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 workers.

Topics

Railway continuation Act, 2007
Government Orders

4:35 p.m.

Liberal

Joe Volpe Eglinton—Lawrence, ON

Mr. Speaker, I do not want to alarm my colleague or any Canadians following the debate about some of the things that need to be done in order to ensure that rail safety complies with the expectations of all Canadians, whether they are shippers or whether they are travellers.

The fact of the matter is that the Government of Canada, through the Minister of Transport, has the legal obligation to ensure that safety measures are complied with and that safety measures are observed and imposed. The Parliament of Canada through its transport committee is considering a particular bill that has more to do with aviation but we have brought into the picture the issue of transportation via the railway system.

The hon. member ought to be comforted by the fact that at least Parliament is being vigilant to ensure that the Minister of Transport abides by his legal obligations to ensure that Canadians have a safe network of rail travel. There are difficulties and the committee is trying to keep the minister's feet to the fire, so to speak, to ensure that he meets those obligations.

My hon. colleague from Mississauga will remember the time when there was a derailment in Mississauga with some rather hazardous material on board. The minister at the time took measures to ensure that we would have appropriate train transportation that would safeguard rural communities.

I might end off with this as well. We still need to take a look at the interests of all employees, whether they work for CN or they work for someplace else. The port of Vancouver, people at the port of Prince Rupert, the organizations in Richmond, all came before members of committee, and I am sure before the government, and said that those shippers in British Columbia--

Railway continuation Act, 2007
Government Orders

4:35 p.m.

Conservative

Brian Fitzpatrick Prince Albert, SK

What about the workers in Canada?

Railway continuation Act, 2007
Government Orders

4:35 p.m.

Liberal

Joe Volpe Eglinton—Lawrence, ON

--and I am sure the member from Skeena probably has them in his riding, cannot access those eastern markets. The--

Railway continuation Act, 2007
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4:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Andrew Scheer

We are going to have to move on. The hon. member for Timmins--James Bay on debate.

Railway continuation Act, 2007
Government Orders

4:35 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak to this very important issue. It speaks to a number of areas of vital importance for Canadians.

At the outset, I was quite surprised to hear the Liberal Party say that the CEO of CN made $56 million a year. That is completely irrelevant to this discussion. In fact, it cheapens the debate to talk about how much is made at the top. What it signals clearly is how much is being paid out in dividends and how much people are making off the CN line, while the issue of safety is relegated to one of those dead-end tracks. For New Democrats to talk about this incredible disparity and gap is somehow beneath the discussion, but it is very pertinent to the discussion.

I am going to speak about four areas with respect to the bill. There is the issue of safety, which we as New Democrats have raised consistently in this debate. There is a discussion of the need for an infrastructure plan that addresses our industrial capacity and how one part of the country can work with another. There is the question of accountability, both at CN and the government. Then there is the issue of the fundamental right of collective bargaining and how that has to be respected.

I and many Canadians are very close to the whole idea of railways. There is something in our psyche where the sound of the rail hearkens us back to something. I will talk about my family's background in the rails. My mother and father's families either worked in the mines or on the rail lines.

My great-grandfather, John P. McNeil, worked on the Sydney Flyer, bringing the train back into Cape Breton. John P. was apparently quite the man in his day. He claimed he could always tell someone who was bringing booze into Sydney because a man who carried alcohol in his bag put that bag down with just a bit more care than if it were full of underwear. In fact, my grandfather picked up on that. When he would go on a trip, my grandmother would ask him how long he would be away. If he said he was getting a one bottle satchel, that was for one night. If it was a two bottle satchel, that was for the weekend. If it was a four bottle satchel, he was going home to Cape Breton.

