House of Commons Hansard #201 of the 36th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was crime.


Government Services Act, 1999Government Orders

5:20 p.m.


John Williams Reform St. Albert, AB

Mr. Speaker, that is right. It is the arrogance of this government which is denying people their democratic right, which was the general theme of my speech. It does not matter who it is. The House of Commons has the democratic right to challenge and hold the government accountable, but it rams through its legislation because the Prime Minister says that what he wants he gets. That type of attitude has to be stopped. The member is absolutely right.

His question was: How can we have back to work legislation for people who have not gone on strike? If the government says it made a mistake and they were not designated as being essential, is that a problem for this side of the House? No, it is a problem over there, but the government is trying to co-opt us into fixing its mistakes. That is not our responsibility.

Our responsibility is to stand for the democratic rights of ourselves and others in this country. We all agree that these people have the democratic right to strike and to bargain freely, yet this government, through all the things it has done over the years, has not shown a great deal of good faith in dealing with its workers.

Here we are today having to deal with an issue in which the government and its employees are at a deadlock and people who have no control of the situation, who have no influence, are being held for ransom. That is the issue that we have to deal with.

Government Services Act, 1999Government Orders

5:20 p.m.


Allan Kerpan Reform Blackstrap, SK

Mr. Speaker, I remember sitting in the House shortly after many of us were newly elected in 1993. I believe it was in the winter of 1994 when the government brought down its first back to work legislation on a strike which affected grain handlers and transportation workers.

The hon. member for Wetaskiwin stood to ask the government if it would take action so that this would not happen again. Here we are, five years later, and we are still doing the same old thing.

This government has abdicated its responsibility to a lot of people. It has abdicated its responsibility to the victims of strikes and lockouts, in this case farmers and the farm economy. It also has abdicated its responsibility to other groups. We have talked about corrections workers, for whom I happen to have a soft spot in my heart. Also, there are people whom I have just talked to in my riding at Dundurn who have some very serious concerns.

The government has abdicated its responsibility. It has done nothing in five years to change this.

Mr. Speaker, I am sure you have heard of the rock group “Hootie and the Blowfish”. I am not sure which one Hootie is over there, but I can hear the blowfish.

I want to ask my hon. colleague from St. Albert if he remembers the day when the government promised it would take action. Does the hon. member remember the day when the government said it would take action, five years ago, so that these kinds of things would not happen again?

Government Services Act, 1999Government Orders

5:20 p.m.


John Williams Reform St. Albert, AB

Mr. Speaker, I remember the day well, but then of course promises are easy to come by from that side of the House because they will promise anything and they seldom deliver.

We just talked about the fact that the correctional services people are potentially going to go on strike, but they will be legislated back to work before they go on strike. I have not figured that one out yet.

Why are we dealing with the firefighters? I was not even aware they were talking about going on strike. Then we have the heating and power workers, ship crews and lighthouse keepers. I know they have a problem. As we have automated the lighthouses we have put them right out of business, completely and forever. We had to fight that on the west coast to try to maintain safety and to ensure that the people who travel up and down the coast do not run aground. As well, there are the general service workers. These are the people who have been wrapped up in this draconian piece of legislation.

My friend is perfectly correct in saying promises, promises, promises. The only thing the government did was balance the budget on the backs of taxpayers as it hiked revenues by 25%. The government did not tell us that it was going to hike revenues by 25% to balance the budget. It may get small credit for that, but it is now manipulating the numbers to try to ensure that we pay more taxes and we do not get the services.

There is the millennium scholarship fund. The taxpayers have put $2.5 billion in the bank and there will be no benefit to students until next year. Then we have the $3.5 billion for health care, paid for by the taxpayers, and no money will be spent on health care until next year.

Those are the types of promises. The government stands and says it is doing wonderful things, but when we look at the fine print it does not work out.

Government Services Act, 1999Government Orders

5:25 p.m.


Francine Lalonde Bloc Mercier, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is a sad occurrence to again find the House of Commons involved in back to work legislation with a special bill entitled an act to provide for the resumption and continuation of government services.

This bill is also the subject of time allocation, so that there cannot even be any serious debate on the issue of this abruptly interrupted negotiation.

However, I have a great many questions. It seems to me, of what I know—and in the past I dealt with labour relations, I taught labour relations—that what cannot be regulated does not justify the bill as it is presented.

I would argue that the workers are on a legal strike. Not only are they on a legal strike, they are on a rotating strike. This is not a full general strike that will go on forever. It is a rotating strike, action taken by the workers in turn before the workday starts or after it finishes to get themselves talked about and of course to slow traffic. If they did not get themselves talked about, if they do not hold a full general strike, how do we know there is a problem?

There is a problem that strikes me as a fairly serious one. The problem, it must be repeated, is the fact that these workers have contributed their share to the deficit reduction. They have not had an increase in six years. Their collective agreement expired two years ago, or a little less. Some expired in June 1997, some in April 1997.

Are these highly paid workers? No. They can easily have 25 years' seniority and be earning $30,000. They are fathers and mothers. These are not people about whom we can say “These government workers are choking the public”. No. For the most part, they are blue collar workers, with positions of responsibility.

Some of them, such as those who were with national defence and were relocated, may have ended up in a region where the salary is lower than in their original region. It must be pointed out that, not only have these workers not received any increase for six years, but—and, as far as I know, they are the only public servants in that situation—they are not paid the same salary in all regions, unlike members of parliament or judges.

The further west they are, the higher their salaries. Conversely, the further east they work, the lower their salaries. The gap can be as much as $3 per hour. So, since many of them are paid about $14 per hour, an hourly difference of $3 is very significant.

