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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.


PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

3:10 p.m.


Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker pursuant to Standing Order 36 I am pleased to present a petition signed by a number of Canadians including from my own riding of Mississauga South on the subject of human rights.

The petitioners would like to draw to the attention of the House that human rights abuses continue to be rampant around the world in countries such as Indonesia.

The petitioners also point out that the Government of Canada and Canada have continued to be a champion of universally accepted human rights. The petitioners therefore call upon the government to continue to condemn human rights abuses around the world and to seek to bring to justice those responsible for such abuses.

Questions Passed As Orders For ReturnsRoutine Proceedings

3:10 p.m.

Peterborough Ontario


Peter Adams LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, if Questions Nos. 124 and 183 could be made orders for returns, these returns would be tabled immediately.

Questions Passed As Orders For ReturnsRoutine Proceedings

3:10 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is that agreed?

Questions Passed As Orders For ReturnsRoutine Proceedings

3:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed. .[Text]

Question No. 124—

Questions Passed As Orders For ReturnsRoutine Proceedings

3:10 p.m.


Derrek Konrad Reform Prince Albert, SK

Could the government provide a list of the complaints/challenges the Department has received on band elections held between 1996 and the present, including: (a) the name of the band involved; (b) details of the complaint; (c) the date of the initial election; (d) the date the complaint/challenge was made; and (e) the status of the complaint within the Department (i.e. what action the department has taken)?

Return tabled.

Question No. 183—

Questions Passed As Orders For ReturnsRoutine Proceedings

3:10 p.m.


Rick Casson Reform Lethbridge, AB

With respect to the transfer payments as outlined in the 1998-99 Estimates (Part III), could the Minister of Environment provide details as to the recipients, use of, or any further details concerning the monies distributed to date under Grants and Contributions, specifically: (a) the contribution to the Province of British Columbia and environmental non-government organizations (ENGO's)—Wildlife Strategy, Pacific Coast Joint Venture of $325,000; (b) the contribution to Building International Partnership of $1,009,423; and (c) the contributions made under Minister's Authority of $393,500?

Return tabled.

Questions On The Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

March 22nd, 1999 / 3:10 p.m.

Peterborough Ontario


Peter Adams LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I ask that the remaining questions be allowed to stand.

Questions On The Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

3:10 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is that agreed?

Questions On The Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

3:10 p.m.

Some hon. members


Government Services Act, 1999Government Orders

3:10 p.m.

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell Ontario


Don Boudria LiberalLeader of the Government in the House of Commons


That, notwithstanding any Standing Order or usual practice of this House, 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, shall be disposed of as follows:

Commencing when the said bill is read a first time and concluding when the said bill is read a third time, the House shall not adjourn except pursuant to a motion proposed by a Minister of the Crown, and no Private Members' Business shall be taken up;

The said bill may be read twice or thrice in one sitting;

After being read a second time, the said bill shall be referred to a Committee of the Whole; and

During consideration of the said bill, no division shall be deferred.

Mr. Speaker, it is with some regret that I must this afternoon introduce the subject at hand. Obviously the government is in a position now where it must bring an end to the strike and bring people back to work.

My colleague, the President of the Treasury Board, will be giving a detailed speech on what the bill, which was introduced earlier today, will contain as soon as the order that we have before us has been disposed of by the House.

Meanwhile, might I take this opportunity to thank the House for having agreed earlier today to the introduction of Bill C-76, the Government Services Act. This has allowed members to see the bill for a few hours more than they would normally have been able or entitled to. Hopefully it has succeeded in convincing at least a number of members of the House as to why the bill is so urgent.

Our government has settled collective agreements with some 87% of its civil servants. However, there is a number of groups with which a settlement has not proven to be possible. With a view to reaching a settlement the government was very flexible at the bargaining table. Again, the President of the Treasury Board will be speaking I am sure very eloquently on this issue when he makes his second reading speech.

Our last offer compared very favourably to what 87% of our unionized employees, including more than 90,000 PSAC members, in other words the same union, have already accepted. Unfortunately an agreement has not been possible with a smaller group who nevertheless provide services in critical areas.

