House of Commons Hansard #77 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was jobs.

Topics

Opposition Motion—Investment Canada Act
Business of Supply
Government Orders

Noon

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Denise Savoie

We do.

Questions and comments, the hon. member for New Westminster—Coquitlam.

Opposition Motion—Investment Canada Act
Business of Supply
Government Orders

Noon

NDP

Fin Donnelly New Westminster—Coquitlam, BC

Madam Speaker, I listened to my hon. colleague's great speech and comments, where he touched on the loss of manufacturing jobs in this country. In fact, Canada has lost over 400,000 manufacturing jobs since the Prime Minister took office in 2006 and 40,000 in the last year or so. I am wondering if my hon. colleague can comment on how the NDP's proposal would differ from what the current government is doing, with our party's approach to good, well-paying manufacturing jobs in this country that we obviously seek and need. I wonder if the member could comment on that.

Opposition Motion—Investment Canada Act
Business of Supply
Government Orders

Noon

NDP

Robert Chisholm Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, it is all about making changes and having legislative instruments available so that we can hold companies accountable and provide transparency to Canadians to understand the plans of foreign companies coming to Canada and what their impacts will be on a community. Moreover, when those companies make decisions, we need to ensure that important intellectual properties are retained and not pirated out of this country, and that communities are not devastated. It is about transparency and accountability. It is the responsibility of the elected government representing the people of this country to protect jobs and communities.

Opposition Motion—Investment Canada Act
Business of Supply
Government Orders

Noon

NDP

Fin Donnelly New Westminster—Coquitlam, BC

Mr. Speaker, when it comes to corporate tax cuts and the approach of the government, if we look at the last 6 of 12 years and the kinds of tax breaks and giveaways for some of the richest corporations in this country, could the hon. member comment on how that approach has been working to sustain manufacturing jobs from the foreign companies coming into this country? When we look at the corporate tax rate as it currently sits at 15%, compared to where it was 6 years ago or even 12 years ago during a previous government, we have seen that rate drop almost in half. What impact has that had on this country and the economic climate?

Opposition Motion—Investment Canada Act
Business of Supply
Government Orders

12:05 p.m.

NDP

Robert Chisholm Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, we have seen what has happened since 2006. As we have seen corporate tax rates go down, not only have we seen the loss of over 400,000 manufacturing jobs in this country but we have also seen a serious loss in general revenue. In consequence the government is now proposing that seniors, maybe not today or tomorrow but the week after that, will have to work an extra two years to be eligible for OAS, and even then there undoubtedly will be a reduction in the amounts they receive. Seniors in this country are going to be asked to make up the revenue lost as a result of these tax breaks for the largest and most profitable corporations in this country.

It is about choices. The government is on the side of big corporations and CEOs. New Democrats are on the side of manufacturing workers, working people, seniors and ordinary Canadians.

Opposition Motion—Investment Canada Act
Business of Supply
Government Orders

12:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

Resuming debate. The hon. member for New Westminster—Coquitlam.

Opposition Motion—Investment Canada Act
Business of Supply
Government Orders

12:05 p.m.

NDP

Fin Donnelly New Westminster—Coquitlam, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Dartmouth—Cole Harbour for his good points. I would also like to thank the member for London—Fanshawe for her tireless work on this issue and for bringing this motion forward today.

I rise today to speak in support of this opposition day motion. The motion calls on the House to condemn the plant closures of Electro-Motive Diesel in London, Ontario and Papiers White Birch in Quebec City. Together, these two plant closures have resulted in the loss of over 1,000 good quality, family-supporting jobs.

The motion also calls on the government to table within 90 days draft amendments to the Investment Canada Act to ensure that foreign buyers are held to public and enforceable commitments on the net benefit to Canada and on the protection of Canadian jobs. Canada's New Democrats believe it is time that Canada take a strong stand on the issue of foreign investment, in particular to bring clarity to the vague concept of net benefit to Canada.

In the past several months, far too many Canadians have experienced firsthand the consequences of allowing foreign companies to take over Canadian based companies with no strings attached.

When Electro-Motive chose to close its doors, 450 jobs were lost after employees stood up and said no to a 50% wage cut and reduction in benefits. Another 600 jobs were lost when Papiers White Birch shut down its mill in Quebec City after workers refused to accept a 21% wage reduction and cutbacks to their pension plan, which would have seen the value of workers' pensions decrease by 45% to 65%.

