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.