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

May 30th, 12:35 a.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

All those opposed will please say nay.

Restoring Rail Service Act
Government Orders

May 30th, 12:35 a.m.

Some hon. members

No.

Restoring Rail Service Act
Government Orders

May 30th, 12:35 a.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

In my opinion the yeas have it.

And five or more members having risen:

Call in the members.

And the bells having rung:

Restoring Rail Service Act
Government Orders

May 30th, 12:35 a.m.

Conservative

Gordon O'Connor Carleton—Mississippi Mills, ON

Mr. Speaker, I ask that we proceed immediately with the vote.

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

Vote #232

Restoring Rail Service Act
Government Orders

May 30th, 12:40 a.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

I declare the motion carried.

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

Restoring Rail Service Act
Government Orders

May 30th, 12:40 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Restoring Rail Service Act
Government Orders

May 30th, 12:45 a.m.

Conservative

Lisa Raitt Halton, ON

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

Mr. Speaker, there are a number of compelling reasons to end the strike at Canadian Pacific Rail. Count among them the fact that the company employs roughly 15,000 employees and only about a quarter of them are members of the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference who are currently on strike. That means the majority of the company's employees are being affected.

It is important that members of the House are aware that the annual average earnings in the rail business, at more than $79,000 a year are among the highest in Canadian industry. These are good jobs. With the CP Rail system shut down, a significant number of workers, and a lot of money as a result, will be taken out of the economy.

There are 1,100 Canadian communities that are served by CP, which operates in six Canadian provinces as well as thirteen U.S. states. The company's rail and intermodal transportation services provide a network covering 22,000 kilometres. CP Rail serves all the principal business centres across Canada, from Montreal to Vancouver, and has direct links to eight major ports, extending essentially its reach to every corner of the globe. The railway also feeds directly into the U.S. heartland.

The company transports bulk commodities, merchandise, freight and intermodal traffic. On the bulk side these commodities include grain, coal, sulphur, fertilizers. Merchandise freight consists of finished vehicles and automotive parts as well as forest, industrial and consumer products. Intermodal traffic consists mostly of high-value, time-sensitive retail goods in containers that can be transported by train, ship and by truck. In short, CP ships a large portion of everything that Canadians harvest or manufacture.

Factor in the value of freight moved by CP rail in Canada each year, which is just shy of $50 billion annually.

The sectors that use rail transport contribute significantly to our economy. A 2009 report prepared by the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management estimated that four key Canadian industries, oilseed and grain farming, coal mining, wood products manufacturing and pulp and paper and paper products manufacturing, contributed over $81 billion to Canada's GDP each year. Equally noteworthy, these four sectors account for close to one million jobs, jobs of Canadians all across the country that are being adversely affected by this work stoppage.

My colleagues in the House are certainly aware that a major disruption in Canadian railway operations can have great consequences on various sectors of the economy, and we have talked about those very much in the last three days. I have just illustrated how important CP rail services are to the Canadian economy.

It is never the government's first choice to proceed with back-to-work legislation and it is not something that I take lightly. I really had hoped that we would be able to avoid a work stoppage and avoid introducing legislation. However, there are no other options left to consider without causing irreparable damage to the economy and the economic recovery. It is necessary for the government to act decisively and to do it quickly.

Canadians want the government to protect our national interests in a period of ongoing economic uncertainty. Canadians expect it and we are obliged to act.

While Canada's economic performance remains strong relative to many other industrialized countries, the current global recovery is fragile. As stakeholders involved in the 2011 rail freight service review panel noted, Canada's international reputation as a reliable supplier suffers as a result of these disruptions. In today's highly competitive marketplace that can quickly lead to lost clients and lost markets.

The review panel also heard that rail labour issues were disruptive to the flow of goods in the logistic chain. That is because rail-based logistic systems involve a range of stakeholders, including shippers, railways, terminal operators, transloaders and ports. Problems incurred by any one of the players causes system congestion and it can take weeks for operations to recover afterward. This is precisely the situation we are facing today in day eight of an ongoing rail strike.

Canada's rail system in general does not have the capacity to pick up any slack from a CP Rail work stoppage. I want to remind the House that there are only two Canadian class I freight railways. One is CP Rail and the other is Canadian National Railway, or CN. Roughly 20% of CP traffic does not have direct access to CN's network and CN is already operating at full speed at any rate. At best it can only absorb a very small percentage of the additional load. More to the point, CP Rail and CN have an agreement whereby CP operates all trains of both railways from the Fraser Canyon to the south shore of the Port Metro Vancouver. Therefore, the CP Rail strike is affecting the flow of goods going into and coming out of the Port Metro Vancouver and CN's activities as well.

