Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to stand in the House of Commons to deliver some comments on what is a very important bill.
Many would ultimately argue that the RCMP is one of those iconic things here in Canada. Many individuals aspire to get into that profession, because it is a noteworthy, honourable profession to be in.
I also like the fact that I am following the member for Elmwood—Transcona, someone who I have known for a number of years, since 1988 I guess it would be. We sat on opposition benches for a good 11 years. I see he has not lost his touch. I look forward to having some exchanges with the hon. member for Elmwood—Transcona.
It is very important to recognize the need for labour relations and the important role that they play in the economy and our social fabric and how important it is that we move forward in trying to do what is right as legislators.
I know in the past we tried to provide comment on what is good legislation and make the suggestion that it at least be allowed to move forward, although we want to stop some legislation in its tracks. My understanding and quick reading of this particular bill is that there is merit for it to go to committee. We look forward to seeing it go to committee.
As has been pointed out, once the bill is in committee, opposing parties can work together to enhance the legislation and possibly make it better for our RCMP. That is a positive thing. I look forward to being able to see what type of amendments might arise from the committee stage.
On this issue of RCMP and law and order, I listened to the question from one of the members opposite to the member for Elmwood—Transcona. He talked about the government being tough on crime. When he said that, right away I kicked back into the byelection. In the byelection, that was a major issue. Crime and safety is something I hope to be able to talk about a lot as the days go on here in Ottawa and we are in session.
The RCMP has played a critical role, not only while on duty but also when off-duty, I will suggest. I would like to give an example of the type of dedication our RCMP officers bring to the table.
We see them in uniform. We see them in terms of what they do, particularly in Manitoba, in our rural communities, but also in our urban centres. Maybe what we do not see as much are the things the RCMP officers do during their off-duty hours. I have had the privilege of working with RCMP officers in their off-duty hours. I have had many opportunities to have discussions in terms of the types of contributions they make.
Ultimately I would argue that this is one of the reasons why it is when we debate legislation of this nature that we do need to give it time and to allow for it to go to committee. My understanding is, and I am not 100% up on all the rules of this chamber obviously, that it will go to committee where we will hear presentations and hopefully see some amendments brought forward.
Why I believe it is important, in good part, is that we need to return what we can to those officers who serve and serve us so well. One of the things I want to highlight is the off-duty responsibilities that many members, if not all, take.
I have had the opportunity to be involved with a youth justice committee. These youth justice committees have proven to be fairly successful if they are managed well. Provinces will in fact take advantage of them and incorporate them into the system.
On our committee we had a wonderful RCMP officer who has just recently retired. In the sense of commitment to volunteerism, this officer was fairly impressive.
I would encourage individuals as they start to think about how they want to see this bill develop going into committee to reflect on some of the volunteer efforts that our RCMP officers put in. I offer this as one example of the type of volunteerism that they provide.
In this particular case it was Al Pasquini, a retired individual who made himself available first in the community of Thompson, I believe, in northern Manitoba. He dealt with young offenders and tried to come up with alternative ways in which dispositions could be held for where they had committed a crime. He really put a face on the whole process of justice.
After years of serving with the RCMP in northern Manitoba he was relocated to the city of Winnipeg. Once he arrived in Winnipeg it was only a matter of weeks before he made contact with me and a couple of others and indicated that he wanted to continue doing volunteer work with young offenders. We were most happy to have him primarily because he was not only a great volunteer but he brought his expertise to the committee. He knew how to deal with young offenders first-hand and he understood why some of the crimes took place. He had the ability to communicate and follow through on the issues that were important in terms of dispositions for justice committees. He had so much to offer.
All RCMP officers have phenomenal skill sets that are underestimated in terms of their importance and the role that they play. That is the reason why I would suggest that when we look at this legislation it is defined in the sense of when an RCMP officer is on duty, but that is only a part of it.
For many RCMP officers volunteering is a way of life. I see Al Pasquini as one of those individuals who has dedicated his life to being an RCMP officer. To say that he worked 60 hours a week would probably underestimate the actual number of hours that Mr. Pasquini worked. Knowing other individuals within the RCMP I would say that Mr. Pasquini was not alone. This is the type of dedication RCMP officers bring to the table and at the end of the day this dedication is of great value to all of us. I was the chair of one of the committees on which Mr. Pasquini sat. We benefited because of his expertise and his willingness to volunteer.
There is also the issue of what RCMP officers do during the work week, during their shifts. They put themselves in potential danger seven days a week, 24 hours a day, in order to ensure that we can feel safe in the environments in which we live. I suspect that the House would unanimously agree with me about the dedication shown by our RCMP officers with respect to the type of work they do and the benefits our communities receive as a result.
