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 / 10:55 p.m.
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NDP

Scott Duvall NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

Madam Speaker, I agree with my colleague.

That Liberal member has asked, during his questions and in his speech, what the role of a parliamentarian is. I look at the role of parliamentarians as being to uphold the Constitution. I truly believe that for the minister to take away workers' rights before a strike even happens is an abuse of her role as Minister of Labour and a direct attack on our Constitution.

Port of Montreal Operations Act, 2021Government Orders

April 28th, 2021 / 10:55 p.m.
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Conservative

Tako Van Popta Conservative Langley—Aldergrove, BC

Madam Speaker, I am going to ask a non-hypothetical question.

I have constituents in my riding of Langley—Aldergrove who are being negatively impacted by the labour disruption in the Port of Montreal. I have constituents who have perishable goods tied up in the port strike.

What would the member say to them? What answer would he have for them? My constituents have a right to make a living too.

Port of Montreal Operations Act, 2021Government Orders

April 28th, 2021 / 10:55 p.m.
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NDP

Scott Duvall NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

Madam Speaker, they sure do. I totally agree with the question. However, the workers have a right also. They have the right to have fair working conditions.

Would the member say it is not okay for his constituents to be out of pocket or interfered with, but that it is okay for 1,120 workers to take abuse where they work and for them to not be able to improve their working conditions?

Port of Montreal Operations Act, 2021Government Orders

April 28th, 2021 / 10:55 p.m.
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NDP

Scott Duvall NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

Madam Speaker, yes, I have been assured that even in 2020 there was an agreement to make sure those medical supplies would be unloaded, and that is even on record. I have also heard from the union that this would happen again. It would make sure that nothing would stop these medical supplies from being offloaded to make sure Canadians would be safe.

Port of Montreal Operations Act, 2021Government Orders

April 28th, 2021 / 11 p.m.
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Vaughan—Woodbridge Ontario

Liberal

Francesco Sorbara LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Revenue

Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to see all my hon. colleagues this evening during the very important debate. I would like to inform the House I will be splitting my time with my hon. colleague and friend, the member of Parliament for Alfred-Pellan.

The government is aware of the serious harm and potentially long-lasting effects to the Canadian economy being caused by the ongoing work stoppage at the Port of Montreal. It is also aware that the work stoppage is jeopardizing the economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and its associated lockdowns. We know that Canadians need the parties to find a resolution as quickly as possible. Nothing about the collective bargaining between CUPE Local 375 and the MEA, the Maritime Employers Association, has been quick.

The parties have been negotiating the renewal of their collective agreement for approximately 30 months now. During this time, they have engaged in protracted litigation to determine which activities needed to be maintained in the event of a work stoppage, held over 100 bargaining sessions supported by federal mediators and had multiple work stoppages.

Despite this long history and the ongoing work stoppage at the Port of Montreal, the parties have been unable to resolve their differences and conclude very importantly a new collective agreement. That is why the government is left with no other choice but to introduce legislation that will end the ongoing work stoppage and prevent further disruptions, resolve all matters that are in dispute between the parties, and establish a new collective agreement.

The government does not take this decision lightly, but we must act in the best interest of Canadians and Canadian businesses. 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. It is part of the critical economic infrastructure upon which Canadians and Canadian businesses rely.

What does all this mean for Canadians and Canadian businesses? I will explain. Even before the strike action began, there was a decrease in container volumes at the port worth $30 million per week for the month of March 2021, as compared to the prior year. The partial work stoppage reduced port capacity by approximately 30%, representing lost cargo volumes worth an estimated $90 million per week. The situation has deteriorated into a full work stoppage, which is now impeding the flow of approximately $270 million per week in cargo through the port.

In addition, there are significant risks that this work stoppage will deepen the reputational harm caused by the strikes in the summer of 2020 and create ongoing uncertainty. Even before this latest work stoppage began on April 13, we saw several companies diverting their cargo from the Port of Montreal. According to Sophie Roux, vice-president at the Montreal Port Authority, several Quebec and Ontario companies, such as Olymel, Resolute Forest Products, Société des Alcools du Québec and Dollarama, started using new routes to import or export their goods and containers back in February as the end of the truce neared. Temporary diversions could easily become permanent ones, which would result in long-lasting negative effects on the port and the integrated transportation system around it.

In March, the Shipping Federation of Canada voiced its concerns that once logistics chains are reorganized around other hubs, including those in the United States, it will be difficult to reestablish arrangements through the port. The federation believes that a port strike would have dire, long-lasting consequences.

