Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague from Saskatoon—Grasswood for his excellent speech.
The former Conservative government was a government of principle. We believe in democracy and people's choice and we are working to make the federal government more transparent. We worked toward that goal for the nearly 10 years that we were in office. That is why we supported Bill C-377, An Act to amend the Income Tax Act, and Bill C-525, An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code, the Parliamentary Employment and Staff Relations Act and the Public Service Labour Relations Act, also known as the Employees' Voting Rights Act.
These two bills, which were introduced by members and passed by both chambers, helped to advance the labour movement, regulate it in a transparent manner, and modernize it. Bill C-525 made voting by secret ballot mandatory. Secret ballot voting is so revolutionary. It has never been tested before, except in referendums and federal, provincial, municipal, and school elections.
It took a law to make unions hold secret ballot votes. In fact, many provincial legislatures had to enact legislation in that regard, including Alberta, British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Ontario, and Nova Scotia.
Bill C-377 required unions to disclose how union dues were spent. It was not complicated, it was just common sense, especially because the money was deducted from paycheques as a result of an established practice. In short, these two bills would have made much needed changes to unions.
I wanted to participate in the debate to speak out against what the government is doing. It is disappointing. The government's Bill C-4, an act to amend the Canada Labour Code, the Parliamentary Employment and Staff Relations Act, the Public Service Labour Relations Act and the Income Tax Act, will repeal these two bills.
It is disappointing to see that the Liberals, who claim to defend the middle class, widows, and orphans, are reinstating union secrecy. On the other side of the House, secret ballots and transparency concerning the use of financial resources are not important. It is not very surprising, but it is disappointing.
The Liberals' priority is to thank the big unions for throwing money at them to help get them elected. That is exactly what this government is doing with Bill C-4: it is thanking the big unions that spent big money during the last election.
It is partly for that reason that we had the longest election campaign on record. It was to prevent major unions from repeating what they did in the last Ontario election: they plastered the province with negative ads about a party in order to influence the vote. For these big unions, and for the Liberals, the interests of workers, their members, are far less important than their own corporate interests. It is not even close.
Bill C-4 spells the end for union certification by secret ballot. The big unions are free to keep using their intimidation and scare tactics to force employees into joining a union against their will. It is sad to see a strong-arm policy being enshrined by the government.
The government is failing to protect the silent majority, middle-class workers who have a hard time making ends meet and fear reprisals. They end up buying peace by keeping mum and voting against their conscience. The government is favouring the corporate interests of the big unions that need the millions of dollars in union dues that are taken off the paycheques of unionized workers.
There are many stories of intimidation. Out of fear of reprisals, or to stop the intolerable pressure, many people end up folding and agreeing to sign the certification form. They do not sign because they believe a union might be good for them, but because they feel threatened.
When the time comes to vote for or against unionization, the vote is rarely done by secret ballot. It is by a show of hands, or twisted arms if I may put it that way. Out of fear of being branded if they do not comply with their leaders, many workers choose to go with the flow instead of voting their conscience.
Workers do not vote their conscience. They are intimidated during the process, and they know that the intimidation will not stop if they persist in their opposition.
Even dictatorships that hold elections to legitimize their leaders' leadership do not vote that way. Most of the time, there is a secret ballot that gives people a choice: they can support the dictator or not. That is the way it has to be.
Everyone here would be up in arms if people could not vote their conscience because of intimidation or if intimidation shaped the outcome of any election to public office. The system as we know it would collapse. Why, then, would we accept or tolerate such a system for unions? It is inconceivable. Such behaviour is not tolerated in schoolyards, and so much is being done to counter bullying, but the government has no problem with bullying in a union context.
Secret ballots also protect employees from the possibility of their employer pressuring them not to unionize. Many employers abuse their workers and threaten to close up shop to avoid unionization.
If the majority want to unionize, and a secret ballot vote confirms it, there can be doubt about the will expressed by the workers. Why does anyone need to know how people voted, other than to apply pressure? No one in the House knows exactly who voted for whom in the last election. Secret ballot voting allows everyone to vote according to his or her conscience.
We can understand the Liberals' interest in letting the big labour organizations work under a shroud of secrecy with the money they collect every week from their members. After all, this government loves its doublespeak.
First of all, the government got caught using the public purse as a slush fund to pay for its own little whims. It was not until it was caught red-handed that the government agreed to apologize and admit its mistakes. It was not until the Minister of Health was caught making excessive expense claims for limousine service while in Toronto that she finally apologized and agreed to pay back that unjustifiable expense. It is even worse here, when we all know that Canadians already pay for a car and driver service for ministers.
Were it not for the monitoring by the House, we and Canadians would have been kept in the dark about the piles of money made available to the Minister of Environment and Climate Change for hiring photographers to take a bunch of pictures. Like a big union, the government would have preferred this crazy expense to be kept under wraps for good.
The same goes for the exorbitant moving expenses that the Prime Minister signed off on for his two main advisors and friends, Gerald Butts and Katie Telford. More than $220,000 was paid out to his close friends. It pays to be in the Prime Minister's inner circle.
Canadians are outraged to see their money being used as petty cash for the Prime Minister's close friends. Of course, in four years Canadians can get rid of the government if they are not satisfied.
Canadians benefit from having an opposition that hounds the government to be accountable with public money. Sadly, that is not the case with the big unions.
Although a unionized member can request access to statements showing how the union uses the funds it receives, that member cannot do much to limit the union's choice to support causes other than protecting and promoting workers' rights.
Let me be clear. I recognize that unions have a role to play as the representatives of workers when working conditions are being negotiated. However, influencing the outcome of an election and supporting charitable organizations are not really activities that protect workers.
The millions of dollars spent by Ontario unions on advertising in Ontario during the last election campaign boggles the mind. The big unions were defending their own corporate interests and not those of their members. Many union members are calling for more transparency from their unions and less involvement in matters that have nothing to do with protecting workers' rights. Paying for a plane to fly a banner urging people not to elect a prime minister does not help a union's members in the least. If leaders want to be involved in politics, they should stand for election. Many parties defend the interests of big unions in the House. They have lots to choose from.
However, if they are interested in protecting their workers, that is what their activities should focus on. Most of the time, union leaders spend money on things that have nothing to do with their mandate and without obtaining the support of their members. They act somewhat like kings who view the union dues collected as their booty. Workers are entitled to the same rigour from their union leaders when it comes to the money collected from their paycheques.
It is important to understand that there is no freedom of association in Canada's labour movement. With the Rand formula, when a union reaches the number of members required to become certified, union dues are automatically deducted from the paycheques of all employees, whether they were in favour of certification or not. That being the case, I think it is even more appropriate to have measures requiring large unions to keep their members and the general public informed of what they are doing with the dues they receive.
Our parliamentary system is based on the principle of no taxation without representation. In order to bring in a tax, authorization must be obtained from an elected chamber. There is a principle of accountability. Unions do not have that principle. Although workers' dues are collected systematically like taxes, there are transparency measures to show how the amounts collected by the unions are used.
For all of the reasons that I just mentioned and for many others put forward by my colleagues before me, including the member for Louis-Saint-Laurent, who did excellent work on this file, I have to say that I oppose this bill. This bill is not in keeping with this government's commitment to be open and transparent. It rewards the big unions and does nothing to protect workers—