Public Service Labour Relations Act

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise for the third time in debate in this House of Commons on Bill C-7.

I would like to start by sincerely thanking all members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. The men and women of our RCMP are essential to our public safety and security.

I and many members, in our speeches to Bill C-7, have tried to thank the men and women who wear the uniform for Canada and provide peace and security across our country. As I have said in previous speeches, in many provinces and territories in our vast country, particularly in rural communities of the country, the RCMP members are the only member or front-line element of public safety and security and, in many cases, the only visible extension of the federal Government of Canada. It is appropriate that all members have thanked the RCMP for their tremendous work.

While Ontario is not a contract jurisdiction for the RCMP, because of our Ontario Provincial Police force, I am also very fortunate to have an RCMP detachment in Bowmanville in my riding, as part of the O Division detachment group. Not only are the men and women of this detachment critical to some of the federal investigations and public safety work done in Ontario by the RCMP, but as I have constantly said, they are also the backbone of our community. These men and women act as coaches of soccer and baseball teams, and they are active in charitable organizations in our community. That is appreciated, and I know members of the RCMP take great pride in not just serving in communities across the country on their postings but in becoming part of those communities. I want to start with a great thanks to them.

As I have said in previous speeches to Bill C-7, it has been a bit of a journey for this Parliament in response to a Supreme Court decision. In fairness, the government has listened to some of the opposition concerns we have raised, and our public safety committee did some important work on this bill. However, there remain concerns with Bill C-7 among parliamentarians and, most importantly, front-line members of the RCMP. The concerns are particularly with the rushed nature and the lack of consultation with the front-line members of the force. That is why we are here in debate and why the Conservative Party, which has tried to work with the government throughout this process, remains as frustrated as some of the members across the country.

To remind this House, we are here as a result of the Supreme Court of Canada decision in the Mounted Police Association of Ontario court case that went from lower courts all the way to the Supreme Court and, in fairness, was a decision first considered by the previous Conservative government. That is when the former government provided an outreach program within the RCMP, including a questionnaire to elicit feedback from the front-line members of the RCMP with respect to the unionization of their force. Sadly, that has really been the only substantive consultation done with the men and women on the front line of the force, and that is what brings me here today to continue to have concerns about Bill C-7.

However, that court case was clear. The Supreme Court of Canada said that the charter right of members under section 2(d) to collective association was violated for men and women of the RCMP by their exclusion from the Public Service Labour Relations Act. The court then gave Parliament a year to come up with a regime for the association or collective bargaining rights of RCMP members.

That is important because the court gave a year. In fairness to the new government, one of the first acts of the new minister was to ask for a slight extension. However, sadly, that extension of time did not lead to substantive consultation with men and women of the RCMP. That is a bit of a miss. We have had some good debate and, in fairness, the minister, the parliamentary secretary, and the President of the Treasury Board as well have appeared at committee and been part of the debate, and that is appreciated. However, there has not been much direct consultation with the front line, despite that extension of time, and that concerns me.

It concerns a lot of our members, who have been hearing from men and women across the country with concerns about Bill C-7, particularly in provisions related to sections 40 and 42, which I applaud the government for agreeing to amend, but also with respect to the exclusions from collective bargaining. I will touch on that briefly in my remarks.

However, it is important, in this final time that I get to speak, to remind the House what the Supreme Court of Canada said. It did not say that the RCMP should just join Unifor, the United Steelworkers, or a large existing labour organization. In fact, the Supreme Court gave direction on two key areas. It said that the right of collective association under section 2(d) of the charter was violated for RCMP members. The two elements the court viewed as being required were employee choice and sufficient independence from management. Those are the two critical parts of that judgment.

Members will see why these elements led the government to a pragmatic approach, but, really, the lack of consultation has hurt it with the employees themselves who have to make the choice of bargaining agent.

