House of Commons Hansard #128 of the 37th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was budget.


Points of Order

11:10 a.m.

The Speaker

Before we begin today's sitting I wish to rule on a point of order raised by the hon. member for Elk Island in the House on Friday, December 7 when the question was put on the motion for concurrence at report stage of Bill C-43, an act to amend certain acts and instruments and to repeal the Fisheries Prices Support Act.

A number of other members also intervened and the Chair is grateful to them for putting forward their arguments.

The Chair has reviewed very carefully the broadcast tape of the House's proceedings for that day as well as the Hansard record. The Assistant Deputy Chair of Committees of the Whole, who was in the Chair at the time, having called for the yeas and nays stated:

In my opinion the yeas have it.

However, in pronouncing those words, she motioned to the side of the House from which it appeared the nays had issued, in this case the opposition side of the House. When members from that side sought clarification the Chair then stated:

In my opinion the nays have it.

Although a viewing of the tape only reveals what the camera captures, it seems that considerable confusion ensued. At this point five government members stood to demand a recorded division. However, to address this confusion, the Chair then sought clarification from the House by calling again for the yeas and nays.

Here again, unfortunately, the confusion continued with both yeas and nays essentially being called at the same time. In the event, the Chair declared this time that the yeas had it and fewer than five members having stood to request a recorded division the Chair declared the motion carried on division.

When the hon. member for Elk Island rose to question the result of the vote, the Chair acknowledged that, and I quote:

--it was not clear who was standing and who was not standing in the House.

She invited the member to take it up with the Speaker.

The House proceeded to debate on Bill C-43 at third reading. Before the House adjourned, the hon. member for Elk Island and the hon. member for Verchères—Les-Patriotes again rose on a point of order concerning the opposition at report stage of the bill.

I am grateful to hon. members for raising their concerns about the way events unfolded on Friday for it has given me time to examine the situation very carefully.

Given the confusion that existed, I have determined that the proceedings on this bill should not and will not constitute a precedent for the House. Furthermore, I have given instructions that particular care be taken when a question is being put so that hon. members present have an opportunity to express their views whether for or against a measure and can ask for a recorded division if five of them so desire.

The Speaker will be vigilant to ensure that questions are put once only to the House for a decision on a voice vote unless the Chair itself makes an error in presenting the question to the House for decision, in which case one might expect that it would be put a second time.

That being said, I see no impediment to continuing the debate on third reading of the bill later this day when the House takes up government orders. I trust this clarifies the situation for the House.

It being 11.10 a.m. the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

Transportation ServicesPrivate Members' Business

11:10 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Dale Johnston Canadian Alliance Wetaskiwin, AB


That, in the opinion of this House, the government should introduce amendments to Part I of the Canada Labour Code to ensure that during a strike or a lockout an employer operating a freight or passenger service between North Sydney, Nova Scotia, and Port-aux-Basques, Newfoundland, as provided for in Term 32 of the Schedule to the Newfoundland Act, its employees and their bargaining agent continue to provide that service and that all outstanding disputes are settled by final offer selection arbitration.

Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege to speak to the private member's motion. Although it is not votable, it certainly gives us an opportunity to talk about the need for continued passenger and freight operation between Port-aux-Basques and North Sydney.

A constitutional amendment passed in the House on October 30 and was proclaimed last week officially changing the name of Canada's easternmost province to the province of Newfoundland and Labrador. Through that motion, I guess, the government wanted to show the people of that great province that it believes it has their best interests at heart but I believe its benevolence only goes so far.

Because Newfoundland is an island, the interprovincial gulf ferry that operates between North Sydney, Nova Scotia and Port-aux-Basques, Newfoundland is a vital transportation link. In short, it is their lifeline. It enables trade and movement of goods and passengers to and from that province. It allows those Canadians who reside in that province ready access to other parts of their own country. The ferry service is to Newfoundland and Labrador what the Trans-Canada Highway is to the rest of Canada.

Unlike my landlocked home province of Alberta, Newfoundland and Labrador does not have the advantage of fertile soil and conditions that favour growing excess produce and the raising of cattle. Therefore it has to import most of what it consumes. It relies on the gulf ferries to bring in the necessities of everyday life and to transport Newfoundland products to outside markets.

The current turmoil in the airline industry, poor service and lack of competition on eastern Canadian routes, has only served to increase the reliance on this ferry service. Whereas most provinces enjoy multiple options for transport of people or goods from one province to another, Newfoundland and Labrador basically has one route.

Section 32.1 of the terms of union under which Newfoundland joined Confederation in 1949 guaranteed continuous ferry service. In 1972 the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that whether or not there was a work stoppage the government must maintain the ferry service or pay compensation to the province.

Since the operator of the gulf ferry is Marine Atlantic, which is a federal crown corporation, there will never be a lockout because the government would have to pay the province compensation if there were. Yet there is no provision in the Canada Labour Code to protect Newfoundlanders from work stoppages. Even the threat of a suspension of service is detrimental to the provincial economy and devastating to its vital tourist industry. Any interruption of service, even only a few days, causes backups, destroys perishable goods and increases the cost to both shippers and consumers.

The government has turned a deaf ear to the pleas of Newfoundland and Labrador politicians, businesses and business organizations to change the way it deals with labour relations on the gulf ferries.

The Canadian Federation of Municipalities recently passed a resolution encouraging the federal government to enact legislation under part I of the Canada Labour Code to ensure “that the ferry service between North Sydney, Nova Scotia and Port-aux-Basques, Newfoundland be unaffected by any disruption in service”. It is very important to the Canadian Federation of Municipalities.

When the current Minister of Industry was running for re-election as premier of Newfoundland and Labrador, he said that the ferry should be declared an essential service. That is a fairly drastic measure. The hon. member for Humber--St. Barbe--Baie Verte also has been an advocate for declaring the ferry service essential. As a matter of fact, in his rookie days in the House he piloted an amendment through the human resources development committee that would have prevented a work stoppage on Marine Atlantic ferries operating between North Sydney and Port-aux-Basques. His government colleagues, however, shot down his amendment and it was deleted from the bill at report stage. However, he was not deterred and I congratulate him for standing up for his beliefs.

He continued to push for an essential service designation during the summer of 1998 when contract negotiations were at an impasse and a prolonged work stoppage looked imminent. I expect, though, that he will endorse the motion because he is interested in a fair deal for the workers, the company, his constituents and the people of Newfoundland and Labrador.

In today's fast paced business climate, neither employers nor employees can afford prolonged disputes that distract from their real goals. Workers want job stability, job satisfaction and reasonable compensation for their efforts. Employers want a competent, reliable and productive workforce. Both sides look to us, as parliamentarians, to give them the tools to settle disagreements in an expeditious, cost effective and fair way.

Unlike the Liberals, the Canadian Alliance is not out to strip away the bargaining rights of workers. The motion before us today proposes the adoption of final offer selection arbitration as a permanent dispute settlement mechanism that would provide employers and employees with a fair contract and ensure the continuous ferry operation.

Final offer selection arbitration is not a new concept. It was used by the government to settle the 1994 longshoremen's work stoppage at the west coast ports. It was included in the National Transportation Act as a mechanism to solve pricing disagreements between shippers and the railways. Recently it was used to resolve the nurses' and healthcare workers' contract dispute in Nova Scotia.

Final offer selection arbitration gives labour and management the tools to resolve their differences. It does not favour one side over the other and it eliminates government interference in the negotiations.

Here is how it works. If and only if the union and employer cannot reach an agreement by the conclusion of the previous contract, the union and employer would provide the minister with the name of a person or persons they jointly recommend as an arbitrator or arbitration panel. They can have one or the other, either one person or a panel of people.

