moved that Bill , be read the second time and referred to a committee.
He said: Madam Speaker, I am pleased to have this opportunity to engage the House on an important decision the government has made for employees of Canada's public service, their unions and for all Canadians.
The decision is as follows: the government will not use the powers in division 20 of Bill , the Harper regime's anti-union legislation that currently enables the government to bypass negotiations with unions and unilaterally impose a sick leave system for federal employees.
As we have already told all bargaining agents, we will repeal this law.
This decision is in keeping with our government's commitment to bargain in good faith with public sector unions and to look for opportunities to modernize the sick leave and disability management system.
The Conservative government gratuitously disrespected the public service repeatedly. This time it did so when it decided to take the issue of sick leave off the negotiating table and give itself the power to unilaterally implement a plan of its own choosing.
Public servants were justifiably angry. They felt the previous government did not respect them and did not respect the collective bargaining process, and they were right.
From the beginning, our government has been committed to restoring a culture of respect for and within the public service. We have immense respect for our public service and the unions that represent them. We recognize the important roles they play.
During last year's election campaign, our government was clear in its opposition to Bill and other Harper government anti-union pieces of legislation. We understood that the changes made to the collective bargaining rights in both Bill C-59, division 20, and certain provisions of omnibus budget bill, Bill , were neither fair nor balanced.
We pledged to introduce a bill this fall to restore the public service labour relations regime that was in place before the former government amended the legislation in 2013. In the meantime, we took steps to make current rounds of collective bargaining easier.
When we took power, our goal was to change the tone, to repair the relationship with public service employees, and to cultivate greater collaboration with the unions representing them.
That is because we value the important role that federal employees play as a force of positive change for Canadians. Every day, these public servants work for the sound governance of our country. They promote Canadian values and defend our interests within Canada and around the world. They deliver thousands of high-quality programs and services to Canadians. From operating icebreakers in the high Arctic to inspecting aircraft, from protecting our borders to peacekeeping abroad, from delivering employment insurance to issuing passports, from geologic research in the field to approving drugs for human use, from maintaining our national parks to preserving historic sites, our federal public service does all of this and much more.
Federal employees work hard across Canada and around the world.
We have seen the effect of their work as Canadians came together to welcome and settle some 25,000 Syrian refugees. That was a tremendous achievement that our public servants, within multiple departments, achieved working together.
This goes beyond just appreciating our employees and the work they do. We believe Canadians can achieve great things when we all work together. Indeed, our promise to work collaboratively with Canadians was a key cornerstone in our election platform.
Canadians want change in the way that governments treat and engage citizens. They want change in the way we work with unions and the labour movement, the way we work with members of Parliament, the media, indigenous peoples, the environmental community, all levels of government, veterans, business leaders, and so many others, all of whom want to contribute to building a better Canada.
By repealing division 20 of Bill , the government is working with unions.
I would like to speak about the importance of rebooting our relations, broadly, with Canada's labour movement, but specifically with our public sector. It is really important to reset those relationships.
What we are doing here today is not simply a matter of demonstrating respect for and recognizing the importance of labour relations in governance. It is part of what we are doing as a government to work in partnership with the labour movement to achieve a better and more prosperous Canada.
One of the first things I did, after being named president of the Treasury Board, was to reach out to Robyn Benson, president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, Debi Daviau, president of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada, Ron Cochrane, co-chair of the National Joint Council, and other public sector leaders. I told them I wanted to restore a culture of respect for the public service, and respect and civility in labour relations.
The National Joint Council was among the first organizations I met with upon taking my responsibilities.
I want to send the following message: we will respect the collective bargaining process and negotiate in good faith. We are committed to reaching agreements, including on sick leave modernization, through collective bargaining.
This approach is crucial to the government's agenda. Canadians gave us a strong mandate to implement an ambitious and progressive agenda for change, to create jobs and grow the economy. However, we cannot get that done without an engaged, motivated, and respected public service. We need to bargain fairly, and in an environment of respect.
We know that we can accomplish more by working with one another than by working against one another. Collaboration is the only way to move forward together.
Real change of the type we envision for Canada can only happen when we work together, when we work collaboratively. Public servants are from diverse backgrounds. They work in communities across the country, and they work together to build a better Canada. We have backed up our commitment with actions.
In December, I made a commitment to the public service unions to go back to the bargaining table to negotiate in good faith. That is what we have done. We are looking for ways to modernize the sick leave system and reach agreements that are fair and reasonable for employees and Canadians.
We also committed that we would not exercise the powers given to the government to unilaterally implement a disability and sick leave management system. On January 21, we confirmed that we would be repealing that legislation, and on February 5, we introduced Bill to do that.