The workers who come under the Public Service Employment Act would like to be covered by the Canada Labour Code. Why? Because the rules concerning essential services are not the same. What is the problem in this House? It is that these workers, by using their legal right to go on strike, do not have to provide the essential services they are expected to provide. But do members realize that the Public Service Employment Act does not include the type of provisions on negotiating and providing essential services that were recently included in the Canada Labour Code?

Such provisions on essential services did not exist when railway workers went on strike, but now they do. But they do not apply in this case.

Another very serious concern is that, for these negotiations, the government has suspended these workers' right to arbitration. Not all workers in our society have the right to binding arbitration, but those in the public service do.

Why was this right suspended? The fact that these workers, who perform duties that can be compared to others, have not had an increase for six years, may well explain why the federal government thought it best to prevent them from going to arbitration. Why? Because they would have been wrong? Hardly. Why then? Because, on the contrary, arbitration would have given the workers much larger increases than what they were offered and than the offer that in one case was actually lower.

I have trouble seeing any goodwill in the federal government's actions, all the more so when I read Bill C-76, an act to provide for the resumption and continuation of government services. The operational services group includes firefighters, national defence and coast guard workers, and so on. What I see in the collective agreement section leaves me enraged on their behalf.

Negotiating a collective agreement is important for workers who are not entitled to arbitration.

What does this bill have to say? Under “Collective Agreements”, clause 7 reads as follows:

The Governor in Council may, on the recommendation of the Treasury Board, and taking into account collective agreements entered into by the employer in respect of bargaining units in the Public Service since the Public Sector Compensation Act ceased to apply to compensation plans applicable to them—

—prescribe: a ) the terms and conditions of employment applicable to the employees: and b ) the period during which those terms and conditions of employment are applicable.

As I understand it, the government has not negotiated seriously and has refused mandatory arbitration, and now says “Well then, the governor in council, very familiar with the good of the people, will be the one to decide”. One might well term this “in lieu of a collective agreement” But no, it states “the collective agreement”.

It goes on:

The Governor in Council may provide that any of the terms and conditions of employment is effective and binding on a day before or after the beginning of the period prescribed—

So there we have it, the governor in council knows what is good for the people.

The terms of employment prescribed under paragraph (1)( a ) constitute a single collective agreement binding on the bargaining units composed of the employees referred to in that paragraph.

The same thing goes for correctional services. In the correctional services negotiations, union members obtained a majority report. Who was the minority? The government.

Why does the government not comply with the majority report? It empowers itself to act otherwise than its own law tells it to. It gives itself the means to go against a process that is not only legitimate, but legal as well.

Government Services Act, 1999Government Orders

5:35 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh.

Government Services Act, 1999Government Orders

5:35 p.m.


Francine Lalonde Bloc Mercier, QC

The truth hurts, Mr. Speaker.

As regards table 2, those providing support or operating services, there was no majority report, because there are three different positions. There was no real bargaining. The spirit in these reports and in these facts is not a spirit conducive to agreements.

There are balances of power in the public sector and in the private sector. They must exist, in fact, because, if one party completely dominates the other in negotiations, the results will never be fair. That occurs in private life. That occurs among people. There must be a balance somewhere.

These workers took the means at their disposal, not illegal, but legal means. They did not take them excessively, even if a full general strike is not excessive, but in this case they did not go out on a general strike. It is a rotating strike. They used the means at their disposal under the law.

This then is why we have this bill, with a time limit. It is a total shame for this House, for which this is definitely not a first, for this House, which has seen the arrogance of this government in other matters, arrogance often in dealings with the provinces. This is the approach where the government says it knows what is good for others and it does it in their stead or, to coin a phrase, it knows what is ours and makes sure it will get it.

The best additional proof is that the hands of the government in this matter are not clean. It is including in the bill workers who have announced they would strike, that is, the federal corrections officers. That is something. Here we have a bill allegedly to correct something excessive, which makes no sense because, as I said earlier, this is a legal strike, but some people are not yet on strike and are being forced to go back to work before they have struck.

What is affected by this way of doing things is the bargaining process itself. But, more importantly, it is the relationship between the state, which is the employer, and its workers, to whom it is sending a message of contempt.

The federal government thinks this is the way to get the loyalty and services to which citizens are entitled. It did not look any further than its nose. The workers appear to want justice, since they have not had a raise in six years and some of them are paid based on the region where they work, which is not the case for other people around them. These workers are at their wits' end. They are resorting to legal means, not in an excessive fashion, and yet they are being forced to go back to work.

This is poor judgment on the government's part and it does not augur well for the years to come. I used to teach labour relations. Experts know that when there is real and deep dissatisfaction, it is always better that workers not necessarily always get everything they want, but that there be a negotiated settlement. Otherwise, they will not feel any incentive to work, to be helpful. This is true both in the private and the public sectors. Nowadays, the government can do better than this mess.

Again, I deeply regret that we are being put in this situation, since everything tends to give workers the impression that they are not being treated fairly, far from it, and that in fact the government only has contempt for them.

Government Services Act, 1999Government Orders

5:40 p.m.


Jake Hoeppner Reform Portage—Lisgar, MB

Mr. Speaker, I listened with interest to the comments of the hon. member from the Bloc. I know agriculture is very important in Quebec. I agree with a lot of her comments about getting fairness and equality and about the arrogance of this Liberal government in dealing with some of these questions.

We in the west as farmers have known this for over three decades. In early 1970 when western farmers asked the prime minister of that day to help them market some of their wheat, they got the finger. That was how much the Liberals cared for agriculture.

I wonder what my hon. colleague would say to the farmers who have been continually losing through these strikes by paying huge demurrage charges and by losing sales. This year especially, when they already have an income crisis, they will be asked to bear again all these extra costs. They have no recourse; they are helpless. They have to accept these losses and they have no way to reclaim them by pricing their product higher.