My grandfather, like so many men of his generation, left Cape Breton on the CPR. In fact I still have his card. When he was age 17, he travelled on a CPR card to work in the mines of Porcupine. The mines were opened by another railway, the TNO, the time is no option railway, which is now the ONR line. When it was founded, it was built in a very interesting manner. It was built to stop the francophone settlement in northern Ontario. The good burghers of Upper Canada were afraid of all the francophone Catholics coming over the upper part of Lake Témiscaming and had to put some English settlers there. When they hit mileage 103 of the railway line north of North Bay, they hit the largest discovery of silver in North American history, and that opened the mining camps of the north. That is just a side issue, but it shows how much our history is tied up in the railway.

I live at mileage 104. If any people watching TV want to visit me, I am up the street on the rail line from the largest discovery of silver in North American history. Every night the train goes past my house. It carries the sulphuric acid which come from the Rouyn-Noranda smelter and the Kidd Creek smelter. We can hear that train coming it seems like hours in advance of its passing because it is hundreds of cars long.

This leads me to the issue of safety. When a train that long is carrying sulphuric acid, we need to ensure the proper working people on that line to ensure safety. If that train goes over, it is a very serious issue. We just had a spill in the Ontario Northland line this past week and a half on the Blanche River. A sulphuric acid train went over spilling into the Blanche River, causing great concern because it is right in the middle of our dairy farming belt.

Therefore, the issue of safety, when we talk about trains travelling across such a massive distance, is very crucial. It is crucial in terms of this debate because we have to talk about a management philosophy, the philosophy of reinvesting in the infrastructure, which is the second point of my whole discussion today. The management philosophy about safety is important.

I do not want to mix apples and oranges for the folks back home. The sulphuric acid spill accident, about which I spoke, was on the Ontario Northland line, which is not a CN line, but I spoke about it in terms of the issue of safety. When we look at the CN lines and the cars that run on them, some of these trains are two kilometres long, carrying everything from hydrochloric acid, chlorine, sulphuric acid. When we think of all our little towns across the Prairies where the trains run right behind people's backyards, safety has to be number one. These are in a sense two kilometre long missiles carrying these kinds of gases and acids.

When I speak about my number one concern, and that is the issue of safety, we can look at the safety audit that was done on CN Rail. It said that there were numerous problems with safety inspections and with CN's safety management practices. Again, we are getting back to the whole issue of a corporate philosophy.

The auditors found a “significantly high rate of safety defects”, in the order of 54% on the locomotives they inspected, with problems ranging from freight gear defects to too much oil accumulated on locomotive and tanks.

The auditors identified issues relating to rail defects, ranging from damaged rail to rail where there were numerous cases of missing bolts and cracked splice bars.

Train crossings in the audit were another major problem, with 26% of the crossings inspected had inadequate sight-lines. The majority were unprotected crossings. They found major problems all along.

The second phase of the report saw that many front line employees said they felt pressured to get the job done. The audit said that current practices allowed locomotives with safety defects to continue in service.

This leads me to the number three issue that I will speak about, which is accountability. The issue of safety has been raised and the threat that it poses. Since 2000, we have seen a massive escalation in the number of rail accidents on the CN lines. We are not talking about an accident here or an accident there. Any accident of these rail cars with what some of them carry is serious enough. However, when there is incident after incident it goes back to the whole issue of a corporate culture that has to be addressed.

I bring this up today because these are the issues about which the rail workers have spoken. They are concerned about this. I would venture to guess this is part of the problem of the breakdown in relations between management and workers at CN. People on the front line are growing increasingly concerned about the corporate culture, in terms of safety, from the U.S. corporation that is running CN.

Let me talk about the last two months or so.

On January 8, 24 cars of a 122 car freight train derailed at Montmagny, Quebec, 60 kilometres east of Quebec City.

On January 14, there was a derailment near Minisinakwa Lake in northern Ontario, dumping more than 30 cars, one containing paint supplies, into the water.

On February 28, hydrochloric acid spilled from cars on the CP Rail line that went off the tracks in the Kicking Horse Pass canyon.

On March 1, a CN freight train derailment in Pickering disrupted VIA service on the Toronto-Montreal-Ottawa corridor and commuter service into Toronto.

On March 4, grain was spilled near Blue River, British Columbia, two hours north of Kamloops, when 27 cars in the westbound train fell off the track.