Unfortunately, Electro-Motive and White Birch are not the only factory closures in recent months. On February 2, AstraZeneca announced that it would close its pharmaceutical research and development facility in Montreal, with 132 jobs lost. Just days before a dryer manufacturer, Mabe, also based in Montreal, announced it would close its doors with 700 jobs lost by 2014.

Another 750 workers at Rio Tinto Alcan in Alma, Quebec have been locked out since January 1. Moreover, last year, 900 workers at U.S. Steel were locked out for 11 months. Also, 3,000 workers were on strike for over a year at Vale's plant in Sudbury and Port Colbourne in Ontario. Another 200 workers were on strike for over 18 months at Vale's plant in Voisey's Bay, Newfoundland.

Thousands of Canadian workers in the past year have stood up to fight cuts to their salaries and pensions. For many, it meant standing on the picket line day after day for months on end. For some, the consequences meant being thrown out of work just after Christmas.

The federal government seems to be an all-too-willing partner in this race to the bottom for Canadian workers' wages and pensions.

Last year we saw how workers at Canada Post and Air Canada rejected their companies' offers to slash wages and pensions. When the federal government intervened, did it come to the assistance of the thousands of workers who were fighting for improved salaries and pensions? Did it come to the rescue? Who accepted having the next generation of workers as a second tier not deserving the same level of compensation and benefits?

The government took the side of the employers and supported measures to claw back salaries and pensions. It intervened in the collective bargaining process, taking away workers' bargaining rights by mandating the workers back to work.

Members of this place remember all too well the long hours of debate on the government's draconian, heavy-handed back-to-work legislation.

It is clear that the Conservative majority government has been nothing but bad news for Canadian workers. Only Canada's New Democrats have been standing up and fighting against this regression in workers' rights and compensation. If the government's intervention in labour disputes were not bad enough, it has gone so far as to give no-strings-attached tax breaks to companies, which can decide at the drop of a hat to close down operations and move good quality Canadian jobs to other countries.

The Conservative government's job creation strategy is simply not working. While the government prioritizes slashing the corporate tax rate, unemployment levels remain high and investment is lagging. For every percentage point the Conservatives cut the corporate tax rate, the government loses $2 billion in annual revenue. Over the past 12 years, six years under the Conservatives and six under the Liberals, the corporate tax rate has dropped from 28% to 15%, which has meant that some $26 billion in revenue has been lost.

Now the Conservatives are trying to convince Canadians that we can no longer afford to let seniors retire at age 65, that our universal public health care system is unsustainable, that we cannot afford to eradicate poverty among seniors or provide funding for first nations education. This is ridiculous and incredible.

Governance is about priorities and it is clear that the Conservatives' priorities leave far too many Canadians out in the cold. The problem we have seen time and time again is that the rule book is too thin when it comes to the takeover of large companies operating on Canadian soil. The Investment Canada Act in its current form is simply not up to the task of ensuring that Canadian jobs are protected in the case of foreign takeovers. However, I believe there is a willingness among members of the House to make changes to the Investment Canada Act.

In 2010, Canada's New Democrats moved an opposition motion calling on the Government of Canada to take immediate steps to amend the Investment Canada Act to ensure that the views of those most directly affected by any takeover would be considered and that any decision on whether a takeover delivered a net benefit to Canada would be transparent. The motion passed unanimously, with the support of the Conservatives, the Bloc and the Liberals.

Today, I hope members of the House will again come together and agree it is time that the process for foreign takeovers be made more public, more transparent and more accountable. This would help Canadians believe that their government is acting in their best interests.

Our proposed changes to the Investment Canada Act are measured and reasonable. We propose reducing the threshold for investments subject to review to $100 million. We propose providing explicit, transparent criteria for the net benefit test to Canada, with an emphasis on the impact of foreign investment on communities, jobs, pensions and new capital investments. We propose requiring public hearings that would allow for community input into decisions on both the assessment of net benefit and the conditions to apply to the investment. We propose ensuring public disclosure and the enforcement of all commitments that are undertaken by potential investors. Furthermore, we believe it is time to examine the current loophole in the act that prevents the act from applying in cases where a foreign company takes over another foreign company operating on Canadian soil.

Since this act came into force in 1985, only two of the 1,500 takeovers have been rejected. Why is this? We do not really know. We do not know how or why the government deemed 99% of takeovers to be of net benefit to Canada. There are no criteria defining what constitutes a net benefit to Canada, nor does the act permit Canadians to know how the government arrives at its decisions on this.

