Bill C-10 (Historical)
Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate term limits)
An Act to amend the Constitution Act, 1867 (Senate term limits)
This bill was last introduced in the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session, which ended in March 2011.
Steven Fletcher Conservative
Introduction and First Reading
(This bill did not become law.)
March 5th, 2013 / 10:15 a.m.
Cathy McLeod Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, BC
Thank you, Chair.
I hate to do this, but I guess we always have to do a correction to the correction in terms of some general comments. I do have to note that it was, I believe, John Manley and Sheila Copps in 2003 who actually introduced that particular issue around the film tax credits. Then the Senate in Bill C-10, of course, did not choose to remove a portion that was a concern. They actually chose to block the advancement of the legislation. Again, I apologize, but I think it is important to have full and accurate information on the record in terms of some of the history, because history is always important.
I really appreciate hearing the comments about having a regular update to the legislation. I believe that everyone here agrees that regular.... I take note of your comments regarding the sunset, and I also take note of your comments regarding the comfort letters. You may or may not be aware that currently our committee—not in this particular initiative—is looking at tax evasion and the use of offshore tax havens. I know there are some significant pieces in this legislation that are actually tackling that.
I guess I would ask Mr. Chapman, of course, and perhaps Mr. Hayos to maybe flag how they're actually working well together in moving forward on that important issue.
Senate Reform Act
December 8th, 2011 / 1:25 p.m.
Sean Casey Charlottetown, PE
Madam Speaker, the Liberal Party certainly shares some of the concerns with respect to the constitutionality of this legislation. I found it very interesting that the member laid it out as a bit of ruse in saying that the Conservatives probably expect this legislation will never see the light of day once it is put through the constitutional scrutiny that it must undergo.
It strikes me that there is a troubling pattern in terms of passing legislation through this House that is likely to be found unconstitutional. We have seen recent examples in Bill C-4 and Bill C-10 .
For the benefit of those in the House and those watching, I would invite the member to expand a bit on the constitutional arguments that would likely be upheld once the bill is subject to the scrutiny of the Supreme Court of Canada.
Opposition Motion—Representation in Parliament
Business of Supply
March 3rd, 2011 / 4:10 p.m.
Tom Lukiwski Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK
Mr. Speaker, I must say at the outset I am absolutely shocked and dismayed that my friend from Acadie—Bathurst asked that question because, normally, he listens intently to every word I speak in this House. In fact, I would suggest that from time to time, he actually leans forward to listen more closely to what I have to say, and I appreciate that. I appreciate that he takes my words of advice so seriously that he would be confused, and so totally confused as he is today.
He asks why do we not allow Canadians to participate in this. That is exactly what these bills are about. Bill C-10 would put in term limits. We have heard from Canadians. They do not want to see anyone have a 45 year term. And Bill S-8 would allow for elections for Senate nominees at the provincial level. What more of a form of democracy can we have than allowing full participation from members in individual provinces?
I think the member for Acadie—Bathurst is far off the mark. Once again, I would ask that he sit back and listen to me intently. He might learn something.
Opposition Motion—Representation in Parliament
Business of Supply
March 3rd, 2011 / 4 p.m.
Tom Lukiwski Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to stand here today and join in this very important debate coming from my colleague and friend from Hamilton Centre, talking about two elements of democratic reform.
The first obviously is the one we have been discussing for many months and, actually, for many years, and that is democratic reform of the Senate. The NDP's position is to abolish the Senate.
I will be concentrating all of my remarks on the first part of the opposition day motion that deals with Senate reform, as opposed to the latter part of the opposition day motion on proportional representation. Due to the limited time that I have before me, I will try to concentrate my remarks only on the Senate.
I should also say at the outset that I will be sharing my time with my colleague from Calgary East.
Let me first assure my colleagues, particularly on the NDP side, that I share with them a lot of the frustrations that they seem to be expressing today about Canada's Senate. In fact, I can assure my colleagues that several years ago, before I was elected to Parliament, I completely shared their view that the Senate should be abolished. At that point in time in my view, the Senate was irrelevant, useless and served no useful purpose for Canadians.
