Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to rise to join in the debate. Having listened to some of the different comments that members have been making and given the broad strokes in which this discussion has been discussed, let us get back and talk about the actual provisions in the legislation.
I think it is important to talk about the role of unions in society more broadly, and I will be making comments about that in my speech as well, but let us first be clear about what we are actually substantively debating.
What the government proposes to do in Bill C-4 is to whole hog repeal two pieces of private members' legislation that were passed under the previous government: Bill C-525, with respect to guaranteeing a secret ballot in the context of certification in federally regulated areas, and Bill C-377, which is a bill about financial disclosure for unions.
We are talking about some fairly specific things. We are talking about secret ballots and we are talking about financial disclosure. I would posit that one can be in favour of secret ballots and financial disclosure and still very much believe in the important role that unions have played, and continue to play. I think we can have an honest conversation about the provisions in Bill C-4, agree or disagree, while still recognizing that there are some points of common ground insofar as there are also points of disagreement.
One of the first lines of attack we see from the present government on these two private members' bills, and it is quite striking that it is doing this, is to attack the very legitimacy of private members' legislation, at least as a vehicle for putting forward substantive ideas.
I would argue, as an individual member of Parliament who takes my rights and responsibilities very seriously, that we are sent here to represent our constituents individually and private members' business is the only vehicle we have, and it is based on a draw, depending on where our names line up, for putting forward bills that we personally believe are important and for having the opportunity to have those bills discussed and then voted upon.
It is not only legitimate, but it is valuable for members of Parliament to use those private members' bill opportunities in very substantive ways. With the exception of bills that spend money, private members' bills are allowed to, and should, cover a wide range of different important and substantive topics.
Members opposite know the process that exists for private members' legislation. Of course, there is less time allocated in the day for a private member's bill debate than there is for government bill debates, but there are no such restrictions upon the ability of parliamentary committees to study that legislation once it proceeds to committee. Indeed, when private members' legislation makes it to committee and it is debated at committee, committees can call many different kinds of witnesses. They can take the time they need to consult, to hear from a broad range of stakeholders. Also, if a bill is going to become law, it will have gone through that process in both the House and in the Senate, providing two different opportunities, again, for stakeholders to be engaged. That is in addition to any consultation that individual members of Parliament do or that the sponsor also does.
There is a process in place, and it is important to underline that other than private members' legislation, there is no channel for anyone other than the government to bring forward bills in this place. Wherever members stand on the bill, I say, let us stop this attack on the legitimacy of private members' business, because it hurts all of us when members across the way make the kinds of comments that we are hearing about private members' bills somehow not being a legitimate place to have important and substantive debates.
I want to talk a bit about the role of unions, from my perspective and I think, probably, from the perspective of my colleagues on this side of the House, as well. I believe, we believe, that unions have a very important role to play in our society, that they have had and continue to have an important role.
First, they have a role in advocacy. We know that many of the basic, accepted notions of workers' rights that we have that are now protected in law for all workers are things that were initially advocated for by unions. Unions have provided that general social advocacy on behalf of certain reforms that have been important and helpful for workers.
Unions have also provided advocacy at a collective bargaining level on behalf of a whole bargaining unit. That continues to be an important role that unions play. Also, they provide advocacy for individuals who may have grievances or challenges in the workplace and need the support of a broader group such as a union acting on their behalf to ensure their rights and interests are protected. This advocacy is an important function that unions have and continue to carry out, and this is something I think we would find broad agreement on in the House.
Perhaps a role of unions that gets less attention, but is still very important, is the way unions provide training, mentorship, and elements of social community to people within the workplace. Members of my extended family who have been members of unions have really benefited from the mentorship structures that exist in unions. Therefore, unions play an advocacy role as well as a community role, and they provide a lot of value when they play that role.
Unions can also help to instill a deeper sense of pride of vocation. For many of us work is not just a way to earn a living, but something we invest aspects of our identity in and we appreciate the dignity and value that comes to us through our opportunity to contribute to the work we do. Unions can help instill that sense of pride in work, and often they do that.