The union and employer would be required to submit to the arbitrator, or the panel, as the case may be, a list of the matters agreed upon, a list of the matters still under dispute and their positions on those matters still under dispute. For disputed issues, each party would be required to submit their final offer for settlement. The arbitrator or the panel selects either the final offer submitted by the trade union or the final offer submitted by the employer, all of one position or all of the other position. The arbitrator's decision would then be binding on both parties.

This all or nothing scenario encourages both sides to put their best offer forward and it usually means the offers are closer together than is the case with traditional arbitration.

As a matter of fact it makes them bargain truly in earnest because they know this is their last shot at it and they are going to come as close to it as they possibly can.

If we adopt final offer selection arbitration as a permanent dispute settlement mechanism and enshrine it in the legislation both sides would have predictable rules and a time period by which to negotiate. They also would not have the House holding back to work legislation over their heads.

The motion is not designed to end the collective bargaining process but to make it work better through final offer selection arbitration. It is also meant to provide those people of Newfoundland and Labrador with a reliable ferry service.

Every time back to work legislation is used it usurps the collective bargaining process. Collective bargaining, of course, is about compromise and about negotiation. One cannot legislate good labour relations.

We are not talking about removing the right to strike but the removing of the need for traumatic, drastic measures like strike or lockout, neither of which are very attractive to either party. Strikes and lockouts are a last resort action and are not entered into lightly by either party.

Some groups fear that final offer selection arbitration would remove the right to strike but the right to strike, has been weakened more by back to work legislation than it ever will be by final offer selection arbitration. Labour and management must be given the tools to solve their disputes in a fair and equitable manner, without threat of government intervention.

There is very little incentive to bargain earnestly when back to work legislation is inevitable. The purpose of a strike or lockout is to force a settlement. Final offer selection arbitration is also a mechanism to force a settlement. It puts the onus on both sides to reach an agreement. Final offer selection arbitration is a tool that could be used equally by labour and management. It would, I believe, provide a permanent, just and effective dispute settlement mechanism.

The government likes to exert its power and show who is boss by resorting from time to time, and fairly often since I have been here, to back to work legislation. Usually, when the legislation is brought in, there is no alternative by that point because the government has taken such a hands-off approach that everything is to the point where the economy is at a standstill or something that we need so badly has come to a stop and there is no choice but to legislate these people back to work. Only when people are back to work does the government discover that the argument that brought them there in the first place still is not settled. Then the government uses final offer selection on an ad hoc basis. It should be codified.

Some traditions do not fit every occasion. Sometimes they are just not worth preserving. That is the case that could be made in this instance against back to work legislation. With back to work legislation, the government intrudes on the rights of employers far more than is necessary. Some of my colleagues in this place, probably the ones opposite, will argue that there are provisions already in the labour code that protect the health and safety of Canadians.

In fact, section 87.4 of part I of the code does provide for the maintenance of activities necessary to prevent an immediate and serious danger to the safety or health of the public. In other words, the government must maintain services up to a certain level so that the public is not in any serious danger of any particular health risk. This section of the code does not define what constitutes an essential service. Instead, the determination is left to the Canada Industrial Relations Board. Therefore, an application must be made to the board and each case dealt with on an individual basis.

The board then schedules a hearing to listen to the positions and plan of the employers and employees. The board determines the extent of the services that must be provided. This is an added burden on a tribunal that is already overworked. It does not help settle the dispute but prolongs it, because it takes the board so long to get these things dealt with.

I do not believe that is fair to employers, the workers or third parties who have a lot to lose when a strike or lockout is taking place. This is the reason why Marine Atlantic workers, who turned down a tentative contract offer in August, agreed to settle their disputes by binding arbitration.

This is a pretty unusual case. Here is a case where the union negotiated terms with the employer, took that back to the employees and the employees said it was not the contract they wanted and they would rather go to binding arbitration.

The employees themselves asked for this on a piecemeal basis. Why not put it in the code so these things can be settled before all the acrimony breaks out? The employees know that a strike is not in their interests, or their passengers' interests or the interests of the people of Newfoundland and Labrador. Why not give them the security and something to which they could look forward?

I look forward to hearing from representatives from other parties. I am also looking forward to an opportunity to wrap up in the five minutes I have at the end. I am hoping that other parties will support the people of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Transportation ServicesPrivate Members' Business

11:25 a.m.

Bramalea—Gore—Malton—Springdale Ontario


Gurbax Malhi LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Labour

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise and speak on private member's motion No. 405.

Motion No. 405 applies to employers such as Marine Atlantic, operating a freight or passenger service between North Sydney, Nova Scotia and Port-aux-Basques, Newfoundland. The motion requires that, during a strike or lockout, the employer, its employees and their bargaining agent would continue to provide those services. A process of final offer selection arbitration would be used to settle the outstanding issues in the dispute.

The Canada Labour Code, to which this motion applies, covers many industries in the federal jurisdiction, including ferry services. Therefore, when the hon. member for Wetaskiwin talks of providing for the settlement of labour disputes in Canada by final offer selection arbitration, an imposed settlement, he is talking about a subject that this government takes very seriously.

It is very important that ferry services between these two provinces be maintained, however I cannot support this motion because I do not feel an imposed labour settlement is ever the best choice.

First, the labour relations community does not support any general system of imposed solutions to collective bargaining issues. In fact, final offer selection arbitration has been used to only a very limited extent in Canada. Its lack of use speaks volumes to its popularity and general acceptability to both employers and employees.

It is important to note that the federal government has only used final offer selection arbitration on one occasion as a means to end a dispute. In this case the only issue in the dispute was a narrow difference in wage rates.

To clarify the terminology in its simplest form, final offer selection arbitration is a situation whereby disagreeing parties submit their final offers for resolution of all outstanding issues in a labour dispute. An arbitrator is then required to choose either the employer's offer or the union's offer, which becomes the final award. While there are variations on this model, the key point here is that the arbitrator must choose the proposal of one of the parties.

Final offer selection arbitration by its very nature creates winners and losers, which does very little to foster positive relations. It is a very rigid method of settling a dispute that has never been popular in cases where the issues are multiple or complex.

Canada's long history of honouring the collective bargaining process, a process of give and take, dates back roughly 100 years and has served this country well.

There is a long tradition in Canada of labour legislation and policy designed for the promotion of the common well-being through the encouragement of free collective bargaining and the constructive settlement of disputes. Free collective bargaining is an important process as it allows for compromise. There is a meaningful process of constructive dialogue for which final offer selection arbitration does not allow.

This government desires to continue to extend its support to labour and management in a co-operative effort to develop good relations and constructive collective bargaining practices, and deems the development of good industrial relations to be in the best interest of Canadians.

An additional point involves the federal mediation and conciliation service of the labour program. This mediation service has many programs in place to assist in the negotiations of collective agreements. In fact, if two parties cannot come to an agreement, the federal mediation and conciliation service offers programs and services that settle more than 90% of all federal jurisdiction labour disputes without a work stoppage. These numbers are very telling of the success of the current system of collective bargaining.

Another telling argument on the success of the system is that the parties mentioned in Motion No. 405 already have agreed to settle this dispute. The latest rounds of bargaining between Marine Atlantic, the CAW and the Canadian Merchant Service Guild ended with all parties agreeing to settle via binding arbitration. Surely the hon. member recognizes that the success of this case, as well as that of countless others, questions the validity of the motion.

I would like to point out that while final offer selection arbitration can ensure regular settlement of labour disputes without resort to strike or lockout action, another negative impact of passage of the motion would be the alienation of this part of the industry. That is, the motion would result in unequal treatment in comparison to the many other ferry services operating around the country. Employers and unions of every other ferry service in Canada would continue to have the right to engage in free collective bargaining while the settlements at North Sydney and Port-aux-Basques would be imposed. There is something not quite right with that scenario.

