Interventions in the House of Commons
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View Daniel Blaikie Profile
View Daniel Blaikie Profile
2017-05-16 10:36 [p.11238]
Madam Speaker, general arguments about time allocation aside, with respect to this particular motion, there is an important question. The Senate reported back with its amendments in June 2016. That was almost 11 months ago. The government's position was that it needed time to analyze those amendments and come up with an appropriate response. The Liberals tabled that response five days ago. They needed time to consider and pronounce on the Senate amendments. They then offered amendments of their own that are no less complex than the ones made by the Senate. To provide not only opposition parties but stakeholders, such as the NPF, the MPPAC, and the AMPMQ, with only five days to consider their response is simply not enough.
Why do the Liberals think it is fine for the government to take 11 months to consider those changes and to then tell us that we need to hurry this through under time allocation to get it done? Why could they not have come back to the House sooner with this response, and if it really was the case that it took 11 months, why will the government not give the House a bit longer to consider the response?
View Daniel Blaikie Profile
View Daniel Blaikie Profile
2017-05-16 10:45 [p.11239]
Madam Speaker, presumably, if we want to get something like this right, we have to do some consultation. My understanding is that none of the prospective bargaining agents were aware of the language of the motion prior to Thursday. Could the government confirm to us that management of the RCMP did not have a sneak peek or special input into the composition of the motion as well.
View Daniel Blaikie Profile
View Daniel Blaikie Profile
2017-05-16 11:46 [p.11242]
Mr. Speaker, I will pick up more or less where I left off last Friday.
Members will recall that debate started on the government response to the Senate amendments last Friday. The response had been tabled only the preceding evening, the Thursday evening, and I want to come back to that because it is an important part of the debate around this government response that there has been limited time, and because of the time allocation just passed because of the government, there is only going to be a very limited amount of time for the consideration of the government response in the House. That is not just time for debate. That is time for the opposition parties, to be sure, but also for the stakeholders like the prospective bargaining agents and RCMP members themselves to digest what the government response to the Senate amendments is and then to determine whether they agree with that. Therefore, it bears repeating that it is not a lot of time.
When we look at the government's own assessment of the complexity of the matter and how much time it takes to do justice to these issues, we get a very different idea of how much time one would want to take to be able to consider the government's response. The Liberals took almost 11 months to consider the response of the Senate to their bill. I would remind the House that we voted on the original version of Bill C-7 on May 30, 2016. That bill was then introduced in the Senate on May 31, 2016. I have not heard any of the government members say that the other place did not give Bill C-7 its due consideration. In fact, they said that the Senate did quite the job of going through the details of that bill. The Senate did that in about 20 days, from May 31 to June 21, 2016. Then it took almost 11 months for the government to come back, and now it is asking us to take a position on its response within only five days. Therefore, there is a real question of fairness.
I would never want to suggest that the President of the Treasury Board was misleading in his answers to the House. Earlier, he did say that we have debated this bill in the House for 16 hours. If that was not meant to deliberately mislead, then it is a sign of some laziness, perhaps, that he did not bother to change his speaking notes from third reading of the bill, which also was moved under time allocation. What we debated at that time, in May 2016, is very different from what we are debating today, which has to do not only with the amendments made by the other place, because we have not had an opportunity to deliberate on those in this place, but on top of the amendments made by the other place that the government took 11 months to consider, we are now also having a debate on the government response to those amendments. That is not a simple response. It is not a simple rejection or acceptance of those amendments. It is actually an amendment to those amendments.
Therefore, the idea that we are going to do a proper job and do justice to RCMP members across the country who have fought for years in court to get the right to bargain collectively and want to see it done properly—and the government says it wants to see it done properly—and get that done in five days, unfortunately I do not think we can. I regret that, and I regret that we only have those five days. We are doing our best on this side of the House to give our considered opinion on the content of that legislation, but it is hard to do so under the time constraints unreasonably and unfairly imposed by the government on this motion. That is important to say, because it is no small part of how the debate today is going to unfold and of the decision that is ultimately going to be taken.
We do have some concerns. There are some positive aspects to this response and then there are some aspects that warrant further study. I will say again that the study is not going to happen, because we are going to settle the issue today, one way or the other, and the bill will be on its way back to the other place.
On the positive side, it is no secret here that we do support having a card-check system as an option for RCMP members. The government has been clear and consistent in its support for that. We agree on that. That is good, and we are glad to see in the government response that it is maintaining the commitment to making card check available. That is something that is important in principle, but it is also important logistically in this case because RCMP members are spread out right across the country. They are in rural and remote communities. Some RCMP members are posted internationally. They can reach 50% or more of the membership and if they agree with having a union, then they know that if they have a vote they are going to get that 50% plus one.
If there is a vote, all at once, that means everybody has to get a ballot at the same time, they have to be able to return that ballot within a similar timeframe, and the logistics of organizing that are very difficult. It is especially difficult if that is going to be thrown on the prospective bargaining agent. These are not established unions, by definition.
