Interventions in the House of Commons
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View K. Kellie Leitch Profile
View K. Kellie Leitch Profile
2016-02-05 10:05 [p.885]
Mr. Speaker, the Employees' Voting Rights Act was a common sense bill.
I will be sharing my time with the member for Dauphin—Swan River—Neepawa.
The main principle of the bill was that all federally regulated workers should have the right to a free secret ballot vote when deciding to certify or decertify a union.
The card check system that had apparently been in place for federally regulated industries required 50% plus one of workers' union membership cards for union certification. This system was open to co-workers and other interested parties potentially pressuring employees into signing union cards. Rather than an automatic certification of a union process, the previous bill required a 50% plus one majority of votes cast in a secret ballot to support certification at a meeting for certification or decertification.
The principle behind this is similar to what we all undergo here in a general election.
Just as the secret ballot of a general election represents the voice of each elector, a secret ballot on certification would allow employees to freely express their wishes.
Many Canadians do not want to reveal who they voted for in a general election. I am sure that members experienced that as often as I did when they were going door to door in the last federal election. Some people are quite free in expressing how they are going to vote, but many would rather keep that to themselves.
Workers should be provided that same level of comfort in expressing their views, choosing to either express them publicly or to have the privacy of a secret ballot vote in the workplace, a place where they spend by far the majority of their time. They should be made to feel welcome and comfortable, no matter what their choice, in all circumstances.
The bill ensured that there was a framework in place to allow those workers to express their personal position.
One other change in the previous bill was the proposal to set the threshold of employee support required to trigger certification or decertification at 40%. It was amended to 40% so that the trigger was the same either way, which it had not been prior to this legislation. It would be the same for certification or decertification, the same to get in and the same to get out.
This number is more reflective of international conventions and the majority of provincial statutes. In fact, five provinces currently have this threshold or higher. I believe this approach is fair and creates a level playing field for both supporters and opponents in situations where the question of certification or decertification is at stake.
As I said before, the creation of the new legislation was about making sure that workers are able to express themselves as they deem fit in their workplaces, allowing both those who are opponents or partisans supporting accreditation or decreditation to express their views.
As I have said, it makes sense to me that we use a system for the democratic rights of workers, but it apparently also makes eminent sense to workers. Polling data on unionized and non-unionized employees across the country shows overwhelming support for a secret ballot vote on questions of certification and decertification. This seems fair to me.
Poll after poll indicates that, since 2003, support across Canada for secret ballot voting has rated between 83% and 89%, with some of the highest results coming from unionized or formerly unionized employees.
Clearly, Canadians believe that we should take important steps to secure this fundamental right for employees in federally regulated workplaces.
As Canadians, we have taken great pride in our democratic processes. The secret ballot is the hallmark of our modern democracy here in Canada. It is a system we support so strongly that Canadians have not only shed blood for our country to maintain its democracy but have actually spent significant amounts of time in other countries to help them achieve that same degree of freedom and democracy.
I ask how it could be undemocratic, as has been mentioned in the House by other members, to provide workers with a secret ballot vote. We know that PSAC has stated at committee that it uses a secret ballot vote itself for internal elections as well as for collective bargaining agreement ratification. Every member in the House was elected by a secret ballot vote.
As Justice Richards' stated in his ruling in the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal, “The secret ballot, after all, is a hallmark of modern democracy”.
Due to this basic principle, this basic value that I think all Canadians hold dear, I would encourage all members in the House to vote against the current bill being considered and maintain the bill of the MP from Red Deer—Lacombe. It is a common sense bill that makes the certification and decertification process for unions a democratic one in which all workers have a voice and can express that voice in the way they deem appropriate, in a comfortable manner, in their own workplaces.
View Dan Vandal Profile
Lib. (MB)
Mr. Speaker, quite clearly, Bill C-377 is counterproductive to a positive working relationship between employers and employees. It creates unnecessary red tape for labour organizations and labour trusts. Legislation is already in place to ensure that unions are financially accountable to their members. Therefore, I am wondering what the real reason was for the government at the time bringing forward this unfair legislation that brings extra red tape.
View K. Kellie Leitch Profile
View K. Kellie Leitch Profile
2016-02-05 10:13 [p.886]
Mr. Speaker, just so we are clear, the bill that was brought forward was a private member's bill. It was not government legislation. I think all Canadians agree, though, and I am sure the member would agree, that with regard to the bill I was speaking to, another private member's bill, Bill C-525, a democratic, transparent process is what is most appropriate.
