House of Commons Hansard #134 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was safety.

Topics

Railway Continuation Act, 2007
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Andrew Scheer

I am sorry, but the clock has run out.

Resuming debate, the hon. member for Davenport.

Railway Continuation Act, 2007
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

Liberal

Mario Silva Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, let me first begin my remarks today by pointing out that the bill we are debating here today is quite frankly the worst way in which labour disputes should be resolved. However, there are times when it is clear that the parties to a labour dispute hold positions that are so utterly irreconcilable there is virtually no reasonable prospect of a resolution being attained.

This reality alone is sufficient for consideration of government intervention. However, let us add to this the fact that today we are dealing with a strike that has the potential to significantly impact the lives of Canadians across the country, as well as our economy, and there is really little option but to intervene. It is indeed a last resort whose time has come.

From the very beginnings of our country, the dream of a national railway linking all parts of Canada was a recognition of the very unique challenges that face us geographically and economically. Our reliance upon our national railway system is undisputed. The realities expressed by Sir John A. Macdonald at the very birth of our nation are the same realities that we continue to understand today. The railway has been an integral part of this country's success, both as a nation and economically.

All of this brings us to the Canadian National Railway strike that began on February 10. Looking back to the beginning of this strike, we cannot help but wonder how anyone could be surprised at how this strike has come to the point where government intervention is unavoidable.

Under Canada's labour code, employers and their union representatives are required to designate which employees are essential prior to a strike being authorized. This process did in fact take place in the case of Canadian National and it is simply inconceivable that both parties would agree that there were no essential workers at CN.

Let me reiterate this statement: the two parties to this labour disruption, CN management and the United Transportation Union, both agreed that there were no essential employees who would need to continue working in the event of a strike.

As members can imagine, this agreement was challenged by the former Liberal labour minister. However, in view of the law, the Canada Labour Code, and the fact that this was mutually agreed upon by both parties, the agreement was confirmed by the Canada Industrial Relations Board: no essential employees.

Since there would be no essential employees in place in the event of a strike, it was simply inconceivable that Canadian National would be able to fulfill its essential duties to Canadians or its business customers. In effect, the die was cast long ago as to how this strike would end.

One can only wonder why the employers in this case would have agreed to such an understanding. If it was indeed simply a strategy to solicit government intervention, then it was wrong, short-sighted and irresponsible.

To this, we can add the obvious difficulties that are currently taking place within the union representing Canadian National employees. As soon as the strike commenced, we quickly witnessed a scenario where the union in Canada was at odds with its international leadership, the latter indicating that it had not authorized the strike to commence and therefore the strike was not sanctioned.

The confusion associated with such a revelation obviously added to the difficulties in resolving this labour dispute. I would also question why, in view of the realities of the situation between Canadian National and the union, the government would wait so long before becoming directly involved in efforts to resolve this issue.

In a country like Canada, vast in geography and sophisticated economically, few would reasonably argue that the rail system in this country was anything but essential, all of which leads us to why we are supporting the back to work legislation today. Let us look at how this strike is impacting Canadians and our economy.

The Canadian Wheat Board informs us that the CN strike threatens the shipment of 10 million tonnes of grain. In fact, delays have already caused grain suppliers $150,000 per day in fees charged by ships stuck in the ports of Vancouver and Prince Rupert, British Columbia. The president of the Wheat Board, Mr. Greg Arason, has called upon the government to invoke this back to work legislation.

When the strike began in February, it was not long before one of our major industries was affected. Last February, only days passed before the Ford Motor Company was forced to close its plant in St. Thomas, Ontario. Ford and the other major automobile manufacturers are reporting that the same pressures are facing them once again as this strike begins again.

The Mining Association of Canada has expressed the same concerns. Due to the nature of its business and where it takes place, the mining industry clearly has a significant dependency on rail transportation.

Fertilizer producers across this country have also expressed their concerns in view of the coming spring season when their products will be most in demand.

