Mr. Speaker, I appreciate your assistance in trying to get the chamber a bit more organized and a little more quiet. It is surprising, because normally when I stand to speak, members opposite hang on every word. Therefore, it was a little disturbing to find out here were actually people in here who did not want to hear what I had to say.
When I concluded my remarks prior to question period, I was in the midst of telling all members about my history both with the RCMP and the union movement in Canada.
In particular, with the union movement, I mentioned that my father had been a senior member of the United Steelworkers of America. In fact, he was the western Canadian head of the United Steelworkers of America. He trained Ken Neumann, who is now the national director of the United Steelworkers of America. Therefore, I have an intimate knowledge of the union movement.
I recall my father taking me on many occasions to union meetings when I was extremely young. I was never quite sure why he did that. It was either (a) an obligation to his babysitting commitment to my mother, or (b) he was trying to groom me to become a labour representative or a union representative such as himself. I suppose, in retrospect, if it was (a), he succeeded admirably and if it was (b), he failed miserably. Nonetheless, I was able to observe many things from these meetings, these union gatherings that I went to.
One of the things that struck me then, and it certainly continues to strike me now, was the fact that in the vast majority of cases whenever there was a vote to be cast at a union meeting, whether it would be a local union or a larger gathering of several locals, the votes were always public. I could not understand that because it was obviously something I believed, even at a young age, should be done in private.
However, I also saw the opposite side of the coin. Back in the early 1960s, when my father tried to organize a potash mine in Esterhazy, Saskatchewan, he would go down there with sign-up cards and get a number of the workers in the potash mine to sign those cards indicating their preference to unionize. Then mysteriously many times those same members who signed the cards would no longer be employees of the potash mine. That was pure and simple intimidation.
I have seen intimidation on both sides of the ledger. I have seen union members try to intimidate or at least pressure some of their fellow co-workers into voting in a particular manner. I also know from first-hand experience that there has been pressure or intimidation from the management side to try to influence the vote of certain workers. Quite frankly, that is unacceptable. I think most Canadians would feel that it is as an affront to natural law, justice and absolute fairness in our country.
The way to get over that is to have secret ballots. If union members were able to vote freely according to their own beliefs in a secret ballot environment, intimidation would not play a part in this whole process. Management would be unable to successfully intimidate employees and union members would not be successful in their attempts to pressure or intimidate their co-workers. A secret ballot provides the assurance that each and every union member would be able to vote according to his or her conscience and beliefs.
For example, I have seen strike votes where unions get together in a public environment and have to vote in favour or against a strike by a show of hands. I have experienced first-hand some very serious pressure and intimidation. If union leadership wanted a strike to occur, many members who may not want to go on strike because they could not afford to take a reduced salary or no salary at all because they had mouths to feed at home were pressured into voting in favour of their union boss' belief that a strike was necessary. That is just as unacceptable as it would be if a management member tried to intimidate a union member or a non-union member into voting against certification.
Secret ballots are the absolute solution and remedy to intimidation factors and tactics, yet the government feels otherwise. For some reason, it feels that Bill C-525, which allowed for secret balloting in either union certification or decertification, should be eliminated, and that changes to the Canada Labour Code should be enacted to go back to the old system. I just cannot agree with that.
Although I believe that Bill C-7 is on balance a worthwhile piece of legislation containing many provisions that I agree with, the single provision that does not allow for secret balloting on union certification or decertification makes it impossible for me to support this particular piece of legislation.
One could present an argument that the system that had been in place for many years, whereby petitions could be circulated and cards could be signed, was appropriate, but that certainly has not proven to be the case in the majority of provinces across Canada. In fact, in the majority of provinces in Canada, provincial legislation deems that secret balloting must take place in determining either certification or decertification of a union, and it has worked well.
I could also share from personal experience conversations I have had with many rank-and-file union members, who have expressed the same concern that I am expressing here. That is the concern that their right to vote freely has been impugned because of the public nature of voting within many unions.
Let me simply say that while Bill C-7 contains many solid provisions that support the RCMP and allow its members to determine their own fate when it comes to unionizing and enjoying collective bargaining, and while many of those provisions we heard earlier in debate today protect them on many other fronts, the single fact that the government does not see fit to allow one of the most fundamental tenets in democracy, that being secret ballots, makes the bill absolutely unacceptable to me and, I am sure, to all my colleagues on the Conservative benches.
What is the solution? Frankly, we have heard many times before, particularly from the Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, that committees should take a stronger and more active role in determining legislation in the House. That is a position that I quite frankly agree with and support, so we are simply asking that an amendment be considered at committee that would allow this legislation to include the provision of secret balloting before being presented to the House in its final form for third reading.
I do not know whether or not that is going to happen. I could assume that we will be able to move an amendment at committee and engage in debate, but I sense quite strongly that despite the nice words from the parliamentary secretary to the government House leader, their committee members will be whipped and instructed to vote against any amendment that the official opposition brings forward in relation to secret ballots.
Once again, I find it extremely difficult to stand in this place and completely understand how the government can defend that position. Every one of the members of this place was elected by secret ballot. The Speaker of this chamber was elected by a secret ballot. Why is that the case? Why is it the case that in almost every democracy in the world, secret ballots have been accepted as the norm?
The government seems to be swimming upstream. Why is it doing that? Quite frankly, Liberals made a number of commitments during the election campaign to try to gather support from the union movement in Canada. One of them was the commitment to repeal Bill C-377 on union transparency. Another was the commitment to repeal Bill C-525, which allowed for secret balloting in certification and decertification votes. I suppose on the one hand they are keeping their commitment to their election campaign platform, but it flies in the face of any democratic institution that we know of.
There is one other point I would like to make. It has been mentioned several times in today's debate, primarily by the member for Spadina—Fort York, that Bill C-7 does not disallow the RCMP from determining their own fate when it comes to a secret ballot. He says they are able to vote for certification or non-certification by secret ballot if they so choose. That is factually incorrect. Because of the provisions in Bill C-4, which would change the Canada Labour Code, the RCMP would not be able to choose a secret ballot even if the majority of their members wanted to.
I would point out to the member for Spadina—Fort York that what he is attempting to state in the House as fact is absolutely just the opposite. It is factually incorrect. Because of Bill C-4, the RCMP would not have the ability to vote for union certification, should they desire, in a secret ballot environment.
I would suggest to all members of this place that if one were to poll rank-and-file members of the RCMP and simply ask them if they would be in favour of a secret ballot process for certification, the overwhelming majority of non-union members would state yes, they want a secret ballot.
I have spoken with a great many RCMP members. I have spoken in the House of my close relationship with many members, both present and past. Almost to a person, when speaking about the certification process, these members say they would prefer to have a secret ballot.
I firmly believe that whenever the vote is taken, RCMP members will vote to unionize. I have that sense. However, they should be allowed to do so in a secret ballot environment. They should be allowed to cast their ballot knowing full well that no one else will know how they voted. That is something we hold dear in our country, yet the Liberals seem to be reversing the democratic will of the people by forcing public notification of union certification votes. That is unacceptable.
I can assure the House that on this side, unless an amendment is brought forward to reverse the secret balloting provisions and allow for secret ballots in union certification votes, members on the Conservative side will be voting against Bill C-7, and for good reason.