Not only do they provide services in critical areas but they have picketed in a way that has prevented other people from attending to their regular duties and deprived Canadians of the services they need.

Strike activities have been affecting millions of Canadians, in particular Canadian farmers, Canadians who pay income tax or, perhaps more important if we look at it through the eyes of the taxpayers, those numerous Canadians who are expecting income tax refunds. Some 900,000 claimants are waiting for their benefits as we speak because we are unable to process these claims.

There is also an issue involving Canada's prison system which of course came to light last Friday through the media and we all know how important the preservation of that is for the security of Canadians and for providing for the security of those who are incarcerated.

Last week Mr. Speaker determined that an emergency debate on this issue was necessary. If no less than the Speaker of the House of Commons has decreed that this was an emergency to be debated on the floor of the House we in the government are treating this issue as an emergency and agree with what Mr. Speaker ruled on some days ago.

I quote the member for Selkirk—Interlake who stated on March 18 that grain farmers are facing one of the worst financial years in a decade: “Farmers are innocent third parties in this labour dispute”. These concerns were raised again on Friday, March 19 in the House by other hon. members. We agree this is important and urgent.

Today Revenue Canada offices were heavily picketed across the country, the national capital region, the Atlantic region, including St. John's, Sydney, Halifax, Summerside and Saint John, the Ontario region office at Belleville and the prairie region offices at Winnipeg and Edmonton. This adds to the problem at Revenue Canada that I was speaking of a while ago. This is disrupting and it is disrupting to many Canadians and sometimes Canadians least able to help themselves and who need our help and our support in this time of need.

This is why the government has today tabled a bill in the name of my colleague, the President of the Treasury Board, for the purpose of ordering 14,000 of these blue collar workers back to work and imposing a collective agreement.

The government is also calling on parliament to order some 4,500 correctional officers to remain on duty in the interests of public safety and to negotiate a collective agreement as quickly as possible in order to maintain the safety of inmates and of all Canadians.

For the government and for millions of Canadians, this is therefore an urgent matter, as the Speaker of the House pointed out last week. It is urgent that action be taken immediately.

Blue collar workers are responsible for the operation of government facilities and buildings throughout Canada, as well as health services in federal institutions. In addition, of course, when these people are picketing, they can prevent other equally important workers from delivering services to Canadians.

Numerous low income families and small and medium size businesses will have to wait for cheques to which they are entitled and which they urgently need.

After 10 weeks of rotating strikes, the impact on Canadians has, I would argue, become unacceptable.

As a member of parliament representing a rural constituency, I do not want to see my country lose sales of grain and other agricultural commodities. Our agricultural commodities are the pride of this country and we do not deserve to see the sales of these products diminish for any consideration.

This strike is having a serious effect on Canada's economy, particularly on grain farmers, small business, low income Canadians and all those who are counting on receiving their income tax refunds. Canadians are counting on us today. I ask the House to approve swiftly the motion before us. Having passed that motion, we will then proceed with the bill in the name of the President of the Treasury Board, Bill C-76. After that bill is in place we will be able to resume all the services that Canadians deserve.

I therefore call on the House to pass as quickly as possible today this motion that will enable us to pass Bill C-76 in order to restore the services to which Canadians are entitled.

Government Services Act, 1999Government Orders

3:20 p.m.


Howard Hilstrom Reform Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Mr. Speaker, today we finally have a debate about the emergency situation facing this country. We have a debate based on some facts and some details which this government has failed to provide since I raised the motion last Thursday for an emergency debate.

At the end of this debate this afternoon Canadians will start to fully realize the level of incompetence and uselessness this government that went ahead and negotiated over the past five years since it came to power in 1993. We are in this emergency situation today because of the negotiators who work against the unions as opposed to working with them in an attempt to get a fair and reasonable negotiated settlement. What happened? They dillied, they dallied, they wasted time, they did not bargain in good faith. They knew these negotiations were absolutely vital to coming to an agreement before there was any harm done to the Canadian economy. They did not bargain in good faith. Otherwise we would have had today a negotiated settlement.

