Railway Continuation Act, 2007

An Act to provide for the resumption and continuation of railway operations

This bill was last introduced in the 39th Parliament, 1st Session, which ended in October 2007.


Jean-Pierre Blackburn  Conservative


This bill has received Royal Assent and is now law.


This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment provides for the resumption and continuation of railway operations and imposes a final offer selection process to resolve matters remaining in dispute between the parties.


All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.


April 17, 2007 Passed That the Bill be now read a third time and do pass.
April 17, 2007 Passed That the Bill be now read a second time and referred to the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities.

Rail Service Resumption Act, 2015Government Orders

February 16th, 2015 / 12:20 p.m.
See context


Alexandre Boulerice NDP Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, it saddens me once again today to rise in the House, in the Parliament of Canada, to oppose a bill. I rise as a member of the official opposition to represent the values of the NDP, which is opposing a back-to-work bill for the seventh time since the Conservatives took power in 2006. This government is certainly a repeat offender when it comes to attacking workers, violating their legitimate rights and preventing them from exerting pressure, which includes going on strike.

In 2007 we had Bill C-46 for the continuation of railway operations, so this is not the first time. In 2009 we had Bill C-61 for the continuation of railway operations once again. In 2011 it was Bill C-6 to restore mail delivery. That bill targeted postal workers and letter carriers. Also in 2011 was Bill C-5 to continue air service for passengers. Then we had Bill C-39 and Bill C-33 in 2012, when the Conservatives once again created a power imbalance between the parties. They systematically took the employer's side and took away fundamental rights from unionized workers, who are well within their rights to exert pressure.

I asked the minister a question earlier that I believe is the key issue we are concerned about: do people still have the right to strike and use pressure tactics in Canada today? Does this Conservative government recognize that striking is a legitimate way of expressing the right of association and freedom of collective bargaining? The Conservatives seem to be completely ignoring that aspect, and I will come back to that later. The Supreme Court's recent decision has once again upheld this right that the Conservatives have been flouting, year after year, in Canada.

We have reached a point where workers have to ask themselves whether they will be bothering anyone if they exercise their right to strike. Will the government systematically intervene and break the rules to give the employer more power and additional arguments? The situation is always the same. If the employer knows for sure that it does not really have to reach an agreement because its friends in the Conservative government will intervene, violate rights and prevent its workers from striking, then what incentive does the employer have to negotiate in good faith and try to find a solution? That is the major problem.

They should give negotiation a chance.

We have a Conservative government that is always on the side of the employers and never on the side of the workers of this country. Workers have a fundamental right to exert economic pressure and strike if they need to in order to force employers to recognize problems and find solutions.

The minister just said that a negotiated deal is always better than an imposition of anything. Why is she imposing back to work legislation again and again? It is the seventh time that the Conservatives would do that since they were elected in 2006. It is a bad habit that they have; they take a side every time and break the balance of power between the two parties. We are saying to give the workers a chance to negotiate and to exert their rights.

The Minister of Labour just said that the recent decision of the Supreme Court had nothing to do with the right to strike. I contradict that. I have a quote from a Supreme Court judge in that decision from a few weeks ago. Judge Abella wrote the following:

Where good faith negotiations break down, the ability to engage in the collective withdrawal of services is a necessary component of the process through which workers can continue to participate meaningfully in the pursuit of their collective workplace goals. In this case, the suppression of the right to strike amounts to a substantial interference with the right to a meaningful process of collective bargaining.

This is exactly what the decision of the Supreme Court is about. It is about the fundamental right of workers to exert some pressure on an employer to improve their working conditions.

If those workers are refused the right to strike, that is an interference of their fundamental rights. This is exactly what the Conservative government is doing, again and again.

It is a sad day. The right to strike in this country is under attack. Unions were considered illegal organizations before 1872. We are asking whether the government wants to go back to that point in time. Every time that it can crush workers and their unions, the government does it systematically. It has done it with Bill C-525, Bill C-377, and Bill C-4, other attacks on health and safety issues.

It is a sad day for democracy. It is a sad day for the workers of this country. It is a sad day for the labour movement. Workers can count on the NDP to defend their rights because we will protect the freedom of negotiation and collective bargaining. This is a value that we on this side of the House cherish and care about. Workers know that in a few months they will have the opportunity to have the first social democrat, pro-union, pro-worker, government in this country. It is coming.

I would like to reiterate that the labour minister told us that the Supreme Court's recent decision had nothing to do with exerting economic pressure or the right to strike. However, Justice Abella indicated in the ruling given a few weeks ago that the suppression of the right to strike interferes with the right to a meaningful process of collective bargaining, a process that provides an opportunity to get results.

In this case, it is extremely dangerous for the entire labour movement and for all workers to have a government that systematically takes the employer's side and tramples on workers' rights.

It is critical with the CP issue, and when there is a threat of back-to-work legislation hanging over their heads, to ask why the employer would negotiate in good faith. The employer knows it has good friends in power in Ottawa. The government will be on the employer's side and will force workers to go back to work. There is no reason for the employer to negotiate and look for a compromise.

Our concern is also the safety issue that is on the table for Canadian Pacific workers. It is a safety issue for everybody in this country: for the workers, first and foremost, of course, but also for everybody else. It is a question of the hours of work being too long, and extreme fatigue. We are talking about conductors who are driving freight trains that can be four kilometres long. We can imagine the consequences if the conductor is too tired to be aware of the dangers or everything that is going on.

This is not only the vision of the union. It is a problem that has been recognized by Transport Canada, and even by the companies. Transport Canada's own analysis of CP and CN employee scheduling records, from six different rail terminals across Canada, concluded that on the timing and length of each shift, assigned through an unpredictable on-call system, extreme fatigue was rampant.

In 4% of cases, employees were already extremely fatigued at the start of their shift because they did not have enough hours to sleep. It is a shame.

The government is not acting to correct that situation. Canadians should know that their safety is being put at risk by the government. We want that to change.

Forty-five percent of employees became extremely exhausted during work, and nearly all, 99%, were fatigued at least once during a month.

It was the same problem, the same issue, three years ago when employees of CP went on strike for a couple of days. After that, of course the Conservative government came here to vote on back-to-work legislation. The workers at that time were promised that the situation would be fixed: “Do not go on strike, we will negotiate and fix it.”

However, three years later, it is the same story. The same problems are still there. Extreme fatigue is still a problem for members of the Teamsters who are working for CP. Nothing has changed. We are back here again in the House of Commons, talking about back-to-work legislation.

My guess is that in three years we will be back again, because the issue will still not have been solved. There is no incentive for CP to solve the problem. The Conservatives are not helping. The Minister of Labour is not helping.

I think it is worth repeating, because the main issue in dispute here is not that workers want higher pay or want to extort more money from their employer. This is not about money. Incidentally, Canadian Pacific is an extremely profitable company. It has nothing to complain about; business is good. The discussions and debates are really about a matter of public safety. People need to be aware of that, because this is about the problem of too much overtime and the fatigue this causes. Canadian Pacific workers, the train operators, are not getting the rest they need, which leads to extreme fatigue.

What do the workers want? To be able to stop working and go home after 10 hours of work. All they are asking for is to not work more than 10 hours. What is this, the 19th century? Right now, train conductors have to work up to 12 hours straight before they can get a real rest. This is 2015; this is shameful. This Conservative government is doing nothing. In fact, it is actually helping rail companies perpetuate this practice.

Consider the potential consequences if a conductor driving a four-kilometre-long train is tired, does not have the necessary reflexes, and is unable to read the terrain or the dangers up ahead. Recent tragedies have shown us how important rail safety is. Everyone needs to know that this is a public safety issue and that the Conservatives are doing nothing about it.

A few minutes ago, I said that three years ago, CP workers, Teamsters members, went on strike for a few days on the issue of fatigue on the job and lack of breaks. The Conservative government forced them back to work. They were told not to worry, that this would be resolved, that there would be negotiations and recommendations would be made. Nothing was done. Today, in 2015, three years later, these same workers are going back on strike on the same issue of fatigue at work because nothing has been resolved. Now, we have another bill that is going to force them back to work again.

Should we allow the Conservatives to remain in power, I would not be surprised if people have to deal with a CP strike in three years. Unfortunately, if the Conservatives are still in power, they will again force them to go back to work. However, even Transport Canada recognized the issue of workplace fatigue for train conductors. It is not the Teamsters, the union, the CLC, but Transport Canada that is talking about this. Investigations of six different train terminals across the country led Transport Canada to conclude that the problem of extreme fatigue was rampant across Canada. In 4% of cases, employees are even extremely fatigued at the start of their shift, at the start of their work day, because they often do not get enough rest between two shifts. Fully 45% of employees are extremely tired or even exhausted while on the job. Forty-five per cent. Almost everyone, 99% according to Transport Canada, is tired at least once a month.

That has an impact on the workers. Obviously, it is bad for their health, their family life and their work. It puts everyone at risk.

The NDP does not want train conductors to experience fatigue at work. That is basic and straightforward. We do not understand why the Conservatives are still refusing to resolve this issue.

Even our neighbours to the south, the United States, where private enterprise is king and people despise regulations, have more regulations governing hours of work for rail company employees than we do. That is bizarre.

Why have the Conservatives never managed to fix this problem? We do not understand, but it puts huge swaths of our communities at risk.

