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.


The BudgetGovernment Orders

6:10 p.m.

Some hon. members


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6:10 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

In my opinion the yeas have it.

And more than five members having risen:

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The Deputy Speaker

Call in the members.

(The House divided on the motion, which was agreed to on the following division:)

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6:45 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I declare the the motion adopted.

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6:45 p.m.


Peter Milliken Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

Mr. Speaker, I think you would would find unanimous consent to deal with item No. 25 under Ways and Means Proceedings on today's Order Paper.

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6:45 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is there unanimous consent?

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Some hon. members


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6:45 p.m.

LaSalle—Émard Québec


Paul Martin LiberalMinister of Finance and Minister responsible for the Federal Office of Regional Development -Quebec

moved that a Ways and Means motion relating to certain measures announced in the February 1995 budget, laid upon the table on Tuesday, March 14, be concurred in.

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6:45 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

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Some hon. members


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Some hon. members


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The Deputy Speaker

I declare the motion agreed to on division.

(Motion agreed to.)

West Coast Ports Operations Act, 1995Government Orders

March 15th, 1995 / 6:45 p.m.

Saint-Henri—Westmount Québec


Lucienne Robillard LiberalMinister of Labour

moved that Bill C-74, an act respecting the supervision of longshoring and related operations at west coast ports, be read the second time and, pursuant to order adopted earlier this day, referred to committee of the whole.

Mr. Speaker, I rise in the House today to introduce the West Coast Ports Operations Act, 1995, which provides for the supervision of longshoring and related operations at ports on the west coast of Canada. The labour dispute that led to the tabling of this bill is between the Waterfront Foremen Employers' Association and local 514 of the ship and dock foremen of the International Longshoremen's and Warehousemen's Union.

The association has a membership of 16 companies that employ members of the union in longshoring operations in British Columbia. The union has about 500 members and represents all unionized foremen employed in freight handling operations in British Columbia. The collective agreement between the parties expired on December 31, 1992, and the labour dispute was caused by the inability of the parties to renew the agreement.

After direct talks between the parties broke off, a conciliator from the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service was appointed on August 5, 1993 to help the parties settle their differences. The conciliator met the parties during the period from September 1993 to March 1994, and as a result the parties resumed negotiations in March. Conciliation sessions started again in April 1994 and went on until August last year. On October 18, 1994, the parties were informed of the appointment of Mark Thompson as conciliation commissioner in this labour dispute.

On February 10, 1995, after a series of meetings which took place over a period of four months, the conciliation commissioner transmitted his report to the parties. The employer indicated that, on the whole, he agreed with what the report contained. The union, however, rejected the report as a basis for a settlement. Following a meeting of both parties on March 10, union members went on strike on March 13. However, they indicated they were willing to allow the loading of grain shipments. The work stoppage occurred after the employer informed the union that it intended to impose the recommendations contained in the conciliation commissioner's report as of March 20, 1995.

Following the walk-out by the union members, the employer imposed a lock-out in all ports on the west coast, at 1 a.m. on March 15, thus halting the movement of all goods, including grain.

This report contains specific recommendations forming a solid base for settling these negotiations, but it also sheds light on the problem colouring labour-management relations in the port of Vancouver for years.

In his report, Mr. Thompson indicates that repeated intervention by senior government officials in labour disputes in the port of Vancouver have made the parties less interested in reaching an agreement on their own. The commissioner also points out that since Parliament has not allowed work stoppages in the port of Vancouver to continue for more than a few days, the parties are tempted to hold off any agreement until an act is passed or some other form of intervention taken. Unfortunately, this is also what is happening in the present dispute.

For years, the port of Vancouver has been dealing with disputes involving various occupational groups, including longshoremen, foremen, grain handlers and other workers. And all of us in this House know we have had to intervene. Unfortunately, I see the current situation requiring exactly the same type of measure.

This subject would not have been my choice for my maiden speech in the House of Commons, but I have never backed away from problems, and I am not going to start now. My colleagues on both sides of the House are well aware that grain traffic is moving faster than ever before in the ports of Vancouver and Prince Rupert. I congratulate the Minister of Agriculture and the Minister of Transport on developing and implementing changes that have significantly improved the efficiency of the grain transportation network in the west.

In the first half of the current crop year, that is, from August 1994 to January 1995, grain exports through west coast ports increased by 45.6 per cent. Any prolonged work stoppage now could have a disastrous effect on the agricultural economy of the west, at a time when grain elevators are operating at full capacity. Given the intense competition Canadian grain producers face in international markets and the pressing need to maintain Canada's reputation with its major trading partners, it is essential that this bill be passed.

