Port of Montreal Operations Act, 2021

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

Sponsor

Filomena Tassi  Liberal

Status

This bill has received Royal Assent and is, or will soon become, 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 / 9:40 p.m.
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Conservative

Tracy Gray Conservative Kelowna—Lake Country, BC

Madam Speaker, it is important to note that the government was at the table assisting with these negotiations and, as we have heard, after many meetings, in the end, there was no facilitated agreement.

We need to be pro-Canadian economy, and if there is no agreement and the port is not open, we have heard how that is going to affect businesses all across the country. This is the government that, at the table, was not able to come to an agreement and facilitate an agreement.

Port of Montreal Operations Act, 2021Government Orders

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

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Madam Speaker, I oppose the legislation before us, and I will make that clear.

When I think about the various ways in which this debate tonight is being politicized, I recall what really did affect British Columbia, affected a lot of my constituents and I am sure those in Kelowna—Lake Country as well. It was the failure of the Harper government to anticipate that when the Conservatives got rid of the Canadian Wheat Board we would lose the ability to have wheat supplies and grain that had to move on trains. I am sure the hon. member will remember December 2014 when we had acute shortages of grain, which was because of a decision made by the previous government.

Our supply chains in this country are really important, but it is not all one-sided. Always, I think, collective agreements need to take place. We need to allow both sides to negotiate and not force workers back to work.

Port of Montreal Operations Act, 2021Government Orders

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

Tracy Gray Conservative Kelowna—Lake Country, BC

Madam Speaker, here is the situation that we are in right now. We know that the supply chains are really stretched. We have gone through a difficult time. It all started a year ago, as I mentioned, when we did have rail lines that were down. We have gone through this pandemic. We are hearing that there are container shortages, and this just exacerbates the problem.

Because we are so stressed right now, we do not really have the luxury to be waiting. There are also timelines here where we have farmers who need fertilizer and seed, and they cannot wait. If they do not plant within a certain time period, they do not have a crop. We have heard that there are medical supplies that have to get across the country as well. So, we do not have the time to—

Port of Montreal Operations Act, 2021Government Orders

April 28th, 2021 / 9:45 p.m.
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Conservative

Tako Van Popta Conservative Langley—Aldergrove, BC

Madam Speaker, businesses in my riding of Langley—Aldergrove, almost as far away as we can get from the Port of Montreal, are being negatively impacted by labour disruptions at the Port of Montreal.

I was talking to Mr. Van Noort of Van Noort Bulb Co. Ltd. the other day. He imports bulbs from the Netherlands for sale across North America. This is, of course, a very seasonal product. His business has already been negatively impacted by pandemic-related supply chain challenges, and the strike is the last thing they need.

I wonder if the member has a comment about how important it is to have good labour relations in this country.

Port of Montreal Operations Act, 2021Government Orders

April 28th, 2021 / 9:45 p.m.
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Conservative

Tracy Gray Conservative Kelowna—Lake Country, BC

Madam Speaker, absolutely, this just shows how important our supply chains are, and we cannot wait.

I am also speaking to people from companies in my riding, such as irrigation companies that are waiting to get missing parts from Europe. This is across the country, and we do not have the time. There are timelines when businesses need product, and if they do not get it, then workers are going to be laid off. So—

Port of Montreal Operations Act, 2021Government Orders

April 28th, 2021 / 9:45 p.m.
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Conservative

Stephanie Kusie Conservative Calgary Midnapore, AB

Madam Speaker, the member for Kelowna—Lake Country is also our shadow minister for export promotion and international trade; I will probably step on her toes a bit, talking about supply chain. She was also the 2006 RBC Woman Entrepreneur of the Year and, like me, she is an alumni of the University of Calgary, so to her I say:

[Member spoke in Gaelic]

[English]

“I will lift up my eyes” is a translation from Gaelic.

I will also be stepping on the toes of our shadow minister for infrastructure, the member for Regina—Qu'Appelle.

Unfortunately, this is a situation today where the government could not fail. The stakes were just too high for the government to fail. We have talked about it a lot today, but I will repeat some of the core facts again.

The Port of Montreal is the second most important port in Canada. The previous 19-day work stoppage last summer cost wholesalers over $600 million in sales over a two-month period. It took three full months to clear the backlog created by the stoppage. I am also sure we have heard previously today that every day the port is shut down, the economy loses $10 million to $20 million. The words of my leader earlier this week are true: Because of the Prime Minister's failure to get a deal done, jobs and contracts are at risk and millions of dollars will be lost.

I am going to approach this from the transport perspective today, as I am the shadow minister for transport. I am going to look at three things in particular: imports, which affect the cost of living; exports, which affect our economy; and then processes and infrastructure, which of course also affect our economy.

