That, in the opinion of this House, the government should explore the questions surrounding federal-provincial jurisdiction in the areas of labour law and transportation law as regards independent truckers in the province of Quebec.
Mr. Speaker, on October 8, I was in Louvicourt, 36 kilometres from Val-d'Or, where I spent the day with Quebec truckers to find out about their claims concerning the road transportation crisis in Quebec.
I met Denis Martin and Vital Meilleur, who were representing truckers and who told me about commitments that the Quebec government made in 1998 but failed to honour. They included legislative changes and a promise to put pressure on the federal government to amend Canadian laws accordingly.
The Quebec government made a written commitment to adopt these legislative changes by January 1, 2000. I have here a copy of these commitments made on October 25, 1998, at 9.45 p.m., and signed by two ministers of the Quebec government.
One year after these written commitments were made, the government of Lucien Bouchard still has not taken any concrete action. Worse still, the Quebec Minister of Labour, Diane Lemieux, announced her intention to postpone indefinitely the long awaited labour code reform for truckers in Quebec.
On October 8, truckers from Quebec and the Abitibi who were in Louvicourt told me that they have had enough of the unfulfilled commitments of the Bouchard government. The document was signed by two ministers of the Parti Quebecois on October 25, 1998, around 9.45 p.m., namely the Minister of Transport, Jacques Brassard, and the Minister of Labour.
That document includes 11 sections. It provides that a committee of experts must be set up. That was done and properly done. The Bernier report, a 200 page document, was submitted to the government in 1999.
Section 2 and the following provide:
Explore the questions surrounding federal-provincial jurisdiction in the areas of labour law and transportation law.
Propose possible scenarios and evaluate their applicability to the labour relations between independent truckers and clients.
Examine the nature of the contractual relations between contractors and clients, as they relate to law 430 (division of responsibilities).
Define eligibility criteria for becoming an independent trucker that will ensure a harmonious transition for the holders of bulk trucking permits.
Analyse the working conditions of independent truckers, i.e. rates, contracting charter, driver pay, hours of work, etc.
We know that a number of things are now being done anyway. Quebec's transport minister, Mr. Chevrette, has set up a committee that includes a federal representative. Committee members are working very hard, but the year 2000 is fast approaching.
The truckers present confirmed to me verbally that they are sick of seeing their working conditions deteriorate in Quebec. Clients are imposing difficult conditions. There are also the consecutive fuel price increases.
Let us talk about the cost of gas. On October 13, I rose in this House to call on the Government of Quebec to regulate the price of gas in Abitibi—Témiscamingue.
The Canadian Constitution gives the provinces the authority to regulate prices. Only Prince Edward Island and Quebec have taken any action in this regard, although Newfoundland announced recently that it would look at the statute provisions that would permit it to regulate the price of gas.
Other provinces preferred to rely on market forces as the most effective means of determining the appropriate prices, while retaining the incentives that contribute to innovation and cost reduction.
The Government of Quebec has no choice: it will have to rely on the market forces and provide incentives for the people of Abitibi—Témiscamingue.
The time for study is past. It is time to get down to business—
In closing, I wish to say that the best way to placate consumers is to rely on market forces and provide incentives.
Here is an example for Abitibi—Témiscamingue: the wholesale price, including the margin of the Montreal refineries, is 25.4 cents a litre. Provincial tax represents 15.2 cents, the federal excise tax, 10 cents, and the retail profit margin, 5 cents.
Transportation, and this is important, because people say the cost of transportation to Abitibi is high, costs only 1 cent a litre. The cost without 7% GST and 7.5% PST is 8.2 cents a litre. The total cost at the pump, if competition were vigorous and effective in Abitibi—Témiscamingue, a vast region far removed from major centres, would be 64.8 cents.
On October 6, the price of regular gasoline was 75.9 cents a litre in Val d'Or. That contributed to the crisis with Quebec truckers and many residents of Abitibi, who considered themselves to be everyone's hostages.
