Mr. Speaker, it is behind by 1.2 million tax returns. The revenue minister has to know that as of January 1 Canadians are entitled to file their tax returns and try to get back some of the money that the government has taxed out of them. They deserve that money and they deserve it on time.
The government saw this coming. Here again it goes right back to those poor negotiating tactics. It attempts to squeeze the union people and farmers out of every penny they have.
We also heard another member speaking today with regard to corrections. The Treasury Board minister said he had to close a loophole, a quirk in the previous agreement they had negotiated with the corrections officers and the unions representing them. Why did they have to close that loophole, that little quirk? Not only did they not negotiate with the unions in good faith and come up to an agreement, but the very legislation they put in making them essential workers was incomplete and incompetently drafted. The government went ahead and passed that legislation which is another reason why we are here today.
We can continue on about the incompetence of this government in its labour negotiations. We look back to when we were dealing with Bill C-19, a labour bill. That bill and other major labour legislation were designed to have agriculture products continue to move through the ports. When we look in Hansard at the debate, Reform members put in amendments to say this legislation did not cover the 70 grain weighers out on the west coast.
I will not name the member, but a member of the Liberal government came to me on Thursday, the night I asked for this emergency debate, and said “Are you sure this did not cover those 70 members of the PSAC grain weighers union on the west coast?” I had to tell him it did not.
We were telling this to the government back in 1997 and 1998, that Bill C-19 did not cover that. As late as Thursday these Liberal members were coming to me and admitting that they knew not what was in that bill, assuming it covered the necessary labour agreements to keep the grain flowing.
Let us go back to March 18. The summation of everything I have said to this point is quite clear. This government since 1993 has not bargained in good faith. It has not done the things necessary to establish good relations and come up with a fair and reasonable settlement for the union people, the farmers and Canadians.
It is a known fact that in this country, as in any country, productivity is directly related to the workers and the amount of produce, product and manufactured goods. Over the years we have seen billions of dollars lost to union strikes and other labour disruptions. Even those disruptions were due to the previous governments over the past 30 years negotiating in poor faith and not understanding what union people were trying to put across to them which was simply a fair and negotiated settlement.
They failed in all those 30 years. I remember seeing these stoppages from the time I was a very young lad in Saskatchewan living on a farm. They started back with the seaway negotiations with the pilots. That was when governments lost control of negotiations. History shows us that inflation took off in Canada and put us into this $600 billion debt. We only have to look at who was in charge of the country over those 30 years. I look across and I see the Liberals and I see the Conservatives. They have brought us here today.
Reform has put forward solutions to some of these problems and has certainly worked closer with the unions than the government with respect to the very problems we are facing today.
One of the possible solutions which I mentioned in my speech in the emergency debate of Thursday, March 18 was the fact that the grain weighers are an essential service provided by government, due to the fact that they are the only ones who perform that service, and they should have the benefit of final offer arbitration to settle their labour disputes.
Due to the incompetence shown by the government in Bill C-19, those 70 weighers were not treated properly and, as a result, all 14,000 Public Service Alliance of Canada workers have been dragged into this dispute.
I will certainly give credit to the Speaker who authorized the emergency debate on Thursday, March 18. However, in the Liberal spin doctoring, no credit was given to myself or the Reform Party by the government. Government speakers went outside the House to give part of the story of what had happened in the House. There was no mention of the fact that final offer arbitration was suggested as one way of settling these disputes.
In the debate of Thursday, March 18, there was an amazing coincidence. This was again spin doctoring. This time it was the Minister of Natural Resources, the minister responsible for the Canadian Wheat Board, saying that Canadian Wheat Board negotiators, the salesmen, the marketers for the Canadian farmers, were in Japan and were announcing the loss of a $9 million sale.
This was the first time I had ever heard representatives of the Canadian Wheat Board say they had lost a sale. It is a coincidence that it came up just at the time they were trying to put pressure on the labour unions. They were trying to put members of the official opposition into what they perceived as a beautiful, spin doctored, compromising position to make us look bad before the Canadian public.
The comment on the Canadian Wheat Board is a question I am going to be asking farmers and one which farmers are going to be asking their elected representatives. Farmers are going to find out how the decision was made to make a public announcement that our grain was not selling in Japan and why this government was unable to settle the labour negotiations to keep our grain moving; and not only settle negotiations, but in fact have legislation in place to facilitate grain movement.
