Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-43, Royal Canadian Mounted Police Modernization Act.
At the end of the day, Bill C-43 is all about choice. This legislation, if enacted, would give the RCMP's membership the choice of whether or not they want to unionize and be represented by a bargaining agent.
In my opinion, the membership of the RCMP deserves the choice to make an informed decision as to whether or not a union is the best way in which to represent their views and negotiate on their behalf.
At present, the RCMP is the only police force in Canada not represented by an association. Looking at other police associations across Canada, we can see that they have worked quite well and have given police officers a strong voice, whether it has been fighting for improved working conditions or the gun registry, for example.
One thing that is important to keep in mind is that this legislation would not allow the RCMP the ability to strike. Just as it would with other police associations and emergency service personnel, a strike would greatly risk the safety and security of Canadians. A union or an association would exist to bargain on members' needs and members' behalf and represent their views to management.
Whether or not the RCMP should form an association is a longstanding issue, and there are arguments on both sides. Organizations such as the Mounted Police Association of Ontario and the British Columbia Mounted Police Professional Association have been vocal supporters of unionization.
They took this matter to court, and on April 6 of last year an Ontario Superior Court judge ruled that section 96 of the RCMP regulations breached the freedom of association guaranteed by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The conclusion was that Canada's 20,000 RCMP officers have the right to decide whether they should or should not unionize. That is a choice I believe they deserve to make and are best suited to make.
Now on the other side of that argument, there are some valid issues being raised. There are some individuals within the civilian membership of the RCMP who have expressed concerns. They worry that a future union could lump them in with the officers and that their unique issues and needs may not be appropriately represented.
That is a valid concern and something we should explore in greater detail at the committee stage by having witnesses from all sides come forward to explain their views.
I have before me a letter that was written by the staff relations representative, Steve Raine, chair of the SRR national staffing committee, who raised a number of concerns. Under the category of employee review, which is currently being undertaken by senior management, he indicates in this letter that there has been this type of review in 1995, 1998, 2001, 2004, as well as 2007, and they are under the understanding that it is again being reviewed.
The civilian members feel that not only is it a waste of taxpayer dollars because, of course, it has been reviewed so many times but also the reclassification that could occur as a result would have a serious impact on the operational efficiency of the RCMP and could jeopardize public safety.
They raise this issue of the category of employee review because they also feel it is causing great unease with the regular members at a time when Bill C-43 is also potentially going to dramatically change the entire system of staff representation.
The regular members do not want to be treated like every other police force in the country. The civilian members do not want to be viewed as simply public servants. The letter says, “The RCMP is unique and it is our membership—regular and civilian—that makes it so”.
There are concerns being raised by the civilian membership, and I think they have to be taken into consideration when we look at this bill.
Bill C-43 is about more than just giving the RCMP the choice to form an association. It contains a number of other significant changes to Canada's national police force.
It would give the commissioner of the RCMP new powers to appoint, promote, discipline, demote or terminate the employment of members, including commissioned officers. These are authorities similar to those of deputy heads of the federal public service and those of heads of other large police services.
I asked my hon. colleague who presented this bill for his response to giving the commissioner additional powers and he gave his viewpoint on this. There has been concern expressed because of some of the changes that have occurred under the commissioner in the last number of years, and a thorough review of those powers needs to be conducted because we do not want to do something in haste that would cause more concern and more grievance within the RCMP.
The commissioner would also be granted the authority to implement a structured discipline system that would attempt to bring more transparency, consistency and efficiency when dealing with conduct resolution. These changes would be consistent with the discipline systems found throughout other Canadian police services and the rest of the public service.
It is something that needs to be thoroughly investigated at committee stage. We have heard some of the concerns through media reports, including concerns from a whistleblower, on some of these changes to the RCMP and things that have occurred over the last number of years. These powers need to be thoroughly reviewed.
The bill would also establish a total compensation advisory committee, which would provide recommendations to the Treasury Board president on overall compensation of RCMP members not represented by a bargaining agent. A consultation committee would be created to address workplace issues. Members would be given the opportunity to bring their views and concerns directly to managers either individually or as a group. This could include discussing potential workplace improvements or identifying areas of concern. It is just one more way in which communication within the RCMP could be improved.
A public service relations board would be created to act as an independent, external third party, which would make final and binding decisions relating to discipline and grievance issues of the RCMP members. Some issues would not be referable. These would be grievances related to the assignment of duties, law enforcement techniques or uniform standards. Such a board would have to take into account the unique role the RCMP plays as Canada's national police organization protecting Canadians from coast to coast to coast.
Bill C-43 is not a small piece of legislation. It is 116 pages filled with clauses that could make significant changes to the structure and operation of the RCMP. Therefore, we must ensure an in-depth study at committee stage to allow witnesses the opportunity to voice their support, concerns and general opinions. For instance, the new powers that would be granted to the commissioner, as I indicated earlier, must be studied further to ensure transparency and accountability.
I look forward to hearing further debate on this bill from all of my colleagues and from witnesses at committee stage. The men and women of the RCMP deserve to decide for themselves whether they feel adequately represented or whether an association would better their working conditions.
