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

Government Business No. 12
Continuation and Resumption of Rail Service Operations Legislation
Government Orders

May 29th, 2012 / 4:55 p.m.

Battlefords—Lloydminster
Saskatchewan

Conservative

Gerry Ritz Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food and Minister for the Canadian Wheat Board

Madam Speaker, it is certainly a pleasure to stand today and split my time with my colleague, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Veterans Affairs.

I am pleased to speak today in support of this act before us to provide for the continuation and resumption of rail service operations.

Let us look at this dispute from the perspective of Canadian farmers across our great country. Whenever the government intervenes in a labour dispute, and we have seen flights of fantasy from the other side in this argument today, the members on the opposite side will always accuse us of acting too hastily. There were a number of things offered to the management and union, such as another 120 days of arbitration and months leading us up to this point, which was all to no avail. However, when I hear the rhetoric coming from the members opposite, there are no answers to the hard questions.

I ask the Liberal member for Wascana this. How long should farmers wait? Should we wait until the hard-won gains that our country has made in digging out from the economic downturn are lost?

I ask the NDP member for Winnipeg Centre this. Should we wait until the canola piles up across the Prairies?

I ask the NDP agricultural critic from Quebec this. Should we wait until our red meat buyers around the world change suppliers?

I ask the NDP member for Welland this. Should we wait until Canada's world-class brand as a top quality food supplier is ruined?

Last, I ask the Liberal member for Guelph this. Does he think we should wait until farmers' delivery contracts are broken and we are facing punitive action?

The answers are loud and clear. Canadian farmers will not wait any longer for a resolution. Canadians want decisive action. That is what we are doing here today. They want Parliament to do what is necessary for the overall good of the Canadian economy. Canadian farmers and processors did not cause this dispute, but they are the ones who will ultimately pay the price. They will pay because of the economic repercussions of CP Rail grinding to a halt. They will pay not just in terms of financial costs, but also what it does to Canada's reputation as a trading nation. We are talking about an industry that last year accounted for over $44 billion of our exports and one in eight jobs in our country.

Canada's world-class grain industry is a powerful engine of our economy, bringing $16 billion back to the farm gate. Canadian grain farmers are well into their marketing plans for this year's crop. They have orders to fill around the world and are heavily dependent on the railways to move that product to market. They have just incurred huge costs for seed, fertilizer, fuel and other inputs needed to put a crop in the ground and those bills will be due soon. They count on delivering their grain at this time of year to build cashflow. Across Canada many producers and processors export up to 85% of their production.

I cannot overstate the urgency of resolving this labour stoppage for the hard-working men and women who put food on our tables and tables around the world. We all know our rail-based logistics system is complex. It involves a range of stakeholders from the railways themselves to shippers, terminal operators, transloaders, ports, shipping lines and trucks, all part of a global supply chain. In this global supply chain that is so interconnected, any glitch or work stoppage affects the whole system. For a trading nation such as Canada, it is key that all players in the supply chain provide efficient and effective service to strengthen our economic performance.

Farmers are asking us to act and to act now. The Canola Council of Canada wrote to the government to express its concern. It said, “As an industry that depends heavily on rail transport for both exports and domestic processing, any work stoppage will have a crippling effect on canola farmers, processors, crushers and exporters served exclusively by CPR”.

This is another quote, this time from the Grain Growers of Canada, which said, “No grain shipments means no grain sales means no cash back into farmers' pockets states”.

The CEO of the Canadian Wheat Board said, “We rely completely on two railways, CN and CP, to move this grain to port from the Prairies, and there are no alternative shipping methods”.

Ian White added that there was $50 million worth of grain sitting in elevators on the Prairies instead of moving to the ports, including Vancouver where six boats were waiting. He said that grain shipments on another eight were on their way in.

Norm Hall, president of the Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan, said, “We cannot truck our grain to export positions...We don’t have the trucks available, we don’t have the highway system available...so we've only got railroads”.

The Minister of Labour took the appropriate action to assist the parties in an attempt to reach a negotiated settlement. She worked with the parties toward this negotiated settlement.

Our government believes in the principles of free collective bargaining. We have offered all of the resources of the federal mediation and conciliation service to CP Rail and the union.

