Thank you, Mr. Speaker, for the opportunity to go over the government's proposed response to the amendments to Bill C-7 from the other place. The government takes the responsibility to protect the safety and security of Canadians very seriously. We are also committed to supporting the dedicated and proud members of Canada's national police service. This is reflected in our proposed response to these amendments.
I have always been impressed with the professionalism of these individuals and their commitment to the communities they serve and protect. The members of the RCMP work with the community to prevent and resolve problems that affect the community's safety and quality of life. They are true role models and leaders. It is out of respect for these officers that the RCMP has introduced a number of measures to promote a healthy and respectful workplace. For example, in support of the 2014 amendments to the RCMP Act, several of the RCMP's human resources management processes, policies, and procedures were updated. Let me highlight a few.
The RCMP launched a new investigation and resolution of harassment complaints policy, which provides greater clarity and a single, streamlined approach for dealing with complaints. In addition, a process was introduced to address misconduct in a more timely and effective manner, and at the lowest appropriate level. Further, a new code of conduct was developed that specifically identifies harassment as a contravention of the code. This is complemented by the amended training curriculum that was put in place to specifically address respect in the workplace and harassment. Finally, an informal conflict management program was launched.
However, there is more. On top of these measures, in February 2016 the Minister of Public Safety asked the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP to undertake a comprehensive review of the RCMP's policies and procedures on workplace harassment and to evaluate the implementation of the recommendations the commission made in 2013.
The commission has been reviewing the adequacy, appropriateness, sufficiency, and clarity of these policies, procedures, and guidelines. In addition, in July 2016 the Minister of Public Safety announced the appointment of Sheila Fraser as a special adviser. Her role has been to provide advice and recommendations to the minister regarding the application of various policies and processes by the RCMP.
The RCMP has made great progress with these initiatives, programs, and policies that it has implemented. These two reviews will be very valuable in helping the minister fulfill the mandate the Prime Minister handed him, to ensure the RCMP is free from harassment and sexual violence.
Bill C-7 builds on these good efforts to implement a robust labour relations regime for the RCMP. We believe we have addressed the concerns raised by the other place by increasing the scope of issues that can be bargained, while at the same time ensuring the operational integrity of the RCMP, which is so critical to its effectiveness.
Before I get to the details of our proposed response to the amendments to the bill, permit me to provide a bit of context. As we know, Bill C-7 creates a new labour relations regime for the RCMP members and reservists by amending the Public Service Labour Relations Act and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Act. It has several key elements that reflect the clear preferences expressed by the RCMP members themselves during consultations with members held in the summer of 2015. Specifically, members were clear that they wanted a labour relations framework that provided for a single national bargaining unit, a union that is primarily focused on representing RCMP members, and the recourse of binding arbitration if a collective agreement cannot be negotiated.
Bill C-7 creates this very framework. If it becomes law, it would ensure that, if RCMP members choose to unionize, they will have an RCMP-focused, single, national bargaining unit, with binding arbitration as the dispute resolution mechanism.
As it stands today, the labour relations regime that applies to the RCMP members does not meet all of these member preferences.
We introduced the bill in March of 2016. After a comprehensive committee study, the bill was passed with a number of amendments on June 21, 2016, and sent to the other place for review. We have taken the time to thoroughly analyze and carefully consider all of the Senate's amendments. Our proposed response addresses the most significant concerns of the other place by increasing the scope of issues that can be bargained. Our proposed response would align the labour relations regime that governs the RCMP with the system that governs other federal public service employees.
What is more is that our position respects the 2015 Supreme Court decision, which ruled that key parts of the RCMP labour relations regime were unconstitutional because they interfered with the rights of members to a collective bargaining process. That was the court decision in the case of the Mounted Police Association of Ontario vs. the Attorney General of Canada. Bill C-7 as originally proposed was meant to address this and our proposed response to the amendments would continue to respect this decision.
Our intent continues to be to provide the RCMP with a meaningful process for collective bargaining that takes into account the specific circumstances of the RCMP as a police organization.
Let us take a closer at how we propose to address each of the changes. Overall, members of the other place said the Bill was too restrictive with respect to the matters that could be included in collective agreements and arbitral awards. Issues such as harassment, transfers and appointments, for example, could not be brought to the bargaining table.
In this respect, the other place made several changes to the bill. It removed restrictions on what could be included in collective agreements and arbitral awards specific to the RCMP. It added a management rights clause to replace restrictions that seek to preserve the commissioner’s authority over human resource issues. The government agrees with removing the RCMP-specific restrictions on what may be collectively bargained.
Second, we suggest adopting a more targeted management rights clause than that proposed by the other place. Our focus is on the authorities the commissioner needs to ensure effective police operations. These two changes combined would have the effect of broadening the scope of what could be potentially incorporated in a collective agreement, thereby addressing the major criticisms of Bill C-7.