With the threat of Bill removed, we can have a genuine conversation with unions representing the public service on how to modernize the sick leave system in the public service. The current system can, for example, fail employees who have recently entered the public service and who have not accumulated a large bank of sick days. This is of particular concern to our government, and it is of concern to me, given our desire as a government to see the public service attract more young people to its ranks, attract millennials to the public service.
The fact is that the average age for new hires within the public service today is 37. We would like to see the federal public service do more to attract and retain millennials, who represent Canada's best and brightest generation and prospects for the future. However, we cannot do that if we do not have a system of sick leave that recognizes their importance. That is one of the changes we want to make.
Also, our current system fails employees, in our view, who suffer from mental health challenges and other chronic medical conditions. These are some of the important reasons that we are committed to a modernized system.
In terms of working together, we understand that wellness and productivity go hand in hand. Workforce wellness generates higher levels of employee engagement, which, in turn, leads to better-performing workplaces. We understand that workplace wellness means mental, as well as physical, health issues. As the country's largest employer, we have to tackle this challenge in our own ranks. To that end, we will be working to create a welcoming environment for free and frank discussion of mental wellness and mental health issues.
The fact is that our country is enriched and strengthened by different perspectives from the government, federal employees, and unions.
What is more, we know that we cannot provide Canadians with quality services if federal employees are not healthy, empowered, and involved. There is definitely a good dynamic for dealing with these problems and a general interest in doing so. By working with the unions, we are going to make real progress.
I want to recognize the excellent work done in this area of mental health by the joint task force on mental health, and the crucial work of the Public Service Alliance of Canada in advancing this agenda. The joint task force established a positive and collaborative partnership between representatives of the employer and from an equal number of bargaining agents. That is why we are consulting with employees on the federal public service workplace mental health strategy.
With this strategy, we are committing to exploring aspects of mental health with our employees, and to listening and responding to their needs. The strategy will evolve over time, and improvements will be based on research, good information, and employee feedback. This is an important step in helping to improve the psychological well-being of our employees. It is a great example of what we can achieve when we work together with the unions to make a real difference and to achieve important change for their members.
We are committed to taking further action, together with the public service unions and with the public service broadly, to strengthen our public service and to restore civility to our negotiations. I want to reset the relationship with our employees and their unions, and move responsibly and fairly to build the public service that Canadians need.
If we are going to meet the real challenges we face as a country, from improving economic opportunity and security for Canadians to settling thousands of refugees, we need to maintain a motivated and engaged public service. We have a wonderful opportunity here. From bargaining in good faith to open accountable government, to the utmost care and prudence and handling of public funds, we can continue to build a high performance public service for Canadians.
We need to work constructively and collaboratively to do it. Let me be clear. That does not mean that we as a government will always agree with the unions representing the public service on every single issue. Sometimes the union leaders will change our minds and sometimes we might even change their minds on something. However, if we are engaged collaboratively, we can disagree without being disagreeable, and we can work together to come together to build a stronger public service and better government for Canadians. Ultimately, we can learn from each other. We can negotiate in good faith to reach agreements that are fair and responsible for all parties.
In closing, Canadians know we find ourselves in a challenging fiscal situation and a slow growth economy. We were elected on a strong and progressive plan to grow that economy. If we are to implement our agenda to invest, to create jobs, and strengthen the middle class, we will need to be prudent, and it will take sound and responsible fiscal management and real collaboration.
As part of that, we have committed to fair and balanced labour laws that acknowledge the important roles of the unions. That is why we will resolve issues at the bargaining table in a way that is fair and reasonable for the public service and all Canadians. We will not be bargaining in public. We will be bargaining at the bargaining table, and that is where we ought to be bargaining, with the utmost respect for our public servants and understanding the importance of us working together.
The best is yet to come for Canada. The only way to ensure that we as Canadians achieve what we are capable of and that Canadians will benefit from all of this important work is to work together collaboratively, all of us as Canadians, members of Parliament, public servants, provincial, federal and municipal governments, the business and environmental communities, and indigenous peoples. We have a lot of work to do in this country and we need to work hard together to achieve our full potential.
Members of our public service play an important role with respect to not only our plan as a government but also achieving our potential as a country.
I look forward to this debate and hope that all hon. members would join me in supporting this piece of legislation.
Madam Speaker, the has just accused me of being a general waging an old battle. I rise today to say that the right of working people to chart their own destiny through the use of a secret ballot, though an ancient right, will never get old. That is a basic, fundamental freedom upon which this august chamber is based and by which every real democratic decision is ultimately and finally made: the right of the deciders—that is, the people—to go into a secret place and mark their preference free from intimidation or scrutiny by those who have authority over them. The hon. member might consider that to be “regressive”, a word that he chose himself, but it is the methodology that allowed him to be here in the first place.