We also recall that in February the rail strike was blamed for increasing gasoline prices for Canadians due to the pressure the strike created in the marketplace. This will surely come to pass once again.

In my home city of Toronto, there is continued uncertainty with respect to GO Transit, which transports hundreds of thousands of commuters each day. Even though there was an agreement in place to keep the Canadian National employees in place during the strike, this uncertainty is clearly of significant concern to those who use this commuter railway service.

Communities across the country rely on rail service. This is particularly true of smaller and more remote communities that rely on rail service for all sorts of commodities, supplies and transportation needs.

These are but a few examples of the dependency Canadian individuals and Canadian industries have on rail transportation. It is indeed our economic lifeline.

As I have said, back to work legislation is really our last resort. However, it is not unprecedented. In fact, since 1950 the federal government in this country has invoked back to work legislation over 30 times. In six of those instances, back to work legislation has been used for the rail industry.

Over the years, governments have clearly recognized the importance to our country of the railway industry for both the personal and the economic interests of Canadians. The need for this legislative approach is reinforced by the statement of the stakeholders themselves.

Just yesterday, Canadian National issued a statement indicating that “CN has concluded that a national collective agreement with the UTU cannot be reached”. From the union we heard over the weekend that “the UTU has no choice but to turn up the heat in their selective and targeted strike action”.

It is obvious that both sides to this labour disruption are becoming more entrenched rather than working together in agreement. One side is saying there is no hope of an agreement and the other is talking about escalating its activities. Quite frankly, Canadians and the Canadian economy cannot continue to countenance these positions.

Having said all of this, I must confess to being disappointed in the government's handling of this issue. Long before the strike began on February 10, the minister and the government understood the essential nature of railway services in Canada.

As I have already stated today, there are questions to be asked of the government. Why would it have left this to the very last minute, so to speak, before the issue appeared on its radar screen? Why would the government have allowed the brinkmanship to escalate to this level before bringing these two parties together to find a resolution that might have avoided the situation in which we now find ourselves? These are important questions for which the government must be held to account.

However, our decision to support this back to work legislation is a reflection of our commitment to put Canadians first. We much rather would have preferred to see the issue between Canadian National and its employees resolved through the normal channels of collective bargaining, but clearly the time for this has passed.

The bill introduced by the government receives our support not because it is prudent action on the part of the government, but because it constitutes a last resort that cannot be avoided. While supporting the passage of this bill, we encourage the government to be more prudent in the future in advance of labour situations like this strike.

Today we will support this bill because it represents the best interests of Canadians and acts to ensure that there is not an overwhelming disruption of our economic interests. I am hopeful that this issue will be resolved in a fair and equitable manner following the process set out in the legislation. We will certainly continue to follow this issue closely.

Railway Continuation Act, 2007
Government Orders

1:35 p.m.

Bloc

Robert Carrier Alfred-Pellan, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to my hon. colleague's speech, and that of the Minister of Labour, concerning the back to work legislation for CN employees. The official reason given for this bill has to do with avoiding further damage to the country's economy. In principle, that is a valid argument. Yet, I am a member of the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities and we are in fact just now beginning a review of railway safety. We are learning that, for reasons of profitability, the number of workers on trains is often reduced to a strict minimum and all decisions are made based on how rail companies can reap the greatest profits. This all goes on with the okay of, or unmonitored by, the Department of Transport, which is responsible for ensuring safety. Once again, it is the monetary aspect, the money factor, that supersedes everything else.

I would like to ask my hon. colleague how he can logically support a bill that simply forces workers back to work despite the dangerous conditions that exist on railways, rather than having a bill or a government that is devoted to improving the safety of our rail system. This would prevent the senseless loss of lives, both on railways and in the communities through which our railways run, as we have recently learned in committee. I now give the floor to my hon. colleague for his response to my question.

Railway Continuation Act, 2007
Government Orders

1:35 p.m.

