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 / 11:25 p.m.
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Liberal

Angelo Iacono Liberal Alfred-Pellan, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague opposite for his question.

I would like to inform him that the government strongly believes that free collective bargaining is a cornerstone of a productive working relationship between the two parties. The federal mediation and conciliation service has been working with the parties, but their inability to reach an agreement resulted in a partial work stoppage at the Port of Montreal from April 13 to 26 and an unlimited general strike since then.

I want to assure the member that the government has been there every step of the way and will continue to be there. However, we believe the government must act when all other avenues are exhausted and a labour dispute is causing significant economic harm to Canadians.

Port of Montreal Operations Act, 2021Government Orders

April 28th, 2021 / 11:25 p.m.
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Conservative

Luc Berthold Conservative Mégantic—L'Érable, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will share my time with the excellent member for Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry.

Like many Canadians, I am deeply troubled by the labour dispute that started at the Port of Montreal. I am especially disappointed in the Liberal government's nonchalance, considering that it had months to help the parties negotiate a solution.

This is not a first for this government, which also took its time alerting Canadians to the imminent arrival of the pandemic, closing the borders when the pandemic hit, supplying rapid tests and negotiating a stable vaccine supply. Even now, it is slow to close the borders. This Prime Minister does not have the leadership skills to manage crises well. He was slow to resolve the rail blockades, and now, a labour dispute at the Port of Montreal is forcing him to react.

I would like to help the Prime Minister understand why longshore workers are essential to our country. The Port of Montreal is vital to the Canadian economy. It has been described as the beating heart not only of Quebec but of all of eastern Canada, Ontario and Quebec.

The Port of Montreal is the second-busiest port in Canada. It handles cargo from 140 countries, serves as a logistical ecosystem for more than 63,000 businesses, and provides essential goods to more than 6,300 Quebec businesses.

These 6,300 Quebec businesses depend directly on the Port of Montreal to continue operating. We are not talking about big multinationals but about small and medium-sized businesses across Quebec that depend on operations continuing at the Port of Montreal.

The port supports the regional and national economies. It generated $2.6 billion in added value for the economy in 2019. Nineteen thousand people are directly or indirectly employed in handling 1.7 million containers annually.

Since 2020, almost 17 million metric tonnes of cargo have entered and left the port, in spite of the COVID-19 pandemic. Before the pandemic, the numbers were even more impressive. More than double that metric tonnage of cargo was handled by the Port of Montreal alone.

Let us go back a bit further. Since 2016, 12,000 ships have stopped at the port, for a total gross tonnage of $245 million. To put that in perspective, that means that the port receives more than 2,000 ships every year, 2,500 transport trucks every day and 60 to 80 freight trains every week. It handles $275 million in goods every day.

It does not take an expert in logistics or shipping to know that these numbers make the Port of Montreal an extremely important player in the transportation of goods and materials around the world, while contributing to the Canadian economy.

The importance of the port does not stop at the circulation of goods and materials. The port also plays a key role in welcoming cruise ships. Some 439,000 cruise ship passengers and crew members have gone through the Port of Montreal since 2016. Seventeen cruise ship companies are currently operating out of the port, and 76 international vessels visited the Port of Montreal as a port of call in 2019 alone.

The Port of Montreal's international reputation is extremely important in terms of both freight and passengers and visitors. It is clear to everyone that the Port of Montreal is an irreplaceable asset for Canada's regional and national economies.

It is not as though the Prime Minister did not foresee what might happen or was unable to prevent it. In August 2020, 1,100 port workers went on strike to protest the fact that they were working without a contract. At that time, the strike prevented the shipment of 90,000 containers and 325,000 tonnes of dry bulk. Industries like mining and forestry were particularly hard-hit by the strike. Many small businesses in my riding of Mégantic—L'Érable were negatively affected.

According to a recent press release from the Montreal Port Authority, the August work stoppage caused approximately $600 million in losses over a two-month period. Fortunately, that strike ended after 19 days, when the Maritime Employers Association and the Canadian Union of Public Employees, which is affiliated with the FTQ, agreed to a seven-month truce to negotiate a resolution.

