Senators remove controversial bargaining limits in RCMP union bill

A Senate committee has removed a long list of workplace issues — from harassment and conduct to equipment and staffing levels — that bill C-7 had specifically excluded from collective bargaining. It also decided that any future vote by Mounties to unionize will be held by secret ballot.

Senate committee strikes all exclusions from collective bargaining

A Senate committee has removed elements of the government's bill to allow collective bargaining by RCMP officers that put limits on what could be dealt with at the bargaining table. If the Senate passes the amended bill, it would have to go back to the House of Commons. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

A committee of senators has scrapped the most controversial elements of the government's bill to allow Mounties to form a union.

Among the committee's proposed amendments to bill C-7, the senate committee on national security and defence removed a long list of workplace issues — from harassment and conduct to equipment and staffing levels — that the legislation had excluded from collective bargaining.

"We have taken a look at a range of other police services that do not have exclusions listed precisely like this. We had the benefit of testimony yesterday from the Commissioner who made a point of telling us that these exclusions are superfluous," said Liberal-appointed Senator Colin Kenny.

"I don't see any reason to keep them here in the bill other than they would severely inhibit a union in arbitration or in its normal course of operation."

The next step is a vote on the amended bill by the full Senate vote. If it passes, it goes back to the House of Commons.

For weeks RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson and other senior managers had told MPs and senators that the exclusions were necessary to maintain the authority granted to the commissioner under the RCMP Act.

Instead of being seen as transparent, the list has drawn heat and light- RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson

While Paulson continued to defend that position this week, he also acknowledged the exclusions have drawn overwhelming criticism.

"Instead of being seen as transparent, the list has drawn heat and light," the commissioner told senators.

The bill's Senate sponsor, Independent Senator Larry Campbell, who is a former Mountie, has been in favour of removing all of the exclusions since he introduced the bill in the Upper House last week. 

"This has always been the sticking point. This has always been the point that we were advised that if there was a constitutional challenge, it would be on this point," said Campbell.

"And so I think that by removing them we aren't taking anything away from the management and we are, I believe, effectively negating the need for yet another constitutional challenge on this."

Many frontline Mounties lobbied for changes

Online, where Mounties have done most of their agitating for change to bill C-7, members of the RCMP were jubilant about Tuesday's proposed amendment on bargaining.

"It's a better bill," Brian Sauvé told CBC News. He's co-chair of the National Police Federation, which along with the Mounted Police Professional Association, is vying to be certified as the union for members of the RCMP.

Sauvé said that for many Mounties, after years of having wages frozen and struggling to police some communities while short-staffed, the bill was a tipping point.

"We are not going to put up with the imbalance of give and take anymore and we need to take a stand."

Another amendment made by the Senate committee is that any future certification vote take place by secret ballot. That's something Conservative MPs unsuccessfully asked for when the proposed legislation was before the House of Commons. 

The government rejected that amendment, saying the process for certification would be addressed separately in Bill C-4. That bill seeks to reverse controversial public service labour relations changes made by the previous Conservative government, including that all applications for certification be decided by secret-ballot votes.

The House of Commons has already made its own amendments to Bill C-7. Last month MPs deleted two clauses that would have altered Mounties' health benefits.

The Supreme Court struck down a previous law that prevented RCMP officers from unionizing and set a deadline for a new legislation, a deadline that came and went last month.