However, since I have been elected and have been in this House since 2004, I have changed my mind 100%. I have seen the good work that the Senate can perform. I would also point out that throughout the western world and the democratic nations of the world, bicameralism, which is to say federal institutions having two legislative bodies, is quite common. The U.S., Germany, Australia, and many others have a similar situation to ours. It is there for a reason. It is there to observe and give sober second thought to the legislative process. In other words, it is a legislative review body. It is also a review body that gives careful consideration to policy.
Even though I had great and grave doubts about the Senate in years past, since I have been in Parliament I have seen on many occasions the work that the Senate has done, both in terms of legislative review and on proactive policy considerations, presenting papers for not only this House and our consideration but also for Canadians as a whole. Without getting into an ideological debate about whether the Senate should be a part of our constitution and our legislative process, I would suggest that we will always agree to disagree on that very point.
However, there are two elements to democratic reform within the Senate that I believe should be discussed. I welcome the debate we have before us today. The first is term limits. One of the most unsavoury aspects of the Senate is the fact that senators can be appointed and then serve for up to 45 years. These would be unelected and, some would suggest, unaccountable senators remaining in their positions for 45 years. I do not think by anyone's definition that is palpable. Canadians would not agree with the notion that someone can be appointed to a body and remain in that position for up to 45 years with literally no oversight.
Yes, there are times when senators can be removed with cause, whether they are charged and convicted of a criminal offence, whether their attendance is such that they have not proven their worth in the Senate, but generally speaking, senators can stay in their unelected positions for up to 45 years.
That is why we brought forward Bill C-10 on Senate term limits. Our position is that there should be a finite number of years that senators serve in the upper chamber. Forty-five years is clearly too long a period of time. We believe that eight years is the proper period of time.
Why eight years? Obviously it would take new senators a bit of time to become acclimatized to their new position, their new job, to learn the ropes so to speak. However, after a year or two, senators can properly function in the upper chamber. The most important part of a Senate term limit of eight years is that after eight years, senators have probably served their purpose to the maximum of their abilities. If not, at the very least we can look at renewal within the Senate.
What angers and offends Canadians more than anything else is to see senators who have served in the same position for 10, 20, 30, 40 years and beyond, paying little recognition to Canadians' true feelings. I believe that if senators were confined to a term limit of eight years, they would know that they had a job to do and that they had to get it done in a relatively short period of time.
I do not think there would be any argument that there should be a term limit put on senators. Whether it is eight years, twelve years or more, is open for debate. That debate would be extremely worthwhile.
I note that the former Liberal leader at one time said that he was in favour of term limits for senators. He was not sure whether eight years was the proper term. He suggested at one time 15 years and then 12 years. Nonetheless, he was a strong supporter of term limits. I am pleased to see that at least some in the Liberal Party agree with us that there should be term limits.
I would ask my friends in the NDP and the Bloc Québécois to also engage in this debate and hopefully come to the realization that if the Senate is here to stay, and I suggest it will be, then we should take a look at meaningful reform from within.
The NDP's suggestion that the Senate be abolished will probably be something that we will never see. It would never happen because to do that we would have to open up constitutional talks and there is no appetite in Canada, from the Canadians I have spoken with from coast to coast, to reopen the Constitution. We have seen the problems of the Meech Lake accord and the problems of other constitutional talks. There is simply no appetite for constitutional reform at that level.
I suggest that Bill C-10 would allow change and reform to the Senate without having to open up the constitutional talks again. The way we have drafted the legislation would allow reforms to be enacted with the approval of this House.
If the NDP members are truly sincere in their belief that there needs to be reform in Parliament, knowing that the constitutional talks would probably never occur, at least not in my lifetime, on Senate reform they should welcome the opportunity to try and enact positive change. In other words, rather than strictly abolishing the Senate, let us grasp the opportunity to make change for an institution that will be with us for the foreseeable future. I would suggest the same thing happen with senatorial appointments.
Right now we have a system where all Senate appointments are strictly that; appointments rather than elections. If we want to have a truly elected Senate, that would require opening up the Constitution. That will not happen. We do not want that to happen at this point in time. Canadians do not want that to happen.
What we have done, through the Senate, is introduce Bill S-8, Senatorial Selection Act. That, in a nutshell, would allow provinces to have elections for Senate nominees. Those nominees would then be presented to the prime minister of the day and that prime minister would be required to give consideration to those Senate nominees. I would also suggest that no prime minister, regardless of political affiliation, would take those suggestions from the provinces lightly. If a sitting prime minister decided not to appoint a senator who had been recommended and elected from a province, he would do so at his political peril.