As I said earlier, some of the background on the development of Bill C-43 deserves mention. Bill C-43, An Act to enact the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Labour Relations Modernization Act and to amend the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, was introduced in the House of Commons by the hon. President of the Treasury Board in June of this year.
Bill C-43 is a direct response to an April 2009 decision, over a year later, by the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, which found that section 96 of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Regulations breached the freedom of association accorded to RCMP members under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, a very important clause.
The decision concluded that under the charter, Canada's 20,000 RCMP officers are entitled to decide whether they wish to bargain with the force's management through a union of their choice or remain under the existing arrangement, which is ultimately under management's control.
As part of the decision, the court struck down section 96, but gave the federal government 18 months to provide a new statutory framework for collective bargaining. This period was to have ended in October 2010, but at the last minute after three previously unsuccessful attempts by the government to obtain a stay of the court ruling, the Ontario Court of Appeal granted a stay lasting up to 30 days after the release of the related Supreme Court of Canada decision involving the rights of farmers to organize. The Supreme Court decision is expected some time this fall or in the spring of 2011.
As I said earlier, Bill C-43, if implemented, would give RCMP members the choice of whether they want to continue to work in a non-unionized environment or pursue the unionized option where they would be represented by a certified bargaining agent. It would also give the RCMP commissioner new powers to appoint, promote, discipline, demote or terminate the employment of all members including commissioned officers, quite significant powers.
It would also establish, as I said earlier, the total compensation advisory committee to provide recommendations to the President of the Treasury Board on the overall compensation, pay and benefits, of the RCMP members who are not represented by a certified bargaining agent. Under a unionized scenario this would include RCMP officers, for example inspectors or the ranks above, executives or other non-represented or excluded employees of the RCMP.
It would also establish a consultation committee to address workplace issues. Through a series of local, divisional, regional and national consultative committees and/or working groups, members would be given the opportunity to bring their views and concerns directly to managers, either individually or as a group.
The bill, if implemented, would also maintain the existing formal conflict management system whereby options would continue to be offered to resolve conflicts above and beyond the formal grievance process, such as mediation through a third party. The use of these options would be voluntary, confidential and impartial. It would also provide the commissioner with the authority to implement a structured discipline system, which would seek to resolve conduct issues transparently, consistently and promptly.
RCMP members would have the right to refer certain decisions or actions of management to the Public Service Labour Relations Board, an impartial, external decision-making body. As I said, it is a very complex and lengthy bill. It would also establish a Public Service Relations Board as an independent external third party to make final and binding decisions relating to discipline issues and some grievances of the RCMP members.
As I stated earlier, there have been concerns. There has been some stakeholder reaction. For example, the right of the RCMP members to unionize is a longstanding issue and various informal RCMP labour associations such as the Mounted Police Association of Ontario and the British Columbia Mounted Police Professional Association, which were the ones who brought the issue to the courts to begin with, have been particularly vocal on granting RCMP members the right to associate. As part of the temporary court-ordered stay, these groups have also been given access to the RCMP's email system as well as its intranet and intranet bulletin boards to post information about the benefits of unionization.
There have been many pieces of correspondence that have been sent out by these associations to ensure that members of the RCMP have been apprised of their rights. In fact in a member communication, they talk about the historic reason why they have been forbidden to do this and that they really do feel that collective bargaining is essential for members of the RCMP. They talk about collective bargaining simply referring to work-related negotiations between an employer and group of employees that has members of the association permitted to negotiate on their behalf.
They talk about some of the successes that these associations have been able to achieve. For example, police associations in Canada succeeded in improving the lives of their members, as they say in their correspondence, and they talk about the elimination of voluntary overtime. In negotiations, for example, in mid-2000, the Toronto Police Association fought to retain an existing minimum staffing requirement of two officers per patrol car. They talk about the Police Association of Nova Scotia, which recently defended its members against a pension deficiency. They talk about the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary from my own riding introducing the public awareness campaign that resulted in an increase in the force's budget, which resulted in the hiring of more officers and improvements in training.
They list these types of achievements of the bond of association, and say that if the RCMP felt so inclined they feel that these associations would be able to bring forward positive changes on their behalf.
They have been bringing forward this issue, speaking not only very strongly in the court-related process but also to members of Parliament on these very serious issues that they feel need to be addressed.
Again, I bring the House back to the staff relations representatives who have an alternate view. They feel that we should rethink this whole move toward an association by the RCMP or at least give them the opportunity to voice their concerns on these matters and give them the opportunity to say why they should not be included in this group or association, why they are concerned about some of the issues around the category of employee review.
In conclusion, I would like to say that I think the bill provides a new labour relations regime for the RCMP, that it should go to committee for further review and further analysis, that we need a fulsome discussion about this issue, bringing forward some of the internal concerns of the RCMP, some of the staff relations concerns, and as well giving the RCMP members and officers themselves an opportunity to come forward with why they feel it may be to their benefit or not to their benefit to come forward in this manner.
I think we also need a full discussion on some of the review panels and the tribunals that are going to be created under this act. I think as well that we have to consider the powers of the commissioner and whether or not they are at the right level of powers, the right actions at this particular time, and how we can move forward to ensure that the RCMP, that most respected institution, is given even a greater opportunity.