They disregarded the farmers in this country who are already suffering from a serious financial situation due in no part to their own actions or decision making. The actions I described were due to subsidies in foreign countries and a general oversupply of the commodity product.

Today we have Bill C-76 in front of us, an act to provide for the resumption and continuation of government services. The Canadian people will see the spin doctoring of this Liberal government done by its henchmen back in the offices behind the ministers. We will see that the people of Canada will see what has gone on in the House and outside. I will go over that spin doctoring a little. The true facts will arise from this.

I hope the agriculture minister is following my speech very closely today. Whether or not the Treasury Board minister and the agriculture minister agree, the question of how serious this was and when the government should have known about it is one of the key things.

Today we had the revenue minister stand up in the House and refer to 1.2 million tax returns that have not been filed.

Government Services Act, 1999Government Orders

3:25 p.m.


Jake Hoeppner Reform Portage—Lisgar, MB

You guys are worried, aren't you? You better send a few more task forces up there.

Government Services Act, 1999Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Order, please. It is very difficult for the Chair to hear the hon. member who is making his remarks. Perhaps there could be a little more order so the hon. member could be heard.

Government Services Act, 1999Government Orders

3:25 p.m.


Howard Hilstrom Reform Selkirk—Interlake, MB

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.

Government Services Act, 1999Government Orders

3:50 p.m.


Yves Rocheleau Bloc Trois-Rivières, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak on behalf of the Bloc Quebecois, and as its labour critic, on this special debate, but I share the government leader's distress in doing so. There is good reason to be sad when we are required as legislators to introduce such a bill in the House, since it constitutes admission of a failure in the way our organizations and institutions operate.

All of our labour relations are based on a relationship of power that is meant to be a fair one. When we are forced to take steps such as those being taken today, it means something has gone wrong with that relationship.

What we are dealing with is a legal strike, a strike by a legally recognized and constituted union. It is part of the rules for the labour relations process that, when the workers' side considers that what has been offered is inadequate, they may strike. This is what we are dealing with at this time: a union that is legally using its right to strike and, by the very fact that it operates within the governmental system—because the government wears two different hats in a context such as this one, as employer and as legislator—is having forced upon it special legislation.

The government, acting as both employer and legislator in this case as I said, wakes up one morning, supposedly exasperated after a few days of strike—at least as far as the people at Vancouver are concerned—and decides to take action, arguing that the services involved affect public health and safety, thus qualifying as essential services. Measures are in place since public health and safety is an integral part of essential public services, and that was the rationale for taking this line of action.

Right now, the government is going overboard and is failing to demonstrate—and this is where it is not following procedure—the urgency of the situation, but one does sense a kind of exasperation.

The government has, moreover, had its task made easier for it. I personally have a hard time figuring out the workings of the Reform Party, which set the table last Thursday by so eloquently dramatizing the situation in the port of Vancouver. In my opinion, it considerably facilitated the government's action and this is why Friday and today we see the government acting entirely exceptionally by taking measures to impose special legislation.

I think we ought to deal with matters one at a time.

The exceptional measure used here is the suspension of the debates on the order paper. It is called a special debate. We are talking about the motion that will enable the government to introduce special legislation, perhaps tomorrow. That is what we must be discussing. We will talk as eloquently as possible, except that the time frame as you know is very short.

It cannot be said often enough. It is an illegal strike. It is a process recognized by the parties and by society. We support bargaining and civilized balance. This has been upset today. It is excessive on the part of the government, which happens to be the employer, to try to impose its own rules, its own way of seeing things, its own working conditions.

We will discuss this into further detail later on, but we are convinced that it is still possible to negotiate in good faith, to restore a normal balance of power between the parties. Look at what happened at the two bargaining tables where there are now problems, that is table 2 and table 4.

For the benefit of members of parliament and those listening to us, table 2 deals with labour relations between the government and general labour, ships' crews and trades represented by the Public Service Alliance of Canada, while table 4 is for Canada's correctional services employees, who are also members of the PSAC.

