Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Legal and Constitutional Affairs

Issue 24, Evidence - December 10, 2014


OTTAWA, Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs, to which was referred Bill C-525, An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code, the Parliamentary Employment and Staff Relations Act and the Public Service Labour Relations Act (certification and revocation — bargaining agent), met this day at 4:17 p.m. to give consideration to the bill.

Senator Bob Runciman (Chair) in the chair.

[English]

The Chair: Welcome colleagues, invited guests and members of the general public to today's proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs. We are here today to begin our deliberations on Bill C-525, An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code, the Parliamentary Employment and Staff Relations Act and the Public Service Labour Relations Act (certification and revocation — bargaining agent), which proposes changes that would require the certification or decertification of bargaining agents for federally regulated public service unions be achieved by a secret ballot vote.

Bill C-525 was originally introduced in the House of Commons in June 2013 by Mr. Blaine Calkins, the MP for Wetaskiwin, Alberta. The bill was reinstated by the house at the start of the current session. This is our first meeting on the legislation.

As a reminder to those watching, these committee hearings are open to the public and are also available via webcast on the parl.gc.ca website. You can find more information on the schedule of witnesses on the same website under ''Senate Committees.''

For our first panel today, please welcome the sponsor of the bill, Member of Parliament Blaine Calkins. We will begin with an opening statement. The floor is yours, sir.

Blaine Calkins, Member of Parliament for Wetaskiwin, sponsor of the bill: Thank you, Mr. Chair. It is truly a privilege for me to appear before a Senate committee. I have never done this before, so this is my first time. I'm usually sitting where you are sitting as a member of a standing committee in the House of Commons or a joint committee with colleagues from the Senate.

Mr. Chair, I may just point out that it is pronounced Wetaskiwin. It is a Cree word meaning where the hills of peace were made.

The Chair: My apologies.

Mr. Calkins: That's quite all right. Around home, we just call it Wetaskiwin, and that seems to be good enough for the rest of us.

I should duly note that cars do cost less in Wetaskiwin. It is famous for its auto mile.

Honourable senators, it is a privilege to be here today with you to talk about Bill C-525, the employees voting rights act. It has been brought to my attention by a number of my constituents and folks I have had conversations with, even going back to my life and experiences before I was an MP, that employees across Canada at all levels have been in the middle of union and management negotiations and discussions, and a lot of times employees have felt like they have had no real voice. The employees' voting rights act centres on a reversal of that paradigm, shifting the pendulum to put the power, so to speak, where I believe it squarely belongs, which is right in the hands of the workers, whether they're seeking to certify a union or whether they're seeking to decertify in that same process. My bill basically takes what is an optional piece of legislation right now, where the labour board may conduct a secret ballot vote, and simply changes that provision to ''shall.''

One of the major factors contributing to why I brought this forward was not only the conversations I had, but I had a particularly interesting phone call with a constituent at one point in time. He called me under a great deal of duress. I remember the phone call. We talked for over an hour on the telephone, and we have had subsequent discussions and conversations since. He recounted to me various aspects of involvement that he's had in his union. It brought me to the realization that the things I have been hearing from time to time were indeed happening, not all the time and not in every particular case, but they happen on a frequent enough basis that it gave me some concern.

He and others I have spoken to subsequently have asked to remain anonymous simply because they fear retribution. They know that if they do bring some of these matters forward or continue to bring these matters forward in the public domain, there are real and present threats to them in so doing. The people I have spoken to, chair, have had these real concerns, and I should note that they extend not only to unions but also to employers as well. Some of these threats and some of the things that they're feeling and intimidation and so on aren't just at the hands of their union representatives, from time to time, but also from their employers. There is no monopoly on intimidation tactics.

Allowing employees the opportunity to have a secret ballot vote in a democratic manner about who or if they want somebody to represent them only strengthens the mandate, I believe, and adds credibility to it one way or another.

I think commentary from some about not coming forward to file complaints is simplistic. I have been quoted or misquoted as saying there's mountains of complaints. The reality is I receive complaints all the time. I'm an MP. Nobody ever phones me to tell me the government is doing a great job. People only ever phone me to complain, so I hear these complaints all the time, complaints about some of the issues that folks are facing in everyday life. I have received dozens if not hundreds of complaints or concerns about these particular issues. While some of them might not be formalized in terms of complaints before a formalized labour relations board, I can tell you that the concerns below the surface are there. Anybody who has enough common sense knows that stepping forward to complain about the actions of a very large, powerful bank-rolled organization, whether it is a union or whether it is an employer, can be an intimidating process to begin with, and it spurs fears on the part of any employee.

To address another point that has been brought up, there have been concerns surrounding the decreasing number of successful union certifications in jurisdictions that employ a secret ballot vote. I would point out to you, honourable senators, that Justice Richards in a Court of Appeal in Saskatchewan ruling summarized that the Charter does not oblige a government to enact a statutory scheme that makes union certification as easy as possible. Justice Richards said that a secret ballot regime does no more than ensure that employees are able to make the choices that they see as being best for themselves. There is nothing to fear here. I agree with the justice in this particular case. There's nothing to fear from democracy, and there's nothing to fear from a secret ballot vote other than a true result.

Another point argued by some is that making changes to the Canada Labour Code through private members' bills should be avoided. Some say that it oversteps the spirit of the Sims report, which was tabled about 20 years ago now. Colleagues, I would just suggest to you that 20 years ago we didn't even know what the Internet was, for the most part. Times change. While I respect the report and the spirit in which it was crafted in the day, times do change and we have an opportunity to move on.

I present this private member's bill in that spirit. It is the only legislative tool I have as a parliamentarian. I am a duly elected parliamentarian. I understand that some people have concerns that a lowly member of Parliament would bring forward changes that might be as far-reaching as this, but I would encourage all of you to take stock of that. That is my privilege. This is what I was elected primarily to do. I am a legislator. That is my role, that is my capacity, and that is the branch of government that I am empowered in and privileged to have the opportunity.

I will just suggest that if we're not allowed to bring forward private member's bills, then we have some serious problems because it wasn't that long ago that I sponsored a bill in the House of Commons that was a private member's bill from Senator Yonah Martin to enact a Koreans War Veterans Day. The chair of this committee appeared not too long ago — as a matter of fact, I think it was just last week — before the justice committee that I am a member of presenting his private member's bill on changing the Criminal Code to provide better protections for public transit operators.

The Chair: An excellent bill.

Mr. Calkins: These are the things we are asked to do. These are the things that we as parliamentarians are obliged to do. We take on these issues from time to time. I don't put a whole lot of credence in the fact that a private member's bill shouldn't be addressing matters of this size. We are all pretty sharp folks around the table. We have all been sent here with a mandate from the people in one form or another in order to make good decisions and wise choices on their behalf.

With that, Mr. Chair, I think I will conclude my remarks and gladly entertain questions to the best of my ability.

The Chair: As I recall that committee last week, you gave me a bit of a hard time, so be on your guard. We'll begin our questions with our deputy chair, Senator Baker.

Senator Baker: Thank you to the sponsor of the bill for appearing and for a very interesting presentation. The reference to Justice Richards of the Court of Appeal of Saskatchewan I presume was in the case of R. v. Saskatchewan Federation of Labour, decided in 2013, about the regime brought in I believe in 2008 by the government of the day, which changed the system in Saskatchewan. Is that the decision that you are referring to?

Mr. Calkins: I believe we're talking about the same thing.

Senator Baker: Yes. Let me ask you this: There are various regimes in place across Canada, various provincial governments, and I suppose you could say that it is probably split down the middle. Five provinces have a system of secret ballot and five provinces don't.

Mr. Calkins: You are exactly right.

Senator Baker: But when we look at the different regimes, they vary in some respects. I think there are a couple of provinces that you might say have identical schemes. My main question to you is this: When you introduced the bill, there was considerable criticism about a couple of aspects of the legislation. I notice in reading the bill now that it is different —

Mr. Calkins: It is.

Senator Baker: — than when you introduced it in the House of Commons. Am I correct in that? With the changes that were made, do you think it addresses a lot of the criticisms that were made at that time?

Mr. Calkins: I appreciate the question, senator. You are right. I would suggest to you that even before I tabled the bill there were several versions of it, as any parliamentarian, through the process of drafting their private member's legislation, would have various versions, trying to get it right, making sure that I had captured the essence of what I was trying to get across.

I also understand that Parliament is sometimes a place where negotiations and to and fro through the thrust of debate often happen. I would suggest to you, senator, that my bill probably started off with shall I say a bit of an approach that might not have gained the support of as many people as I would have originally hoped, understanding full well that through the negotiations and through the discussions that were going to happen at the committee and various other stages, others would have an opportunity to provide their input. We heard from Ms. Benson, from FETCO and from others that said that they didn't have any problem with the secret ballot.

It simply came down to a matter of arguing over where the threshold should be for certification and decertification and where the threshold should be for whether or not the vote should be triggered.

You're right that across Canada, in five provinces that do have mandatory secret ballot voting, those thresholds do differ somewhat as well. It is federal law in the United States as well, mandatory secret ballots for certification and decertification. Even when you look out at other jurisdictions, the thresholds can change.

All that has changed in the bill, through the tabling and the legislative process and the government amendments subsequently made to it, was the thresholds at which some of these things happen. The principle of the bill, which is mandatory secret ballot voting, has remained intact.

Senator Baker: We'll see now, from the witnesses who follow you, if they agree, or they still have a problem with the bill.

Wouldn't you agree, though, Mr. Calkins, that when you look at the provincial regimes, you see other things that are captured in those particular regimes? For example, there are requirements that votes take place within a specified period of time from the moment of application for certification. I could mention a couple of other things that are rather minor, I think, in nature. This one is perhaps a little bit major.

Did you give some consideration to introducing your legislation, taking into account those other things which the unions considered to be important? The reason I ask you this question is because in the Court of Appeal decision in Saskatchewan that you referenced from Justice Richards, he came to the same conclusion as the trial judge: that certification will become more difficult to attain with these changes.

Considering the other nuances of having the time period included in the legislation that they have in the provinces that follow your general scheme, do you think that you should have perhaps put that in this bill?

Mr. Calkins: Look, senator, that could easily have been put in the bill. The reality is the provisions I'm changing in the bill simply change the word ''may'' to ''shall,'' which means that the labour board already has provisions in place when it comes to the delivering of a secret ballot vote for those instances when that has already happened.

