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

Summer Career Placement Program
Petitions
Routine Proceedings

10:40 a.m.

Bloc

Christian Ouellet Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Mr. Speaker, this morning I am tabling a petition from non-profit organizations in my riding, Brome—Missisquoi, including the Learning Disabilities Association of Quebec and municipal recreation and volunteer committees.

This petition was signed by 143 members of NPOs who find this loss of jobs for youth a great shame and who deplore the fact that decisions about jobs for all of Quebec will be made not in each region where people are more familiar with the choices to be made for each student, but by bureaucrats.

These people are very disappointed with the new program and are asking the government to bring back the old program.

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

10:45 a.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre
Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

Mr. Speaker, I ask that all questions be allowed to stand.

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

10:45 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Is that agreed?

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

10:45 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Motion that debate be not further adjourned
Railway Operations Legislation
Government Orders

April 17th, 2007 / 10:45 a.m.

York—Simcoe
Ontario

Conservative

Peter Van Loan Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

Mr. Speaker, with respect to the consideration of the motion under government orders, Government Business No. 15, I move:

That the debate be not further adjourned.

Motion that debate be not further adjourned
Railway Operations Legislation
Government Orders

10:45 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Pursuant to Standing Order 67.1 there will now be a 30-minute question period. I invite hon. members who wish to ask questions to rise in their places so the Chair has some idea of the number of members who wish to participate in this question period.

I will start with the hon. member for Davenport.

Motion that debate be not further adjourned
Railway Operations Legislation
Government Orders

10:45 a.m.

Liberal

Mario Silva Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, let me start by saying that although we will be supporting the motion under Standing Order 57 and also Bill C-46, we have serious concerns about how the government has handled this situation. Obviously all of us are concerned that prolonging the CN strike has a serious economic impact on our country. This is a very important service to many communities.

The strike has been ongoing for quite a long time and we want to know where the government was. Where was the minister? It seems that the minister has been missing in action. The minister should have been there to bring both parties to the table to resolve this issue from the beginning so that we would not be in the situation we are in today. The fact that we are voting on this closure motion and also subsequently voting on Bill C-46 in many ways indicates the failure by the government to bring about a resolution to the strike.

I want to know what steps the minister has taken. How many times has he met with both parties? What attempts has he made to bring a resolution to this strike?

Motion that debate be not further adjourned
Railway Operations Legislation
Government Orders

10:45 a.m.

Jonquière—Alma
Québec

Conservative

Jean-Pierre Blackburn Minister of Labour and Minister of the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec

Mr. Speaker, the principle of free collective bargaining is accepted by all parliamentarians. However, when a 14-day strike at Canadian National paralyzed Canada's economy and our exports dropped by $1 billion in February as a result of the dispute between CN and the United Transportation Union, our government had a responsibility to act when it saw that the parties did not seem to be able to reach an agreement. Hon. members will recall that after Bill C-46 received first reading, the parties reached an agreement in principle.

However, the members voted nearly 80% not to ratify this agreement, and workers are now holding rotating strikes across the country. We have heard from a number of companies that are affected by these strikes and are afraid they will not be able to move their own goods within their company.

Under the circumstances, how long should we wait? Should we wait until 5, 10, 20 or 30 rotating strikes have taken place? How long should the government wait and let the economic situation deteriorate before taking action? We told the parties that the government would do what it had to do, given that an agreement did not seem possible. We are going to proceed with this bill.

There is nothing preventing the union from reaching an agreement with management. Even though the bill will come into force, the parties can still reach a settlement, in which case it will take precedence. But we are determined to protect Canada's economy.

Motion that debate be not further adjourned
Railway Operations Legislation
Government Orders

10:50 a.m.

NDP

Libby Davies Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I must say that every time in Parliament that we rise for a question period on a topic such as this which involves closure on a bill that is before the House, or will soon be before the House, it is an occasion that we should treat very seriously because as parliamentarians we are here to debate legislation. We are here to promote public discourse. We are here to put forward various perspectives and points of view.

When a governing party brings in a closure motion, which is what we are now dealing with today, to ram through legislation in an act of desperation, we have this 30 minute period to question why indeed this is happening. I am very pleased to rise today to question the minister and the government as to why they are now, at this point, bringing in closure on the back to work legislation.