The RCMP has not been unionized before, and Bill C-7 rightly requires that a union representing RCMP members would have to consist only of RCMP members. Bill C-7 also talks about one national bargaining unit that is police only. There is not the pre-existing union with the resources and expertise that could mount that kind of vote, and do it in a way that all RCMP members could be reassured that it has the thoroughness and integrity of process that RCMP members would expect when certifying a bargaining agent.
We were glad to see that in the bill. We are glad to see the removal of exclusions from the bill. Members of the House who have been following this legislation will know that we in the NDP have been arguing very hard for the removal of those exclusions. We believe that is the best way to ensure that RCMP members get the free and fair collective bargaining that they fought so hard to achieve for themselves in court.
Just as a quick aside, we have heard the government trying to take credit somehow for conferring collective bargaining rights on RCMP members. That is simply not true. The Supreme Court made that decision, and it is because of the Supreme Court that RCMP members have the right to bargain collectively. That was not a decision of the current government, and it was not a decision by the last government, not by any stretch. That is a right that was conferred on RCMP members by the Supreme Court as a function of our Charter of Rights and Freedoms here in Canada that the court has said guarantees people the right to collective bargaining if they want and if they choose that for themselves.
Bill C-7 helps set a framework for collective bargaining, but we also know that Bill is not necessary, although it is desirable if the government gets it right. It will have certain things that RCMP members have said they want: one national bargaining unit, binding arbitration, and some other features. That is good. It makes sense to have a unique framework for the RCMP, in terms of collective bargaining.
However, Bill C-7 does not give them that. The RCMP has the right to collective bargaining right now. In fact, there are two active applications before the labour board to represent RCMP members. One is by the NPF, for a national bargaining unit, and the other is by the AMPMQ, to represent members only in Quebec. I will come back to that in a bit.
This is where we are. Bill C-7 is not the government conferring collective bargaining rights to the RCMP members. That is a right they won; that is a right that is theirs irrespective of the point of view of any government of the day. That is something that has been guaranteed to them by the Supreme Court.
We are glad to see the exclusions being removed and the government ultimately agreeing with the NDP suggestion at committee and here in the House of Commons last May, which was to get rid of those exclusions.
However, we do have concerns that the management rights clause, which is being put in place of the exclusions, may be used as a way to reintroduce those exclusions by other means. It may be that we could dispel those concerns over time, if we had the time to study this properly. It is true that in many cases there are management rights clauses, either in collective agreements or in legislation. That is okay.
However, some of the language is interesting. In the Senate amendment, the Senate essentially said that the management rights of the RCMP would include anything having to do with the human resources powers conferred to the RCMP commissioner under the RCMP Act. What we have heard from the government is that it did not agree with that, and it is going to change that. It wants a more targeted management rights clause.
The word used by the parliamentary secretary on Friday in debate is “targeted” not “limited”. So the government changed the language from management rights having to do with the human resources authority granted to the commissioner under the RCMP Act to a management rights clause that enshrines the power of the commissioner to ensure effective operations. That sounds, on the face of it, pretty good. Who would not want the operations of the RCMP to be effective?
However, the arguments made by the commissioner before committee, both at the House and the Senate, for the exclusions were essentially saying that all these things have to be excluded because to not exclude them would impede the effective operations of the RCMP.
I think RCMP members, and Canadians, have a right to feel suspect that this management rights clause, I would argue, while it may be more targeted from a functional point of view on the effectiveness of the force, is nevertheless broader in that it allows the commissioner to reach outside of his existing authority under the RCMP Act for human resource issues only—there is an itemized list in section 20.2(1), (a) through (l)—and interpret that to mean just about whatever the commissioner may want to have it mean, depending on what is being brought to the table.
There are reasonable concerns about that. I think more time is needed to examine that to see if this is just going to be another way for the RCMP commissioner to reintroduce exclusions. I would say, even though we may be able to challenge the RCMP commissioner's interpretation of that language—the RCMP commissioner may not be the final authority on that—what it does mean is that when a new bargaining unit, if the RCMP members do choose to certify one, brings things to the table, they can end up in lengthy delays, first at the labour board, potentially, and then in court, trying to define what “effective operations” means. Then we are going to have someone at the labour board, presumably, weighing in on whether the commissioner is right about what it takes to run effective operations as the RCMP.
It is not clear to me that this management rights clause does not provide another way of introducing some of those exclusions. It is not clear to me that it is not going to trigger lengthy and onerous processes in order to, ultimately, be able to define that language because it is not defined by the government what “effective operations” actually means, so there is no limited scope to that definition offered by the government. I think that is something we are concerned about.
With respect to grievances, the government says it does not want grievances filed under the PSLRA and under the RCMP Act. Grievances should rest in one place, so we do not have dual claims.
Again, on the surface, that does make some sense. That sounds like a common-sense argument, just as it sounds pretty good when the President of the Treasury Board says we have already debated this for 16 hours. However, then we look into the details and we wonder if maybe that is not a bit misleading.