I have had the opportunity to quickly go through Bill C-43 and I feel it is a bill of great value. We should be looking for ways to improve labour relations between RCMP staff and management. I understand that the government did not volunteer to bring in this legislation. It was forced to bring in this legislation because of a court ruling and somewhat grudgingly brought this bill forward. For whatever reasons the bill is before us today. I do believe that the government has the responsibility to approach it with an open mind once it gets to committee.
I know from the Manitoba legislature that we often got presentations dealing with legislation that we had brought through, and I anticipate that there will be presentations that will be coming to committee for this bill. I look forward to hearing those presentations, or at least participating in that process, because it is an interesting profession. I have always admired the red coats and the roles that they have played. I made reference at the beginning of my comments to what an important symbol the RCMP is for Canadian society.
I have not had, I admit, the discussions with the RCMP officers or the rank and file as to what they feel about the legislation. I have a feeling that we will have some time, maybe not very much time, to be able to do that, and I look forward to having that dialogue. Knowing that this bill could in fact be passing at any point in time, I thought it would be nice just to be able to get up and comment on that today, but also to take the opportunity to emphasize something that has come out of the federal byelection, and that is the whole issue of crime and safety.
Crime and safety was in fact the number one issue in Winnipeg North, and I would suggest it even goes beyond Winnipeg North. Our RCMP do play a critical role in that and we need to look at ways in which we can improve and support our forces, whether it is the RCMP or the local police forces, because it does make a difference.
I suspect that establishing a new labour relations regime would go a long way in terms of just being able to ensure that there is a higher morale among the rank and file officers. That is something in which all sides can win. We do not have to be fearful of unions and organized labour. Organized labour does play a very important role in our society and I suspect that affording the opportunity for the RCMP to make that determination among themselves is something that they will take very seriously, and at the end of the day, I suspect that if we provide them the opportunity it will only be a question of time before it is acted upon.
There needs to be some consideration given in terms of the whole issue of strikes and what would happen in strike situations. There are all sorts of issues related to arbitration. Labour relations can get complicated at the best of times in terms of trying to come up with the compromises and consensus that are necessary. Ultimately, the rank and file might feel better knowing that they have a labour group that has that vested interest to protect the rank and file's interests. That is why, as we are looking at Bill C-43 today, I do not see any reason why the bill should not be going to the committee. By allowing it to go to committee, hopefully we will be able to hear from other members as to what they feel might be amendments that would enhance the bill.
I have had some experience in minority governments from 1988 to 1990, and what I have found is that minority governments can work if in fact the government is willing to look at good ideas and is prepared to compromise.
So I would look to the government benches and appeal to the government to look at ideas that might come from whatever political entity within this chamber and, ultimately, adopt good ideas.
I suspect, I hope and I trust that at the end of the day ideas that might come from the official opposition would in fact be considered and we would be able to garner the support in order to see it passed.
Obviously, if we all believe in the value of our RCMP, I do not understand why it is that we would be reluctant about trying to make this legislation even that much better, that much stronger, because the better we make the legislation, the more effective it would be. And at the end of the day, how would we lose if we have more value in legislation such as this so that our RCMP are feeling that much better and confident in terms of the House of Commons providing the type of support that they need?
I believe, in good part, many members of the RCMP rank and file want to see legislation of this nature. I suspect it has been a long time in coming. Now that we have it here today, it is only a question of how it is that we might possibly modify it. However, at the very least, I see no harm in having the bill go to committee so that we can ultimately see what could be done to maybe even make it even a bit better legislation so that, at the end of the day, the biggest winners here would be our citizens, followed by the RCMP rank and file. This is something that I believe is important to all of us, that we want to have as much harmony as possible within the police ranks. We know that at times the current government's record, in terms of providing harmony, has been lacking as it has, in essence, created controversy. However, I will leave that possibly for another time.
I am thankful for the opportunity to say a few words on the bill. I do look forward to being able to provide comments on other justice-related legislation as we get closer to the issue of the tough on crime type of bills. Members will find that I am very opinionated because at the end of the day what I have seen is a lot of talk about tough on crime, but I can say that in the last five years it has not gotten any better, in terms of crime and safety in many areas of Canada, in particular, in Winnipeg North. I think people want to see action as opposed to words. It is more than just legislation. It is about engaging people. It is about looking at the laws that we currently have. It is about providing programming. There is so much that can be done on that particular front, but I will save that speech for another time.