Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak to Bill C-4. I have been really discouraged as I have listened to the debate over the past eight or nine months. One of the themes that keeps coming up is that somehow private members' bills are illegitimate and that this is something that we were bringing through the back door.
We did a lot of consultation. Again, I would like to commend my colleague, the member from Red Deer—Lacombe, who put a lot of work into crafting this private member's bill that was passed in the House in a democratic process, through a vote, which I think is a fundamental part of this, that gave workers the opportunity to a secret ballot. It is disappointing that I have heard from my colleagues across the floor that these bills, Bill C-377 and Bill C-525, do nothing more than force unions to bring forward useless financial information and that it is unfair to have a secret ballot.
For a government that campaigned on a foundation of openness and transparency, I find it very ironic that it is now, today, and has been for the last eight months, on Bill C-4, talking about how unfair it is to have a secret ballot and how unfair it is to ask unions to make public their financial information, financial information consisting of a half a billion dollars of taxpayer money that is tax exempt. I think the Canadian people have a right to know how those dollars are being spent, but most important, it is important that the workers themselves know how those dollars are being spent.
My colleague, the member for Carleton, did a phenomenal job of talking about the history of secret ballots and our labour relations program, but what I want to talk about today is what I find frustrating in terms of the priorities of the Liberal government.
Obviously, I come from the province of Alberta. Things are very difficult right now. It is difficult to see that one of the first things the Minister of Employment did when she came into government was to try to repeal legislation that we put forward to ensure that unions had open and transparent government and employees had the opportunity to a secret ballot. Things have only gotten worse in Alberta over that time and I have not seen our employment minister speak once about what is going on in Alberta and some of the things that the government could be doing to try to turn the situation around.
One part of the employment minister's title that has not been stripped from her role is “workforce development”. I think she has an opportunity to change her priorities from repealing what is good legislation to talking about getting Albertans and Canadians back to work. There are probably more than 100,000 energy workers now unemployed and looking for work. These are families who are having a tough time paying their mortgages, putting food on the table, putting their kids in sports, in hockey, and it is only getting worse. Employment insurance claims in Alberta are up 90% over the past year. The Canadian Association of Oilwell Drilling Contractors has said that employment will be down 60%, from 2014 numbers. This is something that is going on across the country. I know we talk about the employment situation in Alberta being dire, that there is an 8.6% unemployment rate, which is the highest it has been in decades, but this is something that impacts Canadians from coast to coast.
It is very unfortunate that we have a Liberal government and an employment minister, specifically, who has really been missing in action on this. Her number one priority is repealing these pieces of legislation. I think that her priority and her focus right now should actually be on workforce development, which is one of her roles. One of those things that we could be doing in terms of workforce development is advocating for shovel-ready projects, things like the northern gateway pipeline, the Trans Mountain pipeline, things that will actually develop a workforce and get these unemployed Canadians, especially, Albertans in the energy sector, back to work.
When the Trans Mountain pipeline comes to cabinet, perhaps next month, will the minister be in that cabinet room? Will she be a voice for Canadian workers? Will she be a voice for Canada's energy sector? Will she be a voice for investment in Canada, or will she be just standing there, missing in action? Will she be a voice for and support the trans-Canada pipeline and get Canadians back to work rather than spending her time advocating for, what I feel, is a very low priority, which is Bill C-4?
I hope she has an opportunity to answer that today on how she will be advocating for the Trans Mountain pipeline when it comes before cabinet next month.
I look at Bill C-4 as a real step backward. Bill C-525 gave Canadian workers a chance for a secret ballot, which is I believe in vehemently. It is a cornerstone, a foundation, of our Canadian democracy. I am surprised that the Liberal government wants to repeal this.
Quite regularly now, the Liberal government is trying arbitrarily to make a change to a fundamental piece of our democracy, including now how we elect our parliamentarians. The Liberals are doing this with, we will say, consultations. They want to make a change to a fundamental part of our democracy without really consulting Canadians through a referendum. Why should we be surprised they would want to make a change to how unions could have a secret-ballot vote when they are going to make that same change to how Canadians elect their government? I find it ironic that the Liberals, piece by piece, are taking away the voice of Canadians.
It also shows, in my opinion, that when we spoke to Bills C-525 and C-377, we had very strong support from union workers. Some of our polling across Canada showed that as many as 86% of those polled supported this kind of legislation. To repeal that with very little if any consultation, I find very disingenuous. I do not think the Liberals have taken the opportunity to speak to union members and to get their feedback on that.
During the election last fall, I spoke to tens of thousands of my residents, and not once did this issue come up as a priority for the people in the riding of Foothills—not once. Certainly I had people talking about creating jobs and ensuring that our economy is strong, but I never had a single person at a door say to me that he or she would like us to repeal bills that encourage openness and transparency and give Canadian workers the opportunity for a secret-ballot vote. I would encourage the members opposite to tell me how often they had that answer at doors.
Bill C-4 is really about eliminating openness and transparency and removing the opportunity for Canadian workers to have a secret-ballot vote, which is a fundamental part of our democracy. To me, it is a cornerstone of what Canada was built on. It just seems backward for us to be taking away that right from Canadian workers.
Parliament is also discussing Bill C-7, which is a similar process for the RCMP. Are my Liberal colleagues on the other side of the floor also saying that they want to deny RCMP members the right to a secret-ballot vote when it comes to their opportunity to form or not form a union? I find this extremely disingenuous.
Looking through some data, what I find the most frustrating about this is that we are taking up some very important time in the House when we could be dealing with more important issues, such as employment and the economy. When we ask Canadians, we hear they support openness and transparency. When we ask Canadian workers, they say they support openness and transparency. However, it seems the only ones who do not are the members of the current Liberal government, which flies against everything they have talked about as we go through this.
The Liberals talked about consultation, which I do not believe has happened with Bill C-4. The more we sit here and talk about this, the more they delay a decision on the Trans Mountain pipeline; the more they delay a decision on the hearings on energy east; and the more they delay a decision on northern gateway, the ratification of the trans-Pacific partnership, and a softwood lumber agreement. On the really important things that the current government should be getting at and doing, it is not acting. The Liberals are spending their time pandering to big union bosses rather than pounding the pavement and helping to create jobs for Canadians who are struggling woefully right now.
In conclusion, I want to assure the residents of my constituency of Foothills that the Conservatives are fighting hard to ensure that they have a voice and an advocate for what they feel are most important: jobs, a strong economy, and their family.
Unlike the Liberals, who seem to think that workforce development is a bit of an oxymoron, we will be a champion for the energy sector, for small business, for Canadian investors, and for our farmers and our ranchers. These are the people who are creating growth. These are the groups and the folks who are creating jobs. It is not the union bosses. That should be the priority.