Port of Montreal Operations Act, 2021

An Act to provide for the resumption and continuation of operations at the Port of Montreal

This bill was last introduced in the 43rd Parliament, 2nd Session, which ended in August 2021.

Sponsor

Filomena Tassi  Liberal

Status

This bill has received Royal Assent and is now law.

Summary

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

This enactment provides for the resumption and continuation of operations at the Port of Montreal and imposes mediation as the process for resolving matters remaining in dispute between the parties. It empowers the mediator-arbitrator to impose arbitration as the process for resolving matters that cannot be resolved through mediation. Finally, it sets out the elements that are to be included in the new collective agreement between the parties.

Elsewhere

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.

Votes

April 29, 2021 Passed 2nd reading of Bill C-29, An Act to provide for the resumption and continuation of operations at the Port of Montreal

Port of Montreal Operations Act, 2021Government Orders

April 28th, 2021 / 9 p.m.
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Hamilton West—Ancaster—Dundas Ontario

Liberal

Filomena Tassi LiberalMinister of Labour

Mr. Speaker, I would like to take a moment to recognize that today is the National Day of Mourning. Thirty years ago, the Parliament of Canada passed the Workers Mourning Day Act, making April 28 an official day of mourning in Canada. Since that day, every year we pause to pay our respects to and remember all workers who have lost their lives, been injured or suffered an illness on the job because of a work-related tragedy. We honour them and acknowledge the grief felt by the family and friends who miss them.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Canadians and workplaces have developed a greater awareness of the importance of workplace safety, so today we also reflect on and mourn the tragic loss of workers because of COVID-19. That is why today we renew our commitment to improving health and safety measures in workplaces to prevent injuries, illness and death. The health and safety of all workers across this country is not only our responsibility, but our priority, which brings me to the subject of today's legislation.

The Government of Canada is strongly committed to free and collective bargaining and the constructive settlement of labour disputes as the basis for sound industrial relations. We firmly believe that negotiated agreements are the best solution. That is why during the collective bargaining negotiations between the Syndicat des débardeurs, also known as CUPE Local 375, and the Maritime Employers Association, we have been providing extensive and ongoing support, encouraging the parties to reach an agreement that works for everyone. This commitment of nearly two and a half years to the negotiation process is evidence of our belief that the best deals are made at the negotiating table. Over the last two and a half years, the federal government has provided mediators who have supported over 100 bargaining sessions.

A lot has been said over the last couple of days about taking sides. I can assure colleagues that our government is not taking sides. I grew up in a community forged by the steel industry and the labour movement. I know and treasure the values of decency, fairness, inclusion and progress that the labour movement represents. I feel great empathy for all workers affected by the inability of the two parties to come to an agreement after two and a half years and over 100 sessions with federal mediators. That is why I so very strongly encourage the parties to come to a negotiated agreement as soon as possible.

I will begin by outlining some of the key milestones over the last two and a half years.

Collective bargaining between CUPE 375 and the MEA began in September 2018, with the existing collective bargaining agreement expiring on December 31, 2018. To reiterate some of my earlier remarks made in the House, the agreement covers approximately 1,100 workers employed by member companies of the MEA engaged in loading and unloading of vessels and other related work at the Port of Montreal.

On October 11, 2018, the Government of Canada appointed a conciliation officer from the federal mediation and conciliation service to assist the parties. Once the conciliation period expired on December 11, 2018, we appointed two mediators to continue the work with the parties, with a view to assisting them to resolve their differences and reach an agreement.

On October 23, 2018, the MEA filed an application with the Canadian Industrial Relations Board, the CIRB, to determine which activities would need to be maintained in the event of a work stoppage at the port in order to prevent an immediate and serious danger to the safety or health of the public. In June 2020, the CIRB ultimately found that the parties did not need to maintain any activities in the event of a work stoppage beyond their statutory obligation under the Canada Labour Code to continue servicing grain vessels. However, the CIRB did acknowledge the union's commitment to continue servicing two vessels that supply Newfoundland and Labrador.

Less than a month after the CIRB decision was released, with the support of 99% of the membership, the union commenced a partial strike on July 2, 2020. Four work stoppages followed throughout the summer, each one with an increasing duration and impact. This ended in an unlimited strike that started on August 10, 2020.

