The House resumed from May 12 consideration of the motion in relation to the amendments made by the Senate to Bill C-7, An Act to amend the Public Service Labour Relations Act, the Public Service Labour Relations and Employment Board Act and other Acts and to provide for cerain other measures.
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 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 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 time frame, 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 rightly requires that a union representing RCMP members would have to consist only of RCMP members. Bill also talks about one national bargaining unit that is police only. There is not a 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 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 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 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 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 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 number of grievances happen under the PSLRA, we are getting the maximum number happening 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 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.
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 , 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 , 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.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for .
I am pleased to have this opportunity to speak in support of the government's motion related to Bill . This piece of legislation is important for both the RCMP and for Canadians. It is a step forward in Canadian labour relations.
As we all know, the bill originates with the decision by the Supreme Court of Canada more than two years ago, in January 2015. There is some urgency for us to enact this piece of legislation into law so that the RCMP can be the best police force in the world, with good management practices matching the ability of our RCMP officers to keep Canadians safe.
The court found that certain parts of the RCMP labour relations regime were in fact unconstitutional because they prevented the formation of an independent RCMP employee organization. The government took steps, including extensive consultation, to bring this framework into compliance with the Supreme Court's ruling, and Bill is the result.
I differ with the position of the previous speaker by saying that there has been extensive consultation. The bill has been under a microscope for a great deal of time in a committee of the House of Commons and a committee of the Senate, as well as through debate in the House of Commons and debate in the Senate. It is now time for us to act quickly on this motion to ensure that we can have effective collective bargaining for the very hard-working members of the RCMP.
With the passage of this bill, RCMP members and reservists would, for the first time, have a labour relations framework in place that would allow them to choose whether or not to be represented in negotiations by an employee organization, something that other police services in Canada already have. Almost 100 years ago, the Vancouver police union received its charter and was established with the mandate to effectively and democratically represent its members as a bargaining unit under the British Columbia labour code. It is time for us to act so that Canadians have a similar approach to policing in Canada.
Action is something that RCMP officers know a lot about. As the chair of the public safety and national security committee, I want to commend members of the RCMP for consistently and constantly serving and protecting Canadians with diligence, with grace, and with a tremendous competence that Canadians have begun to appreciate more and more. Whether it is diving into icy water to rescue a woman in distress or protecting us in this very place, RCMP officers demonstrate their personal dedication and self-sacrifice in service of others, and now we as members of this chamber need to reciprocate and take action to help them, to serve them, and to protect them.
The and the are strongly committed to whatever action is necessary to help RCMP members, trainees, and employees feel safe and respected among their colleagues and supervisors.
A number of steps have been taken since 2014 to protect RCMP members in the workplace. These include measures to address harassment and conflict management as well as promote a healthy and respectful workplace.
The RCMP continues its ongoing efforts to improve its work environment, including a modernized code of conduct, a streamlined harassment investigation and resolution process, and improved training for harassment investigators. Bill builds on these efforts to implement a robust labour relations regime for the RCMP. To that end, the government has given thorough consideration to the Senate's amendments and is now ready to move forward.
The government's response significantly addresses the main concerns that we heard at the House of Commons standing committee as well as in the Senate, and I am very proud to support the government's response to the Senate amendments.
In the spirit of compromise that is so important in an institution like ours, the government is willing to accept the removal of all restrictions on what may be included in collective agreements and arbitral awards that are specific to the RCMP. These restrictions on what could be collectively bargained for were the focal points of the criticism that we heard at committee and that we are now acting on.
Sometimes this kind of conversation takes time. However, that conversation has been had. I stress to members of this chamber that the reality is we need to act quickly and effectively. We have considered, and now is the time to act.
That is why I am pleased to report that the government's response would allow the employer and any future RCMP member bargaining agent to engage in meaningful discussions in good faith on topics of importance to the RCMP members and reservists who were excluded from collective bargaining rights under the original version of Bill .
As a result, matters associated with transfers, appraisals, harassment, and general aspects of workplace wellness, including the promotion of a respectful workplace and early conflict resolution, could be discussed at the bargaining table and included in a collective agreement or arbitration award. Of course, conditions of work, such as hours of work, scheduling, call-back, and reporting conditions could also be collectively bargained, as could leave provisions, such as designated paid holidays, vacation leave, sick leave, and parental leave. Labour relations matters, such as terms and conditions for grievance procedures and procedures around classification and workplace adjustment, are also part of that process.
