Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to rise today in this debate on Bill C-7 and to be the first speaker on behalf of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition on this important subject.
All parties in this place respect the important role played by the RCMP/GRC, our Mounties, and not just for the iconic image they represent around the world and the subsequent acknowledgement of Canadians as a people who respect one another and enjoy peace, order, and good government. We acknowledge, and we have paid homage in this House, when some of our front-line men and women have risked their lives and in fact given their lives in recent years in Alberta and Moncton, serving Canada and protecting the society we all enjoy.
The Conservative Party, when we were in government, followed the court case of the Mounted Police Association of Ontario very closely as it made its way through the courts. We are here today because of a decision of the Supreme Court of Canada that came down last year and provided an opportunity for the government to respond.
The previous government had been looking at the Supreme Court decision, consulting, meeting with senior leadership within the RCMP, and hearing from front-line members. Then there was the transition, and the same issue was faced by the new Liberal government, which asked for a bit of an extension in January. The court has given the government until April to come up with a framework for labour relations and bargaining for members of the RCMP that meets the spirit and intent of the Supreme Court decision in the Mounted Police Association of Ontario versus Canada.
I am here today as the official opposition public safety critic. I will be speaking just before or alongside my colleague, who is responsible for Treasury Board, and certainly the impact of Supreme Court decision has an dual aspect. It solidifies and elucidates the right to collective bargaining that the Supreme Court has given members of the RCMP, as their exclusion from the Public Service Labour Relations Act was declared unconstitutional and in violation of section 2(d) of the charter, the right to association.
However, there certainly will be economic ramifications of that as well. That is the second aspect of the decision, and that is why the opposition will lead off with both public safety and Treasury Board critics speaking.
As the public safety critic, having heard from Commissioner Paulson just yesterday and having already had the opportunity to have him before the public safety committee in this new Parliament, I want to begin my remarks by thanking the front-line men and women of our RCMP. They are charged with a very important role in our country, given the breadth and size of our country and the fact that large portions of rural Canada would not have policing services were it not for the men and women of the RCMP.
This conversation on this subject, while it deals with labour relations and ultimately will have an impact on the fiscal framework for Canada, must begin by acknowledgement on all sides of this House of the tremendous respect we have for the RCMP. There are 28,461 regular force members of the RCMP, not including auxiliaries, whom we all know and see in communities across the country. They also play a very critical role, particularly for large events and things like that in our communities across the country.
Let us put that in perspective for a moment. That number of 28,000 or so members of Canada's police force is significant when we compare it to the next-largest police force in Canada, the Ontario Provincial Police, with about 6,100 uniformed members, and the largest municipal police service, also in Ontario, the Toronto Police Service, with 7,900 members.
The Supreme Court, and really the court case launched by the association in Ontario, recognized that alongside its municipal and provincial comrades in arms, Canada's largest police force needed the ability to have effective collective bargaining in the same way that its provincial and municipal cousins did. The Supreme Court has given some guidance on that and this has led us here to Bill C-7 today.
However, Canada's largest police force, our national police force, does attract a significant expense of the Government of Canada for salaries, a $1.6 billion commitment to public safety, to front-line policing across the country. Only time will tell, but all parties acknowledge that the impact of the Supreme Court decision and the changing of the bargaining arrangement, or in simple terms the unionization of the RCMP, will have a significant impact upon the fiscal framework for Canada.
I say that mere hours before the budget is to be brought forward by the new government. I hope it approaches Bill C-7 and its implementation with a little more caution than it appears it has approached this budget, particularly when it comes to operational spending, most of which is made up of salaries. The pressure is on that, particularly once reference bargaining between the large municipal and provincial forces begins. We need to ensure our front-line officers get what they deserve, the support they deserve, the salary, remuneration, benefits, health care, and support for mental health. We need to ensure we look at the well-being of our front-line officers, not just in the context of salaries but in how we take care of them both while they are serving and after, particularly if they leave with a service-related injury.
In my far too brief time, unfortunately, as minister of veterans affairs, I had the honour of interacting quite regularly with the RCMP and its members. As the government knows, and as its new minister well knows, the ill and injured of the RCMP are provided for and their support is administered through Veterans Affairs Canada. We have certainly seen how in recent years the health and wellness support, particularly for mental injuries from service, has dramatically come into the modern era, and we are very proud of that. I know the new government will continue that important work. Our public safety committee right now is studying operational stress injuries, post-traumatic stress disorder for our front-line responders.
The interesting things we have learned over the last generation from our veterans and from our Canadian Armed Forces are now being shared with our RCMP and with municipal and provincial police forces. In fact, the document of the Canadian Armed Forces, “Road to Mental Readiness”, a wellness document for mental health, is now really the touchstone for first responder uniformed personnel serving in Canada. That needs to be a very important part of this discussion, as does the implementation of what comes from Bill C-7.
As the member of Parliament for Durham, I also need to once again thank the men and women of RCMP detachment Bowmanville, in my community, who are part of the Toronto East, the “O” detachment of the RCMP, which is not as widely seen in Ontario because we have the OPP. This detachment for the Toronto GTA East is very important. Like in so many communities, when the men and women hang up their uniform after their shift, these same people are often the coaches at the hockey rinks and the soccer fields, and become the backbone of our communities.
I want to salute the RCMP members in my own detachment and speak for a minute about the other eight provinces.
Quebec and Ontario have provincial police forces, but many parts of Canada would not have the important underpinning of public safety were it not for the men and women of the RCMP, particularly rural areas where often that member will be the first and sole response to an incident. In recent years, the RCMP's ability to work with parts of rural Canada, first nation leadership, and first nation police forces, has truly been remarkable. That needs to also be part of the framework that becomes the new collective bargaining approach for our RCMP.
