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House of Commons Hansard #167 of the 35th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was budget.

Topics

West Coast Ports Operations Act, 1995Government Orders

8:40 p.m.

Liberal

Lucienne Robillard Liberal Saint-Henri—Westmount, QC

Mr. Chairman, I think that the Minister of Labour can act according to the Canada Labour Code. If I understand correctly, what is wanted is that the bill require a return to work and the appointment of a mediator who would report to the minister.

But what would happen afterwards? How would we make a decision? How would we reach a collective agreement? It is not incumbent on the Minister of Labour to make the final decision and to decide on the clauses of the collective agreement. It is exactly for that reason that the Canada Labour Code gives us the possibility of naming an arbitrator. And therefore it seems to me very appropriate to have a mediator-arbitrator who will be able to play both roles.

West Coast Ports Operations Act, 1995Government Orders

8:45 p.m.

The Chairman

Before recognizing the hon. member for Kamouraska-Rivière-du-Loup, I think that I must give some explanation to the House.

We are having a general debate on all of the amendments so that any member can get up at any time on any amendment. It should be understood by all members that is the case.

West Coast Ports Operations Act, 1995Government Orders

8:45 p.m.

Bloc

Paul Crête Bloc Kamouraska—Rivière-Du-Loup, QC

Mr. Chairman, I rise to provide some response to the question the minister asked and to draw attention to what I see as a contradiction between the bill and the excellent decision to set up a board of inquiry. There have been a lot of problems in this sector of labour relations for a number of years. The minister says it is time to clean things up, understand what is going on, change the rules and take the appropriate corrective action.

At the same time, the bill repeats the same old traditional pattern of making special laws for ports, as has been done for a number of years. The practice has always been to decide for the parties. We would expect, and this is the focus of our amendments rather than the elimination of the notion of arbitrator, that the minister would want to change the way things are done, just as the board of inquiry should bring about effective changes in practices and ways of operating.

We must remember that they got to this point because they knew from the outset that this was the way it worked in the sector. Therefore, from the outset, they negotiated knowing that, in the end, they would reach this point and that there might be special legislation because of what has happened in the past. What we must give them is the message that this longstanding pattern no longer works and must be changed.

Therefore, adopting a special law is no solution. We are telling them to return to work and to their bargaining responsibilities, to resume negotiations with a mediator so that they are not relieved of their responsibility, but are rather confronted with it, and will have to reach an agreement as they are the interested parties. This is the meaning of the amendments we made.

West Coast Ports Operations Act, 1995Government Orders

8:45 p.m.

Saint-Henri—Westmount Québec

Liberal

Lucienne Robillard LiberalMinister of Labour

Mr. Chairman, I now understand more clearly the intent of the amendments brought forward by the Bloc Quebecois, but I want to say to the members of this House that we have to solve, in the very short term, a problem that exists at this very moment. At 8.45 p.m. tonight, we have a problem in Western Canada and the

appointment of a commission of inquiry will not give us short term solutions to this problem.

The appointment of a commission of inquiry will certainly help us in the medium term so that this situation does not happen again. Right now, I agree that we are opting for a more traditional solution, if I may use this expression before the members of this House, to the dispute that is going on. This more traditional solution is the appointment of a mediator-arbitrator who will impose a settlement so that we have a collective agreement that will be effective until at least December 31, 1996.

In the meantime, we will appoint a commission of inquiry which will review the bargaining process and we will be able to see what changes can be made later on. So, the bill before us will help us solve the problem in the very short term, but we will still take a long term look at the whole bargaining process.

West Coast Ports Operations Act, 1995Government Orders

8:45 p.m.

Bloc

Paul Crête Bloc Kamouraska—Rivière-Du-Loup, QC

Mr. Chairman, I would like to draw the attention of the House to the last amendment on our list because it is a little different. That amendment provides that in clause 11, on page 5, line 17, all the words after the word "agreement" be deleted. That clause reads as follows: "Nothing in this Act shall be construed so as to limit or restrict the rights of the parties to the collective agreement to agree to amend any provision of the collective agreement-and the clause goes on-amended by or pursuant to this Act, other than a provision relating to the term of the collective agreement, and to give effect thereto."

