House of Commons Hansard #120 of the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was drugs.

Topics

Information Related to the Study of Bill C-36
Privilege
Private Members' Business

12:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

I appreciate the interventions that have been made by various members on this point of privilege.

The Chair will take this serious matter under advisement and will get back to the chamber at an appropriate time. At that time, the Chair will deal with the issue of the minister's response, but the Chair needs to consider this matter at this time.

Resumption and Continuation of Railway Operations
Government Orders

November 30th, 2009 / 12:20 p.m.

Prince George—Peace River
B.C.

Conservative

Jay Hill Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

moved:

That, notwithstanding any Standing Order or usual practice of the House, a bill in the name of the Minister of Labour, entitled An Act to provide for the resumption and continuation of railway operations, shall be disposed of as follows: (a) commencing when the said bill is read a first time and concluding when the said bill is read a third time, the House shall not adjourn except pursuant to a motion proposed by a Minister of the Crown, and no Private Members’ Business shall be taken up; (b) the said bill may be read twice or thrice in one sitting; (c) after being read a second time, the said bill shall be referred to a Committee of the Whole; and (d) during consideration of the said bill, no division shall be deferred.

Resumption and Continuation of Railway Operations
Government Orders

12:20 p.m.

Souris—Moose Mountain
Saskatchewan

Conservative

Ed Komarnicki Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and to the Minister of Labour

Mr. Speaker, later today the Minister of Labour, as the motion indicated, will introduce a bill to provide for the resumption and continuation of railway operations. This legislation is critical to protecting the national economy at this time when our economy is still in a fragile state from the global economic crisis. The motion before us will allow the House to consider the Minister of Labour's bill in an expedited fashion. The motion states that from first to third readings of the bill, the House shall not adjourn except pursuant to a motion proposed by a minister of the Crown, and that the bill go through all three readings in a single sitting, and that after being read a second time the bill will be referred to the committee of the whole.

I would like to advise members of the House to support the motion. The motion itself will not end the strike or impose a settlement; it will only allow us to proceed to deal with this issue as quickly as possible. The approach we are taking to this strike is obviously unusual. Normally for private disputes between private actors, we accept that it is their responsibility to come to a solution, perhaps with the help of government appointed conciliators and mediators.

I would again encourage the members to pass this procedural motion so we can at least get to the debate and continue to put pressure on both sides to come to a resolution. This motion essentially sets forward a process and procedure for a debate to take place in the House and for all members of the House to become engaged in the disposition of the matter by way of the bill that will be introduced.

The strike began at CN Rail early on Saturday after 14 months of inconclusive negotiations between the company and the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference. During the last six months of negotiations, the two sides were assisted by federal conciliators and mediators. Even after the strike began, we did not give up hope for a negotiated settlement, as that is the preferred course. Not only is it the preferred course, but the parties are always encouraged to come to a form of agreement on their own. Federal mediators worked with the employer and union all weekend in an effort to find a formula that would get the trains running again and establish a fair process for resolving all outstanding differences, but the parties could still not find their way to an understanding.

The Minister of Labour became personally involved in the search for a solution. She contacted each side to encourage a negotiated agreement and offered to appoint an arbiter to resolve the matters in dispute, on which the Canada Labour Code requires both parties to concur. CN agreed but the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference did not. Unless the parties agree, that process cannot be instigated.

No one in the House likes back to work legislation. All of us prefer to see employers and unions freely bargain their collective agreements. That is certainly something that happens in the course of events, and many times there are struggles and difficulties to get there, but eventually a method is found to resolve an impasse, which is exactly how it should work if it can. But sometimes the parties are unable to reach agreement. Sometimes parties reach an impasse and a strike or lockout tends to happen and, in that case, it affects the national economy. When that happens Parliament must act in the public interest.

There are of course a number of factors in play. There is the public interest and there is the issue of the economy. As much as we want each of the parties in the process to negotiate with each other and just as each has appropriate and legitimate interests, and certainly we are respectful and mindful of the processes involved, what they do affects a bigger picture. It affects people other than them. It affects the public, the public interest, individuals and businesses. It affects the economy of Canada.

Therefore, it is important that we give due diligence to what has been placed before us, with the parties reaching the impasse they have, and, as I said, I trust and hope that they will see a way through to reach a negotiated settlement.