The proposal before us today also accepts the idea of a management rights clause, but proposes implementing a more targeted clause that focuses on protecting the authorities that the RCMP commissioner needs in order to ensure effective police operations. This is a balanced approach. The reality is that the bargaining unit would have the right to engage in conversations at the bargaining table about issues important to RCMP members, and management would reserve the right to ensure that Canadians are safe and protected and that we have operational institutional effectiveness at the RCMP, not by excluding anything in collective bargaining but by ensuring we have a targeted approach to make sure the RCMP functions properly, as Canadians would want.
As I am sure all my hon. colleagues on these benches do, the Government of Canada takes seriously the responsibility to protect the safety and security of Canadians. This amended management rights clause supports that responsibility.
Now let us consider why the motion disagrees with the removal of restrictions that replicate those applying to other areas of the federal public service.
As our national police service, the RCMP must have a labour regime that is aligned with and consistent with the fundamental framework for labour relations and collective bargaining that exists within the whole of the federal public service. As such, Bill extends to RCMP members many general exclusions that already apply in the rest of the public service, such as staffing, pensions, organization of work, and the assignment of duties.
With respect to pensions, while the public service pension plan has never been the subject of collective bargaining under the Public Service Labour Relations Act, or its predecessor, the Public Service Staff Relations Act, the federal government has traditionally consulted with employee representatives on pension issues and is committed to continuing that conversation, negotiation, and consultation.
Public sector pensions have established statutory pension advisory committees whose membership is composed of employer, employee, and pensioner representatives. These committees review matters respecting the administration, design, and funding of the benefits provided under the superannuation acts and make recommendations to the responsible minister about those matters. This is an activity we would continue.
When it comes to the certification process, I do not believe that the certification of a bargaining agent to represent RCMP members and reservists should require a secret ballot. We need to be consistent with the government's proposed law, Bill , and it would be reasonable that an organization wanting to represent RCMP members should not be subject to certification processes different from those of other organizations under federal labour relations legislation.
Finally, the government proposes to not proceed with expanding the mandate of the Public Service Labour Relations and Employment Board to hear grievances on a wider range of matters relating to terms and conditions of employment. That would be inconsistent with its work with the rest of the federal public service.
Now is the time to act on Bill . The House of Commons standing committee deliberated it thoroughly and thoughtfully, and heard concerns. The Senate has deservedly done its work and has appropriately amended it. The government has considered those amendments and has determined that some of them fall in line with the government's proposed agenda with respect to the RCMP certification process.
I am pleased to support Bill C-7 and welcome all other members to support the bill and our amendments as we go forward.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today in support of Bill . Let me begin by saying that the government appreciates the thoughtful consideration given by the Senate to this historic piece of legislation that would enshrine in law the collective bargaining rights of regular RCMP members and reservists.
Our national mounted police service has been keeping peace across the land for almost a century and a half. I would like to thank members of the RCMP for their service and also for their advocacy on this legislation.
The only police force in Canada not to have the right to engage in collective bargaining has been the RCMP. The labour relations regime this bill would create would mark the beginning of a new era in the history of the RCMP.
Bill has several elements that reflect the clear preferences expressed by RCMP members during the consultations with members that occurred during the summer of 2015. Specifically, members indicated that they wanted a labour relations framework that would provide for a single national bargaining unit, a union that would primarily focus on representing RCMP members, and recourse to binding arbitration if a collective agreement could not be negotiated. Bill C-7 would create this framework.
Bill would also build on previous efforts to implement a robust labour relations regime for the RCMP, efforts that have included a number of measures to promote a healthy and respectful workplace. For example, in support of the 2014 amendments to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Act, several of the RCMP's human resources management processes, policies, and procedures were updated. Among these were, first, a new investigation and resolution of harassment complaints policy that provides greater clarity and a single streamlined approach for dealing with complaints; second, a process to address misconduct in a more timely and effective manner and at the lowest appropriate level; third, a new code of conduct that specifically identifies harassment as a contravention of the code; fourth, an amended training curriculum that specifically addresses respect in the workplace and harassment; and, finally, an informal conflict management program.