The thrust of many of the government's arguments with respect to Bill C-7 is that it wants to align RCMP labour relations better with the pre-existing model of the public service. However here, all of a sudden, what we are seeing is the grievance process carved out and put under the RCMP Act. Rather than trying to have the maximum amount of grievances happen under the PSLRA, we are getting the maximum amount happen under the RCMP Act.
There are two issues with that; one has to do, in a very practical sense, with what that means in the workplace. The non-commissioned officers of the RCMP are being deemed public servants. That is a process that is happening and will be complete sometime in 2018. What that means is that we may have an RCMP officer and a civilian member working side by side in the same office—like a divisional headquarters, for instance—dealing with sexual harassment from the same superior officer, and it is going to have two different grievance processes. One is going to happen under the PSLRA, and an independent third party, essentially, oversees that grievance process. However, for the officer, that grievance process is going to happen under the RCMP Act. We know that, at the end of the day, it is the commissioner who ultimately rules on that.
In fact, we just had a report come out yesterday that said that part of the problem in the institution and the culture of the RCMP is that grievances ultimately get determined in-house by the commissioner. One of the recommendations was to move away from that.
The report that came out just yesterday from the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission, called “Report into Workplace Harassment in the RCMP”, says:
...unlike public service employees who have the right to grieve the outcome of a harassment complaint in accordance with the procedures set out in their collective agreement (including arbitration before an independent third party), RCMP members still do not have access to an impartial third party appeals body.
That is because their grievances go through the RCMP Act.
What the government is doing in its response directly contradicts the advice of the report that came out yesterday, which said that grievance processes need to get further away from the commissioner, not closer to the commissioner, and it is doing it in a way that actually deviates from its mainline argument for most of what it is talking about, which is to bring RCMP labour relations practices into closer conformity with the rest of the public service. It feels a bit as if there is some cherry-picking going on, in terms of when to apply the argument for harmonizing public service labour relations and RCMP labour relations and when, when it is convenient either to the government or management—it is not always clear—to have things dealt with separately under the uniqueness of the RCMP.
We are concerned that there are issues of fairness both, as I say, in the concrete case of the workplace and also in terms of the general arguments provided by the government. It bears saying that one of the problems with this process is that too often it has been too difficult to determine the difference between government interests and management interests in this debate. We know that stakeholders did not get a sneak peak at the government's response. That is why I asked the President of the Treasury Board if RCMP management did and if RCMP management had special input into this process that other groups did not have. I note that we did not get a straight answer to that question. We got an answer to another question that was not asked.
If the government is trying, which I think it should, to give the perception that it is not tied at the hip to management in this process, but to actually be an independent third party arbiter that is trying to set up free and fair collective bargaining, I have to say that so far, it has done a very poor job of that.
View Daniel Blaikie Profile
View Daniel Blaikie Profile
2017-05-16 12:03 [p.11245]
Madam Speaker, I could not agree more. There are unique aspects to the RCMP. RCMP members would tell us that. They think they should have a special framework for bargaining, and that is why we support, in principle, Bill C-7. Our dispute has been with the details of how that is going to be implemented.
Yes, absolutely, there needs to be a unique bargaining framework. Our point has been that, yes, that should be determined by management and the union at the table. Our concern has been that the government's approach, in our view, has too often not been distinguishable from management's approach. There are some broken aspects of the institution right now, which is what the CRCC report yesterday talked about, that not all is well within the RCMP.
Our concern is that giving layer after layer of protection to management in the legislation would actually legislate some of the broken aspects of the current culture and not allow management and the union to work that out. We believe that having a good union with full capability to bring things to the table and work things out at the bargaining table and job sites effectively is a good way to start correcting some of what is wrong in the culture of the RCMP and that the government may be interfering with that by the way it is protecting management in legislation.
View Daniel Blaikie Profile
View Daniel Blaikie Profile
2017-05-16 12:06 [p.11245]
Mr. Speaker, this really has been part of the story. It has been a long story now, because the need for legislation creating a framework for collective bargaining for RCMP members has been before the government and before the House almost since we convened. Through that process, there are many who felt that the government is in a very close working relationship with management on this and that it is simply not the case that prospective bargaining agents who are providing the voice of rank and file members have had the same access to government and the same influence on government when coming up with these rules.
For the NDP, the role the government should be playing is as an independent arbiter. There was a decision made by the Supreme Court which said that RCMP members should have the right to free and fair collective bargaining, and the role of government should be to have gone out and figured out what are those aspects that are unique to the RCMP that call for a special framework.
We heard from RCMP members that they want one national bargaining unit. They want binding arbitration and they do not want the right to strike. Those are the important elements of Bill C-7, but beyond that, a lot of our debate, particularly with respect to the exclusions, has been about how much of what management does not want to have to deal with is management going to be exempted from dealing with through the legislation. A lot of people have felt that the government is simply too close to management on those issues. That is a problem because even if it is not the case, it certainly creates the perception that RCMP management is calling the shots.