I would like to say a few words about the economy. As everyone in this House knows, Canada is starting to see signs of economic recovery. Statistics Canada announced this morning that the real GDP in Canada grew by 0.4% in the third quarter of 2009. While it is encouraging that Canada's economic growth has stabilized, the global economic recovery remains fragile and tentative, and that is a fact that must be taken into consideration.

As our finance minister has said, the Canadian economy is recovering but has not yet fully recovered. Too many families struggle and we may yet see more job losses before we fully turn the corner. Our government remains focused on fighting the recession and on helping Canadians, and that is obvious with the number of actions that we have taken in a variety of areas, whether it is funding for infrastructure, helping those who are unemployed by extending EI by five weeks, providing skills upgrading and training, and investing significant billions of dollars to ensure workers are prepared and equipped to be a part of our economy and ensure our economy does not stagnate but goes forward.

We remain focused on fighting the recession and helping Canadians. To protect our economy, we need to stay the course and, of course, we must continue implementing Canada's economic action plan.

Today's numbers show that Canada's economic action plan is helping fuel the recovery. Household spending has increased. thanks to our tax cuts for Canadian families. Spending on homes has rebounded, fuelled by a recession-fighting home renovation tax credit. Businesses increased their investment and productivity, improving machinery and equipment, thanks to our tax relief and tariff reductions. Infrastructure and other capital spending has increased by nearly 25% this quarter, the largest increase in nearly a decade, but our economy still remains in a fragile and tentative state.

Even though we have worked hard to implement Canada's economic action plan, we have always received enough support from this House in order to proceed. The global economic circumstances still leave Canada in a precarious position. We cannot allow a labour dispute, where the parties reach an impasse, to threaten our economic recovery.

Canadians know how central our rail system is to the economic health of Canada. It is what has connected our commerce from coast to coast to coast since the days of John A. Macdonald. Our government believes that it is the responsibility of this House to intervene in private disputes when they threaten to significantly damage the public interest.

I am sure many members will be getting letters and correspondence from various industries that will be impacted and involved by this particular strike and the impasse that has been reached. The motion we have here would allow Parliament to act quickly. It is a responsibility of the parties in this House to debate, negotiate and go forward with proposed legislation that will keep in mind the public interest and our economy.

As I have said, businesses and farmers from across Canada are expressing their concern about the economic impacts of this strike, and that is understandable. Some of them have been impacted three or four times over the last number of years and have suffered significant economic losses as a result of that.

We have had experiences with the effects of work stoppages in the past. In 2007, when trains were last slowed by a strike, Ford had to shut down production of one of its plants because parts were not getting through.

The Canadian Wheat Board incurred charges of over $300,000 per day because ships were delayed in Canadian ports.

Shifts were discontinued at lumber facilities.

When the trains stop, the economy suffers and this is no time for that to happen. When we are struggling with the effects of the global downturn, this is no time for us to gamble with the economy.

The motion before us will not force any member of this House to support the actual back to work legislation, although I certainly hope they will debate it in earnest and keep in mind the larger public interest. However, what it will do is simply permit timely consideration of the Minister of Labour's bill. It is critically important, given the timing of what is happening outside this House. It is also important to know that this House is scheduled to rise in the next short while.

Given the seriousness of this situation, I would hope we would all make the public interest our first priority. I would ask all parties to give unanimous consent to this motion. From the agricultural products in the west and the automotive products in Ontario, to the forestry products in Quebec and the petroleum, chemicals and metals in the east, Canada depends on CN Rail's 20,000 kilometres of track.

Canada is a country founded on the railway. Since 1885, rail has driven our nation's economic engine. The railway has evolved with Canada and CN now facilitates a sophisticated commercial network, transporting inventory from domestic producers and international importers to consumers in Canada, the ports and our American neighbour to the south. Canada's transportation, in Canada 2008, in its statement “An Overview”, illustrates the importance of Canada's rail network. In 2007, railways in Canada transported 66,766 tonnes in essentially six sectors, valued at more than $94 million: the automotive sector, $44 million dollars; the chemical industry, $16-plus million; grains and fertilizers; metals; petroleum products; and pulp and paper. It has a far-reaching impact and far-reaching consequences to many.