When we are talking about imports and the cost of living, and Canadians are seeing the cost of living increase, RBC expects that groceries alone will go up 2% to 2.5% in 2021. We can look at a couple of things. The first thing is the change in demand that we have seen over the last year. Canadians have been at home throughout the pandemic. They are unable to travel. They are unable to go to the theatre or to their favourite restaurants, as a result of several lockdowns, and so we are seeing a much greater demand for consumer goods. Of course, this is putting additional pressure on our supply chain.

The second thing, and this has been brought up previously, is the container shortage which is having significant impact on supply of goods. For example, India, the world's second-largest sugar producer, exported only 70,000 tonnes in January, less than a fifth of the volume shipped a year earlier. In addition, Vietnam, the largest producer of the Robusta coffee beans used to make instant drinks and espresso, is also struggling to export. Shipments dropped more than 20% in November and December, so we are seeing very big changes in supply there.

As well, we are hearing that:

The strike at the port isn’t necessarily going to shut down (auto) production, it’s just going to make the supply chain even more inefficient and increase costs.... Canada, as a manufacturing jurisdiction, we have to constantly compete with the United States and Mexico. And a critical component of being a competitive manufacturing jurisdiction is having a reliable trade infrastructure.

That was in the Financial Post.

We have seen action from the U.S. government in regard to the container shortage, but not here. Perhaps that is the reason why the Freight Management Association of Canada sent a letter to the Minister of Transport, using the example that, “pulse growers and lumber exporters are 'losing international sales' while shipping companies are sending empty containers back to Asia”.

One last example I will give of the strain on supply is right here in my hometown of Calgary. Bowcycle cannot import enough bicycles. Have members tried to buy a bicycle last spring or this spring? I have, for my son. They are almost impossible to come by, but these are the problems we are seeing as a result of the government's inability to handle supply chains and to handle our port capacity. That is why it was so critical that this deal get done.

Port backups are described as the worst ever, and delivery times are the longest in 20 years of data collection. In addition, a federal maritime commissioner described the west coast backups as the worst that we have ever seen.

Finally, I have the following quote:

In December, spot freight rates were 264% higher for the Asia to North Europe route, compared with a year ago, according to [a] risk intelligence solutions manager at [a] supply chain risk firm.... For the route from Asia to the West Coast of the U.S., rates are up 145% year over [last] year.

Again, we are seeing a decrease in supply, resulting in the cost of living being driven up as a result of the government's inability to handle its supply chains. Let us talk about the impacts, which I know that my colleague who spoke previously heard about, in terms of stakeholder quotes, as well as in conversations with stakeholders.

Karen Proud, CEO of Fertilizer Canada stated:

Hundreds of thousands of tonnes of fertilizer enter Canada through the Port of Montreal during the spring seeding season. These fertilizer products are destined for farms across [Ontario and Quebec and the Atlantic provinces] … and ensure that farmers are able to produce the crops that keep our grocery aisles full.

These products are now in jeopardy as the result of the strike at the Port of Montreal, so we are seeing the impact of the government's inability to manage the port's supply chains and, unfortunately, this dispute is having on our exporters.

Brad Chandler, CEO of Hensall Co-op stated that, “Hensall Co-op is Canada's largest exporter of edible dry beans and non-gmo soybeans.... We have established relationships with customers in over 40 countries.” These relationships are currently at extreme risk. That is what businesses need right now. They need certainty. They need stability through supply chains. The government is not providing the means for these exporters to have it and it is putting the economy at risk.

Greg Cherewyk, President of Pulse Canada said that, “it was imperative to avoid a labour disruption that would damage the Canadian pulse and special crops industry, our international reputation, and the wider economy.” That is another example of the failure of the government to manage supply chains and this dispute.

Finally, from Ron Lemaire, President of the Canadian Produce Marketing Association, “There is also significant concern that a labour stoppage at the Port of Montreal would aggravate backlogs in other shipping modes, including rail as shipments are forced to be diverted, particularly as Canada continues to grapple with the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is of utmost importance that the Government of Canada use every tool at its disposal to avoid job losses, increased food insecurity and higher food prices, all which could result from a strike.”

Let us talk then for a couple of minutes about processes and infrastructure of our supply chains which touch closer to the transport file.

KPMG recently made some recommendations in regards to how businesses can adapt to these supply chain challenges. What are businesses doing? They are examining micro supply chains. They are starting to reduce risks, rather than costs, which is a scary thought to consider that businesses are doing this. The KPMG CEO outlook survey indicated that around two-thirds of CEOs believe that their supply chains are in need of a complete redesign. The government should take note from these CEOs.

