Madam Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Fredericton.
I am proud to stand today to speak in support of Bill C-4. The war on organized labour is over. This legislation would reverse the legacy of the previous government, which rushed through two anti-union measures, Bill C-377 and Bill C-525, just prior to the last election. Those measures put in place redundant reporting requirements and made it harder to certify and easier to decertify a union. With Bill C-4, our government would repeal both of these punitive pieces of legislation.
Argument number one is that the old legislation is unnecessary. No one asked for Bills C-377 and C-525. Employees did not ask for them, unions did not ask for them, and even employers were not clamouring for this legislation. These bills constituted a solution to a problem that did not even exist. The only champions of Bills C-377 and C-525 were the members of the previous government. The ostensible reason they asserted was that they were trying to promote increased financial transparency and accountability for unions and to inject democratic principles into their processes. This rationale was defective then, and it remains defective now. First, to the idea that unions are not transparent and that members do not get to see the financial statements or expenditures, this information was and has always been made available to union members. Unions are member-based organizations that release information to their members, information that is confidential.
My colleagues across the way keep harping on about how unions are undemocratic organizations. Once again, that is incorrect.
Unions meet regularly, and all members are welcome to participate. At meetings, members are empowered to hold their leaders accountable. Discussions and debate take place during the meetings, differences of opinion are aired, and solutions are put forward. Taken together, those aspects are features of a democratic system.
Unions also hold membership votes. Decisions are made by the members themselves. The members are the ones who make decisions and issue instructions. Leaders are elected by union members and can be removed from their positions. That is another key principle of a democratic system.
I say this with some experience. I am the product of an organized workplace. For the past 12 years, before being elected, I served as a civil servant with the Ontario public service, practising law as a crown attorney. I have first-hand knowledge of the transparency and accountability parameters by which unions abide.
Yet another argument offered by the previous government in support of the old package of legislation was that it represented a modest increase in the financial disclosure obligations for unions. Again, this is incorrect. The reporting requirement in old Bill C-377 calls for at least 24 detailed statements to be submitted by unions of any size, from the smallest groups to the largest national bodies. The collection and managing of these submissions would cost the government millions of dollars, $11 million to start the oversight mechanism and $2 million every year thereafter. Those are not my figures. They come from the Canada Revenue Agency and the parliamentary budget officer. Just so we are clear, under Bills C-377 and C-525, the previous Conservative government increased the size and scope of government and government regulation, adding to the amount of red tape and, more important, adding to the amount that Canadian taxpayers would be required to shell out for such additional bureaucracy. The irony is palpable.
Argument number two is that the old legislation impeded collective bargaining. As I said at the outset, Bill C-525 made it harder to certify and easier to decertify a union. With the new Bill C-4, we would repeal those provisions. Our government recognizes that certification of a union is an important part of the collective bargaining process.
As I mentioned, I spent 12 years as a crown attorney specializing in the area of constitutional law. Section 2(d) of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects freedom of association. That has been interpreted by the Supreme Court to include “the right to a meaningful process of collective bargaining”. Why is collective bargaining so important as to warrant constitutional protection? The Supreme Court has explained that, in paragraph 58 of a decision called MPAO.
The Supreme Court said:
The guarantee functions to protect individuals against more powerful entities. By banding together in the pursuit of common goals, individuals are able to prevent more powerful entities from thwarting their legitimate goals and desires. In this way, the guarantee of freedom of association empowers vulnerable groups and helps them work to right imbalances in society. It protects marginalized groups and makes possible a more equal society.
Collective bargaining is important because it helps to promote fairness and equality. We get that and we are not going to waste more taxpayer dollars litigating these types of cases in the courts. On that point, I would simply note that the charter challenge launched by the Alberta Union of Public Employees against the old Bill C-377 was suspended immediately upon our government's announcement that we would be repealing the government's punitive legislation.
However, it is not just me who understands the utility of collective bargaining as a vehicle for addressing inequality, it is also my constituents in Parkdale—High Park. It is people like Mr. Hassan Yussuff, the President of the Canadian Labour Congress, who is my neighbour in Roncesvalles Village and a tireless advocate for workers' rights. It is people like Wyatt Bilger, a hard-working carpenter and resident of my riding and a member of Carpenters Union Local 27. It is people like the countless artists, filmmakers, performers, and television producers in my riding who contribute so much culturally to our community, who are also proud members of ACTRA, the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists. It is people like the hard-working tradespeople and manufacturing employees in Parkdale—High Park who are members of LiUNA, Unifor, and the CAW.
All of these individuals and groups appreciate what this newly elected government recognizes, that workplaces that include collective bargaining are a net positive, not a net negative for our communities.
Argument number three is that the old legislation was ideologically driven. There was no rationale whatsoever that informed the passage of Bill C-377 and Bill C-525 other than rigid, anti-union sentiment. To illustrate this point, let us look no further than the rushed passage of the bills through Parliament. Bill C-377 was one of the four bills to get to the Senate just before the writ was issued for the last election. It was expedited to the Senate and was made made into law. But one of the four bills that received support from all parties in this chamber was left to die on the Senate order paper in place of passing Bill C-377.
What I am talking about is Bill C-279 that had been introduced as private members' legislation by my NDP colleague, the member for Esquimalt—Saanich—Sooke. Bill C-279 was going to amend the Canada Human Rights Act to include gender identity as a prohibited ground of discrimination. All parties supported and passed that private member's bill in the House in the 41st Parliament. However, instead of championing that bill in the Senate, the previous Conservative government decided to promote the passage of Bill C-377. Conservatives chose to attack organized labour rather than back Bill C-279, which would have protected the rights and freedoms of gender and gender variant Canadians who deserve the same treatment and rights as every other Canadian.
Not only did the Conservatives attack unions, they told trans and gender variant Canadians that their rights were not a priority. Thankfully that was yet another mistake of the Conservatives that our government has pledged to rectify. The commitment to amend the Canada Human Rights Act to add gender identity as a prohibited ground for discrimination is in the mandate letter for the Attorney General of Canada.
We have seen this ideological pattern before in terms of the old war on the environment, the war on the civil service, and the war on evidence-based policy. We have taken stands to reverse all of those previous battles. Now with Bill C-4, our government brings to an end the war on organized labour.
The role of this government, of any government, is to create jobs, but it is not just about creating any jobs, it is about creating good quality, secure, well-paying jobs. We recognize that unions help to do this. They ensure fair compensation for workers, promote safety for individuals, and protect workers' job security and their well-being.
A secure worker is a more productive worker and productive workers are good for the economy. We understand this. The previous government did not. As I said, the war on organized labour is over. Unions are not the enemy of progress, they are a partner in that progress. Our government is committed to working with them, not against them, to further the economic development of this country.
For these reasons, I urge members in the House to vote in favour of Bill C-4.