Mr. Speaker, it is always a pleasure to rise in the House to speak, but I would rather not have to do so on the subject of Bill C-4. Today is not a good day for Canadian democracy.
This is the final stage of debate on Bill C-4, a bill that takes aim at union democracy, the transparency that must be present in certain unions, and the accountability that is so vital not only within unions, but everywhere. People are becoming increasingly aware, particularly this week, that the government is no no position to lecture anyone on accountability.
Bill C-4 seeks to literally kill two bills that passed during the previous Parliament, two private bills that we, the Conservative Party, fully respected. We fully respect private bills, because we believe that all members of the House are equal, and all bills introduced here are equal. There is no such thing as front-door bills and backdoor bills. Every bill is voted on by members who all enter through the front door. Why? Because we are all accountable to our constituents. Regardless of whether a member is a government member, a cabinet minister, an opposition member, or an independent member, we are all members of the House of Commons. We all have the same authority to introduce bills. Shame on this government for referring to private bills as backdoor bills.
I want to repeat what I said earlier. I offered the minister the opportunity, the possibility, the chance, and the privilege to recognize that she has made a mistake. Everyone makes mistakes. Referring to the private bills we passed during the previous Parliament as backdoor bills is insulting to the House of Commons, and it is insulting to the 338 people duly elected by Canadians, our constituents.
I did not want to have to say this, but unfortunately I have to repeat that when a private member's bills is introduced, it is a front-door bill, not a backdoor bill. If we apply the Liberals' logic to the bill that was passed a few weeks ago, the one introduced by the Hon. Mauril Bélanger on the national anthem, are the Liberals prepared to say that that was a backdoor bill?
Are the Liberals ready to say that Mauril Bélanger's bill was a backdoor bill, yes or no? If they are ready to say that, they can rise up and say it.
It is impossible. We cannot say that a bill tabled by a minister or by an opposition member, or any member, is a two-tier bill. We are all members.
Bill C-4 seeks to kill Bill C-377 on accountability, and Bill C-525 on transparency. Let us look at them one at a time.
In our opinion, one of the fundamental principles in any organization is democracy. We want people who operate in a democracy to be accountable to their constituents, and also to earn that mandate. That is why when it comes to forming a union, we think all potential employees should have the opportunity to express themselves freely by secret ballot.
We were elected here, to the House of Commons, by secret ballot. Did we go to people's homes asking them to vote for us and sign a document? Of course not because we respect the voters' secret ballot.
However, this government prefers to uphold the old union ways, which require people to sign an application for union certification. We think that people would be more comfortable forming a union by secret ballot. For that matter, we think that would put the unions on a stronger footing.
A union formed by secret ballot proves that a majority of the workers really want it and that no one was subjected to undue pressure, whether from people wanting to unionize or from the company's executives who do not want the union.
We often think that unions are the only ones putting pressure on the workers by telling them they have to sign a certification application, but the opposite is true as well.
A business owner could go see new employees and tell them that they just got hired and that it would not be a good idea to sign. That would make employees think twice about doing so. However, allowing employees to vote by secret ballot on forming a union would respect the fundamental principle of democracy. That is why Bill C-4 is no good. It seeks to do away with this notion of democracy.
Let us also remember that union democracy is based on Canada's fundamental principles, and the best way to establish that democracy is to ensure accountability. On that note, I would like to mention another bill that will be killed by Bill C-4, and that is Bill C-525.
Bill C-525 sought to increase transparency and accountability. We believe that, when a union receives nearly $500 million in tax refunds, it needs to be accountable. That is not just peanuts. It is half a billion dollars. That is a lot of taxpayer money that is being given out in the form of tax refunds. That is why we believe that the salaries of executives, the way they manage their money, and the choices they make when it comes time to support political parties must be made public. However, Bill C-4 seeks to eliminate the transparency that we Conservatives think is critical.
My NDP colleague was saying that she organized and presided over a postal workers' union where all financial information was made available, but only to members. If that information is available to members, why not make it available to all Canadians, who contribute to unions through tax refunds? If that information is so public, why not make it really public? What do they have to hide? Making the information public would not bother anyone who did not have anything to hide. Why then are some members opposed to accountability and transparency?
That is why I am saying that Bill C-4 is a bad bill and that this is a bad day for democracy, because this legislation undermines the fundamental principles of democracy, accountability, and transparency.
When it comes to accountability, this government has a long way to go, and that is putting it mildly. Day after day, we discover situations that embarrass the government. It is not a good sign when the Minister of Health uses a limousine service and gives out contracts to a Liberal friend but only apologizes and promises to repay the bill after she is caught.
Over the past few days we have learned that the Prime Minister's advisors expensed $200,000 in moving costs. At first, the Liberals said that this is no big deal. Then, they said these expenses would be repaid. That is definitely proof that the Liberals are not very proud of their record on accountability. However, accountability is vital.
MPs file a quarterly expense report, which includes travel expenses. It is very public. Woe to anyone with an ineligible expense, because they will be taken to task very quickly. Clearly, these are fundamental principles that we all support. However, when the time comes to make unions accountable, the Liberals, and I assume the NDP as well, do not want to have anything to do with it. That is unfortunate. Democracy, accountability, and transparency are fundamental principles in this place, and they must also apply to labour organizations.
The truth, as everyone knows, is that the Liberals wanted to thank the big union bosses who helped them out so handsomely during the election campaign. Let us not forget that PSAC was prepared to spend $5 million in August alone to attack the former government before the writ was even dropped. The former prime minister had to call the election in August so that unions spending massive amounts of money to attack a political party—spending that was not approved by all union members—would not completely destabilize our democracy.