I will give another example of where the government has helped to make a mess where there need not have been one. The period of 11 months from getting the Senate amendments until now was way longer than it had to be. What happened in April, just a couple of months ago, eight months after the Senate amendments, was that two organizations applied for certification. One is making an application to be a national bargaining agent, which would be allowed under Bill C-7, but the other is making an application to represent Quebec members only, which would not be allowed once Bill C-7 passes. I have heard from members who now feel that if Bill C-7 had passed earlier, they would not have had a problem, but now that these applications have been made, they feel that the government's rush to get this through effectively amounts to taking sides between one applicant or the other. When the legislation passes, and that is the question that is now before the labour board, it will rule one of those applications out.
By needlessly delaying, the Liberals have created at least a perception that they are taking sides which need not have been created. They created a lot of legal uncertainty and for the organization that has applied to represent Quebec members only, a lot of needless work, because at the end of the day, this is not going to happen for them if the government gets this through.
An hon. member: Don't take sides.
Mr. Daniel Blaikie: Mr. Speaker, I am just saying that is what we have been hearing and I think it is unfortunate to be in a position where the government is perceived to be taking sides by anyone. It did not have to be that way. We just had to have this conversation two months ago.
View Daniel Blaikie Profile
View Daniel Blaikie Profile
2017-05-16 12:11 [p.11246]
Mr. Speaker, this is a problem, and it is not one that the government can say in good faith that it was not aware of, because it is one that we have raised.
We have said that we need to get Bill C-7 back to the House, because it is creating legal uncertainty for prospective bargaining agents. Exactly because Bill C-7 is not what confers the right of collective bargaining on RCMP members, because it is a decision of the Supreme Court, they are allowed to apply it at any time under the existing rules. Therefore, because the NDP agrees with what the government is saying, if not what it does, that there is justification for a unique collective bargaining framework for RCMP members, although we may disagree about the details of what should be in it, we thought it was really important to get that in place as soon as possible. We knew and the government knew that there were prospective bargaining agents out there getting people to sign cards, demonstrating interest in the lead-up potentially to a vote. Bill C-4 has not gone through the Senate; the government cannot seem to accomplish that, so those agents do not know if they would need to have a vote or whether a card check is going to work. There is a lot of legal uncertainty.
We have been saying for a long time that the government needs to act on Bill C-4 and get it done. It needs to act on Bill C-7 and get it done. Otherwise, the government is risking getting into a situation where people start to act in the current legal context and then the rug is pulled out from underneath their feet, and all of a sudden the rules that they were organizing and applying under are not the same rules that their application is being treated by.
That is exactly the situation that is developing. It was not hard to see or imagine that would happen. It is a real shame that we have reached this point. The government needs to do a better job of extricating itself from this, lest it be perceived as being partisan in an area where it really ought not to be.
View Daniel Blaikie Profile
View Daniel Blaikie Profile
2017-05-16 12:23 [p.11248]
Mr. Speaker, I noted in the speech by my colleague from Don Valley West that he used, with respect to the management rights clause, the words “more targeted” and not “more limited”. That is an important difference. We on this side of the House are still trying to get our heads around exactly how the RCMP commissioner's right to maintain an effective operation is defined and how broad a scope that right actually gives him. It is not defined anywhere else, as far as we know.
Perhaps as a member of the governing party and supporter of the bill, the member for Don Valley West has some information. New Democrats are concerned that when he talks about RCMP members being able to bring their concerns to the table in good faith, have management hear them, and then make a decision about what they think constitutes effective operations of the force, it will be a little like the Liberals listening to Canadians and saying, “You guys can say what you want. We will come to town halls”, and then doing what they want.
I cite electoral reform as an example: Canadians had the right to consult, and the Liberals listened and heard, and then did whatever they wanted. In fact, in this case they completely contradicted the testimony we heard at committee and everything else.
We do not want RCMP management to have the right to behave as the Liberals do on issues that matter to Canadians; we want to make sure that something effective can come out of negotiations at the table, and we are not convinced that we are there.
What exactly does it mean to give the RCMP commissioner the right to ensure the effective operation of the force, and where is that defined? If we could be pointed to the document, that would be great.
View Daniel Blaikie Profile
View Daniel Blaikie Profile
2017-05-16 13:01 [p.11253]
Mr. Speaker, we have heard a number of times from the government that we have had ample time to debate this issue. The Liberals have said that we have had 16 hours of debate on this legislation. What I find interesting about that claim is that it has a presumption buried in it, which is that the conversation that happens in the House is simply for the benefit of the Liberals, and they listen only when they want. They can leave and come up with their answer, and that is what we have to deal with.
The conversation that happens in Parliament is not just for the benefit of government legislative drafters. It is for Parliament, with the idea being that Parliament might want to weigh in and make some changes. The idea that we have been debating the content of this motion for 16 hours, or whatever number the government wants to use, is false. I wonder if my hon. colleague wants to speak to the veracity of that claim.