Free collective bargaining is something that is enshrined in the Canada Labour Code and it is a right that the government cannot revoke simply because an employer and a union are having trouble agreeing. Both Canadian employers and unions prefer to frame their own collective agreements rather than have solutions imposed upon them by third parties. It is also meaningful to consider that the motion has the very real potential of poisoning any future attempts at fostering positive relations between the two parties.

The Government of Canada will continue to support labour policy and legislation designed to promote the common well-being of Canadians through the encouragement of free collective bargaining and the constructive settlement of disputes. This private member's motion is directly contrary to this aim.

A further crucial aspect everyone must understand is that part I of the Canada Labour Code expressly guarantees the right of parties to submit collective bargaining disputes to any form of binding settlement they want, including final offer selection arbitration. This means that if they so choose, the parties mentioned in Motion No. 405 could voluntarily submit to final offer selection arbitration on their own. The option already is there.

To summarize, final offer selection arbitration is not supported by the labour relations community. By its very nature, it creates a win-lose situation, whereas free collective bargaining can create a win-win situation. Imposing final offer selection arbitration on two parties does not even attempt to foster co-operative labour management relations, which is significant in today's ever changing workplace. All it would do is alienate this part of the ferry industry, imposing upon it a different standard than the rest of the sector.

This private member's motion is contrary to government policy which supports and encourages free collective bargaining. Part I of the Canada Labour Code already provides the option of choosing final offer selection arbitration as the mechanism to resolve a dispute. I do not believe that it is in the best interests of those involved to have this option imposed upon them.

Transportation ServicesPrivate Members' Business

11:35 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Loyola Hearn Progressive Conservative St. John's West, NL

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Wetaskiwin for introducing a motion that is extremely relevant to my province of Newfoundland and Labrador.

I am shocked to sit here and listen to the response from the government to such a motion. However it is not unexpected. The treatment we have received from the government opposite on this and practically any other issue has followed the same trend: It is only Newfoundland and Labrador so no one worries too much about it.

In trying to explain why the government would not support the motion the member said that final offer selection creates winners and losers. While the present situation may not create winners it certainly creates losers. The losers are the people who live on the island of Newfoundland.

When Newfoundland joined Confederation in 1949 or, as we like to say, when Canada joined us, Newfoundland was supposed to become part of the great dominion. Every other province and territory in the country is joined by road. Newfoundland was given a ferry service that was looked on as an extension of the Trans-Canada Highway. That is some highway.

To get to Newfoundland and Labrador we have two options. First, we can take Air Canada and pay through the nose. If we want to make a return trip flying economy from Ottawa we pay over $1,800 return. Second, we can go by ferry.

In the summer in particular, when traffic is heavy, tourists come because Newfoundland and Labrador is rapidly becoming the best attraction in the country in relation to tourism. People are starting to appreciate the real last frontier. They are starting to appreciate our tremendous hiking trails, our wildlife and our historic sites. Newfoundland is the oldest settled part of North America. The district I represent and the town in which I live was one of the first settled in the whole new world.

Most of all, tourists are starting to appreciate the tremendous friendship and hospitality of the people of Newfoundland and Labrador. This was exemplified on September 11 when we had many people come to Newfoundland unexpectedly. We had planes landing in St. John's, Gander and other places in the province.

Each spring we get whispers of impending labour troubles with Marine Atlantic. Let us suppose a family is planning to come to Newfoundland and Labrador to visit and tour during the summer, or someone is looking at setting up a business which relies on goods flowing back and forth uninterrupted. What if such a person hears rumours about possible strikes? It happens almost every year. What happens? People change their minds. No one would book a vacation on an island where they must go by ferry if they think the ferry would not be operating when they want to go or come back or maybe both.

The ferry service between Newfoundland and North Sydney must be an essential service. There is no way Newfoundlanders should be held to ransom by anybody. There are provisions within our labour laws to make sure employees who work in the system are treated fairly and squarely and that they are not hung out to dry by any decision of the government to make the service an essential service. That would have to be part of the agreement.

The motion today offers an opportunity to do just that. The parliamentary secretary mentioned that there are several mechanisms to deal with labour disputes including final offer selection. Why go through a process of weeks and months with a ferry service disrupted when these processes can be in place up front to protect workers and not hold to ransom the people of Newfoundland and Labrador?

Sometimes we must set priorities. The priorities of the majority here are greater than the priorities of the minority, particularly when we do not need to infringe on the rights of the minority.

A while ago the Canada Industrial Relations Board held three days of hearings in Halifax. For what purpose? It held hearings to determine if the ferry system between Newfoundland and Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, should become an essential service. Is it not a bit funny that hearings to determine whether the ferry system to Newfoundland and Labrador would become an essential service were held in Halifax, in another province?

Some of my colleagues from the Bloc are here. Let us suppose there were a set of hearings to determine the status of an essential service in Quebec but the hearings were held in British Columbia, Ontario or Nova Scotia. How would they react? It would not happen. It happened because it is only Newfoundland and Labrador.

Although it runs between North Sydney and Newfoundland the ferry service is there only for the benefit of the island of Newfoundland. If Newfoundland had not joined Confederation and had drifted off into the Atlantic somewhere, which is what the government probably wishes it had done except for the Newfoundland resources it continues to rape and the revenues it puts into its coffers, there would be no need for the service. It is there essentially to serve Newfoundland and Labrador.

From the reaction of the parliamentary secretary who spouts the words of his minister and his government we can see that no one cares. It does not matter if it is an essential service. It may be disrupted for days, weeks or months. Goods and services may be unable to flow back and forth. People who go to hospitals on the mainland may be affected because their only way of getting there is by ferry. Our health services may be downgraded. Tourists may not come to boost the economy. Who cares? It is only Newfoundland and Labrador.

Let me tell the parliamentary secretary, the minister, the government and anyone else who wants to listen that I care and we in my party care. Newfoundlanders have made a contribution to the country and will continue to make a contribution to the country, but we want to be treated as equals. This is another example of total disregard for the needs of the island of Newfoundland.

The chief executive officer of the Canada Industrial Relations Board was asked why he contacted other agencies to make representations on behalf of the province of Newfoundland and Labrador when the hearings were held. He was asked why he did not go to Newfoundland and Labrador. His response was that the only people he needed to listen to in determining whether it becomes an essential service were members of the board of Marine Atlantic and the union.

The board of Marine Atlantic is another story. Only 3 of the 10 or 12 members on the board are from Newfoundland. Thank God one of them is the chairperson, Mr. Sid Hynes, who has done a phenomenal job representing the province, as he should.

This is the first time ever that someone in his position has stood up for the rights of Newfoundland. Why should 9 out of 12 people or 7 out of 10 people worry about Newfoundland? They are not from there. Do hon. members think the union will want to see an essential service? I hope some of its members might be from Newfoundland and put the province first as long as they have security in their own jobs.

The motion before the House can take care of that. First, it can look after the needs of the workers. Second, it can make sure an essential service can be created as it should for the province of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Transportation ServicesPrivate Members' Business

11:45 a.m.


Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to enter into debate on final offer selection Motion No. 405 put forward by the member for Wetaskiwin. He and I have had this debate over the years.

In most settings or forums where industrial relations are debated the Alliance Party puts forward the idea of final offer selection as an alternative to work stoppage in just about any industrial sector. I made the point at the Standing Committee on Natural Resources and Government Operations where we amended part I and part II of the Canada Labour Code. I will make it again. Final offer selection is a flawed idea that is riddled with faults.

