Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member of Parliament for Montarville.
I rise to speak to Bill C-7. The bill would uphold the constitutionally guaranteed freedom of RCMP members and reservists to engage in meaningful collective bargaining.
A meaningful process of collective bargaining must provide employees with enough choice and freedom to allow them to pursue their collective interests. Bill C-7 does just that. It would provide RCMP members and reservists with the freedom to choose whether they wish to be represented by a bargaining agent. It would also provide them with the ability to choose which employee organization would represent them, as well as the workplace objectives they would pursue. It would also ensure that they could make those choices independent of management.
Allow me to take a moment to explain the context in which the bill was developed. Currently RCMP members are not permitted to bargain collectively and have no recourse to arbitration or strike action. In 2006, the Mounted Police Association of Ontario and the B.C. Mounted Police Professional Association, on behalf of all members of the RCMP, challenged this restriction in the courts. Ultimately the matter was brought to the Supreme Court of Canada, and on January 16 of last year, the Supreme Court rendered its decision. The court struck down the exclusion of RCMP members from the definition of employee in the Public Service Labour Relations Act as being unconstitutional. In addition, the court held that sections of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police regulations infringed on the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The current process fails to achieve the balance between employees and employers that is essential to meaningful collective bargaining. Accordingly, the court held that this violated the charter right to freedom of association. The court suspended its judgment for one year to give the Government of Canada time to consider its options. The government sought an extension and was given an additional four months to introduce legislation in the House of Commons that would provide a new labour framework for RCMP members and reservists.
The Supreme Court of Canada's decision has a significant impact on the way that RCMP labour relations are managed. A new labour relations regime for RCMP members would need to provide them with an effective collective bargaining regime, and in a manner that respects the unique role of the RCMP as Canada's national police force. The Supreme Court decision therefore required careful consideration of next steps. This included broad consultation with regular members of the RCMP, and the provinces and territories that have police service agreements with the RCMP.
The Government of Canada takes our responsibility to protect the safety and security of Canadians extremely seriously. We are committed to supporting the dedicated women and men of Canada's national police service who protect Canadians on so many fronts. They combat organized crime and defend our country against terrorists. They guard us from those who deal in illicit drugs and those who commit economic crimes. They protect us from offences that threaten the integrity of Canada's national borders. They provide contract policing services in eight provinces and three territories. Through its national police services, the RCMP offers resources to other Canadian law enforcement agencies. This is by no means an exhaustive list of what these committed individuals do to protect Canadians and to deserve our respect.
Respect is a key operating principle of our government. One of the top priorities of our government is establishing a culture of respect for and within the federal public service. That is why when it comes to respectful treatment of RCMP members and reservists, we thank the Supreme Court for its ruling. It has afforded us with this historic opportunity to enshrine the constitutional freedom of RCMP members and reservists to engage in meaningful collective bargaining.
It is important to note that the negotiation of collective agreements is a right that has been enjoyed by other police officers in Canada for a very long time. In fact, the first police union in Canada was in Saint John, New Brunswick in 1919. The Ontario Provincial Police Association, representing civilian and non-commissioned uniform members of the OPP, came into existence in 1954.
Today, the bill before us would provide RCMP members and reservists with their independence and freedom of choice in labour relations matters while recognizing the unique operational reality of policing.
Independence and freedom of choice were two key elements of the Supreme Court's decision.
I would like to take a moment to talk about the consultations that were crucial to the development of the legislation before us today.
During the summer of 2015, an independent expert consulted RCMP regular members on potential elements of a new labour relations regime. The consultation consisted of a survey and town hall sessions and reached out to all 17,000 active members, as well as more than 1,000 members on leave. More than 9,000 members completed the survey. As well, more than 650 people participated in 13 town hall sessions held right across the country.
The legislation before us, therefore, respects regular members' preferences in determining a new labour relations regime for the RCMP. It also takes into account the concerns and interests of those jurisdictions that contract RCMP services, including most of the provinces and territories as well as many municipalities across Canada.
Most regular members who participated in the online consultation said they support the idea of a unionized RCMP. Recognizing the particular operational reality of the RCMP, members showed a strong preference for a labour relations regime that would use binding arbitration without the right to strike as the mechanism for resolving bargaining impasses. This approach is consistent with other police forces across the country.
Members also showed clear support for the option of representation by a single national employee organization whose primary mandate would be the representation of RCMP members. Such an organization and the use of binding arbitration are two key features of the proposed legislation.
Consistent with existing provisions in the Public Service Labour Relations Act that exclude public service executives in managerial or confidential positions from representation, all RCMP officers appointed to the ranks of inspector and above would be excluded from collective bargaining.
Under this bill, the Public Service Labour Relations and Employment Board would be the administrative tribunal for matters related to the RCMP bargaining unit, as well as grievances related to a collective agreement. This would include grievances on terms and conditions of employment of a collective agreement, such as hours of work, overtime, and leave provisions.
The proposed legislation would preserve the commissioner's authority under the RCMP Act to manage police operations in an effective manner that is accountable to Canadians. Therefore, RCMP conduct matters would remain outside the jurisdiction of the Public Service Labour Relations and Employment Board and instead would continue to be managed through processes established under the RCMP Act.
The bill before us today offers RCMP members and reservists the respect they are due. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees that everyone be entitled to freedom of association. The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that this charter freedom protects the right to bargain collectively.
I am honoured to rise in support of this legislation, which would permit RCMP members and reservists to exercise their freedom of association by engaging in a process of meaningful collective bargaining. I encourage all members to show their respect for the women and men of the RCMP and to vote in support of this bill.