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Speech on C-7: new labour relations framework for RCMP

Speech to the Senate on May 18, 2017

Honourable senators, I rise to speak to the motion to accept the position of the other place with respect to Bill C-7, a bill that provides a new labour relations framework for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and reservists. I believe that this bill will bring the RCMP, an iconic Canadian institution, into the modern era and demonstrate to members and reservists who serve Canadians from coast to coast to coast that we value their service and dedication, and their work on behalf of all of us in both small and large communities.

This bill will mean that, for the first time in the RCMP's long and storied past, members will have a collective bargaining model tailored to the RCMP — a model that balances organizational interests with individuals' freedom of association, a value enshrined in Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

This bill, which has resulted in this message, is also an example of the Senate of Canada doing its job of sober second thought, and fulfilling this chamber's complementary function to that of the House of Commons. Let me begin by thanking Senator Campbell, the bill's sponsor, for the benefit of his hard-nosed determination to get the bill right. I would also thank the Standing Senate Committee on National Security and Defence for its diligence and thorough examination of the bill.

The committee listened to several hours of testimony from many different stakeholders bringing different and often opposing perspectives. Both Senators Campbell and Carignan, the bill's critic, raised important issues — opportunities, as it turned out, for improvement to the original legislation.

It was Senator Carignan who said the following:

Who knows? Perhaps we will find ways to improve this bill, since the Senate has a duty to ensure that bills are consistent with our country's legal framework, including the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The critics and the bill sponsor worked together and with committee members, keeping the best interests of the RCMP as an organization front and centre. Naturally, that includes the best interests of the women and men who risk their lives on behalf of Canadians to, as their motto states, "Maintiens le droit" (defend the law).

As a result of this good work, the Senate improved the bill. This chamber sent back to the other place a bill that was stronger, and I'm very pleased that the message from the other place addresses key concerns raised by the Senate.

At a general level, Bill C-7 has several key elements, which reflect the clear preferences expressed by RCMP members during consultations with members that occurred in the summer of 2015. Members were clear that they wanted a labour relations framework that provided for a single, national bargaining unit; a union primarily focused on representing RCMP members; and the recourse to binding arbitration if a collective agreement cannot be negotiated.

Bill C-7 creates this framework. In addition, with this message, Bill C-7 removes RCMP-specific restrictions on what may be included in a collective agreement or an arbitral award.

Second, it puts in place a more targeted management rights clause to better define the authorities that the RCMP Commissioner needs to ensure effective police operations.

These two amendments, taken together, broaden the scope of what can be discussed and potentially incorporated into a collective agreement. These subjects could include matters commonly associated with harassment and workplace wellness, appointments and appraisals, and measures to mitigate the impact of discharges and demotions of RCMP members.

These two amendments, I would emphasize, effectively address the major criticisms of Bill C-7 as originally drafted and presented to this chamber.

This chamber has made more meaningful individual RCMP members' Charter-protected freedom of expression, while balancing those interests with the legitimate imperatives of the RCMP as an organization.

Without doubt, honourable senators, the government has listened to the concerns raised here and expanded what may be included in a collective agreement or an arbitral award. These include rates of pay, hours of work, and leave provisions, such as designated paid holidays, vacation leave, sick leave and parental leave. It also allows proposals related to matters that were covered by the RCMP-specific restrictions in Bill C-7 to now be negotiable.

These amendments will help set the stage for meaningful discussions in good faith around the bargaining table on issues of great importance to the workplace well-being of RCMP members and reservists. In Canada's one hundred and fiftieth year, and the RCMP's one hundred and forty-fourth year, it's about time.

There are certain provisions that are not on the table because, quite frankly, Canadians cannot afford to be without the services of the RCMP. For that reason, Bill C-7 prohibits RCMP members and reservists from striking, and should there be an impasse in collective negotiations, the bill calls for binding arbitration as a dispute resolution mechanism.

In addition, as I explained when we last discussed this bill, since 1967, matters that are of broad cross-sectional interest, such as pensions, are excluded from bargaining and dealt with under other legislation to ensure that the public interest is taken into account. Pensions therefore are dealt with under the Public Service Superannuation Act.

Further, the federal government has traditionally consulted with employee representatives on pension issues and is committed to continuing this practice, particularly with respect to the RCMP. In the case of the RCMP, the requirement for a Pension Advisory Committee is enshrined in the RCMP Superannuation Act.

This committee, which consists of RCMP regular members and representatives of RCMP senior management, makes recommendations on the administration, design and funding of the pension benefits.

Honourable senators, this system has been in place for over 40 years, since the inception of collective bargaining in the federal public sector.

It is the same system in place for the rest of the public service. It has been very effective and provides a good replacement income post-retirement for our dedicated men and women in uniform.

Let me explain why the government cannot accept the requirement for a mandatory secret ballot vote for the certification of a bargaining agent to represent RCMP members and reservists.

The government believes there should be choice between secret ballot and a card check system. A secret-ballot-only system is inconsistent with providing a fair and balanced process for certification and properly recognizing the role of bargaining agents in that process.

Bill C-4 puts the discretion of certification back with the Public Service Labour Relations Board whether there will be a secret ballot or a card check system. The board will ensure that members' interests are reflected in the choices made. The government also disagreed with expanding the mandate of the Public Service Labour Relations and Employment Board to hear grievances on a wider range of matters relating to terms and conditions of employment. In fact, such an expansion would create duplicative grievance processes for RCMP members, under the RCMP Act and the PSLRA.

This could potentially lead to conflicting decisions and undermine the commissioner's ability to ensure effective police operations. The RCMP members' right to file grievances and appeals to address workplace issues is best served to be administered pursuant to the RCMP Act.

It's clear that the government has gone to considerable lengths to answer our Senate colleagues' important questions.

The government is committed to supporting RCMP members and reservists by providing them with a meaningful process for collective bargaining. With this message, I submit to this chamber that the RCMP will have that meaningful process for members to exercise their freedom of association.

In closing, I would like to end with highly anecdotal, yet deeply compelling, evidence of this chamber's work with respect to Bill C-7. According to a well-trusted source in Newfoundland, over the last weekend, in reference to the sponsor of the bill, two RCMP officers in their squad car reportedly remarked, "You the man, Larry."

I agree with them. Senator Campbell is the man. I look forward to this chamber debating and reflecting on this message, and bringing the RCMP into a 21st-century labour relations situation.