The hon. member's motion would make final offer selection a mandatory way of settling any kind of impasse in collective bargaining. This would take away the right of employees to withhold their services. The right to withhold services is an integral part of the collective bargaining process.

I am probably the only person in the House of Commons today who has personal and practical experience using final offer selection to settle an impasse in a collective bargaining setting. The province of Manitoba had final offer selection for a number of years as an option so that two parties could, if they chose, settle their collective bargaining round using this type of binding arbitration.

Having been the leader of the carpenters' union at the time the law was in effect in Manitoba, I had cause to use final offer selection in certain rounds of collective bargaining. The point is that it was the choice of the employees. Key and integral to any final offer selection legislation must be that it is the choice of employees whether or not to settle the round of collective bargaining through final offer selection.

I will explain how this was done in the province of Manitoba. Either party could make application to the minister to settle a round of bargaining through final offer selection or FOS. However the employees had to have a vote, supervised by the labour board, on whether or not they wished to use final offer selection.

In this way it became another tool in the toolbox of the negotiators as to whether it was to their advantage to use final offer selection. It did not take away the right of employees to withhold their services or the right of employers to walk out. It simply provided a third option.

We should be clear that final offer selection is available to all employees. We do not need special legislation to contemplate the use of final offer selection. In any round of collective bargaining the two parties can agree to resolve their impasse through binding arbitration. That is all final offer selection is. It is another form of binding arbitration. It has its place.

As I said, I have used final offer selection in some negotiations but only when the number of outstanding issues was reduced to a few simple and elemental issues such as money. Anyone familiar with labour relations will tell us that money is one aspect of a round of collective bargaining but sometimes a minor issue compared to things such as rules of work, benefits being negotiated, et cetera.

I will tell the House why it is risky to use final offer selection for anything other than dollars and cents. If all the parties are arguing about is a 50 cent pay increase the employer will come to final offer selection with, say, 25 cents and the employee will come with, say, 75 cents and the arbitrator will choose one or the other. That forces both parties to temper their demands with reason because they know if they put forward too outlandish a position the arbitrator will choose the other party. In that sense it forces a coming together of the two parties.

Let us say, though, that the outstanding issues were things like workplace safety, a day care centre for a factory or joint trusteeship on the pension plan.

Those are issues that are hard to quantify. It is hard to put a dollar value on those issues. Employees are at a disadvantage particularly if they go to the arbitrator with a complex series of work rules and the employer goes to the arbitrator with a simple wage increase. The arbitrator in all likelihood would take the position that could be quantified, which is the wage increase. Employees have little hope of ever getting the work rules changed.

Employees have to strike almost always for things like pension plans and on the job issues such as workplace safety and day care. Those kinds of things usually take the heavy hand or the blunt instrument of at least threatening to withhold services. Employees would be disadvantaged by the FOS process if all rounds of bargaining were to be settled by mandatory FOS.

In our own experience we found that employees would rarely vote to use FOS because they were aware of the shortcomings. The law was on the books in Manitoba for a number of years. During that time period about nine rounds of bargaining were settled by the final offer selection process where the arbitrator ruled. Five rulings were in favour of the employees and four in favour of management.

Even if the two parties opted to use final offer selection, the bargaining and talking would carry on. Nine times out of ten, at least, the two parties found some kind of resolve prior to the arbitrator making a ruling.

The motion finds its origins in a Canadian Alliance bias against employees having the right to stop work. It would take away their right to withhold services. That is why it keeps being raised over and over again by Canadian Alliance members. They see a perfect world where employees do not have the right to withhold services. In their minds there would be no more strikes and inconvenience of lost time and productivity.

What they fail to understand is that the threat of withholding services is the only tool employees have to add pressure to the collective bargaining process. It demonstrates a naïveté on their part and a clear bias against what most employees rely on to elevate their standard of wages and working conditions in the workplace.

I would speak against the introduction of any final offer selection measures unless they were at the option and choice of employees. Nothing should stand in the way of the two parties trying to resolve their impasse through FOS as it is. The labour code should not be amended in this way.

Transportation ServicesPrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Werner Schmidt Canadian Alliance Kelowna, BC

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate my hon. colleague on introducing the motion. I thank the hon. member from the NDP who just spoke for being so articulate in his particular bias at the same time. He accused the Alliance of being biased. I suggest that he is biased as well. There is not an unbiased person in the House except you, Mr. Speaker. You are about the only person who is unbiased because you have to be absolutely neutral on everything. The rest of us are all biased.

I remind the hon. member who just spoke that perhaps he should have read the motion. It states very clearly:

That, in the opinion of this House, the government should introduce amendments to Part I of the Canada Labour Code to ensure that during a strike or a lockout an employer operating a freight or passenger service between North Sydney, Nova Scotia--

It is precisely the recognition that employers and employees do have and should have the right to negotiate their salaries and working conditions. They should have the right under certain conditions to become powerful and demonstrate how strongly they feel about particular issues. Perhaps the hon. member misread the motion. I encourage him to read it more accurately.

I would like to discuss labour and management relations. Our whole economy depends upon the ability of people to offer their services in the production of goods and services. It is just as important that management co-ordinate and operate these things. In certain quadrants of the country there seems to be some divergence of purpose. Somehow an organization exists either for management or for employees and it seems as if these two groups are at variance with one another. This is utterly false.

Nothing will get done unless management and employees work together. That is the whole point. Strikes and lockouts cause serious disruption in the service that is being provided and in the function of the particular organization. They disrupt actual relationships between people that were quite strong at one time. Sometimes it takes years. I have known of instances where they are never brought back together again. They frustrate the competitiveness and efficiency of business. They also frustrate the efficiency of both management and workers.

These are analytical differences, but when it comes right down to it we need a coming together in common purpose to achieve a goal for the benefit of all society.

Here we have a situation where the only transportation facility that exists is a ferry. It provides transportation and it is limited to that aspect. Will we say that it is perfectly all right for one group or another to stop the service because they cannot get along with each other and there is a disagreement about things? That should not be right on either part. A whole host of third parties would suffer as a consequence of one group unilaterally deciding to terminate the service. That is not reasonable.

How strongly would we feel if somebody put a blockade across the Trans-Canada Highway, for example? Would we or would we not feel strongly about that? We could take an airplane, a train or a car, but these poor people cannot do anything else other than take an airplane. They cannot drive. They have to take an airplane. Many things cannot be done by air that can be done by ferry. We need to recognize that this is a specific motion dealing with a particular case.

I would like to move the debate to a higher level by speaking to the whole business of relations between workers and management and the operational objectives of a particular organization. Unless there is harmony and goodwill it does not matter what kinds of laws exist. Things will not happen the way they ought to happen. The resolution of a strike or a lockout would help to provide better relations by using the final offer selection process.

It is not perfect. There has never been a perfect system and there is no perfect organization. Mr. Speaker, as competent as you are, there is probably no perfection in your office. You could probably become a little better than you are today but that applies to every one of us, and it applies here too.

I suggest that government members and the hon. member who just spoke recognize that this is a workable, practical and sensible solution which forces and encourages both management and labour to look realistically at a dispute that exists where both parties say they are right. It is probable that neither one of them is totally right. That is the whole issue of having negotiations and a mechanism in a dispute that allows it to be resolved. In the final analysis the conflict itself becomes clarified.

The hon. member from the NDP made some excellent points when he talked about some of the working conditions like day care centre operations. However he suggested that this did not have a monetary price attached to it. It is almost as if the only kind of thing that has money attached to it is salary. Talk about naïveté. That has to be the ultimate.