I mentioned some issues earlier, and the member has mentioned some others, around how the grievance procedure is going to work, whether it is consistent with the CRCC recommendations that came out yesterday, and how exactly we are going to define the scope of the commissioner's power to maintain effective operations. These are all things we do not know and we are not part of the debate, to my memory. Perhaps the member has a different memory of events. Those were part of the original debate on Bill C-7, so there is genuinely new material for us to study and discuss to make sure we get this right, as the government claims, in the House anyway, that it would like to do.
View Daniel Blaikie Profile
View Daniel Blaikie Profile
2017-05-12 12:37 [p.11154]
Mr. Speaker, I thought I heard the parliamentary secretary say, although something may have been lost in translation, that Bill C-7 originally passed the House on June 21. I am sure she may have said, or she meant to say, that it passed in the House on May 30 and it was sent back to the House by the other place on June 21. That means it is about 11 months since we have known the product of the deliberations of the other place.
It has been a very eventful 11 months with respect to the organizing drive for RCMP members. There was a lot of time before April 5 when the first application for certification was made by a prospective bargaining agent. The legal uncertainty created by the lack of an answer to the amendments proposed by the Senate has made it very difficult for those prospective bargaining agents to know what the rules are. Now we are faced with the situation that a bargaining unit has applied to represent only members in Quebec, while Bill C-7 proposes one national bargaining unit.
Could the parliamentary secretary shed some light on why it took the government so long to come up with a relatively simple response to the Senate amendments? Does she think it was worth the confusion that this has created for prospective agents and the challenges they face now?
View Daniel Blaikie Profile
View Daniel Blaikie Profile
2017-05-12 12:45 [p.11155]
Mr. Speaker, I want to return to the answer from the parliamentary secretary to my earlier question about the 11-month delay between getting the amendments from the other place and the government's response tabled last night.
She said she was very proud that the Liberals took the time to study this legislation and come up with an appropriate response to the Senate amendments. However, the Senate amendments were consistent with amendments presented at committee during the House of Commons process. At that time, the government said that we had to rush to pass the legislation or the sky was going to fall. It used time allocation to push the bill through the House of Commons. Therefore, I am wondering why it then took almost a year to get this response back to the House. What were the Liberals doing in those 11 months?
View Daniel Blaikie Profile
View Daniel Blaikie Profile
2017-05-12 13:07 [p.11158]
Mr. Speaker, it will come as no surprise to the member that on the principle of the card check, we have a serious disagreement, but we will let that lie. We have spent a fair bit of time on that in the debate on both this bill and Bill C-4.
There is a practical issue when it comes to a secret ballot vote for certification for RCMP members, which is that RCMP members are spread across the country. Many live in rural and remote communities. Some are posted internationally.
To organize a new union with very little experience, plus management that is not used to dealing with the unionized culture, plus a government that has not seen a certification within the public service for a very long time, and to organize a vote that has the reliability and integrity members would expect to make sure that their votes are counted, becomes very difficult. With the card check system, it is much easier to canvas members as to whether they want a union.
I am wondering if the member would support the government hiring a third party, with knowledge and experience providing resources, to ensure that a vote was conducted as it should be and that all members, wherever they were posted in the country or the world, got that ballot and had it safely returned, to ensure that there was integrity in the process. Would he agree to support the government in resourcing that vote if the secret ballot vote were upheld?
View Daniel Blaikie Profile
View Daniel Blaikie Profile
2017-05-12 13:27 [p.11161]
Mr. Speaker, I am really glad to finally get a chance to weigh in again on the Bill C-7 debate. It has been a very long wait, so it is good to see that the process is back in action.
As I mentioned in some of my questions previously on this bill, it is a bit of a mystery to me, given the content of the government's opinion with respect to the amendments coming from the other place, why it essentially took 11 months to get back to this place, particularly when previously, in the debate last spring, the government was very anxious to move the bill through the House.
At that time, the government made arguments essentially to the effect that the sky would fall if we did not get these amendments in place. Of course, we know now that the sky did not fall. What did happen was that it created a significant period, still ongoing, of legal uncertainty for prospective bargaining agents. That has made it very difficult for them to be able to organize properly.
We are now in a situation, as of the beginning of April, where there are two applicant now, one to represent RCMP members across the country, which would be consistent with what is in Bill C-7, but because Bill C-7 is not law, and again I repeat that is due to delays on the government's part, having had amendments from the other place as early as June 21 of last year, there is also an application from an association to represent members from Quebec alone. If Bill C-7 passes in its current form, that would not be allowed.
Because of dithering on the Liberal side with respect to getting this done, and the companion legislation Bill C-4 as well, which gets rid of some bills from the previous Parliament affecting certification and decertification of unions, we are now in a real mess.