In the wake of the parties each giving 72 hours notice for job action, the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters expressed serious apprehension with the looming work stoppage. In its press release issued on April 12, the organization stated, “The uncertainty caused by this labour dispute has had financial impacts on Canadian manufacturers and exporters, and the partial strike risks hurting the sector even more.” It also noted that this work stoppage, “will further impact an already fragile manufacturing supply chain, particularly in Quebec and Ontario.” It continued that, “As governments are investing billions of dollars to restart the economy, it doesn't make any sense to allow a slowdown of operations at the Port of Montreal.”

As the stoppage continues, many sectors of the economy that depend on cargo transitioning through the port will find it difficult to function. I ask members to consider, for example, the Forest Products Association of Canada. Exporters face serious delays and increased costs to move products through other busy ports. They also indicate that it took that portion of the supply chain three months to recover from that strike.

It is reasonable to expect similar impacts this time. Prior to the beginning of this work stoppage, stakeholders in the forestry industry indicated that another work stoppage in the port would present the same significant challenges and costs for the forest industry.

In addition, several agrifood stakeholders have indicated that the work stoppage is damaging their ability to ship containerized agricultural products and is causing harm to Canada's reputation as a reliable exporter of agricultural products. Reputation is everything. Food producers also indicated that they had rerouted their exports to other Canadian and U.S. ports prior to the beginning of the work stoppage, something we do not want to see.

As members can see, the effects are wide ranging and the overall impact would be devastating were this work stoppage to continue, particularly as we continue to navigate the impacts of the ongoing pandemic and the associated lockdowns that have dealt such a blow to the economies around the world, including Canada's.

Back-to-work legislation is a last resort and not something this government takes lightly, but we also have a responsibility, again, to Canadians and Canadian businesses across the country. We must act in the best interests of Canadians and Canadian businesses. As the parties remain unable to come to a new collective agreement, we believe this is the best course of action. Members can rest assured we will continue to support the parties through every means possible.

Port of Montreal Operations Act, 2021Government Orders

April 28th, 2021 / 11:05 p.m.
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Bloc

Louise Chabot Bloc Thérèse-De Blainville, QC

Madam Speaker, my colleague spoke about Canada's reputation.

Does he think that Canada's reputation will grow if we tell workers that the right to strike means nothing, if we ask them to keep working, if we tell them that we do not care about the employer's arbitrary decisions and that they cannot do anything about them? That would give Canada a great reputation.

What message is the government sending to workers about Canada's reputation and their right to protest arbitrary decisions made during negotiations?

Port of Montreal Operations Act, 2021Government Orders

April 28th, 2021 / 11:05 p.m.
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Liberal

Francesco Sorbara Liberal Vaughan—Woodbridge, ON

Madam Speaker, collective bargaining and collective bargaining negotiations are obviously a pillar of the country, a pillar of democracy for that matter, and this legislation is only used in exceptional circumstances. However, I would also like to add that the worst thing I would hate to see is for shipping companies to choose the Port of Long Beach or Port Newark to bring their products into North America, and then have them rerouted via rail into Canada if that is the case. I would hate to see jobs lost and our reputation for certainty for businesses. We saw it when the Suez Canal was blocked.

Ships go throughout the world and bring products everywhere, including to Canada. We must provide certainty to those shipping companies, we must provide certainty to the workers and we must provide certainty to our businesses.

Port of Montreal Operations Act, 2021Government Orders

April 28th, 2021 / 11:05 p.m.
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NDP

Richard Cannings NDP South Okanagan—West Kootenay, BC

Madam Speaker, I have heard a couple of Liberals say this evening that they would like the parties to reach an agreement before the bill is passed. Workers have only one tool they can use when they have to stand up for fair pay or a safe workplace, and that tool is to withdraw their labour. When government takes away that right, it removes any pressure on the employer to bargain in good faith, the government takes the side of the employer.

How can the government justify this draconian action when the strike has barely begun?

Port of Montreal Operations Act, 2021Government Orders

April 28th, 2021 / 11:05 p.m.
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Liberal

Francesco Sorbara Liberal Vaughan—Woodbridge, ON

Madam Speaker, I would disagree with much of what the hon. member has said.

This process allows for a neutral mediation arbitrator to be appointed. Actually, if the parties could agree, the individual would be appointed by them on their joint agreement or by the minister if that is not possible. There is an arbitration process involved and many opportunities with respect to labour proceedings have occurred. Strike is not the only process to exercise an individual or worker's right.

There is an aspect of the importance of ports in Canada, which is really an essential service. They are vital for our economy and supply chains. We understand how important supply chains are across this world. The pandemic has re-emphasized that situation, and we must ensure that Canadians and Canadian businesses can continue to operate and not be disrupted in this manner.

