Thank you, Mr. Chair and members of the committee.
It's a great pleasure to be here with my colleague, the Honourable Scott Brison, President of the Treasury Board, to aid in your study of Bill C-7.
I am joined today by Daniel Dubeau, who is deputy commissioner of the RCMP and chief of the human resources department; Craig MacMillan, the professional responsibility officer with the RCMP; and Kathy Thompson, who is assistant deputy minister, community safety and countering crime branch within Public Safety Canada.
Mr. Chair, we gather for this meeting on the day that the RCMP is laying to rest the late Constable Sarah Beckett, who tragically lost her life in the line of duty a week ago today near Victoria, British Columbia.
I know I speak for all committee members and all Canadians when I express our sincere condolences to Constable Beckett's family, her friends, and RCMP colleagues. Thousands will gather in her honour this afternoon, exemplifying Canada's love and respect for her and for her chosen career as a member of the RCMP. We honour her memory.
Specifically on this legislation, , it is encouraging to see a pretty good deal of cross-party support for this bill, at least judging by some of the debate on second reading. On the whole, I think the bill has been acknowledged as a fair and reasonable attempt to respond to the instructions of the Supreme Court of Canada.
At the same time, any legislative change of this scope is subject to questions and concerns, and we have of course heard these as well. We hope that those questions and concerns can be addressed during the committee's study of . As you know, the Prime Minister has been very clear on the important role of parliamentary committees. He has directed the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons to strengthen committee work and ensure that the committees more effectively fulfill their function of scrutinizing legislation. That is the purpose of your hearings today with respect to .
For my part at this meeting, I will briefly discuss the unique role of the RCMP as our national police force, as well as try to provide some background on how this legislation came about and why we need to move ahead on the changes that are before the committee.
Mr. Brison will then provide you with a more detailed look at the nuts and bolts of the bill and the implications of the proposed changes for the current RCMP labour relations regime.
Mr. Chair, as we know, the RCMP plays a policing role that isn't found anywhere else in the world. It is truly unique. That role is international, national, provincial, territorial, municipal. It not only provides federal policing services to all Canadians; it also provides police services under contract to three territories, eight provinces, 150 municipalities, and more than 600 indigenous communities across Canada.
Its mandate is vast. RCMP members prevent and investigate crimes—from petty theft to cyberespionage to terrorist activities, and everything in between. They protect the safety of state officials and visiting dignitaries.
They also work abroad as part of peacekeeping operations and with other law enforcement agencies in Canada and around the world.
That just scratches the surface of what the RCMP is all about. RCMP members are dedicated to their work and to serving Canadians. They must perform their jobs while often facing immense challenges and very real personal dangers. That becomes tragically apparent when we hear the sad news, as we did last week, of that young constable killed in the line of duty in British Columbia. It is important for all of us to support the work of RCMP members and important that we take all proper steps to ensure that they can in fact exercise their charter-protected freedoms, including the freedom of association.
That brings us to the legislation that is before this committee now. As members know, this proposed legislation is the Government of Canada's response to a significant ruling by the Supreme Court of Canada that was rendered in January of 2015. In that ruling, the court held that key elements of the labour relations framework in existence at that time for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police infringed the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, because those elements substantially interfered with members' rights to freedom of association.
In other words, within reasonable limits, RCMP members, according to the Supreme Court of Canada, are indeed entitled to unionization.
The ruling has broad implications for the government and for the RCMP, and it requires a restructuring of the existing framework that has applied to the force for more than 40 years.
Given the implications of this decision, which as I said was rendered in January of 2015, the court suspended its declaration of invalidity for 12 months. There was a deadline set for new legislation by January of 2016. No visible steps were taken to get things rolling in that regard before Parliament adjourned in June of 2015. Then, of course, as we know, a very long election campaign intervened. During the summer, after that long campaign had begun, government officials undertook some important basic consultation with both RCMP members and with the jurisdictions across the country that constitute the contract partners for the RCMP to get a sense of how the government should respond to that outstanding Supreme Court decision.
After the government changed in November, we went back to court to get a little bit of extra time to make it possible to respond in an orderly fashion, and the court provided an extra four months. That takes us to May 17, which is the deadline for getting the new legislation in place. We have tried to move quickly and responsibly in this regard.
Mr. Chair, I thank you for your encouraging view of the work of the committee: that the committee would hopefully be in a position to give this legislation its consideration and report to the House in a timely manner.