I think the government risks the perception, at least, of interfering in an ongoing certification process, because it is now trying to advance legislation which, had it passed earlier, there would be no question about it and there would be no problem. Now, because there is an application for regional representation within the RCMP, the government may be perceived by some as taking sides as to which organization should represent members in Quebec or any other region of the province that has an organization apply to represent either members of a certain province or certain region in the meantime.
That is why it was really important, as the government itself argued last spring, to get this legislation through. That is why we in the NDP were happy to help move that legislation through and work with the government to meet its timeline, while nevertheless improving the legislation, for instance, by taking out the needless and prejudicial exclusions on bargaining that were included in the original part of the legislation, and which the other place saw fit to remove.
Now the government is indicating that maybe it thinks it is not a bad idea to get rid of those, although it is replacing them with some other language. As the member for Brandon—Souris indicated, we only saw notice of that motion yesterday late in the evening. It is early to try to provide detailed comment on that.
Mr. Speaker, I will resume my comments on Tuesday, when hopefully I will have been able to take the time to examine the response in more detail.
View Daniel Blaikie Profile
View Daniel Blaikie Profile
2016-11-23 15:17 [p.7130]
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to table a petition, signed by RCMP members and their families, calling on the government to fix Bill C-7 and remove the exclusion of bargaining items they fought very hard in court to get the right to bargain for.
View Daniel Blaikie Profile
View Daniel Blaikie Profile
2016-05-30 12:57 [p.3691]
Mr. Speaker, it has been a pleasure to work with the hon. member as Bill C-7 works its way through Parliament, even though we do not always agree.
I would like to pick up on a theme that was in his speech and also in the remarks of the parliamentary secretary earlier. Collective bargaining is not the only place that workplace safety and health issues get meted out. As the parliamentary secretary noted earlier, there are places with collective bargaining where workplace issues still arise. I want to address that, because it is a bit of a sleight of hand. While it is a fair point, it does not really get at the essence of what we need to be discussing when it comes to Bill C-7.
Of course workplace issues still arise in workplaces governed by collective agreements. The point of the agreement is to have a framework to decide how to deal with those issues when they come up. It is wrong to say that because there are still workplace issues at places with collective agreements that workplaces do not need collective agreements, which is really the pared down version of the argument we heard from the parliamentary secretary. A version of that we heard in the member's remarks.
Could the member speak to the fact that collective agreements are a tool and an important way to address workplace safety and health issues and that as Bill C-7 exists, if we take away the exclusions, there are still a lot of very reasonable layers of protection for management? Issues go to binding arbitration, the arbitrator is required to consider the unique role of the RCMP as a national police force, as well as the stated budgetary policies of the government.
My point is that there is a lot of protection for management in Bill C-7 without the exclusions, so why would we, as a Parliament, want to prejudge the reasonableness of the proposals and the commitment of RCMP members and their bargaining agent to the institution and not allow them to even bring those forward?
View Daniel Blaikie Profile
View Daniel Blaikie Profile
2016-05-30 13:04 [p.3692]
Mr. Speaker, I would like to start my remarks today by thanking all the men and women in the RCMP who serve our country. It has been a real honour to have had an opportunity, through working on Bill C-7, to hear from them and get a sense of the needs and challenges of the RCMP today.
As a new member of Parliament, this has been an opportunity for me to learn a lot about a very important institution in Canada and to hear directly from those who serve us so well.
It is an attempt by the NDP to try to manifest that thanks in arguments and in a position on Bill C-7 that will bring about the best outcome for members of the RCMP and that will give them a greater say in the future of the institution they serve, and through that institution the country.
It is my hope that our arguments and actions in this debate have been worthy of their service. In that spirit, I would like to make some remarks about the bill at third reading.
Bill C-7 was one of the first bills the government brought to the House of Commons. At that time, there was a collegial spirit, and a lot of talk about the importance of the committee process and how empowered committees would be in order to make meaningful changes to legislation. At that time, there was far less evidence that this may not come to pass than there is now.
The NDP was happy to support the bill at second reading, to send it to committee to deal with what we thought were some important concerns. Some of those concerns were addressed, and we were happy to work with other parties in order to get rid of clauses 40 and 42 in the bill, which really had little to do with the Supreme Court decision and were kind of tacking on a decision about the benefits of members without consulting them. Frankly, this was just before, or on the cusp, of them potentially having a bargaining unit that could do that credibly on their behalf.
That did not make sense. We were very glad to work with the other parties on committee to jettison that part of the bill, and leave it for later when RCMP members could be represented in that discussion and help come to a conclusion about the state of their benefits, rather than having the decision made for them.
The next important area of concern from our point of view are the exclusions. That is also the point of view of nearly every RCMP member who has contacted me as the responsible critic in the NDP.
Today we heard hon. members talk about the two important elements of the Supreme Court decision, the explicit ones. Those are independence of the bargaining unit from management and choice, that members be able to choose a bargaining unit.
What gets lost, even though those are the two items explicitly mentioned by the Supreme Court, is that there needs to be an independent bargaining unit freely chosen by the membership in order to bargain with the employer about the things that matter in the workplace.