Over the past five years, there have been at least seven accidents that, thankfully, did not cost any lives, but that happened because train conductors were tired at work. This is a real problem.

We have to find a solution, but we will not find a solution by preventing workers from exercising their right to take job action or go on strike. We know that because this is like groundhog day: it is the same old story over and over again.

I want to emphasize the fact that it is a real problem. The extreme fatigue of CP workers is real. Transport Canada has revealed that in the last five years, at least seven accidents or incidents were caused by fatigue of drivers or conductors of those trains. It is a real problem, but the government has no solution. Its only way to act is always ideological, always against unions, always against workers and against the safety of Canadians.

It is really sad. It is another case of the Conservatives going against international law. There is a labour organization in Switzerland that recognized that the right to strike is a fundamental right in modern societies. Once again, the government is going against the last decision of the Supreme Court and against international law.

On this side of the House, we think that workers can organize, defend their rights, and improve their working conditions. It is not the job of the government to oppose that, because it helps to build better communities. We always hear the Conservatives talk about the middle class and how they will defend the little guys of the middle class, but the middle class is, for the most part, a creation of the labour movement in this country and in all countries. Without the labour movement we would have no middle class.

If we want to defend the middle class, we must give the workers the tools to negotiate, to gain something in collective agreements, and to make sure that they are working in safe places. We must make sure that we do not put the safety of citizens of this country at risk.

Not only is the current federal government going against the Supreme Court's recent decision in the Saskatchewan case, but it is also going against regulations of the Geneva-based International Labour Organization, which considers the right to strike and the right to free collective bargaining to be fundamental.

However, this is not surprising coming from an extremely ideological Conservative government that always responds in the same way when Canadian workers try to exercise their rights and improve their working conditions. This government pulls out the big guns and beats them back, telling them to shut up and get back to work. It does not want to listen to them; they are annoying.

What is important to this government is that companies continue to rake in profits, regardless of how or why and regardless of the rules, even if it makes people sick.

The Conservatives often like to say they are standing up for the middle class. However, the middle class is mainly a creation and a consequence of union struggles by workers who got organized, defended themselves at their workplace and negotiated better collective agreements.

If we are talking about the middle class, we must also talk about the tools that workers created to improve their situation. The NDP will always be there to stand up for workers and their families, for workplace health and safety and for public safety.

Unfortunately, again today, we see that the Conservative government is violating workers' rights and putting public safety at risk. I hope that all of us in the House will oppose this back-to-work bill—yet another one—and stand up not only for workers, but also for the middle class and public safety.

Canada Labour CodePrivate Members' Business

December 3rd, 2007 / 11:30 a.m.
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Carole Lavallée Bloc Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will start by saying that all members of the Bloc Québécois will vote in favour of this bill. Obviously my leader, the members and I, as the labour critic, will vote for this bill; we agree completely with the principle of the bill, but not at all with the approach and I will get to that in a minute.

We agree with the substance of the bill because we are progressive and because we are very familiar with the anti-strikebreaker bill. Quebec has had such legislation for 30 years. We know how it works, we know it works well and we know it truly protects workers. Therefore, we will vote for this bill if we have the opportunity.

However, I want to talk about the approach. I am terribly disappointed. I do not know how to express it. I do not know which adjective to use to describe my thoughts and feelings. I am terribly disappointed by what the Liberal Party has done, by its manoeuvres and the traps that it set for us with respect to this bill. Last April, as you know, when we voted at third reading on the bill, the Liberals voted against it. As for the Conservatives, we know they are against workers.

The Liberals had led us to believe that they would vote for the bill at third reading. But they voted against it. The next morning, what did they do? They introduced a new bill. Why did they vote against the bill? It was almost identical. What did it contain. They only added one paragraph to the new bill—a carbon copy of section 87.1 of the Canada Labour Code, plus the adjective “essential” in front of “services”. That does not add much to the bill.

If they were really being sincere, if they really wanted to help workers, and if they really cared about workers' well-being, what would they have done? They would have voted for the Bloc Québécois bill. The following day, instead of introducing a new bill, the member for Davenport could have introduced an amendment to our bill. That would have been a new bill that was actually an amendment. That would have proven that they really care about what is in the best interest of Quebec workers, and Canadian ones too, of course.

It seems that the Liberals do not want any anti-scab legislation. They just want to appear to want it so they can garner the support of workers and get some help from them during election campaigns. I will not tell you what I really think of that because I would have to use unparliamentary language. Anyway, they should be ashamed of having voted against our Bill C-257. It was exactly the same bill. As I said earlier, the only thing they added was the word “essential”.

The Canada Labour Code currently does a very good job of covering essential services, but these services are covered differently in Quebec. Quebec has an essential services council. Contrary to what the member for Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles said—and he is way out in left field on this issue, he has no idea what he is talking about—the essential services council was created to manage essential services in the public service. That is one thing.

The anti-scab bill covers all workers regulated by the Canada Labour Code. The Canadian public service is not regulated by the Canada Labour Code, but by the Public Service Labour Relations Act. The member for Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles should go review the basics so that he can put forward better arguments.

Speaking of weak arguments, I would like to get back to the hare-brained ideas of the Minister of Labour and Minister of the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec, ridiculous notions that the Conservatives are passing off as arguments. The minister led a fear campaign against Bill C-257. I mention this because he is likely to do the same thing. He does not learn from his mistakes. Everyone knows that the minister previously voted in favour of an anti-scab bill introduced by the Bloc Québécois. That was in 1990, when he was simply a member. Of course, now that he is a minister, he is ignoring the interests of Quebeckers and voting with Canada's financial establishment.

Among his hare-brained ideas, he says the economy will be completely paralyzed, that banking services will be paralyzed. Yet banks are not even unionized. How could this bill, which applies to union members, paralyze something that is not unionized? That makes no sense.

He also said that, given the current situation, the lack of anti-scab legislation precluded special back to work legislation. Well, one week later, he presented Bill C-46. And what did he want from us? He was asking us to pass special back to work legislation for CN union members. He is therefore contradicting himself from one week to the next. As I said earlier, these are hare-brained ideas that the Conservative Party is trying to pass off as arguments in support of an anti-scab bill.

I would like to briefly get back to the advantages of this bill. As we know, it promotes a fair balance during negotiations between employers and workers. And that balance is important. Indeed, negotiations normally take place between two parties: the employer and the union. However, when there are replacement workers, the balance shifts to two against one: the replacement workers and the employer against the unionized workers. And, given that such an unfair situation can only deteriorate, the employer sometimes calls on the police to enforce the law on their property. The situation then becomes three against one: the employer, the replacement workers and the police against the unionized workers. That is unfair and creates an imbalance.

Because I still have a few minutes left, I would like to go over certain points once more.

This is at least the second time the member for Davenport has asked to postpone the first hour of this debate. We in the Bloc Québécois, however, worked a miracle and succeeded in introducing this bill in less than 10 months. I believe it was on May 2. And 10 months later, it reached third reading, after successfully passing second reading for the first time. This was really a historic achievement. After the bill was passed at second reading, we met in committee.

I must remind this House what happened in committee. The Liberals postponed the study of this bill in committee by a month. We lost a month, even though the Bloc Québécois was doing everything it could. All my colleagues cooperated. They even traded places in the schedule with us so that the anti-scab bill could be adopted as soon as possible, as the top priority. There was a minority government, and we did not know when an election would be called.

My colleagues were generous enough to give up their turns in order to discuss this bill as soon as possible. We arrived in committee and the Liberals wasted our time and made us delay consideration of the bill as long as possible. This lends credence to the theory that the Liberal Party is not really interested in this bill. They just want to seem interested in it and to make sure that no one else in this House introduces another anti-scab bill. The day the Liberals ever withdraw their bill, the Bloc Québécois will definitely be the first to introduce its own, which is ready to go. Unfortunately, this House cannot study two bills on the same subject at once. We will introduce our bill again the first chance we get.

We will introduce this bill again because workers in Quebec need it. In Quebec, there are currently two categories of workers: those who work under the jurisdiction of the Government of Quebec and are covered by anti-scab legislation, and some 10% of workers who are governed by the Canada Labour Code, which does not include that benefit. That is not normal, within a single nation.

Lastly, I want to say that I cannot really count on the Liberals to accelerate the progress of this bill, but I can reach out to them. I can tell them that I will vote in favour of this bill, as will my party. Nonetheless, I do not have much faith that they will speed things up and allow us to have a vote on this bill before the next election campaign.

What I hope for the most is that there will be just one Labour Code in Quebec. To achieve that, Quebec should have just one government that collects all our taxes, that takes care of all our international relations and that drafts all our legislation. That is when Quebec, our nation, will lead our own country.

April 18th, 2007 / 7 p.m.
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The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

Order, please. I have the honour to inform the House that a communication addressed to the Speaker has been received as follows:

Rideau Hall


April 18, 2007

Mr. Speaker,

I have the honour to inform you that the Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean, Governor General of Canada, signified royal assent by written declaration to the bill listed in the Schedule to this letter on the 18th day of April, 2007, at 6:37 p.m.

Yours sincerely,

Curtis Barlow

Deputy Secretary, Policy, Program and Protocol

The schedule indicates the bill assented to was Bill C-46, An Act to provide for the resumption and continuation of railway operations—Chapter 8.

