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 p.m.
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Hamilton West—Ancaster—Dundas Ontario

Liberal

Filomena Tassi LiberalMinister of Labour

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Port of Montreal Operations Act, 2021Government Orders

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

Louise Chabot Bloc Thérèse-De Blainville, QC

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

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

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

Port of Montreal Operations Act, 2021Government Orders

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

Filomena Tassi Liberal Hamilton West—Ancaster—Dundas, ON

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

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

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

Port of Montreal Operations Act, 2021Government Orders

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

Dave Epp Conservative Chatham-Kent—Leamington, ON

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

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

Port of Montreal Operations Act, 2021Government Orders

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

Filomena Tassi Liberal Hamilton West—Ancaster—Dundas, ON

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

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

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

Port of Montreal Operations Act, 2021Government Orders

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

Scott Duvall NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

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

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

Port of Montreal Operations Act, 2021Government Orders

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

Filomena Tassi Liberal Hamilton West—Ancaster—Dundas, ON

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

Port of Montreal Operations Act, 2021Government Orders

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

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

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

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

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

Port of Montreal Operations Act, 2021Government Orders

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

Filomena Tassi Liberal Hamilton West—Ancaster—Dundas, ON

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

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

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

Port of Montreal Operations Act, 2021Government Orders

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

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

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

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

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

Port of Montreal Operations Act, 2021Government Orders

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

Filomena Tassi Liberal Hamilton West—Ancaster—Dundas, ON

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

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

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

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

Port of Montreal Operations Act, 2021Government Orders

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

Alexandre Boulerice NDP Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

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

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

Why do the Liberals always side with the employer?

Port of Montreal Operations Act, 2021Government Orders

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

Filomena Tassi Liberal Hamilton West—Ancaster—Dundas, ON

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

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

Port of Montreal Operations Act, 2021Government Orders

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

Tracy Gray Conservative Kelowna—Lake Country, BC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Port of Montreal Operations Act, 2021Government Orders

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

Mario Simard Bloc Jonquière, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague for his speech.

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

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

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

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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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—

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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?

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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.

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

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

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague for her speech. She knows her portfolio inside and out, she is passionate, and I thank her for that.

I just heard a question from the member for Kingston and the Islands that is fundamental, because he was asking about the role of parliamentarians. I asked the Minister of Labour a question earlier, and she replied that it was a matter of life and death because medication and medical equipment would not be unloaded at the Port of Montreal.

That is not true. Immediately after her response, I called the president of the Syndicat des débardeurs, Michel Murray. He confirmed that the union had told the employer that the longshoremen would have no objection to unloading containers that the employer designated as essential for humanitarian purposes, thus maintaining the supply chain and allowing truckers to pick up those containers.

One of two things happened. Either the Minister of Labour is misinformed, or she is calling the president of the Syndicat des débardeurs a liar. Could my colleague comment on that?

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April 28th, 2021 / 10:25 p.m.
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Bloc

Louise Chabot Bloc Thérèse-De Blainville, QC

Madam Speaker, my colleague is absolutely right to raise this fundamental question.

We do indeed have emails confirming this. As I was saying yesterday, drugs are not floating on the water, and they will not be held up by the strike. The longshoremen have confirmed that they will unload anything medical or pandemic-related. It is not true that this is a matter of life and death, as I heard someone say yesterday.

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April 28th, 2021 / 10:25 p.m.
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NDP

Daniel Blaikie NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, we heard several times this evening that clients of the port wanted this strike to end. Apparently, they are sending messages to the government, but I think that these messages should have been sent to port management, to inform them that they have paying clients who want service and the employer should find a solution with its employees.

These messages should not be sent to the government, but to port management. They need to sit down at the bargaining table and find a solution. It seems pretty obvious to me. I find it frustrating that the government thinks that it has a responsibility to find a solution here. It tried to do that for a few years. That did not work, and now it is telling us that the solution is to pass back-to-work legislation—

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April 28th, 2021 / 10:25 p.m.
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Bloc

Louise Chabot Bloc Thérèse-De Blainville, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank the member for speaking in French.

Was there any response when the workers were sounding the alarm? There was not. Everyone came out and said that a labour dispute made no sense. Well, that is how our labour laws work.

The pressure was in no way related to how this negotiation was managed. In fact, eight months ago, there was pressure on the government to get a solution negotiated.

What has the government been doing these past eight months?

That is what is shameful. I completely agree—

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April 28th, 2021 / 10:25 p.m.
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Mount Royal Québec

Liberal

Anthony Housefather LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Labour

Madam Speaker, it is always a pleasure to work with the member for Thérèse-De Blainville, even though we do not agree on this matter.

We do agree that the Canada Labour Code needs to be modernized in many respects, including the matter of whether workers have the right to be paid if they are available for work, as is the case under the Quebec Labour Code.

I understand the member for Thérèse-De Blainville's principles very well. Can she imagine a situation in which the Bloc Québécois would vote in favour of special legislation, or would they oppose such legislation on principle, regardless of the circumstances?

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April 28th, 2021 / 10:25 p.m.
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Bloc

Louise Chabot Bloc Thérèse-De Blainville, QC

Madam Speaker, our positions are not ideological or dogmatic. That would be too easy. The answer would be no. The Bloc Québécois is all about finding solutions. We are not voting no just to be contrary, and we are not voting no for ideological reasons. We are voting no because this is not the right solution. What is happening is quite a harsh solution, because we, as parliamentarians, are denying workers their rights. There are other solutions.

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April 28th, 2021 / 10:25 p.m.
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NDP

Alexandre Boulerice NDP Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with my hon. colleague from Hamilton Mountain.

I would like to come back to an earlier exchange. The Minister of Labour was accused of misleading the House on the dockworkers' ability to deliver medical assistance, vaccines, drugs and personal protective equipment if needed. Obviously the dockworkers are able to do that.

Of course there may be several things in any one container, but generally the containers are identified and we know what they contain, in large or small quantities. If we absolutely need something in a container it can be delivered. It is not witchcraft. This is 2021, we are able to send a small helicopter to Mars. I am sure we can find the right container at the Port of Montreal.

I would also say to our Liberal colleagues that the possibility of bargaining on issues related to essential services is not new. Essential services have always been negotiated during labour disputes, at the Port of Montreal or any port, whether in Halifax, Vancouver or the United States. We are not reinventing the wheel here. This is negotiated between the parties. Maybe I should provide a bit of background for the situation we find ourselves in. This round of bargaining over essential services at the Port of Montreal is a bit odd.

