say that it causes it to spend more money or it takes away management prerogatives. However, I can tell members that, from the point of view of rank and file people, staffing is about how much overtime they have to work that they do not want to work, that they would rather spend with their family, or rather spend, as most RCMP officers do, volunteering in community events. They wonder if they would be forced to work overtime because those vacancies have not been filled.
This is not to say that the new union of the members would fill the vacancies or decide when they are filled, but they might be able to argue in bargaining what a reasonable time frame would be when a position is not filled. They could say in their collective agreement that, when a position is vacant, it must be filled within six months or within a year. Why is that not something they could bargain about? It is something certainly that I bargained about with our police union: what is an acceptable time frame for filling vacancies?
I simply do not understand why that would not be subject to collective bargaining for the RCMP.
The second one would be deployment. The question of deployment was that of relief and backup, in particular, in municipal forces, How many officers per car? Was it safe to have one officer per car, or did it require two? Through negotiations, after I left the board, it was finally resolved that there were different hours of the day that required different deployment and staffing.
However, what we got through collective bargaining was the input of those rank-and-file members who said that in the daytime it was probably okay to have one officer per car because there were a lot of people on duty, and a lot of resources and backup to call on. However, at nighttime, one person in the car, at three a.m., was probably not a good idea. That was what we were discussing at that time. Again, I do not see how that does not do anything but contribute to better policing for the community and better working conditions for the RCMP, to be able to discuss deployment.
The RCMP also has a lot of very small detachments. One of the big problems that comes up in those detachments is relief. If the RCMP officer is the only officer or one of two officers in a community, how does he or she get any relief from the 24-hour a day demands? What would be wrong with negotiating that if he or she has been the only one, or the only two officers, for a certain period of time, then someone has to come in and relieve the officer of those duties? That would be discussed at collective bargaining. Again, it is about better community policing and better working conditions for RCMP members.
The question of harassment is the one that is the most shocking to me. We dealt with harassment in the police force. When I was appointed to the board, I was the first openly gay police board member in British Columbia. We sat down with the union. First, I had met with the chief, and I said “Just so you know, my mother already knows.” The chief said, “We already know. We are not called the police for nothing.” We got off to a very good start by having harassment training.
The union met with the board, and we agreed to do harassment training. No one forced anyone to do training. The Board members said that they would go through the training first, and would then ask the union to agree to go through it.
The union president at that time said that it was a complete waste of time. At the end of it, he came back and said that he was wrong, that there were practices taking place in our force that he did not even recognize as harassment.
The last one is discipline. When there is bargaining about discipline, it is not saying the rank-and-file members get to decide if someone is disciplined. They need a voice on what is a fair process for discipline and a voice on what is fair representation.
Those are the kinds of issues with which I had to deal. What are the right time frames? What evidence should be available? Are police officers held to the legal standards of the court in their own disciplinary proceedings? Is that fair or should there be some other disciplinary process agreed to?
Again, all four of these things that are excluded are crucial to having a good working environment for RCMP rank-and-file members, and they also contribute to better policing of our communities.
I know my time is drawing short, but I want to talk about one more staffing issue which has been on my radar since I first got involved in policing. It is the question of recruitment and retirement. It will probably come to a shock to most members in the House that one out of ten police officers in the entire country is currently eligible to retire tomorrow. Officers are staying on and working because of their dedication, but they are already eligible to retire.
How will we deal with that crisis of person power in the RCMP? One of the best ways to do that is to work with the members of the RCMP who are serving now and ask them what are reasonable ways to conquer what is really a crisis.
The other one is recruitment. At the beginning there was some resistance, even in our police force, to using diversity as a criteria in recruiting. We worked with the union at the time. Again, the same union president came back to me and said that when I said that we were not a very diverse police force—we were are all white men—that this was obvious. What was not obvious were the benefits that would come to policing from having a more diverse police force.
They hired two people from the first nations community and two gay and lesbian police officers. He told me that they now had contacts in communities that they never had before, and it helped them do a better job of policing.