For me, particularly as I spoke today about Bill C-525, making sure that we have a secret ballot vote is essential. It is a cornerstone and a principle of our Canadian democracy that we should all be defending.
View Guy Caron Profile
Mr. Speaker, I was very active in the debate surrounding Bill C-377 and Bill C-525, which were a direct attack on how unions operate.
When we debated the issue, the Conservative government of the day argued that it had the right to interfere in this matter because union dues were tax deductible and therefore some degree of accountability was needed. I also recall that professional associations, which also collect dues that are tax deductible, were not included in the bill.
It was therefore abundantly clear to me that this was a direct attack on how unions operate, particularly regarding the issue of unions having to show their accounting records. Obviously, this gives negotiators on the management side an advantage, since they would then be familiar with the financial position of the unions with which they are negotiating.
Why will the Conservative members not just admit that those two bills were a deliberate attack on unions in order to undermine their ability to stand up to the government, which was extremely harmful over the past four years?
View K. Kellie Leitch Profile
View K. Kellie Leitch Profile
2016-02-05 10:15 [p.886]
Mr. Speaker, as I mentioned before, what I have spoken about today is the democratic process. Bill C-525, which is a private member's bill that I hope the House considers, is a cornerstone of Canadian democracy. Our intention here, and I think it was the intention of both private members who brought forward their legislation, and I would encourage people to speak to those individuals about their private member's bills, was to make sure that there was transparency as well as democracy being exercised.
View Dave Van Kesteren Profile
Mr. Speaker, the first thing we did as a Conservative government when we came to power back in 2006 was introduce a transparency act. The first thing the Liberals did, or the second, perhaps we will give them that, was introduce this legislation to repeal a bill, whose importance the member and other speakers have done such a marvellous job of helping Canadians understand, rather than talking about the economic conditions in the west, the pipelines issue, dairy farmers' concerns with TPP, refugees, the Armed Forces, and so many other issues.
Why did the Liberal government choose to target this legislation as its first act when it came to power?
View K. Kellie Leitch Profile
View K. Kellie Leitch Profile
2016-02-05 10:16 [p.886]
Mr. Speaker, I too have concerns. I represent a riding with a significant number of dairy farmers. Today they are asking why the current government is not focused on the TPP. A number of individuals in my riding are involved in the agriculture community, whether they are farmers or people getting that produce to market. Why did the current government not mention agriculture in its throne speech? Why is it that we are focused on something that takes a system that was created to make people equivalent, where certification and decertification are both at 40%, an in and out equivalent, and there is a secret ballot vote, which they now would like to reverse?
I would ask the government on the opposite side when it will take care of farmers. When will it take care of the economy? We have some serious issues that have to be addressed in this country right now.
View Robert Sopuck Profile
Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to follow my esteemed colleague regarding the Liberals' intent to repeal Bill C-377 and Bill C-525.
Both of these bills were about transparency. As my colleague talked about earlier, the first bills we introduced as a government were about increasing transparency, and one of the first acts of the Liberal government is to introduce bills to reduce transparency.
Bill C-377 had an important purpose. The purpose was to extend the principle of public disclosure to a group of institutions that enjoy substantial public benefit: labour organizations. This is key. Public disclosure would increase the confidence of Canadians that unions spend their money wisely and effectively.
Regarding Bill C-525, which dealt with the issue of voting rights, it replaced a system called “card check”. The card-check system allows for a workplace to be unionized without allowing all employees to express their opinions. In fact, the unionization of a workplace could occur without a significant portion of the bargaining unit having been made aware of it.
Again, both of these bills dealt with improving transparency. In our strong view, Canadian union workers have the right to know how their mandatory union dues are spent. That is why our government passed Bill C-377 and Bill C-525.
Repealing these laws sends a very clear message: the Liberal government cares more about thanking union bosses, who did everything in their power to help them get elected, rather than the thousands of hard-working union members whose dues were spent without consultation. Union leaders need to be held accountable and tell their members and the public how their tax-advantaged income is spent.