It would also ensure that the employer and any future RCMP member bargaining agent could engage in discussions on topics of importance to RCMP members and reservists who were excluded from the original Bill C-7.
Permit me to provide a few examples of subject matter that could be included in the collective agreement or in arbitral awards: first, general aspects associated with the appointment and appraisals of RCMP members; second, criteria and timing for conducting appraisals of RCMP members; and third, measures to mitigate the impact of discharges and demotions of RCMP members, including work force adjustment provisions.
As is the practice for other negotiations in the public service, Bill C-7 already allows for a wide range of other matters to be bargained and included in a collective agreement or an arbitral award. These include rates of pay, hours of work, and leave provisions such as designated paid holidays, vacation leave, sick leave, and parental leave.
Other amendments made by the other place removed restrictions that were consistent with restrictions that were already applied to other areas of the federal public service. Among these were restrictions preventing pensions from being bargained.
It also required a mandatory secret ballot vote for the certification of a bargaining agent representing RCMP members.
Finally, it expanded the mandate of the Public Service Labour Relations and Employment Board.
However, our government does not agree with these changes, and we do not believe they are in the public interest. We propose keeping some limitations on matters that may be included in collective agreements and arbitral awards. Eliminating these restrictions would upset processes that have worked well for 40 years.
Since 1967, certain matters that are of broad cross-sectional impact across the public service have been excluded from bargaining and have been dealt with under other legislation to ensure the public interest is taken into account.
Take pensions, for example. Pensions for the rest of the public service are dealt with under the Public Service Superannuation Act. Pensions require a high degree of stability over time to assure pension plan members that their benefits are secure and will be delivered as expected. RCMP pensions compare favourably to other police organizations in Canada.
The federal government has traditionally consulted with employee representatives on pension issues, and is committed to continue this practise. In fact, when it comes to the RCMP, the government goes further. The RCMP Superannuation Act requires that an RCMP pension advisory committee be established.
This committee, which consists of RCMP regular members and representatives of RCMP senior management, makes recommendations on the administration, design, and funding of the pension benefits.
The RCMP is a national police organization, operating within the federal public administration. This is why the proposed labour relations regime for the RCMP was designed to align with the existing federal framework for labour relations and collective bargaining.
Let me now turn to the issue of certification.
Our government believes that there should be a choice between a secret ballot and a card check system. The secret ballot only system is restrictive. It is inconsistent with providing a fair and balanced process of certification, and properly recognizing the role of bargaining agents in that process. It also does not make sense to have the RCMP members subject to a different certification regime than everyone else, a more restrictive regime. It should be aligned.
We do not believe the certification of a bargaining agent to represent the RCMP members and reservists should be subject to a mandatory vote by secret ballot as the only option. In fact, our government's Bill C-4 puts the discretion of certification method back with the Public Service Labour Relations Board to decide whether there will be a secret ballot or a card check. The board will ensure the members' interests are reflected in the choice made.
Finally, we respectfully disagree with the changes that would expand the range of matters that could be considered by the Public Service Labour Relations and Employment Board.
There already are specialized grievance and appeal processes established under the RCMP Act to deal with such matters, so we feel it is unnecessary. In fact, such changes would undermine the Commissioner’s ability to ensure effective police operations.
I would also like to address the recent pay increase that RCMP members received. In April, the government announced a 4.8% total salary increase for RCMP members. With these salary increases, RCMP total compensation, including pensions and benefits, is in line with what is provided to the eight comparable police forces in Canada.
The comparators include local police services for the large majority of the Canadian population, in fact about 90%. The total compensation of an RCMP first constable is now 1% above the average of what is provided in these eight representative police forces. To give one specific example, the RCMP total compensation is now on par with the total compensation for Ontario Provincial police officers.
If RCMP members choose to unionize, Bill C-7 would provide a labour relations framework with the key features that the RCMP members have said they want. Under Bill C-7, future pay negotiations could occur with a single national bargaining unit that is focused on RCMP members.
Our government supports the dedicated and proud members of Canada's national police service. We continue to make progress in creating a labour relations framework that supports their collective bargaining rights. Our proposed response to the amendments of the other place will allow the employer and any future RCMP member bargaining agent to engage in meaningful discussion in good faith on topics of importance to RCMP members and reservists.
It is also in line with the government’s overall approach to restoring fair and balanced labour laws, and acknowledges the important role of unions in Canada.
In closing, let me express my gratitude to all the members of the other place who have helped in the development of this bill.
I would also like to acknowledge the hard work, and good work, of the House committee on public safety and national security. It gave the bill careful consideration and made amendments, which the government accepted.
While we do not accept all the amendments from the other place, its work has given us a better opportunity to improve Canada's labour relations regime for our RCMP and to serve the men and women who benefit from it.