What would the answer be to help these farmers because of the losses they have had to bear time and time again because of the arrogant government's attitude toward western grain farmers?

Government Services Act, 1999Government Orders

5:45 p.m.


Francine Lalonde Bloc Mercier, QC

I will begin by recalling the rail strike.

This is something I remember very clearly, because I was opposition critic at the time. I remember that we did not have an easy time of it with western members. But what did we say back then? We said that the labour code was there for these workers. I said:

“If the Canadian economy cannot afford the Canadian Labour Code then change it”.

What happened was that the code was changed. As far as I know, workers were in agreement with these provisions. There was agreement on the essential services provisions.

The problem with this public service legislation is that it does not have the same provisions. I do not know exactly why these people are unhappy. We are told that 70 workers are involved. One thing is certain and that is that they cannot strike without substantial support. I wonder if the reason for this support is not precisely because they have been without increases for a long time, on top of the cost of living in the west, the flourishing businesses and so on?

If there was discontent, as there was a few years ago, I would imagine that ways would have been found to make their strike less frequent.

It is certainly not by taking the sort of action now being taken that the problem will be resolved for the next time around. It will only come back.

And that says nothing about how people who think they have been forced back to work unfairly will feel.

Government Services Act, 1999Government Orders

5:45 p.m.


Paul Crête Bloc Kamouraska—Rivière-Du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate the member for Mercier on her presentation. I believe government members would be well advised to read it again.

It contained many references to the fact that the government does not seem to learn from its past mistakes. She mentioned the rail strike. Indeed it had several elements in common with the special back to work legislation the government wants us to debate today.

Worse yet, the stakes, the differences between the negotiating parties, the contentious issues are not as important as the ones in the rail strike. Are we not talking about a government that dilly-dallied during the negotiations? It chose this approach because of its power relationship with support staff, employees who are making demands. As a former personnel manager, I can say that the issue of regional pay scale, the fact that salaries vary from one province to another or from one economic region to another, should not be hard to settle at the negotiating table. I find it amazing that the government has not succeeded in settling this issue.

Finally I wonder if the chickens are not coming home to roost. For too long the federal government has ignored problems of its own doing, and now it wants to make its employees pay for its ineffectiveness as a government. This is an age-old trick: divide to conquer.

It has been said that this is hurting farmers and people who are not receiving their income tax returns. Why, then, should we let those workers exercise their right to strike?

In this case, I believe the government should have anticipated what is happening. If those workers are so important and significant to the government, did they not deserve to be better listened to at the bargaining table? At the end of the day, they would have come out with a negotiated collective agreement and adequate labour relations for several years to come.

Government Services Act, 1999Government Orders

5:50 p.m.


Francine Lalonde Bloc Mercier, QC

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate my colleague's question, which already contains elements of answer. It is actually quite legitimate to ask why the federal government did not foresee the present situation.

Maybe we should ask the question differently. Maybe the government foresaw the strike and still wanted to impose a settlement, which will not solve the problems in any case. I think the answer is already contained in the question. Had the government understood the importance of the issue, it would have been careful to bargain seriously with those workers.

Besides, it is true that the government finds itself in the present situation because the Public Service Staff Relations Act does not provide anything for essential services. The government finds itself in a situation similar to the one it found itself in during the private sector strike, when the Canada Labour Code did not contain the provisions it now does.

But the government only has itself to blame, because it sets the legislative agenda and could have anticipated the situation we are in today. The government could listen to the Public Service Alliance, which would prefer to be under the Canada Labour Code rather than the Public Service Staff Relations Act.

Government Services Act, 1999Government Orders

5:50 p.m.


Dick Proctor NDP Palliser, SK

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to take part in the debate and particularly to follow the member for Winnipeg Centre who gave a very cogent and comprehensive speech about the shortcomings of this onerous and odious legislation. He did it from the point of view of working people. I will at least begin my remarks by talking about the impact on farmers and the situation they find themselves in.

The strike by table two members of the Public Service Alliance of Canada has been in effect for a couple of months. There have been rotational strikes. It is the second time the 70 grain weighers have put up picket sides at the seven grain terminals on the west coast.

The last set of pickets has been in effect for some six days and has aroused a lot of the bluster from the other side on the impact of the anti-democratic legislation we have before us. The rationale is that the government is moving to do something about grain. However, when it is behind by one million income tax files and there are crocodile tears about income taxpayers not getting their refunds, I rather suspect it is the government not being able to collect the money and get it into the government coffers as fast as it would like to.

For people who are not from the prairies or who do not have a farm background, the movement of grain from the prairies to the west coast is quite a Byzantine world that in some cases almost defies description.

I would like to take a minute to explain what I think happens in this regard. The farmer grows the grain and stores it on his farm. We would think that was okay, that he or she was still accountable for it when it is on the farm. Then it is trucked to the country elevator or more likely to the inland terminal. We would think that maybe it is the people who truck the grain or the elevator operator who would then be responsible. That is not the case. The farmer is still on the hook for any problems that arise when it is at the elevator.

Then it goes by rail to the west coast or to Thunder Bay. Again we would think it is out of the farmer's hands, that he has no control over it so it must be the responsibility of Canadian National, Canadian Pacific or Omnitrax. However it is still the farmer. If there are any problems with it at the point it is the farmer who pays any of the demurrage or any damages.

It is not until the grain is actually loaded on the ship that the farmer's responsibility for his product ends even though his accountability and his ability to correct any problems ended when the product left his farm gate perhaps a couple of months earlier. It is clearly a Byzantine system.

The Estey report that came down in December on which the government is still not showing any leadership talks about the need for accountability and for those involved in the system to be responsible for it. While my caucus and I have many problems with the Estey report this is certainly not one of them. We think that Mr. Estey's comments on accountability and responsibility are extremely important.