Many stakeholders believe that the government does not have a handle on its supply chains. Were I the minister of transport, my first task would be to map out all modes of these supply chains, so that we would understand completely where the faults lie. In addition, stakeholders believe that the government does not use data and metrics to the greatest benefit possible, in an effort to amplify and maximize our supply chains.

Finally I will go to infrastructure. In conversations with the Port of Vancouver, unfortunately, I must say that the expansion of the Port of Vancouver, which is so desperately needed, is currently under review with the current environmental minister. Increasing capacity is crucial. Many members of the Port of Vancouver board believe that they will run out of capacity by the mid-2020s. Our infrastructure capacity gap is growing and other countries believe that our ports do not have the capacity for the current demand of goods.

In closing, I will say that the government and the Prime Minister's actions have been too little, too late. I have seen it with the aviation sector. I have seen it with the supply chain capacity and, unfortunately, we have seen it here with the Port of Montreal dispute resolution.

Port of Montreal Operations Act, 2021Government Orders

April 28th, 2021 / 9:55 p.m.
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Conservative

Eric Melillo Conservative Kenora, ON

Madam Speaker, the member for Calgary Midnapore did a really good job of highlighting a lot of the concerns we have and a lot of the issues we have seen come up when it comes to the Liberal government's inaction. It has failed to move quickly on a number of concerns, and that is where I would like to pick up my question. Obviously, the government has truly failed to facilitate a negotiated settlement. It has had plenty of time to act, and it has failed to do so.

I am wondering if the member could speak a little more to her frustrations in that regard and to some of the concerns she has from seeing the government's failure to act, given how much time it has had to deal with this crisis.

Port of Montreal Operations Act, 2021Government Orders

April 28th, 2021 / 9:55 p.m.
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Conservative

Stephanie Kusie Conservative Calgary Midnapore, AB

Madam Speaker, the member for Kenora has done incredible work for the north. I have worked hand in hand with him on the northern airlines, and he has been a fantastic partner.

This is one of my greatest frustrations in my role as shadow minister for transport. I think we saw the greatest example of the government's inaction on this file in regards to coming up with a plan for the aviation sector and the workers. There is a similarity between the situation of the aviation workers and the situation of the workers at the Port of Montreal. There are no winners here. There are only losers.

Port of Montreal Operations Act, 2021Government Orders

April 28th, 2021 / 9:55 p.m.
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NDP

Alexandre Boulerice NDP Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague for her speech.

I am not sure that I share her point of view. If I recall correctly, in the Saskatchewan case, in 2015, the Supreme Court of Canada declared that the right to strike and to take job action is a fundamental right, even a constitutional right.

Why would my colleague want the Liberals to violate the constitutional rights of workers when pressure tactics are part of modern labour relations?

People should not have to avoid striking because it is inconvenient to others.

Port of Montreal Operations Act, 2021Government Orders

April 28th, 2021 / 9:55 p.m.
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Conservative

Stephanie Kusie Conservative Calgary Midnapore, AB

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question.

Unfortunately, I believe that there are similarities between the situation in the airline sector and the current strike. I also see similarities between this bill and Bill C-10. I absolutely agree with my colleague from Quebec. The current government finds it difficult to respect Canadians' rights, both the rights of individuals on the Internet and the rights of workers.

Port of Montreal Operations Act, 2021Government Orders

April 28th, 2021 / 10 p.m.
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Bloc

Louise Chabot Bloc Thérèse-De Blainville, QC

Madam Speaker, I am grateful for the opportunity to again express my great disappointment and bitterness that we should have to debate a bill this evening that is completely inappropriate and represents an extreme solution to a problem that could have been solved long before tonight.

Earlier I asked about the implications of the bill, which deals with fundamental rights, namely the right of association and its corollaries, the right to collective bargaining and the right to strike.

Once again, the government has failed to show leadership or interest and it did not present any solutions to the dispute, which could still have been resolved a few days ago, before the unlimited general strike was called. The government has failed to act. It decided to stand back and instead choose a legislative path that demeans workers and deprives them of their fundamental rights.

Members will understand that it is out of the question for our political party, the Bloc Québécois, to accept this so-called last resort based on the pretext that everything else has been tried, when we are firmly convinced that everything has not been tried.

Yesterday, we were at the eleventh hour. The course of events could still have been altered. The government says it is impartial and wants free bargaining, so it has to walk the talk and make sure workers regain the right to negotiate under conditions that are conducive to success.

Everyone is feeling the effects. When the parties have known for a month that cabinet has special legislation in the works as a solution to the inevitable, that sends a strong signal to the bargaining table and lets the employer know that it need not bother finding a solution to the dispute.