It begs a question. Back to work legislation is a very serious issue. The situation involving CN and its employees has been dragging on for months. The members of the union have very legitimate issues around health and safety, which we will get into when we debate this bill. However, to deny workers a legitimate right to negotiate and to go back to the table, to force through legislation and bring in closure on top of that, and to rail this through Parliament in a few hours, which is what is going to take place today unless it can be held up, is a very serious matter.

I want to question the government on the principle and on the grounds of democratic process. It is using this very heavy-handed and blunt instrument of closure to force through this legislation that will deny workers the opportunity to negotiate in good faith.

We have seen CN locking out workers. We saw union members legitimately reject a tentative agreement. They have a right to do that. That is part of the Labour Code. That is part of fair collective bargaining and negotiations: the right of a membership to make its own estimation as to whether or not it agrees to a tentative agreement.

The members decided they did not like that tentative agreement and they voted it down resoundingly. They now, I believe, have a right to go back into the process and get into negotiations, and the minister's office and the government should be facilitating that. They should be using all of their resources to ensure that that happens, not using this hammer and saying, “We give up on this now. We are just going to roll over and do what CN wants us to do. We are going to bring in this back to work legislation and more than that, we are going to use a second hammer to bring in closure and make sure we march it through Parliament as quickly as possible”.

We in the NDP, on principle, find that to be offensive. We find it to be anti-democratic. We find it to be in violation of the basic principles around labour fairness in this country.

I would like the government to respond to that in terms of how it justifies what it is now proposing and putting forward before this House, these very drastic measures to railroad through this legislation.

Motion that debate be not further adjourned
Railway Operations Legislation
Government Orders

10:50 a.m.

Conservative

Jean-Pierre Blackburn Jonquière—Alma, QC

Mr. Speaker, hon. members must understand that the parties have now been in talks for 19 months. Along the way, we organized our team of mediators to assist the parties. In February, an agreement was reached between Canadian National and the United Transportation Union with the help of our mediators.

Once the agreement was signed, the employees went back to work immediately. We appreciate that they did this, and it is entirely to their credit. However, when the union members democratically decide not to accept the agreement bargained by their leaders, the government cannot allow the economy to be paralyzed every day because of a rotating strike happening in one place or another. When there is a rotating strike in one place, that place is not the only one that feels the impact. In fact, it has a Canada-wide impact.

On Saturday, the parties continued to bargain, and no light can be seen at the end of the tunnel. In the circumstances, it is the responsibility of the members of this House to take action, and to enact a law, because they can see that the parties are not able to reach an agreement at this time. The parties will still be able to bargain. Over the next three months, if they reach an agreement, that agreement will prevail. If there is no agreement, our arbitrator will ask each party to state its position regarding the agreement. Our arbitrator will then decide between A and B, with no middle ground. He will decide between A and B. We believe that this is what we have to do to solve this problem.

The Canada Labour Code was revised in 1999. Parliament did not have to step in again in any way to enact back-to-work legislation. In 2000, Canadian National ratified an agreement. It ratified another agreement in 2003. At present, that does not seem to be possible. In February, there were 14 strike days, an extremely long time, all because of a conflict between an American union and the Canadian union that the two parties do not agree on. Who has paid the price for this problem? The Canadian economy, and the employees whose wages were not paid.

The law we will enact is in the interests of our country's economy, in the interests of the employees, and in the interests of the proper operation of our rail service. It will also mean that the United States and other countries will be able to see that this country is operating properly and that they can count on a fully functioning transportation system.

Motion that debate be not further adjourned
Railway Operations Legislation
Government Orders

10:55 a.m.

Liberal

Joe Volpe Eglinton—Lawrence, ON

Mr. Speaker, on behalf of the Liberal Party, I guess all of us are rather frustrated that we find ourselves in this particular position. On basic principle, we would all hope that collective bargaining would achieve a desired outcome that would not involve the Government of Canada insinuating itself into a situation that is, at the same time, local as it is macro.

