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 / 11:55 p.m.
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Conservative

Eric Melillo Conservative Kenora, ON

Mr. Speaker, my colleague had great comments about the importance of the supply chain and the jobs, and the impacts this would have across the country, the grand scale of the things that are hinging on this situation. He also mentioned a few folks from his riding. I am wondering if he would have any more comments on some of the concerns he has heard from those in his riding who are obviously watching this very closely.

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, maybe I should put an asterisk on what I was saying about supporting union jobs. I support union jobs being here in Canada, not union jobs moving to New York, New Jersey or Norfolk, Virginia. If there is no access to the Port of Montreal and it could be seen as being unreliable, jobs and operations would be permanently shifted to the United States or other areas. We do not want to see that.

When we talk about this, it is a balanced and reasonable approach of what we have seen through the amendment here tonight and the vote on the final piece of legislation. We can balance those factors out. Again, I am disappointed we are in this situation. I know there are many anxious business owners and farmers in my riding, across the province of Ontario and frankly across this country who are waiting to see the outcome of this legislation and to get things opened up at a time when our economy cannot take many more hits.

Port of Montreal Operations Act, 2021Government Orders

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

Monique Pauzé Bloc Repentigny, QC

Mr. Speaker, I wish to inform you that I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Joliette.

I sit here and wonder what we are doing here tonight. Why exactly are we here, when the Prime Minister has had all day to do what needs to be done?

Despite the late hour, the Bloc Québécois will not give up, nor will I, when faced with the absolute necessity of denouncing the government's intention to pass special legislation forcing workers back to work at the Port of Montreal.

Binding back-to-work legislation is an affront, but binding back-to-work legislation passed under a gag order is a double affront.

As our leader, the member for Beloeil—Chambly, clearly stated earlier today, there is a way out. A fair outcome under the circumstances is not only desirable, it is within reach for the Prime Minister. He still has a few hours left.

Through its many interventions, the Bloc Québécois has laid out all the pieces of the puzzle next to each other. The Prime Minister has to set his misplaced ego aside and simply put the pieces together. He spent time addressing the economic problems stemming from the strained labour relations at the Port of Montreal. He addressed it through special legislation that should only be used as a last resort, but it is not too late to do the right thing. The Prime Minister still has a few hours to act like a head of state and live up to his responsibilities.

The indecency of introducing such a bill speaks to a number of things, starting with the fact that an equitable alternative solution is within reach. It should be noted that the right to strike is recognized, protected by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, by the Constitution and reiterated by the Supreme Court.

Imposing special legislation is completely unacceptable. Our leader confirmed this morning that the union had clearly stated in writing that the employees would go back to work tomorrow if management retracts its unilateral change to workers' schedules.

Earlier today, in question period, it was no surprise that the Prime Minister refused to confirm that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Labour had stated in writing that the unilateral change made by the employer on April 9 to the 2013 collective agreement would be prohibited by the provisions of the special legislation. It leads us to wonder whether this amendment would be allowed under the provisions of the labour code.

Would it not be easy to pick up the telephone, call the employer and ask it to back down on the unilateral change? It is even more necessary given that the union has agreed to return to work in a few hours, tomorrow morning, and to continue bargaining if the Montreal port authority agrees to reverse the unilateral measure imposed on April 9. Why not do this? Why is the Prime Minister not upset with the employer's action taken on April 9, but is upset with the workers' action? After all, unilaterally changing working conditions, namely the scheduling, during bargaining is just not done.

Every day that the Prime Minister's pride prevails costs the Quebec economy up to $25 million. It took some nerve to say earlier today, in question period, that the mediation and arbitration process would be impartial. Really now.

I am saying this because the union asked the employer about what it made of the statement by the member for Mount Royal. The union told the employer that it understood that unilateral changes to scheduling could not be made under special legislation and told it what this means in light of the labour code provisions. The employer answered that it would reply after the special legislation was passed. Who really believes that it will be impartial and neutral? We should not be taken for fools.

The government's actions confirm that it is condoning the employer's strategy, which is to leave the bargaining table. It leads us to believe that strings were already being pulled in advance. The Government of Quebec wants the 1,500 Port of Montreal workers to go back to work. Quebec regions and many of the province's economic stakeholders want the dispute to be resolved. For their part, workers want to work. They do not want to be on strike.

The union understands what is at stake with the economy and the impact labour disputes can have. To claim otherwise is to show contempt for the labour movement and for all unionized workers, regardless of what field they are in.

