Mounties will soon be one step closer to having the right to collective bargaining.

The RCMP is the only police service in Canada without that right or the freedom to unionize.

But today, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale told the House of Commons the government is preparing to set out a new labour relations regime for the force in response to a decision by the Supreme Court that calls the current rules unconstitutional.

In January, the top court said Mounties should have the right to unionize and collectively bargain and gave the government one year to come up with new rules.

The government won't meet that deadline and is expected to ask for an extension.

The proposed legislation, which Goodale said should be tabled by the end of February, would allow RCMP members and reservists to choose whether they want to be represented by a bargaining agent that is independent from RCMP management. Deadlocks in bargaining would be put to binding arbitration and officers would have no right to strike.

Commissioned officers, the Mounties' senior managers, would not be represented by the new regime and the Public Service Labour Relations and Employment Board would handle all grievances about the collective agreement.

Right now, the national police force has a non-unionized labour relations scheme called the Staff Relations Representative Program, which is financed by the RCMP. Two elected members on the national executive bring concerns about the workplace directly to RCMP brass but don't talk about wages.

In the summer, the Treasury Board launched consultations with thousands of RCMP staff to get their views on how to move forward in light of the Supreme Court decision. In a report made public today, it found that "for every member who thinks that unionization represents the end of the RCMP, there are two or three others who think that the organization cannot survive without it."

Many members also said they want to see a governance regime that would "free the RCMP from Treasury Board." David Brown made that recommendation in his 2007 report, Task Force on Governance and Cultural Change in the RCMP, but it has never been implemented.

Police associations launched challenge

Laura Young is the Toronto lawyer who represented the Mounted Police Association of Ontario and Mounted Police Professional Association based in British Columbia at the Supreme Court. To this day, RCMP brass have not formally recognized the two groups, which launched the constitutional challenge.

Young said her clients will be pleased that the bill would include binding arbitration. As for the delay, Young added she wasn't surprised the new government needs more time.

This year's Supreme Court decision reversed a decision it made 15 years ago. This time, the court said the current Staff Relations Representative Program "is simply an internal human relations scheme imposed on RCMP members by management. The element of employee choice is almost entirely missing and the structure has no independence from management."

The top court added, "The RCMP is the only police force in Canada without a collective agreement to regulate the working conditions of its officers. It has not been shown how or why the RCMP is materially different from the police forces that have the benefit of collective bargaining regimes that provide basic bargaining protections."

In its ruling the Supreme Court doesn't specifically say that Mounties should unionize, just that members should choose their labour relations system and it must be independent.