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

Income Tax Act
Private Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

In my opinion the yeas have it.

And five or more members having risen:

Pursuant to Standing Order 93 the division stands deferred until Wednesday, March 14, immediately before the time provided for private members' business.

The House resumed consideration of the motion.

Government Business No. 10
Air Service Operations Legislation
Government Orders

6:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

When the House last took up this motion, the hon. member for Winnipeg Centre had seven minutes remaining in his time allocated.

The hon. member for Winnipeg Centre.

Government Business No. 10
Air Service Operations Legislation
Government Orders

6:30 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I will begin by noting that once again it falls to the NDP to try and defend these fundamental rights and freedoms that have been systematically undermined and eroded throughout this entire day, throughout this entire session of Parliament. We are here to remind Canadians that they do have friends, that they do have people who will defend and stand up for their rights that were so hard won and fought for over the years.

The fundamental cornerstones of our western democracy are: the right of working people to organize; the right of people to free collective bargaining; and, in the event of an impasse, the right of people to withhold their services to apply economic pressure in the historic imbalanced relationship between employers and employees. It is a constitutionally recognized and protected right. It is one of the very freedoms by which we define ourselves as Canadians.

For the third time in this short majority Conservative government, we are watching that fundamental freedom being systematically eroded and undermined by Bill C-33, which pre-emptively orders people back to work before there has even been a work stoppage. The bill would effectively strip Air Canada workers of their right to withhold their services in the existing bargaining impasse.

One has to wonder whose side the government is on. Is it on the side of the thousands of employees who are voters and citizens of our country, who are trying to eke out a fair living and a fair wage, or is it on the side of the corporation that has not exactly been a sterling corporate entity, nor a particularly good manager? I do not know who is being rewarded by the heavy-handed state interfering as if it is some state airline. It is as if the workers are there to do the bidding of the corporate directors of a lethargic and sloth-like management.

In actual fact the pressure put on businesses in the process of free collective bargaining, when it is allowed to proceed without interference and without any tourists at the bargaining table, has the effect of sharpening their gain. They are forced to be more efficient because they are paying fair wages. However, when the government intervenes and holds back the wages of workers, it makes me wonder who it thinks it is benefiting. If the government is smashing this strike for the sake of the economy, how does it help the economy when working people have their wages frozen year after year? How does that benefit anybody?

I would remind Conservatives that the greatest strength the North American economy has is a well-paid, consuming middle class. We achieve that economic status by free collective bargaining, by the hard-earned struggle in the early part of the 1900s when the right to organize was enshrined throughout North America. Fair wages were negotiated. That consuming middle class was the engine for the greatest and healthiest economic environment in the history of the world. The richest and most powerful civilization in the history of the world has its roots in part because of that consuming middle class that made it all succeed.

The Conservatives seem to be inspired by their American neo-conservative republican counterparts in the U.S. The United States, in its wisdom, decided to smash the labour movement in the 1980s and the 1990s with the right to work states. It legislated unions out of existence. The United States went from 33% unionized employees down to 6%.

The war on labour in the left has had the predictable consequence. There are no unions effectively in the private sector in the United States anymore and neither are there fair wages, pensions, health and welfare plans, dental plans, optical plans, daycare centres, all those things that we fought for in workplaces and managed to achieve. They are all gone and so is the American economy. With the demise of the middle class came the demise of the economy. Fair wages benefit the whole community and the whole economy.

The last time I was in Washington the best bumper sticker I had ever seen said “At least the war on the middle class is going well”. We can attest to that. The war on the middle class has gone very well, but who does the government think that benefits and how does it think that benefits the economy?

The workers at Air Canada have the right to withhold their services. We do not know if they would actually pull the trigger and have a work stoppage. We will never know because the heavy-handed state interfered. The government did not let the free market play itself out. Free collective bargaining is the free market in spirit and practice. It is the dynamic that is allowed to play itself out on a level playing field where the employer and employee deal with their issues without molestation and interference from, in this case, the government.