Liberal

Mario Silva Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague for that question. I have a great deal of respect for CN employees and the excellent work they have done for our country and, of course, to develop our economy and our market.

But quite honestly, we are in a very difficult situation now, and we have no choice but to support this bill. Not only is our economy at risk, but the situation between the employer and the employees is untenable.

The situation at present is difficult and, as members of this House, we have a duty to shoulder our responsibilities and adopt this bill.

Railway Continuation Act, 2007
Government Orders

1:35 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, I do not understand the Liberal stance on this. I simply do not understand.

The member should know that we are now facing a situation whereby, because of CN's horrible management, we are facing derailments, collisions, fires and explosions, escalating to a rate of three to four a day now, because of what happened under the Liberals and the Conservatives when they simply gutted safety conditions.

The employees at CN said, “Enough is enough”. They said, “We have to restore some safety standards”. What we are seeing here in the House now is three parties saying that this is fine, that they do not want to see more safety, that they do not want to see those safety concerns addressed. They are saying that they want CN's position, the management position, imposed and simply given a blank cheque.

I cannot understand why the Liberals are supporting the Conservatives on doing something that we know will lead to a state of permanent uncertainty in our railway network. There are three to four accidents every day, any one of which has the potential to shut down portions of our system. When the employees said no to this, that the situation had to be addressed, the Conservatives said no, they were not going to touch safety, no sir, they were going to give a blank cheque to Hunter Harrison and CN's American management.

Why are the Liberals and the Bloc supporting these measures that will lead to permanent insecurity in our railway system?

Out there, Canadians expect us to make intelligent decisions based on the facts. We have seen escalating derailments and escalating safety problems. The employees want to see that addressed, but the government is imposing a settlement and basically imposing CN's management decision on the employees, which will lead to problems right across the country.

Why are the Liberals supporting the Conservatives on what is bad public policy, bad for communities from coast to coast to coast and bad for the employees of CN who want to have safety issues finally addressed?

Railway Continuation Act, 2007
Government Orders

1:40 p.m.

Liberal

Mario Silva Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, being a New Democrat in this House means being in the easy chair. It means never having to take responsibility for anything, being critical of everything and not worrying about what will happen to the economy of the country or what decisions will take place.

If the hon. member is really concerned about giving a blank cheque, then maybe he could propose an amendment or perhaps his party could bring in a private member's bill banning all back to work legislation, which his party has so far not done. Perhaps the NDP could say that if there is no settlement within three to five months it will support back to work legislation. Instead, those members like to take the easy road.

They will not bring in any of those amendments or make any of those decisions. All the NDP members like to do is criticize what is happening in the House. They basically say that we should allow things to happen and that even if it takes a year or two there is nothing we can do. They do not want to be responsible in the House.

There are times when issues can be addressed but the reality is how long that will go on. We have a problem here. Even though I am fully supportive of my colleague's argument about safety and of the argument of putting the blame on CN, there is a lot of blame to go around here. To blame only one side is totally unfair.

Railway Continuation Act, 2007
Government Orders

1:40 p.m.

Liberal

Joe Volpe Eglinton—Lawrence, ON

Mr. Speaker, I wonder whether the member for Davenport understood the minister's position to be that the mediator would only consider one side. In final offer selection, did the member understand the minister to say that the government would select the side of the company or did he understand the process to be one where the arbitrator would take one side over the other and make a decision based on all considerations for only one side and that maybe that decision might be for the union, in other words, on behalf of the employees?

Is it the member's understanding from reading the legislation and from the minister's presentation that the mediator's position has not yet been determined and that we ought to await the final selection? Is that the position that he understood?

Railway Continuation Act, 2007
Government Orders

1:45 p.m.

Liberal

Mario Silva Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, obviously all of us in the House understand the message in the bill. The member is absolutely correct. We have a situation where the arbitrator, after hearing all the evidence, has a very good opportunity to agree with the union and with the workers. There is a great opportunity when this decision comes back for that to take place.