I do not know if the member is going to rise in the question and comment period to claim that he should not have been elected by those means, but instead should have been allowed to go around his community and ask people to elect him through a petition system, whereby they, standing right in front of him, would be asked to put their name beside his name or the name of his opponent. Imagine if Parliament were chosen in such a truly regressive way. Unfortunately, prior to the later days of the previous government, that is how many federally regulated workers in the private and public sector had the decision of unionization imposed upon them.
Furthermore, this is not yesterday's battle. Currently, the government has legislation before Parliament that would strip away the recently won gain that workers enjoy to vote secretly on whether to unionize their bargaining unit. That legislation is before the Senate and it is not simply one bill. There are two bills related to that right. One broadly speaks to the right of workers in the federal sphere; and the other speaks specifically to the right of RCMP members who, due to a Supreme Court ruling, will soon be granted the right to organize and collectively bargain in their workplace. We know from the unfolding controversies related to the union drive of multiple organizations seeking to represent the Mounties as the bargaining agent that RCMP personnel would benefit from the right to decide that by secret ballot, rather than under the watchful eye of either the employer or a prospective bargaining agent. The reason that a secret ballot is so primordial is not just to protect the worker against intimidation by a prospective bargaining agent or union, but also to protect the employee from intimidation by an employer. On this point, I would like to spend some time.
When I asked the this, he said he wanted to develop a balanced legislative framework between business and unions. He totally forgot the primary stakeholder. The primary stakeholder in labour laws is not business or unions; it is the worker. It is workers that all of our laws and all of our rules should be designed to serve.
This is not a battle for yesteryear. It is a debate that is alive and well today. I would suggest that he, as the , has an opportunity to rethink his position and that of his government and come around to the position that workers should have the right to vote. By the way, that is the policy in five of ten Canadian provinces. Jurisdictions governed by various different political parties give this right to provincially regulated workers in their jurisdiction.
This is not an extreme or exotic concept. It is broadly practised in jurisdictions not only in Canada but around the world. We merely suggest that in the federally regulated sector, that right should continue to exist.
I represent the riding of Carleton. It neighbours on the community of Barrhaven, which was formerly part of my riding. Members will find the headquarters of the RCMP there, an organization that will face union drives as the Supreme Court's ruling permitting its personnel to unionize comes into effect. It is my duty as a member, and the duty of all members in this place who do represent RCMP personnel, to stand up for the right of those who put their lives on the line every day and, through the use of a secret ballot, make their decision free from intimidation.
I will depart ever so temporarily from the subject at hand just to point out that the approach of the government on the secret ballot vote for workers on the question of unionizing workplaces is consistent with its opposition to a referendum on the subject of electoral reform. For some reason, the government seems to be against voting. A government that was put in place by such means opposes those very means. The Liberals seem to have an inherent bias against allowing the people affected by decisions to make the final decision themselves.
On those points, I strongly disagree with the early direction of the current government with respect to labour relations. However, I do have faith that the will change his mind, and perhaps he is changing his mind right now as he listens to these words.
On the subject of sick leave, the has introduced legislation and has committed to the House of Commons that he will work with bargaining agents to come up with an improved sick leave system—and, hopefully, a short-term disability system to augment it—that will serve both taxpayers and public servants. On this point, I think both parties are broadly in agreement. It seems to me that the President of the Treasury Board and the government of the day are trying to work with the bargaining agent to find a solution to the ongoing problem that exists in a whole host of workplaces and to single out the best way to deal with sickness and injury for employees.
One of the problems that I have identified, not only as a member of Parliament and Treasury Board critic but also as a representative of the Ottawa area, is that 60% of public servants do not have enough banked sick days to get them to the full period required for eligibility for short-term disability. For the majority of public servants who fall seriously ill, they cannot cover the span between the day they leave work and the day they become eligible for short-term disability, because they have yet to accumulate enough sick days to fill that gap.
Some 25% of employees have accumulated fewer than 10 days. Many employees, especially the new and the young, have no sick days accumulated at all. Meanwhile, some long-tenured workers, many of them executives, the best paid and compensated workers, have far more banked sick leave days than they will ever use. This is through no fault of their own. It is the result of the fact they have diligently gone to work every day and, as a result, their sick-leave allocation has just accumulated and stacked up year after year. This is a sign of a responsible, diligent employee, but it does not address the problem of roughly 14 million accumulated sick days banked in the system right now, many of which are out of reach of the majority of public servants who are younger and, therefore, have not had such an opportunity.
