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

(The House divided on the motion, which was agreed to on the following division:)

Vote #160

Protecting Air Service Act
Government Orders

March 14th, 12:45 a.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

I declare the motion carried.

When shall the bill be read a third time? By leave, now?

Protecting Air Service Act
Government Orders

March 14th, 12:45 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Protecting Air Service Act
Government Orders

March 14th, 12:45 a.m.

Conservative

Lisa Raitt Halton, ON

moved that the bill be read the third time and passed.

Mr. Speaker, bearing in mind what time it is, I will be brief.

It is that time of year when many Canadian families take a welcome break after a long winter. Thousands look forward to trips in March, regardless of where they decide to go. Travel at this time of year makes up a significant part of the year's business for Canada's airline and tourism operators, businesses that contribute a great deal to the Canadian economy.

This year, travellers and businesses alike are watching for the outcome of two possible work stoppages at Air Canada. If a work stoppage were to occur, Canada's economy would face the harsh consequences. A work stoppage during the busy March break period would wreak havoc on the airline.

Today, we are facing potential work stoppages as a result of two disputes. The first one is between Air Canada and its pilots, represented by the Air Canada Pilots Association. The second one is between Air Canada and its technical and operational support employees, such as mechanics, baggage handlers and cargo agents at Air Canada, who are represented by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers.

The Government of Canada has worked hard to help all three of these parties at every step in an effort to reach an agreement and avoid a work stoppage. The parties have been in negotiations, each of them, for more than a year. We had provided the parties with conciliation and mediation assistance. The parties reached tentative agreements that were then rejected by the members. Therefore, the parties were provided with and exercised their right to a process of collective bargaining with no government intervention until now.

The parties were given every opportunity to reach an agreement on their own, but to no avail. As agreements do not seem to be imminent and work stoppages are being proposed, the Government of Canada must act now to keep Air Canada in the air.

The inconvenience of a work stoppage to travellers, serious disruptions to Canadian businesses and the potential threat to health and safety would be significant. There is far too much at stake to let this happen.

I urge all parties to pass this legislation and keep Air Canada flying.

Protecting Air Service Act
Government Orders

March 14th, 2012 / 12:50 a.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, in real life the NDP are not quite ready for the debate on this particular bill at this time, so we are more than happy to pick up the slack.

I can assure all members of the House that the Liberal Party is indeed very concerned about the actions of the government and the way in which it is managing the labour file. All we need to do is look back less than 12 months ago, when Canada Post workers were facing the same sort of a situation. When I think of how the government treated the Canada Post workers, I really have to try to understand why the government has so much against the average worker.

The minister talks about her concern for the public and the economy. I must say that Liberals are also concerned about the public and recognize some of the fragilities within the economy. However, we in the Liberal Party do support the concept of the free collective bargaining process. That is something the government has demonstrated, time and time again, that it does not support. To illustrate, I suggest to the Minister of Labour that she reflect on how she shafted the Canada Post workers.

Members will recall that there was a negotiated agreement back in January that would have seen those Canada Post workers receive an increase. That was agreed upon between the union negotiators and the management negotiators. What did the minister do? She brought in back to work legislation and roleds back something that was actually agreed upon.

Not to be outdone, the minister has now brought in this legislation. The legislation is unique. It was brought forward by my colleague earlier today that this is the first time we have had legislation such as this brought forward, implemented and made law before there is any real opportunity for that free collective bargaining process to take place.

There are a few things I would like to share with the minister. I can tell the minister why the Air Canada employees just do not trust the government, do not trust the minister and believe that the government is not concerned about the employees.

There were overhaul maintenance bases in Montreal, Winnipeg and Mississauga. Those bases were guaranteed to stay open and in place under the Air Canada Public Participation Act. The minister will recall it. She should, because it was the law of the land. If the minister reads that particular act, and I wonder if she has in fact read it, she will find that those jobs were supposed to be guaranteed.

The Prime Minister and the Minister of Labour did nothing when Air Canada started to take those jobs away. They were valuable jobs, and important to the economies of Montreal, Mississauga and Winnipeg. The government allowed the company to offload those jobs into the private sector. Ultimately, if we were to talk to the people who used to work at Air Canada, the ones the minister should have stood up for and protected, they will say that the government did nothing, absolutely nothing, to protect the interests of those workers, even though there was a legal obligation for the government to do so.

Members in the Liberal Party stood up and petitioned the government on the issue. They posed questions to the Prime Minister on this issue. The government did absolutely nothing. It stood by and did nothing.

Now, is it any wonder that the Air Canada workers have lost confidence in the government and the Minister of Labour? The Minister of Labour has not been an advocate for workers; that has been well established. That is why, when we look at the legislation and the mechanisms that have been put into place, we see that they are not mechanisms that are going to protect the interests of labour.

There is suspicion by the workers, justified suspicion, that the government just does not care about the outcome of the labour negotiations. The government is more concerned about its own right-wing Reform agenda. It does not appreciate the importance of free collective bargaining, and that has had a very profound impact.