There was also an increase in tension around the port. On August 13, 2020, eight people were arrested and charged with intimidation, mischief and assault, following a confrontation between union members and managers who were brought in as replacement workers. Eleven days later, on August 21, 2020, the parties agreed to a seven-month truce period during which they would keep bargaining and resume all port activity. That truce ended on March 21, 2021. Throughout this truce and since it ended, the parties have continued to receive intense mediation support from the federal mediators.

On February 4, 2021, I appointed two additional senior level federal mediators to assist with the negotiations. I also wrote to both parties, urging them to work with the mediators to reach an agreement as soon as possible. However, despite these ongoing mediation efforts, at the start of February, the MEA filed a bad faith bargaining complaint with the CIRB asking it to order the parties to binding arbitration. The CIRB issued a ruling on March 17, finding that any determination of bad faith bargaining would be premature and that parties are still working to negotiate a new collective agreement. Mediation therefore continued and the parties met a number of times.

On April 10, 2021, the employer gave 72 hours' notice of its intention to modify the conditions of employment for the members of CUPE 375. According to the notice, employees would no longer be guaranteed a minimum weekly income and would instead be remunerated only for hours worked. Later, on April 10, 2021, the union gave 72 hours' notice of its intention to no longer perform overtime work and work on weekends or participate in training. The union committed to maintaining services for vessels coming to and from Newfoundland and Labrador, and services for grain vessels that must be maintained in accordance with the Canada Labour Code.

On April 13, the parties implemented the actions described in their respective notices, and recently the situation has escalated.

On April 22, 2021, the employer advised the union that it would be invoking the provisions of the collective agreement that impose a specific shift schedule requiring workers to work an entire shift. The following day the union gave notice of its intention to stop all work at the port beginning at 7 a.m. on April 26, and on Monday morning that is exactly what happened: A complete general strike, unlimited in duration, began at the Port of Montreal.

The parties have reached an impasse, and it is clear that despite ongoing and extensive assistance from federal mediators that has lasted two and a half years, they remain unable to find common ground. We urgently need to find a path forward.

The Port of Montreal is the second-largest container port in Canada. Every year it handles over 1.6 million 20-foot equivalent units and 35 million tonnes of cargo, representing approximately $40 billion in goods. The work stoppage at the port is causing significant harm to Canada's economy, further disrupting supply chains that have already struggled through the COVID-19 crisis. Every day that it continues, the more likely it is that some of the business will simply not return, resulting in long-lasting damage. These disruptions to supply chains are not only affecting businesses; they are affecting the livelihoods of workers who are employed by those businesses. The jobs of hundreds of thousands of workers depend on the goods coming through the Port of Montreal every day.

With Canada's large volume of overseas trade, the smooth operation of our major ports is critical to our economy. The Port of Montreal is one of our main access points to international markets, and a prolonged shutdown of this gateway for containerized goods and bulk exports is detrimental to Canada's reputation as a reliable trading partner. If trade declines, then jobs disappear, and this affects hundreds of thousands of workers across Canada.

These are the factors that are leading the government to take action with legislation that will require the parties to resume operations at the port while providing a neutral mediation arbitration process to resolve the differences between the parties. I want to emphasize that nothing in the legislation prevents the parties from coming to an agreement before the legislation receives royal assent or at any time in the mediation arbitration process.

Our government does not take back-to-work legislation lightly. We believe it should only be used as a last resort. Unfortunately, given the overall context, we believe it is the only remaining course of action.

This work stoppage is impacting more than 19,000 direct and indirect jobs associated with transit through the Port of Montreal, including in the rail and trucking industries. Facing high initial costs, shippers forced to reroute to other ports may not return immediately, or even in the long term, meaning that the negative impacts could last long after the work stoppage has ended.

The partial work stoppage had reduced port capacity by approximately 30%, representing a loss of cargo volumes worth an estimated $90 million per week. With no slack in the Canadian supply chain for adjustment, the economic disruption is extensive and can only be expected to worsen. This means the temporary and possibly permanent loss of jobs for thousands of workers whose families depend on them and their salaries. The longer the work stoppage continues, the longer it will take to recover.