Railway Continuation Act, 2007Government Orders

April 17th, 2007 / 9:30 p.m.
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Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise on behalf of the NDP as we now enter third reading of Bill C-46, An Act to provide for the resumption and continuation of railway operations.

Having looked at that name, and as many of my colleagues have said earlier in debate today, the bill is a very draconian bill and it is nothing more than ramming through back to work legislation that is impacting the health, safety and lives of workers who assume a tremendous risk in terms of their operations on the railway.

I want to say that many of my colleagues in the NDP have been on the picket lines. We have spoken with workers who have been out on strike and I would point out that this was a legal strike.

There have been many comments made in the House that have undermined the rights of workers who have been engaged in a legitimate strike, in a legitimate process under Canada's Labour Relations Act. Even today there is a perception that somehow the workers who have been involved in this labour dispute, a very nasty dispute with an employer, CN, are somehow in the wrong.

However, let us be very clear. When the workers rejected the tentative offer that was negotiated, as they have the right to do, they began a series of rotating strikes. Let it be known and let it be very clear, that it was the company, it was CN, which then proceeded to lock out the workers.

The misconceptions that have taken place in terms of this labour dispute have done a huge disservice to the members of this union. I want to say to the 2,800 members of the United Transportation Union who have had the guts and the courage to uphold their rights in the face of a very difficult situation--

Railway Continuation Act, 2007Government Orders

April 17th, 2007 / 9:20 p.m.
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Jean-Pierre Blackburn Conservative Jonquière—Alma, QC

Mr. Chair, I would like to move another amendment to clause 2. It reads:

That Bill C-46, in Clause 2, be amended by replacing line 23 on page 1 with the following:

“Union, or any other trade union certified by the Canada Industrial Relations Board to represent the employees.”

Railway Continuation Act, 2007Government Orders

April 17th, 2007 / 9:20 p.m.
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Jonquière—Alma Québec


Jean-Pierre Blackburn ConservativeMinister of Labour and Minister of the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec

Mr. Chair, were you talking about clause 2? If so, I would like to present two amendments.

The first amendment reads as follows:

That Bill C-46, in Clause 2, be amended by replacing line 13 on page 1 with the following:

December 31, 2006 and the BC Rail agreement referred to in the protocol signed by representatives of the employer and the union on February 24, 2007, and includes any related;

Railway Continuation Act, 2007Government Orders

April 17th, 2007 / 8 p.m.
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David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to join in the debate this evening. It is interesting that often the size of a bill is not necessarily reflective of the power or impact that it will have. This is one of those cases.

Bill C-46 is not that lengthy a document. It runs but six pages. However, contained in it are incredible weapons, weapons that working Canadians are going to perceive have been turned on them by Parliament, their own government.

While it may be a debate for some members here, for individuals who are either walking the picket line now or are still out on the rails doing the best they can to provide, not just the best level of service for the customers of CN, but also for the safety of themselves, everyone else on the train and everybody who is affected by the incredible escalation of derailments that have taken place across this country, this is a powerful bill that goes in exactly the wrong direction.

The summary of the bill states:

This enactment provides for the resumption and continuation of railway operations and imposes a final offer selection process to resolve matters remaining in dispute between the parties.

That sounds nice and simple. The NDP has three huge problems with that sentence alone. First, to say that this act provides for the resumption and continuation of railway operations, it also means that free Canadians who, through a free and democratic vote, decided to exercise their rights to withdraw their labour and put pressure on their employer to cough up a better collective agreement are being denied those rights. If this bill passes, those Canadian citizens lose their rights.

Second, it imposes a final offer selection process. I see a couple of government backbenchers nodding their heads up and down nicely as if they were in the back of the car window. The fact is, I say to the hon. member now that he is actually listening, that this is not a fair process for the workers involved. That may not matter to the backbenchers but it matters to a lot of Canadians and their families.

Third, the summary says “resolve matters remaining in dispute”.

Railway Continuation Act, 2007Government Orders

April 17th, 2007 / 8 p.m.
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York—Simcoe Ontario


Peter Van Loan ConservativeLeader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. There have been discussions among the parties and I believe that if you seek it you will find unanimous consent for the following motion to deal with the procedure for the balance of this debate. I move:

That, notwithstanding any standing or special order, during debate on Bill C-46, An Act to provide for the resumption and continuation of railway operations, the Speaker and the Chair of Committees of the Whole shall not receive any quorum calls or dilatory motions; when no member rises to speak at second reading, the question shall be deemed put and a recorded division shall be deemed requested and the vote taken up after a 30-minute bell; during committee of the whole, no amendments shall be received by the Chair except the following:

“That Bill C-46, in Clause 2, be amended by replacing line 23 on page 1 with the following:

Union, or any other trade union certified by the Canada Industrial Relations Board to represent the employees” and

“That Bill C-46, in Clause 2, be amended by replacing line 13 on page 1 with the following: December 31, 2006 and the BC Rail agreement referred to in the protocol signed by representatives of the employer and the union on February 24, 2007, and includes any related”;

when no member rises to speak to any clause or amendment during committee of the whole, a recorded division shall be deemed to have been requested and the item shall be deemed adopted on division; the motion to concur in the bill at report stage shall be deemed adopted on division; and when no member rises to speak at third reading the question shall be deemed put and a recorded division shall be deemed requested and the vote taken up after a 30-minute bell.

Railway Continuation Act, 2007Government Orders

April 17th, 2007 / 7:10 p.m.
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Denise Savoie NDP Victoria, BC

Mr. Speaker, for this debate, I looked to arguments that might possibly offer a rationale for this draconian legislation. For example, at cbc.ca, the president of the Canadian Industrial Transportation Association said:

Shippers serving highly competitive export markets and retailers needing to stock their shelves with seasonal imported merchandise will all be affected.

I thought is that why we were curtailing bargaining rights, to ensure shelves are stocked with seasonal imported merchandise? I thought, no, that could not be the reason we were sacrificing a fundamental right of workers to collective bargaining to negotiate conditions under which they were going to work. Given the safety issues that have been raised during this debate, I thought there must be a more important reason.

I will come back to talk about the safety issues, but I looked further for other reasons. I found a Canadian Press article in which the Conservative labour minister said, “Employers and many groups said they would like to see our government acting”. Clearly, then, is this legislation about taking sides with one party, the employer? How can that be a government that works in the public interest objectively?

We have had a lot of talk recently about the delicate balance between employer and labour. Apparently, that balance is only judged to be fair when employers get to scuttle their way around the right of workers to bargain collectively and fairly, either by using replacement workers or now by having the government do the dirty deed of curtailing the bargaining process and forcing a settlement on workers, a right that has been achieved over a very long time, democratically.

Then I read in the newspaper that the employer welcomed the news that the government would introduce back to work legislation. I do not see the balance in that. I see the government, which is after all supposed to represent the interests of Canadians, working instead on behalf of the interests of corporations, working out of the pocket of the corporate elite, bowing to corporate pressure, now twice in one month, to curtail the rights of workers to bargain collectively and fairly.

If this were sports, we would call it cheating. Since it is real life for workers, real life for Canadians who are exposed to safety risks, it is no sport, and it is not cheating, it is reprehensible.

I thought, surely, there must be an explanation that eluded me. Then I found, again in the Canadian Press article, in which the labour minister said, “The health of our economy is very important”.

The health and safety of Canadians is important. The health and safety of Canadian workers is important. The health of our environment is important. If we pass back to work legislation every time we might lose some dollars in export profits, how do we know that other safety concerns are not overridden? All Canadians workers should be afraid that safety in their workplace will not be overridden. All Canadians should be afraid when airline safety or transport truck safety is overridden because of the economy or because of a few dollars.

I finally found the reason that I think might have motivated the government. Again in the Canadian Press article, the labour minister said, “We saw what happened in February when...about $1 billion of our exports [was] lost. Now it's time to act”. If we only had this “act now” mentality about climate change, or homelessness, or mentality, or poverty, or health care, or student debt, or literacy, or a better course in Afghanistan and all the issues about which the Liberals and the Conservatives pretend to care a lot.

What is the first usage of closure in this Parliament? What is the first time the Conservatives have invoked this legislative measure designed for only the most desperate and emergency situations? It is for seasonal imported merchandise.

We hear all this talk about the social conscience of the members on the other side, the Liberals, but when do the Liberals side with the Conservatives, other than to extend the flawed Afghanistan mission? To tip the delicate balance of labour relations in favour of the employers, twice recently for the replacement worker bill and now for this draconian legislation.

Do the Liberals support an “act now” approach on climate change, homelessness or poverty as well? No, I do not see that. When they do support an “act now” approach, it is for seasonal imported merchandise.

Bill C-46 infringes on fundamental rights to collective bargaining, to negotiate the conditions under which Canadians work, when it is clear that CN is using back to work legislation as a bargaining chip to disregard the very serious concerns that have been expressed by workers.

The Conservatives have invoked this restricted back to work legislation on the pretext that it is impacting the economy.They may as well state they are against collective bargaining because most strikes have an economic impact. That is why two parties work together, work across the table from each other, deliberate and try to find a solution that meets the needs. This has not occurred.

When I get up in the House, I often say that I am speaking on behalf of my constituents. Of course I am speaking on their behalf, on behalf of Canadian constituents who I think are concerned when the rights of one group might be eroded, as they are in this case. However, this evening I am also speaking on behalf of my father, who worked for 25 years for the then Canadian National Railways, which is no longer. My colleague pointed out that name has been shortened. In his years at CN, he worked and fought for workers' rights in his union. He loved the railway and he passed on that love and passion of the railway to me.

