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 29th, 2021 / 1:55 a.m.
See context

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

I declare the motion carried.

Accordingly, the bill stands referred to the committee of the whole.

Pursuant to order made earlier today, Bill C-29, an act to provide for the resumption and continuation of operations at the Port of Montreal, is deemed considered in committee of the whole, deemed reported with amendment, deemed concurred in at report stage as amended, and deemed read a third time and passed.

(Bill read the second time, considered in committee, reported, concurred in, read the third time and passed)

Port of Montreal Operations Act, 2021Government Orders

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

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

It being 1:25 a.m., pursuant to order made earlier today, it is my duty to interrupt the proceedings and put forthwith all questions necessary to dispose of the second reading stage of the bill now before the House.

The question is as follows.

That Bill C-29, An Act to provide for the resumption and continuation of operations at the Port of Montreal, be read the second time and referred to a committee of the whole.

If a member of a recognized party present in the House wishes to request either a recorded division or that the motion be adopted on division, I would invite them to rise and indicate it to the Chair.

The hon. member for London—Fanshawe.

Port of Montreal Operations Act, 2021Government Orders

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

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.

Port of Montreal Operations Act, 2021Government Orders

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

Bloc

Monique Pauzé Bloc Repentigny, QC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Port of Montreal Operations Act, 2021Government Orders

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

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 / 10:45 p.m.
See context

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 / 9:30 p.m.
See context

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 p.m.
See context

Hamilton West—Ancaster—Dundas Ontario

Liberal

Filomena Tassi LiberalMinister of Labour

moved that Bill C-29, An Act to provide for the resumption and continuation of operations at the Port of Montreal, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Proceedings on a Bill Entitled An Act to Provide for the Resumption and Continuation of Operations at the Port of MontrealGovernment Orders

April 28th, 2021 / 7:55 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Julie Dzerowicz Liberal Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the point of order from my hon. colleague, as well as your clarification, as I am not sure I have enough speech for another 10 minutes.

I will conclude. The Port of Montreal is an economic hub. It is very much critical to the economic well-being of Canadians across this country, particularly in Quebec and eastern Canada. The current work stoppage at the port is unfortunately causing significant long-lasting impacts to Quebec's economy and Canada's economy. It is adding a lot of stress to the supply chains that are already under significant strain due to COVID-19.

For over two and a half years, our government has provided extensive support to help both sides, to the Montreal longshoremen's union as well as the Maritime Employers Association. We have provided extensive help to try to get them to reach an agreement. That help includes over 100 days of mediated bargaining. However, despite substantial support and multiple work disruptions in the past, both parties remain far apart, and there is a new work stoppage under way.

That is why we have put forward a bill that would end the economic harm to the Canadian economy, ensure the safe resumption of operations at the port and establish a neutral mediation arbitration process to finally resolve the parties' disputes and conclude a new collective agreement. I am thankful for the opportunity to speak to Bill C-29.

Proceedings on a Bill Entitled An Act to Provide for the Resumption and Continuation of Operations at the Port of MontrealGovernment Orders

April 28th, 2021 / 7:45 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Julie Dzerowicz Liberal Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to rise today to speak on behalf of Davenport residents on Bill C-29, which would require employees and employers at the Port of Montreal to resume operations. There is currently a work stoppage due to a long-standing dispute between the Montreal longshoremen's union and the Maritime Employers Association. Unfortunately, this bill is urgently needed.

The Port of Montreal is the second-largest container port in Canada. Every year it handles around 40 billion dollars' worth of goods. The current work stoppage is causing dire economic impacts in Montreal and across the country. It has health implications, and it is threatening the viability and reputation of the port. These reasons and more are why it is important to pass this bill immediately.

I know the Minister of Labour introduced this bill with a very heavy heart. She is the daughter of a steel worker, and I know she felt it was her last option. I also know it was our government's least favoured option. We believe in the collective bargaining process. We believe in our workers' right to strike. In the heart of my own riding of Davenport, which is mostly composed of working-class communities and has many first-generation Canadians, many constituents are part of a union. Unions protect them, ensure safer and better working conditions, and ensure fair pay for their valuable working contributions.

To this day, Davenport continues to be home to working people. I, myself, am the daughter of working-class immigrant parents. I grew up appreciating the value and dignity of labour, and the need for fair, safe and healthy workplaces. There are many unions in my riding that are active. They are pillars of the community in Davenport. I want to thank them now for everything they do to protect the rights and interests of our workers.

In the case of the Port of Montreal, our government has demonstrated our commitment to the collective bargaining process. In this case, through over two and a half years of mediation, CUPE Local 375 and Maritime Employers Association have been at the table since September 2018. Our federal government has supported the mediation process since October 11, 2018.

Our government provided significant support in making our top mediators available to them to help them reach a new collective agreement, and this amounted to 100 days of mediated bargaining. Very little progress has been made. Both parties remain far apart, and there is now a work stoppage with enormous implications. The broad economic and health consequences of the current work stoppage have left us with no choice but to take this step.