Bill C-7 is the result of the government's response to the Supreme Court of Canada's decision in the Mounted Police Association of Ontario v. Canada. Specifically, it looked at whether the staff relations representative program within the RCMP met the test of giving the freedom of association to members of the RCMP guaranteed by the charter. One of the members of our caucus, who is a proud retired RCMP officer, knows that the staff relations representative program did try to act as that conduit between the workforce and management in the sense of a bargaining agent.
As a result of the creation of that staff relations program, going back to the 1970s, the RCMP was excluded from the Public Sector Labour Relations Act. It was specifically excluded in legislation. That exclusion, alongside an analysis of the staff representative program, was what the Supreme Court ultimately looked at. Its finding was that the staff relations program did not meet the standard it expected under section 2(d) of the charter providing the men and women of the RCMP with the freedom of association.
It is interesting and important to note that the decision of the Supreme Court did not say to just strike out those sections of the PSLRA, the Public Safety Labour Relations Act, and treat the RCMP like any other public service. The analysis of the Supreme Court decision is quite illustrative, particularly with our modern labour law, which is starting to move away from the traditional Wagner model that we inherited from 1930s labour relations in the United States.
What did the court actually say in this decision? We see parts of that reflected in Bill C-7, but we have concerns of another nature. The court said that section 2(d) guaranteed meaningful collective bargaining, meaningful representation, but it broke that down further and said that meaningful collective bargaining and meaningful representation had two parts. The first part was employee choice; there must be choice. With respect to the second part to provide that meaningful standard, there needed to be sufficient independence from management. This is really where the old model within the RCMP failed in the eyes of the court. The court felt the staff relations program was not seen to be independent enough from management. It was seen more as a human resources tool and not an agent for bargaining and protecting the collective rights of the employees. That is an important distinction to make. Had the staff relations program been a little more independent, this may have survived the Supreme Court's analysis.
The Supreme Court specifically said “...freedom of association under s. 2(d) is that the guarantee will not necessarily protect all associational activity.” The arrangement must not “substantially interfere”, and that is a later quote it used and is the standard, with the employees' rights to that bargaining, their choice, and the independence.
Bill C-7 does reflect that and would bring certain parts of the workplace relationship outside of the bill. I respect the fact the government has acknowledged that part of the decision. Certain elements through the grievance process and certain elements of the workplace would not be subject to the collective bargaining relationship. That is important, given the unique role and the chain of command structure and heritage of the RCMP as a police force. The government appears to have acknowledged that in Bill C-7.
What is absent entirely from Bill C-7 is that first element of the Supreme Court's decision, which is that meaningful collective bargaining and the meaningful right to association under the charter must have as its first principle employee choice.
In fact, I heard my friend from Spadina—Fort York earlier talk about the front-line members of the RCMP and say, “If they choose”. That is what the Supreme Court of Canada put as the fundamental construct to this relationship, employee choice.
However, what is absent in Bill C-7 is a codification of that employee choice which, in our modern democracy, requires a secret ballot vote. The members of the RCMP whose collective rights under section 2(b) of the charter can be exercised by their employee choice at the first instance, saying whether they want an association or not, and that vote to be conducted in a way that conforms with our democratic principles should be by secret ballot.
Why is that interesting? Because of the order paper we have two bills before Parliament. We are in the early days, so leaving out private members' business, I think we are up to Bills C-7 or C-8. Bill C-4 expresses the government's clear intention that secret ballot should not be a fundamental underpinning of the choice employees have on whether to belong to a union.
I have not heard the parliamentary secretary, my friend, in his remarks explain that omission. I hope to hear that addressed somewhere in the debate on Bill C-7, because it does drive an interesting omission on the part of the government.
The Supreme Court of Canada said that the first pillar to meaningful right of association was employee choice, but that is not codified in Bill C-7. Therefore, I think we will see the opposition, learning from the Supreme Court, ensuring that employee choice and secret ballot is directly a part of Bill C-7. We hope, with the government members being mindful of the court decision, it will agree to amend the bill to reflect that. If they do, it is our intention to work with the Liberals on it.
The previous government, as I said, was looking at the impact of the Supreme Court decision and how we could guarantee this charter right for our men and women of the RCMP, alongside ensuring their important structure, chain of command and the important duties and risks inherent in policing were respected and not diminished, and public safety would not impacted through the course of what might be regular Wagner model union construct.
What is interesting is that this decision, along with the Fraser Health decision, has shown a gradual departure in labour law from traditional Canadian law. In fact, if we look at when Justice Rosalie Abella was on the Ontario Labour Relations Board years ago, there was a balance between these arbitration type boards, quasi-judicial bodies, the law and the legislature. Now that legislatures are intervening more in labour law and now that this charter right is developing with respect to association, it is changing the old model, and the courts have acknowledged that.
In fact, some of the best labour minds in the country, including some friends of mine with whom I used to practice law, including Brian Burkett and John Craig, have written on the move away from the Wagner model. What does that mean? It means the exclusivity of a union guaranteed by the Wagner model may indeed be a thing of the past, and that it is quite acceptable for provisions of what the police do to be excluded from collective bargaining. In fact, the court has said that the Wagner model itself is not the constitutional right. It is meaningful right to collective bargaining and an agent that is constitutionally protected.
As I said, that fundamental charter right which led to this decision, the two part test, the first part is employee choice. Therefore, the government should have that reflected in Bill C-7: employee choice on who their agent should be, on their priorities, as well employee choice on whether they are unionized. That should be by secret ballot, which Canada has had since 1874. If the government acknowledges and amends this, it may see some unanimity in this place, and I would like to see that.