I will note that today is April 28, International Day of Mourning for Persons Killed or Injured in the Workplace. There are still hundreds of people every year who are victims of workplace injuries and illnesses. I must admit that it is rather sad that we have to have a debate on this day on a bill forcing people back to work that breaks the back of union members who were exercising a fundamental, constitutional right. I was going to say that it is ironic, but it is worse than that. It is absolutely disgraceful.

The minister and the Liberal government claim that they are not taking sides in this labour dispute, that they like everyone, and that they want the issue to be resolved. They claim that they introduced this back-to-work legislation to respond to other concerns about the supply chain, the economy, and so on. They say that is the reason they introduced this bill and that they are not upsetting the balance of power between the parties.

Normally, when someone tells a story, they start at the beginning, and then there is a development and an ending. This time, I will start at the end, because something happened today that, to me, is extremely telling. The Liberals threw their whole weight behind the Port of Montreal and the interests of the management side. They trampled the fundamental rights of working men and women who were acting in a way that was very respectful of the law.

Today, these workers must be so angry because they have been had by the Liberals. When they were in the opposition, the Liberals would tear their hair out the moment the Conservatives introduced back-to-work legislation. However, today, they are doing the exact same thing.

It is important to point out that pay is not really the issue, nor is the Port of Montreal losing millions of dollars. Its executives are not acting out of desperation because the port is on the verge of bankruptcy. The Port of Montreal is doing well.

As members know, the economy is struggling right now, particularly SMEs and the cultural and tourism industries. However, containers continue to arrive at the Port of Montreal, and business is good.

Workers had one main demand, and it had to do with work schedules. As my colleague from Thérèse-De Blainville said earlier, dock workers have a demanding job that requires an extremely high level of availability, which makes it very difficult to maintain any kind of work-life balance. Dock workers always need to be available and ready to work on call. They need to get to their job site as quickly as possible.

The union is asking the employer to put an end to the punitive measures in relation to the work schedules that were imposed. Obviously, that is the crux of the problem. Management put pressure on workers by being much stricter and imposing certain types of work schedules that went against the dock workers' legitimate requests.

The union asked the employer if, should the special legislation come into effect, it intended to immediately revert to the shift schedules that were in place before the Maritime Employers Association announced changes on April 22, rather than implement the new schedules until a new collective agreement takes effect.

The employer responded that it had taken note of the questions and would reply in due course depending on whether Bill C-29 passed and came into force. That is a typical example of an employer that has no interest whatsoever in negotiating or even answering questions. The employer made it clear that it would respond to the union once the bill was passed. This is not the first time we have seen this kind of thing.

This shows just how badly the government's actions have upset the balance of power between the parties. The mere threat of back-to-work legislation killed the Port of Montreal's interest in finding a solution and finding common ground with the other party. Now it is biding its time, waiting for the Liberals to do the work. Then it can force the workers to accept whatever it wants.

I also deplore the irregular work schedules that are being imposed at every turn. Workers cannot even take a day off to spend time with their families. I am not an expert on the subject, but as far as I can tell, it would be very unlikely for a 250-foot cargo ship to show up at your dock unannounced. From the moment it enters the Gulf of St. Lawrence, we have an idea of when it will arrive, so we can plan schedules accordingly. These container ships are massive. Unfortunately, it is much easier for the employer to maintain all the flexibility it needs to change the schedule as it pleases and shove it down the workers' throats.

The Minister of Labour and the government did not even wait for the general strike to begin before threatening special legislation, which they did the day before. Last Sunday, the Liberal minister said that if there was a strike the next day, there would be special legislation. There had not yet been a single minute of unlimited general strike. There was an overtime strike and a weekend strike. The union was using progressive and partial pressure tactics legally. It wanted to send a message to the employer that if the employer wanted to keep the freighters coming, the containers being unloaded and the supply chain working, they had to sit down at the bargaining table and work out a solution to the work schedules. It does not take a rocket scientist to find solutions. I was going to make a connection with the Prime Minister, but I will refrain.

The constitutional rights of these workers were undermined. Not long after, the employer left the bargaining table and negotiations came to an end. The employer only needs to wait for special legislation. It does not even want to reply to the union's emails and legitimate questions.

What are the Liberals doing in light of the 2015 Supreme Court ruling on the Saskatchewan case? The court recognized that union members had the right to use job action and that our labour relations and collective bargaining system was based on both parties having appropriate opportunities, depending on the circumstances, to put pressure on one another to find a solution together.

The solutions are not always perfect, and neither is our labour relations system. We recognize that improvements to the Canada Labour Code are needed. Nevertheless, in general, the parties make concessions and find a compromise. This is how workers' movements can improve their working and living conditions, fight for social justice and create a fairer, more equitable and more balanced society. This has been true of many disputes and struggles throughout history.

If we take job action away from workers because it could have repercussions elsewhere, the right to strike becomes theoretical. Job action will obviously cause disruptions and have an impact on others. That is how the system works. If workers cannot use job action to force their employer to sit down at the table to negotiate a solution, then these workers are being denied their right to strike. This means that the Liberal government is violating a Supreme Court of Canada ruling.

Port of Montreal Operations Act, 2021Government Orders

April 28th, 2021 / 10:35 p.m.
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Liberal

Mark Gerretsen Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

Madam Speaker, listening to the last speech, we would think this was a brand new event: something that had just happened within the last few days, and the government suddenly jumped in with this draconian measure. The reality is that this has been going on for two and a half years. There has been so much back and forth. The government has been giving supports all along the way.

What I really wanted to touch on was the issue the member brought up at the beginning of his speech, when he said that CUPE said the workers would let products go through and would allow shipping containers to come up. When someone says that, they are massively oversimplifying the situation. They are assuming too many things when there are many variables going on at the same time.

For example, when something comes off a shipping container, we are relying on an entire train's worth of product being moved out at the same time to get the costs that we would get to ship that stuff across the country. Now all of a sudden we want to take one container and ship it by truck somewhere. It does not happen like that. The member is oversimplifying the situation when describing it like—

Port of Montreal Operations Act, 2021Government Orders

April 28th, 2021 / 10:40 p.m.
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NDP

Alexandre Boulerice NDP Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Madam Speaker, some people can complicate things endlessly when they do not wish to find a solution, or when they want to impose special legislation on workers who know perfectly well how to do their job and handle containers so our hospitals can get what they need.

I never said that this had just happened. It is true that the union had said that if schedules were restored, there would not be a full general strike. It is also true that the union was always ready to return to the negotiating table.

