House of Commons Hansard #94 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was drugs.

Topics

Suspension of Sitting
Breast Density Awareness Act
Private Members' Business

7:30 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

The House will now suspend until 12 p.m.

(The sitting of the House was suspended at 11:34 a.m.)

(The House resumed at 12:01 p.m.)

Air Service Operations Legislation
Government Orders

8 a.m.

Niagara Falls
Ontario

Conservative

Rob Nicholson Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

moved that:

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 continuation and resumption of air service operations, shall be disposed of as follows:

(a) the said bill may be read twice or thrice in one sitting;

(b) not more than two hours shall be allotted for the consideration of the second reading stage of the said bill, following the adoption of this Order;

(c) when the bill has been read a second time, it shall be referred to a Committee of the Whole;

(d) not more than one hour shall be allotted for the consideration of the Committee of the Whole stage of the said bill;

(e) not more than one half hour shall be allotted for the consideration of the third reading stage of the said bill, provided that no Member shall speak for more than ten minutes at a time during the said stage and that no period for questions and comments be permitted following each Member’s speech;

(f) at the expiry of the times provided for in this Order, any proceedings before the House or the Committee of the Whole shall be interrupted, if required for the purpose of this Order, and, in turn, every question necessary for the disposal of the stage, then under consideration, of the said bill shall be put and disposed of forthwith and successively, without further debate or amendment, and no division shall be deferred;

(g) when the Speaker has, for the purposes of this Order, interrupted any proceeding for the purpose of putting forthwith the question on any business then before the House, the bells to call in the Members shall ring for not more than thirty minutes;

(h) the House shall not adjourn except pursuant to a motion proposed by a Minister of the Crown;

(i) no motion to adjourn the debate at any stage of the said bill may be proposed except by a Minister of the Crown; and

(i) during the consideration of the said bill in the Committee of the Whole, no motions that the Committee rise or that the Committee report progress may be proposed except by a Minister of the Crown.

Air Service Operations Legislation
Government Orders

8 a.m.

Halton
Ontario

Conservative

Lisa Raitt Minister of Labour

Mr. Speaker, I am here today to explain why we put an act to provide for the continuation and resumption of air service operations on notice. The reasons for introducing this bill are threefold.

First, we are acting to protect the Canadian economy. A work stoppage at Canada's largest airline would be detrimental to our economic recovery.

Second, we are acting to protect the public interest. March break is one of the busiest travel times of the year and a work stoppage right now would affect hundreds of thousands of Canadian families who have made travel plans. In fact, over one million passengers are scheduled to travel with Air Canada over the course of this week.

Third, we are acting to protect all of those additional employees who would be affected by a work stoppage at Air Canada. Air Canada directly employs 26,000 people, but its operations have an indirect impact on an additional 250,000 employees. Many of these people have families and these families rely on the livelihoods of these employees for their daily living expenses.

As members may recall, last June there was a three-day strike by Air Canada's customer service and sales agents. It was quickly resolved by the parties and Canada's economy was spared unnecessary harm.

Also, in 2011, when talks broke down between Canada Post and CUPW, the union representing Canada Post employees, we acted decisively by introducing and passing the Restoring Mail Delivery for Canadians Act. Again, Canada and its hard-working businesses and workers were spared from continued hardship in that case.

Canada faces a new challenge today: Canadians are faced with two potential work stoppages. Talks have broken down between Air Canada and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers. Talks have also broken down between Air Canada and the Air Canada Pilots Association. Just as they did last year, these developments create uncertainty and doubt where we need stability and certainty, because stability and certainty help keep Canada in business.

I would invite members to ask their constituents or in fact anyone in Canada right now about this and they will hear what I have been hearing, that we cannot afford this work stoppage. It is that simple. The risks are too great and we have a responsibility as parliamentarians to act. That is why I would like to ask this House to support an act to provide for the continuation and resumption of air service operations.

This is an important bill. We have tried to avoid the need to step in, but this measure is necessary because there is something vital at stake. As parliamentarians, we have to take a stand on this issue. We need to take a stand for Canada's recovering economy. We need to take a stand against uncertainty in this matter. We need to take a stand and demand a better solution in the interests of all Canadians.

I will take a few minutes to elaborate on each of these points.

Like other industrialized economies around the world, Canada is coming out of a difficult recession. Our economy has weathered the storm well, but we are mindful that these are uncertain times and that we cannot afford to take our relative good fortune for granted.

