House of Commons Hansard #11 of the 37th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was health.

Topics

Business of the House

11 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Hinton)

It is my duty, pursuant to Standing Order 81(14), to inform the House that the motion to be considered tomorrow during consideration of the business of supply is as follows:

That, in the opinion of this House, the Liberal government has and continues to nurture a culture of corruption through the abuse of its influence and the use of public funds for personal benefit and to benefit friends, family and the Liberal Party of Canada.

The motion, standing in the name of the hon. member for Macleod, is votable.

Copies of the motion are available at the table.

Final Offer Arbitration in Respect of West Coast Ports Operations Act
Private Members' Business

11:05 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Dale Johnston Wetaskiwin, AB

moved that Bill C-312, an act to provide for the settlement of labour disputes affecting west coast ports by final offer arbitration, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Madam Speaker, first let me congratulate you on your appointment as Acting Speaker and Chair of Committees of the Whole. I believe you will do a great job.

Work disruptions at west coast ports have become economically devastating to Canada's economy over the last 30 years. I would like to point out that agriculture has just come through two years of drought and seven months of BSE. Agriculture is absolutely devastated. If agriculture continues to suffer losses unnecessarily and people cannot get their goods to market, there will be a tremendous impact on the entire Canadian economy through a virtual collapse of the western Canadian agricultural economy.

From time to time we have disruptions at west coast ports. The way Parliament deals with this inevitably is through back to work legislation. Of course, back to work legislation does nothing to improve labour management relations or to resolve the outstanding issues. This is a tool that I think can be used equally by both parties, management and labour unions, to settle disagreements.

Some of the critics of the bill have said that it unduly harms labour in that it takes away their right to strike. I would like to point out to them that it takes away the need to strike. There is no need to strike if people can arrive at a negotiated settlement. It also takes away the ability of management to lockouts. It is a fair tool to be used in both situations.

It is something that agriculture needs. It is like a right of spring. Every year we can count on some kind of labour disruption happening at the west coast ports that tie up farmers' grain and other things that are especially significant to Canada's economy.

Part I of the Canada Labour Code does allow for the continuation of grain shipments from the port during a strike or lockout but that only applies to grain that is actually in the port. It has no effect on grain that is arriving at the port or even just a couple of miles away from the port on the train. That is really what the bill would resolve. It would empty the terminal. That is all it would do. There might be enough grain to load part of a ship but there will certainly not be enough grain to have an impact on farmers' livelihoods.

What we are trying to do is come up with a resolution, something that will resolve the dispute that will encourage both sides to bargain in earnest. If final offer selection is used to its ultimate conclusion, the result will be that there will be no need for a strike, that work can continue on and that both sides can continue to negotiate. If they come to an impasse, then they list all the things they agree on, all the things they do not agree on and they agree on an arbiter who takes the final offer and the things that are not agreed upon.

This looks to me like a fairly reasonable compromise. It seems in Canada one of the things we do is compromise. The whole idea behind this is to force a settlement to prevent being locked out or having to strike. I cannot for the life of me believe that anyone would enjoy going on strike or being locked out, or being an employer in a position where it feels that its only alternative is to lock out its employees. I do not think that is anybody's first choice.

Final offer selection puts the onus on both parties to bargain earnestly and honestly and to arrive at a solution.

I think it is interesting to point out that the Canadian government has imposed final offer selection arbitration while it has settled a dispute. It settles a dispute and says we will come back to Parliament. Parliament has even been recalled in order to pass back to work legislation. Part of the back to work legislation, from time to time, has been final offer selection. Workers are ordered back to work and have no choice but to go back to work and put the final offer on the table; matters were settled that way. I would not think that anyone in the government would have any problem supporting this measure today, because it is something it has used in the past.

We are certainly not trying to take anything away from the unions' right to negotiate or to arrive at a good deal, a deal that will satisfy everybody. We are not trying to short-circuit the method here. What we are encouraging is sincere negotiations and negotiations that come to a conclusion. If they do not come to a conclusion, there will be a mechanism put in place to make sure that an agreement is eventually reached.

A big beneficiary of this is the economy of the country, and certainly agriculture, in that the west coast port continues to operate while negotiations go on.

