Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak to Bill C-4. Of course it goes without saying that I will be supporting this bill at second reading.
We spent the last 10 years under constant attack from the previous Conservative government with respect to workers' rights. Obviously I will be talking about Bill C-377 and Bill C-525, which were introduced in the previous Parliament. I will come back to them later in my speech.
There have been flagrant examples in recent years. It was almost an obsession. I am talking about the Conservative Party's attitude towards the workers at Canada Post and the CBC, just to name a couple. I think some people, especially on this side over here, often forget the many benefits brought about by unionization.
For example, a unionized worker earns on average five dollars more an hour than a non-unionized worker. Among women, that gap is even wider at $6.65 an hour. This translates into greater purchasing power and more money going back into the economy. Basically, it is good for everyone. This is not rocket science. I would also remind the House that we do not hear stories about tax havens when it comes to these kinds of wages and workers.
The purpose of Bill C-4 is to repair the damage from the Conservatives' attacks against workers. First, it prevents legal challenges. According to our analysis and that of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, Bill C-377 went against the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The courts would no doubt have annulled that bill because it violated the right to the freedom of association and violated the privacy of those who work for a union.
I find it rather insulting that the previous government decided to introduce a bill that it knew was easily revocable by a court. Why do that? Was it out of ideology, or flagrant disregard for workers and our institutions, including our courts? Maybe it was a cheap fundraising stunt on the backs of its supporters. We know that the Conservatives have a penchant for that type of thing. Unfortunately, we will never know, but fortunately we are here to undo the previous government's dirty tricks.
The Conservatives may have claimed that they introduced the bill in the hallowed name of transparency, but what they failed to say is that unions were already required to report their financial information to their members. That is a rather important detail that we do not often hear the Conservatives talk about.
Bill C-377 imposed detailed and costly reports and requirements on the unions. The Conservatives pushed the bill through, despite general opposition from the public, including constitutional law experts, the NHL Players Association, the provinces, Conservative and Liberal senators, which takes some doing, privacy experts, the Canadian Bar Association, and so on. We are not the only ones who are pleased to see Bill C-4 before the House and to see it pass quickly.
According to the parliamentary budget officer's estimates, implementing Bill C-377 would have cost much more than the $2.4 million that the Conservatives planned to give the Canada Revenue Agency. The CRA would have spent almost $21 million in the first two years to create the electronic database required and approximately $2.1 million annually to maintain the system. I have not even touched on all the hours that the unions would spend to meet these requirements, which would be added to their workload, instead of protecting workers' rights.
Therefore, the repeal of Bill C-377 will save millions of dollars for both the government and the unions. I would like to quote the national president of the United Food and Commercial Workers union, which represents NDP employees:
UCFW is pleased to see the government tabling Bill C-4. Our union campaigned vigorously against the Conservative Government's Bill C-377 in the last parliament. The bill was undemocratic, and part of the Conservative government's campaign against workers and workplace democracy. It was also a major invasion of the privacy of individual union members and it infringed on provincial jurisdiction over labour issues. Repealing Bill C-377 is positive for all Canadians as this bill would have been expensive for the government to implement and monitor.
That is what I wanted to say about one-half of Bill C-4. As for Bill C-525 , it sought to make it harder for workers to organize, while making it easier to decertify unions. What struck me about the bill at the time was that it was completely unfounded.
The government made changes to the labour laws without even proving that the old union accreditation method was a problem. I will summarize the facts.
About 10% of workers currently fall under federal jurisdiction. They are represented by a number of unions, such as public service unions, Unifor, and trade and construction unions. Before, a union was automatically accredited when more than 50% of workers signed a card indicating that they wanted to unionize. When 35% to 50% of workers signed a membership card, an election was triggered to determine whether the workers truly wanted to unionize. Bill C-525 wanted to change the threshold for triggering an election for accreditation from 35% to 40%. Furthermore, it would have also banned the automatic card check certification system.
This is yet more evidence of the previous government's disdain for workers' rights. This backwards attitude ignores the fact that, for example, the wage increases negotiated by the union inject hundreds of millions of dollars into the Canadian economy every week.
I want to get back to what I was saying earlier. One of the advantages of unionization is that it injects more money into the economy. When people earn higher wages, they consume more. We are talking about regular people, not Bay Street CEOs, who earn astronomical salaries and then send that money to some faraway island.
I applaud this bill from my colleagues opposite, who made a good decision to start their term by repealing these two harmful bills. That is a good sign. However, we must remain cautious, because this is only a sign. In recent years, my colleagues opposite waxed on and on about standing up for the middle class, but I must say that their definition of the middle class, which they are using for the tax cuts they promised during the campaign, is flawed. The threshold they use is rather arbitrary.
I would now like to talk about this dangerous new bug that everyone in the current Liberal government seems to have contracted, and that is “consultitis”. That is all well and good, and I understand that some issues require a lot of discussion and consultation with experts. However, there are also some issues that have obvious answers. The government could save time on those rather than getting caught up in this constant consultation. That is what I mean by “consultitis”.
The government needs to protect the middle class by taking meaningful action, not by spouting rhetoric and launching public consultations left and right. We have heard enough about consultation since this government took office. Talk is all well and good, but it does not put food on people's tables.
I therefore urge the Liberals to do more, to take more meaningful action. The benefits of doing so are tangible and easily verifiable, so let us get started.
The NDP will continue to exert pressure on the government to reinstate the federal minimum wage and vote in favour of the anti-scab bill introduced by my colleague from Jonquière. It is a common sense initiative, as is pay equity, obviously.
I find it very frustrating that problems like the ones I mentioned, which were identified decades ago, are still wreaking such havoc. Canada is a progressive country, which is obvious from our general attitude on thorny issues such as physician-assisted dying. However, I find that we sometimes drag our feet for no apparent reason. Everyone here recognizes that women and men are equals, but that belief is not reflected in our economy, where we see wage disparities that make no sense.
In closing, I realize that there are a lot of messes to clean up. After a decade under the Conservative dinosaurs, there is a lot of work to be done. That decade put us on guard. The NDP will certainly not be giving the Liberals a blank cheque, since everyone knows that they have a tendency to signal left during the election and then turn right once they take office.
Unequal distribution of wealth is not just theoretical. It is a very real problem that is beyond comprehension in a country as wealthy as Canada. Decent working conditions and decent pay are good for everyone. We all know the harmful and devastating effects of poverty. I am proud to belong to a political party that understands these issues and refuses to compromise when it comes to implementing effective measures to truly eradicate poverty and poor working conditions, which have no place in a country like Canada.