In this piece of legislation, which is unworthy of any western democracy I might add, the government even prescribes what it calls final offer selection. I am familiar with final offer selection. I have negotiated collective agreements using final offer selection. It can be an effective tool if both parties stipulate themselves to that type of arbitration to settle the impasse. However, when it is imposed on the parties, again in this case by the state, it will not work and is not fair.

Another unfairness is that the minister shall name the arbitrator. The arbitrator in final offer selection is agreed upon by the two parties.

I do not know how to describe how offensive this document is to anyone with any experience in human resources or labour relations. It is an affront to everyone who cares about these fundamental freedoms.

I condemn Bill C-33. I condemn the Conservative government for butting its nose into a negotiation between employer and employees in this country with no justification. It is completely unwarranted. It is part of a pattern. The Conservatives are determined to undermine and attack labour at every opportunity. They do it without provocation. They do it without justification. They do it through the back door with private members' business. They do it in legislation through the front door.

It is a fight we will have for four years. The Canadian people are aware of it. They are taking note and they will not put up with it. It is in no one's best interest to squeeze the middle class until it is the lower class. Even if that is the Conservatives' intent, it will come back to bite them where they will not like it.

Government Business No. 10
Air Service Operations Legislation
Government Orders

6:40 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, I can see that the government members are glued to their chairs. They do not dare ask the member a question because what he would tell them would be the facts.

It is great to listen to the member for Winnipeg Centre. Winnipeg is where a lot of the labour movement got its start in this country. What surprised me is that he said in his remarks that it makes one wonder whose side the government is on. I think the member for Winnipeg Centre would agree that it is obvious. The Conservatives clearly are on the side of establishment and big business. There are other examples as well since the Conservatives have come to power.

I fought side by side with the member for Winnipeg Centre in trying to retain the Canadian Wheat Board. We said at the time that the big Canadian grain companies would be bought out by the Americans. In fact it looks like that will happen. As well, we fought side by side against the railways. The government has failed to implement a service review to protect farmers.

Is it not obvious and true that the government is undermining the rights of workers and attacking the people who are not in a position of power? The Conservatives continually take the side of the corporation in almost every argument we have seen before the House since they have become the government.

Government Business No. 10
Air Service Operations Legislation
Government Orders

6:40 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, the member for Malpeque knows that my question regarding which side the government is on was a rhetorical one and did not need an answer. We judge people by what they do, not what they say. What the Conservatives do is undermine the best interests of working people, many of whom probably voted for them at every opportunity. A lot of people voted Conservative. A lot of blue collar hard hat workers voted Conservative. Now the Conservatives are undermining the workers' ability to negotiate a fair wage with their employer. Whose side are they on?

When the government says it is in the interest of the economy that it has to smash these workers' rights to negotiate a fair wage and fair living, what about the economy that would benefit from fair wages throughout the whole community? The way to stimulate an economy is to give people money in their pockets and they will spend it that day. If we give money to a corporation, it will invest it offshore in some tax shelter and that money will never be recirculated into the local economy.

Government Business No. 10
Air Service Operations Legislation
Government Orders

6:40 p.m.

NDP

Ève Péclet La Pointe-de-l'Île, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to read a few words to the hon. member.

Section 2 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms states:

2. Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms: …

(b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication;

(c) freedom of peaceful assembly;

(d) freedom of association.

We know very well that paragraphs 2 (c) and 2 (d), and even 2 (b), refer to union rights.

Under section 1 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, rights can sometimes be subject to limits that can be justified in a free and democratic society.

Could the hon. member tell us how the government is blithely violating the rights of workers and unions, and whether it has any right to do so in our free and democratic society?

Government Business No. 10
Air Service Operations Legislation
Government Orders

6:40 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for that thoughtful analysis and for reminding members present that it is a constitutional right, a fundamental cornerstone of our democracy that working people have the right to organize and all of the rights that flow from that, including the right to free collective bargaining and the right to withhold their services.

As my colleague from Malpeque pointed out, the government is systematically undermining many of the great Canadian institutions by which we define ourselves as Canadians, the progress we made in the postwar years, the Canadian Wheat Board, the CBC, the right to free collective bargaining. This is the country that our parents built and which those guys in eight short months are attacking on every front. The Conservatives want to recreate Canada in the image of the United States and their gurus in the neo-conservative Republican right-wing movement.

