House of Commons Hansard #95 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was air.

Topics

Government Business No. 10
Air Service Operations Legislation
Government Orders

4:50 p.m.

NDP

Kennedy Stewart Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am alarmed about the slippery slope that we are going down with this legislation. I wonder if the member could tell me which industry is next on the hit list.

Government Business No. 10
Air Service Operations Legislation
Government Orders

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

Jacques Gourde Lotbinière—Chutes-de-la-Chaudière, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for the question. I would like to add that we must act quickly and in an informed manner.

These are difficult, even heart-wrenching decisions. We must weigh the pros and cons and try to find a balance. It is always best for the parties to resolve the conflict themselves. We all agree on that point and it is our ultimate objective. In fact, 94% of negotiations in companies under federal jurisdiction are resolved satisfactorily without a work stoppage.

When every effort has been made to bring the parties closer together, when discussions have reached an impasse and when there is no indication of resolution, when the risks associated with a conflict are high, not just for the people and the company, but also for the economy of the entire country, it is clear that Parliament must act.

Government Business No. 10
Air Service Operations Legislation
Government Orders

4:55 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, I find it almost unbelievable listening to this member of the governing party, in terms of the excuses. It is as if any excuse will do when taking away the rights of workers to allow the collective bargaining process to work. That is what the government has done. The member tries to justify it by saying it is a fragile economy. What about the workers?

Earlier my colleague talked about what Air Canada workers did in the restructuring. They have never regained the ground they lost from that point in time.

How much did Robert Milton take out of the economy when he left? Was it $100 million. What about the executive salaries at Air Canada that have gone up excessively, around 400% and more, into the millions of dollars while workers have still not returned to where they were in the Air Canada restructuring, and it was the workers who gave their all to save the airline?

Now the member sits there and uses the fragile economy as an excuse when it is all about destroying the collective bargaining process. That is the pattern they have set.

How does that member account for himself in taking that position in a free and democratic society?

Government Business No. 10
Air Service Operations Legislation
Government Orders

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

Jacques Gourde Lotbinière—Chutes-de-la-Chaudière, QC

Mr. Speaker, we are very disappointed that the three parties have not reached an agreement. In view of the fragile state of our economy, a work stoppage is unacceptable. Our government is worried about the significant negative impact that Air Canada work stoppages would have on families and our national economy.

This is poor timing for thousands of Canadians, given that the March break is upon us and many Canadians will be travelling. I urge my colleagues to support the bill for the resumption and continuation of air services.

Government Business No. 10
Air Service Operations Legislation
Government Orders

4:55 p.m.

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, on a point of order. I am sure there is a Standing Order that indicates that, when members stand to debate in the House, they do not read from a prepared statement. I also wonder if there is a special provision about whether members may have a prepared answer when asked a question, even before they know what the question is. I ask you to render a decision.

The member has answered questions with answers totally unrelated to the questions, from prepared statements. I ask you to rule on that matter.

Government Business No. 10
Air Service Operations Legislation
Government Orders

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

The hon. member for Cape Breton—Canso has made two points.

The first is whether the answer given is related to the question asked. This member is a veteran, and he will know that the Chair does not intervene in terms of determining whether answers are good or not.

The second is with respect to the issue around reading from prepared texts. There is a practice in the House that members on all sides do from time to time refer to prepared texts they have with them. Once again, the Chair has not ruled that members are not allowed to use prepared texts.

With that, I will go back to the parliamentary secretary, if he could quickly finish his answer to the question. The hon. parliamentary secretary.

Government Business No. 10
Air Service Operations Legislation
Government Orders

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

Jacques Gourde Lotbinière—Chutes-de-la-Chaudière, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to say and reiterate that I gave very good answers to the opposition questions.

Government Business No. 10
Air Service Operations Legislation
Government Orders

5 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Armstrong Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley, NS

Mr. Speaker, allow me to explain on behalf of the Government of Canada why we believe it is so important that we act now to ensure the continuation and resumption of air service operations at Air Canada.

To be clear, we firmly believe the best solution is one that is arrived at by two parties together. In this case we are talking about three parties that are bargaining in two different labour disputes, yet that does not change the fact that the parties should work together to reach their own deal, because that is always the best deal, one they reach together.

However, that solution has not presented itself. As a result, Canadians now face not only the risk of grounded Air Canada services but also the risk of damage to our economy, and this is occurring at a time when our economy cannot withstand that damage. Our government's action to provide for the continuation and resumption of air service operations at Air Canada is the right solution to prevent harm to our economy.