Port of Montreal Operations Act, 2021Government Orders

April 28th, 2021 / 11:10 p.m.
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Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Madam Speaker, my hon. friend referenced the Suez Canal blockage and, yes, it was an extraordinary thing to see. Who knew there were 400-metre-long ships that could block the Suez Canal? That lasted six days.

I am distressed that the government has moved so quickly. The strike was provoked by the employer. It began just a couple of days ago. Certainly, the damages that are being described to our economy would be significant were the port to be closed for several weeks, but why move so fast and deny the workers their right to strike?

Port of Montreal Operations Act, 2021Government Orders

April 28th, 2021 / 11:10 p.m.
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Liberal

Francesco Sorbara Liberal Vaughan—Woodbridge, ON

Madam Speaker, the two parties have been in negotiations for, I believe, over two years, or 30 months to be exact. They have been unable to reach an agreement, with very little movement shown in progress. It is imperative that the government take action when it is needed. This is something that measures that bar with respect to the Canadian economy.

We cannot allow a supply chain to be break down. We have already seen shipping companies reroute their containers to other ports. That has a negative impact for the workforce in Montreal, for workers in Canada, and it is also a negative impact for businesses with respect to our supply chain. We need to maintain that certainty. We want to work and encourage the parties to reach a new collective agreement. This will be a step in that process for them to reach a new collective agreement using a mediator/arbitrator to enter the negotiations at that level.

Port of Montreal Operations Act, 2021Government Orders

April 28th, 2021 / 11:10 p.m.
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Liberal

Angelo Iacono Liberal Alfred-Pellan, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank my hon. colleague for his speech.

I rise today to explain why our government introduced Bill C-29 to end the conflict between the Syndicat des débardeurs, or CUPE Local 375, and the Maritime Employers Association, or MEA.

I think that we would all be extremely relieved if this labour dispute were resolved rapidly and without government intervention. Canadians count on their federal government to protect the most vulnerable and help the men and women who need it most. The work stoppage is devastating for our economy, and the government has a responsibility to act on behalf of all Canadians and to make decisions based on the common good and the safety of all.

Throughout the collective bargaining between CUPE Local 375 and the MEA, we have constantly supported and encouraged the parties to reach an agreement that works for both sides. However, despite our efforts, the parties have not been able to resolve their differences.

The Port of Montreal is central to the economic well-being of Canadians from coast to coast, especially in Quebec and Ontario. The port is an essential link in the supply chain of raw materials and various products that are shipped in containers between Canada and the United States.

The Port of Montreal is the second-largest container port in Canada. Every year it handles over 1.6 million 20-foot units and 35 million tonnes of cargo, representing approximately $40 billion in goods. It is a major entry point for essential containerized imported goods for the Quebec and Ontario markets. We are talking about construction materials, pharmaceuticals, food products and other critical goods for the pharmaceutical and food industries.

The port’s competitive advantages include its proximity to central Canadian markets, efficient rail links and timely trucking operations. About 40 million consumers live within a day’s drive by truck, and 70 million more can be reached in two days by train. It is estimated that the port’s activities create more than 19,000 direct and indirect jobs and generate about $2.6 billion annually in economic benefits.

During last year’s strike at the Port of Montreal in August, desperate business owners in my riding called me. Alex is in construction, Marco is in the food industry, Jacques works in maintenance, Luc is in agriculture and Kathy is in metallurgy. Not only did they have to deal with the pandemic’s devastating impacts on their operations, but they are now losing clients and contracts because their containers are stuck at the port as a result of the strike and they cannot fulfill their obligations to their clients.

As one business owner in my riding put it so well:

“Businesses are losing money hourly. We are on track to gaining back what we lost through the pandemic, but now we are losing clients at an uncontrollable rate. The business community is held hostage by the union and it will be devastating to the economy. The strike will wipe out all the work done to overcome COVID-19. Businesses can't absorb anymore. This is a do or die for many small businesses. I respect the union's right to strike, but what about the right of small business owners, who depend on Maritime Cargo to meet the obligations of their business and thus continue to feed their families, pay the employees and sustain our community. Businesses expect action from the government.”

It should be noted in the summer of 2020 four strikes led to costly cargo hijacking and far from the table confrontations that led to arrests. The uncertainty regarding operations at the Port of Montreal could cause long-term damage to the Canadian economy, particularly in Quebec and Ontario.

With another work stoppage, it is again containerized products, including essential goods like pharmaceuticals and other commodities such as food, forestry and metal products, that are affected. Along with this work stoppage comes the diversion of cargos by other ports, including Halifax and Saint John and the ports on the east coast of the United States. Some diversions could become permanent. This could lead to a drop in demand for related rail and truck transport services. It could also lead to continued economic damage when the conflict ends.

