Mr. Speaker, I stand today to offer my support for Bill , a bill that respects the rights of the dedicated women and men serving in the RCMP by providing a new labour relations framework for RCMP members and reservists.
The bill is a significant step forward in the history of the RCMP and its labour rights. It would enable RCMP members and reservists to engage in meaningful collective bargaining. I am proud of this initiative that is so in the public interest and serves the rights and well-being of these dedicated women and men.
Our national mounted police force has not only a storied past but now a stronger future. Since its beginning in 1873 when Prime Minister John A. Macdonald introduced in the House the act establishing the Northwest mounted police, the RCMP has been an integral part of Canada's development. From the 1874 march west from Fort Dufferin, Manitoba to policing the Klondike gold rush, to the St. Roch passage through the Northwest Passage, to the last spike of the Canadian Pacific railway in Craigellachie, British Columbia, to the vital roles in World Wars I and II, the RCMP has played an instrumental role throughout our country's history.
Despite its long, storied contribution to Canada, its members did not have the full freedom of association with respect to collective bargaining. That would now change. The Supreme Court of Canada has removed the barriers RCMP members faced in exercising this right, a right guaranteed to all Canadians by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The bill provides the appropriate framework for the labour legislation that will govern the RCMP. It gives RCMP members and reservists the same access to a collective bargaining process that other police forces in Canada have.
To do that, the bill amends the Public Service Labour Relations Act and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Act to create a new labour relations regime for RCMP members and reservists.
More specifically, it will give RCMP members and reservists the right to choose whether they wish to be represented by an employee organization during collective agreement negotiations with the Treasury Board of Canada.
As I said, before the Supreme Court decision, RCMP members could not organize or participate in collective bargaining.
Indeed, they have been excluded from the labour relations regime governing even the federal public service since the introduction of collective bargaining for this sector. Instead, members of the RCMP had access to a non-unionized labour relations program. This program had initially been imposed by section 96 of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police regulations in 1988. It was then repealed and replaced by substantially similar section 56 of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police regulations in 2014.
Its core component was the staff relations representative program, or SRRP, the primary mechanism through which RCMP members could raise labour relations issues. It was also the only forum of employee representation recognized by management, and it was governed by a national executive committee.
The program was staffed by member representatives from various RCMP divisions and regions elected for a three-year term by both regular and civilian members of the RCMP. Two of its representatives acted as the formal point of contact with the national management of the RCMP.
The aim of the SRRP was that at each level of hierarchy, members' representatives and management consulted on human resources initiatives and policies. However, the final word always rested with management.
Many changes were subsequently made to this labour relations regime, which increased the independence of the staff relations representative program.
However, none of these changes had much of an impact on its objective, place or function within the traditional RCMP chain of command.
In May 2006, two private groups of RCMP members filed a constitutional challenge on behalf of RCMP members in Ontario and British Columbia regarding labour issues.
These two groups were never recognized for the purposes of collective bargaining or consultation on labour issues by RCMP management or the federal government.
They saw the declaration that the combined effect of the exclusion of RCMP members from the application of the Public Service Labour Relations Act and the imposition of the SRRP as a labour relations regime unjustifiably infringed members' freedom of association.
The Supreme Court ruled that key parts of the RCMP labour relations regime were unconstitutional. It struck down the exclusion of RCMP members from the definition of employee in the Public Service Relations Act as unconstitutional, and it held that a section of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police regulations infringed on the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In fact, the court affirmed that section 2(d) of the charter “protects a meaningful process of collective bargaining that provides employees with a degree of choice and independence sufficient to enable them to determine and pursue their collective interests”.
In the case of the RCMP, the court determined that the existing labour relations regime, built around the staff relations representative program, denied RCMP members that choice, and imposed a program that did not permit RCMP members to identify and advance their workplace concerns free from management's influence. It found that the staff relations representative program did not meet the criterial necessary for meaningful collective bargaining. Under this program, RCMP members were represented by organizations they did not choose, and they worked within a structure that lacked independence from government. The court held that this violated their charter right to freedom of association.
I am proud that our new government's bill, Bill , addresses just that. It brings labour rights governing this group of federal employees into line with the federal public sector labour relations regime, which has been in place for over 40 years. It provides RCMP members and reservists with a sufficient degree of choice and independence from management while recognizing their unique operational reality.
The RCMP is a nationwide federal public sector police organization, and thus its labour regime should be aligned and consistent with the fundamental framework for labour relations and collective bargaining for the federal public service.
Bill includes several general exclusions that mirror exclusions already in place for the rest of the public service. For example, staffing, pensions, organization of work, and assignments of duties are excluded from collective bargaining. Each of these issues is instead dealt with under other legislation, for example, the Public Service Employment Act for staffing, the Public Service Superannuation Act for pensions, and the Financial Administration Act for the organization of work and the assignment of duties. This system has been in place for years, and it works.
Having recently taken the GBA+ training module that government provides, which is gender-based analysis, I was impressed to see how the RCMP has been implementing gender-based analysis, the lens that ensures that both women and men are properly served in policy decisions taken by management. I want to congratulate the RCMP for being a leader in the implementation of this very important program.