On our side of the House, certainly from my personal perspective, we would strongly affirm that unions have an important role to play.
It is perhaps also worth recognizing that unions come in different forms. Some of the functions I just described, whether it be community, training, or advocacy, can often happen in a different form in a non-unionized workplace as well. Therefore, I would not say there is one model that is necessarily better than another. It is up to individual workers to evaluate and consider what type of workplace model best reflects their interests.
That is why it is important to have a democratic model for deliberation about certification and for workers coming to those decisions, as well as having a truly democratic model for deliberation about which union. There is increasing diversity of union options out there. It is logical to regard that as a positive thing, when we have different kinds of union models that provide workers with some choice in the process of certification, such as which union, what kind of union, or perhaps no union at all, in terms of how they proceed with their certification. There is an important role for unions and it ought to be one in which those functions are fulfilled.
Unions are at their best when they respect the internal diversity of opinion, the rights of their members, and democratic principles in their activities. Many unions do that. Unions are at their best when they consider their work in the context of universal human solidarity, when they are invested in the needs and interests of their workers, as well as the unemployed, as well as the long-term well-being of the company that supports their activity. Unions are at their best as well when they work to encourage excellence in the workplace. That is very common. That is something many unions do.
We can have a conversation about the details of how unions operate from a place of respect for the role they have and continue to play, but also we need to dig into these specific provisions and, recognizing the role that unions play, ask what the best way is to maximize their success.
As I was reflecting on that I thought it would be worthwhile to draw on some opinion data. I found a survey that Leger did in 2013 with some really interesting data about the opinions of the general public, as well as the opinions of members of unions, about some of the different aspects of the legislation. It it important that we listen to individual union members who have bought into this model, see the value of the work their unions do, and who also may have specific opinions about the kind of structure under which it could operate. This is from 2013, but I suspect there has not been a radical change in the opinions of union members on these types of issues.
The first question that was asked was whether they agreed or disagreed with the statement, “It should be mandatory for unions from both the private and public sectors to publicly disclose detailed financial information on a regular basis” .
Members might be interested to know that 61% of union members in that sample completely agreed with the statement that unions of both the private and public sectors should publicly disclose detailed financial information on a regular basis, and 23% somewhat agreed, so of current unions members, over 80% either completely or somewhat agreed with the idea of public disclosure of financial information on a regular basis. If we are going to call some of these things “anti-union”, I think we should listen to what union members are saying and reflect on that feedback.
It was interesting to look through the full range of questions that the study asked. One of them was whether workers felt that their dues were being well spent. In terms of the numbers, 57% of unionized workers said they thought their dues were being well spent; 27% said they were not being well spent. Therefore, that is a positive number for unions. Unionized workers saying, yes, they see the value of their membership in unions, they see the value of the dues they are spending, but at the same time also saying that they see the importance of financial disclosure.
There has been some discussion of the use of union dues for certain kinds of political activities. It was interesting that 62% of unionized workers in this sample felt that making contributions to advocacy groups unrelated to workplace needs was something that they disagreed with. They did not want to see their dues used to fund advocacy groups unrelated to workplace needs. A full 77% of unionized workers said they did not want to see their dues being used to fund political parties.
That was some feedback. Workers are saying, yes, they see generally their dues being well spent, but they want to see that they are going to things related to workplace needs, not things unrelated to workplace needs, and that they see the value in public disclosure.
This one really stuck out for me, “A secret ballot vote should be required when forming or removing a union from a workplace.” Of current unionized workers, 62% completely agreed with that, and 24% somewhat agreed with that. According to this particular survey, 86% of current union members said they believed that a secret ballot should be required when forming a union in the workplace.
When I hear my colleagues across the way suggest that advocating for a secret ballot is somehow going against unionized workers, when well over 80% of unionized workers are telling a pollster that they want to have a secret ballot, there is obviously some dissidence there.