Every member who is still here at this late hour tonight needs to understand that many hours of precious time have slipped by since Michel Murray explained that work would resume if the employer would go back on its unilateral change to work schedules. A few hours have already been wasted.

The federal government's actions, decisions and approaches do not support the legal framework surrounding labour law. Bill C-29 destroys that framework. The right to negotiate and the right to strike are linked. The right to strike is inherent to the right to negotiate because, without the threat of a strike, there is sometimes no power to negotiate and no way to come to an agreement. These are fundamental rights recognized in the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the fundamental conventions of the International Labour Organization, the Canadian Constitution and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

This special legislation is a back-to-work bill. By choosing to take this approach to the current dispute, the government is turning a blind eye to the very principle of those rights. According to the Canadian Union of Public Employees, this special legislation is basically an affront to all Canadian workers. I would like to add that we are right to be concerned about this legislation being imposed, because a clear solution was identified to get employees back to work as of tomorrow without compromising the negotiation process.

The points of negotiation do not need to be analyzed and dissected here by me, the Prime Minister or the government. What is worrisome is how recklessly the Prime Minister is using this process to force the hand of the parties in question. The demands of the union are not excessive or unreasonable. My colleagues have talked about them.

In the column he wrote in Le Devoir in August 2020, Professor Soares aptly contrasts the human needs that employees are seeking to fulfill, such as work-life balance through more predictable schedules, with the employer's desire to maintain the status quo. Workers' rights were won one step at a time by people who had the courage to stand up and demand that their rights be respected, that they be able to live and work safely and in dignity. The labour movement was built one gain at a time, and these gains were hard won from the government and the most powerful players in the world.

The Prime Minister claims to believe in bargaining. He claims to have exhausted all options. However, he has absolutely no problem violating workers' rights and making the choice to support an employer that unilaterally made changes to a collective agreement. The agreement may have been expired, but it is still in force during the negotiation period. He should be relieved that our leader, the member for Beloeil—Chambly, has been willing to co-operate and work diligently on this issue these past 24 hours.

If the Prime Minister is so worried about Quebec's economy, about Quebec's workers, about their rights, about the principles of bargaining and all that, why is he not being fair and responsible? Why is he not acting like the leader of a country?

Let us recap: Was he concerned about Quebec farmers in 2019, when the Premier of Quebec, the Union des producteurs agricoles and others were asking for special legislation during the conflict between Canadian National and the Teamsters union? With regard to the urgent need to supply propane to the farmers and ranchers of Quebec, what answer did he give?

The Minister of Transportation at the time said the government was convinced that the best and fastest way to resolve the issue was for both sides to continue to negotiate collectively, and that it was prepared to help. That is what needs to be done.

The present case has to do with an employer that just got what it wanted handed to it on a silver platter. When working men and women exercise their right to strike, they do not do so for pleasure. They do not like to strike. The right to strike is not some walk in the park that can be taken away at the whim of elected officials with special legislation.

So much for a progressive party and a progressive Prime Minister. With its approach, the government is sending a clear message to unionized workers in Canada: their right to strike, which is their main pressure tactic when negotiations grind to a halt and which is protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, has just been voluntarily eroded by the state.

Port of Montreal Operations Act, 2021Government Orders

April 29th, 2021 / 12:05 a.m.
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Bloc

Monique Pauzé Bloc Repentigny, QC

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

The government is eroding workers' rights by preventing them from exercising those rights. This is not the first time. I would like to point out that, in 2018, the government did the same thing to the postal workers' union. Workers were not even allowed to strike.

Employees participated in rotating strikes, and the government immediately passed special legislation forcing them back to work. Every time a group wants to exercise its rights, Parliament decides to pass a bill like this to prevent them from striking.

Port of Montreal Operations Act, 2021Government Orders

April 29th, 2021 / 12:10 a.m.
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NDP

Daniel Blaikie NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, as I rise tonight in the House to oppose back-to-work legislation for workers at the Port of Montreal, I want to give a shout-out to my brothers and sisters in Local 2034 of the IBEW in Manitoba who work at Manitoba Hydro. They have been on strike for weeks, and there is no doubt that the Conservative government here has had its thumb on the scales.