In the time that I have been in the House, I saw some opportunities to really make rail and public transportation a centrepiece of our vision for the future of our country. Rail should really be a very central part of the future of Canada.

However, rail service will only be as good as the investments made to ensure the safety of workers, the safety of the infrastructure and the safety of our environment. Yet the government has not seen fit to develop a national transportation strategy. There has been no vision for public transportation and this is an area where the government might think of acting now.

In past decades an increasing corporate culture has led to the privatization of rail lines, to focus on profitability over safety, reduction of the number of workers, disinvestment in railway infrastructure, elimination of some rail lines, no matter that some communities have been abandoned, as long as the large salaries of CEOs continue to be possible.

I want to give an example very close to my heart on Vancouver Island where a freight service was slowly eroded over the years and was finally discontinued. A passenger service was also allowed to degrade. The rail itself became so badly maintained that the service was slow, unreliable and always late, to the point where the rail companies were going to simply abandon it. However, the community came together and said that it did not want to see that right of way abandoned and did not want to see its rail service disappear.

The communities along Vancouver Island formed what is now called the Island Corridor Foundation to protect the integrity of the right of way and renew the passenger and freight rail service. From the document on their plans, they explained some of the reasons that had led us to this point. They said that in recent years a variety of business changes had occurred which created financial challenges, like lack of investment and bad business plans. They said that it simply became apparent that there was a lack of interest to maintain a good rail service. They said that slow or inadequate responses to these changes meant that rail service was not able to maintain its market status and was at risk of failure on numerous occasions.

It is very sad that in Canada, a country that was built on rail and where we see increasingly, given environmental issues, that our future will once again be based on the strength of rail transportation, that we now consider that it is okay to forget about very serious safety issues that have been raised.

In doing a very quick Google search, I found numerous articles citing safety issues: Accident comes day after release of audit finding holes in railways' safety procedures. Again, the safety jumps the track.

Trans-Canada highway in B.C. closed in two spots. Again there was a derailment. There were derailments on March 10, March 4, March 1, February 28, January 14 and January 8, all in 2007. I could go on and on and yet this is a company we are going to reward, act on its behalf to support those interests and, in a way, give it licence to continue with this disastrous safety record.

This will not help industry in the long term. It will not help the safety of our workers. It undermines the atmosphere in a workplace to do good work. It undermines the confidence that Canadians have and that companies have in the rail service. I believe this is a very ill-advised bill that the government is proposing to introduce.

I do not know when government will begin to consider that we do not support the economy at the expense of the environment or at the expense of social rights. We cannot build a three-legged stool that is balanced when we continually tip in favour of the economy at the expense of our environment and erode the rights that workers have to collective bargaining. This, unfortunately, is what the bill does.

Railway Continuation Act, 2007Government Orders

April 17th, 2007 / 6:35 p.m.
See context


Nathan Cullen NDP Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is with some reluctance that I join this debate, simply because the need for this in this day and age should not still exist. One would hope in 2007 that reasonable minds using legislation that this country has agreed to would be able to resolve disputes, yet somehow we find ourselves in this situation. Workers are conducting a legal and authorized action. They have serious and legitimate concerns, health and safety and otherwise. Many members of Parliament would also wish to have the ability to affect their immediate environments in their workplace, the ability to make sure that safe and fair working conditions are applied here. Certainly any of the MPs in their own self-interests would wish for the same thing. Yet here we are facing a forced negotiation at the end of a gun barrel, Bill C-46 it is called. I think there are a few terms we have to establish before we can even move further beyond.

The actual name of this bill that has been cobbled together quickly by the government is an act to provide for the resumption and continuation of railway operations.

I have tried to find in the title or the substance of the bill some mention of the main issue that has been brought forward by everyday average ordinary workers on the line, which is around rail safety based upon evidence, audits, that have been done by the government itself. Safety is the issue. Safety is one of the critical issues that has been brought forward as a reason for this dispute and this draconian piece of legislation that was introduced to stop the dispute does not mention it in the title. It would be interesting if the title were an act to provide for the continuation of safe railway operations, but the government could not do that because right now the operations are not safe. There would be no resumption of any type of safe operations because we have the audited reports that say otherwise. The records have become worse as the profits of the company have gone up.

Surely there is a way to operate a rail system in this country that is both safe and profitable, but it seems that unfortunately or otherwise that CN does not feel that those two things can actually go together and exist in harmony. It will tell us that they do but then we see a news report of another train off the tracks lying beside or in a river, and we know that not to be the case. There has been an explosion of unsafe rail practices and we also know it because the workers have told us so.

There is another term that is important for us all to realize. Because I was not sure, before entering into this debate I asked some of my colleagues what to call the company, CNR or Canadian National Rail. It has since changed its name. It reminds me of Kentucky Fried Chicken having to change its name to three letters, KFC, in order to avoid any association with chickens because it was not actually serving chicken any more. In this case, we cannot call the company Canadian National Railway because it is no longer Canadian.

Not only did it change its name, which is well and good and perhaps it was for brevity's sake, and there are a lot of syllables when we spell it out, but it forbade the workers from actually referring to it as Canadian National. They have to refer to it as CNR, and are not allowed to call it Canadian any more.

These are small but important things and are symbolic of what we are seeing take place in an industry and an operation that is at the very heart of this country. It is one of the few things that Canadians can absolutely hold on to and identify with. Different from others was the creation of this majestic dream, and it was dreamt up in this very place, to create a national railway system to connect us from coast to coast, as part of our national identity. It enabled the west to open up. It enabled all Canadians to be part of this massive country. This experiment of some peacefulness between the French and English cultures was critical.

We know the historical roots. We can walk into the foyer just outside the House of Commons and look above the sculptures. Represented there as one of the primary industries of this country is the rail industry. Clearly, it is in our DNA. It is in the very soil of our country.

Here we have an operation which by all accounts, by the audit reports, by the workers working on the line every day and by the communities that live beside those lines is no longer a source of pride. It is a source of worry. It is a source of contention, controversy and conflict.

I need to talk for a moment about my riding of Skeena—Bulkley Valley in the northwest corner of the province of British Columbia. It has one of the increasingly most important rail lines in the country. It is part of the government's laudable efforts to open up the Asia-Pacific Gateway. It is receiving a significant amount of funding that we negotiated with the previous government and ensured with this government. We are proud of being able to leverage that funding for the container port in Prince Rupert. There is also some significant funding by CN itself along the rail.

Here is an interesting thing to note. There are hazardous products that travel along this rail line that stretches right across northern British Columbia. Some months ago CN sent a letter to all of our predominantly volunteer fire departments. CN said that if there was any major spill of toxic chemicals along the line, the volunteer fire departments, which neither have the equipment nor the training to deal with such a toxic spill, should just hold the fort for 12 hours until CN got a skeleton crew up there to deal with it. This is in a letter. CN actually put it in black and white and sent it out to these noble volunteer fire departments and said that just for their information, CN would show up half a day later, once the train was in the river or on the side of the tracks. This is what a so-called responsible corporate citizen is offering to people who live cheek by jowl, right beside many of these lines, whose livelihood depends on the conservation of our environment, particularly the rivers.

Those who have visited the northwest have seen some of the most stunning scenery right from a passenger rail car because the rail runs right on the very edge of many of our most stunning and magnificent rivers. The road is on the other side. The access to these places, unfortunately, I have to say, once a train derails, based upon anecdotal and the audited experience of this company is seriously impeded.

There is no mention of safety in this bill. There is no mention of the technique being used, this heavy-handed approach that allows for final offer selection. The two sides present their cases and an arbitrator will then pick one or the other. It is a system that can or cannot work, depending on the various labour disputes.

Clearly, by not mentioning any aspect of safety in the bill, the government is sending a clear signal to the company that it does not have to negotiate on the safety concerns of the workers and the communities that they have placed in the public eye. That is not a concern to the government and it certainly will not be for the company when it is negotiating. And the legislation does not name an arbitrator.

It is important to understand that once this legislation passes and it seems doomed to pass, if I can use that term, because the Liberals, Conservatives and the Bloc for some bizarre reason have decided to ram it through by invoking closure and that is democracy in action, but once this bill passes, the government can pick any arbitrator it wants, anyone. It allows anybody to finally decide upon a contract that will be imposed upon the workers in the company.

For those who have followed labour disputes across the country and the history of CN and the UTU, this is not a combative organization. I have met with the workers in my riding, both formally and informally. I met them around a coffee table just a few days ago when I was in northern B.C. I sat down with a worker, an honest, hard-working average Canadian who is just doing his job. When this labour dispute first came up in February he had had enough. He had been working on the rail for 25 years.

Anyone who has spent a day on the rail will have a sense of the working conditions. The workers work 12 hours, maybe 16 hours plus. There is forced overtime. Rattling around on the rail is hard work. The workers all knew what they signed up for and they are willing to do it, but that worker had had enough. Time and time again he had gone to his supervisors and pointed out a safety concern and said that a piece needed to be replaced because it was broken and it was part of the safety system, and he was told to just leave it be, leave well enough alone.