These are two real changes that can be made to the Senate, as we speak. They can be made internally in Parliament, without having to reopen constitutional discussions and talks. They would enact real reform within the Senate. It is a set of concerns that all members should take very seriously.
Opposition Motion--Representation in Parliament
Business of Supply
March 3rd, 2011 / 1:50 p.m.
Mauril Bélanger Ottawa—Vanier, ON
Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to be able to speak to this matter. First, I want to congratulate the hon. member for Hamilton Centre for sponsoring this motion. I followed his speech with much enthusiasm and I want to tell him from the outset, in order not to create false expectations, that I will not be supporting the resolution. Out of respect for him and for others who have spoken to this issue today, I will explain why I cannot support his resolution. The main reason has to do with the part about the Senate.
I believe ours is a system of checks and balances between the executive and the legislative branches, between the government and opposition, and between the two Houses. Having a bicameral parliament is part and parcel of the system of checks and balances.
As opposed to abolishing the other chamber, I believe we might want to improve it. Therefore, I cannot and will not support the motion because of the portion of it that deals with the Senate. I do not think it is appropriate to propose an abolition.
Some of us may remember than in the previous parliament, the 39th parliament, Bill C-10 was a bit of omnibus legislation that contained an element that we all missed in this House. Perhaps the government should have been more forthcoming in explaining the elements of the bill. Nonetheless, the Senate caught something that we should have caught in this House, which would basically have given the Minister of Heritage some powers equivalent to censorship in the making of films. After strenuous debate, that portion of the bill was abandoned. Thus I think the Senate saved the day there.
Furthermore, in some instances, the Senate initiates very thorough studies. I remember the one that was tabled by the Senator Kirby on mental health, which has had a significant impact to the benefit of all of us in this country. There are other studies of that nature on poverty and security. I think there is certainly a great deal of work that is done by the Senate that is quite good and that is why I support the Senate.
Perhaps amending the Senate might be something we should consider. For that, I think we need to look at another mechanism rather than just striking a House committee. Perhaps the way to go could be a royal commission or a mechanism involving provincial authorities when looking at possible reform of the Senate. If such reform is impossible, then at some point down the road perhaps there will be outright abolition. However, at this point I think that would be premature.
I did listen quite closely to comments by my colleague from Nanaimo—Cowichan.
I am sorry about the inclusion of the elements of the Senate in this motion, because I really rather agree with where the rest of the motion is going.
I was at one point the minister for democratic renewal, and I remember the discussions I had with Ed Broadbent, who was the member for Ottawa Centre at the time. I said that I personally agreed that there may be a use in our system for an element of proportionality. I tried to define that element.
I recall an op-ed in the Globe and Mail a few years ago calling for a “12-per-cent solution”, which apportioned a reduced number of seats on a proportional basis, but regionally. The reasoning then was that if we had greater regional representation within caucuses, for instance if the Liberals had more voices from Alberta and the Conservatives more voices from Quebec and the NDP more voices from other provinces, in other words, if we had more provincial voices speaking in the respective parties' national caucuses, the national perspective might win the day more often.
I think that would be healthy for our country. Therefore, I do support, notionally, an element of proportional representation.
I understand there are concerns and that proportional representation is a complex system. We had B.C., Ontario and P.E.I., where the people spoke on this. We had mixed messages. In B.C., a majority but not quite a sufficient number of people supported at one time having a single transferable vote, which is indeed a complex method. I think the problem there was that there was too great of a fixation on that particular method of altering the way of voting. We also had Quebec and New Brunswick, if I recall, that took a very serious look at elements of proportional representation and yet have failed to enact anything.
It is a complex situation, and I think the nature of our country, the federation, will help us evolve because, at some point, one of the provinces, if not the Government of Canada, will find a way to perhaps try some elements of proportionality. We will then see how that evolves.
The other concern of course is that some people say that if we go that way, we will always have a minority Parliament. That may be so. Some of my colleagues do not like the prospect of forever having minority parliaments, because it is quite difficult for members of Parliament if they are on constant electoral alert. However, I believe that is what Canadians may want; Canadians may want to have a little shorter leash on their representatives.
