House of Commons Hansard #142 of the 35th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was labour.

Topics

Presence In Gallery
Oral Question Period

3 p.m.

The Speaker

I would like to draw to the attention of members the presence in the gallery of a man whose reputation precedes him, not only in this House but throughout the world, a recipient of the Nobel peace prize, the former President of the Republic of Poland, Mr. Lech Walesa.

Presence In Gallery
Oral Question Period

3 p.m.

Some hon. members

Hear, hear.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:05 p.m.

The Speaker

This morning a question of privilege was raised by the hon. member for Hamilton-Wentworth where he put forward his concerns. The Speaker at the time said that a clarification or a response would be made by the chairman of the committee involved in this question of privilege.

I am now going to recognize the hon. member for Windsor-St. Clair who wants to speak to the question of privilege which was brought up this morning. Is that correct?

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:05 p.m.

Liberal

Shaughnessy Cohen Windsor—St. Clair, ON

Yes, Mr. Speaker.

This morning the member for Hamilton-Wentworth raised a question of privilege concerning the operation of the Standing Committee on Justice and Legal Affairs. His allegation is that the committee has misinterpreted Standing Order 108(2) and in so doing has violated his rights as a member of Parliament.

By a motion on report of the subcommittee on procedures, our steering committee, the committee on justice and legal affairs which I chair agreed unanimously to embark on a study of the subject matter of what has now become Bill C-46 which is presently before the House at second reading. It is an act to amend the Criminal Code with respect to the production of records in sexual offence proceedings.

The member objects and claims his privileges have been breached. I did not have notice of his objection this morning but I do have the blues now. From the blues, as near as I can tell his allegations rest on the following: first, he has expressed grave reservations about the subject matter of the bill and second, he wants to stay in the House during the debate and at the same time wants to put questions during committee hearings. He says that he cannot ask those questions until after he has heard the debate.

In support of his position he argues that nothing in Standing Order 108(2) gives us the authority to discuss, deliberate or consider the subject matter of a bill before the House. He also argues what I would suggest is a tautology, that the bill is the subject matter and the subject matter is the bill, et cetera, forever in a circle.

In response I would argue that in June 1985 the McGrath report was published. It suggested that committees of the House of Commons should have more power. As a result Standing Order 108(2) was enacted. It is a successful attempt to give committees more power by allowing them to very much control the process as well as the subject matter that is studied. In addition to studying matters referred to them by the House, committees on their own initiative can undertake other endeavours which are thought important.

In this case, the agenda is very full. The justice committee has probably the busiest agenda of any committee in the House. We wanted to take a look at policy initiatives which are now embodied in Bill C-46 and are the subject matter which we resolved to study as a priority. Because the committee is busy its work had to be prioritized. One priority was Bill C-55 dealing with dangerous offenders. It was reported last week. The committee then wanted to study Bill C-46 which it suspected was coming or knew was coming.

A great deal of attention has been paid to the subject matter of Bill C-46 in terms of letters and public response. As a committee, all parties, including the one that is heckling me right now, unanimously agreed that the subject matter of this bill would be a high priority.

Section 108(1)(a) gives us the authority to sit while the House sits. I want to point that out because that is one of the objections that the member raises.

Section 108(2) empowers committees to study and report on all matters relating to the mandate-and I am paraphrasing-of the departments of government which are assigned to it and that includes the Department of Justice which is the primary source of the legislative agenda at this time.

In the commentaries in the Annotated Standing Orders at page 324 the author states:

Standing committees are now empowered by the House to inquire into and report on all aspects of the departments assigned to them-the Standing Order includes a blanket reference permitting the standing committee to examine any matter relating to the department as it deems necessary and worthwhile.

We are doing exactly that.

With the end of term approaching and knowing that the agenda would be very full, members of the committee really cannot afford any down time and that is why we prioritize our work.

The policy initiatives in Bill C-46 are a subject matter that we resolved unanimously to study as a priority. There are precedents for this. The finance committee was the first committee to do this during the last Parliament and our committee has done this with Bills C-45 and C-110. As well, I understand the transport committee has studied some subject matter in the same way.

The hon. member's specific argument that he wants to hear the debate and then go to committee and question people can be responded to this way. First, the blues are available to him almost immediately. I had the blues of his motion by noon today. Hansard is available to him. The committee briefs are public and are available to him. Witness lists are public and are available to him. Department officials and briefings are available as they have been to all members who require them. All of these could help him prepare for committee work.

I would suggest that section 108(2) gives committee members the power to do what we are doing. Really, all we are doing is controlling our own destiny and determining what work we will do at what priority.

I would like to thank the Deputy Speaker for giving me notice of this motion and allowing me the opportunity to speak.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:10 p.m.