On Friday, March 19 the government came into the House to put forward a motion. The Liberals expected us to buy into a motion that gives absolutely no details of the legislation they intend to bring forward. The government also asked the Reform Party, the NDP, the Conservatives and the Bloc Quebecois to accept this no detail motion on behalf of Canadians and to assume that the government will take care of Canadians and their interests.
This government has not taken care of farmers' interests. It has not taken care of the PSAC union members' interests. It has not taken care of the productivity interests of Canadians in this country. It certainly has not taken care of the high taxes or the high debt.
I think the Canadian public is starting to understand and realize that this whole problem, this whole emergency, this whole non-negotiated settlement, this requirement for back to work legislation, rests solely on the head of the Liberal government. It does not rest on the opposition members. The government has been in charge of this House since 1993. That is precisely why this problem rests on its head.
When I asked for the emergency debate the other day we were trying to get solutions from the government as to what facts it had to bring forward and what it was going to do about the situation.
We sat here that night. It is all in Hansard . There were no solutions coming forward from the government. It threatened the union. It talked about hostages and that kind of thing. But it is not the union's fault in this situation, it is the Liberal government's fault.
There is no point in reading the full motion that was put forward on March 19, but it stated that it was a bill in the name of the President of the Treasury Board, entitled an act to provide for the resumption and continuation of government services, and it gave the manner in which it was to be disposed of. There were no details.
Once again, I hope it is abundantly clear to the House and to the Canadian public that members of the Reform Party stood for Canada. We stood for the unions. We stood for the farmers. We said that we were not going to let the government sell us a pig in a poke. The Canadian public bought that in the election of 1993 by electing the Liberal government. I do not expect to see them make that mistake again.
I hope the Canadian public can see that the opposition parties took the right stand in saying that before we would give consent to the government to do anything, which would probably cost a lot of money and a lot of heartache, we wanted to see the facts. Today we have the facts in Bill C-76, which we can now debate.
In this chronology of despair over the emergency situation, when there is no real need for an emergency situation, we saw the Saturday and Sunday press releases describing the attempt to put the motion on Friday. Over the weekend I followed the newspapers. They did not even bother including the other opposition parties because they wanted to try to make Reform, with our strong base in western Canada, look bad to Canadians. I know today that Canadians and western Canadian farmers know what happened.
When those newspapers are reviewed and when the facts start to come out over the next couple of days, our western Canadian farmers are going to see that Reform stood for them and has a good track record in regard to this whole issue.
I have already covered some of the history. This government has been in power since 1993 and it continued the wage freezes which were started a year or two earlier under the Conservative government. The freezes continued right through until the last two years. The government knew that there had to be negotiations and that agreements had to be in place. There was ample time for it to do that, instead of leaving it go, instead of making poor decisions, instead of not showing any leadership, instead of not taking the bull by the horns to come up with a settlement which would treat people properly.
We referred to June 18, 1998, when royal assent was given to that essential service in Bill C-19. Our suggestion at that time was that the government should include in the bill final offer arbitration.
The issue is that 70 grain weighers who were not covered were able to harm the incomes of 115,000 grain farmers in western Canada. The grain weighers did not want to harm these farmers financially, but they did have to stand for their interests. The government had the opportunity in Bill C-19 to make sure that did not happen, but once again flawed legislation prevented Canada from moving ahead with its economic programs.
If we look back in history a few months, on January 27, 1999 the Western Grain Elevator Association was very concerned about the rotating strikes. Members of the association said that it was time to do something about the labour negotiations. They were concerned about the movement of grain through the Vancouver port.
We have seen from the situation we are in today, this emergency situation, that in fact that letter, if it was not ignored, it certainly was not acted upon. That was not the only warning, I am sure, telling the government that something had to be done immediately.
Let us look at the government's previous history with respect to labour negotiations. I am not going to go back to 1993 or the many years that Liberals have been in government, but I am going to go back to the famous debates we had on back to work legislation for the postal union. I am saying this so that everyone fully understands the incompetence with which the government has dealt with labour-management problems in this country.
The postal union strike was not settled. There was back to work legislation about two years ago. In fact I was informed the other day that there has been no negotiated settlement of that dispute. It is ongoing. Who knows? If the time runs out on that legislation, I guess the government's idea of labour negotiations is simply to bring in another piece of back to work legislation.