This is why the government is taking legislative measures that would force the parties to resume and continue their activities in the Port of Montreal, while continuing the talks at the negotiation table.

This bill, once it receives royal assent, will immediately put an end to the work stoppage and ensure the continuation of all operations at the Port of Montreal.

It will also extend the most recent collective agreement until a new one is negotiated. It also provides for the appointment of an impartial mediator-arbitrator to help both parties resolve outstanding issues. Because the impartiality of the person selected must be ensured, if both parties cannot agree on one individual, the Minister of Labour will appoint a person of her choice.

The mediator-arbitrator will have the double duty of helping the parties resolve outstanding issues through mediation or, if mediation fails and the parties are unable to agree on a new collective agreement, through an arbitration method of his or her choice. Mediation will last for 14 days, after which all outstanding matters will be decided upon by the arbitrator.

The new collective agreement that this process will result in will include the unamended provisions of the former collective agreement, every decision rendered by the arbitrator and every agreement entered into by the parties at any point in the current round of collective bargaining. Nothing in the bill precludes the parties from coming to an agreement on any topic or entering into a new collective agreement before the mediator-arbitrator renders a final decision. The mediator-arbitrator will have 90 days to conclude the arbitration process and establish a new collective agreement.

I sincerely hope that the parties will come to an agreement before we have to vote on this bill, but we cannot afford to wait. We must act now. We are really sorry that we had to table the bill, because we firmly believe that a negotiated settlement is always the best solution. However, we have a responsibility to Canadians and to businesses which drive our economy. When the consequences of a work stoppage are gravely detrimental to our country, we must act in the best interest of all.

After having exhausted all other options, we believe that this back-to-work legislation is the only one left.

Therefore, I urge all members to support this bill, because Canadians and businesses count on us to end this labour dispute.

Port of Montreal Operations Act, 2021Government Orders

April 28th, 2021 / 11:20 p.m.
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Bloc

Xavier Barsalou-Duval Bloc Pierre-Boucher—Les Patriotes—Verchères, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened to my colleague's speech and even to the previous speech. What I gather is that it is all about business. I did not hear the word “workers” very often in those speeches. There is not much consideration for workers. It is unfortunate since they are the ones unloading the cargo. They are the ones working in the port of Montreal.

Let us go back in time a bit and take a look at how things evolved. First, there was a unilateral change in work schedules by the employer in the midst of negotiations. That is such a good start.

Second, workers replied that if the employer was to do that, then they would go on strike because they want to maintain the quality of their work.

Third, the government threatened to pass legislation if there was to be a strike.

Fourth, the government said it would table special legislation and that such a move would help with negotiations. There has not even been a single day of strike yet.

Last night, the employer just walked away after seeing the special legislation being tabled.

Is this not a bit like bad high school theatre, and in the end—

Port of Montreal Operations Act, 2021Government Orders

April 28th, 2021 / 11:20 p.m.
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Liberal

Angelo Iacono Liberal Alfred-Pellan, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member across the way for his question.

For more than two and a half years, our government has been providing the Syndicat des débardeurs, also known as CUPE Local 375, and the Maritime Employers Association with significant support to help them come to an agreement, including 100 mediated negotiation sessions.

The Port of Montreal is essential to the economic vitality of Quebec. I know that, because many companies from Alfred-Pellan do business with the port. Nevertheless, I want to emphasize that the work stoppage at the port is causing considerable and potentially lasting damage to the economy of Montreal, Quebec and Canada. It is also putting additional pressure on supply chains that are already strained due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Businesses in Laval are worried and increasingly stressed about the situation. They are already having a hard time trying to recover from the consequences of the pandemic, and now they have to deal with the issues at the Port of Montreal.

I want to be clear that we take no pleasure in bringing this bill forward.

Port of Montreal Operations Act, 2021Government Orders

April 28th, 2021 / 11:20 p.m.
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NDP

Peter Julian NDP New Westminster—Burnaby, BC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague just forgot that the employer, which is represented by five multi-billion-dollar corporations that control a huge share of the global freight industry, violated the collective agreement four times.

This is no mere labour dispute. This is about an employer that, in bad faith, systematically violated and ripped up the collective agreement. The government did absolutely nothing. Now that the workers, the Port of Montreal longshore workers, are trying to protect their rights, the government is taking the employer's side, deciding this has to stop and asking workers to give up their rights.

My question is very simple. When did the government inform the employer, these huge corporations, that it wanted to intervene in their favour?