The last time we had a work disruption at the west coast port, it cost us in the neighbourhood of $90 million a day. It is always hard to nail down exactly what these sorts of things cost us in the long run as far as future sales are concerned or customer confidence or any of that. Just in direct costs it was estimated that it cost the Canadian economy $90 million a day. At a time when western farmers have gone through two serious years of drought and have had to sell off their herds at bargain basement prices because of BSE problems, I would suggest that this is a timely piece of legislation which we should consider and pass so that farmers have one less thing to worry about.

I have presented the bill in the House before. I am pleased to see that under the new rules the bill will now be votable. I have not been successful in the past in making my case to have the bill votable. Now it is going to be, so I encourage all members of the House to support this initiative to make sure that the grain movement at the west coast ports has an opportunity to flow and that the people who produce that grain have an opportunity to sell their goods.

Western Canadian grain farmers have been hit time and time again with strikes. Usually it is at a time of the year when they are trying to empty their bins to get ready for seeding that there is some kind of work disruption. Either the employer locks out the employees or the workers decide to, as they say, wobble the job. The result is that workers have to go on strike pay, the employer has to try to get by using managerial staff to load the ships, and the person who really gets hit in the neck over all of this is the producer.

This is a bill that is fair. It gives everyone an opportunity to negotiate. They can even negotiate while the work is carrying on. There would be no work disruption, no loss of revenue to those people who are employed there, no loss of revenue to the port authority, no demurrage charged unnecessarily against the producers, and the producers would have an opportunity to get their grain to market, get it onto the ship and onto the high seas.

In a hungry world, I think it is important that we consider this bill. Also, I point out that the farmers in western Canada are getting a bit hungry these days as well in the way that things have shaped up against them from December until now. Cattle prices in Alberta have declined by almost 50%. There are many people who are hurting very badly over this. We do not need to compound the problem as a result of not taking some responsible action in the west coast ports.

I look forward to hearing what my colleagues have to say in this regard. Again, I encourage them to support western Canadian agriculture and to support the bill to resolve west coast ports disputes.

Final Offer Arbitration in Respect of West Coast Ports Operations Act
Private Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

Liberal

Judi Longfield Whitby—Ajax, ON

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to join in this debate on Bill C-312. The bill proposes that the Minister of Labour be given the power to impose severe constraints on the use of the collective bargaining process in Canada's west coast ports. The impact of this bill's passage would be to take away the right to strike, as well as the employer's right to lock out employees, and then to impose a winner takes all settlement process from the outside.

I do not support this bill. Its provisions are contrary to the principles of the Canada Labour Code and it fails to provide the flexibility needed to deal with the kind of complex labour negotiations that are typical in Canada's west coast ports. For example, clause 4 of the bill states that:

Notwithstanding the provisions of the Canada Labour Code, where the Minister is of the opinion that a strike or lockout in a west coast port poses an immediate and substantial threat to the economy of Canada, or to the national interest, the Minister may, by order,

(a) suspend the right to strike or lockout in that port; and

(b) when a strike or lockout has occurred, direct the employer to resume operations and the employees to return to work, as the case may be.

Clause 5 of the bill provides that when such an order is issued, the minister shall also give notice that “the dispute is to be settled” by a process known as “final offer arbitration”, or what is also called final offer selection. These are strong powers and they are not consistent with the spirit of the Canada Labour Code or the tradition of labour negotiations that has evolved in Canada over the years.

The Minister of Labour has said on many occasions that the best way to settle workplace disputes is to encourage the parties to find the solution that best meets their particular needs. The minister can facilitate this approach by providing a conciliator or a mediator, for example, but the objective aims to help the parties toward a shared solution, not to impose one from the outside. Experience shows that this approach works. In recent years, 95% of workplace disputes under the Canada Labour Code have been resolved without a work stoppage. It is not always easy to keep operations going while working toward a negotiated settlement, but clearly it is possible.

Our position maintains that the role of the Minister of Labour should not be to impose solutions in cases of labour disputes, and especially not to impose a process that would pick one side or the other in a dispute such as this bill proposes to do.

Instead, the minister's role should be to provide the kind of support that will move the parties toward a negotiated solution, such as the Minister of Labour provided in a recent case in west coast ports.

In the case of the Waterfront Foremen Employers Association of British Columbia and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, Local 514, for example, a mediator appointed by the Minister of Labour was able to help the two sides come to a settlement in a long-standing dispute late last year.

Earlier in 2003, the B.C. Maritime Employers Association and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union resolved the renewal of their collective agreement in direct negotiations.

Complex negotiations like these call for flexibility in arriving at solutions that meet the needs of both employers and employees.