Here today we have the government once again victimizing a union that has, over the years, done a phenomenal job in protecting the interests of its union members. It is unfortunate that the government has not realized that. Instead, and I find it truly amazing, the government walks around the issue of calling it an essential service.

In fact, listening to the Minister of Labour and what every other member of the Conservative Party is saying about this issue, one would think that the government would have deemed it an essential service. However, the government has not had the courage to admit that is really what this agenda is all about.

The government is not prepared to recognize it as an essential service. Instead, in a roundabout way, it tries to say that it is because of the economics and that it just does not trust the employees to be able to negotiate because they would go on strike and cause all this harm. As a result, the government is saying that it is the economy that is driving it to pass this legislation.

We should take a look at the process that has been put in place and read the legislation. We just finished passing a number of clauses—in a very interesting way, I must say.

Someday I hope the New Democrats will enlighten me as to what their strategy actually was. I do not quite understand it. I realize I have only been a parliamentarian for 20 years, but I have never quite experienced that before.

I can say that one party in this House has consistently stood up for the workers, but it is not the New Democratic Party. Whether it is Canada Post or the charade that we just witnessed, the NDP literally collapses in terms of principle. That said, we will continue to push the government to take actions that are necessary to protect the workers, whether in Air Canada or any other industry.

I think Canadians need to take note that what we really should be debating today is the issue of essential services. I challenge the government to put its cards on the table and tell us why it believes Air Canada is an essential service, and if in fact it believes it, to declare it.

The reason is that once a service is deemed an essential service, there are special circumstances and situations that must be taken into consideration when negotiating and talking about a contract settlement. That is something that speaks to fairness and justice, which the government, and particularly the Minister of Labour, have not been in tune with, whether in relation to Air Canada or the postal workers.

We value the concerns that Canadians have and we will stand up to protect the interests of Air Canada employees. We see these jobs as valuable and important to the economy of Canada.

We recognize that the government has failed time and time again in its responsibility to stand up for Air Canada workers. I challenge the Minister of Labour to do just that: be a minister of labour and start advocating for all workers.

Protecting Air Service Act
Government Orders

March 14th, 1 a.m.

NDP

Isabelle Morin Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, QC

Mr. Speaker, thank you for allowing me to speak to this special bill.

Nine months ago, I was giving my second speech in the House of Commons to defend a fundamental right in Canada—the right to discuss a collective agreement. We are hearing the same arguments this evening. This is the second time that we have had to oppose the government all night, into the early morning hours, in order to protect basic rights in Canada, rights that all Canadians should be able to enjoy.

Air Canada employees have not negotiated a collective agreement for 10 years. They have been making concessions for 10 years. Meanwhile, Robert Milton, the former CEO of Air Canada, earned $80 million. The current CEO will soon collect a $5 million bonus, and management will receive a pay increase. Understandably, Air Canada employees want a collective agreement and better working conditions. They want to discuss these matters, but they are being prevented from doing so because there could be a strike.

The right to negotiate a collective agreement is a fundamental right here, and the Conservatives are trampling on it yet again. Moreover, during this debate, the Conservatives have shown contempt for Canadians by telling them all kinds of tales. Earlier in today's debates, the Conservatives repeatedly gave the impression that they were talking about an essential service. My Liberal colleague just pointed out what may well be the crux of this debate: Air Canada is not an essential service.

The Canadian Industrial Relations Board never ruled that travelling by plane is an essential service. We all agree that it is important and that we want to be able to travel from place to place in Canada, but it is not an essential service. We have to think about whether respecting the right to a collective agreement, respecting that workers who have made concessions for 10 years have the right to negotiate, is more important than people wanting to travel. The Conservatives keep bringing up the economy. Of course the airline industry brings money into Canada, but so do many other things that the Conservatives have not meddled with.

On the Champlain Bridge issue, it took forever to get an announcement, and Montreal lost a lot of money as a result. We need to get our priorities straight. It is crucial that the two sides be able to bargain before the essential service card is played.

The Conservatives tried to mislead Canadians for the second time today when the Minister of Labour said that places like Bathurst would be deprived of all air service. That is not true, because Bathurst is not served by Air Canada, but rather by Jazz. I wish the labour minister would do her homework and know which regions are served only by Air Canada.

It is not true to say that the people of Bathurst—and we noted which riding she chose as an example—will not be able to get on a plane. That is not true. They are served by Jazz, which is not on strike, because its employees had the right to negotiate their collective agreement.

Currently in Canada, 94% of collective agreements are resolved without a problem. The remaining 6% are a bit more tumultuous. However, for those cases, we have a government that imposes special back-to-work legislation. Our country is quite lucky that only 6% of our collective agreements are not resolved easily. The government wants to impose special back-to-work legislation and prevent those collective agreements from being negotiated. It is denying those people their fundamental right. Again, coming together to discuss the future of those employees is a fundamental right.