No longer was there a culture of care and concern that had been built up in that organization over many years to ensure that no matter what the trains would run on time and they would also run safe. That can no longer be said. That is a tragedy not just for the symbol of what CN and rail are for this country, but it is also a tragedy on other levels, and I would like to talk about a couple of them.

We have talked much about the environment and the litany of derailments. Oftentimes CN does not have to prepare any kind of a manifest. There is no legal obligation to tell communities down the line what type of products will be moved through those communities.

We have all been around this country and know that some trains move right through the very heart of communities. There is no manifest created and some of these substances are of the most toxic nature imaginable, the belief being that it is better to move them by rail than by truck, because the incidence of accidents traditionally has always been lower by rail. If a toxic substance has to be moved from a chemical plant, as is often the case, or the oil and gas industry, to another site, it is best to do it by rail, as the chance of an accident or incurring any sort of harm to the environment or human health is lower.

Can we still safely say that? On March 12, 2007, some 3,000 VIA Rail passengers were affected. On March 10, 2007, CN's main freight line through central New Brunswick was disrupted because of a 17 car derailment at Plaster Rock. On March 1 there was a grain spill from a CN freight train derailment in Pickering. In February 2007 there was a hydrochloric acid spill. On January 14, 2007 in northern Ontario there was another derailment and 30 cars went into a swamp.

Time and time again, when dealing with issues of the environment, we know it is always easier and cheaper to not have the pollution happen in the first place. Here we have a clear case of what it would mean to have a little more protection, a little more understanding up front about the types of chemicals and noxious substances that are being moved, and how much better it is from every measurement to make sure that they do not tip out somewhere along the way, never mind the human concern.

I was in Sudbury recently and there had been another derailment north of that town, reminiscent of one that had occurred the year before. All sorts of noxious substances were being pumped out of the river and lakes systems. I talked to the member of Parliament from that area. The people in Sudbury have done so much to try to remedy the damage done by previous historical practices in the industry. We all know about the moonscape and that NASA uses the area around Sudbury as a practice area for its astronauts. The damage had been severe in terms of the environment. Sudbury has dedicated itself on many levels to clean up the mess, and once a year there are trains tipping into its river and lake systems.

Canadians are concerned and they have a right to be concerned. I would hope there is not a member of Parliament who would dispute the right of Canadians to be concerned when they read their papers and turn on the evening news and see that another train has tipped over. The workers have come forward and said where they think the problems are, and they are ignored by the company.

An audit was ordered by the previous government as a third party investigation into what was happening, with no vested interest, so the union bashing going on by some of the government can stop. It was a third party audit which the government conducted in 2005. It finished in 2006 and then the government sat on it. It was not until a journalist with the CBC filed an access to information request that the findings were released.

One would have to suppose that if the audit had said that things were fine, that the Canadian public should not worry, that everything was all right, the government would have trumpeted it out. It would have had a press conference, announced it and given every detail of how wonderful it was, but we know that is not what the audit said. The audit came out with findings that 54% of the locomotives showed serious defects. More than half of the things that are responsible for moving and stopping the trains that are going through our communities, and in British Columbia in particular, up and down mountains showed serious defects.

That is why the government sat on the audit. That is why the government has now removed from this bill the concept of triggering any sort of negotiation around safety for workers. We have to understand that the whole concept of workers' safety, the whole concept of safe locations in which to work in this country, was one that initially was resisted by industry as an extra expense when it was done years ago. It has now been adopted and it is trumpeted by industries, the progressive ones in particular, that they have a safe working environment.

The lumber mills in my community, the good ones in particular, show on their signs that visitors are welcome to such and such a lumber mill, and they show many safe days and accident-free days they have had because they know it is good for business. They know it is good for worker morale when people are not getting hurt. They know it is good for absenteeism, obviously, when people are not getting hurt, and just ethically it might be a good thing, too, to not have a system or workplace set up where people are likely to get hurt.

We have had an audit come back that says the crossings and some of the bridges had faulty beams. Workers died two years ago in British Columbia because a bridge failed. Workers were coming to me prior to this saying that people were going to die. They said this flat out because they had looked at the trusses. They had looked at the structure of the bridges. They had known the upkeep had not been done, but who was watching the henhouse? Clearly it was the fox.

The reason for this legislation, the reason to force these folks back to work even though the Labour Relations Board has said that this is a legal and legitimate strike, has often been talked about. One assumes that the company thought it had this in the bag, that it could just go to the Labour Relations Board and it would order the workers back from strike immediately.

Even though this is a legal strike, it has been rolled out time and again that this is an economic catastrophe waiting to happen. Even if the government and the official opposition had the courage to stand up and speak to the legislation, which they do not, it has been pointed out by the few who have that this is an economic catastrophe waiting to happen in this country and that we need to force these workers back to work and impose a contract on them so that Canadian business can move again, because we are an exporting nation.

We would contend that this short term, poorly managed fix will lead to economic disaster in the medium term and the long term, as there is a clear indication to the railway to continue with business as usual.

A lot of the shippers in my region are completely stressed out. These are people who need to get their products to market. The cashflow is essential to their operations. They work on very fine margins and they want products to move.

However, they have also lamented to me over the last number of years that they cannot get reliable service from CN. When a train goes off the tracks, guess what? They cannot run another train right by it. There are days and days of delay and then an investigation, and then the train has to be fixed in the shop and there are fewer cars on the tracks.

It causes problems, but clearly someone within this organization has done the calculation and has figured out that it is worth the cost of business and that there are all the so-called savings they make by having people work longer and longer hours. We know as a result of studies that, like a student studying or a worker in any workplace, once past a certain point, effectiveness and clarity drop off demonstrably and in a significant way.

As soon as people go beyond the 8 to 12 hours, their ability to pay attention, to focus and to do as good a job as they were doing in the first 8 hours goes down. What CN wants to do is continue pushing people the limits of what we know to be safe when it comes to the people who are at the switch. Right now those workers are meant to be away from home for as many as 40 hours a week or 160 hours a month. CN wants them to be away more. CN wants them to work longer periods each and every day. They are working 16 hours right now. I am not sure exactly where CN would like them to go, and how someone in their 17th hour of work is meant to be performing as well as in their first or eighth seems ridiculous. It even seems counterintuitive.

A number of Canadians would be quite worried if they knew that train carrying hydrochloric acid and barrelling through their town in the middle of the night was being driven by someone in the 17th or 18th hour of work, someone who has been doing that consistently over the last number of weeks and months. How is the government meant to assure Canadians that everything is okay, that these workers are not asleep at the switch, so to speak?

When it comes to our environment and the idea that in this day and age we will knowingly operate an unsafe system and keep pushing the boundaries into places that have been proven through the government's own audit not to be safe, it is intellectually dishonest. As for the idea that somehow the government can paint itself green and run about the country claiming some sort of adherence to environmental principles and priorities when at the same time it is taking actions like this, actions that threaten exactly the heart of the clean air and clean water it purports to be defending and are unable to do so, it is intellectually dishonest. It is intellectually dishonest of the government, the Liberals and the Bloc to suggest that they are doing their jobs in this case.

A lot of MPs are pushing for this heavy-handed tactic and are trying to position one set of working families against another. It is a good old tactic that does not die out easily. The workers in my region of northern British Columbia are very much connected to the same people. The rail workers are exactly the same folks whose kids are in soccer and who go to Rotary and all the rest of it in our communities, exactly the same as the people who need to ship the product, the same workers who are just down the line at the mill or at the smelter looking for consistent rail service in order to feed their families. They are deeply connected.

They understood back in February when the strike first erupted, as they do now, how serious it is when they say that things are this unsafe and that the relationship between the company and the workers has broken down so much they are seeking to strike. They understand the consequences more than any member of Parliament does and certainly more than any of the fat cats on the frontbench of the Conservative Party do. They understand deeply what the consequences are of their actions and they are committed to them. Eighty per cent voted to reject the very deal that the government now wishes to impose on them.

It is absolutely ludicrous to suggest that using such a technique somehow will allow for any sort of labour peace or harmony in the workplace or betterment of service, whether it is the protection of our environment and Canadians' health from fewer derailments or better service by just being on time and actually picking up the freight that CN, not Canadian National, has promised to.

This is going to be trumpeted by the government and those supporting it as a salient approach and a quick fix to getting the rails back on line and the trains running on time. What I will suggest to the House, to Canadians and to people in my riding is that we need labour peace. We need a drastic improvement in the way CN operates, the way it treats its workers and the way it treats the safety of Canadians on either of these rail lines, because the situation cannot go on as it is, and this bill exacerbates it. That is why I am proud to be here as a New Democrat opposing it to the nth degree.

Railway Continuation Act, 2007Government Orders

April 17th, 2007 / 6:20 p.m.
See context


Nathan Cullen NDP Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for her words and her experience when it comes to properly settling disputes between management and labour.

Our country has had a long and turbulent history over this, but I think many Canadians would have expected that we would have evolved to a certain point, that we would have been able to use the law available to us that had been fought for year in and year out. A good friend of mine, Jim Sinclair, the head of the B.C. Federation of Labour, said that working folks in this country have never received anything they did not fight for.

Fighting for fair laws governing the unionized workforce has been a long and steady fight for many years. Over the last number of years we seem to have lost ground through these deaths by a thousand cuts under the Liberals and now the Conservatives. We are now at a point where a legal strike is happening and workers have fair concerns about safety at their workplace, and that is what has been presented. That right seems to have been put into question almost immediately.