This is a grim time particularly for farmers on the prairies. In December the government announced its so-called AIDA program, agricultural income disaster assistance. Farmers have other acronyms to describe it. It is not helping very many farmers in our region. I have yet to speak with a farmer who thinks that there will be any pay off or any relief for his or her operation at the end of the day.

The strike of grain weighers has added insult to injury. It would be true to say that many farmers out there believe that the disruption needs to be dealt with because they are in dire straits and sinking deeper. As has been mentioned by other speakers, spring seeding is just around the corner. It is a time of very quiet desperation and perhaps not so quiet desperation for farm families.

At the same time many farmers feel that what is before us today is inherently unfair. They implicitly recognize that the government is playing off farmers and workers. That in the long run gets nobody very far down the road.

In terms of the table two negotiators, I want to read into the record some references contained in a letter addressed to me on March 19 from a table two member in the riding of Palliser in Moose Jaw. This individual is employed at 15 Wing in Moose Jaw. The letter reads in part:

I have been a loyal employee of the Federal Government of Canada for over twenty years and a member of the Public Service Alliance of Canada. As an employee represented at the PSAC table two-Treasury Board negotiations, I feel compelled to bring a few things to light, and hope the attached documents will shed some light on the “real issues”.

The letter references the fact that the President of the Treasury Board stated that the government has accepted a conciliation board report when under the staff relations act the conciliation board has to have agreeing parties to substantiate a report.

The letter writer says that in the case of table two negotiations there was no agreement between the three members of the board, thus the report is invalid. The letter also points out that the minister responsible for the Treasury Board has also stated: “Unfortunately, at this point the union has been asking for things that are excessive and for which Canadian taxpayers do not want to pay”. He appended some tables that approximately 80% to 85% have already settled agreements with federal government employees and the table two requests are by no means out of line.

His third and final point is that in a review of comparable market rates, public service employees in Saskatchewan make an average of 70% of the going local market rate. He wrote “Clearly, not only as public servants, but as folks from Saskatchewan, we are treated as the poor sister of Canada”.

He ends his letter by urging that we intercede to get Treasury Board back to the negotiating table. “Treasury Board has come to a reasonable agreement with other groups, why not us? We deserve to be treated fairly and equitably”. We in this caucus agree very much with the sentiments expressed by that individual from the prairies.

There is also a letter from Nova Scotia. I want to zero in on the regional rates of pay. It is brought to light in the letter that the regional rates of pay discriminate against about 1,500 blue collar workers in Atlantic Canada and about 11,000 Public Service Alliance of Canada blue collar workers across the country.

According to the letter, 97% of federal government employees are paid national rates of pay. Only 3% are not.

The letter contends that Atlantic Canadian employees are paid the lowest rates in Canada. Treasury Board officials have consistently argued in the House and in the media that regional rates of pay cannot be paid to blue collar workers. They say the policy has been in effect since 1922 and was based on market comparability with private regional rates of pay when introduced. They argue the regional rates of pay cannot be eliminated because of regional costs of living.

This may have been true seven decades ago and may have remained true for many decades after that. However, for the past 20 years regional rates of pay have been amalgamated in an attempt to eliminate them gradually and regional rates of pay really no longer reflect regional markets. The question remains, if regional rates of pay were a cost of living issue, why does the policy apply today to only 3% of federal government employees and not the other 97%?

To follow up on that, in a letter to the federal government on behalf of the province of Nova Scotia, the labour minister for that province, Mr. MacKinnon, wrote to his Liberal counterpart: “It is our view that the work Nova Scotians deliver is of equal quality and value to the work delivered by workers in other provinces. It would only seem just to consider wage parity for all Canadian government employees no matter what their classification”.

Mr. Chisholm, who many of us hope and expect will become the next premier of the province of Nova Scotia has written: “Provincial workers in similar positions already make higher incomes than those affected by regional rates of pay. When 97% of federal workers already have uniform rates of pay, surely giving it to the other 3% would not lose unheralded inflationary pressures”.

These are some of the reasons that this party remains fundamentally opposed to the legislation before us this afternoon, which we will be debating and discussing over the next couple of days.

The wrap up of this individual's letter from Halifax said: “The federal government's regional rates of pay policies discriminate against blue collar workers. Treasury Board's bargaining tactics have been counterproductive for the public service in Canada. Treasury Board manager Alain Jolicoeur suggested to the media in Ottawa that had we not been happy with our wages, we could have quit, entirely ignoring our real economic situation as modest wage earners and our commitment to serve the Canadian public. The government has treated us as though we are entirely worthless and disposable”.

And these are modest wage earners. It is fair to say that the average salary is in the neighbourhood of $26,000, hardly a king's ransom. As my colleague from Winnipeg Centre noted in his remarks, the pay scale does not compare with what folks earn in the private sector in provinces such as Saskatchewan or indeed Nova Scotia.

By way of concluding my remarks, it is my contention that had the government opposite negotiated in good faith, this rotating strike situation would be over in a day. We note that the public service employees, members of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, have not had a raise for some seven years. It was pointed out to me earlier that in some groups, not all in table two but in some, settlements have been imposed. It has really been 15 years since they have had any kind of meaningful increase. These people are not asking for the moon. They are asking for a wage increase of what will amount to less than 3% per annum.

It is our contention that this strike is fully and totally the responsibility of the government opposite. At the same time, as was noted in question period today, it is the farmers who are being hurt as a result of this. There is a grain backlog from the west coast terminals all the way back to the farm gate in Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Alberta.

