Mr. Speaker, before I speak on Bill C-11, I must set the stage.
I would point out quickly that, on January 28, 1999, the federal Minister of Natural Resources announced the closure of the Phalen coal mine and the privatization of the Prince mine, both of which are on Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia and managed by the crown corporation Devco. Some 1,700 miners worked for the corporation, and approximately 1,000 will end up unemployed in a region with an unemployment rate of 25% on occasion and even permanently.
At the same time, the minister announced aid of $110 million to provide the miners with severance pay and early retirement packages and an additional investment of $68 million to boost the region's economy. The Government of Nova Scotia also announced, last fall, that it would invest $12 million in the long term economic development of Cape Breton.
Obviously, some people are dissatisfied with the conditions of separation and the proposed severance pay totalling $110 million. Since February 1999, Devco employees have been putting pressure on the federal government to change its decisions.
A committee of the Nova Scotia legislature comprising representatives of all parties called on the federal government on December 23 to improve the offers and increase the amount of money paid to the workers. According to this committee, approximately 230 miners with 25 years of service or more are excluded from Devco's early retirement programs as they are currently defined.
On January 2, 2000, exasperated miners declared a strike to protest the closing of the mine and to obtain better lump sum payments. A few days later, they set up barricades in order to block delivery of coal to Nova Scotia's two generating stations. Some of them even went on a hunger strike.
After long deliberations between workers and representatives of the federal government and the mine, an agreement in principle was reached in mid January, and the barricades came down. Nevertheless, negotiations in camera appear not to be concluded yet.
Devco was established in 1967 by the Cape Breton Development Corporation Act. Its assets include the Prince and Phalen mines, the Donkin mine site, the corporation wharf and rail line, its coal processing plant and the related infrastructures.
Devco being a crown corporation, the Financial Administration Act provides that it cannot dispose of all or substantially all of its assets, unless authorized by legislationaw. Therefore, the main objective of Bill C-11 is to allow Devco to dispose of its assets. It amends the Cape Breton Development Corporation Act to allow the private sector to acquire the corporation's assets, so that the government can exit the coal mining business.
The purpose of clauses 2 to 4 is to allow Devco to sell its assets, before being dissolved on a day to be fixed by order in council. Clause 5 provides that the works and undertakings operated or carried on by Devco are for the general advantage of Canada. That clause is included in the act so that the Canada Labour Code can continue to apply. It should be noted that since Devco is a crown corporation, all the jurisdictional systems that apply to labour relations, occupational health and safety and labour standards have, since 1967, been governed by the Canada Labour Code.
The bill thus also provides for the continuation of the existing federal jurisdiction in these areas. It is primarily the provisions of clause 5 which bother us, because they represent federal interference in provincial affairs. There is nothing out of the ordinary about the rest of the bill.
Clause 5 is contentious because the federal government indicates that the works and undertakings operated by the corporation, whether or not it is dissolved, will be works for the general advantage of Canada, thus allowing for the continuation of the federal legislation.
By means of this clause, the federal government intends to continue the jurisdiction it had at the time, through Devco's status as a crown corporation. The federal government thus retains the right to legislate in the areas of labour relations, occupational safety and health, and labour standards, even after the corporation is dissolved.
But it is the provincial legislation and labour code which should apply once the federal government pulls out of this industry and privatizes its assets. The federal government is continuing its jurisdiction in these areas by invoking the declaratory power conferred on parliament by various sections of the Constitution Act, which allow it to extend its exclusive jurisdiction to works by declaring them to be for the advantage of Canada or of more than one province.
In fact, section 91 provides that it shall be lawful for the Queen, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate and the House of Commons, to make laws for the peace, order and good government of Canada—that is what I said, the good government of Canada; and this was not written by the Bloc—in relation to all matters not coming within the classes of subjects by this act assigned exclusively to the legislatures of the provinces.
This section also sets out the matters under the exclusive legislative authority of the Parliament of Canada. And subsection 91(29) gives the federal government exclusive jurisdiction when the classes, in this case the works, have been expressly excepted in the enumeration of the classes of subjects assigned exclusively to the provinces.
Section 92 identifies the matters for which the provincial legislatures may exclusively make laws. Subsection 92(10) says that local works and undertakings are a provincial matter, with the exception of what is set out in paragraphs ( a ), ( b ) and ( c ). Paragraph ( c ) provides that the works, although wholly situate within the province, are before or after their execution declared by the Parliament of Canada to be for the general advantage of Canada or for the advantage of two or more of the provinces.
In other words, the Parliament of Canada may amend, indeed expand, the limits of its legislative jurisdiction with respect to works of a local nature declared to be of general interest to Canada. Provincial approval is not required.
The works so unilaterally declared are therefore removed from the application of provincial jurisdiction. The federal government has apparently used this type of power already close to 500 times. The use of this declaratory power by the federal government in the case of the Cape Breton Development Corporation strikes us as abusive. Why is the federal government pre-empting this jurisdiction? Does it not believe that provincial legislation will be sufficient, once agreements have been signed between it and the workers?
Looking quickly at the coal industry, it is of course very much on the way out. It also has a considerable impact on the environment. Those two arguments lead me to a degree of acceptance that the government should divest itself of this mine, mainly the fact that coal mining is not cost-effective.
There is one important element I must focus on: the matter of regional development. I believe that the federal government has not done its job in this area. It is obvious that the government has invested huge sums of money since 1967.
I have made a rapid calculation. Since 1967, the budgetary estimates for the coal division of Devco, as well as for the industrial development and economic activities division in the past two years, i.e. 1998 and 1999, total $2,568,000.
If we take an average of 1,700 employees over 33 years, this represents an average of $45,775 per worker. This is, of course, assuming that there were 1,700 workers for the 33 year period. Imagine what the federal government could have done with that money in developing Cape Breton? Now there would be full employment there.
The federal government has therefore failed to meet its responsibilities. The federal government was incapable of getting the mine to make a profit and today it wants to privatize it. Even the chairman of the corporation admits it is running up a deficit and will probably continue to do so. What are the advantages for the government in selling the mine and in continuing to interfere in provincial responsibilities?