My question to my colleague is very specific. When a technique like this is used, and I give Bill C-46 too much credit by calling it a technique. It is a bludgeoning action on a fair and legal labour dispute to say workers simply do not have rights if they happen to work in this particular work environment. Based upon her experience and the experience of others in labour disputes, what is the affect on the short and medium term conditions within that workplace? By using something like this bill, by using something like this practice, as odious as it is, what is the affect on the short and medium term conditions within that workplace?

We have now seen that the Conservatives, the Liberals and the Bloc will all team up on these workers who are exercising their legal right. What is the result on the workplace? What is workplace productivity like? What are safety conditions like? In the eventual creation of a culture in that workplace, how does using something that the government is imposing on these negotiations affect the average worker going to work and that experience once they get there on a daily basis?

Railway continuation Act, 2007Government Orders

April 17th, 2007 / 5:30 p.m.
See context


Brian Masse NDP Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am here today to speak to Bill C-46, An Act to provide for the resumption and continuation of railway operations.

It is very difficult to speak about the act in the context we have today because we are actually giving public safety in this country a free ride. We have an opportunity in Parliament right now to address the very serious nature of railway operations that have hampered our economic trade and prosperity and have put the general public at risk and we are throwing that aside for expediency. That is unacceptable.

We should put in perspective the fact that there have been only five months of negotiations in this current element right now, whereas there were 18 months of negotiations between the union and the company in the previous contract. That is why it is important to look at the issue of final offer selection versus interest arbitration in Bill C-46.

The member for Winnipeg Centre noted very well that final offer selection was introduced by major league baseball in the 1940s. Interestingly enough, that is probably about the same time that CN actually invested proper money into the railway infrastructure. As someone who rides the rails from the Windsor corridor into our region and from talking with workers, I can tell the House that shake, rattle and roll is the policy of CN and CP in terms of their actual investment in infrastructure.

Rail is important for our actual economic prosperity and our vibrancy as a nation. The World Economic Forum has Canada falling from 11th to 16th in global competitiveness and also ranks Canada 27th out of 28 OECD nations with respect to the environment. This issue is very important in regard to the productivity issues related to our rail system because the actual infrastructure deficit affects Canadian workers and our ability to compete.

We are throwing away an opportunity here by going to arbitration about dollars, which is not the reason why we are having labour problems right now. We are giving up that opportunity. We are telling the public, concerned about all the derailments, some of which I will go through later on if I have time, that we are giving up on them and their concerns for expediency because we want the arbitrator to basically set a dollar amount and there we go, back into the same pot.

What we could do is provide the arbitrator an opportunity or a tool that this Parliament has not addressed in the past 10 or 15 years: improving our rail system. This is interesting because there have moments of this and there have been times when we have been so close to dealing with rail issues such as public safety and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but we have failed.

I remember when former prime minister Jean Chrétien announced almost $1 billion in rail transportation infrastructure investment from Quebec City to Windsor, Ontario, but because it was seen as his legacy, the member for LaSalle—Émard tore it up. I remember sitting in the plane with David Collenette after that announcement and talking about how that money was actually going to fix our rail beds, fix our infrastructure, get partners moving and get something done. But as a result of their internal fighting over there, they killed an opportunity to improve our prosperity and our environment. It was killed because of squabbling. I have heard nothing from the government on that.

That is what Bill C-46 is about. We are giving up that opportunity.

I want to put this in perspective. I want to talk about the workers who are affected. I have a letter from some of the workers in my constituency in a local union there. I will tell members what they wrote to me with regard to this issue.

They said that first and foremost it is imperative that we maintain the ability to self-determination. This is as it relates to maintaining our fundamental ability to negotiate and ratify an agreement that may have such an enormous impact on the lives of the employees at Canadian National Railroad and, in a broader stroke, the citizens of our country.

They said that Canadian National railroad is just that: Canada's national railroad. Its trackage traverses almost every community from coast to coast. They said, “We haul various commodities, including various toxic chemicals, across this country 24 hours per day, seven days per week, 365 days per year. We are some of the best and safest employees in the rail industry, this while performing to the best of our abilities”.

Unfortunately, they said, if the government is permitted to interfere with their union/company negotiations, they are certain that “our current work environment will be adversely affected, resulting in disastrous results for ourselves as well as the communities in which we live and work”.

It is their position that it is essential, they said, that their duly elected original negotiators be permitted to complete the task to which they were assigned without interference of the Canadian government, that being to successfully negotiate an acceptable collective agreement with their employer, utilizing their years of experience in the railroad industry as well as the information they have received from the affected members that they have been elected from to their current positions.

Simply put, they said, there is no threat to the Canadian economy, this with reference to economic sanctions being imposed against Canadian National railroad. As such, the proposed back to work legislation is unwarranted.

The letter goes on to read: “As previously stated, we do currently have a couple of minor issues to deal with in our union. These are issues scheduled to be dealt with in a timely manner with the assistance of the CIRB. Again, it is absolutely imperative that we be permitted to resolve our labour conflicts from within, this without the intervention of outside influences. I am extremely confident that given a reasonable amount of time, we could accomplish this goal.

As previously submitted, our last round of contract negotiations with exactly the same negotiating committee lasted approximately 18 months. Currently, we have only been negotiating for approximately six months.

UTU members across Canada have expressed concerns over the recent derailments that have decimated the pristine environment of our country, not to mention the resultant deaths of at least four of our fellow employees. I am certain Canadian National Railroad will take exception to my comments, but, nevertheless, I stand behind my claims. I have forwarded various e-mails and articles that I have done and I am going to go forward on the issue”.

That comes from a railroad worker, someone who goes out every day to protect my community.

In Windsor West there is a massive transportation hub for the country. We have many toxic chemicals. The public pressure that has been necessary to get CN to even open up to the proper support systems so that the public safety officers can actually examine the sites to ensure they are supported is incredible. It is like pulling teeth.

It is interesting to look at the government and its close allegiance to the United States on many positions. It will not look at rail safety in that way. We know the United States has actually been implementing procedures and policies that protect citizens. It has not been the national government, it has been coalitions, for example, that have asked for toxic chemicals and different types of materials to circumvent populated areas. Cleveland is an example. Washington is on the debate list and there are a whole series of other cities. We do not do the same here. We plead ignorance.

Once again, this bill is an opportunity to allow an arbitrator sit down and examine what the root cause is. Let us look at the public perspective and what the discourse has been. Let us look at some of the headlines concerning rail safety, “fatigue, work schedules, accidents linked”; “Train in fatal CN crash was overdue for repairs”; and, “CN profit a boon for top brass”.

That is important to note because what we are arguing is how much money we want to stuff in the railcars and send over to some CEO in the United States: $2 billion in profits for the CEO and $56 million in payouts. How many different supports do we need to send over? How many railcars of Canadian taxpayer money do we need to let go? It is not up to the arbitrator to tell them that based upon baseball arbitration back in the 1940s. We know all the progressive things that were happening then.

I can tell the House that what we are giving up in this opportunity is unsatisfactory for workers and also the people they support in their communities. They want to be able to go to work safely, they want to protect the citizens in their region and they want to return home. How can they do that when the real issue of why they are going on strike is not being addressed?

There are more headlines, “Railway safety check notes 21 violations...”; and “Wabamun residents want CN to remove all oil before winter”.

The people of Local 472 told me right away that it looked like they would have a settlement and that they would go back. They have been back every day. They understand economics, commerce, trade, safety and all those different things. What they are calling for is time to sort things out and go back to deal with the real issues. They talk about the fact that it is not wages. They understand the offer is important but safety is really important.

These are some of the things they have asked for. First, the goals of the UTU members is worker safety and railroad safety. The pressure to produce at CN is huge and a safety audit released in 2007 expressed concerns about management's approach to safety measures.

Where is the action on that?

Second, CN is seeking to increase its away-from-home hours that are already at 80 hours a week.

Third, key concessions at UTU are fighting to maintain better rest provisions. They want washroom breaks and a 40 minute lunch break for a nine hour shift, an end to the 16 hour work days and safety. There were over 100 derailments in Canada in 2005.

Those are the things that are happening. Are they validated? Is there any evidence? Is it in front of us right now? All we need to do is look at the headlines and the timeframes. I want to read some articles of recent derailments to ensure people understand.

On March 10, 2007:

Rail traffic along Canadian National's main freight line through central New Brunswick was disrupted until the next day by 17-car derailment in the Plaster Rock area.

On March 4, 2007:

Grain was spilled near Blue River, B.C., two hours north of Kamloops, when 27 cars of a westbound train fell of the track.

On March 1, 2007:

CN freight train derailment in Pickering disrupted VIA service on the Toronto-Montreal-Ottawa corridor and commuter rail service in the Toronto area.

I have travelled that corridor on the train and the rail in that area needs vast improvement, not just in terms of our environment and our productivity but also because it needs to be done if we want to have the same functions that we currently need. I do not understand why that investment has not been made. These are Canadian workers. A Canadian aggregate is going to produce a solution for many of our professed political espoused values of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by taking trucks off the road.