Some progress had been made, albeit slowly at times, but at least to the point where, in the case of correctional services employees, an agreement had been proposed by a conciliator. That agreement was accepted by the union, but rejected by the employer. The parties could find a solution, provided they negotiate in good faith. This is where the attitude of the employer, the government, becomes a concern because, given that the conciliator's report had been approved by the union, there is already the basis for an agreement.

It may be premature and inappropriate for the government to take this kind of action today. It should have been a little more patient, a little more conciliatory. It should have tried to find a compromise, given that the union had committed itself, making it unnecessary to this kind of measure, which is always exceptional and sad. Only the government can get away with taking the sort of action it has taken today as an employer. From the smallest company to the largest multinational, no organization except the government has the power to take the action being taken today of legislating heavy fines to force people back to work under conditions set by the employer, in this case the government.

As for table 2 on general labour, ships' crews and so forth, the workers represented by this union are prepared to go the alternative route of arbitration, so desperate are they. It is good for the government to see how its offers are perceived, if they are seen as being as reasonable as it claims.

In our opinion, and this is why we are opposed, all efforts have not been made to reach a negotiated settlement. This is a serious matter. Time is running out, and let us not forget that these people's salaries have been frozen for six years. They have every reason to make demands, to make strong demands, given the rise in the cost of living, inflation, and so on.

The government has taken a very firm stand, and resorted to legislation to get its way. That is how we see it.

We think it is a matter of principle, that this is an illegal strike and that the government should honour the mechanisms currently being used. Neither the negotiations nor this House should be upset with strategies built on the other side.

I will summarize our position, which is clear. We believe the freedom to unionize exists in Canada for employees and employers. This freedom exists for the parties, and the option of calling a strike exists from the moment there are good reasons for doing so, and this is the case here. It is part of a fair balance of power, except when the employer is also the government and is abusing its legislative power. Special legislation must be used only as a last resort.

This has not been shown to be the case here in our opinion. In the meantime, we want the government to return to the bargaining table with an offer acceptable to the workers and to resolve the problem democratically and in a civilized manner through negotiation.

Government Services Act, 1999Government Orders

4 p.m.


John Bryden Liberal Wentworth—Burlington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I do not want to prolong this debate, but I cannot let the comments of the member for Selkirk—Interlake go by unchallenged. He said that the truth would come out in the emergency debate last Thursday.

On all the remarks by the member for Selkirk—Interlake about Bill C-19 being inadequate and that we need to amend it so that this sort of situation can never happen again, if people listening to this debate check Hansard of last Thursday they will find that all those remarks and recommendations were made by me, a Liberal.

Moreover, I was the only one during that emergency debate, not the Reformers, who proposed that we should have back to work legislation. I was puzzled by the silence of members of the Reform Party on that issue. They were silent and now I know why. When the motion by the government was put forward on Friday calling for back to work legislation they voted against it.

If people wonder about what is happening here, all they have to do is check with the phone logs of the ridings of the Reform Party and the Liberals. They will find that the phone logs of the ridings of the Liberals will be choked with angry calls from PSAC and that the phone logs of the Reform Party members will be choked with angry calls from farmers.

Who represents whom around here? It is the Liberal Party this time that is representing the farmers and the Reform Party is representing the unions.

Government Services Act, 1999Government Orders

4 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

This is a period of questions and comments on the speech by the hon. member for Trois-Rivières. I am not sure that what the member has just said was on topic.

If the hon. member for Trois-Rivières wishes to respond, he is welcome to do so. Otherwise, we are going to continue with questions and comments.

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4 p.m.


Yves Rocheleau Bloc Trois-Rivières, QC

Mr. Speaker, if I understood the Liberal member correctly, there is, in my opinion, some ambiguity in the Reform Party's position. Reformers have, at the very least, dramatized the situation, thus making life very easy for the government in this debate. Their position in this debate is very ambiguous to say the least.

Government Services Act, 1999Government Orders

4 p.m.


Peter Stoffer NDP Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, my question for my respected colleague from the Bloc Party is quite simple. The Liberal Party in 1993 promised in the red book that it would eliminate regional rates of pay for blue collar workers of the PSAC union. To date it has not done that. It has in fact reneged on that promise.