There are other ways in which RCMP members can express their concerns about labour issues. If a uniformed member has a concern about the safety of the uniform, he or she can speak to the workplace health and safety committee. Together with the union representatives, the committee can study the issue and identify the best possible solution based on the evidence.
Moreover, workplace health and safety issues can be included in the collective agreement through bargaining. If members have concerns about employment conduct, they can share them with the union representative on the labour-management committee.
In other words, there are other ways for RCMP members and the union to raise concerns outside of the collective bargaining process. The members and the union can work with management to improve the workplace.
I would also like to point out that some have criticized the bill and said that only pay and benefits can be collectively bargained. This is simply not the case. There is a whole host of other issues that can be collectively bargained. Conditions of work, such as hours of work, scheduling, call back, and reporting conditions, can be collectively bargained. Leave provisions, such as designated paid holidays, vacation leave, sick leave, and parental leave, can be collectively bargained. Labour relations matters, such as terms and conditions for grievance procedures and procedures for classification and workforce adjustment, can be collectively bargained. For example, the decision to lay off an employee is a staffing matter, which is not subject to negotiation. However, measures such as compensation or the manner in which layoffs are conducted may be negotiated.
As I said, the Supreme Court invalidated the existing labour relations framework for the RCMP because it violated the charter right to freedom of association. The court suspended its judgment for one year to give government time to consider its options. The government sought an extension and was given an additional four months to provide a new labour relations framework for RCMP members and reservists. Unfortunately, the suspension of the Supreme Court of Canada's decision has now expired. Therefore, it is important that the government move quickly to put in place a new labour relations framework to minimize disruption for RCMP members, reservists, and management.
Indeed, delaying the passage of this legislation is problematic for a number of reasons. There currently is an overlap between the RCMP Act and the Public Service Labour Relations Act, which could result in confusion and conflicting interpretations. In addition, members could be represented by multiple bargaining agents, making it difficult for the RCMP to maintain a cohesive national approach to labour relations. That is especially worrisome given the nature and function of our national police force, in which members are posted to positions anywhere across the country in a variety of functions and activities. The potential to be represented by a number of various bargaining units could be very confusing.
Should this not pass quickly, there is also the concern of uncertainty among RCMP members about their collective bargaining rights and the measures they can take should they need access to representation.
Let me add two further arguments for the swift passage of this legislation. The government took steps, including consultations with RCMP members in the summer of 2015 to bring this new framework into compliance with the Supreme Court's ruling. Last summer, regular members of the RCMP were consulted through an online survey and town hall meetings to seek their views on potential elements of a labour relations framework.
At the same time, Public Safety Canada consulted with the provinces, territories, and municipalities that are served by the RCMP through police service agreements. Public Safety Canada will continue the dialogue with contracting parties as the new regime is implemented. The findings from these consultations were very helpful and instructive in developing the elements of Bill .
Finally, let me add that this bill is also consistent with our government's efforts to restore fair and balanced labour laws in this country. We believe in collective bargaining. That is why, for example, we introduced Bill , which would repeal division 20 of Bill , the 2015 budget implementation act, which was tabled last April by the previous government. Division 20 would have provided the government with the authority to unilaterally override the collective bargaining process and impose a new sick leave system on the public service. By repealing those provisions in Bill , we are also demonstrating our respect for the collective bargaining process.
We believe in fair and balanced labour relations, and we recognize the important role that unions play in Canada.
That is why we have also introduced measures to repeal Bill and Bill , which were also passed without the usual consultation process for labour relations law reform by the previous government. Bill placed new financial reporting requirements on unions, and Bill changed how unions could be certified and decertified.
Bill restores the power of the federal Public Sector Labour Relations Board to select the certification or decertification method appropriate to each particular situation, and I would say fair method to both the representing and the represented parties, rather than being limited to the mandatory vote method, which can skew a decision against the union in certain circumstances.
The previous government had research and a report that concluded that very situation.
Recently, on May 25, the government announced its intention to repeal portions of the Economic Action Plan 2013 Act, No. 2, division 17. The portions in question have to do with changes made to essential services, collective bargaining and processes for grievances, and dispute resolution without any consultations with public sector partners. We took these important measures to ensure that workers are free to organize and that unions and employers can bargain collectively in good faith.
Bill honours this right, a right that has long been exercised by all other police officers in Canada. It is the right to good faith collective bargaining. This bill would institute this right in law. It would lay out the rules that govern labour relations for RCMP members and reservists, and enshrine the principles and values of our society as reflected in the charter and as required by the Supreme Court of Canada. It would recognize the particular circumstances of our unique national police force, the RCMP.
I would ask my colleagues to do the right thing and support the passage of this bill, so that it becomes law without further delay.
Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise for the third time in debate in this House of Commons on Bill .
I would like to start by sincerely thanking all members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. The men and women of our RCMP are essential to our public safety and security.
I and many members, in our speeches to Bill , have tried to thank the men and women who wear the uniform for Canada and provide peace and security across our country. As I have said in previous speeches, in many provinces and territories in our vast country, particularly in rural communities of the country, the RCMP members are the only member or front-line element of public safety and security and, in many cases, the only visible extension of the federal Government of Canada. It is appropriate that all members have thanked the RCMP for their tremendous work.
