Mr. Speaker, I rise to support the government's motion to disagree with the amendment by the Senate to Bill C-4. In fact, I am saddened to have to speak to this bill again.
Bill C-4 was passed by this House, with no amendments, and sent to the other place, where it was adopted at second reading and where it also went through the committee process, again with no amendments being tabled or adopted.
However, at third reading, certain members of the other House proposed amendments. Of course, as parliamentarians, it is certainly appropriate to study legislation before either place and to propose amendments that would improve or clarify the bill at hand. In this instance, the amendments proposed served to completely gut the bill. Senator Tannas' amendment would have had Bill C-525, from the previous government, reinstated. Senator Dagenais' amendment would have done the same with the previous government's Bill C-377. The latter was subsequently withdrawn, so I will speak to the remaining amendment.
The card check system for union certification seems to be a preoccupation of the Conservative members in this House and in the other place. One could put it down to ideology, I suppose, or consternation that something their party, their government, put in place while in government is being dismantled. That is understandable.
What is less understandable is the fact that the Conservatives continue to try to resurrect a law that has been judged by non-partisan experts to be unfair and unnecessary. Andrew Sims, vice-chair of the 1996 task force to review the Canada Labour Code, said:
...the two bills that are repealed by Bill C-4....both had the air of one side seeking political intervention for more ideological, economic, or relationship reasons, and they have corroded the view that legislative reform at the federal sector is based on the tripartite model.
At committee we heard testimony from respected experts, both employer and employee stakeholders and academics, that the previous government's Bill C-525 was a law that was enacted on the false premise that it was indeed the very bedrock of democracy, but nothing could be further from the truth.
Conservatives like to compare the union certification process to elections, but testimony and evidence from expert after expert debunked this claim. The analogy, simply put, is a false one.
Here is what Prof. Sara Slinn, associate professor, Osgoode Hall Law School, at York University, had to say about the previous government's Bill C-525:
...there is a faulty political election analogy at work here. Mandatory vote supporters commonly rely on a political election analogy founded on the view that certification votes are analogous to political campaigns and elections. The attraction of this argument is understandable, appealing as it does to ideas of free speech and informed choice and workplace democracy, but it's a false analogy.
The nature of union representation is not analogous to government power or political representation, and as a result, the nature of decision-making in a union vote is not analogous to that in a political election. First, the nature of the decision is different. Certification doesn't transform the employment relationship. It simply introduces the union as the employee's agent for the limited purpose of bargaining and administering any collective agreement that the union may be able to negotiate. The employer's overriding economic authority over employees continues in any event.
Secondly, there is no non-representation outcome possible in the political context. In political elections citizens vote between two or more possible representatives. There is no option to be unrepresented, so...if union representation elections were to be analogous to political elections, then it would be a vote among different collective employer representatives with no option for non-representation. That's simply not the system that we have anywhere in Canada.
It seems appropriate for me to once again refer to the testimony of Prof. Slinn, who also addressed the issue of the card check versus secret ballot votes for union certification.
...in terms of cards being a reliable measure of employee support, it's often contended that votes more accurately indicate employees' desire for union representation than cards, suggesting that card-based certification fosters union misconduct to compel employees to sign cards. Although this is possible, there is no evidence, either in academic studies or in the case law from jurisdictions that use this procedure, that it is a significant or a widespread problem. Anecdote isn't evidence, and certainly it shouldn't be a compelling basis for legislative change in the face of a lot of academic research finding that mandatory vote systems have negative effects on labour relations and that employer interference in certification is indeed a significant and widespread problem.
My Conservative colleagues want to seriously curtail, I believe, the ability of Canadians to join unions.
Whenever there has been adversity suffered by working people or unfair or unsafe working conditions, unions have been there to advocate for fairness and for safer and more humane working conditions. Unions have been at the forefront of raising awareness and fighting for issues that affect everyone, from the dangers of asbestos in the workplace to the plight of the next generation of workers facing a future of temporary and precarious work.
I am proud to recognize the efforts of the labour movement in Canada in educating Canadians about the scourge of asbestos. I know that all Canadians look forward to the day when asbestos is finally banned in Canada.
As we mark the 25th anniversary of the Westray mine disaster, when 26 miners were killed, I am also extremely proud of the tireless efforts of the United Steelworkers, whose advocacy on behalf of Westray families resulted in the Westray law. We just have to make sure that all levels of government enforce this law.
Unions and their members have long been the proverbial canaries in the coal mine, raising the alarm on many important issues, and any attempt by the Conservatives, whether in the House or in the other place, to make it harder for Canadians to join unions begs the question why. Why the attack on the constitutional right of working men and women to organize themselves in joining unions?
Canadians have the right of freedom of association, and the card check system has served Canadian workers and Canadian workplaces well for decades. The previous government's Bill C-525 was just a thinly veiled attempt, based on dubious anecdotal examples, to tip the balance to the side of the employer, and employers already have the upper hand in most instances.
Rather than refute, once again, the many problems with Bill C-525, allow me to ask my Conservative colleagues what their motivation was in bringing in such an obviously anti-union, anti-worker, and therefore, in my opinion, anti-democratic law?
To quote Hassan Yussuff, from the Canadian Labour Congress:
Why would an employer care if the workers want to join the union? If it's their free democratic and constitutional right in this country, why would employers want to interfere in it other than the fact that if you do have a vote, it gives the employer time to use all kinds of tactics during the time the vote has been ordered? I could list some of the companies that clearly said they were going to close the facility, or cut people's salaries, or lay people off. Of course, ultimately it changed the workers' ability to truly exercise their free choice.
