Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise today in this debate regarding the RCMP.
Although I do thank the government for bringing forward some form of legislation, the unfortunate part is that it is reactionary and not very proactive. In fact, if it were not for the courts, it would not have done this at all. It is unfortunate when a group of Canadian heroes, the RCMP and their associates, need to take an issue of association and unionization to the courts to get a fair hearing.
We know that the RCMP members, or gendarmes in Quebec, have asked for many years for the right to form a union or an association of their choice to deal with their pay and benefits when it comes to their management or with the government of the day.
Let us just go into a little history of the RCMP. It is probably one of Canada's most recognized institutions and, unlike my Liberal colleague from Winnipeg who spoke earlier, it is not a red coat. It is a red serge. Redcoats, of course, are British, and the Americans know all too well what the redcoats mean. However, it is the red serge in Canada and it is an honoured tradition for the men and women of the RCMP to wear the red serge. I have lived in British Columbia, Yukon and now Nova Scotia and I have had the chance to travel through Canada and I have yet to meet an officer who is not proud to wear the stetson and the red serge.
Their families are also part of the uniform. As members know, just like our military, they also have to deal with a tremendous amount of stress when a member of their family, either a man or a woman, goes out and does his or her job for Canada on the domestic side, as well as the many RCMP officers who are serving overseas. Many of them are in Afghanistan right now training the Afghan police force on how to run a functional police service in that country. They are also in Haiti and other countries around the world.
The reality is that it is a fundamental right for workers, in this case police officers, to form a union or an association of their choice. It is not the government's right to dictate what that union or association should be. For this bill to put handcuffs on what the RCMP may do in the future is really unfortunate and, to be quite honest, scandalous. To give a civilian commissioner any more powers than he or she already has will not go anywhere.
It was a sad day in this country when the Conservatives picked Mr. Elliott to be the Commissioner of the RCMP. Can members imagine for one second if they were to appoint a civilian as the CDS of the military? There would be an uproar in this country over that. What the Conservatives have said to those rank and file RCMP officers is, “If your goal is to one day be the top dog in the RCMP, forget about it, because we will appoint our friends, whomever we wish to get in there”.
For years we heard from Liberals and Conservatives, when it came to RCMP investigations, that the RCMP was an independent body and that it will investigate on its own what it wishes to do. However, the minute Mr. Elliott was appointed as Commissioner of the RCMP, the tentacles of the PCO and the PMO were right into the RCMP. With the recent resignation and denial of many of the senior officers of the RCMP, there is no question that the hands of the Prime Minister and the hands of the PCO are all over that, which is most unfortunate.
I attended a Depot ceremony in Regina recently at its national mourning and there had to be at least 1,000 people there. The tension could be cut with a knife between the assistant commissioners of the RCMP and Mr. Elliott. It was a beautiful day and we were all there on a beautiful sunny morning but we could feel the ice out there and that should not have to be.
The members of the RCMP should have tremendous respect for their commissioner and they would have that respect if that commissioner were one of their own. I would hope that the next commissioner comes from the rank and file of the RCMP, exactly the way it should be.
On this legislation, it is again up to the individual RCMP members and its membership to determine what is best for them. If they wish to have an association, if they wish to have a union or whatever it is they wish to do, that should be up to them, independent of government, independent of politics and independent of the commissioner. The commissioner should have absolutely nothing to say about this. It should be free and independent. I am hoping those changes at the committee stage will happen.
When it comes to the civilian members, the bill is so poorly drafted that the civilian members of the RCMP feel they are trapped. They do not understand why they may be dragged into something that they do not wish to have.
If the government had consulted with these members, which it did not, it would understand quite clearly that the civilian members of the RCMP, independent of the men and women who serve as RCMP members, should have the right, if they wish, to form an association or a union of their type or keep the status quo. That is up to them to determine. It is not up to the commissioner, it is not up to us as politicians and it is especially not up to the government to determine that for them.
Unfortunately, because I know the government's heart is not in this, which is why it is such a poorly drafted bill, a reactionary to a court decision, I suspect quite strongly that the government will drag it out through committee, drag it out through the summer and, if it comes back for third reading, it will send back to that other place where those Conservative sycophants we call senators will probably delay it until the next election, and, if we have an election, it will die. I suspect that is the Conservatives' goal at the end of the day. We have seen what these senators have done to good legislation before. When we have a government that says that it would never ever appoint Conservative senators, that it would never ever appoint its friends to the other place and it ends up appointing over 35 of them, we can understand where this is going to go.
Unfortunately, a lot of this debate and discussion will probably be all for naught because we will probably have an election within the year and this bill will probably die an unfortunate natural death.
What does this say to the morale of the men and women who serve our valoured RCMP? What we are basically saying is that the government has recognized that there is a court decision and that the government has brought forward legislation.