The final offer selection approach proposed in Bill C-312 would remove that flexibility and instead impose an arbitrary solution that would favour one side over the other. We do not believe the final offer selection approach is the right one for complex labour negotiations such as those involving the west coast ports.

Now let us examine more closely the final offer selection process. Typically, final offer selection requires one party to prepare a final offer for resolution of all outstanding issues in a dispute. The two sides then submit their final offer to an arbitrator or selector. The selector is then required to choose the complete package from one side or the other, either the union's final offer or the employer's.

There could be variations in the process, but the model is based on the selector being obliged to choose the final proposed solution of one party or another. This approach might have some merit in cases where there is only a single economic issue, such as wages, for example.

However, most labour negotiations involve more than a single issue. The issues involved usually go well beyond wages and can include a broad range of matters such as work rules, vacation entitlements, pensions and so on. Negotiating a settlement in situations like this can be tricky. There is usually a lot of back and forth negotiation involved. Flexibility remains a very important aspect of the process.

In the recent cases involving west coast ports, for example, agreements were achieved because a federal employment mediator was able to go in and work with the parties to find common ground and then build from there to find an eventual solution. In cases like this wages may be only one of the issues that come up, but wages are not the most important in some cases.

Final offer selection by definition must pick one side over the other, and it does not allow for negotiations and compromise between parties. In other words, it sets up a process that prevents the trade-off between parties that can be key to achieving overall agreement. In addition, by setting up a process whereby one side in a dispute puts forth its final bargaining position and an arbitrator picks one over the other, the final offer selection approach creates a scenario where there is a clear winner and a clear loser. That is not usually a good recipe for harmonious workplace relations in a post-settlement period.

I understand the frustration that comes when workplace disputes threaten the economic lives of others, but I do not believe that final offer selection is the way to resolve these situations. In recent workplace experience, Canada's west coast ports achieved a mediation by working together, by one party working with the other to resolve their disputes. Adopting the final offer selection approach would divert us from this tried and true method to dispute labour resolution. This is at the very heart of the Canada Labour Code.

Does it mean that we would deny employers and employees the right to choose final offer selection if they believe it is right for them? No. In fact that option is available to them now. However, as a matter of practical experience, it is rarely used. The fact that parties themselves choose to settle the terms and conditions of work through some process other than final offer selection, when it is an option available to them to choose freely, suggests to us that there is something wrong about the final offer selection that does not meet the needs in terms of an acceptable bargaining process.

The House has considered the issue of mandatory final offer selection before. It seems that these ideas are often brought forward with regard to a particular workplace dispute, but these ideas do not usually develop any momentum in the long run, especially if a negotiated settlement is achieved through using our existing bargaining system.

On the issue of final offer selection, the government's position has been consistent. We do not deny any employer or employee group the right to choose final offer selection if it feels it meets its needs, but I do not see an approach that should be mandated under the Canada Labour Code as desirable. Therefore, I do not support the bill.

Final Offer Arbitration in Respect of West Coast Ports Operations Act
Private Members' Business

11:25 a.m.

Bloc

Réal Ménard Hochelaga—Maisonneuve, QC

Madam Speaker, I want to take this opportunity to congratulate you on your appointment as Assistant Deputy Chair. I remember a trip we took together to Saskatoon, in your riding. I was able to appreciate how much you were recognized by your peers for your work as a member of Parliament. I know that you come from the West and that you have been a member of the Standing Committee on Health. Perhaps your riding does not include Saskatoon, but I remember that we travelled together and that we were in Saskatoon. I have happy memories of that trip.

Unfortunately, we cannot support the bill introduced by the Conservative Party's labour critic. It looks to us like a bill that would downplay the role of collective bargaining so necessary in a labour dispute. I think that, if there is any urgent concern before this House with respect to labour relations, it is not to take the right to strike away from the workers. In fact, if the bill were adopted, it could have consequences as extreme as denying the right to strike to workers in west coast ports, and going straight to arbitration, in a nearly mandatory way. I will come back to this point.

With respect to arbitration, we must be extremely careful, because it may induce a bias toward one party or the other. Perhaps mandatory arbitration is, in the final analysis, something desirable, and can be useful if there are only one or two matters at issue, for example, salaries or such things. Still, systematically resorting to it and depriving west coast port workers of the right to free negotiation of their working conditions is not a step the Bloc Quebecois is ready to take.

