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 rail.

Topics

Protecting Air Service Act
Government Orders

11 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Chair Barry Devolin

Order, please. The hon. member for Acadie—Bathurst is rising on a point of order.

Protecting Air Service Act
Government Orders

11 p.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Chair, you said that there had to be relevance to the article. I do not see where this is relevant to the article itself.

Protecting Air Service Act
Government Orders

11 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh!

Protecting Air Service Act
Government Orders

11 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Chair Barry Devolin

The hon. member for Acadie—Bathurst has raised a question of relevance. I would remind all hon. members that at the start of this debate dealing with clause 2, the practice is to allow latitude in the speeches by hon. members.

The hon. Minister of Labour.

Protecting Air Service Act
Government Orders

11 p.m.

Conservative

Lisa Raitt Halton, ON

Mr. Chair, as I was explaining in some detail before and again now, the government has followed all the rules and taken all the steps set out in the Canada Labour Code while assisting the parties in these two Air Canada disputes. As the history of these two disputes has clearly shown, the parties in each case have had plenty of time to reach an agreement with the help of expert mediators and conciliators whom I appointed, but no deals had been forthcoming.

Indeed, the disputes have been dragging on for almost a year, and that is a long time. The uncertainty with these agreements has had a negative effect on Air Canada already, and I am sure it is very stressful for the members of the union as well.

The Canada Labour Code recognizes the principles of freedom of association and free collective bargaining, and the code gives the parties in labour disputes many ways and many opportunities to reach a settlement with or without the help of the federal government. We, as the government, respect the right of unions to strike and the right of employers to lock out; indeed, we prefer not to interfere in these matters unless it is absolutely necessary, but this is a special case: when a work stoppage has the potential of impacting the national economy, Parliament must respond to protect the public interest.

Consider the impact on jobs. Air Canada is a major employer. As of November 2001, Air Canada had 26,000 employees, and 23,000 of those are full-time employees. If the airline loses money, these jobs could be in jeopardy. There could also be jobs lost at Air Canada's partners and suppliers to the tune of 250,000 jobs.

According to Transport Canada, any reduced operation at Air Canada also adversely affects Canada's airports as well as Air Canada's third party suppliers. The elements of the air service system are interdependent upon one another. If one element is weakened, the rest are vulnerable.

Up to now the news about employment in Canada has been encouraging. We have recovered all the jobs that were lost in the recession and we created some new ones, so the question is whether we really want to gamble with our economy and possibly put these jobs at risk. In the event of a work stoppage, Air Canada services as well may not easily be replaced. Many Air Canada customers simply do not have access to an alternative carrier. In some places Air Canada is the only airline, and in some places Air Canada is the only efficient means of transportation, so the lives of thousands of frustrated travellers could be disrupted, some of them inconvenienced, but in other cases they may face real hardship.

Our government is not indifferent to the concerns of the Air Canada employees in these disputes. Throughout the process of collective bargaining, we assisted the parties and we encouraged them to find their own deal. We gave them processes and recommendations and provided them with mediators and conciliators. We were hoping that they would come to agreements that would be acceptable to everyone, but unfortunately it has not worked out that way.

We have always said that the best solution in any dispute is one that the parties reach themselves, but the parties in these disputes have failed to do so. I have used all the tools that we had at our disposal under the Canada Labour Code, and there is no other recourse but to ask members to support this legislation. The fact that a work stoppage affects the interests of employers and unions cannot outweigh the needs of 33 million Canadians.

Our economy needs labour peace in vital industries like air service. I hope that the opposition can see the urgency and the need for this bill and join us in giving it a quick passage.

Protecting Air Service Act
Government Orders

11:05 p.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Chair, as I said earlier, this is déjà vu all over again. It shows that the Conservative government has absolutely no regard for workers. It is as though workers in Canada were not real Canadians. Yet, under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, workers have the right to bargain and the right to strike.

The minister keeps saying that the parties have been at the negotiating table for a year and that agreements have been reached but were rejected by the members. The Conservatives keep repeating that the union bosses make all the decisions. However, in this case, the members have the right to vote. The members have the right to strike. It is a fundamental right for workers.

The government is saying that its decision is based on the economy. Where was this government when Caterpillar decided to lock out employees in London, Ontario, and then closed down and moved elsewhere, even after receiving money from the government. The government gave that company money. The government was asked to intervene in that dispute but it did not do so.