A few weeks ago, dockworkers went on strike. When the parliamentary secretary said that this had been going on for two years, that is mostly because the Port of Montreal had asked that 100% of longshore operations be considered an essential service, a process that took many months. That is what took a long time, not the negotiations.

Port of Montreal Operations Act, 2021Government Orders

April 28th, 2021 / 10:40 p.m.
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Bloc

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

Madam Speaker, in the speech he just gave, my colleague referred to a 2015 ruling on workers' right to strike for the purpose of negotiating their agreements, among other things.

We could add to that the recent attempts by the Maritime Employers Association to stop Port of Montreal workers from striking by turning to the Canada Industrial Relations Board and then the Federal Court of Appeal. Both dismissed the association's case.

We see that the workers' right to strike and to negotiate freely is recognized in law. The Canadian government is violating this right. In the past, this very government hid behind judges in attacks against Bill 101 and, more recently, Bill 21.

What does my colleague think of the government's double standard towards workers?

Port of Montreal Operations Act, 2021Government Orders

April 28th, 2021 / 10:40 p.m.
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NDP

Alexandre Boulerice NDP Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

It is a hallmark of governments, whether they are Liberal or Conservative.

When I arrived in the House almost 10 years ago, we debated special legislation to force Canada Post workers to go back to work. At the time, the Liberals were in opposition and they were outraged. Since coming to power, they have taken similar action many times, as we are seeing this evening with the Port of Montreal dockworkers and as we saw with Canada Post. That is unfortunate.

At some point, we will have to establish rules to ensure that these are not just theoretical rights.

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April 28th, 2021 / 10:40 p.m.
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NDP

Alexandre Boulerice NDP Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague for her question.

The amendment that the NDP proposed this evening removes the worst parts of the back-to-work bill. The arbitrator will not be able to stop the collective bargaining by demanding a final offer.

We tried to find a way to gain some time and extend negotiations a little. That is what we were able to do, under the circumstances. I am pleased that the NDP managed to at least do that.

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April 28th, 2021 / 10:45 p.m.
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NDP

Scott Duvall NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

Madam Speaker, as I listen to this debate, I continue to become more upset. Not only is the government stripping these workers of their charter right to strike, it issued notice of its intent, through this expedited legislation, to force workers at the Port of Montreal back to their jobs before they even began their strike. What is worse is that the government continues to fearmonger about COVID-19-related supplies with claims that continue to go unsubstantiated. I would like to address this with a quote from an article by FreightWaves published on August 20, 2020. It states:

The union representing longshore workers at the Port of Montreal agreed on Thursday to move some containers holding goods needed in the fight against COVID-19.

“The Maritime Employers Association and the longshoremen’s union have agreed to move containers that contain controlled substances and COVID-19-related merchandise and to unload a ship containing sugar,” the MEA announced early Thursday afternoon.

I hope this puts an end to the reprehensible nonsense. If there is any issue with important pandemic-related supplies not getting to where they need to go, that is certainly not on the union or the workers. Look to the government or the Canada Industrial Relations Board.

The legislation itself would do the following. It would force the employer and the union to extend their expired collective agreement, prevent the employer from locking out workers and prevent the union from striking.

I would like to provide some context to this bill before I give further remarks. In 2019-20, the Canada Industrial Relations Board heard the employer's application for a determination on essential services. The employer's counsel used every trick in the book to stall things at the CIRB, including a motion for the board chair to recuse herself, and forwarded judicial review applications. After the decision was issued, CUPE Local 375 went on strike for 12 days in August 2020. Workers went back to work after a truce agreement was signed, giving the parties seven months to conclude a deal. The union worked with the federal mediation service all this time. On April 16, the union reviewed its strike mandate with a 99.3% vote.

The union finally offered to end the overtime and weekend strike if the employees reverted to the working conditions applicable before April 9. On April 23, members of the union declared their mandate of an unlimited general strike as the employer did not show it wanted to negotiate in good faith. As we know, the minister then signalled before the general strike started that the government would be tabling legislation to force workers back to work, despite their charter right.

The minister should know, if she is speaking to both sides, that this strike can quickly come to an end without the need for legislation. The union has made it very clear that it would cease all forms of work disruption with one fair request to the employer to stop the pressure tactics and collective agreement violations.

I will read what a CUPE spokesperson had to say:

If the Maritime Employers Association (MEA) doesn’t want a strike, all it has to do is let up on its pressure tactics and the union will do likewise. No overtime strike. No weekend strike. It’s straightforward. We want to return to the bargaining table.... We don’t want to hurt the Montreal economy. However, we do want to exercise our fundamental right to bargain collectively.

The minister, in her speech on Government Business Motion No. 5, said the following:

Our government firmly believes that the best deals are reached at the bargaining table. However, intervention is sometimes necessary when the parties are at a significant and long-standing impasse, particularly when a work stoppage is causing significant harm to Canadians. We cannot allow the situation we saw in August 2020 to repeat itself, particularly in the midst of this pandemic. If the current stoppage continues, serious accumulated and negative impacts will continue to be felt all over Canada.

Again, the minister has not provided any concrete examples or data of the direct, significant benefit to Canadians. She continues to fearmonger without concrete facts. Instead of facts and data, all I am hearing is a bunch of quotes from lobbyists about what they speculate may happen. The only relevant fact that I have heard from the government about the actual effect of the work interruption was related to the August 2020 strike. This is relevant. What happened to those ships and the supplies they were carrying? They simply got diverted to other ports.

I have no doubt, and acknowledge, that this has made for significant changes and complications to supply chains and land transportation of goods, but this is part of what happens in a strike. Given the fact that she is the labour minister, I would expect the minister to be aware of this and instead monitor the situation. Her job is not to say that the sky is going to fall and then give notice that she will revoke the charter rights of workers to strike before their strike even begins.

Back-to-work legislation is known to have lasting, negative effects. When we take away the charter rights of hundreds of people by an act of Parliament and force them back to work like this, it really affects the morale of workers. I know. I have seen it. What it also tends to do is sour the relationship between the employer and the employees.

By way of example, let us look at the track record of back-to-work legislation and providing a swift resolution to drawn-out collective agreement talks. Bill C-89, an act to provide the resumption and continuation of postal services, was passed by this same Liberal government in the House of Commons on November 24, 2018. It received royal assent two days later and came into force at noon on the following day. Here is what representatives of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers had to say about being forced back to work to help resolve the situation a whole year after being back.