I know that the shares the objective of the previous government to find ways to get sick and injured public servants well and back to work as quickly as possible. I believe that the negotiating mandate he has with his officials reflects that goal as well.
Therefore, I would encourage him to continue to work toward the mutually supportive goals, first, of protecting taxpayers and, second, of ensuring that public servants have a sick leave and short-term disability system that protects them when they need it and helps them get back to active, productive lives as quickly as possible. That is the sweet spot that we are all attempting to reach and I wish the well in his endeavours to achieve it.
Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to talk today about this important issue. Bill is one step on a long road to recovery for Canadian public service workers, and more generally, for the rights of all Canadian workers.
The previous government's concerted assault on the rights of Canada's public service workers, on the value of the important services they provided, and by extension, on the rights of every hard-working Canadian have really negatively impacted our ability to attract new talent to the public sector and has seriously deteriorated the services the Canadian government is able to deliver to all Canadians. The result is costly. It is costly to the economy, to the Canadian way of life, and to the well-being of public servants, plus it creates gaping holes in our social fabric, which sadly means that particular segments of the Canadian population are left behind or are underserved.
The previous government's Bill showed little regard for basic business principles, willful ignorance of common and elementary knowledge about sickness in workplaces, and zero concern for the well-being of other people. In this day and age, there is no good reason to demand that a person go to work sick.
The previous government's trampling of workers' rights was shortsighted and unwarranted and has left a negative impact on the public sector and the Canadian way of life. Repealing the bill is obviously the right thing to do, but we can do better.
My NDP colleagues and I ask the current government to continue to stand up for workers' rights and to immediately repeal the previous government's Bill , which interferes with free collective bargaining, infringes upon workers' rights to a safe work environment, and restricts the right to strike. The government should move immediately to repeal each section of this bill that undermines the constitutional rights of public service employees.
Under the previous government, we witnessed a major dismantling of important public sector departments. This made many Canadians uncomfortable, so uncomfortable, in fact, that some even wrote songs about it, which is partly why we have a new party in power today.
Many of these public sector departments provide the information, research, and analysis necessary for a government to make informed decisions. Being informed when making any decision is a key factor in making good decisions, whether that decision conforms to preconceived ideas or not.
Dr. Peter Wells, a former public servant and environmental scientist, said in an interview with the National Observer that the previous government was quite “simply anti-science, anti-evidence, and anti-informed policy and decision-making.... More than 2,000 positions and people were lost, many in my field [of environmental science], resulting in a loss of a generation of skills, knowledge, and capacity that were there to serve the public”.
“There to serve the public” is the important part here. It is there to serve the public good, not the good of a single political party or the agenda of a small group of ideologues. The public service is essential to a functioning democracy. They ensure that we live under the best conditions with the best resources and the best information available anywhere in the world. The health of our public sector plays a crucial role in whether we lead the world or fall behind. The public sector is essential to every Canadian's well-being and safety. In short, the public sector deserves respect, and public sector employees should be treated with respect.
Canadians want a Canada that trusts its public servants, because frankly, our public service workers are not the enemy. Canadians trust their public servants to show up to work every day and to diligently serve Canadians in what are often highly challenging and demanding situations. Canadians also understand that these same public servants should not show up to work sick. Passing on illnesses to co-workers and taking longer to get better only reduces productivity.
Trust is key in any healthy relationship. The Government of Canada is not a babysitter and should not babysit the people it is elected to serve. That is not the role of government. A government should trust the people who elected them, because unless we have forgotten, many of these people are our neighbours. Despite our many differences, we must respect our neighbours' right to freedom of speech, to health and well-being, and to a safe workplace. We must respect our neighbours' right to make their own decisions, to learn, and to have the space and resources to grow, because every single Canadian benefits when each of us has the opportunity to prove our potential.
Governments should provide leadership and vision, not micromanage public servants and certainly not abolish rights that will endanger the safety and well-being of public servants and ultimately the people they serve.
Moreover, our government should be working to build, not destroy. A government should protect and not harm. A government should not steal rights but respect them and provide opportunities for exercising those rights. That same government should also trust public sector workers to carry out the important work necessary to maintain the daily operations of the Canadian government.
Every day, thousands of our neighbours go to work to ensure that our food and borders are safe, that our pension cheques are delivered, and that the best of Canada is represented abroad. All of these workers make us proud, and our government should reflect that.
