Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Parry Sound—Muskoka.
Mr. Speaker, my colleagues and I have tremendous respect for the RCMP and appreciate and admire its work. We do not question the wisdom of the Supreme Court when it ruled that the current labour regime for the RCMP needs reform to comply with RCMP members' section 2 charter rights, which is why we supported the bill at second reading when it was first introduced.
What we disagree with is the disregard for democratic governance Bill C-7 contained when passed at third reading. We also disagree with the government's choice to reject important amendments to Bill C-7 wisely passed by the Senate.
This bill would enable RCMP members to unionize for the purpose of collective bargaining if they see fit to do so. This bill is not about whether the RCMP should or should not unionize, and I take no position on that question. Most of this bill is agreeable, but it does contain one pitfall.
As the official opposition's deputy critic for Treasury Board, my opposition to the bill, as passed at third reading, and my support for the amended version, which the Senate has returned to the House of Commons, arises from concern about the working environment it would create for members of the RCMP if passed without amendment.
Bill C-7 would not require a secret ballot to certify or decertify a union to represent RCMP members in labour negotiations. My fellow Conservatives and I cannot support the bill unless the issue is corrected.
I supported the bill at second reading, as did my Conservative colleagues, for one purpose. We wanted to send it to committee, hoping that the majority of members would accept sensible amendments to protect the RCMP members' right to privacy as well as their freedom of association. Conservative members argued that any decision to certify or decertify a union to represent RCMP members must include a secret ballot to protect members from undue pressure or reprisal. I will return to that point in a moment.
The Liberals rejected this amendment at committee and returned the bill for third reading, and now the Senate has sent it back to the House with amendments. Two of these amendments would require a secret ballot vote for certification.
The motion before us today states that the government:
respectfully disagrees with amendments 2 and 4(a) because the government has introduced legislation to repeal secret ballot provisions for other public servants...;
The motion also disagrees with other amendments the Senate made in recognition of the RCMP's unique structure and circumstances, which would require modifications to existing labour laws.
I am going to focus my remarks on the amendments on secret ballots and let other members speak to the merits of the other amendments.
Canadians should never feel unduly pressured when exercising their democratic rights as citizens of a free country. None of us should worry that third parties will keep track of our voting choice or seek to reward or punish as a result. As members of Parliament, we should know this well. We were all elected by secret ballot. Voters took their ballots behind a privacy screen, filled them in, alone with their conscience, folded them so no one could see their selection, and put the ballot in the box.
It is not too difficult to imagine how different Canada would be if political organizers, neighbours, ethnic or religious community leaders, employers, union leaders, friends, or even family members hovered over a voter's shoulder when voting in an election.
As my friend, the member for Carleton, mentioned on March 22, 2016, the rate of success for unionization drives appears demonstrably higher with a card check system alone than with a secret ballot, as workers who would prefer not to unionize appear to give in to pressure to sign petitions that would not be present under a secret ballot.
When members of Parliament selected Speakers of this House, they did so by secret ballot, in part to shield the Speaker from any appearance of partiality and to remove any doubt Canadians might have when the Speaker rules on any issue regarding a particular member.
Protecting individuals from undue pressure, recrimination, and reprisal should apply to Canada's national police force even more so than to parliamentarians, and certainly more so than at other workplaces.
Decisions to certify or decertify unions or associations significantly affect workplaces. How one votes or how one chooses can determine the course of many relationships if the choice is known.
In a hierarchical organization like the RCMP, which is modelled as a paramilitary force, with a clear chain of command, trust and confidence between ranks is even more important than in other workplaces. Superiors must know that their subordinates will dutifully follow orders. Subordinates must know that their superiors will exercise good judgment and not put them in harm's way without cause. Trust and undivided loyalty to the force is essential to police morale and the safety of its workers.
A card check system for union certification, in which everyone knows who signed the petition, creates rifts within the hierarchy. Such divisions have serious repercussions, especially for police morale. Secret ballots avoid these risks by protecting all members' privacy. Unless members discuss their positions with others or disclose how they voted, no one can be certain what a given member has chosen.
Secret ballots also better fulfill the spirit of the Supreme Court's case that gave rise to Bill C-7. Among other points, the court emphasized the need for meaningful representation, choice, and independence from management. A secret ballot enables meaningful representation by allowing workers to select the union they believe will best protect their interests. It shields them from undue pressure to vote for whoever pushes the hardest.
As my colleague from Carleton discussed when Bill C-7 came up at second reading, the bill gets it right in requiring any union representing the RCMP to do so as its primary mandate. Such a union could not be affiliated with another bargaining agent or association with a different primary purpose, and it could not be certified to represent any other group of employees.
Since the association would be composed of RCMP members representing their colleagues, secrecy at the ballot box would be essential to avoid resentment in the ranks if the association failed and needed to be decertified and reconstituted.
Secret ballots facilitate individual choice as the basis for consent to corporate decisions. They also facilitate representation independent from management by ensuring that members can freely reject a proposed representative if they consider the person to be too close to management.
I understand the reasons behind the government's rejection of amendments 2 and 4(a). I simply disagree. The rule of law demands that laws be consistent and treat similar things in a similar fashion. Since the Liberals are stripping other workers of secret ballot protection via Bill C-4, they say that it is therefore consistent for Bill C-7 to reject the secret ballot requirement for the RCMP.
The Liberals' decision today may be consistent, but it is wrong. They are wrong on Bill C-4, and the reasons they are wrong on Bill C-4 are amplified in Bill C-7 because of the very nature of the RCMP.
Instead of seeking to be consistent by refusing to extend secret ballot protection to the RCMP while repealing secret ballot provisions for everyone else, the government should do exactly the opposite. It should restore secret ballot protection for all federal workers and agree to amendments 2 and 4(a) to extend it to the RCMP.
If the Liberals value consistency, they should not argue that secret ballots for workers are somehow undemocratic. Each of them was democratically elected by secret ballot. Instead, they should acknowledge that secret ballots to certify unions are both democratic and consistent with secret ballots to select union leaders. They should join British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario, and Nova Scotia, which all require secret ballots for certification decisions. They should lead the way in having a consistent standard for workers across provincial and federal jurisdictions.
I conclude by encouraging all my colleagues in this House to protect the democratic rights of RCMP members by voting against today's motion and insisting that the government adopt the amendments from the Senate.