On March 10, rail traffic along CN's main freight line through central New Brunswick was disrupted until the next day by a 17 car derailment in the Plaster Rock area.

On March 12, 3,000 VIA passengers had to board buses on the first day of the March break after train service in the Toronto-Montreal-Ottawa corridor was disrupted after a CN freight train derailed near the station in Kingston.

That is quite a sorry little record in the space of only a few short months.

When we ask about accountability of CN management, we have the CEO getting paid $56 million a year. Obviously, the investors think he is doing a good job, which leads us to the growing gap between management and workers at CN because questions of safety have been raised. The question of having adequate staff along the lines has been raised. Yet we see a massive increase in accidents. Therefore, we have to speak about what kind of corporate culture exists in CN where one man gets paid $56 million a year while the workers have to deal with trains that jump off the tracks at an alarming rate.

That is the issue of safety.

There is also the issue of accountability with government. We have seen very little in terms of a government response to growing concerns of public safety. I do not want to speculate about the threat of a major derailment with chlorine gas in an urban area, but we have to start realizing that if something is not done, something could happen.

We are not seeing any action from government. The Transportation Safety Board review rates of accidents are shockingly low. Yet when we talk about what is at stake, we would expect that any of these accidents would involve major inquiries and an examination at every step along the way to ensure that these things did not happen again, but it is not happening.

What we have in this situation is a growing gap of discontent between the people who are on the front lines, the people who are literally risking their lives, and members of upper management, who are paid $56 million a year.

The Liberal Party tells us that a CEO makes $56 million a year is irrelevant. The average Canadian should not bother themselves about that. The little peasant peons that make up the Canadian public should not worry about how these mandarins live in their upper echelon chambers with their $56 million a year payout. I am not speaking about this man in particular, but if any of these CEOs really botch it in particular, they are guaranteed a golden parachute. The average Joe and Josephine citizen back home does not get a golden parachute if they botch it at work. If they botch it at work, they are gone. They are down the road. Of course they are not getting $56 million a year, but then they are also not responsible for safety records like we see at CN.

The second issue about we have to talk about is the need for an industrial infrastructure plan for our country so we look at transportation as a whole.

The hon. member for Eglinton—Lawrence talked about how we were competing against truck driving. That is true. He said that there was a shortage of 30,000 truckers in the country. I live in a part of the country where many families are fed by truckers. Many of my neighbours are truckers. It is interesting, this race to the bottom that we see in the trucking industry. I have truckers telling me that they are having to compete against workers now who are being brought in on HRD projects. Trucking companies do not want to pay a proper rate to haul trucks. Now, suddenly, there is a shortage. Is there a shortage of truckers or is there a shortage of truckers who are willing to drop the price down below what Canadians would do it?

That is the time we see Conservatives intervening in the economy. They do not intervene to help build an economy. They think that is all kind of socialist mishmash. However, when it comes to driving the rates down by bringing in truckers to work at lower rates than an average Canadian could afford, that is a good use of our taxpayers dollars, according to the Conservatives. Bringing these workers in on work contracts is good.

A good friend of mine, who a truckers trying to make a living, applied for a job in a trucking company. It offered him the kilometre rate. He said that he would love to work for the trucking company, but he already had a mortgage on his house. He would have had to take out a second mortgage just so he could work for it. That is unsustainable.

So rail is having to compete against trucking and the trucking rates are being subsidized and driven down with cheap labour. The question is how can we ensure a proper transportation infrastructure when rail with its fixed costs has to compete against trucking continually? We end up with nickel and diming. Rail transportation has to nickel and dime continually in order to meet this race to the bottom against trucking. That is simply not sustainable.

I do not see why we have HRD projects to bring in truckers to compete against our own truckers. We do not have a shortage of truckers in this country. A lot of young people want to get into trucking and they should be paid the going rate.

Railway continuation Act, 2007
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4:50 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

That's not so. There is a big shortage.