Moreover, in February 2016, the asked the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission to undertake a comprehensive review of the RCMP's policies and procedures on workplace harassment and to evaluate the implementation of the recommendations the commission made in 2013. The commission reviewed the adequacy, appropriateness, sufficiency, and clarity of these policies, procedures, and guidelines for preventing and addressing allegations regarding workplace harassment in the RCMP.
Further, in July 2016, the Minister of Public Safety announced the appointment of Sheila Fraser as a special adviser. Her role was to provide advice and recommendations to the minister regarding the application of various policies and processes by the RCMP after the filing of legal proceedings against the organization in four specific cases. The recommendations made by Ms. Fraser and the commission will be carefully reviewed and will inform further work on improving the workplace of the RCMP.
While the RCMP has made strides with the initiatives, programs, and policies it has implemented, these two reviews will be useful in helping the minister fulfill the mandate the has given him to ensure that the RCMP is free from harassment. The government is strongly committed to whatever action is necessary to help RCMP members and employees feel safe and respected among their colleagues and supervisors.
As a member of the status of women committee, I and the other members of the committee have studied the issue of gender-based violence and harassment as well as barriers to the economic security and workplace leadership of women. We have heard that harassment in the workplace is a large barrier to women's participation in the economy, so I am very pleased to see the government taking action to ensure that female members of the RCMP can feel safe and respected at work.
Our proposed response to the amendments would strengthen the actions I have outlined by increasing the scope of what can be bargained, including harassment, an issue I brought up with the commissioner at the public safety committee. The government's proposed response meaningfully addresses the concerns with Bill .
The bill we are debating today seeks to accept certain amendments and to amend or not accept others. Let me begin with the government's proposal to accept the removal of all restrictions on what may be included in collective agreements that are specific to the RCMP. As a result, matters associated with transfers, appraisals, harassment, and general aspects of workplace wellness, including the promotion of a respectful workplace and early conflict resolution, could be discussed at the bargaining table and included in the collective agreement or an arbitral award.
With this one change, we would increase the scope of what could be bargained considerably. I am pleased that the government has heard the concerns of the Senate and has acted on them, in particular on the issue of exclusions.
The proposal before us today would also amend the management rights clause adopted by the Senate. It proposes implementing a more targeted management rights clause that would focus on protecting the authorities the RCMP commissioner needs to ensure effective police operations. This approach would preserve the commissioner's authority to manage the RCMP and would ensure the operational integrity of the police service and the broader accountability of the RCMP for the safety of Canadians. The Government of Canada takes the responsibility to protect the safety and security of Canadians seriously. This clause would support that responsibility.
Let me now turn to the proposal to reject the requirement for a secret ballot vote for the certification of a bargaining agent to represent RCMP members and reservists. Our government believes that there should be a choice between a secret ballot and a card check system. A secret ballot only system is inconsistent with providing a fair and balanced process of certification and properly recognizing the role of bargaining agents in that process.
Let me now speak to our proposal to not proceed with expanding the mandate of the Public Service Labour Relations and Employment Board to hear grievances on a wider range of matters relating to terms and conditions of employment. Under the existing Public Service Labour Relations Act, the Public Service Labour Relations and Employment Board has jurisdiction to hear grievances related to the interpretation or application of a collective agreement. Accepting this expansion would be inconsistent with the role of the Public Service Labour Relations and Employment Board in relation to the rest of the federal public service. What is more, there are already specialized grievance and appeal processes established under the RCMP Act to deal with these matters. In fact, such an expansion would create two different grievance processes that would apply to RCMP members, allowing them to file identical grievances under both the Public Service Labour Relations Act and the RCMP Act. This could potentially lead to conflicting decisions and undermine the commissioner's ability to ensure effective police operations.
Instead, and consistent with the rest of the federal public service, Bill would allow represented RCMP members and reservists, with the support of their bargaining agent, to file grievances pursuant to the Public Service Labour Relations Act on the interpretation or application of a collective agreement or arbitral award. Such grievances would be adjudicated by the Public Service Labour Relations and Employment Board. RCMP members' right to file grievances and appeals to address workplace issues would continue to be administered pursuant to the RCMP Act.