The purpose of our amendment is to delete all the words after the word "agreement" so that the parties will have much more freedom to agree on provisions other than those provided for in the bill, more particularly relating to the term of the agreement.

We would like the parties to have the opportunity, if they so wish, to negotiate provisions other than those in the bill, and especially a back to work agreement. It would be important for the parties to have some breathing space to do that.

West Coast Ports Operations Act, 1995Government Orders

8:50 p.m.

Saint-Henri—Westmount Québec

Liberal

Lucienne Robillard LiberalMinister of Labour

Mr. Chairman, I have been informed this is already possible under the present provisions of the Canada Labour Code. The amendment proposed by the hon. member for the Bloc Quebecois is unnecessary.

West Coast Ports Operations Act, 1995Government Orders

8:50 p.m.

Bloc

Paul Crête Bloc Kamouraska—Rivière-Du-Loup, QC

Mr. Chairman, if it is already indicated in the Canada Labour Code, then it is a matter of clarification. If it is already in the Canada Labour Code, it would be unnecessary to say what it says in the bill, because this would mean adding something that already exists in the Canada Labour Code. Here, certain clauses restrict the rights of the parties, but we do not want any restrictions on the rights of the parties. This is in line with getting rid of the mediator-arbitrator, but it is an additional element that could apply even if the amendment on the mediator-arbitrator is rejected.

West Coast Ports Operations Act, 1995Government Orders

8:50 p.m.

Reform

Leon Benoit Reform Vegreville, AB

Mr. Chairman, it is sad that I must stand here today to talk about putting an end to a strike that should not have happened.

This type of work stoppage has happened again and again. There have been over 25 stoppages in the grain handling system in the last 25 years. There is no need for that.

The irony is that as we debate putting an end to this longshoreman strike, at this very time there is a labour disruption effecting rail movements which will still prevent the proper movement of grain and other commodities to market.

I refer to the Minister of Labour's response in question period yesterday to a question from the hon. member for Simcoe Centre. He said: "The Minister of Labour may have time to wait and sort this out but Canadian farmers do not. Present shipments are in danger. They must plan for future crops now and should not have to worry about whether the rail system will be there when they need it. I ask the minister again, when will the government introduce back to work legislation?"

The response from the Minister of Labour was: "I would like to ask the Reform member to remain calm and to refrain from spreading panic among the parties concerned. As we speak, grain is moving in the west, in Vancouver this very day. We should keep in contact with the parties and keep in mind that it is always better to negotiate an agreement than to envision legislating these people back to work".

The hon. member for Simcoe Centre said in his next question: "We have been calm far too long. When is the time to get nervous? It is right now. There have been 13 work stoppages in 29 years. Our western grain growers cannot afford to bear the brunt of another strike. Canada's transportation system must be reliable or our customers will go elsewhere. Once the back to work legislation is passed, will the government take steps to ensure the threat of future rail strikes is removed once and for all?"

The minister's response was: "As usual, the hon. member is going a bit too fast. At this stage, legislation is out of the question, so I will not answer hypothetical questions".

The minister's response to the Reform member's question was not acceptable then and it is not acceptable now.

Today we are talking about ending a strike which affects longshoremen. It is not good enough to do this today. We must bring in back to work legislation tomorrow to end the rail strike which will still cost farmers and other shippers money tomorrow, Friday, Saturday and the day after that.

West Coast Ports Operations Act, 1995Government Orders

8:55 p.m.

The Chairman

The hon. member is speaking to the matter. He can speak to any of the amendments or any of the clauses. The members on the government side were listened to courteously. I think the members of the government side might listen to this member who comes from the grain producing region of Canada.

West Coast Ports Operations Act, 1995Government Orders

8:55 p.m.

Reform

Leon Benoit Reform Vegreville, AB

Mr. Chairman, tomorrow let us get back to work legislation on the rail strikes. Next week let us get legislation before the House that will prevent this from happening again next year and in the years following.

I would like to thank my fellow members of caucus who have worked so hard in pushing for an end to this strike. I would like to thank in particular the member for Wild Rose for asking yesterday for an emergency debate to end the longshoremen strike which stopped movement of grain and other products. I would also like to thank the Liberal government and the labour minister for her action in legislating this strike to an end.

I want to talk about the costs this strike will bring to farmers, that the strike last year brought to farmers, that the rail strike will continue to bring to farmers in western Canada and to others who depend on this movement system.

