The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill , be read the second time and referred to a committee, and of the amendment.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak to Bill . Of course it goes without saying that I will be supporting this bill at second reading.
We spent the last 10 years under constant attack from the previous Conservative government with respect to workers' rights. Obviously I will be talking about Bill and Bill , which were introduced in the previous Parliament. I will come back to them later in my speech.
There have been flagrant examples in recent years. It was almost an obsession. I am talking about the Conservative Party's attitude towards the workers at Canada Post and the CBC, just to name a couple. I think some people, especially on this side over here, often forget the many benefits brought about by unionization.
For example, a unionized worker earns on average five dollars more an hour than a non-unionized worker. Among women, that gap is even wider at $6.65 an hour. This translates into greater purchasing power and more money going back into the economy. Basically, it is good for everyone. This is not rocket science. I would also remind the House that we do not hear stories about tax havens when it comes to these kinds of wages and workers.
The purpose of Bill is to repair the damage from the Conservatives' attacks against workers. First, it prevents legal challenges. According to our analysis and that of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, Bill went against the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The courts would no doubt have annulled that bill because it violated the right to the freedom of association and violated the privacy of those who work for a union.
I find it rather insulting that the previous government decided to introduce a bill that it knew was easily revocable by a court. Why do that? Was it out of ideology, or flagrant disregard for workers and our institutions, including our courts? Maybe it was a cheap fundraising stunt on the backs of its supporters. We know that the Conservatives have a penchant for that type of thing. Unfortunately, we will never know, but fortunately we are here to undo the previous government's dirty tricks.
The Conservatives may have claimed that they introduced the bill in the hallowed name of transparency, but what they failed to say is that unions were already required to report their financial information to their members. That is a rather important detail that we do not often hear the Conservatives talk about.
Bill imposed detailed and costly reports and requirements on the unions. The Conservatives pushed the bill through, despite general opposition from the public, including constitutional law experts, the NHL Players Association, the provinces, Conservative and Liberal senators, which takes some doing, privacy experts, the Canadian Bar Association, and so on. We are not the only ones who are pleased to see Bill before the House and to see it pass quickly.
According to the parliamentary budget officer's estimates, implementing Bill would have cost much more than the $2.4 million that the Conservatives planned to give the Canada Revenue Agency. The CRA would have spent almost $21 million in the first two years to create the electronic database required and approximately $2.1 million annually to maintain the system. I have not even touched on all the hours that the unions would spend to meet these requirements, which would be added to their workload, instead of protecting workers' rights.
Therefore, the repeal of Bill will save millions of dollars for both the government and the unions. I would like to quote the national president of the United Food and Commercial Workers union, which represents NDP employees:
UCFW is pleased to see the government tabling Bill C-4. Our union campaigned vigorously against the Conservative Government's Bill C-377 in the last parliament. The bill was undemocratic, and part of the Conservative government's campaign against workers and workplace democracy. It was also a major invasion of the privacy of individual union members and it infringed on provincial jurisdiction over labour issues. Repealing Bill C-377 is positive for all Canadians as this bill would have been expensive for the government to implement and monitor.
That is what I wanted to say about one-half of Bill . As for Bill , it sought to make it harder for workers to organize, while making it easier to decertify unions. What struck me about the bill at the time was that it was completely unfounded.
The government made changes to the labour laws without even proving that the old union accreditation method was a problem. I will summarize the facts.
About 10% of workers currently fall under federal jurisdiction. They are represented by a number of unions, such as public service unions, Unifor, and trade and construction unions. Before, a union was automatically accredited when more than 50% of workers signed a card indicating that they wanted to unionize. When 35% to 50% of workers signed a membership card, an election was triggered to determine whether the workers truly wanted to unionize. Bill wanted to change the threshold for triggering an election for accreditation from 35% to 40%. Furthermore, it would have also banned the automatic card check certification system.
This is yet more evidence of the previous government's disdain for workers' rights. This backwards attitude ignores the fact that, for example, the wage increases negotiated by the union inject hundreds of millions of dollars into the Canadian economy every week.
I want to get back to what I was saying earlier. One of the advantages of unionization is that it injects more money into the economy. When people earn higher wages, they consume more. We are talking about regular people, not Bay Street CEOs, who earn astronomical salaries and then send that money to some faraway island.
I applaud this bill from my colleagues opposite, who made a good decision to start their term by repealing these two harmful bills. That is a good sign. However, we must remain cautious, because this is only a sign. In recent years, my colleagues opposite waxed on and on about standing up for the middle class, but I must say that their definition of the middle class, which they are using for the tax cuts they promised during the campaign, is flawed. The threshold they use is rather arbitrary.