As I watch the Conservatives get up and shed crocodile tears over this legislation, I cannot help but remember the record of the previous Conservative government and current Conservative governments across the country, like the one in Manitoba that is interfering with bargaining at Manitoba Hydro. It has tried to legislate its way out of collective bargaining in the public service and declared war on health bargaining units in Manitoba.

On behalf of working people the country over who are watching tonight, I will say to the Conservatives who have been getting up and doing their song and dance that we are not buying it.

Port of Montreal Operations Act, 2021Government Orders

April 29th, 2021 / 12:10 a.m.
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Bloc

Monique Pauzé Bloc Repentigny, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague. That was not so much a question as a comment.

As he said, the right to strike is guaranteed by the courts and is a fundamental freedom that cannot be taken away except in cases of extreme necessity. In this case and in the cases the member mentioned, it seems the government wanted to systematically shut down workers' right to strike. That is inconceivable, unacceptable and irresponsible. It violates people's right to bargain freely.

Port of Montreal Operations Act, 2021Government Orders

April 29th, 2021 / 12:10 a.m.
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Bloc

Monique Pauzé Bloc Repentigny, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Saanich—Gulf Islands for her question.

This morning, the member for Beloeil—Chambly proposed a solution that was so simple that I wonder why no one had thought of it before. The union's hands are tied. The government could simply reach out to the management side. With this special legislation, the government is siding with management. That is exactly what it is doing, and it is upsetting the balance that allows for collective bargaining.

A solution was available, and still is. The Prime Minister could make a phone call. We are here at this late hour to fight for the workers at the Port of Montreal. The Prime Minister could pick up the phone and propose this incredibly simple solution.

Where is he tonight?

Port of Montreal Operations Act, 2021Government Orders

April 29th, 2021 / 12:10 a.m.
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Bloc

Marie-Hélène Gaudreau Bloc Laurentides—Labelle, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will be very brief.

I have a question for my hon. colleague. She took the words right out of my mouth because I too am appalled by everything we have seen and heard over the past few hours.

Does she agree that the leader of the Bloc Québécois was once again the voice of reason and that we, as parliamentarians, should listen to the relevant propositions and act accordingly to salvage the current situation at the Port of Montreal?

Port of Montreal Operations Act, 2021Government Orders

April 29th, 2021 / 12:10 a.m.
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Bloc

Monique Pauzé Bloc Repentigny, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for her question.

When negotiations get tough, the Prime Minister's Office should step in. We have a Prime Minister who did not act and could not pick up the phone. As for the member for Beloeil—Chambly, he did phone Mr. Murray and really listened to what the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Labour had to say.

The solution is there, on the table, readily available. All the Prime Minister has to do is reach out. No special legislation is needed.

Port of Montreal Operations Act, 2021Government Orders

April 29th, 2021 / 12:15 a.m.
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Bloc

Gabriel Ste-Marie Bloc Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, the longshoremen have been without a collective agreement for 850 days, and during all that time, there was no involvement by the government, who has been dragging its feet from the start only to introduce special legislation. In the end, what is the government saying? It is telling the boss that he does not need to negotiate anymore, that he can let things drag on, because the government is going to pass legislation, as usual.

They do not care about labour law or free bargaining. The Liberal Party caters to the bosses. We know that.

When there is no negotiated settlement, and the government imposes its special legislation, the work environment suffers greatly. Tensions remain and are amplified. Nothing is solved.

Since 1990, Ottawa has passed no fewer than 15 pieces of back-to-work special legislation, including the one before us today. On average, that is one piece of special legislation every two years. The last one targeted the postal workers in 2018. I remember well.

In Ottawa, special legislation that takes away workers' rights has become the norm rather than the exception. Legal experts Renée-Claude Drouin and Gilles Trudeau have indicated that this situation is pernicious because it essentially denies certain categories of workers the right to strike and can also turn what should be an exceptional situation into a permanent solution. That is what we are seeing tonight.

Dockworkers are well aware of the seriousness of the situation caused by the pandemic. They have been putting off their option to strike for months. This has been going on for 850 days. The employer did not negotiate and cannot even agree with itself. That makes it rather difficult to negotiate with another party.

The government did not do anything either. It saw that things were not progressing, but it washed its hands of the situation. What is worse, the government made it clear that, as soon as the workers went on strike, special legislation would be passed under a gag order. In short, the government made it clear to the employer that there was no need to negotiate because big daddy Ottawa would step in with legislation. The Liberal Party supports employers.

