Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Winnipeg North to give him an opportunity to get a few words on the record. I am sure everybody is looking to forward that.
I am happy to rise today to speak on the Senate amendments to Bill C-4, but first I want to say that I am very pleased that the Senate chose to accept to repeal Bill C-377 in its entirety. I will focus my comments today on the amendments that relate specifically to the repeal of Bill C-525, which deals with the fundamental right of workers to organize themselves into a union.
Everyone, including labour, employers, and government, wants a fair and legitimate certification process that would do two things. First, it would allow workers to make a free and informed decision about whether they want to join a union or not; second, it would be created through a fair and balanced tripartite consensus process that is based on fact, not ideology, and in which the changes to be made would not be imposed on the stakeholders.
Unfortunately, the lack of evidence for the need for Bill C-525 and the united opposition to the process it imposed on labour relations systems made Bill C-525 unsuitable legislation for changing a fundamental aspect of the Canada Labour Code. That is why I oppose the Senate amendments and would respectfully ask members of this House to do the same.
Let me share with the House the reasons for my opposition.
My opposition is first to the process through which Bill C-525 was introduced and passed. I know proponents of the bill say the process is unimportant and that the only thing that matters is the secret ballot. It is simply a case of “the ends justify the means” approach that we saw with the previous government.
This approach not only shows a complete lack of knowledge about good labour relations but also a total disrespect to the parties involved, the employers, labour practitioners, and regulators who have the responsibility to enforce a law that was developed through a poisoned process. Labour law systems are very complex, and the ones that work well are based on a delicate balance between the interests of labour and management that must be respected if and when reforms are to be made.
The stakeholders in the federal labour sector long ago developed a proven process to amend federal labour legislation. It is known as the tripartite process. As a result, there exists a delicate balance that serves fairly the interests of employers, unions, workers, and the Canadian economy.
The last major consultative review of part one of the Canada Labour Code occurred in 1995, and the subsequent report, entitled “Seeking a balance” was authored by the well-respected labour-neutral Andrew Sims.
Mr. Sims said that if labour laws are to be changed, it should be done because there is a demonstrated need due to the legislation no longer working or serving the public's interest, and it should be done on a consensus basis. Based on the testimony in the House of Commons and the testimony the committee heard from the major employer and employee groups as well as the evidence from the Canada Industrial Relations Board, Bill C-525 failed to meet that standard.
Beyond the process, let us talk about the evidence, or the lack thereof, for Bill C-525. The sponsor of the bill, the member for Red Deer—Lacombe, had justified the necessity for his bill by saying:
...when we see the mountain of complaints that end up at the labour relations board, it is concerning to me.
I think it would be concerning to everyone if in fact there was indeed a case such as this. Fortunately, it is simply not true. According to Canada Industrial Relations Board, there have been only two founded certification complaints against unions in 4,000 decisions rendered in the prior 10 years before Bill C-525 was passed. In fact, there were more founded complaints against employers than against unions.
A past chairperson of the CIRB, Elizabeth MacPherson, stated in committee testimony, “It's not a huge problem.” There was no evidence ever given to show that the federal card check system was not working in the best interests of workers in either its administrative effectiveness or in its abuse by unions to coerce workers to unionize. What the evidence shows is that employer interference and, more so, employee fear of employer interference is a real phenomenon and is the reason a mandatory vote system produces fewer union certifications.
Sara Slinn was referred to earlier in a previous speech. She testified at the Senate committee during the study of Bill C-525. She is a very well-respected expert on the issue. She said:
In sum, the research evidence shows that there is no support for the notion that votes are necessarily a superior mechanism to cards for determining union representation. Nor does it support the notion that union intimidation or pressure is a substantial phenomenon in certification. What it does demonstrate is that employer interference and, more so, employee fear of employer interference is a real phenomenon. It's effective, and it's more effective under votes than card-based mechanisms.
What is interesting to note is that the labour program under the previous government actually competed a study on the issue of card check versus mandatory voting at the same time Bill C-525 was being debated. That study concluded that:
...the use of [a mandatory vote] regime has been an important factor in the decline in union density in the Canadian business sector.
Unfortunately, the previous government buried that study, and it was only released when we took over the reins of government. It is a fair question to ask why that report was not released. I believe it was not made public because the report's conclusion supports the independent research that shows the answers to the critical question of why union density decreases under mandatory vote versus card check. The evidence shows it is not because workers do not really want to unionize but because there is a real or perceived threat.
Proponents of the secret ballot would have us believe that ideology trumps this evidence, that the secret ballot is the only factor necessary to ensure a democratic outcome. The member for Carleton quipped during his speech that the minister “used rhetoric to attack the secret ballot, which would make any third-world, tin-pot dictators proud.” That is right in Hansard too. It is he who would make tin-pot dictators proud by claiming the only factor necessary to prove that democracy has been served is solely the use of a secret ballot. The third-world tin-pot dictators that the member speaks of, like Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe or Omar al-Bashir of Sudan, have all continued to remain elected through a system that uses a secret ballot. In fact, there are many countries around the world that conduct secret-ballot elections that many members in the chamber, perhaps all, would agree are not true democracies.
My point is that I do not think we can look at one factor in isolation to judge how effective and democratic a system is, including one that governs union certification. Instead, we must look at all factors in total that influence the process to determine how best to move forward.
Our government believes in a fair and democratic certification program, one that is based on evidence, not ideology or rhetoric, and is agreed upon through a respected tripartite process in the federal jurisdiction. We believe the card check certification is that system.
When our party ran for election, we promised to repeal these laws. We remain strongly committed to supporting the rights of workers. In order for workers and employers, society, and the economy to prosper, we need fair and balanced labour legislation. Bill C-4, as it was originally passed by 204 members in this House, would achieve that goal. I ask members to oppose the Senate amendments and restore fair and balanced labour laws in this country.