While we are debating this legislation, it is noteworthy to point out that the strikers are back at work today. The government should have seized the opportunity when the pickets came down on Friday morning to get back to the bargaining table and to have negotiated a full and final settlement over the weekend.

As a result of the government's bungling and total mishandling of this situation, it should pay Canadian farmers for the losses they are suffering due to this aforementioned bungling.

Government Services Act, 1999Government Orders

6:05 p.m.

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell Ontario


Don Boudria LiberalLeader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order.

Pursuant to Standing Order 57, I give notice that at the next sitting of the House, immediately before the order of the day is called for resuming debate on the motion, Government Orders, Government Business No. 21, and on any amendments thereto, I will move that the debate shall not be further adjourned.

Government Services Act, 1999Government Orders

6:05 p.m.


Lee Morrison Reform Cypress Hills—Grasslands, SK

Mr. Speaker, I have a rather simple and direct question for the hon. member. Can the member see any reason, either in practicality or in law, why the government could not have brought in targeted legislation to keep the grain moving for the benefit of the western Canadian economy without involving thousands of other unionized workers who have absolutely nothing to do with the principal crisis that has caused us to be debating this today?

Government Services Act, 1999Government Orders

6:05 p.m.


Dick Proctor NDP Palliser, SK

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for Cypress Hills—Grasslands for his question.

There is some merit in what the member is proposing. However, to have done that the government would have had to have brought the 70 grain weighers into the labour standards of Canada as opposed to the Public Service Staff Relations Act which they are currently under.

The more important question was noted by my colleague from Winnipeg Centre when he talked about the number of people that were brought in. I recall specifically the member talking about the prison guards who are not affected because they are essential workers, but nevertheless they have been drawn in under the terms of reference of this all-encompassing piece of legislation.

Government Services Act, 1999Government Orders

6:10 p.m.


Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, the member for Palliser mentioned the impact on farmers and on grain. I would like to share something with him which just happened outside in the lobby. I received a phone call from the leader of the grain handlers union who is very interested in the debate that is going on. I would like to share this with the member for Palliser.

He lamented the fact that this government enters into back to work legislation so lightly and so easily. The grain handlers union is thinking about the next time it goes to the bargaining table and what is going to happen to its members. Are they going to be legislated back to work?

Their union has come up with a very creative idea that I would like the member for Palliser to think about. Rather than going on strike, and perhaps being legislated back to work, they are thinking of taking a 70%—I should say a 30%—cut in pay and asking the companies to take a 30% cut in profit while they are at impasse. This money would be put into a pool to be donated to the farmers to offset their demurrage costs and charges.

It seems like a really sensitive and intelligent solution to an impasse. If they do not make any progress in two weeks, they bump it down another 20% to 50%, so that both sides suffer equally, share the pain and offset the inconvenience to the farm community.

I am wondering if the member would comment on creative solutions like that coming from the trade union movement.

Government Services Act, 1999Government Orders

6:10 p.m.


Dick Proctor NDP Palliser, SK

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question. When he talked about a 70% reduction, I thought he was going in the direction of the AIDA program because that has a 70% threshold.

It is this sort of creative solution that perhaps could work to put these things in perspective and result in the speedy resolution of labour-management difficulties.

Government Services Act, 1999Government Orders

6:10 p.m.


Claude Bachand Bloc Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, I see the clock ticking and I am afraid I may not have enough time, but I promise you I will be here tomorrow morning to continue this debate.

What we are discussing here today is very important for workers. In fact, I hope there are a lot of workers watching us now on the parliamentary channel.

I think people will finally find out what is hidden behind the Liberals' mask. The Liberals are always saying how they work for the common good and how they try to stabilize the economy. But at whose expense do they do that? At the expense of workers.

I formally accuse the Liberals of continuing their crusade against the workers of Canada and Quebec. A lot of Quebeckers are victims of this bill, and I find it unacceptable.

People must understand what is hidden behind the Liberals' mask, and I intend to take about twenty minutes to try to describe it.

What I want to say is that the Liberal government wanted its employees to go on strike. They did, and now it wants to legislate them back to work. And it is totally intentional. This problem did not come about suddenly. These people have been asking for salary increases for a long time.

As some of my colleagues mentioned, these people have not had a salary increase in six years. The government could have settled the issue over the last two years, but that is not what it has decided to do. It has been decided to wait until the very last minute. And now, they stand up and say “We are going to protect Canada's and Quebec's economy. We will put an end to this”. But the problem is of their own making.

Maybe I should tell you a little bit about my own background. During 20 years, I was a trade unionist with the CSN before entering into politics. I have had the opportunity to see what a government employer is. It behaves like the Liberals do. They sit at the bargaining table, and have negotiations. When it does not work out, they pass a bill.

Just imagine the power they can wield. All they need to do is leave the bargaining table, make offers that are lower than the union demands, and they will end up saying the employees do not take up what is being offered. Employees have the right to strike, and the government knows that.

Once the employees have decided to go on strike, the government introduces a special legislation.

It is unfair, cynical and machiavellian. That is what the government is. It is not the first time we can see that. It has done the same thing with postal workers, railway workers and now, with specific groups that are amongst the lowest paid in the federal public service. They are the victims of a government that is legislating them back to work.

I do not hold that view only because I have been a trade unionist. Members of parliament are here to represent constituents. In my riding, between 400 and 500 people working at the military base will be legislated back to work. This probably represents a fairly high pay loss in my riding. The fact that the government did not want to adjust those salaries also meant a loss of revenue for several years now.

Not only has the Liberal government shut down the military college in my riding, totalling $32 million a year, but now we are stuck with a special bill because the government has decided it has had enough. Canada is supposedly on the brink of a major crisis, yet it is this very government that has driven the federal public servants of table 2 and table 4 to use their right to strike.