It is time to make this act work for Canadians. Members of the House agreed in 2010 that the act required changes.

Today, Canada's New Democrats are calling on the government to table draft amendments within 90 days. I call on all members of the House to support the need for changes to the Investment Canada Act and to support our call for the government to bring these changes forward in 90 days.

Opposition Motion—Investment Canada Act
Business of Supply
Government Orders

12:15 p.m.

NDP

Jean-François Larose Repentigny, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am not sure whether this will be a comment or a question.

This is another example of something that is not working that we absolutely must correct. I do not understand the government. It is very good at encouraging banks and supporting their operations.

If I go to a bank and say that I have some good ideas and I would like to take out a loan with unlimited funds in order to invest in our society and improve it, the bank will say things do not work that way. It would be absolutely right to say so because there are protection mechanisms in place, mechanisms to protect the future. When it comes to corporations, this government looks at nothing, requires nothing and gives them money because they have good intentions. Regardless of what happens, the government will not get its money back. To me, that is absolutely unacceptable.

We saw the same thing when Shell closed its plant in Montreal. That plant was profitable. There was a takeover and now Shell Canada no longer exists in Montreal. I wonder whether my hon. colleague has any comments to add.

Opposition Motion—Investment Canada Act
Business of Supply
Government Orders

12:15 p.m.

NDP

Fin Donnelly New Westminster—Coquitlam, BC

Mr. Speaker, yes, it seems that there is one set of rules for individuals and perhaps small businesses. There are many hoops and criteria in front of them if they want access to capital and money to improve their lives. However, there is another set of rules for larger, often highly profitable corporations in the country.

With the motion we have put forward, we are talking about the question of fairness, accountability and transparency. We want to see a clear set of criteria attached when we look at foreign investment in our country. That is only fair. It applies to individuals and small businesses. Why should it not apply to larger corporations?

Opposition Motion—Investment Canada Act
Business of Supply
Government Orders

12:20 p.m.

NDP

Robert Chisholm Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, I enjoyed listening to the intervention of the member for New Westminster—Coquitlam.

It seems to me that when the government has a choice, it takes a side different from ours. When it came to Air Canada and the dispute with its unions and workers, the government took the side of the company and we took the side of the workers. When it comes to this instance, we have asked the government to step in and hold the company accountable. The government tells us it does not have the tools. Now we are talking about solutions, but the government is not offering any. It does not seem to have the will to do anything other than make excuses.

With regard to this kind of situation, a situation that affects 450 families in London and thousands of families across the country, what does the member think about the prospects of the government actually bringing in changes?

Opposition Motion—Investment Canada Act
Business of Supply
Government Orders

12:20 p.m.

NDP

Fin Donnelly New Westminster—Coquitlam, BC

Mr. Speaker, what is really at the heart of the motion is the political will to address well-paying Canadian jobs and maintaining that focus in our country. We are looking for what we think are straightforward amendments to the Investment Canada Act.

The will of the government has clearly been shown to be on the side of the employer, for example, in the cases of Air Canada and Canada Post. We are now facing a similar situation in London. There does not seem to be a clear, specific proposal from the government on how we are to make changes.

We are offering specific changes. I outlined them in my speech. We are talking about explicit, transparent criteria, looking at public hearings and public disclosure. These are the kinds of changes that we need to see from the government.

In 2010 we heard that there was agreement. We need to hear what those specifics look like if there is to be any political will gained by Canadians.

Opposition Motion—Investment Canada Act
Business of Supply
Government Orders

12:20 p.m.

Conservative

Ed Holder London West, ON

Mr. Speaker, the closing of the Electro-Motive Diesel plant in London is a devastating blow to London, particularly to all the employees whose livelihoods have been impacted by this decision.

Ironically, the tragic news came out on the same day and within hours of finding out that London's unemployment rate had taken a dramatic drop. The reality of this situation is quickly settling in for the community, especially for the families and workers involved.

These workers are some of the best in the world and I believe their talents and skills will help them find future employment. LIke them, I hope this is in our city of London. I truly ache for those who are now struggling to pay their bills, trying to take care of their kids and lying awake at night wondering where to go next. I will continue to do what I can, to help where I can.

Some will assert that the federal government did not do as much as it could have to save these jobs. I stand honestly before the House today to say that is not the case. The efforts of many parties were not enough in the end.