I represent a riding in Montreal, which lies along the river, and the port of Montreal is in my riding. It is clear that very significant economic activity takes place in the port of Montreal, as in all ports. Today we recognize one of the major factors in competitive advantage is the concept of just in time. In the transportation sector, the hon. member is correct in saying that there is a particular sensitivity for the whole sector of ports, railways and trucking. Obviously, since Canada is a continental country, the axes of communication are very important.

However, does this mean that we should sacrifice a principle that has basically produced good results? We must let the two sides negotiate. Sometimes, When negotiations break down, a group must be allowed to exercise its right to strike. What is important is that the whole process be defined.

When I talk about the right to strike, I cannot help but think about Quebec's model. Madam Speaker, I do not know whether you have had opportunities to come to Quebec. Allow me to reiterate my invitation to come to Montreal, in the riding of Hochelaga—Maisonneuve. There is no doubt that your presence would not go unnoticed. You are always welcome, and I know how enjoyable your company can be.

The fact is that, in Quebec, limits have been set regarding labour relations. In 1977, the excellent government of the Parti Quebecois took significant steps in the area of labour relations. Unless I am mistaken, it was former premier Pierre-Marc Johnson, who was the Minister of Labour at the time. The Quebec government passed anti-scab legislation because, at some point in time, going on strike may become a necessity for an organization. It is always an ultimate recourse. No one wishes to go on strike. This is why the first part of the Labour Code includes mediation, conciliation and arbitration as alternatives. Ultimately, when advance notice is given and the two sides come to the conclusion that, unfortunately, they will not be able to settle their differences, then the right to strike can be exercised.

Exercising that right is an ultimate recourse that carries consequences. These consequences affect primarily the workers, who are not getting paid, their families of course, the employer and, in some cases, the consumers.

However, we are not prepared to sacrifice the right to strike, which is a democratic recourse. The battle that all parliamentarians in this House should wage is the one for anti-scab legislation. That is what the hon. member for Laurentides asked us to do in October, with her bill, which provided a litmus test when parliamentarians voted on it.

Imagine how different things would be in labour relations if the Canada Labour Code included provisions regulating the right to strike and, more importantly, prohibiting the use of scabs. I remember that, shortly after we were elected in 1993, we had to vote on back to work legislation. When ports are affected by a strike and scabs are called in, it is very detrimental to labour relations and it leads to violence.

In this regard, our NDP colleagues righted a historic wrong. In the 1990s, when the hon. member for Richelieu had introduced a bill asking the government to include anti-scab provisions in the code, our NDP colleagues were not there to support the Bloc Quebecois. And because they were not there, we have been deprived of anti-scab provisions for a decade, longer in fact since there are still no such provisions.

The NDP righted its wrong, but this is proof of the essential role of the Bloc Quebecois in this House. If there is any battle that parliamentarians should fight, it is not that of depriving workers on the west coast of their democratic rights, such as the right to strike under specific conditions, but rather that of implementing anti-scab provisions to provide a framework of civility and a benchmark for the exercise of a democratic right which, without a framework, can result in abuses that no one wants.

For all these reasons, unfortunately, we will not be able to support our colleague's bill. He is a sensitive man. He has often shown his sensitivity here in the House, and it adds to his charm. However, I invite him to consider the consequences of mandatory final offer arbitration, which means supporting the claims of one party or the other. That is what the bill says. It says that, should arbitration be necessary, the arbitrator will select the offer of one party or the other. Consequently, it is not a matter of negotiations or balance or compromise, but favouring one party at the expense of the other.

Unfortunately, this bill does not provide balance. For these reasons, the Bloc Quebecois, which is a balanced party that has always had a favourable bias toward the workers, cannot support a bill that, in many respects, threatens industrial and harbour peace in Canada.

Final Offer Arbitration in Respect of West Coast Ports Operations Act
Private Members' Business

11:35 a.m.

NDP

Dick Proctor Palliser, SK

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise and speak on private member's Bill C-312, an act to provide for the settlement of labour disputes affecting west coast ports by offering final offer arbitration. The bill has been put before the House this morning by the member for Wetaskiwin.

The legislation says that the Minister of Labour would have the authority, without coming back to the House of Commons for any debate, to suspend the right to strike or lockout in the west coast ports or, where a strike or lockout has occurred to direct the parties back to work. Then, any outstanding settlement differences would be settled by final offer arbitration. The findings of the arbitrator would be binding without recourse to appeal.