Our government is proud of its record of sheltering Canadians from the worst effects of the downturn and laying a foundation for recovery. As of February 2012, our employment rate was at 7.4%, which is an improvement over last year. There is definitely some wind in our sails, but that also means it is a risky time for Canada.

We cannot afford to have disruptions that draw attention and resources away from a growing economy because there is so much potential there. We cannot let a labour dispute in a major industry get in the way, and a labour stoppage that cripples a major transportation sector is certainly no exception. We depend on air service; that is a fact.

It is not just industry that depends on air service, but individual citizens as well. They depend on air service for work and for leisure. The sheer size of our country means that Canadians depend on air service more than citizens of most other nations do.

A work stoppage would have important financial implications for Canada's economy. There is no doubt it would adversely affect our efforts to revive our economy and create new jobs for citizens. A 2009 working paper by the International Labour Organization, ILO, states that for every job lost in the airline sector, up to 10 jobs could be lost elsewhere. Estimates of the impact of a stoppage on the Canadian economy vary, but some put it as high as $22.4 million for each week of work stoppage.

Consider what this could mean to businesses. A work stoppage at Air Canada could mean the loss of sales at home or abroad. Would businesses be able to recoup those losses? There is really no way to know. Would a business be able to quickly adapt and find alternative solutions? Again, we cannot say, because a labour dispute creates a ripple effect, one ripple of uncertainty after another.

What is clear is that a work stoppage at Air Canada would be bad for Canadians. It would be bad for the workers, and it would be bad for business. Even a short strike could be very costly. For example, in 2005 a one-day wildcat strike involving ground crew workers at Air Canada in Toronto saw 60 flights delayed and 17 cancelled. We have to take a stand against uncertainty.

Let us talk about what a labour stoppage could do to the company as well. The airline business has high fixed costs and it has a low profit margin, and that is at the best of times.

In April 2003 the financial pressures on Air Canada became so severe that the corporation applied for bankruptcy protection. Air Canada emerged from that protection in September 2004 under a court approved plan which saw it stripped of its assets and restructured under the name, ACE Aviation Holdings Incorporated.

Consider what happened after the 2008 global financial collapse when commercial credit markets all but froze. Companies like Air Canada which provided defined benefit pension plans suddenly faced much higher funding obligations. The combined effect of the recession, less air travel, and Air Canada's contractual obligations led to further challenges for Air Canada.

In 2008, in order to avoid the threat of bankruptcy again, Air Canada had no choice but to secure additional loans to keep it going. The company at that time was also able to get the co-operation of its unions to extend its collective agreements without any work stoppages.

The potential for a work stoppage involving Air Canada's pilots and the technical maintenance and operational support employees is creating more uncertainty and more instability for Air Canada.

Air Canada has indicated that it is already feeling the effects of the labour uncertainty. It has to cancel flights on a daily basis and cargo shipments are suppressed. That could be the tipping point for an airline already operating on the very edge of profitability.

Let me take a moment to recapitulate the developments in these two separate disputes that we are talking about today.

The IAMAW, the machinists, represent a unit of approximately 8,200 employees. They are responsible for the technical, maintenance and operational services, including the mechanics who service Air Canada's aircraft and those who handle the baggage and the cargo. Their collective agreement expired on March 31, 2011.

On December 2, 2011 a notice of dispute was sent by the employer to our offices at the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Services. On December 21 Madame Louise Otis, a conciliation commissioner, was appointed to assist the parties in their negotiations from outside of the labour program. Madame Otis is a very respected former jurist in the province of Quebec.

On February 10 the parties reached a tentative agreement. In her report and recommendations which she shared with me, Madame Otis said the following:

Taking into consideration the situation of the Parties, the tentative agreement is reasonable and fair. The negotiation process, which was carried out diligently and competently, has been exhausted. I do not recommend that negotiations be resumed or that a mediator be appointed. Under the full circumstances, I consider that a reasonable agreement had been reached.

Unfortunately, she wrote this in response to the fact that this tentative agreement was rejected by 65.6% of the union members, having had the tentative agreement unanimously recommended by the negotiating committee. Therefore, on March 6, 2012. the union provided me with its strike notice.