Special legislation was announced before workers even started their first strike day, and along with that announcement was one about mediation sessions. Yesterday evening, however, after the union did its duty and spent the whole day negotiating in defence of its position, the employer walked away from the bargaining table. That suggests a power imbalance between the parties, and we find that unacceptable.

I also want to point out that these 1,100 Port of Montreal workers are men and women who work many hours every day to ensure the well-being of the entire population, of all Quebeckers and Canadians. We need these workers. Any conversation about Quebec's or Canada's economy is also a conversation about these workers.

The Port of Montreal is a vital institution. It is also unique because, as we all know, it is Quebec's only container port. That makes the work these people do pretty important.

I want to say that they are watching tonight and wondering how we are going to take care of them. I would also like to take a few minutes to talk about these workers.

Do members know what a dock worker's job entails? Do they want to know what dock workers do?

I found something very interesting. It gives a good idea, a good picture. I will take the time to talk about it because, when we vote tonight, we should be thinking about dock workers.

In Port Window magazine, I found the following description: “Dockworker: a well-paying job that takes concentration and dexterity.” I want to talk about Manon Comtois, because there are also women in this trade. Here is what a day in her life looks like.

Wedged in the driver's seat in the glassed-in cab, between heaven and earth, her hands gripping levers, Manon Comtois keeps her eyes fixed on the container hanging from the long cable of her crane. She needs all her concentration as she lowers the heavy 40-foot long metal box into position, 20 metres [or 65 feet] below, onto the trailer of a truck that looks like a toy. All four corners of the container must absolutely and perfectly match the four corners of the trailer. Slowly … Click!

Even though she followed in her father's footsteps and became a longshoreman, she says that she is not doing the same job that he did in his day. She already has 21 years' experience. She added:

...before automated equipment came along, dock work was much more physically difficult. To unload a ship, the longshoremen had only the strength of their two arms. Cargo arrived in bulk, in bags or in wooden boxes. It took weeks to empty a vessel. Now unloading time is calculated in hours!

...The tasks are many and varied.... The biggest challenge in the dock work profession...is the scheduling. A dockworker must be available 19 days out of 21 and may have to work an eight-hour shift at any time of the day or night. Loading and unloading vessels can be done 24/7 depending on when the vessels calls at the port. Freight transport doesn't wait! The difficulties directly related to performing the tasks are the whims of Mother Nature...

This shows that the dispute at the Port of Montreal is not about wages or benefits, but about hours of work, work-life balance and the right to disconnect.

Angelo Soares, a well-known professor in Quebec, conducted a study on these workers and looked at their work and their working conditions. It is unfathomable that, in the age of automation, workers are required to call in to get their shift schedule and are required to work 19 out of 21 days, and those two days off are not guaranteed to be a weekend. How are they supposed to plan for anything with that kind of schedule?

I am sharing this because I want to reiterate that our focus needs to be on these workers. This is their fight. They sounded alarm after alarm about the need to resolve the problem, and then there was that disgraceful move during negotiations. After they signed a truce and negotiations resumed, there was one last offer from management, which 99% of the workers rejected. More than 90% of the 1,100 members voted. The workers made it clear that the solutions put forward were not acceptable. Did the union threaten to call a general strike then? No, it did not.

In the chronology of events, we forget that the employer was so scared that it tried to seek an injunction just in case. The longshoremen did not trigger the strike.

The union called a full general strike recently because its priorities were work-life balance and the employer had to nerve to impose a measure to change work schedules during negotiations and while the collective agreement still applied.

Yes, the longshoremen were outraged. They announced that they would go on a full general strike, but that they were prepared not to if the employer dropped this measure. That is not nothing.

Since yesterday and the day before, the Bloc Québécois have been saying that there is a solution for resuming free, unconstrained bargaining without fear of back-to-work legislation. Departmental representatives confirmed that, according to their interpretation, the legislation that was introduced would prevent management from imposing such measures. If that was the government's intention, it could have easily taken action. It claimed that its hands were tied.

It could have easily forced the employer to lift this measure. The longshoremen would have been back to work today if the government had the will to find a solution. Instead it raised the threat of special legislation that would force them back to work and impose conditions as well as mediation and arbitration. That does not necessarily promote free bargaining. A solution was available to the government.

Workers in Canada fought for a very long time to get freedom of association, the right to negotiate freely and the right to resort to job action. In turn, the employer has the right to declare a lockout. The Canada Labour Code is outdated and does not adequately protect workers. The Canada Labour Code gives the employer the right to lock out.