I thought the member for Whitby—Ajax explained the shortcomings of the legislation quite well. She pointed out quite clearly that with this kind of a process there is a winner and loser environment that is inevitably created.

I am pleased to speak against Bill C-312 on behalf of the NDP caucus and indeed on behalf of working people across the country.

If there were 100 things that farmers in Canada would be worried about today, final offer arbitration would be 101 on their list of priorities. They have drought, low commodity prices, grasshoppers, mad cow, the fear of genetically modified wheat affecting their ability to export and they have incredibly high input costs. Final offer arbitration is not even on the Richter scale.

The NDP caucus contacted the president of the International Longshoremen's Association when Bill C-312 was coming back for discussion to see if there was something that we had missed in the process, some activity at the west coast ports that would lead to a labour disruption. We found out that, not only is there no strike or lockout being contemplated at the port, but for the first time since 1967, almost 40 years, all agreements between the longshore workers on the west coast and the employers have been negotiated without either a strike or a lockout. This is truly a case of trying to fix something that is not broken.

We are opposed to the bill. We continue to strongly believe that the right to withhold services is a legitimate and peaceful means of protest and has been for centuries. It is one of the most important democratic rights and freedoms of all working people. We are firmly opposed to any legislation that would erode any of these fundamental rights, as the bill certainly would do.

Nowhere in the bill are the parties encouraged to continue meeting to resolve their differences after the final offer arbitration process has begun. It does, as other members have noted, set up a winner and loser situation.

I say to the member who moved Bill C-312 that final offer arbitration may work for hockey and baseball stars who are negotiating whether their contract should be $8 million or $10 million. However, it will not work for ordinary people who have a whole lot of other concerns besides the size of the pay packet that they will receive.

I want to remind the mover of the bill that negotiators already have the options, if they so choose jointly, to move to final offer arbitration in any round of bargaining that they see fit. It is another arrow in their quiver. By introducing something like that, the other arrows are being taken out and it is saying that this is the way that the negotiations will continue henceforth.

It has been pointed out many times in the House, including last spring by the Minister of Labour, that almost all negotiations under the jurisdiction of the Canada Labour Code are resolved with no time lost, no strike, no lockout, and no labour unrest whatsoever. About 95% of all collective bargaining agreements are settled peacefully and amicably with both parties getting what they need out of the collective bargaining process.

It is a myth that the country loses significant productivity due to strikes and lockouts. There have been confrontations in the past. Changes sought by producers to address the needs of farmers were made to the Canada Labour Code. Section 87.7 of the Canada Labour Code prohibits secondary picketing at west coast ports.

As members have heard from other members of our caucus in the past, we think that far more time is lost on the job due to workplace accidents, injuries, and illness, than as a result of work stoppages.

We in the NDP are opposed to Bill C-312 for all of the reasons that I outlined. We think it is an imposition on the parties. They need to have more opportunities at their disposal and more arrows in their quiver than this straightjacket of final offer arbitration.

For all of those reasons, the New Democratic Party caucus will oppose Bill C-312.

Final Offer Arbitration in Respect of West Coast Ports Operations Act
Private Members' Business

11:40 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jim Gouk Kootenay—Boundary—Okanagan, BC

Madam Speaker, I get 10 minutes to speak to this bill. I would like to take 10 minutes to speak about the positive attributes of this bill. Unfortunately, it would take 30 minutes just to cover some of the incorrect statements, myths and errors the last three speakers have put forward. I would like to deal with a couple of those. The Liberal member that final offer arbitration is not appropriate for west coast ports.

It is strange. It is her government that actually imposed final offer arbitration as a settlement when it legislated a group back to work, and then attempted to pervert that. The government imposed final offer arbitration but did not allow the two parties to go back to negotiate and develop final offer arbitration or final positions.

It took the previous positions of the two parties which was done under a completely different system and said that is what would go to final offer arbitration. There was no allowance for any further negotiation, and that was fundamentally wrong.

The NDP stated that strikes and lockouts were the methods that have been used for centuries. That is absolutely correct. Is it not time that maybe we grew up a little? This was something that might have been appropriate back in the 1800s when a strike or a lockout was basically an economic tug-of-war between the employer and the employee. It was a battle between them.

It was a question of who could afford to go without work or go without work being done the longest? There was little collateral damage to families and maybe some people in the town, but generally it was centralized on the workers in the company.