It is important to note that the Supreme Court of Canada says clearly that section 2(d) of the charter does not protect all elements of association and collective bargaining. In fact, labour models in recent years, going way back to the Wagner model of collective bargaining, and the construct that led to that, and the Rand formula, have been evolving as the tribunals over time were really the guardians of labour law.

In the advent of the charter, charter protections, particularly around collective bargaining rights, have really usurped the old work done by tribunals. The Supreme Court has said that the RCMP is a very unique quasi-military organization with a chain of command, operational discipline, order constructs, the ability for postings, and the unlimited liability faced by members. It is not a regular job when we allow men and women in uniform in Canada to impinge on the rights of others, and also bear the risk themselves of potential injury or death. This is a very unique role. It is why we acknowledge and appreciate the special work done by the RCMP across this country. However, the Supreme Court of Canada recognized clearly that the unique nature of the RCMP leads to unique needs with respect to a collective organization and unionization. Therefore, the two key elements we have to consider from this decision are employee choice and sufficient independence from management.

The staff relations program had been in effect since the 1970s, since the RCMP was excluded from the Public Service Labour Relations Act. The program had been the internal human resources function, serving as the conduit between management and the front line.

Ironically, most of the RCMP members and most of the members of these associations who have been fighting for unionization are RCMP members who have been part of the staff relations program. They saw merit in that. They saw how it functioned well in some manners. However, the Supreme Court determined, and most of the witnesses we heard from determined that there was not sufficient independence from management to safeguard the charter rights of our members. This is why we are here today. It is not like the RCMP had nothing, they had the staff relations program, but the Supreme Court said that the staff relations program was not sufficiently independent from management, which is critical to remember.

I will predict to the House, and I know the parliamentary secretary probably agrees with me, that many of those staff relations personnel will likely form the leadership of whatever union we eventually see.

The good thing is, they will take with them that collective knowledge and memory of what has happened before and then they will have more ability to be independent from management as they collectively bargain, particularly related to remuneration. We have heard consistently that compared to the big 15 police forces our men and women of the RCMP need a top-up. That will be a critical part of those negotiations.

Independence from management is critical, but the first element of what the RCMP feels is critical in the unionization of the RCMP, as a result of this court case, is employee choice. For Conservatives, we have viewed that choice as giving every single member, from Windsor, to Winnipeg, to Whitehorse their right to decide who will be their collective bargaining agent, or indeed if there is a collective bargaining agent at all. How is employee choice best demonstrated? That should be conducted by secret ballot, as it has been historically for all public sector unions, because most have been unionized for several decades.

I am not sure why the government has been so reluctant to acknowledge that. Canadians sent members of the government caucus here by secret ballot. They obviously think it is sufficient to get them to this place, but they do not want to give employee choice through a secret ballot to our men and women in uniform.

Some members of the RCMP have said to me that I am getting hung up on a little detail. This is not a little detail. This is fundamental to true employee choice, absent of influences from the workplace, from Parliament, and from management, that Canadians have enjoyed since 1874. It is a fundamental tenet of our democracy. Conservatives have raised this since my first speech in this place on Bill C-7. We are very disappointed the government has not responded to that, given the men and women we charge with securing the rights and safety of Canadians with that same basic democratic right when it comes to choosing their collective bargaining agent.

I will spend a moment on exclusions. I have been very open with supporting the government, or trying to support it, with respect to exclusions. I know many of the RCMP members watch my speeches on Bill C-7. The Supreme Court clearly says that not all elements of the collective bargaining arrangement are bargainable.

Why are there some exclusions? It goes back to the paramilitary structure and the unique organization of the RCMP. The very fact there are postings, discipline, operational grading, consistency of operations, safety of conduct, all of these things are unique to the RCMP. If we had every posting bargainable or grieved, there would be no operational structure to the force. By extension, we cannot ignore the fact that on the horizon is the military. Therefore, do we really think these operational forces, like the RCMP or the military, could have every decision, operationally or discipline-wise, grieved? I do not think that is reasonable. As someone who has served 12 years in uniform, that is not reasonable. In fact, a very unique chain of command structure of the RCMP, or by extension the military, demands some degree of autonomy from the traditional labour dynamic. I acknowledge that. Some of the strident members of the mounted police associations have disagreed with me on that, but most of them do not disagree with the fact the RCMP is a paramilitary organization with a very unique culture and needs.