Though the legislators who passed the bill may have thought it would resolve the situation, nothing is fixed, no contract is in place, and we’re still working without a new collective agreement, without the right to strike, under the dangerous and unfair conditions that we were trying to deal with in negotiations.

They go on to speak very directly about the overarching problems being suffered due to the nature of back-to-work legislation.

Workers pay the price for back-to-work legislation. CUPW members worked two and a half years without new contracts, with the same old problems we were trying to solve through bargaining back in 2018.

After finally getting a contract, though imposed by an arbitrator some 400 days after the back-to-work legislation, significant issues are still not satisfactory. I suspect these will be part of the next round of bargaining next year. This type of legislation is a way of kicking the can down the road via a still drawn-out process all while taking away the employees' right to collective bargaining.

I think it is important for Canadians listening to know that it is not just Liberal governments that impose the harmful and unfair labour practice of back-to-work legislation. In fact, one could say that the Liberal government learned this tactic from the Harper Conservatives and is carrying on the torch of stripping workers of their charter right to strike. Let us have a look at back-to-work legislation by the Conservatives.

The Conservatives legislated the following groups back to work: the Air Canada Pilots Association and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers and the United Transportation Union.

Before I end, I do want to raise that the government has still not addressed my concern about a recent development. It is my understanding that there was a proposal put forward last evening to avoid the need for Bill C-29. While I am not privy to all the details of this proposal, I do know the employer, the union and the government were all made aware of the said proposal. This proposal would have involved a return to work, as well as the resumption of the flow of goods.

I am being told it was only the employer that objected to this proposal as a way forward. I think it would be a further injustice and shameful for the government to continue its pursuit of this motion and legislation, given the employer's unwillingness to play ball.

I call on the government to allow the workers to pursue their right to strike.

Port of Montreal Operations Act, 2021Government Orders

April 28th, 2021 / 10:50 p.m.
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Liberal

Mark Gerretsen Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

Madam Speaker, on a number of occasions throughout this debate, I have asked my NDP colleagues whether they have a threshold at which they would accept and support legislation like this.

The response received was that it was hypothetical question and they do not want to be asked hypothetical questions. This could not be further from the truth. A hypothetical would be if I presented a scenario to somebody, and then asked them what they would do if this happened or if that happened. I am not asking that.

I am asking, very simply, if they support back-to-work legislation in principle? Would they ever support it?

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

Daniel Blaikie NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, it is important to note the facetiousness of the question from the member for Kingston and the Islands.

If we were talking about business here and about negotiations between businesses, and in fact, we hear this all the time, we would hear that the Canadian public cannot have access. We cannot have access to the contracts that dictate the vaccines for COVID-19 because that could affect commercial negotiations. God forbid we do anything that could harm the profits of large corporations. However, when it comes to workers, we can just jump in right away to trample all over their rights and affect their ability to negotiate fair conditions of work.

The Liberals are asking us at what point we would bring in the hammer. As soon there is an answer to that question, it gets built into the corporate plan. We have seen that. We are seeing that right now with the government, which has signalled a willingness to invoke back-to-work legislation, directly affecting the bargaining strategy of the companies.

It is the wrong question. I object to the question in principle because it does not recognize that there is a real negotiation here. I think it is so typical of the Liberals. They recognize negotiating principles when it is about protecting corporate profit, but when it is actually about protecting workers and their—

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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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?

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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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

Gabriel Ste-Marie Bloc Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Pierre-Boucher—Les Patriotes—Verchères for his question and comment.

Those are indeed very tough conditions. How is anyone supposed to balance work life and family life or have any life at all outside of work under those conditions?

These demands are perfectly legitimate. Obviously the port has its considerations, and that is what bargaining is for. In order for bargaining to happen, both parties need to sit down and talk and exchange their points of view. However, if one party knows from the outset that Ottawa is going to put together special legislation, that it does not need to negotiate or compromise and that it can ignore the law with impunity, why would it bother to participate in negotiations?

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April 29th, 2021 / 12:30 a.m.
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NDP

Jenny Kwan NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with my colleague, the member for New Westminster—Burnaby.

At the heart of this back-to-work legislation today is the issue around workers' rights. The right of workers to free collective bargaining and the right to strike are rights guaranteed in law.

Since we are talking about workers' right tonight, it would be appropriate for me to note that today is also the National Day of Mourning in remembrance of workers who were injured or killed on the job. It is essential that employers ensure their workers have a safe work environment. It is especially important at this time, in the middle of a pandemic, when so many workers are risking their lives, whether they are health care workers, cashiers at grocery stores, bus drivers or teachers. I want to extend my deepest gratitude to them and, as part of that appreciation, I will recommit myself to continue to fight to ensure that every single worker in the country has the protection of paid sick leave and that the federal government delivers on this important measure for the protection all of them.

As we are talking about workers' rights, tonight I was listening to the minister's justification on this back-to-work legislation. At one point, the minister actually said that she was not taking sides, that she brought forward this legislation with a heavy heart. Somehow the minister appears to be completely oblivious to the fact that the minute she indicated the government would bring in back-to-work legislation, she took a side. She sided with the employer over the rights of the workers and with that action, she tipped the scale toward the employer in the bargaining process. Gone is the process for free collective bargaining. That is what the minister did when she indicated that the government would bring in back-to-work legislation.

The government is saying that it does not want to do this, but the reality is that it is doing it. It is ignoring the rights of the workers. It will justify this with all kinds of excuses, but let us be clear about what is happening. The unions have expressly said that there would be no job action if the employer walked back on the unilateral decision to change their work schedule. My question for the government is this. Why did it not tell the employer to honour the workers and not change their working conditions and job security provisions? That is in their collective agreement.

When the employer announced that it would not honour the workers' job security provisions, that is when things went off. When it took the unilateral decision to make changes to the workers' schedules, that is when things went off. Instead of telling the employer that it was not appropriate and that it must negotiate fairly at the bargaining table about scheduling, job security and other measures within the collective agreement, the government made a decision to tip the scale by indicating it would bring in back-to-work legislation. That is why we are here tonight. By doing this, the Liberals are sending a clear message to all workers that the government does not have their backs, and it does not. That is where we are at this moment in time.

I have heard members say that this job action from the unions would impact the flow of medical supplies and equipment. The union has also indicated that there is extensive essential service order in place by the Canada Industrial Relations Board and that its members have always abided by that order. That is to say that the workers would not disrupt the delivery of essential service orders involving medical supplies and equipment. That is an important piece for us to all note.