That was the exact moment when the government had the opportunity to intervene. The federal government could have thrown all of its weight and influence into ensuring that the parties reached a negotiated agreement. That was when ministers should have taken an interest in what was happening at the Port of Montreal. The government should not just have sent mediators. Ministers should have gone to the Port of Montreal and met with the parties to show that they cared about the Port of Montreal's contribution to the economy. However, that did not happen. The government let things go and let the parties drift apart. As a result, we are here tonight to vote on special back-to-work legislation.

Canadians cannot and should not have to suffer the disastrous consequences of the government's inability to take advantage of the seven-month truce signed last summer. This is even more true when we consider the fact that our country has been hit very hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.

A Montreal market research firm said that the Canadian economy could lose $10 million to $25 million for every day that work is disrupted at the Port of Montreal. As a result of the strike last summer, $600 million in sales was lost, 80,000 containers were not able to be processed and 20 ships were diverted to competing ports. This undermines the Port of Montreal's international reputation.

I will give an example. Canada's fertilizer industry is one of the industries at risk of once again being significantly affected by the work stoppage at the Port of Montreal. Hundreds of thousands of tonnes of fertilizer pass through the port during the spring planting season, which is right now. Farms across Quebec and Atlantic Canada need this fertilizer to grow the foods that make their way to grocery stores everywhere, including Thetford Mines.

After a prolonged strike, food insecurity could become a real problem in eastern Canada and across the country. This is not what we want. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, supply chains around the world have been greatly affected. The last thing Canadians need is even more uncertainty due to a labour dispute at the Port of Montreal. Many small and medium-sized businesses have already warned that they will have to slow down production and lay off workers if the strike at the Port of Montreal continues.

The executive director of the Association du camionnage du Québec is also worried about the inevitable bottlenecks that will occur once the workers' strike is over. The docks could be filled with ships still waiting to be loaded, preventing new container ships from docking. The resulting costs would inevitably be passed on to consumers, who are already paying dearly for the inflation we are all currently experiencing, particularly when it comes to building materials and food.

We have already seen this kind of bottleneck situation in Canada, during the rail blockades that took place last year. It seems like such a long time ago, but it was just last year. Because products could not be moved from the ports of Vancouver and Halifax, ships were eventually diverted to American ports. As a result, the Canadian economy was deprived of the benefits of shipping activity in its own ports.

As I mentioned, Canadians are unfortunately already familiar with the negative impacts of disruptions caused by interruptions in supply chains.

Last year, the Parliamentary Budget Officer indicated that the rail service disruptions cost the economy $275 million and that businesses' profits would be $130 million lower than usual. I am not just referring to multinationals, but also to small businesses in all regions of Canada and Quebec.

Billions of dollars in goods were delayed because of the blockades. Millions of tonnes of grain were trapped in the Prairies, and Canada's forestry sector suffered very heavy losses. It was hell. This evening, we must talk about the 2020 rail blockades to illustrate the impact that disruptions in the supply chain can have on Canada's economy and Canadians' lives.

It is shameful to have another labour dispute affecting our supply chain.

The strike at the Port of Montreal could and should have been prevented. As was the case with the rail blockade, this government does not understand how Canada's economy operates. It is unable to act at the right time, and it reacts when it is too late. It is obvious that a solution—

Port of Montreal Operations Act, 2021Government Orders

April 28th, 2021 / 11:35 p.m.
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Bloc

Louise Chabot Bloc Thérèse-De Blainville, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for his speech. I broadly agree with him on the lack of leadership, predictability and action on the part of the government, which could have solved the problem instead of lying low.

Tonight, the opposition parties have an opportunity to show some leadership and to vote for or against the legislation. Does my colleague agree that the members should vote against the legislation and dedicate themselves to resolving the dispute?

Port of Montreal Operations Act, 2021Government Orders

April 28th, 2021 / 11:35 p.m.
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Conservative

Luc Berthold Conservative Mégantic—L'Érable, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to acknowledge the longshoremen of the Port of Montreal, as well as the Maritime Employers Association or MEA. They are essential to our economy, and their role is more important than ever, as we are going through the difficult period of the COVID-19 pandemic.

I hope that the measures that the government puts in place tonight, which that we will support, will allow the two parties, the longshoremen and MEA, to come to an agreement. I am counting on the two parties to build the prosperity of the Port of Montreal and the whole economy associated with it in all regions of Quebec. It is important to protect the economy in all regions of Canada, Quebec and Ontario.