It does not matter what other working conditions there are. They all cost money. There is nothing wrong with their costing money provided there is a fair settlement for everybody, that the organization can move ahead and meet its goals, that productivity is competitive and can create a profit for the business, and that both management and labour can benefit from the profit. It is as if it is unilateral that profit always goes only to management and workers never get any part of it. That is utterly false. It does not work that way. We have to work together.

There are many things besides money that affect the working conditions of people. We know that. Any of us who have negotiated any kind of contract realize that there is a whole host of items that become elements for a dispute, disagreement, consideration or whatever the case might be. If one pushes any one of them to the extreme it becomes ridiculous and people begin to say they will never give in and they will go on strike on the issue. Why?

Let us be reasonable about these things. The whole idea behind negotiations and giving workers the right to negotiate is to find a way that is better so that both parties can function in a manner that is more co-operative and that meets the needs of both parties. That is the function of labour negotiations and that is what this is all about.

Labour organizations were created to recognize that there were things that were not being done that ought to have been done. There was a real strong case to be made. By getting together they could persuade management to do what was better for them. On the other hand management also had concerns about what was not happening. Both groups needed to get together and recognize the significance of settling their differences. It has worked.

We have all kinds of examples. We have them at the University of Alberta and on the west coast during the long shore dispute settlement. This process works. I emphasize that it is a mechanism that is used during a strike or lockout. It is not a predetermined situation. I believe that it should be there, should become law and should be made available as a tool. I encourage us to move on the motion and to vote on it.

Transportation ServicesPrivate Members' Business


Canadian Alliance

Dale Johnston Canadian Alliance Wetaskiwin, AB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to start by thanking my colleague from Kelowna for his wise counsel and also thanking the member for St. John's West, who was speaking from the point of view of a person who lives there and has to rely on that ferry.

I would like to make some comments for the parliamentary secretary. He has intimated that the use of final offer selection arbitration somehow usurps all of the bargaining process, free bargaining, and the federal mediation and conciliation service. It does not. The labour groups can go through all of those stages. As a matter of fact, what final offer selection arbitration ensures them is that they will not be legislated back to work. That is what it does. It puts it in the code and basically says “You and your employer go through every step that is necessary to reach an agreement. If all those things, including the use of a mediator or a conciliator, does not bring you to agreement, then there is this other tool that you can use instead of the drastic and traumatic effect of a strike or a lockout”.

The member from Winnipeg said that we in our party like to use this and we advocate this for everything. That is absolute and total rubbish.

First, the Canada Labour Code covers only 10% of the Canadian workforce. We only advocate the use of final offer selection arbitration in areas where the Canadian public has no other alternative, like the Port-aux-Basques to North Sydney ferry, like the west coast ports and like the post office. We have no alternative to those things. If our local grocery store's employees go on strike or are locked out, we can go to a different grocery chain to buy groceries, but if the Port of Vancouver employees go on strike, where does western Canada find another port to take over in the interim? There is not one, just as there is not another ferry service in operation to the Rock, as the people of Newfoundland call their home.

I want to make it absolutely, perfectly clear that if the final offer selection arbitration is codified, it is simply another tool that management and labour can use in coming to an agreement; it is not holding a hammer over anybody's head.

I also want to make it clear that I am not advocating for the union. I am not advocating for the employers. I am advocating for the people of Newfoundland and Labrador. They deserve this service every bit as much as the people of Saskatchewan deserve to have the Trans-Canada Highway running through their province. These people deserve it; they should have it. I would like to ask unanimous consent of the House to make the motion votable.

Transportation ServicesPrivate Members' Business

12:05 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

Is there unanimous consent to make the item a votable item?

Transportation ServicesPrivate Members' Business

12:05 p.m.

Some hon. members


Transportation ServicesPrivate Members' Business

12:05 p.m.

Some hon. members


Transportation ServicesPrivate Members' Business

12:05 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

I heard a “no” very clearly. Therefore, consent is denied.

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired. As the motion has not been designated as a votable item, the order is dropped from the order paper.

Competition ActGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.

Etobicoke Centre Ontario


Allan Rock Liberalfor the Minister of Industry

moved that Bill C-23, an act to amend the Competition Act and the Competition Tribunal Act, be read the third time and passed.

Competition ActGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.

Beauce Québec


Claude Drouin LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Industry

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to take part in the debate on third reading of Bill C-23, an act to amend the Competition Act and the Competition Tribunal Act. It is important, I believe, to underscore the main amendments contained in the bill as introduced today.

The purpose of the first set of amendments is to prohibit deceptive prize notices. They will prevent unscrupulous promoters from deceiving people, often seniors, with phony mailings suggesting they have won a prize without disclosing the real costs relating to it. The amendments set out clear rules that will enable honest businesses to continue their legitimate activities.

A second set of amendments is for the purpose of facilitating international co-operation with respect to civil cases involving competition. The proposed changes will make it possible to collect evidence in other countries relating to investigations of civil fraud cases, taking a similar approach to what is already in place for criminal cases.

It is also noteworthy that the proposed approach pays particular attention to protecting the confidentiality of information already in the possession of the commissioner, as well as information volunteered by the parties. This new investigational tool will ensure that enforcement decisions relating to competition will be taken right here in Canada.

The third set of amendments will, under certain circumstances, allow the competition tribunal to award costs, make summary dispositions and determine references.

The fourth set of amendments extends the powers of the competition tribunal with respect to interim orders. The proposed amendments will enable the tribunal to issue interim orders, when certain conditions have been met, to put an end to an anti-competitive practice at the commissioner's investigation stage.

The maximum duration of an interim order will be 80 days, with a possibility of extension if the commissioner has not succeeded in obtaining the necessary information to complete his investigation and thus to determine whether an application will be made to the competition tribunal.

Five, the amendments will include providing private parties with limited access to the competition tribunal. The balanced solution presented by the committee will allow competitors to go before the competition tribunal to settle disputes covered by sections 75 and 77 of the Competition Act, namely, refusal to deal, exclusive dealing, tied selling, and market restriction.

Private parties must obtain prior authorization from the tribunal to file an application for order. Furthermore, supplementary protection measures have been included to avoid strategic proceedings. Some of these measures include the tribunal's determining fees, guarantees to avoid two proceedings regarding the same case, the fact that the tribunal may not award damages, and a liability period for all requests.

Six, there are amendments to provide extra protection for competition in the Canadian airline industry.

The first amendment extends an interim order beyond 80 days if the commissioner has not received all the information necessary to allow him to determine whether or not grounds exist to make an application to the tribunal. The commissioner must make a request to the tribunal to obtain such an extension.

The purpose of the second amendment under this heading is to encourage the dominant carrier to respect the Competition Act. It allows the tribunal to impose administrative monetary penalties of up to $15 million, in addition to the cease and desist order set out in section 79 on the abuse of dominant position.

The purpose of this bill is to maintain an efficient, innovative and competitive market in a rapidly changing economy. I believe that we have fulfilled this purpose with Bill C-23.

Once again, I would like to express my gratitude to the members of the committee, the competition commissioner and all the stakeholders that provided their comments for the monumental work that was done in order to ensure that the Competition Act remains effective and up to date.

Competition ActGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Charlie Penson Canadian Alliance Peace River, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am glad to have the opportunity to take part in the debate today on the final, third reading of Bill C-23, amendments to the Competition Act.

The bill has quite a long history that goes back to two years ago when I was involved in the standing committee on industry, which conducted hearings on the Competition Act. In addition, the Competition Bureau commissioner decided that there should be a parallel hearing and a public policy forum conducted hearings across Canada as well and heard many witnesses.

Out of that process four main elements were brought forward that were identified as needed changes to the Competition Act. They were: co-operation between Canadian and foreign competition authorities; the prohibiting of the deceptive notice of prizes; streamlining of the tribunal process itself; and the broadening of the temporary orders. During the process and the consideration of the bill at committee stage, we added an important fifth category, that is, the right of private access.