I want Canadians who are watching this debate to also know that this debate is not about money. In fact, the union has indicated that many of its workers are younger workers and many of them are women. I have been advised that a quarter of them are women now. What they are seeking are changes to the work conditions that will ensure a better work/life balance.

If anything, this pandemic has really brought to light for all of us the importance of family, of our loved ones and to ensure that while we work, we have a safe work environment that we can go home to and balance all of these things. Those are the basic things that every single worker wants. Those are the things I know I want for myself as well and for the people I love. That is what these workers are fighting for at the bargaining table.

To negotiate all of that, we need to ensure their rights are respected, to ensure that their right for free collective bargaining is protected. However, the government undermined all of that with this back-to-work legislation. What is even more worrisome is that after all of this the government might think it has solved the problem somehow, but it has not thought ahead of what it will mean down the road with respect to the working relationship between the workers and the employer, and the requirement and need to ensure there are good relations going forward.

By undermining their collective bargaining rights, in many ways we are helping to poison the well, and that is not good for anyone. That is not good for the workers and not good for the employer. It is actually in the best interest of the Canadian government to step away. There is still time. The government can say that this is not the right path forward, that it is going to withdraw the bill. It can still do that.

That is what I find so dismaying. The government wants to pretend that it is friends with workers, that it will honour the rights of workers and then in a heartbeat it brings in back-to-work legislation. That back-to-work legislation will strip workers of their rights, their basic, fundamental rights, which is enshrined in law.

I come from British Columbia and, sadly, we have a sad history of a government that violated the rights of workers over and over again. I remember the situation with health care workers and teachers where the government brought in around-the-clock debates that stripped the teachers and health care workers of their basic rights, the basic right to collective bargaining.

The unions brought the B.C. Liberal government to court and won in both instances, in the legislation against the teachers and against the health care workers. If there is a lesson to be learned here, it is this. We must respect the rights of workers. We must honour them. In this instance, bringing in back-to-work legislation in the manner in which the government has done is so wrong and it is not helpful. The government may want to fool itself by saying it is helpful, but it is not. It cannot say in the same breath that it is somehow friends, allies and supporters of labour while doing this. I actually remember—

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April 29th, 2021 / 12:40 a.m.
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Bloc

Louise Chabot Bloc Thérèse-De Blainville, QC

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

Those in favour of heavy-handed back-to-work legislation often claim that it will improve the social climate. I think the opposite is true.

Ensuring peace requires balance, and workers, along with unions, play a major role in social justice and balance.

How can the government justify saying that this special legislation will ensure a balance of power between the parties?

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April 29th, 2021 / 12:40 a.m.
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NDP

Jenny Kwan NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague is absolutely correct to say that bringing in back-to-work legislation has ramifications beyond this moment in time. As I indicated earlier, it poisons the well going forward; it is not a good path forward.

On Labour Day, the Prime Minister released a message saying, “And thanks to the hard work and advocacy of unions, we’ve taken action to protect collective bargaining rights.”

However, here we are at this moment in time. The Prime Minister and the Liberal government are not respecting collective bargaining rights. They are not respecting the workers. They are not respecting labour. It is such a shame. The government needs to reflect on that, and withdraw this bill tonight.

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April 29th, 2021 / 12:40 a.m.
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Green

Paul Manly Green Nanaimo—Ladysmith, BC

Mr. Speaker, the Liberals talk about protecting the middle class, and these are middle-class workers.

With the number of times the Liberals and Conservatives have forced workers back to work through back-to-work legislation, eroding the right to strike, does the member agree that collective bargaining and the constitutional right to strike is being dangerously eroded, and maybe permanently eroded, through this type of action?

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April 29th, 2021 / 12:40 a.m.
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NDP

Jenny Kwan NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, there is no question that the Liberals and the Conservatives are much more alike than one would think.

At every single turn, we have witnessed the Liberal government bringing in back-to-work legislation. Even in my short time around the House of Commons, we have seen this. The postal workers are an example, when we went well into the night debating that back-to-work legislation. Before that, we saw examples in the Harper administration and the Conservatives.

Every time government takes these actions, it sends a clear signal to the workers that their rights could be done away with in a heartbeat, that they will be stripped of their basic rights enshrined in law. The member is absolutely correct in saying that every time the government takes this action, it is stripping workers' rights that have been enshrined in law.

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April 29th, 2021 / 12:40 a.m.
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NDP

Peter Julian NDP New Westminster—Burnaby, BC

Mr. Speaker, my hon. colleague from Vancouver East knows first-hand, as a member of the legislative assembly in British Columbia, what happened when the B.C. Liberals took power in B.C., and how they devastated collective organizing and union and labour rights in that province.

Could the member comment on what the danger is when a government, like the federal Liberal government or the B.C. provincial Liberal government, runs roughshod over basic human rights, like labour rights and the right to collective bargaining?

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April 29th, 2021 / 12:40 a.m.
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NDP

Jenny Kwan NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, there were ramifications when the Liberals were in government in B.C. for 16 years. They stripped workers of their rights, particularly in the Hospital Employees' Union, or HEU, and the British Columbia Teachers' Federation. It was devastating for the community.

I will use the example of the HEU. When the then B.C. government came in, it relegated many of the workers to dangerous work situations. Many of them worked in long-term care facilities and health care facilities. As a result of that, they had to work multiple jobs, which has proven to be a major problem during the pandemic. Thank goodness for the B.C. NDP government that came in. It overturned legislation, tried to restore some of the workers' rights in the system and protected the workers, long-term care facilities and health care facilities with various measures.

Those are the ramifications that could happen in real life with a government that does not honour the rights of workers. In this instance, the government is doing exactly that. It is not honouring the rights of the workers at the Port of Montreal.

The government should do what is right. It should do what it says it is committed to doing and step away from this legislation.

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April 29th, 2021 / 12:45 a.m.
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NDP

Peter Julian NDP New Westminster—Burnaby, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to begin by saying that I am speaking from the traditional territory of the Qayqayt first nation.

Like many of my colleagues, I, too, would like to acknowledge this sad International Workers' Memorial Day, which recognizes workers who have been killed or injured on the job. As members know, Canada lost nearly 1,000 workers over the past year because of a lack of workplace health and safety. Unfortunately, that is the exact date on which the government chose to impose a gag order and violate collective agreements and every union right in Canada.

This government claims to support workers. However, earlier today, it imposed a gag order and introduced the disastrous Bill C-29, which puts an end to a collective agreement and the collective bargaining process that is so important to our democracy. That is extremely sad.