I heard repeatedly from RCMP members about the exclusions contained in Bill . I believe that the proposed response to the Senate amendments would meaningfully address the concerns with respect to Bill by increasing the scope of the issues that could be bargained. The amendments would also ensure that the employer and any future RCMP member bargaining agent could engage in meaningful discussions, in good faith, on topics of importance to RCMP members and reservists.
At the same time, the proposal would take into account the operational integrity of the RCMP as a police organization. It would ensure alignment with the labour relations regime that applies to federal public service employees. With these amendments, Bill would continue to respect the 2015 Supreme Court of Canada decision by providing RCMP members and reservists with a meaningful process for collective bargaining.
I thank the RCMP members for their patience as this bill moves through the legislative process.
Mr. Speaker, let me remind the House that the official opposition respects the Supreme Court's decision that the RCMP officers are entitled to bargain collectively. The Conservative Party supports the role of the mounted police and we thank the members for the great work they do on the front lines, serving Canadians every day.
It was interesting to hear the prior speaker from the government side say that we needed to move fast. It has taken the government almost 12 months, since June 2016, to bring the legislation to the House in response to the Senate amendments. RCMP families and members have been waiting that 12 months.
It is well known within policing circles across Canada that RCMP members have fallen behind significantly in their remuneration and their benefits as a result of that 12 months and the fact that this issue has taken so much time to come back to the House.
When members across the aisle say that they meet with members and that they will be happy, of course they will be happy because we are finally dealing with it. However, since the time of the decision, it has taken the Liberals two years to get to here. Clearly, this could have happened a lot sooner. Today we are told that we will only have five days of debate, that the Liberals are shutting the debate down. The reality is that we will have only two days of debate.
I will give a quick background on what is known as the RCMP unionization bill.
The Supreme Court ruled, in the Mounted Police Association of Ontario vs. Canada, that the existing labour relations regime violated the rights of the RCMP members under section 2(d) Freedom of Association of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The court ordered the government to remedy this charter breach.
As the official opposition, we took the position that the original bill, while a reasonable response to the court's ruling, could not be supported as it denied the RCMP members the right to vote or, as some people refer to it, a secret ballot in the certification process.
In June 2016, the Senate returned a significantly amended Bill to the House. Let me talk about those Senate amendments. These Senate amendments came back, after the Senate's scrutiny and study. They were unanimously supported by all members of all parties on all sides within the Senate. The amendments included: first, the right to vote or the secret ballot certification process; second, confirmed and clarified the existence of management rights for the RCMP commissioner; third, removed a number of items excluded from negotiations in the original bill, such as transfers, relocations and dismissals, uniforms and equipment; and fourth, enabled an arbitrator in a decision to consider not only the collective agreement but the legislative context as well.
Here is the government's response to those four amendments, which we received late last Thursday, early Friday. I will go at those four issues one at a time.
First, the government disagrees with the creation of the right to vote through a secret ballot. Second, it agrees with the RCMP commissioner, management rights and amendment. Third, it agrees with the removal of all exclusions. Fourth, it disagrees with the broader interpretation of grievances.
Clearly the government must take action to restore the confidence of the front-line police officers in the RCMP's management and restore the confidence in Canadians in the RCMP. That means ensuring the RCMP pay is in line with the pay of other police forces. it also means working to ensure appropriate recruitment and retention programs.
As mentioned, in January 2015, in the Mounted Police Association of Ontario vs. Canada, the Supreme Court said that the labour relations law violated the rights of RCMP members under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The majority ruling stated, “What is required is not a particular model, but a regime that does not substantially interfere with meaningful collective bargaining and thus complies with” the freedom of association.
I remind the House that in its ruling the court gave the government 12 months to remedy the charter breach.
In January 2016, the government requested and received an extension from the court until April 2016. To be fair, this was not an unreasonable request as there had been a general election in the interim. The government did after all deserve an opportunity to get it right. Well, the Liberals did not get it right.
