Mr. Speaker, like my Conservative colleagues, I rise in the House today to voice my opposition to Bill C-4, an act to amend the Canada Labour Code, the Parliamentary Employment and Staff Relations Act, the Public Service Labour Relations Act and the Income Tax Act.
The point of my speech is quite simple: I want to show Canadians and all the hard workers in my riding that the Liberal government's measures are not in the public's interest.
The Liberal government is working instead for special interest groups of which union bosses are members. Just two weeks ago, we learned that union leaders and the Liberal team made arrangements during the last election campaign. Today, in reading Bill C-4, I can see that the Liberals and union leaders are working hand in hand without any regard for the interests of workers or the general public. I must deplore this in the strongest possible terms.
First, by passing Bill C-4, the Liberal government will abolish two flagship pieces of legislation that the Conservatives put in place to protect workers and ensure union transparency. Bill C-377 provided for increased accountability on the part of union leaders by requiring unions to disclose any expenditures over $5,000 and any salaries over $100,000.
Bill C-525 required that a secret ballot vote be held to set up or do away with company unions. These provisions would have put an end to the intimidation that too often occurs during the union certification or decertification process. When employees were called upon to vote for or against the unionization of their workplace, this bill would have allowed them to do so in an informed manner via secret ballot, as is already the case in the provincial legislatures of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario, and Nova Scotia.
Why do the Liberals want to do away with those provisions? Is it not legitimate for the unionization process to be transparent? Simply put, what seems to be common sense for Canadians is not for the Liberals. The fact of the matter is that it only took them a few weeks to forget their promise to be a transparent government.
Second, the Conservatives were not simply advocating for union transparency because it is a fundamental value. We were also advocating for it on economic principle. Every year, deductible union dues cost the federal government and Canadians some $500 million. A responsible government has a legitimate reason to demand accountability for these tax advantages.
A number of other countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, Germany, and even France, have long required labour organizations to disclose their financial statements.
Third, because I have a very hard time understanding the government's position on transparency, I wondered whether my Conservative colleagues and I are the only ones who are concerned about these issues. The answer is no. I was pleased to come across a Leger survey from 2013, which indicated that 83% of 1,400 respondents said that they supported a bill like the one the Conservatives passed.
More interestingly, 84% of workers who contribute to a union said that they wanted such a bill to be passed, which is similar to the percentage of Canadians who wanted such a bill to be passed. These percentages therefore confirm the public's position on this issue.
During the proceedings of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance, there were many different kinds of groups that supported the Conservative bill.
Among them were the Canadian Taxpayers Federation; the Canadian Federation of Independent Business; LabourWatch; the Conseil du patronat du Québec; Merit Canada; the Montreal Economic Institute; the Independent Contractors and Business Association of British Columbia; the Fédération des chambres de commerce du Québec; Professor Ian Lee of Carleton University; Douglas J. Forer, a partner with McLennan Ross; Moin Yahya, an associate professor with the University of Alberta faculty of law; Francis Donovan, a butcher at Safeway Canada; Marc Roumy, an Air Canada flight attendant; Brian Johnston, a partner with Stewart McKelvey; the hon. Michel Bastarache, a former Supreme Court justice; and Ken Pereira, a union worker and union leader, just to name a few.
That being said, I want to assure my colleagues across the aisle that the Liberals are not the only ones who hold consultations. The Conservatives also held some, which revealed that our provisions in support of union transparency were welcome and desired.
Fourth, it is one thing for the Liberal government to ignore the surveys and the people consulted, whom I mentioned, and to believe that its position is what is best for Canadians. However, another moral principle comes to mind when I look closely at that position, and that is the principle of political independence.
In order to ensure that the government remains impartial and able to make decisions in the public interest and free from outside influences, I think it should avoid associating with lobby groups that have an interest in the business of government. That is certainly not what we are seeing at this time.
Here is how I see it. First, this is a bad law for democracy, transparency, and accountability. Second, it is pretty clear that the purpose of this law is to thank union leaders for their support in the latest election campaign. Third, the Liberal government's very first piece of legislation will take away workers' power just to make union bosses happy. Fourth, this law will not protect workers. It will open the door to workplace bullying because employees will have to state their position on unionization publicly rather than secretly. Fifth, transparency is a fundamental principle, and by overturning the old law, the Liberals are flouting this principle. Sixth, even though the law did not regulate union activities or how unions could use their money, it did provide for accountability. Seventh, unions are the only private organizations that have access to funds that people are required to pay, which is like the power to tax. Mandatory contributions, unlike voluntary contributions, should entail a moral obligation to demonstrate transparency. Eighth, since unions are already required to open their books to their members, it should not cost them much more to open their books to everyone. Ninth, union dues should not be used for purposes not approved by union members.
I did not get into politics to criticize excessively everything the government opposite does. I believe we must work together in the House to make the best possible decisions in the public interest.
That being said, I want to use this last part of my speech to share with the government the way I see things with regard to unionization, which, in my view, represents how a very large segment of the public feels about this as well.
What is more, since the Liberal government keeps saying that it wants to consult various stakeholders and different people and listen to their points of view before making decisions, then I would hope that my thoughts here will be taken into consideration.
First, as the member for Richmond—Arthabaska, the former mayor of Victoriaville, and a former school principal, I have worked and negotiated with a number of union groups on many occasions. These negotiations were always carried out respectfully, and for that reason, my perception of unions and unionized employees is anything but negative.
On the contrary, I believe it is entirely appropriate for a group of individuals with common interests to ask someone to negotiate on their behalf. Essentially, the union's mission is to improve its members' working conditions, and that mission is absolutely valid and legitimate.
However, the comment made by the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour that unions play a critical role in ensuring that workers receive decent wages and are treated fairly in safe, healthy work environments seems to suggest that the law passed by the previous government undermines the unionization principle and workers' rights, and that is completely untrue.
The minister should also know that just because employees are not unionized does not mean that their rights will not be respected. I am fortunate that my riding is home to Cascades, a family company that has been in Kingsey Falls since 1964 and still employs nearly 11,000 workers in North America and Europe.
Thanks to the management philosophy of the Lemaire brothers, employees of many of the company's operating units voluntarily chose not to unionize because they know that they are afforded favourable working conditions. This company shows that it is not necessary for employees to be unionized to have excellent working conditions. I would like to take this opportunity to commend Cascades and all of the companies across the country that take care of their employees.
Finally, the bill is a direct attack on democracy, accountability, and transparency. It does nothing to protect workers or the public.