The Conservative Party will continue to support union transparency and stand up for union workers. As I have said in a couple of my other speeches, it is becoming quite clear that the only party that cares about Canadian workers and workers' families is the Conservative Party of Canada.
Even some labour organizations are very strongly in favour of our bill. The Christian Labour Association, Dick Heinen, the executive director, in February 2014, said:
Now fundamentally, CLAC believes in competition in the labour relations environment in Canada. We think that workers should have the right and be free to make their own choices when it comes to which union represents them or whether they want to be represented by a union at all.
As well, John Farrell, executive director of the Federally Regulated Employers, Transportation and Communications, in his testimony to the Senate committee, said:
FETCO members prefer a secret ballot vote to a card-check system for the purpose of determining if a union is to become a certified bargaining agent for employees. A secret ballot vote is the essence of a true democratic choice and is entirely consistent with Canadian democratic principles. It allows each and every employee to express their true wishes without undue influence or disclosure of how they cast their ballot. This is the mechanism that is used for the electoral process in Canada, and it is the fairest process.
It is no coincidence that the public sector union bosses worked hard to get the Liberal government elected, and now, quite frankly, it is payback time. The first thing that the Liberal government is doing is repealing these two very important bills, Bill C-377 and Bill C-525.
In addition, the President of the Treasury Board made a point of announcing that he is restoring the sick leave benefit to the public sector. That is a cost of $900 million a year. That is $900 million that is not available for health care, the environment, agriculture, and infrastructure. However, again we can see it is definitely payback time. Now we have a government that is beholden to public sector union bosses.
Quite interestingly, what I am seeing in the House and in government is a merging of the ideology of the Liberals and the NDP. We have the champagne socialists riding with the limousine Liberals. Quite frankly, the NDP has not changed. It is still the party of bad ideas and toxic policies. What is changing is the Liberal Party. The Liberal Party is moving very quickly to the left, and their alliance with public sector union bosses against the interest of Canadians in general is proof of that.
I actually would like to call up a committee on the status of endangered wildlife in Canada so that we can list a species called the “blue Liberal”, which is now in danger. They are the Liberals who actually cared about business. They were the prominent blue Liberals who were talking in favour of pipelines, economic development, and free trade. However, they are being completely ignored. I think the Species at Risk Act needs to look at the blue Liberal.
Given that it is payback time, let us imagine what is going on in the negotiation room between the government and the public sector unions. Do members not think for a minute that the public sector unions do not point their finger at the relevant Liberal negotiators and say, “Look, we got you elected and you better deliver”? The Liberal Party is bargaining with the same group that helped bring it into power.
The President of the Treasury Board is making a sham trying to talk tough, but we know what will really go on behind closed doors. These negotiations are fundamentally flawed. There is another word I could use, but it is quite unparliamentary. The negotiations will be all about how much they can fleece the taxpayer.
Unfortunately, the public sector unions have become an entity unto themselves. We see the evolution of public sector unions as powerful political entities that in some cases can determine who forms a government. The public sector unions will always remind the Liberals who got them elected, and the public interest itself will be left behind.
This is bad for democracy and it is bad for our country. The public service is supposed to be neutral and carry out the wishes of the duly elected government of the day, but the trends I am seeing make me very uneasy.
Again, I want to reiterate that as this session evolves and the legislation evolves, it is becoming quite clear that the Conservative Party of Canada is the only party that stands up for the workers of Canada. We defend the natural resource industries. We defend the oil sands. We encourage the growth of pipelines. We are the only people who care about working families in this country.
View Nick Whalen Profile
Lib. (NL)
View Nick Whalen Profile
2016-02-05 10:24 [p.888]
Mr. Speaker, members can think back to April and May of last year when the Liberal Party of Canada came out with its strong policy position on how best to rebalance the rights of workers and employers in Canada, certainly at the federal level, which was long before the real rigour of the campaign had started. It was a clear policy, and it earned the support of Canadians. It was a policy that got to the heart of what Canadians wanted vis-à-vis the balance of workers and employer rights at the federal level, and people swarmed to it. It was not a situation where the Liberal Party of Canada was cowing to the desires of unions. The Liberals put forward a policy that spoke to what Canadians wanted, desired, and had earned.
I would like the member to answer this question: why does he think that Canadians made a mistake? Canadians voted in the Liberal Party, and now we are implementing our platform.