Even if the bill meets those two aspects of independence and choice, if it leaves nothing to bargain, because that has all been excluded under the legislation, or if it does not leave most things to bargain, then I do not think it is in keeping with the spirit of the Supreme Court decision. I have said before in the House that the bill as it stands is certainly open to challenge.
It is not just open to challenge because it is a bill, a piece of law. Any bill at any time is open to any challenge. It is open to challenge, and is likely to be challenged, because it does not satisfy the people who went to court and fought for years in order to get some meaningful say over the future of their workplace.
It is not because by getting collective bargaining rights all of a sudden employees or the president of the union or just anyone who happens to work for the RCMP can walk into the commissioner's office and say “This is the way it will go from now on”. It is because it would at least give them the opportunity to be involved and consulted in a way that they never have been before.
That is why so many RCMP members were so excited and joyful when the Supreme Court ruled that it was not right and that it was a violation of their charter rights that they be denied the right to bargain collectively in their workplace. The way that the Supreme Court made sense of that was that people need the freedom to meaningfully advocate for their concerns within their workplaces.
It has been our position all along that these exclusions do not do that. It seems to be that some members are of the view that somehow if we take away the exclusions, suddenly a clerk in the RCMP would be dictating to the commissioner what the rules of the workplace are. Of course to anyone who has any real understanding of collective bargaining, that is ridiculous. I do not see why we would not want to empower members to bring forward proposals about the way things ought to operate in the RCMP. We all know and have discussed many times already, not just in this Parliament but in all of the previous Parliaments, that there are problems within the RCMP.
Traditionally, the way to deal with those problems has been that the commissioner and the government, in some way, shape, or form, get together and say that there is zero tolerance for the kinds of problems that exist, or affirm their support for the force and say that they want to work together to ensure that the RCMP members have everything they need. However, we know that has not always worked. I do not see how that could possibly be controversial to say.
Collective bargaining, which the court has said RCMP members have a charter right to, would not be the only tool. I do not think anyone is maintaining that once collective bargaining comes to the RCMP there will be no further problems or incidents in the workplace. What we are saying is that by introducing meaningful collective bargaining, and by that I mean bargaining without the list of exclusions currently in Bill C-7, we would be introducing a genuinely new tool into the workplace, not just for workers but also for management and the government to deal with some of those issues, and to deal with them closer to where they are happening, so that they do not have to come to Parliament to be dealt with, mostly by people who do not have experience or background in the RCMP. They could be dealt with in the workplace instead.
If it turns out that some of those proposals are completely unreasonable, then they would go to binding arbitration. That arbitrator is required by this very law to take into account the unique role of the RCMP as a national police force and the stated budgetary policies of the government. Therefore, allowing RCMP members to come forward with proposals is not any kind of real threat to the operational structure of the RCMP. Any of those proposals would first be reviewed by management at the bargaining table. If they are really unreasonable they would not be agreed to. Beyond that, they would be assessed by an independent third party that has to take into account all of those very factors, which members have so well articulated, that make the RCMP different.
Certainly, if we talk to RCMP members themselves, those who are advocating for a more open model of collective bargaining without the exclusions, they will tell us that they do not want the RCMP to be treated just like any other federal department. However, if we take the exclusions out, the RCMP is still not treated just as any other federal department.
Therefore, it is our submission that Bill C-7 satisfies the legitimate concerns made in those arguments and that those arguments are mistakenly applied in favour of having an itemized list of exclusions, when those concerns are already answered by the many other elements of protection either for management or due to the unique nature of the RCMP. Sometimes those are harder to tell apart than others, but we are satisfied that those protections exist and that unreasonable proposals that do not adequately care for the spirit of the RCMP and its unique operational nature will be dispensed with through binding arbitration and those interpretive constraints.
What the exclusions really amount to is just prejudging the reasonableness of the proposals employees may bring, and saying to them in advance, “Whatever it is you want to bring here you can't, and we don't want to hear it.” That is the tone that is set.
There may be other avenues that they can bring those proposals through. There have been other avenues over the last four or five decades and more. However, the point is that those other avenues have not been satisfactory. That is why so many members of the RCMP took the RCMP to court to say they wanted collective bargaining because their legitimate desires and goals within the workplace, even though it would be nice if they were, were not being heard adequately through those others avenues.
They want another avenue called collective bargaining, not because it is a panacea, not because they are going to get everything they want but because they clearly need another tool in the tool box. They need another way of working on these issues in their workplace in order to have success at resolving long-standing issues within their institution that have eluded them through all those other avenues. It is their way of asking the government not to create more avenues that formally are the same as the avenues before, but to do something genuinely new and let them in on the ground level to propose and be part of solutions in their workplace to deal with as much as they can as close to the work as they can. Those other issues that cannot be resolved can then bubble up and can be dealt with along with those other avenues.
I just do not see why that does not sound like a good idea to the government, and why the government insists on maintaining these exclusions. I just do not see the same threat to the institution.
