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

Act to Provide for the Continuation and Resumption of Rail Service Operations
Government Orders

May 29th, 2012 / 6:55 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, my colleague, the member for Cape Breton—Canso, raised what I thought was a good issue. It is an issue that has been talked about a lot by the Conservative Party when it talks about back-to-work legislation.

Back in 1995, there was back-to-work legislation, but that legislation was quite different. It was legislation that was brought in by the Liberals but supported by the New Democratic Party, and Reformers I must say. It was a different approach in terms of labour relations.

I wonder if my colleague from Vancouver would comment and maybe explain the difference between the back-to-work legislation we collectively supported back in 1995 and the back-to-work legislation that is being proposed by the Conservative government.

Act to Provide for the Continuation and Resumption of Rail Service Operations
Government Orders

6:55 p.m.

NDP

Jinny Sims Newton—North Delta, BC

Mr. Speaker, once again I will say that I and my colleagues believe in free collective bargaining. We absolutely believe that in order to find solutions we should get the two parties at the table and give them resources and support.

One thing I have found, and I have had personal experience with this, is that neither the employer nor the government will make any gains when they squeeze workers so hard that they lose the love and passion for the job they do. When workers are feeling used and abused, that their rights are under attack and they are not being treated equitably and fairly, that sucks the life out of them. That cost to society is greater in the long run.

When people go out to work, they do not just get out of bed and do their work. People get passionate about their work. They care about their work no matter what it is they do, and they give it 100%. However, if they are continually being hit on the head with a baseball bat, having their rights taken away by a government that is supporting the employer all the time as it attacks their pensions and salaries, then they will not be able to give 100%, and that is harmful for Canada.

Act to Provide for the Continuation and Resumption of Rail Service Operations
Government Orders

6:55 p.m.

Nepean—Carleton
Ontario

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Kildonan—St. Paul.

Whenever a government intervenes, it must prove that such intervention is both necessary and just. The labour minister's bill today proposes an intervention that must pass these same tests. Is it necessary? Is it just?

To consider the necessity test, let us consult history, geography and economics.

History tells us that British Columbia would not have joined Canada without the promise of a railway, and John A. Macdonald confirmed that the nation would not have survived its embryonic state without the tracks. Rail, he said, would “give us a great, an united, a rich, an improving, a developing Canada, instead of making us tributary to American laws, to American railways, to American bondage, to American tolls, to American freights...”. In 1885, Donald A. Smith pounded the last spike into a rail line that would climb over the Rocky Mountains, cut through the Prairies, link communities and unite Canada from sea to sea. We would not exist, quite simply, without the railway, and its necessity lives on to this day.

In the 127 years since the completion of that project, geography has made rail essential to our well-being. Some 5,500 kilometres separate Cape Spear, Newfoundland, from the Yukon-Alaska border, giving us the second largest country in the world and the eighth least-dense population on the planet. In such a country, freight moves roughly 70% of surface goods every single year, which brings us to economics.

If Canadian Pacific were one of many rail lines, we would not be having this conversation. Shippers would simply hire another rail line and continue about their business until the strike was done, but it is not just another rail line. It is one of only two class 1 railways. It has 24,000 kilometres of rail that link six provinces, all the way from Port Metro Vancouver in the west to the Montreal port in the east. It handles 74% of potash, 57% of wheat, 53% of coal and 39% of container traffic. What would happen to all the workers who depend on potash, wheat, coal and container shipping if it were to sit idly during a strike? Factories, farms, mills and mines cannot reach their markets, grains pile up, workers down their tools, consumers pay more and wait longer, all at a cost of $540 million per week to the Canadian economy.

Does this back-to-work bill pass the necessity test? Economics make Canadian Pacific necessary to rail service, geography makes rail service necessary to our well-being and history makes it necessary to our nation's very existence. Yes, it is necessary for the strike to end and for us to end it.

The second test for government intervention is whether it is just. I detest, with every fibre of my being, unnecessary and unjust state intervention. It is good, therefore, that back-to-work legislation is rare. Last year, there were 407 collective bargaining agreements reached across Canada in federal jurisdiction.

We legislated back-to-work laws twice. That is less than one-half of 1% of the cases, yet opponents of this bill will argue that a free enterprise government like ours should never intervene in a private sector bargaining dispute.

The government is already involved. Section 70.(1) of the Canadian Labour Code forces workers to pay union dues, even if they do not wish to be members of a union. The law forces money out of workers' pockets into union coffers. The union has the power to shut down a workplace, even for those workers who do not support the strike.