I would now like to talk about this dangerous new bug that everyone in the current Liberal government seems to have contracted, and that is “consultitis”. That is all well and good, and I understand that some issues require a lot of discussion and consultation with experts. However, there are also some issues that have obvious answers. The government could save time on those rather than getting caught up in this constant consultation. That is what I mean by “consultitis”.
The government needs to protect the middle class by taking meaningful action, not by spouting rhetoric and launching public consultations left and right. We have heard enough about consultation since this government took office. Talk is all well and good, but it does not put food on people's tables.
I therefore urge the Liberals to do more, to take more meaningful action. The benefits of doing so are tangible and easily verifiable, so let us get started.
The NDP will continue to exert pressure on the government to reinstate the federal minimum wage and vote in favour of the anti-scab bill introduced by my colleague from . It is a common sense initiative, as is pay equity, obviously.
I find it very frustrating that problems like the ones I mentioned, which were identified decades ago, are still wreaking such havoc. Canada is a progressive country, which is obvious from our general attitude on thorny issues such as physician-assisted dying. However, I find that we sometimes drag our feet for no apparent reason. Everyone here recognizes that women and men are equals, but that belief is not reflected in our economy, where we see wage disparities that make no sense.
In closing, I realize that there are a lot of messes to clean up. After a decade under the Conservative dinosaurs, there is a lot of work to be done. That decade put us on guard. The NDP will certainly not be giving the Liberals a blank cheque, since everyone knows that they have a tendency to signal left during the election and then turn right once they take office.
Unequal distribution of wealth is not just theoretical. It is a very real problem that is beyond comprehension in a country as wealthy as Canada. Decent working conditions and decent pay are good for everyone. We all know the harmful and devastating effects of poverty. I am proud to belong to a political party that understands these issues and refuses to compromise when it comes to implementing effective measures to truly eradicate poverty and poor working conditions, which have no place in a country like Canada.
Mr. Speaker, as we talk about this legislation that is coming forward to overturn some of our private members' bills in the past, I must speak to some of the questions and comments that have been made about it, that the way it went through this place was somehow anti-democratic. I was here and knew the members who brought them forward. I knew the consultative process that specifically Bill went through, the back and forth with caucus, with myself. There was a long process to seek honest feedback and that is why changes were made to that legislation.
The firefighters union and other unions wanted a higher threshold of expenditure. It went from a lower amount to the $5,000 amount, so that particular individuals would not be mentioned and privacy issues, medical expenses, and that kind of thing would not be caught in this kind of legislation. That was received by the proponent of the bill and supported. The legislation was changed.
To hear a Liberal say a private member's bill somehow passed through the back door is absolutely ridiculous. It is absolutely ridiculous that he would say that about something as foundational as a private member's bill, a bill that we can bring as private members to this place, to see enacted into law. I do not just represent myself in this place. I represent 107,000 people from my riding. To say that my representation of 107,000 people is in some way the back door is ridiculous. The member needs to reflect on the private members' business that has come through the House over the last 100-plus years. I would like to challenge the member on the other side.
I want also to reflect on the secret ballot and how foundational it is to our modern democracy here in Canada. When we go to the polls, provincial, municipal, or federal, we have a little cubicle and nobody sees how we vote. Eventually the ballots are cast, the ballots are counted, and we have a winner in the election.
In this process a secret ballot is absolutely foundational in our freedom to express ourselves, which party we want to vote for, and maybe which ones we do not want to vote for. My curiosity is intrigued when I see the Liberals would want to see that kind of democratic foundation changed. Is their talk of changing the way we vote in Canada for our representatives on the horizon too now, where we are going to have to vote in a public forum and people are going to know how we vote? The Liberals seem to support that in the House with this overturning of the legislation. The next thought would lead me to believe that it may be on the horizon. If it is not, then why are they supporting something that foundational in the House?
It is purely meant to service big unions. We know that Unifor and other unions completely supported different parties in the House and the concern is that this simply is payback for what was done during the election in October. That concerns me. It concerns me that democracy is not more important than that.
I also want to talk about my experience in a union. I have been a part of a few unions, one as a carpenter for about six months. For a longer period of time I had to become part of the union as a teacher in British Columbia. I was forced, I did not have a choice. If I wanted to become a teacher in B.C., I had to be part of the BC Teachers' Federation. I did not really want to, but I did not have any other choice and that to me is somewhat undemocratic as well. Because I wanted to be a teacher in B.C., I was forced to be part of something, rather than given the choice to be part of the union.
