With the clock ticking down to a tight deadline imposed by the Supreme Court of Canada, CBC News has learned the Official Opposition is pulling support for a bill that would give Mounties the right to collective bargaining.

The Conservatives had supported Bill C-7 at second reading, on the hopes it would be amended at committee to guarantee a secret ballot for RCMP members if they decide to certify a union.

While the proposed legislation was tweaked at committee to remove controversial sections that would have altered officers' health benefits, committee members voted down an amendment suggested by Conservative public safety critic Erin O'Toole to ensure any future certification vote is held by secret ballot.

'Undemocratric'

"The Liberals are failing to support the brave men and women of the RCMP by forcing them to adopt this undemocratic practice. Conservatives will always stand with the RCMP and we will not support legislation that so blatantly violates the wishes of its members," O'Toole said.

Conservative Treasury Board critic Pierre Poilievre called the secret ballot a fundamental democratic right.

"Instead of forcing RCMP members to disclose their vote publicly, the Liberals should listen to RCMP members who are concerned that their vote will impact their workplace situation," he said.

The Liberal government has always maintained the mechanics for union certification would be addressed in another bill before the House, which the Conservatives also oppose.  

Bill C-4 seeks to fulfil a Liberal campaign promise to repeal controversial labour laws brought in under the previous, Conservative government.

One of them, C-525, changed the union certification process in federally-regulated workplaces — such as the RCMP — from a "card check" system where a simple majority of workers sign a union card, to a two-step process that includes secret-ballot vote.

Unions universally panned the legislation, saying it would make it harder for federal government employees to organize.

Deadline looming

The Mounties remain Canada's only non-unionized police force.

To date, officers and the two groups seeking to represent them have lobbied MPs to change several aspects of the bill, but have been largely silent about just how they would prefer to certify should they choose to form a union.

Their most pressing concerns about C-7 included the now-expunged health-care provisions, as well as a list of issues excluded from the bargaining table, such as harassment and staffing levels.

NDP MP Daniel Blaikie was the sole committee member to recommend removing the list of exclusions, but his colleagues didn't support his amendment.

Parliament doesn't have much time to work this one out as the Supreme Court's deadline for C-7 to become law is May 16.


Subscribe to receive our evening digest of CBC Politics stories by email.