I want to talk a little about these amendments that will bring the Competition Act up to speed in terms of globalization and the recognition that Canada has become an international player of some magnitude and therefore needs to have co-operation with international authorities in order to have better competition law. I would note that the OECD and the World Trade Organization have been doing some studies to bring forward international competition agreement in that process as well.

The agreement on the co-operation aspect of Canadian with international authorities really is just a reflection of the nature of business these days. Canada of course is exporting 87% of all of our exports to the United States. That is a significant amount of money and makes up 40% of the GDP of our country. We also export to Japan and Canadians invest in other countries in increasing numbers. In fact, about four years ago there was a sea change in Canadian investment. We now have more direct Canadian investment outside our country than we have direct foreign investment in Canada, so Canadians are looking for a home in which to invest and they need the assurance of good competition law in those other countries.

More and more, business is international in scope and therefore we need co-operation. These amendments concern civil competition matters and essentially mirror the existing arrangements we already have on criminal matters with the Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Act. They apply only to the civil part, which will bring it up to speed. The change will assist the Competition Bureau in gathering information to make its decisions affecting competition in Canada. It will ensure that the decisions about domestic competition matters are made in Canada and we support that important aspect of it.

In terms of the prohibiting of the deceptive notices of winning prizes, I am not quite sure if it needs to be in the Competition Act although I know some people are taking advantage of this aspect. If this will help reduce the problems for them I guess we can go along with it, but it really seems to me that people have to take a little more responsibility for their own personal actions. If people are given notice by telephone that they have won a million dollars but in order to qualify they have to send in $5,000 or $10,000 to a certain company, I would think that they should be pretty aware of where that may lead. It seems to me that government really cannot put in regulations and hold people's hands. People have to make those kinds of decisions and have to be aware that there are those out there who are taking those types of actions. I am not sure this really will amount to much, but if it means there could be some improvement we would support it.

The third category is the streamlining of the Competition Tribunal process by providing the tribunal with the power to award costs. This is really important because we have added to the act the important part of the right to private access. Essentially it allows people to bypass the Competition Bureau and take their actions right to the Competition Tribunal.

If there are frivolous acts, nuisance acts or acts to try to find out information which might give people a competitive advantage over their competitor, at least the Competition Tribunal can now award costs. It cannot award damages but costs are a significant factor. If people are brought before the tribunal and have to defend themselves against frivolous actions, at least the tribunal can order the parties who have lost the case to pay costs to the parties that have been brought before it. That is a good move and we need it.

The Competition Tribunal has also been given the power to make summary dispositions and also to determine references. A summary disposition means that it has the right to tell someone coming before it whether or not it will hear the case. It is like a pretrial I would think. The tribunal can determine if it is a frivolous action and refuse to hear it. That kind of safeguard will help protect the Competition Act and will give the Competition Tribunal the power that it needs.

The fourth aspect that was included was the right to broaden the powers of temporary orders. This is important, especially in the case of the airline industry where huge losses can take place in a very short period of time. Cease and desist orders are important. We have seen about three airlines go under this last year in Canada. Perhaps if there would have been tougher cease and desist orders, Canada 3000 still would be providing competition on a lot of runs. Therefore we believe this is necessary.

There are also severe penalties in the airline industry on those companies that would embark on practices to essentially put a competitor out of business. If they ignore the cease and desist orders, they will be hit with severe penalties.

Then of course we talked about the right of private access which was brought about by an amendment through the committee process.

I believe every Canadian has the right to have his or her day in court. Right now the competition commissioner or the Competition Bureau acts as a gatekeeper in deciding who can have a case brought before the tribunal. I and my colleague from Edmonton Southwest were convinced, during the hearings and the whole process of consideration of Bill C-23 at committee, that that was an important element which would help strengthen competition policy in Canada. Therefore, we agree with that.

I just want to say a word or two about the airline industry. Every time we get a flurry of amendments to the competition policy or competition law, it seems as though something has stirred it up. This time it happens to be the airline industry. Some people think that we can run our industry policy in Canada out of the Competition Bureau. That simply does not work. It is important to have a strong competition policy. However it is not a substitute for a healthy business environment, with a true competitive nature, which would allow businesses to compete and provide services to Canadians.

The airline industry is a good case in point. If all these things, such as intervention and regulation, served the purpose, we would have a great airline industry functioning in Canada. However intervention and regulation have the opposite effect in most cases. Therefore, the Competition Bureau, the Competition Tribunal and competition law are important to have but the government needs to clean up some of its act when it comes to intervening in the economy.

In the airline industry Air Canada is a good case in point. Its merger with Canadian a few years ago had strict regulations. In fact, Air Canada was told it had to keep its head office in Montreal and that it had to maintain so many employees. What kind of business can function under those kinds of rules? When the economy is in a downturn, it does not make any sense. Businesses have to be flexible, innovative and be able to adopt new measures. Intervention does not allow that.

There are several other aspects in the case of Air Canada, such as attracting new investment in our country. New investment rules would go a long way to solving some of these problems and might have even stopped Canadian from going under a few years ago.

Important things need to be considered so that the competition law is not the only avenue and in fact is not the best avenue to competition. A good business environment, low taxes and low regulation are what people tell us we need, along with breaking down interprovincial trade barriers. These are the kinds of things for which businesses are looking. They want less intervention in the economy.

While we support Bill C-23, which strengthens the competition policy, it serves as a limited means of success. We challenge the government to do the things that are necessary to allow competition to exist.

We have lost a decade in the country because of the policies the government has followed. We have had a 30 year decline in direct foreign investment in Canada, year after year. We have a Canadian dollar that has lost ground for over 30 years and is now at 62 cents U.S. That says something about government policy. We have government policy that has intervened more and more in the economy over the past 30 years, I suggest, going back to Mr. Trudeau.

The current government, under the present Prime Minister, does not seem to be going in any different direction. Look at the cases of grants and contributions to businesses across the country. This is a government that has totally lost direction. It is rudderless and needs to be replaced because businesses are suffering. Canadian companies trying to compete against companies in the United States are not enjoying the competitive advantages they need to enjoy.

We have the highest personal income taxes in the G-7 and very high taxes against those of our OECD neighbours, which is the measurement with which Canada has to compete. Yet we have a government that does not seem to pay attention. It thinks we can substitute the healthy business environment with competition law and it simply will not work.

In the case of the cease and desist section, although we are strengthening it, companies engaging in practices that are harmful to a competitor and competition now have to wait 30 days. They may get another 30 days in which they are banned from engaging in those practices, but after 120 days has expired they can go at it again.

We should let businesses do what they do best. Let the competition law serve its limited capacity, as it was designed to do, in protecting competition, not competitors. Let us have a government that stops intervening in the economy, and the country would be far better off for it.

Competition ActGovernment Orders

December 10th, 2001 / 12:25 p.m.


Stéphane Bergeron Bloc Verchères—Les Patriotes, QC

Mr. Speaker, I too am pleased to speak at third reading of Bill C-23. It is to all intents and purposes the end, at least in the House, of a long process which, as colleagues who spoke before me have said, began many months ago, in 1999-2000.

Many individuals and stakeholders have taken part in the debate, in the examination, which led to the introduction of Bill C-23. It is, as I was saying, the product of long consideration. Therefore, I think we should be pleased at the amendments made to the Competition Act and the Competition Tribunal Act. I think these amendments tighten up the Competition Act. I will come back to the process in a few minutes.

I will, if I may, digress a little with respect to the speech my colleague in the Canadian Alliance has just made.