I want to reiterate that one point I made. These parties reached a deal which the union membership did not ratify. That is very important to remember because a similar situation has occurred with the Air Canada Pilots Association. The collective agreement covering a unit of approximately 3,000 pilots expired on March 31, 2011. On March 17, 2011, the parties reached a tentative agreement in direct negotiations without the help of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service. The negotiating team recommended the deal because it was subject to ratification by the union membership. On May 19, the union informed the employer that the membership voted to reject the tentative agreement. In October 2011, a notice of dispute was received by our program from the employer in the matter, and on November 10, 2011 a conciliation officer from the Department of Labour was appointed.

This conciliation period was extended three different times in an attempt to provide more time for the parties to reach a deal. A mediator from the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service was appointed and met with the parties on a number of occasions. On two separate occasions, February 6 and 13, I met with both parties to urge them to reach an agreement and stressed the importance of a deal for the Canadian public.

During the last meeting with the parties, I informed them that I would be appointing two new co-mediators to assist them in reaching a deal and that they would be entering into a process that could take up to six months because they had indicated to me they needed the time. However, despite all this assistance and despite both parties confirming in writing that they would co-operate with the co-mediators and comply with the six-month mediation process, the union sought and received a strike mandate from its membership. The pilots voted 97% in favour of strike action.

On February 17, the two co-mediators, Madame Justice Louise Otis, who had just been successful with the machinists, and Jacques Lessard from my department, met with the parties. However, following this meeting, Madame Otis determined that it was necessary for her to tender her resignation, the reason being that the details of the mediation on that first meeting were made public by the pilots association. Madame Otis, being a well-respected former member of the judiciary, felt this failure to observe confidentiality would further hamper the efforts of any mediator to assist the parties in reaching a deal. This breach of confidentiality by one party at the table was instrumental in the resignation of a well-respected former judge. That speaks volumes about the state of bargaining in this matter.

Finally, this brings us to the reason for introducing the bill. On March 8, the employer gave notice of its intent to lock out the pilots on Monday, March 12 at midnight.

I want to take a moment to stress to members of the House that the parties in the case of the pilots association had reached a deal too. They had concluded their collective bargaining process but again, that deal could not be ratified.

As a matter of interest, Air Canada has reached a deal with every bargaining unit that it negotiated with over the course of this fiscal year, six bargaining units. Eight times within those six bargaining units, Air Canada came to the table, reached a deal and shook hands with the respective union bargaining teams, only to find that four of those deals were rejected by the union membership.

This has gone on long enough. This labour uncertainty is eroding the public confidence in travelling. While it goes on, Canadian businesses, travellers, workers, students, parents, seniors and professionals and many others are feeling the pressure. How will businesses manage their travel obligations? How will families take their vacations? What about the 45,000 passengers who fly across the oceans daily? What will Canadians do? We just do not know. In all fairness, these are not questions that Canadians should have to be asking themselves, especially at a time when Canada's economy is still in recovery.

It is important to remember that there is more at stake than the matters being dealt with at the bargaining table.

The employees represented by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, IAMAW, want to be treated fairly, and the pilots represented by the Air Canada Pilots Association, ACPA, want to be treated fairly. I understand that. It is very important. What I also understand is there are millions of Canadians who depend upon air service. They want to be treated fairly too. In fact, as I stated earlier, over one million passengers are scheduled to fly with Air Canada over the March break period. This is an incredibly bad time for hundreds of thousands of families with travel plans to be faced with work stoppages. Additionally, Air Canada is simply not in a position where it can afford the risks associated with a prolonged work stoppage. Our economy is also vulnerable.

As stated in the preamble to the Canada Labour Code, free collective bargaining is the basis for sound industrial relations. The code gives the parties in a dispute the right to strike and walk out. The federal government only intervenes in situations where the public interest is negatively affected. This is true, for example, when the national economy is affected by the threat of a work stoppage, as in this case.

I have no doubt that a work stoppage at Air Canada is contrary to the best interests of Canadians and Canadian businesses. I have no doubt that a work stoppage could cause serious harm to the health of our recovering economy. The economy and the public interest would certainly be affected in this case and the legislation is clearly necessary. That is why the bill must be passed. It would protect our economy and would ensure that Canadian businesses and communities would not continue to suffer.

Some would say that we should do nothing and that we should let this dispute come to its natural end, whatever that may be. That would certainly be easier for all of us, but I say that we must do the right thing rather than the easy thing. Canadians expect us to show leadership and they expect us to act.