It is up to the union and the company to reach an agreement. An arbitrator should be named. In this case, the bill does not even give the workers and the company the opportunity to choose their arbitrator. What is the government doing? It is doing the choosing.

Furthermore, the government has included in the bill a provision that states that the parties cannot even go to court to challenge the government's choice of arbitrator.

I would like to remind members that the Canadian Union of Postal Workers went to court and the judge decided that the arbitrator could not issue a decision in the dispute. The union had challenged the fact that the arbitrator was not bilingual.

I know that this government is not a strong proponent of bilingualism. We know that. It appears that the government was insulted that the union went to court and won the case.

With this bill, the government is attempting to eliminate a fundamental right. Not only is it taking away the right of workers to negotiate freely and their right to strike, but it is also taking away their right to go to court. However, that is a fundamental right under the Constitution.

I am certain that if this bill goes to court, any judge will deem it to be unconstitutional.

Speaking of a final offer, we know that every time a bill has come with a final offer, the companies have come out ahead.

Let us talk about Air Canada, the company the government likes to protect. It is the same company that, in 2003, after being put under the protection of the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act, gave the president of Air Canada $80 million. It is the same company whose new president just received $5 million.

To the workers, the men and women who get up every morning to go to work and provide air transportation services, the company offers 10-year salary freezes and reduced pensions. The Conservative government is not there to help them. It says it is working in the best interests of Canadians. That is like saying that these workers are not Canadians. It is completely disrespectful towards the labour movement.

Then it accuses us of defending the workers. We are defending a fundamental right of all Canadians. Our parents, our grandparents and our great-grandparents had to take to the streets to fight for the right to negotiate a collective agreement. As one hon. member said, in order to have labour peace, the right to strike was legalized. However, this Conservative government has taken that away.

What is more, this same government imposes closure on the House. In addition to violating the rights of workers, this government is even taking away the right of parliamentarians to propose amendments. Is this normal?

The bill is before the House of Commons, where democratic debates are supposed to take place. Yet the government is muzzling us. In a few hours, we will vote on it and it will be over. The government will not accept even one amendment.

I remember when the Reform Party of Canada was here, and I know the Conservatives would never have accepted such a thing. The members across the floor can laugh all they want. They are not right; they are not honest.

The government's actions are dishonest. What the opposition would like to see is some amendments, whereby, for instance, both sides could appoint a mediator without presenting a final offer. The arbitrator would have the power to decide, with the two parties, what would be in the collective agreement.

The workers should be given that at least, but the Conservatives are incapable of doing so. And taking away the workers' fundamental right to go before the courts—only the Conservatives could do that.

The Conservatives are saying that we are taking the side of employees and unions. Yet this same government gave tax cuts to large corporations and banks that made $20 billion in profit. The CEOs even gave themselves $11 billion in bonuses. That is where the Conservatives stand. Ordinary people are not getting this kind of treatment. This same government wants to increase the age of eligibility for the old age pension from 65 to 67 and is punishing seniors and the poor.

We would like to propose amendments and we hope that the government will let us do so before the vote. At least then the process would be a little more democratic. Right now, there is no democracy at all. The government has imposed gag orders and prevented us from speaking on behalf of our constituents 17 or 18 times. We were elected by Canadians in a democratic manner. We are not all here because of robocalls. We are here to represent our constituents.

This government is taking away our fundamental democratic rights. It is taking them right away from workers and parliamentarians. This government does not believe in democracy. I am calling on the Prime Minister to rise and give people the right to democracy rather than attacking the little people, those most in need, as he is doing.

That is where workers stand. They are not even able to obtain a wage increase or defend their pensions. This will be a devastating blow to the economy in the long term. But no, the Conservatives are concerned only with Air Canada and Canada Post, and we see what they have done. They are forcing people back to work. A total of 26,000 Canadians will lose one of the fundamental rights set out in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The message that I want to send to Canadians is this. Last year, it was the postal workers. Today, it is the workers at Air Canada. Tomorrow, it may be them. They have to really think about this because their turn will come.

We need a government that is fit to govern, because this one is not.

Protecting Air Service Act
Government Orders

11:15 p.m.