Fair enough. I joined the union and got my teaching job. After the first six months or year I went to a union meeting. It was a challenge. I knew the leader of the president of the BCTF, a former member of this House, was going to be there. I thought I had better show up and see what was going on with unions, especially my own, the one I had paid dues to monthly. I wanted to know how it was going to spend my hard-earned dues money.
At that meeting, I was told by the union president which way I was to vote in the next provincial election, and I also discovered that my union dues were funding NDP candidates in that provincial election.
There are a couple of problems with being told how to vote in a provincial election, to me, especially, as a teacher. If there is any group that should understand impartiality, it should be the teachers. I understand that. I never brought up politics in my classroom. To be told by a BCTF president how to vote in a provincial election was really beyond democratic.
I actually brought it up to her in the meeting. I put up my hand and asked if she was suggesting that this non-partisan association, the BCTF, was supposed to vote one way or the other. She looked at me strangely, as if to say, “Who is this guy?”. She did not give me an answer, but she moved on to the next topic quickly. It still troubled me that she was trying to tell us how to vote in that place, regardless of which party. I did not care if she was going to tell us to vote Conservative.
I do not think it is the place for unions, to do that. Unions should be impartially representing their members, because their members represent all parties. Certainly, I was a Conservative teacher. There were NDP teachers. There were Liberal teachers. The union represented us all. We all have to pay dues to this organization. The fact that the president was trying to tell me to vote in one particular direction troubled me greatly.
However, the next point that was brought out at the meeting was a teachers' newspaper. It boasted that a local NDP candidate was being sponsored by the B.C. Teachers' Federation. The local union body in that particular town was sponsoring an NDP candidate in that provincial election, donating to this candidate.
I had huge trouble with that, considering the fact that we are supposed to be impartial. The fact is that most members—and this is what we are getting to with this legislation—did not know that those local federation representatives were funding campaigns. To me, that was very troubling, to say the least: the fact that a group that was supposed to be non-partisan was sponsoring NDP candidates with my money, because as a member I had to pay dues to the BCTF; I did not have a choice. Confronted about this, the president of the BCTF at that time did not seem to have an answer for that either.
I will bring this back to the conversation we are having today about Bill and the accountability that is supposed to be there with this bill. Most members do not know where the money goes, with union expenditures. It can be argued that the information can be found. Yes, it can be obtained, but it is a very arduous process. It takes a long time to get all the information back. It is information that the union records—make no mistake: the union does record where the money goes. The union knows where it is, but it is not something that can be easily obtained by members.
That is what Bill was meant to do. It means to make accountable the expenditures of that fund, which is tax-free, I might add—and it still does. The money that goes into these organizations is not taxed. What I said before in debate, in support of Bill , is that, if we are not against accountability, why would we be against Bill .
What we are asking for are measures by which unions have to show where the expenditures are, to their members and to the public, just as I do as a member of Parliament, just as the members of the NDP have to do to their constituents. Why would we ask for anything less from a group that collects funds from its members who have to contribute? It is not voluntary. Why would we not ask for accountability from these organizations? To me, if there is nothing to hide, why not do it?
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise today to speak to this bill.
As members of Parliament, it is important that we all have our finger on the pulse of the priorities of our constituents, and it is imperative that we set out to meet those needs on their behalf. For me, it has been the absolute honour of a lifetime to be able to serve the constituency of Wild Rose first and now as member of Parliament. I want my constituents to know that I will always continue to fight for them and to stand up for their priorities and our great province of Alberta.
When I pursued public life, I did so because I wanted to give back to my community. My objective was to bring people together, whether in my riding or here in Ottawa, to help move great ideas from concepts into action, listen to Canadians, and deliver results. However, today I am here to talk about Bill , one of the Liberal government's first priorities.
As an Alberta MP, my priority is to give a voice to a riding and a province that are severely impacted by falling oil prices, mass layoffs, and collapsing businesses. In addition to the Liberal mismanagement that we are seeing with a ballooning federal deficit, I was shocked to see the government put forward a bill, as one of its top priorities, aimed not at supporting workers or the more than 100,000 people who have lost their jobs as a result of the struggling oil and gas sector but, rather, a bill to please union bosses, which would reverse key transparency measures that our previous Conservative government put in place.
Specifically, the Liberal government is introducing, as one of its first priorities, legislation that seeks to reduce transparency for union bosses by removing a requirement that the leadership share how it spends its members' union dues and removing the secret ballot provision for trade union formation and abolition. I firmly believe that this bill is critically flawed. It is flawed in that it reduces the transparency that Canadians are demanding in all areas of public administration, and it does this at a time when the government should be focused on workers, not union bosses.