I know the Canadian pulse industry, for example, is a world leader in the production and export of peas, lentils, chickpeas and beans, servicing over 150 markets each year. A strike would certainly affect that industry and what it is doing. It would certainly incur a lot of costs that would result in thousands, in fact, millions of dollars if it were to continue for a longer period of time.

Loss of earnings of that magnitude at a time when the downturn in the global economy has produced significant challenges for Canadian businesses, indeed, all Canadians, and the customers around the world, must be avoided. We must do what we can to bridge the gap to bring the two parties together to ensure there is a resolution so the trains can continue moving.

The reason for quick action, of course, given the time of year, the fragile state of the national economy and the serious economic impacts of a work stoppage, are all factors that must be taken into consideration. Businesses from across the country have expressed their concern about this strike. The 2007 strike at CN cost the economy millions of dollars a day. This is a price we simply cannot afford at a time when recovery from the global recession is still so tentative. CN moves thousands of carloads of material across its 20,000 kilometres of tracks every week. Some clients have no other source of transportation for their goods and rely exclusively on the operation of the railway network.

Most labour disputes are basically private matters between an employer and a union. They may affect the public in modest ways but not enough for Parliament to intervene in the collective bargaining process, even when there is an impasse and even when there are work disruptions. Such is the way things work.

However, that changes when a strike or lockout has significant impacts on the national economy or the public health and safety. Then the right of employers and unions to sort out their differences through work stoppages must be balanced against the public interest. Many times, members struggle with the appropriate balance and it can be difficult to reach that balance, but a balance must be reached that takes into account these other interests. It is our responsibility to do that.

As I have said before, federal conciliators and mediators are working with the parties and have been in negotiations since June. The level of engagement has been high for many months. There have been a number of interventions. Mediators have literally been working around the clock since Friday in a last ditch effort to help find a formula that would bring an end to the work stoppage and pave the way for a new collective agreement but these efforts have not yet borne fruit.

The Minister of Labour has repeatedly offered, both publicly and in discussions with the employer and union representatives, to appoint an arbiter to resolve all matters still in dispute. This step, by law, requires the consent of both parties and, of course, this matter must be left in the hands of the parties to that extent.

The government has done all that it can do short of introducing legislation. We are always ready to help parties interested in reaching an agreement but sometimes an employer and the union are so far apart that no amount of mediation and support will break the deadlock between them or the impasse that may exist. There is always hope that will happen.

It is true that Parliament should only intervene in work stoppages where the national interest is clearly at stake. Our labour relations system is founded on the principle that employers and unions should be allowed to work out their differences as often as possible and the tool of back to work legislation should be reserved for exceptional circumstances.

Therefore, this motion is an appropriate motion that would allow this matter to be debated in the House in priority to other matters before the House recesses. It is an important issue, a national issue and an issue of national interest that must be disposed of by the House. This motion sets the framework for the House to engage in that debate in a concentrated and concerned way. It ensures that all members who wish to participate in debate on these issues of national importance are able to do so with a view to bringing the matter to a resolution because the parties are unable to do so.

This motion sets the stage for further critical debate that will in fact be launched in the time to come. It is a procedural motion. It is a motion that I would ask all parties in the House and all sides in this debate to support whether they are for or against a particular issue in the debate. It is the responsible thing to do. It is the kind of thing that Canadians would expect the House to do.

All Canadians will be watching with interest the debate that will go forward. All Canadians hope that parliamentarians will get together, notwithstanding party lines, to ensure that the framework is set through this motion to have this matter debated fully and extensively in the House and given the priority that it deserves.

Resumption and Continuation of Railway Operations
Government Orders

12:40 p.m.

Bloc

Robert Vincent Shefford, QC

Mr. Speaker, I heard the hon. member repeatedly mention the national interest. I believe that this is a matter we should not become involved in.

Every corporation has the right to negotiate as it sees fit. CN is a private corporation. The collective agreement expired on December 31, 2008, almost a year ago. They have not yet been able to come to an agreement or to resolve their differences and sign a collective agreement. I imagine that this may be because of the bad faith of the employer who, once again, is protected by the government. When parties to an agreement are unable to find common ground, the government is told that it is a matter of national interest. As for the anti-scab legislation, successive governments have said that it was not necessary.