I listened to the minister's answers, and I recall the days that we sat on the manpower and immigration committee when we were looking at resolving a lot of issues dealing with human resources. I know that his heart appears to be in the right place and he wants to take the appropriate actions. It is very non-partisan of me to say that, and I kind of hesitate to pay him a compliment, although he is quite deserving.

He must feel as frustrated as I that his erstwhile allies on the NDP side, who claim to have a righteous position on principle, have eschewed the opportunity offered to them to take a look at the greater interests of people working everywhere in the country. It must be terribly frustrating for him. I feel badly for him.

Before I start to shed a tear, I would like to tell him that the next time he is sitting at the cabinet table to take a look across--and I do not know what the seating order is--but to take a look at his other erstwhile ally, and that would be the Minister of Transport , who has also absolved himself of the great responsibility of looking at the transportation infrastructure needs of this country that led to this mess in labour relations at CN with its employees.

I am not going to pick sides between CN and the union. As I said, from our perspective we are looking at a situation that says that the country is crying out for the intervention of Parliament in a situation that has wide, national impact. While we do not want to see the government come in with a heavy hand, we have to, at this point, get to the nub of the matter. Are we going to ensure that people get back to the table or not? I think that is what the NDP would like us to consider as its sole position.

I am hoping that the Minister of Labour will agree that the measures that he is about to take are going to ensure that people get back to the table and reassess their position. It might not be the philosophical position that the NDP and its moralist rant would like to see happen, but those members have been wrong before many times, so it has become a bit of a litany.

I am wondering whether the minister has already taken the measures necessary to alert both parties that this kind of measure that Parliament is considering today is expected to receive their immediate attention, so we can get on with taking care of the nation's business and that they can be full partners in that, not like their erstwhile parties way off to the left of the fringes.

Motion that debate be not further adjourned
Railway Operations Legislation
Government Orders

11 a.m.

Conservative

Jean-Pierre Blackburn Jonquière—Alma, QC

Mr. Speaker, what did the parties agree to in February? They agreed to a 3% increase and a lump sum of $1,000 and they were going to take a year to negotiate their collective agreement. The employees, the union members, have the right not to accept this offer and to decide that it does not satisfy their expectations.

However, what should we as parliamentarians be thinking about? We have to consider that we cannot be in a situation where one morning one area is shut down and the next morning it is another, and the day after that, another, and so on, indefinitely. We have to take action. We are not requiring anything in terms of a collective agreement. The two parties have to sit together at the table and come up with an agreement that works for them.

This is what we are saying: if after three months the parties still do not have an agreement, the arbitrator will ask each side what it wants and he will choose one of the two proposals, not up the middle, but either A or B. The parties can certainly agree. If they come to a mutual arrangement then there is no problem; in fact, that is preferable. However, our responsibility is to ensure that the trains are running, that they are delivering goods to businesses, that our seaports are able to export and that things are operating smoothly from end of the country to the other.

Allow to name a few of these businesses. Yesterday alone we received 78 phone calls from business people and businesses asking us to take action. It has been like that for a few days now, since the decision was made to have rotating strikes. They included Superior Propane in Calgary, Western Grain Elevator Association in Winnipeg, Nutrinor in Saint-Bruno, Keystone Agricultural Producers in Winnipeg, Tembec in Abitibi, Campotex in Saskatoon, Canadian Federation of Agriculture in Ottawa, Canadian Grain and Oilseed Exporters Association in Winnipeg, the Port of Halifax, and the list goes on.

I understand why the Liberal Party is supporting us because, indeed, everyone comes to realize that it is our responsibility to take action. That is what we are doing in the best interests of the employees, of our economy and of railway operations in Canada.

Motion that debate be not further adjourned
Railway Operations Legislation
Government Orders

11 a.m.

NDP

Brian Masse Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened very carefully to the comments of the minister. I have great concern with the issue of the whole concept of the government to “protect the health of the Canadian economy”. It seems this is the only legislation that can be dealt with by a fast track method and it could trample on workers' rights. Those principles are very important for our party.

Every time the Liberal member for Eglinton—Lawrence speaks there seems to be a widening credibility gap when he talks about the moralist rant of the NDP. This is coming from a member who was willing to take money for his leadership bid from children. Every time the member gets to speak in the chamber, the credibility gap is only surpassed by the prosperity gap in our country.