Again, negotiating with the rank-and-file unions about issues of staffing, like recruitment, retention, and retirement, will lead to better policing for all of us.
I am sorry I cannot vote for the bill that would establish a framework for a union for the RCMP, but my reason for doing that is the unacceptable exclusions from collective bargaining.
Mr. Alexandre Boulerice (Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today, and I want to inform you that I will be sharing my time with the member for Burnaby South, who works very hard to defend workers' rights here in the House.
Like other members in the House, I want to take 30 seconds to congratulate our RCMP officers and to thank them for all the work they do across the country. They work hard to keep us, our communities, and our children safe. As a member of Parliament from the Montreal area, I do not deal much with RCMP officers, since they do not directly serve Montreal. The SPVM serves Montreal. However, we are aware of the good work they do and of how dangerous and essential their jobs are.
I am very pleased to rise today to speak about fundamental rights like free collective bargaining, a topic that is close to our hearts as progressive, social democrats, as New Democrats. This topic is especially important to us because gathering, assembling, and fighting for the collective bargaining power to improve one's working and living conditions is a fundamental part of social progress and of the progress of our societies and our country.
We have seen what a positive impact the process of unionization can have on people's quality of life in terms of pay and benefits as well as in terms of respect for employees and ensuring that they are not subjected to discrimination or abuse by employers or ignored whenever they speak up.
People say that right-wingers are about defending the middle class, but not many people realize that the middle class exists primarily because of the union movement. In the 18th century, when unions were illegal, people had absolutely appalling working conditions. They had no rights, and they worked like dogs for pay that kept them forever poor. People were constantly being pauperized. That is why we need to recognize the work of the many men and women who decided to join forces and sit down to negotiate collective agreements and labour contracts that laid out the rules of the game and ensured healthy workplaces that enabled people to support their families, enjoy some recreation, travel, and so on.
Unions became legal in Canada in 1872. However, RCMP members have been in a rather unique situation since the force was created in 1918. RCMP members have always been denied the right to organize and negotiate their labour contracts, even though this clearly violates the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the right to free bargaining has been upheld by a number of courts, including the B.C. Supreme Court and the Supreme Court of Saskatchewan, as well as the Supreme Court of Canada.
I am pleased, in one sense, that the Liberal government is finally bringing such a long struggle to an end. For decades now, RCMP members have been wanting the same right that everyone else enjoys. However, I am bitterly disappointed in the drafting of the bill and the work done by the Liberal government. Once again, we are in a situation where, in an effort to follow a directive or ruling from the Supreme Court, the Liberal government is trying to respond to it, but is doing so carelessly and sloppily. It is making things up and forgetting things, and as I think my colleague said earlier, this could give rise to new legal debates. Bill C-7 will probably be challenged in the courts because it contains things that are clearly completely unacceptable and infringe on the right to free bargaining.
Some of the clauses violate the very principle that this bill is supposed to defend. What are they? For us, the most important thing is the exclusions. Bill C-7 excludes some issues, certain matters, from the collective bargaining process. RCMP officers are being told that they have the right to organize and to collectively negotiate a work contract, but they do not have the right to talk about certain things and the government is the one that decides. They are being told that they only have the right to talk about pay and benefits, period.
What are the exclusions? One of them is staffing, the ability to decide who will get a promotion or who will be hired.
Deployment is another: who will go to what city, town, or region. Shift work is yet another: will workers have to work alone or will they have backup?
There is also harassment and disciplinary action. That is an important issue. The Liberals are excluding anything related to harassment in the workplace from the RCMP's collective bargaining process. RCMP officers will therefore be unable to file a complaint in that regard. That is outrageous. Why would RCMP officers be deprived of that option?
There is also disciplinary action. It was excluded out of hand and no one knows why, as though these sorts of things magically take care of themselves.
Whose idea was it to exclude these issues? They are what can make the difference between a happy and healthy workplace and a workplace rife with conflict, competition, poor relations between colleagues, and even poor relations between managers and employees.
The NDP does not understand why these issues, which have a major impact on workplace health and safety, were dismissed out of hand by the Liberal government.