These legal powers give the union a state-enforced monopoly on labour in the rail sector. Unions want the law to grant them monopolistic powers without any laws to limit the damage that these powers can do to unwilling bystanders. The bystanders in this dispute are the workers who do not want to be on strike, the farmers trying to ship their goods, the consumers trying to buy them and every Canadian who must bear a part of the $540 million a week cost of this strike.

Given these facts, it is necessary for Parliament to act, it is just for Parliament to act and act we will.

Act to Provide for the Continuation and Resumption of Rail Service Operations
Government Orders

7:05 p.m.

NDP

Tyrone Benskin Jeanne-Le Ber, QC

Mr. Speaker, there are aspects of my colleague's speech that I agree with.

What I do not agree with is the use of the power of the government to inhibit the collective bargaining process. We cannot deny that the hint of government intervention had a role in making the management of CP not bargain in good faith, because the government was going to do the work for it.

This is the issue. It is not a matter of whether it is the right time or the wrong time. It is wrong, I believe, for the government to send a message to management that it is going to step in, because then management basically says it does not have to do anything, because the government will do it. That is an attack on workers' rights.

These same workers are taxpayers, and they help drive the economy. If they do not make a decent salary, how do they pay in and how do they work for the economy? How do we resolve that issue?

Act to Provide for the Continuation and Resumption of Rail Service Operations
Government Orders

7:05 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Nepean—Carleton, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member seems to suggest that the government should not get involved in these kinds of disputes, but I am telling him that according to section 70.(1), government and law are already involved.

The law forces workers at CP to be members of the Teamsters Union, even if they do not want to be. They have to pay in through union dues. So the government is already involved at that point.

That gives the union an enormous amount of power. When the union exercises that power to cost the economy $540 million a week, to harm farmers, workers in manufacturing plants, workers in mines and the rest of the Canadian economy, it is the responsibility of the government to act to protect all of those innocent bystanders against union activities.

Act to Provide for the Continuation and Resumption of Rail Service Operations
Government Orders

7:05 p.m.

Liberal

Francis Scarpaleggia Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

Mr. Speaker, why is there improvisation? The government appears to be improvising when it comes to labour relations.

One would expect labour policy would be rational and systematic and would say how we are going to approach strikes by major corporations in this country. We would have a schedule of major corporations whose employees were not allowed to strike, and there would be an alternative model of arbitration to deal with those situations.

Why do we not have a consistent approach, one way or the other, to labour relations in this country? Why are we improvising? Why is there ad hockery?

When I was taking an industrial relations course in university, the professor called this kind of behaviour permanent exceptionalism. Where is the systematic approach to labour relations in this country?

Act to Provide for the Continuation and Resumption of Rail Service Operations
Government Orders

7:05 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Nepean—Carleton, ON

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member seems to suggest that we should be outlawing strikes at CP. I do not agree with that.

It is hard to follow the opposition parties logic. One of them says that everyone should be on strike all the time. The other one says that they should all be banned from striking. We are the sensible ones in the middle over here. We believe that in the vast majority of cases, collective bargaining agreements can be arrived at in a completely free and non-interventionist fashion. That is why 405 of them occurred last fiscal year, and we only intervened in two of them, less than one-half of one per cent.

Our approach is to minimize the intervention by government. However, in instances where the unions use the power that is vested in them by the fact that they force every member to be part of their organization to shut down big parts of the Canadian economy, it is our responsibility to step forward, protect jobs and protect the livelihoods of millions of Canadians. That is what we are doing in this situation.

Act to Provide for the Continuation and Resumption of Rail Service Operations
Government Orders

7:10 p.m.

Conservative

Joy Smith Kildonan—St. Paul, MB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to speak about the current work stoppage at Canadian Pacific Railway involving its engineers, conductors, real traffic controllers and others. I am very pleased to do this because I feel very passionately about the fragile economy happening in Canada and the first responsibility of the government to see that people have jobs, get back to work and cause the economy to continue to grow and flourish.

I would also like to take this opportunity to present to the House a potential solution to this conflict. Bill C-39 is that solution.

As members of the House know, CP Rail and the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference have been actively negotiating since last fall. However, I am very sorry to say that during that time no progress has been made. As we all know, work stoppages in any of our key industries will negatively affect our economy, particularly while the world continues to struggle through the economic downturn. I think we can all agree that things are still shaky and that we are still recovering.