It is important to note how the government acted today. It just rewarded an employer or a negotiator that represents huge shipping companies worth billions and billions of dollars and that has been acting in bad faith for many months and years. Today, the Liberals rewarded this multi-billionaire employer that is seeking to trample on the rights of unionized workers at the Port of Montreal.

Montreal dock workers are part of CUPE Local 375, and they have been negotiating in good faith for years. I want to send them this message: We stand in solidarity with them, and we are proving it tonight. We have done that all day during the debates, particularly by making an amendment to Bill C-29 and by trying to have the gag order imposed by the government lifted. We are there for dock workers and their families.

We understand their concerns about health and safety in the workplace and their desire to have legitimate working conditions and a collective agreement that is respected. For the past several days, the government has been trying to trample on their rights and tear up that collective agreement. The NDP is there in solidarity with them.

What the government just did is appalling. We will not stand for it. Surely in the next election voters will let the Liberal and Conservative members know what they think, given that the two main parties are voting tonight to trample on the rights of unions and workers.

Today we have spoken often about front-line workers, and we have, throughout the course of the pandemic, paid tribute many times to them because of the courage and duty they have shown so often in working hard to ensure that we continue to move forward as a society. However, we see the contempt the government holds not only for front-line workers, unionized workers and the dock workers in Montreal, but indeed for all Canadians who are part of the labour movement.

The contempt the Liberals have shown today should be remembered for a long time. Remember, the Liberals have always put their hands around workers and said that they stand with them and that they will be there with them. However, that only lasts as long as the billionaire employers have their interests represented. The moment there is an attempt by workers to look for and obtain their rights is the moment when the Liberals back away and abandon and betray those workers. We see this tonight, and we certainly saw this with postal workers just a few years ago. We saw the Liberals pretending to support unionized workers and then betraying them the second they had the opportunity.

We have seen a lot of crocodile tears tonight from Liberals who stood and said they really do not want to do this. However, we know full well what happens when a government intervenes, particularly in a situation like this where workers have seen their rights completely pushed aside by a government. What happens when a government weighs in on the side of the employer and the billionaire corporations that represent maritime employers? It immediately sets the whole playing field against regular workers.

The Maritime Employers Association violated the collective agreement not once or twice, but four times, pushing workers at the docks in Montreal to the very edge. The workers responded with what is an overwhelming mandate, with over 99% of the workers saying that enough is enough. When we see an employer acting with such impunity and acting so irresponsibly, all we can do is stand up and stand together.

The Liberal government, after pretending to care about the workers, workers' rights, labour rights and union principles, betrayed the workers by saying to the employer that it is going to introduce back-to-work legislation and that no one should not worry. The employer can violate the collective agreement and the government will say nothing, but the moment the workers respond, it casts aside their rights and pushes them aside.

This is the very heart of whether or not a government is progressive, and there are many examples of why the Liberal government is less than progressive.

My colleagues have cited the similarities between the Harper government and the current government, but I would go beyond that. When we see tonight's actions, see how it treated postal workers and see the massive handouts, like the $750 billion in liquidity supports that were handed out to Canada's big banks within days of the pandemic hitting, we know this goes far beyond what the Harper government did. Yes, the Harper government did similar actions, but the overall size and scope of the bank bailout there was $116 billion. Now we see the Liberals doing six times worse.

Tonight, with this casting aside of what are basic fundamental labour rights and human rights, we see the contempt the Liberal government holds for the workers of the country. We have seen this as well with sick leave. The Prime Minister has refused to implement a working sick leave program in the midst of the pandemic, when sick leave is absolutely essential.

The Liberals should not be proud of their actions tonight. There is no justification for what they have done, and what they have done is deplorable. However, labour, labour organizers and labour members across the country will remember what they have done tonight.

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April 29th, 2021 / 12:55 a.m.
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NDP

Peter Julian NDP New Westminster—Burnaby, BC

Mr. Speaker, the member, I gather, is trying to talk about the community investment programs that have been put in place by the B.C. NDP government. I absolutely support them. The idea is that we make sure that the people who bid on these programs are from unions that have a solid building trade background and are highly qualified, with Red Seal certification. The community benefits will actually go back to the community. It is absolutely fundamental to the program that the B.C. NDP government has set out.

I completely support that smart approach. What it has done has led to many benefits going back to the community. It means that we are getting extremely highly trained tradespeople working on projects in British Columbia. It has been a successful program and I support it all the way.

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April 29th, 2021 / 12:55 a.m.
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NDP

Alexandre Boulerice NDP Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his passionate speech. He made some good points, and I applaud his unwavering and immutable defence of workers' rights.

I would like to ask him about something a little more specific. The longshoremen's union had said that if the employer would stop playing games with the employees' schedules and punishing them, there would not be an open-ended general strike on Monday morning, which was last Monday. However, the day before the general strike, the Minister of Labour said that if there was a general strike, she would use special legislation to force people back to work.

What effect might this have in the short term on the employer's willingness to seriously negotiate with the unionized workers at the Port of Montreal?

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April 29th, 2021 / 12:55 a.m.
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NDP

Peter Julian NDP New Westminster—Burnaby, BC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague from Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie spoke so eloquently on this issue today. He is standing up for the interests of workers at the Port of Montreal.

As he knows, I am a former negotiator who worked on the management side during collective bargaining. It is no secret that the best way to avoid labour disputes is to have both parties negotiate in good faith.

The Liberals just trampled on any good faith by allowing the employer, multi-billion-dollar companies, to squash its workers. The government made an irresponsible decision and sided with the employer.

I think everyone will remember this sad day in Canadian history.

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April 29th, 2021 / 1 a.m.
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Bloc

Louise Chabot Bloc Thérèse-De Blainville, QC

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

I have heard a lot of economic justifications for this special legislation. I want to take this opportunity to explain to anyone who cares about the economy that less than 1% of work time was lost to all of the strikes held in Canada in the 20th century.

Does my colleague think that the employer and those who support this bill should stop crying wolf?

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April 29th, 2021 / 1 a.m.
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NDP

Peter Julian NDP New Westminster—Burnaby, BC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague is right.

If there has been any economic disruption at all, it is because the government interfered in the process by appealing to the employer, the multi-billion-dollar companies. The government told the employer that it would protect and support them, that they could do whatever they wanted with the union because it was going to impose a gag order and pass special legislation.

The Liberal government is to blame for any economic disruption, because it was the government's irresponsible actions that caused this dispute. If it had stepped in and told the employer to stop crushing the union, everyone would be in a much better position today.

