Mr. Speaker, I am proud to stand in this House to speak 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.
This bill would finally repeal the devastating attack that the former Conservative government launched against working people across this country. The two bills that would be repealed were known in the 41st Parliament as Bill C-377 and Bill C-525. These bills were not only mean-spirited attacks on unions, but they were, as Jack Layton said in his last speech to the House, part of a larger agenda by a government that preyed on the concept of dividing Canadians one from the other.
New Democrats fought relentlessly against these Conservative anti-union bills, and we certainly welcome the changes of the new Liberal government. I remember when Bill C-377 was pushed through Parliament against the tide of not just labour organizations but also constitutional and privacy experts. There was opposition from the insurance and mutual fund industry, the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, even the Canadian Bar Association, and the National Hockey League Players' Association.
To go on about the constitutionality of the bill, the Conservatives were never good at working within our Constitution. They constantly went head-to-head with the judiciary in this country, losing big battles whenever they put Conservative legislation before Canadian constitutional values. They lost on mandatory minimums, time-served sentencing, and even tried to break a rule to allow an ineligible judge to sit on the Supreme Court of Canada.
A few years ago a whistle-blower from the Department of Justice brought to light the fact that the government was not fully vetting its legislation to see if it was constitutional or not. When Bill C-377 was tabled, it came as no surprise that the Privacy Commissioner of Canada stated that the bill would ultimately be defeated by the courts, because it went against the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This bill would violate freedom of association and the private lives of those workers who were unionized.
Now I will move on to the details of Bill C-377. It was a law that was discriminatory and imposed onerous and detailed reporting requirements on labour organizations. It was designed as a method to crush union finances and bury any action under bureaucratic red tape. Unions already do fully transparent reporting to their membership, as do many organizations and other associations that this bill did not cover.
Labour organizations were suddenly going to be subject to public, outside of their membership, disclosure to everyone. No other association would be forced to do anything similar. Why were the unions the only ones targeted? What about the clubs, the think tanks, the religious organizations, and even the council of chief executives? They were all left out.
Law societies and the Canadian Medical Association were also not subject to this law. It was a bill that was designed as a clear attack on workers' rights.
Bill C-377 was not only an ill-advised method of dividing Canadians, it was also extremely expensive. The parliamentary budget officer, a position created by the Conservative government, stated that it would cost the Canada Revenue Agency approximately $21 million to establish the electronic database for the first two years, and approximately $2.1 million per year for subsequent years.
The bill was so contentious that even Conservative Party senators fought against it. I should note the great Conservative Hugh Segal among other things mentioned that it would violate the privacy of millions, would tilt the advantage towards employers during negotiations, and was basically a declaration of war against workers. He felt it was unconstitutional and discriminatory, and was not even a dignified way to govern this country.
Repealing this bill would save millions of dollars annually, both for the government and for labour organizations. Bill C-525 was a law designed to harm and diminish unions by making it much more difficult for workers to collectively form a union, and making it much easier for a union to be decertified.
The government pushed hard for these private members' bills to be passed back in the day. It marked a trend by the Conservatives to take contentious attacks and place them in private members' bills so they were subject to less scrutiny and debate than full government legislation would have been.
Many stakeholders who were directly affected by the legislation have also applauded the government for its plan to repeal the two private members' bills.
The president of the Canadian Labour Congress has been clear that these pieces of legislation were nothing more than an attempt to undermine a union's ability to do important work like protecting jobs, promoting health and safety in the workplace, and advocating on behalf of all Canadian workers.
In their attempt to divide Canadians, the Conservatives have always liked to attack unionized workers, as though they are the privileged of Canadian society who do nothing to help the non-unionized. The truth of course is very different. Workers and unions spend their paycheques in local communities like mine in Cowichan—Malahat—Langford. Their incomes support local businesses, and they bolster our tax base, which adds to everyone's quality of life.
The benefits that are often enjoyed by unionized workers attract and support crucial care infrastructure, such as dentists, therapists, opticians, and family lawyers, to help build vibrant communities, not to mention that the money that unionized workers contribute to their pension plan comes back to them so that they can spend it in the community. It also means that fewer workers need to rely on family or social programs to get by.
When unions have the power to stand up for fairness, they raise the bar for everyone. We can thank the labour movement for its victories in securing parental leave, workplace safety standards, minimum wages, vacation pay, and protection from discrimination and harassment for all workers in this country. It is clear that these laws had to go, and we applaud the Liberals for being on the correct side of this fight and for quickly moving to repeal this legislation.
We also know that the struggle for fair working conditions is far from over. New Democrats will continue to push the government to restore and enhance collective bargaining rights, as well as fairer working conditions for all Canadians. The fight continues as our very own NDP member for Jonquière is proposing anti-scab legislation to ensure fairness and balance in labour negotiations. The prohibition against using replacement workers would protect the interests of working Canadians and their families against the might of large, powerful, and global employers.
The New Democratic Party has deep roots in the lives of working people. After all, our party was created out of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation and the Canadian Labour Congress to be the voice of the regular working family. We follow that tradition closely, as we are proud of being the only unionized political party, where our employees have a say in their workplace.
The Liberals should be applauded for working in Parliament to give collective bargaining rights to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. We trust that they will continue this trend and work with their own employees to grant them collective bargaining rights as well.
Workers in my community have brought to my attention that there are more and more part-time and contractual employees in the riding, and more needs to be done to protect them. The last review of the Canada Labour Code was done 10 years ago, in 2006. There were recommendations that came out of that review, which would specifically help precarious and part-time workers in my riding, but they were never fully implemented. New Democrats will be working hard to push the Liberals in acting on these recommendations. Part-time and contractual employees deserve the same fairness that we demand for all workers across this country.
The Canada Labour Code needs to be updated and modernized. There are sections in the code that are at least 60 years out of date. Repealing Bill C-377 and Bill C-525 are important first steps. However, it is important that we do not sit back and congratulate ourselves, as sections of our Canada Labour Code dealing with harassment, hours of work, overtime pay, and vacation entitlements need major updates.
When Tommy Douglas was premier of Saskatchewan, he knew that securing basic workers' rights was key to a just and prosperous society. He was able to get ideas from working people and implement them for the benefit of all. Tommy passed legislation establishing a 40-hour work week, paid vacations, and collective bargaining rights for all workers. Conservatives have tried to turn back the clock and strip workers of the vested rights they fought so hard to achieve. We now have much to do to enshrine protections for working families across this country.
Working people in my riding know that repealing Bill C-377 and Bill C-525 are important first steps. New Democrats will be there to hold the government's feet to the fire to ensure that we continue bettering the lives of workers from coast to coast to coast.