My understanding as well is that there is case law, as well as probably even some evidence of common law, which would require certain timelines in order for something to —

Senator Baker: You could challenge it after.

Mr. Calkins: To be dealt with in as fair and judicious a manner as possible. If we take a look at our legal system, if we're not afforded a fair trial in a duly anointed period of time, then these things will be summarily tossed out.

I would not pretend to be the technical expert on how those things would be. I'm assuming that this august committee will be inviting members of the department here to discuss the implementation and how they currently already do deploy the secret ballot votes.

It is a good question, senator.

Senator McIntyre: Thank you, Mr. Calkins, for appearing here today. What are your main concerns regarding the current card-check system? How would the secret ballot vote address some of the concerns that have been raised?

Mr. Calkins: Look, what I heard from my constituents were a number of concerns, but all of it basically came back to the notion of accountability and the notion of the threats and intimidation they were under.

If I was to believe the conversations of my constituents on a number of these matters, and I have no reason not to, then there are opportunities where there is room for intimidation. For example, senator, if I were to suggest to you that I, as a member of Parliament, went door knocking in a campaign and were able to take a ballot right to the door of the house of the person that I'm knocking on with a couple of nicely sized campaign volunteers beside me and said, ''I would really appreciate it if you would sign my ballot card right here, right now, in front of me, and I think it is in your best interests to do so, given the fact I know where you live,'' would you not suggest that would be open for intimidation and ripe for all kinds of problems that would somehow follow?

The same could be said on the other side of the equation with an employer. This is why, in our democratic system, senator, the secret ballot vote is mandatory. That is how I was elected to become a member of the House of Commons.

People can say whatever they want to me, they can agree with me in principle in any conversation I have, but ultimately, at the end of the day, every person in this country gets to make that choice in their privacy and confidentiality to determine what is in their best interests and in the best interests of their future, through that process of a secret ballot vote.

Whether it be the fact that in the current card-check system that you only need to meet a certain threshold, depending on what it happens to be, to either trigger a vote or 50 per cent plus 1, that means that if you were suggesting in a potential population of 100 people, once you got to 51 cards signed you didn't have to ask anybody else what their opinion on the matter actually happened to be. In a secret ballot vote, everybody has the opportunity to exercise that vote if they choose to.

Like I said, they get to do so in the discretion or privacy of their own confidence and not in full public view of those who may use that information or knowledge further down the road.

Senator McIntyre: Before the bill was passed in the House of Commons, it was amended by the standing committee.

Mr. Calkins: That's right.

Senator McIntyre: I take it you're satisfied with those amendments, including the reverse onus?

Mr. Calkins: As I've said, senator, the bill is sent to you. I'm defending a bill that was sent to you by the democratically elected members of the House of Commons. I'm not defending the bill that I originally drafted. To say that I am happy with the bill, of course I'm happy.

As I said in an earlier comment to Senator Baker, the core principle of my bill and what I really wanted to do was protect workers and maintain the confidence and privacy that I believe they're entitled to, which is a mandatory secret ballot vote. That principle is still intact in this piece of legislation. Everything else has been arguing to and fro about thresholds of certification levels, thresholds of triggering votes and so on. The committee, through its study and the discussions and debates we had in Parliament, determined that some parts of my bill needed to be amended. I'm perfectly fine with that.

[Translation]

Senator Boisvenu: I was an activist in university. Then I spent the first 10 years of my career as a labour advocate, and I can remember how intimidating it always was to vote by show of hands and the pressure tactics that went along with that. People tended to vote with the majority; they would count the raised hands when contemplating which way they would vote and often made their decision out of fear.

In the spring of 2013, Quebec experienced the so-called red square movement, where 10 per cent of students managed to disrupt the entire network of financial institutions. A silent majority of students wanted to keep going to class and had to go through a legal process to be able to return to class.

So we see what can happen when decisions are made by a show of hands vote: a minority often rules the majority. I personally believe secret ballot voting would allow people to vote honestly and properly, free of any pressure.

I read something in your bill that surprised me. I don't know if it is new or not. It pertains to section 25 of the act and reads as follows:

If the Board is satisfied on the basis of the results of a secret ballot representation vote that the majority of the employees in a proposed bargaining unit who have cast a ballot voted to have an employee organization represent them as their bargaining agent, the Board shall. . . certify the employee organization as bargaining agent for the employees in the unit.

I know that is not the norm in Quebec. For instance, if a union establishes a quorum at 10 per cent of its members, that 10 per cent could make decisions on behalf of the other 90 per cent. Does this provision require a union to have a quorum of 50 per cent of its membership in order to hold a vote on any union decision?

[English]

Mr. Calkins: The bill, senator, as it stands right now, is simply for the certification or decertification process.

In the continuance of, this would apply — if there were a raid or whatever the case might be, when another union is taking over one. So this is a one-off issue. I know that in the legislation there are provisions for cooling-off periods when it comes to decertification. I don't believe there are cooling-off periods for the certification drive, which is a bit of an imbalance, but I'm okay with that. I don't think that's going to be an issue. I don't think union organizers will continue to try to organize a union unless they deem there to be some worthy chance of its being successful.

Your question, if I understand it correctly, was asking me if other choices that the union is going to be taking on behalf of its members will go through the same process.

Senator Boisvenu: Yes.

Mr. Calkins: Those processes would be in the bylaws that would come with the regulatory process, the same as our own political parties have our own constitutions about how we govern ourselves internally, following, of course, the legislation that's set out by the Elections Act. The same would happen in this particular case is my understanding of it. The unions would be free to operate within the context of the law in whatever means, bylaws and instruments they have set up within their own organizations.

The Chair: We have seven senators remaining on the list. We have less than 20 minutes, so I'm going to ask you to tighten up the questions and the responses, please. We'll move to Senator Batters.

Senator Batters: Mr. Calkins, thank you very much for being here today. Welcome. I was very pleased to hear you quote the now Chief Justice of the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal, Mr. Richards', comments. I thought those were very appropriate about union certification, and I wanted to ask you today: I know that there has been significant public opinion research conducted on this issue, and I'm wondering if you could tell us about those particular results.

Mr. Calkins: I'm glad you asked. I have a number of polls in this research binder that I have here. I believe there was a forum poll. There are number of other polls that have been conducted over time asking the very question: Should union certification and decertification be a mandatory secret ballot vote? Unsurprisingly, if you were to ask general lay people, who may or may not have been members of a union, typically, you find the support for the notion of a secret ballot vote well over 70 per cent and, in some cases, over 80 per cent. What is particularly striking, though, is that when you parse out, in that polling information, people who have worked or currently are working in a union, the response is typically higher, which means that folks who have experienced being a part of a collective bargaining unit or are currently in a collective bargaining unit understand the ramifications of what a secret ballot vote means for them and what it empowers them to do. Surprisingly as well, the various polling information that we have all seems to indicate that even in the province of Quebec, the motion for a mandatory secret ballot vote is actually higher.

Senator Plett: Thank you being here. You should have been in our chamber yesterday when we were given a lesson by one senator who didn't believe that private members' bills should carry as much weight as government legislation. So I want to just suggest to you that I certainly support your comments about private members' legislation, and it is one way that members of Parliament can make a change.

Chair, the questions I had were asked, so I'm okay.

Senator Fraser: Thank you very much, Mr. Calkins. I apologize for being late. I had to be in the chamber for the conclusion of some business there. I'm sure you're familiar with those conflicting demands.

Mr. Calkins: I understand.

Senator Fraser: I did read your presentation, and I guess you read it all. I would just observe, partly in response to my colleague Senator Plett, that I, too, agree that we all have the right to propose private members' bills. I would stand absolutely in favour of that right, but we also have the right to say if we agree or disagree with the bills that are proposed by our colleagues on either side of the chamber.

I wonder if I could ask you: How many of the parties who would be affected by this bill have you consulted in drafting the bill — unions, employers' organizations, federal employers, federally regulated employers?

Mr. Calkins: I am a member of Parliament, and I tabled my bill in that capacity. So I consulted with people who could be, or currently are, members of unions or members of the public, in a general sense of that word. So I'm here in my capacity, the fact that I represent 115,000 people. They sent me here with an 81.5 per cent plurality in the last general election. Many of them have asked me to take up some of these concerns on their behalf.

However, I think your question is more about the consultative nature of whether or not I talked to stakeholders on either side of the collective bargaining table. Because I took the approach of looking after the interests of my constituents, I did some research. I talked to some of the folks at FETCO, for example. I had meetings with John Farrell. I've met with a number of other people. I don't remember, at this particular point in time, who all I met with, but I got a variety of opinions on the issue, some saying that maybe this doesn't need to be adjusted right now. I had some very supportive comments from certain parties. I believe I met with the Canadian Federation of Independent Business. Also, I'm not sure, but I think I met with somebody from the chamber of commerce. I don't know if it was at the federal level or at one of the local levels in my province. I constantly, in my capacity as a member of standing committees, meet with people of all sorts from time to time and have these kinds of conversations.

So I don't keep lists, and I apologize that I'm probably not answering your question as fulsomely as you want me to. But I brought the bill forward on behalf of my constituents, and those are the people I consulted with.

Senator Fraser: I'd like to come back to a question that I believe my colleague Senator Baker asked, but I would really like to hear your answer myself, if you don't mind. That has to do with the absence, in this bill, of the imposition of any time limit between the time of the request and the vote.

Mr. Calkins: I was very eloquent and articulate the first time.

Senator Fraser: I'm sure you were, but I didn't hear it.

Mr. Calkins: At the risk of botching it, I would just ask you to read the blues. Chair, I'm being asked the same question, and, out of respect for the senator, my legislation simply takes a process that the Canadian labour board already deals with on an optional basis and changes it into a mandatory practice, which tells me that the labour board already does have a system in place for adjudicating or proctoring an election. Furthermore, my understanding is that there are some court decisions surrounding this, as well as some common law, that would say that these things must be delivered in a timely fashion in order for them to withstand the test of common sense.

[Translation]

Senator Dagenais: I think this is a good bill. This may surprise you, but I was the president of my union for eight years. I did not have to have my members certified because they were already certified at the Sûreté du Québec. All of our employment contract and pension plan votes were held by secret ballot, obviously to avoid intimidation of members, even by the employer, especially in the case of collective agreements.

