Mr. Speaker, I stand today to offer my support for Bill C-7, a bill that respects the rights of the dedicated women and men serving in the RCMP by providing a new labour relations framework for RCMP members and reservists.
The bill is a significant step forward in the history of the RCMP and its labour rights. It would enable RCMP members and reservists to engage in meaningful collective bargaining. I am proud of this initiative that is so in the public interest and serves the rights and well-being of these dedicated women and men.
Our national mounted police force has not only a storied past but now a stronger future. Since its beginning in 1873 when Prime Minister John A. Macdonald introduced in the House the act establishing the Northwest mounted police, the RCMP has been an integral part of Canada’s development. From the 1874 march west from Fort Dufferin, Manitoba to policing the Klondike gold rush, to the St. Roch passage through the Northwest Passage, to the last spike of the Canadian Pacific railway in Craigellachie, British Columbia, to the vital roles in World Wars I and II, the RCMP has played an instrumental role throughout our country’s history.
Despite its long, storied contribution to Canada, its members did not have the full freedom of association with respect to collective bargaining. That would now change. The Supreme Court of Canada has removed the barriers RCMP members faced in exercising this right, a right guaranteed to all Canadians by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The bill provides the appropriate framework for the labour legislation that will govern the RCMP. It gives RCMP members and reservists the same access to a collective bargaining process that other police forces in Canada have.
To do that, the bill amends the Public Service Labour Relations Act and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Act to create a new labour relations regime for RCMP members and reservists.
More specifically, it will give RCMP members and reservists the right to choose whether they wish to be represented by an employee organization during collective agreement negotiations with the Treasury Board of Canada.
As I said, before the Supreme Court decision, RCMP members could not organize or participate in collective bargaining.
Indeed, they have been excluded from the labour relations regime governing even the federal public service since the introduction of collective bargaining for this sector. Instead, members of the RCMP had access to a non-unionised labour relations program. This program had initially been imposed by section 96 of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police regulations in 1988. It was then repealed and replaced by substantially similar section 56 of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police regulations in 2014.
Its core component was the staff relations representative program, or SRRP, the primary mechanism through which RCMP members could raise labour relations issues. It was also the only forum of employee representation recognized by management, and it was governed by a national executive committee.
The program was staffed by member representatives from various RCMP divisions and regions elected for a three-year term by both regular and civilian members of the RCMP. Two of its representatives acted as the formal point of contact with the national management of the RCMP.
The aim of the SRRP was that at each level of hierarchy, members’ representatives and management consulted on human resources initiatives and policies. However, the final word always rested with management.
Many changes were subsequently made to this labour relations regime, which increased the independence of the staff relations representative program.
However, none of these changes had much of an impact on its objective, place or function within the traditional RCMP chain of command.
In May 2006, two private groups of RCMP members filed a constitutional challenge on behalf of RCMP members in Ontario and British Columbia regarding labour issues.
These two groups were never recognized for the purposes of collective bargaining or consultation on labour issues by RCMP management or the federal government.
They saw the declaration that the combined effect of the exclusion of RCMP members from the application of the Public Service Labour Relations Act and the imposition of the SRRP as a labour relations regime unjustifiably infringed on members’ freedom of association.
The Supreme Court ruled that key parts of the RCMP labour relations regime were unconstitutional. It struck down the exclusion of RCMP members from the definition of employee in the Public Service Relations Act as unconstitutional, and it held that a section of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police regulations infringed on the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
In fact, the court affirmed that section 2(d) of the charter “protects a meaningful process of collective bargaining that provides employees with a degree of choice and independence sufficient to enable them to determine and pursue their collective interests”.
In the case of the RCMP, the court determined that the existing labour relations regime, built around the staff relations representative program, denied RCMP members that choice, and imposed a program that did not permit RCMP members to identify and advance their workplace concerns free from management’s influence. It found that the staff relations representative program did not meet the criteria necessary for meaningful collective bargaining. Under this program, RCMP members were represented by organizations they did not choose, and they worked within a structure that lacked independence from government. The court held that this violated their charter right to freedom of association.
I am proud that our new government’s bill, Bill C-7, addresses just that. It brings labour rights governing this group of federal employees into line with the federal public sector labour relations regime, which has been in place for over 40 years. It provides RCMP members and reservists with a sufficient degree of choice and independence from management while recognizing their unique operational reality.
The RCMP is a nationwide federal public sector police organization, and thus its labour regime should be aligned and consistent with the fundamental framework for labour relations and collective bargaining for the federal public service.
Bill C-7 includes several general exclusions that mirror exclusions already in place for the rest of the public service. For example, staffing, pensions, organization of work, and assignments of duties are excluded from collective bargaining. Each of these issues is instead dealt with under other legislation, for example, the Public Service Employment Act for staffing, the Public Service Superannuation Act for pensions, and the Financial Administration Act for the organization of work and the assignment of duties. This system has been in place for years, and it works.
