Supporting a Principle: Why I voted against Bill C-504, the Support for Volunteer Firefighters Act

Ted Hsu
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Let me begin by saluting the hard work and sacrifices which are made by the volunteer firefighters who protect residents in Kingston and the Islands. Their service and contribution to our community is well appreciated by all.


Bill C-504, a private member’s bill originating from the New Democratic Party, sought to amend the Canada Labour Code to ensure that volunteer firefighters who work in federally regulated industries and who are called to duty as volunteer firefighters during working hours are not punished for missing work.

On February 26, 2014, all New Democratic Party MPs voted for this bill at second reading. I and my Liberal Party colleagues voted against it and I want to explain why.

Firstly, Liberal MP and Labour Critic, Rodger Cuzner has consulted with volunteer fire department chiefs from across the country and the need for this bill never came up in the past, and was not perceived as an important issue right now. I also consulted with District Chief Bill Larson in Kingston and got the same message.

Given that the affected stakeholders were not calling for this legislation, we must consider its cost. The cost is that it sets a terrible precedent by violating an important principle that the Liberal Party believes in: that the relationship between employer and employee should be one that is built through consultation and consensus, and that the Canada Labour Code should not be unilaterally changed by a government, and certainly not by a private members bill.

Support for this principle has been expressed by others.

In debate, my colleague, Liberal MP Francis Scarpaleggia, quoted Mr. Hassan Yussuff, who is the secretary-treasurer of the Canadian Labour Congress.

“He said when he appeared before the human resources committee during the study of another private member’s bill:

Amendments should not be made through private members’ bills. They should be made with concerted, pre-legislative consultation that engages employers, unions, and government.”

MP Scarpaleggia went on to quote Mr. John Farrell,

“the executive director of the main employer group representing federally regulated employers, who also appeared before the human resources committee during the study of another private member’s bill, Bill C-525:

This critical consultation process is completely bypassed when changes to the labour relations regime are proposed through the mechanism of one-off private members’ bills. It provides no meaningful way for pre-legislative consultation to take place in an open and transparent manner, and it seeks changes without the required engagement of practitioners, recognized third-party neutrals, and the resources of government agencies charged with the responsibility to implement, adjudicate, and monitor the industrial relations system in the federal jurisdiction.”

Lastly MP Scarpaleggia quoted the NDP Member of Parliament for Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, who said, on January 28, 2014:

“I believe it is irresponsible on the part of the Conservative government to allow a private member’s bill to amend Canada’s labour relations legislation. If there were any case at all for changes to our labour relations legislation, then there must be consultations with all the stakeholders, and a full study before proceeding to draft any such bill. It should absolutely be done by a government bill, not a private member’s bill.”

Perhaps it looks bad to appear like I am voting against volunteer firefighters, but this wasn’t a bill that they were calling for. Instead it violated an important principle that is needed as a basis of good relations between employers and employees in Canada.