That being said, and you mentioned this, recently, the Charbonneau commission talked about FTQ Construction and the CSN, which really pressured the people on the North Shore to get them to support their union, and it is still going on, for that matter. I had some union representatives come to my office and tell me that the employer was pressuring certain members to vote for decertification. Eventually, however, I think a balance will be reached.

Do you think Bill C-525 will make that balance possible, ensuring that members who cast votes by secret ballot will not be pressured by union representatives or the employer? As you can imagine, sometimes when a secret ballot vote is held — I can tell you that pressure tactics were used leading up to the bargaining rounds for employment contracts. Secret ballot votes were held, but I got the sense that some members were told to vote in favour of the contract because, otherwise, special legislation would be passed. You know what I mean. Do you think this bill will help to fix that problem?

[English]

Mr. Calkins: The reason I brought the bill forward, senator — and I appreciate your comments — is that these are the same kinds of things that I have heard all the time. There is no doubt about it that, at election time, I, as a person who runs for elected office, put my case forward in front of the people who are my electorate. I do the best of my ability to do so, following the rules that we have in place to do so. Others put forward their ideas, but, at the end of the day, it's the people who get to ultimately decide, in the privacy and confidence of their own counsel, as to what's in their best interests. That's what my bill seeks to do.

That would entail that there's no more card-check tactics, no more on your doorstep and no more walking down the line and saying we happen to know where you live. These are the things that people have brought to my attention that would no longer have any merit or meaning because all of that goes away with the privacy of a secret ballot vote. That doesn't mean that people aren't going to strongly make their cases. The employer and the union representatives will both strongly make their case. That's fine, and that's what a democracy is all about. Ideas should be brought forward, but ultimately, at the end of the day, in the best interests of the workers, just as it's in the best interests of Canadians when they vote in an election, they should be able to have that determination through a secret ballot vote.

Senator McInnis: When I was a very young man they had a card-check system in the union. They were trying to bring a union in at the Nova Scotia Power Commission, as it was then. One of the things that I thought at the time, when you would meet at night with a small group and it would get larger, was that you only heard from the union, and you never heard from the employer. I always found that a bit awkward, and I'm sure it's still the same way. But this is the point of the question. In reading some research on this topic, there was some concern that emanated around or surrounded lack of consultation, and the right of a member of Parliament to bring in a private member's bill. You know, I recall that years gone by, the electorate would always say that our members of Parliament are muzzled. I've noticed here, in the Senate, particularly in this committee since I've joined it, that there are a great number of private members' bills coming through. Do you see a problem with that at all?

Mr. Calkins: No. As a member of Parliament, I get one opportunity. Should I be lucky enough to have that opportunity in a four-year governing mandate of parliamentary stability, to have my name drawn in a lottery system? I was drawn in the first 100, and now we're here at the crux, the backstretch, so to speak, of year four of a majority government and just getting my private member's bill through this stage of the process. This means that there are very few opportunities for elected members of Parliament and senators to actually get their private members' bills not only looked at, not only tabled, not only debated, but to have them passed. So I consider it an honour and a privilege, which is why I decided, with my private member's bill, personally, to do something that was going to be meaningful, something that would make my country stronger, something that would make the people I represent more independent, more autonomous in their own lives and dealing with the decisions that would best affect them. It would be a real shame, it would be an absolute shame, if there were certain things — there already are certain things that MPs can't do; we can't vote to increase taxes, and rightfully so. But to suggest that somehow as a member of Parliament we can come here and that that should be even further narrowed, I think plays the very wrong message in the court of public opinion about what members of Parliament can do.

Senator Munson: This is a fast and furious committee. I'm just sitting in. Thank you for being here, Mr. Calkins. I get the impression that you did not talk to PSAC or CLC, that you did talk to your constituents, but I'm concerned about —

Mr. Calkins: Some of my constituents are members of the Public Service Alliance.

Senator Munson: I guess the question I would pursue from Senator Fraser is did you talk to senior officials in the union movement. But the question has to do with the CIRB, the Canada Industrial Relations Board. Have you talked to officials at CIRB? They're the ones who will administer this whole thing. I understand there were only two complaints in 10 years at CIRB. Do you have any other evidence that workers are being coerced into forming unions? There were four complaints that were found against employers. I don't quite follow some of your rationale.

Mr. Calkins: I know some of my comments have been taken to mean that there's an issue there. I believe in the principle, and the principle is a secret ballot vote to further advance individuals' personal interests. It's a principle. It's the founding, the cornerstone of any democratic society — the secret ballot vote. Yes, I understand that the Canada Industrial Labour Relations Board has not dealt with a lot of complaints. But for a complaint of that magnitude to get before them it has to have a significant amount of evidence and it has to go through a significant process. I'm a member of Parliament, and the complaints I deal with are from Joe and Martha at the coffee table, when they call me from home and tell me what their concerns are. They can tell me their concerns as taxpayers paying for a public service or about being members of a union and how they have been treated as members of a union, or any of the other processes that are entailed in all of that.

Senator Munson: Did you talk to officials at CIRB?

Mr. Calkins: No, I did not.

Senator Munson: Thank you.

Mr. Calkins: I'm assuming they're going to appear before the committee.

Senator Frum: Related to Senator Munson's question, do you think the reason, perhaps, that there are not as many complaints as one might expect, given the amount of feedback that you've had, is that there is little faith in the possibility of remedial action in the event? How in this current system does one reverse a result? What remedial action would even be possible when there's intimidation?

Mr. Calkins: Again, that's a very good question, Senator Frum. The ability of an individual or a small handful of individuals who feel wronged, whether they're justified or not, would have to have the onerous task of organizing enough people to be onside with them to overthrow or overturn a decision that has been made on behalf of the Canada Industrial Relations Board. Given the fact that they can't do so without having the ability to organize themselves and have a secret ballot vote and determine if they want to decertify or whatever the case may be, that would take the power and that whole process out of the hands of the Canada Industrial Relations Board and put it fairly where it belongs, in the hands of the workers.

The Chair: Could you explain to me, with respect to the card-check system, does that always reveal the identity of the individual?

Mr. Calkins: Your name is on the card, sir.

The Chair: It always does. So they know your position on the issue?

Mr. Calkins: Not only that, they usually ask you right to your face.

Senator Baker: For people who are watching this on television, so as not to leave them with the wrong impression, the present system that we have in Canada is the card system. If the union wishes to be certified, it seeks the signatures of at least half, 50 per cent plus one, of the people, of all of the employees of that particular unit that they're seeking. That is the present system. You're correct that there is a representation vote. In each piece of federal legislation that comes after — but it's kind of remedial, in that if two unions wished to represent the same group then you would have a vote. There are certain circumstances in which the Canada Industrial Relations Board has the authority and they retain that authority to have a secret ballot. There's no doubt about that.

But just one final question: I looked at your bill that came in from the House of Commons, and I could guess what some of the criticism would be, in that the way it was structured in the beginning, if you didn't have everybody voting, that all the no's, all those who didn't vote, would be counted as a no. You've changed the legislation, so that it requires just a majority of those who vote in the election. This makes it similar to what presently happens in five provinces. Okay?

Mr. Calkins: Yes.

Senator Baker: And your 40 per cent threshold; I think that's present in two jurisdictions in Canada: Alberta and Ontario. I believe if you —

The Chair: A question please.

Senator Baker: The quick question is this: Couldn't somebody criticize you and say that look, under your present bill you could have a union certified with less than 50 per cent of the employees taking part, because you have 40 per cent on the initial and then you have the majority of those people who voted?

What would your response to that be?

Mr. Calkins: My initial draft of the legislation was that it required 50 per cent plus 1, just like the card check system does. If the card check system is a true reflection of the will of the membership of the collective bargaining unit, then they should have no trouble attaining that same goal through a secret ballot vote. However, as you aptly pointed out, critics of the legislation said that there is no precedent for that kind of electoral threshold, other than maybe a few obscure cases. The bill was then changed to a majority of those who actually determined to cast their vote.

While you are correct in your assessment, Senator Baker, the reality is when there is a mandatory secret ballot vote cast by the labour board, generally speaking, voter turnout is very high. I am not concerned about the fact that, as you quite rightly pointed out, if you had a collective bargaining unit of a hundred people, it would take 40 of them to initiate a vote, and, of them, only the majority 50 plus 1 casting the ballot. You could have 50 people showing up for a vote and 26 people determining the presence of a union, but I think if we give workers the opportunity to come out and voice their concerns, and hear an airing, they will cast their ballots, and I'm not too worried about that threshold.

The Chair: Mr. Calkins, thank you for being here. I appreciate your appearance.

Mr. Calkins: Thank you to all members of the committee. I know you will give this bill serious consideration.

The Chair: On our second panel this evening, I would like to welcome, from the Federally Regulated Employers - Transportation and Communications, John P. Farrell, Executive Director. From Unifor, we have Roland Kiehne, Director of Membership Mobilization and Political Action; and Anthony Dale, Legal Counsel, who is joining him. From the Air Line Pilots Association, International, we have Captain Dan Adamus, President, Canada Board. From the Canadian Union of Public Employees, we have Paul Moist, National President. And from the Christian Labour Association of Canada, we have Brendan Kooy, Regional Director for Eastern Ontario.

Welcome, all. We will start with Mr. Farrell with an opening statement.

John P. Farrell, Executive Director, Federally Regulated Employers - Transportation and Communications: Thank you, Mr. Chair and honourable senators, for inviting Federally Regulated Employers - Transportation and Communications, otherwise known as FETCO, to appear before this committee to provide our comments on Bill C-525. My name is John P. Farrell, Executive Director, FETCO.

FETCO consists of most of the major federally regulated employers in the transportation and communications sectors. Its members employ approximately 350,000 employees in the federal jurisdiction covered by the Canada Labour Code. A list of our members is included in the documents that I have provided at appendix A.

In my remarks today, I will cover two main themes: first, FETCO support of Bill C-525 as currently written; and second, FETCO's concerns about the use of private members' bills as a means to amend labour legislation.

First, with respect to Bill C-525, FETCO members support Bill C-525 and encourage the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs to adopt it as written.