View Robert Sopuck Profile
Mr. Speaker, the fact that the public sector unions are so adept at determining, in many cases, who forms the government, and that they worked very hard for the Liberal Party in the last election campaigns, tells me that our bills provided the true rebalancing between the rights of Canadians citizens at large, Canadian society, and the democratic rights of voters.
View Erin Weir Profile
View Erin Weir Profile
2016-02-05 10:26 [p.888]
Mr. Speaker, the member for Dauphin—Swan River—Neepawa suggests that the tax deductibility of union dues is some sort of special privilege. However, we afford exactly the same tax treatment to all employment expenses.
Let us imagine that the deduction of dues had something to do with Bill C-377. I wonder if the hon. member could explain to us why this legislation was only imposed on trade unions and not applied to medical associations, bar associations, and other professional associations whose dues are also tax deductible.
View Robert Sopuck Profile
Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for the question because he has given me the opportunity to point out that union membership is forced. A person has no choice in certain workplaces whether to join the union or not. One has to pay the union dues.
Professional associations are regulatory bodies that deal with the technical capabilities of the individual members involved. They are technical and scientific organizations, where members have to have the skill sets to practice the professions of law, medicine, or so on. Unions are very different. Not only are union dues tax deductible, members are forced to pay those union dues or they will not be able to have that job. This is the difference.
View Monique Pauzé Profile
View Monique Pauzé Profile
2016-02-05 10:27 [p.888]
Mr. Speaker, all union-related legislation brought forward by the Conservatives was based on false premises and constituted attacks on the union movement.
What is a union? Unions ensure a better distribution of wealth and better working conditions. Pay equity, something we talked about at length this week, has been achieved in all unionized jobs in Quebec. It still remains to be achieved in all jobs.
Let us look at the Nordic countries. Over 70% of workers there are unionized, and those countries have the lowest poverty rates and the largest middle class.
The middle class is an endangered species in this country. What do the Conservatives have against the middle class?
View Robert Sopuck Profile
Mr. Speaker, the member makes a fundamental mistake in assuming that this party is anti-union. We are not. I come from a proud union family. My father was a union organizer in the 1930s when people had to be really tough to organize unions. Unions absolutely have their place, to ensure workers' rights in terms of compensation and so on.
In this particular case, we are dealing with the special privileges that are allocated to unions by law. As for the transparency legislation, both bills we had were eminently fair, to ensure the rights of citizens and also to ensure that unions operate as they should.
View Filomena Tassi Profile
Lib. (ON)
Mr. Speaker, today I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Vaughan—Woodbridge.
I am honoured to give my maiden speech on Bill C-4, a bill that would re-establish a productive balance between unions and employers. I represent the riding of Hamilton West—Ancaster—Dundas, where many proud union brothers and sisters reside, work, and prosper together. The building trades, teachers, electricians, labourers, police, steelworkers, carpenters, and many others work to build this prosperous and peaceful city through their ingenuity and stubborn belief in hard work that should be rewarded with fair wages, safe working conditions, and equality of opportunity.
These are the values that I grew up with. Unions were a big part of my life and my family's life for the last two generations. I am the daughter of a proud steelworker. My father, Phil Tassi, was a millwright at Dofasco. It was through his hard work and passionate commitment that my family prospered and that I, with my brothers and sister, were able to build lives founded on security and stability. In fact, my sister, my brothers, my mother, and I all worked in the steel industry.
While Dofasco was never unionized, it benefited from what other unions in Hamilton attained. The hard-won achievements of unionized labour set an example for my father's employer to give its workers comparable rights, safety, and wages. This is but one very personal example of how unions directly and indirectly have improved the lives of Hamiltonians.
When conditions are at their best, unions, employers, and government work together to build safe, prosperous, and stable communities. It is this balance that Bill C-4 seeks to re-establish. This bill sets right what was skewed by Bill C-377 and Bill C-525.
Hamilton is a city whose history is closely connected to the labour movement. It was in Hamilton that the movement for the nine-hour workday in Canada was started. It was in Hamilton in 1920 that Katie McVicar and Mary McNab, who were shoe workers and members of the Knights of Labour, fought for the rights of women to join the labour force and to be respected.