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4:50 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, my Liberal colleague says there is a big shortage. I know many people in northern Ontario who would drive a truck but they are not going to drive a truck at the rates that are being paid right now. We have an unfair distorted market thanks to the Conservative government subsidizing industry at the expense of working people.

I am raising this because it is creating pressure on our rail lines which have very large fixed costs. Not only do they have very large fixed costs, but their CEO expects a $56 million a year payout and their shareholders across the U.S. are expecting very high returns on their investment. Once again there is pressure on the bottom line and of course the working families are the bottom line. Unfortunately in this case the bottom line is safety.

Do we see a poisoned atmosphere between management and workers at CN? Unfortunately we do, but it is something that has to be addressed because it is speaking to a larger issue. This is not simply a battle between management and workers. This is not simply about imposing a baseball arbitration and everything will be all right. The disparity that we are seeing in terms of a common vision at CN between workers and management speaks to a much larger problem that is growing in this country, a lack of a transportation vision for this country, a lack of commitment to make the necessary investments in transportation, whether it is in rail or roads, or in my area, for example, in airports where numerous small airports are facing shutting down.

The Conservative government has a laissez-faire attitude toward transportation. It is one area of our economy we cannot simply have a laissez-faire attitude toward because the distances between our regions are vast. As someone who has had to travel from one end of the country to the other many times for my work, I can tell the House that it is quite daunting just to cross the province of Ontario, or cross the Prairies which can sometimes take up to 10 or 12 hours between each major urban centre. Transportation is vital to maintain a viable economy in this country.

This debate we are having today about bringing closure with Bill C-46 is really a debate about the larger issue. CN workers are crying out and saying, “Enough”. This is a company that has not put the necessary investments into its infrastructure. This is a company that is paying its CEO $56 million a year. This is a company that is giving dividends to shareholders across North America. Meanwhile the people on the front lines who are doing the work, who are putting their lives at risk with these train derailments, are not enjoying the prosperity that the CEO and the dividend shareholders are enjoying.

There is obvious anger, which of course brings us to the issue of collective bargaining, the fourth point in my conversation today. Collective bargaining is a very important right. It is a right that was fought for in many communities. The right to collective bargaining was won in my own riding in 1941 in the Kirkland Lake gold strike. Members of the Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers union stood out on the line month after month through the winter in 1941 and won the right to collective bargaining. After that strike the federal government recognized the right to collective bargaining. That was a hard won right. There was never a strike in any of those years where we did not hear the same kind of claptrap we are hearing from government officials about shutting this down and how essential it is.

Sometimes working families have to draw the line. As the hon. member for Parkdale—High Park said today, there has never been a strike that did not have an economic impact. That is what strikes are. They have economic impacts on both sides. The fact that we are facing that today is too bad, but we have to stand up for the right of collective bargaining.

Railway continuation Act, 2007
Government Orders

5 p.m.

Conservative

Brian Fitzpatrick Prince Albert, SK

Mr. Speaker, I have listened to the NDP members speak about the ownership of CN and the CEO. CN is still a listed Canadian company and it trades on the Canadian stock market. I am quite sure that the biggest shareholders in CN would be private pension funds which represent unions across the country, public pension plans such as the Canada pension plan that invests for the future of Canadians, and a group called the Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan, which is one of the biggest, most diversified shareholder public companies in Canada.

Maybe I do not like that CEOs get that kind of money, but that is a fact of life in the market system. When we look at major corporations throughout the world, the CEOs command tremendously attractive remuneration. It is a product of the market system. I know one thing. If they do not produce, they get fired and they are down the road. It is a very demanding line of work.

I am wondering where the NDP members are going with this kind of argument. Are they going back to their Regina manifesto, the founding principle of their party which advocated basically that the entire economy and the means of production should be owned by the government, that we should get rid of this free market capitalistic system? Is that what the member is saying by alluding to these facts about the ownership of these companies and the salaries of the CEOs, that we should be moving back to the old socialist principles on which his party is based?

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5 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, I always enjoy my hon. colleague's interventions because he does remind me that there is still fear of the Bolsheviks out there, at least in his riding.