Maybe we ought to settle this fundamental issue once and for all with this government. Does the right to strike still exist in the federal public sector? Does it? Do employees have the legal right to say “We have had enough of the proposals coming from the government, we have had enough on these never-ending discussions and negotiations, we have the legal right to decide to go on strike”?

What we have right now is a smoke screen, because as soon as the workers start using their right to strike, the government tells them “You cannot go exercize your right to strike, because you are disrupting the economy”. This is what the government often does. They did it to the rail workers on strike, to the postal workers on strike, and now they are doing it to the federal public servants who are members of table 2 and table 4.

What we have to remember about the Liberal record is not only the way the government has been badly protecting and even persecuting the workers. We also have to look at what has been going on with wage parity. How long have women in the public service been demanding wage parity to ensure that they are properly paid for their services? Public servants, many members of the public, and myself, all believe these women deserve to be paid fairly. But not this government.

We see the same thing happening over and over again. They are going to wait for a decision to be brought down in another case before they alter their position. If the judgment is to the government's advantage, it will say “We are now going to implement it”. If it is to the government's disadvantage, it will say “We are going to ignore it and do things our own way”.

The government waited very long before settling the issue of pay equity for women in the federal public service. I hope people who are watching us this evening will remember that, because most of them are just coming home from work. These are people who pay taxes so that the Government of Canada and other governments throughout the country, including Quebec, can continue to operate.

But this is not what this government is doing. It is targeting workers. Again, if we look at the impact on a riding such as Saint-Jean, we can see that it is not negligible. It was estimated that the riding of Saint-Jean alone suffers an annual shortfall of about $2 million, because the government is taking so long to settle the pay equity issue.

The workers should get used to the idea that to vote for a Liberal government is to vote against workers. In Quebec, many have realized that. Who really looks after the interests of workers in this House? Who will oppose special legislation that adversely affect these workers? The Bloc Quebecois has always stood for these workers.

This is one of the reasons the Bloc Quebecois is so popular in Quebec. For sure the millionaires, the banks and the insurance companies dealing with billions of dollars do not contribute a red cent to the coffers of the Bloc Quebecois, because we are popularly funded. We do not want our hands tied.

It is true that, when it comes time to put an x beside the Bloc Quebecois in the booth, these people hesitate. But workers, for example, can see just who can rise in this place and defend them effectively.

Another example is the EI fund. Who pays for the EI fund? People will tell me it is partly paid for by employers, and I would agree. But workers put in a large amount. And with all the changes to the EI fund, all the amendments to the legislation since it was introduced, who has benefited? The government, which, in my opinion, is levying an indirect tax. Workers contribute every week.

In Quebec, we have workers who have paid EI premiums for 25 or 30 years. During the ice storm, to give one example, we asked the government to be more flexible, because people needed money. Workers needed money to cope during a major disaster. And the government said no.

This government continues to say no to workers, not just to those who are the victims of disasters. Members should take a look at the wording of the legislation. My colleague, the member for Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup—Témiscouta—Les Basques, is doing an excellent job, so that these inequities will be corrected.

Unfortunately, the government is turning a deaf ear, all the while accumulating billions of dollars in the fund and paying down its deficit. In the meantime, big corporations have it great in Canada. It is workers who are watching their salaries and living conditions slide ever downward. It is not for nothing that this Liberal government has been accused of going after workers. In my view, this is another blatant example.

There was another development recently. This goes back a few weeks.

A few years ago in the House, I raised the important issue of the Singer employees. I was told for two years, after I do not know how many questions, that the government had no responsibility in that case, whereas it was clearly stipulated in the contract that the government was a trustee, that it was the guardian of the plan and the fund.

It allowed Singer to stop paying premiums, taking the money from the fund surplus. Today, Singer workers, who are 83 years old on average, receive a monthly pension ranging from $20 to $50. There are people, like my father, who worked in that company for 45 years. We told the government “Look, this does not make sense. You were a trustee of the fund. Why did you allow the company to take money from the fund?”

If we annualize the whole pension fund, what has been taken out of it from 1962 to today, plus the accumulated interest, we get around $8 million, which could greatly benefit the Singer pensioners.

And what has the government been planning for the past two years? It has watched the public service pension plan grow. It has been getting ready to put its hand on the surplus. Contrary to what the President of the Treasury Board often says, the surplus does not belong to the government. Public servants have been paying into this fund.

Today there is a surplus. It should be used to enhance the pension plan and not by the government saying “This belongs to us now. Workers, you have contributed for 10, 15, 20 or 30 years. There is a surplus, but sorry, the plan will remain unchanged, while we are use it to eliminate the deficit, we are using your money for other purposes”. The money is used for purposes other than the one provided for in the act, namely to enhance these employees' pension plan.

I noticed that the former workers of the Singer Company have probably been the first victims of this government's intentions to reach into the pension funds of its own employees. The government will not admit that I am right and that it should help those 250 people who on average are now 83 years old. The government will not help those people by enhancing their pensions because this would put at risk its intention to dip into the federal public service employees pension fund.

For those workers who are listening today, I believe those are examples which should not be forgotten. Do we have to ask who the Liberal Party is defending? Is it defending workers, those who pay the bulk of taxes and income tax? I do not believe so. What has happened here today is despicable, but we could already feel it coming last week. I have had contacts with people on the Canadian forces base in my riding who are in touch with their union delegates. I told them that I had the feeling a special bill would be introduced in Ottawa.

I learned Friday that there had been two attempts to get the debate going rapidly. I believe workers sensed, knew what was coming. This is not to mention the way workers were treated. As far as I know, workers on strike have the right to put up picket lines and to protest in front of the offices of members of parliament or ministers.