With any system, there is potential for abuse of that system by its users. There is always someone who will try to manipulate situations to their own perceived advantage, often at a cost to everyone else. That can be said of many systems. It can be said of governments, government services, and even representatives of governments themselves. However, like using a sledgehammer to crack a nut, the previous Bill of the previous government declares everyone guilty until proven innocent, and, in the process, smashes the entire structure to pieces so that little usable remains.
Moreover, a parliamentary budget officer report from July 2014, requested by the former member for Ottawa Centre, shows that the previous president of the Treasury Board and the justification for this poorly thought-out bill misrepresented the level of sick leave taken by civil servants. It clearly shows that the use of sick leave in the federal civil service imposes no significant cost on the government or taxpayers.
The PBO report states:
the incremental cost of paid sick leave was not fiscally material and did not represent material costs for departments in the [core public administration].
That means that most employees who call in sick are not replaced, resulting in no incremental cost for departments.
Likewise, and this is important, the PBO also confirmed that the use of sick leave by public servants is in line with the public sector. However, creating a problem where none exists to advance an ideology was the previous government's MO.
The previous government's Bill does absolutely nothing positive for Canada or Canadians and has paved the way for unenlightened ways of forcing Canadian public servants to go to work sick. Likewise, it sets a precedent that negatively impacts the whole of the Canadian working population.
Organized labour, like any professional association, is designed to look out for the well-being of its members. That is a simple fact. Every similar organization, whether it is a professional association, a chamber of commerce, or a taxpayers federation, does the same. Even pro athletes have their unions. In fact, that is the reason they organize. It to present strength through co-operation, to protect one another's rights, and to fight for more rights.
Organized labour, like other professional organizations, has provided leadership in our society. Its members have endured hardship and even ridicule while standing up for better working conditions. Their hard-won gains have benefited all Canadians, and many of these gains are taken for granted by many of us today: weekends, overtime pay, vacation pay, parental leave, health and safety regulations, and even sick days.
Creating a standard for all Canadian workers, unionized or not, to be treated with respect has led to all of us having the basic rights of association and freedom of speech and the right to a workplace that is safe. As small as it might seem, organized labour also helped set a precedent that if one is sick, one can stay home and not lose a day's pay or one's job. Despite what the previous government thought, this makes great business sense, and it has become a standard across the country and across sectors.
Today, these benefits are what helps an organization, private or public, attract top talent. It is also what helps keep that talent because measures such as sick leave ensure a modicum of decency between employer and employee, positively influence staffing efficiencies and stability, and express a confident statement regarding the well-being and health of an organization's or business's workforce. Given all the benefits that a happy, healthy workforce brings, it did seem strange that the federal government as an employer chose not to, or did not want to be a leader.
For example, Shift Development, a forward-thinking development company in my riding, pays a living wage to all its workers. Its CEO, Curtis Olson, says he pays all his employees a living wage rather than the minimum wage because he cannot afford not to. He said, “For me, as a business owner, the cost of employee turnover is a huge cost”. Mr. Olson knows the value of and relationship between high employee morale, health and stability, and increased returns from productivity, efficiency, and success. He said, “If I take care of my employees and help meet their financial and lifestyle needs, they’ll take care of the company and the growth of the company”. The Canadian government should learn from our business leaders' successes and start valuing and trusting their employees because without them the government cannot deliver a single service to Canadians.
The previous government's Bill was unenlightened and primitive. It pushed labour relations and standards back decades and set precedents that were regressive and reached far beyond the confines of the public service sector. It is incomprehensible to many Canadians why the previous government would want to erase rights that took decades and in some cases many generations to earn, rights the Conservatives wiped out in massive undemocratic omnibus swaths and a sweeping ideological mugging of Canadian rights and freedoms. These transgressions were made without consideration for the consequences for the Canadian working person, the economy, or the future Canadian workforce, our children.
Today, we are debating a return of only one of those rights. In the coming days, months, and years no doubt a great deal of time and energy will be lost to rebuilding what was destroyed by the previous government. Thanks to that government, we must move backward in order to move forward. Instead of debating a national living wage, which would increase the health and well-being of our local communities and economies, the previous government left us in the sorry state of debating the reinstatement of sick leave to public servants. If news reports about the current negotiations are accurate, the Liberal government has not lived up to all of its election promises about respecting the public service. It is all very good to promise to negotiate fairly and to bring a renewed respect to its dealings with public service workers, but if they are serving up some of the same offers as the previous government, it is not real change.