Particularly for the farmers these costs include demurrage costs on ships that wait to be loaded. It cost millions of dollars last year in the 12-day strike. It took the government 11 days to act last year. I guess it is to be congratulated. It took less time this year with this strike. How long is the government going to take on the rail strike? We have yet to see.

There are 28 ships waiting in port right now with 17 more ships due by Friday. More than 60 per cent of the grain exports are not moving. Grain elevators are backed up. Lost sales which we incur with each of these strikes are the biggest single cost to farmers and for other shipping commodities through the west coast and other ports.

What is the value of lost sales in grain due to this strike, due to the rail strike which still continues, due to the strike last year? Last year the estimated cost over the 12-day strike was over $200 million in lost sales. This year for the longshoremen strike it will be millions more. We do not know when the rail disruption will end. I would like to ask the minister when she plans to end the rail disruption.

Why did this longshoremen strike and the rail strike ever happen? In 1992 a contract ended. We knew, this minister knew, this Liberal government knew, Reformers certainly knew, farmers knew and union members knew there would be a work stoppage.

It has become tradition for unions to depend on back to work legislation to end strikes and lockouts. It has become tradition because they have learned over the past years they do very well by waiting for government to legislate them back to work. In some cases the agreements have actually been better than they have been asking for in negotiation. Labour has come to depend on governments legislating them back to work.

Why did we have to wait until the work stoppage actually came into effect? Why are we waiting for the rail strike to continue? When will the minister act in that regard?

Last year when government legislated an end to a disruption on the west coast, the Reform Party presented during the debate positive alternatives which, if implemented, would have prevented this situation from ever happening. Reform pushed for last best offer arbitration during last year's debate. Nothing was done. I would like to quote from a speech that I gave about a year ago in the House in very similar circumstances.

I want to present one of the Reform options which I presented to the House at that time and which the Liberal government should have responded to then and which I ask it to respond to now.

I talked about two options. The second option:

-is to put in place a better labour-management negotiation process. This could involve ensuring that a new agreement will be in place before the old one expires-

To accomplish that an arbitrator could be appointed approximately six months before a contract expires. If a settlement has not been reached within two weeks of the end of the contract, then an arbitrator would ask management and labour to come up with their best offer, their best position. The arbitrator would then pick one, either the labour position or the management position. One position would be completely accepted and the other position completely rejected.

Under this process a strike would not be allowed to occur. This is good for labour. It is good for management. It is good for western Canadian grain farmers and others using the system. These options should be considered in developing a long term solution to the recurring disruptions in the grain handling system.

That is what I recommended in debate last year.

Since then the hon. member for Lethbridge has put forward a private members' bill on this issue, Bill C-62, which he will talk about later. In that bill is the process for dealing with last best offer arbitration.

I encourage the government after the third hour of debate which takes place at noon on Monday to be here to vote in favour of Bill C-62 so that we will have in place a mechanism that will work and that will satisfy labour and management to some extent. It will prevent these disputes and these disruptions from happening in the future.

I call on the Liberals now to be here on Monday to listen to the third hour of private members' debate and to vote so that these disputes will not occur in the future.

As my last question I ask the hon. Minister of Labour if she will support Bill C-262 which will put in place a last best offer arbitration procedure that will prevent any disruptions in the grain handling system from occurring in the future?

I ask the labour minister that now and I encourage her to support the bill next Monday. I ask her whether she will support this bill.

West Coast Ports Operations Act, 1995Government Orders

9 p.m.

The Chairman

The Minister of Labour may prefer to answer both members at the same time. The hon. member for the official opposition put a question earlier. Does the minister wish to respond or would she rather wait until the end of this discussion?

West Coast Ports Operations Act, 1995Government Orders

9 p.m.

Saint-Henri—Westmount Québec

Liberal

Lucienne Robillard LiberalMinister of Labour

Mr. Chairman, in response to the question asked by the hon. member from the Bloc Quebecois, I will remind him that clause 11 of the bill before us allows the parties to amend any provision of the collective agreement, including those that will be imposed on them, other than the term of the collective agreement, of course. Clause 11 gives a fair bit of flexibility.