Bloc

Michel Bellehumeur Berthier—Montcalm, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am vice-chair of the Standing Committee on Justice and Legal Affairs.

What the hon. member said about the way we proceeded is correct. However, I think the member raised a very important point about procedure. It would be worthwhile having an enlightened decision from the Chair on this so we could use it later on.

When I gave consent for the committee to follow this procedure, I was very familiar with Bill C-46 and aware of the consequences and the speed with which they wanted it passed, given that it pretty well had universal approval. We also knew that there were a lot of women's groups and that the Supreme Court had reached decisions that concerned Bill C-45.

All this resulted in the opposition's agreeing in full knowledge of the situation to not follow the rules. What I would like clarified-and it is your job, I believe, Mr. Speaker-is that I do not perhaps entirely agree with the way my colleague has interpreted the new powers of the committees. I think there is a rule providing that, following second reading, the committee receives the bill, hears witnesses and so on.

There are two questions I would like you to answer The first is this: What rule prevails under the Standing Orders? The second question I would like you to answer to help the committees eventually is: If the members of a committee, in this case the Standing Committee on Justice and Legal Affairs, unanimously agree to proceed other than in the way the rules provide, is it legal for them to do so?

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:10 p.m.

NDP

Bill Blaikie Winnipeg—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, without prejudice to whether this may be a point of privilege, I thought that since the hon. member for Windsor-St. Clair mentioned the McGrath reforms, I might intervene very briefly as the last surviving member of the McGrath committee.

It was certainly not the spirit of the McGrath reforms to have things happen simultaneously. In fact, the intention of the entire reform with respect to reorganizing the hours of the House and of committees, et cetera, was to make sure that a situation would not occur in which things were being considered both in the House and in committee at the same time.

Committees are still masters of their own destiny or at least should be if we were able to change the political culture such that parties still did not run the committees.

Technically speaking, the member is right. I just want to indicate that the spirit of the McGrath reform was that things would not be happening simultaneously.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:15 p.m.

Reform

Ted White North Vancouver, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to be brief and say thanks to the member for Hamilton-Wentworth for raising this question of privilege.

When you consider your decision on this matter, I urge you to consider that this really does affect every member of this House even though it was raised by just the one member, the member for Hamilton-Wentworth.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:15 p.m.

The Speaker

The hon. member spoke this morning. It was his question of privilege. Does he have anything new to add to what he said this morning?

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

John Bryden Hamilton—Wentworth, ON

No, Mr. Speaker.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:15 p.m.

The Speaker

I think I am getting the gist of what has gone on. Of course, you will permit me to take the time to review everything that was said, including the information presented by the member for Hamilton-Wentworth.

I will have a look at everything that was said today. I will have a look at the precedents and I will try to ascertain what has occurred, what was intended in the McGrath report and, if necessary, I will address myself to the two questions that were brought up by the member for Berthier-Montcalm.

In that way, hopefully we will all be able to better understand what has transpired and possibly have some direction as to which way we should be going in the future.

I will get back to the House after I have made a review of the facts put before me and through my own research.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-66, an act to amend the Canada Labour Code (Part I) and the Corporations and Labour Unions Returns Act and to make consequential amendments to other acts, be read the third time and passed.

Canada Labour Code
Government Orders

March 11th, 1997 / 3:15 p.m.

Lethbridge
Alberta

Reform

Ray Speaker Lethbridge

Mr. Speaker, in speaking to Bill C-66, we must be cognizant of what this act attempts to do. It is an attempt by the government to change the framework somewhat for the collective bargaining process.

I want to put on the record that sometimes the Reform Party's position with regard to collective bargaining is misunderstood. This should be made clear at this point in time.

We believe that the collective bargaining process is a fair way in which results can be brought about so that there is fair remuneration for work performed in industry or in government and, on the other side, that management is treated fairly and is able to continue its business or the public is able to afford the results of the collective bargaining process.

We also believe that the collective bargaining process does include the right to strike, that it is part of the process that should

be there. In saying that, I also have to say that those are the conditions under normal circumstances where there is management and there are employees who wish to negotiate. The two are able to negotiate and participate actively together and both be represented adequately at the bargaining table.

My colleagues and I have great concern with this bill that there are circumstances that are not normal, that those participants who have to pay for the results of the collective bargaining process are not at the bargaining table. We believe that something should be done to protect their interests and their rights when they are not at the table.

As has been made very clear in the House by the member from Kindersley, the member from Alberta, the member for Vegreville and the member for Wetaskiwin, the farmers, the producers of grain and a variety of farm products, including alfalfa or hay products that are shipped into the international market and in high demand because they are a quality product, are not being dealt with in the collective bargaining process in a fair way. We believe that something should be done in terms of protecting their rights.

