Bill 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 - Bill C-7
The Honourable Senator Larry W. Campbell :
Honourable senators, I'm pleased to have this opportunity to speak in support of Bill C-7. This legislation marks an historic milestone for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Canadian labour relations and for Canadians as a whole.
With the passage of this bill, RCMP members and reservists would for the first time have the same collective bargaining rights as other police forces in Canada. They would have the right to choose an employee organization to represent them in labour relations with their employer, the Treasury Board of Canada.
Colleagues, this legislation will amend both 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. In fact, Bill C-7 would bring the labour rights governing this group of federal employees in line with the fundamental freedoms enshrined in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
As you know, the legislation being considered addresses the Supreme Court of Canada's decision in the Mounted Police Association of Ontario v. Canada (Attorney General). The Supreme Court's ruling in that case was that key parts of the current RCMP labour relations regime are unconstitutional. For one, the court struck down the exclusion of RCMP members from the definition of "employee" in the Public Service Labour Relations Act as unconstitutional. However, the court held that a section of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Regulations infringed on the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. 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 current RCMP labour relations regime denies RCMP members that choice, and imposes on them a scheme that does not permit them to identify and advance their workplace concerns free from management's influence."
The court 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 an organization that they did not choose. What is more, they had to work within a structure that lacks independence from management. Therefore, the court held that this violated the Charter right to freedom of association.
Under this legislation, RCMP members and reservists will be free to choose whether they want to be represented by a bargaining agent that is independent of the influence of RCMP management. In addition, to be certified as a bargaining agent, an employee organization would need the support of a majority of RCMP members appointed to a rank, as well as reservists, in a single national bargaining unit.
Taken together, the proposed legislation will provide a single national RCMP bargaining unit, composed solely of RCMP members appointed to a rank, and reservists; the requirement that the RCMP bargaining agent have as its primary mandate the representation of RCMP officers; that officers, as well as other managerial and confidential positions, be excluded from representation; that the Public Service Labour Relations and Employment Board be the administrative tribunal for matters related to the RCMP unit collective bargaining, as well as grievances related to a collective agreement; and that independent binding arbitration be the dispute resolution process for bargaining impasses, with no right to strike.
I note, however, that the proposed legislation would restrict certain matters from being included in a collective agreement or arbitral award.
Colleagues, 40 years ago I was a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, stationed in British Columbia. At that time in the Lower Mainland, there was a fervent push to unionize the RCMP. There was no overtime and no wage negotiation. At that time there was no legal way to express displeasure with anything the force chose to do. It was highly illegal to even meet to discuss unionization.
After some effort, however, the system of divisional representation was put forward and accepted. This remained the status quo until the Supreme Court decision in the case of Mounted Police Association of Ontario v. Canada (Attorney General).
I think of my sergeant now and retired Staff Sergeant Fred Hardy, who led this movement. In the 1970s he was forever known in the force as "red Fred." I present this bill in his name.
Without question, this bill is a huge step forward in modernizing the RCMP. For too long, the force has been beset with problems stemming from a military culture being applied to a policing function. Allowing members to be represented by a union is forward-looking. In saying this, however, I would be remiss if I did not state that this bill is far from perfect and needs careful study to ensure that it gets it right for the members of the force. This means loosening the grip that senior management has on the rights of members to help make the force better.
This bill excludes the following from the collective bargaining: law enforcement techniques; transfers from one position to another and appointments; appraisals; probation; demotions or discharges; conduct, including harassment; the basic requirements for carrying out the duties of an RCMP member or reservist; uniform, order of dress, equipment or medals of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
These exemptions continue the paramilitary mindset of the RCMP and deny the fact that the actual on-the-ground members of the RCMP can and should contribute to moving forward. Surely these exclusions go to the very heart of the collective bargaining process and should not be the exclusive purview of the commissioner.
The argument has been made that the RCMP will be part of the public service and, as such, should be governed by the rules in place. I would counter these points.
Mounties are not public service employees. They are police officers who happen to be employed by the federal government.
Secondly, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, while iconic, are not special in the police world. Unlike public servants, they operate in the police world with the same dangers, problems and issues as any other police department. No other Canadian police force has exemptions such as found in this bill.
One of the aims of collective bargaining for the RCMP is to allow them to raise their standards to the levels of other police agencies. They should not be fifty-second when it comes to wages; they should not find themselves outgunned in a shootout; and they should have the finest of equipment and uniforms.
Collective bargaining starts with everything on the table.
Hon. Senators: Hear, hear.
Senator Campbell: Issues are resolved or removed with the consent of both sides. Every other police agency has a chief, commissioned officers and non-commissioned officers. Look at the history and explain how these police forces operate well without the exemptions. My thought is that both parties have the good of the citizens at heart and work toward agreements that reflect both good policy and good law enforcement.
I know that the committee will do their job and listen carefully to witnesses regarding the merits of this bill. I look forward to the committee's report on what I consider to be a vitally important piece of legislation.
Thank you for your attention.