It behooves us all to learn to work together, not just to say we want to work together and pretend that we want to work together, but actually to find mechanisms to work together and make Parliament work. That is well within our grasp and capacity, and if the Canadian public decide that is what they want of us, then somewhere down the road, somehow, we will have to find a way to do that.
If we ever do go down the road of having an element of proportional representation within our electoral system, then we had better find a way to work together, whether by reconstructing committees or the way the House works or way we deal with legislation. In any event, that is well within our grasp.
All of that is to say that despite all of the concerns with the concept of proportional representation, an element of that, not a majority or perhaps not even as high as 50% or even 25%, but an element of that, might help our democracy. I say this because the other concerns about where we are going are equally valid. Here I refer to the concerns about lack of participation and declining participation, especially among young people. We have to be concerned about that. It is a concern that we cannot ignore, one that we ignore at the peril of our democracy and the well-being of our very nation.
When we weigh all of this together, perhaps the way to go would be to create a committee of the House of Commons and to give it a mandate, perhaps a little clearer than what we see before us today and with a little more authority, to go out and sound this out in a rational, responsible, realistic manner and come back to Parliament with its conclusions. Then Parliament should take them up in debate and see where they would lead us.
If we were to do that, and we will not do so today, I gather, from the indications of where the votes are, and to debate a motion that did not deal with the Senate, I would certainly be willing to support it and would encourage my colleagues to support it and to see where it takes us. I am sorry the Senate was included in the motion today, because I think we could otherwise have seen a little progress today.
Opposition Motion--Representation in Parliament
Business of Supply
March 3rd, 2011 / 10:40 a.m.
Steven Fletcher Minister of State (Democratic Reform)
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to the opposition day motion on electoral reform and Senate abolition that was moved by the hon. member for Hamilton Centre.
The motion that we are considering calls on the House to recognize the undemocratic nature of the current form of representation in the Parliament of Canada. It asks that the government propose amendments to the Referendum Act in order to allow the holding of a referendum on the Senate abolition at the same time as the next general election. It also calls for the establishment of a special committee on democratic improvement whose mandate would be to engage with Canadians and make recommendations to the House on how to implement a new electoral system that would combine direct elections with electoral districts and proportional representation.
I would like to thank the hon. member for moving this motion. As Minister of State for Democratic Reform, I am always pleased to have a robust discussion about democratic reform issues and I look forward to today's debate.
While I am grateful that today will bring attention to democratic reform issues, I am disappointed that we will be spending time debating the reforms proposed in this motion, rather than working together to achieve real and attainable goals that this government has already set out on this topic.
For example, I point to the premise that representation in the Parliament in Canada is somehow undemocratic. Canada has a long history of democracy and Canadians are lucky to enjoy the very healthy system for which we all can be very proud. For example, all Canadians over the age of 18 hold the right to vote, there are free and fair elections and the administration of such elections is overseen by the independent Elections Canada. Elections are held on a regular basis, which allows citizens to hold government to account.
Therefore, the comment that this place is undemocratic just does not hold water, especially comparing Canada to other countries. Canada was compared to Egypt earlier. That is just not fair to Canadians or even to the people of Egypt because they are really fighting for even the seeds of democracy.
I would also like to talk about the electoral boundaries. These boundaries are redrawn on a regular basis by an independent commission that ensures ridings are designed in a fair , non-partisan way.
Finally, we have Elections Canada that provides for secret ballots, regulates political financing and ensures the integrity of the entire electoral machine.
Despite all the positive aspects of a democratic system, I do agree that there are fundamental elements that can be improved, and that is the principle of representation by population. The government introduced the democratic representation act to ensure that representation in the House of Commons would be fair and that Canadian votes, to the greatest extent possible, would carry equal weight.
The House of Commons no longer reflects fair representation of all provinces. This is particularly the case in Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia. The democratic representation act would amend the constitutional formula for the re-adjustment of seats in the House of Commons so that future adjustments would better reflect the democratic representation of faster growing provinces while protecting the seat counts of other provinces.
For example, the province of Ontario would receive approximately 18 more seats, Alberta would receive 5 and British Columbia would receive 7, which, of course, depends on the census results. However, it is a step forward and I hope the NDP will support this government's legislation on representation by population.
On the issue of the unnecessary Senate, our government believes that the Senate does play an important role in our parliamentary system, particularly with respect to the reviewing of legislation and the representation of regions and minority interests. We also believe that members of the Senate perform valuable work.