Bill C-525 is a private member's bill. In its original form, it was unfairly constituted and prejudicial to unions and employees seeking certification. In its original form, C-525 required that in order for a union to be certified, it would have to demonstrate in a secret ballot vote that the union had an absolute majority of employees in the appropriate bargaining unit as opposed to the majority of employees in the appropriate bargaining unit casting ballots in favour of the union.

FETCO is pleased that Bill C-525 was modified substantially in the House of Commons by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development before passing third reading in the house.

FETCO members prefer a secret ballot vote to a card-check system for the purpose of determining if a union is to become a certified bargaining agent for employees. A secret ballot vote is the essence of a true democratic choice and is entirely consistent with Canadian democratic principles. It allows each and every employee to express their true wishes without undue influence or disclosure of how they cast their ballot. This is the mechanism that is used for the electoral process in Canada, and it is the fairest process.

The current version of Bill C-525 requires that in order for a union to be certified, the majority of employees who cast ballots must vote in favour of being represented by the union. Furthermore, this certification process by means of a secret ballot vote based on the majority of votes cast is the standard that currently exists in the labour relations legislation in the provinces of Alberta, British Columbia, Nova Scotia, Ontario and Saskatchewan. It is a widely accepted method of determining certification in Canada. It is not new.

The provisions of Bill C-525 regarding the threshold number of employees required before the Canada Industrial Relations Board will order a certification vote or a decertification vote is 40 per cent. This is appropriate.

These provisions are equally fair and are consistent with rules for establishing certification or decertification vote thresholds in the various provincial jurisdictions.

In sum, FETCO supports Bill C-525.

Now, we do have some concerns about the use of private members' bills to modify labour legislation. Notwithstanding FETCO's support for Bill C-525, we want to express serious concerns that FETCO has regarding the process of using private members' bills to amend labour legislation and the Canada Labour Code.

For many years, employers, unions and the federal government have engaged in effective tripartite, pre-legislative consultation processes when contemplating changes to the Canada Labour Code and the regulations. These processes ensure that fact-based and informed decisions are taken with respect to the federal labour law and regulations. FETCO believes that this consultation model has permitted the federally regulated employers, unions and the federal government to successfully advance the interests of their respective constituents, and it has contributed to the stability of labour management relations in the federal jurisdiction and to the economic well-being of the Canadian economy.

This critical tripartite, pre-legislative consultation process is bypassed where changes to the Canada Labour Code are proposed through the mechanism of one-off private members' bills. The use of private members' bills as a method of labour law reform tends to politicize labour relations. It will cause the pendulum to swing between labour law extremes and will create labour relations instability.

In conclusion, FETCO supports Bill C-525 as passed by the House of Commons. As well, we sincerely appreciate the opportunity to express our strongly held view that the legislative process of using private members' bills to change labour legislation without the opportunity for genuine pre-legislative consultation is the wrong approach and should be avoided by all political parties in the future.

Thank you for the opportunity to express our views to this committee.

The Chair: Mr. Kiehne, are you ready to proceed?

Anthony Dale, Legal Counsel, Unifor: Anthony Dale here. Mr. Kiehne is with me.

I thank the committee for the opportunity to appear today. Members of the committee will know that Unifor is Canada's largest private sector trade union. We have more than 300,000 members across the country, in almost every sector of the economy.

We have tens of thousands of members in the federal sector, mainly covered by the Canada Labour Code but including employees in telecommunications, transportation and media, and including as well some employees covered by the Parliamentary Employment and Staff Relations Act and the Public Service Labour Relations Act, those three statutes affected by Bill C-525.

Unifor was only established a couple years ago in 2013, but we have collective bargaining relationships with employers in the federal sector that have been established for many decades by predecessor trade unions. Many of those relationships — I will say all of those relationships — reflect the kind of good relations and constructive collective bargaining practices that Parliament has described in the preamble to Part I of the code.

Good industrial relations were said by Parliament in that preamble to be in the best interests of Canada in ensuring a just share of the fruits of progress to all. That remains the public policy of this country, as expressed in that preamble.

Unifor is also an active organizer of employees in the federal sector. Our union regularly brings applications to the Canada Industrial Relations Board, applications for certification supported by membership evidence. That evidence typically is in the form of signed union membership cards and a $5 payment. The board, in every case, scrutinizes that membership evidence carefully, and we anticipate that the chair of the board will tell the committee later the kind of scrutiny and processes the board undertakes to examine membership evidence in those cases.

The board, under the code as it currently is, is empowered as well to hold a vote if it doubts the voluntariness of that membership evidence. Even if we apply with 100 per cent of membership cards for a bargaining unit, the board can still conduct a vote if any question is raised about the voluntariness or accuracy of the membership evidence that we present.

Assuming that we have majority support, we're then certified for that bargaining unit.

We regularly acquire new members in that way. We then bargain collective agreements, which are subjected to ratification votes by employees, and of course if employees change their minds about union representation they can apply to revoke our bargaining rights.

The committee knows that in some provinces there's a different process in place where there is a second stage in the application process, and that second stage is a representation vote. We believe that in those processes, employers then are given an opportunity to interfere in what is essentially an employee decision to change the minds of employees who have previously supported the union's application. In those jurisdictions, we see more complaints of unfair labour practices by employers, such as illegal coercion and discipline.

That brings us to Bill C-525, which we call a solution in search of a problem. It would introduce that kind of a secret representation vote in every case.

We believe that that process is based on a presumption that employees can't be trusted to make a decision about union representation when they sign a card and pay $5 to a co-worker or union organizer. That's not Unifor's experience. Our experience is that employees very rarely seek to revoke or retract their membership card once they have signed it, although they're free to do so.

The committee is aware of the work of the Sims task force, and I know that other witnesses will refer to it as well. That's the task force which produced the Seeking a Balance report in the mid-1990s. The option of moving away from a card-based system to a vote-based system was studied by that task force and rejected.

It said that the current card-based system was not unreliable. At page 62 of that report they said:

We are not convinced that the statute should make representation votes mandatory. The card-based system has proven to be an effective way of gauging employee wishes and we are not persuaded that it is unsound or inherently unconvincing . . .

The Chair: Mr. Dale, I'm going to have to ask you to wrap up, please. You were given a timeline. Can you wrap up, please?

Mr. Dale: I will. I have two very quick things about the bill itself. Unfortunately, it doesn't contain a requirement that votes be conducted quickly, as in Ontario, where votes have to happen within five days. That's really unfortunate.

The second thing is that the language of the bill suggests that modern alternative voting methods, such as Internet or telephone, would be precluded. That's because it talks about a secret ballot representation vote in contrast to the code today, which just says representation vote.

It is going to be argued that that change makes a difference so that it has to be an in-person vote, which is going to be very difficult in the case of federal employers in the transportation industry, for example, who are scattered across the country.

We think this bill interferes unnecessarily with a good system, a balanced system that works already.

Captain Dan Adamus, President, Canada Board, Air Line Pilots Association, International: I appreciate the opportunity to speak to you today. The Air Line Pilots Association, International is a union that represents almost 51,000 pilots who fly for 31 Canadian and U.S.-based airlines. I'm pleased to be able to participate in the discussion this afternoon and share ALPA's views regarding the proposed legislation.

The bill proposes to amend the union certification and decertification provisions of three pieces of legislation, including the Canada Labour Code. As ALPA's members are covered by the Canada Labour Code, the bill's provisions could have a direct impact on our members. When speaking to the amendments, it is that piece of legislation to which I refer.

Although its sponsor attempts to characterize the amendments as the protection of voting rights, the actual purpose of the bill is to make it more difficult for workers to exercise their rights to unionize and remain unionized, even though no evidence has been presented showing that the current labour relations laws with respect to certification and decertification need to be changed.

We acknowledge that the bill has been amended, striking down the most offensive of its provisions, but it is important to remember what was initially proposed. Understanding what was proposed leads to understanding why it was proposed.

For certification, failure on the part of an employee to vote was counted as a vote against certification. For decertification, the failure of an employee to vote was counted as a vote in favour of decertifying the union. It is totally undemocratic to assume that those who do not even bother to cast ballots are opposed to unionization. Those outrageous provisions illustrate the true intent of the bill — the why: an unvarnished attempt to weaken unions and unionization. It is with that in mind that we must regard the provisions that remain.

The bill will abolish the long-accepted practice of a 50 per cent plus 1 membership card signing to form a bargaining unit.

The bill will abolish the long-accepted card-check procedure for forming a union which helps insulate employees who wish to join a union from intimidation and other unfair labour practices.

It will be replaced by a two-stage process adding a secret ballot voting process in addition to card signing.

Again, these provisions are designed to weaken unions, not protect voters' rights. But the greater question is why we are here today. Why is this piece of legislation being proposed at all?

No labour relations stakeholders have requested these provisions. There has been no clamour for change coming from the employers in the federally regulated sectors.

Bill C-525 was not proposed by the Minister of Labour but by a private member, Mr. Blaine Calkins. The proposed changes to important labour laws were developed without consultation with stakeholders. Changes to such important legislation should come from the stakeholders, not be imposed upon them by a third party.

One of the strengths of the Canada Labour Code is that it has evolved through the tripartite consultation process. That process of consultation between the government, federal employers and employees has resulted in the parties' respect for the code, which has resulted in strong and stable employer-employee relationships in the federal sector.

Look at collective bargaining as an example. Under the code, the vast majority of collective agreement negotiations are settled successfully without strike or lockout. That illustrates that the code is already an effective labour relations tool.

Testimony regarding this proposed legislation was heard at the Human Resources, Skills and Social Development Committee of the House of Commons. Mr. Calkins, the bill's sponsor, revealed that he had undertaken no consultations with labour relations stakeholders before the introduction of his bill. The federal employers group, FETCO, and federally regulated employee associations testified to the importance of pre-legislative consultations.

In its essence, the bill is an unnecessary, unwarranted intrusion into rights already long established in the Canada Labour Code. It is readily apparent that the tripartite consultative process is far superior to piecemeal amendments proposed by a private member who has no expertise with the subject matter and who has not sought the expertise of those who do.

I thank you for your attention and look forward to your questions.

