Madam Speaker, as many will know, when there is an opportunity to talk about the issue of labour relations in Canada, as much as possible people can count on the fact that I love to be able to share my thoughts on what I believe is a very important issue. It is an important issue not only for me but also for the Prime Minister and the Liberal caucus as a whole. That is very clearly demonstrated in the degree to which labour relations has been made a parliamentary priority by the government.
I can recall having discussions about labour-related legislation prior to our being in government, when we discussed two private members' bills. I will comment on that because at times it was fairly emotional for my colleagues opposite when we indicated the manner in which the past government, the Harper government, had changed the labour laws.
One of the discussions that took place had to do with the sense of unfairness about what the Conservative government was doing at the time in introducing private members' legislation. Therefore, no one should be surprised that the new government, led by our current Prime Minister, has made a fairly bold statement that we want to establish a new attitude and a new relationship between labour and management, given the harm caused by the former government. It did not take long for our new government and the Prime Minister to bring forward legislation that will ultimately assists in setting the stage.
Bill C-4 is a genuine and effective attempt to repeal legislation that was previously introduced in the House by private members. I was there during the debate when those private members' bills were brought forward to fulfill what we believed at the time was the Conservative Harper government's agenda with respect to labour relations.
Over the years, I have had the opportunity to walk on picket lines and to support workers. I have had opportunity to meet with management groups to talk about labour relations. I understand the importance of balance. At one point, I was even the labour critic in the Province of Manitoba. I understand how important it is that there be balance, because balance is what provides for an effective bargaining process.
Although we have only held the reins of power here at the national level for a relatively few months, I believe we have made significant strides forward. I was really encouraged by our ministries here today that were so effective in sending the message to Canada Post and the union not to expect the current government to jump in with back-to-work legislation.
The government's expectation is that the stakeholders in this case, the management and the union, will be able to negotiate in good faith. I believe that in good part they have understood that the government wants to see that different attitude toward negotiations and that it believes it is in their best interest, both management and the labour side of Canada Post, to reach a negotiated agreement. In essence, that is what we have witnessed. When there is an opportunity for a negotiated agreement between the stakeholders, I believe this is what we should be striving for at all times. I do not believe the previous government really appreciated that fact.
Hansard will clearly demonstrate that I would comment back then that everyone knew at the time that the government of the day would institute back-to-work legislation virtually immediately if a strike took place. How did that influence negotiations? It was not just in respect of Canada Post. Indeed, the government needs, as much as possible, to respect and allow for negotiations in good faith. It does not necessarily mean that we are limited. We act in the best interests of Canadians at all times.
The former government did not recognize the importance of labour harmony. That is one of the reasons why we, as a government, had to deal with labour legislation right from the get-go. That is exactly what our Prime Minister and our government did with the introduction of Bill C-4. First reading was back in January and the bill was brought forward for second reading in February.
What was the Conservative Party's official response? The Government of Canada said that Bill C-4 was a priority piece of legislation and that we should debate it. Back then, the Conservatives did not think twice. They brought forward an amendment to the legislation. The amendment read:
That the motion be amended by deleting all the words after the word “that” and substituting the following therefor: “this House decline to give second reading to 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, because the bill violates a fundamental principle of democracy by abolishing the provision whereby the certification and decertification of a bargaining agent must be achieved by a secret ballot vote-based majority”.
Right away, the Conservative Party attempted to reject Bill C-4. It did that because it prefers those private members' bills, no matter who was offended by them. I am very proud that the government continued to push forward boldly with the legislation, understandably so, and we saw it go to committee.
When we deal with bills like C-525, C-377, and C-4, they go to committee and we get all sorts of different types of presentations on them. However, in this case, both labour and management argued that the approach established by Bill C-525 and Bill C-377 set a dangerous precedent for labour relations and law reform, wherein the tripartite consultation process—referring to employer, union, and government—had traditionally been considered as essential by the stakeholder to maintaining a workable labour-management balance.
We saw both sides make that claim. Many members in the Liberal caucus have raised that issue. I listened to my colleague from Atlantic Canada, when he was the critic for labour, stand up many times and articulate how important that balance was and how we had to respect the importance of the stakeholders. That was one of the fundamental flaws with the private members' bills that were being advanced at the time, which we are repealing through this legislation.