While Ontario is not a contract jurisdiction for the RCMP, because of our Ontario Provincial Police force, I am also very fortunate to have an RCMP detachment in Bowmanville in my riding, as part of the O Division detachment group. Not only are the men and women of this detachment critical to some of the federal investigations and public safety work done in Ontario by the RCMP, but as I have constantly said, they are also the backbone of our community. These men and women act as coaches of soccer and baseball teams, and they are active in charitable organizations in our community. That is appreciated, and I know members of the RCMP take great pride in not just serving in communities across the country on their postings but in becoming part of those communities. I want to start with a great thanks to them.
As I have said in previous speeches to Bill , it has been a bit of a journey for this Parliament in response to a Supreme Court decision. In fairness, the government has listened to some of the opposition concerns we have raised, and our public safety committee did some important work on this bill. However, there remain concerns with Bill C-7 among parliamentarians and, most importantly, front-line members of the RCMP. The concerns are particularly with the rushed nature and the lack of consultation with the front-line members of the force. That is why we are here in debate and why the Conservative Party, which has tried to work with the government throughout this process, remains as frustrated as some of the members across the country.
To remind this House, we are here as a result of the Supreme Court of Canada decision in the Mounted Police Association of Ontario court case that went from lower courts all the way to the Supreme Court and, in fairness, was a decision first considered by the previous Conservative government. That is when the former government provided an outreach program within the RCMP, including a questionnaire to elicit feedback from the front-line members of the RCMP with respect to the unionization of their force. Sadly, that has really been the only substantive consultation done with the men and women on the front line of the force, and that is what brings me here today to continue to have concerns about Bill .
However, that court case was clear. The Supreme Court of Canada said that the charter right of members under section 2(d) to collective association was violated for men and women of the RCMP by their exclusion from the Public Service Labour Relations Act. The court then gave Parliament a year to come up with a regime for the association or collective bargaining rights of RCMP members.
That is important because the court gave a year. In fairness to the new government, one of the first acts of the new minister was to ask for a slight extension. However, sadly, that extension of time did not lead to substantive consultation with men and women of the RCMP. That is a bit of a miss. We have had some good debate and, in fairness, the minister, the parliamentary secretary, and the as well have appeared at committee and been part of the debate, and that is appreciated. However, there has not been much direct consultation with the front line, despite that extension of time, and that concerns me.
It concerns a lot of our members, who have been hearing from men and women across the country with concerns about Bill , particularly in provisions related to sections 40 and 42, which I applaud the government for agreeing to amend, but also with respect to the exclusions from collective bargaining. I will touch on that briefly in my remarks.
However, it is important, in this final time that I get to speak, to remind the House what the Supreme Court of Canada said. It did not say that the RCMP should just join Unifor, the United Steelworkers, or a large existing labour organization. In fact, the Supreme Court gave direction on two key areas. It said that the right of collective association under section 2(d) of the charter was violated for RCMP members. The two elements the court viewed as being required were employee choice and sufficient independence from management. Those are the two critical parts of that judgment.
Members will see why these elements led the government to a pragmatic approach, but, really, the lack of consultation has hurt it with the employees themselves who have to make the choice of bargaining agent.
It is important to note that the Supreme Court of Canada says clearly that section 2(d) of the charter does not protect all elements of association and collective bargaining. In fact, labour models in recent years, going way back to the Wagner model of collective bargaining, and the construct that led to that, and the Rand formula, have been evolving as the tribunals over time were really the guardians of labour law.
In the advent of the charter, charter protections, particularly around collective bargaining rights, have really usurped the old work done by tribunals. The Supreme Court has said that the RCMP is a very unique quasi-military organization with a chain of command, operational discipline, order constructs, the ability for postings, and the unlimited liability faced by members. It is not a regular job when we allow men and women in uniform in Canada to impinge on the rights of others, and also bear the risk themselves of potential injury or death. This is a very unique role. It is why we acknowledge and appreciate the special work done by the RCMP across this country. However, the Supreme Court of Canada recognized clearly that the unique nature of the RCMP leads to unique needs with respect to a collective organization and unionization. Therefore, the two key elements we have to consider from this decision are employee choice and sufficient independence from management.
The staff relations program had been in effect since the 1970s, since the RCMP was excluded from the Public Service Labour Relations Act. The program had been the internal human resources function, serving as the conduit between management and the front line.
Ironically, most of the RCMP members and most of the members of these associations who have been fighting for unionization are RCMP members who have been part of the staff relations program. They saw merit in that. They saw how it functioned well in some manners. However, the Supreme Court determined, and most of the witnesses we heard from determined that there was not sufficient independence from management to safeguard the charter rights of our members. This is why we are here today. It is not like the RCMP had nothing, they had the staff relations program, but the Supreme Court said that the staff relations program was not sufficiently independent from management, which is critical to remember.
I will predict to the House, and I know the parliamentary secretary probably agrees with me, that many of those staff relations personnel will likely form the leadership of whatever union we eventually see.
