Government Orders/Second Reading (C-4) an act to amend the Canadian Labour Code
Mr. Garnett Genuis (Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan, CPC): Mr. Speaker, I do understand that some accommodations were made with the other side to allow me to speak at this time, and I very much appreciate that.
I rise today to speak about Bill C-4, which is a bill that would make very substantial changes to our labour relations environment.
For the purposes of my speech today, I will focus on one specific element of the the bill, which is the issue of the secret ballot.
I believe in the importance of a secret ballot. On first blush, it would perhaps seem odd that, here we are in 2016, in the Canadian House of Commons with our long history of respecting freedom, human rights, the rule of law, and democracy, and yet it is necessary in 2016 to make arguments about the importance of a secret ballot. Frankly, we thought the argument on structural deficits had been in the 1990s, and we thought the argument for the secret ballot had been won in the 19th century, yet the current government's actions force us to again make arguments, which to many perhaps seem rather obvious, about how essential it is to allow people to vote in private without someone else's scrutiny.
It is 2016, but I will say, unlike our current Prime Minister, I have more to say in favour of social improvement than simply stating the current date.
I would like to give some background about the certification process, and then make some substantive arguments about the importance of having a secret ballot.
We have different systems for union certification, and the context we are talking about today, of course, is the secret ballot for union certification. We favour a secret ballot. We favour the idea that people should be able to express their political views in privacy, without scrutiny from other people. We think that is a good general principle of democracy.
However, in this particular case at least, the government and our colleagues in the NDP think differently. They favour a card-check system, which involves a certification process where people are asked to sign-on in a sort of semi-public way. Someone would go and ask a person to sign on, those cards would be collected, and then certification would happens automatically based on that card-check process. In my view, this very much resembles the sort of 19th century public balloting system and has many of the same problems.
What are the substantive reasons of why a secret ballot is important?
I will start by talking about the right to privacy. People should have their right to privacy respected in matters of political opinion, and one might say in the matter of religious opinion as well, and on these deeply important, and for some people, personal matters. People should have the right to not have to express their opinions in public.
Of course, many people choose to talk publicly about their political perspective. Nobody has any doubt how I voted in the last election. However, just because some people wish to be public, it does not mean that others who wish to be more private should not in fact have the right to do so. We understand and respect the right to privacy in these cases, because without that privacy respected, many people would not have the ability to vote and be confident that there would not be some discomfort to them or some negative consequence.
I was recently in India talking about some human rights issues there. One of the issues in India is that a number of states have laws that require people who want to change their religion to declare so publicly, and then have the state review the process by which they came to that decision. In India, many have concerns about this precisely because of the fact that one should be able to keep those deeply held opinions private.
The argument was made in response that if someone is confident in their own perceptive, why should they not be willing to declare it publicly? However, we obviously understand that on these sensitive matters, and that includes opinions about unions and union certification, people should have the right to have the privacy of their opinions respected, and a secret ballot effectively ensures that.
The second argument I will make in defence of the secret ballot is that secret ballots protect people from reprisals and also help to avoid corruption. Here I think it is important to visit some of the history around how the secret ballot originally developed.
In 1867 in the U.K., the second reform act was passed, called “The Representation of the People Act”. This enfranchised a greater number of skilled workers.