Mr. Speaker, I welcome this opportunity to rise to speak to the government's motion in respect of the amendments brought forward by the Senate to Bill C-7.
Before I begin my remarks, I want to take this moment to personally thank the 28,000-plus regular members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Throughout Canadian history, they have played an integral role and to this day continue to serve and protect the communities they are posted to.
The Conservative Party respects the Supreme Court's decision that RCMP officers are entitled to organize and bargain collectively. We will always support the RCMP, and we thank all members for the great work they do on the front lines in keeping our communities and neighbourhoods safe.
For the most part, Bill C-7 was a reasonable response to the court's ruling. However, I did not and cannot support any legislation that denies employees, especially RCMP members, the right to vote in a secret ballot on whether to unionize. RCMP members risk their lives every day. The least we can do is give them the democratic right to vote free of all intimidation on whether to unionize.
It is crucial to step back and understand the full context of how this legislation got here in the first place.
Currently, RCMP members are not allowed to unionize and bargain collectively. They have no recourse to arbitration or strikes. These matters were brought to the Supreme Court of Canada, which rendered its decision that struck down the exclusion of RCMP members from the definition of “employee” in the Public Service Labour Relations Act as being unconstitutional.
Moreover, the Supreme Court said that sections of the RCMP regulations breached the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It was that Supreme Court decision that stated that careful and methodical consultations must take place. It also required members of the House of Commons to enshrine the constitutional freedom of RCMP members and reservists to engage in meaningful collective bargaining if they so wish.
It was during those consultations that a significant majority of those who participated supported the idea of forming a union. It was through those consultations that members of the RCMP indicated that they preferred to use binding arbitration, without the right to strike, as the way to resolve stalled collective bargaining. This is in line with various other police organizations across the country. The members were also clear that they wanted to be represented by a single national employee organization, whose primary mandate would be the representation of its members.
Many members in the House represent constituents who have been or currently are serving members in the RCMP. In fact, there are currently RCMP members posted to Parliament Hill, and they are part of our daily lives while the House is in session.
Many members are following this legislation closely and applaud the work of the Senate and the amendments it brought forward on Bill C-7, a bill to amend the Public Service Labour Relations Act, the Public Service Labour Relations and Employment Board Act, and other acts, and to provide for certain other measures.
I feel it is appropriate to point out that the Senate passed these amendments and sent the legislation back to the House over ten months ago. My colleague just pointed out in his question that it is actually closer to 11 months.
I understand that the government wanted to fully review the amendments and to consult widely. Public Safety Canada, the Treasury Board Secretariat, the Privy Council Office, and the Prime Minister's Office were all involved in determining the government's response to these amendments. Even though there were many government departments and officials involved in this process, the government should have moved on this debate months ago, a point that was just made, as the Supreme Court ruling, I point out, contained a time frame for implementing legislation that is collecting dust.
I know many members of the RCMP and the various other stakeholders involved in drafting the legislation would have preferred to have been at this stage at a much earlier date.
Second, on a procedural matter, the rank-and-file members of the RCMP should know that the Liberal government only tabled its motion to the Senate amendments late last night and expected members of this chamber to be prepared to speak to it today. I can only speculate on why the government took this course of action. However, I do believe that at the outset of this legislation back in 2016, even the government's own caucus was deeply divided on the exclusions from the bargaining table found in the legislation.
For example, the hon. member for Beaches—East York said during the public safety committee meeting on April 21, 2016, during clause by clause consideration:
I actually have serious concerns with the exclusions as they exist, for the simple reason that in all the evidence we heard, we heard repeatedly that these exclusions as they relate to workplace safety specifically are major issues that unions are not going to be able to put on the table when they collectively bargain.
While I will not lament too much the government's disregard to providing the ample time to prepare a response to its motion on which amendments it is willing to accept, I will at least thank the Liberals for finally getting back to the task at hand and allowing us as members of Parliament to speak to the Senate amendments. Enough time has already been wasted and it is time to move on with this much delayed legislation.
To provide greater context on how we reached this point, it is important to highlight that many of the amendments the Senate passed were brought forward during the original House debates and at the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security. After reviewing the minutes, it is important to thank the hon. members for their due diligence in pointing out some of the flaws that were found in the original bill.
In particular, I would like to thank my fellow Manitoban, the hon. member for Elmwood—Transcona, for the work he did, as he just pointed out, on reviewing the legislation and providing different points of view.
It is abundantly clear that our Conservative caucus members were very much willing to work with the government to meet the timelines as outlined in the Supreme Court decision. The legislation could not have been drafted overnight, as the very make-up of the RCMP is distinctive and unique from every other public service occupation. We know the paramilitary nature of the RCMP had to be considered as a unique element when designing the bargaining environment.
This will not shock the members of the NDP when I say the RCMP should be given explicit language, found in this legislation, that will guarantee members of the RCMP the right to a secret ballot if they do decide to form a union and collectively bargain with the Crown. This basic democratic principle must be enshrined in law, not only in Bill C-7 but also in Bill C-4, which was amended by the Senate. I want the record to be clear that our Conservative caucus supports the Senate amendments in both Bill C-7 and Bill C-4 that pertain to the right of workers to have a secret ballot.
Previously I have spoken out against any attempts to roll back the rights of hard-working union members and to repeal the transparency of unions, which finally allowed sunshine to be let into their financial ledgers. While Bill C-7 does not relate to union transparency, it sure has a lot to do with the ability of the RCMP to certify or decertify a union. I do believe the current government is trying to eliminate the guarantee of a secret ballot, not because it wants to support hard-working Canadians but because there are ulterior motives, such as a bargaining chip with various other public service unions.