The good thing is, they will take with them that collective knowledge and memory of what has happened before and then they will have more ability to be independent from management as they collectively bargain, particularly related to remuneration. We have heard consistently that compared to the big 15 police forces our men and women of the RCMP need a top-up. That will be a critical part of those negotiations.
Independence from management is critical, but the first element of what the RCMP feels is critical in the unionization of the RCMP, as a result of this court case, is employee choice. For Conservatives, we have viewed that choice as giving every single member, from Windsor, to Winnipeg, to Whitehorse their right to decide who will be their collective bargaining agent, or indeed if there is a collective bargaining agent at all. How is employee choice best demonstrated? That should be conducted by secret ballot, as it has been historically for all public sector unions, because most have been unionized for several decades.
I am not sure why the government has been so reluctant to acknowledge that. Canadians sent members of the government caucus here by secret ballot. They obviously think it is sufficient to get them to this place, but they do not want to give employee choice through a secret ballot to our men and women in uniform.
Some members of the RCMP have said to me that I am getting hung up on a little detail. This is not a little detail. This is fundamental to true employee choice, absent of influences from the workplace, from Parliament, and from management, that Canadians have enjoyed since 1874. It is a fundamental tenet of our democracy. Conservatives have raised this since my first speech in this place on Bill . We are very disappointed the government has not responded to that, given the men and women we charge with securing the rights and safety of Canadians with that same basic democratic right when it comes to choosing their collective bargaining agent.
I will spend a moment on exclusions. I have been very open with supporting the government, or trying to support it, with respect to exclusions. I know many of the RCMP members watch my speeches on Bill . The Supreme Court clearly says that not all elements of the collective bargaining arrangement are bargainable.
Why are there some exclusions? It goes back to the paramilitary structure and the unique organization of the RCMP. The very fact there are postings, discipline, operational grading, consistency of operations, safety of conduct, all of these things are unique to the RCMP. If we had every posting bargainable or grieved, there would be no operational structure to the force. By extension, we cannot ignore the fact that on the horizon is the military. Therefore, do we really think these operational forces, like the RCMP or the military, could have every decision, operationally or discipline-wise, grieved? I do not think that is reasonable. As someone who has served 12 years in uniform, that is not reasonable. In fact, a very unique chain of command structure of the RCMP, or by extension the military, demands some degree of autonomy from the traditional labour dynamic. I acknowledge that. Some of the strident members of the mounted police associations have disagreed with me on that, but most of them do not disagree with the fact the RCMP is a paramilitary organization with a very unique culture and needs.
The issue of harassment often comes up, and everyone tries to say it needs to be bargainable. The interesting thing is that then every issue would be deemed as harassment. We need to root out harassment and have a zero tolerance for it. I have heard the minister's comments. I know he keeps it as a priority, as the previous minister did.
Bill in the previous Parliament, the Enhancing Royal Canadian Mounted Police Accountability Act, tackled this specifically and provided safeguards and a process to ensure that the RCMP had a zero tolerance environment. All members of Parliament agree on that point. There is no tolerance for harassment in the workplace, especially because of the chain of command setting where a superior officer, man or woman, is in a position of a power differential. Those can be difficult and challenging areas when there is harassment. If somebody is using that power differential to harass, that is an absence of leadership on his or her part.
We can make sure that harassment is addressed, that a zero tolerance environment is promoted, without carving off certain elements so that everything related to operations, discipline, postings, and so on would be aggrieved as harassment. These things can be advanced.
I would remind members of the RCMP and those who will continue to listen to my speeches on Bill that they are still dealing with the old way of thinking. Once there is an independent union, for lack of a better term, one of these mounted police associations nationally will have a significant voice in the public discourse as well, not just at the bargaining table for collective bargaining. Much like the MPAO took its court case and made public statements, once the RCMP has a single unified bargaining agent, the men and women of that organization will have a prominent role in the discourse around policing, public policy issues, public safety and security issues, and harassment. I tell members of the force not to think about the future based on the past and the staff relations program, which clearly was not independent enough for management, but to think of this new union being independent from management.
Let us not kid ourselves and suggest that we can treat the RCMP with its chain of command, with its need for operational ability and discipline and postings, just like any other department of the federal government. It is not. We ask a lot of the men and women who wear the uniform for Canada and in return there is a unique set of employee and employer relationships. The Supreme Court not only acknowledged that but it gave us the road map to say that is possible and in conformance with the charter.
I would also say for the exclusions that there is also the Financial Administration Act, there is a complaints process through the civilian route, and there are Treasury Board guidelines on a range of workplace issues. The collective bargaining table is not the only area where the health, wellness, and occupational elements of the workplace for RCMP members are considered. We need to remember that.
I would like to offer brief praise to the government on its willingness to remove Sections 40 and 42 from Bill . The Conservative caucus, and the NDP caucus joined with us, pushed to have these sections removed. It was not core to the Supreme Court of Canada decision and the need for a collective bargaining agent. In many ways it concerned the men and women of the RCMP that the government was trying to outsource health and occupational wellness to workers' compensation bodies. The point I have always made, particularly when it comes to operational stress injuries that we have seen rise, is that we do not need an uneven playing field across the country on how our men and women seek treatment and compensation with respect to injuries. There needs to be one consistent high standard for our one top level police force. I applaud the government for listening and for removing those provisions from Bill C-7.