What has been most notable about this labour dispute in London was the amount of misinformation that was circulated. It was further complicated by many in the media, who continually repeated information without checking the facts. Like the overall situation at Electro-Motive, it was the workers in particular and the community at large that suffered from the constant circulation of misinformation.

It is important that Londoners and Canadians understand the situation more accurately before making judgment of those involved. I will share with the House some of the myths that were circulating in this past month.

The first myth was that Electro-Motive was a Canadian company that was sold to the American company, Caterpillar. The truth is that Electro-Motive has been owned by several American companies since 1930. In effect, Electro-Motive has been a Canadian subsidiary of different American companies for over eight decades. It was originally two Canadian companies, Winton Engine Company and Electro-Motive Corporation, that were purchased and merged by America's General Motors beginning in 1930. In 2005 an American equity firm bought the company and resold it to the American firm, Caterpillar Progress Rail Division, in 2010.

I will be sharing my time, Mr. Speaker, with the hon. member for London North Centre.

Another myth was that the federal government gave money to Electro-Motive. The truth is that no federal government, Conservative or Liberal, has given money to Electro-Motive.

Another myth was that the Prime Minister visited the plant a few years ago to announce a tax break for Electro-Motive. The truth is that the Prime Minister visited the EMD plant to announce a tax change that would make it more affordable for Canadian rail companies to purchase newer, better and more environmentally friendly locomotives. This was a tax write-down for the customers of companies like EMD, but not for EMD.

To be clear, no monies were given to Electro-Motive. Nor were its taxes reduced as a result. In fact, customers like VIA Rail, CN Rail and CP Rail would benefit as they all ran a mix of both Electro-Motive and General Electric locomotives.

Another myth was that London's Conservative MPs did not meet with the Canadian Auto Workers Union representatives or the workers. The truth is that London's Conservative MPs did meet with members of CAW Local 27 in meetings in their MP offices. These meetings were intended to be productive and constructive conversations rather than photo opportunities.

There is no shortage of people willing to go to the picket line for a photo op, but as was too often the case, there was a shortage of thoughtful dialogue taking place. I met with workers privately and I also spoke to them at a demonstration in downtown London. Anyone with access to YouTube can see it for themselves.

Another myth was that the federal government had been silent about the Electro-Motive situation. The truth is that our federal labour minister had private discussions directly with Electro-Motive, the Canadian Auto Workers Union and London Mayor Joe Fontana in an attempt to encourage both sides back to the bargaining table. These discussions took place in mid-January. As the federal government had no legal jurisdiction over this labour dispute, although the Province of Ontario did, the federal labour minister appealed to the senses of both sides, but could not order that talks take place. She used her best moral suasion, but neither side was willing to blink.

I have not been silent either. I have now conducted more media interviews on this situation than on any other issue since being elected. While my comments are not always carried by the press, my message has been the same all along. Both sides should have returned to the bargaining table in good faith to bring an end to the uncertainty that lingered for the workers, their families and the community at large for more than a month. Nothing could be resolved until talks began.

It is also worth noting that I sent a very lengthy letter explaining this situation and my position to several thousand of my constituents. I have been providing weekly updates by email to almost 15,000 Londoners.

Another myth was that the federal government could legislate an end to this labour dispute. The truth is that if only it were that easy. The federal government did not have the power to end this labour dispute through legislation. It was a labour dispute between a private company and its labour representatives. The federal government did not have jurisdiction over this labour dispute.

The Government of Canada holds jurisdiction over federally-regulated workplaces, crown corporations and the federal public service. Some pointed to the example of recent federal labour disputes at Canada Post and Air Canada, one a crown corporation, the other a federally-regulated workplace, as examples of federal intervention. Electro-Motive is a private company. It is not a federally-regulated workplace.

I was genuinely surprised that the union in this case basically let the Province of Ontario off the hook. Instead, much energy was wasted trying to blame those with far less control over the situation for political reasons. Our mayor, a former Liberal minister of labour, jumped on the same bandwagon.

Another myth is that the federal government can order Caterpillar to continue Electro-Motive operations in London. The truth is Caterpillar is an American company that can legally decide where it wishes to operate in the world. The Canadian government cannot order any foreign company to do its business in Canada. This goes the same for Canadian companies.

Another myth is that the federal government could have reviewed the sale of Electro-Motive to Caterpillar and placed conditions and/or protections for the workers in the agreement. The truth is the sale of Electro-Motive did not trigger a foreign investment review by Industry Canada because the sale of the company was below the monetary threshold required for such a formal review.