I would like to take this opportunity to share with the House what it is like at home in my riding and my province right now. We are living through one of the most significant downturns of our generation. More than 100,000 people have lost their jobs in Canada, with many now risking the loss of their homes and the lives they have worked so hard to build. Almost 40,000 of those job losses are in my province of Alberta. Alberta's unemployment rate has surged to 7.4%, surpassing the national average for the first time in nearly three decades. It is a very difficult time.
In the midst of this downturn, Albertans are feeling absolutely and utterly abandoned by the Liberal government. Instead of helping the people of my province, the government has, instead, turned to kneecapping the energy industry. The Liberals are adding further uncertainty to the energy industry through their new temporary, endless regulatory processes, raising the spectre of a new carbon tax, and imposing more and more obstacles for critical market access infrastructure that, I might add, would not cost the government a single dime.
Instead, the Liberal Party has taken the stance that, if it calls a sum of money “stimulus”, Albertans will keep quiet about the Liberals completely thumbing their noses at the energy industry with their new job-killing policies. I will say this: we are not going to stay quiet. I hear time and time again from my constituents and from the thousands of Albertans who work in the oil and gas sector that a plan for jobs and a strong economy is what we need right now, not a temporary, uncertain, and endless regulatory regime, and definitely not a new job-killing carbon tax.
The government should be focused on creating jobs. What we have seen from the Liberals so far is added uncertainty for pipeline development and certainly an unwillingness to stand up for our citizens who are in need of support. More taxes will not create jobs or help Albertans get back to work. Unfortunately, what we have seen, instead, from the Liberal government is that it is certainly a government that is fond of taking misguided approaches, which is what we are seeing demonstrated in Bill .
The legislation is not focused on workers at all. In fact, it would do more harm to them. It is simply a step back for democracy, transparency, and accountability. There are so many reasons why it demonstrates how the government is going in exactly the wrong direction.
The legislation violates the fundamental principle of transparency. If the Liberals are truly trying to pride themselves on being more open, it boggles the mind as to why one of the first pieces of legislation they have introduced totally and absolutely contradicts that principle.
Bill saw the requirement for public disclosure of a non-profit organization. Requiring public disclosure by organizations receiving substantial public benefits is not a new concept. Canadian charities have been publicly reporting their spending for at least 35 years. Nonetheless, the legislation blocks the public from seeing how any benefits the government provides to unions are being leveraged. Why are the Liberals removing this level of transparency when public disclosure creates greater credibility and support for the legitimately representative work that unions do?
Bill would enable union bosses to direct their members' fees without having any accountability to their members. They would make decisions of advocacy and conscience under a shroud of secrecy without any accountability at all to their members.
If shielding the books from the membership, the actual workers, is not enough, with Bill , the Liberals are also standing against a worker's right not to join a union.
The legislation would eliminate Bill and its provisions which support Canadians free choice of whether they want to be a part of a union free from intimidation. This is what Canadians should expect in our democracy. This legislation was put in place by our previous Conservative government to further support workers.
Bill also required union organizers to get expressions of support from a very reasonable 45% of workers in federally regulated sectors in order to force a vote on union certification. Bill C-525 also ensured that the subsequent vote would then be held by a secret ballot. If a majority of workers in that collective bargaining support joining a union, then certification would proceed. The same logical process would apply in reverse should workers seek to decertify a union.
We just came through a federal election. I would have been happier with a different result, but we again experienced one of the most surreal traditions of life in a democracy, a peaceful and orderly transition of power. We use a secret ballot in our democratic system. Although the government may be looking to change the electoral system, we surely do not hear it talking about changing the critical democratic piece of a secret ballot anywhere but in the labour movement. Five provinces already employ this method of union certification. Bill would simply apply it to federally regulated sectors. Abolishing the secret ballot would be an attack on the democratic process. All members of Parliament are elected by secret ballot, so why take that away from everyday workers?
Bill is a fatally flawed piece of legislation. If the Liberals really want to help workers and their families, they should consider some facts.
Commodity prices have contributed to massive layoffs across the country and our dollar continues to drop in value. In 2015, Canada's oil and gas industry lost $60 billion in revenue. That is equivalent to wiping out the Canadian auto sector in just one year. The IMF has downgraded its economic outlook for Canada. The household debt to income ratio of Canadians is now the highest in the G7. Canadians are suffering the consequences of these real challenges.
Unemployed Canadians are out there with no prospect of finding jobs. Working families are living with the fear every day that they will lose their jobs. Seniors are watching their retirement savings drop as the markets struggle.