By the way, the people who come to my riding office want to tell me about their concerns, not to protest in front of my office. They go do their picketing in front of the Liberals' offices, since they know these hon. members are responsible for the situation they are in, because, as I said, the government really wanted this strike to happen. Now that it is here, they want to quash it.

There is also the issue of privatization. I remind the House that less than a year ago this issue was very much on the agenda. The government wants to contract out to some agencies the work being done by several people at DND and throughout the federal public service. For some years now, we have seen the government contracting out.

Listen to this. At CFB Saint-Jean, we have personnel with 20 years of service and officers who are retiring. These officers are paid. Those who have worked for 20 years get their full pension. They turn around and set up businesses, and they tell their employees “Sorry, friends, I can rehire you, but you will not get $12 or $13 an hour. I can afford to pay you only $8 an hour”.

These officers are double dipping. They get their full pension from the Canadian army, they set up businesses, and they make profits by lowering the working and living conditions of workers.

What do we have before us today? When I say that this strike was planned, it is because the government is laughing at the workers when it says “Special legislation is coming up. If you do not accept our offers, you will strike out because we will impose them on you”. The government is taking advantage of this special legislation to lower the terms and wages offered to the workers.

However, this is not all the government has up its sleeve. It is saying to these workers “You are not skilled workers, anybody can do your work. So, if you do not accept our offers, we will impose special legislation on you”. Moreover, we often hear that employers say to their employees “If you are not happy with what you are getting, you can resign, leave your job”, whereas they are the lowest paid in the public service. The government wants to make money on their backs, saying “If you all resign, we will give the contract to the private sector, and we will make even more money”.

This is why I say that what is happening here today is really unfair and cynical. The Bloc will stand up because, to my knowledge, it is the only party that has been standing up for the workers, so far.

Government Services Act, 1999Government Orders

6:30 p.m.


Ghislain Lebel Bloc Chambly, QC

You are not mistaken.

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6:30 p.m.


Claude Bachand Bloc Saint-Jean, QC

My colleague from Chambly tells me I am not mistaken.

There are those who claim to be the defenders of the worker. I repeat, in the event of a rail strike, a postal strike, a federal public service strike, such as we have today, we are the only party to stand up for these workers, to stay on their side for as long as it takes. In my opinion, they are victims of this government, it is simple as that.

It is the federal Liberal government that is forcing these people to strike. Today, they face—

Government Services Act, 1999Government Orders

6:30 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh.

Government Services Act, 1999Government Orders

6:30 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Order, please. The hon. member for Saint-Jean will have two minutes left when the House resumes debate on this matter.

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.

Government Services Act, 1999Adjournment Proceedings

6:30 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Peter MacKay Progressive Conservative Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS

Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to rise and discuss this important matter. As the public complaints commission resumes its hearings today into the APEC security fiasco, it is my pleasure to speak to this matter.

On November 23, 1998, I asked the Prime Minister during question period when the government would call a complete independent judicial inquiry into the security at APEC, a relevant question then and now. Because the public complaints commission has never had a mandate under the RCMP act to investigate the Prime Minister's office, the public complaints commission has never had the opportunity to delve into allegations that the RCMP was only following government orders when it pepper sprayed protesters in 1997.

The embarrassing actions of the Liberal government and the solicitor general of the day to avoid broad accountability prompted some to call for the end of the RCMP public complaints commission. In the aftermath of resignations, indignation and media manipulations, the commission went into hibernation and only recently returned to the spotlight when the new committee chairman, Ted Hughes, a very able and learned jurist, was appointed.

Since his appointment by the Prime Minister, Mr. Hughes has shown his ability to make an impartial and fair process work. Mr. Hughes has stated that he will go where the evidence leads him and that his questions will be answered. Mr. Hughes must have the Liberals shaking in their boots with this attitude because as he has stated he will not rule out issuing a subpoena that might call for the testimony of the Prime Minister at this inquiry.

During question period in November the Prime Minister responded to my question by stating: “The inquiry can ask on all subjects it wants of anybody in the bureaucracy and even in my office and not only of the RCMP”. I wonder how comfortable the Prime Minister is with that statement now that he does not control the commission like a puppet on a string.

Whether it is the public complaints commission or the building of summer cottage access roads, the Prime Minister likes to have his own way and people in place to control the outcome when he does not have his own way. This time, however, the process will not be easily manipulated. Canadians are left still wondering about the meaning behind the former solicitor general's famous comments on his ill fated plane ride when he stated that Hughie would take the fall.

What is next? The RCMP has been directed to chase after dead ends in the Airbus scandal, so will the Liberal government make the RCMP again take the brunt of the criticism after the decisions of the Prime Minister's office which actually led to the APEC scandal? I am hopeful that this current version of the public complaints commission will have the mandate to look at what happened as a result of the PMO's direction should those events transpire and as it relates to the RCMP's handling of these protesters.

As I mentioned, I am cautiously optimistic that the commission will now be able to draft a report that will give us answers that get to the bottom of these important questions. This being said, I am hopeful that the public complaints commission will be able to make a proposal for the proper and meaningful retribution of student protesters involved in the APEC scandal.

These are questions Canadians deserve to have answers to. Now that the commission is back in full operation and is down to the business of looking at these issues as they are brought forward by lawyers like Cameron Ward for the protesters currently giving evidence, we are hopeful these answers will be carefully studied by the government. There is an opportunity here to perhaps restore some of the lost faith that came about as a result of the events in Vancouver.

As Mr. Speaker is a very ardent supporter of individual rights and has always taken an interest in transparency and openness in government, I am sure you would agree this is an ample opportunity for the government to do the right thing for a change, to have an opportunity to let the public see what is actually behind some of the inner workings of this government.

I thank the House very much for its indulgence and I am anxiously awaiting the response of government.