I do not want to live in the United States. Members should look south of the border and see how they like it. We did it right in Canada and we will not let them destroy it.

Government Business No. 10
Air Service Operations Legislation
Government Orders

6:45 p.m.

Kenora
Ontario

Conservative

Greg Rickford Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Vancouver South.

I want to start by saying as I often do, if not always, what an honour and a privilege it is to speak to this and any matter in this place on behalf of the constituents of the great Kenora riding, which is more than 326,760 square kilometres, a vast land and incredible people.

It is hard to follow that lineup, the member for Winnipeg Centre, the member for Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, and throw in the member for Malpeque asking some questions. It is quite a mix.

I would prefer to approach this issue with respect and humility in a quiet, avuncular manner focusing on one issue at a time.

I will begin by saying that what this is really about is the economy and the health and safety of Canadians, particularly at this peak travel time. I was a nurse in my previous life, and I am fully aware of the toll travel can take on people. I am concerned about Canadians being stranded in locations around the world trying to get back home.

Obviously, the economy is important. As we have seen in the past, these kinds of work stoppages have a profound impact on the economies not just of our big cities, but also of the smaller cities from which the feeder airlines derive their business. That is important for me. As a guy from Kenora, I can tell members that we depend upon Air Canada, the pilots and the important work they do, the company of Air Canada, and the baggage handlers, to see that we can make safe and timely connections to the much smaller and often much more remote towns and cities.

The first issue is between Air Canada and its pilots represented by the Air Canada Pilots Association. The second issue is between Air Canada and employees represented by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers.

As someone who has belonged to unions in the past, I can fully appreciate the issues. Each of these disputes, though, has the real potential to shut down Air Canada. This could have serious financial implications on Canada's economy, as well as on the health and safety of travelling Canadians.

I appreciate the great work of the minister. She has done a fantastic job in a number of instances, and not just in the current one. She always promotes that the best agreement is one that arises between the parties. She has facilitated those. She has supported those. We see her in action again. It is just incredible work. However, there comes a time, as a leader of a department and under the great leadership of our Prime Minister, when one must take steps that are in the interests of the health and safety of Canadians and of the economy.

Last week the minister referred the issue of maintenance of activities to the Canada Industrial Relations Board. This was a fair step. This is not just about labour. This is about standing up to the corporation of Air Canada and saying that we cannot have this stoppage, that this is important for all Canadians.

Subsequently with this motion we are sending the message again to corporate Air Canada and to the labour groups to settle this matter. They should get down to business and settle this, but if they cannot we will not sacrifice Canada's economy and the health and safety of Canadian travellers and our friends from different parts of the world who have planned their trips, who have come to spend time with their families here in our country.

While we encourage both unions and the employer to continue their normal work activities until this matter of maintenance of activities has been decided by the CIRB , and the fact that these referrals ensure the safety and health of the public, we will not be put at risk by the imminent work stoppages at Air Canada, whether it is a lockout or a stop in labour from one of the organizations.

I have said a bit about the health and safety concerns. A shutdown of the country's largest airline would have an impact on travellers, the country's transportation system and the economy as a whole.

This is real. These are facts, and so we are compelled as a government to ensure the continuation of air service operations at Air Canada.

We believe that Canadians overwhelmingly expect the Government of Canada to act. We are doing it because it is necessary, because in the face of the risks posed by these labour disputes, taking action to ensure continued air service operations is the right thing to do.

Despite the tendency of the NDP troglodytes to make this a debate on the singular issue of labour, intellectually and practically that is not a proper analysis, I say with the greatest of respect. I outlined from the beginning of my speech—

Government Business No. 10
Air Service Operations Legislation
Government Orders

6:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

Order, please.

The hon. member for Pontiac on a point of order.

Government Business No. 10
Air Service Operations Legislation
Government Orders

6:50 p.m.

