Government Orders/Second Reading (C-4) an act to amend the Canadian Labour Code - Part 1
This made the need for a secret ballot particularly urgent, because there was a concern that tradespeople would be the subject of undue and inappropriate pressure by their employers in the case of a public ballot.
If, as the traditional public ballot system was, people had to go to the town square and declare who they were supporting in an election, those who were skilled workers who were working for other people in trades and other areas, might be subject to significant pressure from the employers. This added to the concern as well that the tenant class, people who were working other people's land, might be the subject of eviction or threats of eviction if they voted against the interests or the desires of those who owned the land on which they lived.
The public ballot was a way of forcing people to not be able to exercise their political franchise in a way that was consistent with their interests because they were subject to threats of economic coercion in other forms of intimidation.
What is important about this history is that bringing in the secret ballot was an essential reform to protect the rights of working people, to protect the rights of lower income people in the UK at the time of the second reform act. Yet perversely, we have political parties in the House today who claim to advocate for those working men and women who do not understand how important the secret ballot was and continues to be for protecting their ability to express their opinion.
There was real fear of reprisals at the time and that has echoes in our debate today about the fear that people who are forced to vote in a public ballot may be subject to undue pressure and intimidation. That pressure could come from either side, in particular though, in a card check system that intimidation, undue pressure, could come from those who are seeking to sign people up. Regardless of people's opinion on certification in a particular case, working men and women should be free to come to their own conclusions and to express their opinions privately without fear of reprisal.
Another issue at the time the secret ballot was introduced was concern about corruption. If people are voting publicly, it is much easier to offer appropriate inducements to buy votes perhaps when they can actually check to see if they voted as they were paid to do so. The secret ballot, although it does not fully eliminate corruption, helps to ensure that sort of thing does not happen, because there is no way to effectively see if the vote that was bought was actually paid.
Protection against reprisals and corruption were important for bringing in secret ballots and they are important today for ensuring that secret ballots continue to exist in all environments.
The third point I will make in defence of the secret ballot is the importance of a vote being preceded by a process of deliberation in which people can hear arguments from both sides. Both sides should have an opportunity to present arguments in favour or against a particular proposition, in this case certification, before the date on which a vote takes place.
The card check system does not allow that deliberation to happen. The card check system means that the certification process could have gone all the way through in terms of getting all of those signatures before people who have a different opinion are even aware that that process is happening. It undermines the principle that there should be meaningful discussion and debate on both sides. The government seems to understand this principle on some issues, although imperfectly.
We disagree with the government's reluctance to have a referendum when it comes to electoral reform. We hear it make the argument with respect to electoral reform that before any kind of hypothetical vote takes place it is important for there to be a long discussion about the different options and the pros and cons. Why does the government not believe that in the case of certification? Surely, the secret ballot at a specific time provides an opportunity for there to be robust debate within a group of workers about whether or not certification in general, and whether or not certification with a particular union, is a good idea.
Many people might be surprised watching this debate today that it is necessary to make arguments in the House in favour of a secret ballot, that two of the three major parties in the House oppose giving working men and women a secret ballot on something as essential as union certification. We need to make those arguments, because the government and the NDP just do not seem to understand how truly foundational, how important this is, how consistent this is with a right to privacy, how a secret ballot protects against reprisals and corruption, and how a secret ballot helps ensure that a vote is preceded by a process of meaningful deliberation.