I want to echo something the Minister of Labour said when she introduced this bill. When a work stoppage impacts only the workers and the employers in question, there is no justification for the government to intervene, but in this case, the dire, long-lasting impacts to the economy of Quebec, eastern Canada and the entire country are so severe that the government must protect all the other jobs that are at stake.

Let us talk numbers. Right now, the current strike is halting the flow of around $270 million per week. Economic modelling puts the cost to our economy between $40 million and $100 million per week. The port has experienced a 10% decrease of container volume, estimated to be worth $30 million per week for the month of March 2021, compared to the previous year. The volume of containers arriving at the port bound for the Canadian market has declined by 9% year over year, while the volume of containers bound for the U.S. market has declined by 19%.

The work stoppage is paralyzing the port, forcing companies to reroute their supply chains and incur significant additional costs in the process. In addition, this is happening during a pandemic when our businesses are already under enormous economic strain and stress. This only adds additional, unwelcomed pressure at a time when too many companies are just trying to survive.

Let me bring it back to my own riding and the people I have the absolute honour of serving. My riding of Davenport in downtown west Toronto is home to many Portuguese speakers, including those from the Brazilian-Canadian community. They, and many stakeholders specifically from the Brazil-Canada Chamber of Commerce, have raised with me over the past year the issue of the disruption of trade between Canada and Brazil and the impact it is having on many small businesses here in Toronto and the broader GTA.

There are so many other stakeholders who are being impacted in Canada, including farmers, who have been waiting for seeds and fertilizer, which they need to arrive on time. It impacts their livelihoods. It impacts our food supply chains and business contracts.

There are 19,000 direct and indirect transportation jobs at the Port of Montreal that are being impacted, including rail and trucking jobs. As well, there are 250,000 jobs in Montreal and another 273,000 manufacturing jobs in Ontario that are also very much impacted.

Other industries in Canada also depend on the goods that flow through this port. Many, as I have mentioned before, are already struggling to adapt and recover from the COVID recession. The diversion of ships to other ports, including those in the United States, could permanently change shipping routes and cut Montreal out of important supply chains for the long term. Canada's reputation as a reliable trading partner is at risk, and the reputation of the Port of Montreal is at risk as well.

The work stoppage also has implications for the health of Canadians. As the minister has mentioned a number of times, right now there are ships waiting that are holding life-saving medicines and medical equipment, some of which is COVID-related. I understand that the minister has heard from many who have said that this strike has life-and-death implications as many hospitals are waiting for medicines and medical equipment.

Let me touch on the key things the bill would do. It would extend the expired collective agreement until a new collective agreement comes into effect. It would prohibit any other work stoppages until the extended agreement expires. It would require the minister to appoint a mediator-arbitrator, one who is jointly approved by the parties or, failing that, a neutral person of the minister's choice. It would refer all disputed matters to the mediator-arbitrator, and it would require them to attempt to resolve the dispute within 14 days.

It would also empower the mediator to resolve outstanding issues to arbitration if mediation fails. It would provide for the new collective agreement to become binding for the two parties when the mediator-arbitrator reports back to the minister. If, on the other hand, the parties reach a new collective agreement before the mediator-arbitrator reports back, that new agreement would be binding instead.

There have been a number of objections raised over the course of our discussion yesterday and today, and one of them is that the government has not done enough. I think that the minister and many of my colleagues from all parties have pointed out, particularly colleagues from my side of the House, that we have spent an exorbitant amount of time trying to make sure that we have offered every available tool to allow the two sides to come together. We have offered our best mediators, and they have accumulated over 100 hours of mediation time. We have also offered whatever other tools are available that could be at their disposal. Unfortunately, the two sides are still too far apart.

Some may also say that this legislation takes away bargaining powers from the parties. I would say that, on the contrary, the parties are still negotiating now. The minister has strongly encouraged them to reach an agreement before this legislation is passed because that is the best way to actually reach an agreement. We know that the bill also contains several key provisions to keep the collective bargaining process going.

The bill creates a clear path to finally resolve the dispute in a way that is fair and that is neutral. We do not want to disrupt the collective bargaining process. Our government believes that both sides getting together to reach an agreement is one that is good for both of them without the government getting involved. To us that is absolutely the very best outcome. Hopefully that is where it will end up.

If circumstances were different, our government would not be intervening. We would let the bargaining process continue, but in this case, unfortunately, the cost of the work stoppage to other Canadians is too great. Therefore, our government is introducing the bill to mitigate those harms to other Canadians, workers and businesses, and to give the parties a pathway to a new and fair collective agreement.

I trust that my colleagues in all parties will agree that these dire circumstances leave us no choice but to introduce this bill in this House. We have to have this debate and this vote. We are asking for all sides to say that this is a reasonable step for us to be taking at this point, as we have exhausted all other options.

We are coming to the end of my time. I think I probably have about a minute left. Is that right, Mr. Speaker?

Port of Montreal Operations Act, 2021Routine Proceedings

April 27th, 2021 / 10 a.m.
See context

Hamilton West—Ancaster—Dundas Ontario

Liberal

Filomena Tassi LiberalMinister of Labour

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-29, An Act to provide for the resumption and continuation of operations at the Port of Montreal.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)