To be frank, no country's economy can afford a disruption in one of its primary industrial transport industries. This fact, together with the mandate Canadians have given us to protect our national interests in this period of economic uncertainty, makes the need for action clear.

We continue to encourage CP Rail and the TCRC to reach an agreement through the negotiation process. However, even with help from the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, the parties have been unable to resolve their differences. Therefore, we need to act now to stop this work stoppage. CP Rail is only one of two class I freight railways in Canada. It does significant business. According to Transport Canada, CP Rail moves almost $50 billion in freight in Canada every year.

This work stoppage could have a deep impact and does have a deep impact.

In 2010, CP Rail handled the shipment of 74% of potash, which we just heard a few minutes ago from my hon. colleague, and many other kinds minerals and products go via rail. On an annual basis, this represents $5 billion worth of potash, over $11 billion worth of grain and over $5 billion worth of coal. That is a lot of industries.

While the economic impact of this work stoppage could be considerable, we must also consider the well-being of our citizens. For many Canadians, at first glance, rail transport is almost like an invisible industry, until people are sitting at a railway stop and watching freight cars up to 14,000 feet long go past the crossing. If they looked a little closer, what would they see as the train rolls by?

CP carries materials related to agriculture, manufacturing and heavy industry. This means a lot of trains are full of grain, coal, cars, trucks, steel, lumber, et cetera, and countless amounts of manufactured goods. Virtually everything in people's houses today likely moved on a train at some point. Think about it. It means products that make people's lives easier, more pleasant, more efficient and safer, even products that are necessary for food production.

However, rail freight is not only about products that make our lives easier.

CP Rail trains also carry the basic building blocks for products that are critical to the well-being of Canadians. For example, they carry potash, an ingredient used in fertilizers that allow us to feed our citizens and export food around the world. It is essential to agriculture because it improves, among other things, nutrient value, food texture and disease resistance of food crops. Fruits, vegetables, rice, wheat, sugar, corn, soybeans, even cotton all benefit from potash.

From that one example, everyone can see just how important it is that we resume the CP Rail services as soon as possible. We rely heavily on this mode of transport to keep the supply of goods moving across the country.

I would like to provide the House with some quotes taken directly from stakeholders that have written to the government, urging action to prevent a prolonged strike at CP Rail.

The Vancouver Board of Trade wrote to the Minister of Labour to say:

“Canadian Pacific is a critical supplier for many industries in British Columbia and, in many cases, there are no practical alternatives to maintain continuity in shipments to customers and suppliers. Even a short disruption in service will have significant impacts on business — directly on immediate sales commitments and very quickly thereafter on production...At this delicate state of our economic recovery, any service disruption stands to undermine the confidence placed by our interprovincial and international customers in doing business in this region”.

Spectra Energy has also voiced concerns over its natural gas operations being affected by a strike. It said, “CP Rail provides the critical rail services Spectra Energy requires at Empress, Regina and Winnipeg”. Winnipeg is where I come from and we have seen the train roll in every day until now. It went on to say:

“The rail strike has immediately eliminated Spectra Energy's capability to ship its product by rail at these terminals, and should the rail strike not be resolved in the very near future, Spectra Energy will be required to shut down its Empress plant. This has the potential to result in the loss of approximately 200 well-paying direct jobs linked to Spectra Energy's Empress, Regina and Winnipeg network”.

It is clear that the well being of our citizens associated with the work stoppage will impact Canadians all across the country. We cannot stand by, as a government, and watch, while the supplies that we need to create goods and sustain agriculture sit idle. Protecting the well-being of Canadians is one of the government's most basic responsibilities, and it costs $500 million a week for this strike. That is a lot of money going down the drain. I assure members that we take this responsibility very seriously.

Intervening in a labour strike is always a last resort. With CP Rail and two of its unions still at odds and with a strike currently taking place, we are left with few options. As I mentioned before, we have to consider Canadians. We also have to consider another key factor, the impact on the Canadian economy.

I do not need to remind members of the House that we continue to live in a climate of global economic uncertainty. We are proposing this legislation today to protect our still recovering economy.

I am not sure hon. members realize just what CP Rail means to Canada's economy. An October 2009 report by the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management estimated that four key Canadian bulk shipping industries, oilseed and grain farming, coal mining, wood products and manufacturing and pulp and paper and paper products manufacturing contributed over $81 billion to the Canadian GDP each year.