It is important to note that this is absolutely not the truth about what the NDP is talking. We are talking about a set of principles and rules for workers, and they understand that through legislation passed in the chamber. For the minister to do an act like this and then close debate is very important.

I am concerned about what has taken place since the workers have gone back to work after the failed last attempt at negotiations. We had looked at rotating strikes and also lockouts by CN.

The issues that have been raised by some of the business interests are very important. They are very sincere in many respects and they relate to a lot of different businesses and Canadian consumers across our country, but they have to be done in balance. CN actually locked out a series of workers.

If we are to talk about protecting the health of the Canadian economy, one only has to look at the past budget. For example, I recently had meetings with our domestic auto manufacturers. They were calling for the government to stop the Korea trade negotiations. That is more important to them. Why is there not legislation to protect the health of the Canadian economy relating to that?

Why is Korea sending a delegation on Wednesday when we know the government's budget has caused General Motors to cease investment in Canada? The fee rates that the minister's colleague in industry and finance introduced penalized domestic auto manufacturers and provided a massive subsidy to Toyota, and the RX in particular, at the expense of Canadian domestic vehicles. General Motors has responded by saying that it will not invest in Canada right now. It is all on hold because of the minister's policies.

Where is the minister going with this legislation? Does he really understand that is not only the sole issue being asked to be worked upon?

As to the role of CN in this, has the minister done due diligence to ask it what it has done and why it has locked out certain locations? That is important. It seems that it has shifted to the burden of the worker alone where these are workers' rights. However, at the same time, CN is obliged to come forward to explain why it has locked workers out, and that is important. This is what we are talking about. Legislation at the end of the day is being usurped by the current action.

Motion that debate be not further adjourned
Railway Operations Legislation
Government Orders

11:05 a.m.

Conservative

Jean-Pierre Blackburn Jonquière—Alma, QC

Mr. Speaker, what does the New Democratic Party want? When it becomes clear that two groups cannot reach an agreement, at least not in the foreseeable future, and that Canada's economy is suffering a little more damage every day because of rotating strikes, it is our responsibility to act.

I would like to point out that in February, the strike lasted 14 days. Why? What happened then? There was a conflict between the American and Canadian branches of the United Transportation Union. When the strike began, Canadian National went to the Canadian Industrial Relations Board, saying that the president of the Canadian union did not have the right to call a strike—only the American union could.

When the matter came before the Canadian Industrial Relations Board, the Americans refused to recognize the lawyer who was negotiating. They wanted their own lawyer. Five days passed while the lawyer representing the American union prepared the case. For those five days, Canada's economy was paralyzed as everyone waited to find out whether the strike was legal. In the end, those 14 days of strike action reduced our exports by about $1 billion. That is what it cost Canada's economy. That is why, as soon as it becomes clear that the parties cannot find a solution, we cannot let things go on.

As for these rotating strikes, are we supposed to wait 32 days, 64 days, or 100 days? We must act now. We know—we can see that the situation is deteriorating. It is our responsibility to act, and we are doing so in the best interest of all parties, in the interest of the employees and in the interest of our country's economy.

Motion that debate be not further adjourned
Railway Operations Legislation
Government Orders

11:05 a.m.

Liberal

Joe Volpe Eglinton—Lawrence, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I wanted to be polite and not interrupt the debate on a point of order until the minister had spoken because he has conducted himself like a gentleman. This is a little less than I can say about other colleagues, especially since we have entered into the area of muckraking with the member for Windsor West.

Elections Canada, which is an arm's length organization that monitors what members of Parliament do in terms of election, examined just his allegation and I am prepared to table the letter. It is unbecoming of a member from the House to attribute or allege behaviour that is dishonourable. I will table the letter from Elections Canada that addresses the issue of age of contributors and the legal presumptions due to family relationships or shared address of contributors. It exonerates anything that my campaign for the leadership did in terms of fundraising.

I ask the hon. member to live up to the word “honourable” and avoid making such smearing comments. These drive-by smears do not help anybody out. If he is a gentleman, he will withdraw the comment. If he is not, he will live with it.