These are the challenges that should shape and drive policy that we set here. Canadians expect their government to take action. We should be seeing initiatives to keep taxes lower so Canadians have more money in their pockets to make ends meet. Instead, we see a proposed carbon tax and we see measures to increase EI premiums and taxes, measures that would add further uncertainty on our natural resources regulatory processes, a ballooning deficit, and now we have a bill today focused on union bosses rather than their workers.
These are the priorities of the Liberal government and that just demonstrates that the government has its priorities all wrong.
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise in this debate today; I do think this is very interesting. It has been mentioned by a few of my other colleagues that we have a critical situation in terms of Alberta and the issue around oil and the prices of energy. We have issues in Quebec in terms of Bombardier.
As a country, we have many important things that we need to be dealing with, so it is absolutely ironic that of the two first bills that the current government brings forward, one is “oops” a mistake. The Liberals made a promise about income tax. It was supposed to be revenue neutral, but it is a $1.4 billion oops. However, they are going to bring it forward anyway and add to the deficit by $1.4 billion. Then, of course, the next bill that the Liberals brought forward is a bill that would detract from accountability. It does speak to the priorities of the current government that the first two bills it brings forward are oops and lack of transparency.
I have an interesting history with these two bills, which might be a bit unique in this Parliament. I sat on the finance committee when Bill was going through committee. Then I also sat on the human resources committee as the parliamentary secretary for the minister of labour, as we dealt with Bill . I had the benefit of hearing and really watching the progress of these bills as they went through the legislative process. I heard the opposition members stand up and talk about how this violated safety and privacy, and that people with their private health care information were going to be identified, or RCMP were going to be identified.
We did our jobs as legislators at that time, and we made a number of amendments. We heard some concerns from committees, and we did make amendments that dealt with those specific concerns. It really is a bit disingenuous when the members of the government stand up and say that this was going to violate health concerns, that information was going to be public. That was looked at and the bill was amended. I ask that they not go back to the original version when they are criticizing this bill. They need to go to the amended version, the one that was actually passed. I think that was certainly a fair point.
The Liberals talked about other professional organizations not being included. I think that is a fair point. I am a nurse by background. I was a member of the nurses' union and a member of the nursing association, so that is a fair enough point. Lawyers' associations and nurses' associations were excluded from the bill, and perhaps they should also be accountable for the same level of transparency.
The Liberals questioned why they were not included. Instead of gutting the bill, if that was their issue, why did they not just add those professional associations to the bill to create the same level of transparency for everyone? If the Liberals had some concerns, there were ways that they could have added things.
There were concerns mentioned in terms of the red tape. I am sorry, but in this age of computers, the ability to generate and submit reports has become very easy. I challenge anyone in this House to go to a special site on the website for the United States Internal Revenue Service, where people can see the information they need to see. This is not something that was dreamed up out of the blue. This has been in the United States for many years, and I do not think it created the big challenges and problems that people were speaking to.
I do recognize that some unions are very good about sharing information. I talked to people at the International Union of Operating Engineers, and they shared with me the reports that they publish annually. It was very comprehensive, fulsome, and available to all their members. Certainly there is no question that there are some great practices among our unions in terms of what they share.
However, I also think that this is important to point out, and this aligns with the First Nations Financial Transparency Act. For a government that claims it is concerned about transparency, why does it insist that people have to ask for the information? First nations transparency is such that first nations have to go to the band office, or they have to go begging to the government for basic information, if it is not provided willingly, and it is not always provided willingly.
For the union members, many organizations, but not all, are good about sharing that information. We can imagine how intimidating it would be for a member of a union to go in to ask for that information. This should be disclosed to union members.
If the Liberals care about transparency and do not want this going through the Canada Revenue Agency, why did they not amend it to say that it had to be made available online or make some other changes? Obviously, this is not about transparency, but about a promise they made to get support in the last election. If they had concerns with respect to the bill, they could have made changes to deal with those.
Bill is really about the right to a secret vote. We have had examples given here today, and I would like to provide an example.
I worked in a very small facility where there were 20 employees in total. Under the old system, if one of those 20 employees were interested in certifying a union, which was perfectly within his or her right to do, he or she could have talked to his or her 10 friends, they could have had a card check and hit their 51% and would have automatically been unionized without the other nine people even having a voice in that conversation. It is totally outrageous that 11 people could certify a union without the nine others having the ability to even have a say.
The secret ballot is not for the unions or the employer, but the employee. Members can imagine how divisive the whole idea of certification would be in this small setting of 20 people. The people who worked there did not want their name on the list among the 11 who wanted certification or among the nine who would ask for decertification. They wanted to have a secret ballot because they did not want the union to know and did not want their boss to know. Therefore, having a secret ballot is a fundamental democratic right.