Air Service Operations Legislation
Government Orders

8:20 a.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, this is déjà vu all over again.

I have a question for the Minister of Labour. She is not the Minister of Industry, but rather the Minister of Labour, for workers, industries and anything to do with labour. I would like to read part of today's motion:

e) not more than one half hour shall be allotted for the consideration of the third reading stage of the said bill, provided that no Member shall speak for more than ten minutes at a time [we are limited to 10 minutes] during the said stage and that no period for questions and comments be permitted following each Member’s speech.

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms gives workers the right to unionize and to have free bargaining. The minister said so herself. We have the right to debate bills in Parliament. Yet according to this motion, there will not even be a question and comment period. We have seen this before. During the Canada Post lockout, the government intervened and lowered workers' wages even more than the employer was going to do.

What did workers ever do to this Conservative government to make it hate them so much and deprive them of their fundamental rights? What is this government trying to do to workers? It uses the argument of the economy or certain people, but we cannot compare a group of individuals to 3 million people and say that the 3 million people do not want it. This takes away the fundamental rights of workers. I wonder if the Minister of Labour, who is not the Minister of Industry, would be able to explain that to workers, not just to Canadians. Workers have fundamental rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Air Service Operations Legislation
Government Orders

8:20 a.m.

Conservative

Lisa Raitt Halton, ON

Mr. Speaker, as I outlined in my speech, we went to extraordinary measures to ensure there was free collective bargaining at the table. We appointed an outside conciliator. We have monitored the files. Indeed, since I became minister in January 2010, it has been an incredibly important file to us. We recognize from an economic, social or any other point of view, that avoiding an impasse and avoiding a work stoppage is worth far more than having to deal with a work stoppage once it has happened. We put that effort in.

As the Minister of Labour, I am very proud of the efforts we have made with the parties. We have found success in a number of cases. In fact, 94% of the time matters are settled in collective bargaining. This is a unique case. It is a unique case because of a number of external factors.

What I would say to all workers and all Canadians is that at the end of the day, the Canadian public interest is the greater interest. It is the one that has to be taken into consideration, as well as what is happening at the table. That is why we are introducing the legislation.

Air Service Operations Legislation
Government Orders

8:20 a.m.

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, my friend and colleague, the minister, and I both wear X-rings. We are both Cape Bretoners and no one more than a Cape Bretoner would understand the hard fought battles of Canadians who won that right for free, open and fair bargaining.

What raises my concern is the actions of the government that we have seen time and time again. We have seen rights taken away from pilots, flight attendants, groundworkers, baggage handlers and mechanics. Some 22,000 Air Canada employees have seen their rights evaporate over the last year with the actions undertaken by the government. That adds up to one big wrong. It was employees who over 10 years took rollbacks to ensure this was a viable company. Once it declared bankruptcy 10 years ago, it started the rollbacks. The company has saved $2 billion on the backs of the workers.

Could the minister not see the injustice, especially in light of the bonus to be paid to Calin Rovinescu, the CEO of Air Canada? He signed on in 2009. By being there for three years, he gets a $5 million bonus at the end of this month. Does the minister not see herself as being complicit in this grave injustice?

Air Service Operations Legislation
Government Orders

8:25 a.m.

Conservative

Lisa Raitt Halton, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for his shout-out to our Cape Breton roots. I am the proud daughter of a union family. I am sure that a lot of folks in the chamber are shocked by that. However, that being said, we need to balance the interests, as the member knows.

I point out that with respect to his home constituency, where I was brought up, as a result of a work stoppage at Air Canada, Sydney, Nova Scotia would receive absolutely zero air service and would be cut off from the rest of Canada.

Air Service Operations Legislation
Government Orders

8:25 a.m.

Simcoe—Grey
Ontario

Conservative

Kellie Leitch Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and to the Minister of Labour

Mr. Speaker, I commend my colleague for her speech. The economy is extremely fragile now and because of that many citizens are very concerned about what type of action this work stoppage would have and what kind of impact it would have on their lives.

In my riding of Simcoe—Grey, many families are extremely concerned over this March break period. They may be unable to see their families or spend time with loved ones.

The minister has stated that we will take this bold action. I want to commend her for that. Maybe she could tell the House what efforts she has taken in the past to ensure that we did not come to this impasse and why now this bold action to ensure we can avoid this work stoppage?

Air Service Operations Legislation
Government Orders

8:25 a.m.