The first federal back to work legislation in this country dates back to 1950 when the St. Laurent government tabled Bill 1, the Maintenance of Railway Operations Act. The bill was designed to put an end to a strike that had shut down the nation's rail system. Parliamentarians at that time understood the clear risk posed by paralysis in a major transportation sector. They took action and they spared Canada's economy from unnecessary harm. At the time, Canada was heavily dependent on railways to move people and goods across Canada. When freight trains slowed to a halt, everyone could see that our economy was bound to pay a heavy price. Bill 1 ordered an end to the strike and it imposed a process for settling the dispute between the railway workers and their employer, and within days the workers were back on the job.

There are important parallels between the rail strike of 1950 and what is at stake here with a looming work stoppage at Air Canada today. The federal government in 1950 took strong action, because it understood that a labour dispute between rail workers and their employer would affect far more than just the two parties at the negotiating table.

The risk today is just as real and just as far-reaching. Canada's economy, our international reputation as a trading partner, jobs, prosperity and the livelihoods of Canadian families are on the line as a result of these two labour disputes between Air Canada and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers and between Air Canada and the Air Canada Pilots Association.

According to the International Labour Organization, for every job lost in the airline, between four and ten jobs could be lost in the economy. There is more than enough uncertainty in the global economy today as it is. Canada cannot afford to have a grounded airline. This would create havoc and doubt at a time when the world is tuning in to us as a great place to do business and a great place to invest.

Members of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers make up the largest unionized workforce at Air Canada. There is no question about what a work stoppage involving this group would mean to daily operations at Air Canada, a company that is an integral part of this country's economy. The IAMAW has publicly stated in its own bulletin to its members that without them, all will be grounded.

Let us turn to the approximately 3,000 pilots represented by the Air Canada Pilots Association. It is quite obvious that a work stoppage involving this group would grind the airline to a halt. Air Canada would be grounded. In fact, the pilots themselves have stated that they think Air Canada is an essential service. Captain Paul Strachan, the president of the ACPA, said himself during testimony at the Senate Standing Committee on Transport and Communications when he was asked whether he considers Air Canada to be an essential service, “I think it's essential for this country. As we sit here today, it is absolutely essential. It is a cornerstone of our entire economy”. Even the pilots themselves, who are party to one of the labour disputes we are faced with today, admit it is essential for Air Canada to remain flying.

Consider what a sudden and complete stop in service would mean at Air Canada, Canada's largest air carrier. Business people might have to forgo meetings with clients, conventions could be cancelled at the last minute and air travellers might get stranded at airports and have to cancel their holidays. Each of these developments would carry a cost. Thus there can be no doubt that a work stoppage would weaken Canada's economy and Air Canada's reputation among the travelling public.

Air Canada and its unions have been at odds over pensions and wages since 2003. The labour dispute with the IAMAW has been evolving for some time. It was apparent that a negotiated settlement to be ratified by all parties was not going to be easy to achieve.

While a tentative contract settlement between Air Canada and the IAMAW was reached in February, the workers rejected this agreement. Subsequently, 78% of the members also voted in favour of giving the union a strike mandate. On March 6, the union provided the strike notice to the Minister of Labour.

The labour dispute with the ACPA has been evolving also for a significant period of time. Again, a tentative agreement was reached between Air Canada and the ACPA, yet ACPA's membership also voted to reject that agreement. Later in the year, 97% of the ACPA membership voted in favour of a strike mandate. On March 8, the employer, Air Canada, provided notice of its intention to lock out the pilots to the Minister of Labour.

Despite assistance from a conciliation commissioner, in the case of the IAMAW, and from two co-mediators, in the case of the ACPA, the three parties have been unable to resolve their differences. Meanwhile in its financial report issued last month, Air Canada said that it lost $80 million in the fourth quarter of 2011 alone. Air Canada continues today to face serious financial challenges, and has been trying to cut costs. The unions have made financial concessions in the past, but now they are not willing to do so.

Our government has done its best to assist these parties in reaching an agreement. It is now time for Parliament to do the right thing and support the government in its efforts to ensure the continuation and resumption of air service operations for Air Canada.

Let us consider this. In 2005 a one-day wildcat strike involving ground crew workers at Canada had the effect of delaying 60 flights and led to the cancellation of 19 others in Toronto alone. Reduced operations by Air Canada will also be very costly to Canadian airports, as well as Nav Canada, which operates our air navigation system.

The risks to our economy are very real, plus the future of Air Canada could be on the line. A work stoppage at Air Canada goes against the best interests of hard-working Canadians, Canadian and international business and the already fragile economy.

Therefore, I call on all members of the House to join me in acting to keep Air Canada flying, to maintain the confidence of the travelling public, to provide for the continuation and resumption of air service operations at Air Canada.

