House of Commons Hansard #129 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was work.

Topics

Restoring Rail Service Act
Government Orders

10:10 p.m.

Conservative

Bob Zimmer Prince George—Peace River, BC

Mr. Speaker, there is one group of workers that I have not heard her speak to. I was a carpenter in another life, but I have not heard her talk about forestry workers, mine workers, automotive workers and farmers. She mentioned a very large sector of our economy, but failed to mention those huge sectors of employees.

Although you referred to union employees, you certainly did not talk about these workers in any favourable terms. I am curious about your position on these folks.

Restoring Rail Service Act
Government Orders

10:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

I would remind the hon. member to direct questions and comments through the Chair.

The hon. member for Vancouver Centre.

Restoring Rail Service Act
Government Orders

10:10 p.m.

Liberal

Hedy Fry Vancouver Centre, BC

Mr. Speaker, we are talking about CP Rail at the moment, so I am sorry if I did not spend my time talking about all the workers. Indeed, the government is now beating up on the seasonal workers in the farming communities and the agricultural sector. It is beating up on the construction workers who can only work at certain times of the year. How do I feel about those workers? I think that they are getting the short end of the stick from the government.

Restoring Rail Service Act
Government Orders

10:10 p.m.

Simcoe—Grey
Ontario

Conservative

Kellie Leitch Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and to the Minister of Labour

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with my colleague, the member for Lotbinière—Chutes-de-la-Chaudière.

I am pleased to have this opportunity to speak in support of Bill C-39, an act to provide for the continuation and resumption of rail service operations. Our government has received a strong mandate from Canadians to protect our economy and create jobs and we are delivering on that commitment.

Statistics Canada confirmed that in April employment—

Restoring Rail Service Act
Government Orders

10:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

The hon. member for Laurentides—Labelle is rising on a point of order.

Restoring Rail Service Act
Government Orders

10:10 p.m.

NDP

Marc-André Morin Laurentides—Labelle, QC

Mr. Speaker, earlier you said that the unanimous consent of the House was needed to share speaking time.

Restoring Rail Service Act
Government Orders

10:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

Well, we are now in the fourth round. After the first three rounds, it is possible for hon. members to share their time with someone else.

The hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and to the Minister of Labour.

Restoring Rail Service Act
Government Orders

10:10 p.m.

Conservative

Kellie Leitch Simcoe—Grey, ON

Mr. Speaker, Statistics Canada figures confirm that in April of this year employment increased by 58,000, mostly in full-time work. This was the second consecutive month of notable gains on the jobs front for Canadians. Moreover, confidence among Canada's business leaders, a leading indicator for future economic growth in job creation, edged up in the first quarter of 2012. According to The Conference Board of Canada, business leaders showed increasing optimism over the future performance of their firms and the Canadian economy.

We can add to these glowing statistics the support for our economy contained in the Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity Act recently introduced by the Minister of Finance. As a result of our government's efforts, Canada has an economy that is the envy of many other countries in the western world. At a time of global financial uncertainty, at a time when sluggish world demand is impeding job growth, why would we allow anything within the boundaries of our own country to jeopardize our economic prospects? Why would we deliberately undo the good work that has protected our economy so far?

Canadian Pacific Railway is one of the iconic components of Canada's vast transportation system. Founded in 1881, the railway itself is a phenomenal engineering feat. It is one of the reasons we exist as a nation, uniting Canada from coast to coast.

In the 21st century CP Rail remains a crucial player in Canada's economy. Each year CP Rail moves freight in Canada valued at approximately $50 billion. According to Transport Canada, CP Rail annually carries about $11.1 billion worth of grain, $5 billion of potash and $5.25 billion of coal.

I would like to tell the House how the CP Rail work stoppage is harming Canadian businesses. In October 2009 the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management report estimated that four key Canadian bulk shipping industries, oilseed and grain farming, coal mining, wood products manufacturing, and pulp and paper and paper products manufacturing contribute more than $81 billion to the Canadian GDP each year and account for close to 1 million jobs.

I find it staggering to contemplate the losses these four sectors of our economy will suffer as a result of the disruption in CP Rail shipping services. These services are very essential for these key sectors of our economy.