Paul Moist, National President, Canadian Union of Public Employees: Honourable senators, CUPE is pleased to be here today. We are the largest union in Canada, just over 630,000 members, in all corners of Canada, over 2,000 locals. About 20,000 of those members are covered by the Canada Labour Code in transportation, telecommunications, broadcast, airports, flight attendants, port authorities, et cetera.

We're here today to ask senators to set this ill-conceived bill aside completely. We are deeply concerned about the requirement for mandatory certification votes for a couple of reasons.

The Canada Industrial Relations Board does not have the resources to conduct mandatory votes for every application without undue delay. Unlike other mandatory vote jurisdictions, there's no proposal here for the mitigating provision of quick votes that Unifor just mentioned to you, to minimize this window of exposure to vulnerability. It is a tremendous shortcoming.

Further, the proposed legislation seeks to eliminate and not maintain a current protection in section 39(2), which maintains stability by prohibiting decertification applications during the bargaining period and provides necessary protections when the union is making a reasonable effort to negotiate a collective agreement. Without section 39(2), all an employer has to do is stretch out bargaining to open up a decertification window, a provision that doesn't exist right now. Section 39(2) is in the current act.

The code as it stands works and should not be subject to arbitrary changes which are brought about by a badly drafted bill. We echo the comments made by Mr. Farrell and Captain Adamus about consensus having been the hallmark of change to this code over the years.

Logic and experience dictate that the proposed legislative changes will only increase the possibility for delay with mandatory votes if the board loses the discretion to determine when votes should be held and the automatic certification process is removed from the code. By requiring votes, even if 100 per cent of the employees sign a union card, the bill will create longer delays.

Remember, private members' bills cannot add expenses to government. Any certification application will become a drawn-out, two-stage process. If more than 50 per cent of workers in a workplace sign a card and pay $5 today, they have cast their vote. Layering on a redundant CIRB vote is simply a roadblock to their democratic rights to unionize.

For those of you who are reluctant to accept this proposition, be assured the board already verifies cards and ensures signatures and legitimacy or they order a vote if they have any questions on that.

Without prejudice to our position that you should reject this bill, we would urge you if you are going to adopt it in some form to mitigate the worst excesses of it by mandating quick votes. A quick vote happens when labour legislation requires certification votes and that they be held in a timely way.

From publicly available information from CIRB records, it takes on average 157 days today to certify an automatic, clean certification application. There's going to be more delay if you are ordering a vote.

Under the heading of ''All change is not progress,'' Parliament recently created a new social security panel to make things more efficient in Canada. Today, 14,000 CPP disability applications are backed up. On the front page of today's Globe and Mail, 400 people were hired in the EI appeals system because the appeals are backed up, and 74 people are being asked to do the work of what 1,000 used to do.

So there is no efficiency in this, but if you are going to proceed with it, the B.C. code, automatic vote within 10 days; the Ontario code, five days automatic vote, period.

Mr. Filmon, as Premier of Manitoba, and Mr. Vic Toews, as the Minister of Labour at the time — I met with him many times in my home province — Mr. Filmon brought in an amendment where votes are required seven days after the application for certification.

So in conclusion, C-525 remains hugely problematic. It should not have been brought in, as Captain Adamus said, without consultation. As you know, it abolishes certification; it requires votes; it doesn't contemplate remedies or safeguards for workers if the inevitable happens, an increased period when workers will be vulnerable to reprisals with delays that have to happen in the certification process given the CIRB's own information. It cannot require evidence of a true majority of support for a decertification application. Finally, it has removed a provision which blocked decertification applications during delicate periods when the parties are bargaining.

I want to conclude by saying it is a carefully calibrated regime for labour relations. The federal code, of all the jurisdictions in Canada, has been a hallmark of consensual decision making, if we tweak the code. That has not always been what we wanted. We didn't always get what we wanted, but we worked out in consensus through various ministers of labour. All changes to the code in the last two decades have been brought about through the offices of the labour minister under successive different governments, and we shouldn't reject a system that has been very good.

The Chair: I'll ask you to wrap up.

Mr. Moist: I know this committee is particularly seized with the question of constitutionality. I know you're aware of the issues we are awaiting from the Supreme Court from Saskatchewan.

The Chair: We have to move on.

Brendan Kooy, Regional Director for Eastern Ontario, Christian Labour Association of Canada: Thank you, Mr. Chair and honourable members of this committee, for the opportunity to speak to you today with this bill. CLAC is one of the largest independent unions in Canada and one of Canada's fastest-growing unions. Founded in 1952, we operate through 15 different member centres and represent over 60,000 workers across the country and across different sectors.

We have a very strong presence in the oil and gas sector in Alberta, in natural resource development in Ontario, Saskatchewan, Alberta, B.C. and the territories, as well as construction, transportation, health care and other industries throughout Canada. Most important to this committee, CLAC has a strong construction and mining presence north of highway 60 in Alberta and in the territories and is also a stakeholder in the transportation sector, which are the jurisdiction of the CIRB. As such, we are very much affected by the proposed changes.

First, CLAC does fully appreciate the amendment that was introduced by the House of Commons HUMA Committee in February clarifying that ''a majority of votes cast'' would certify or decertify a union and would not count employees who did not cast a vote as voting against the measure. This was an amendment that CLAC and some other members of the labour community had strongly recommended and that the HUMA Committee members did adopt.

Today, I wish to point out and draw to the committee's attention two aspects of the bill that I believe should be given significant consideration. The first one has already been talked about at length, and that's the need for a timely vote if a secret ballot vote is in fact going to be ordered. There is a standard for this across Canada. Ontario has seven days; B.C. has 10 days from the date of an application that you should have a vote. There's good reason for this. This is because things will grow cold. I don't think it's in the interest of the union or the employer to have a long delay between the date of an application and the date of a vote. Things change two, three, four, five, six days down the road, or certainly 157 days down the road.

The second aspect that I would like to draw your attention to is how votes in the certification process would be handled in remote workplaces and amongst workers in the federally regulated transportation sector who are often dispersed around the country. Remote work sites, such as those found in development projects in Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut, pose their own set of issues when it comes to fair voting practices. In most cases, workers at these remote sites are rotated in and out of the work site. It means that should a vote for certification or decertification take place, it's likely that only a portion of the workers would be available at any one time to participate in a secret ballot vote. Similar problems would also be experienced by workers in the transportation industry who are rarely, if ever, in the same location together.

To be clear, CLAC would support a secret ballot vote where possible. However, there are significant issues with conducting a secret ballot vote in remote locations that I don't think this bill addresses. I recognize that there are other forms of voting currently available, such as mail-in ballots or online voting as well. I understand that these are options, but they have not been viable options for us, in the North particularly, and we have had experience working with both of these approaches.

It's also worth noting that the current federal standard does not require a vote for certification. As has been mentioned today, we feel that the current practice of leaving some discretion to the CIRB as to whether a vote is required or if card check is acceptable is sufficient and has served well in these special cases.

CLAC recommends that the current federal standard be maintained by including a special accommodation in this bill if it is to be adopted for workers in remote regions and the federally regulated transport sector. It would allow the signing of union cards to be a sufficient expression of support, given the unique challenges for fair voting at such workplaces.

I would be happy to address these issues further in any questions from the committee. We appreciate the opportunity to be here and to speak to this important matter today.

The Chair: We will begin questions with the committee's deputy chair, Senator Baker.

Senator Baker: Thank you to all the presenters. We've heard evidence from all sides of this, and it reflects, I suppose, what the legislative framework is in Canada today in relation to this question of secret ballots and when they take place in the provinces and the territories, evenly split. We have here today the unions expressing a wide range of opinion, and it's wonderful to have this during the process.

Let me ask any of you this particular question. There seems to be an understanding with everybody that the bill omits the time frame that Senator Fraser referred to earlier, and the witnesses today, five days in some provinces, ten days in other provinces, and the reason for that is to prevent the employer from interfering with the process along the way. That's the intention. If you read the case law on it, that's the stated intention.

The mover of the motion of the bill says okay, if somebody has a problem with that, if that becomes a problem, then they can, of course, appeal the judgment if such a problem occurred as to time between the certification application and the vote. Does anybody have an opinion on the sufficiency of that answer?

Mr. Dale, you're the lawyer.

Mr. Dale: Unless it's in the statute, there has to be a firm requirement to conduct the vote within a short period of time. The committee chair, Senator Runciman, will know when the act was changed in Ontario in 1995 that a very rigid five-day limit was enacted, and the Ontario board is quite good at complying with that requirement, except in the most exceptional cases. Unless that requirement is in the statute, then there are going to be all sorts of irremediable reasons why delay might happen. Employees aren't available; resources can't be marshalled to conduct the vote; disputes of various kinds could come up. In Ontario, for example, there is a rigid five-day requirement and any legal issues arising from the arrangements for the vote are dealt with after the fact.

You've got to have a system like that or else fast votes are not going to happen and employers will interfere.

Senator Baker: The Canada Labour Code that all of the witnesses have referenced, in which there is a secret vote that's called — I believe it's a performance vote, or I forget the correct terminology — but throughout the Canada Labour Code and each piece of legislation we're dealing with here, the board still retains the right to have a recognition vote. Even though this new additional secret vote will be put in the legislation, there could still be an additional vote taking place under other sections of the Canada Labour Code. Do you have any comment on that? So you could have then two secret votes plus verification of 40 per cent agreement.

Mr. Dale: I'll continue to address that, if you intend it for me.

Yes, votes happen with some frequency under the Canada Labour Code in various contexts. For example, when businesses are merged and both sets of employees are unionized, there may be a runoff vote to determine who will be the bargaining agent. We have a lot of experience with that, and the board conducts a fair number of those. Those kinds of votes are planned in advance. They sometimes take weeks to arrange. They may be done by mail or telephone or other similar methods. They don't necessarily have to be done quickly. Votes happen with some frequency, but they don't necessarily happen quickly at the CIRB.

Senator Tannas: Just a couple of things I'm struggling with, Captain Adamus, you impugned MP Calkins' intentions. I'm interested in numbers. First, could you think about and explain to me the math on the difference between card check, 50 per cent plus one of the total workforce, and a secret of 50 plus one per cent of the workforce, and how the number would be different?

Second, I'm interested to know from any of the panelists if any of you were aware of the polling figures that show that an overwhelming majority of Canadians and an even more overwhelming majority of your members favour secret ballots; and if you were aware, why did you ignore it?

