Mr. Speaker, it is indeed an honour to stand before this House and once again speak to Bill 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 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 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 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 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 . 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 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.
Madam Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for for sharing his time with me today.
I rise to speak to Bill , 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 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 , 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 and Bill 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 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 in Bill 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.
Madam Speaker, before I begin, I should say that I will be sharing my time with my hon. colleague from .
I am very pleased to rise today and speak in support of Bill , 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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.
Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise today in support of Bill . 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 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 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 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 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 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 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.
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 .
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 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 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 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 , 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 would reverse the procedures for the certification of bargaining agents that existed before Bill ; 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 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.
Madam Speaker, it is a real pleasure for me to join this important debate on Bill .
I appreciate hearing the thoughtful comments from all members in this House, especially the contribution of members like the member for 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 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 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 . 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 . 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 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.