That is why we had the longest election campaign in history. Unions wanted to spend millions attacking one party without even getting their members' approval.
I know what I am talking about. In my Quebec City riding, which many federal and provincial employees call home, I met a woman who told me that she actively opposed her union's choice, that she strongly condemned it, and that she was not even given the right to vote on whether the union should spend the money. That is what has been happening. The unions spent millions helping the Liberal Party rise to power, so the party is thanking its union friends by introducing a bill that will destroy everything we did for democracy, accountability, and transparency.
Maybe the government could have paid more attention to what union members and even some union leaders are saying. Not everyone is comfortable with Bill C-4. In fact, some union leaders are very comfortable with the principles of transparency, democracy, and accountability. People have spoken out about this a number of times.
For example, PSAC's Robyn Benson said:
PSAC has no issue with voting by secret ballot. We do it regularly to elect our officers, ratify collective agreements, and vote for strike action, as examples.
That is not a Conservative or a right-wing group talking. That was Mr. Benson of the Public Service Alliance of Canada. I have other quotations, too.
Dick Heinen of the Christian Labour Association of Canada said:
We think that workers should have the right and be free to make their own choices when it comes to which union represents them or whether they want to be represented by a union at all.
Brendan Kooy, Christian Labour Association of Canada, said, “To be clear, CLAC would support a secret ballot vote where possible.”
Here is another quotation, this one from John Farrell, executive director of the Federally Regulated Employers, Transportation and Communications:
Members prefer a secret ballot vote to a card check system for the purpose of determining if a union is to become a certified bargaining agent for employees. A secret ballot vote is the essence of a true democratic choice and is entirely consistent with Canadian democratic principles.
I agree with him.
Also, Paul Moist, national president, Canadian Union of Public Employees, said, “Asking Canadians a question about voting — most Canadians, me included, would say voting is good.”
Chris Aylward, national executive vice-president and executive officer, Public Service Alliance of Canada, said that there was not issue with voting by secret ballot. He said:
But we're not sitting here saying that secret ballots are bad. As a matter of fact, in my submission I said that we have nothing against secret ballots. We use secret ballots at our own organization....So it's not that a secret ballot is now going to be imposed on employees and we're opposed to that. We're not.
It is hard to argue against a secret ballot vote as this is the basis of democracy.
Those are the foundations of democracy. Secret ballot voting is one of the foundations of democracy. Accountability is one of the foundations of democracy. Transparency in how union leaders spend union dues is one of the foundations of democracy. That is what we established, and that is what Bill C-4 seeks to destroy, specifically the foundations of democracy in the labour movement. That is troubling.
This is being done elsewhere. We did not invent anything new when we introduced this bill two or three years ago. On the contrary, we were inspired by what we saw being done elsewhere. Secret ballot voting exists in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario, and Nova Scotia. Why can it be done at the provincial level, but not federally? Does that mean that the people of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario, and Nova Scotia are against unions and against freedom of expression? Quite the contrary. If it can be done at the provincial level, why not at the federal level? So much for democracy.
The same goes when it comes to transparency and accountability. This exists in certain provinces, but also in certain countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, Germany, and even France. If there is a country that leans more to the left than Canada, it is France. If there is a country that has been led by the left for years, it is France. If there is a country where unions are fully free to be active and have a very powerful presence in the economy and society, it is France. France has provisions to ensure transparency. Who are they to say that France would not be open to the unions when we know how powerful and strong the unions are in France? It is absolutely false.
I invite the government to look at what is is being done in Canada and in the provinces, as well as what is happening in countries that are more to left than we are, where unions are more powerful than ours and have room for transparency, accountability, and democracy.
There have been court challenges, which is absolutely legitimate in our system. People brought challenges before the courts over certain legislation that was adopted by the provinces. Look at what was said in Saskatchewan by the court of appeal that ruled on whether changes like those the Conservatives made two or three years ago should or should not be made to the employment legislation of that province.
Let us look at the statement made by Justice Richards of the Court of Appeal of Saskatchewan, who says on page 38:
...a secret ballot regime does no more than ensure that employees are able to make the choices they see as being best for themselves.
He also says, “The secret ballot, after all, is a hallmark of modern democracy.”
This is not coming from a Conservative, but from a judge of the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal. We know that Saskatchewan is not a right-wing province. Was it not in Saskatchewan that Canada's major social movements were born? Was it not in Saskatchewan that T. C. Douglas founded the party that would later become the NDP? Saskatchewan, which is not recognized as being the most right-wing province in Canada on the basis of its history, has acknowledged through an appeal court judge that the secret ballot is a good thing.
To summarize, Bill C-4 is not a good bill. It seeks to kill two bills that were duly debated and passed by the former Parliament, two private bills, which, for the Conservatives, are not backdoor bills, as touted by the minister and other Liberal members in such a mean, petty, aggressive, and haughty manner.
In our opinion, all bills are equal, starting with the bill Introduced by the Hon. Mauril Bélanger on the national anthem. It is exactly the same thing. It is not a backdoor bill, but a bill that was duly introduced by a member, a bill that came in the front door, and not the back door.
Unfortunately, Bill C-4 will likely soon be passed, even though it undermines principles that are fundamental to Canada and so important to Canadians. It undermines the principles of democracy. People should be allowed to vote by secret ballot rather than be asked to sign a sheet of paper. We want to protect the secret ballot. That is how everyone here was elected.
Bill C-4 seeks to attack a bill that would increase the transparency and accountability of unions. The government is sending the wrong signal to unions and all organizations because when it is time for accountability, they all need to do their part, to be accountable.
The bills that we passed under our government improved democracy, accountability, and transparency, while Bill C-4 undermines those principles. That is why today is a sad day for Canadian democracy.