What solution have we arrived at? We should look at final offer selection arbitration as an option. We put that before the House. We said that it would prevent the opportunity for all those unions, some 30 of them, between the farm gate and the hold of the boat, from striking and causing a circumstance whereby grain cannot reach the port on time and be shipped into the international market. We know the results of a labour strike because of what happened in January and February of 1997 whereby our grain was not able to reach the coast and it became a major cost to the farmers.

Mr. Hehn of the Canadian Wheat Board has said that the latest intervention in our rail traffic to the coast has cost the farmer, in his estimation, at least $65 million. However, there most likely are many additional indirect and direct costs that are not accounted for in that $65 million. It could most likely reach up to $100 million. It is a major cost.

If we look at the province of Alberta, $100 million would mean that every farmer on an acreage basis would receive a cheque for at least $14 per acre from that $100 million. I have worked with a variety of programs whereby we have delivered cheques to farmers in Alberta, and $100 million divided on an acreage basis is about that much per acre.

If we look at that in terms of the cost of fuel to operate one's irrigation equipment, which is around $19 to $20 an acre, $14 is a substantial loss to that farmer. If we look at it in terms of fertilizer, where fertilizer is anywhere from $30 to $60 per acre or more in some cases, such as in specialized crops, that $14 or $15 is a substantial loss to the farmer.

We could go on down the line in terms of taxes and fuel costs which are $10 to $15 an acre in terms of farming an acre of land. That money is taken out of the hands of the farmer, wasted and in most cases is paid in demurrage which we all know is about $10,000 per boat. In the last couple of weeks there were some 32 boats circling around the Vancouver harbour and $320,000 per day was being given to those boats. Those people take the money into their home harbour, which is certainly not Canada, and all of that money is lost to the economy of Canada. That is just an unacceptable thing to happen in the farm communities.

Something has to be done about this. We made the suggestion that one of the solutions is final offer selection arbitration.

In Bill C-66 there is a reference to farming but, as usual, farming is at the bottom of the list. The mention here is with regard to the work stoppages and lockouts that could be dealt with in terms of the process relative to the grain industry.

We must be clear about what this does. If the wheat gets to the harbour and the strike occurs, that wheat must be put in the hold of a boat. But what about all those other unions between the farm and the hold of a boat? They can stop the flow of grain into the market and, as I said earlier, that would result in a major cost to the industry. Something has to be done about it.

One of the other things we have suggested in the House is that the government should deal with the Canadian Wheat Board. We should look at a dual marketing system rather than the single marketing desk system we have in Canada today, especially for western Canadians. We have this special law called the Canadian Wheat Board Act under which we must behave as farmers and produce our product while we do not have the right to market it without the intervention of the Canadian Wheat Board. That causes problems.

If we relate that situation to Bill C-66 in terms of marketing of our grain, it creates a major problem. We sell our wheat into the pools with the Canadian Wheat Board monitoring what goes on. The Canadian Wheat Board has a lot to say about what rail traffic is available to us, about the cars that are available to us to take our grain to the coast so we can put it into the holds of boats and ship it to the international market. There is an intervention there that does not let the free market system work. It is not possible for farmers to use that kind of system without the intervention of government.

There is this secondary intervention, although in a sense it is primary. Because of the way it is, if there is an intervention via a strike by any one of those unions, farmers are affected because that is the route by which our grain is shipped between the farm and the boat. The alternate routes down into the United States by truck or by a variety of other routes are restricted because of the intervention of the Canadian Wheat Board. That is actually an unfair

intervention that we do not need. It is just another good argument for a dual marketing system for grain in western Canada.

As an independent farmer, if I wish to move my grain around the west coast shipping facilities, through Montana to Washington where I can ship it through an American shipping facility, I could do so. But today I cannot do that kind of thing. Immediately when I start to do that I have an intervention by the Canadian Wheat Board. There is this intervention in the free market system.

Some people say that all farmers would not have access to that kind of facility. They can group together as a co-operative group if they want if they believe in that kind of format or legislative framework under which they can work. They can legally set themselves up as an entity if they wish. They can work through the Alberta Wheat Pool, the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool or any other united grain growers or any other type of grain marketing agency to market their grain. They can contract with other private grain marketers in the field and they would have options and alternatives to what is there.

Has this government really done anything? Has it looked at anything new? No, it has not. It has protected the historic system. It says "we'll nudge the collective bargaining process a bit, we'll do a little intervention at the ports, we'll do a little intervention in terms of one labour group, in terms of the longshoremen". But that does not resolve the problem. The labour act is only paying lip service to the major problem we have here in Canada. The government is not dealing with it, not at all.

Why does the government not look at alternatives? Who could expect a Liberal government to ever look at alternatives? The Liberals want to preserve the status quo. They want to keep things the way they are. They want to keep their heads down and the only ambition they have in life is to have political power where they have position and authority, supposedly to run this country, but that is where it ends in terms of new ideas, options and alternatives and trying to look at doing things in a more progressive and positive way.