Government Services Act, 1999Adjournment Proceedings

6:35 p.m.

Brossard—La Prairie Québec


Jacques Saada LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Solicitor General of Canada

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his intervention.

Some members of the opposition have been calling for a while for an end to the hearings by the RCMP public complaints commission and the holding of a judicial commission of inquiry in its place. Such a demand indicates a lack of understanding of the mandate and powers of the commission. It is simply not up to the federal government to call a halt to the hearings by this independent administrative tribunal. I repeat: it is not up to the government.

Established by parliament, the RCMP public complaints commission is an impartial and independent mechanism to which Canadians may direct complaints about the behaviour of members of the RCMP. The commission decided to hold a hearing as the result of complaints about the behaviour of members of the RCMP at the APEC conference in Vancouver.

The commission determined the parameters of the hearing. In December 1998, the commission named Ted Hughes, an experienced and a highly respected jurist, to hear the testimony of the complainants. The PCC will prepare a report at the end of the hearings and will publish the conclusions and recommendations of the committee. It will send this report to all complainants, to the solicitor general and to the commissioner of the RCMP.

Let me return to the mandate of the commissioner of the public complaints commission looking into complaints against the conduct of RCMP officers during the demonstrations at the APEC conference.

In fact, as the Prime Minister has repeatedly pointed out here in the House, Mr. Hughes has been given a very broad mandate. This mandate was established by the public complaints commission, not the government. As the public complaints commission said in its December 21, 1998, press release, Mr. Hughes will examine the events that occurred during the demonstrations that took place at that time and will submit a report. Mr. Hughes has already made it clear how broad a mandate this is in the decisions he has handed down.

If the public complaints commission is ever allowed to do its job, I am sure that the Canadian public will be much enlightened.

Government Services Act, 1999Adjournment Proceedings

6:35 p.m.


Peter Stoffer NDP Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, first of all I wish to thank all members of the House and of the Senate for the opportunity to change the name of our beautiful riding from Sackville—Eastern Shore to Sackville—Musquodoboit Valley—Eastern Shore. On behalf of the 83,000 we thank the House and the other place very much for that.

It is interesting that we are debating today the concern of my question on February 16 about the blue collars workers of the PSAC union. It is unfortunate that in 1993 this Liberal government broke its promise to end regional rates of pay which in my riding of Sackville—Musquodoboit Valley—Eastern Shore are a very major bone of contention for these hardworking Atlantic Canadians who are not paid equitably for the work they do compared to other workers with the same union across the country.

Today in the House we saw crocodile tears from the House leader of the Liberal Party who said how upset and how ashamed he was that these workers can actually hold hostage the people of Canada or the farmers of Canada. In all my years of labour negotiations and all my years in the union never once have I ever met a picketer who loved to be on a picket line. Never once have I met a family that wanted its main earner to go on the picket line and lose income so it could end up losing the house, having to go further into debt, having to lose the car and so on. No one likes a picket line, especially farmers. No one likes a picket line, especially the workers who are on that picket line.

What they do want and what they have asked for time and time again is fair collective bargaining. In the event that bargaining process breaks down it is up to the two parties, in this case the government and PSAC, to bring in an arbitrator to make a ruling which is binding on both parties in this case. That arbitration was legislated out so the workers do not even have that opportunity.

I also wish to name two people, Mr. Howie West and Ms. Cathy Murphy, in Nova Scotia with the PSAC union who have done yeoman's work for their membership and for the citizens of Nova Scotia by bringing these issues to the forefront and displaying a very positive attitude as to how they can reach a settlement in this case.

The government refused to negotiate pay equity and now it is before the courts and they are appealing it one more time. Then it was regional rates of pay it refused to discuss. Now the government will go after its own workers' pension plan.

Three strikes and this government will be out. As my colleague for Winnipeg Centre said, the government is waking a sleeping giant it does not want to wake up. I can assure the House that from coast to coast to coast retired PSAC workers and current PSAC workers from all stripes will rise up in anger over the fact that this government is refusing to listen and has brought the morale of these workers to an all time low.

I have letter addressed to the President of the Treasury Board. It basically states if this government thinks it can legislate these workers back to work and replace the picket line outside and move the picket line inside, it is sadly mistaken because it is in for a lot of trouble it does not wish to have.

Government Services Act, 1999Adjournment Proceedings

6:40 p.m.

Trinity—Spadina Ontario


Tony Ianno LiberalParliamentary Secretary to President of the Treasury Board and Minister responsible for Infrastructure

Mr. Speaker, aside from saying that the NDP is not surprising anyone with its usual rhetorical lines, supporting regional rates of pay is not difficult to understand. The striking blue collar workers want one rate across Canada.

That would make it inequitable for many in the process. It would mean excessive income for some in certain areas while others would be underpaid in other areas. That is simply not fair.

The government has offered blue collar workers contracts in line with what it has provided other public servants in negotiated settlements while paying wages that reflect local market realities. In fact, 87% of PSAC has negotiated settlement. We believe in the negotiated settlement approach and collective bargaining.

The government has offered to reduce the number of regions where different rates apply from ten to seven. That is fair. If the government were to pay Vancouver rates to blue collar workers in Halifax, imagine the outcry. Small business would be competing for needed workers, not just the federal government but the corporations rich enough to match the higher rates. That would disrupt the local labour market.

Why do we pay higher wages in Vancouver? Quite simply, the cost of living on the west coast is much higher. Consider housing prices alone.

By paying regional rates, the federal government contributes to social and economic stability across Canada. That is why we should simply return to the central issue, passing a bill to end a strike that is hurting Canadians and threatening the trade so vital to our economy, exporters, grain producers, the many Canadians who desperately need their income tax refunds, et cetera. This government has responsibilities to ensure all Canadians work.