The Liberals essentially told the employer to keep stalling if it was not getting what it wanted because they would step in and save the employer's skin once again, as they do every two years.

As we all know, the worst part is that the longshoremen did not even want to go on strike. They did it in response to the employer's attacks on scheduling. Those attacks were intended to compel its buddy Ottawa to pass its special anti-worker legislation with its undemocratic gag order. The Liberal Party caters to employers.

As we know, the government could still have stopped the strike today even faster than using legislation, simply by stepping in and asking management to stop using those measures, since the employer will have to stop anyway. The longshoremen would have called off the strike immediately. Their strike is a response to the attacks from management.

The government had all the cards it needed to stop the job action and send the longshoremen and management back to the bargaining table, but it wanted special legislation instead. It still prefers to send the message that it is there to save the bosses' butts. That is what it means to be a party that caters to employers.

This bill represents a fresh setback for workers' rights. The Canada Labour Code is already an antiquated farce worthy of a Dickens or London novel. To this day, in 2021, it still allows the use of scabs. The Liberal Party claims to be progressive. Progressive, my foot.

The Liberal Party and its government are siding with the bosses and the big banks, not regular folks. We must not be fooled by their nice-sounding speeches and their cool attitude. It is a party that caters to big business.

No, we do not want a strike. The public, Quebec, union members, everyone wants the work to resume. There was no need to get to this point, but the government let the situation deteriorate. How irresponsible, as usual. Even today, there was an option that would have allowed for free bargaining. The government could have taken action, but it did not. How irresponsible. This government prefers to drag its feet until its soles wear out, rather than take action.

Let us briefly review labour law together. Even though, in this case, the government had all the cards to prevent a strike and keep negotiations going, the right to strike is a fundamental right. It is entrenched in labour law. It has even been recognized by the Supreme Court. In a ruling, the court recognized that the right to collective bargaining is a constitutional right, writing that section 2(d) prevents the state from substantially interfering with the ability of a union to exert meaningful influence over working conditions through a process of collective bargaining.

In another ruling, it even gave the right to strike constitutional benediction as an essential part of a meaningful collective bargaining process.

A judge even wrote that “[t]he right to strike is not merely derivative of collective bargaining, it is an indispensable component of that right. It seems to me to be the time to give this conclusion constitutional benediction.” A Supreme Court justice said that. She also said that it “is an indispensable component of collective bargaining.” That is not nothing.

By imposing closure on the legislation, the government summarily discarded the entire process for bargaining working conditions.

According to Pierre Trudel, a law professor at the Université de Montréal, the right to strike is the “irreducible minimum”. Canada has a court, a charter and a constitution that its government is not even able to obey. What contempt for the fundamental rights of workers. What a terrible day, what a terrible night today is for their rights.

The minister is taking the side of management while reminding us that she is the daughter of a union member. What a betrayal.

To come back to Mr. Trudel, he also writes, “The Court added that the international human rights instruments to which Canada is a party also require the protection of the right to strike as part of a meaningful process of collective bargaining.” Economic repercussions are not an argument for infringing on the right to strike. On that topic, the Committee on Freedom of Association, the wing of the International Labour Organization that interprets conventions pertaining to freedoms, has stated that even if the right to strike has an economic impact, that right has to be upheld. It is an international convention.

Today, the government has once more chosen to sacrifice the higher goal of economic and social peace. What great statesmanship on the part of the Liberals. It would seem that the federal government is quick to renege on its own international commitments when it is in its interest to do so. What is the value of federal commitments? This is how we can estimate their true value. It is the party of big business.

The highest court in the land recognizes the importance of workers' right to strike. In addition, Canada is a party to the International Labour Organization conventions that also recognize the fundamental nature of this right. However, the Liberal government is suppressing this right through special legislation to be passed under a gag order while declaring itself to be progressive. For goodness' sake. Clearly, its words and deeds are not lining up at all. Progressive, my foot. Everyone in the business world knows that it is thanks to the balance of power that each party makes concessions in order to negotiate working conditions.

Both parties lose during a lockout or strike, which exerts pressure and forces the parties to sit at the table to find a compromise and negotiate an agreement. However, the threat of special legislation disrupts this balance of power and sends management the message that it no longer needs to negotiate in good faith. This destroys the entire bargaining process between the employer and the union.