I would like to take him up on what he is saying. He said that if one does not produce, one gets fired. Fair enough. That is something that working people know in every industry in this country. It is a rule that exists everywhere in this country, except if one is the CEO of a large corporation. If the CEO does not produce, the CEO does not get fired. The CEO gets a golden handshake with a massive golden parachute and a payout of millions and millions of dollars. We have seen that with corporation after corporation. Let us have a bit of accountability here.

What we have seen in terms of these packages that have been given to CEOs over the last 10 years is that it has not created productivity in the workplace. In fact, look at the 1990s when there was massive downsizing in corporations across the country, firings of thousands of workers in operations that were viable, that were done because the CEOs were being paid in stock options. Every time there was a major downsizing, there was a blip in the market and it allowed their own personal stock options to increase. If that is an example of the free market, I would say there is something not quite free about that.

What we have been arguing for is a fair market. We want to ensure that corporate CEOs are accountable not to the shareholders but to society as a whole. We do not see why they should be getting $56 million a year and it should be written off as a normal tax expense.

If companies want to pay that kind of exorbitant, outrageous fee to people who simply are not worth it, and I will repeat it, who simply are not worth it, that is a corporate decision they can make, but they should be fully taxed on it, because they could easily put that money into investing and growing their corporation and being much more viable in the long term. However, we have created this culture of entitlement, a culture actually, to switch gears, of which the Liberal Party has always been in favour, but this is outrageous entitlement, $56 million a year for the kind of service we have seen.

I would like to ask the hon. member, given the recent outrageous number of derailments that we have seen at CN in the last three months, whether he would consider $56 million a year to be a little rich for a CEO of a corporation with that kind of record.

Railway continuation Act, 2007
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5 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, through much of the speech by the member for Timmins—James Bay, he reminded Canadians of the importance of rail not only to industry but to the Canadian cultural fabric and the importance of the presence of the rail system in this country not only in the construct of the Canadian federation but in the day to day lives of ordinary Canadians.

In part of his speech he dwelled on the trucking industry and how these two carriers compete for moving freight across Canada. Since he lives near a rail line, mile 104 I believe of the rail line north of Timmins in his great riding, would he not agree that it would be far better for the environment and the distribution of goods across Canada if we took more freight off the trucks and put it back on the rails where it belongs?

I cannot help but think that it is more economical and realistic to have one locomotive pulling 200 cars than to have 200 individual trucks breaking down our Trans-Canada Highway and running roughshod over our roads, as we know it, and belching out diesel at a much higher rate. Could he speak for a moment about the relative advantages and merits of putting freight back on the rails where it belongs and keeping trucking to a bare minimum, as it were, for the secondary distribution of freight?

Railway continuation Act, 2007
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5:05 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, my colleague makes an excellent point. Where I live the rail line now runs from Moosonee to Toronto. It is a dedicated line for freight and passengers as well. It runs through blizzards. When the highway is shut down, trains can still travel, if they are maintained and the lines are kept up. This is an excellent form of transport.

My house sits in front of highway 11, which is the national transportation route for trucking. Many people who have driven it comment that it looks like moose pasture. There are two lanes all the way up basically from North Bay to Nipigon. It is insufficient, given the amount of rock cuts and turns, to be hauling transportation goods along that corridor.

My colleague brings up a really interesting point. It was the Conservative government under the former famous prime minister, Mr. Mulroney, who had pretty much given up on rail transportation. It was so 20th century and it was time to move on. “We do not need a national dream any more; in fact, let us get rid of our national dream and sign on with the Americans. Let us get rid of our national passenger rail service across this country”. That was the pointy headed view of the Conservative Party. It thought that the free market would step in and suddenly there would be all kinds of other transportation.

In the city of Timmins where passenger service was no longer available, the idea was to rip up the tracks because tracks were yesterday's news and a road could be built where the tracks were. For 20 or 30 kilometres coming into the city of Timmins there are no tracks any more. Now we are finding there are some things that were so much easier to transport by rail than by truck.