May I say, I wonder if that is why we hear so little discussion of the actual substantive provisions of the legislation. We hear members of the government saying that the old bills were anti-union and their new approach is eliminating those anti-union bills, without actually saying what the specific provisions in the bill were and whether those provisions in the bill accord with what union members are asking for. If we look at the numbers, it seems pretty clear that these things do accord with what union members are asking for.
When I spoke to the bill before, I talked about how one of the key arguments for a secret ballot is that a secret ballot provides an opportunity for prior deliberation. The card check system is one where members, seeking certification, may go around and get people to sign cards and then once a sufficient number of cards are signed, that is it, the union happens. However, when there is a secret ballot, there is an opportunity for discussion, for the employer and for those seeking certification to present arguments.
There was actually a poll question specifically about this issue of the process of deliberation. They were asked to agree or disagree with this statement, “During a union organizing drive, employees should be entitled to obtain information from both the union and the employer on the impact of workplace unionization”. Of unionized workers, 73% completely agreed with that and 24% somewhat agreed with that. A full 97% in this sample of current union members in Canada said that there should be an opportunity for the union as well as the employer to present information reflecting what their perspective is on the impact of unionization. These are some very telling numbers about the perspectives that union members have.
I want to conclude my discussion, of this poll at least, with reference to one additional question that asked for perspectives. They gave two options. One option was on whether unions are still as relevant today as they have ever been. The other option was on unions being needed and relevant at one time but whether today they are any longer necessary. There were 71 per cent of unionized workers who said that unions are still as relevant today as they have ever been.
A very large majority of unionized workers very much see the value and relevance of unions, and a majority of unionized workers believe that their dollars are being well spent. This is good news for unions in the present and in the future. However, at the same time, workers are saying that they want to have a secret ballot and that they appreciate the value of financial disclosure.
I think this is where we, as a House, need to be. We need to be listening to what workers are saying. We need to recognize what they are saying about the value of unions, for them, and for our society as a whole. We also need to recognize what they are saying about these very simple but important areas of having a proper process in place for certification, and also of ensuring that there is a proper mechanism in place for disclosure.
In the remaining time I have, I will come back to this issue of the secret ballot. It amazes me to hear colleagues in this House argue against the secret ballot. We are having a discussion about so-called electoral reform right now. I do not know if anyone has proposed in the conduct of these discussions that we should eliminate the secret ballot.
The idea of eliminating the secret ballot in our election system would be seen as totally ridiculous and would be very concerning to Canadians if anyone proposed it. However, for the purposes of union certification, it is like we are entering a completely different dimension. People who were elected by a secret ballot, who are very used to the principle of a secret ballot in every other kind of election, say it is not needed when it comes to certification.
The arguments we hear stretch credulity. For instance, they say that secret ballots provide a greater opportunity for employer intimidation. Did they miss the “secret” part of secret ballot? On what basis could it be argued that there is intimidation on a secret ballot?
Again, we do not hear the government arguing against the use of the secret ballot in federal elections because of the risk of intimidation. Obviously, not. That is exactly why we have a secret ballot, to eliminate the possibility of someone looking over another person's shoulder and saying that they should vote this way or that way.
Secret ballots also reflect something else. They reflect a fundamental right to privacy that every person should have with respect to their political opinions. Most of us here choose not to be all that private about our political opinions. However, Canadians have a right, if they wish, to not talk publicly about their views on certification within their workplace. Members might understand why not wanting to tip their hand one way or the other in terms of their views on certification would be a choice that some people would want to make.
If that is how they want to express their right to privacy, to vote in secret about certification, in elections or in any other cases, that is a fundamental function of the rights to privacy that we expect. People should be able to not expose their political opinions if they do not wish to do so.
In the context of the secret ballot, I talked about the importance of the process of deliberation, having an opportunity for debate without having a certification drive sneak up on people who are not aware of it or do not have an opportunity to have that conversation.
I will conclude by saying that this is an important bill, one on which we can and have had good debate. However, we should dig into the provisions. We should talk about the bill. I think we all accept that there is an important role for unions in society. We also need to listen to what unionized workers are telling us with regard to the specific provisions of the bill. Then we need to evaluate it accordingly.