It is no mere metaphor to describe CP Rail's 22,000 kilometre network as a lifeline of our nation's economy. Moreover, its capacity for facilitating trade within Canada and other nations is enormous. This is a rail network that operates in six provinces and 13 states. It extends to the U.S. industrial centres of Chicago, Newark, Philadelphia, Washington, New York and Buffalo. Agreements with other carriers extend CP's market reach east of Montreal within Canada, and throughout the United States and into Mexico. By moving freight to and from Canada's west coast ports, CP Rail is also a vital link to the markets in Asia through the Asia Pacific gateway.

This work stoppage is preventing our ability to keep products moving in and out of Canada and undermines Canada's reputation as a reliable place to do business. This is a setback from which it could take years to recover lost business and lost investments. Is the House prepared to stand by and allow a vast number of Canadian businesses to continue to be harmed as a result of the CP Rail work stoppage? As with any company, every lost day of business could weaken a firm that is already coping with reduced revenues.

A rail work stoppage has created an unsettling business climate. Businesses do not like uncertainty. When businesses do not feel confident about the future, they may postpone opportunities to expand, or change their shipping suppliers altogether. They may even lay off some of their employees. At a time when we want to build jobs and nurture our economic recovery, can we actually sustain this risk? Do we want this stoppage at CP Rail to jeopardize our work and achievement to date and put our recovering economy in peril?

The answer must be a resounding no. The time for action must be now. The legislation will end the work stoppage at CP Rail and provide the parties with an interest-based arbitration process to help them resolve their outstanding issues. The failure to reach a collective agreement has not been for lack of trying. The Government of Canada has done its utmost throughout the negotiation process to encourage the parties to reach an agreement. However, despite assistance from the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, the parties have been unable to resolve their differences.

I would like to take this opportunity to commend the Minister of Labour and the mediators and conciliatory officers from the labour program for their efforts to assist the parties under the Canada Labour Code.

Canadians can take pride in the fact that 94% of labour negotiations in this country are settled without a work stoppage ever taking place when the labour program's professional mediators and conciliatory officers get involved. This would definitely be the preferred option for resolving the disputes under consideration today. Sadly, this preferred option is not one that was chosen for this dispute between CP Rail and its running trades employees and rail traffic controllers.

I will emphasize again that intervening in these disputes is not the option we would choose if circumstances were otherwise. The Minister of Labour always encourages parties to work together to find mutual solutions to their differences. Most regrettably, it would seem that the will to come together for such a resolution does not exist with the parties in this case.

Our government fully recognizes that free collective bargaining is the basis for sound industrial relations. This is also clearly stated in the preamble of the Canada Labour Code. That code gives the parties the right to strike and lock out. Intervention is only in situations when the public interest is negatively affected. This is true, for example, when the national economy is affected by a work stoppage, as it is in this case.

Let us keep the statistics that are crucial in mind. CP Rail handles 74% of potash containers, 57% of wheat containers, 53% of coal and 39% of other containers in this country.

I would like the House to reflect on just a few questions. First, can we afford to let Canadian businesses and our economy continue to suffer? Second, can we let down the people of Canada who are counting on us to act? Third, can we deliberately undermine our enviable position of being one of the few nations in the western world to weather the global economic downturn?

To my mind, the answers to these questions are self-evident and that is why we must act now. I urge the members of this House to join me in doing the right thing. Let us give our full support to Bill C-39 to protect our economy.

Restoring Rail Service Act
Government Orders

10:20 p.m.

NDP

Carol Hughes Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Mr. Speaker, I greatly appreciate the comments that were made. However, we are seeing over and over again that the Conservative government does not seem to understand that unionized workers are actually our neighbours, brothers, sisters and fathers, and they play an important role in our society. They are our service providers as well.

With respect to CP Rail, I wonder if the member is aware that the whole issue here is the government taking away the rights of the workers. It is a collective bargaining right, where there is an equilibrium for the employer and employee. By forcing this back-to-work legislation, the government is actually siding with the employer, an employer who seems to forget that for the last 108 years these CP workers have been paying into a pension, which they are about to lose.

I wonder if the member could actually consider that in her deliberations and realize that it is about protecting the workers' pensions, wages and well-being because of the hours they have to work.