In many parts of the country the tracks were pulled up because we were told that rail was no longer relevant and truck traffic would cover it and it has not. In many areas where the rail lines were pulled out and where passenger service was let go, there is now a real awareness that this is something we should have been investing in and building because this is what the 21st century economy is moving toward.

In Europe there are high speed trains and in Canada there is a patchwork of services, most of them inadequate for covering great distances. Yet Europe and Japan are moving forward with trains. We have let so much of this lag because, as I said in my speech, there has been no vision for transportation infrastructure in this country.

A laissez-faire attitude in a country the size of ours is simply unacceptable. It is an example, I would suggest, of the fundamental lack of vision we have seen in the Conservative Party throughout its history, whether it was the Avro Arrow, whether it was the shutting down of all the military bases under Mulroney, whether it was the shutting down of the national dream and our passenger service, whether it was killing the Wheat Board today.

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5:05 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

The freshwater fish marketing board.

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5:05 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus Timmins—James Bay, ON

Exactly. It is simply a party that, once it is done, we spend years trying to rebuild the damage it has done from its shortsighted interventions, hopefully short lived interventions in our national political life.

Railway continuation Act, 2007
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April 17th, 2007 / 5:05 p.m.

Liberal

Don Bell North Vancouver, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am here today to say that I support Bill C-46.

The concern I have, both as vice-chairman of the transportation committee and one who instituted last October a motion passed by that committee with respect to rail safety, is with air, water and rail safety.

We have looked back and we have seen an increasing number of derailments across Canada, particularly in western Canada and particularly with Canadian National. We felt that it was time that we had an audit of its safety record because it appeared from the information we had that 2005 was a particularly bad year for derailments.

We have seen an example of a derailment in British Columbia, in the Cheakamus River, where the spill of caustic soda into the river basically killed the fish stocks for generations to come. We have seen an example, in the summer of 2006, where a locomotive left the tracks near Lillooet, which resulted in the death of two rail workers and the serious injury of a third. We have seen another incident in Lake Wabamun, in Alberta, where there was oil spilled into a lake. I could go on and on.

Basically, it was the trend toward those kinds of incidents that caused the previous Liberal government and the minister at that time to call for a two-phase review of rail safety, particularly of CN. One phase was to look at the issue of an actual audit of the figures and the second phase was to look at what was called the safety management system.

The reason I mention these in the context of the current bill is because these safety measures are largely what the labour concern of the workers is currently about. They have said it is not the money that they are concerned about, but it is their working conditions.

I would give the example where a decision taken by CN took away the ability of workers to phone in and say that they felt they were unfit to work on a particular shift. They work 12-hour shifts and the question is whether they get adequate time to rest before they have to take another shift as they can be called back on very short notice. They used to be able to say they did not feel fit to work as an engineer or to work as a conductor.

On most trains, and these can be trains that have anywhere from a few cars to 100-plus cars, there are two workers. There is an engineer and a conductor. So, we have two people running a train who are responsible for cars that are 130 tonnes each, in terms of loaded freight cars, and engines that are capable of producing anywhere from 3,000 to 5,000 horsepower.

These trains have become a concern because of the lack of maintenance and concern about the track conditions and the rolling stock conditions as evidenced by the reports that were finally released, and these were reports that were called for by the previous government. A promise was made that these reports would be released to the public. They were not released to the public until just recently, through an access to information request. However, in that time it resulted in not only what is under the Railway Safety Act a section 31 order, which is from Transport Canada, but in fact a ministerial order, a section 32 order, where for the first time the minister himself had to order certain restrictions on the operation of CN.

The concern we have is that there have been outstanding notices on orders against the railway, 99 of them in this period and some of them in fact going back prior to the year 2000, that had not been answered.

The company claims that 2005 was a particularly bad year. Its record has improved substantially since then. However, the concern is that the level is still well above what it should be, and we see in these reports that we now have access to, phase one and phase two, that the safety issues the workers have talked about as their concerns are valid in my opinion.