CN has every means at its disposal to continue operating. Therefore, I would like my colleague to tell us what good reasons he has to have the House resolve this dispute with a bill or other measure. It is important to say that if private corporations negotiate in good faith with their workers, results will be achieved. I would like to hear what my colleague has to say about that.

Resumption and Continuation of Railway Operations
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12:40 p.m.

Conservative

Ed Komarnicki Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Mr. Speaker, as I said, certainly in matters of labour relations and in matters of negotiations, it should be left to the parties to bargain and to settle with the processes that are available.

However, we must remember that what the parties do here does not just affect the two parties. It affects people other than the two parties. It affects business, industry, a number of businesses and sectors that are outside of the parties who have a loss or an experience to take into account when the parties are not able to agree. It is regrettable that they are not able to agree.

I think everything should be done to facilitate reaching an agreement. We have done that, everything that is possible. At the end of the day, there must be a bigger picture that the parties are held to account.

When we look at the public interest and how this would affect the public, it would affect the public in a very serious way. When this member says that the parties should be left to their own, what would he say to the automotive industry, the chemical industry, the grain and fertilizer industry, the agriculture industry, the pulp and paper industry, and the forest industry, who are directly being impacted?

At some point we have to take that interest into account. I realize it is a balance, but at some point this House, this member, will have to balance that interest.

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12:45 p.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, I followed the discussion from the parliamentary secretary very closely. He describes what we are debating today as a procedural motion, and then continues to talk about the substance of a very serious labour dispute and the positions of the two sides in that dispute.

Let me just go back, first of all, to the procedural nature of the motion that is in fact in front of us. What we have here today is a motion being tabled by the government that is essentially assigning a time limit to the amount of time that members of this House can debate a bill that we have not even seen yet.

That is contempt of Parliament. It is contempt of the members of this institution. It is contempt of collective bargaining. It is contempt for the locomotive engineers at CN. Frankly, it is contempt of the safety of Canadian rail passengers.

The issues that are before us here today are serious issues. We are talking about collective bargaining, something that is recognized in UN conventions. It is recognized through the ILO. Canada is a signatory to those conventions. In fact, even the charter of rights, through its Supreme Court interpretation, now recognizes that collective bargaining is a fundamental right associated with freedom of association.

If those are guaranteed rights and the government is not above the law, the government has to respect collective bargaining. It does not do that when it signals that it is going to introduce back-to-work legislation. It takes away the incentive for management to bargain in good faith.

My question to the parliamentary secretary this morning is, and I need him to be very specific here, when did his government signal its intentions, its willingness, to bring back-to-work legislation before this House to the management at CNR?

Resumption and Continuation of Railway Operations
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12:45 p.m.

Conservative

Ed Komarnicki Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Mr. Speaker, outside of providing mediators and conciliators facilitating the parties, we do not actually enter into the negotiation process with the parties. The member knows that.

The member knows that this motion is a procedural motion. The member knows, if she cares to read the motion, that it simply states from the first to third readings of the bill the House will not adjourn, except pursuant to a motion proposed by a minister of the Crown, the bill may go through all three readings in a single sitting, and then after being read a second time the bill will be referred to a committee of the whole.

The discussions and the debates can continue for a significant period of time. It gives the opportunity for the House to debate this issue and members can speak for and against the particular bill, but the fact of the matter is it is a matter that is important. It is a matter of national interest that requires the attention of the House and when it is put on the floor of the House it must be dealt with in priority to other matters that are happening.

Certainly, given the time of year and before the House recesses, the member would have to do the responsible thing and say before the House breaks this House needs to deal with this issue in one fashion or another, and it will take a vote of the House to deal with it.

That is what should happen and what needs to happen. Given that the parties are having a difficulty and have reached an impasse we need to put the process in place, we need to put the procedure in place, so the House can do what the House is elected to do and that is to deal with the national interest and an interest that significant to Canadians.

Resumption and Continuation of Railway Operations
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12:45 p.m.

Liberal

Maria Minna Beaches—East York, ON

Mr. Speaker, I know that we are all concerned with respect to the disruption of the economy and the disruption to services with the strike, but I am also cognizant of the fact that we would rather not have the House act as arbiter and get involved in these situations, and for Parliament to make the decisions, but rather that the parties involved be the ones who work this out.