Every day businesses are bought and sold by Canadians and foreign companies, and most do not trigger a formal review. This extraordinary intervention by the federal government is reserved for extremely large and sensitive transactions. They are triggered by the conditions in the legislation and they are not initiated at the whim of politicians.

When the Canadian Auto Workers was asked about the purchase of Progress Rail in 2010, CAW local 27 president, Tim Carrie, was quoted in the London Free Press saying, “This is an employer who has an interest in locomotive and rail. We’re looking at it in a positive light”. Had a review even been triggered at the time, it is likely, based in part on these comments, that the union would have been fully supportive of the sale. There was no indication that trouble lay ahead.

I again emphasize that the workers and the community were largely misled on many of the key issues. This did nothing to help bridge the gap between both sides, and I hope both sides have learned a lesson from this. The tragedy and fallout from this is that several hundred unionized and non-unionized workers from EMD, and even more firms doing work for EMD, are left to wonder what lies ahead for them.

Some have since suggested that the Canadian government ban Caterpillar products from being sold in Canada. While this would likely violate a number of trade agreements, Canadians can take action as they choose. Canadians can exercise their buying power however they wish. No government needs to legislate this power to citizens.

If people do not want to buy from Caterpillar, then they should not. If they can convince their friends and neighbours to do the same, they can. The power already rests with Canadians to make these decisions. Good companies should be rewarded with those dollars and those that fail to meet expectations should expect to find that it will affect their bottom line.

Has Caterpillar acted honourably in this labour dispute? If its intention was always to leave, then I would ask this question. Why did it not just make that announcement on January 1, which coincided, by the way, with the seven month contract extension that ended on December 31?

The misery and fear placed on all EMD workers was brutal. If Caterpillar truly intended to stay, was its in-the-face wage and benefit reductions due to local profitability concerns or because it had other options in Indiana? Now we will never know.

Clearly, the CAW was not prepared to preside over the single largest pay cut and benefit cut in its history. Neither side moved enough from their positions, and the workers in London are the losers for it.

I look forward to the rest of this debate and hope that these factual clarifications will help my colleagues debate honestly and factually about the issue at hand. I only wish to remind my hon. colleagues of the cautionary words provided to me by my Cape Breton mother. She said “Ed, no matter how many times they tell a lie, it does not make it the truth.”

Opposition Motion—Investment Canada Act
Business of Supply
Government Orders

12:30 p.m.

NDP

Mike Sullivan York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened with some interest to my colleague's comments.

I wonder whether the final comment, the final suggestion that the fault lies with the CAW, is an accurate reflection of what really happened and if the suggestion that the CAW was at fault because, in his words, it was not prepared to take the single largest pay cut in its history is a really accurate reflection of what took place.

I do not believe the members of the CAW, the workers, were in any way prepared to slash their wages in half to meet the demand of an employer who would only demand more. We know how this works. They test the water to see how much they are willing to take and then if they say yes, they go in and get more.

Therefore, how is the CAW at fault?

Opposition Motion—Investment Canada Act
Business of Supply
Government Orders

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

Ed Holder London West, ON

Mr. Speaker, the question points out a few things. The first one that strikes me is that this is in no way a condemnation of the CAW. However, I will make it clear that the real tragedy and the real victims are the workers, both unionized and non-unionized, as well as the ripple effect that it has to potentially some 2,000 workers in our great city.

I talked about the issue of truth and non-truth and the reason I made the statements in the way that I did was to make it particularly clear that there was a lot of misinformation out there. I indicated in my comments that it was in relation to what the media had been saying and some politicians repeated those fabrications. I thought it was important that we tell the truth. We have an obligation, as members of Parliament, to set the stage by telling the truth.

As I made clear in my comments as well, when it comes to that negotiation I think it was a brutal offer. However, I also said that I do not know if that was in relation to the profitability of EMD locally or if it was a situation where it was already pre-ordained to go to Indiana. However, we will never know that.

Opposition Motion—Investment Canada Act
Business of Supply
Government Orders

12:35 p.m.

Liberal

Ted Hsu Kingston and the Islands, ON

Mr. Speaker, my hon. colleague called the closure of the Electro-Motive plant in London a tragedy for the whole community because of all the other jobs outside of the plant that will be affected because of the economic loss.

Given that it was such a tragedy, does the member think that the regulations should be changed around the foreign purchases of assets that are important to everyday Canadians here in Canada? Are there changes that need to be made and, if so, what changes does he think should be made?