I would again ask the members of the government how they can suggest not having a secret ballot on something that is so profound and so personal, and leaves people open to all sorts of difficult circumstances. I think that to move away from the secret ballot was an incredible mistake.
I look at British Columbia. It has had the secret ballot there for many years, which has not led to any catastrophic results, but to comfort for the worker. This was not about the employer or about the union, it was about the worker.
The government also likes to say that it made it harder to certify and easier to decertify. What it did was create an even threshold so that 50 plus one will certify or decertify a union. I do not think that is a very outrageous thing to do.
In conclusion, we have heard that one of the top priorities of the current government is to move away from transparency and whether to do so formally. I must give the Liberals their due, because right now it is being done formally as we have this chance to debate the bill and hold the government to account, whereas on the First Nations Transparency Act we heard them talk in question period about how a law is a law is a law. However, to them a law is only a law if they like it. If they do not like it, as was the case with the First Nations Transparency Act, they will not enforce it. Therefore, I think they have put themselves in a really difficult position.
I am delighted to stand up and talk to this, but I am disappointed that if the Liberals had concerns, they did not just make this better but are instead choosing to gut it.
Mr. Speaker, throughout the past two decades there has been a steady attack on the rights of working people in Canada. Nowhere has this attack been more evident than on organized labour.
Having spent nearly a decade fighting the attack by the former Conservative government, the NDP welcomes the Liberal government's decision to repeal Bill and Bill . Today, I am proud to stand in the House in support of Bill , a bill that would restore unions' rights to represent their members and to ensure that labour relations are respected.
In the last Parliament, despite public warnings from Canada's Privacy Commissioner, constitutional experts, and the Canadian Bar Association that these bills were very likely to be found unconstitutional, Bill became law anyway. Bill C-377 placed onerous, redundant, privacy-violating reporting burdens on unions.
Unions were already required to make their financial information available to all their members. While pushed under the guise of transparency, this sweeping bill would have had far-reaching consequences.
For example, anyone who took on a temporary contract with a union and was paid more than $5,000 would see their name disclosed on this database. Likewise, any company engaging in work with a union, such as a small business providing snow removal services, would see their company and the contract details posted publicly, potentially undermining their ability to negotiate other contracts. Let me say that in Ottawa, it snows quite a lot.
By the way, this ideological attack on unions did not come without a price tag. The parliamentary budget officer estimated that the Canada Revenue Agency would need approximately $21 million to establish this electronic database over the first two years and approximately $2.1 million per year to keep the database up to date and to maintain after that. That means repealing Bill would save Canadian taxpayers and unions millions of dollars per year.
With the passage of Bill , we now would have the opportunity to put that money to better use, to protect Canada's rights as well as access to government services.
Some of my constituents struggle daily to make ends meet, even with a full-time job, some of them with multiple jobs. Others would like to work, but cannot access the workforce for a variety of reasons including their inability to secure affordable, quality child care. The savings from this could fund a number of much needed programs such as social housing, services for seniors, and programs for the most vulnerable.
Like Bill , Bill was designed to weaken unions in Canada. It was a bill that aimed to solve a problem that in my opinion, did not really exist.
Bill amended the Canada Labour Code, the Parliamentary Employee and Staff Relations Act, and the Public Service Labour Relations Act in order to make it more difficult to certify a union and much easier to decertify one.
Prior to this bill, in order to trigger a union certification vote within the workplace, between 35% and 50% of the employees would have to sign a card indicating that they wish to become members of the union. Bill would have seen this threshold raised to 40%. Let me make it very clear, prior to Bill C-525, if 35% of employees signed a card, it only triggered a workplace vote, it did not automatically certify a union.
In order to certify a union during the card signing process, more than 50% of employees would still need to have signed a card indicating that they wished to be a member of the union. Their rights were respected and the process was legitimate. For workplaces that were already unionized, Bill attempted to make decertification of a union easier.
Bill would lower the threshold required to trigger a decertification vote to 40%. With these measures, it is clear to me that the attempt here was to make it more difficult to trigger certification and for simply ideological reasons.
New Democrats have long supported Canadians' right to freedom of assembly, as protected under the charter, as well as defending the value of the labour movement to working Canadians. It is no coincidence that as unionized rates in Canada have fallen, good-paying, stable, full-time jobs have gone with them. Collective bargaining has played an important role throughout history in ensuring that workers' rights are protected, that workers work in a safe environment, and receive fair pay and benefits for the value they bring to the workforce.