As previously mentioned, the Port of Montreal is a major link in the Canadian and U.S. supply chain of raw materials and consumer goods. The August 2020 strike had a disruptive and protracted effect on the east coast transportation system. Further, we heard that some shippers, such as Ikea, had already diverted traffic to U.S. ports on the east coast earlier this spring.

The port authority further noted that other clients had done the same ahead of the March 21 end of the truce between the parties. Ultimately, there is a risk that these diversions could be permanent, if shippers find more stable and economical routes.

Permanent diversions to the U.S. ports could have long-lasting negative effects on the integrated transportation system around the Port of Montreal. This would translate to lower demand for rail and trucking services in Canada that support the movement of cargo between Canada and the U.S.

This would have a serious impact on employment in these industries. Thousands of workers across the supply chain could lose their jobs. We know that these challenges increase as the stoppage continues. Sectors of the economy dependent on cargo moving through the port may find it increasingly difficult to access key production inputs such as machinery, equipment and construction materials, which would force industries such as manufacturing, construction and sales to reduce and/or shut down operations. Shutting down manufacturing operations means workers' jobs and livelihoods are lost, perhaps permanently.

We also know that the disruption comes at a critical time in the agricultural sector. With the spring dictating much of the year's harvest, from imports of key inputs such as seeds, greenhouse components and fertilizer for the season, to the need for cash flow from exports that are now stalled, this is a serious concern for farmers and associated industries. Again, this would mean the loss of thousands of seasonal workers' jobs, and of course the consequences of this would be a threat to the health and well-being of Canadians.

We are hearing that small and medium enterprises are feeling the impacts of this work stoppage, and their concerns are particularly heightened given the already precarious economic recovery from COVID-19. Losses stem from not meeting delivery deadlines, lost potential sales and wasted product in the case of perishable goods that are not properly stored or handled as their movement is inevitably slowed, if not prevented altogether.

Canadian exporters are also facing increasing losses and delays in getting their exports to market and from the use of less-efficient transit options. As the work stoppage continues, the impacts on the manufacturing and natural resource sectors, such as forestry, are also likely to be significant. The ripple effect will not end there. As I mentioned earlier, challenges accessing key production inputs have the potential to cause temporary layoffs and job losses in industries such as construction and sales.

The economic numbers I am citing are not abstract: They represent the jobs of thousands upon thousands of Canadian workers who depend on the port. Workers may never get their jobs back. Stakeholders have also expressed concerns about the impacts. Medical suppliers have described this in letters as a life-and-death situation if products do not get to hospitals and patients.

Canadians need farmers to put food on tables to feed their families. In Ontario and Quebec, ministers of labour and economic development have written to me saying that this will cost hundreds of thousands of jobs, and they have urged us to take action. We cannot afford not to act.

Ensuring the uninterrupted flow of commodities and goods to and from international and domestic markets through the Port of Montreal is essential to the economic well-being of Canadians across the country, particularly now as we enter into a period of economic recovery from a serious health and economic crisis.

The government has provided significant assistance to the parties. Despite our efforts, with over two and a half years of support from federal mediators and over 100 mediated sessions between the parties, there is no agreement in sight as the parties remain unable to find common ground. While the government firmly believes that the best deals are reached at the bargaining table, back-to-work legislation is sometimes necessary when the parties are at a significant and long-standing impasse and a work stoppage is causing significant economic harm.

We must act before irreparable damage is done to our economy and thousands upon thousands of jobs are lost, which will mean that thousands and thousands of families are affected. The government understands the serious negative effects of this work stoppage at the Port of Montreal, and the need for a resolution as quickly as possible. This is why we are taking action with legislation to ensure safe resumption of operations at the port and to provide the parties with a neutral mediation-arbitration process to resolve their disputes.

This legislation would order an immediate end to the work stoppage, and the resumption and continuation of all operations at the Port of Montreal following royal assent. The most recent collective agreement would be extended until a new collective agreement could be established. A mediation-arbitration process would begin in which the parties would jointly choose a mediator-arbitrator. If no agreement could be reached, I would appoint one.

