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Mr. Speaker, I rise today to contribute to the discussion on Bill , an act to amend the Public Service Labour Relations Act, the Public Service Labour Relations and Employment Board Act and other acts and to provide for certain other measures. This act would deal with the right of our brave men and women of the red serge to bargain collectively.
This bill is a response to the Supreme Court’s ruling on the matter last winter. The court gave the government a year from January 15 to implement a new collective bargaining regime for the RCMP. That deadline has since been extended. The ruling also indicated that it was the right of RCMP members to unionize based on paragraph 2(d) of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and it found that the existing staff relations representative program was an insufficient guarantee of that freedom of association.
I am generally satisfied with the contents of the bill itself. Let me explain why.
First, the bill would not require the RCMP to unionize. It creates a framework based on the existing certification laws under the public service employment legislation, whereby RCMP members can, if they so choose, form a union.
Furthermore, it would create certain protections that are necessary in light of the unique nature of employment within a policing organization. First, a prospective union must have as its primary mandate the representation of RCMP members. It cannot be affiliated with another bargaining agent or association that does not have that as its primary purpose, and it cannot be certified to represent any other group of employees. In other words, it would be an organization-wide bargaining unit represented by a single bargaining agent that would exclusively serve RCMP members and no other group of employees within the federal government. That is important, because if RCMP members choose to unionize, that union should be of RCMP members, by RCMP members, and for RCMP members for it to be truly representative and appropriate for a police force.
I am very proud of the police force that we have serving nationwide. The RCMP headquarters is here in Ottawa, close to my home. I am also very proud that Conservatives introduced legislation to help the RCMP do its job better and to keep our streets safe from crime and terrorism.
I should go on, though, to express my satisfaction with certain other limits that exist within this proposed legislation so that we can protect the work of the national police force. For example, policies on law enforcement techniques, transfers, appointments, promotions, disciplinary actions against RCMP members, and an RCMP officer’s duty, dress, equipment, and medals are rightly left outside of the collective bargaining process and managed within the context of the RCMP Act. This bill would do that.
Next, the bill would, rightly, increase the size of the Public Service Labour Relations and Employment Board from 10 to 12 members and insist that the two additional members have intimate knowledge of policing, so that when matters related to employment and labour relations within the RCMP come before the board, policing expertise will be found around the table. That is a reasonable proposal.
Furthermore, as with most police organizations across the country, under this legislation there will be no right to strike, for obvious reasons, because we need to protect our streets. Even in the event of a dispute or an impasse in labour relations, we cannot afford to have our officers off the street and on strike. The government has rightly recognized this fact and embedded that reality in the bill itself.
The bill itself is reasonable and fair. However, it cannot be looked at in isolation. Simultaneous to this bill, our House and our Parliament are debating and discussing another bill that would strip the democratic rights of federally regulated workers across the country.
Bill would remove the right of a secret ballot vote from federally regulated workers in matters of certification. It is important to be clear on what this means. It means that a union could take over a federally regulated workforce without there being a vote by the members who work in that workplace. In other words, thousands of employees from any number of federal employers could be forced to pay dues to and be represented by a union for which they never had a chance to cast a vote. This is particularly alarming when it relates to the RCMP, an organization comprised of members who put their lives on the line each and every day, in part to defend our democratic way of life. Therefore, it is a great irony that members of the RCMP, of all groups of employees, would be deprived the most basic democratic right, which is the right to vote in secret on whether to certify a union.
The alternative to a secret ballot is a process called “card check”, where those people who want to take over a workplace and form a union go around with a petition and ask people to sign it. Then when they get 50% plus one of the employees to sign on, the board recognizes a majority and declares the union to be a bargaining agent. The obvious problem with that is intimidation. When workers have to put their names down on paper for all eyes to see, they risk being pressured unduly into favouring one side or another. It would be the equivalent of holding our national elections by a show of hands. Imagine that? The government said that our previous Bill , which empowered workers with a secret ballot, was undemocratic.
The government is in the process of trying to change our electoral system. I wonder if the Liberals are simultaneously considering taking away the secret ballot from our general elections and replacing it with some sort of petition, or show of hands, or a card check as it is called. The parliamentary secretary earlier cited a report from the ministry of employment, showing the statistical reality that if workers were given the right to vote, they were less inclined to choose unionization. In other words, unions are not formed at as high a rate when people are given a chance to vote on the question as they are when people are forced to sign a card-check petition.
The government’s problem is with the outcome. The government might not be happy that when workers are given the choice through a democratic vote, they opt not to unionize. However, that is the choice of the workers not the choice of the government. It is obvious that rates of certification would go up if those people doing the certifying were able to intimidate those they were trying to certify. Naturally, if they can show up on the doorsteps of employees at 10 p.m., ask them to sign a form and leave implied consequences for failing to do so, it is not surprising that unions are able to certify at higher rates than when the workers are given a chance to go into a voting booth and mark a secret ballot, exercising their true prerogative without anybody looking over their shoulders. However, that is not evidence of why we should take away their right to vote.