Restoring Rail Service Act
Government Orders

10:20 p.m.

Conservative

Kellie Leitch Simcoe—Grey, ON

Mr. Speaker, the reason the government is acting now is that it is in the best interest of the Canadian public.

In my riding of Simcoe—Grey, we have the largest Honda plant in the country. Right now it is in a position where it will have to start asking workers not to come to work because it actually cannot move its product.

I say to the member opposite that we have allowed the opportunity for these two parties to come together. In fact, on May 22, the minister offered an additional 120 days and the parties said no.

So let us be very clear. The parties are unwilling to come together. They are entrenched. We need action now to make sure the Canadian economy is protected. That is why we are putting forward this legislation.

Restoring Rail Service Act
Government Orders

10:20 p.m.

Liberal

David McGuinty Ottawa South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have a simple question for my colleague across the floor.

We hear an awful lot about the economic rationale and justification for this intervention. Following that logic, can the member please stand and tell Canadians who are watching the debate this evening in what instance the government would not intervene?

There are work stoppages that occur on a regular basis. These, of course, have an impact on customers, on inventory and on deliveries. The government has already intervened repeatedly in a single year four or five times: Air Canada, Canada Post, CP Rail.

Could the member please inform the House in what instance the government would not interfere in collective bargaining?

Restoring Rail Service Act
Government Orders

10:20 p.m.

Conservative

Kellie Leitch Simcoe—Grey, ON

Mr. Speaker, 94% of disputes that come forward are actually resolved before there is any work stoppage. In this case, this has a huge impact on the national economy, more than $540 million per week. In the case of this ongoing work stoppage, it represents an increasing loss to the Canadian economy, not just affecting rail but affecting the forestry industry, the auto industry, coal and grain seeds. We have heard from farmers.

Let us be honest here. This is about acting in the interests of the Canadian public. That is what we are doing. That is why we have brought forward this legislation. That is why we are acting now.

Restoring Rail Service Act
Government Orders

10:25 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, if this were the first piece of back-to-work legislation in the House, I might take a different view of it. We do know that CP is an important service provider. We do know the rail needs to move.

As my colleague from Ottawa South just mentioned, we have now seen repeated interventions that are undermining the fabric of collective bargaining rights in Canada.

If the hon. parliamentary secretary and her government believe that Air Canada is an essential service, that Canada Post is an essential service and that CP rail workers and the Teamsters Union are an essential service, then why do they not declare them essential services?

Restoring Rail Service Act
Government Orders

10:25 p.m.

Conservative

Kellie Leitch Simcoe—Grey, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rose in the House yesterday and I presented earlier today as well about how the Minister of Labour has been listening, and listening not just to unions and big union bosses but actually listening to Canadians.

What Canadians are most concerned about is our fragile economy and making sure they have a job. That is why we are moving forward with respect to this back-to-work legislation to make sure the rail is moving, to make sure jobs are protected and to make sure we can grow the economy.

Restoring Rail Service Act
Government Orders

10:25 p.m.

Lotbinière—Chutes-de-la-Chaudière
Québec

Conservative

Jacques Gourde Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Works and Government Services

Mr. Speaker, a responsible government must show leadership and act in the best interest of the majority. This means that it must occasionally make difficult decisions and take necessary measures to resolve specific situations. That is what we are doing tonight.

We are overcoming the impasse in the labour dispute between Canadian Pacific Rail and the two Teamsters Canada Rail Conference bargaining units, one representing running trade employees and the other rail traffic controllers.

The government introduced Bill C-39 to ensure the continuation and resumption of Canadian Pacific services. Why? Because Canada's ongoing but fragile economic recovery simply cannot withstand the impact of a prolonged Canadian Pacific work stoppage.

Allowing the dispute to get out of hand would deal a severe blow to our economy, which is just now getting back on its feet. If there is one sector in which a work stoppage can have serious economic repercussions, it is the rail transport sector.

In a country with an area of almost 10,000 km2, railways have been and continue to be a preferred means of transportation, especially when it comes to transporting freight. Agricultural products, forest products, chemical products, metallurgical products or everyday consumer goods—a host of industries rely on the approximately 22,000 km of railway that Canadian Pacific uses to transport and deliver the materials needed to manufacture those products and take them to markets. Any interruption in the Canadian Pacific services has an impact on other sectors and their workers.