I urge the government to keep its promises and not break faith with the public service. It is my hope that the new boss is not the same as the old boss. Let us work to fix what is broken, including a pay system that has left thousands of workers unpaid or underpaid, the full effects of which are not yet to be seen. Let us get this bill passed now and move on to creating and implementing things such as a national housing strategy, which would save Canadians billions of dollars in health care and correctional services costs. Let us work on pressing issues such as quality affordable childcare, improving access to health care, and tackling climate change. Let us focus on improving the lives of families and seniors, and creating brighter futures for our young people. I know for a fact my riding would benefit from discussion on all of these issues, and I am sure my riding is not the only one in the country.
As such, while I support Bill , more needs to be done to restore the numerous and hard-earned rights of Canadian workers, especially those in the public sector.
I urge the government to commit to repealing all the regressive changes made to labour law in the former government's Bill . The previous government's Bill C-4 undermined the constitutional rights of federal public service employees to collective bargaining, including the right to strike. It also offered government negotiators an unfair advantage at the bargaining table. Unions, of course, fought against the changes throughout those legislative processes.
Happily, with collective bargaining about to resume in a new process for several tables of large unions, the government has the opportunity to make a gesture of good faith by committing to repeal provisions of the previous government's Bill affecting collective bargaining. That would be a start, because there are some seriously questionable aspects of that bill.
In fact, the Public Service Alliance of Canada asked the court to immediately declare that division 20 of Bill , which is part of Bill of the previous government, is in violation of its members' charter rights because it denied the right of employees to good-faith bargaining by giving the employer the unilateral authority to establish all terms and conditions relating to sick leave, including establishing a short-term disability program, and modifying the existing long-term disability program; it allowed the Treasury Board to unilaterally nullify the terms and conditions in existing collective agreements; and it gave the employer the authority to override many of the provisions of the Public Service Labour Relations Act.
In short, the previous government's Bill gave the government unbridled authority to designate essential positions. It eliminated the public sector compensation analysis and research functions that had previously allowed the parties at the bargaining table to base wage offers and demands on sound evidence and facts.
The previous Bill also changed the economic factors that could be considered by a public interest commission or an arbitration board, which placed the employer's interests ahead of its employees and tipped the scales, shamelessly, in the employer's favour.
The NDP has stood with the public service workers and the public sector unions every step of the way, while right after right was stolen from them by the previous government. During and after the last campaign, the NDP proposed a comprehensive suite of reforms that would help ensure that the relationship between public service employees and government is responsible, reliable, and respectful, now and into the future. These measures include protecting whistleblowers, empowering the integrity commissioner, introducing a code of conduct for ministerial staff, and reining in the growing use of temporary work agencies at the expense of permanent jobs. We remain committed to taking these important steps forward.
However, beyond changing specific policies, what is really needed is a change of attitude. Our public service workers have been neglected, undermined, and abused by brutal cuts and restrictive legislation, under both Liberal and Conservative governments and administrations. It is time we revisit our thinking.
What do any of us know about what is possible until we change the way we have been thinking and try a new road, a road that respects the independence of public servants, that respects the important work they do, and that shows that respect by honestly and fairly coming to the bargaining table? The current government must commit to restoring capacity in the public service so that essential services for Canadians can be delivered.
The Liberal government has said it is a friend of labour, both during the election and in government, but sometimes its words and actions do not line up. Its exclusion of such important issues as staffing, deployment, harassment, and discipline from the collective bargaining process for the RCMP staff is one such disappointment.
Another is Bill , which made the layoffs of 2,600 Air Canada and Aveos workers permanent by allowing Air Canada to ship aircraft maintenance jobs out of the country. The Air Canada Public Participation Act required the air carrier to keep heavy maintenance jobs in Montreal, Mississauga, and Winnipeg. In a unanimous ruling, the Quebec Court of Appeal recognized these obligations. However, instead of respecting the court's ruling, the present government decided to side with Air Canada, at the expense of workers.
I hope the government will stop saying one thing and doing another. I believe it is time it makes good on many election promises. I urge the government to make a commitment to repeal the previous government's Bill .
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to have this opportunity to speak today in support of the government's Bill , one of a number of actions that the government has taken to restore the trust and confidence in our collective bargaining system in our country.
The bill goes to the heart of what we, as a government, believe in, which is collaborative, constructive relations with bargaining agents. It is a bill that highlights our belief that a balanced system of labour relations is the best one in a fair democracy.
This bill will repeal Division 20 of Bill , passed in 2015.
Bill was the last omnibus budget bill introduced by the former government. It gave the government the power to circumvent the collective bargaining process and to unilaterally impose a new sick leave regime on public servants.
To be more precise, it gave the Treasury Board the legal authority to do the following in the core public administration: first, establish and modify the terms and conditions of employment related to the sick leave of employees despite the content of the Public Service Labour Relations Act that was negotiated in good faith in bargaining agreements; second, establish a short-term disability plan; and third, modify the long-term disability programs.