The mediation would last for 14 days with the right of the parties, by agreement, to extend this another seven days for a total of 21 days in which all outstanding issues could be decided through the mediation process. If that fails, then it is on to arbitration. The new collective agreement that would result from this process would contain unmodified provisions from the expired agreement, all arbitration decisions and all agreements reached between the parties at any point in the current round of collective bargaining.

I want to be very clear. There is nothing in this legislation that prevents the parties from reaching an agreement on any issue or agreeing to a new collective agreement before the mediator-arbitrator's final decision is rendered. I strongly encourage the parties to reach an agreement before we pass this legislation, but we cannot afford to wait. We must act now.

Our government does not take this decision lightly, and I have repeated this many times. We take this decision with a heavy heart. This work stoppage is causing serious harm. It jeopardizes the jobs of over 19,000 Canadians directly and hundreds of thousands of Canadians indirectly. This is at a time when industries are still struggling to recover from the major economic disruptions over the past year.

We believe in the collective bargaining process. In this case, the government has provided assistance in the process for over two and a half years, and I want to take this opportunity to thank the mediators we have at that table who have worked tirelessly and were available 24-7 to work with the parties to come to an agreement. However, with no agreement in sight after over 100 federally mediated bargaining sessions, we must act.

I urge everyone here to support this legislation so that it passes as quickly as possible to ensure full resumption of activities at the Port of Montreal and prevent further economic harm. Canadians and Canadian workers are counting on us.

Port of Montreal Operations Act, 2021Government Orders

April 28th, 2021 / 9:20 p.m.
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Bloc

Louise Chabot Bloc Thérèse-De Blainville, QC

Madam Speaker, I have a question for the Minister of Labour regarding her speech.

She said that she has the best interests of the workers at heart and that she is doing this with a heavy heart. However, the bill that we will be debating for the next few hours was avoidable. According to the minister's own timeline of events, the employer recently unilaterally and fundamentally changed the rules of the game on two occasions, with regard to the work schedules.

We have been reminding the House for some days now that this is when dock workers at the Port of Montreal started to use pressure tactics, while clearly indicating that if the employer withdrew these changes and brought the parties back to where they were before April 9, the union would stop—

Port of Montreal Operations Act, 2021Government Orders

April 28th, 2021 / 9:20 p.m.
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Liberal

Filomena Tassi Liberal Hamilton West—Ancaster—Dundas, ON

Madam Speaker, I thank my hon colleague for her advocacy.

This has been going on for two and a half years and, throughout this whole process, we have been there every step of the way with the parties. We have provided the supports of the mediation service. The mediators have done a fantastic job and I think both parties are grateful for their presence.

Yes, both parties in this dispute have taken action and they are able to take that action. That is open to them and they did that in a way to put pressure so that an agreement could be reached. However, the reality is that we are no closer to an agreement today than we were two and a half years ago. This is why we must take action now.

Port of Montreal Operations Act, 2021Government Orders

April 28th, 2021 / 9:20 p.m.
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Conservative

Dave Epp Conservative Chatham-Kent—Leamington, ON

Madam Speaker, I cannot help but wonder that two and a half years, and 100 hours of mediated time, would not cause a thought process that perhaps action should be required a bit sooner in our critical infrastructure sectors. Is this really the only way that disputes can be resolved in sectors that are so important to the country? Do we have to let it go this long?

I have spent 20 years in other sectors where mother nature dictates an annual cycle, and we have found other ways. I just wonder if the minister could comment. Is this really the only way that we can get to a point that respects both the workers' rights and the rights of the employer?

Port of Montreal Operations Act, 2021Government Orders

April 28th, 2021 / 9:20 p.m.
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Liberal

Filomena Tassi Liberal Hamilton West—Ancaster—Dundas, ON

Madam Speaker, just to be clear, it was actually over 100 mediated sessions. Each of those sessions was hours long, so this is countless hours.

In addition to providing the mediation support, we also reached out to both sides and impressed upon them the importance of reaching an agreement, so we had conversations and communication and expressed that very clearly.

With respect to where we are now and moving forward, on top of the mediation support and that communication, this really is the only option left. It is an option of last resort, but we must take it in light of the circumstances we are facing, with respect to the harm.