We have an hour of private members' business every day, almost without exception. There was substantive labour legislation. When changes are made to labour legislation, there is an obligation to take those stakeholders, the labour and management sides, and bring them to the table and sit down with them to get a good understanding of where consensus could actually to built. That allows the government to be involved in this well-established process that has proven to be fairly effective in Canada. Other jurisdictions look to Canada to see how we are able to provide balance between labour and management, and the different stakeholders.
That is something that is so critical, yet both of those private members' bills did not go through that process. In fact, if we had applied the same rules of procedure to Bill C-4 as we did to the two private members' bills, then we would not be debating the bill right now. The bill would have been limited in terms of the amount of time allowed for debate.
Members know full well that a private member's bill is treated quite differently than a government initiative or government legislation. There is more debate time for government bills. There is a different process, whether it is the lead-up, the making of the legislation, ensuring that there is that consultation and that the consensus is built between and labour management, all the way to the second reading, third reading, report stage, and so forth.
There are time limits that are instituted in our rules to deal with private members' bills. That is why many thought it was intentional on the part of the Harper government to have private members bring legislation in through the back door. We have made reference to that in the past. Many on the other side get very upset or are offended when we talk about that back door approach, but they need to recognize that there is a difference in the process. That offended both labour and management stakeholders. At the time, the Harper government completely ignored that.
Now we are going through the process. What was Bill C-525? It was the Employees' Voting Rights Act. It was introduced in the House of Commons as a private member's bill on June 5, 2013, by the Conservative member for Red Deer—Lacombe. The bill received royal assent on December 16, 2014, and ultimately came into force on June 16, 2015. It suggested that the card check certification model, which we believe is quicker, more efficient, and more likely to be free of employer interference, was something the Conservative Party adamantly disagreed with. It articulated that it needed to be gotten rid of.
However, it did not go through the process. The private member, heavily supported by the government, brought forward that piece of legislation and it offended a great number of people, not only union personnel.
Then Bill C-377, An Act to amend the Income Tax Act (requirements for labour organizations), was introduced in the House of Commons on December 5, 2011, again by a Conservative member. The bill ultimately did pass on December 12, 2012. On June 26, 2013, amendments were made to the bill in the Senate and it was referred back to the House of Commons for review; however, the bill was restored back to its original version. Keep in mind, that was a majority Conservative Senate. Even the Senate recognized the imbalances being caused by this piece of legislation, but the Harper government used its majority to kick it back. Ultimately it was accepted and then put into force after royal assent in June 2015 and took effect in December 2015.
It is no wonder we have made this a high priority for this government. We heard some criticisms at the time about Bill C-377. That it could upset the existing labour relations balance between unions and employers was a comment we heard continuously, whether it was through debates or at the committee stage. That union financial disclosure was already addressed in the Canada Labour Code and in many provincial labour statutes was also something that was raised on many occasions, as well as why the Conservative government was singling out unions. What was the driving factor behind the Conservatives doing that?
It must be pointed out that the bill is discriminatory against unions and ignores other types of organizations such as professional associations, which also receive favourable treatment under taxation law. The bill would invade the privacy of labour organizations and their members.
It is interesting to note that the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees launched a constitutional challenge to Bill C-377. I understand that challenge is now in abeyance until we see what takes place with Bill C-4. There were a great many concerns dealing with privacy. Even the Canadian Bar Association and the Office of the Privacy Commissioner provided comments to that effect. The CBA suggested that the bill may be subject to legal challenges on those grounds alone.
It is amazing the number of provinces that voiced opposition to Bill C-377. A majority of the provinces also criticized the bill for potentially crossing over and destabilizing the labour relations environment. This is where I started my discussion. When we talk about Bill C-4, it is all about righting a wrong. It is restoring a sense of fairness and balance to our labour laws and that is of the utmost importance.
The Conservative government lost touch with Canadians on labour issues, as it lost touch on many different issues with Canadians. Bill C-4 is a good bill and should be supported by all members because it brings back and restores balance to labour relations.