The minister of agriculture tried to resolve the latest intervention in terms of moving grain from farms in Alberta Saskatchewan and Manitoba to British Columbia and off to the ports.

What did he do? There was a last minute knee-jerk reaction to a problem. It was a crisis when he finally called a meeting in Calgary. He brought in those who were responsible, the grain companies, the CPR, the CNR and a variety of shipping agents, to sit at a round table. I hope he brought in a few farmers, but I doubt it. He brought in government officials and they talked about the problem.

The only solution they arrived at was that there was a crisis and it would be six weeks before the grain was moving again. In the interim farmers lost millions of dollars.

Why did they not come up with some solutions? Why did the minister not come back into the House and say that he would deal with the problem and come up with solutions?

What are some of the solutions? It is time farmers are not the only people who take the knife in the back from the government, the unions, management and people responsible for getting their product to the coast. It is time somebody else started to pay such as grain companies and the management.

When there is a slowdown in shipping or when there is a stoppage in shipping it is time the grain companies and management pay because they are not alert to making it happen. It is time the Canadian Wheat Board stood up. It is farmers' money again but it is not sharing in the cost the way it should.

The Canadian government has a responsibility. As it stands right now the only representation farmers have at the bargaining table, often in a very informal way, is the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food and the Minister of Labour. They should be held accountable. If they are acting on behalf of other taxpayers and farmers are losing money they had better share in the cost of the loss. It is time to bring accountability to a broader group than farmers. It is time farmers stopped paying the whole bill.

Then there is another big group that walks away scot-free, the longshoremen who belong to various labour organizations. They strike. Most longshoreman who work on the coast have never been on a farm. They do not even understand the problems at the farm. We pay their wages but we have nothing to say about their remuneration or their actions. When they go on strike they had better start paying the farmers' bill. The producers should not suffer.

Canada Labour Code
Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

Reform

Dale Johnston Wetaskiwin, AB

Mr. Speaker, the member for Lethbridge certainly has a lot of expertise in the farming industry as well as considerable expertise in the legislative world.

I draw his attention to a comment made by the parliamentary secretary on March 3, as recorded in Hansard when he said:

I will now turn to the grain provision. Grain has been declared for the general advantage of Canada. It is a multibillion dollar industry which exports to over 70 countries worldwide. The livelihood of 130,000 farmers and their families depend-

Certainly I would not want to diminish in any way the importance of agriculture to the Canadian economy, but when a provision in the labour code bill says that grain arriving at port will be loaded we are possibly asking longshoremen to cross picket lines set up by other unions to load the grain.

When we single out grain as being "declared for the general advantage of Canada", practically every other major export good produced in Canada such as potash, petrochemicals and forestry products could be construed as being for the good of Canada as well.

Would the member for Lethbridge give us his thoughts on those items?

Canada Labour Code
Government Orders

3:35 p.m.

Lethbridge
Alberta

Reform

Ray Speaker Lethbridge

Mr. Speaker, we should adhere to the basic principle that all parties affected by the collective bargaining process in any way should have the right to be at the table. That should be a basic principle in the agriculture industry, the potash industry or the other industries the hon. member noted. They should have some right to representation at the table.

In my earlier remarks I indicated that this was not the way it happened at the present time. That has been a major deficiency in the Canada Labour Code as long as I have been in politics. It is a matter I have made representation on in the Alberta legislature and to previous federal ministers of agriculture. I told them they must deal with it.

In coming to Ottawa I had aspirations that the new Minister of Labour, appointed prior to the 1994 work stoppage, would try to resolve the matter. The ministry changed hands and we have a subsequent Minister of Labour who looks at the matter in a different way. That was unfortunate and now the problem continues.

Shortly we will be going into the next federal election and most likely we will not have the matter dealt with and will have to come back to it in the next Parliament.

The issue is not finished. We still must deal with the matter in some way. I can only hope in my final days in the House that somebody here is listening who will pick up the cudgel and deal with the matter. It should be the best effort for the people not represented today such farmers, producers of a variety of products or industries transforming raw materials into other marketable products in the world. It is a necessity that they be given an advantage and a sense of safety in the collective bargaining process.

Canada Labour Code
Government Orders

3:35 p.m.

Reform

Dale Johnston Wetaskiwin, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is not often I get to question someone with so much legislative experience. It may be my last crack at him.

My colleague is a great supporter of final offer selection arbitration. Does he think that final offer selection is a detriment in any way to the collective agreement process? Or, does he think that back to work legislation is more an erosion of the collective bargaining process? Maybe we could have some of his thoughts on those two items by comparing one to the other.