Port of Montreal Operations Act, 2021Government Orders

April 28th, 2021 / 9:25 p.m.
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NDP

Scott Duvall NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

Madam Speaker, the minister has stated many times that there is nothing stopping the two parties from reaching a collective agreement before this legislation is passed, yet she has supported the company's request to interfere, which the company wants.

The union has lost all its constitutional rights. Does the minister understand that she is taking away union rights to reach a good-faith collective agreement between the two parties?

Port of Montreal Operations Act, 2021Government Orders

April 28th, 2021 / 9:25 p.m.
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Liberal

Filomena Tassi Liberal Hamilton West—Ancaster—Dundas, ON

Madam Speaker, we have been there for both sides throughout this whole process. We have been impartial. We are not taking sides. Our role is to provide the supports. We have provided those supports to both sides. The mediation service has been there, helping both sides negotiate. The bottom line is that there has been no progress at the table. This has been going on for two and a half years, with the extra level of support of two additional senior mediators at the table. As a result of the lack of progress we have to take action, particularly with the strike taking place and the impact on the economy and health—

Port of Montreal Operations Act, 2021Government Orders

April 28th, 2021 / 9:25 p.m.
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Bloc

Alexis Brunelle-Duceppe Bloc Lac-Saint-Jean, QC

Madam Speaker, unfortunately, I think the hon. minister misled the House in her speech.

Several of her Liberal colleagues have also done so today, when they used the argument that medications would not be unloaded. That is not true. First, 90% of medications delivered to Canada arrive by plane, landing at Pearson Airport. Second, the union has confirmed to the employer that any medications shipped in containers through the Port of Montreal would be unloaded, strike or no strike.

Therefore, I would like to ask the minister to retract her comments.

Port of Montreal Operations Act, 2021Government Orders

April 28th, 2021 / 9:25 p.m.
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Liberal

Filomena Tassi Liberal Hamilton West—Ancaster—Dundas, ON

Madam Speaker, I completely disagree that there is any misleading going on here. Look, I appreciate the spirit and the willingness of the union to say it will unload those containers. Practically, there are problems with that.

Number one, one container does not have one resource in it. These are containers filled with many different things, so to say that a container is going to dock, part of it is going to be unloaded and then the rest is going to be taken abroad and continue to be shipped is just not practical. Second, the supply chains have been impacted. CN and CP are not sending the railcars and the truckers are not going there to transport, so when the stuff is unloaded there is nowhere to take it, because the supply chains to transport those goods are gone.

Finally, I have written correspondence from stakeholders saying these are life-and-death situations. They talk about medicine for heart conditions and talk specifically about dialysis, saying that if these machines and supports are not given to patients in hospitals across the country, we are in a life-and-death situation. That is what I have been told by my stakeholders.

Port of Montreal Operations Act, 2021Government Orders

April 28th, 2021 / 9:25 p.m.
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Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Madam Speaker, the hon. minister knows the great respect I hold in my heart for her, but I cannot agree with this at all.

How long did our Parliamentary Protective Service workers, shuttle bus drivers and House of Commons workers go without a contract? The negotiations were protracted. Our Protective Service workers, the people who protected us when the House of Commons was under assault, went four years without a contract. Their protest was in violating their uniform requirements, and we all remember seeing them wear those badges.

Sometimes it is protracted, sometimes it is difficult, but the employer provoked this situation by changing fundamental parts of the collective agreement. Is there not some way to force the employer to do the right thing, instead of punishing the workers?

Port of Montreal Operations Act, 2021Government Orders

April 28th, 2021 / 9:25 p.m.
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Liberal

Filomena Tassi Liberal Hamilton West—Ancaster—Dundas, ON

Madam Speaker, I have great respect and admiration for the member.

We are not taking sides in this. We are not saying we are supporting one side or the other. We are encouraging both sides to come to an agreement.

What makes this situation different is the economic harm, as well as the health and safety of Canadians. We know that a full work stoppage is going to have an impact that we cannot be responsible for, which is what mandates us to take action. This is on top of having a year of fighting a pandemic, where supply chains are already compromised.

We cannot stop the flow of goods. We must act for the safety of Canadians.