It is no secret that our government believes that the upper chamber, in its current form, does not reflect the ideals of the 21st century democracy in Canada. Furthermore, we believe the Senate has a legitimacy problem that is directly linked to the method of selection of senators.
Rather than simply doing away with a parliamentary institution, we have advocated for its reform. We believe the Senate should be reformed to become a more modern, accountable and effective chamber that Canadians deserve. In order to move forward with such a reform, we have introduced the senatorial selection act which encourages provinces and territories to establish a democratic process to consult voters on candidates they want for Senate appointments. Provinces, such as Manitoba, have looked into this and have suggested senatorial districts.
The member who moved the motion is very keen on proportional representation. Perhaps that is a method that could be used in the upper chamber.
The upper chamber, I will reflect, is quite different than the lower chamber. In the lower chamber, votes of confidence occur and the first past the post system is much more appropriate. In the upper chamber, perhaps there are other methods and we are open to discussing this with Canadians and other parties. Certainly Bill S-8 reflects our willingness to look at other ways of selecting senators.
The Prime Minister has always been clear that he is committed to appointing elected Senators, and has done so at his only opportunity.
The Prime Minister would appoint senators who are directly selected by the people of the provinces. It is very significant that the Prime Minister is willing to give that power to the people, in effect.
Our government has also introduced legislation that would limit senators to eight years in a non-renewable term. This would allow enough time for senators to gain experience while ensuring that the upper chamber would be refreshed with new ideas on a regular basis.
Despite our government's willingness to be flexible on reforms and to work with stakeholders to find common ground, we have not been able to count on the co-operation that is needed from the opposition parties to make Senate reform a reality. Today's motion proposes a referendum on the Senate abolition. I have concerns about this. Specifically, I have concerns about referendums in general and particularly on the issue at hand.
When we talk about referendums, I would note that national referendums have been held only occasionally in Canada. There was the 1992 Charlottetown accord process, there was a referendum in 1942 regarding conscription and in 1898 on prohibition. It is a rarely used vehicle. While referendums can be used and be useful in engaging Canadians on questions of fundamental importance to the country, we have seen from previous experience that they can also be very divisive along regional and linguistic lines.
The motion also proposes to hold referendums at the next general election. As the motion acknowledges, the Referendum Act does not currently permit a referendum to be held at the same time as a general election, an issue that is divisive in itself. Referendums held during general elections can be done more cost effectively but, on the other hand, issues of a referendum can dominate the election period at the expense of the general electoral campaign.
I would also note that the opposition coalition has been threatening a general election within weeks. It would obviously be impossible to implement this motion before the next general election, which could happen within weeks. I hope the opposition does not call an election because it is not in the interests of Canadians and certainly not in the interests of the economy. The government wishes to work with other parties to ensure that the next general election does not happen for a long time.
In 1992, the Royal Commission on Electoral Reform and Party Financing found that in jurisdictions where referendums had been held with general elections, voter turnout tends to be lower and those who vote represent a small cross-section of the general population. In fact, in its 1992 report the royal commission found that having referendums at the same time as general elections was not a good idea.
More recently, in November 2009, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs began its review on the Referendum Act. Among other things, the committee was considering this very question. It has not yet completed its study and perhaps it would be more prudent to wait for the recommendations before making a decision on this issue.
On the issue of a referendum on the abolition of the Senate, I must say that I find the idea simplistic. Polls have continuously shown that Canadians support Senate reform. A recent poll on Senate reform found that two-thirds of Canadians would like to directly elect the Senate while only 30% support the abolition of the Senate. As the Prime Minister has said, abolition should be the last resort and all members of Parliament should be focused on making our government's reasonable Senate reform agenda a reality.
Participation in the political process by exercising one's right to vote is a cornerstone of our democracy. Of all forms of civic engagement, voting is perhaps the simplest and most important. That is why the idea of reforming Canada's voting system cannot be treated lightly.
At the outset, I would like say that I find the portion of the motion concerning electoral reform perplexing. The proposal is to create a special committee on democratic improvement that, among other things, would be responsible to engage Canadians, “on how best to achieve a House of Commons that more accurately reflects the votes of Canadians by combining direct election by electoral district and proportional representation”. However, the committee would not be mandated to ask Canadians what voting system they would like to have.