VIA Rail simply cannot help. It is designed to transport passengers, not freight. Therefore, we can see there are no other options and the economy can only be protected by the quick passage of this legislation.

Contrary to assertions from the opposite side, we have done our utmost best to avoid this situation. The government has worked hard and we have provided assistance to the parties to prevent this work stoppage. From the outset, I encouraged all parties to reach agreements through the negotiation process.

CP and Teamsters started negotiating in October and November 2011. They represent 4,200 running trade employees and 220 rail traffic controllers with full collective agreements expiring December 31, 2011.

By mid-February of this year, I received notices of dispute from the employer for both units. To try to break the impasse, the labour program provided the parties with the services of two conciliation officers for both of the union's bargaining units. Having the same conciliation officers for both units helped to ensure consistency in the process.

In spite of the efforts of the conciliators, who had many years of experience both on management side and on the union side, they could not help the parties find common ground. Things did not progress to a negotiated settlement and, as such, in accordance with the Canada Labour Code, they were released from conciliation on May 1.

On May 16 and May 22, I met with the parties myself but to no avail. On May 23 the strike started.

Labour officials worked with the parties for the first five days of the strike to try to reach a settlement or to try to find a voluntary arbitration process for the parties, but the parties rejected outright the compromise position that labour officials provided to them. As a result, labour officials withdrew their services because the impasse was great and the parties were entrenched in their positions and there was no prospect for a deal or a voluntary arbitration agreement.

I tried to give hon. members a quick rundown on events that took place over the span of eight months. However, the situation we are now facing, despite assistance provided on a massive scale to the parties, is one in which we have a strike affecting the national economy. We have tried diligently to avoid any disruption in railway transportation and its consequences for Canadian producers and manufacturers whose economic survival depends on this mode of transportation.

As I mentioned, I met with both parties on two separate occasions in the weeks leading up to the strike for over a period of about 30 hours. I acknowledge their efforts in attempting to achieve a resolution through their respective differences, but I was firm in my expectation that the parties were to do everything in their power to reach a deal of their volition. It is the responsibility of the parties for their own labour relations and it is the responsibility of the parties to conclude a collective agreement.

I ensured that the parties were aware of the serious concerns I had about the economic damage that would be inflicted on the Canadian business and agriculture sectors as a result of a possible work stoppage. I offered the parties an extended mediation period and asked them to continue to bargain and make every effort to achieve an agreement. My officials offered a compromise position.

I wanted to avoid the need for legislative intervention on the part of the government. Unfortunately, the parties failed to reach an agreement on either content or on process. Therefore, we are left with no choice but to assume our responsibility to the Canadian public and bring this dispute to a conclusion.

For all the reasons I have already outlined, this government is committed to doing what it takes to protect the public interest. The federal government has introduced back-to-work legislation in the railway industry in governments on eight occasions since 1950. We do not want nor can Canada afford to allow the strike to continue, especially at a time when the global economy remains in a precarious state.

I urge all members to swiftly pass the bill to get CP trains rolling again and enable the Canadian economy to continue to create jobs for the benefit of all Canadians.

Restoring Rail Service Act
Government Orders

May 30th, 12:55 a.m.

NDP

David Christopherson Hamilton Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, at the outset I would say that I hope historians take particular note, when they are reviewing this period of Canadian history, and factor in the implications of a government that is prepared to turn the whole House of Commons upside down, run roughshod over workers' rights and questionably violate the rights workers have under the charter, all in the interest of making sure the trains run on time. Historians should note that the minister shouted “hear, hear” on that comment. It must be late. Not many got that reference, but they ought to think about the fact that this is all about making the trains run on time. That is the priority.

The minister mentioned the amount of legislation that has been used, but since 1950 this kind of legislation has been used, on average, once every two years. The Conservatives have done it four times in the first year. Four times in the first year they have already brought in back-to-work legislation, denying workers their right to stand up and fight for their rights in a democratic fashion, exercising those charter rights.

What is interesting is what the government did not do in terms of bringing in back-to-work legislation. The government allowed in my home town, for instance, U.S. Steel to buy Stelco. Supposedly, the government found there was some net benefit to Canada, and yet not long after it bought Stelco and entered into negotiations, U.S. Steel did not like the way the negotiations were going and locked the workers out. We implored the government to step in and do something. If it wanted to bring in back-to-work legislation, we wanted it to bring that legislation in and put those Hamiltonians back to work, who did absolutely nothing wrong. They were locked out and, as a result, their pensions have been gutted and they have lost rights. That is the track record of the government in terms of workers' rights and workers' right to bargain collectively.