We are in the 21st century and the impact is so global that now when a relative handful of people on the west coast of Vancouver go on strike, a farmer in Manitoba may lose his farm as a direct result of that strike. We must consider that a lot of other people are affected by this, not just the people involved directly between the employer and the employee.

I have an interesting anecdote for the member of the Bloc Quebecois who spoke. I was on transport committee meetings in Halifax several years ago. A member of the Bloc Quebecois was there. There was a strike at the port of Montreal during that time, and there was a push to have legislation to have them go back to work. I think there was also a problem with the rail system. But the Halifax people were just beaming.

They said that this was the greatest thing that ever happened to them, because all those ships that used to go down to Montreal were now coming into Halifax. They were just booming. The people were working full scale and the facilities were full. This was economically the greatest thing that ever happened to them. And beyond that, it gave them an opportunity to prove how good a job they could do in handling these shipments.

When the Bloc Quebecois member heard this, he disappeared. We never saw him again during the rest of the hearings. He went back and started getting ready to support the motion to get the people in the Montreal port back to work because he suddenly woke up and realized the harm that it was actually doing in his own province.

Sometimes members must open their eyes as well as their ears and realize there is much more to this than taking a partisan type approach to this, from a very stated view, and realize there are much more global problems to be dealt with.

It should be understood that collective bargaining does not involve strikes and lockouts. That is not part of collective bargaining. Collective bargaining involves negotiation, conciliation and mediation. We have no intention to interfere with that whatsoever.

It is interesting that the most recent speaker talked about how final arbitration is already an arrow in the quiver. Well, all those other arrows will still be there as well. They can still settle their negotiations in a variety of different ways. They just cannot have work disruption that would harm not only themselves but a lot of other people as well.

Finally, strikes and lockouts are not part of collective bargaining. They are a dispute settlement mechanism. Actually taking a coin out of a pocket and flipping it , heads it goes one way, tails it goes the other, is a dispute settlement mechanism. It is probably not very appropriate for settling a complex labour negotiation, but that is a dispute settlement mechanism.

We are saying that we need to come up with a 21st century dispute settlement mechanism instead of staying with the 19th century one, as suggested by the NDP.

There are many problems created right now, in terms of the damage it does to workers who have to go without wages and to employers who not only lose revenue during that time but perhaps lose contracts. It has a longstanding impact on the workers as well. Some of them may find, after they return to work, that they are laid off because there are no longer the same amount of contracts being handled.

One of the things that happens with final offer arbitration is parties do still negotiate. What often happens is that it is not a matter of picking one side or the other, it is a matter of seeing how close the two can get together.

I will use wages as one example. If a reasonable increase were $1.50 an hour, the union wanted $5 an hour and the company offers $1, invariably the $1 would be accepted. That means the union left 50¢ on the table that it rightly should have received. However, if it asks for $2 and the company is suggesting a new contract with no increase whatsoever, then the union will likely prevail and it will get 50¢ an hour more than it was reasonably entitled to. Both sides know this. Consequently, they tend to move as close to the line as possible and usually they get so close together they manage to settle.

We have heard that there is a 95% settlement without a strike or a lockout. Then the same 95% should be settled without resorting to final offer arbitration.

All we are doing is trying to find a 21st century solution for those few times when the dispute cannot be settled and has to go to some kind of dispute settlement mechanism. It should then go to one that does not harm all the collateral of the people involved as well as the employers and employees.

All the members who have spoken are right, the government has imposed settlement and has forced people back to work through legislation at various times. That suggests that strikes and lockouts do not really work that well, that there is a problem already existing.

What is interesting is that usually it is a strike. However two years ago when grain shipments were low and there was a big drought on the Prairies, negotiations were going on with the west coast grain handler and the employer locked the employees out. What happened? The union came to Parliament and asked to be legislated back to work.

We have to recognize that there is kind of a pendulum effect. When the pendulum is over here, one side says that they do not want to do anything different because the pendulum is on their side. Then it swings to the other side and suddenly this side that was clamouring for change says that they do not want it now, but the other side is now the one that is looking for it.

It is time Parliament took responsibility and recognized that it creates an overall problem in the system when we allow a dispute settlement mechanism that causes great harm to the economy of the country, to people, sometimes thousands of miles away from where the dispute is actually centred, this is a way of doing it.

If someone were to come to me and ask if this is a perfect solution, no it is not. If the NDP, the Bloc or even the Liberals have a better solution, we are wide open to listening to it. We just happen to believe that final offer arbitration, as a dispute settlement mechanism, when all else has failed, is a better system than the one we have right now.