Would the member comment on what he thinks of a government that breaks many of its promises, especially this very critical one to 14,000 workers across the country.

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4 p.m.


Yves Rocheleau Bloc Trois-Rivières, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the NDP member for his question. Indeed, this is more or less what we mean when we say that the government did not demonstrate the validity of its position.

Arbitrariness seems to be the rule and it is being supported through legislative means. This is very annoying.

I should also tell you that the union's arguments in this respect were good ones. If the salaries paid to members of parliament were based, as is proposed for union workers, on the differences that exist between regions of Canada, people here would be very upset.

Perhaps the government's position is defensible, but we would greatly appreciate it if the government showed more conviction than it has so far.

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4:05 p.m.


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

Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to the speech by the member for Trois-Rivières. I have the impression we are reliving events we have already lived through in this House.

In this case, we realize that when the federal government fails to accept its responsibilities fully, when it does not pursue negotiations fully or when it does not achieve the desired results in its negotiations, it is tempted to play employer government rather than just plain employer. We see this in the current situation.

In the representations made by the support employees, there are things that could be discussed at the bargaining table. There are differences in salaries between provinces. This is not an issue in which the government must remain closed to all negotiations. This is a situation in which there is a way to resolve such things at a bargaining table or to take an original approach to doing so, without necessarily coming down on the union and wielding a mandate like the one the government wants today, at a time that strikes me as—

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4:05 p.m.

An hon. member

Oh, oh.

Government Services Act, 1999Government Orders

4:05 p.m.


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

Mr. Speaker, could you ask the Liberal member shouting on the other side to be quiet while I speak? I would hope we could speak in this debate in a civilized and rational manner.

There would have been a way to continue negotiations longer to come to a conclusion that would mean better labour relations. There is more involved than just the resolution of labour disputes. We have to be able to live with the situation afterward.

I would like the comments of the member for Trois-Rivières on my remarks.

Government Services Act, 1999Government Orders

4:05 p.m.


Yves Rocheleau Bloc Trois-Rivières, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for his question.

It certainly shows us one thing about this government. It is very authoritarian when it comes to labour relations and anything related.

This is the same government that is refusing to recognize the court decision on pay equity. This is the government that uses discriminatory orphan clauses, as it did with Canada Post. This is the government that last year refused to bring in clear antiscab legislation, when such legislation already exists and has been very useful in Quebec. Here we have an example. All it had to do was follow Quebec's lead, which, more often than not, is very good. Last year, the government was not interested.

When it does intervene in the labour market, as it did with employment insurance, this is the kind of government that discriminates shamefully against new arrivals by requiring them to have twice as many hours the first time or on coming back after x number of years.

This is more of the same. It is part of this government's philosophy to be very arbitrary and authoritarian. I hope that the member for Port Moody—Coquitlam—Port Coquitlam will listen carefully and be more polite as the debate goes on.

Government Services Act, 1999Government Orders

4:10 p.m.


Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, this seems like deja vu to me. Here we go again with back to work legislation. We went through it recently. We probably heard many of the same debates. I heard the same heckling, the same sort of protestation from the other side that it was in the best interest of Canada to order these people back to work. It was somehow so essential to the well-being of the country that the government could trample all over the democratic rights of people to withhold their services.

It is galling to those of us in our caucus. We obviously do not approve of the movement to order back to work legislation in this matter. We think it is offensive, which is the best word that comes to mind. What is even more offensive is the fact that at the end of today I have no doubt the government House leader will stand and move closure on this debate. The government is piling insult upon insult when it comes to the democratic process.

I should point out that it will be the 50th time the government has introduced time allocation and closure. It is icing on the cake to the government. We are dealing with the subject of stripping away people's right to withhold their services and we will even strip away their right to have a debate about it in the House of Commons later today.

Let us talk about what this strike is all about, even before we get down to the terms of back to work legislation. What triggered blue collar workers to strike was the regional pay issue, the fact that a carpenter working for the federal government makes one wage in Halifax and another wage in Vancouver doing the exact same job.

