moved that 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, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to address the bill before us today. As background, I think I join all members of Parliament in saying how much we appreciate the men and women of the RCMP who have for generations, and continue to, served Canadians from coast to coast. They have done that with professionalism, with courage, with commitment and with dedication. From the most remote areas of our country to highly urbanized settings, the RCMP has been there for us and continues to be. Citizens recognize and appreciate that from coast to coast.
I especially learned more about the RCMP and its workings in a previous portfolio, public safety. During that time, my appreciation for the RCMP and the work which it did only grew. In fact, I had a great opportunity to see how the RCMP was recognized, not just nationally but internationally, as a policing force and as a police organization that had demonstrated time and time again that it had the professionalism, the dedication and the commitment to do the job that Canadians had come to know and respect and to appreciate.
No organization is beyond having an inward look. No organization performs perfectly 100% all the time. That is certainly true of this chamber in which we now stand and even of the occasional political party. It has been known that 100% perfection is not always achieved.
It was an honour for me, as one of a number of highlights with the RCMP and my involvement with it, to preside over the first ever appointment of a female commissioner of the RCMP, particularly in a difficult time. She did an admiral job and had the resounding support of members throughout the organization. I was also able to preside over the appointment of the first ever non-RCMP officer to the appointment of commissioner. Therefore, the RCMP has shown that it is, in many ways, a modern organization facing the challenges of international crime, national crime, modernization on a technological basis and in virtually every other level.
A year ago, April 6, a court ruling in the Ontario Superior Court looked at the labour management regime of the RCMP. Presently the labour management regime has a staff relations representative program, one that was contested in court in terms of its constitutionality as recently as 1999. In fact, the constitutionality of the labour relations setup in the RCMP withstood that constitutional challenge.
The RCMP, as we would all know here, is the only police force in Canada that is not unionized. It was more or less on that basis that a challenge was taken to the Ontario court, which came to a conclusion that it was not constitutional for RCMP members to be represented in this present manner because it had not yet fully allowed them the choice of having a collective bargaining process that would be recognized as a union-based process. Therefore, the court said that the present regime was not constitutional.
Now people may debate that back and forth. Even within this chamber there may be different views on that, but that was the ruling of the court. The court wisely put an 18 month stay on its decision because it said that if we declared April 6, 2009 to be the day that the present staff relations representative program was null and void, there would be the possibility for a high degree of chaos within the organization.
Individual groups could spring up all around the country. We could even have the possibility of an organization represented by a number of unions or a number of different organizations. Therefore, the Ontario court said that it would stay this for 18 months, until something was in place that would meet the demand of the court.
The government appealed that, for a number of reasons. One of the main reasons was there was another case at the Supreme Court of Canada, the Fraser case. The outcome would have some direct bearing on this one. Therefore, the Government of Canada appealed the Ontario ruling and asked for that to be taken into consideration.
The courts ruled favourably on the federal government's appeal on that. The present situation is this will be addressed 30 days after the result of the ruling on the Fraser case by the Supreme Court of Canada. We will have to wait to see when that happens. We do not have a date for that as it is at the pleasure of the Supreme Court.
However, there has to be an immediate vehicle in place, should the rulings go in such a way that the Ontario ruling is upheld and the present labour relations regime is upheld as being unconstitutional, to allow RCMP members to decide what type of labour management regime will work best for them.
I want to make it clear. The modernization act before us is not an act which would force or require unionization of the RCMP. It is an act that would meet the demand of the court and say that certain provisions would have to be followed, certain constitutional guarantees of representation by members would be put in place, but it would leave that choice to RCMP members. That is the nub of the issue.
The act looks at modernizing a number of other areas also. The entire grievance and disciplinary process in the RCMP needs to be addressed. Right now, the way it is set up, members do not have available to them certain elements of appeal within a grievance process that other members of similar organizations have. This would put in place in the Public Service Labour Relations Board certain abilities for the board to appoint adjudicators. It would allow for disputes or grievances to be addressed early on where members could be face to face with others in the grievance process to look at a possible early resolution of a grievance matter.
Right now, members who face a disciplinary process may have to wait months, in fact, even longer than that, sometimes years, before the resolution of a particular grievance. That is not a fair process to have members going through, having a decision or a cloud hanging over not just their head but possibly their careers for an interminable amount of time. This would speed that process up and would allow for some early intervention and possible early resolution.
There are a number of grievance and disciplinary-related areas in the particular modernization that would to assist the public and assist RCMP members.
Also some changes would be foreseen on the part of the commissioner, whomever the commissioner of the day might be. Presently deputy heads of organizations within government have available to them the levers and the mechanisms to take disciplinary action and also to allow for rewards. That is fairly limited in the present legal situation related to the commissioner. Therefore, there would be some provisions that would allow the commissioner to act with the responsibility that would be commensurate with that position.
The staff relations representatives, certainly the ones I have known and have worked with previously as minister, and I am sure members in the House work with on a local basis, have served with sincerity and with commitment, always looking to the best interest of their members.
This particular legislation is not a reflection on the way they have performed the tasks which the members have asked them to perform. As I said earlier, it is a reflection on the court ruling which is demanding a change. The decision will ultimately rest in the hands of the members themselves, and that is the way it should be.
Adjustments will be made to the past process of pay and having a pay council making recommendations. There will be an external advisory capacity. A number of areas will be directly affected, which are in place, should members here agree. I believe there is some support for having this legislation in place pending a final ruling so that whatever happens the members of the RCMP, the men and women who have committed their lives to keeping us safe, to serving us as admirably as they do, will have the assurance that a mechanism will be in place that will not leave their concerns unattended whichever way the final ruling in court goes.
That is what we have before us today. I would invite careful analysis of this particular modernization act. I hope that we will find support for it. This is being done in a non-partisan way because the interests and the safety and security of our communities, our families, our businesses are paramount at this point in time. I believe members on all sides will see it this way and that is what I anticipate as the bill moves forward.