Officials at Public Safety Canada, the RCMP, and the Treasury Board have worked very hard to develop a sound legislative proposal to put before you, one that responds not only to the court decision but that also takes into account the views and preferences that were gathered from RCMP regular members themselves during the consultation process that I referred to. We want a bill that reflects the unique role and the operational nature of the RCMP.
Importantly, this bill provides members with a constitutionally sound labour relations regime, one that allows members the freedom, if they so wish, to choose to be represented by an employee organization and to bargain collectively through that employee association to address their labour needs with the employer. This is the same freedom of choice that is enjoyed by all other police forces in Canada.
It is crucial that we respond in a timely manner to that Supreme Court decision in order to respect RCMP members' charter rights and to provide members with legislative certainty about their labour relations future. If we don't respond by May 17, on that date the existing Public Service Labour Relations Act will come into effect and apply to members of the RCMP, so it's important that we intervene before that date.
The Public Service Labour Relations Act in its current form does not fully accommodate the concerns and interests of RCMP members or their operational reality. That said, I can assure committee members that we are committed to proceeding with a complete and thorough study of Bill . We welcome open discussion and healthy debate on the proposed elements of the bill, and we are eager to hear from experts and stakeholders who will appear before the committee to provide their input.
I would like to touch on one important element of the bill, which has to do with the question of occupational injuries. I know this has been of interest to some members of the committee.
By way of history and background, on April 1, 2013, at the request of provincial contracting partners the previous government moved the RCMP members' non-occupational health care needs to provincial and territorial health care systems, but for reasons of the day, occupational-related injuries remained with the RCMP management to adjudicate and handle. A temporary program internal to the RCMP was set up to administer those occupational claims.
That temporary program lacks important features, such as a robust, independent adjudication methodology and an appeal structure. The employer should not be the final arbiter of whether the injury of one of its workers occurred on the job. An arm's-length arbiter, such as provincial workers' compensation boards are, can better provide professional, independent adjudication on any such claims, along with an established appeal procedure. The provincial boards also have experience with police-related injuries, as most municipal and provincial police currently access occupational claims coverage through provincial WCBs.
Finally, I would like to touch briefly on the issue of harassment, which I know members of the committee have been interested in as well, and mention three things.
Number one, I have taken under review the cases of four RCMP employees alleging harassment that are currently before the courts. You may recall that this issue became a matter of public discussion shortly after the election campaign. Both the and I undertook to review those cases, and that work is under way.
Number two, on February 4, 2016, I invited the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP to undertake a comprehensive review of the RCMP's policies and procedures on workplace harassment and to evaluate the implementation of the recommendations that the complaints commission itself had made in 2013; in other words, what progress has been made from the last report of the complaints commission.
Number three, you will recall the incident that occurred this winter at the Police College. The commissioner has launched a full investigation of that matter. He has invited Paul Kennedy, the former complaints commission chair, to act as an independent monitor of the situation at the Police College, and we are awaiting the report from that review and from Mr. Kennedy.
Finally, Mr. Chair, I can assure you that other steps will be taken as well to deal with the difficult and troubling matter of harassment.
On that note, I will end my remarks and ask my honourable colleague, Mr. Brison, to provide a more detailed overview of Bill .
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Thank you, Mr. Chair, thank you to all members of the committee, and thank you, Minister Goodale.
I'm pleased to be here with you today and to have the opportunity to discuss with you Bill , which would amend, of course, the Public Service Labour Relations Act to provide for a labour relations regime for members of the RCMP and reservists.
It is an important piece of legislation designed to uphold the constitutionally guaranteed freedom of RCMP members and reservists to engage in collective bargaining.
I am delighted, as always, to be joined by my colleague Ralph Goodale, Minister of Public Safety, and his officials. Joining me at the table from Treasury Board Secretariat is Manon Brassard, assistant deputy minister, compensation and labour relations, and Dennis Duggan from labour relations.
After my remarks, Minister Goodale and I look forward to your questions and a productive discussion on this bill.
As you know, we inherited a situation from the previous government that required us to move quickly to address the Supreme Court's decision, which was made public on January 16, 2015. In that decision, the court said that the current labour relations regime for the RCMP was unconstitutional because it interfered with RCMP members' freedom of association.
There are two key elements of the existing regime governing RCMP relations. First, RCMP members are currently excluded from the application of the Public Service Labour Relations Act. The result of this exclusion is that they are not allowed to bargain collectively and have no recourse to arbitration as part of that.