In other words, it gave the government the authority to ignore the existing Public Service Labour Relations Act in order to put in place a new sick leave and short-term disability program without the support or agreement of the bargaining agents representing public service employees. That is what we have been speaking about in this debate. It serves to undermine the good faith that government needs to earn in its bargaining with its public servants and their representatives.
As members may know, the Public Service Labour Relations Act was initially passed in 1967 to give public servants the right to unionize and to negotiate collective agreements.
It is vital that the parties work collaboratively and that the ability of the public service to serve and to protect the government be enhanced. That is obvious.
Bill sought to give the government the power to unilaterally impose a short-term disability plan if an agreement was not reached.
Unilateral measures are not collaborative measures. They do not foster goodwill or respect.
That is why we objected to these measures when they were introduced, and that is why we are here today repealing the legislation tabled by the previous government.
Federal employees are Canadians like us, who, each and every time they come to work, do so in service to Canada and Canadians, with the goal of improving or protecting the lives of their fellow citizens. They are the people who protect the integrity of our ecosystems by collecting the data and science that is needed to make the decisions, the people who issue our passports when we travel, who inspect high-risk foreign vehicles to ensure our ports stay safe and our waters clean, who work in the local post office, who ensure the safety of our food and the security of our borders.
However, in the past decade, a good number of fundamental labour rights that were hard won by workers and unions have been rolled back.
We need only look at Bill and Bill , which make union certification more difficult and decertification easier, and which would require unions to comply with demanding requirements for financial reporting.
These bills were passed without the usual consultation of employer, union and government when labour relations legislation is amended.
These are some of the measures the members opposite have been speaking about that we are committed to repealing.
The previous government did not follow the negotiation process and made it much more difficult for unions and employers to bargain collectively in good faith and work collaboratively in the interest of Canadians. In contrast, we believe in negotiations to achieve settlements that are both fair for public servants and for taxpayers. Threatening bargaining agents through a bill is not a basis for constructive negotiations.
We started by introducing a bill to repeal Bill . That bill created unnecessary red tape for unions, requiring them to submit detailed financial information to the Canada Revenue Agency, including on non-labour relations activities. We also introduced legislation to repeal Bill , which made it more difficult for employees to organize and negotiate collective agreements.
The also committed to repealing the unfavourable provisions of Bill , another omnibus budget bill passed in 2013, which sought to limit the ability of unions to represent their employees.
These are the important measures we have taken to restore fairness and balance in Canada's labour laws.
Let me sum up our responsible reasons for introducing Bill . The bill would repeal the law that gives the government the power to unilaterally impose a new sick leave system on federal employees without collaboration or consultation.
During the election campaign, we committed to restoring fair and balanced labour legislation that recognizes the important role of unions in Canada.
We respect the collective bargaining process and we will bargain in good faith. We will work to negotiate collective agreements that are fair and reasonable for both public service employees and Canadians.
We want to restore balance, so that neither the employer, who represents the public, nor the union, which bargains for employees, has an unfair advantage in labour negotiations.
That is the system that best serves a just society. That is the system that will attract young millennials into our public service. That is the system in which we all exercise our responsibilities to ourselves, our communities, and to others. That is the system that best serves Canadians.
Madam Speaker, it is with pleasure that I rise today to talk to this particular bill, because labour legislation is not new to me. When I was first elected as a parliamentarian back in 1988, some of the most controversial pieces of legislation that we debated, with the possible exception of the Meech Lake constitutional reform package, was labour legislation, and the final offer selection in particular. I have a little bit of experience that I would like to share with the House and maybe give a different perspective on that.
First, I would like to acknowledge that we have seen a change in attitude toward labour and management, and the importance of having the freedom of collective bargaining and so forth. We have seen it right from the Prime Minister's Office and in the speech by the and the comments by the on the public service.
I think it is very important that we recognize that our government wants to promote harmony and a better way of dealing with Canada's public service, and not only for our public service but also to encourage that same sort of goodwill and bargaining process even in the private sector, where we can carry some influence.
In my earlier question to the about the importance of Canada's civil service overall, I referred to the perception of our civil service that goes far beyond the borders of Canada.
I have had the good opportunity, as I know many members have, to travel and meet politicians and bureaucrats abroad. They often cite Canada for the type of leadership we have provided and look to the professionalism of our civil servants. We often get groups from different levels of government from all around the world coming to Canada to get a better understanding of our system. I believe that is because of the fine work that our civil servants, thousands strong, perform day in and day out in providing a wide spectrum of services to all Canadians. I think we should all take immense pride in just how professional our civil service is and realize that it is recognized not only within Canada but also far beyond our borders.