Our public safety committee has simultaneous to Bill also been hearing from uniformed service personnel from across the country on the issue of operational stress injuries. It is heartening to see all sides working on this. This is an area where we need to take the learnings from the Canadian Armed Forces and Veterans Affairs Canada and the RCMP and share them with other municipal police forces, firefighters, paramedics, and prison guards.
The Conservatives appreciate the government's movement on some fronts with regard to Bill . However, without the secret ballot and without the real consultations to ensure the men and women on the front lines of the RCMP understand the exclusions, on which I have tried to work with the government, we cannot support the bill as it currently stands. I would ask the government to give more time so the men and women of the RCMP have confidence in the union that will be created.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to start my remarks today by thanking all the men and women in the RCMP who serve our country. It has been a real honour to have had an opportunity, through working on Bill , to hear from them and get a sense of the needs and challenges of the RCMP today.
As a new member of Parliament, this has been an opportunity for me to learn a lot about a very important institution in Canada and to hear directly from those who serve us so well.
It is an attempt by the NDP to try to manifest that thanks in arguments and in a position on Bill that will bring about the best outcome for members of the RCMP and that will give them a greater say in the future of the institution they serve, and through that institution the country.
It is my hope that our arguments and actions in this debate have been worthy of their service. In that spirit, I would like to make some remarks about the bill at third reading.
Bill was one of the first bills the government brought to the House of Commons. At that time, there was a collegial spirit, and a lot of talk about the importance of the committee process and how empowered committees would be in order to make meaningful changes to legislation. At that time, there was far less evidence that this may not come to pass than there is now.
The NDP was happy to support the bill at second reading, to send it to committee to deal with what we thought were some important concerns. Some of those concerns were addressed, and we were happy to work with other parties in order to get rid of clauses 40 and 42 in the bill, which really had little to do with the Supreme Court decision and were kind of tacking on a decision about the benefits of members without consulting them. Frankly, this was just before, or on the cusp, of them potentially having a bargaining unit that could do that credibly on their behalf.
That did not make sense. We were very glad to work with the other parties on committee to jettison that part of the bill, and leave it for later when RCMP members could be represented in that discussion and help come to a conclusion about the state of their benefits, rather than having the decision made for them.
The next important area of concern from our point of view are the exclusions. That is also the point of view of nearly every RCMP member who has contacted me as the responsible critic in the NDP.
Today we heard hon. members talk about the two important elements of the Supreme Court decision, the explicit ones. Those are independence of the bargaining unit from management and choice, that members be able to choose a bargaining unit.
What gets lost, even though those are the two items explicitly mentioned by the Supreme Court, is that there needs to be an independent bargaining unit freely chosen by the membership in order to bargain with the employer about the things that matter in the workplace.
Even if the bill meets those two aspects of independence and choice, if it leaves nothing to bargain, because that has all been excluded under the legislation, or if it does not leave most things to bargain, then I do not think it is in keeping with the spirit of the Supreme Court decision. I have said before in the House that the bill as it stands is certainly open to challenge.
It is not just open to challenge because it is a bill, a piece of law. Any bill at any time is open to any challenge. It is open to challenge, and is likely to be challenged, because it does not satisfy the people who went to court and fought for years in order to get some meaningful say over the future of their workplace.
It is not because by getting collective bargaining rights all of a sudden employees or the president of the union or just anyone who happens to work for the RCMP can walk into the commissioner's office and say “This is the way it will go from now on”. It is because it would at least give them the opportunity to be involved and consulted in a way that they never have been before.
That is why so many RCMP members were so excited and joyful when the Supreme Court ruled that it was not right and that it was a violation of their charter rights that they be denied the right to bargain collectively in their workplace. The way that the Supreme Court made sense of that was that people need the freedom to meaningfully advocate for their concerns within their workplaces.
It has been our position all along that these exclusions do not do that. It seems to be that some members are of the view that somehow if we take away the exclusions, suddenly a clerk in the RCMP would be dictating to the commissioner what the rules of the workplace are. Of course to anyone who has any real understanding of collective bargaining, that is ridiculous. I do not see why we would not want to empower members to bring forward proposals about the way things ought to operate in the RCMP. We all know and have discussed many times already, not just in this Parliament but in all of the previous Parliaments, that there are problems within the RCMP.
Traditionally, the way to deal with those problems has been that the commissioner and the government, in some way, shape, or form, get together and say that there is zero tolerance for the kinds of problems that exist, or affirm their support for the force and say that they want to work together to ensure that the RCMP members have everything they need. However, we know that has not always worked. I do not see how that could possibly be controversial to say.
Collective bargaining, which the court has said RCMP members have a charter right to, would not be the only tool. I do not think anyone is maintaining that once collective bargaining comes to the RCMP there will be no further problems or incidents in the workplace. What we are saying is that by introducing meaningful collective bargaining, and by that I mean bargaining without the list of exclusions currently in Bill , we would be introducing a genuinely new tool into the workplace, not just for workers but also for management and the government to deal with some of those issues, and to deal with them closer to where they are happening, so that they do not have to come to Parliament to be dealt with, mostly by people who do not have experience or background in the RCMP. They could be dealt with in the workplace instead.
