Senate set to make major changes to RCMP union bill

In a signal of how unpredictable the Senate has become, the senator charged with sponsoring the government’s bill to extend collective bargaining rights to the RCMP, has argued the proposed legislation needs a major overhaul.

Collective bargaining should mean 'everything on the table,' bill's sponsor in the Senate tells Upper House

The federal government missed a Supreme Court deadline to pass legislation to allow Mounties to collectively bargain their contracts. The bill, which has faced criticism by RCMP officers, faces further delay in the Senate. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)

In a signal of how unpredictable the Senate has become, the senator sponsoring the government's bill to extend collective bargaining rights to the RCMP has argued the proposed legislation needs a major overhaul.

Liberal-appointed Senator Larry Campbell introduced Bill C-7 in the Upper House on Thursday.

The former Mountie told fellow senators that "this bill is far from perfect and needs careful study to ensure that it gets it right.… This means loosening the grip that senior management has on the rights of members, to help make the force better."

Campbell then listed many issues the bill excludes from the bargaining table, such as law enforcement techniques, appraisals, transfers, conduct, uniforms and staffing levels.

He said those exemptions perpetuate the RCMP's paramilitary structure, which Campbell blamed as the source of many of the police force's problems.

"Surely these exclusions go to the very heart of the collective bargaining process and should not be the exclusive purview of the commissioner," Campbell told senators.

When asked to list the exemptions he finds the most egregious, Campbell did not hesitate.

"I find all of the exemptions equally wrong. I believe that this is collective bargaining, and you don't go into collective bargaining with one side saying, 'We aren't going to talk about this.' You go into collective bargaining with everything on the table," he said.

For example, with equipment, Campbell pointed to several examples where members of the RCMP haven't had adequate tools to do their jobs. When he was a Mountie in the 1970s, Campbell said officers had bullets that could not penetrate a windshield. Two years ago in Moncton, RCMP members did not yet have carbines, a short-barrelled rifle that has a longer accurate range than a sidearm or shotgun.

"The idea that members of the RCMP would not be involved in solving the harassment issue is ludicrous to me," added Campbell, before saying the uniform should also be negotiable. "We have a yellow stripe down our pant leg. There is a reason for no other police forces having a yellow stripe down their pant legs: it's a running target."

Conservative also has concerns

Conservative Senator Vern White, a former assistant commissioner of the RCMP, was clearly surprised by Campbell's tone and joked that it sounded as though his colleague was the critic and not the sponsor of the bill.

The bill's critic however, is Conservative Senator Claude Carignan, a former labour lawyer who said he's never seen anything like C-7, which he described as worrisome.

"The new collective bargaining regime proposed by the RCMP and the president of the Treasury Board is extremely limited in scope and application. It is a far cry from the parameters and structures around labour relations today," Carignan told senators.

He pointed to troubling stories in the media about workplace harassment at the RCMP and said it was surprising that the bill expressly proposes to exclude conduct at work from collective bargaining.

Carignan asked his colleagues to ask themselves if the bill respects the constitutional rights of RCMP members and is consistent with the spirit and letter of what the Supreme Court of Canada asked Parliament to do.

MPs already changed bill

With the bill's sponsor and critic both in agreement about removing some, if not all, of the issues currently excluded from collective bargaining, the legislation is sure to be changed.

Bill C-7 has already undergone one major change. A committee of MPs unanimously removed two clauses that would have affected Mounties' health benefits, which had nothing to do with the Supreme Court's ruling on labour rights.

NDP MP Daniel Blaikie tried to remove all the exclusions from the bill but Conservative and Liberal MPs unanimously defeated his proposal.

The Senate's national security committee is scheduled to study the bill all day on Monday, with appearances from Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale and Scott Brison, president of the Treasury Board.


Alison Crawford is a senior reporter in CBC's parliamentary bureau, covering justice, public safety, the Supreme Court and Liberal Party of Canada.