There is a mechanism in place that will be followed and respected and we should be very encouraged by that particular position.

Railway Continuation Act, 2007
Government Orders

1:45 p.m.

Bloc

Carole Lavallée Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, QC

Mr. Speaker, before I speak directly to C-46, I would like to explain how we got to this point.

How is it that back to work legislation for the railway sector is being introduced in this House when the Minister of Labour has repeatedly boasted publicly in committee and here in this House that since this House passed legislation on replacement workers in 1999, there has been no back to work legislation? He said that that proved the replacement worker legislation, which is now part of the Canada Labour Code, was effective. How is it that this legislation is no longer effective?

The current replacement worker legislation is a sham, because all an employer has to do is keep negotiating or pretend to negotiate with a union in order to hire as many replacement workers or scabs as it wants. That was one of the minister's lame arguments against anti-scab legislation.

Yet this back to work legislation is before us today precisely because there was no anti-scab legislation. And I will tell you why: it is a question of balance.

There are two parties in any negotiations: the management and the union. Negotiation takes place between these two sides. When one party goes in search of replacement workers, looks for new people, new players, that throws the situation out of balance. Moreover, when these new players, these replacement workers, these strikebreakers go past the picketing strikers every morning on a bus and thumb their noses at those unionized workers, the picketing strikers who are having a hard time paying the rent and paying their bills, there is no balance anymore.

When, in addition, the police force lends its weight to the employer and the replacement workers, it becomes three against one and that can not work. The present legislation is not balanced. We see now that this is another example of the lack of balance. The absence of anti-scab legislation is another reason that CN management is so arrogant. It is because there is no anti-scab legislation that CN management has adopted its current strategy, which is not working, by the way. They have not negotiated seriously because there is no anti-scab legislation. They thought they could hire as many replacement workers as they wanted and that they could continue to deliver the goods everywhere.

Unfortunately, that is not what happened. CN had based its whole strategy on hiring replacement workers that it expected to recruit from among retired employees and American workers. But that strategy proved to be ineffective. In addition, it is because there is no anti-scab legislation that CN management hired scabs, realized that was a failure, and now asks for back-to-work legislation to compensate for its failed bargaining strategy based on arrogance toward its unions, confrontation with its workers, and scorn for the work they perform and for their safety.

CN management came before the Standing Committee on Human Resources and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities to speak against the anti-scab legislation, which it opposed. They expressed their concerns. It was clear that their approach was more anti-union than anti-scabs. They were told that, in any event, they could not have replacement workers because their workers were too specialized. In fact, when CN management opposed the anti-scab legislation its concerns were distorted by an anti-union bias.

It is not anti-scab legislation, but a labour dispute that CN management is worried about. And the solution is not special legislation; the solution is a balance of power between management and the union; the solution is respect for the workers and their union representatives; the solution is negotiations that respect each party and that is what anti-scab legislation allows, and that is why Quebec has had union peace for 30 years. I cannot resist a little aside: I must say that the Liberals, given their position in favour of this back to work legislation and against the anti-scab legislation, have adopted the same logic as the Conservative government.

The Bloc Québécois is not in favour of Bill C-46 in principle. To the Bloc Québécois, any agreement that is negotiated is better than one that is imposed. The Bloc Québécois therefore still hopes the employees and the employer will find a solution that satisfies both parties. The Bloc Québécois is closely monitoring the various stages of the negotiations and notes that talks between the parties have not completely broken off.

When a dispute drags on and negotiations stall, sometimes it is better to implement a process to settle the dispute before it becomes completely bogged down, but we are not in that situation yet.

In 1995, the Bloc Québécois opposed back to work legislation for employees of CN and other railway companies because it did not include any real mediation mechanisms, it did not give employees a chance to express their view, which is highly important when something affects them so critically, and the legislation prohibited the employees and the employer from coming up with a new collective agreement themselves.