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, earlier in the debate I read into the record a statement by the judge who rendered the decision in the Canada Post judgment, and I could read it again for those who were not here at that time. It was with regard to the appointment of an arbitrator by the minister. In no way did I contest the minister's ability to appoint an arbitrator. It was the method in which she went about it. Just to read it into the record, the judge ruled that the minister:

...would like the exercise of ministerial power...to be unobstructed, unguided and not subject to any criteria or qualification or competence for the arbitrator.

He further went on to say that it:

...is not what is indicated by common sense, case law, the economy of the Act, or the specific labour relations context that govern the parties to the collective agreement.

Finally:

In the case at hand, the lack of transparency inherent in the appointment process followed by the Minister, the little evidence or rationale provided by the Minister and the laconic nature of her communications raise serious questions and indicate that the Minister appears to have excluded relevant criteria.

It appeared to me that the minister had been taken to the woodshed.

I brought this to her attention, and I said in no way was I questioning her ability to make such an appointment. However, in her response to my tabling those comments by the judge, she said the minister, in appointing the arbitrator, had not been impeached.

We want to set our goals pretty high. She had alluded impeachment. Bill Clinton alluded impeachment. Is that the standard the Government of Canada wants to set in making an appointment of an arbitrator? Why are the parties involved not included in at least going to a short list of arbitrators so that this process can be.... As egregious as it might be, what we are looking for, for the workers now, is at least the best of a worst-case scenario. Why are the sides in this arbitration not included in short listing a list of those they might be able to include?

If the minister wanted to put conditions in, she could put some conditions in that would work to the benefit of the workforce, not just the company. Maybe we could recognize the fact that these workers have not had a raise. They took concessions 10 years ago and over those 10 years have contributed $2 billion in savings to this company. Maybe that should be recognized through the arbitration. Maybe it should be recognized that the company sold off $2 billion worth of assets, and not a nickel of that went into the underfunded pension plan, $3 billion underfunded.

It is not just the current workers at Air Canada; it is those who worked for Air Canada their whole careers who are going to be hurt by that.

Maybe they should have put some concessions in there. Maybe they should have put some parameters around compensation for the CAOs. We know the golden handshake that the past CAO got was $80 million. We know the current CAO will pick up a $5 million bonus at the end of this month, just for being there for three years. They are certainly being well compensated while the workers continue to suffer from rollbacks they took as a union, hopefully to resurrect the company.

Let us make no mistake. Air Canada has always found a way through its labour problems. There are five different unions, and over the history of this company only six times have they ever found themselves in a strike position. One of those strikes was for three hours.

The minister reflected back on the strike of 1998 and talked about how it devastated this country and the economy of this country.

It was bad. The unemployment rate came down a full point. Interest rates came down. The books were balanced, and the deficit got a big chunk of money. It was really bad. That is 1998.

What is at the core of this? It is whether or not the government is going to deem Air Canada an essential service. I guess that is what it comes down to. The minister has referred this to the CIRB. This is the second time she has referred such a case to the CIRB. I do not think anybody believes this has anything to do with the health and safety of Canadians. I do not even know if the minister would believe that.

If the minister truly believed Air Canada was an essential service, she should have full confidence that the CIRB would recognize it as such and go forward with no work stoppage. It would not be allowed if she had confidence in that actual fact. The minister would be tabling an essential services bill, declaring Air Canada an essential service.

Let us put the cards on the table. Enough of the union bashing. Enough of going after organized labour in this country. Let us call a spade a spade. Let us put the essential services legislation here, if that is what the government intends.

Protecting Air Service Act
Government Orders

March 13th, 2012 / 11:20 p.m.

Bloc

André Bellavance Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Mr. Speaker, in 2008, this Conservative government did not even recognize the looming economic crisis. The Americans were grappling with an economic crisis, but we were supposedly protected. Today, the government is claiming that the slightest pressure, the slightest demand could upset Canada's entire economy. That is what the government is saying now in 2012, but the people are too smart to believe that. They know that this government is out to bust unions and take away the right to make demands and negotiate. That right is enshrined in the Constitution. This government is sending a very clear message to the people and to federally regulated companies: there is no need to negotiate with employees or to make concessions, because the government will always be there, taking aim at flies with its sledgehammer, ready to impose special legislation. Companies have nothing to worry about because the employees are the ones who will always have the sword of Damocles hanging over their heads.