What will happen? It is pretty clear, and the writing is on the wall. If this bill passes, when RCMP officers become unionized, they will eventually claim their right to talk about these issues and to have an internal complaint process so that they can have their say. Why would they be denied this right, when all other unionized police forces in Canada can talk about these issues?
In no way has the Liberal government shown that the reliability, neutrality, or viability of the RCMP would be called into question as a result of these collective bargaining issues and that they therefore had to be excluded from the process. This makes absolutely no sense. This will result in more legal proceedings and additional costs, not only for taxpayers, but also for the RCMP officers' union. This is all completely unnecessary, since we could fix this problem right here, right now.
I urge the Liberal government to listen to reason, instead of forcing Parliament to pass botched, flawed bills that will be challenged in court. I urge the government to do its job and to respect the fundamental right to free collective bargaining.
This issue affects an important, though small, segment of our society. There is no reason why these people should not have the same rights as all workers. The work they do is recognized and respected by everyone. I think that we should give them the tools that will help them create a workplace where they feel comfortable and are heard, and where they are able to speak up when necessary.
For these reasons, the NDP cannot vote in favour of Bill C-7, even though it is well-intentioned and even though the Supreme Court issued its ruling. We cannot support the bill because the government did a sloppy job and this bill will be challenged in court.
I want to use the few minutes I have left to say that I do not understand why, in this debate, the people from the Conservative Party, who dragged their feet miserably after the Supreme Court ruling was handed down in January 2015, keep coming back to the issue of having a secret ballot for the union certification process. That has nothing to do with Bill C-7. It is like they are trying to relive the years of the previous government, when, in fact, a unionization process involving membership cards signed and submitted to the Canada Industrial Relations Board, the CIRB, is the best and easiest way to unionize a group. We often hear the Conservatives say that having people sign cards will lead to bullying and that is why they prefer a secret ballot. In the unionization process, any bullying is done by the employers and not by the workers. It is not documented and it does not exist.
I come from the union movement. In my previous life, I was a union activist and a union advisor. We know that a unionization process by secret ballot often leads to negative results for the workers. It is not as successful. The longer the vote, the more time the employer has to use blackmail or make promises or threats.
That is why we want to keep the current system. I would like our Conservative friends to understand that some day.
Mr. Kennedy Stewart (Burnaby South, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise to speak to this bill today.
However, before I do, I noticed that a number of members in this House have been talking about how much we respect the RCMP and value their service. I would like to point out one very special member of the RCMP in my own riding of Burnaby South, Chief Superintendent Dave Critchley. He is the officer in charge of the Burnaby RCMP detachment. I would like to thank him for his service to our community, because Chief Superintendent Critchley has informed me that he is retiring this year. All of us are going to miss him very much. I wish him and his wife Debra all the best.
It is worth going through a short bit of Chief Superintendent Critchley's career. He has spent 33 years in the RCMP, which included a posting here in Ottawa. He was seconded to the Privy Council Office as the RCMP federal liaison for the winter Olympics. We all thank him for the great job he did there on what was a spectacular event. Not to stop there, he was also posted to Kabul, in Afghanistan, as the Canadian police commander. He was the senior Canadian police officer in Afghanistan. He has done fantastic work, and I would like to thank him again for his service and for being so kind to me during my time as a member of Parliament in Burnaby.
I will move from the niceties of being able to stand in the House to thank people, to the unpleasantries. This is a general comment on the government and its seeming inability to get bills passed through this place, and of course the other place, the Senate. I have been here since 2011, and although I did not agree with many of the Conservatives' bills, I did agree with their professionalism. I think that the Conservatives did a good job in letting us know what bills would be put forward, and they did them in an orderly way in this House.
I find that the current Liberal government seems totally incapable of getting things passed. This is not because there is filibustering. It is not because there is any lack of work on our behalf. They seem confused. We look at the parliamentary website. We heard about 100 days of action. We heard about real change. Out of the 16 government bills that have been put forward here, only one has made it through the Senate, besides the three that were for budget spending. Of the things besides money that the Liberal government seem to care about, it seems incapable of getting them through this place, and who knows what is going to happen in the Senate? The Liberals have created complete chaos over there, and we are all waiting to see what happens.
