Albertans have long had a complicated relationship with unions. Historically, we have the lowest union membership rates at 23.5 per cent compared to the Canadian average of 31.5 per cent (Employment and Social Development Canada, http://www4.hrsdc.gc.ca/.3ndic.1t.4r@-eng.jsp?iid=17). Public opinion about unions is equally complicated in our province.
It is no wonder then, that Prime Minister Stephen Harper gifted Conservative MP Blaine Calkins with the private member’s Bill C-525. Private members bills are a way a backbencher can enact a law that is close to their hearts, or alternatively a way the caucus can pass a bill without identifying themselves too closely with it, if deemed too controversial. Bill C-525 is one such controversial bill.
In the past, when a group of workers tried to form a union, they needed 50 per cent plus one of votes cast as a “yes.” We call that democracy. No matter what your opinion of unions, they are run by democratic principles. Under the new Bill C-525 however, workers now need 50 per cent of all eligible voters in order to form a union, which means ballots not cast are automatically considered a “no.” This is not democracy. If the same rules applied to the last election, Harper would not be our prime minister, nor world Calkins be a member of Parliament. Bill C-525 also makes it easier to decertify a union requiring only 40 per cent plus one to get rid of an existing union, a further insult to injured democracy.
Why then, you might ask, was this private member’s bill pushed through Parliament during a Conservative majority? Why was this bill not just included in one of the massive omnibus bills the Conservative government is so fond of? And why was Calkins “chosen” to be the author of the bill? Is he really that passionate about union busting, or is this part of something bigger?
The answer is simply that Bill C-525 is a bad piece of legislation, not only in its content, but also in its drafting. The bill itself was criticized in the Senate for its numerous flaws, but passed anyway by the Conservative majority chamber (Huffington Post: Senate Finds Mistakes in Tory Bill C-525, Pass It Anyway, http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2014/12/12/bill-c-525-blaine-calkins-senate_n_6317088.html).
More importantly though, Bill C-525 is a bad piece of legislation because it is intentionally anti-democratic and an affront to the principles on which Canada is founded. The Harper government thought Central Albertans wouldn’t care about this assault on our democracy. The 2015 general election will be an opportunity for us to tell the Conservatives that we do care, about our country and our democratic rights. The question is whether Calkins, the MP running in Red Deer-Lacombe and author of the flawed bill, will resign if he, once again, doesn’t receive 50 per cent of eligible voters.
Rev. Jeffrey Rock
Federal Liberal Candidate