Although I have primarily spoken about the movement of grain in west coast ports, my colleagues know very well that Vancouver is an important international port that receives a wide variety of bulk and containerized cargo, whose transportation depends on the presence of a stable and efficient workforce in the port. The rapid passage of the bill I have tabled is necessary to maintain the viability of this activity.

As I have already said, the parties have already had the benefit in their negotiations of all the assistance possible from impartial third parties, measures which led to the report by the conciliation commissioner, Mr. Thompson.

In his report, the commissioner indicated that "there is a climate of hostility between the parties, at least as far as the Association and the Union are concerned". He even added that "the members of the Association believe that the Union is refusing to adapt to the evolution of economic conditions in the industry, while the Union, for its part, is of the opinion that the employer is attempting to weaken its position in the collective agreement, particularly with respect to job opportunities".

Mr. Thompson summarized the situation as follows: "There is nothing to indicate that the parties wish or are capable of working together creatively to resolve their problems". Even though he has presented a rather sombre picture of negotiations to date, I should add that the conciliation commissioner pointed out that the parties demonstrated excellent co-operation in their dealings with him, and I take this opportunity to congratulate him on his detailed and thorough report on this situation.

In his report, the commissioner made specific recommendations on all matters remaining in dispute, and as hon. members can see, I have no hesitation in using these recommendations to establish the dispute settlement mechanism described in the bill before the House today.

Many points on which the parties agreed in the course of the negotiations were directly inspired by the existing collective agreement between the parties for persons employed in longshoring on the west coast. The conciliation commissioner made his recommendations so as to guarantee that the port of Vancouver remains competitive with other ports on the Pacific coast and with types of transportation elsewhere on the continent. He also avoided any major changes in the structure of the collective agreement which he found was, on the whole, satisfactory.

In his comments, the commissioner indicated that both parties would probably receive the report with mixed feelings but felt that it offered a firm basis for a settlement. It was this conviction which inspired the bill before the House today.

The West Coast Ports Operations Act, 1995, provides for the immediate resumption of supervision of longshoring and related operations at ports on the west coast of Canada and for the appointment of a mediator-arbitrator to resolve matters remaining in dispute between the parties. As soon as this act comes into force, the employers will be required to continue or immediately resume, as the case may be, supervision of longshoring and related operations at all ports; employees will be obliged to continue or immediately resume, as the case may be, their employment when requested to do so. The term of the collective agreement is extended to include the period beginning on January 1, 1993 and ending on the date fixed by the mediator-arbitrator, which may not be earlier than December 31, 1996. The act provides that as soon as he is appointed, the mediator-arbitrator shall endeavour to mediate the matters remaining in dispute and to bring about agreement between the parties on those matters.

If he is unable to bring about agreement on a matter, the mediator-arbitrator will hear the parties on the matter and arbitrate the matter after taking cognizance of the report of the conciliation commissioner. All costs incurred in the appointment of the mediator-arbitrator and the exercise of his duties shall be paid equally by the parties. In addition, a series of fines is provided for, should the parties contravene the provisions of the act.

Finally, this act shall come into force on the expiration of the twelfth hour after the royal sanction, which will allow the parties enough time to bring employees back to work and give sufficient time for the resumption of the employer's operations.

The passing of this act will permit the resolution of the present dispute, but, in my opinion, we must find long term solutions to the problems that have been the source of labour disputes in Canadian ports for years. My colleagues are aware that an in-depth review of Part I of the Canada Labour Code is currently underway under the authority of the assistant deputy minister of the Department of Human Resources Development.

However, in the case of the present labour dispute, this is the second time in a little over a year that Parliament has had to intervene in a dispute involving the west coast ports. This would seem to indicate that there is a basic problem in the structure of collective bargaining in B.C. ports.

For this reason, I intend to strike a board of inquiry on labour relations, whose mandate will be to report on the ways that parties involved in handling cargo in ports can avoid closing down ports in the future when they are in the process of resolving their labour conflicts, because closure compromises our competitiveness on the world market and our reputation as a trustworthy exporter, and forces Parliament to take rapid action.

Mr. Speaker, clearly, we must avoid a repeat of this situation in the years to come. And I have told my colleagues that I am personally committed to finding a long-term solution to these labour-relation problems which have become endemic to west coast ports. That is why I would like to ask the members of this House to support the bill before us-to ensure that we will be able to move goods destined for export markets through west coast ports in the near future as we did before.

West Coast Ports Operations Act, 1995Government Orders

7 p.m.


Gilles Duceppe Bloc Laurier—Sainte-Marie, QC

Mr. Speaker, the official opposition agreed to today's emergency debate on this labour relations problem on the West Coast.

However, we still have questions and-in light of the government's proposals-we will oppose the bill as drafted. We will propose a number of amendments in committee of the whole and if these amendments are approved by the government, we would then vote in favour of the bill.