His speech started well and was very interesting, I thought. The end of it, however, was not a little disappointing as he encouraged the government to draft legislation to promote competition and, in the same breath, criticized the fact that there is a Competition Act that permits competition. There is a certain lack of consistency here. With all due respect for my colleague in the Canadian Alliance, I must say that he seems to be speaking for big business in Canada, which naturally would like the body of laws applying to matters of competition to be as flexible and as minimal as possible.

He is forgetting very quickly that in Canada, and in Quebec, especially, the fabric of the economy is comprised essentially of small and medium sized businesses, that would absolutely not survive in a context of free market competition, which is what our colleague from the Canadian Alliance is energetically calling for.

A certain number of parameters must therefore be established to enable all businesses to be able to compete fairly regardless of size. Some businesses, some corporations, will be in a position to do more because of their size. Under the circumstances, provisions will have to be put in place to ensure that there is a proper and fair context for all sectors of industry.

In this connection, we in the Bloc Quebecois consider, as we always have moreover, that the Competition Act in its present form, despite its laudable objectives, does not contain the means, does not contain sufficient elements, is not sufficiently stringent, and does not have sufficient teeth to avoid certain behaviours that are anti-competitive.

Of course, although Bill C-23 does improve the existing legislation just slightly, we would have liked it to go a great deal further. The preliminary examination in committee provided us with the opportunity, as I said last Friday, to broaden the spectrum of possible interventions and the provisions that could have been added to the bill in order to respond to this desire to create a body of legislation, which would be more able to provide a context favourable to competition.

We would, therefore, have liked this bill to go a lot further than it does. We made an intervention, in fact several, in committee. As well, here in this House we tried to get the Competition Act tightened up further via an amendment presented last friday by my colleague from Laval Centre. Using a number of arguments that I still consider fallacious, the government saw fit to defeat that amendment, a point to which I shall return shortly.

Let us get back to the process. As I said, this is a process that began in 1999. The discussions went on and on. The committee worked really hard on this issue. Incidentally, I want to take this opportunity to thank my predecessor as Bloc Quebecois critic on industry, science and technology, the hon. member for Témiscamingue, who did an absolutely remarkable job along with the other committee members. The Department of Industry was also interested in a possible review of the Competition Act.

It must be said, and it is important to point this out when referring to the long process leading up to Bill C-23, that certain provisions on competition in the Canadian legislation go back more than 100 years. Some of these provisions deserve to be updated, given the economic context and framework in 2001.

The government, the Department of Industry, and particularly the minister himself, showed an interest in improving the Competition Act. Some proposals were made by a number of colleagues in this House, including private members' bills, Bills C-402 and C-472 presented by the hon. member for Pickering—Ajax—Uxbridge, Bill C-438 presented by the hon. member for Kitchener Centre, and Bill C-471 presented by the hon. member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, among others.

Oddly enough, the government chose to integrate these bills and decided to include in the legislation now before the House, namely Bill C-23, only the proposals made by government members. We would have hoped that the government would be as receptive to proposals from the other side of the House, but it does not look as if it is the case.

Be that as it may, the debate transcended parliament, since we asked civil society, including through the Public Policy Forum, to take part in the debate and to express its views on a possible reform of the Competition Act. I must say, and the minister mentioned it on Friday, that we heard essentially two different views.

Obviously, this is putting it bluntly, I will not deny it, but if we want to put things in context, there were basically two viewpoints.

First, there was the viewpoint of big business, which sounded much like our colleague from the Canadian Alliance, who said earlier that the Competition Act needs as little changing as possible, and that we most definitely must not include a right to private access or any other provisions or proposals that would go beyond what Bill C-23 contains. Then there were representatives from small and medium sized businesses who demonstrated a great deal of interest in including provisions that had not been included in the original Bill C-23, particularly the right to private access.

I will not delve any further into the details of the contents of Bill C-23. I think that the two previous speakers in this debate did a good job explaining the impact of the bill. I will simply recall the four main amendments that Bill C-23 originally contained: first, facilitating co-operation with foreign competition authorities with respect to evidence in civil action; second, prohibiting deceptive prize notices sent out to the general public and sent by mail and through the Internet; third, streamlining the Competition Tribunal process by providing for cost awards, summary dispositions and references; and fourth, broadening the scope under which the tribunal may issue temporary orders.

Finally, following the work done by the committee and the speeches made by its members, particularly the highly eloquent ones by the member for Pickering--Ajax--Uxbridge, based on the legislation to which I referred earlier, the government has agreed to make a few additions to these original four main elements in the bill.

First of all, provision has been added for private access, independently of the Competition Tribunal, so that private companies can take their competition cases directly, on their own behalf, to the tribunal in four specific areas mentioned in clauses 75 and 77 concerning refusal to deal, exclusive dealing, tied selling and market restriction.

Amendments have also been made to the bill with respect to dominant position. One has the feeling, from the wording of these amendments, that particular aim was being taken at a problem forced on us by the prevailing economic situation now facing the airlines.

Under section 104.1 of the Competition Act, the commissioner will be permitted to issue interim orders so as to prevent a company under investigation from continuing or resuming anti-competitive acts. As well, an airline could be required to pay monetary penalties, because this is indeed the purpose behind the particular amendments in this regard, under clause 79 concerning abuse of dominant position.

We would have preferred that the government not try to use these amendments to deal with a very specific situation. Abuse of dominant position can also be observed in other industrial sectors.

I come back to what I was saying earlier concerning the amendment put forward Friday by the member for Laval Centre. This amendment, as the House will recall, is taken word for word from a provision in Bill C-472, presented earlier by the member for Pickering--Ajax--Uxbridge, with the exception of three little words which independent gas retailers wanted to see dropped: standard market conditions. I will not go back over these three words, on the significance of the amendment. I spoke on this at some length Friday, when we debated Bill C-23 at report and second reading stages.

I simply want to say at this point that we would have liked the government to be more receptive with respect to abuses of dominant position in other sectors of the economy, not just in the airline industry. We on this side were referring specifically to what happened a certain number of weeks and months ago in the case of the sharp rise in gas prices.

Naturally, the minister himself told me in committee when he appeared that the cost of gasoline was actually quite low, so why get upset over the issue of gasoline prices? The current body of laws, even amended, does not protect us from a new flare-up of gasoline prices. This amendment among other things serves to protect independent distributors against the dominant position of the major oil companies, which alone control 90% of the Canadian oil refinery and distribution market and we would have liked to see it pass. We would also have liked to have section 45 of the Competition Act amended. This section, I remind you, is over 100 years old. A number of things have changed in the meantime, and these changes must be taken into account.

We would have liked an amendment on the relevance of keeping the word unduly in the section. I know that it raised a lot of debate. Some claim the word should be eliminated; others think it should be retained. I myself think the issue should have been expanded and the work not disrupted so that we could not go beyond the provisions contained in Bill C-23, with the few amendments, albeit significant but limited, that were finally added at the conclusion of the work of the committee.

It should be noted that despite the good intentions of the committee members and the witnesses who appeared before the committee—and I must, in this regard, congratulate and thank the witnesses for the depth of the analyses and comments they contributed—we might have done well to pay much more attention to them and to integrate more of these analyses and proposals into Bill C-23.

For a whole slew of reasons, it was decided not to. That said, despite all the goodwill of the committee members and the witnesses who appeared, it must be recognized that the very organization of our committee precluded our doing a really thorough job on this issue.

When the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology meets four times a week to discuss three different topics, this makes the members' work difficult. It is hard for them to manage to address each of these three issues in depth, each theme raised in its four meetings each week. I think we would be better off if we were to consolidate the work, make it more consistent and thus be able to go into the various matters raised in committee in a little more depth.