Port of Montreal Operations Act, 2021Government Orders

April 28th, 2021 / 9:30 p.m.
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NDP

Alexandre Boulerice NDP Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Madam Speaker, the minister told us that the government is not taking sides in this labour dispute. However, introducing a back-to-work bill when unionized workers have the right to strike is taking sides. That kills the employer's incentive to negotiate in good faith.

That is what we saw on Sunday when the minister irresponsibly announced the bill even before the general strike began.

Why do the Liberals always side with the employer?

Port of Montreal Operations Act, 2021Government Orders

April 28th, 2021 / 9:30 p.m.
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Liberal

Filomena Tassi Liberal Hamilton West—Ancaster—Dundas, ON

Madam Speaker, again, we are not taking sides in this instance. We have had mediators at that table who have done an incredible job in supporting both parties in an unbiased way, to offer support and to try to bring the parties together to come to a resolution. There have been two and a half years of negotiations.

In this legislation, there are potentially 21 days for mediation. The parties can still sit down and mediate this with the appointment of an arbitrator or a mediator—

Port of Montreal Operations Act, 2021Government Orders

April 28th, 2021 / 9:30 p.m.
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Conservative

Tracy Gray Conservative Kelowna—Lake Country, BC

Madam Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Calgary Midnapore.

I would like to acknowledge today as the National Day of Mourning, a day we honour the memory of workers who have been killed, injured or suffered illness as a result of workplace incidents.

As I rise today to speak to Bill C-29, I am once again hit with an unwelcome feeling of déjà vu. There have been empty words and empty promises, and now empty railcars and empty trucks are leaving the Port of Montreal. I feel an unsettling realization that we have been here many times before with the current government. The government delays, gets pressed up against the timeline and then things are a rush and a crisis. Once again, our supply chains are at a standstill, and importers, exporters and workers are once again faced with uncertainty.

When activist-led rail blockades brought transportation networks to a standstill early in 2020, the government sat idly by. We heard it took an average of four days to just catch up for every day our transportation networks were down, and the cost to our economy was in the hundreds of millions of dollars. We heard concerns from businesses and workers about getting essential goods across the country, concerns that are especially relevant now, during the pandemic. Farmers cannot wait for seed or for fertilizer.

If the government chose not to take the situation at the Port of Montreal seriously when it first started over two years ago, it should have adjusted course last year when a strike lasting 19 days took place. This strike resulted in $600 million in losses for our exporters and wholesalers, and left workers with a lot of uncertainty. This should have been a wake-up call to the government to take meaningful actions to provide professional assistance to help the parties come to an acceptable agreement.

In March 2021, a German international shipping and container transportation company said in an email to customers that it expects “terminal performance in the port will be severely impacted”. This was based on just the potential risk of a shutdown.

In an article in March 2021, in Automotive News Canada, Brian Kingston, head of the Canadian Vehicle Manufacturers’ Association, is quoted as saying, “The situation in Montreal is deeply concerning.” He further went on to say, “We just came out of a massive economic downturn and having a critical piece of our transportation network shut down will not help the Canadian economy recover”.

On April 5, Pulse Canada sent a letter to the Minister of Labour urging immediate action. In the letter, they note that they had been advocating since February for the government to take “every approach necessary to mediate a negotiated agreement” and that “it was imperative to avoid a labour disruption that would damage [our industry], our international reputation, and the wider Canadian economy.” The letter further outlined how, even then, the industry was experiencing significant damages with customers asking them to avoid the port at all costs. The letter notes that these costs can be as high as $1,600 per container to utilize another port, not to mention costs associated with the logistics of such an endeavour. Avoiding the port means not only disruptions, but less work and potentially permanent job losses.

The Port of Montreal is essential for Montreal, Quebec and Canada.

This port is the second-largest in the country and is responsible for approximately 19,000 direct and indirect jobs. The roughly 40 million tonnes of cargo that passes through every year, which represents billions in economic activity, travels across the entire country, including to my home province of British Columbia and into my community of Kelowna—Lake Country.

What is troubling is that the concerns I mentioned above are not the first time Canada’s trade reliability has been called into recent question. I have heard this from numerous stakeholders, with the uncertainty of jobs and investment on the line, but after the government's track record, it is clear to see why.