Mr. Adamus: The 50 per cent plus one in a card check and a secret ballot are the same number — absolutely the same number. There's no difference there. As far as the overwhelming majority of Canadians wanting a secret ballot, I'm not aware of any polling. I was not asked. I heard the previous witness talk about a poll, but I certainly was not given any opportunity to comment.

Mr. Moist: On behalf of CUPE, our members are well familiar with secret ballots. Statute requires it for ratification of collective agreements for going on strike.

I want to make a comment about the Canada Industrial Relations Board, world renowned. The United States Secretary of Labor was in Canada two days ago. Our Canadian Labour Congress hosted him with the U.S. Ambassador to Canada. One of his questions, and he had many questions, was, ''How come it's working here? How come you have a kind of peaceful coexistence at the federal level?'' We have a world renowned board that retains the right to order votes if 100 per cent of the cards are signed and they think anything was wrong.

This bill is presupposing that workers need to be saved from predatory unions. That has not been the experience of successive chairpersons of your board, the Canada Industrial Relations Board, with a worldwide reputation for competency and fairness. They don't have the horses to police this. It takes over 150 days on an automatic certification; and time is everything. Mr. Filmon, former premier of my home province, accepted the notion that there would have to be a quick vote, for a reason.

I know of no polling involving CUPE members where they are demanding votes; and we certify people across Canada every day. We have grown at the rate of 800 members a month since 1963, most of that by certifying automatically.

Mr. Farrell: In answer to the question, the secret ballot vote provides essentially a moment of truth for an individual who wants to express his or her opinion in a totally confidential way. It could turn out, for example when employees are being engaged in a certification process, that there may be employees who were never contacted by the union, never have had a chance to sign a union card and never had a chance to demonstrate their support or non-support for a union. Allowing employees to have a secret ballot vote will ensure that every single employee has the opportunity to determine in privacy what they do or do not want to do.

Now, the issue of logistics and dealing with a vote in the federal jurisdiction is a complicating factor because these companies that operate nationwide are all over the place. It is a difficult but not insurmountable task to find ways to conduct votes on a reasonable basis. We have an extremely competent Canada Industrial Relations Board with professionals who can manage this little problem in a reasonable way.

Senator Fraser: Two questions, and I'll try to keep them quick. The answers will have to be quick because the chair will cut us off. Would you all agree with those witnesses who suggested that alternative methods of voting should be considered at least for remote locations? I believe it was Mr. Kooy who said you should keep the card-check model in remote locations. One of you also suggested that we might think about electronic voting, for example. Would that be useful, appropriate and helpful in this situation?

Mr. Farrell: My view is that having two different voting arrangements would be a difficult process to manage to determine where they would take place and why. How would you distinguish between them? It wouldn't necessarily provide a process that was similar or equal for everyone, so I think that would be problematic.

Mr. Kooy: We had challenges with both electronic and mail-in systems of balloting in voting. Again, our suggestion is that an amendment be made to the bill to allow the CIRB some discretion for remote work sites or scattered work sites to retain card-check certification in those cases.

Senator Fraser: Second question: You've all talked about how the present system based on tripartite consultation for amendments to the relevant legislation has worked well. It was Mr. Farrell, I think, who said that the use of private members' bills in general as a method of labour law reform will cause the pendulum to swing and will create labour relations instability. I'd like some of you at any rate to hazard a guess as to what might be unintended, by Mr. Calkins, consequences if this bill is passed as it stands.

Mr. Moist: It's not the only area of labour relations where private members' bills are being brought forward; Bill C-377 is making its way back here. I still have on tape the sponsor's initial CBC interview where he said that he had not spoken to anyone and no, he did not know of any problems regarding unions not being accountable to their members. Frankly, we think we're dealing with an ideology run amok here.

This is not a CUPE comment although I agree with it: Around the world, people come here to meet with the Canada Industrial Relations Board, not because it's perfect but because it has a global reputation for fairness. We have not got everything we want in the process of consulting with employers on changes to the code. Some CUPE members think we should have gotten more, but the CLC has wisely counselled us to err on the side of consensus. What Mr. Farrell said about private members' bills being a blunt and inappropriate instrument for the delicate balance of labour relations, we agree with entirely.

Mr. Adamus: Labour relations are a very delicate balance. It takes the parties a lot of time and energy to ensure things are fair and equitable; and when there's a consultative process, everybody has buy-in. That's why we've been so successful in Canada. I echo Paul's comments about our American colleagues. Our association represents pilots in the United States as well. I am in meetings in Washington, D.C., quite often. Hundreds of times representatives from the National Mediation Board have said, ''You're Canadian; you come from the land that does it right.'' It's because of the way it's all been put together through the consultative process.

Mr. Farrell: The real critical issue is, first, we do have an excellent relationship with labour and with government to try to deal with these laws. We value that relationship and the ability to change labour laws with pre-legislative consultation.

What we are really saying is that we don't want to politicize labour relations. We don't want political ideologies to come to the surface when we're dealing with labour relations matters, which will cause changes to the Labour Code which neither party is seeking, except some pockets of people who have a particular ideology who are trying to impose that ideology on a system that is already working extremely well.

We cannot rewrite the way Parliament behaves, and I fully respect the rights of members of Parliament to advance private members' bills, but we want everyone to know that we think that all members of Parliament should exercise caution when they consider changing labour legislation.

Senator McIntyre: Gentlemen, thank you for your presentations.

Mr. Farrell, when you first appeared before the standing committee, you expressed concern regarding the reverse onus provision for the certification that required the union to prove that they still had the support of the bargaining unit. After listening to you and reading your brief, my understanding is that you're satisfied that this reverse onus has now been removed by way of amendment made by the standing committee.

Mr. Farrell: I'm satisfied it has been removed, yes.

Senator McIntyre: You're satisfied with that. Thank you, sir.

Senator McInnis: Senator Fraser asked just about exactly the question that I was going to ask. Incidentally, I thought your presentations were excellent and well-reasoned.

The problem that we see here — that you see, at least — is this tripartite pre-legislation approach where there should be some form of consultation, and that the Canada Labour Code is one that, if you're going to tinker with it, you'd better consult with us, at least.

Can I ask you this: Is there actually a formal or informal group between the unions, the employers and the government that meets on a regular basis? Organizations of your size obviously monitor every piece of legislation that comes through that would have any injurious or positive effect on your organizations. So how do you monitor this? When did this first come to your attention, for example? You must be well aware of it, and therefore would have access, for example, to Mr. Calkins' office. You could have all kinds of consultation, I would think, and you would have the resources to do that. Did you do it, and can you answer these questions as to whether there's a formal group that's in place?

Mr. Farrell: FETCO and the Canadian Labour Congress have a strong working relationship, and we're in communication with one another regularly. We're also in communication with the Minister of Labour and with Employment and with Social Development Canada, the bureaucrats.

When the government is considering legislation, we are invited to understand what they're looking for and provide our input in advance. Just today, for example, the president of the Canadian Labour Congress and I met to talk about some current issues that are on the minister's mind, and she gave us a heads-up on things that she sees as issues that she would want to deal with. We had a very congenial and open conversation about those matters.

In a sense, that's how it works. We do have a strong working relationship, and we appreciate that because these are our rules. We're operating within this set of rules. If you want to change the rules, you might as well talk to the players.

In a sense, that's why we value it. It's not perfect. We don't always get what we want, but we know where each side is coming from, and we can give thoughtful input to the drafting of legislation. Then the government has the right, the absolute right, to determine what it's going to do and pass new laws through the legislative process, but they're doing so with proper information, and we value that. It's a long road, and we don't want to see the labour relations pendulum, in terms of the way the act operates from an ideological point of view, to swing as governments change. That's not in anybody's interests.

Mr. Moist: In all jurisdictions in Canada, most CUPE members are regulated provincially. All political stripes, most provinces, the first minister, the premier will tell you, ''No, thank you, on that request. Go see the minister of labour.'' And ministers of labour set up committees, and you've got to pass the smell test with business and your labour colleagues. Then it comes back to the minister. Then it goes to cabinet committee. Then it goes back to the first minister's desk.

I won't, in any way, shape or form, try to speak for this federal labour minister, with whom we have met. This puts her in an unbelievably bad position. This is not how it works across Canada for tweaking the Labour Relations Act. If the pendulum swings this high, it will swing this high the other way, which is what Mr. Farrell and, frankly, labour do not want.

Senator Batters: First, I want to go back to a comment from a couple of you that you weren't sure what these statistics were that we spoke about with the previous witness. We have seen statistics indicating that workers would prefer secret ballot voting. A poll commissioned by the Canadian LabourWatch Association found very strong support, a sizeable majority, 86 per cent, among both current and formerly unionized Canadians for using secret ballot voting. Another survey of members of the CFIB, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, showed 76 per cent of respondents indicated a preference for the secret ballot system.

CFIB President Dan Kelly indicated:

As secret ballot votes are a cornerstone of our democracy, if the process is good enough to elect our politicians, it should be good enough to form a union.

I am thinking that this kind of begs the question: If the secret ballot underpins our entire democracy — and we're very aware of that in these houses of Parliament — why shouldn't we use it to certify or decertify a union?

Mr. Moist: On that question, again, it's on the front pages of the news. We have 14,000 Canadians lined up waiting for their disability insurance claims to even be heard. Seventy-six people have replaced 1,000 on tribunals. That delay of justice to those people is the first question in Question Period in recent weeks.

How can the Canada Industrial Relations Board do votes in even 157 days if they must do votes 100 per cent of the time? Mr. Kelly was quoted in London, Ontario, around the time of this poll, stating that Canada should outlaw public sector unions, that it would make life better for Canada. So you're talking on the fringes of society with the CFIB's views on labour relations.

As for LabourWatch, the LabourWatch poll has been discredited by a media monitoring association. It was loaded. Most CUPE members understand what votes are about. We have few complaints, if any, at the Canada Industrial Relations Board where members have been coerced into signing, and the board exercises its jurisdiction to order votes if they think there's any problem.

Asking Canadians a question about voting — most Canadians, me included, would say voting is good. But a certification process where you pay $5 and sign your signature to a card that is reviewable by the authorities at the federal level has been a sufficient system that no government has wanted to change. The current government doesn't want to change it. In our ministerial discussions with the federal minister, there has been no move in this direction. So you've got an outlier piece of legislation here that you're giving a lot of attention to, as you have to, and it deserves to be rejected summarily by all of you.