We have questions because this bill comes after a general strike was called at midnight last night. So a special bill was introduced less than 15 hours after the strike started. Logically, this amounts to calling into question the right to strike. Let us say so clearly. How can we talk about the right to strike when special back-to-work legislation is introduced after 15 hours? In fact, the potential right to strike cannot be exercised if a special bill is tabled less than 24 hours after a strike is called.

Last year, it was the same problem at the same port but with a different group, the dockers. We then agreed that the thing to do was to launch a debate on the issue right away and put in place settlement mechanisms. In this regard, I commend the industrial inquiry commission initiative. However, last year, the Minister of Human Resources Development told us that, in actual fact, arbitration was futile, that we had to move on to the last offer mechanism-the last union proposal and the last offer from management.

This year, we are rediscovering the advantages of arbitration. I think that this shows a kind of inconsistency. Let me say clearly that I favour neither approach. Nonetheless, I fail to see how you could be against arbitration last year and, this year, consider arbitration to resolve the dispute at the very same place, the same port, with more or less the same players.

It seems to me that inasmuch as the right to strike is recognized, it is important to give both sides time to bargain not only before action is taken, but also while pressure is being exercised. Provided of course that negotiations can take place in acceptable and modern conditions.

This brings me to the whole issue of the anti-strikebreaking legislation. Such an act exists in Quebec. In fact, it was enacted as early as 1977 if I am not mistaken. Ontario and British Columbia have since followed suit. This means that 70 per cent of the people of Canada are governed by such legislation.

We are finding out that strikes tend to last much longer in areas under federal authority than in Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia, where anti-strikebreaking legislation is in force. I remember mail strikes. These were extremely violent strikes, but strikes are becoming much less violent in provinces with anti-strikebreaking legislation, and I think that the hon. minister is aware of this.

In Quebec, the CPQ has made no demands denouncing the anti-strikebreaking legislation in recent years.

It used to at first, but I think that based on the results, the benefits of such legislation, the council realized that it made for better labour relations, as negotiations were more meaningful in a way, disputes were fewer and more easily resolved, all because modern legislation was in place.

When I hear that action is urgently required, I agree. But, as I said earlier, we plan to move amendments in committee of the whole. I wonder why it is not considered equally urgent to act to put an end to the strike at Ogilvie Flour in Montreal. That stike has not been going on for 15 hours, but nearly a year. One year, and no anti-scab legislation. Yet, if there is a company which does not care about its workers, it is Ogilvie.

Let me give you some examples. The negotiations were conducted in English. The employer refused to negotiate in French in Quebec. This is illegal under the Quebec Labour Code. Indeed, since law 101 and the various related provisions were passed, negotiations must be conducted in French.

The employer, AND, a company whose board of directors includes former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, refused to negotiate in French. How nice. So, no anti-scab legislation in the case of Ogilvie. Yet, it seems to me that there is some urgency to that conflict which, as I said, did not start 15 hours

ago, but several months back. There is an urgency when profits or the economy are affected-and I agree that there are workers and farmers who are hurt by that strike-and we have to take action. However, when it comes to the economic well-being of workers, their families, their salaries and their health, there is no urgency. This looks like a double standard to me.

You may remember that the Bloc Quebecois tabled an anti-scab bill, back in 1990. The Liberals, who were then sitting on this side, supported that legislation. The Minister of Human Resources Development made passionate speeches, saying that the time had come to pass such legislation. Nothing has been done since. Yet, the government could have taken action, especially in light of the fact that the strike at Ogilvie's has been going on for more than 15 hours. But there is no urgency in that case.

However, -and I know that the federal Department of Labour is considering anti-scab legislation-documents from that department suggest that a majority vote of 60 per cent should apply. For the sake of democracy-and I know that a majority vote of 50 per cent plus one in the Quebec referendum is being challenged, but this is becoming a habit with the Liberals-when a strike vote is conducted under a collective agreement, it should also be subject to the 60 per cent rule. The same bill includes other provisions-even though we were told today that these were only ideas-but I wonder why these ideas are included in a departmental discussion paper.

That document was circulated so as to inform and consult both the employers and the unions, and that is fine. It obviously circulated, because we had it. So, in this document, the door is opened to having replacement workers who are not members of the bargaining unit on strike, but who could belong to a bargaining unit other than the one on strike but with the same company, or who could be non-unionized workers.

Seen one way, this is not anti-strikebreaker legislation, but rather legislation that, in fact, allows for strikebreakers. This is very different from legislation in Ontario, British Columbia or Quebec, which stipulates clearly that only managers, who were managers before the dispute began, may work. So, I hope that if indeed there is, at some point, an anti-strikebreaker bill here, that this notion of strikebreakers would not be made legal because management would be using people from the same company, but from another unit, or non-unionized workers as replacements for unionized workers.