Second, the existing regime imposes on members a specific form of employee representation called the staff relations representative program. The aim of the program is that at each level of hierarchy, representatives and management consult on human resources initiatives and policies, with the understanding that the final word always rests with management. This program currently is the only form of employee representation recognized by the RCMP management.
Bill would respond directly to the Supreme Court decision by rectifying the elements of the RCMP labour regime that the court found unconstitutional. The bill would remove the exclusion of RCMP members from the definition of employee in the Public Service Labour Relations Act.
RCMP members and reservists would have the freedom to choose whether they wish to be represented by an employee organization and, if so, which organization. And this organization must be independent of the influence of RCMP management.
As a result of this bill, the constitutional freedom of RCMP members and reservists to engage in meaningful collective bargaining would be enshrined in a labour relations statute.
Under the previous government, there were consultations with RCMP regular members in the summer of 2015—in fact, much of that consultation would have been during the election, too—and an online survey and town hall sessions, so that their views could be incorporated and taken into account in developing this bill. More than 9,000 regular members completed the survey, and more than 650 people participated in the town hall sessions.
Most regular members who participated in the online consultations said they supported the idea of a unionized RCMP. They also showed a strong preference for a labour relations regime that would use binding arbitration without the right to strike as the mechanism for resolving impasses in bargaining. In addition to that, regular members showed clear support for the option of representation by a single national employee organization whose primary mandate would be the representation of RCMP members.
The bill reflects these preferences. First, it requires that there would be a single national bargaining unit composed solely of RCMP members and reservists. Second, it requires that the bargaining agent have as its primary mandate the representation of RCMP officers. The bill also establishes independent binding arbitration as the dispute resolution process for bargaining impasses, with no right to strike.
I'd like to take this opportunity to review a few other key features of the bill.
Similar to existing provisions in the Public Service Labour Relations Act, the bill proposes to exclude from representation RCMP officers from inspector to commissioner level, as well as other managerial and confidential positions. The Public Service Labour Relations and Employment Board will 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 employment to that board, the chairperson must take into account the need to have at least two members with knowledge of police organizations.
Mr. Chair, during the second reading a number of members spoke about the methods by which unions can be certified and about whether to allow for a choice between a vote and a card check, for example. The bill we're studying today is entirely and intentionally silent on this issue. That's because we want to ensure a consistent approach for all employee associations. The government has introduced a separate piece of legislation, Bill , to address this issue and restore a fair and balanced federal labour policy. It is being considered by the committee known as HUMA. It's our belief that discussions on union certification methods are better suited to and within the scope of the consideration of Bill C-4.
Mr. Chair, we believe this is a historic opportunity to give RCMP members and reservists their independence and freedom of choice in labour relations matters, while recognizing the unique operational reality of policing.
We value your committee's role in the legislative process. We believe that the role of Parliament and parliamentary committees is vitally important, and we're looking forward to the discussion and to your considered examination of this important piece of legislation.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Thank you, ministers, and your departmental officials for appearing here today, and particularly Minister Goodale for your reflections on Constable Beckett. I know that the thoughts of everyone in Parliament and in Canada are with her husband and children and their colleagues.
As you are right to say on Bill , we certainly followed the Mounted Police Association case to the Supreme Court, and it's our intention to try to work with the government on Bill . You'll note that we've said two things that we want to see, as critical to this bill and the discussion around it.
One is the right for front-line members of the RCMP to vote by secret ballot on their own union, which your officials have said to us in briefings is the normal course for public sector unionization. We expect to see that, despite Bill .
The other critical piece, and I mentioned this in my speech in the House, is the wellness of RCMP members, particularly with respect to mental health and balancing off their needs. As you know, I was veterans minister for a time. Veterans Affairs Canada administered benefits for RCMP veterans post-release.
I think now is an appropriate time for us to have a complete discussion whenever benefit regimes are being changed, because we learned that in the move to the new Veterans Charter—and both the Liberals and the Conservative governments more or less owned that change—there wasn't enough discussion and understanding of the changes, and that led to a lot of stress.
My two questions will focus specifically on clauses 40 and 42 and some changes. Bill is now including the RCMP in the Government Employees Compensation Act rather than in the old occupational health regime of the RCMP.
Minister Goodale, you said that this is because it's lacking features such as appeal mechanisms and structural things like that. But for a federal police force, it looks as though this is the outsourcing of a single federal force to ten different provincial standards across the country, through workers' compensation.
Can you explain to us how that will ensure a high standard for members of our federal police force?