It was in Hamilton in 1935 that steelworkers organized a strike. Their employer did not accede to their demands. However, a greater victory was achieved. The union expanded to include all workers, regardless of skill or nationality. That was progress. These are the footings of the middle class in Hamilton: strong, built of cement, steel and hard work, wrought by the hands of people who believed in themselves and in one another.
Unions have been creating conditions where individual workers can be resourceful, innovative, and contribute to an employer's intellectual capital. That is good for workers and for business.
The Prime Minister has made a commitment to restore a fair and balanced approach to labour relations in this country. This will be a welcome relief from the previous government's approach, where labour and employers were pushed apart by legislation aimed at dividing and separating, rather than creating a healthy balance between worker and employer.
One only needs to look to Hamilton to see how a city can be built up through labour success and ravaged when industry declines. Even former Conservative Senator Hugh Segal criticized Bill C-377. He stated:
This will actually worsen labour relations in Canada, slow economic development, and upend the balance between free collective bargaining, capital investment and return, which are vital to a strong and free mixed-market economy. As a Conservative, I oppose the upending of this balance.
There is no need for Bill C-377. We already have legislation in place to ensure that unions are financially accountable to their members. All of this is referred to in the Canada Labour Code. The needless red tape created by Bill C-377 creates an unfair playing field, where unions could be disadvantaged during collective bargaining. We believe in fairness for both parties during collective bargaining and feel that tilting the game in favour of one party is an affront to the ancient principles of fairness upon which Canadian democracy is founded.
The introduction of Bill C-377 in the House of Commons was an affront to Hamilton's working people. It was a bill designed to solve a problem that did not exist. No one I know in Hamilton West—Ancaster—Dundas has ever told me they are clamouring for the far-reaching and personal information this legislation was designed to uncover.
Why was the last government interested in the private, personal information of union members? The Income Tax Act protects taxpayers from revealing their personal financial information. Yet, Bill C-377 reversed those protections and will force the disclosure of people's personal information to the general public. That is one of the reasons we are repealing this unnecessary and mean-spirited bill.
Unions have an important role to play. This repeal would allow the unions to continue to focus on finding their members work in this challenging economy, rather than focusing on mountains of unnecessary filings to the CRA.
Unions are democratic organizations and they are accountable to their members. If members do not like what unions are doing with their money, those members can vote their leaders out.
In fact, Bill C-377 requires that labour organizations disclose information that no other organization is required to disclose. That is not fair treatment.
There has been some discussion in the House about how other countries in the world require disclosure. Let us consider some of the facts.
I believe one example of France was raised. However, in that country, not only do the unions report but the employers report, too. In the United States, legislation similar to Bill C-377 has existed for a number of years, but one could argue that it has done little to further the cause of transparency and accountability.
Having discussed Bill C-377, I will briefly consider the ramifications of Bill C-525.
Both the Federally Regulated Employers—Transportation and Communications and the Canadian Labour Council have argued that Bill C-525 establishes a dangerous precedent for labour relations law reform in Canada.
Traditionally, in Canada, any amendments to labour relations law have been arrived at through tripartite consultation between employer, labour, and government. This tripartite consultation has been considered essential by stakeholders to the maintenance of a labour-employer balance. Bill C-525 was introduced as a private member's bill, and private members' bills are outside the traditional tripartite process.
The tripartite process encourages balance between labour and employers. However, the previous government chose to use a back door to pass its legislation instead. This demonstrates a clear and utter disregard by the previous government for Canada's democratic tradition in labour relations law.
Bill C-525 is also an anti-union bill. More specifically, by requiring a secret ballot vote, Bill C-525 adds an unnecessary layer to the process of union formation. Bill C-525 makes it more difficult for employees to unionize and easier for a bargaining agent to be decertified.
As I have already said, organized labour has provided stability and security to workers. To impede unionization is to hold workers back by making them fearful of being thrown into precarious working conditions. This makes people focus on the short term. It makes them anxious and tentative, rather than open and confident.
Hamilton and Canada were built by proud, confident workers. I came to Ottawa to represent a city that grew out of the fires of industry, through hard work, sacrifice, and care for each other. When Hamilton was most productive, it was because of labour, employers, and government working to create a safe, stable, and prosperous city, where people could innovate and create from a place of relative security. This collaboration depends on a balance between labour and employers, which was upset by the ideology of an anti-union agenda of the previous government.
Bill C-4 would be a positive step toward righting the balance between labour and employers.
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