This is nothing more than a legal façade to avoid facing reality. As the minister just told us she was ready to face reality, I imagine she will discover the subterfuge of certain of her deputy ministers, who are circulating documents, which do not in any way, shape or form, resolve the issue of the presence of strikebreakers. I think that anti-strikebreaking legislation would allow us to humanize our labour relations, a far cry from what is happening in certain American states, for example, where shots are fired during disputes, and also far removed from what once happened in Quebec and in other Canadian provinces.

I remember the Robin Hood strike, in 1977, or the postal workers' strike, where there was a lot of violence. At that time, scabs were even paid, with their hotel rooms and all, with federal funds. It was Canada Post that was paying their salaries, their food, and perhaps other things, I am not sure, but at least these things. And the Liberals, who were then in the official opposition, were denouncing that.

Since we are reviewing the Labour Code, I would also like to point this out. We are currently talking about a particular dispute, but it is part of a much greater issue. Hence the need to hold a commission of inquiry on labour relations practices in the port of Vancouver. But I know that this issue is only a part of a broader one which opens the door to a review of the code.

So, I hope that this will also open the door to giving Quebec female workers the same rights, whether they are under the federal code or the provincial code. I am alluding here to the preventative withdrawal of pregnant women. If you are a woman working in the communication or banking sector, depending on the federal system under which you work, you do not have the right to preventative withdrawal under the same conditions as a woman working in Quebec. When there were only eight members of the Bloc Quebecois in the House, we had proposed such an amendment and the Liberals had supported it. So, I hope that they will remember that when they review the code in its entirety.

When we talk about this strike in Vancouver, we must also consider that there are other strikes going on. There is one in the railways and also one in the port of Montreal. It would be interesting if, before we resort to a special legislation to force employees back to work in the port of Montreal, we would choose the mediation process and name a mediator who would bring parties together, since they are already close to a settlement. They are negotiating in Montreal, not any more seriously than in Vancouver, but I think the chances of settling the dispute are better there than in Vancouver.

I have participated in long negotiations and I know that it is often better not to go into a useless mediation right at the beginning of a conflict and do nothing afterwards. But when you are close to a settlement, when you can see that only a few elements still need to be ironed out, mediation can be a very important tool. I hope that, in the case of the port of Montreal, the minister will choose this solution and not a special legislation.

In conclusion, I would like to announce that we will be voting against this bill at the second reading stage, because we feel it does not really allow for negotiations between the parties. I personally think that we are dealing with this situation very seriously, all the more so since we are working with the commission, and therefore I think we should be able to go into mediation without arbitration. First we should proceed only through mediation and let the parties negotiate and the mediator

should not become an arbitrator. How can the parties trust anyone who will make suggestions if they know that, in case of disagreement between them, that person will turn the suggestions into obligations?

I think that instead of setting conditions, the mediator could report to the minister, who could in turn report to the Human Resources Committee-since there is no Labour Committee yet, but we will remedy that-or even to this House in order to discuss the issue with all members and parties concerned, rather than immediately determining the conditions after fifteen hours of strike, because that will be the case.

For those who are familiar with labour relations, it is the same thing as for tripartite tribunals. One union representative, one employer representative and a so-called neutral arbitrator. As we know, the decision is always two against one. The arbitrator takes sides. Expenses can be reduced by naming only one instead of three since the result of the vote is already known, even if we do not know at the outset which party the arbitrator will support.

Therefore, the Official opposition will vote against the bill at second reading and we will introduce a series of amendments in committee of the Whole House, hoping that the government will accept them and allow this House, as unanimously as possible, to encourage labour relations that are as fair, acceptable, normal and modern as possible in the port of Vancouver.

West Coast Ports Operations Act, 1995Government Orders

7:10 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Maheu)

The agreement was that there could be twenty minutes for comments. Is there unanimous consent?

We now resume the debate with the hon. member for Kamouraska-Rivière-du-Loup.

West Coast Ports Operations Act, 1995Government Orders

7:15 p.m.


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

Madam Speaker, I have been a member of this House for 15 or 16 months now, and I would not have thought that we would have to pass two special pieces of legislation for the same port in such a short time. In little over a year, this is the second time we see that there is something wrong in this work environment.

If I remember correctly, last year the minister in charge, the Minister of Human Resources Development, possibly because of the scope of his duties or maybe because known facts were not taken into account, did not follow up on that special legislation and, now, we have to pass back to work legislation for another group of workers.

Not only did we not learn anything from last year's experience, but we do not seem to be learning very much from the present situation either. I was watching the news on TV, tonight, and I noticed that the transportation sector is in turmoil over labour relations. There are potential labour disputes in the railway industry and in ports all over Canada. The message this legislation sends will be important for future negotiations in these sectors.