Trade, like so many other important things, seems to be continually an afterthought for the current government. It is truly unfortunate, and it does businesses and workers across the country a serious disservice. With one in five jobs in Canada dependent on trade and nearly a third of our GDP relying on our exports, the government needs to do more. However, as we saw in the recent budget, there was little importance placed on trade, instead of working to secure our future.

We see time and again how little importance the Liberal government places on ensuring exports can get to market. We saw this with the rushing of the CUSMA legislation, and the recent example of the Canada-U.K. trade continuity agreement. The U.K. is our fifth-largest trading partner and third-largest export market. Implementing that agreement was critical to businesses and workers across Canada who rely on trade with the United Kingdom.

The government had years to get a new trade agreement signed with the U.K. after the U.K. had voted to leave the European Union, which meant that the terms of the existing CETA agreement would no longer apply. What did the Liberals do? They did not lead. They mismanaged the file, and even left it to the eleventh hour to introduce legislation.

This failure was embarrassing and caused needless and avoidable uncertainty. The Liberals left it to the last week of the last month of the last year to table the legislation. This led to missing the deadline and having to sign a memorandum of understanding. The memorandum was about to expire with no plans by the government to put it on its legislative agenda. Therefore, Conservatives showed leadership and sought unanimous consent, which we received, in order to move the legislation along so that our Canadian businesses and workers were not again left with uncertainty.

Government actions, or inactions, have once again led to uncertainty. The Minister of Labour, who is responsible for employees at the Port of Montreal, made unfortunate comments suggesting the government may bring forth back-to-work legislation should a resolution not be reached, and here we are now. We have heard that these comments took the wind right out of the sails of the negotiating position of the workers in the Port of Montreal.

Instead of making legislative threats, the government should have been actively involved in the negotiations and doing everything possible to secure an agreement and create certainty and stability. We heard from the minister that government representatives attended many meetings. It does not matter how many meetings are attended; what matters is results.

The union representing the workers called the minister’s comments “an affront to all workers in the country.” Marc Ranger, the Quebec director of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, stated, “Fundamental rights are being denied. This is shameful for a government that calls itself a defender of the middle class.”

As much as it pains me to say it, there is a clear pattern here. What is definitely noticeable is that the certainty of business is so important. It is very important for the free flow of goods to be maintained.

We find ourselves in another avoidable situation caused solely by the government's complete and continuous mismanagement of its files. Right now, at a time of so much uncertainty, we know that businesses and workers need predictability. We need to give certainty and predictability at a time when, over a year into this pandemic, there is still so much uncertainty.

While the pandemic is still occurring, businesses are still in jeopardy and are still really hurting across the country. This ultimately leads to layoffs. Farmers cannot wait. Other businesses cannot wait. Workers cannot wait. With one of the worst records on unemployment in the G7, we need to do all we can to keep our current levels of trade, our businesses viable, and workers employed. It is of utmost importance that the free flow of goods is maintained.

Whole provinces are locked down due to this third wave of COVID-19, due to poor decisions and mismanagement of the pandemic over the past year, including on vaccine procurement. Businesses and families are struggling. Costs are going up. Importers and exporters are having to make tough decisions due to uncertainty. Food security is at risk without a dependable and reliable transportation and supply chain system. We have heard that medical supplies are at risk being distributed.

Unlike other countries that are well into recovery, Canada is still full-on dealing with an economic and health crisis. Parliamentarians now have this difficult situation today, having to look at back-to-work legislation because of the government’s failure to facilitate an agreement between the parties.

Port of Montreal Operations Act, 2021Government Orders

April 28th, 2021 / 9:40 p.m.
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Bloc

Mario Simard Bloc Jonquière, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague for his speech.

I know that a typical Conservative is perhaps not the type of parliamentarian who is the most open to labour unions. However, I would still like to ask my colleague a question.

During question period, the member for Beloeil—Chambly proposed a solution. Workers are ready to go back to work tomorrow morning and put an end to the dispute, if the government would make it clear to the employer that it is not to make any more changes related to work scheduling. That is a solution that could easily be implemented and that would spare us from having to take the blame for implementing special legislation.

Would my colleague agree to go with such a pragmatic solution?