Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today, and I want to inform you that I will be sharing my time with the member for Burnaby South, who works very hard to defend workers' rights here in the House.
Like other members in the House, I want to take 30 seconds to congratulate our RCMP officers and to thank them for all the work they do across the country. They work hard to keep us, our communities, and our children safe. As a member of Parliament from the Montreal area, I do not deal much with RCMP officers, since they do not directly serve Montreal. The SPVM serves Montreal. However, we are aware of the good work they do and of how dangerous and essential their jobs are.
I am very pleased to rise today to speak about fundamental rights like free collective bargaining, a topic that is close to our hearts as progressive, social democrats, as New Democrats. This topic is especially important to us because gathering, assembling, and fighting for the collective bargaining power to improve one's working and living conditions is a fundamental part of social progress and of the progress of our societies and our country.
We have seen what a positive impact the process of unionization can have on people's quality of life in terms of pay and benefits as well as in terms of respect for employees and ensuring that they are not subjected to discrimination or abuse by employers or ignored whenever they speak up.
People say that right-wingers are about defending the middle class, but not many people realize that the middle class exists primarily because of the union movement. In the 18th century, when unions were illegal, people had absolutely appalling working conditions. They had no rights, and they worked like dogs for pay that kept them forever poor. People were constantly being pauperized. That is why we need to recognize the work of the many men and women who decided to join forces and sit down to negotiate collective agreements and labour contracts that laid out the rules of the game and ensured healthy workplaces that enabled people to support their families, enjoy some recreation, travel, and so on.
Unions became legal in Canada in 1872. However, RCMP members have been in a rather unique situation since the force was created in 1918. RCMP members have always been denied the right to organize and negotiate their labour contracts, even though this clearly violates the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the right to free bargaining has been upheld by a number of courts, including the B.C. Supreme Court and the Supreme Court of Saskatchewan, as well as the Supreme Court of Canada.
I am pleased, in one sense, that the Liberal government is finally bringing such a long struggle to an end. For decades now, RCMP members have been wanting the same right that everyone else enjoys. However, I am bitterly disappointed in the drafting of the bill and the work done by the Liberal government. Once again, we are in a situation where, in an effort to follow a directive or ruling from the Supreme Court, the Liberal government is trying to respond to it, but is doing so carelessly and sloppily. It is making things up and forgetting things, and as I think my colleague said earlier, this could give rise to new legal debates. Bill C-7 will probably be challenged in the courts because it contains things that are clearly completely unacceptable and infringe on the right to free bargaining.
Some of the clauses violate the very principle that this bill is supposed to defend. What are they? For us, the most important thing is the exclusions. Bill C-7 excludes some issues, certain matters, from the collective bargaining process. RCMP officers are being told that they have the right to organize and to collectively negotiate a work contract, but they do not have the right to talk about certain things and the government is the one that decides. They are being told that they only have the right to talk about pay and benefits, period.
What are the exclusions? One of them is staffing, the ability to decide who will get a promotion or who will be hired.
Deployment is another: who will go to what city, town, or region. Shift work is yet another: will workers have to work alone or will they have backup?
There is also harassment and disciplinary action. That is an important issue. The Liberals are excluding anything related to harassment in the workplace from the RCMP's collective bargaining process. RCMP officers will therefore be unable to file a complaint in that regard. That is outrageous. Why would RCMP officers be deprived of that option?
There is also disciplinary action. It was excluded out of hand and no one knows why, as though these sorts of things magically take care of themselves.
Whose idea was it to exclude these issues? They are what can make the difference between a happy and healthy workplace and a workplace rife with conflict, competition, poor relations between colleagues, and even poor relations between managers and employees.
The NDP does not understand why these issues, which have a major impact on workplace health and safety, were dismissed out of hand by the Liberal government.
What will happen? It is pretty clear, and the writing is on the wall. If this bill passes, when RCMP officers become unionized, they will eventually claim their right to talk about these issues and to have an internal complaint process so that they can have their say. Why would they be denied this right, when all other unionized police forces in Canada can talk about these issues?
In no way has the Liberal government shown that the reliability, neutrality, or viability of the RCMP would be called into question as a result of these collective bargaining issues and that they therefore had to be excluded from the process. This makes absolutely no sense. This will result in more legal proceedings and additional costs, not only for taxpayers, but also for the RCMP officers' union. This is all completely unnecessary, since we could fix this problem right here, right now.
I urge the Liberal government to listen to reason, instead of forcing Parliament to pass botched, flawed bills that will be challenged in court. I urge the government to do its job and to respect the fundamental right to free collective bargaining.
This issue affects an important, though small, segment of our society. There is no reason why these people should not have the same rights as all workers. The work they do is recognized and respected by everyone. I think that we should give them the tools that will help them create a workplace where they feel comfortable and are heard, and where they are able to speak up when necessary.
For these reasons, the NDP cannot vote in favour of Bill C-7, even though it is well-intentioned and even though the Supreme Court issued its ruling. We cannot support the bill because the government did a sloppy job and this bill will be challenged in court.
I want to use the few minutes I have left to say that I do not understand why, in this debate, the people from the Conservative Party, who dragged their feet miserably after the Supreme Court ruling was handed down in January 2015, keep coming back to the issue of having a secret ballot for the union certification process. That has nothing to do with Bill C-7. It is like they are trying to relive the years of the previous government, when, in fact, a unionization process involving membership cards signed and submitted to the Canada Industrial Relations Board, the CIRB, is the best and easiest way to unionize a group. We often hear the Conservatives say that having people sign cards will lead to bullying and that is why they prefer a secret ballot. In the unionization process, any bullying is done by the employers and not by the workers. It is not documented and it does not exist.
I come from the union movement. In my previous life, I was a union activist and a union advisor. We know that a unionization process by secret ballot often leads to negative results for the workers. It is not as successful. The longer the vote, the more time the employer has to use blackmail or make promises or threats.
That is why we want to keep the current system. I would like our Conservative friends to understand that some day.