If the parties are not convinced of the importance of agreeing among themselves, if we give them the habit of waiting for a third party to settle their problems for them, we create the type of work relations which now prevail in the port of Vancouver. I think that an imposed solution is unacceptable and never brings about suitable results. Therefore, it is important that we send the message to other economic sectors that parties must pursue negotiations as far as the process allows.

The official opposition felt that a debate on this legislation was urgently needed, but I think citizens have a right to know that this urgency is not the result of this one incident. It is the result of the government's lack of foresight, as it has known about the problems at the port of Vancouver for some time now.

The government was aware of problems in this area but did nothing about them. And now, it steps in and says to the people involved, as if they were children, that because they could not work things out among themselves that it is going to have to do it for them. This only perpetuates the idea that they do not have to negotiate with each other to find durable and constructive ways to improve their working climate.

The minister's announcement that an investigating committee will be struck is interesting, but we must ensure that the parties will participate and will find solutions. I think that even if we agree that a mediator must be named and that people must be legislated back to work, the current legislation should allow negotiations to carry on and should not impose an outside solution which, at any rate, will never satisfy anyone.

I think that we will know we have succeeded in transforming labour relations at the port of Vancouver when a collective agreement is signed without third-party intervention and when all of the parties concerned have the impression that they signed an agreement which is to their advantage.

When both parties are ready to be reasonable, they will realize that working conditions are better during a period covered by a collective agreement when it is signed and accepted by all parties involved. This is how we can break the vicious cycle that labour relations at the port of Vancouver have been stuck in.

Hopefully, this will be the last time during this Parliament that we will have to bring in special legislation, because it is always a sign that the system is ineffective.

West Coast Ports Operations Act, 1995Government Orders

7:20 p.m.


Dale Johnston Reform Wetaskiwin, AB

Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Wild Rose.

For 11 days in 1994 shipping through the B.C. ports was paralyzed. The estimates of the losses to the Canadian grain industry ran in the hundreds of millions of dollars. We are talking about grain in that instance. There were also manufacturers who lost out in the strike in 1994.

What did that strike cost them? It is difficult to measure that. Even more difficult to measure is the damage to our reputation as a reliable shipper. These were not the only losers in that strike. I believe everybody in a strike or a lockout situation is ultimately a loser. The workers on strike will probably never be able to make up for the wages they lost during that time.

It is absolutely ludicrous that such losses should be allowed to occur over and over again. In doing a little research, I came upon some bills that were very similar in nature. Some of them would think we could dust off and they would be suitable for today.

They are dated 1986, 1987, 1988 and 1989 right up to 1994 when we had to consider just such legislation in order to get the port of Vancouver working again. Déjà vu, here we are again. Sixty per cent of Canada's grain exports have been held in limbo. When one ties up that system, it has a domino effect. It backs up right to the farmers' gates. Nobody in a strike situation is in a winning position.

My friend from Rivière-du-Loup pointed out that perhaps because this has happened so often, the collective bargaining process is failing. I could not agree with him more.

Our minister has assured the House she would like to put something in place to ensure this does not happen again. I hear my friend from Rivière-du-Loup saying the same thing. He would like to make sure we do not have to go through this painful exercise, that perhaps when labour and management realize it is only a matter of time before the government steps in they maybe are not bargaining as closely and as honestly as they should.

I would be delighted if the Minister of Labour would look closely at what the Reform Party has put forward. My colleague from Lethbridge has put forward Bill C-262, a final arbitration bill, which we hope would never have to be used. Just because it is there does not mean that it is something we are going to beat up either management or union with and make them settle.

It is intended so both management and union know that if they cannot come to an agreement, they had better bargain hard and fast or this could be implemented.

We also have to look at what kind of a situation we would be in if the strike and lockout situation at the port of Vancouver were settled tomorrow. That contract is only good until December 31, 1995.

Then negotiations will start all over again. Perhaps next year at this time we would be back in the House considering back to work legislation again. Today the Minister of Labour announced the establishment of a commission to study labour relations.

I invite the Minister of Labour to read through our bill, to study our bill and to see the merit in it. If the minister is philosophically opposed to supporting a motion simply because it came from the Reform Party, then fine. Defeat that motion, but bring in another one that is very similar and will accomplish the same thing.

In speaking to the port authority today in Vancouver, it was estimated that in the container business alone, some 7,000 containers at about an average income of $1000 per container for handling has been lost in the little time this strike has been going on. This adds up to $7 million in lost revenue, not to say anything about the damage done to our reputation as a reliable supplier and what it has done to labour management relations.

A chain reaction takes place whenever we have a situation of this type. We are in a situation in which some 405 people have managed to bring the entire west coast shipping to a halt. It completely grinds to a stop from the port right back to the gate of the farmers and the manufacturers.