Second, I would tell my colleague from the Reform Party that the government has already made a decision on all the problems that he has raised. First, it will solve the problem very quickly through this back to work legislation but also by setting up an industrial inquiry commission that will review the collective agreement structure.

I do not know whether the investigation commissioner will draw the same conclusions as the hon. member from the Reform Party, but I think that we should analyse the situation as a whole and that is why we will appoint an investigation commissioner.

West Coast Ports Operations Act, 1995Government Orders

9:05 p.m.

NDP

Bill Blaikie NDP Winnipeg—Transcona, MB

Mr. Chairman, I have a question for the Minister of Labour. I wonder if she could tell the House whether or not it is the general policy of the government to bring in back to work legislation which does not legislate a settlement, as is the case with this legislation?

Is it the policy of the government to bring in legislation without a settlement? The legislation before us does not have a settlement. It appoints a mediator or arbitrator. Is this the general policy of the government with respect to back to work legislation?

West Coast Ports Operations Act, 1995Government Orders

9:05 p.m.

Saint-Henri—Westmount Québec

Liberal

Lucienne Robillard LiberalMinister of Labour

Mr. Chairman, the government assesses each situation on its own merits.

West Coast Ports Operations Act, 1995Government Orders

9:05 p.m.

Reform

Allan Kerpan Reform Moose Jaw—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Chairman, I was sitting here just a few minutes ago wondering why I was happy to be here at seven minutes after nine on a Wednesday evening. I just realized what it was. I get to sit in the front row once a year. However, that is hardly reason enough to be here once a year; to pass back to work legislation in labour disputes.

Many of the points I want to make this evening to the government and to the opposition have already been made so I will dispense with them. However, there are a couple of questions and a couple of concerns that I do have with this legislation and I would like to spend a few minutes asking a couple of questions.

Before I do that, I had a letter handed to me today from an alfalfa dehydrator in Olds, Alberta. I think it is worthwhile reading it into the record tonight. It is an obvious concern from people in that industry who go through these types of labour disputes on an almost regular basis. Certainly they have concern for the future of their businesses whenever they see one coming down the road.

I will read this letter, if I may:

If in any small way my name or the name of my company can stop the insane abuse of power a very few people have over so many others, please use them.

In our industry Canada only has a 3 per cent market share. The U.S.A. has 85 per cent, China and Australia have about 5 per cent each. The Americans cannot be happier, they probably will sell lots more product now and will lock in more future sales because of Canada's poor track record and reliability and with no future end in sight to the strikes. My customers from Japan ask, "How can we be so stupid?" "If you cannot supply them we have no choice". Americans will win again, not because they are better, more competitive, or have better quality but through default.

If the Dominion of Canada wants me to pay taxes and to help fight the deficit, please help me deliver products I have sold. End this strike forever.

It is signed: "A discouraged export business owner". His name is Blair Wright from Olds, Alberta.

The reason I read that is that I think it is critical. I echo the words of my colleagues who have said that we cannot continue to work under this system. I encourage the minister to develop some sort of system. I encourage her to do that in order to pre-empt these types of labour disputes. As the member of

Parliament for Moose Jaw-Lake Centre, I would offer my support to the minister and I would be prepared to help in any way I can to make that happen.

The two questions I would like to ask the minister on the legislation are, first, why are the Montreal docks not included in this legislation? Second, if the Reform Party had been drafting this legislation it would have removed section 8 and replaced it with final offer selection, which has been discussed here before.

I want to be very clear about this. I talked to the minister's officials before the debate began tonight. I understand that the reason behind not using final offer selection is that it was used about a year ago in a labour dispute that was then ongoing. I understand and I accept what they have told me.

However, I would like to ask the minister if she believes that final offer selection could be useful at some point in this process. Would she commit the mediator-arbitrator to move to final offer selection at some point in this process if it is necessary?

West Coast Ports Operations Act, 1995Government Orders

9:10 p.m.

Saint-Henri—Westmount Québec

Liberal

Lucienne Robillard LiberalMinister of Labour

Mr. Chairman, with respect to the port of Montreal, why is the situation there not included in this bill? Well, I would say that the situation in the port of Montreal is completely different.