As these stable, secure jobs have been eroded in the workplace, what remain in Canada now are precarious ones, temporary contracts, and part-time work, which often are without benefits and have lower pay. Those are becoming the norm in today's workplaces. Just last year it was found that 52%, or over half, of all workers in Toronto, a major city in Canada, are in these precarious employment situations. Across Canada, these precarious positions are also disproportionately held by visible minorities and new Canadians, adding another barrier to their moving up the socio-economic ladder and achieving financial security for themselves and their families.
For a growing number of precarious workers, making ends meet is becoming increasingly difficult as the cost of living continues to rise and their wages do not keep up. Statistics Canada found that the lowest-earning 20% of Canadian households are now spending over 51% of their take-home pay just to cover essentials. Housing costs alone are now taking up nearly one-third of 20% of Canadian households' paycheques.
The impact of precarious work goes beyond the chequebook. Workers in precarious jobs are nearly twice as likely to report worse mental health than those in secure positions. The impact on people not knowing when their next shift is, of being subject to last-minute scheduling, and not knowing if they will still have jobs next month can lead to acute stress, poor nutrition, and weight gain. Studies have also shown now that workers are becoming trapped in precarious situations instead of moving on to stable, permanent positions. It is increasingly evident that they are stuck, going from contract to contract.
Employment instability, lower wages, and the lack of benefits have far-reaching impacts on Canadians and the economy. Poverty among seniors hit a historic low of under 4% in 1995 and that figure has begun to reverse as workplace pension benefits are eroded and Canadians struggle to save for retirement.
In 2013, poverty rates among seniors increased slightly to 11%. Poverty among seniors disproportionately impacts women, who are now experiencing poverty at the unacceptable rate of 30%. However, do not take the NDP or labour's word for it. Unionization was a key driving force in the past in addressing these issues. Indeed, in a study released just last year, the International Monetary Fund signalled a significant shift in approach, acknowledging that the role unions have historically played in addressing income inequality in society around the globe has been understated.
Research bodies are now showing that declining unionization rates are a significant factor in increasing inequality, especially among developed nations, including Canada. The IMF has now stated that the declining presence of unions has not only weakened the earnings and earnings potential of low- and middle-income earners, but that this has directly led to the rapidly increasing income share of the very highest earners, in particular, corporate managers and shareholders. Unions in Canada play a key role in the financial security of working Canadians and this can no longer be denied.
The Liberal government's decision to repeal these ideological pieces of legislation that would further harm the Canadian labour movement and the financial security of working Canadians is a welcome first step, but there is more to be done. The NDP will continue to push the government to repeal division 20 of Bill on sick leave, to reinstate a federal minimum wage, and to enact anti-scab legislation and proactive pay equity legislation. New Democrats will push for the repeal of the former Bill , instead of being satisfied with just the current promise to review it. This legislation is also likely to be found unconstitutional and was another example of ideologically driven legislation to undermine fair collective bargaining.
Canadians can be assured that the NDP will continue to fight for workplace rights and against growing income inequality in Canada. Reducing inequality and improving the financial security of everyday working Canadians needs to be a top priority for the government.
Mr. Speaker, as we know, in terms of certification, the members sign a card, and that is their voice. When they reach the percentage that is required, then the workplace becomes unionized.
I will give the member an example. This is a real experience by my mother, who is now retired. When we emigrated to Canada so many years ago, my mom worked as a farm worker, making $10 a day. We did not know about unions, labour rights or anything like that. She worked long hours, and she made $10 a day to support a family of eight.
She later on graduated from that work, after two years, and became a minimum wage earner as a dishwasher in a restaurant. She worked hard and long hours as well. There was an attempt to unionize at that restaurant. My mother, who did not speak very much English, signed the card but understood the essence of what it meant and what was explained to her. Soon after the manager found out. Other employees who spoke better English were under threat, and there were real challenges. Ultimately, it collapsed because everybody feared for their jobs.
There are real issues in terms of intimidation with respect to that. When members of a workforce sign a card, and they sign it with the information of what the consequences are and what they hope to achieve in their workforce, that should be sufficient when it reaches the threshold to unionize a workplace.
What are unions for? They are there to protect workers, to ensure they have better working conditions. That is what it means. I think we all want to strive for that for all Canadians.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the debate on Bill , which is an exciting first step towards restoring the balance of power between unionized workers and employers.
The bill would amend the Canada Labour Code, the Public Service Labour Relations Act, and the Income Tax Act. The NDP supports all stages of this bill, which will repeal the bad Bill and Bill . By the way, I want to commend my colleague, the member for , for her work on this bill. She demonstrated how important it is to repeal these two bad bills.