Port of Montreal Operations Act, 2021Government Orders

April 28th, 2021 / 11:35 p.m.
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NDP

Alexandre Boulerice NDP Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his speech. Does he not recognize that, since the right to strike has been recognized as a fundamental right by the Supreme Court of Canada, it is not possible to simply decide that it does not exist anymore, just because it is bothersome and has consequences for society?

If it is indeed a fundamental right and if that right allows workers to use job action to achieve a negotiated solution, we must allow free negotiation to take place and not intervene as the Liberals are doing.

Port of Montreal Operations Act, 2021Government Orders

April 28th, 2021 / 11:35 p.m.
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Conservative

Luc Berthold Conservative Mégantic—L'Érable, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is the Liberal government's inability to be proactive that is forcing us to pass legislation that is going to take away the workers' right to strike.

Could the government have acted sooner and differently when major problems started to arise between the parties? That much is obvious. However, the minister never showed up in Montreal to negotiate and put the pressure on. Nothing like that happened. It is because of this incompetence and extreme foot-dragging that we are here in the middle of the night about to bring in special legislation.

Port of Montreal Operations Act, 2021Government Orders

April 28th, 2021 / 11:40 p.m.
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Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, whenever we hear people speak tonight who favour this legislation, they make much of the fact that the negotiations between the employer and the union have gone on for years. That is not at all unusual. I remind the members here of how long our workers at the House of Commons worked without a contract: four years, and that was with us, our House of Commons management and very loyal and brave workers including our Parliamentary Protective Service officers who risked their lives to protect us on October 14, 2018.

Is the hon. member so unfamiliar with labour negotiations that he thinks it is significant that they have been negotiating for two years?

Port of Montreal Operations Act, 2021Government Orders

April 28th, 2021 / 11:40 p.m.
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Conservative

Luc Berthold Conservative Mégantic—L'Érable, QC

Mr. Speaker, the main issue here is that the Liberals' inability to settle the dispute and help the parties come to an agreement is forcing us to bring in special legislation tonight.

The aim of this special legislation is to help not the big corporations that own the Port of Montreal but all the small businesses throughout every region of Quebec and eastern Canada, including Ontario. Food producers could be prevented from getting essential goods during a very difficult time for our economy. We are still in the middle of a pandemic, and something must be done.

I absolutely deplore the fact that the government was unable to act as an honest broker to help the parties come to an agreement before we got to this point.

Port of Montreal Operations Act, 2021Government Orders

April 28th, 2021 / 11:40 p.m.
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Conservative

Richard Lehoux Conservative Beauce, QC

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate my colleague for his heartfelt speech.

This crisis has impacted many other workers, including in the agri-food processing sector in my riding. Over 80% of production is exported through the Port of Montreal.

We talk a lot about the workers at the port, but there are also factory workers who are being laid off because of this situation.

Port of Montreal Operations Act, 2021Government Orders

April 28th, 2021 / 11:40 p.m.
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Conservative

Luc Berthold Conservative Mégantic—L'Érable, QC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague from Beauce is quite right.

That is what I have been saying from the beginning. The labour dispute at the Port of Montreal has an impact on the economy, not only of Montreal and the surrounding area, but of all regions of Quebec, including the ridings of Beauce, Mégantic—L'Érable and Richmond—Arthabaska. These repercussions will be felt in all of our regions.

It is so disappointing that it has come to this. The Liberals have been incapable of doing their job. The ministers did not intervene when they should have, to the detriment of the workers at the Port of Montreal, who could have reached a negotiated settlement if only the government had taken a stand.

Port of Montreal Operations Act, 2021Government Orders

April 28th, 2021 / 11:40 p.m.
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Conservative

Eric Duncan Conservative Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to have the opportunity to rise in the House tonight, speaking specifically to the back-to-work legislation for the Port of Montreal. I am pleased to provide a perspective as an Ontario MP, for many of my constituents, businesses and farms that rely on the viability of the port in my part of eastern Ontario. Some parts are only an hour or two away from the port, depending on their part of the riding.

Members have heard me speak in the House several times over the course of the last few months. As a new parliamentarian coming here in the class of 2019, I am judging as constructively as I can the government's performance on numerous files. We have seen the government, and I have said this many times, talk a good game. They say the right things and they have good intentions, but unfortunately we see time and time again their ability to talk and their ability to deliver, and not just have good intentions, but good results, are not happening.