I started by commenting on my experience. I have witnessed over the years that labour legislation issues are used as political fodder. I remember back in 1988 when we had a change in government in Manitoba, from the NDP administration of Howard Pawley to the Progressive Conservatives of Gary Filmon. The first thing on his agenda was to repeal what they called “final offer selection”. Final offer selection was widely respected and accepted by both the private and public sectors as a positive change to the labour laws in the province of Manitoba—but yes, it could have used some modification. The Conservatives at the time were determined to get rid of the legislation. They had no room whatsoever to accept the legislation. They made it very clear when they were in opposition that they would repeal it. To them it was one of those wedge issues.
It was an interesting debate that took place, and I say this because as we get into the discussions on Bill , that is really what the bill is doing: it is rectifying some problems from the previous government. Indeed, I witnessed in committee a government that was determined not to improve legislation or the law, but rather to fulfill a political desire based, I would suggest, on a wedge issue.
We sat in committees until 2 o'clock or 3 o'clock in the morning for endless presentations, and so forth, and ultimately the Liberal caucus at the time proposed a series of amendments. If the amendments had passed, ultimately the final offer selection would have remained in the province of Manitoba. We had support from both labour and management.
At the time, it was a minority situation, and unfortunately, the New Democrats and the Conservatives chose to defeat the amendments, choosing, in particular with the New Democrats, to kill final offer selection as opposed to saving it and, ultimately, I would have argued, improving it.
Why do I say that? When I look at the number of pieces of labour legislation that we have before us, there are a few thoughts that come to mind. One of them is with respect to a private member's bill that is being brought forward. That private member's bill is being sponsored by the New Democratic Party. It is a bill that I would encourage members not to support as it proposes anti-scab legislation. I remember that legislation when it was being talked about in the province of Manitoba. The NDP members said no, they did not want—
Madam Speaker, it is absolutely relevant and if the member stays tuned, he will find out why it is so relevant.
The legislation members are proposing, the opposite of this legislation, is trying to change ideas that came forward from the Conservative Harper government, that ultimately threw labour relations off balance. This is exactly what the New Democrats are proposing to do in the private member's bill. Like the Conservatives, they did not do their homework with respect to that private member's bill. There is a process which all of us should actually respect.
New Democrats would agree with me on the point that the labour legislation that the government has brought in, in many ways is repealing legislation that the Conservatives brought forward. We made reference, for example, to former private members' bills and Those were bills that, I would argue, were brought through the back door of the House of Commons through private member's where there was no due process, no real consultation that had taken place, but it met a political agenda. It was not sensitive in terms of the labour movement, in particular, but many different stakeholders were not properly or adequately surveyed and the question was not put to them.
It is the same thing with regard to both political parties. I believe we witnessed a new attitude toward the way in which government is treating labour laws and Canada's public service. All one needs to do is to take a look at some of the things we have done in a relatively short period of time.
Today we are talking about Bill , which is a piece of legislation that would deal with a change that the former Conservative government brought in, in the form of an omnibus budget bill, where it changed sick leave requirements. There were no consultations. It was the government's position and it was interfering. It upset a great number of people.
When we were in opposition, we cited the reasons why we had a difficult time, let alone that the change was packaged in a budget bill. We believed, at the time, that it needed to be changed and voila, today we have Bill . It is rectifying a mistake made by the Conservatives. I have made reference to the two private members' bills which dealt with issues such as the certification and other issues related to public disclosure. Again, we witnessed no consultation that actually had taken place. We had Bill and Bill brought in by this government in order to balance the scale.
I believe that this government has successfully portrayed that it is not only a government that wants to see a different attitude but has been very effective at implementing it. We hope things continue to go well with regard to Canada Post. I remember talking to postal carriers with respect to the former government, and saw an attitude of distrust in the government of the day in terms of having an arm's-length approach. That government was prepared to take certain actions even if it meant going against Canada Post workers. Our government brought forward legislation like Bill and Bill to deal with the issues of our RCMP, and allow collective bargaining in order to allow the RCMP to become unionized.
These are all very strong, positive measures that have been taken in a relatively short period of time. The morale of our civil servants is so very important. That is one of the reasons we are seeing that new shift in attitude, and we will see dividends coming from that.
I had an interesting discussion not that long ago with a constituent who was reflecting about how the morale is, in fact, changing within our civil service. They look to Bill
I see you are trying to stand up, Madam Speaker. I believe I will be allowed to continue when the debate next continues.