We firmly believe that negotiated agreements are still the best possible outcome. Unfortunately, the elements needed to make that happen are nowhere in sight and the clock is ticking for our farmers.

Our farmers cannot control the weather, but this is one risk we can help them to manage. Our farmers cannot access new markets if they cannot get their product to existing markets. The sheer size of our land mass means that Canadian farmers depend on rail service more than in many other countries. With strong prices and demand for our farmers' world-class products, the last thing they need is a rail disruption. Today's global marketplace is just too competitive for our farmers to run the risk of not getting their product to market and losing those good quality customers.

I call on all members of the House to support this motion and to support this bill. Specifically, I call on the member for Wascana to stop playing politics with rail. He howls about a rail review to help farmers. Here is a real chance for him to help farmers, and he goes silent. That is shameful.

They supported back-to-work legislation for CN in 2007. I wonder what has changed today.

Canadians can be proud they have a government that is making sure our economy is not jeopardized by risky union tactics. Sadly, we also have an opposition that will never understand agriculture, given that it recently attacked the red meat sector and recklessly claimed that processors would use roadkill in their facilities. We all know the opposition will not stop trying to divide Canadians by attacking Canada's responsible resource development.

Hopefully today all opposition members realize the importance of rail for agriculture and for the overall Canadian economy.

Government Business No. 12
Continuation and Resumption of Rail Service Operations Legislation
Government Orders

5:05 p.m.

NDP

Nathan Cullen Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Madam Speaker, I suppose a question that is very important for the government to answer at this point is that it must demonstrate the panic button that is forcing it, as its members claim, to shut down debate on any of these questions. We have had two of these motions today. The Conservatives seem to be in some sort of effort to break records when it comes to shutting down democratic free and fair debate in this country.

Does the minister not feel at all that the government in fact poisoned the well in these negotiations? Less than 10 hours into the strike mandate the government produced back-to-work legislation. The employer knew this in advance.

How is this not a cynical effort by government in this negotiation and in all future ones to do two things: to send a clear and precise message to employers that free and fair collective bargaining is not important to them anymore, a right that is constitutionally protected, as has been clearly outlined by our leader; second, to send a message to Canadians and Parliament that debate is no longer a problem with which the government is going to have to occupy itself, because it will just shut it down?

The government has invoked closure and censure on Parliament 23 times since being elected to a majority, breaking all records. I do not understand how the minister, who comes from a party that had a history against such moves, seems so comfortable with this process and this procedure.

Government Business No. 12
Continuation and Resumption of Rail Service Operations Legislation
Government Orders

5:05 p.m.

Conservative

Gerry Ritz Battlefords—Lloydminster, SK

In this case, Madam Speaker, we are looking for practical, pragmatic decisions not political gains. This costs almost $100 million a day to the overall Canadian economy. I just outlined some of the things with regard to agriculture but, of course, there are a lot of other industries, right from car parts to whole cars, to beef, to all sorts of things moving by rail, and at almost $100 million a day, how many hours and how many days do those people want to chat while this all goes down the drain?

As a government, we offered CP Rail and the union another 120 days of arbitration to make sure they had time to move this forward. The union said no, so we are standing very solidly here. We will continue to move ahead on the side of the Canadian economy.

Government Business No. 12
Continuation and Resumption of Rail Service Operations Legislation
Government Orders

5:05 p.m.

Liberal

Frank Valeriote Guelph, ON

Madam Speaker, my question for the minister is this. For years now, farmers have been held hostage by the rail companies, and the minister is well aware of it. The rail service review disclosed that fact, talked of remedies, and yet for a full year the minister has been comatose when it comes to responding to the needs of farmers. Now, suddenly, he is up in his seat supporting an immediate resolution to this disruption of service.

Why would he not give the same attention to the rail service review and honour farmers and the needs they have expressed to him time and time again by bringing that review to a conclusion?

Government Business No. 12
Continuation and Resumption of Rail Service Operations Legislation
Government Orders

5:05 p.m.