We have situations where track has not been maintained properly. We have situations where the reporting of incidents is quite often mirrored on American railroad standards because they are lower than Transport Canada standards for either maintenance of cars or maintenance of engines. We have situations where 53% of the locomotives were deemed to have some kind of problem, ranging from relatively minor to inadequate braking; and that is of course what happened with the engine that jumped the track and the two men died down in Lillooet.

There was a decision, for example, when B.C. Rail, which was a relatively well managed system in the province of British Columbia, was acquired by CN. All the engines in British Columbia had dynamic brakes, a system whereby the electric motors in the trains can be reversed, or the polarity changed, and it can be used as a backup safety system to slow the train down. In fact, I am told by engineers and conductors that they can actually stop the train.

Those engines were sold. I do not know why but they were disposed of and other engines were brought in from other parts of Canada that did not have those features. In some cases there are still engines left, I gather, in which the dynamic brakes for some reason have not been adequately activated, or they have been deactivated.

I have a lot of empathy when I receive emails, letters and calls from rail workers who say that they feel concerned about their safety. That is at the heart of this discussion and the labour dispute that is currently going on.

Having said that, we have to recognize that safety is not just the safety of the rail workers, but it is also the safety of the communities through which the trains pass.

In my riding of North Vancouver we have chlorine tank cars passing through the community every day. We have seen what can happen in Mississauga with a propane tank or when there is a serious chemical spill. All we have to see is a major derailment to see how much destruction the cars can make when they scatter and the damage caused if they rupture, whether it is by a river or in a residential area, or whether it is injuries to railway workers or the public.

We have to ensure as a committee that we focus on this. The minister has commissioned a panel as well to report by October, but I do not think we can wait until October. We need to make this a high priority. Our committee began hearings yesterday and we heard from the first representative, a Mr. Gordon Rhodes, who was the lone survivor of that locomotive accident. It was very touching to hear his testimony about what it meant to him in his life and what it meant to him in terms of his concerns about safety and working on the railways. I have a lot of empathy for the workers.

On the other hand, I have to say, as the Liberal Party critic for the Pacific gateway, that I also have a concern that we continue to ensure that the movement of goods and services, both exports and imports, continue to flow because it is the economic lifeline of the country. We know, for example, that British Columbia is the gateway to the Asia Pacific which is a growing market.

Within 20 years to 25 years, it is estimated China will be either number one or tied for the number one economy in the world. We know that India has a growing economy. We know that Japan, Korea and Taiwan are economies that are important to the trade with Canada. We have to ensure that the facilitation of those goods, once they arrive at the ports, be it through truck, rail or air, is done as smoothly as possible.

We know the devastating effects of interference with that, whether it is a longshoremen or trucking strike that costs millions of dollars a week to have ships sitting idle in a harbour because they cannot be unloaded, or because of a trucking strike or a rail strike. It is just not satisfactory, let alone not being able to get Canadian goods, wheat and other products, to other parts of the world.

What will happen in the very fluid market that is international trade? The Chinese Overseas Shipping Company, COSCO, has nominated Vancouver as a port of first call. If it finds that when it has ships arrive in Vancouver, or Prince Rupert as we are growing a container port there, that it is not reliable because of a variety of reasons, it is going to end up bypassing Vancouver and will go south to Portland, Seattle or Los Angeles. We will just be out of the equation. In other words, we will cut our nose off to spite our face.

We as a government, and as a Parliament, need to ensure that there is adequate investment in port infrastructure. That includes highways, roadways and railways, and part of that aspect is to ensure that the railways are moving efficiently and safely, that we do not have derailments that can cause delays, injuries, and create the kind of tension that we are seeing currently within the CN Rail operation.

While I share and appreciate the concerns that the workers have for the issues currently part of the labour negotiations, and I have spoken with a number of them, I think there are ways in which we can deal with that through our transportation committee, through regulation, and through ensuring that the issues of rail safety are important to the government and to Canada, and that we follow through with appropriate action.