Again to be fair, the bill in its original form was, for the most part, a reasonable response to the court's ruling. Members on this side of the House did take the time to point that out when it was originally debated almost a year ago. I will discuss how we did that later.
We also expressed our willingness to move this legislation quickly and to work constructively with the government. All of us as members of Parliament represent members of the RCMP in our ridings. Some of us know them closer than others, but we all had heard from them through our constituency offices as to what the issues were with respect to their importance.
In fact, there was some discussion, anecdotally, in my riding of the reason why we was here. It was not because the bill had been delayed even further. It was because of the yellow ribbon campaign of the front-line officers who began to take stripes off some of their uniforms and put yellow ribbons to replace them to express the fact that nothing was happening. Suddenly when they did that, we got action.
We also expressed our willingness to move legislation quickly, but it had a fatal flaw. Specifically, it denied the RCMP members a right to vote by secret ballot. By doing so, it denied those RCMP members with a choice free of intimidation from all sides on whether they wanted representation and who would represent them in collective bargaining negotiations.
The bill was returned to the House amended to include that right to vote secret ballot clause. Let us not forget that. The actual mover of the motion in the Senate on the government side, who happened to be, by the way, an RCMP member at one time, unanimously agreed to send it back to the House with that included. Also, this amendment was supported by the government bill in the Senate.
In June 2016, the Senate returned the amended bill to the House. For months, the government told us it was considering the Senate's amendments “as quickly as we can”. Here we are nearly a year later and we are just getting the government's response. It has been nearly two and a half years since the Supreme Court brought down its original ruling. One cannot help but wonder why there is suddenly a rush to get the bill passed after such a long delay.
Perhaps the yellow ribbon campaign was the catalyst, launched in response to an equally long-awaited pay package. Perhaps it is the increasing frustration from more and more RCMP officers who are expressing openly with RCMP management and with the government on a number of issues. Unfortunately, RCMP members had to be brought to the brink before the government finally woke up.
To quote the commissioner,“...I tell you all solemnly: we went to bat and our Minister...went to bat, and there was no better package to be had at this time.”
If true, I give the minister full credit. However, guess who was the only person in a position to strike the minister out when he went to bat for those RCMP members? It was the .
As mentioned earlier, the Senate's amendments introduced a secret ballot or right to vote certification process. As well, they confirmed and clarified the existence of management rights for the RCMP commissioner, they removed a number of items excluded as non-negotiable in the original bill, and they enabled an arbitrator in a decision to consider not only a future collective agreement but legislative context as well.
I am glad to see that the government has finally come forward with its response to the Senate, even if it did take nearly a year or so.
We continue to support the general direction of the bill. However, we simply cannot support any legislation that denies employees, especially RCMP members, their right to vote in a secret ballot, free of intimidation from all sides.
Earlier, my colleague rose on a question for the member who had just previously delivered a speech about this issue and how it is a fundamental right in our democracy for that secrecy of our vote. I could give many examples of how we defend this around the world, as a government. Over the years many members from the current government have asked to go to monitor elections in other countries, to monitor the fact that we hold sacred the right to be able to choose without intimidation from any side. One of the members I personally spoke with on this issue expressed to me his deep disappointment in the fact that the Senate amendment for the right to vote has been turned down by the government. As he relayed it to me, as was mentioned in another answer today, RCMP detachments take all forms, in terms of size, scale, and scope. We have many small detachments around the country and we have large detachments as well.
However, he pointed out that in the small detachments around the country that might have five or six members working there, maybe even less, how much of a role intimidation will play, in terms of how those members are asked to vote in this process, because the office has its superiors, it has members at all different ranks of membership in the RCMP and in their occupation. As he said, they really will not have a choice at all; they will have to be falling in line with their supervisors, essentially.
This is a crime that should not have happened, in terms of the government turning down what the Senate unanimously brought back as an amendment.
We are in support of our front-line members and we would like to see them have the direction that the bill is taking, giving them the collective rights.
I would like to make two last points. Number one, it has taken far too long for the government to get off its heels to bring it to the House, and number two, we will always protect the right to free voting.
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for .
It is my pleasure to rise today to speak in support of the government's proposed response to amendments made by the Senate to Bill . I applaud this bill and the process that has led to where we are today. It is clear that the government and members of the Senate both agree that we need to support regular RCMP members and reservists by creating a labour relations regime that promotes their right to collective bargaining.