Canadians are looking to the government to sustain and grow the economy. That is our principal mandate, and Canadians should expect nothing less.

We must take decisive action to resume rail services. I ask the members on all sides of the House for their support for the bill and for the good of the Canadian economy and Canadian families.

Act to Provide for the Continuation and Resumption of Rail Service Operations
Government Orders

7:15 p.m.

NDP

Carol Hughes Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened intently to what my colleague was saying. She said “the well-being of Canadians” and “consider Canadians”. Does she not consider workers as Canadians? Does she not think workers should have a decent income on which to be able to raise their families?

I have an email from Brian Ferguson who actually works for the railroad. I do not know if the member knows how it is to work on the railroad, but he has been there for 26 years. He says:

The Company wants us to degrade our pensions to levels in place at CN. The 2 pension structures are totally different from each other. We pay higher premiums than our counterparts at CN and have for some time. Why should we now have to drop to their pension levels. We do not have time now to start putting extra funds away to make up the difference we would be losing if our pensions are reduced to levels the company wants.

When we look at this, they have been planning for retirement just as people with OAS have been planning for their retirement and you are willing to pull that off of them. Why are you doing that?

Act to Provide for the Continuation and Resumption of Rail Service Operations
Government Orders

7:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

I remind hon. members to direct their questions and comments through the Chair.

The hon. member for Kildonan—St. Paul.

Act to Provide for the Continuation and Resumption of Rail Service Operations
Government Orders

7:20 p.m.

Conservative

Joy Smith Kildonan—St. Paul, MB

Mr. Speaker, quite frankly, the workers will be hurt. Everyone will be hurt if the economy slows down. If we do not have jobs, we do not have pensions. With the OAS, if we do not increase that for two more years, there will be no OAS.

That is why Canadians have elected this side of the House for their government because they are confident that the economy will stay stable. That is why I implore all sides of the House to please support this legislation.

Act to Provide for the Continuation and Resumption of Rail Service Operations
Government Orders

7:20 p.m.

Liberal

Francis Scarpaleggia Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

Mr. Speaker, if I heard correctly the hon. member said at the beginning of her speech that railways should never be allowed to go on strike. If that is the case, will the government table legislation to communicate to Canadians that railways should never be allowed to go on strike because they are an important infrastructure in this country?

If I have it wrong, I would like to know under what conditions railways would be allowed to go on strike. If the economy were stronger, would they be allowed to go on strike? What would the threshold be? At what growth rate in the economy would railways be allowed to go on strike?

Act to Provide for the Continuation and Resumption of Rail Service Operations
Government Orders

7:20 p.m.

Conservative

Joy Smith Kildonan—St. Paul, MB

Mr. Speaker, the member is wrong. We believe in free bargaining. We believe that if parties can come to the table, negotiate and do a deal, that is the best way of doing it. However, through mediation and conciliation, every possible avenue that has been taken to get this deal made did not work. That is when this legislation has to be put in place.

It is not a matter of saying the railways cannot go on strike. If free bargaining does not work, it is a matter of stopping the economy from coming to a standstill. The responsible thing is for our government to intervene and that is what we are doing tonight.

Act to Provide for the Continuation and Resumption of Rail Service Operations
Government Orders

7:20 p.m.

Conservative

LaVar Payne Medicine Hat, AB

Mr. Speaker, I listened intently to my colleague from Kildonan—St. Paul and I understand that CP runs through her riding in Winnipeg. CP also runs through my riding in Medicine Hat.

In Medicine Hat, we have a huge agricultural component of the economy. Farmers are wanting to get their products to market. We also have a Methanex facility there, which produces methanol, which ships its product. We also have Canadian Fertilizers which ships its products. If this strike continues, there may be individuals whose positions may not be sustainable by those companies.

Act to Provide for the Continuation and Resumption of Rail Service Operations
Government Orders

7:20 p.m.

Conservative

Joy Smith Kildonan—St. Paul, MB

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his very insightful comments because he has figured it out. He has figured out that if a strike continues, the economy will stop. The workers, as the members opposite call them, would have no place to work. The workers would not have what they need to grow and prosper with their families in this country.

This is a last resort. Everyone believes in the free bargaining process. It is very hard to make the decision to say we have to intervene, but for the good of Canadians and of the country, that is exactly what we have to do. I implore all sides of the House to please support this legislation and get Canadians back to work.