NDP

Mathieu Ravignat Pontiac, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would suggest that the term “troglodyte” is unparliamentary and disrespectful, and I would expect better from the member, who just got up a few minutes ago to make the same point in regard to another member.

Government Business No. 10
Air Service Operations Legislation
Government Orders

6:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

Order, please. It is not uncommon for members to make references to members of parties, parties themselves or sections of members in the House, shall I say, with the use of adjectives that are not particularly supportive of those groups. However, it is usually when those references are made in regard to an individual member, or perhaps a member in the other place, where that crosses the line and becomes unparliamentary.

We will go back to the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development.

Government Business No. 10
Air Service Operations Legislation
Government Orders

6:50 p.m.

Conservative

Greg Rickford Kenora, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will continue with my speech. I will acknowledge that this word has actually been used by members on both sides of the House in at least one or two instances when we were talking about how an issue might be approached in a rather narrow way. I have heard it from some of the sophisticates across the floor as well on a couple of occasions, so it is meant respectfully, and they can do a word search in Hansard for that. I think they might be surprised where that word was actually used in this place a time or two before.

That said, we need to do this to protect the people of Canada and the economic recovery that we are all counting on for growth and prosperity in years to come.

There are a lot of great things happening in parts of Canada. I want to focus on northwestern Ontario and our reliance on feeder airline systems. I am thinking of Wasaya Airways and Bearskin Airlines and many of the charter companies that depend on Air Canada to take us to different cities, either just outside the great Kenora riding or in the beautiful province of Manitoba. We depend on them because we are talking about land spaces as large as many countries in Europe, land spaces that do not have this kind of carrier service in their riding.

Hence, time is of the essence. We must act now and we need to act for Canadian businesses so that we can ensure that we have an economy that continues to fire on all cylinders, or as best as possible. Important materials, supplies and persons are transported across our country.

This is what is at stake for Canada and our economy. All parliamentarians, I truly believe, want to see Canada grow and be successful. We may not always agree on how to achieve that, but I think we do agree on a common goal. That is why I would ask us to take our blinders and lenses off and not be so narrow on this issue. We need to understand it in its greater context and, perhaps, over the course of the evening, come to a common understanding that this truly is in the best interests of Canada's economy and the health and safety of its travellers.

We are investing in people, in families and communities. As someone from an isolated community, I hope that I have brought to this debate a greater understanding of the kinds of things we need to be thinking about when we talk about what is at stake for Canada and, finally, what is at stake for the families who would be affected by this stop of work and service at Air Canada and its groups.

No one wins, and so I am encouraging us all to act in the best interests of Canadians here tonight to broaden our perspective and our horizon on what this is really all about and to ensure that for the remote and isolated communities across this great country, particularly in the great Kenora riding, and the families who are coming back to Canada or those who are waiting to go away, perhaps for business or in some cases perhaps for profound or unfortunate reasons or for a well-deserved and earned vacation, we take this opportunity to understand the broader context in which this debate is taking place.

With that, Mr. Speaker, I thank you for this opportunity.

Government Business No. 10
Air Service Operations Legislation
Government Orders

6:55 p.m.

NDP

Ève Péclet La Pointe-de-l'Île, QC

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member spoke about investing in families and broadening our perspective, or looking at the big picture. I will ask the member opposite these questions. What about future generations? What about working conditions and pensions? Is this really the best approach? Does the government have the right to say to workers that they will no longer be entitled to better working conditions, and to tell young people my age—I am 23 years old—that they will not have the right later on to work and have stability with a good pension? Is that the broader perspective the government is talking about? Is the government trying to give us a lesson on the economy and economic recovery?

Last week, the Minister of Finance said that Canada is number one in the world for investment. Did the government invent an economic crisis in order to do what it has wanted to do for a long time, that is, cut Air Canada services? We know full well that it has wanted to cut pensions and working conditions for a long time. The government has no lessons to give to anyone today—

Government Business No. 10
Air Service Operations Legislation
Government Orders

6:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

Order, please. I would like to have interrupted the hon. member. I am sure there are other members who would, indeed, like to put a question to the hon. parliamentary secretary.

The hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development.