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

Protecting Air Service Act
Government Orders

9:10 p.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, I seek unanimous consent to split my time with the hon. member for Nanaimo—Cowichan.

Protecting Air Service Act
Government Orders

9:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

Is there unanimous consent for the hon. member for Acadie--Bathurst to share his time?

Protecting Air Service Act
Government Orders

9:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Protecting Air Service Act
Government Orders

9:10 p.m.

Liberal

Denis Coderre Bourassa, QC

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. Does that mean other parties will be able to split their time too?

Protecting Air Service Act
Government Orders

9:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

Traditionally a member only needs unanimous consent during the opening round. After the opening round, members are free to split their time. I see on my list the member for Cape Breton—Canso is next for the Liberal party. If he wishes to split his time, he would need unanimous consent. It would be up to the House at that time. Is there unanimous consent right now?

Protecting Air Service Act
Government Orders

9:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Protecting Air Service Act
Government Orders

9:10 p.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, I feel that things have been going so well that they do not want to hear me speak for 20 minutes.

I think this is déjà vu all over again. It is unfortunate that the workers have to pay the price once again. The minister says that she regrets having to do this and that she does not like being in this position.

Let me start by saying that Air Canada workers have made a lot of concessions over the past 10 years. The minister says that Air Canada was subject to the Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act in 2003, that it still had financial problems in 2009 and that it has been asking the workers to make concessions since 2003. This is the same company that, when it had financial problems, paid $80 million to Robert Milton, the company's former president, in order to leave and move to the United States and another $5 million to the new president. The minister is siding with the employer. I am going to tell you why.

The right to unionize, to bargain and to strike is included in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

I received a letter from a law firm that had written to the Prime Minister. I am not going to read the entire letter, but I am going to read an excerpt that says:

The ability of workers to organize and bargain collectively with their employer in a meaningful fashion is one of the cornerstones of a free and democratic society. This right must be upheld and fostered as one of the most fundamental human rights protected by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and otherwise.

The right to bargain collectively has been recognized by the Supreme Court of Canada as a Charter protected right. Further, the right to strike has recently been recognized by the Saskatchewan Court of Queen's Bench as a right guaranteed by the Charter as part of the freedom of association.

This reference appears not to be to prevent an immediate and serious danger to the safety or health of the public, as required by the Code, but to interfere with lawful collective bargaining.

When the minister refers to the Canadian Industrial Relations Board and the Canada Labour Code, it is not about the economy. Protection is provided in the event of health and safety issues, not for economic considerations. Nevertheless, the minister referred the matter to the board because the right to strike is suspended while the board examines the case. She made the request in order to buy some time to pass her bill this evening. The minister says that she is not against the workers and is not taking one side or the other.

Usually, when negotiating a collective agreement, and when there is a conflict such as this and the parties must go to arbitration, you do not submit the final offer. When the final offer is submitted, the employer always wins. In the bill, the Conservatives have even indicated that the arbitrator must take into account competitors in the same category as Air Canada. Throughout the week, the minister said that Air Canada was the only one in its category.

Comparisons to the United States are inevitable. Some will compare salaries earned in Canada to those in the United States. As though it were not enough that the minister is leaving the decision to the arbitrator regarding the collective agreement, she included in the bill what she wants to come out of all this. She is tying the arbitrator's hands.

The bill goes even further: “No order is to be made, no process is to be entered into and no proceeding is to be taken in court: (a) to question the appointment of the arbitrator”. This means that if the minister decides to appoint one of her friends whom the union cannot stand, the union has no recourse. That person would likely be biased, since he or she would be on one party's side. Not only is the government taking away workers' rights, but it is taking away the fundamental right of Canadians and Quebeckers to take their case before a court of law to ensure that justice is done.

Consider the example of Canada Post. This is the same government that legislated to force workers back to work. The workers went to court to challenge the fact that the arbitrator was not bilingual. They wanted a bilingual arbitrator at the bargaining table. The judge found in favour of the workers and the arbitrator was dismissed. That is why the minister introduced a bill to take away Canadians' right to go to court.

I hope that everyone watching us here this evening understands that we simply cannot allow the government to attack a particular group, as it did in the case of Canada Post. Yes, people wanted their mail and their parcels to be delivered by Canada Post; that is only natural. But workers have rights too. The 26,000 workers at Air Canada also have rights. The pilots have rights, and so do the mechanics and baggage handlers. They all have rights. The Conservatives did not hesitate to take away a fundamental right that is included in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The Conservative member has some nerve, saying that it pains her to have to do this. The Prime Minister said he was divided on the issue. I will repeat what I said earlier this week: “Give me a break”. He was not divided. The Conservatives side with the large employers. They did the same thing when they gave huge tax breaks to large corporations, before slashing the services offered to Canadians and trying to raise the retirement age from 65 to 67. They have no problem attacking everyone.

My message to Canadians is this: if we allow the Conservatives to go after certain groups here and there, in the end, the Conservatives will attack everyone. We need to come together to tell this government that it is absolutely unacceptable that workers are unable to defend their rights. The Conservatives say that what they are taking away from the workers is only fair. Who has been paying the price at Air Canada for the past 10 years? Who has had no salary increases?