I have talked about the tens of thousands of trucks that go through my community every year. If we actually had a functioning rail system with a vision, we could actually look at options, such as rail to road options. We could do a whole series of different things if we made the proper investment but we have not. We blindly subsidize the road system and the transport industry versus that of looking at rail as a viable alternative option for safety reasons. The province of Ontario is even looking at lowering truck speeds and having regulated elements there that were not there before because of concerns for safety. All those things can be looked at but they are not.

I will continue with the rail derailments. On February 28, 2007:

Hydrochloric acid spilled from one of five cars on the CP Rail train that went off the tracks in the Kicking Horse Canyon in southeastern British Columbia. Emergency crews managed to contain the spill and none of the chemical went into nearby waters.

On January 14, 2007:

Derailment...in northern Ontario dumped more than 30 cars, one containing paint-related supplies, into a swamp. Officials said there was no sign of leaking, but train traffic was blocked near Gogama while the incident was cleared.

On January 8, 2007:

24 cars of 122-car freight train derailed in...Que., about 60 kilometres east of Quebec City. There were no injuries, but the accident occurred in a residential neighbourhood and one rail car came to rest about 12 metres from a home.

It goes on and on. The argument has been that our economy will collapse despite the fact that when workers went back it was only in strategic areas and, on top of that, CN chose to lock its own workers out. What reparations happened to them? Nothing happened to CN. Why does it not pay for that loss to the economy if that argument is so valid? CN chose to put the chains on the doors and gates. The decision was made in its corporate boardrooms to lock those people out.

Where was the minister and the government on safety then? They are claiming safety now but at that time they said that it was okay for management. The government cannot have it both ways. Management thinks it can actually chain up the gates and doors and do the job. Why do we not give the negotiators the tools necessary to deal with the root issue?

I would again point to the red herring economic argument. The other day I met with General Motors and other groups in the auto industry and they did not bring up rail issues. I am sure they have concerns about it as long as they move and are serviced. What they are concerned about is the government's fee-bate program that it announced in the budget. The reason General Motors has halted its decision on Oshawa and other parts of the country, including Windsor, on where to expand plants is because of the budget and what it will do to the auto industry.

If the government is really concerned about the economy, where is the comprehensive program for that? Where is the actual auto policy which the flip-flopping, floor crossing previous Liberal minister who crossed over to the Conservatives, had with him and was supposed to produce but never did? Where is that policy?

The policy to put workers back to work and to usurp their rights is available. The Conservatives have had the policy for over a year. However, they will not come clean as to whether it even existed. We see it in other parties because they exchange different boxes here and there. They will talk about those documents but the minister and his colleague are right there. Where are those economic plans? Over 200,000 jobs shed and, I would argue quite sincerely, that rail infrastructure and safety are part of that.

Since we know that the current system is one that does not work, do we just say that this is all about a few dollars per hour for the workers or do we actually realize what the opportunity is and do something meaningful to give an arbitrator a chance to flush out some of those real problems?

It must be tough for both those sides over there, the Liberals previously and the Conservatives now, to hear that we actually might need to invest some dollars in infrastructure and rail and that there might be some accounting to do but that will be very necessary for us to compete in a global economy.

I am less worried right now about the fact that we have workers who will commit themselves to arbitrate and to negotiate with their employer to get a satisfactory arrangement for the long term. They potentially could go out but they have given their word and they have stuck to it before in the past. Will we tackle the real problem which comes from the lack of public policy to deal with rail transportation in this country?

It goes on and on. We could look at some of the derailments and look at the concern I have, for example, coming from Windsor, about the safety of the workers as they transport chlorine gas and other things. I remember talking with our fire department. I give some of the rail operators due credit because some things have changed. It has been a little better than before. However, fire officials must ask for permission to go on the property to do different types of inspections and planning.

Miami-Dade county is a famous case where it actually banned chlorine gas going through that county. Within a 15 mile radius, an explosion or an accident could kill hundreds of thousands of people. It actually has legislation now that prevents that from happening. What was interesting about that banning process was that the water treatment facilities that use the chlorine actually found other substances they could use to do a better filtration process.

Here we are fighting for rail and hazardous material safety and we still do not have any of the answers. The government has not produced anything on that.

I remember when we had discussions on the International Bridges and Tunnels Act, a very good act that was a good start. We need other acts to support that but at least it puts a footprint in terms of where the government is with regard to having some responsibility for border crossings that are privately held and that there is a general accountability across the main spectrum. We talked about hazardous materials and rail but it was dismissed by the government. Any amendment that I had at committee was dismissed. The government did not want to deal with it at that time and it still does not want to deal with it now.

Why is that important? I can talk about Fort Frances, for example. People will wonder about this but the bridge that connects Fort Frances to the United States is actually a mixture of road and rail that cross over each other. When I was visiting there were actually three car accidents hitting trains trying to cross the bridge that week. Where is the vision of separating these two with a proper infrastructure investment? The reason there is none is that a private corporation holds that bridge and does not want to spend the money. The governments, federally and provincially, do not seem to care and are hands off.

What we are talking about today is a lack of vision. What we are talking about today is not actually doing what is responsible and right and that is to move through a process. A New Democratic amendment would at least provide the opportunity and hope for the arbitrator to raise the issues that are important to workers, their families and the communities that they serve, and this country and to start being responsible about rail safety and transportation in Canada.

Railway continuation Act, 2007Government Orders

April 17th, 2007 / 5:20 p.m.
See context


Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I listened to my colleague from North Vancouver and there are some points I can concur in, but really I would ask my colleague to consider that when it comes down to it he is either in favour of free collective bargaining or he is not. If he is in favour of free collective bargaining, then he does not agree with back to work legislation, because that in and of itself violates the entire principle of the value of free collective bargaining.

Where I come from, in the labour movement and within the New Democratic Party, we believe in the right to organize. We believe in the right to free collective bargaining and, when the sides reach an impasse during collective bargaining, we believe in the right to withhold our services if necessary. Strikes by their very nature have an economic impact and that is what puts the pressure on the two parties to come together, to shorten or minimize the strike and come to a resolution.

I ask my colleague, how can he have this contradiction? How can he speak from both sides of his mouth, as it were, on this issue, especially in the context that final offer selection as contemplated in this Bill C-46 that we are debating today is an imperfect type of third party arbitration? As long as we are dealing with very simplistic things such as wages, for instance, then FOS is not a bad option because the arbitrator can choose this side or that side, but not parts of both. It forces the two parties to somewhat temper with reason their demands.

In settling negotiations I have used FOS probably eight times in different cabinet shops and in multi-party bargaining in the construction industry. I found it worked only when the issues were simple.

In this case, the issues are complex: safety rules, work rules, shift schedules and pension benefits. There is no way to put a question like that to an arbitrator in the context of FOS where it would have a satisfactory result, so I would ask my colleague to reconsider his position and the position of his party.

If we are truly committed to free collective bargaining, we do not vote for back to work legislation. If we are truly committed to final offer selection, we would know that it can work only when it is the choice of the two parties. It can never work if it is imposed on the parties by the legislation. It can work only when the issues in dispute are simple and straightforward, such as basic wages. Would he not agree that there is a contradiction in the remarks he has made and a contradiction in his party's stance that its members can be for free collective bargaining and also for back to work legislation?

Railway continuation Act, 2007Government Orders

April 17th, 2007 / 5:05 p.m.
See context


Don Bell Liberal North Vancouver, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am here today to say that I support Bill C-46.

The concern I have, both as vice-chairman of the transportation committee and one who instituted last October a motion passed by that committee with respect to rail safety, is with air, water and rail safety.

We have looked back and we have seen an increasing number of derailments across Canada, particularly in western Canada and particularly with Canadian National. We felt that it was time that we had an audit of its safety record because it appeared from the information we had that 2005 was a particularly bad year for derailments.

We have seen an example of a derailment in British Columbia, in the Cheakamus River, where the spill of caustic soda into the river basically killed the fish stocks for generations to come. We have seen an example, in the summer of 2006, where a locomotive left the tracks near Lillooet, which resulted in the death of two rail workers and the serious injury of a third. We have seen another incident in Lake Wabamun, in Alberta, where there was oil spilled into a lake. I could go on and on.

Basically, it was the trend toward those kinds of incidents that caused the previous Liberal government and the minister at that time to call for a two-phase review of rail safety, particularly of CN. One phase was to look at the issue of an actual audit of the figures and the second phase was to look at what was called the safety management system.

The reason I mention these in the context of the current bill is because these safety measures are largely what the labour concern of the workers is currently about. They have said it is not the money that they are concerned about, but it is their working conditions.

I would give the example where a decision taken by CN took away the ability of workers to phone in and say that they felt they were unfit to work on a particular shift. They work 12-hour shifts and the question is whether they get adequate time to rest before they have to take another shift as they can be called back on very short notice. They used to be able to say they did not feel fit to work as an engineer or to work as a conductor.

On most trains, and these can be trains that have anywhere from a few cars to 100-plus cars, there are two workers. There is an engineer and a conductor. So, we have two people running a train who are responsible for cars that are 130 tonnes each, in terms of loaded freight cars, and engines that are capable of producing anywhere from 3,000 to 5,000 horsepower.

These trains have become a concern because of the lack of maintenance and concern about the track conditions and the rolling stock conditions as evidenced by the reports that were finally released, and these were reports that were called for by the previous government. A promise was made that these reports would be released to the public. They were not released to the public until just recently, through an access to information request. However, in that time it resulted in not only what is under the Railway Safety Act a section 31 order, which is from Transport Canada, but in fact a ministerial order, a section 32 order, where for the first time the minister himself had to order certain restrictions on the operation of CN.