If the government is really interested in democracy and in helping the workers and the employers of the country, the reality is that it should seriously consider this unless it has something better to offer.

Final Offer Arbitration in Respect of West Coast Ports Operations Act
Private Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

Beauharnois—Salaberry
Québec

Liberal

Serge Marcil Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment

Madam Speaker, since I do not have much time, I will try to summarize my thoughts in order to make it clear that those of us on this side will be voting against this bill. It does, in fact, have no place whatsoever. It is as if the intention was to give the government the power to impose working conditions on one of the two parties.

This cannot be. In fact, I cannot even imagine a political party in this House proposing such a bill. I regret to say that I cannot see the progressives, the Progressive Conservatives, anywhere in this party.

What we see is the Alliance element, a party that is very much to the right, and now wants to impose working conditions on just about everything that moves in Canada.

What the hon. member across the way ought to know is that the Canada Labour Code contains a clause about going before an arbitrator at the request of both parties. Both parties must, however, accept conciliation after that mediation.

There are many tools to allow the two parties to reach agreement. The bottom line is that they can decide together, by mutual agreement, to call upon an arbitrator, who will then determine the working conditions.

Bill C-312 before us today would require amendment to the Canada Labour Code. The code would have to state that, after a certain number of days with no progress, the government would impose working conditions on one of the two parties. This is a totally unacceptable approach.

Arbitration does exist in certain areas. Take the National Hockey League for example. A system of arbitration has been agreed upon, negotiated by player representatives or the players' association, and representatives of the owners. It is part of their contracts.

There is a reason why this is in place, and why both parties have accepted it. It is because negotiations are taking place between one individual and a team. The individual is totally alone to defend his cause, so a clause has been included in the collective agreement to protect the individual. An average player, or a third string player, can therefore go before the arbitrator.

However, a big NHL star does not need arbitration because he draws crowds and the owners will give him what he wants. Look at Jagr, who is asking for $10 million a year. When his contract expires, he will have the upper hand in negotiations and the team's owner will give him what he wants.

Yet the average player or the third string player needs protection. That is why an agreement was signed between the player's association and the owner's association, which is part of the collective agreement.

In this case, nothing would be part of the collective agreement any more. If we accept it, this type of legislation would determine at which point negotiations would end or when the government would use legislation to impose working conditions on one of the parties.

It is hard to imagine that, in Canada—our country where we talk about freedom to negotiate, freedom to associate as workers in a union to defend workers' rights and working conditions, and where we have a Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms—legislation could be introduced which would give the government the power to determine the working conditions in a company for the employees.

It is hard to imagine a political party in this House proposing something like that, but it happens. The former Alliance Party members may be hiding behind the name Conservatives, but they are not Progressive Conservatives. They want to give the government all the power to intervene.

Earlier, I listened to the member who is putting this bill forward. He said that, if the union wants $5 an hour and the company offers $1, at some point, they will have to meet somewhere in the middle. I do not know of any union in Canada that sets out to put a company out of business. I simply do not know of any.

A union, by definition, is made up of workers who get together, who elect an executive and give it the mandate to negotiate working conditions. They do not give a mandate to shut down the business. Therefore, there is no union that would make exaggerated demands that would eventually lead to the business shutting down.

In Canada, we have responsible unions and they have become business unions. So, when unions say to management that the company is making millions and hundreds of millions of dollars in profits and that the workers in other equivalent companies are earning 20 to 25% more than they are, and that the other companies are also making profits, obviously, in the next collective bargaining session, the workers will seek to negotiate financial advantages, and better working conditions, whether in pension plans or hourly wages.

The Canadian way of negotiation involves some give and take. The workers tell the employer that if the employer is making money, they will also negotiate for salary increases and better working conditions. If the employer is not making money, they will not ask for the moon. This is the attitude and the culture that have developed in Canada with respect to labour negotiations.

I was listening to my hon. colleague from the Bloc Quebecois who said that, in Quebec, they have a way of negotiating. It is true; they have a fine way of negotiating. Earlier, it was said that in Quebec they used back to work legislation. Still, there are two things to understand. In the private sector, the government does not intervene. The government may intervene in the public sector when services are involved, when people have no choice and no longer have access to public services. When the public has no access to health services, for instance, the government will say that that is enough and that since the parties are not able to agree, it will bring in back to work legislation. However, there are stages before that.