Conservative

Lisa Raitt Halton, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will share with the parliamentary secretary my concerns for my constituents with respect to the travel. We have heard many calls in the office with respect to concerns regarding March break travel. They have also expressed concerns, especially in my riding, about whether they will have jobs because they work for ancillary services of Air Canada in the case of a work stoppage.

The member has brought to my attention the fact that we have used an extraordinary amount of resources of the federal government in helping along these six separate bargaining units. Much of the time of my staff in the department has been focused on trying to get these parties to a resolution.

Indeed, last year, it was recognized by the Minister of Finance and put in the budget that we should try to do more preventive mediation because that actually helped the parties. We had great success in other sectors. For example, TELUS had an acrimonious work stoppage a number of years ago, but through work with preventive mediation, its last collective bargaining session was very seamless and both parties walked away from the table with a deal.

I hope Air Canada takes the same opportunities with its unions to utilize the services of Labour Canada more and avoid this kind of situation.

Air Service Operations Legislation
Government Orders

8:25 a.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I listened to the hon. minister's presentation on the Air Canada labour disputes with two unions representing the pilots and mechanics.

I share the concerns of the hon. member for Cape Breton—Canso that we in the House repeatedly are interfering in independent collective arrangements between employers and employees in areas that do not represent essential services.

As inconvenient and disruptive as it would be, and I agree with the minister, I have tremendous concern for people who have planned March break vacations, but where does this stop? We are clearly undermining free and fair collective bargaining rights.

The Supreme Court of Canada ruled in the B.C. hospital workers case that collective bargaining rights were human rights, and I am afraid we are undermining something very essential to the health of this society.

Air Service Operations Legislation
Government Orders

8:30 a.m.

Conservative

Lisa Raitt Halton, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member brings up a good point of when interventions occur. Taking a look at the history of Parliament since 1950, Parliament has intervened between 31 and 35 times with respect to these matters. Normally they are in the transportation and the logistics field. That is just a reflection of the reality in 1950, as it is now. We are a large geography. We depend upon our interconnectivity, both in air and rail, and we have to ensure that we keep both people and goods moving.

That is compounded by the reality of the economy and the economic recovery today, and that is why we need to intervene in this matter.

Air Service Operations Legislation
Government Orders

8:30 a.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, I note with sadness that this has all been said before. It is sad to have a bill or a motion of this type from the government. I am going to explain this, so that Canadians understand.

Yes, it is true that it is a break week and that people want to enjoy their vacation time. I very much sympathize with that. I am also a human being and I know that there are families who have planned vacations. However, at the same time, workers have rights, fundamental rights according to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. They have the right to negotiate freely. As I watch the government continually intervene in negotiations, as the Conservative government does, I think it sends a direct message to employers that they do not need to negotiate. They can take as much as possible from their employees because the government will not tolerate lockouts or strikes, and it will legislate to force workers back to work. In the meantime, the employers get everything they want. They can rely on the government to support them in their battles.

I find this unacceptable and wrong. That is not what the Charter of Rights and Freedoms provides for when it comes to unions. The Supreme Court has even stated that workers are entitled to negotiate freely. It is wrong for the government to interfere in this manner. The government can assist parties by way of conciliation and mediation, and help them reach an agreement, but it should not be interfering in this fashion.

Moreover, there is a lack of respect for democracy in the House of Commons. Earlier, in my question to the minister, I referred to time limits. Not only is the government taking away employees' right to strike or the company's right to lock out employees, no debate is even allowed in the House of Commons. The bill may be read twice or thrice in the same sitting. One, two, three times in one sitting and it is done.

First we hear, “not more than two hours shall be allotted for the consideration of the second reading stage of the said bill, following the adoption of this Order.” That is two hours of debate. Then, “when the bill has been read a second time, it shall be referred to a Committee of the Whole.” We then hear that at the very most “not more than one hour shall be allotted for the consideration of the Committee of the Whole stage of the said bill.” One hour, no more. Then, the motion says, “not more than one half hour shall be allotted for the consideration of the third reading stage of the said bill, provided that no Member shall speak for more than ten minutes at a time during the said stage and that no period for questions and comments be permitted following each Member’s speech”.

Where are they going with this, Mr. Speaker? What are they doing to our democracy and the fundamental right to have a Parliament to debate such important questions?