Gas stations in Abitibi have nothing to do with this situation. They must submit to the orders of the oil companies and the Government of Quebec.
Whatever forces affect the price of gasoline, the people of remote areas like Abitibi, James Bay and Nunavik have the right to expect fair treatment in the market by the Government of Quebec. As of January 1, 2000, the entire trucking industry in Canada will be deregulated, and the sector will thus be opened up to competition among carriers from all provinces.
The Bernier report has been submitted to the Government of Quebec. The Bernier committee had to concentrate first of all on the element it felt was central and essential: the creation of scenarios and assessment of their applicability to the relationship between owner-operators and customers, as well as those elements directly related to it.
On July 21, 1998, in order to respect its commitments under the 1995 Agreement on Internal Trade, Quebec replaced its trucking legislation with the Loi concernant les propriétaires et exploitants de véhicules lourds. This act relating to the owners and operators of heavy equipment harmonizes with the federal Motor Vehicle Transport Act, 1987, which applies to trucking or motor coach companies operating out of province.
Bulk haulage in Quebec is part of a distinct economic framework under the Quebec transport act. Since 1972, the Canada Labour Code has covered independent truckers, as defined in section 3, because it considers them employees.
Quebec and Ontario are among the geographical entities with the most bilateral economic exchanges in North America. In large part, these exchanges stem from the considerable growth in Canadian exports to the United States and traffic to Ontario as an access route to Michigan, Illinois and upstate New York. For Quebec truckers, this increase in interprovincial trucking has become an important dividend of the economic deregulation of their industry.
According to the latest news, an agreement will be reached between the Canadian partners of the Quebec transport industry to reduce the hours of work of truckers.
Quebec's independent truckers feel that the reduction in the number of hours worked is a good idea from a health and safety perspective. However, they are concerned about the impact of this piecemeal approach on the income of truckers who own their vehicles. If the rate structure remains unchanged, independent or exclusive truckers will simply earn less money.
The Quebec government will have to solve the income issue. It is in the process of doing that with a committee set up with the FTQ, the CSD and the CSN. The federal government is also present. They are trying to find solutions before the year 2000.
Since the deregulation of rates and licences, in 1988, it has been very difficult for truckers to earn a decent living in the Quebec trucking industry.
During the protest and blockade organized by truckers on October 8, in Louvicourt, I met many truckers throughout the day. The important thing is to listen to them. These drivers are always alone in their trucks and they travel long distances in Quebec, the United States, Ontario, the Atlantic provinces and the rest of Canada. They are always alone and they do not have time to see all the contracts. It is often their wife who pays the bills at home and who takes care of the family.
They told me that it is about time solutions be found, because the next crisis in Quebec's trucking industry will be serious. As we know, there is a project for bulk haulage.
I have here the 1997-98 annual report of Quebec department of transport, tabled by the minister. It deals with bulk haulage, and there is currently a bill on this, Bill C-89. There will be a fight, but solutions must be found.
The Quebec transport report states:
Together with other Canadian administrations, the federal Minister of Transport decided to postpone until January 1, 2000 the provision of the Agreement on Internal Trade Implementation Act (Bill C-19, clause 19), to give truckers enough time to adjust to a more open market.
The amendments are intended to comply with commitments Quebec made recently with other Canadian administrations to permit carriers from outside Quebec to truck within Quebec in certain sectors, primarily, wood chips and factory supply, since January 1, 1998.
As of January 1, 2000, out of province trucking firms may provide carriage within provinces without economic restriction. In the meantime, the local bulk haulage industry should restructure in preparation for deregulation.
What do we see in Bill C-89? It is no longer deregulation but regulation.
What counts today is to hear the other political parties and to see what they have to say for our friends the truckers when we meet them daily on the highway. And what is important: What are the working conditions in Quebec?
Quebec will find solutions, but finding solutions requires everyone working together. I will speak for all the people I met on October 8. It was my duty to move this motion in the House of Commons to help our friends the truckers.