Although Bill C-46 is different, the Bloc Québécois finds it has similar shortcomings since it would immediately implement an arbitration process even though negotiation is still possible. Generally speaking, the Bloc Québécois feels that there has to be a balance of power between the employees and the employer. It is this fair balance that gets them to engage in serious negotiation. But there are no provisions for negotiations in this bill.

The Bloc Québécois wants to ensure that workers will not be on the losing end of this process. It is clear to the Bloc Québécois that the Minister of Labour is backtracking on his position that he would not intervene in this dispute. He is doing exactly what his government has done on issues like the environment, where the government brought back a watered-down version of the programs it abolished, and agriculture, where the government rejected the Bloc Québécois' solution to milk protein imports, then appropriated that very same solution.

Although the title does not exactly say so, the sole purpose of Bill C-46, An Act to provide for the resumption and continuation of railway operations, is to resolve and end the labour dispute. Upon coming into force, the bill will create an arbitration mechanism that prevents the parties from using pressure tactics. The bill prohibits strikes and lock-outs until an arbitrator's decision constitutes the new collective agreement.

The Bloc Québécois is well aware of the logistical and economic problems arising from labour conflicts, especially in rail transportation. However, it is clear that in this case, the problems are still quite small. For example, passenger transportation in the urban centres of Montreal and Toronto has been maintained because the union has given the company verbal assurances that it will continue to protect commuter train services in both regions during the rotating strike.

The same goes for goods transportation—which might be called an essential service—because managers have taken on a large role in providing that service. CN has indicated a number of times that it would do everything necessary to maintain client services, but that it cannot guarantee that there will be no service disruptions. Therefore, this does not mean either total or even partial paralysis.

Obviously, the economic issue is an important one. Various industry stakeholders, such as the Canadian Wheat Board, the Western Canadian Shippers' Coalition, and the Canadian Chemical Producers' Association, have legitimate concerns, but we have to be realistic. Any labour conflict is bound to have an economic impact.

When the Minister of Labour received the 78 calls from representatives of companies asking him to intervene and create this special legislation, I would hope that he redirected them to CN management to ask it to negotiate in good faith.

Economic impacts are not the only things to consider. There is the need to respect everyone's rights, including employees' right to strike. The Minister of Labour's great haste in this situation, his desire to have back to work legislation adopted today, while negotiations are still a possibility, are puzzling, especially since this same minister said there is currently a balance between employees and employers in the Canada Labour Code. Now, at the first sign of trouble, he wants to intervene and resolve the conflict with special legislation.

Yet all of Canada's labour relations laws, with the exception of the right to use replacement workers, are based on free negotiation. Instead of immediately imposing an arbitration mechanism, which could end up pleasing no one, the Minister of Labour should take advantage of the employer's openness to focus on mediation, to encourage it in that direction. Mediation is what eventually leads to a negotiated collective agreement, and thus better labour relations between employees and their employer.

Can the minister really set aside this option after only about twenty days of strike action, when there is still hope of arriving at an agreement by mutual consent? It seems that he is pushing for the same solution adopted by the Liberals in 1995 when they immediately imposed arbitration. The Minister of Labour is becoming involved a little too late in this mess. He should have shown leadership a long time ago and forced the parties to bargain in good faith. The government not only has the responsibility to intervene, but also to anticipate and take the measures needed to avoid problems such as this one. One of the measures would have been to vote in favour of anti-scab legislation, which would have created a balance between the parties. It is too late now. It is too late, at least for the time being.

Railway Continuation Act, 2007
Government Orders

1:55 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, having used FOS, final offer selection, in negotiations when I was head of a trade union, there is one thing I would note about choosing to use that type of third party arbitration.

If it is a very simple issue that has led to the impasse, such as strictly wages, then it can be a very effective tool. If the impasse has come about because of complicated work rules, or workplace safety and health, or benefits such as child care or a dental plan, then final offer selection is a very crude instrument to use. When the arbitrator is put in the position of choosing one side or the other but not parts of both, and the union is asking for workplace safety and health rules and the company is offering a pay increase of 5¢, those issues are not apples and apples, they are very much apples and oranges. It is difficult for the arbitrator to make a simple ruling.