There are even more glaring examples where a truck driver would be crossing the Alberta border to drop off a trailer to be picked up by another driver on the other side who would be making $3 or $4 an hour more in wages even though they are both doing the same job.

That had to end. The workers were pushed and pushed. They tried to negotiate their way out of it after bargaining year after year. It was not possible. They used the only weapon available to them, the strike weapon, the right to withhold their services to try to satisfy this issue.

I notice in the package being rammed down people's throats today that there is some movement on the zones. They are going down from 10 zones to 7 zones, but we should recognize the way the Liberals are doing it. It is almost unbelievable. Rather than harmonize in any kind of a common sense way they are merging the province of Saskatchewan and the province of Nova Scotia into one, Saskatlantic or something, because it will not cost them anything. There is no sense. There is no logic.

I will tell the House how flawed is the package we have been presented with today. The Liberals forgot Nunavut. On April 1 we will celebrate the creation of Nunavut and there are no rates of pay in Nunavut. They left it out. It was omitted. Even people working outside Canada are listed in the rates of pay. The people working in Nunavut will have none of it. It is crazy.

When I stood and asked a question earlier today I was saying this was a goofy package. There are all kinds of inconsistencies and flaws. Yet we will not be given a chance to give it the visitation it needs to review the clauses to try to correct some of these things because debate will be terminated.

We would be happy to point out some of the inconsistencies so that perhaps the Liberal government could correct some of them. One of the things that I pointed out is that correction officers are listed in schedule 2 of the bill. Correction officers are not on strike. Corrections officers do not have the right to strike. They are designated an essential service, but as the minister pointed out 600 or 800 of them somehow slipped through the cracks. In other words we are seeing exactly what we saw in the postal workers dispute. The government is trying to slide this in. It is trying to slip this in through the back door.

Back to work legislation is supposed to be about back to work. How can they order employees back to work if they are not on strike? In other words, the government is trying to designate these corrections officers as an essential service without having the guts to come in through the front door and stand up to the test of honest debate on that subject. They would rather do it by subterfuge and by stealth. It is truly offensive.

This is the same that happened to the Canada Post Corporation Act. They tried to slide the whole profitability issue in during back to work legislation. They wanted to use Canada Post as a cash cow. They wanted $200 million a year worth of revenue to come out of Canada Post, but they did not have the guts to come forward and introduce an amendment to the Canada Post Corporation Act. No, they tried to slide it in under the carpet again with the back to work legislation. We caught that right away. We did not have that bill more than five minutes before we noticed how sleazy that effort was. We find it offensive from where we are.

Let us really look again at the trigger of the strike, what caused the impasse. Certainly wages are part of it. These people have not had a raise in pay in seven years. They have not had a negotiated settlement in nine years. It has been imposed settlements all the time. Where is the right to free collective bargaining in this country if our own government, the major employer in the country, is always imposing settlements, legislated settlements like this one, year after year? With no raise whatsoever for seven years, the union was asking for a pretty modest package.

On March 12 when the talks broke down the union's position on the table was 2%, 2.75% and 2% with a 30 cent sweetener into the last two years. That is not exactly catch-up money. With the cost of living increases over that seven year period, union members are way behind. They are not asking to make all that up. On March 12 the government was not that far apart. The government's last offer to them was 2%, 2.5%, 2% and 1%, which is really not miles apart. Why then would it want to provoke a strike that has had such devastating effect on prairie farmers and our commodity industry? Why for the sake of a lousy 3% spread does it provoke a strike like this and cause the kind of rancour and disruption we have seen across this country? Where is the logic?

The costing of this spread is $7.8 million. I wonder what the total impact and the cost of the total impact to prairie farmers has been of shutting out the industry and the grain handling in this strike. A little more than $7.8 million, I think. This is what is really irritating about this strike. We fully endorse and respect the right of workers to withhold their service. It is the most peaceful way of handling an impasse. In the old days things got rowdy. Heads were split open. Withholding services in a peaceful way is the most civilized way of trying to put pressure on the other party.