Management knew that the government was going to do this, so why would it bother negotiating seriously, with both sides giving up certain conditions in order to reach a compromise? Why would it do that, knowing that the government was going to play the card that would give it a leg up? The strike is unquestionably having a major impact on Quebec's economy. No one is denying that. However, I remind members that the government could have gotten involved during the negotiations so that they could keep moving forward without the need for a strike. The government did the opposite. There have been 850 days of negotiation, during which the government did nothing but drag its feet until its soles wore out.

The Bloc Québécois supports the dockworkers' demands and their fundamental right to freely negotiate their working conditions. We always stood with workers and we always will. The Bloc Québécois is denouncing the passage, under a gag order, of this special legislation that takes away the dockworkers' right to a negotiated collective agreement, in spite of there being other alternatives. Labour law sets the framework within which parties can exercise their negotiating leverage in a legitimate and legal manner. Failing to respect the workers' rights is making a mockery of a fundamental institution designed to ensure social and economic peace. That is what tonight's debate is about. The government's decision to ram this legislation through under a gag order is once again shaking the cornerstones of our society. We are wholeheartedly denouncing this situation.

What a way to act. What contempt for our people. I am ashamed of being in the House tonight and seeing the government act this way. What a disgrace.

Port of Montreal Operations Act, 2021Government Orders

April 29th, 2021 / 12:20 a.m.
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Conservative

Jeremy Patzer Conservative Cypress Hills—Grasslands, SK

Mr. Speaker, my colleague kept referencing in his speech that it has been 850 days without a contract. A manufacturer in my riding twice now has been extremely affected by this and is talking about its losses being as high as 25%.

Why does the member think that the Liberals always choose to delay and ignore the issue until it gets to the point we are at here today?

Port of Montreal Operations Act, 2021Government Orders

April 29th, 2021 / 12:25 a.m.
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Bloc

Gabriel Ste-Marie Bloc Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have the answer to that question.

To be able to act, to step up to the plate, to be proactive, to settle a dispute during the first few days instead of waiting until the last second to bring in special legislation, it takes guts and it takes a spine, two things the Prime Minister lacks. The Prime Minister let the situation deteriorate and ended up bringing in back-to-work legislation. What a terrible message to send. This government and this Prime Minister are utterly devoid of courage.

Port of Montreal Operations Act, 2021Government Orders

April 29th, 2021 / 12:25 a.m.
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NDP

Richard Cannings NDP South Okanagan—West Kootenay, BC

Mr. Speaker, earlier I heard a Liberal comment that he felt that businesses were being held hostage by the unions. Could this perhaps be better characterized as businesses being held hostage by an intransigent port employer? It seems that is what is really happening here and the government is taking the wrong side.

Port of Montreal Operations Act, 2021Government Orders

April 29th, 2021 / 12:25 a.m.
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Bloc

Gabriel Ste-Marie Bloc Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his comment.

As he says, it is not the unionized workers who are holding the entire economy hostage. Yes, there are some major implications. The economic consequences of a strike at the Port of Montreal are terrible for all sectors of the economy. However, for 850 days, the employer never showed up for negotiations. In particular, my whole point is that the Prime Minister and his ministers did not contact the employer to say that it was in a key and crucial sector and it had to negotiate.

This is not about salaries; it is about schedules. I cannot believe that a scheduling issue could not be settled after 850 days. The Prime Minister and his ministers need to get a move on and settle the situation by putting pressure on the employer to negotiate. What are they doing? They are always doing the worst possible thing, dragging their feet and then imposing special legislation. It is appalling.

Port of Montreal Operations Act, 2021Government Orders

April 29th, 2021 / 12:25 a.m.
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Bloc

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

Mr. Speaker, my colleague from Joliette expressed the frustration that we are all feeling over this situation. In his speech, he talked about the issue of work schedules. Essentially, what the workers want are better work schedules.

I am told that every day, the dock workers at the Port of Montreal have to call in between 6 p.m. and midnight to find out whether they have to go to work the next day. They have to do that 19 days in a row. Every day, they arrive home unsure whether they are working the next day or not. They are always waiting. They cannot make appointments with their doctor, their accountant or their mechanic. They cannot make any plans. They do not even know if they can attend their children's birthday parties.

How can a person plan their life when they have to be fully available to work 19 days out of 21, 24 hours a day, never knowing what to expect?

How can a person provide their family with quality of life, especially when there is no way of knowing whether the two days of guaranteed leave after 19 days of work will fall on weekdays or the weekend?

Under such circumstances, would my colleague from Joliette also want to go on strike?