The concern we have is that there have been outstanding notices on orders against the railway, 99 of them in this period and some of them in fact going back prior to the year 2000, that had not been answered.

The company claims that 2005 was a particularly bad year. Its record has improved substantially since then. However, the concern is that the level is still well above what it should be, and we see in these reports that we now have access to, phase one and phase two, that the safety issues the workers have talked about as their concerns are valid in my opinion.

We have situations where track has not been maintained properly. We have situations where the reporting of incidents is quite often mirrored on American railroad standards because they are lower than Transport Canada standards for either maintenance of cars or maintenance of engines. We have situations where 53% of the locomotives were deemed to have some kind of problem, ranging from relatively minor to inadequate braking; and that is of course what happened with the engine that jumped the track and the two men died down in Lillooet.

There was a decision, for example, when B.C. Rail, which was a relatively well managed system in the province of British Columbia, was acquired by CN. All the engines in British Columbia had dynamic brakes, a system whereby the electric motors in the trains can be reversed, or the polarity changed, and it can be used as a backup safety system to slow the train down. In fact, I am told by engineers and conductors that they can actually stop the train.

Those engines were sold. I do not know why but they were disposed of and other engines were brought in from other parts of Canada that did not have those features. In some cases there are still engines left, I gather, in which the dynamic brakes for some reason have not been adequately activated, or they have been deactivated.

I have a lot of empathy when I receive emails, letters and calls from rail workers who say that they feel concerned about their safety. That is at the heart of this discussion and the labour dispute that is currently going on.

Having said that, we have to recognize that safety is not just the safety of the rail workers, but it is also the safety of the communities through which the trains pass.

In my riding of North Vancouver we have chlorine tank cars passing through the community every day. We have seen what can happen in Mississauga with a propane tank or when there is a serious chemical spill. All we have to see is a major derailment to see how much destruction the cars can make when they scatter and the damage caused if they rupture, whether it is by a river or in a residential area, or whether it is injuries to railway workers or the public.

We have to ensure as a committee that we focus on this. The minister has commissioned a panel as well to report by October, but I do not think we can wait until October. We need to make this a high priority. Our committee began hearings yesterday and we heard from the first representative, a Mr. Gordon Rhodes, who was the lone survivor of that locomotive accident. It was very touching to hear his testimony about what it meant to him in his life and what it meant to him in terms of his concerns about safety and working on the railways. I have a lot of empathy for the workers.

On the other hand, I have to say, as the Liberal Party critic for the Pacific gateway, that I also have a concern that we continue to ensure that the movement of goods and services, both exports and imports, continue to flow because it is the economic lifeline of the country. We know, for example, that British Columbia is the gateway to the Asia Pacific which is a growing market.

Within 20 years to 25 years, it is estimated China will be either number one or tied for the number one economy in the world. We know that India has a growing economy. We know that Japan, Korea and Taiwan are economies that are important to the trade with Canada. We have to ensure that the facilitation of those goods, once they arrive at the ports, be it through truck, rail or air, is done as smoothly as possible.

We know the devastating effects of interference with that, whether it is a longshoremen or trucking strike that costs millions of dollars a week to have ships sitting idle in a harbour because they cannot be unloaded, or because of a trucking strike or a rail strike. It is just not satisfactory, let alone not being able to get Canadian goods, wheat and other products, to other parts of the world.

What will happen in the very fluid market that is international trade? The Chinese Overseas Shipping Company, COSCO, has nominated Vancouver as a port of first call. If it finds that when it has ships arrive in Vancouver, or Prince Rupert as we are growing a container port there, that it is not reliable because of a variety of reasons, it is going to end up bypassing Vancouver and will go south to Portland, Seattle or Los Angeles. We will just be out of the equation. In other words, we will cut our nose off to spite our face.

We as a government, and as a Parliament, need to ensure that there is adequate investment in port infrastructure. That includes highways, roadways and railways, and part of that aspect is to ensure that the railways are moving efficiently and safely, that we do not have derailments that can cause delays, injuries, and create the kind of tension that we are seeing currently within the CN Rail operation.

While I share and appreciate the concerns that the workers have for the issues currently part of the labour negotiations, and I have spoken with a number of them, I think there are ways in which we can deal with that through our transportation committee, through regulation, and through ensuring that the issues of rail safety are important to the government and to Canada, and that we follow through with appropriate action.

However, I believe that it is also important for the economy that we have the continuation of that service. We cannot afford to have it dismantled or disturbed and creating problems for small businesses as well as medium and large businesses who rely on imports and exports. A delay of a week or a month can be in many cases devastating for these businesses and for many other employees who are affected.

Having said that, I think the issues that have been raised with respect to the need for the back to work legislation are valid. The minister's representation earlier today stated that the discussions have been going on since last September. The contract expired in December. We have had petitions and information from businesses that are affected and from employees who are affected.

Ideally, the labour negotiation process should be allowed to work itself out, but there are some areas that are of national importance, almost what I would call an essential economic service. I feel that it is important for the government to be able to bring that stability in and to let the parties work things out in an environment that allows the service to continue. With the kind of agreement that we would have now, the back to work legislation, hopefully the union and the company will be able within the 90 days that are proposed in this bill to indeed come to a resolution, a negotiated settlement, before there is the imposition of an arbitrated settlement.

If it cannot happen, then we have to think what is good for all of Canada because it is not just British Columbia that we are talking about. We are not just talking about the port of Prince Rupert, the port of Vancouver and the businesses in B.C. We are talking about western Canada. We are talking about all across Canada.

In fact, through the rail system we move goods from Prince Rupert and Vancouver through to Chicago. We have a two day advantage on a natural sea route from Asia. We have that advantage over the U.S. We can get goods into Chicago two days faster than the Americans can by going to the U.S. ports. We need to protect that advantage and ensure that we take the steps and do what we can for a healthy economy.

Basically, what are important are the issues that the union has talked about: personal rest time and ensuring that they are safe as employees to work, that the equipment is safe, and that Transport Canada will ensure that its policies are followed to provide for a safe operation both for the employees, the railway and the communities through which it trains pass.

We have to tackle the issue of derailments. We have to tackle the issue of railway safety, but we also have to tackle the issue, as this bill proposes, to ensure that there is a continuation of those rail services and that the economic backbone of Canada, the economic spine of Canada, is maintained.

Therefore, I am pleased and prepared to support Bill C-46.

Railway continuation Act, 2007Government Orders

April 17th, 2007 / 4:50 p.m.
See context


Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, my Liberal colleague says there is a big shortage. I know many people in northern Ontario who would drive a truck but they are not going to drive a truck at the rates that are being paid right now. We have an unfair distorted market thanks to the Conservative government subsidizing industry at the expense of working people.

I am raising this because it is creating pressure on our rail lines which have very large fixed costs. Not only do they have very large fixed costs, but their CEO expects a $56 million a year payout and their shareholders across the U.S. are expecting very high returns on their investment. Once again there is pressure on the bottom line and of course the working families are the bottom line. Unfortunately in this case the bottom line is safety.

Do we see a poisoned atmosphere between management and workers at CN? Unfortunately we do, but it is something that has to be addressed because it is speaking to a larger issue. This is not simply a battle between management and workers. This is not simply about imposing a baseball arbitration and everything will be all right. The disparity that we are seeing in terms of a common vision at CN between workers and management speaks to a much larger problem that is growing in this country, a lack of a transportation vision for this country, a lack of commitment to make the necessary investments in transportation, whether it is in rail or roads, or in my area, for example, in airports where numerous small airports are facing shutting down.

The Conservative government has a laissez-faire attitude toward transportation. It is one area of our economy we cannot simply have a laissez-faire attitude toward because the distances between our regions are vast. As someone who has had to travel from one end of the country to the other many times for my work, I can tell the House that it is quite daunting just to cross the province of Ontario, or cross the Prairies which can sometimes take up to 10 or 12 hours between each major urban centre. Transportation is vital to maintain a viable economy in this country.

This debate we are having today about bringing closure with Bill C-46 is really a debate about the larger issue. CN workers are crying out and saying, “Enough”. This is a company that has not put the necessary investments into its infrastructure. This is a company that is paying its CEO $56 million a year. This is a company that is giving dividends to shareholders across North America. Meanwhile the people on the front lines who are doing the work, who are putting their lives at risk with these train derailments, are not enjoying the prosperity that the CEO and the dividend shareholders are enjoying.

There is obvious anger, which of course brings us to the issue of collective bargaining, the fourth point in my conversation today. Collective bargaining is a very important right. It is a right that was fought for in many communities. The right to collective bargaining was won in my own riding in 1941 in the Kirkland Lake gold strike. Members of the Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers union stood out on the line month after month through the winter in 1941 and won the right to collective bargaining. After that strike the federal government recognized the right to collective bargaining. That was a hard won right. There was never a strike in any of those years where we did not hear the same kind of claptrap we are hearing from government officials about shutting this down and how essential it is.

Sometimes working families have to draw the line. As the hon. member for Parkdale—High Park said today, there has never been a strike that did not have an economic impact. That is what strikes are. They have economic impacts on both sides. The fact that we are facing that today is too bad, but we have to stand up for the right of collective bargaining.