If it turns out that some of those proposals are completely unreasonable, then they would go to binding arbitration. That arbitrator is required by this very law to take into account the unique role of the RCMP as a national police force and the stated budgetary policies of the government. Therefore, allowing RCMP members to come forward with proposals is not any kind of real threat to the operational structure of the RCMP. Any of those proposals would first be reviewed by management at the bargaining table. If they are really unreasonable they would not be agreed to. Beyond that, they would be assessed by an independent third party that has to take into account all of those very factors, which members have so well articulated, that make the RCMP different.
Certainly, if we talk to RCMP members themselves, those who are advocating for a more open model of collective bargaining without the exclusions, they will tell us that they do not want the RCMP to be treated just like any other federal department. However, if we take the exclusions out, the RCMP is still not treated just as any other federal department.
Therefore, it is our submission that Bill satisfies the legitimate concerns made in those arguments and that those arguments are mistakenly applied in favour of having an itemized list of exclusions, when those concerns are already answered by the many other elements of protection either for management or due to the unique nature of the RCMP. Sometimes those are harder to tell apart than others, but we are satisfied that those protections exist and that unreasonable proposals that do not adequately care for the spirit of the RCMP and its unique operational nature will be dispensed with through binding arbitration and those interpretive constraints.
What the exclusions really amount to is just prejudging the reasonableness of the proposals employees may bring, and saying to them in advance, “Whatever it is you want to bring here you can't, and we don't want to hear it.” That is the tone that is set.
There may be other avenues that they can bring those proposals through. There have been other avenues over the last four or five decades and more. However, the point is that those other avenues have not been satisfactory. That is why so many members of the RCMP took the RCMP to court to say they wanted collective bargaining because their legitimate desires and goals within the workplace, even though it would be nice if they were, were not being heard adequately through those other avenues.
They want another avenue called collective bargaining, not because it is a panacea, not because they are going to get everything they want but because they clearly need another tool in the tool box. They need another way of working on these issues in their workplace in order to have success at resolving long-standing issues within their institution that have eluded them through all those other avenues. It is their way of asking the government not to create more avenues that formally are the same as the avenues before, but to do something genuinely new and let them in on the ground level to propose and be part of solutions in their workplace to deal with as much as they can as close to the work as they can. Those other issues that cannot be resolved can then bubble up and can be dealt with along with those other avenues.
I just do not see why that does not sound like a good idea to the government, and why the government insists on maintaining these exclusions. I just do not see the same threat to the institution.
Looking at the bill and considering the history of the RCMP and listening to what RCMP members would have to say is something that unfortunately more Canadians are not in a position to be able to do directly. Part of the honour and privilege of being the critic for the bill for the NDP is that I have had the opportunity to do that. When we lay those things beside each other, it is hard not to feel that this list of exclusions really is just ridiculous. It either comes from a desire to satisfy RCMP management as opposed to the front-line workers in a way that I do not think makes sense or is appropriate for government, or it comes just from a basic failure to understand collective bargaining. That is not where I started out in terms of my thinking on this, but I just do not see how they can engender this kind of resistance to these exclusions, given everything else that is within the bill, the binding arbitration system and the interpretive constraints put on the arbitrator, and think that somehow the RCMP is going to fall apart if members put their issues on the table.
Those members care deeply about the institution, and that is something that has been very clear to me in the correspondence that I have received from them. Let them bring the proposals, let them work with management, and let them have their agreements and disagreements. For what does not get solved there, we can look at those other avenues. No one is saying those other avenues need to be closed. It is just to say that there is an opportunity here to do it differently and to do it better, and that we can do that while respecting the unique nature and therefore unique needs of the RCMP. In fact, a lot of that is already in the bill.
Just to address some of the other arguments that have been made, we have heard that it is a different kind of organization because the members start out as cadets and anyone who ultimately ends up wearing the commissioner's uniform wore the other uniforms on the way up, so there is a level of trust with the senior leadership of the RCMP. That is a nice picture, and I am sure that it is true in many cases. However, it is clearly not enough, just in the way that collective bargaining on its own is not enough. Just because they have a collective agreement, it does not mean that they will never again have a workplace incident. However, they set up rules in order to be able to deal with an incident when it happens.
The trust and camaraderie within the RCMP is a good thing and I am sure that in certain cases that has meant a great deal to those members and has helped resolve situations, but it clearly has not resolved them all. It verges on being naive to expect that simply because people were together in their initial training, somehow 20 years later there are never going to be problems between management and workers. Sometimes despite its best intentions, management is going to be on the wrong side of that argument. What is important then when that trust breaks down, as it has demonstrably within the RCMP at times, is that there is a good process in place. That is the idea behind a collective agreement.
There can be workplace processes in place without a collective agreement. Many workplaces have them, but the idea is to give RCMP members a say in what those procedures will be. It is not to say they would get a veto on every workplace procedure. It still has to be negotiated and go to binding arbitration. Fundamentally I do not agree with the idea that somehow there is something that will fall apart if members are allowed to bring those proposals.