Is it not odd that these people at the port have never been designated as an essential service until they go on strike or are locked out? Suddenly they are essential. The fact we have to bring in legislation to put them back to work makes them essential in my books.

Bill C-262 would not only be a very useful tool to labour and management, it would not only apply to the port of Vancouver, but also to the port of Montreal where we have a similar situation taking place.

The port of Montreal is a very important east coast facility and we should be considering some intervention in that area. We have been reading in the paper where the port of authority there expects the government to take action, thereby strengthening our case that Bill C-262 would be required reading for the Minister of Labour.

We are not trying to point the finger at anyone in particular. It takes two organizations to come up with a conflict and I am sure there are two sides to this conflict.

Our final offer arbitration bill would be a very useful tool, one probably welcomed by both business and labour and I encourage the House to support that bill.

The Reform Party will be supporting back to work legislation.

West Coast Ports Operations Act, 1995Government Orders

7:25 p.m.


Myron Thompson Reform Wild Rose, AB

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague for his fine words. I am pleased to support this move tonight.

A number of things have crossed my mind since this affair began. I cannot help but remember the first two or three things that came to my understanding. We had some young families in Wild Rose that work for small businesses, exporters, mainly hay processors, that were laid off a week ago because the signs were coming that things were going wrong.

These people were the ones making $9 or $10 an hour. They do not make car payments and they do not make house payments because they cannot do that on $9 or $10 an hour. They have young children and are trying to survive. It is a shame that hundreds of these individuals are trying to get into the work market, trying to make a go of things, trying to stay off of welfare and doing all the right things. Suddenly there is a move about somewhere and they are being held hostage. They cannot go to work. There is nothing to do because a few people somewhere are stopping the work or not allowing the procedure to take place.

There is a discouraging part about it. I stood in this place less than 24 hours ago and asked if the House would consider giving unanimous consent to debate legislation requiring the workers to go back to work. The disappointing part was that right away we heard "no, no way" from the other side of the House. Good grief, here we are one night later doing exactly what I asked to do last night.

What was so unusual about getting going last night? Is it a bad deal that it happened to come from this side of the House? Did we have to wait another few hours to make sure it came from that side of the House?

West Coast Ports Operations Act, 1995Government Orders

7:30 p.m.


Garry Breitkreuz Reform Yorkton—Melville, SK

It has to be a Liberal idea.

West Coast Ports Operations Act, 1995Government Orders

7:30 p.m.


Myron Thompson Reform Wild Rose, AB

It has to be a Liberal idea; it is no good otherwise. That is a shame. What did we hear? We heard: "No way", but here we are tonight debating something we all agree on.

There was noise from the opposition as soon as I mentioned that we should debate legislation to get these people back to work. What else did I hear? I heard irresponsible from Bloc members. I will tell them what is irresponsible. It is irresponsible when 295 individuals sitting in the House continually let these kinds of things go on year after year.

I admire and commend the Minister of Labour for her move. She said tonight that we must get something in place to make certain these kinds of things do not happen again. It is a good idea, even if it did come from the Liberal side. It is too bad they did not feel the same way last night. We could have got going a lot sooner, or maybe last year instead of letting it go for 12 days. We are just asking people to wake up.

A small business in my riding, Transfeeder, worked very hard this year to re-establish the business it lost last year. It does not employ a great number of people but it is doing its very best to help. It is part of a big picture. Last year it lost $500,000 in sales during a 12-day strike. Since then it has tried to calm the fears of Japanese businessmen and managed to get new orders.

It is finally getting back on its feet and suddenly everything is in jeopardy because of a stoppage. This small business is really striving. Japanese businessmen are asking why Canada is allowing the stoppage to happen. They do not understand.

Mr. Blair Wright, owner of that business in Olds, Alberta, could only answer like all Canadians by saying that he did not know. Is it not a shame when we in the House of Commons receive calls from our constituents saying that they have to lay people off, things are falling apart and perishable goods are perishing? They are being held hostage. Farmers cannot move their grain. Everything is looking grim. Yet we in the House hear nothing more than silly comments like irresponsible or no way when we try to do something about it.

It is time we woke up, started to get more serious and change our attitudes in this place. Perhaps that would inspire some attitudes all over the country that might make a difference and keep the economy going the way we want to see it go.

Unfortunately if we did not do something all Mr. Wright's work would be in vain. All he has done for a year to try to get going would be in vain. He worries about his staff. Most of them are young families trying to get a start somewhere. Most of them earn a little better than minimum wage. We do not even know what that is like any more, we are so accustomed to our big salaries.

West Coast Ports Operations Act, 1995Government Orders

7:35 p.m.

An hon. member

And pensions.

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7:35 p.m.