Senator Batters: Mr. Kooy, you initially expressed concern that in the original Bill C-525, the certification or decertification of a union required a majority of employees in a bargaining unit, and the government has now made amendments to this bill that will instead require a majority of votes cast. I'm just wondering how that amendment addresses your concerns on that.

Mr. Kooy: That was our fundamental concern when the bill was first introduced, so we were pleased to see that it was amended at the House of Commons level.

The Chair: A question for Mr. Dale. When Senator Baker was asking you a question related to the quick vote and you talked about the timelines being embodied in provincial statutes, as a labour lawyer perhaps you can answer this. Is there any realistic possibility that that could be dealt with through regulation at the federal level?

Mr. Dale: Well, I don't know whether regulation-making power to do that exists in the code right now.

I question whether the CIRB could enact rules that would require that in every case, though I wouldn't want to hazard a guess as to whether that might be done in any binding way.

The Chair: We have officials appearing later in the hearing process. Perhaps they can address that.

We started late. I would like to give at least members of both sides of the table an opportunity for additional questions.

Senator Baker: On that particular subject, do you recall the judgment that the sponsor of this bill was quoting? He was quoting from the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal decision, which Mr. Moist a few moments ago referenced as being referred to the Supreme Court of Canada. Is that correct?

Mr. Moist: We're awaiting the decision right now.

Senator Baker: In that decision, there's a paragraph, if you will recall, where this matter was brought up for adjudication, the time period, and the trial judge had quoted the five days, ten days, and the Court of Appeal devoted one paragraph to it and said, no, this didn't violate section 2(d) of the Charter, freedom of association, because if there was a long period of time, then the injured party could appeal that, I believe, to the court. Do you recall what the Court of Appeal in Saskatchewan said in that case was the remedy?

Mr. Dale: No, I don't recall that particular paragraph in that decision, but a union's complaint process like that typically would be to the labour board in the jurisdiction. We don't see that much in Ontario, where most of my practice is, because votes do happen within five days. They're typically industrial workplaces with people in one location.

At a federal level, I don't know what the remedy might be if a vote wasn't able to happen quickly and interference happens. Then you might get into having to add provisions such as remedial certification like we have in Ontario.

Senator Tannas: Mr. Kooy, I think I heard that a number of provinces have specific deadlines by which votes have to happen. I did not hear that Alberta or Saskatchewan or Nova Scotia had them. Is that right? Do they not have a specific deadline? If that's the case, could you share with us if there are horror stories, or do they manage to get the votes off in a reasonable amount of time?

Mr. Kooy: I came here today prepared with some examples of how lengthy certification processes in remote work locations, particularly in the North, have gone askew. I will give you an Alberta example. In Alberta, we had a construction certification application. For a number of reasons, it got delayed. By the six or seven weeks after the application had gone in and it finally got dealt with, the workers in question had been laid off. In that case, the Alberta Labour Relations Board attempted a mail-in ballot vote, and none of the ballots were returned.

It really took all legitimacy away from the process. I hope you can see how that reflects in some of the concerns I raised earlier.

Senator Tannas: I get the northern issues. Is what you just described prevalent in the three provinces that we're talking about? Or does anybody else have anything to add around these three provinces being significantly delayed versus the ones that have the mandatory dates?

Mr. Kooy: I don't have any examples in front of me.

The Chair: I'm afraid we don't have additional time. We're going to have to move on.

Thank you, gentlemen, all of you. We very much appreciate your giving your testimony today and taking time out of what I'm sure are busy schedules.

Our final panelist this evening, from the Canada Industrial Relations Board, is the chairperson, appearing via videoconference, Elizabeth MacPherson. Welcome, Ms. MacPherson. We appreciate your appearance here this evening. I'm assuming you have an opening statement?

Elizabeth MacPherson, Chairperson, Canada Industrial Relations Board: Yes, I do. Thank you for inviting the Canada Industrial Relations Board to appear before you in your study of Bill C-525.

Since the Canada Industrial Relations Board will be the agency responsible for administering this legislation for the federally regulated private sector, my objective here today is to give you a bit of an overview of what the board's responsibilities are and then specifics regarding the board's conduct of representation votes.

I understand that my paper has been distributed to the committee members. It is the paper entitled ''Certification/ Revocation Votes under the Canada Labour Code.''

The board is responsible for the interpretation and administration of Part I of the Canada Labour Code, which regulates labour management relations in the federal private sector. This jurisdiction includes key infrastructure industries such as railways, airlines, interprovincial trucking, shipping, longshoring, banking, broadcasting and telecommunications. To provide service to this widespread community, the board has regional offices across Canada staffed by industrial relations officers and case management officers.

Labour relations in the federally regulated private sector are mature and relatively stable. The unionization rate is approximately 40 per cent, much higher than the national average of 17 per cent. However, the rate varies by industry. It is high in railways and airlines and significantly lower in the banking sector.

In an average year, the board receives between 50 and 100 applications for certification of newly organized bargaining units. In addition to this number, the board deals with applications from unions that have been voluntarily recognized by an employer but who wish to obtain formal recognition of this status from the board, applications from unions seeking to displace another union as the bargaining agent for a specific bargaining unit, and applications from individuals who are seeking to revoke their bargaining agent's accreditation. On page 2 of the paper, Figure 1, we provide an indication of the number of each type of application the board has received in each of the past five years.

When the board receives any of these types of applications, a notice is sent to the employer for posting in the workplace. The notice advises all affected employees that the application has been received by the board and provides them with contact information for our industrial relations officer assigned to the file. It is this agent's responsibility to investigate the application and gather the submissions from the employer, the union and any employees who wish to comment on the application. The officer also reviews and tests the membership evidence supplied by the applicant. This involves personally contacting a representative sample of the individuals who signed a union membership card in order to verify that they did indeed sign the card and personally paid the mandatory sign-up fee of $5.

The industrial relations officer also investigates any allegations of impropriety that have been raised and then prepares a report summarizing the positions of the parties, which is sent to them for comment and correction, if necessary. Through this process, the industrial relations officer is often able to resolve differences regarding the scope of the proposed bargaining unit. The industrial relations officer also prepares a confidential report to the board regarding the membership evidence. This report is not provided to the parties because section 35 of the CIRB regulations requires that employees' wishes be kept confidential.

The file is then referred to headquarters for the assignment of a panel. The panel reviews the application and the membership evidence, decides on the scope of the appropriate bargaining unit and determines whether the applicant has majority support in that unit.

Section 29 of the code provides the board with the authority to order a representation vote if it deems one to be necessary. On page 4 of my paper, Figure 3 provides a summary of the number of representation votes conducted over the period between April 1, 2009, and March 31, 2014.

If the board decides that a representation vote should be conducted, the officer is appointed to act as a returning officer. The officer meets with the applicant and the employer to make the necessary arrangements for the conduct of the vote, and any unresolved issues, such as voter eligibility or the type of vote to be used, are referred to the panel for decision.

Votes may be conducted in person, by mail ballot or, more recently, through electronic voting via the Internet or telephone. A description of each of these types of votes and a summary of their usage is set out on pages 4 and 5 of the paper. Their relative cost is outlined on pages 6 and 7.

I would be pleased to take any questions that members of the committee may have.

The Chair: Thank you very much. We will begin with the committee's deputy chair, Senator Baker.

Senator Baker: Welcome, Elizabeth MacPherson. You have been doing a great job over the years in the position you are in and the position you were in before that when you were appointing adjudicators and when you were with human resources. I know that because you are in case law quite a bit. I do happen to read case law.

Under this present bill, then, your officer, your appointed person, will investigate, first of all, to find out if 40 per cent of the employees covered by the application had, in fact, signed a form with their signature and paid $5. If you find there is not 40 per cent under this legislation, or if they have not paid the $5, then of course the application is dismissed; is that correct?

Ms. MacPherson: Well, the application can't be dismissed by the officer. It is referred to a panel of the board for determination. But, yes.

Senator Baker: Yes, of course. It is dismissed if you don't meet the 40 per cent and the payment of $5 in each case; is that correct?

Ms. MacPherson: The board has some discretion to conduct a vote in any circumstance, but certainly if there are improprieties with respect to any of the membership evidence, the board takes that very seriously under the current regime where we certify on the basis of cards. If there are improprieties or suspected fraud, then the application will be dismissed.

Senator Baker: Yes. You mentioned section 29(1). Subsection 29(1) is being removed under this legislation. Your authority, you mentioned, for a representation vote is being removed under this legislation. As you point out, earlier on in the act, I think you have authority at any time to conduct a secret ballot if you have reason to do so; is that correct?

Ms. MacPherson: Currently, yes.

Senator Baker: You could then determine that for some reason you need to have a representation vote, but then, for a particular reason relating to the 40 per cent or the $5, does that mean that under this legislation you would have to conduct another secret ballot after that?

Ms. MacPherson: I'm sorry, sir, I'm not sure I understand the question. There would generally only be one vote.

Senator Baker: You see, this legislation ensures that there is a process, 40 per cent of the people, their signatures, $5 each. Okay? At least 40 per cent, and then you go to a secret vote. You still maintain power — I think it is under section 16 of the act, a general provision — where you can have a registration vote at any time for any justifiable reason. You still retain the power to have another secret ballot. Is that correct? With reason.

Ms. MacPherson: I'm trying to think of a circumstance where we would hold a second vote without some reason to do so. You are right. The way it is structured, we first satisfy ourselves that at least 40 per cent of the employees wish to be represented or indeed wish to not be represented, and then we would take the vote.

Senator Baker: Final question: We have heard evidence here today before this committee from some of the unions affected who are saying that you don't have the resources to carry out these secret votes in a timely manner. Under provincial legislation, there's usually a requirement of a timeline — five or ten days from the point of the application to the vote taking place. They say that you won't be able to meet these timelines in an adequate fashion. You don't have the resources to do it. What do you have to say in response to that criticism?

Ms. MacPherson: We've looked at what resourcing is required. Our estimate is that our workload, under this bill, would increase fivefold with respect to representation votes — so five times more votes than we conduct today. That would mean resources would have to be diverted away from other activities, which would mean that a backlog could grow with respect to other areas of our responsibility, such as unfair labour practices and things like that. It would be a triaging that would have to occur.