I wonder if the hon. member could tell the House this. I know there has been back and forth for some time and there have been some agreements on some things and not on some others. Could the member inform the House as to why the two parties are actually not continuing to negotiate? My understanding is that one side is not interested in going to arbitration but would like to continue the collective bargaining at the table.

Does the government feel that it is important at this point to bring closure rather than to give them more time to see whether they can come to some agreement at the table between the two of them rather than this venue. Could the hon. member explain that?

Resumption and Continuation of Railway Operations
Government Orders

12:50 p.m.

Conservative

Ed Komarnicki Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Mr. Speaker, there is no question that the preference is always, in our labour relations system, founded on the principle that employers and unions should be allowed to work out their differences as often as possible. We do not want to put the procedure in place that we are now proposing if we do not need to.

Certainly, the government has done all it can do to help the parties along that process short of introducing legislation. Without getting involved into negotiations itself, it is something that is not the position of the government to do. But it is also interested that the parties would reach a settlement if they can. If there is no amount of mediation or support to break a deadlock, and there is a deadlock, and there is a compelling reason to act, then we must act.

This is simply a motion that sets the process in place for the debate to take place in the House, for the fullness of debate, and as the other member mentioned, with respect to the legislation itself.

As the member may know, she may have pointed questions at that point as to the essence and the substance of the bill. That is not what we are discussing today. We are not talking about that. We are talking about establishing a process in the House that will allow for that debate to take place.

Resumption and Continuation of Railway Operations
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12:50 p.m.

Liberal

Maria Minna Beaches—East York, ON

Mr. Speaker, this motion is the government's signal of its intention to move closure on a bill that is not yet before the House. This is a drastic measure which one would generally like to avoid because this is not the way that one would like to do business.

It is important to note that we have a motion in front of us, but we have not yet seen the bill. The House cannot give a definitive answer to the motion until it has at least seen the bill. We are debating a motion without knowing what the legislation would entail, and that is a major concern. Drastic measures are being taken and therefore it is important that we weigh them very carefully.

There is no doubt that all of us in the House are concerned about the disruption in the economy, the disruption of work, and the impact this will have on clients and all parties, including the locomotive engineers and the company itself. This will also impact on the relationship the company has with its employees and the relationship that the employees have with the company.

If both sides could come to an agreement at the table by themselves, it would augur much better for them to be able to have a relationship that would be much more stable in the future as opposed to some solution being imposed on both sides.

All parties need to keep their responsibilities in mind. The minister must ensure that everything possible is being done to ensure that the negotiations continue to take place between the two parties. In her role as minister, she must ensure that we find a workable solution. We must ensure that we all work together to avoid imposing undue hardship on the economy and on the people of Canada.

This is a particularly difficult time in our economy. There has been a lot of talk about the recovery of our economy. There are a lot of people in this country who are struggling and we do not want to cause them more undue stress.

All parties have an obligation. As I said, the minister has an obligation to ensure that the parties are talking, that there is an open line between them. At this point, it is important for all parties to go back to the table and continue the negotiations.

As I said before, it is important that we continue to keep in mind what the ultimate repercussions could be, but at the same time we must keep in mind the importance of maintaining an amicable relationship between employees and employer.

I understand that there are two broad issues still on the table, but there is a great divide on one of them. One of the issues is the money issue and the other is the hours of work or the mileage cap.

There is a huge divide on the mileage cap issue. My understanding is that the company is saying that it would go from 37 hours to 41 hours, and that is not a big shift. The union is saying that it would go from the current 72 hours, which is a much larger number, to 82 hours. This is a huge divide. This is a much bigger gap in the perception of the two.

We do not have the ability in the House to assess what the situation with the hours means and the impact they will actually have.

From everything I have seen and all of the discussions I have had thus far that the money issue may be easier to resolve, although I am not saying it would be easy or that it is unimportant. Certainly the union has indicated that it is prepared to go to arbitration on that issue. The disparity in the hours of work is a much bigger issue and that seems to be the issue at which we are looking.

Given this reality, the House cannot take one side or another on the specific issues that are at stake. I do not think it should be up to the Parliament of Canada or the members of Parliament in the House to try to weed out what the issues are in that area and the impact they may have. However, the House should have presented to it an assessment of the impact they are going to have with respect to the agreements and the issues we are discussing today.