The issue of harassment often comes up, and everyone tries to say it needs to be bargainable. The interesting thing is that then every issue would be deemed as harassment. We need to root out harassment and have a zero tolerance for it. I have heard the minister’s comments. I know he keeps it as a priority, as the previous minister did.

Bill C-42 in the previous Parliament, the Enhancing Royal Canadian Mounted Police Accountability Act, tackled this specifically and provided safeguards and a process to ensure that the RCMP had a zero tolerance environment. All members of Parliament agree on that point. There is no tolerance for harassment in the workplace, especially because of the chain of command setting where a superior officer, man or woman, is in a position of a power differential. Those can be difficult and challenging areas when there is harassment. If somebody is using that power differential to harass, that is an absence of leadership on his or her part.

We can make sure that harassment is addressed, that a zero tolerance environment is promoted, without carving off certain elements so that everything related to operations, discipline, postings, and so on would be aggrieved as harassment. These things can be advanced.

I would remind members of the RCMP and those who will continue to listen to my speeches on Bill C-7 that they are still dealing with the old way of thinking. Once there is an independent union, for lack of a better term, one of these mounted police associations nationally will have a significant voice in the public discourse as well, not just at the bargaining table for collective bargaining. Much like the MPAO took its court case and made public statements, once the RCMP has a single unified bargaining agent, the men and women of that organization will have a prominent role in the discourse around policing, public policy issues, public safety and security issues, and harassment. I tell members of the force not to think about the future based on the past and the staff relations program, which clearly was not independent enough for management, but to think of this new union being independent from management.

Let us not kid ourselves and suggest that we can treat the RCMP with its chain of command, with its need for operational ability and discipline and postings, just like any other department of the federal government. It is not. We ask a lot of the men and women who wear the uniform for Canada and in return there is a unique set of employee and employer relationships. The Supreme Court not only acknowledged that but it gave us the road map to say that is possible and in conformance with the charter.

I would also say for the exclusions that there is also the Financial Administration Act, there is a complaints process through the civilian route, and there are Treasury Board guidelines on a range of workplace issues. The collective bargaining table is not the only area where the health, wellness, and occupational elements of the workplace for RCMP members are considered. We need to remember that.

I would like to offer brief praise to the government on its willingness to remove Sections 40 and 42 from Bill C-7. The Conservative caucus, and the NDP caucus joined with us, pushed to have these sections removed. It was not core to the Supreme Court of Canada decision and the need for a collective bargaining agent. In many ways it concerned the men and women of the RCMP that the government was trying to outsource health and occupational wellness to workers’ compensation bodies. The point I have always made, particularly when it comes to operational stress injuries that we have seen rise, is that we do not need an uneven playing field across the country on how our men and women seek treatment and compensation with respect to injuries. There needs to be one consistent high standard for our one top level police force. I applaud the government for listening and for removing those provisions from Bill C-7.

Our public safety committee has simultaneous to Bill C-7 also been hearing from uniformed service personnel from across the country on the issue of operational stress injuries. It is heartening to see all sides working on this. This is an area where we need to take the learnings from the Canadian Armed Forces and Veterans Affairs Canada and the RCMP and share them with other municipal police forces, firefighters, paramedics, and prison guards.

The Conservatives appreciate the government’s movement on some fronts with regard to Bill C-7. However, without the secret ballot and without the real consultations to ensure the men and women on the front lines of the RCMP understand the exclusions, on which I have tried to work with the government, we cannot support the bill as it currently stands. I would ask the government to give more time so the men and women of the RCMP have confidence in the union that will be created.

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