Government Business No. 10
Air Service Operations Legislation
Government Orders

5:05 p.m.

NDP

Anne-Marie Day Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

Mr. Speaker, what we are seeing is gross incompetence. It is not the economy that will be affected. The government has had since April 2011 to negotiate and it has not managed to reach an agreement with the union representatives. The problem is quite the opposite. If the Conservatives had done their job properly, we would not be in this situation. The new collective agreement would have been negotiated and would be in effect.

Government Business No. 10
Air Service Operations Legislation
Government Orders

5:05 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Armstrong Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley, NS

Mr. Speaker, it is not the job of the Government of Canada to negotiate a contract between Air Canada and its unions. We believe the best contract is one that the two sides negotiate together.

I know the NDP think we probably should get in there and just slam down a contract, taking large government action immediately, but that is not our role. Our role is to support the two parties so they can come together and find an agreement that both sides will support.

Government Business No. 10
Air Service Operations Legislation
Government Orders

5:05 p.m.

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the fact that my colleague is answering questions and not reading prepared text. I really admire that in a member, especially a Conservative member.

I want to ask my colleague about a particular point. In past legislation that the minister has put forward, and I think back to the Canada Post legislation, she specifically prescribed in the legislation a wage rate for the employees of Canada Post. She stopped short of that in the upcoming legislation, but she asked the arbitrator to ensure that she recognized that.

If the minister wants to get that involved in the negotiations, does my colleague not believe she should also identify that the company should go back and top up the pension fund that has a shortfall of $3 billion? Does he think the pensioners at Air Canada exposed to this? The minister is looking after the company, but what about a big commitment to the pensioners at Air Canada, with the $3 billion shortfall in their pension fund?

Government Business No. 10
Air Service Operations Legislation
Government Orders

5:10 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Armstrong Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am so glad the member opposite admires me. It is terrific to have such support from the Liberal Party, as a member of Parliament in the Conservative Party.

The difference between Canada Post and Air Canada is this. Canada Post is a crown corporation under federal jurisdiction. The Minister of Labour is going to take different steps in that negotiation than she might in other negotiations across the country. As I said, the best solution is the one the parties can come to together. This is not a case where we are talking about just one union with another. There are two different labour disputes in this.

When it comes to pensions, we have to ensure that all sides are treated equally, both the union side and the management side.

Government Business No. 10
Air Service Operations Legislation
Government Orders

5:10 p.m.

Conservative

Dan Albas Okanagan—Coquihalla, BC

Mr. Speaker, Air Canada is the sole supplier serving the city of Penticton, south Okanagan and my riding. Service interruption by Air Canada would cause significant hardship in my region. I am sure we are not the only community that would face such hardship.

In the hon. member's opinion, what effect would a work stoppage or service interruption have on our fragile economic recovery?

Government Business No. 10
Air Service Operations Legislation
Government Orders

5:10 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Armstrong Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley, NS

Mr. Speaker, small airlines and all small airports across the country will suffer greatly because of any work stoppage at Air Canada. They are going to have trouble meeting their bottom lines. We need to ensure those small airlines are protected because they provide service to areas to which a lot of other airlines cannot get.

In my province of Nova Scotia, I am lucky to have the Halifax Stanfield International Airport in my riding. It is a major gateway. Millions of passengers pass through that year after year. We have very few gateways to Nova Scotia because our province is almost an island, and I am lucky to have two of them in my riding.

We have to ensure that tourist operations can have confidence that Air Canada will be flying. The Minister of State for Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency has been stating that tourism is a major economic driver in our area. It needs to have confidence that it can sell those tickets so it will have tourists coming into the riding and the province this year. We need to ensure we protect the economy of our tourist operators, small business and the economy of all Canadians across the country.

Government Business No. 10
Air Service Operations Legislation
Government Orders

5:10 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Winnipeg Centre.

I wish I was not rising in the House today to speak to this motion. I wish we were not facing yet another heavy-handed sledgehammer coming down from the government on the backs of workers who only want to do what I believe is their right under international labour conventions, which is the right to collective bargaining.

I have seen back to work legislation too many times in the House. However, what we have seen just in the last year makes me cringe. It smacks of unfairness. It smacks of scapegoating workers. This is the third time in a year that we have seen back to work legislation.

People who have been on strike and on the picket lines know it is not a decision that is taken lightly. It is basically withdrawing labour. That means financial hardship and disruption.

However, the idea that we have to go to the workers with this back to work legislation when they have not even gone on strike yet is quite incredible. They are not even at that point, but already the government, with all its power and might, is standing there waiting with a sledgehammer. I find it offensive that people do not have a due process and the right to collective bargaining.