A woman was telling me tonight that her brother or brother-in-law has been a pilot for 12 years and has never had a pay raise, while Robert Milton, the president of the company, left with $80 million in his pocket. Come on. Where is the minister? Where is the Conservative government?

If the government is going to get involved in the bargaining, as it is doing, when there has not yet even been a strike vote—in fact, nothing has happened—and say, before the negotiations have even taken place, that the airplanes will continue to fly and there will not be a strike, what effect does it think that has? It tells the company that it can take what it wants from its employees and that the government will be there to legislate them back to work. It is unbelievable. It is unacceptable.

Who is going to pay the price of these salary freezes and cuts to pension funds later? When the government says it is doing this for the economy, that may be true in the short term. However, in the long term, when people no longer have pensions or they only have half their pensions, when people do not have a good salary to spend in the small and medium-sized businesses in their communities, it is hard on the economy.

It is shameful that the government is again interfering in bargaining and taking away from workers a fundamental right guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Our country sends soldiers to war to establish democratic rights and now the government is taking those rights away here at home. The government is even imposing a gag order in the House of Commons. We cannot even defend this bill in the House of Commons. It will be dealt with tonight. We will not even be able to talk about it tomorrow. The government is making a fundamental mistake with long-term consequences.

Protecting Air Service Act
Government Orders

March 13th, 2012 / 9:20 p.m.

Conservative

Ed Komarnicki Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Mr. Speaker, there is no question that there is a right to bargain. The parties should bargain, but not hold Canadians or the Canadian economy hostage. I know the member defends his union bosses, but what about defending our fragile economy and ensuring that unnecessary economic losses do not happen?

What about protecting innocent Canadians who get stranded when they are travelling abroad? What about protecting the losses to other parties involved beyond the union and the employer? This sets a process that people can use to bring this situation to a satisfactory conclusion. It is not a question of just bargaining, not settling and not being able to settle. This provides for a process to take place. Why does the member not defend innocent Canadians and those who are affected by the unions and by the employer?

Protecting Air Service Act
Government Orders

9:20 p.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, the difference is that I believe that workers are Canadians too. The Conservative government does not believe that the workers are Canadian. They are Canadians with rights.

The member was talking about me defending my bosses in the union. What about the Conservative government giving big tax breaks to large corporations, their friends? The banks in this country have paid $20 billion of profit and paid themselves $11 billion in bonuses, yet the Conservatives would not give the taxpayers a break. The Conservatives borrowed money and put our country in a deficit to give tax breaks to people who paid themselves bonuses, just as the president of Air Canada paid himself $80 million and took off with it. The last one we just saw took $5 million.

You are looking after your big bosses, the big corporations, and that is what the Conservative government--

Protecting Air Service Act
Government Orders

9:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

I can assure the hon. member that I did none of those things and urge him to address his comments through the Chair.

On a point of order, the hon. member for Acadie—Bathurst.

Protecting Air Service Act
Government Orders

9:20 p.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, you did not take the $80 million. It was Robert Milton.

Protecting Air Service Act
Government Orders

9:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

Thank you. Believe me if I had $80 million, I might not be here.

Questions and comments, the hon. member for Cape Breton—Canso.

Protecting Air Service Act
Government Orders

9:25 p.m.

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, I respect my colleague's time as a union negotiator and his time within organized labour. I know that he has brought many collective agreements to successful conclusions for both management and union.

Through the course of this debate, it has been mentioned by members on the government side time and time again that offers had been brought back to the union and the union voted them down. That would justify coming forward with this back to work legislation. In doing so, Conservatives imply that there is no legitimacy in the vote of the membership. They are not showing any respect for the democratic right of those members to vote down a contract. I would like the member's comments on that position by the government.

Protecting Air Service Act
Government Orders

9:25 p.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, I really like this question because the member made reference to how we are always supporting the big bosses of the union. However, the government does not understand what the union is all about. The union belongs to the membership. The union negotiating team has the mandate to negotiate, but the law does not say that the team votes on the contract. It is the membership that votes on the contract. The union belongs to the workers and the team is working on their behalf. The government is pissed off because the membership voted against a proposed contract and wanted the right to vote again. Because the members did not follow the big boss, the government wants to punish them and legislate them back to work. That is what the government is doing. It is totally mixed up about who they are and what the union is all about.

Protecting Air Service Act
Government Orders

9:25 p.m.

NDP

Françoise Boivin Gatineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, while my colleague was speaking in the House, I took a minute to ask my Facebook friends a question. I asked them if they agree with the government that Air Canada is an essential service and that the economy might collapse if the company negotiates with its employees. I told them that it was proving difficult to find common ground and that there could be a strike or a lockout. Well, 95% of them told me that they do not agree. They also said that the government must take Canadians for fools if it thinks that workers should not be allowed to organize, and that the government should not try to take away the basic right to freedom of association and free negotiations.

The charter guarantees freedom of association. If the right for two parties, employers and employees, to negotiate freely with equal power is taken away, what is left? That is what I want to ask my colleague.