The elimination of the current government policy of enshrining secret ballots goes far beyond just the RCMP. It involves hundreds of thousands of federally regulated employees across the country.
I originally criticized the Liberals for the lightening speed at which they introduced Bill C-4, the legislation that stripped away workers' rights, but I would like to draw attention to the fact that we are still debating the legislation that was brought forward in February 2016, and it has yet to receive royal assent. This is not such a bad thing and to give credit where credit is due, the Senate also amended that legislation and sent it back to the House.
Liberal MPs in the House today should carefully review the legislation, which was amended by the Senate. They will quickly see that the Senate wanted this legislation to provide RCMP members with the guarantee they would receive a ballot and be able to cast the vote on whether to form a union in secret. This is the only guaranteed way to ensure there is no coercion or intimidation applied from any side of the argument. This would ensure that no matter the rank or seniority, all members of the RCMP are treated equally and fairly and, most of all, without any fear of repercussions on how they proceeded on collectively bargaining.
The Senate has been applying its powers to amend legislation quite frequently in the past few months. I applaud it for its ability to take a deep dive into complex and politically sensitive matters. There is no expectation that the government has to accept every amendment brought forward, but it would be wise for Liberal members to note that even their government House leader in the Senate and all the new independent members, including all former Liberal members who are now part of the independent Liberal caucus, voted to ensure the RCMP was guaranteed its right to a secret ballot. It is far and few between that unanimity is reached on legislation, except in exceptional circumstances or on motherhood and apple pie sorts of issues.
I think we can all agree that Bill C-7 is a rather complex and nuanced issue and the fact that all senators, regardless of political stripe, agreed that the right to a secret ballot must not only be given to the RCMP in Bill C-7, but that all federally regulated environments must be given the same protection. I do not buy the line from the government's benches that giving the RCMP the right to a secret ballot would treat it differently. I would remind the House that in a briefing presented to the public safety committee, it was told that all previous certifications of public sector unions were done by secret ballot. By accepting this amendment, it would actually treat the RCMP equally in terms of certification or decertification, as other public sector unions.
Furthermore, I would like to quote my colleague, the hon. member for Durham, who stated:
...my friends in the other parties are in Parliament not through a card check of their voters and their constituents but by their secret ballot vote, which is a fundamental tenet of our democracy.
It bothers me that we would suggest the federal government and the federal government's unionized work environment would have the same sort of intimidation stories you hear in relation to some private sector unionization efforts from years ago with unfair labour practices...
The importance of the secret ballot as a democratic principle must be upheld. Every member in this chamber is here today because residents in their ridings chose to give them the most personal thing they possess: their vote. We have no higher duty in our role as members than to safeguard the democratic principles that hold our country together. The secret ballot is the highest pillar of this process and it seems absurd to me that any member of the House could argue that we need less voter protection, that we need less transparency, that we need less democracy.
While I recognize that the right to a secret ballot was just one of the amendments the Senate asked the government to revise in Bill C-7, it is, among others, that the government has decided not to accept it.
In continuation of the real and deep criticism I have of the Liberal government's intentions of stripping away the rights of workers, I would like to quote the hon. member for Carleton who originally spoke on the legislation.
He said that by removing the right of a secret ballot vote, it was important to be very clear on what this meant. It meant that a union could take over a federally regulated force without there being a vote by the member who worked in that workplace, that thousands of employees from any number of federal employers could be forced to pay dues and be represented by a union for which they never had a chance to cast a vote.
He said that this would be particularly alarming when it related to the RCMP, an organization comprised of members who put their lives on the line each and every day, in part to defend our democratic way of life. Therefore, it was a great irony that members of the RCMP would be deprived of the most basic democratic right, which was the right to vote in secret on whether to certify a union.
It is my sincere hope today that I will be able, through this debate and my arguments, to convince enough members of the government to demand the executive branch accept the Senate's amendment on enshrining the right to a secret ballot.
For example, Conservative Senator Nancy Greene Raine asked Senator Larry W. Campbell, who was appointed a Liberal Senator by Paul Martin in 2005 and was also an RCMP officer, about his thoughts on a secret ballot vote and if he was concerned that without a secret ballot vote, it might set up some ill will. Senator Campbell agreed with her statement. Senator Campbell also went on to say that it was wonderful to be an independent who moved second reading of Bill C-7 and then was able to actually talk about it.
That is refreshing to hear, that even the senator who introduced the bill, who in fact was a former Liberal before the senators were made independents, can step back, have an objective view, apply his sober second thought, and agree the legislation can be improved upon.
It was during his remarks at debate in the Senate that he noted the bill excluded the following from the collective bargaining process: law enforcement techniques; transfers from one position to another and appointments; appraisals; probation; demotions or discharges; conduct, including harassment; the basic requirement for carrying out the duties of an RCMP member or reservist; uniform, order of dress, equipment or medals of the RCMP. That is quite a list.
We know that through the Liberal government's motion on the Senate amendments, they have accepted the removal of all the exclusions to collective bargaining with their own amendment, that the government has increased the authority of the commissioner in an expanded management rights clause and that the government rejected a RCMP specific grievance procedure, which sends grievances through the RCMP act grievance system, unless it has to do with a collective agreement.
I look forward to hearing if RCMP members across the country find the government's response satisfactory. I also look forward to hearing from members of the House of Commons who sit on the public safety committee and from the senators who were involved in the legislation.
I would like to reiterate my support for the Supreme Court's decision and that I firmly believe RCMP members should be given a secret ballot to certify a union. I hope through today's debate that the government will reverse its decision of not accepting that amendment.