This bill, again, is an example of incompetence on that side of the House. We all know what the Supreme Court has ordered. We have various points that we do not agree with in this bill, but the Supreme Court has struck down a law. It said that the RCMP is allowed to form a union or some kind of association, and the government on that side is playing politics. The bill that was put forward here is not robust enough, from our perspective.
I do not have a huge union background. I have been in faculty associations at universities. At Simon Fraser University, we have just been fully unionized. However, this is not something that I am that familiar with. I am proud to say that our political party is the only party that has a collective agreement with our employees, and we dutifully uphold it. I see the benefit of being an employer with a properly structured collective agreement. Therefore, when I read that the exclusions from this bill included discussions of staffing, employment, harassment, and discipline, it made me think that this is a hollow attempt to abide by the Supreme Court's decision that the members of the RCMP have the right to organize collectively. I do not agree with my colleagues on the Conservative side that some kind of secret ballot is needed; just sign a union card or association card and one is a member.
However, it seems strange that the government would restrict so many things from this discussion between employer and employee, for instance, that they cannot agree upon staffing levels. As my hon. colleague from Esquimalt said earlier, employers and employees should have a discussion about how many RCMP members would be in a car in an evening shift. There should be discussion and then agreement on what is appropriate.
I was fortunate enough to sit on the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights when the harassment issues were happening in the RCMP and finally came to light. These types of things have burdened the RCMP in the past. They have been one of the only marks against a very fine record and have caused numerous lawsuits and problems. Of course, that is something that should be negotiated through a collective agreement, and discipline too, to make sure that what is happening is fair to the members.
Although I have worked in a unionized environment, I was not familiar with the workings of that environment. Now, being an employer with unionized employees, I see how important that is. What unionization and collective agreements allow for is a discussion of these important issues. There are a lot of times as an employer that we do not understand or realize the perspective of the person hired and the constraints that they are under. Abiding by a collective agreement is a way to foster discussion within an organization.
The other huge advantage as an employer in a non-unionized environment, which I have worked in plenty of, is that the employer is the person overseeing the operations of the organization and is the enforcer of the work, the monitor of the quality of work. However, when a union is brought into a situation, there is almost a double monitoring. There is the regular management that sets the course of work and the direction of the organization, but there is also the union, which makes sure that union employees are protected and that they are working collectively toward the goals of the organization. That can only help to enhance any workplace. Again, not being familiar through most of my life with unions and how they operate, and now being very familiar with them, I see this only as a benefit to the RCMP.
The bill is a long time coming. Earlier today, I had the pleasure of seeing Svend Robinson, the very famous former MP from a number of Burnaby ridings with a lot of different names. He brought in the first bill to the House, in either the late seventies or early eighties, to allow the RCMP to organize. We have had the Supreme Court finally say that the laws that are on the books right now are not appropriate. They do not jibe with the Constitution and have been struck down. Now Parliament has an obligation, if we are going to put restrictions on the RCMP and their collective organizing, that it abides by the conditions laid out.
I am disappointed, in two ways. I am disappointed with the government side of the House and the way it has mishandled the flow of legislation through this place. Despite all the talk about consultation and working together that we hear from the Minister of Democratic Institutions daily, the Liberals are not listening. That is a problem. It is trying to railroad things through. While the Conservatives were quite good at railroading things through the House of Commons, I cannot say that is happening on the other side. That speaks to a level of competence that the Liberal government has not yet developed, which is distressing to Canadians. We are going to hit our June break, go back for barbeques, work with constituents, and there is hardly going to have been anything done here. It is because the Liberals are not listening, and that is a huge problem.
There is the larger problem of process in this place with the government not being able to get things through. There is also the problem in the bill, which is too restrictive. It should be altered to allow the union and the employer to negotiate things like staffing, deployment, harassment, and discipline.