Quebec dealt with that issue in 1977, and that right no longer exists. The right to disconnect has to be included in the Canada Labour Code. We must also improve conditions for precarious workers and on-call workers who have to work long hours unsupervised. Employees who do not comply with these requirements are subject to disciplinary measures. It is time to change that. We have to recognize that the rights that are being violated today are basic rights that must not be taken lightly.

There have been crises. Recently, there was the rail crisis, which had repercussions for CN. Pressure had to be applied to the government to intervene and find solutions because the situation was unacceptable. The goal always has to be finding a way out of the crisis, but this evening, the government wants us to pass a bill that will not only fail to resolve the situation, but also violate some very important rights.

As others have said, if the government champions free, informed, impartial negotiation, it has to demonstrate impartiality.

What does it mean to be impartial? Passing special back-to-work legislation in a situation where bargaining would ensure these rights and would allow workers to negotiate freely is tantamount to picking one side over the other.

If that is what happens tonight, I would describe it as a cowardly act, and I apologize for the strong language. It would mean abdicating our fundamental role as parliamentarians, which is to be the guardians of the rights of the entire population, including workers.

I appeal to my colleagues and remind them that this can be avoided by voting against the special legislation. We must not wash our hands of the problem. Instead, we must focus on possible solutions. If the government, the Prime Minister or even the Minister of Labour had intervened without taking sides at the first sign of trouble, there would have been possible solutions.

When both parties sit down, say what is wrong and a message is sent, and the experienced negotiators say nothing can be done, that is the time to act. The government has had plenty of opportunities to take action since the end of last year's truce. We deplore this lax attitude and lack of leadership.

This bill makes no sense and denies dock workers their rights. Tonight's bill will not send Port of Montreal dock workers back to work in a spirit of co-operation to do a good job; rather, it will just be strong-arming them. I do not think we have the right to force these employees back to work when there is no reason for it and there are other solutions available.

If we want to make sure that the Port of Montreal gets back up and running like everyone wants, let us reject this bill. Let us vote for a solution that involves free bargaining. Let us give the parties the tools to go back to work with a good balance of power, rather than giving all the power to one party.

Port of Montreal Operations Act, 2021Government Orders

April 28th, 2021 / 10:15 p.m.
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NDP

Rachel Blaney NDP North Island—Powell River, BC

Madam Speaker, the member was very thoughtful in her words. The right to strike is a pillar that has taken years to build, and we must absolutely protect it. It is a right for workers to improve their conditions of employment and their wages, and creates important things for our whole economy.

Could the member share her thoughts on how this bill could impact and weaken the gains for which workers have fought hard for so many years?

Port of Montreal Operations Act, 2021Government Orders

April 28th, 2021 / 10:15 p.m.
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Bloc

Louise Chabot Bloc Thérèse-De Blainville, QC

Madam Speaker, this bill will have a major impact. The government is forcing a return to work with conditions that are not the same as those discussed in the negotiations.

The member is quite right in saying that what was accomplished in Canada was historic. Workers fought to improve their rights, which are even recognized by major conventions and by the International Labour Organization. This is a hard-fought battle that dates back over 100 years. That is significant.

We cannot overlook everything these and other workers bring to our economy. That is true of all workers. We have the responsibility and the obligation to protect vested rights.

The impact would be that the employees would be forced back to work. This will have a major impact on quality, motivation and not even—

Port of Montreal Operations Act, 2021Government Orders

April 28th, 2021 / 10:20 p.m.
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Liberal

Mark Gerretsen Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

Madam Speaker, I was saying that I would completely agree that the work that is being done by these workers is incredibly important to our economic activity, which is what the member was saying in response to the last question. However, what about the other impacts? What about the farmers who are saying that it is going to impact their abilities to do their work? What about small businesses, when they refer to the impacts this will have on their businesses?

Is it not the role of parliamentarians to look at the whole picture, to consider everything that is involved and to consider the rights of workers and their contributions, but also the other ways this impacts society and our economy?

Port of Montreal Operations Act, 2021Government Orders

April 28th, 2021 / 10:20 p.m.
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Bloc

Louise Chabot Bloc Thérèse-De Blainville, QC

Madam Speaker, the role of parliamentarians is to look at the bigger picture.

We need to think about restaurant workers, farm workers, temporary workers and workers at the the Port of Montreal. There is an economic chain, and everyone is part of it. It is an integrated system, which is precisely why we need to make sure that these rights are protected. Protecting them will ensure that the economy keeps moving, which is important.

While we do not deny the economic ramifications of this situation, it simply does not justify reverting back to where we were 100 years ago in order to fix the issues, which can indeed be fixed.