This country cannot be run by a dictatorial government. That is exactly what back to work legislation is. It is a dictatorship which has been resorted to and implemented. The government has ignored the normal democratic processes, including listening to the official opposition when it puts forward good amendments to legislation.
I would like to deal with the introduction of the legislation this afternoon by the government House leader. Once again the spin doctors came out. I guess in this case it was his own spin doctor. I do not know if he was handed the information or if he collected it himself, but he said that he introduced this legislation with some regret. I am referring to Bill C-76.
The time for his regret was back in January. It was back in 1998. It was back in 1997 when something could have been done about it.
When the Liberals know that something is coming down the pike, why if they are doing their job, if they are representing the people of Canada, would they wait until the last minute, wait until it is a crisis, wait until the situation cannot be resolved, wait until financial harm has hit some of the poorest people in the country who are waiting for tax returns? I do not know. I have to refer to it as simply being incompetence.
That was a nice bit of spin. Then the government House leader went on to say that he hoped this bill would convince some members of the House, referring to members of the Reform Party and possibly other members of the opposition, that we were wrong on Friday. That was the gist of his remarks. I have already explained that we had no details on Friday. For him to stand today and try to make it look as if the opposition parties were against having this legislation come forward, like we said, we will not buy a pig in a poke in this House. If we did, who knows the dismal conditions the Liberal government would have us living in within very short order?
There was a comment by the House leader. I do not want to dwell on his presentation but he brought it up. Like they say in the old school yard, he started it. And at the schools I went to, I was of the opinion that somebody else may have started it but I was going to finish it and that is exactly what I am going to do today.
He also said that he did not want to see lost sales exports. The rotating strikes and lost sales exports started back in 1998 and in early 1999. If he does not want to see them, why the heck did the government not do something about them before today?
The hurt for farmers will not stop today. To get the grain system and the hopper cars spotted on the tracks by the elevators and inland terminals will take several days. It will probably take a week or more to get the system back up and running. Demurrage charges will kick in. Late delivery penalties will kick in from our customers. The financial hurt is there and it should be on the government's head.
The agriculture minister sat back until December 1998 saying not to worry about that income problem because the western Canadian farmers have crop insurance and a NISA program, and that is fine and dandy, they will be all right. The farming industry and the opposition members finally convinced him by December that he was totally misguided, misinformed or he misunderstood what the facts were.
I bring that up to point out that the agriculture minister is part of this whole terrible scenario leading up to this emergency today. He is supposed to be representing farmers across the country, including western Canadian farmers. When the agriculture minister saw the hurt that was happening, even if he did not want to admit it, and when he had the opportunity to do something about it and did not, that to me is what Canadians will see as incompetence on the part of the government.
I will close with the final comment that the government will have to pass this legislation. I will support this legislation because incompetence has brought us to this point. The government has put Canadians, farmers, the union, everyone in a box from which they cannot escape without this drastic dictatorial action. It is a sad day but that is what will have to happen.
Starting this minute, the government will not get off lightly having left us in the lurch. Tomorrow we will have to continue on with two things. We will have to try to get some amended legislation on Bill C-19 that went through on labour relations. We will continue to push the government to negotiate in good faith and come up with a solution with the union that is fair and reasonable for both the union and the people of Canada.
As with the postal workers, I do not believe we will see anything different in the negotiations with the PSAC workers. As a result it will take all of us on this side of the House, and I intend to be part of it, to work with the Public Service Alliance of Canada and the farmers to get this country into shape so we do not have to suffer this financial harm.
In the long term, what can I say? We hope that in the next election we can come up with a new government. I am certainly looking forward to a Reform type government. People like to comment about the united alternative, but we will certainly come up with a government to replace this government with one the general population of Canada wants.
As the last of the speeches are made from the opposition side today, we will see the truth of this whole emergency debate come out. We will see the truth of the legislation. We will see whether there can be some amendments to include some final offer binding arbitration for the 70 grain weighers out on the west coast.
Once again I say that this is a sad day. We have been left in the lurch by the Liberal government. Starting with the emergency debate the other night, we are finally seeing that something is being done. It is not perfect but something is being done. We will continue to push this government into doing not what it wants to do but what Canadians want it to do.