Top Mountie defends RCMP labour bill, cites need for swift decision-making

Exclude things like staffing levels, harassment issues from bargaining

OTTAWA (CP) — A federal labour bill excludes things like Mountie staffing levels and harassment issues from bargaining to ensure management can run the police force free of interference in key matters, says RCMP commissioner Bob Paulson.

The ability to adapt to the new realities of a diverse and growing Canada requires timely and innovative approaches to recruiting, training, deployment, promotion, conduct and discipline, he told a Senate committee studying the bill.

``The concern is that matters of significant public interest cannot wait the time it takes to resolve them through grievance arbitration,'' he said Monday. ``Nor should they be subjected to a diffused or fragmented responsibility. So, that's why the exclusions.''

But the top Mountie insisted that doesn't mean the issues in question will be completely off the contract-negotiation table.

The RCMP has long had joint committees through which members and staff relations representatives discussed pay and benefits, use of force, equipment purchases and conduct, he noted.

``These committees were the source of important, positive change for the force,'' Paulson said. ``That will continue. Frankly, it must.''

Last year, the Supreme Court of Canada affirmed the right of RCMP officers to collective bargaining and gave the government time to create a new labour-relations regime. The legislation is a major step in building the system.

Some senators, including former Mountie Larry Campbell, say the bill concentrates too much power in the commissioner's hands.

Campbell suggested Monday striking the list of exclusions from the text and replacing it with a more general affirmation of management rights.

Paulson said the RCMP advised the government to include the list of exclusions in the bill to stave off possible criticism that management was ``trying to pull a fast one'' by hiding them.

``But instead of being seen as transparent, the list has drawn heat and light.''

Paulson applauded a federal promise to appoint a panel of ``eminent Canadians'' to review controversial elements of the government bill if senators pass the legislation in its current form.

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