We had mentioned that these two Conservative bills were unconstitutional and constituted an invasion of privacy, among other things. Nevertheless, the Conservatives pushed these bills, which offered nothing good for Canadian workers.
Bill amended the Income Tax Act to require that labour organizations and labour trusts provide information returns to the minister for public disclosure. This bill required all union organizations to submit detailed annual financial reports on salaries, revenues, and spending.
The Privacy Commissioner, Daniel Therrien, said that Bill went too far and constituted an invasion of privacy. The Canadian Bar Association also questioned whether the bill was constitutional and even said that this bill would infringe on freedom of expression and freedom of association provisions. It was, therefore, a very bad bill. Unfortunately, the Conservatives continued to push this bill, even though almost everyone agreed that it was a very bad piece of legislation.
This reminds us of the need to protect collective bargaining and the right of unions to strike. We need to believe in the rights of unions and the important role they play in striking a balance of power between employers and workers. When unions are valued, workers have more rights and there is less pay disparity. A strong union presence has its benefits in a society.
That being said, the Conservatives introduced another bad bill, Bill , which sought to amend the Canada Labour Code, the Parliamentary Employment and Staff Relations Act, and the Public Service Labour Relations Act. In short, this bad Conservative bill was based on bad American laws that are increasingly geared at doing away with unions.
Under the bill, workers in the same union would be allowed to be members without making a financial contribution to the union's activities and without losing the benefits afforded to them under the collective agreement. That does not make any sense. It goes against union promotion. If fewer people paid union dues, it would upset the balance of power that allows workers to assert their rights.
The purpose of these legislative initiatives is to limit unions' financial capacity by making it easier for workers to opt out of union membership while continuing to take advantage of the benefits afforded to them under their collective agreement. This was yet another bad decision by the Conservatives.
I am truly very happy because the NDP worked so hard that the Liberals followed its lead. I am very proud of my party and our leadership in that regard. I am pleased that the Liberals are on the same page.
In Drummond, I regularly meet people who belong to a union. I recently met two members of the Public Service Alliance of Canada. Many workers in my riding are protected by this union. These people told me that they were concerned about what we have seen in recent years, and that is the erosion of workers' rights. They also shared with me what they would like to see happen. For example, they would like workers to continue to have the right to collective bargaining. Unfortunately, the Conservatives imposed working conditions by passing legislation rather than by negotiating with workers.
I believe that the Liberals understand that it is important to negotiate instead. I will come back to that.
Occupational health and safety under the Canada Labour Code has been eroded. Workers are very concerned about occupational health and safety problems and would like to prevent them. We are very proud to see that the Liberals have begun to look at this issue. They are tackling Bill , which was introduced by the Conservatives. We want to repeal the bill, and the Liberal government is going to submit a proposal to the union.
Bill C-59 contained a provision that would abolish employees' right to good faith bargaining by authorizing the employer to unilaterally establish all sick leave conditions. There was a problem related to sick leave, and instead of negotiating the Conservatives imposed a law. Fortunately, the Liberals will negotiate instead. However, they have unfortunately brought forward the same proposal the Conservatives did. We are somewhat disappointed with that.
I also attended several general annual meetings of the union representing workers at the Drummondville penitentiary. I salute all the workers of the Drummondville penitentiary, who do an excellent job. I had the opportunity to visit the institution a number of times. The penitentiary's needs in terms of the rehabilitation of inmates, who want to eventually leave and return to society, are incredible. I am sure that this is the case for all other penitentiaries in Canada. I visited a continuing education class and there were other initiatives as well. I was very pleased to be able to visit them, and I would like to thank them for welcoming me.
I would also like to remind my colleagues that the member for worked very hard in committee in the last Parliament to fight Bill . I think that it is very important to acknowledge his contribution, because he did an incredible job.
Of course we are pleased and delighted that Bill C-377 and Bill C-525 are being repealed. However, we in the NDP will continue to pressure the government to enhance the right to collective bargaining and make working conditions more equitable for all Canadians. We will continue to pressure the government to repeal division 20 of Bill C-59 on sick leave, reinstate the federal minimum wage, and pass the anti-scab legislation introduced yesterday by my colleague from . That is a fantastic initiative, and we are all really proud of the collective work done by the NDP when it comes to protecting workers' rights.
I hope the bill passes unanimously in this Parliament, because it will restore the balance of power between workers and employers. I commend the NDP for the collective work it has done, which inspired the Liberal government, and I congratulate the Liberal government for moving in the right direction on this, although there is still work to be done.