The minister herself said that this was an important issue. Last week in Toronto, the Prime Minister himself said—and I find this hard to believe—that a part of him did not want to intervene in the dispute. Give me a break. Where is the Prime Minister? I do not have the right to say his name, but I think that everyone in Canada knows who the country's Prime Minister is. He is the same person who wants to intervene to raise the retirement age to 67. He is the same person who intervened in the partial strike by postal workers, not only to say that he was legislating them back to work, but also to intervene in the collective agreement. The employer, Canada Post, was going to give workers a 2% wage increase, but the government intervened and lowered it to 1.5%. The government said that Canada Post employees did not need a bigger wage increase than public servants. The government intervened directly in the negotiations.

I am going to say this to Canadians and workers. Last year, it was the postal workers. Today, it is the pilots and maintenance workers at Air Canada. Tomorrow, it may be them. The government's argument is that we cannot allow a group of people to blackmail the rest of Canadians. The interests of all Canadians must be defended.

The government could apply the same argument to the negotiation of every collective agreement. It could apply the same argument to the economy, to the mining industry. For example, if the miners at a large mine in Sudbury went on strike, there is no denying that it would have a negative impact on the entire city. However, striking is a fundamental bargaining right. It is not up to the government to intervene. This is not a matter of health and safety. It is not an essential service. I am anxious to hear what the industrial relations boards will have to say about it.

And there is more. Air Canada has just said that it is going to lock out its pilots the minute maintenance workers go on strike. This basically means that the government is cracking down not only on the unions but also on the company itself. Air Canada could say that its right to declare a lockout is being taken away. Once again, I do not believe it. Talks are being held between the company and the government. The minister herself said that the company was having financial problems.

Let me talk about Air Canada's financial problems. My colleague from Cape Breton—Canso said earlier that the president received a $2 million bonus. My colleague is indicating to me that it was $5 million that Mr. Milton, the former president of Air Canada, left with when he washed his hands of Air Canada and all its problems. He collected $80 million in salary from the company. It was Air Canada's workers who paid for all that; the ones who ensure that people boarding a plane receive services, from flight attendants to baggage handlers. All those services are delivered by these workers and Air Canada now wants to make cuts in order to offer cheaper flights. That is good for the general public, but not for the workers.

The problem is that they are not the only ones who will be affected. Who will be next? That is the message the government is sending to industry. I do not like the fact that this is happening during March break either, but whether it happens now or in April, May or June, the flights are always full. This is always going to affect travellers. Air Canada's workers will never have the right to negotiate freely, a right guaranteed under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. They will never have the right to strike. What is happening to the balance of power between workers and employers?

The Minister said in her presentation that the union representatives, the people at the bargaining table, had made recommendations to the workers, and they had not accepted them. That is like thinking the workers are required to abide by the recommendations made by the bargaining committee. However, when the government wants to speak ill of the union, which it has done repeatedly, it says the employees never get a say and it is always the union bosses who decide. I have always said there are no union bosses. The real bosses are the members. The members have the democratic right to put a team in place that will bargain for them. It is up to the members to decide whether the offers are sufficient or not, not the team. The team can make recommendations.

I have been a union representative and I have made recommendations that the members refused. I was not angry with them. It is their union; it is their association. It does not belong to the bargaining committee or the company or the government.

The union is the members. The bosses have always been the members and we need to respect the members. They are the ones who chose to join a union. They are the ones who pay their union dues, and the union is accountable to its members.

How does this work? Bargaining is initiated. A presentation is made and it is followed through to the end. At the end of the process, the union presents its members with a collective agreement and makes a recommendation. The day when the bargaining committee decides for the members will be the day there is no more democracy and the union no longer belongs to them. So we have to be careful here, be careful about the message we are sending. That is why there is a vote, a sacred vote. It gives the members the chance to vote democratically within their union, so that it is their own decision and not their representatives’ decision.

I have participated in many union meetings and I have never hesitated to tell people that the union is not the people at the table, or the president, the vice-president, the treasurer or the secretary. The union is them. It belongs to them; it is their association. We must not be ashamed of having unions in this country.

The reason we have a fine country, one that is considered to be among the best in the world, the reason we have good conditions, with pension funds and the right to stop work if the job is dangerous, the reason we have all these conditions in collective agreements is that there are unions. People should go to other countries or the third world to see how workers are treated. Should we be going back to those days?