I was in my riding over the weekend and British Columbia is seeing the same kind of approach from the B.C. Liberal government, which of course is a very good cousin of the federal Conservative government. There is the same kind of approach to teachers in British Columbia, where their rights are being run roughshod by the provincial government.

The issue of labour rights is a defining matter of who one is, what one stands for and what one speaks for. It is all too easy to always scapegoat workers. Yes, there are labour disruptions. At the end of the day, that is what going on strike is. It is using power by withdrawing the labour of the workers, but it does create an easy target.

It is easy to get the public riled up. Employers like to get people emotional about it. However, that is why we have labour laws, processes and labour relations boards. They try to ensure that there is a proper process in place so we do not get caught up in that emotion and lose sight of the fact that people do have a right to determine and participate in a process on decisions about their working conditions, safety, pensions and what their employer is or is not doing. That is why we have these processes. It is so easy to fuel that emotion and scapegoat workers. That is what we see with the Conservative government.

I am proud of the fact that in the NDP we do not do that. We actually stand on a principle that the process of collective bargaining is something that is meaningful and has a long history in our country. For heaven's sake, people have died for the right to collective bargaining, to belong to unions and to collectively use their power and opportunities to ensure that there are decent and fair working conditions.

When we look at the minimum wage and workplace safety rules, even for people who are not unionized, we owe it to the union movement for bringing about those rights. I always feel quite horrified when those things are kind of thrown out the window and this sort of emotional, dramatic, very partisan, politically motivated response comes from the government.

Yes, the federal government has enormous power. At the drop of a hat it can intervene and decide whatever it wants to do. That is what we saw in the back to work legislation with postal workers and on previous occasions with Air Canada.

The process by which the government does this in our Parliament is also something that is very abhorrent. We are debating this motion today because the government wants to ram through the legislation by the early hours tomorrow on Wednesday morning.

I think we really have to question the rationale for doing that. These folks are not on strike yet.

I know that our labour critic, the member for Acadie—Bathurst, has been calling on the minister to participate in a proactive, positive way and to facilitate and use her power and good offices to actually bring about a proper negotiation and bring in mediators and facilitators if necessary.

The motion that we are debating today, Motion No. 10, which is several paragraphs long, from (a) through (j), is in effect all about censoring Parliament itself and our process of how we deal with these issues. There is a double offence here. I guess we could say that it adds insult to injury. Not only are the folks involved in the dispute, the workers, having their rights violated but I would also argue that our job as parliamentarians is also being trampled on, the job that we are here to do in the public interest for our constituents and for upholding due process and proper rights. Again, we have seen this time and time again from the current federal government.

I feel that on this issue we will not have huge public support because people abide by the line, “Let's just lay it down and do this in a unilateral way”. However, I really want to urge Canadians to think about the values that underlie this process of collective bargaining. Again, for anyone who has been in a union and has understood that process, they know how important it is and that when people make a decision to go on strike it is something they sometimes really agonize over.

The third point I want to make is to really question what is going on.

I am not a member of the union. I am not with the employer, obviously. I am someone who uses Air Canada's services a lot, like most of us here in this House. Yes, it is a very important public service to have the airline flying across the country. However, it does strike me that when we look at the history of labour relations with this corporation, Air Canada, and the fact that so frequently they have come to this point, I think it must surely raise questions.

Again, I am not someone who is intimately familiar with the situation and knows all the details of what is going on. However, to me, it sends up a red flag. When workers get to this point of being so desperate and feeling like that is all they have left, then surely it must raise the whole question of the labour relations climate at Air Canada and what has happened, not just year after year but decade after decade. We are talking about long-term employees, some of whom came from the old Canadian Pacific Air Lines. I remember those folks who then became part of Air Canada. These are long-standing employees. Whether they are the machinists, the ground agents, the flight attendants, or the pilots, these are people who have a history and a commitment to the work they do. Therefore, when we see a pattern emerging of people feeling like their backs are to the wall, then I think it raises questions and leads me to my next point, that being, what is the role of the Minister of Labour?

We have a minister in the current government who is responsible for labour. The very thing she is doing here, with the backing of her government, is in effect removing any iota of motivation on the employer's part to negotiate in good faith. If the employer can just run off to the government because it happens to be under federal jurisdiction, or in the case of British Columbia, the teachers under the provincial government, and say, “You know what? We can just come down with legislation”, then what motivation is there to negotiate? That is really the sad part of this whole story that is unfolding here today and tonight as we go to vote on the bill. We are undermining a very important process in this country of collective bargaining.

I am proud to stand with my colleagues to say, “We say no”. It is not right on principle. It is not right on pragmatic grounds and we will do everything we can to make sure this legislation does not go through.