Madam Speaker, I am sharing my time today with the member for Mégantic—L'Érable.
I am very pleased to be following the wonderful speeches made earlier today honouring our colleague, the Leader of the Opposition.
I am pleased to speak to the government's motion respecting amendments brought forward by the Senate to Bill C-7.
I want to acknowledge, in the same manner that my colleague from Brandon—Souris did, that the Conservative Party respects the Supreme Court's decision that RCMP officers are entitled to organize and bargain collectively. We recognize the great work of the men and women of the RCMP.
In much the same manner as Bill C-4, which is currently back before the House, the Senate has demonstrated a willingness to apply democratic principles to flawed legislation. I welcome this attention to democracy from the Senate and I am pleased to speak in favour of the Senate amendment regarding secret ballots, which the government has chosen to ignore in practice and attack in debate.
I have to openly wonder why it took the government 11 months to respond to amendments from the other place. The amendments from the Senate are substantially similar to the amendments to Bill C-7 last year when it was before committee. Last year, the government ignored the amendments as this legislation was deemed, in its words, too critical, so critical, in fact, that the government invoked time allocation to rush it through this House. Now, though, it appears that every bill is critical, of course, as time allocation seems to be used on every bill that the government bumbles through the House.
Upon receiving amendments from the Senate on this so-called critical bill, the government then promptly sat on the bill for almost an entire year. The Parliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board claims the government was “doing the thoughtful, careful analysis required to explore the whole portfolio of amendments made by the other place and to come forward with our response to have a robust regime for collective bargaining for the RCMP.”
I was personally shocked that she missed mentioning a whole-of-government approach and helping the middle class and those working to join it as an excuse for the delay. Let us rush the bill through because it is absolutely critical and then sit on it for an entire year because the government needs to carefully and thoughtfully consider the analysis. Why the government did not do that originally when drafting the bill or when similar suggestions were made in committee is beyond me.
Funnily enough, though, in spite of the government's odd stalling, Bill C-7 was, for the most part, a reasonable response to the Supreme Court's ruling on RCMP officers' rights to collectively bargain and organize. I cannot, however, endorse any bill that refuses to grant union members the right to vote in a secret ballot on whether to unionize.
I asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board if she could tell us specifically why she thinks a card check system is better than a secret ballot system. In my question, I noted that secret ballots are used to elect members in this place, all the way down to simple acts like choosing high school student councils. On a question as important as whether or not workers want to join a union, why should those workers not be given the same priority?
In response, the parliamentary secretary criticized me for comparing the critical work of the RCMP to high school student councils. I do not take offence to such inane criticism from the member as it was evident she did not have a response to the uncomfortable reality that the government is endorsing anti-democratic principles.
In a follow-up question from my colleague from Calgary Rocky Ridge, the parliamentary secretary claimed that it is fairer to “restore the choice...for the Public Service Labour Relations Board to ensure whether the secret ballot or the card check system is in the interests of the members in a particular situation.” She also questioned why the RCMP should be “singled out for a more restrictive certification process than all the other groups that bargain with the government in labour relations.”
I have two responses to that. First, it is a poor justification for maintaining an anti-democratic system. It is an argument for keeping things the same because nothing else is changing. It is, frankly, a remarkably nonsensical excuse for denying democratic rights to workers and prospective union members. Second, we are not trying to single out the RCMP. We have consistently argued for the rights of union members and for the transparency of unions. Bill C-7 is one in a long line of examples where Conservatives have argued for greater transparency enshrined in law, which unions must follow.
Unions are like any employer organization. By virtue of their position, they necessarily have coercive power over their members and workers in a workplace. There is no logical reason why members opposite should argue that employers, through their scale and resources, possess undue power and influence over workers, but that unions, with their scale and resources, do not. Secret ballots balance out the power structure and ensure that workers come first.
The government has provided no indication that it recognizes the power imbalance and heavy entrenchment of unions, nor has it demonstrated any indication that it supports transparency in unions. On this side of the House, we believe in transparency, and we believe in legislation that strengthens the rights of individuals to make a choice free from intimidation.
When the parliamentary secretary asks why Conservatives want to single out the RCMP, the simple answer is that we will happily single out any organization for greater individual rights and greater transparency. RCMP members would be a good start, but all workers should know that this side of the House will stand up and defend their rights.
In a speech to the House last week, the member for Brandon—Souris reminded the House as follows:
...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, [the government] would actually treat the RCMP equally in terms of certification or decertification, as other public sector unions.
The parliamentary secretary is wrong for trying to justify anti-democratic legislation because current unions do not use secret ballots. She is wrong to argue that Conservatives are trying to single out the RCMP, because we have long argued for greater democracy and transparency. She is wrong to single out the RCMP because previous certifications of public sector unions were done by secret ballot, meaning that the Liberal government is actually singling out the RCMP for non-democratic treatment.
This is the second union-related bill that the Senate has sent back to the House with amendments calling for protection of the secret ballot certification process. It might be because the Senate has a point. Secret ballots are the only way to ensure union members can choose their future free from intimidation. The excuses put forward by the Liberal government do not justify denying democratic rights to workers.
I want to quote my friend and 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....
He is correct. The importance of the secret ballot cannot be understated, and must be upheld.
In researching some of the history of the secret ballot, I was reminded of the history of voting in the U.K., reading about the People's Charter written by the London Men's Working Association. As late as the mid-19th century, voting was still done by public show of hands at hustings. Given the prevalence of intimidation of voters, the demand for a secret ballot was one of the six key points of the People's Charter and the chartists' 1838 petition that “suffrage, to be exempt from the corruption of the wealthy and the violence of the powerful, must be secret”. The charter's points were not passed into law at that time. Unfortunately for all, the voting process was not made secret until the Ballot Act was passed in 1872. Voters in the U.K. fought for decades for secret ballots because it was the only method to protect their votes from intimidation. That the Liberal government is stuck in the mindset of the 19th century is quite disheartening.
In closing, I want to reiterate the comments made by my colleague from Brandon—Souris in quoting the hon. member for Carleton, who originally spoke on the legislation. He said that, in removing the right of a secret ballot, it was important to be very clear on what this meant. It meant that a union could take over a federally regulated workforce without there ever being a vote by a member from that workplace, and 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 vote.
He noted that this would be particularly alarming when it related to the RCMP, an organization composed of members who put their lives on the line each and every day, in part to defend our democratic lifestyle. Therefore, it is great irony that members of the RCMP would be deprived of the most basic democratic right, which is the right to vote in secret on whether to certify a union, while they stand and defend our democratic rights.
I will reiterate my support for the Supreme Court's decision, and I firmly believe that RCMP members should be given the right of a secret ballot. I cannot support legislation that removes the ability of workers to choose their future, of their own volition and without fear of intimidation from anyone.