I have spoken several times in the last couple of weeks to constituents, on media interviews and in the House here on different topics, for example, on the border closures, international flights and the debacle that we saw last week. I do not need to tell members or Canadians that in that situation the government should not have been caught by surprise that countries around the world, unfortunately, during COVID-19 would become hot spots or have outbreaks. The situation in India and Pakistan has been terrible, but the government was caught totally flat-footed, and here we are having to react, or they reacted very late to that.

I look at the debate we had on medical assistance in dying, trying to respond to the court ruling in Quebec. Constant extensions and delays were happening, because, I believe, and I think many Canadians believe, the government was talking but not actually delivering, following through or checking things off.

We find ourselves in the same situation here now with the Port of Montreal. The government has failed to bring both parties together to get a resolution. This bill tonight is not something to celebrate or be happy about. This is the result of a failure and a lack of leadership on the part of the federal government.

I want to bring context here tonight of why this matters economically. Many people, maybe those who are not familiar with the Port of Montreal, think it benefits the city of Montreal or maybe some neighbouring communities, but it is a lot more than that. It is the second-busiest port in Canada. There are 140 countries that use the Port of Montreal as a gateway into Canada, and we use that to export around the world. There are 40 million tonnes of cargo, and to put that into context that is 88 billion pounds of cargo, that go through the Port of Montreal every year. It affects every facet of our economy and our well-being. It sees 2,500 trucks a day, 60 to 80 trains a week, $2.6 billion in economic benefit, $250 million in tax revenue, and, here is an important part, 19,000 direct and indirect jobs, many of them well-paying union jobs, which is nothing short of a great thing.

Unfortunately, this is not the first time we are dealing with a strike. Back in August 2020, we were in a similar situation for 19 days. We saw what happens. We saw the economic damage it created across the country, the ripple effects and the months it took to get caught up. We also have a problem when it comes to the reputation of reliability at the Port of Montreal, which is important for the employer, the union, thousands of businesses and tens of thousands of workers in this country.

I had the opportunity to speak, and my staff did as well, today to people in Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry to get a local impact, but I also know, and I talked to, many colleagues across Ontario. I was speaking, and my team was, with the economic development officer, Bob Peters, from the City of Cornwall. As members may know, I am very proud of my riding and the many businesses that are there. Cornwall is one of three major supply chain hubs in Canada serving the bulk of central Ontario, Quebec and eastern Canada. We are very proud of that. We have thousands of job in Cornwall and in our riding alone that rely on a viable and reliable Port of Montreal in operation.

I think of the issue with the Suez Canal a few weeks ago and the issues that happened when the supply chains were blocked there. The massive economic impact, the ripple effect that it had, was very devastating to many parts of the world. Just-in-time deliveries and reliability matter, not just for those directly in the port but going through that supply chain. It matters, not just to jobs at the port but to jobs across this country.

I think of Laframboise in my riding as well. As a local manufacturer and supplier, it relies on moving products. Benson Auto Parts, proud from the city of Cornwall, founded and originated and grown from there, relies on the Port of Montreal to import its products and to support its staff and its revenues. I do not need to remind this House, and of course all Canadians, that now is not an opportune time to put another economic strain on those supply chains and on our businesses in this country.

Another good friend we were speaking to today was my friend Jim Wert, not only the mayor of the Township of North Stormont but also a very well-respected farmer in our region and beyond, across the province. Jim was reporting that what we have seen, with the threat of closure and now the closure at the Port of Montreal, has already caused a spike in commodity pricing and it has a big effect on agricultural operations. That is not just the case in Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry. I see my colleague behind me from Saskatchewan and I know there are impacts there as well. It ripples right across the country and affects agricultural operations.

This time of the year is a key time for our farmers. There are extremely time-sensitive deliveries that need to get to our farms in planting season, including potash, urea and phosphorous. We cannot have that come in two, three or four months later. We cannot have that being unreliable. Not only does that affect commodity prices on a large scale, but it could cripple and wipe out planting season in many parts of this country.

Beyond my riding, we can look at CN Rail and how it uses the port. There are auto companies like Pfaff Auto in Concord, just north of the 400 and 407 in the GTA. Northern Transformer provides a hundred jobs in Maple, Ontario in that same region. If they cannot get products, if they cannot get what they need through regular deliveries from the Port of Montreal, we could be seeing temporary job losses at a time when our economy cannot sustain that.