Looking at the bill and considering the history of the RCMP and listening to what RCMP members would have to say is something that unfortunately more Canadians are not in a position to be able to do directly. Part of the honour and privilege of being the critic for the bill for the NDP is that I have had the opportunity to do that. When we lay those things beside each other, it is hard not to feel that this list of exclusions really is just ridiculous. It either comes from a desire to satisfy RCMP management as opposed to the front-line workers in a way that I do not think makes sense or is appropriate for government, or it comes just from a basic failure to understand collective bargaining. That is not where I started out in terms of my thinking on this, but I just do not see how they can engender this kind of resistance to these exclusions, given everything else that is within the bill, the binding arbitration system and the interpretive constraints put on the arbitrator, and think that somehow the RCMP is going to fall apart if members put their issues on the table.
Those members care deeply about the institution, and that is something that has been very clear to me in the correspondence that I have received from them. Let them bring the proposals, let them work with management, and let them have their agreements and disagreements. For what does not get solved there, we can look at those other avenues. No one is saying those other avenues need to be closed. It is just to say that there is an opportunity here to do it differently and to do it better, and that we can do that while respecting the unique nature and therefore unique needs of the RCMP. In fact, a lot of that is already in the bill.
Just to address some of the other arguments that have been made, we have heard that it is a different kind of organization because the members start out as cadets and anyone who ultimately ends up wearing the commissioner's uniform wore the other uniforms on the way up, so there is a level of trust with the senior leadership of the RCMP. That is a nice picture, and I am sure that it is true in many cases. However, it is clearly not enough, just in the way that collective bargaining on its own is not enough. Just because they have a collective agreement, it does not mean that they will never again have a workplace incident. However, they set up rules in order to be able to deal with an incident when it happens.
The trust and camaraderie within the RCMP is a good thing and I am sure that in certain cases that has meant a great deal to those members and has helped resolve situations, but it clearly has not resolved them all. It verges on being naive to expect that simply because people were together in their initial training, somehow 20 years later there are never going to be problems between management and workers. Sometimes despite its best intentions, management is going to be on the wrong side of that argument. What is important then when that trust breaks down, as it has demonstrably within the RCMP at times, is that there is a good process in place. That is the idea behind a collective agreement.
There can be workplace processes in place without a collective agreement. Many workplaces have them, but the idea is to give RCMP members a say in what those procedures will be. It is not to say they would get a veto on every workplace procedure. It still has to be negotiated and go to binding arbitration. Fundamentally I do not agree with the idea that somehow there is something that will fall apart if members are allowed to bring those proposals.
When one hears from as many members as I have, they are distressed and upset at the fact that those proposals will not be able to go forward. They were also not consulted in any serious or meaningful way prior to this. There was a survey that the Conservatives ran last summer. I have heard from certain members that they did not really know what they were being consulted on or understood what their answers would ultimately mean. Therefore, there has not been great consultation and I have been hearing that members do not agree with the exclusions.
I do not see why the government is willing to dissatisfy so many RCMP members, many of whom were part of the suit in court, who felt that they were gaining not a panacea but an important tool in the workplace that was not there before, a workplace where some things were not going right. In my view, there is not much at stake with removing these exclusions.
That is something I have been wrestling with. I wrestled with it at committee and again at report stage where there was an amendment about the exclusions. It was not as comprehensive as the NDP amendment at committee, but it at least dealt with one of those exclusions. We heard the same arguments and we are hearing those same arguments again today at third reading. It has been a bit of a disappointment in terms of process, because other than the RCMP commissioner himself and some top brass and other members of this chamber on the government side and in the Conservative Party, I have not heard anyone say that they agree with the exclusions or that they do not think some of those exclusions should be lifted.
It is rare to get a unanimous conclusion and I have heard from some who think some exclusions are warranted and maybe others are not, but the resounding cry I have heard from those who would be affected by the legislation is that they would like to have a significant number of exclusions removed, and in most cases all of them, so that they can bring proposals forward. I have yet to hear a compelling argument, when I look at the whole bill and the other aspects of the bill, that says we should not be doing this.
Saying RCMP members all went to their first training together so we should just trust them to do a good job is not sufficient. I do not think it is enough to say that they are getting independence and choice of the bargaining unit, when there is not left much to bargain. That is a really important thrust of the Supreme Court decision. That is clear and that is the subject of the decision. One might forgive the court for not feeling it had to be on the list of things the legislation had to satisfy. How do members select a bargaining unit if the legislation that grants the right and the process to collective bargaining takes away everything that can be bargained at the same time, leaving only pay and benefits? It is clear that the spirit of the decision is not being respected and we can expect to see it challenged again by the very same people who fought it for a very long time.
We started out by supporting this to send it to committee in part because we wanted to see those exclusions dealt with, but that simply never happened. In all of that I never heard a really compelling argument for why they would not be removed. It is unfortunate, but it is not something that we can support at third reading at the end of this process.
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