However, if the government really wanted to, it could work with the opposition to come up with something that works, is fair, is balanced and is truly representative of what the members of the RCMP wish to have. Then we could get this through committee fairly quickly, on to the Senate and, hopefully, although I do not think it will happen, get this through the Senate so we can say to the men and women of the RCMP, the civilian members and others that we truly respect what they wish to do, which is to have fair and collective bargaining with the management of the RCMP and the government of the day.
I remember 2008 all too well when the current government negotiated for months with the pay council of the RCMP, an independent body to negotiate pay and benefits for the RCMP. It agreed, after months of talking, to 3.5%. What happened just before Christmas 2008? An email was sent by the Treasury Board rolling back and rescinding the 3.5% to 1.5%, no ifs, ands or buts, that was it.
There is absolutely no aspect of discussion for the members in the pay council to go back to the Treasury Board and say “Whoa. We negotiated this is in fairness and in good faith and you turned around and arbitrarily destroyed it”. That is what the current government did.
One minute it talks about law and order and says that it is the party of crime fighters and everything, and yet the men and women who, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, maintain that law and order are treated with complete disregard and disdain by that government over there. It is really unfortunate. It is no wonder that morale is down?
Another aspect is that RCMP members have been asking for years for a veterans' independent program, very similar to that which veterans get. Right now, as we know, World War II veterans or Korean War veterans with a disability, or a spouse of a veteran with have a disability, can apply for a veterans' independence program that allows them to stay in their house even longer. The government would provide services for groundskeeping and housekeeping services. For those who receive the service, it is a tremendous benefit for them. RCMP members have been asking for years for the exact same benefit and for years they have been denied over and over again.
When we talk about heroes in the military and the armed forces, we should talk about RCMP members in the exact same breath. Many of them have served overseas, and many of them do the same type of work within Canada's borders.
Imagine what goes through the mind of an RCMP officer when he or she has to extract three children from a car accident on Highway 401 at 3 o'clock on a Sunday morning. Years later when these officers are looking for help, we should be able to provide them the assistance they need. One of the ways we could help them would be through the veterans independence program, to ensure they are treated with respect and dignity when they get older and retire.
We will support sending this bill to committee and hopefully we will be able to convince the government and the other opposition parties that the RCMP members themselves should be able to dictate exactly who will represent them and who will not. The days of the government telling the RCMP members in any way, shape or form what they should be doing or what they cannot do have to end, because that simply is not right.
I have heard from members of the Liberal Party, the Bloc Québécois and Conservative members why they think this bill should go to committee.
We are hopeful that rank and file RCMP members right across the country will have the opportunity, through either the Internet or personal visits, to talk to members of Parliament and tell us why they think this legislation needs to be changed, why it needs to be more representative of the men and women of the RCMP. I hope the committee will travel across the country to big and small cities, to wherever the RCMP is located.
While I am on my feet, I want to personally congratulate several members of the RCMP who have done yeomen's work for the RCMP over the years.
Mr. Jim Hill of Fletchers Lake, Nova Scotia, has given 30 years of service to the RCMP but unfortunately had to be medically released. This individual did tremendous work for his country and for the red serge throughout his career.
Another individual I would like to thank is Mr. Murray Brown. After 37 years, Mr. Brown will be retiring from the RCMP at the end of this year. He is now in staff relations with the RCMP and has done a tremendous job of educating members of Parliament and senators, literally anyone who will listen to him, about the value of the RCMP and the problems that members and their families go through, everything from insurance programs to pension clawbacks, to VIP, to PTSD, everything. Mr. Brown has been absolutely fantastic in what he has been able to do. In fact, he was instrumental in getting to most members of Parliament and senators the magazine that my colleague from Malpeque talked about.
Another big thanks to Mr. Abe Townsend, formerly of Nova Scotia and now living in Ontario. He works very hard in staff relations for the RCMP.
It is very important that members of the RCMP have an unbiased and unprejudiced opportunity to present their concerns and issues directly to senior management without fear of retribution. We have already heard about what happens to senior management in the RCMP when they raise their concerns about a particular commissioner. Their head gets cut off and they are removed or retire suspiciously early. That has to stop.
I firmly believe, and I am sure that every member of Parliament in this House believes, that the RCMP is one of the most trusted and valued institutions in Canada. It has had some bumps along the way, but the reality is that the RCMP is one of the institutions that makes this country great. I for one, and I am sure others, am very proud to know that there are many members in every community across the country who are doing a fantastic job for all of us.
At the end of the day, all members of Parliament have to respect the men and women of the RCMP and allow them, either through legislation or whatever, the opportunity to determine for themselves what is best when it comes to either forming a union or an association or whatever it is they would like to do. If we get to that point and truly respect the men and women of the RCMP, that will be a great day in Canada .