Myron Thompson Reform Wild Rose, AB

And pensions. We have to start thinking a bit more about the little guys who are trying to get on their feet. When times are tough and we get things rolling right, let us remember that we are trying to provide services and goods that are much needed throughout the world.

In case anyone has forgotten, the most important industry in the world is agriculture. We better not ever forget that. We have to keep our food supplies going where they are needed, keep people fed when we have the opportunity to do so, keep the jobs rolling and keep giving opportunities to young people who are saying that all they want is a chance to prove themselves. They are hard workers. They do not want welfare. They do not want

unemployment insurance. However we let these kinds of things go on year after year.

Bless the minister for coming up with the idea to put through some legislation that will put an end to this situation at last. Let us hope it is truly meant and let us hope that irresponsible opposition parties will fall into line and support logical legislation of this nature.

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7:35 p.m.


Bill Blaikie NDP Winnipeg—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, I rise to indicate the opposition of the New Democratic Party to this back to work legislation. I suppose it will come as no surprise to those who are familiar with the stance that the NDP has taken in the past on back to work legislation.

I was in the House on a number of occasions when we dealt with some of the back to work legislation members referred to earlier tonight. Unfortunately, I say to the member for Wild Rose, I have heard other ministers of labour say that they had to do something about bringing forward a system to ensure that they would not have to do this as often as they do.

I have two things to say in that regard. I hope this time the government will try to bring in such a system. However we ought not to assume the system it brings forward is one we will automatically agree with. We may have problems with it but certainly the government ought to make an effort in that regard.

It was interesting to listen to some of the remarks members of the Bloc Quebecois, the official opposition, made on this matter. Earlier they had an opportunity in the House to delay the legislation and they did not use it. When the government invoked the standing order that permitted it to proceed without unanimous consent, if 10 Bloc Quebecois members had risen at the appropriate time to object we would not be dealing with the legislation tonight. There seems to be a bit of a gap between rhetoric and reality when it comes to the attitude of the official opposition in this regard.

With respect to the government and its sense of urgency which it did not display yesterday but which it has in abundance today, its sense of urgency is related to the movement of grain and the importance of agriculture. We all know how the argument goes.

I wonder why the government always refuses to take seriously and hold up to public attention that in many of these cases, as was the case yesterday and today before the lockout, the workers were willing to continue moving grain. I know this does not help other shippers but grain is often held up as the reason for the urgency.

In these situations I have seen workers and unions repeatedly offer to keep moving grain. It is the companies, the employers, that will not tolerate the situation because they want the government to step in. They rely on it. They know if grain were to keep moving the political pressure for government intervention would disappear. Therefore they lock out the employees to make sure the grain cannot keep moving to create the appropriate political scenario so the government then has in some sense a false sense of urgency. If the government really had a sense of urgency about moving grain, it would respond to the offer of the employees in the situation and make sure it was accepted by the company. But the government never does that. It never ever does that. That is something I wanted to put on record.

When I last checked about an hour ago bargaining was continuing between the union and management. It would certainly be ironic if by the time we finished tonight they had an agreement. Let us hope so. It is always better if something can be negotiated rather than brought to a conclusion by legislation.

Again going back to the extent to which the government often bases its arguments about its concern about moving grain-and I know my Reform colleagues will not agree with me-this is the same government that announced in the budget the end of the Crow benefit. In the judgment of many, and not just the New Democratic Party, that had an extremely deleterious effect on western Canadian farmers.

We are supposed to believe the crocodile tears that are being offered on the other side for western Canadian farmers when only a couple of weeks ago, in the their budget of February 27, the Liberals completed the job that they started in 1983 in the House when they were in government. It was the Liberal government of that day, I would remind western Canadian farmers who might be listening, that began the demise of the Crow rate.

I was here then and part of that great parliamentary battle. That was before the Tory government changed all the rules so that opposition could not have great parliamentary battles any more. We cannot delay things. We cannot allow time for public opinion to develop. We cannot do all the things opposition parties used to be able to do to give public opinion time to mobilize on an issue. It does take time.

It was the Liberals who started doing the job on the Crow rate then and they are finishing it now by getting rid of the Crow benefit. I do not swallow it when I hear Liberal cabinet ministers or Liberal members or anybody else getting up and giving me the old sob story about western Canadian grain farmers. From our point of view we believe the Liberals are doing far more harm to the agricultural community in western Canada by virtue of the policies announced in their budget than a strike on the west coast could ever do.

I would like to pick up on something the Bloc Quebecois mentioned, that is the need for anti-scab legislation in the federal jurisdiction. There is a campaign on now. I am sure the minister, even though she is new in office, will have inherited a rather large file from her predecessor of letters from all across the country, from locals, regional and provincial federations of

labour and other labour leaders calling for anti-scab legislation in the federal arena.

