Mr. Speaker, I was not referring to his physical presence, I was referring to his intellectual standpoint. After sitting in this House for the past three years, I am well aware that we cannot mention the fact that certain people are not in the House. I apologize if I gave the impression I might want to disobey any of the Standing Orders.
What I want to make clear to those listening to us and to all the hon. members in this House is that it is difficult to follow the government in matters of labour relations. We agreed, the official opposition agreed that we were going to modernize the entire labour code in September; I am the labour critic for my party. When we talk about the labour code, we are talking about part I, which refers to unfair treatment in the workplace, part II, which covers workplace health and safety, and part III, which involves minimum standards.
The proof of what I am saying is that until now the bills that have been tabled on labour relations have been minor ones. We changed the minimum wage to put it in line with provincial rates. By delegating authority, we passed control of nuclear energy over to the provinces.
There was a tacit understanding with the Minister of Labour to the effect that, since the legislation was so important, no fundamental changes would be made until the committee was able to review the entire labour code. How come this argument was not applied in the case of the 16,000 RCMP officers? It would have been more honest for the government to have asked us to study this in committee.
It would have been even more honest, given the situation, which is as follows. There are a total of 18,000 officers involved, and 16,000 of those are demanding the right to negotiate. We are in a situation where there are a variety of tribunals, and I know the Bloc Quebecois critic for the Solicitor General has referred to the various common law tribunals. These count for something in our society. What is being said is that the 16,000 RCMP officers are entitled to collective bargaining. They ought to be considered employees of Treasury Board. This is something of significance, after all.
I am issuing a challenge to the ministers, perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice who is currently in the House, to give us one of the examples he has in mind of a situation comparable to that of the RCMP. There is a rule that applies to labour relations. That rule, which has taken on the shape of an underlying principle, is that people are entitled to be involved in determining their working conditions. Not only determining them, but negotiating them as well, given that our society agrees that one of the forms of freedom of expression includes the right to freely negotiate a collective agreement.
That principle, when applied in complete logic, has a corollary. That corollary is that an outside body ought to be the one to make an interpretation when there is any disloyal action within a workplace. RCMP officers are rightfully saying that the RCMP Commissioner, while no doubt an honest citizen, ends up being both judge and party to the action, since he is called upon to act as an administrator and at the same time to settle differences concerning overtime, patrols, mobility and employee benefits. This cannot help but lead to a tainted atmosphere, since it is not compatible with the basic principles of healthy labour relations to have someone be both judge and judged in the same matter.
It is hard to follow the government. Its logic is dubious, to say the least. As I have already said, we had agreed with government not to go ahead with any major legislation on labour relations. Not only is it not respecting this principle, government is reintroducing it.
What happened? I think the RCMP was quite clear on this. The former Minister of Labour, who now holds the heritage portfolio-though we do not really know how things will turn out because, as those who follow current events know, the former minister could become the new minister-had appointed an independent task force chaired by Professor Sims, of Edmonton. You are signifying
your assent, so I gather you have followed those events with the same enthusiasm as I did.
The Sims task force, including Mr. Blouin from Quebec, had three members at that time. They said very clearly in their report that RCMP staff members should have the right to collective bargaining and that the RCMP should be recognized as an employer under the jurisdiction of the Treasury Board. This is more than reasonable.
Had you been in their shoes, Mr. Speaker, I wonder if you would have showed as much common sense. These people claim the right to collective bargaining, but at the same time, they recognize that their specific responsibilities require them to protect the public, investigate, provide security services-especially in embassies- and that they are under contract to eight provinces on the Canadian territory.
These people show such civic-mindedness, a sense of responsibility and a will to serve their country-which, in truth, is made up of two countries on its territory-that they are not asking for the right to strike; they only claim the right to free collective bargaining. They are willing to submit to binding arbitration. In fact this is more and more the case at the municipal level.
I think you have to be really dishonest, shortsighted, obtuse like this government to introduce today a bill like Bill C-30 as if it were the most natural thing in the world, as if the past meant nothing and as if there were no agreement on developments in modernization of the Canada Labour Code.
Those of us in the official opposition, one of the best you will ever see, have made it very clear that we will do everything to kill this bill, because we consider it undemocratic and because it denies the fundamental right of 16,000 workers in the public service-