I said earlier that we evaluated each situation on its merits. That is what we have done in the case of the port of Montreal. As you know, there is a labour relations problem there too, but all the other ports in the province of Quebec are now also in operation. Trois-Rivières, Sorel and Quebec City come to mind. Therefore the impact or consequences are not as great compared to the situation in Western Canada. That is my first comment.

My second is that, in the port of Montreal, we have seen over the years that the parties are very often able to reach an agreement. I believe that we have not had a general strike in the port of Montreal for over 20 years. At this point I have complete confidence that the parties can still come to an agreement in the port of Montreal. It is also very clear that I am making them a formal offer of mediation, precisely for the purpose of reaching such an agreement. Under these circumstances, I would consider legislative intervention completely premature.

As for the second question, regarding the possibility of a final offer, I would like to say that the complexity of this year's debate, compared to last year's, is completely different. Last year, there was only one element involved. If I remember correctly, the issue then was whether or not to allow an increase from 65 to 70 cents. The question was very simple: yes or no? The issue was a very straightforward one.

The situation before us today is much more complex. That is why we have opted for mediation-arbitration. If there is a final offer, the decision will be up to the arbitrator.

West Coast Ports Operations Act, 1995Government Orders

9:10 p.m.

The Chairman

The member for Winnipeg Transcona made it clear that he had not finished his earlier remarks.

West Coast Ports Operations Act, 1995Government Orders

9:10 p.m.

NDP

Bill Blaikie NDP Winnipeg—Transcona, MB

Mr. Chairman, I asked the minister a question earlier.

Concerning back to work legislation, is it the general policy of the government to bring in back to work legislation which does not involve a settlement, but rather a mediator-arbitrator as is the case before us now?

The reason I ask that question is because of the debate which has already ensued here and the comments which have been made about the possibility of further back to work legislation having to do with the rail situation. There is a concern, given some of the things the Minister of Transport has said in the past, that if the government brings in back to work legislation it may legislate a settlement to get rid of or reduce severely the employment security benefits that are in the current collective bargaining agreements.

I want to ask the Minister of Labour whether or not she can give assurances to the House and to the people who are concerned about the nature of that back to work legislation. Has the government ruled out legislating a settlement, particularly in respect of the employment security benefits?

West Coast Ports Operations Act, 1995Government Orders

9:10 p.m.

Saint-Henri—Westmount Québec

Liberal

Lucienne Robillard LiberalMinister of Labour

Mr. Chairman, I repeat that each situation is assessed on its merit.

As for the railway situation, it is now 9.15 p.m., so it is premature to talk about back to work legislation. I would not want to base my opinion on assumptions, but we will assess each of these situations. I am happy to see that negotiations were going on, today, in the railway sector. Once again, the main purpose of the minister of Labour is to help parties reach an agreement and to legislate. When we do that, it is because we do not have a choice any more.

West Coast Ports Operations Act, 1995Government Orders

9:10 p.m.

The Chairman

There are four people who want to speak and there are about 15 minutes left. One more comment from the member for Winnipeg-Transcona.

West Coast Ports Operations Act, 1995Government Orders

9:10 p.m.

NDP

Bill Blaikie NDP Winnipeg—Transcona, MB

Mr. Chairman, I want to ask the Minister of Labour with respect, I understand there is no need for back to work legislation now and I hope there will be no need. I cannot foresee a situation in which there would be. But her colleague, the Minister of Transport, also has a responsibility in the area of rail. He has indicated on a number of occasions that the government would act to eliminate the employment security provisions of the collective bargaining agreements if they could not be negotiated away.

What policy does the Minister of Labour bring to this particular situation which I am sure she is familiar with? On the merits of the situation as she now understands it, is she prepared to tell me and this House that the government will not legislate a settlement-

West Coast Ports Operations Act, 1995Government Orders

9:10 p.m.

The Chairman

The member has been here as long as I have and would know the matter he has raised is not relevant to the bill now before the House. If the minister wants to make a comment she can, but it is certainly not relevant to what we are talking about.

West Coast Ports Operations Act, 1995Government Orders

9:10 p.m.

Bloc

Claude Bachand Bloc Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Chairman, I have a first question to put this debate into perspective. I keep hearing my colleague talk about strikes and more strikes. I think he mentioned the word five times. To my knowledge and from what I have read about the situation, a report was tabled, the employer implemented it unilaterally while the union was against it. The employer then proceeded to lock out the employees. To my knowledge such was the chain of events. Workers are not on strike, they have been locked-out. This is the first point. Madam Minister, I am asking you to tell us whether I am right or my colleague is right.