It goes back to the ancient Greeks and Lysistrata . The women of Troy withheld their services from their husbands because they were tired of them going to war all the time. They were walking around with little tents instead of togas. That is the first reference we have to that kind of organized withholding of services. It is a time honoured tradition. We do it today because somebody has to recognize the historic imbalance in the power relationship between employers and employees.

That is why we have enshrined it in our charter of rights, that is why the United Nations recognizes it, that is why it has become one of the hallmarks of a free democracy, a strong and democratic trade union movement with the right to organize, the right to bargain and yes, the right to withhold your services if you reach an impasse. We have seen that trampled on twice since I have been here and I have not been here very long. We have seen those rights trampled on. I did not come to Ottawa to vote away workers rights. That is not why I came here. I will not have anything to do with it.

We have heard the Reform Party as if it were somehow the champion of the working class all of a sudden. This is particularly grating as a trade unionist. Reformers would like to wipe unions off the face of the earth. They have said so publicly. It is no secret what they think of free collective bargaining and the trade union movement. One Reform member is the only professional union buster I have ever met. It is honestly galling for us to listen to Reformers saying that they are on the side of the trade union movement. They do not even take phone calls from unions. They will not acknowledge or recognize organized labour. Lobbyists from unions who come to the Hill are not welcome to come to their offices. It is almost fraudulent for them to try to portray themselves as any kind of friend to the working class. It is almost unbelievable.

Let us get down to politics since we are in the business of politics. The irony of the whole thing is that the public sector votes Liberal. Public sector workers, by and large, support Liberals.

I really have to question the logic of the Liberal government poking them in the eye with a stick and provoking this strike in the way that it has if it really hopes to forge any kind of relationship. Even if I were not a socialist and a trade unionist, as a taxpayer I do not want the morale of my public sector so demoralized that productivity does drop. If we want to talk about the issue of productivity that we have heard so much of in the House lately, that is a productivity issue.

When the government does not give somebody a raise for seven or nine years and then keeps heaping more and more work on them because it used to take ten people to do a job but it has laid off half of them so the other five have to do the same work for less money, frozen wages, how does it hope to garner support from public sector workers by beating them up like this all the time? It is trampling on their rights. Now they are being ordered back to work.

Again, with the corrections officer thing, the CX table 4 worker is confusing to me. Not only do we have a case where they are not on strike, but they are being ordered back to work as a preventive measure or something.

In the package that we are having rammed down our throats unceremoniously in the next few days, the government does not even tell us what the settlement is to be. It is completely silent on what the settlement is supposed to be for the 4,500 corrections workers who are being lumped into this back to work legislation.

The Reform member for Selkirk—Interlake was talking yesterday about a pig in a poke. We are being asked to buy a pig in a poke because we do not even know what the package is. Obviously we will vote against it. Who in their right mind would vote for something when they do not even know what it looks like? It is a huge leap of faith and I do not have that kind of trust in the members opposite to act on strictly faith that everything will be okay, we will treat everybody fine.

Why do government members not state up front what the terms and conditions will be for those employees? Are they allowed to go back to the bargaining table and keep negotiating? That is what was implied. Negotiations are not really over for them. Why are they being legislated back to work and having the right to strike taken away? Most prison guards do not have the right to strike as it is. They were designated essential a long time ago. This is to try to catch those 600 or 800 who have somehow slipped through the cracks. In other words, it has nothing to do with back to work legislation. The government is trying to achieve some other, secondary objective.

It is intellectual dishonesty to try to go through the back door. We have seen examples of it. It is not unlike the idea of taking a deduction off a person's paycheque to use it for a specific purpose and then to use it for something completely different. That is a breach of trust that borders on theft. I would never say the government is stealing from workers because I know that would be wrong. It is certainly a breach of trust to deduct something for a specific purpose and to use it for something else again. That is fundamentally wrong whether it is dishonest or not.

This is along those lines. This is misrepresentation. It is subterfuge. It is stealth. It is trying to say this bill is about back to work legislation. For 14,500 members of the Public Service Alliance of Canada it is about back to work legislation. The government is trampling on their right to withhold their services.