The motion presumes that Canadians are dissatisfied with our current system and eliminates the possibility for voters to propose another system, such as a preferential system which the United Kingdom will hold a referendum on this spring. However, it strongly suggests that the first past the post system will be preferred there as well.
Moreover, while the intent of the motion may be to obtain the views of voters on electoral reform, it did not propose a referendum on electoral reform, even though it prescribes abolishing the Senate. So there is obviously a contradiction in the logic.
Like Senate reform, electoral reform has received much attention in recent years. However, while there seems to be general consensus that the majority of Canadians support some form of Senate reform, this is not necessarily the case when it comes to changing our electoral system.
Voting system reform has been put to voters in three different provinces, British Columbia twice, Ontario and Prince Edward Island, and it has been rejected every single time. After significant citizen engagement efforts in these provinces, particularly British Columbia which included citizen assemblies, voters in each province were given the opportunity to vote in referendums on changes to the electoral system. In each case, they favoured the existing system.
In 2007, the Conservative government completed a series of cross-country consultations as well as a national poll in order to consult Canadians on democratic reform issues, including our electoral system.
The participants, who were broadly representative of Canadians at large, expressed satisfaction with the first past the post system and were disinclined to fundamental change. In particular, they valued the electoral system that produces clear winners, such as single party, majority governments that are more common under first past the post, than other forms of PR. This first past the post system also allows voters to hold governments accountable for their performance.
Although a system of proportional representation is not appropriate for the House of Commons, if the senatorial selection act is passed, provinces would be free to use proportional representation or any other democratic system for selecting Senate nominees that directly consults with the members and citizens of the province. This should be a reason why the NDP should support our Senate reform agenda. I would be interested to hear from them on why they would not.
Not every voting system is perfect, but we have a very good system here in Canada. I agree that there needs to be democratic reform and we are moving forward with democratic reform. We have taken big money out of politics by limiting campaign finances. We are trying to ensure that the House of Commons better reflects the population of the people of Canada and where they live.
This is what Bill C-12 does. It is representation by population, a principle that the vast majority of Canadians support. The Senate is designed to reflect the will of the regions. This is important in a federated model such as Canada where we have 10 provinces and three territories. It is important to have that balance.
We have proposed eight year term limits in the Senate in Bill C-10.
Bill C-10 would allow for the reduction of 45-year terms, which the NDP member correctly suggested there was an accountability and legitimacy issue. This bill would help to address that. Also, Bill S-8 would allow for the people of the provinces to select their senators.
This is a much more practical way to move forward on Senate reform. It is constitutional. It is a step-by-step approach that is easily understood. In fact, one could argue that what the NDP has suggested, which would require a huge constitutional change, is a statement of support for the status quo. All reasonable commentators, including in recent editorials in the Toronto Star, National Post and throughout the media, know there is no political appetite for these types of huge constitutional negotiations, like what occurred in the 1980s and 1990s. People want us to focus on the economy and other priorities of Canadians. They do not want use to get involved with deep constitutional quagmires.
I ask NDP members to take their energy, focus it on moving forward with the government's reform agenda, support Senate reform, support Senate term limits, support Senate elections, support representation by population, support our Bill C-12 and support our other initiatives to increase voter participation and campaign finance reform.
Again, I thank the hon. member for Hamilton Centre for raising this very important issue, and may God keep our land glorious and free.
February 14th, 2011 / 5 p.m.
February 14th, 2011 / 5 p.m.
Community Chair of Justice, Church Council on Justice and Corrections
Royal Canadian Mounted Police Modernization Act
December 13th, 2010 / 1:40 p.m.
Claude DeBellefeuille Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC
Mr. Speaker, today I am pleased to be speaking about Bill C-43, An Act to enact the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Labour Relations Modernization Act and to amend the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts.
I would like to begin by saying that the Bloc Québécois supports this bill. The Bloc will be pleased to discuss and debate this bill in committee with its usual thoroughness.
The Bloc believes that unionization of Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers would lead to more harmonious and fairer labour relations. In addition, it is useful to remember that the Conservatives introduced this bill following an Ontario Provincial Court decision, which was appealed by the government three times.
In April 2009, Justice Ian MacDonnell of the Ontario Superior Court extended the right to unionize to the 22,000 officers in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. The judge ruled that the federal law governing the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, which prohibits unionization, is unconstitutional. However, police cannot strike because the Canadian Police Association gave up that right.