If we listen to the government, the union is so evil. It wanted so much, was greedy and selfish. That is the implication. I see the minister shaking her head no, no, no. Yet her colleagues are quite willing to throw around “union bosses” at a drop of a hat. Nobody is fooled by any of that. What is the strike really about? It is about pension rights. Is there a Canadian right now who is not frightened and worried about pension rights and willing to do anything, including standing up and fighting and exercising his or her right to strike?

Two of the issues are fatigue management and rail safety. How many derailments have there been in the last while? Rail safety is an issue, and a lot of changes have been advantageous to the railways. When the railways are unsafe, just like when classrooms are dirty, which is not just where people work but where children learn, public safety is at risk when there are fatigue issues in terms of the people who are running those trains. Why is that so wrong?

One of the last items was work rules. Trying to get fairness in terms of rules at work ought not to be seen as some kind of revolutionary tactic that brings down the weight of the entire federal government on people's heads because they want to have some decent and fair work rules.

Those are the three main issues. Why are they not mentioned by the government? Why does the government not have some sympathy for the workers who stand to lose tens of thousands of dollars in pensionable income and earning income in the ensuing years? Why has anybody not talked about that over there? Why has anyone over there not talked about managing fatigue as a public safety issue? Conservatives rant and rave about law and order and public safety. This is just as much a public safety issue as any other that the justice minister may bring forward. Yet the government wants to run roughshod over that, too.

Ten hours after the strike began, the government sent out a signal that it was prepared, if necessary, to step in with back-to-work legislation.

We do not need to have years at the bargaining table to guess what happened at that point. The negotiations broke down. The company is sitting at the table with its workers saying that it wants to negotiate a fair agreement but then it gets some help from its big buddy in Ottawa who says, “Hey, don't worry. If it doesn't go well we'll just order them all back to work.” Well, at that point bargaining is done. It is over. It is dead.

No one should be surprised that is what happened because that is what the government wanted to happen. Every employer in this country right now believes that they have a friend in the government, particularly when it comes to going after their own employees. Why? Because they can make more profit if they take away people's wages. That would be a fair trade-off as far as the government is concerned.

We have already heard that it is a profitable private corporation engaged in fair collective bargaining and after 10 hours the government effectively killed bargaining at that table. The government is responsible for where we are today, not the union. The current government brought us to where we are today.

It is interesting to mention that the government, from time to time, when it is necessary, will say things like, “We respect collective bargaining”. Sometimes it even goes so far as to recognize that it is a right that Canadians have. Canadians have that right because the Supreme Court has ruled that the charter provides that protection. What the government cannot stand is not Canadians who have rights, it is Canadians who would dare to stand up and demand those rights. That is what the current government cannot stand.

In my last two minutes I will mention that the official opposition, under the leadership of the member for Outremont, was here in this place every time the government attacked workers, and today is no different. We will continue to stand up and fight for the rights of Canadians to have a decent income, especially when it is a profit-making corporation, and to have decent pensions that they can count on. This business of taking people's pension rights away, sometimes just a few years before they are about to retire, is disgraceful. It is disgraceful to do that to Canadians.

However, we ought not be surprised. We just need to look at what the government did with OAS. The Prime Minister said, “Oh, we won't touch pensions. We'll just kind of kill them a little bit.” And somehow that is okay.

The fact that pensions were on the bargaining table to be negotiated is something the government would see as almost evil. How dare anyone go against the government when it is trying to lower pensions. Anyone in Canada who has any other ideas, except its buddies over there, had better forget about it because, if necessary, look where we are, one o'clock in the morning and we are ramming through back-to-work legislation so that the government can do the bidding of the people who called upon it to do it. In every one of those cases where the government ordered workers back to work, that is what the corporation wanted.

In the case of U.S. Steel, the corporation wanted those workers outside because it locked them out. We sure were not standing here at one o'clock in the morning debating legislation to order them back to work. It is not going to happen because the corporations are setting the agenda and Canadians are beginning to catch on as to who will pay the price at the end of the day.

If it takes until one o'clock in the morning, three o'clock in the morning, five o'clock in the morning or 24/7 standing beside workers and defending their rights to free collective bargaining, then Canadians can count on the fact that the NDP, the official opposition in Ottawa, will be there and will take on the government every time.

Restoring Rail Service Act
Government Orders

May 30th, 2012 / 1:05 a.m.

Liberal

Bob Rae Toronto Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, we find ourselves once again, as a House, debating a question of back-to-work legislation. It has become an extraordinary habit on the part of the government.

I want to try to talk to the House, if I may, from a perspective that is different from the perspective we have heard either from the government or the official opposition, and I know there will be a lot of heckling and other things.

We all recognize that there is public interest in both senses of the word. There is a public interest in the negotiation and discussion process between the workers and the employers. We decided that, in our economic system, we would let the parties make every effort to find solutions to their problems. We recognize the importance of these rights, whether it be at the federal or the provincial level.

