Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to be here this afternoon to participate in the debate on Bill C-7, which is about labour relations within the RCMP.
For those watching at home, if they just joined this mini melodrama involving the bill, we are debating the Liberal government's response to amendments that were made in what we call the other place, in other words, the Canadian Senate.
To begin, I would like to say that Conservatives do accept the Supreme Court decision in the Mounted Police Association of Ontario v. Canada case. It is clear that members of the RCMP, despite the force's paramilitary heritage, have the right to collectively bargain. The key, however, is making sure it is done right. That is where I believe that the Liberal government has failed the test. It is completely unacceptable that we are considering denying RCMP members a secret ballot vote on the decision of whether and how to unionize.
Why could this be problematic? Let us look at the report that was released yesterday from Ian McPhail, the chair of the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP. May I say that I have known Mr. McPhail in various capacities for over 40 years? I know that is hard to believe, but it is true, and he has done a great deal of service to the Canadian public, I should say at the outset. Mr. McPhail and his team reviewed numerous complaints of workplace harassment, intimidation, and bullying within the RCMP. He even found that “the RCMP lacks both the will and the capacity to make the changes necessary to address the problems that afflict its workplaces”.
Of course, this report is of great concern. We believe that the government must take action now to restore the confidence of front-line officers in the RCMP in their management, and to restore the confidence of Canadians in the RCMP as a federal organization. That means a number of things. It means making sure that RCMP pay is in line with the pay of other police forces. It also means working to ensure the appropriate recruitment and retention programs.
There are many ways in which we can work toward this goal. Many ideas have been put forward in this regard. For instance, we could explore separating the RCMP into two forces, one that deals with contract policing on the ground and one that deals with federal policing. We could explore new recruitment methods that allow experts in various fields to move laterally into similar positions in the RCMP without having to start at the bottom. We could explore new ways of allocating caseload so that the level of burnout is not nearly as high as it is currently.
Unfortunately, the legislation before us today does none of these things. What these amendments will do is to strip the approximately 28,000 members of the RCMP from the right to vote in secret on unionization. As I said before, it is completely unacceptable that rights that serve as the cornerstone of our democracy are being taken away from those who get up every day and go to work to keep us safe.
Why is the secret ballot so important? It is because that is the only guaranteed way to ensure there is no coercion, no intimidation, applied from any side of the argument. It would be to ensure that, no matter the rank and file or the 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 collective bargaining.
A report was just tabled on the bullying culture that goes on in the RCMP, and yet the government is moving full steam ahead to deny the secret ballot, which of course guarantees further bullying in the future.
Many members in the House represent constituents who have been or who are currently serving members of the RCMP. In fact, there are currently RCMP members posted to Parliament Hill. They are part of our daily lives while the House is in session.
It seems passing strange to me that we would take action that would limit the rights of these people. There is no particular reason that the government would want to take away this democratic right of these members of the RCMP. It almost causes me to wonder whether there is some sort of ulterior motive, whether the government is using RCMP unionization as a bargaining chip with other public sector unions, which of course would be unfortunate.
Studies have shown that, when Canadians are given the right and the opportunity to choose by secret ballot whether to unionize, more often than not they choose to represent themselves. It seems that this old Liberal philosophy that, because workers may not make the same choice the government-knows-best Liberals in Ottawa want them to, they should not be entitled to make that choice at all.
We have seen this on many different files. From my perspective and the perspective of my colleagues, this is an intrinsic right that should be found in our legislation to make sure that the RCMP members have access to the secret ballot. This is not new law. This is not something that has come out of the mind of the caucus on the Conservative side that has no precedent. This is the precedent to allow the secret ballot on issues of importance that affect people's daily lives as employees, and certainly as people who wake up every morning to protect their community.
In closing, while there are some meritorious aspects of this bill—and let me explain again that we accept the Supreme Court decision with respect to the allowing of collective bargaining with the RCMP; we respect that decision; we accept that decision—this is a fatal flaw in the legislation that has been put forward to us, a fatal flaw in the legislation put forward by the Liberal government that denies a simple and well-accepted standard right, that of the secret ballot. This should not be allowed to happen.
I encourage my colleagues to vote against this piece of legislation. I encourage those on the other side to have a last-minute change of heart.