However, I believe that it is also important for the economy that we have the continuation of that service. We cannot afford to have it dismantled or disturbed and creating problems for small businesses as well as medium and large businesses who rely on imports and exports. A delay of a week or a month can be in many cases devastating for these businesses and for many other employees who are affected.

Having said that, I think the issues that have been raised with respect to the need for the back to work legislation are valid. The minister's representation earlier today stated that the discussions have been going on since last September. The contract expired in December. We have had petitions and information from businesses that are affected and from employees who are affected.

Ideally, the labour negotiation process should be allowed to work itself out, but there are some areas that are of national importance, almost what I would call an essential economic service. I feel that it is important for the government to be able to bring that stability in and to let the parties work things out in an environment that allows the service to continue. With the kind of agreement that we would have now, the back to work legislation, hopefully the union and the company will be able within the 90 days that are proposed in this bill to indeed come to a resolution, a negotiated settlement, before there is the imposition of an arbitrated settlement.

If it cannot happen, then we have to think what is good for all of Canada because it is not just British Columbia that we are talking about. We are not just talking about the port of Prince Rupert, the port of Vancouver and the businesses in B.C. We are talking about western Canada. We are talking about all across Canada.

In fact, through the rail system we move goods from Prince Rupert and Vancouver through to Chicago. We have a two day advantage on a natural sea route from Asia. We have that advantage over the U.S. We can get goods into Chicago two days faster than the Americans can by going to the U.S. ports. We need to protect that advantage and ensure that we take the steps and do what we can for a healthy economy.

Basically, what are important are the issues that the union has talked about: personal rest time and ensuring that they are safe as employees to work, that the equipment is safe, and that Transport Canada will ensure that its policies are followed to provide for a safe operation both for the employees, the railway and the communities through which it trains pass.

We have to tackle the issue of derailments. We have to tackle the issue of railway safety, but we also have to tackle the issue, as this bill proposes, to ensure that there is a continuation of those rail services and that the economic backbone of Canada, the economic spine of Canada, is maintained.

Therefore, I am pleased and prepared to support Bill C-46.

Railway continuation Act, 2007
Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I listened to my colleague from North Vancouver and there are some points I can concur in, but really I would ask my colleague to consider that when it comes down to it he is either in favour of free collective bargaining or he is not. If he is in favour of free collective bargaining, then he does not agree with back to work legislation, because that in and of itself violates the entire principle of the value of free collective bargaining.

Where I come from, in the labour movement and within the New Democratic Party, we believe in the right to organize. We believe in the right to free collective bargaining and, when the sides reach an impasse during collective bargaining, we believe in the right to withhold our services if necessary. Strikes by their very nature have an economic impact and that is what puts the pressure on the two parties to come together, to shorten or minimize the strike and come to a resolution.

I ask my colleague, how can he have this contradiction? How can he speak from both sides of his mouth, as it were, on this issue, especially in the context that final offer selection as contemplated in this Bill C-46 that we are debating today is an imperfect type of third party arbitration? As long as we are dealing with very simplistic things such as wages, for instance, then FOS is not a bad option because the arbitrator can choose this side or that side, but not parts of both. It forces the two parties to somewhat temper with reason their demands.

In settling negotiations I have used FOS probably eight times in different cabinet shops and in multi-party bargaining in the construction industry. I found it worked only when the issues were simple.

In this case, the issues are complex: safety rules, work rules, shift schedules and pension benefits. There is no way to put a question like that to an arbitrator in the context of FOS where it would have a satisfactory result, so I would ask my colleague to reconsider his position and the position of his party.

If we are truly committed to free collective bargaining, we do not vote for back to work legislation. If we are truly committed to final offer selection, we would know that it can work only when it is the choice of the two parties. It can never work if it is imposed on the parties by the legislation. It can work only when the issues in dispute are simple and straightforward, such as basic wages. Would he not agree that there is a contradiction in the remarks he has made and a contradiction in his party's stance that its members can be for free collective bargaining and also for back to work legislation?