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April 29th, 2021 / 1 a.m.
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Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to begin by acknowledging that I am here tonight on the traditional territory of the WSANEC nation with respect and gratitude.

Hych'ka Siem.

I also would like to split my time with the hon. leader of the Green Party of Canada, Annamie Paul, but I cannot because she is not elected yet, but she will be. I want to share that she comes from a strong union family.

We had our caucus meeting and discussed how we all feel, the three of us who are elected and the ones who will be elected later, about what we think about this back-to-work legislation. We will never support back-to-work legislation, never.

I am honoured to speak and take the time to stand clearly and firmly on the side of the longshoremen of the Port of Montreal.

Today is a day of mourning, when we remember those killed, injured or sickened on the job. This year, with this awful pandemic, our thoughts are with front-line workers who have done their jobs to protect our lives. We are so grateful to them.

How ironic that we should be marking this deeply sad and serious day in the House of Commons by debating special legislation to force longshoremen back to work with zero regard for their rights, including their right to strike. The right to strike is a constitutional right, yet here we are on this day of mourning, violating their fundamental right. To me, this is a supremely sad occasion.

I would like to tell a personal story. Thirty-seven years ago, I was working as a lawyer in Halifax, representing unions. Specifically, I worked for the Port of Halifax longshoremen. This might be hard to believe, but back then, the employer was the very same Maritime Employers Association. I am old now, but I will never forget my experiences with that group of longshoremen, who are still dear to me.

This is a complicated story, so I am going to tell it in English. There had been an accident at sea. The ship was tossed about in a big storm and it came to port all right, but its cargo was badly smashed. Everywhere one looked there was just a mess. The Maritime Employers Association, same employer, sent the workers in to clean up the ship. The collective agreement had said that if people are in a dangerous or hazardous work situation, they had to be paid time and a half. It also said the employer had the responsibility to provide protective equipment. Oh, no, not these guys. They did not bother providing any.

By the way, the Port of Halifax has a different employer association now, but this was about 1984 and it was the Maritime Employers Association. It was the longshoremen of Halifax. They sent them on board the ship to clean it up. In the hold there was raspberry jam that was smashed, a lot of Mumm champagne that was smashed, and they had a commercial chemical that is known for being hygroscopic. In other words, it absorbs moisture; that is one of its commercial benefits. I think it was potassium hydroxide, my memory may be faulty on that. Because this stuff in the hold was so hygroscopic, it absorbed all the moisture around it and became very caustic and toxic in an enclosed working space where my friends, I loved these guys, they were sent down there to clean up the hold.

What happened was that the reaction of the chemicals caused it to be really hot on their feet, through their boots. This will of course strike all of us here tonight at this late hour as an extraordinary tragedy, but it was so hot on their feet that they actually just smashed what bottles of Mumm that were not smashed already to pour the champagne on their feet to try to relieve the heat they were feeling. It was just awful. It was awful working conditions. They were not given any masks, so they were having trouble breathing and their feet were getting hot, and everything about the working conditions was appalling.

They worked in these conditions until the Environment Canada person showed up, who was in charge of accidents and toxic chemicals. He showed up appropriately dressed in full-on haz-mat, full-on moon suit, but the employers kept telling the guys to keep working in these conditions.

Fast-forward, we got into arbitration over this because the employers refused to pay what they were obliged to pay under the collective agreement. I will never forget the lawyer from the other side. I will spare mentioning his name because he has passed away and why bring abuse to him at this point; God rest his soul. The lawyer actually laughed at the workers during our arbitration. He said, “What, they need protection from raspberry jam?” Then I called my expert witness, Luke Tripp, the head of the Environment Canada contaminants program at the port at that point, and he laid out clearly, exactly how hazardous that was. We won that arbitration, hands down.

I have not forgotten my seething hatred for the Maritime Employers Association, I am sorry to say. Now it is many years later. They are all different people. They have probably all changed their tune. However, in this conflict I have no doubt where my heart lies. I cannot believe that we are in this situation where workers are being treated like this in 2021, that they would be provoked into this situation with so many arbitrary unilateral actions by the employers. It is really very distressing to imagine that we are passing legislation to force the wronged party back to work, and not standing up with the union.

We at the Green Party stand in solidarity with the Syndicat des débardeurs, and I want to say out loud, “So-so-so-solidarity! So-so-so-solidarity!"

Today, the longshoremen at the Port of Montreal are the victims of the employer's malevolent strategy. All the trials and tribulations the union has had with the employer are just awful. We will be voting on special legislation under a closure motion to force the longshoremen to go back to work without the protection of their constitutional right to strike.

I am very glad that in a life of lots of different kinds of jobs I had the chance to work in union-side labour law. However, I am overwhelmed by how many times this happens, and the same point was made by the hon. member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie. For those of elected in 2011, and I am just coming up to my 10th anniversary this Sunday, one of the first things we had was back-to-work legislation for CUPW, Canada Post workers, being forced back to work. Jack Layton led us in three days of filibuster to try to stop that from happening, and we were all the time hoping that there were some negotiations happening. That should be a rare instance; it is becoming all too common.

I do agree with my friend from Nanaimo—Ladysmith that it threatens to become not just a pattern but normal; it threatens to become a way of fundamentally undermining the rights of collective agreements and of ignoring the fact that we can get to negotiated solutions. I know it is tough. I have nothing but regard and affection for my friend, the Minister of Labour, but this is a terrible mistake.

We should not be doing this, because the employer clearly knew that it could provoke and make unilateral decisions that violated the collective agreement that it was still honouring. It has been a number of years without a collective agreement, but both sides were honouring it. Despite the strike last year, they have been working hard to keep the goods moving. That is a key point. The union has been working hard to keep goods being delivered. It has been trying. We know that on March 17, when the employer said the union was not bargaining in good faith, the mediator could not say that. The mediator said it was premature to make that conclusion.

Therefore, who was not acting in good faith? It was the same guys who sent the Halifax longshoremen into the toxic hold of a ship to clean up the mess and laughed at them. Everyone can see that I have not quite gotten over it. This is not a moment to force the longshoremen back to work. This is a moment to have someone pick up the phone and tell the Maritime Employers Association that this is not acceptable, that it provoked this and the government is not going to back it up, and that the government is going to make sure it moves heaven and earth to move those goods to other ports and find workarounds.