Conservative

Gerry Ritz Battlefords—Lloydminster, SK

Of course, Madam Speaker, we did exactly that in Agriculture Canada. We put together a subset under the Transport Canada umbrella led by Jim Dinning, the crop logistics working group, co-chaired by my deputy minister and Gordon Bacon of the Canadian Special Crops Association. They held hearings with all the affected industries. They were looking for efficiencies and effective handling agreements for all aspects of that value chain.

The railways are a major part of that, and we are working toward that conclusion and we will have tools in the toolbox moving forward for farmers to make use of very son. However, if the member is in such a hurry, he has the opportunity today to prove to farmers that he is on their side, in their camp, and get those trains moving again and get that $50 million worth of grain off the Prairies, into the Vancouver port and onto those boats. Why will he not do that?

Government Business No. 12
Continuation and Resumption of Rail Service Operations Legislation
Government Orders

5:10 p.m.

Oshawa
Ontario

Conservative

Colin Carrie Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health

Madam Speaker, I have been listening to the speeches this afternoon, and the Leader of the Opposition consistently would not answer how long he would let this dispute go on, but the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food knows.

I am from Oshawa, and in Oshawa we build cars. We need parts to build cars. If there are no parts, there are no cars. If there are no cars, there are no jobs and no economy in my community.

We have heard that the Leader of the Opposition feels that jobs are a disease. He has been very clear about that. I thought it was only the resource sector, the oil sands and out in the mining sector, but now he is attacking farmers and the manufacturing sector.

If the minister can answer, how long does he think the NDP would go on without supporting a return to the economy—

Government Business No. 12
Continuation and Resumption of Rail Service Operations Legislation
Government Orders

5:10 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Denise Savoie

The hon. Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food.

Government Business No. 12
Continuation and Resumption of Rail Service Operations Legislation
Government Orders

5:10 p.m.

Conservative

Gerry Ritz Battlefords—Lloydminster, SK

Madam Speaker, to my friend from Oshawa, I think it would go on in perpetuity.

Certainly NDP members are complaining about putting unionized employees back to work at CP Rail. At the same time, the longer this drags on, they are putting out of work the unionized employees in Oshawa, the unionized workers in a lot of agricultural elevators and so on out west, those in the Vancouver ports and Thunder Bay, all of which are unionized jobs. So they have cherry-picked a certain group and say they will go to bat for them, but they would put the rest of those guys at risk. I do not think that is a tenable situation. We have to look at the overall package.

Government Business No. 12
Continuation and Resumption of Rail Service Operations Legislation
Government Orders

5:10 p.m.

Mississauga—Brampton South
Ontario

Conservative

Eve Adams Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Veterans Affairs

Madam Speaker, the act to provide for the continuation and resumption of rail service operations is designed to address the labour dispute between CP Rail and two units of approximately 4,420 employees, rail traffic controllers, locomotive engineers, conductors, train men and yard men represented by the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference.

Our government has grave concern regarding the complete shutdown of the services of CP Rail, which is having a negative impact on Canada's economy. The global economy is extremely fragile, especially in Europe.

Our government’s priorities are job creation, economic growth and long-term prosperity. The work stoppage at the Canadian Pacific Railway is costing the Canadian economy more than $540 million every week, and if it goes on, it could endanger the jobs of thousands of Canadians.

Our government has taken the first step toward enacting back-to-work legislation, to end the work stoppage at Canadian Pacific, in the interests of the Canadian economy. This bill will end the work stoppage and will submit the disputes between Canadian Pacific and the TCRC to an interest-based arbitration process.

Canadians have mandated our Conservative government to protect our national interests in a period of global economic uncertainty. The message cannot be clearer. We need to protect the people of Canada and the economic recovery upon which we are all counting. If we are to enjoy growth and prosperity in the years ahead, it is clearly the only course of action. I cannot emphasize too strongly that time is of the essence here, and that is why we must act now. We must stop the harm to Canadian businesses and restore confidence.

I will give the House an indication of the kinds of businesses that are being harmed as a result of this work stoppage. According to CP Rail's annual report, 44% of CP Rail's revenue is generated by the transport of bulk commodities including grain, coal, sulphur and fertilizers; 30% from merchandise freight including industrial, consumer and automotive products; and 26% from intermodal traffic. By intermodal traffic, we mean the movement of goods by more than one means of transport. In Mississauga—Brampton South, we are a hub for intermodal traffic. We are home to many trucking freight haulers. These run the spectrum from self-employed new immigrants to large logistics firms. The nation's largest airport is next door and more than 12,000 businesses surround our airport, and most rely on intermodal transport in some manner. With no trains running, the implications of this work stoppage are widespread.