I would certainly like to add my voice as NDP labour critic to the call for that kind of legislation. I say that in an uncritical way. It may be that the government will bring forward a form of anti-scab legislation that will be unacceptable and will only, as the member said earlier, legalize a form of scab labour by sanctifying the movement of employees in a way that amounts to the same thing. We will wait to see exactly what the minister has in mind.

We know that in those provinces where genuine anti-scab legislation has been brought forward there is a lot less labour-management strife. Management has to bargain. It is not that all management bargains in bad faith, but there are rotten apples. Sometimes they bargain in the knowledge that they can put people out on strike and hire scab labour. When that kind of legislation is in place they cannot do that and they have to bargain in good faith. I hope we will see very soon from the government legislation in that regard.

In my riding a strike has been ongoing for two and a half years. I see the same guys walking back and forth in front of the Northern Blower plant in my riding. I believe this is their third winter. They are dealing with a company that has absentee ownership that does not care. It will not bargain. It has scab labour in there. These guys have been in this situation for a long time. If we had that kind of legislation in the provincial domain in Manitoba they would not be in that kind of situation. It is wrong for that to happen to people. I hope that we will see anti-scab legislation in those provinces which do not now have it and at the federal level.

Just the other day I went to the shopping centre in my riding. A fellow stopped me as I came out. The projectionists at Famous Players theatres are on strike. They are being asked by a company that I understand is making good profits to take a 60 per cent cut in wages.

What is going on when companies can ask people to take this kind of beating in their standard of living, particularly when those companies are making money? The company has brought in other people to run the projectors. If it was not able to do that it would have to bargain more seriously with its workers and would not be able to demand these kinds of concessions from them.

I have mentioned the situation of the lockout when it comes to the west coast. We have a similar thing happening at CP Rail right now. The brotherhood of maintenance workers decided to have a series of rotating or geographically isolated strikes, not to shut down the whole system, but to demonstrate anger at the situation without endangering the economy as a whole. What did the company do? The company locked the workers out. The company tries to create a crisis.

Obviously we do not have the crisis yet that the company wants. I am sure it would like to see back to work legislation but I would try to counsel in the same vein as others counselled the minister yesterday. Why not try to do something now about the situation facing us with respect to the railways rather than waiting until the situation develops further?

I am not talking about back to work legislation. I am talking about bringing the parties together and knocking some sense into the railways. They cannot expect railway workers to give up the kind of employment security benefits they negotiated. The workers gave up things for that security at the bargaining table years ago.

The railways cannot have it both ways. They cannot have asked employees in the past to give up certain benefits in order to get employment security and then at some point down the road say: "Do you know that employment security we gave you in return for all those things, well, we want it back. However we are not interested in giving back to you any of the things that you gave us in order to receive employment security".

I have a final comment. These debates always illustrate the kind of philosophical gap that exists between how we interpret the actions of working people and how we interpret the actions of people with money.

I heard the member for Wild Rose talk about the young business couple in his riding being held hostage by, in this case I presume, the longshoremen. I heard somebody else talk about the fact that a small number of people can hold up the whole country in this way. I understand that argument.

Why do we not have the same sense of offence when a small number of money speculators can hold the whole country hostage? Why do we not take the same offence at the small number of currency traders, the global casino operators? Why do we not take the same offence when they say: "I am not getting a high enough interest rate out of you, Canada, so I am going to undermine your economy".

Why is their economic freedom and their self-interested economic judgment to be respected and appeased? Why do we listen for instance to members of the Reform Party get up in the House even today and say: "We have to do what these money markets want us to do". Why is their economic self-interest sacred and yet the economic self-interest of longshoremen is held in a different category, if not in contempt?

I say not just to the Reformers because I have seen this happen long before they arrived here but we make this distinction. When working people say: "I will withdraw my labour because I

am not satisfied with the return I am getting on it," we say: "Don't be so unreasonable. Think of the entire economy. Think of the shippers, think of the small businessmen, think of the people you are hurting".

However, when a money speculator or a currency trader or an investor says: "I withdraw my investment. I withdraw my money from this situation because I am not happy with what I am getting," we say: "That is the way the world works, you had better get used to it". This is a double standard that ought to be exposed.

We must treat both arguments for economic self-interest equally. I would be quite prepared to live in a world where unions, like everyone else, were made accountable to the common good. But I am not prepared to live in a world where unions get the argument that they have to take everyone else's welfare into account while money speculators, investors and everyone else can just do whatever in hell they like and that is called reality. No way.

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7:50 p.m.


Jim Peterson Liberal Willowdale, ON

Madam Speaker, can I ask your advice? How much longer are we debating?

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7:50 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Maheu)

Until 8.07 p.m. We have 80 minutes debate allocated. We have 17 minutes until 8.07.