It is unfortunate that it has come to this. Already, with just the word of the closure of the port and the stoppage at the port, there has been a 10% drop in shipping volumes. They have gone elsewhere: New York, New Jersey and Norfolk, Virginia. We cannot be seen, at the Port of Montreal, as a country and as an economy that is unreliable.

I want to give credit to my colleagues here on the Conservative side, to our leader and our shadow minister for labour. I think they showed great leadership tonight. There was an amendment that came through the NDP that was supported both by members of the union and labour leaders, and by businesses as well. Our leader listened to both sides for supporting an amendment. Unfortunately, we have to deal with this, and we are supporting back-to-work legislation because it is necessary for our economy.

I close here tonight with my message to union workers and all workers in this country, the tens of thousands who rely on the port being reliable and viable in getting their product. We cannot afford a prolonged work stoppage, and we cannot afford to see those great union jobs at the Port of Montreal be lost because shipping routes and operations change to other ports. I am sorry that the government has not acted in a way that would bring a deal. It is unfortunate that this legislation is before us, but tonight they have seen us support a reasonable amendment in an effort to get the best piece of legislation to get those workers back on the job and to make sure that the bright future at the Port of Montreal is realized, both in the short and long term.

I appreciate the opportunity. As always, I look forward to the comments and questions from my colleagues.

Port of Montreal Operations Act, 2021Government Orders

April 28th, 2021 / 11:50 p.m.
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Bloc

Louise Chabot Bloc Thérèse-De Blainville, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have a question about something the member said.

What I understood from his remarks is that the economy is important—I am not denying that—and that it cannot be shut down. Also, in order to keep our economy moving, workers cannot have the right to strike, nor can they resort to job action. Basically, the workers are being asked to put up with their working conditions.

At the same time, he says he believes in free negotiations. Does my colleague not see the inconsistencies in his speech?

Port of Montreal Operations Act, 2021Government Orders

April 28th, 2021 / 11:50 p.m.
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Conservative

Eric Duncan Conservative Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry, ON

Mr. Speaker, it gives me the opportunity to reiterate that this is not an ideal situation we are in. The message, as I concluded there, for the union workers in this country is that we need to make sure that not just for those at the port but for tens of thousands of union jobs that rely on that port being open and being known as a reliable place to bring products in and out, we need to have that strengthened and we need to have it up and operational in our country.

It is a positive in the long run for the union to be seeing that. It is very unfortunate that we are in this situation. It is a begrudging situation and a begrudging vote that we have to make, but it is in the best interest of the union in the long run for us to have a viable port.

Port of Montreal Operations Act, 2021Government Orders

April 28th, 2021 / 11:50 p.m.
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NDP

Niki Ashton NDP Churchill—Keewatinook Aski, MB

Mr. Speaker, the Conservatives are gaslighting working people. We just heard from the member celebrating good union jobs. We heard this legislation is key to protecting union jobs. My goodness, let us respect what the workers of the Port of Montreal are saying themselves, the processes they have undertaken over a number of years to bargain collectively and fairly.

We heard the Conservative leader go on about the working class. Well, this is the test. Their support of back-to-work legislation is taking the side of the employer against union jobs, against working people. Why are the Conservatives trying to mislead Canadians, when their actions speak for themselves? They are on the side of the bosses, instead of standing up for the port workers in Montreal and instead of standing up for working people in this country.

Port of Montreal Operations Act, 2021Government Orders

April 28th, 2021 / 11:55 p.m.
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Conservative

Eric Duncan Conservative Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have not had the opportunity to speak to the member from Manitoba and the NDP yet in this COVID world, but I think this is the first time I have been accused of gaslighting, for those who know my style. I certainly hope my speech did not reflect that whatsoever. The approach we are taking is not pro-business or pro-union; it is pro-Port of Montreal, and that includes a win for both the union workers, the management and the economy of this country.

I appreciate the member's raising those points, as it gives me the opportunity to talk about the respectful, rational leadership the Leader of the Opposition and my colleagues showed tonight by supporting an amendment that was desired by labour leaders and supported by those on both sides of labour and business. That is a mature, professional approach that is far from gaslighting.

We want a strong economy and strong union jobs in this country. The approach we are taking is one I am proud of.