In addition to impacting intermodal traffic, halting the movement of different types of commodities, the work stoppage is also impacting our local auto industry. Auto parts are the third-largest container import good that enters Canada through Port Metro Vancouver. This work stoppage is preventing these parts from being shipped to manufacturers in my community in Ontario. Without the parts they need, assembly lines may slow or stop, resulting in lost production and, depending on the duration of the work stoppage, possible layoffs of our neighbours.

As members can see, countless employees in diverse sectors of our economy are affected by the shutdown of CP Rail. Weston Forest Products, one of my local companies, which relies on CP Rail to transport lumber, has had to alter its business models and it is costing it greatly. My neighbours in Mississauga—Brampton South are concerned about the economy and therefore would like to see an end to this dispute as soon as possible.

CP Rail annually transports freight in Canada valued at about $50 billion. Transport Canada tells us that in 2010 CP Rail handled 74% of potash, 57% of wheat, 53% of coal and 39% of containers moved in our country. CP Rail's network operates in six provinces and thirteen states. This network extends to the U.S. industrial centres of Chicago, Newark, Philadelphia, Washington, New York City and Buffalo. Agreements with other carriers extend CP's market reach east of Montreal, within Canada and throughout the United States and into Mexico. These geographical names alone tell us how strongly CP Rail is written into the story of Canada's economic success, not only for transport of goods within the country but also for trade with other nations including ones in Asia.

CP Rail is a vital link in moving freight to and from Canada's west coast ports, which are an integral part of the Asia-Pacific gateway. This work stoppage is undermining Canada's reputation as a reliable place to do business, a setback from which it could take years to recover lost business for Canadians.

The Minister of Labour has heard from numerous stakeholders, who have all been very clear in urging the government to take action to prevent a prolonged work stoppage at CP Rail.

The minister has heard from the automobile sector, which is very worried. Many of my neighbours who work at Ford are somewhat concerned. Ford relies heavily on rail for the transport of parts and finished vehicles across the country. If the strike is prolonged, Ford will be forced to make some tough decisions on whether it can maintain production operations during a strike. We have also heard from GM, Honda and Toyota. Automobile manufacturers are worried. They are nearing the point of having to shut down their plants temporarily.

As we heard from the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food earlier, farmers and others in the agricultural sector are worried. There are not a lot of options when it comes to transporting goods. The trucking industry cannot pick up the slack for CP Rail's work stoppage. The movement of goods will be stalled.

I know that every member of the House wants to see Canada's economy grow and our success as a nation continue. We want to retain our enviable position of being one of the few nations in the western world to weather the global economic downturn.

The MPs sitting across from me in the House may not always agree with us on the best ways to keep Canada's economy strong; nevertheless, we are all of one mind when it comes to this common goal.

Our Conservative government continues to work diligently to ensure we have all the right factors in place to maintain Canada's economic success story, and Canadians can be proud that ours is a story envied by many other countries. Canadians welcome our investments in people, families and communities throughout the nation. They see that these investments work and they are counting on us, with good reason, to help them build for their very secure future.

Our concern is that the stoppage at CP Rail is jeopardizing our work and our achievement today. It is putting our economy seriously at risk. As we have witnessed time and time again in Canada's history, the best and longest-lasting solutions to labour disputes occur when the parties come together to resolve their differences without a strike or lockout. It is very heartening that when the labour program's professional mediators and conciliation officers get involved in negotiations, 94% of the disputes are resolved without a strike or lockout, and this is undoubtedly the best option. Regrettably, agreements were not reached and a strike has occurred. When the national economy and the public interest are affected, as they are in this case, our government has no choice but to act.

To round out my remarks on this situation, I would like to give the House some background on the dispute. On December 31, 2011, the collective agreement expired for both units of employees represented by TCRC. The parties began negotiations earlier in the fall. On February 17 of this year, the Minister of Labour received notices of dispute from the employer. On March 2, the labour program appointed conciliation officers to work with the parties. The parties were released from conciliation on May 1, 2012, and began a strike on May 23.