It is also important to note that the Supreme Court of Canada also recognized the importance of the process, the importance of negotiations, the importance of making an effort to find solutions and the fundamental importance of recognizing that, in a democratic society, workers and employers will have differences of opinion from time to time and that, yes, there will be strikes.

We do not want a strike. We do not want any disruptions to the economy. We recognize that this is difficult for the economy, workers and employers. However, the difference between a democracy and a dictatorship is that people have these rights and we recognize that it may cause inconveniences when workers or employers exercise their economic and social rights. That is the law in Canada. That is the social situation in Canada.

We also recognize on our side of the House, and I am sure there are some members, at least in the New Democratic Party, who understand it because of their involvement in various governments at the provincial level, that there is also a public interest in the economy and a public interest in ensuring that at critical times the public interest must be maintained. Therefore, yes, as the minister has said, from time to time governments have introduced back-to-work legislation of various kinds.

I have to say to the minister that the back-to-work legislation she has introduced on previous occasions, and the way in which she has exercised her discretion with respect to the appointment of arbitrators, has shown a bias toward employers and a bias toward simply exercising an authoritarian practice by the government, which is shameful.

It is also the case that when the collective bargaining is still going on and people are still at the table and the minister ventures out to the microphones and says if the parties are not able to reach an agreement very quickly the government will be ordering them back to work, we all have to understand what that does to the balance of the discussion. What that does is this. If an employer knows that the government is going to be there ordering people back to work, not at the end of the day but at the end of the hour, there is no incentive on the part of the employer to reach an agreement. That is the problem we have with the approach that has been taken.

My colleague from Leeds—Grenville spoke in the House, and I appreciated his comments very much and the comments the minister has made where the formula is this: the economy is fragile, the economy is interconnected, it is our competitiveness that is at stake, we simply have to intervene, we have no choice. If that is the case, before the other side applauds, why even pretend there is such a thing as collective bargaining? Why even pretend there is such a thing as a right to withdraw labour? Why even pretend there are in fact democratic rights that do from time to time create an inconvenience? Why not just abandon the whole process and set up an authoritarian structure where the government and the employers get together and establish what the pension rules are going to be, establish what the wage rates are going to be and forget about the democratic rights of the people who are working for a living?

That is the problem with what we see coming from the government. We do not deny for a moment that the government has an economic responsibility. What we deny is the competence of the government. What we deny is the fairness of the government. What we deny is the sense of balance of the government. That is why we will be voting against this legislation and the way in which its power has been exercised.

There is a very serious issue which is now raised by the rhetoric of the minister and raised by the minister and members who were speaking in favour of this legislation. It is the same issue that we had with respect to the Canada Post legislation, it is the same issue that we had with respect to Air Canada, and the way in which it has exercised its discretion to appoint arbitrators and the way in which it has exercised its discretion to intervene.

That is, what is the future of labour relations in the federal jurisdiction in this country, if at every moment and at every time that workers exercise their rights to defend their pensions, to defend their job security, to defend their health and safety, the government is there telling the employer, “Do not worry, we are on your side. We are not on the side of the workers. We are going to be making sure that people get back to work right away”?

All sense of balance is lost. At the end of the day, what really matters in this House and what really matters with respect to legislation is this critical sense of balance. We in the Liberal Party of Canada do not deny for a moment that of course there are times when governments have to intervene. We recognize that. We have done it. We have seen it. We have been there.

It is not a question of “Do we have the right to intervene?” It is a question of “How do we intervene, what is the sensitivity with which we intervene, what is the balance that is struck when we intervene, and how do we ensure that the work of the employer, the work of the workers, both sides are respected and both sides are taken?”

I do not think there is disgrace in the fact that CP Rail makes a profit. It is a good thing that CP Rail makes a profit. The question is not whether it is a profitable company or a private company, the question is, “Do we have a government, today, that is prepared to recognize the need for balance, the need for fairness, and, yes, the need for justice, as well as the needs of the economy?”

Right now we do not have that government. That is the reason the Liberal Party will be voting against this legislation.

Restoring Rail Service Act
Government Orders

May 30th, 1:10 a.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

It being 1:14 a.m., pursuant to an order made earlier today, it is my duty to interrupt the proceedings and put forthwith every question necessary to dispose of the third reading stage of the bill now before the House.

Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Restoring Rail Service Act
Government Orders

May 30th, 1:10 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

Restoring Rail Service Act
Government Orders

May 30th, 1:10 a.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

Restoring Rail Service Act
Government Orders

May 30th, 1:10 a.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

Restoring Rail Service Act
Government Orders

May 30th, 1:10 a.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

All those opposed will please say nay.