Senator Tannas: Along those lines, could you tell me, what is your head count, at a full-time equivalence, at the board?

Ms. MacPherson: Since November 1, the board has had no staff. The staff all belong to the Administrative Tribunals Support Service of Canada, ATSSC, but, before that transition took place, we had fewer than 20 industrial relations officers across the country.

Senator Tannas: This would amount to an extra 15 per cent if we needed to add — and I think I saw it in the document that you provided — three full-time equivalents in order to bring this off.

You have to increase your officer count by 15 per cent. That's really the challenge in order to maintain the exact same services that you provide right now elsewhere and give full attention to this.

Ms. MacPherson: That's our estimate.

Senator Tannas: If you got that, do you have any doubts that you could administer the elections in a timely fashion?

Ms. MacPherson: That's certainly our objective. We would have to amend our regulations and put the parties on much stricter deadlines. In Ontario, for example, the employer only has a two-day turnaround to produce his employee list, which is used as the voters list. So there would be great pressure, first of all, on employers to get that information to the board quickly. We think we would follow the Ontario model, which is to take the vote as quickly as possible, put it in the can and then resolve any disputes over whose vote should be counted or which position should be in or out.

Senator Tannas: Great; thank you.

Senator Fraser: I'm trying to square what look to me like a bunch of circles here, so I will need your guidance, Ms. MacPherson. Last year, in 2013-14, you conducted 14 representation votes. That was 18 per cent of the total number of applications. That's from your chart on page 4.

Then I go to page 6, and I see that the average processing time in days, where a vote was ordered, was 64 days and that your target was 50 days so that you met your target in 0 per cent of the cases where a vote was ordered.

Now, if this bill passed and secret ballot votes became mandatory, there would presumably be some fall-off in the amount of time you need because it would be mandatory. You wouldn't have to go back and examine everything to say, ''Are we going to have a vote?'' You would just have to have a vote.

What would that do to your processing time?

Ms. MacPherson: I should point out that, in Figure 5, we're talking about averages. Within that 64-day average processing time in 2013-14, there were cases when we did achieve our target of 50, but then there were cases where we went far over 50.

Sometimes we can meet the target. Figure 6 probably tells the better picture.

Senator Fraser: It says 0 per cent.

Ms. MacPherson: When a vote is held, we're unable to meet our 50-day target, given our current regulations and the lengths of time that each party has to respond and reply. That's why I'm saying that we'd have to amend our regulations to reduce the time that we currently allow employers, employees and the unions to give us their position on, for example, positions that should or should not be in the bargaining unit or individuals who should or should not be permitted to vote.

Senator Fraser: Having done that, what is the timeline you think you could meet? I assume you're not talking 50 days anymore, but you mentioned the Ontario model. Their timeline, I believe, is five days. Would you be able to get down to that?

Ms. MacPherson: That's our objective, but one of our difficulties is, of course, that our geographic terrain is so large. If the vote is up in the Northwest Territories or the Yukon, the chances of being able to do it within five days are quite remote.

Senator Fraser: Have you been given any indication that, if this bill passes, you will get the extra resources you would need?

Ms. MacPherson: No, we have not been given any indication.

Senator McIntyre: Thank you, Ms. MacPherson, for your presentation. So far, this committee has heard arguments favouring the mandatory secret ballot vote. It has also heard arguments favouring the card-check system. Now, my understanding is that elections by secret vote are nothing new. As a matter of fact, I think they're held on various occasions, such as the election of officers, collective agreements, strike vote, referendum, constitutional change, collective bargaining offers from employers. Those are all held by secret ballot.

I understand that the only thing not held by secret ballot is certification and decertification. So, bearing that in mind, my question to you is this: On issues such as voting on collective agreements, strike votes and so on, does your agency play a supervising role in those circumstances, or are those matters handled by the union's internal constitution?

Ms. MacPherson: The board has no role in anything that has to do with the internal affairs of the unions, such as strike votes or votes on tentative collective agreements. So the board has no role to play in those matters.

Senator McIntyre: Isn't there a provision in the code for a vote on an employer's last offer, for example, and, in those circumstances, the minister can direct you to conduct a vote?

Ms. MacPherson: Yes, and those votes would take place under the board's rules rather than under the union's constitution.

Senator McIntyre: Okay. Thank you for your answer.

[Translation]

Senator Dagenais: I would like to come back to your brief. You conclude that the passage of Bill C-525 would increase your workload and require more resources. The point of the bill is to allow for secret ballot voting. As you know, the secret ballot process is one of the principles of our democracy, so even if it means additional costs and work, the purpose of the bill is to allow people to voice their opinion freely. The secret ballot process is a form of freedom of speech. Having worked in organized labour for 15 or so years, I can tell you that, when it comes to a union's decertification, people are sometimes victims of intimidation from one side or the other. I would like to hear your thoughts on that.

Ms. MacPherson: You are right about employees being pressured further to a certification application. That is why it is so important to hold the vote as soon as possible, and that takes resources.

[English]

Senator McInnis: I have a question that I'm not sure if you can answer or not or are able to answer: If you are provided with the resources, do you see any difficulty with this piece of legislation?

Ms. MacPherson: I suspect that unions may not try to organize small units going forward, given the costs that will be associated with organizing such units, and, therefore, perhaps the most vulnerable people will be left without union representation. That's a risk, but I have no hard data to back that up.

[Translation]

Senator Bellemare: Ms. MacPherson, I have a question about voting methods. I see that you have held electronic votes in the past.

I have the feeling that electronic voting may be the only method used in the future and that the associated costs will not be very high.

I would like to hear your thoughts on this. I agree with you that lengthy time frames could have repercussions on the work atmosphere and productivity. Electronically, however, the voting process can be conducted very quickly, making electronic voting a mechanism that should be put in place.

Do you not think that, a few months or a year down the line, a well-oiled process could allow for a five-day time frame?

Ms. MacPherson: I, personally, prefer electronic voting, as problems are less likely to occur. Right now, however, holding an electronic vote is quite expensive because it requires a third party. If the bill is passed, perhaps we could invest in developing our own electronic voting system.

Senator Bellemare: When you say quite expensive, how much are we talking?

Ms. MacPherson: As shown on page 7, the average cost of an electronic vote is $2,707.

Senator Bellemare: Okay. But if you were to invest in your own system, you would not have to hire an outside firm. Thank you very much.

[English]

The Chair: Senators, we have some time left for a second round.

Senator Baker: Just a point of clarification concerning votes, some time ago there was a dispute between two unions, I think it was Pearson International Airport, and a vote took place. You had ordered the vote to take place on certification or decertification, one of them. I noticed that the order you gave was that the vote will take place on whatever month it was, on the fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth, tenth. Could you explain that to us, why you would stretch out a vote over five or six days? What is going on there?

Ms. MacPherson: It depends on the type of vote, but if it was an in-person vote, it's very likely that was done to ensure that everyone who is on a shift is given the opportunity to vote, because the votes take place in or near the workplace. If someone is working a shift that they wouldn't happen to be at work on the day we held the vote, we enlarge the voting period to ensure everybody gets the opportunity. Electronic votes would take care of that because then, of course, they can vote from home or from wherever they are.

Senator Baker: Thank you for clarifying a question we had from the chair during the committee meeting that you could by regulation effect a system whereby the numbers of days between the application and the vote occurring could be substantially reduced to make sure it had the proper effect. Thank you.

The Chair: Does any other committee member who has a question? Seeing none, Senator Bellemare.

[Translation]

Senator Bellemare: I would like to come back to the issue of electronic voting. Nowadays, many votes are being conducted electronically. On TV, you can vote for the best singer electronically, and the process runs quite smoothly; it does not cost very much to cast your vote.

I see that, in 2013-14, you conducted an electronic vote. Was voter turnout good in that case? I imagine the fixed costs of that method are quite high. So the $2,700 per person per vote covered how many people in total?

Ms. MacPherson: I am not sure how many it was. I can tell you, however, that we conduct electronic votes in cases where employees are spread out in different locations.

Senator Bellemare: Thank you.

[English]

Senator Fraser: Ms. MacPherson, you said that if you adopted the Ontario model, Ontario gives employers only two days to respond after the request for certification has come in. How long do you now give employers to respond?

Ms. MacPherson: The regulations now give 10 days to respond. One of the things employers have been concerned about in Ontario is that these applications often get filed on a Friday afternoon, so one of the things we're going to have to look at in our regulations is to ensure that employers get a fair chance.

Senator Fraser: Two working days, in other words.

Senator McIntyre: Ms. MacPherson, in your presentation you indicated that the unionization rate is very high in the railways and airlines but very low in the banking sector. Is there any particular reason for that?

Ms. MacPherson: The railway and airline industries have been unionized for a lengthy period of time. There was an effort to organize the banking industry in the mid-1970s. I think at its highest there was only about a 1 per cent unionization rate, and one of the reasons is that the bargaining units are relatively small. They're difficult to organize. The dues that a union can collect from a small unit like that generally don't pay the costs of negotiating the first collective agreement.

Senator McIntyre: Thank you.

Senator Baker: I should say that Elizabeth MacPherson came in for a lot of praise by the unions before this committee. I think you've been the chair of the board for seven or eight years now, and they gave us a lot of information that certainly the operation of your board comes in for a lot of praise internationally. We have to congratulate you for that.

Ms. MacPherson: Thank you very much, sir.

Senator Fraser: You did get high praise.

Following on my question about the length of time given to employers, what happens if an employer doesn't meet the deadline, now 10 days? Do you just sort of proceed and say, ''Well, tough luck; you're out of luck,'' and does the employer then have grounds for appeal to the courts?

Ms. MacPherson: It's very, very rare that an employer fails to respond at all. I can't think of the last time that happened. Sometimes they'll ask for an extension, and if they give a good reason, we'll grant an extension of time, but they do generally comply.

The Chair: I think that wraps it up. Thank you, Ms. MacPherson, for your appearance and your testimony. You've clarified a number of issues for the committee, and it's very much appreciated.

Ms. MacPherson: Thank you, sir.

The Chair: Senators, we will be back here again tomorrow morning at 10:30 to continue our study of Bill C-525.

(The committee adjourned.)


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