I do not understand how the Bloc can support the use of final offer selection when some form of interest arbitration would be more suitable for this particular labour impasse.

Railway Continuation Act, 2007
Government Orders

1:55 p.m.

Bloc

Carole Lavallée Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I think that this is not a good day for the NDP. Not only did they miss their opportunity to speak a little earlier, but they made us vote twice in a row. The NDP member who just spoke and the member before him—I am sorry, I cannot remember which ridings they represent—believe that the Bloc Québécois will support the Minister of Labour 's back-to-work legislation. I know that the interpretation services here are excellent and that when I speak French they usually provide a very good translation. Therefore I will repeat, for the benefit of the NDP member who just spoke, that the Bloc Québécois does not intend to support the Conservative government's back-to-work legislation. He may wish to ask another question in the same vein, but I repeat it in the hopes that this time he has understood.

Railway Continuation Act, 2007
Government Orders

1:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Andrew Scheer

We will move on to statements by members. The hon. member for Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert will have eight minutes left in her questions and comments period after question period.

The hon. member for Pitt Meadows—Maple Ridge—Mission.

George Mussallem
Statements By Members

1:55 p.m.

Conservative

Randy Kamp Pitt Meadows—Maple Ridge—Mission, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to celebrate the life of a Maple Ridge icon, George Mussallem, who passed away a week ago today at the age of 99.

George, like his father Solomon, had a long history of service to our community. He was involved with the Boy Scouts, having started the movement in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows in 1947. He was a Sunday school superintendent at the local United Church. He was elected to four terms in office as a Social Credit MLA, serving with distinction between 1966 and 1983.

George set a good example for future politicians to follow, always putting the interests of his constituents first. The door of his constituency office was always open to us. His constituency office was in a unique location, inside his family's auto dealership, Mussallem Chevrolet Cadillac Limited, which stood as a landmark on the Lougheed Highway for 87 years.

I know my colleagues will join with me in extending our condolences to George's family and friends. George made our community and province a much better place and we mourn his loss with them.

Court Challenges Program
Statements By Members

April 17th, 2007 / 2 p.m.

Liberal

Andrew Telegdi Kitchener—Waterloo, ON

Mr. Speaker, as we celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms today, we must not forget that the charter belongs to the people of Canada and not to the governments.

It is regrettable that today, archaic laws that do not comply with the charter continue to deny justice and the right of citizenship to hundreds of thousands of Canadians. It is a travesty that the government refuses to eliminate legislation that denies Canadians their rights.

Supreme Court Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin stated, “many Canadian men and women find themselves unable, mainly for financial reasons, to access the Canadian justice system”.

The court challenges program provided Canadians with the means to challenge laws or legislation. Its elimination by this neo-conservative government is a denial of charter rights for most Canadians.

It is shameful that on the 25th anniversary of the charter the government believes that justice in Canada depends on the size of one's pocketbook and not on the merit of one's case.

Virginia Tech University
Statements By Members

2 p.m.

Bloc

Monique Guay Rivière-du-Nord, QC

Mr. Speaker, April 16 will live in memory as a sad day in history, the day 32 people, including Jocelyne Couture-Nowak, a teacher from Quebec, were murdered at Virginia Tech University in Blacksburg, Virginia. The person who committed these murders took his own life. This campus shooting is said to be the deadliest in United States history and comes in the wake of shootings at educational institutions around the world, including the shooting at Dawson College in Montreal last September.

There is no explanation for such acts of violence, which leave only sadness, bewilderment and bitterness. We need to find a solution so that our students can be safe at school. This is one more act of violence that seems to be linked to easy access to firearms, and it bolsters the Bloc Québécois' argument in favour of maintaining the gun registry.

My colleagues and I offer our condolences to the victims' families and friends at this difficult time.