We are not a country that is known for being landlocked; we are known for having ports. It is not going to be easy if we let the strike go. It would not be easy to find a good berth for every ship heading into that port, but we have many more options than they did in the Suez Canal. We have ports in Quebec, ports in Halifax, ports in Saint John. We have ports on our east coast and ports on our west coast. Surely to God, there was a better solution than this.

I lament it deeply. I wish, in my heart of hearts, that we had not come to the place we are tonight. I know in Ottawa it is well after midnight and here in British Columbia it is getting on in time, but this should not have happened on April 28. This deepens the offence, deepens the damage and deepens what it means to workers across this country. I agree entirely with the union's press release that this action of back-to-work legislation strikes at the heart of collective bargaining and hurts every worker across this country.

Make no mistake about it. A country that does not have a strong trade union movement is a country that lacks in social justice, that loses ground on the very things we take for granted: that children do not go to work in factories, that there is such a thing as time off, that there is such a thing as a reasonable work-life balance. These are some of the conditions that the longshoremen were working so hard for.

I just want to say that I deeply regret the special legislation being passed on closure this evening. It is a bad decision by our government that goes against workers' rights, against unions' rights and against the Port of Montreal workers.

I want to say to all the longshoremen at the Port of Montreal that I am sorry, and I ask them to forgive us for not being able to stop our government from making this decision.

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April 29th, 2021 / 1:15 a.m.
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Liberal

Lenore Zann Liberal Cumberland—Colchester, NS

Mr. Speaker, I love to hear the member's stories about her life and history in all kinds of aspects, and I thank her for sharing that one.

As a member of a former NDP government in Nova Scotia, I know that on July 5, 2013 the NDP government introduced back-to-work legislation for the paramedics. It cited the fact that in the negotiations there was no compromise and it was about the health and safety of Nova Scotians. In fact, we did introduce that legislation.

Does the member believe in voting with one's conscience and being able to speak up on subjects that one may not agree with one's own government about?

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April 29th, 2021 / 1:15 a.m.
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Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would just like to say out loud how much I love the hon. member for Cumberland—Colchester, her fine work against environmental racism and all the things she stands for. I thank her for the reminder that the NDP in power is always very different than the NDP in opposition. I speak as a British Columbian who has had too many promises broken by Premier John Horgan.

I would say it is always best to speak one's mind. It is always best to vote the way one wants to vote. I am blessed to be in a party that, as a matter of our policy, as passed by our members, does not allow whipped votes. I love her.

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April 29th, 2021 / 1:15 a.m.
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Conservative

Brad Vis Conservative Mission—Matsqui—Fraser Canyon, BC

Mr. Speaker, the member just mentioned our beautiful British Columbia. I would like to get her comments on the community benefit agreements, which are a provincial matter, but given we just went in that direction, I do not think it is completely irrelevant.

In British Columbia, the Christian Labour Association has been excluded by the New Democratic Party and Premier John Horgan from bidding on major infrastructure projects because it is not one of the unions, or what the NDP government believes is actually a union, even though the Christian Labour Association members believe they are a union.

What would the Green Party say about the exclusion of the Christian Labour Association of Canada, or CLAC, which represents thousands of workers in B.C., from having their rights protected as workers and their ability to bid on government projects?

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April 29th, 2021 / 1:15 a.m.
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Bloc

Marie-Hélène Gaudreau Bloc Laurentides—Labelle, QC

Mr. Speaker, I salute my hon. colleague and point out that here in Laurentides—Labelle, in Quebec, it is currently 1:19 a.m.

It is quite a task, given these unacceptable actions. I was touched by what my colleague had to say, but I am also very ashamed. I would like to hear how she thinks Quebeckers and Canadians will feel about this government and its irresponsible actions after the vote we will be having in the next few minutes.

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April 29th, 2021 / 1:20 a.m.
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NDP

Niki Ashton NDP Churchill—Keewatinook Aski, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am proud to say that I stand with our party in fighting this back-to-work legislation. Many of the points raised by the member resonated with me.

Could she speak to the implications of this attack on workers, not just on the Port of Montreal workers, but all workers across Canada?

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April 29th, 2021 / 1:20 a.m.
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Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, if all workers across Canada had access to being members of trade unions, we would see more strength in our social justice movements. I think we can all say that the role of the unions has been weakened through the era of neoliberalism.

Any blow against the rights of unionized workers is a blow to the heart of what makes this a great country. There is just no question about this. Every single time we bring in back-to-work legislation, it is inevitable, no matter how much people in the government say that it is not taking sides, it clearly is, and it is taking the wrong side.

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April 29th, 2021 / 1:20 a.m.
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Green

Paul Manly Green Nanaimo—Ladysmith, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my hon. colleague from Saanich—Gulf Islands for doing the research to take the evening for us.

These are essential workers. These are people who we celebrate during the pandemic and who are getting the supplies into the country. They have been clearly mistreated, and the evidence looks like the employers provoked this situation. I am wondering if she has seen any evidence that the employers knew they could take this to the boiling point and would be able to count on the Liberal government for back-to-work legislation.

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April 29th, 2021 / 1:20 a.m.
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Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, honestly, I do not know that we have evidence, but circumstantially, how else can we read the situation?

The employer systematically provoked the situation, and needlessly. I know that many of the Liberal and Conservative speakers have made much of the fact that they have been going so long without coming to a successful negotiation and a successful conclusion, but, and I have pointed it out to this place a few times, it is not uncommon to go a long time without a contract while they are negotiating. They are negotiating, and yet they keep working.

The fact is that in this place, in the House of Commons, we are employers, and our protective service workers went four years without a contract. They were taking job action and wearing badges, wearing ball caps or in other ways breaking the code of how they were to dress. That was the only action they could take. Members can imagine if that was not used against them, that it took four years to negotiate. It was used, and I think the RCMP took way too long to treat our workers fairly within the House of Commons. The fact that they have been talking for two years is no justification whatsoever for deciding that it could not be solved, that it could never be resolved and that it could not find a negotiated solution, and I have just—

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April 29th, 2021 / 1:20 a.m.
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NDP

Alexandre Boulerice NDP Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for her speech and for her solidarity with workers at the Port of Montreal.

In terms of federal labour relations, does my colleague agree that back-to-work legislation should be avoided because it violates workers' fundamental rights, and does she agree that we should pass legislation prohibiting the use of scabs, also known as replacement workers?

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April 29th, 2021 / 1:25 a.m.
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Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie.

For the last time tonight, I want to say that I completely agree with him. We need to protect workers' rights. This balance will not work in the future if workers have no rights against employers. That is exactly what my colleague said.