I was not particularly thrilled with the results of the last federal election, but I would never propose taking away the rights of Canadian voters to cast their ballot in secret as a result. It is their choice on how they vote. I could probably produce some sort of study to show that in some aspect of Canadian life voters would cast a ballot differently if they were given a chance to vote secretly on the matter. That is not a reason to take away the secret ballot.
The fact that workers or anyone votes differently when they have the right to do so secretly than they would if they were being watched by an authority figure is the very reason we need secret ballots. That is precisely the reason they were created, and they are a basic foundation not only of workplace democracy, but of Canadian democracy.
I would call on the government to recognize that fact and amend the bill to ensure the RCMP members will not be unionized without the right to vote on that unionization. In fact, Canadians agree with the right of secret ballot. It is basically in our democratic DNA. Secret ballot voting to certify union is not new or controversial. Ontario requires it. British Columbia requires it. Both of these provinces are currently represented by Liberal governments. Saskatchewan, Alberta, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland and Labrador also require secret ballots and none of them is represented by the Conservative Party.
In administrations run by the NDP, the Liberals, the Saskatchewan Party, and others, we have secret ballot certifications in provincially regulated workplaces right across the country. In Quebec, Canada’s second most unionized province, there is enormous support for secret ballot votes on certification.
One poll in August 2009 found that 71% of Quebeckers said that secret ballots should be required as a way of getting union certification. In the United States, polls have shown that 80% of people believe a secret ballot should be required for a union to form. Therefore, it cannot simply be seen south of the border as a Republican or a Democratic issue. It is an issue that unites basically all North American public opinion in a vast majority who favour a secret ballot vote before a union can certify a workplace.
I would further identify the fact that if RCMP members are forced to join a particular union without having a chance to vote, that union will have difficulty establishing itself as a legitimate representative for the workers for which it will become the bargaining unit.
I also have warned the government of a political problem, and that is the reality that if it does deny employees in the RCMP the ability to conduct a secret ballot vote on unionization, it could very well learn of stories of intimidation within the workplace and those stories will reflect badly on the government’s decision to strip that basic right from RCMP members.
I ask the government to consider an amendment to the legislation which would preserve the existing secret ballot formula that is found in public service labour relations legislation and ensure that the men and women who put on the uniform of the RCMP are given that basic human right in an eventual and inevitable certification drive. If they should select to unionize through that mechanism of a vote, then we, nationwide, should respect the result of that vote and respect the legitimacy of the union that it produces.
This is not a radical concept. We have five provinces in the country where provincially regulated workplaces certify their unions through secret ballot voting. It is a basic tenet of democracy.
Deep down I think members of the Liberal government understand and agree with that, and I will tell members why.
I have listened to all of the Liberals’ comments with respect to their proposed repeal of Bill , which is the bill the Conservative government passed to create secret ballot voting rights. However, the two words they never say when they are talking about that bill are “secret ballot”. They say that bill, which is now law, makes certification harder and decertification easier, but they do not say how. They say that it lowers unionization rates, but they do not say why. The bill really only does one thing. It replaces a card-check petition with a secret ballot vote. However, members on the government side can never actually bring themselves to utter those two words “secret ballot”.
Why? Because I think they know that if they were to openly argue against the right to vote for federally regulated workers on the grounds that it was not consistent with the government’s view of labour relations, they would be laughed out of any room in our country. Everybody, coast to coast, acknowledges that democratic decision making has to happen through a secret ballot.
In fact, Mr. Speaker, you are chosen by secret ballot. We choose representation for our very House through a secret ballot vote. Every person in this room has a job today because they were elected by secret ballot. In fact, most unions elect their representatives through a secret ballot vote when they are certified. Everybody acknowledges that decisions of this magnitude made by a group of employees in a workplace should be done through a secret ballot, unless one has an ideological motivation to override the real will of the working people and to impose an outcome on them.
I think members will find that, in reality, those who are pushing for an end to secret ballot voting within the workplace on matters of unionization are those who are unhappy with the outcome that the secret ballot democratic vote would produce, which is no excuse. One cannot oppose democracy simply because one does not like the outcome to which it leads.
This is why we, as official opposition, congratulate the government for Bill in its own right, as a fair and balanced approach to respond to the Supreme Court’s ruling on collective bargaining in the RCMP. However, I would ask that the bill be made better through an amendment that would allow the brave men and women who wear the RCMP uniform to be the masters of their own destiny by giving them the right to vote.