I charge the Conservative government with being anti-worker and anti-union. During the negotiations with Canada Post, the Conservative government could have intervened to say that it was sending the parties to arbitration to have an arbitrator resolve the problems. That is not what it did. Its bill even included lower wages than the employer was proposing. There cannot be more interference than that. It is not possible to be more anti-worker than that, when the employer promises 2% and the Conservative government reduces it to 1.5%, if you can imagine. Where is the respect?

On Friday, the Prime Minister said that part of him refused to intervene in the dispute. I doubt that very much. We need to remind the Canadians who are watching us today that this is the same government that wants to push the age of retirement up to 67 years. It is the same government that has no respect for the men and women who get up in the morning and go to work and build this country. The Conservative government wants to blame it all on the economy. It should stop spending money on F-35s, gazebos and fake lakes and put the money where it belongs, instead of making working people bear the burden. Then we might well have a smaller deficit in this country.

There is one place where the money might be spent. In our offices, we get telephone calls criticizing the cuts being made in the public sector in relation to employment insurance. How is it possible for this government to decide to close over 100 Service Canada offices when workers are losing their jobs and have to wait 40 days before they receive employment insurance benefits? That is insane. There will be only 22 offices left. That is all connected with the cuts that have a negative impact on working people and on the services provided to Canadians.

Today, the minister has the nerve to stand up and say that she is working in the interests of Canadians, while at the same time the services provided by Service Canada are being cut. All Canadians and Quebeckers are going to lose services to an extent never before seen, be it in relation to old age security benefits, the Canada pension plan or benefits paid to veterans. We are the only country doing this.

For example, the United States and England will not be reducing the benefits paid to veterans and will not be cutting the services provided to veterans in their next budgets, while that is what Canada will be doing in the next budget. The Conservatives voted against the NDP motion.

For all these reasons, and to give working people their rights, we must not be ashamed to stand up and say that there are fundamental rights in this country, and we will defend them.

The Conservative government is making all Canadians pay the price, and that is not right. The government sent a clear message to companies that if they have problems, the government will help them out. Without that, Air Canada would already have negotiated a collective agreement. The airline would have had no reason not to. There is no longer a balance of power; the employer has it all.

This motion is anti-democratic. It would take away our right to hold debates in the House of Commons. The government plans to introduce another bill this afternoon or tomorrow to take away Canadian workers' labour relations rights.

One day, Canadians will decide what kind of Canada they want. Do we want to build prisons, buy F-35s, spend tons of money and attack workers' pension plans? People will decide what kind of government they want. I am sure that this is not the kind of government they want.

Ask anyone planning to get on a plane what they think of an Air Canada strike, and of course they will say that they do not want it to interfere with their trip. I sympathize with those people, but I want the employer and employees to go back to the bargaining table to negotiate a collective agreement. The government has to send a message to both parties that it will not negotiate for them and that they have to do it themselves. In the long term, that will be a better investment for the economy, democracy, employers and workers' rights.

Air Service Operations Legislation
Government Orders

8:45 a.m.

Conservative

Ed Holder London West, ON

Mr. Speaker, both the ACPA and the IAMAW shook hands at the table with Air Canada following thorough collective bargaining sessions. Why does my hon. colleague believe it is okay for these unions to turn their backs on the deals that they shook hands on and use Canadian families, when they travel, as leverage?

Air Service Operations Legislation
Government Orders

8:45 a.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, if my dear colleague had listen, I told him why.

The leader of the union cannot dictate, like the Conservative government is trying to do today in this House. The union leader cannot dictate a collective agreement to the employees because the union belongs to the to the membership not to the officer. The only power the officer has is to make a recommendation on the collective agreement, which was done.

At the end of the day, I hope my Conservative colleague across the way believes that the members in any association are the ones who make the last decision, not the leadership. That is what the government has argued all along. It keeps referring to the union representative as the union boss. The only boss I know of in a union is the membership. The union belongs to the membership. The union organizes, it fights, it goes to the streets. Our grandfathers and great-grandfathers lost blood in the fight. They went down fighting to have a union, to have health and safety and a pension plan.

Today the Conservative government wants to take it away, the same way it wants workers to work until the age of 67. This is totally wrong and we will fight back. We will fight back for all Canadians, all labour organizations, all men and women who get up in the morning and put in a hard day's work. We will not go backwards in 2012. The workers are not the ones who should pay the price, not at all.