This decision put an end to a century-old tradition of RCMP management believing that unionization would hurt the officers' morale. This is not the first time that RCMP officers have requested the right to unionize. In 1999, the Supreme Court of Canada threw out the case of Gaétan Delisle, a former officer who invoked the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to allow RCMP members to unionize.
This bill introduces human resources management processes for grievance procedures, disciplinary measures and the review of conditions of employment. It also gives the commissioner authorities similar to those given to deputy heads in the federal public service as well as the heads of large police services to support the effective management of the RCMP workforce.
According to the new labour relations regime, RCMP members will be able to choose to work in a non-unionized environment, enabled through joint consultation, or to work in a unionized environment, represented by a certified bargaining agent. As is the case with most police forces in Canada, RCMP members would not be able to withdraw their services.
In either a unionized or a non-unionized environment, the new labour relations regime for the RCMP would include the following features.
The proposed legislation gives the commissioner human resource management authorities similar to those of deputy heads in the federal public service—as I said earlier—and to those of heads of large police services in Canada. This includes the authority to appoint, promote, discipline, demote or terminate the employment of all members, including commissioned officers.
The President of the Treasury Board will establish a total compensation advisory committee to provide him with recommendations on overall compensation, that is, pay and benefits, for RCMP members who are not represented by a certified bargaining agent.
If members choose not to be represented by a bargaining agent, the total compensation advisory committee's recommendations would apply to all RCMP members.
If members choose to be represented by a bargaining agent, the committee's recommendations would only apply to officers, that is, inspectors and ranks above, executives and other non-represented or excluded employees of the RCMP.
The committee would be comprised of up to five impartial and external members who, together, would have an appropriate mix of knowledge of policing operations and of compensation issues and principles.
The total compensation advisory committee shares many similarities with the advisory committee on senior level retention and compensation, which provides, among other things, independent advice and recommendations to the President of the Treasury Board on compensation and overall human resources management matters for executives, deputy ministers, chief executive officers of crown corporations and other Governor in Council appointees.
The proposed legislation requires, among other things, that a consultation committee be established to address workplace issues. This could include the co-development of workplace improvements; that is to say, members could also participate in identifying and collaboratively resolving workplace issues and challenges. Through a series of local, divisional, regional and national consultative committees and working groups, members would be given the opportunity to bring their views and concerns directly to managers, either individually or as a group.
The bill maintains the current informal conflict management system and integrates it into all labour relations processes. This system will continue to offer options to resolve conflicts above and beyond the formal grievance process, such as mediation through a third party. The use of these options would be voluntary, confidential and impartial.
The proposed legislation provides the commissioner with the authority to implement a restructured discipline system. Consistent with discipline systems found throughout other Canadian police services and the broader public service, the new system would ensure that the RCMP is able to address and resolve conduct issues transparently, consistently and promptly. It would give RCMP members the right to refer certain decisions or actions of management to an impartial, external decision-making body, the Public Service Labour Relations Board.
The proposed legislation would include a more timely and effective grievance process. This new process would give members the right to refer certain decisions to an impartial, external, decision-making body, the Public Service Labour Relations Board.
What role does the Public Service Relations Board play in the public service? The legislation proposes that the board act as an independent, external third party to make final and binding decisions relating to discipline issues and some grievances of RCMP members. Members would not be able to refer grievances to the board on issues such as assignment of duties, law enforcement techniques or uniform standards.
To fulfill its role, the Public Service Labour Relations Board will take into account the unique role of the RCMP as a police organization, protecting Canadians and national safety. It will have to ensure it has to the capacity to perform its new powers and functions, including the ability to assign adjudicators who have knowledge of policing and police organizations as required.
The bill is a step in the right direction but the Bloc Québécois has some concerns. There are some issues that could be debated in committee if the bill is passed here in the House. One of our concerns is the definition of “employee” found in clause 2(1). This definition is much too strict. In our opinion, there is no reason to exclude employees who are hired outside Canada, part-time employees, casual employees and students.
