Rank-and-file Mountie concerns about discipline, harassment fuel changes to bill

RCMP members could soon have the clear right to negotiate key issues such as discipline, harassment and equipment purchases following Senate committee changes to a government bill.

OTTAWA — RCMP members could soon have the clear right to negotiate key issues such as discipline, harassment and equipment purchases following Senate committee changes to a government bill.

Rank-and-file Mounties had been concerned such issues would be off-limits when members sit down with management to work out their first contract.

Last year, the Supreme Court of Canada affirmed the right of RCMP officers to collective bargaining and gave the government time to usher in legislation for a new labour-relations regime.

Some senators, including former Mountie Larry Campbell, said the government’s bill gave too much power to the RCMP commissioner by excluding from negotiation topics such as transfers and appointments, appraisals, probation, member conduct, demotions and dismissals.

The committee unanimously axed the exclusions Tuesday, while making it clear nothing in the legislation dilutes the existing “human resources management powers” of the commissioner. Other changes assert the grievance rights of members.

The two Liberal ministers behind the bill reacted cautiously to the committee changes, which now go to third reading in the Senate. If approved, the amended legislation would return to the House of Commons for consideration.

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale will review the amendments and follow the broader debate on the bill in the Senate, said Scott Bardsley, a spokesman for the minister.

Treasury Board President Scott Brison is also waiting to see what senators do. “We look forward to hearing from them.”

The changes follow RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson’s testimony earlier this week that the exclusions in the bill were aimed at ensuring management had the flexibility to swiftly make decisions on things like recruiting, training, promotion, conduct and discipline.

“The concern is that matters of significant public interest cannot wait the time it takes to resolve them through grievance arbitration,” he said Monday.

But Paulson noted the RCMP has long had joint committees that allowed members and staff relations representatives to discuss pay and benefits, use of force, equipment purchases and conduct — a positive dynamic he hoped would continue under the new regime.