Sixteen months after the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that Mounties have the right to collective bargaining, Mounties now have even less of a voice when dealing with management.
In January 2015, Canada's top court gave the federal government one year to draft new legislation to permit RCMP officers to form a union or association and engage in meaningful negotiation with top brass. The previous government did little on the file before the federal election, so the Liberals asked for an extension.
The extension expired yesterday and has left Mounties in labour relations limbo, according to University of Ottawa law and business professor Gilles LeVasseur.
An RCMP officer is seen with the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Sunday, Aug. 2, 2015. (Photo: Justin Tang/CP)
"What is their legal status, what are the rights and privileges that they do have and how clearly is it spelled out?" LeVasseur said to CBC News.
Bill C-7, the RCMP union legislation, passed third reading in the House of Commons last week after the government cut off debate.
Next stop is the Senate, but Conservative Senator Vern White said he and his colleagues have already started hearing from front-line officers unhappy with the bill. White said he is among those who will push for changes to the legislation.
Exclusions leave little to be negotiated
Bill C-7 would exclude a long list of issues from the bargaining table, such as staffing levels, harassment and equipment.
"I think there are pieces of that, that I think we in the Senate will look at closely and ask whether it's fair that they're excluded from bargaining," said White.
Critics say the bill in its present form would only permit RCMP members to negotiate pay and benefits. The RCMP remains, to date, the only non-unionized police service in Canada.
LeVasseur said it is "abnormal" to see so many limitations on collective bargaining.
"Work harassment, sexual harassment … these are fundamental issues that need to be looked at and probably discussed. And there's a whole thing of disciplinary measures also that needs to be part of a collective agreement. It's like that in every other workforce," he said.
The concerns are among those MPs heard during parliamentary committee hearings over the last few weeks. They agreed to remove two contentious clauses that would have altered RCMP health benefits for members injured on the job, but they did not touch the exclusions.
White said RCMP management shouldn't fear negotiating with its members. He speaks from experience, having served as police chief in Ottawa and Durham Region in Ontario after retiring from the RCMP as an assistant commissioner.
White said working in a transparent unionized environment was "easy" and that leaving many issues open for negotiation is good strategy.
"When I was the chief in Ottawa, if all we could negotiate was pay and benefits. I can guarantee you that the pay and benefits costs would go to the top every time, because that's all they would have been chasing. You want them to have other things they can pursue, realistically," said White.
Time short before summer recess
As it stands now, with so many exclusions to examine, White said he's not sure when Bill C-7 will become law.
"I'm actually a little bit concerned about whether or not the bill will get through the Senate before the summer break," White said.
LeVasseur said that would be bad news for Mounties, because the RCMP brass has already disbanded the existing staff relations representative program, leaving officers without a single united voice to deal with management.
"Are [senators] entitled to go on recess, summer vacation and not have this problem solved? That will be a key issue. If they're saying no and continuing, that's good. But if they're going two, three months on vacation … could that be considered bad faith?" asked LeVasseur.
RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson has said he decided to disband the 41-year-old staff relations program because the Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional. As of today, it is formally replaced by another management-created regime called the member workplace services program. Until Mounties choose whether to unionize, it will provide individual advice, support and guidance to officers with issues in the workplace.
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