These people carry out the same duties as their unionized co-workers but are denied the right of association. Members will recall that the Public Service Alliance of Canada is currently before the courts in order to have the rights of these types of employees recognized under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
It is also worth mentioning that the so-called confidential positions are not defined clearly enough. According to clause 31 and following, people who are in confidential positions are those who have been deemed to be so by the employer. It is then up to the union to prove otherwise. This vague or extremely flexible definition could easily lead to cases of abuse that would ultimately be harmful to labour relations.
The bill refers specifically to a certification process. When an application for certification is filed, the board must ensure that a majority of employees in the bargaining unit wish the applicant employee organization to represent them as their bargaining agent. This is a fairly unusual situation and, in our opinion, it places a very heavy burden on the shoulders of the employee organization.
Subsection 29(2) of the Canada Labour Code sets out a mechanism similar to that provided for under section 28 of the Quebec Labour Code. This mechanism involves a representation vote when the board is satisfied that the union has obtained the support of 35% or more of the employees.
In our view, this is a much more realistic approach to truly determining what the employees want. It allows for a vote, when everyone has their say.
Upon reading the bill and the rulings that led to it, we have to wonder what opportunity members of the RCMP will have to join an existing union. The unclear provision, in our opinion, is clause 56 of the bill. We wonder whether its purpose is to ensure that the employee organization actively defends its members or whether it is to limit the organization's role to defending police officers only.
Clause 56 states that:
The Board must revoke the certification of an employee organization as the bargaining agent for the bargaining unit if the Board, on application by the employer or any employee, determines that the organization no longer has as its primary mandate the representation of police officers.
In our opinion, the first solution should be adopted. With the exception of three Canadian provinces, all the other jurisdictions allow their police officers to be part of diversified employee organizations.
As I was saying at the beginning of my speech, this is a step in the right direction. The Bloc Québécois notes, however, that everything in this bill is geared to limiting the number of individuals who can join the ranks of an employee organization. Whether it be by excluding employees whose jobs are not very secure, or by designating confidential positions, there seems to be a real desire to give a limited number of people the right to organize.
What is more, having a certification process that is different from what is done under the Canada Labour Code and in other provinces shows the government's desire to make the certification process difficult.
The confusion around a number of definitions and clauses in the bill also reflects the government's attitude. We sincerely believe that with some amendments, Bill C-43 would benefit RCMP employees. In committee, we will be able to question witnesses and move and debate amendments.
Needless to say, I do not believe the government was too happy about introducing this bill. I do not get the feeling the Conservatives like unions much. I think they moved second reading of this bill quite reluctantly. In their plan to help the auto sector, the Conservatives wanted to include a condition that would have imposed a salary reduction, in spite of the collective agreements in effect.
I have another example to back up what I am saying. In the 2009 budget, the Conservatives included an amendment to the collective agreement for public service employees that unilaterally imposed new salary conditions on some public servants. This provision is found in part 10 of Bill C-10. They also voted against Bill C-395 introduced by the Bloc Québécois, which would exclude the period of a labour dispute from the employment insurance qualifying period. This bill is designed to fill a gap that, in theory, could be used by an employer to pressure a union.
Lastly, the Conservatives have always been opposed to anti-scab legislation, which once again puts workers at a disadvantage compared to employers.
This bill should be debated in committee so that we can improve it and propose amendments to give police officers and RCMP personnel the opportunity to unionize and defend their rights fairly, rigorously and effectively.
December 9th, 2010 / 11:45 a.m.
Dan McTeague Pickering—Scarborough East, ON
Mr. Bilodeau, at the end of most of your inquiries there's almost a cheering from one section that there's absolutely nothing wrong with this industry, based on a couple of things. But I distinctly recall the previous competition commissioner advocated many of the changes in Bill C-10. Actually I advocated a lot of those in Bill C-10. I'm glad they finally came out a few years later. If it is a matter of resources to do an appropriate and in-depth study of this industry--for this purpose Mr. Vincent's industry would be the gasoline industry--obviously it wouldn't be limited. We could be looking at groceries. We could be looking at any other--automotive, whatever the case may be.
I'm wondering if this simply comes down to a question of resources, to a proper and independent investigation, because often I note the bureau has relied on industry personnel itself, J. Irving and Associates being an example, often using tainted data that may very well be supplied by the industry itself. Would you not want to avail yourselves of this kind of investigative power, provided of course you are properly and monetarily financed to do these things, to do a once-and-for-all determination as to whether or not the industry is effective and meets the objectives of the Competition Act?