Canada Labour Code
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise today following my good friend from Edmonton Griesbach who talked about his own personal experience with his family and as a former union member himself. I hope to contribute to the debate here on Bill C-4 today, dispel some of the myths brought to this place by some of my colleagues in government, and talk in depth about the two reforms that Bill C-4 essentially would dismantle, what I would call the modernization of the labour movement from the last Parliament that is being dismantled in Bill C-4.
However first, I am concerned when members of this place suggest that those measures being unwound in Bill C-4 are a tax on union members or a tax on the labour movement. Nothing could be further from the truth. We have heard statistics from polls that have shown that union members support the measures contained in both Bill C-525 and Bill C-377 from the last Parliament. In many ways, the labour movement is the last large portion of our society to embrace the modern concepts of transparency that are really commonplace throughout government of all levels and throughout the charitable sector. It is sad that it takes Parliament to pull the movement into this modern age of transparency and disclosure, but it was something that was supported by union members.
There is no dismantling of rights. There is no attack, and I am going to spend a few moments to talk about what those bills contain and why it is a bad public policy move to step away from these modernization efforts for the labour movement. However, more importantly, why it is not an attack is that I, like many of my colleagues, was elected to Parliament in 2012 and in the last general election by members of unions, to a large extent.
I am very proud to have some of my best door-knockers who are either former or current members of the CAW, now Unifor, working in our auto industry at General Motors in Oshawa. I am very proud to have the strong support of members of the Power Workers’ Union, working both at the Darlington generating station in my riding and at the Pickering station nearby. When I ran for office I spoke to Don MacKinnon, the head of that union, who has been a very good advocate for clean and reliable nuclear energy. I rely on the expertise that a lot of leading figures in the labour movement bring to their sectors. I consulted those same members on our trade agreements when I was parliamentary secretary for international trade in the last Parliament. I am very proud to represent these people who do get benefits from belonging to their union.
We have heard many speeches about how, over the last century, the union movement has been helpful and has advocated public policy and so on. Nothing in the two bills from the last Parliament took any of that away. It is really cowardice of debate when people have to hide the real actions of Bill C-4 behind saying unions brought us health care and unions brought us weekends. Let us talk about what was in those bills from the previous Parliament and what Bill C-4 is attempting to do. Let us not wrap it up in the trappings of unions having made a large and profound impact on our society. They have, and none of these moves were right-to-work movements or banishing unions. This was about making sure of the movement, which is supported through tax exemption status, which is supported by the Rand formula, meaning dues are paid under compulsion much like taxes are. We cannot pick or choose whether we pay this out of our paycheque. That fact means that the movement needs to embrace these concepts themselves, and it is disappointing that it did not.
For people who have been following this debate at home, Bill C-4 is essentially the new Liberal government’s attempt at unwinding two very modest reforms from the previous Parliament. The first is Bill C-525, which was a bill that brought essentially the secret ballot to union certification.
It is interesting that the secret ballot has been the underpinning of our parliamentary electoral process since it was brought in by the Liberal government of Prime Minister Mackenzie in 1874. I think it is now considered a fundamental element of elections in Canada, where there is a secret ballot so that people can place their X in a way they determine is best without fear of somebody watching, and without fear of repercussions.
It is essentially a basic tenet of our parliamentary democracy in Canada, yet it is somehow absurd to extend that same protection of a secret ballot to the certification vote, to truly vote how one feels is best for one’s personal view. I guess by saying that it should not be there, does it mean the certification vote is somehow outside of normal tenets of democracy? That is all I can determine from some of the comments here, such as rights being taken away and attacks on the union movement.
People in Canada need to know that Bill C-525 was for the secret ballot. I am sure a lot of Canadians who do not belong to a union are probably surprised that there was no secret ballot before. This is what we are talking about.
I have heard some members say there would be intimidation by employers and that sort of thing. That is nonsense. The secret ballot is inherently secret. There is no employer there watching the vote, and the votes will not be named. Therefore, one can exercise one’s democratic right to cast a ballot the way one sees fit for one’s own personal views and the way one sees fit for the future of one’s workforce, whether to stay in the form of a non-unionized environment or to unionize.
Really, unions should be embracing the concept of having a full and robust democratic measure as part of their originating entrance into a workplace. Why would they shy away from a secret ballot? It is a fundamental pillar for all levels of government, and the labour movement should endorse that.
Second, Bill C-4 would unwind Bill C-377, from the last Parliament. We have heard a lot of people getting very heated about that subject as well. It is similarly disappointing that such legislation had to be brought forward and that the labour movement would not itself embrace this concept.
Yet again, another Liberal government, in fact the father of the current Prime Minister, brought in access to information legislation in 1983. In subsequent years, all provincial levels of government and virtually all major municipalities have embraced this same concept of whether there would be transparency. If one pays one’s taxes by compulsion, one should be able to know where that money goes and assess whether it is being well spent.
This same basic tenet extends to the charitable sector as well, which through the CRA and through its tax assistance for charitable donations, has similar responsibilities on disclosure, to allow Canadians to assess where that money was being spent. Therefore, why should one part of our society, in this case the union movement, be exempt from a generational move towards transparency?
Quite frankly, I do not understand it. With a $5,000 threshold, CRA and the Government of Canada are not looking into an organization’s children’s Christmas party. However, if an organization is backing a major political campaign, like the Working Families in Ontario, or sending delegates to a large convention overseas that is taking positions that would be adverse to Canadian principles, they should be able to see where that money is being spent, because the government has allowed that money to be spent on a tax-exempt basis.
Therefore, for politicians at all levels and the charitable sector, Canadians know that transparency is commonplace now. The new government mentions it on occasion. This same level of transparency has been in effect in the United States, in the brother and sister unions, since the Kennedy administration.
Therefore, with Bill C-4, two fundamental reforms that would be good for the labour movement would be withdrawn. It concerns this side of the House. Hopefully it should concern more and more Canadians.