That is what happened with Canada Post. There were a few pressure tactics, starting with rotating strikes. The government said that the economy would be hurt by the rotating strikes, but the whole point of the strikes was to avoid hurting the economy or the people. Service was interrupted briefly, then resumed, to be followed by a service interruption in another region. That was what employees did to avoid undue harm to the people, because they knew that they had the right to make demands and employ certain pressure tactics.

The government stopped everything by imposing special legislation. It even told Canada Post Corporation ahead of time that there would be special legislation, which did encourage it to negotiate with its employees. It did the same thing with Air Canada. Already back in June, the minister hinted at the possibility of imposing special legislation. And now they are saying that negotiations are at an impasse, that a lockout or strike is possible. The idea of asking the Canadian Industrial Relations Board for its opinion was not bad at the time, but the minister did not even wait for that opinion. Why bother having a Canadian Industrial Relations Board? It serves absolutely no purpose these days. There is not really any point to anything, with this government. All this government is doing is proving that it rules with an iron fist.

No one has any rights anymore, either in Canada or Quebec. For this government, it is “my way or no way”. Employers understand this. They understand that it is no longer a question of making concessions or bargaining, because the government will simply impose special legislation and even some conditions. In the case of Canada Post, the government offered lower wages than Canada Post Corporation had offered its employees. Air Canada is about to suffer the same fate. Its employees have been agreeing to concessions for the past 12 years. They have had no salary increases and some have seen their pensions decrease. This government has no heart. It said it would impose conditions, thinking that the people would go along with that.

Since winning a majority, the government seems to think it was given a blank cheque to do what ever it wants, when it wants, and to impose the laws it wants. Canadians are beginning to realize that what is going on is unacceptable. There are protests everywhere. The people are going to demonstrate in the streets and this government will suffer the consequences. But for now, unfortunately, workers are the ones being penalized by the situation.

We will still be here. I am asking the minister to do the right thing, to promote negotiation and not impose conditions and closure on bargaining. It is one thing to impose closure in Parliament; we can take it even though it is unacceptable and we represent the public. However, these workers have rights. That means nothing. This government needs to adjust its attitude.

Protecting Air Service Act
Government Orders

11:25 p.m.

Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont
Alberta

Conservative

Mike Lake Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Industry

Mr. Chair, during the last election campaign, presumably most members in the House went door knocking. Certainly members on our side did. Members on our side actually spent the election in our ridings. When we went door knocking, and we have been holding round tables at town halls since that time, our constituents told us that the economy is their main issue.

Protecting Air Service Act
Government Orders

11:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Chair Barry Devolin

On a point of order, the hon. member for Bourassa.

Protecting Air Service Act
Government Orders

11:30 p.m.

Liberal

Denis Coderre Bourassa, QC

Mr. Chair, I understand that clause 2 has been adopted and that liberties are being taken. What the hon. member is saying is not relevant. He should stick to the bill.

Protecting Air Service Act
Government Orders

11:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Chair Barry Devolin

The hon. member raises a question of relevance. Clause 2 is still before the House and I am confident the parliamentary secretary will get to the matter.

Protecting Air Service Act
Government Orders

11:30 p.m.

Conservative

Mike Lake Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont, AB

Mr. Chair, on this side of the House, we consider the views of our constituents relevant. What we were told by our constituents during the last election campaign, and we have been told this by our constituents at round tables and town halls since then, was that the economy is the number one issue for them.

What effect would a work stoppage of Air Canada have on the fragile economic recovery?

Protecting Air Service Act
Government Orders

11:30 p.m.

Conservative

Lisa Raitt Halton, ON

Mr. Chair, I thank the hon. member for his question because that really is the focus of the bill. It is about putting the Canadian public interest first.

As we indicated to Canadians in the last election, we were the ones who would look after the economy, who understood the economic recovery and understood the means we needed use in order to ensure that the economy would continue to prosper. That is why we were elected, that is why we are here in the House and that is exactly why we are here for this legislation.

Protecting Air Service Act
Government Orders

11:30 p.m.

Conservative

Mike Lake Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont, AB

Mr. Chair, this proceeding is being broadcast across the country on CPAC right now. Many Canadians, as they are flipping channels, might come across this and wonder why the House is sitting at this late hour. They might want to know a bit about the process. That is kind of a critical point for Canadians to understand.

Could the Minister of Labour please explain the necessity to expedite the passage of the bill?