Mr. Speaker, I am rising at the report stage on this bill which provides that only civilian employees of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police will now be governed by the Public Service Staff Relations Act, and that staff relations for police officers be governed by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Act.
To start with, I have to confess that when I was informed that I would speak on this bill, my thoughts were that, in Quebec, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police is not the police force with the most positive image. We had a few major incidents. I will simply remind hon. members that some RCMP officers were accused of planting bombs. Others stole the list of Parti Quebecois members; a list on which I am proud to say I was. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police in the rest of Canada is also a municipal police force. It is a force which is more or less the equivalent of the
Quebec Provincial Police for Quebecers, since it deals with everything from traffic to Criminal Code offenses.
It seems important to me that a police force like that one should have room to manoeuver, enough independence to avoid a paternalistic system. When you look at Bill C-30 which we have before us today, and was C-58 in the previous session, we realize that it is exactly what it will bring. We will create a paternalistic system whereby the Commissioner of the RCMP will have almost life and death power over his staff. If, for example, an officer is not satisfied with a given situation, or with the way a case is being handled, and files a grievance, contrary to all the rules of staff relations, the adjudicator will be appointed by the commissioner. Therefore, we will have more or less the situation of a small shop union, a situation similar to what we had in the past in other areas, and this is not very good for staff relations.
This is not healthy in a processing plant, for example, but it is even more dangerous in a police force that has to apply the law in Canada. This may even lead to very difficult situations where police officers who work in Quebec could be asked, in a critical situation, to behave in a manner that is not necessarily in keeping with the law. These officers who are living under a fear regime to a certain extent would find themselves facing unacceptable situations and would have to choose between their job and their loyalty to their vision of things. In this regard, the government is trying, with the bill, to escape a reality, to pull on us a little bill that completely changes the relationship with RCMP officers, which I find unacceptable.
We must remember that this bill is the result of what we call the Gingras decision, where the courts said RCMP officers were like other public servants and should be covered by the legislation governing the public service. And the government decided that was not possible.
Should there not be indeed a special regime for peace officers as opposed to public servants? That is possible. That is very likely the right solution, but not in the form the government is giving it. It seems the government is stretching the limits, is trying because the Gingras decision, which was not favourable to it, to reverse the position in such a way that officers will become a little dependent on the commissioner and RCMP authorities. I think this is wrong in itself.
There are three different types of relations in the federal government labour relations spectre. There is the one governing the public service, with negotiations, which give certain results. On the other extreme, there is the one the government is proposing in this bill, where RCMP officers will ultimately find themselves with a very weak negotiating power. In my opinion, this legislation, if passed in its present form, is only the prelude to other actions where workers' rights, the rights of those who work as peace officers will be gradually eroded.
Instead of taking advantage of the situation as it is now doing, I think the federal government should take the time to analyze the situation, to really negotiate with the union representing RCMP officers within a framework modelled after other similar frameworks that exist elsewhere. Of course, as we saw in the past, issues like the police's right to strike are very dangerous and can lead to unacceptable civilian situations. However, there is a way to manage labour relations so that RCMP officers still have the power to negotiate beneficial agreements with the federal government while remaining independent and not being in the untenable position of being unable to defend their views.
I think that, in the medium term, this decision benefits the government as much as it does RCMP officers. Because failing to create an acceptable climate could lead to events, to difficult situations, to lawsuits outside the established framework, which could translate into higher costs and situations that will penalize both the employees and the government.
We are not against having a special framework for RCMP officers, but against creating a paternalistic system that will give the RCMP commissioner inordinate powers over relations with the employees he manages.
Striking a balance is important because the police must enjoy sufficient freedom of action. We should heed the old horror stories concerning several police forces back in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, when these forces were underpaid or had to work in unacceptable conditions so that officers were forced to moonlight. They were very vulnerable to bribes and that kind of thing. A police force ought to be able to work in conditions that keep such temptation at bay.
At a time when the government is looking to cut everywhere to reduce operation costs to a minimum, it could be dangerous to create a framework where officers are not given enough leeway and where what powers they have and the working conditions they should have are being whittled away. It is not to play very fair to impose a framework like the one the government has in mind now, especially since there will not be only RCMP officers in the organization, but also civilian employees, and these employees will be subject to public service legislation.
This kind of situation, as we saw with the Department of National Defence, causes impossible imbroglios and often results in unnecessary expenditures. There will be cases where we will see two categories of employees competing within the same office. Difficulties will arise concerning hours on call and that sort of thing. The model developed for the Royal Canadian Mounted
Police officers, constables and so on must be compatible with the existing model in civilian life.
If we want both models to be compatible, then the model they are being offered must allow for real negotiations, where comparisons can be made between what they are offered and what other employees are being offered and where, in the end, a decision can be made that will foster sound labour relations for years to come. What we are doing today-and it is somewhat surprising that it all fits in a bill barely two pages long, containing just four clauses-is completely changing employee-employer relations in this police force. This is not a very serious approach.
If we really want this police force, which is the most prominent one across Canada and which deals with extremely diversified matters-for example, outside Quebec, it deals with everything from traffic offences to criminal offences of all kinds, while in Quebec and Ontario, the provincial police takes care of some of that.
I think that dealing with the whole issue of setting precedents in a bill merely four clauses long will create a climate of confrontation for RCMP officers, their representatives and management, which may well be to the government's disadvantage, because, in these circumstances, the officers, when the time comes to define their-