As to the actual return to work we have no objections, but we do have objections with what the minister is proposing, a graduated approach. She mentioned earlier a conciliation which effectively took place. Normally, the second stage in labour relations is mediation, followed by arbitration, if need be. I believe that as far as graduated responses are concerned, this one, as my hon. colleague mentioned, is rather swift, since we have already reached the mediation-arbitration stage, only twenty hours after the lock-out started. This is rather quick, and I believe that it sends a dangerous message to Canadian employers as a whole, especially since no life is at risk. I understand that from an economic perspective, this issue is very important.

It is conceivable that, from now on, employers in the rest of Canada are going to say: "If we lock out our workers, what might happen is that the minister and the House of Commons are going to pass back to work legislation which will impose a mediator-arbitrator and they will both abdicate their responsibilities".

My second question to the minister is this: Does she not think that she is going a bit too fast with her graduated back to work measures?

West Coast Ports Operations Act, 1995Government Orders

9:20 p.m.

York North Ontario

Liberal

Maurizio Bevilacqua LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Human Resources Development

Mr. Chairman, let me take this opportunity to express my warmest and sincerest congratulations to the new Minister of Labour who acted very quickly on this issue in a very decisive fashion. I think that was warranted, given the situation we are facing.

The decision to bring in legislation to force people back to their jobs is never taken lightly. It is a step that is only taken when the stakes are too high for a strike to be left to take its course. This is such a time.

Last February, Canada's grain handling and transportation system was disrupted for 11 days when longshoremen on the west coast went on strike. It was a significant contributing factor in the big transportation backlog. This was only the most recent of several work stoppages in recent years that have affected the grains and oilseeds industry. The direct cost of that strike to the industry was estimated at $35 million above and beyond other significant losses resulting from deferred or lost sales.

Make no mistake about it. Whenever our ability to transport our grains and oilseeds and other crops to port is disrupted, our customers look to other suppliers to meet their needs. These repeated work stoppages no matter what their cause have the same results, a negative impact on our sales. Some of our customers have questioned our reputation for consistent and timely delivery of quality grains and oilseeds.

Last April and May the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food made an important trip to Japan, Korea, China and Hong Kong. While he was there he was told face to face by some very angry customers that they were not happy with Canada's performance. The message was clear: We had better clean up our act or our customers would find other suppliers.

Immediately after that trip, to avoid any finger pointing or buck passing, as he puts it, the minister called together all the major operational players for a face to face meeting in Winnipeg on May 16. The objective of that meeting was to confront the reality of our problems and to work out practical solutions very quickly.

Now we are faced with the same issue for a second consecutive year. No one can guarantee that our customers will indeed be understanding.

I would like to mention a few specific examples of the potential impact of this strike. The Canadian Wheat Board has indicated that its export program for March is 2.9 million tonnes through both east and west coast ports. This represents an estimated sales value of $511.5 million. Every week the board exports 570,000 tonnes of wheat and barley worth more than $102 million. Over the balance of the crop year we will export more than one million tonnes a month.

Every tonne not moved in March will roll over into the next month, making it more difficult to maintain the planned export program. It does not take a rocket scientist to see that the potential for lost sales from just one week of lost shipping will have a serious impact on our grain exports.

The wheat board has advised us that four vessels are waiting at the west coast port as we speak. Another 18 vessels will arrive this week to load 500,000 tonnes and 12 more will arrive before the end of March. Aside from the potential cost of lost sales, the charges will be significant if work does not resume immediately. No wonder the Canadian Wheat Board has asked the government to take quick action to resolve this critical situation.

On top of the effects the strike would have on wheat and barley exports, is the potential impact on our export of canola, our second largest export crop. Canada will export 4.2 million tonnes of canola seed this year worth $1.6 million. A major portion of it will pass through the ports of the west coast.

West Coast Ports Operations Act, 1995Government Orders

9:25 p.m.

The Chairman

Excuse me. I wonder if the member is aware that other members want to speak. There is a relatively short time left. Had the parliamentary secretary finished his remarks or was he just about to finish them?