As an article in the Canadian Press from January 26, 2012 said, and I quote, “The Canadian Pacific Railway transports coal, fertilizer, grain, vehicles, consumer goods and other products across North America. So it is commonly viewed as a barometer of economic health.”

In a very competitive and increasingly interdependent global market, all inputs count, all deadlines are critical and jobs are fragile. Without our intervention to ensure continued service, a growing number of businesses and workers would be affected.

It has to be remembered that Canada is one of the countries in the world that relies most heavily on international trade. We depend on international trade to ensure our prosperity.

Think about it. By virtue of its geographical position, our country is a crossroads between North America and the burgeoning economies, such as those of China, India, Korea, and Japan.

The rapid, safe and uninterrupted flow of goods along our supply chain and transportation network is a decisive factor in ensuring the vitality and success of our trade.

Most of Canada's bulk commodities and a lot of our manufactured products are transported by rail to their export destination. According to Transport Canada, in 2010, Canadian Pacific alone transported 74% of the potassium, 57% of the wheat, 53% of the coal and 39% of containers across Canada. Moreover, our railways are used to transport many imported products.

For example, the major increase in shipping trade over the past 15 years, especially by container, has been largely driven by Chinese exports. These containers are shipped to destinations in Canada and the United States through efficient intermodal gateways and corridors, which are a key factor in competitiveness.

The Canadian Asia-Pacific gateway and corridor offer world-class maritime, rail, road and air transportation infrastructure.

These are important assets, and we have set ambitious goals regarding this gateway and corridor with a view to bolstering Canada's economic outcomes.

However, the success of these initiatives depends on cooperation by all partners, including CP Rail. When a single link in the chain is broken, everything grinds to a halt. A work stoppage means that Canadian Pacific's activities cease, thereby blocking the flow of goods through the Asia-Pacific gateway and corridor.

To give listeners an idea of the importance of Canadian Pacific to our transportation infrastructure and supply chain, the value of freight transported by the company is estimated at approximately $50 billion. Clearly, any extended work stoppage at Canadian Pacific would foil our efforts to make the Asia-Pacific gateway and corridor a reliable segment of our transportation infrastructure, which would be extremely damaging to our economy and our reputation globally.

One thing is certain, an economy in which goods do not flow properly would be quickly compromised, and the alternatives are extremely limited. There are only two class 1 railway freight transportation companies in Canada: Canadian Pacific and Canadian National.

What is a class 1 railway? It is one of the largest goods piggybacking services based on operating revenue. For those like me who are unfamiliar with railway vocabulary, let me explain specifically what piggybacking is. It is the process of transporting truck trailers on special railway flat cars. CN has confirmed that its capacity to increase traffic would be very limited.

For example, for grain, CN could only handle no more than 10% of Canadian Pacific's freight. As for VIA Rail, well, it could not mitigate the negative impacts of a work stoppage at Canadian Pacific, because it is designed for passenger travel. A work stoppage would also have a negative impact on VIA Rail activities, because some of its trains travel on tracks that belong to Canadian Pacific. No trains could travel on these tracks without the approval of the rail traffic controllers.

We are here debating the merits of this bill because the very stability of railway traffic and the future of our economy are at stake. Negotiations between Canadian Pacific and the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference, which began in October and November 2011, are at an impasse because of major differences.

The collective agreements for the running train employees and the rail traffic controllers units expired on December 31, 2011. On February 17, 2012, the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service received a notice of dispute from Canadian Pacific. Shortly thereafter, two conciliators were appointed to work with the parties—one for each unit—to ensure that the process was consistent.

For those unfamiliar with the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, it was established to help employers and unions subject to the Canada Labour Code resolve and prevent disputes. It therefore makes conflict resolution services available to employers and unionized employees in the form of assistance from conciliators and mediators.

The mandate of these third parties is precisely to help the parties reach agreements. It is true that it would have been preferable for these parties to have been able to resolve their dispute themselves. Everything possible was done to bring them closer together. Unfortunately, there are no signs of a favourable outcome.