The Government of Canada has done its utmost throughout the negotiation process to encourage both parties to reach agreements. However, despite assistance from the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, the parties were unable to resolve their differences. In fact, the parties declined an offer by the Minister of Labour to provide them with extended mediation. They declined the offer.

At this critical juncture, we must take action as parliamentarians. We must end the rail service stoppage that is undermining the economic recovery of all Canadians.

We have worked very hard to nurture this economic recovery. I therefore urge all members of the House to support this bill. Let us do the right thing for Canadians. Let us do the right thing for my neighbours in Mississauga—Brampton South. Let us take action to protect our economy.

Government Business No. 12
Continuation and Resumption of Rail Service Operations Legislation
Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

NDP

Robert Aubin Trois-Rivières, QC

Madam Speaker, my question will be quite simple. It will consist of a role play of about 30 seconds.

Imagine that my esteemed colleague is the CEO of a big company and that negotiations are in full swing. My question is quite simple. Would her calculation of losses be the same if she knew that the strike would last for a maximum of seven days as if she did not know? Would she have the same attitude at the bargaining table if she knew ahead of time what the outcome of the negotiations would be?

Government Business No. 12
Continuation and Resumption of Rail Service Operations Legislation
Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

Eve Adams Mississauga—Brampton South, ON

Madam Speaker, as I mentioned, I recently walked on the floor of West End Lumber products. This is a privately owned company that has won awards numerous times for being one of the best-managed private companies in Canada.

I happened to walk the mill floor with employees who have served that company for over a decade. There were numerous employees. They are well treated and are very happy to work there.

This is a company that relies on the rails to ship their product. My question back to the opposition member is this: why does the opposition, the NDP, consistently pick union members and union workers and somehow give them some priority over average hard-working Canadians? Why is it that his party is constantly choosing those union workers instead of every Canadian?

Government Business No. 12
Continuation and Resumption of Rail Service Operations Legislation
Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Madam Speaker, what we have seen with the various pieces of legislation as they have come forward is that in private companies within the realm of federally regulated industries, there appears to be an assault on employees' pension plans.

The sense from most people who work in the sector is a belief that these companies are seeing the government's actions as an off-ramp to attack the pension plans. What we are seeing time and time again with this back-to-work legislation, in one example after another, is that it is making it easier just to rag the puck during negotiations, and it will become part of general business practice.

Does the parliamentary secretary see the risk to worker pensions that we are facing in following this path, in allowing the back-to-work legislation? Does she see the risk in this?

Government Business No. 12
Continuation and Resumption of Rail Service Operations Legislation
Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

Eve Adams Mississauga—Brampton South, ON

Madam Speaker, our government supports free collective bargaining. A negotiated settlement is always the best solution.

As I indicated during my remarks, the Minister of Labour offered both sides an extension to their discussions, offered them an additional 120 days, and they chose not to take it.

We have heard time and time again from all the speakers today about the dramatic impact that the stoppage of rail services is having on the Canadian economy, whether it is the farming sector or the automotive sector. It is putting Canada's economy in peril. We need to act.

We have tried to have discussions. We would always prefer that a solution be found through discussion, but at some point we need to keep the best interests of all Canadians front and centre.

Government Business No. 12
Continuation and Resumption of Rail Service Operations Legislation
Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

Bob Zimmer Prince George—Peace River, BC

Madam Speaker, I want to stress that this is not the government's first choice.

We wish that the two parties would come together for a mediated solution, but it just is not working out that way, unfortunately. Responsible governments have to step in at some point and take a responsible approach to putting the pieces back together.

I would like to ask the hon. member her thoughts on why we need to expedite this process of getting CP back to work. Could she explain why we need to expedite the process?

Government Business No. 12
Continuation and Resumption of Rail Service Operations Legislation
Government Orders

5:25 p.m.

Conservative

Eve Adams Mississauga—Brampton South, ON

Madam Speaker, we always want a negotiated solution. Those are the ones that work out, ideally in the best interests of the employees and the companies, but the time has come to act. The cost to the Canadian economy is substantial and significant, and that is why we are bringing forward this legislation today.