In Quebec, when public service unions decide to strike in order to negotiate, legislation requires that they implement and respect essential public services. Hospitals, CLSCs and schools cannot be closed just like that. The public must have access to essential services. When these services are not provided, then the government has the statutory right to intervene and say that, under the agreement, the other party must provide these essential services to the public, and since the latter is not respecting the legislation, the former will take statutory action to force workers back to work before bargaining can continue.

However, in the private sector, this legislation does not apply. There is a power relationship that absolutely must be established between the workers and the employer. That is the beauty of our system. Common sense will prevail during negotiations. Workers do not necessarily want to lose their jobs and the employer is not necessarily interested in shutting down. A middle ground will be found. There will be a conciliation officer and a mediator and, ultimately, there is a section in the Canada Labour Code under which the services of an arbitrator can be hired if the workers, the union and the employers all want one, while here, it is a statutory requirement. This is totally inappropriate. This means giving the government the legal power to intervene in private business and labour relations where it is has no business doing so.

We will vote against this bill because, currently, the Canada Labour Code provides all the tools needed to enable both parties to negotiate fairly and equitably. If they so desire, and give their consent, they have the power to appoint an arbitrator. On behalf of the Minister of Labour, we will be opposing this bill.

Final Offer Arbitration in Respect of West Coast Ports Operations Act
Private Members' Business

Noon

Canadian Alliance

Dale Johnston Wetaskiwin, AB

Madam Speaker, I listened to my colleagues talk about the bill. It is too bad they did not read it through and listen to what I and my colleague from Kootenay--Boundary--Okanagan had to say about it.

The fact of the matter is the bill is very specific to the west coast ports, and in my opinion it is something that would expedite the settlement of disputes. It is a dispute settlement mechanism, just like collective bargaining is. When used to its utmost and finality, the final offer selection actually causes both parties to put their final offer on the table, which may in some cases even overlap. They may discover that they can arrive at a settlement, and the job of the arbitrator is very simple. The arbitrator simply looks at it and awards both positions.

It has been alleged that this creates winners and losers. I do not think so. A strike situation is far more likely to create a win or lose situation than final offer selection. As well, a lockout is a traumatic thing for all people involved. Not only does it lock the workers out and they have to go on minimal pay and worry about how they will make their payments and so forth, but it also shuts down the industry's ability to do business. Besides all of that, the person who is left out of this whole equation, or seems to be forgotten in the debate today, is the western Canadian farmer.

I disagree with my friend from Palliser who says that this would be a very low priority for western Canadian farmers. A lot of areas of the prairies did not dry out. Large areas in central Alberta and Saskatchewan certainly dried out, but other areas had pretty reasonable crops, the Peace River country being one of them. Southern Alberta had half decent crops as well. Now it is necessary to get that grain to market

Cattle prices are also affecting the movement of grain. It is not profitable to feed cattle now, so farmers and feedlot owners are finding different methods to feed cattle other than giving them barley. Barley is a little more expensive so we would like to see it shipped to the west coast ports.

With what I have heard today, I am afraid that the House will vote against the bill, and in my opinion that is a vote against the western Canadian grain farmer. At a time when they already have all kinds of problems with the weather and with their markets, they do not need any more interference by the House of Commons.

I think we are passing up a great opportunity to put in place another bargaining tool that is going to reach an amicable settlement without the need for stopping the work or services.

I am pleased to present the bill to the House today and I would urge all members to consider supporting it. Even though I have heard from all parties that they do not intend to support this, I do hope, since this is a free vote, that there will be individuals in the parties who will support it.

Final Offer Arbitration in Respect of West Coast Ports Operations Act
Private Members' Business

Noon

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Hinton)

Is the House ready for the question?

Final Offer Arbitration in Respect of West Coast Ports Operations Act
Private Members' Business

Noon

Some hon. members

Question.

Final Offer Arbitration in Respect of West Coast Ports Operations Act
Private Members' Business

Noon

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Hinton)

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Final Offer Arbitration in Respect of West Coast Ports Operations Act
Private Members' Business

Noon

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Final Offer Arbitration in Respect of West Coast Ports Operations Act
Private Members' Business

Noon

Some hon. members

No.

Final Offer Arbitration in Respect of West Coast Ports Operations Act
Private Members' Business

Noon

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Hinton)

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

Final Offer Arbitration in Respect of West Coast Ports Operations Act
Private Members' Business

Noon

Some hon. members

Yea.