The other 4,500 must be as confused as I am. The 4,500 prison guards must be mystified by this. The government has taken away their right to strike and they are not even on strike. They do not strike.

The package we were given today is 530 pages of very detailed wage schedules with wage increases accurately itemized. These are the increases being imposed on these workers. Nowhere does it say they are getting a 2% raise or they are getting a 2.75% raise. It is up to us in the few short hours we have to try to get our pocket calculators out and figure out how much of an increase is this new wage schedule the government has listed. A bunch of us were calculating away. I would think it was the hope of the government House leader and the minister for the Treasury Board that we would not be able to figure it out. Again, stealth and subterfuge.

Even in a court of law one has to tell the other side what one is doing and what evidence one will present. Here we were presented with 530 pages of evidence that we have to plough through and try to make some sense of, yet the government is asking us if we are willing to vote with it today and support this.

It is almost inconceivable. I did not think I would see things like this when I came to Ottawa. It is really quite an eye opener for me how this place really works. It is disappointing.

As a trade unionist I went through a great number of issues like this. We were never legislated back to work because I was in the private sector with the carpenters union. We had the right at least in the private sector.

I guess it is all the more reason for not going to work in the public sector. The pay is lousy and the minister responsible for the Treasury Board will steal your pension and there is not even the right to strike when trying to improve the terms and conditions of employment or to elevate the standard of wages and working conditions. How do working people advance their causes if they do not have the right to strike? It is the only tool we have left.

To add insult to injury, this is the same government that has given us advance warning that in early or mid-April it will be introducing legislation so that it can get its hands on the public sector pension plan surplus, $30 billion. That is its next big windfall.

First it paid off the deficit on the backs of its own $10, $11 and $12 an hour employees by freezing their wages. It pays off its deficit there. The only advantage for taking a public sector job used to be there was a reasonable pension plan. That was always the excuse. The wages are crappy and it is a thankless job but at least there was a decent pension plan. Now it is targeting that, zooming in there. First it was the UIC program and now it is the pension plan.

Honestly, this is probably the most uncomfortable situation I have been in since I have been in Ottawa just because the circumstances surrounding this bill are so nonsensical, so unnecessary.

Talking about pensions and wages, I was a private sector carpenter. I made about $25 an hour. It was good money. The public sector carpenter makes $15. Figure that out. Still the government wants to contract work out instead of using its own forces. It will contract it out to the private sector, often to immediate family or close personal friends. It would rather pay $25 an hour than pay its own people $15 an hour.

That is what led to a lot of the hard feelings and the animosity that led to an impasse in these negotiations. It was that huge disparity between the public sector and the private sector in terms of wages. How can it be explained? Never mind the regional differences. Those we have already dealt with, that it unfair for a carpenter to make $15 an hour in Halifax and $10 elsewhere under the arbitrary zone system.

Is there is any commitment to the concept of equal pay for work of equal value? The prevailing wage in an area for a carpenter might be $25 an hour. The federal government pays $15 and takes away the ability to elevate the standards of wages and working conditions by trampling on their right to withhold services. It is added insult to injury. How does a working person ever move forward without being able to exercise that one basic, fundamental right to withhold services for the sake of moving them and their family forward?

It is the most peaceful way to solve any kind of impasse. It is not violent. People look at it as economic violence. It is not economic violence. What gets foisted on workers is economic violence. The threat of layoff is economic violence.

The constant Damocles sword hanging over every public sector worker's head, that is economic violence, when people are threatened with their jobs every minute of every day. A workplace that used to do a certain task with ten people is now asked to do it with five and then freeze their wages for seven to eight. I doubt that many public sector workers feel very inclined to keep voting Liberal if that has been their practice. I doubt it very much because they have been poked in the eye with a stick one too many times, their rancour has been provoked.

Watch next month when the government finally tries to get its hands on the surplus of the pension plan. It will wake a sleeping giant. It will regret the day this was even raised because they will rise up in a way they have never been seen before. The government will regret it.