There is no reason to make it harder to join a union other than to tilt the playing field unfairly toward employers.
As I mentioned earlier, it gives me no pleasure to stand here today to speak to Bill C-4 again. In September 2016, I stated in the House my hope that Bill C-4 would receive swift passage so that the risks and restrictions brought about by the previous government's Bill C-377 and Bill C-525 would cease to exist. However, here we are in May 2017, in a déjà vu situation. Just as the previous government's Bill C-377 and Bill C-525 were enacted by the Conservatives in a less than straightforward fashion, as part of an omnibus bill through a private member's bill process, as opposed to being introduced and debated as government bills, so too have the Conservatives in the Senate engaged in what I believe are questionable tactics.
Bill C-4 had already been adopted at second reading in the Senate, studied at committee with no resulting amendments, and yet Conservative senators decided to break parliamentary tradition and propose amendments at third reading. According to the Canadian Encyclopedia:
The Senate has not vetoed a bill from the Commons since 1939. The Senate now very rarely makes amendments of principle. The amendments it does make to bills now are almost always related to drafting—to clarify, simplify and tidy proposed legislation.
The amendments proposed by the hon. senators Tannas and Dagenais were most definitely not to clarify, simplify, and tidy, but rather were designed to torpedo the contents of the entire bill. While the motives of the aforementioned senators are very clear, it remains a mystery as to why and how the government seemed unable to shepherd its own bill through the upper chamber.
Back in September when Bill C-4 was first debated, I congratulated the government on making good on one of its election promises. It would seem that my congratulations were a bit premature. I hope the government will take its responsibilities seriously and work diligently to ensure that it keeps this particular promise to Canadians to restore some balance to the collective bargaining process and to eliminate the onerous and unnecessary financial reporting requirements that the previous government imposed on unions.
I had also enumerated for the government the many ways that we as lawmakers could make life better for Canadians. Last fall, at the one year anniversary of the election, I expressed hope that the new government that had promised equality for women, fairness for indigenous people, and sunny ways for all would work closely with all members in this House, as well as unions and civil society, to bring about better jobs and a more secure future for all Canadians. I am disappointed that seven months later, one of the government's very first pieces of legislation has yet to be passed. How much longer do workers have to wait?
The NDP said that Bill C-4 was a good first step, but we reminded the government that there is still much work to be done. The previous government's omnibus bill, Bill C-4, had decimated the health and safety provisions for public sector workers. We need to restore these important safeguards for the people who deliver our essential public services.
As part of the promised labour policy reform, we asked the government to bring in legislation to update and modernize the Canada Labour Code. As we know, sections of the code that deal with workplace harassment, hours of work, overtime pay, and vacation entitlements are about 60 years out of date. It is time we modernized the code to reflect the reality of today's labour market. We have yet to hear from the government about this.
Given the rise in precarious and involuntary part-time employment, will the Liberals work with unions to ensure that part-time, temporary and self-employed workers have the right to the same workplace and labour protections as other Canadians? These workers are faced with a host of added challenges that include eligibility for EI benefits, and erratic hours that create challenges in pursuing an education, arranging child care, and qualifying for a mortgage.
When will the government commit to reinstating a fair minimum wage for workers in federally regulated sectors? Some provinces and municipalities are already acknowledging that a living wage will make a huge difference in making life more affordable. Will the government step up and lead the way?
We heard just the other day in this House how the government will be pursuing a national poverty reduction strategy. A critical element of a poverty reduction strategy, I would say, and I think most people would agree, is a federal minimum wage. As I have said before, another sad fact is the disproportionate number of workers who would be helped by a federal minimum wage are women and young people. We cannot afford not to act.
Through a combination of policy and propaganda, the previous government started to dismantle the system of protections put in place by decades of advocacy by labour organizations and unions. Their right-wing agenda has generated policies that have hurt the environment, social services, and all workers, but especially persons of colour, indigenous communities, women, the poor, and other marginalized groups.
It is way past time for the federal government to bring in stand-alone pay equity legislation. We have studied this issue and consulted, and the evidence is clear and undeniable. Two committee reports have called for action, yet the government is making women wait. It is unconscionable.
All these are contributing factors to greater income inequality. If the government is truly sincere about helping the middle class, then it must immediately address all of these issues. If the government cannot manage to stickhandle its own bill through the legislative process, what hope do we have that these pressing issues will ever get the attention they deserve? Affordable child care, pay equity, decent accessible housing, and a living wage are all measures that would help Canadians from all walks of life.
It is not enough to state that one is a feminist. It is not enough to stand beside union men and women during the election and raise one's fist in solidarity. These are just words and gestures. We must follow that talk, that show of support, with actions, with leadership, with the hard work of making hard decisions.
It is time to stop the rhetoric of gender lenses, gender-based analysis, of consultation, discussion, of a whole-of-government approach. It is time to act. It is time to do the hard work of governing. It is time to stop blaming the previous government for the inaction of the present government.
The government must pass this legislation. The Liberals must bring in the changes they promised the working men and women of this country. I urge the government to finally make good on its promise to repeal the previous government's Bill C-525 and Bill C-377 and to urgently turn its attention to all the pressing issues facing Canadians. My NDP colleagues and I stand ready to help.