When one hears from as many members as I have, they are distressed and upset at the fact that those proposals will not be able to go forward. They were also not consulted in any serious or meaningful way prior to this. There was a survey that the Conservatives ran last summer. I have heard from certain members that they did not really know what they were being consulted on or understood what their answers would ultimately mean. Therefore, there has not been great consultation and I have been hearing that members do not agree with the exclusions.
I do not see why the government is willing to dissatisfy so many RCMP members, many of whom were part of the suit in court, who felt that they were gaining not a panacea but an important tool in the workplace that was not there before, a workplace where some things were not going right. In my view, there is not much at stake with removing these exclusions.
That is something I have been wrestling with. I wrestled with it at committee and again at report stage where there was an amendment about the exclusions. It was not as comprehensive as the NDP amendment at committee, but it at least dealt with one of those exclusions. We heard the same arguments and we are hearing those same arguments again today at third reading. It has been a bit of a disappointment in terms of process, because other than the RCMP commissioner himself and some top brass and other members of this chamber on the government side and in the Conservative Party, I have not heard anyone say that they agree with the exclusions or that they do not think some of those exclusions should be lifted.
It is rare to get a unanimous conclusion and I have heard from some who think some exclusions are warranted and maybe others are not, but the resounding cry I have heard from those who would be affected by the legislation is that they would like to have a significant number of exclusions removed, and in most cases all of them, so that they can bring proposals forward. I have yet to hear a compelling argument, when I look at the whole bill and the other aspects of the bill, that says we should not be doing this.
Saying RCMP members all went to their first training together so we should just trust them to do a good job is not sufficient. I do not think it is enough to say that they are getting independence and choice of the bargaining unit, when there is not left much to bargain. That is a really important thrust of the Supreme Court decision. That is clear and that is the subject of the decision. One might forgive the court for not feeling it had to be on the list of things the legislation had to satisfy. How do members select a bargaining unit if the legislation that grants the right and the process to collective bargaining takes away everything that can be bargained at the same time, leaving only pay and benefits? It is clear that the spirit of the decision is not being respected and we can expect to see it challenged again by the very same people who fought it for a very long time.
We started out by supporting this to send it to committee in part because we wanted to see those exclusions dealt with, but that simply never happened. In all of that I never heard a really compelling argument for why they would not be removed. It is unfortunate, but it is not something that we can support at third reading at the end of this process.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to the important bill now before us at third reading.
As members are aware, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in January of last year that a number of key provisions of the labour relations framework for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police violated the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Indeed, the court outlined that interfering with the right of RCMP members to the collective bargaining aspect of the labour relations regime in place at the time was an infringement of RCMP members' charter guarantee of the right to freedom of association.
In accordance with the Supreme Court's timeline, that labour relations regime was dissolved on May 17. Right now, RCMP members are being provided with workplace support through the members' workplace services program on an interim basis. However, as I will discuss shortly, the House must move quickly to implement a new legislative framework governing labour relations in our national police force. As such, I invite all members to join us in support of Bill , 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 certain other measures.
That this legislation was brought before the House so quickly is a mark of our government's determination to respect not only the ruling of the court, but also, in a timely manner, to respect the constitutional right of the thousands of men and women who serve Canadians from coast to coast to coast. This government takes the protection and security of Canadians very seriously. Since the RCMP plays an integral role in achieving this objective, it makes sense that we should make every effort to protect the rights of those who protect us.
Let me now turn to how Bill would achieve these essential goals. In the first instance, as the court made clear in its decision, in order to comply with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, a labour relations regime must be based on two fundamental principles: one, it must provide for independence, in the sense that an employee organization must be independent of management; and, two, to comply with the charter, a labour relations regime must provide choice, in the sense that employees have the opportunity to choose for themselves the organization they wish to represent their interests to their employer.
By contrast, to quote the decision of the court, the labour relations framework known as the staff relations representative program was:
… not an association in any meaningful sense, nor a form of exercise of the right to freedom of association. It is simply an internal human relations scheme imposed on RCMP members by management.
Bill would enable the very opposite. It speaks to that which is the essence of bargaining as a collective: an independent organization, not beholden to management, freely chosen by the people whose interests it was created to represent and uphold.
RCMP members and reservists, for the first time, would enjoy the same labour relations rights that other employees in the federal workplace have enjoyed for more than four decades: independence and their choice of representation.
Before I get into the details of the bill, I think it worthwhile to remind the House how the bill came to look the way it does. The Government of Canada could not simply impose these changes on RCMP members. It was important that the government hear and take into account the views of RCMP regular members.
RCMP members were consulted through a variety of channels, from an online survey to town hall sessions in more than a dozen communities across the country. More than 9,000 regular members completed the survey, and over 650 people participated in the town hall sessions.
At the same time, recognizing that the RCMP, through police service agreements, provides police services in many jurisdictions across Canada, and that a change in labour relations may have implications for those agreements, Public Safety Canada engaged in discussions with the provinces and territories that are served by the RCMP.
The bill before us today is in keeping with the decision of the Supreme Court and also with the results of consultations with RCMP regular members and reservists and contracting jurisdictions.