Who could be more deserving of such support than the dedicated and proud members of Canada's national police service? These heroic men and women combat organized crime and defend our country against terrorists. They guard us from those who deal in illicit drugs and those who commit economic crimes. They provide contract policing services in eight provinces and three territories. This is by no means an exhaustive list of what these brave individuals do to protect Canadians. These men and women, recognized as a symbol of Canada around the world, deserve our respect.
The motion before us today would give members the respect they are due while addressing the key concerns of the Senate.
The first way the motion does that is by removing the RCMP-specific restrictions on what may be included in collective bargaining and arbitral awards.
Second, it would implement a more targeted management rights clause, which focuses on the authorities that the RCMP commissioner needs to ensure effective policing operations.
Together, these two amendments would broaden the scope of what can be debated and included in collective bargaining and constitute an effective response to the main criticisms regarding Bill .
These amendments would ensure the employer and any future RCMP member bargaining agent could engage meaningfully in discussions in good faith on subjects of importance to RCMP members and reservists.
Allow me to provide a few examples of subject matter that could be included in a collective agreement or an arbitral award: first, matters commonly associated with harassment and workplace wellness, including, for example, the promotion of a respectful workplace, early conflict resolution, and workplace remediation; second, general aspects associated with the appointment and appraisals of RCMP members; third, criteria and timing for conducting the appraisals of RCMP members; and fourth, measures to mitigate the impact of discharges and demotions of RCMP members, including workforce adjustment provisions.
Clearly, the government has listened to the concerns raised and has expanded on what may be included in a collective agreement or an arbitral award. As is the practice for other negotiations in the public service, a wide range of other matters can be bargained and included in a collective agreement or an arbitral award. These include rates of pay, hours of work, and leave provisions, such as, designated paid holidays, vacation leave, sick leave, and parental leave.
I would also like to take this opportunity to comment on the management rights clause related to the RCMP commissioner's human resources management responsibilities. This clause was first suggested and adopted in the Senate, and we believe there is much merit to such a clause. In fact, it is proposed that the government adopt a more targeted management rights clause to focus on the authorities that the commissioner needs to ensure effective police operations.
The amended and more targeted management rights clause would allow all proposals related to matters that were covered by RCMP-specific restrictions in Bill as originally proposed to be discussed at the negotiating table. It would also allow the parties to potentially incorporate these matters in a collective agreement, except where the employer considers that they infringe on the authority of the RCMP commissioner to ensure effective police operations. Should the bargaining agent seek to go to arbitration, the chairperson of the Public Service Labour Relations and Employment Board would decide whether the proposal infringes on management rights before the matter could be referred to arbitration.
The adoption of a management rights clause for the RCMP is consistent with the labour relations regime that applies to the rest of the federal public service.
Let me now turn to why it is important to preserve the restrictions that replicate those applying to other areas of the federal public service. Since 1967, matters that are a broad cross-sectional interest, such as pensions, are included for bargaining and dealt with under the legislation to ensure that the public interest is taken into account. Pensions for the rest of the public service are dealt with under the Public Service Superannuation Act. Pensions require a high degree of stability to assure pension plan members that their benefits are secure and will be delivered as expected.
However, the federal government has traditionally consulted with employee representatives on pension issues and is committed to continue this practice. In the case of the RCMP, the RCMP Superannuation Act requires that an RCMP pension advisory committee be established.
The RCMP is a national police service operating within the federal public administration. This is why the proposed labour relations regime for the RCMP was designed to align with the existing federal framework for labour relations and collective bargaining.
Unfortunately, I will not have time to speak to the government's proposed response to the other two amendments, one which concerns the secret ballot votes, and the other which addresses the mandate of the Public Service Labour Relations and Employment Board, but I would like to close with a clear and unequivocal statement.
The government is committed to supporting RCMP members and reservists by providing them with a meaningful process for collective bargaining. Our proposed response addresses the key concerns of the Senate. It also takes into account the RCMP's role as a police organization. Finally, it ensures that its labour relations regime is aligned with the regime that applies to other federal public servants.