The minister at least needs to ask the deputy minister to do a thorough assessment on the impact of this. There are two very differing sides. As I said, the disparity is quite huge and I do not think the House is in a position to see that, but it is important for the House to know the impacts, to what extent they are real or not, where the truth is and where the reality lies.

It is important for the minister to look at these two dramatically different views and have her deputy or department do a proper assessment on the impact. That assessment should be reported to the House. In fact, if the minister intends to table a bill, which I understand this motion is about, she should put that information in the bill as well.

Before the House gets into debating the bill and finishing the debate on this motion, it should know what these dramatically different views are and the impact of them. A thorough assessment of them needs to be carried out, especially given the fact that it seems to be one of the major contentious issues in this discussion. I know that discussions continued until late last night. Hopefully, today there are still some discussions going on, although I do not know for sure, but we need to deal with these areas.

We are very concerned that this kind of issue does not take over the situation not only in the country but in the House. As I said, the concern is, yes, the fact that thousands and thousands of people in the country rely on transportation. Railways are the backbone, so to speak. I always call them the spine that connects the country and has connected it for many years. It is very critical and important to our economy and to the customers that use them.

We need to remember and keep in mind that there are collective agreement rights in the country and labour negotiations. Employees have rights as well. It is important that the two parties be allowed the time to negotiate and continue their discussions.

I again encourage the minister to bring to the House a thorough assessment of everything I have seen and all of the discussions I have had thus far with the minister and others. This area seems to be dramatically different.

It is important to note that the hours are a result of the increase in mileage. For my colleagues who may not know what that means, it is raising the mileage cap to 4,300 miles per month, which will increase the time away from home and average out to 82 hours per week, according to the union. The company's averaging is different. I think it is at 41. This is really important and it is a huge area that needs to be looked at.

It is important to note that strikes are never the way to go and they are never easy on our economy and on our country, especially in the sectors where a great many people are dependent on the goods and services that are delivered and provided. They are not the best way to go. They create a tremendous amount of negativity and bitterness sometimes and a toxic environment.

The last strike at CN by the conductors lasted about two months. They went back to work when back to work legislation was enacted. In this case I would like to see that not be the case. I would like to see the two parties involved get back to the table to really sort out their differences.

I understand we are debating a motion today, a closure motion, that would essentially put closure on the debate and on the process of the legislation that we anticipate we will see. Not having seen that legislation, I will not make a comment. This is somewhat premature, because we need to see what the legislation says before we can move forward.

I would ask the minister if she would, prior to all of this, ask her officials to do a proper impact assessment on the hours and to explain to the House what the differences are between the information we have received from the two sides and exactly what that means in terms of the impact on the employees and the employer and on the service as a whole. We do not know what this actually means, so it is important we get that information. I would hope to get that soon, because I think it would help us a great deal in our discussion.

I would like to finish by saying a couple of things. First, I would rather not have to take drastic measures such as this one. As I said, we have not yet seen the bill and I do not like this kind of drastic measure. Second, I understand that we all have to take responsibility, the minister as well as the company and the union, to ensure that people and the economy are not unduly affected. We need to ensure this happens and everyone has to take that kind of responsibility.

As I said, it should not be up to the House to make that decision. We should not be trying to figure out what side is where and who is doing what. It is not something on which Parliament should make a decision. It is better that it be decided between the two parties. That creates a much better relationship for the future, a much better environment and better labour relations than would be the case if the House got involved.

Finally, it is important that the minister table, if it is possible, the assessment I referred to earlier. It seems to me that those are the two major issues left on the table, one being wages. However, from what I have seen, the issue of hours and the mileage cap is the more serious issue. I would like to see the minister table that in the House as soon as possible so we can a see what has caused the major concerns in this area.

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1:05 p.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened very carefully to the member's intervention on the motion before us today. In some ways I am reminded of the comments made by the member for Toronto Centre on the issue of the HST, “I'm not sitting on the fence; I'm skating”. In many ways, that is exactly the impression I get yet again on this issue from the Liberal member who just spoke.