The views and preferences expressed during those consultations with RCMP members and reservists were clear. A large majority stated that they wanted: first, the option for a unionized RCMP; second, independence from RCMP management; third, representation in a single national bargaining unit of RCMP members and reservists by a bargaining agent whose principle mandate is the representation of RCMP members; and fourth, binding arbitration with no right to strike.
Bill addresses each of these four key points, which come from RCMP regular members and reservists themselves. RCMP members and reservists told us they wanted the option to unionize. This bill would provide them with the option to choose whether they wish to be represented by a bargaining agent, in a sense, a union. They told us they wanted independence from RCMP management, and this bill would enable a bargaining agent that is independent from the influence of RCMP management.
A majority said they wanted representation in a single national bargaining unit of RCMP members and reservists by a bargaining agent whose principal mandate is the representation of RCMP members. This is a point worthy of further explanation.
The government agrees that should RCMP members choose to be represented by a union, that bargaining agent must have the representation of police forces as its only responsibility. To do otherwise opens the possibility of a potential conflict in loyalties. It would be unfair and unwise to put RCMP members in the position of having to police members of another bargaining unit with which the members were affiliated.
The government also agrees that the bargaining agent should be a single national body rather than having the national character of the RCMP altered by the formation of regional unions.
We are confident that Canadians will see these provisions as appropriate. Again, most RCMP members themselves believe this to be the best course. Indeed, one of the reasons it is important for us to adopt this legislation quickly is that since the previous labour relations regime was dissolved on May 17, the RCMP finds itself in an interim period. The sooner Bill is in place, the sooner we can ensure that regional bargaining agents or bargaining agents that are not exclusively focused on policing do not begin to establish themselves within our national police force.
The bill would also achieve the independence and choice demanded by the court decision by bringing RCMP members and reservists under the governance of the Public Service Labour Relations Act, thus aligning RCMP labour relations with that of the rest of the federal public service. This means RCMP regular members and reservists would have the right to negotiate a collective agreement, as bargaining agents have been negotiating on behalf of other federal employees for decades, and as is the case for every other police service in Canada.
Existing provisions of the Public Service Labour Relations Act that exclude employees in managerial and confidential positions would apply to the RCMP. As well, when the act is applied to the RCMP, officers holding the rank of inspector and above would be excluded from representation.
This bill would enable the negotiation of collective agreements that would cover things one would expect to find in such agreements, from rates of pay and pay increments to hours of work and work scheduling. RCMP regular members and reservists would be able to negotiate, among other things, overtime and extra duty pay; shift and weekend premiums; designated paid holidays, vacation and sick leave; parental and maternity leave; career development; and education. In other words they could negotiate provisions we have become accustomed to seeing for many, many years in the collective agreements that have been negotiated in the federal public service and in public and private sector organizations across Canada.
Further, the Public Service Labour Relations and Employment Board would be charged with administering the process for RCMP members, just as it does for all other employees of the Treasury Board of Canada.
As one would expect, Bill takes into account the particular circumstances of the RCMP and the important role of the RCMP as Canada’s national police force in ensuring the safety and security of Canadians.
Accordingly, it restricts certain matters from negotiation or inclusion in any arbitral awards that impact the RCMP's ability to operate in an effective and accountable manner.
Things such as law enforcement techniques, including methods of interrogation, crime analysis, witness protection, DNA collection, search and seizure techniques, and so on, would be non-negotiable.
Other exclusions from collective bargaining or arbitration would include, for example, the uniform, order of dress and equipment of the RCMP; deployment; and conduct and discipline, including inappropriate behaviour, commonly recognized as harassment, and enforcement techniques. These kinds of exceptions are by no means unusual, but as I know, the issue of conduct, including harassment, has been the subject of much discussion in the House and in committee, allow me to reiterate that it is a priority for our government to ensure that all RCMP members and employees feel safe and respected at work.
The has made clear directly to the RCMP commissioner that in dealing with harassment we expect comprehensive, transparent investigations; serious disciplinary measures; support for victims; and concrete action to end toxic workplace behaviour.
As the House has been informed, the minister has asked the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP to undertake a comprehensive review of the RCMP's policies and procedures on workplace harassment and to evaluate the implementation of the recommendation it made in 2013. Going forward, the minister will continue to be active on this important part of his mandate from the to ensure that the RCMP and all other parts of the public safety portfolio are free from harassment and sexual violence.
I will close by returning to the four key elements RCMP members told us they wanted to see in a new labour relations framework. They want the option for a unionized RCMP; independence from RCMP management; representation in a single, national, bargaining unit of RCMP members and reservists by a bargaining agent whose principal mandate is the representation of RCMP members; and binding arbitration with no right to strike.
It is fitting to end my remarks today on the last element. I believe it speaks to the commitment and dedication of the members of our national police service that members themselves have told us they should not be allowed to withdraw their service.
Clearly, RCMP members understand their responsibility, and this government understands its responsibility, which is to respect the decision of the Supreme Court of Canada and bring forward a bill that assures RCMP regular members and reservists of their charter right to freedom of association. That is the bill we have before us now, and I urge all members of this House to join the government in supporting its expeditious passage.