Having recently taken the GBA+ training module that government provides, which is gender-based analysis, I was impressed to see how the RCMP has been implementing gender-based analysis, the lens that ensures that both women and men are properly served in policy decisions taken by management. I want to congratulate the RCMP for being a leader in the implementation of this very important program.
There are other ways in which RCMP members can express their concerns about labour issues. If a uniformed member has a concern about the safety of the uniform, he or she can speak to the workplace health and safety committee.
Together with the union representatives, the committee can study the issue and identify the best possible solution based on the evidence.
Moreover, workplace health and safety issues can be included in the collective agreement through bargaining. If members have concerns about employment conduct, they can share them with the union representative on the labour-management committee.
In other words, there are other ways for RCMP members and the union to raise concerns outside of the collective bargaining process. The members and the union can work with management to improve the workplace.
I would also like to point out that some have criticized the bill and said that only pay and benefits can be collectively bargained. This is simply not the case. There is a whole host of other issues that can be collectively bargained. Conditions of work, such as hours of work, scheduling, call back, and reporting conditions, can be collectively bargained. Leave provisions, such as designated paid holidays, vacation leave, sick leave, and parental leave, can be collectively bargained. Labour relations matters, such as terms and conditions for grievance procedures and procedures for classification and workforce adjustment, can be collectively bargained. For example, the decision to lay-off an employee is a staffing matter, which is not subject to negotiation. However, measures such as compensation or the manner in which lay-offs are conducted may be negotiated.
As I said, the Supreme Court invalidated the existing labour relations framework for the RCMP because it violated the charter right to freedom of association. The court suspended its judgement for one year to give the government time to consider its options. The government sought an extension and was given an additional four months to provide a new labour relations framework for RCMP members and reservists. Unfortunately, the suspension of the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision has now expired. Therefore, it is important that the government move quickly to put in place a new labour relations framework to minimize disruption for RCMP members, reservists, and management.
Indeed, delaying the passage of this legislation is problematic for a number of reasons. There currently is an overlap between the RCMP Act and the Public Service Labour Relations Act, which could result in confusion and conflicting interpretations. In addition, members could be represented by multiple bargaining agents, making it difficult for the RCMP to maintain a cohesive national approach to labour relations. That is especially worrisome given the nature and function of our national police force, in which members are posted to positions anywhere across the country in a variety of functions and activities. The potential to be represented by a number of various bargaining units could be very confusing.
Should this not pass quickly, there is also the concern of uncertainty among RCMP members about their collective bargaining rights and the measures they can take should they need access to representation.
Let me add two further arguments for the swift passage of this legislation.
The government took steps, including consultations with RCMP members in the summer of 2015 to bring this new framework into compliance with the Supreme Court’s ruling. Last summer, regular members of the RCMP were consulted through an online survey and town hall meetings to seek their views on potential elements of a labour relations framework.
At the same time, Public Safety Canada consulted with the provinces, territories, and municipalities that are served by the RCMP through police service agreements. Public Safety Canada will continue the dialogue with contracting parties as the new regime is implemented. The findings from these consultations were very helpful and instructive in developing the elements of Bill C-7.
Finally, let me add that this bill is also consistent with our government’s efforts to restore fair and balanced labour laws in this country. We believe in collective bargaining. That is why, for example, we introduced Bill C-5, which would repeal division 20 of Bill C-59, the 2015 budget implementation act, which was tabled last April by the previous government. Division 20 would have provided the government with the authority to unilaterally override the collective bargaining process and impose a new sick leave system on the public service. By repealing those provisions in Bill C-59, we are also demonstrating our respect for the collective bargaining process.
We believe in fair and balanced labour relations, and we recognize the important role that unions play in Canada.
That is why we have also introduced measures to repeal Bill C-377 and Bill C-525, which were also passed without the usual consultation process for labour relations law reform by the previous government. Bill C-377 placed new financial reporting requirements on unions, and Bill C-525 changed how unions could be certified and decertified.
Bill C-7 restores the power of the federal Public Sector Labour Relations Board to select the certification or decertification method appropriate to each particular situation, and I would say fair method to both the representing and the represented parties, rather than being limited to the mandatory vote method, which can skew a decision against the union in certain circumstances.
The previous government had research and a report that concluded that very situation.
Recently, on May 25, the government announced its intention to repeal portions of the Economic Action Plan 2013 Act, No. 2, division 17. The portions in question have to do with changes made to essential services, collective bargaining and processes for grievances, and dispute resolution without any consultations with public sector partners. We took these important measures to ensure that workers are free to organize and that unions and employers can bargain collectively in good faith.
Bill C-7 honours this right, a right that has long been exercised by all other police officers in Canada. It is the right to good faith collective bargaining. This bill would institute this right in law. It would lay out the rules that govern labour relations for RCMP members and reservists, and enshrine the principles and values of our society as reflected in the charter and as required by the Supreme Court of Canada. It would recognize the particular circumstances of our unique national police force, the RCMP.
I would ask my colleagues to do the right thing and support the passage of this bill, so that it becomes law without further delay.