The government member is asking if we know about grain handlers on this side. Maybe they do not over there, but we know that farmers are hurting.
We commend the minister of agriculture because he brought in a package to help farmers in serious trouble. As we know, commodity prices have gone through the floor. When it comes to hog production, the faster farmers produce hogs the faster they lose money because the price of a hog is below the cost of production. Farmers are absolutely suffering a great deal.
Seventy people on the west coast who, because of the job they do weighing grain as it ends up at the coast, have been able to put a strangle hold on the prairie farm economy by stopping the movement of grain.
It is late March. A month from now farmers on the prairies will be wanting to be out in their fields to get this year's crop in. If last year's crop does not work, there is always next year. Farmers are always hoping for next year, and next year is just around the corner. They will have to pay for more grain, fertilizer, fuel and soon thereafter the cost of spraying that grain crop. These things are just over the horizon for farmers, and 70 people on the west coast have put a strangle hold on the entire farming economy on the prairies at the very time they need it most.
The cash is no good for them in late May. They need it to buy the seed that has to go in the ground in the springtime, not later. The seed cannot be put in any later. It has to be planted in the spring or it does not grow. It is that simple. We all know that.
It is the most opportune time to put the squeeze on the government. That is one of the reasons we as Reformers feel the motion deserves serious consideration. There is an emergency and that is why we feel the motion deserves serious consideration.
That does not mean to say that we like it. That does not mean to say that we like the way the government has introduced it. It has had opportunities to negotiate in good faith. It knows these contracts expire. There are five different tables of ongoing negotiations with PSAC. There are these different unions and they all expire at different times. The governments knows that ahead of time.
I think of computer specialists. They have a contract that expires at the end of April. That is only six weeks from now. This year we have the Y2K problem coming up. If we do not get the Y2K problem fixed before January 1, 2000, we will have a problem. The government knew that years ago. Yet it negotiated a contract with computer technicians that will expire on April 30, 1999, knowing full well that they have the potential to move into a strike position if they cannot get what they want before the year 2000.
I can see a few months from now standing here again talking about back to work legislation for computer programmers because government negotiated a contract that expired on April 30, 1999 rather than on April 30, 2000. It does not take a rocket scientist to understand that we have given computer technicians a stranglehold on government operations by saying that if they go on strike the government will not be ready for January 1, 2000. If it is not ready by January 1, 2000, it is all going to shut down. That is incompetence by the government.
That is what we are talking about when we debate back to work legislation. If the government were to negotiate in good faith as an employer being able to offer a proper compensation package and the union had an understanding of its obligation to society, I am sure they could have come to an agreement before now.
Let look at the labour relations with the government. First it legislates no pay increases for six years. Then when it says they can have a pay increase it is only what it is prepared to give because they will not have the right to binding arbitration. It wonders why they are concerned when treated as something that can be legislated out of existence or legislated back to work any time the government wants.
Today Bill C-76 was introduced. We are only talking about 70 grain weighers in Vancouver, but the legislation wraps up the 14,000 people in the general labour and trade services, hospital services, fire fighters, heating and power, ship crews, lighthouse keepers, general services and grain weighers. I do not think these other people are on strike, but they will get wrapped up in the back to work legislation before they even go on strike.
The heavy handed government is not bothering to wait for them to go on strike. It expects they will because the relationship is so bad. Therefore it will not wait. It does it now by wrapping it up in one piece of legislation to get the job done. That is not right. It cannot be.
If the government wants a good relationship with its employees, how can it justify legislating 14,000 people back to work before they go on strike, before they even say they are going on strike, before they have even indicated they are going on strike?
As I explained there are 70 people and we feel 70 people should not have the right and the responsibility to hold up the entire farm economy on the prairies.
There have been all kinds of debates in the House about the wheat board, how it manipulates farm prices and how it should have and could have provided better incomes to farmers. Finally the government has opened the board a bit but not very much. We need to make sure the board is a lot more accountable to farmers. The government is stonewalling on that. The whole message of the government is stonewall, ignore, disregard. Then when people rise up and say “you are trampling on my democratic rights and I want to push you around”, the government legislates them out of existence.
Therein is the problem. We have 70 people on strike and we want to do something for farmers. We want to ensure that they cannot hold these people to ransom. Yet the government takes 14,000 people and wraps them up in the same argument. We cannot deal with that.
The list goes on and on, whether it concerns hepatitis C, legislating that people cannot have a raise or the farmers. The government does not recognize and respect the democratic rights of very many people. The only thing it respects is the Prime Minister's whip, who says “You will vote the way we tell you”. And when they vote the way they are told, the government gets what it wants.
Therefore, we will debate this issue as much as we can. Our hearts are with the people of this country. Our number one concern is for the people of this country, the taxpayers of this country, the people who built this country, the people who opened up the prairies and who make a livelihood as best they can, sometimes under very difficult conditions. I do not think the hundreds of thousands of people in the prairies deserve to have their livelihoods and their lifestyles held for ransom by 70 people. We oppose that. We are glad the government is doing something about it, but we are mightily upset that it has wrapped the rest of the people in at the same time.