It is not up to us to talk about their bargaining demands, but it is up to us to defend them, to stand up and say that these people have waited for 10 years and have been talking for one year. Of course we would like things to go well and for both parties to agree, but that is no reason to pass special back-to-work legislation.

The Conservative majority opposite is using the power of a majority that it obtained from less than 40% of voters to muzzle Canadians. The Conservatives are muzzling scientists. We have seen it on several occasions. Now, they are going to tell workers that they do not have the right to talk, that they do not have the right to discuss. That is unacceptable in Canada. We go and fight in other countries so that their citizens have access to democracy. However, here we have a democratic system that works—we have seen it in 94% of cases—and a government that says it is going to pass special legislation to impose a return to work. The government is going to prevent workers from discussing, from using a democratic process to achieve their goals.

We have seen on a number of occasions that the Conservatives are afraid of debate. They cut the time for debate short. It has happened often—19 times, according to my colleague. In the same way, in this case, they are eliminating bargaining rights. This government does not want debate. Even today when we were reviewing their bill, the Conservatives said, at every step of the process, that we should only have one speaker and that he would not have the right to ask questions. It is not healthy. We are talking about a bill that affects all Canadians, and all my colleagues who want to speak on the subject cannot because the Conservatives are preventing them from doing so.

Monday morning, I was in my riding. I was heading for Ottawa and I knew that the Air Canada employees were holding a lively protest. It was not yet a strike but nevertheless they were gathered at the Dorval airport. I went to see them to find out what was going on and to listen to their concerns. I discovered that there was more at stake than just their demands. They told me that they were afraid that the department would impose this special legislation. They were afraid of not being able to negotiate in good faith with their employer. This is intolerable.

I am disappointed because soon I will have been a member of Parliament for one year and the first subject that I spoke about in the House was democracy. I came here full of hope intending to work with a government that said that it wanted to work on behalf of Canadians. Now that my first year is coming to an end, I realize that we have not moved forward since we have a government that says it will not allow workers to negotiate collective agreements with their employers.

Protecting Air Service Act
Government Orders

March 14th, 1:05 a.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh!

Protecting Air Service Act
Government Orders

March 14th, 1:10 a.m.

NDP

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

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order.

Protecting Air Service Act
Government Orders

March 14th, 1:10 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

The hon. member has raised a point of order regarding the noise in the chamber. The hon. member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine has one minute left if all hon. members could pay her the respect she deserves.

The hon. member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine.

Protecting Air Service Act
Government Orders

March 14th, 1:10 a.m.

NDP

Isabelle Morin Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for her intervention. This also shows the Conservatives' contempt for what the opposition has to say. We really do not expect anything else from them.

As I have one minute remaining, I will repeat our very frank position: we oppose the Conservative tendency to eliminate unions, the rights of unions and the rights of Canadians who organize for the purpose of conducting discussions and negotiating collective agreements in order to obtain better working conditions. We are headed towards a very difficult situation. Canadians fear for their future. At this juncture, it is vital that Air Canada finally decide to give their workers a voice so that they may negotiate in complete freedom.

Protecting Air Service Act
Government Orders

March 14th, 1:10 a.m.

Calgary East
Alberta

Conservative

Deepak Obhrai Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs

Mr. Speaker, I know it is very late at night and everyone wants to go home, but this is a very important issue that has been brought forward and that is why we are here so late at night.

I have been a very strong supporter of Air Canada. I am approaching almost two million air miles on Air Canada, which indicates my strong support for this airline. During my two million miles of travelling, the pilots, workers and management have done a very good job of making this a very reputable airline. Having attained a reputation, we now have seen what has happened. The unions want to go on strike, but the management wants to shut down this airline because it cannot come to a resolution, which is forcing this government to act.

For my colleagues on the other side, most of whom are brand new members who have not travelled on Air Canada and live in a utopian world, do not understand the importance of this airline to Canada. Let me quote what the chief pilot said, “This is a national asset”. Therefore, if it is a national asset, then let us all work responsibly to ensure that this national asset works for the benefit of all Canadians, not for the few other ones—

Protecting Air Service Act
Government Orders

March 14th, 1:10 a.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh!

Protecting Air Service Act
Government Orders

March 14th, 1:10 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

Order, please. The hon. parliamentary secretary.

Protecting Air Service Act
Government Orders

March 14th, 1:10 a.m.

Conservative

Deepak Obhrai Calgary East, AB

Mr. Speaker, I welcome to the House of Commons my new colleagues on the other side to Parliament. When they realize the importance of this airline, they will take their hat off and recognize what is more important, the rights of Canadian citizens, not only the rights of the union. We all agree that collective bargaining is one of the strongest tools we have for labour peace. That is not in dispute.

What is in dispute is taking a responsible position. Under the Minister of Labour, this government has taken the responsible position to ensure that all Canadians benefit from this airline because it is a national asset. If it is a national asset, then let us keep it as a national asset. I will continue to support this airline—

Protecting Air Service Act
Government Orders

March 14th, 1:15 a.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. If it is a national asset, why did the Brian Mulroney government sell it then?