She talked about how regrettable it was when negotiations broke down. Yet she in no way indicated whether she and her party would be voting in favour of the procedural motion now before the House, and perhaps it is premature, or the legislation that we are about to see this afternoon.

I remind the member and other members of the House that while, yes, technically we are debating a procedural motion today, in reality all the speakers so far have talked about the substantive issues at stake in the labour dispute between CNR and the Teamsters Canadian Rail Conference. Clearly, no matter what kind of substance the back to work legislation has, the issue is, in a principled way, are we for or are we against back to work legislation. I seems to me that is the issue we will be dealing with here over the next few hours, days, or perhaps weeks.

Has the member taken a position, now that we have a new Liberal leader in the House? Is this an issue where the Liberals will break the regrettable record that has marked their legislative career in the House over decades, where they always in the end supported back to work legislation? Could we now look forward to a time where, for the first time, the Liberal Party in the House will oppose back to work legislation and the motion that is before us today?

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1:05 p.m.

Liberal

Maria Minna Beaches—East York, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is evident from the member herself. She has said that the legislation is not yet before us, that it is premature, but also more important, there are issues with which we have deal.

What I have said is negotiations are going on and I do not want to derail them by jumping all over the place. It is critical that the two parties, which have talked up until now, continue that conversation and resolve the issue among themselves. I do not really want to see Parliament have to make those decisions.

I do not think Parliament should have to get between this issue and, quite frankly, there is still time. I do not see why we have to rush anything. My understanding is there is still some talking going back and forth and I do not see why that cannot happen. I do not see why the House is going through this process when hopefully by the end of the day, the two parties will have resolved their issues and Parliament does not need to get in the way.

The other issue, which I mentioned earlier, is very important. It is relevant that the minister present to us an assessment of what the major concerns are. I would like to know the impact. What are the facts with respect to the differences they have on the hour and the mileage cap? That is very critical. Regardless of what happens, the House should know what that is. It is important and the disparity is far too wide for us not to know and not to ask what that is. We need an assessment from the experts because we do not have the ability to do that ourselves.

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1:05 p.m.

Bloc

Luc Desnoyers Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, QC

Mr. Speaker, the Liberal member spoke of open lines, the right to negotiate and the fact that this is all premature. She appears to be opposed to the motion and therefore I would like her to elaborate a little more on her arguments.

Resumption and Continuation of Railway Operations
Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

Liberal

Maria Minna Beaches—East York, ON

Mr. Speaker, what I have said is that we have collective agreements and there is a right to strike, and this is happening with the strike going on right now.

However, the collective agreement process is not entirely over. There were ongoing discussions up until late last night. My understanding is there is still some communication going on today. We are having a discussion here today on a motion, which we probably will continue to discuss in the next day, but also there is a bill coming forward which none of us have seen. I want to see the bill before voting on a motion.

We are talking about debating a motion regarding a bill that we have not seen. How can we be definitive on an answer regarding a motion when we have not seen the bill? It is a bit difficult to do that.

Some things are incumbent upon the government and the minister to do to ensure they parties at the table and to ensure some solution comes forward. However, the minister could help the House and help the two parties if there were a proper, independent assessment on the major points of contention. I do not have that information and neither do any of my colleagues, as far as I know, or a proper analysis and assessment of what that means. I would like to see that.

Resumption and Continuation of Railway Operations
Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I know the member has been involved in the past. We have been here some 16 years and we have seen it before.

In fact, the position the government always has taken, regardless of where we have been, has been to support the collective bargaining process first as long as the parties are meeting in good faith and there is a prospect for progress to be made, provided however, and this is the area of the question, that the consequences of not reactivating a sector, whether it be the rail sector or any other, is not creating irreparable damage and consequences, it may be in the public interest to in fact take action.

Would the member comment on what we are doing right now? I think a lot of people may not understand that what we have before us is effectively a debate on closure of a bill that we have not received yet. It is very clever because it means at 2 o'clock this debate will cease and it will not be called back until after the legislation is brought in. Then the clock on the closure motion will already be ticking and we will be able to finish that off and put closure on a bill we have not even seen yet.

It would appear, in my estimation, that asking how we will vote on a bill that we have not seen yet is a premature question. In fact, this whole approach we are taking right now really is probably straining the rules of proceeding on back to work legislation discussions, simply by turning the process inside out and backwards.