Returning the subject at hand, as I said, it would have been worthwhile in my opinion to have been able to go into it further. Nevertheless, we must admit reality: Friday, the minister referred to the quality of the committee's work, and described it, rightly so in my opinion, as non-partisan. It is regrettable, however, that at the very end he adopted an attitude that was close-minded, to say the least, if not downright partisan, in rejecting the amendment proposed by my colleague from Laval Centre.

Those then, are my reservations, and I hope the minister listens to them. On Friday, I expressed the wish that he listen to the speech I gave on my colleague from Laval Centre's amendment. Similarly today, I trust that through his parliamentary secretary he will be attentive to the discussion of today.

That said, I am greatly perplexed and taken aback by the government's decision not to go any further with the pre-examination of Bill C-23 by broadening it. Yet, by its own admission, it intends to review and revise the Competition Act once again, at some point next February.

Rather than doing things a bit a time, perhaps we ought to have carried out a more thorough study of the proposed amendments to the Competition Act, and these could have integrated the concerns of my colleague from Laval Centre as well as the very legitimate concerns of my colleague from Jonquière concerning clause 45. As hon. members are aware, my colleague from Jonquière has spoken out in the media, here in Ottawa, in the House of Commons, and in committee, as well as in the national assembly, concerning clause 45. Perhaps we could have indeed gone into it further.

However, despite the concerns that I raise here today, and that I have raised in the past, particularly on Friday, and to which I hope the government is sensitive, despite all this, I would once again like to repeat today that the Bloc Quebecois, as it has always done since 1993 and even before then, when the founding members of the Bloc Quebecois sat as independent members, has always acted in the best interests of all, particularly in the interests of Quebecers, regardless of partisan politics.

Statistics show this to be true. Since the beginning, since Confederation, the Bloc Quebecois is probably the political party that has most often voted in support of government bills and initiatives. We are not guided by the extremely narrow prism of partisan politics. What guides our analysis in the Bloc Quebecois is the best interests of all, and particularly, the interests of Quebecers.

So despite the concerns that I raise today, I would like to repeat that the Bloc Quebecois will vote in favour of this bill because we believe it to be a step in the right direction. The government was not willing to take the steps required to make even more improvements to the Competition Act, but it is nonetheless a step. We can only hope that the government will continue to make progress so that some day we can have legislation that fosters truly healthy competition within our economic environment.

Competition ActGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.


Bev Desjarlais NDP Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-23, an act to amend the Competition Act and the Competition Tribunal Act. The amendments to the bill are a move in the right direction.

I would like to thank my colleague from Winnipeg Centre for attending the committee meetings on my behalf as industry critic because I was tied up dealing with a number of transportation issues relating to security within the transportation industry and specifically the airline issue. I would also like to thank him for representing us quite well.

The amendments go a long way toward addressing a number of concerns. Bill C-23 reflects the wishes of a number of private members' bills and issues that have come forth over the last year or so. When a large number of private members brings into question a number of issues relating to industry, it is time for the government to deal with them rather than wait for each and every private member's business to come before the House and be voted on. To all those private members who brought forth private members' business to deal with these issues, I congratulate them for their efforts. All of us need to continue doing that if we want to see some of these issues addressed because the government will not deal with them unless that does happen.

I was very pleased to see the amendments in the area of private access to the Competition Tribunal. This was an area greatly criticized by a number of people in larger industries in the business world, but it was also felt by small business. This was an opportunity for business as well as individuals to question the tactics used by a dominant provider. I am pleased that the amendment has been made to allow some private access. It is not fully what people want to see, but there is no question it is a step in the right direction and will go a long way to empowering individuals to question some anti-competitive acts that take place.

There have been many questions in the last few years with regard to anti-competitive acts. The airline industry comes to light in view of what we have seen over the last few years with one carrier after another going under. Almost always in those instances we heard about the anti-competitive action of Air Canada, and we hear about that even to this date.

The competition commissioner suggested a lot of changes giving him more authority to react sooner and authority to order costs if a loss is related to the anti-competitive act. This legislation responded to a need that was out there. We still hear of Air Canada's anti-competitive acts at a time when our airline industry is in a crucial state.

Although the bill goes a long way toward addressing concerns over anti-competitive behaviour, I still do not believe that this is going to be the answer within the airline industry. More needs to be done in the area of regulating capacity if we truly want to provide a stable airline industry that will meet the needs of communities within Canada and not just the larger cities. We have to look beyond that.

Competition is not always the answer. There has to be balance. When providers are forced to compete to the lowest common denominator, we do not always get the best service or the safest service and the service maintained to areas where the cost can be higher. It is important that we look not just at the competition aspect.

The competition commissioner felt these changes were needed. He felt they would give him more opportunity.

I look forward to these changes possibly resulting in more stability, specifically in the airline industry. There is a need for the anti-competition issue to be addressed in other areas as well.

There is another area the bill has dealt with which I want to key into. Although it does not seem to be a very big issue to some, it is a big issue to the most vulnerable people who are often seniors and people who are not well. The issue is deceptive prize notices.

I am sure all of us at some point or another have received those wonderful envelopes in the mail that say we have won $1 million, that we will get a prize just by doing a specific thing and it will not cost us anything. Quite frankly, when I say the most vulnerable people in society, I qualify that by saying nurses and other professional people have contacted me with regard to deceptive prize notices. They have been caught up in these deceptive prize notices and it has ended up costing them thousands of dollars. The ones I have spoken to were embarrassed because they were caught up in it.

The bottom line is that deceptive prize notices are very misleading. It is hard to get a handle on the wording let alone the fine print. No one should feel embarrassed, ashamed or anything of the kind if they get caught up in this practice. These scams are put forth by people or companies that fully intend to catch us in one little phrase or one little note. That is their job. That is how they make their living. It is certainly unethical. A lot of us think it is immoral and unscrupulous. However, some people will do just about anything for the sake of making a buck. We need to recognize that and ensure that we have protections in place for consumers and the public.

If people who are involved in the day to day workforce, who constantly have to deal with forms and issues that have to be written down and formulated and know how things are done, if they can be misled, we have to wonder how we should allow these deceptive practices to take place for those who are most vulnerable, such as our seniors and perhaps people whose eyesight is not perfect. Where there is an intent to deceive people, we need to put laws in place to protect individuals. I am glad to see this has been incorporated.

The bill is an incorporation of a private member's initiative to address this particular practice. We hope to see an end to some of those deceptive prize notices that come in the mail. Quite frankly, when the member initially introduced his private member's business, I made a point of gathering up all those types of notices that were coming to my own house. Over a period of a couple of months some 20 deceptive prize notice envelopes had come to my house.

It is great to throw those deceptive prize notices in the garbage. Quite frankly, that is where they deserve to go. As it is, I normally get a pile of mail. However, some people do not normally get much mail and tend to believe the notices. It was an eye opener for me. I did not realize the problem was so bad. I am extremely pleased that the bill deals with that issue.

A number of areas have been addressed. The commissioner will be in a position to address a lot of the particular problems that were there. The bill, as has been stated, will weed out some of what were considered frivolous proceedings. The next logical step is to have a greater form of private access to deal with the anti-competition rules.

The NDP will be supporting the bill. It has been a long time coming. I am pleased to see that it appears to have support within the House. It will be one good thing that we will get done before the break. I hope the next really wonderful thing will be the budget we hear this afternoon, which I hope will address a lot of the concerns out there.

Competition ActGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Grant McNally Canadian Alliance Dewdney—Alouette, BC

Mr. Speaker, I do believe I heard my colleague say in one part of her speech that competition is not always the answer. I wonder if she could expand on that.

Would she not agree that competition for the consumer is a good thing? When there are many opportunities for the consumer to choose, that often drives the price down which in effect is a good thing. I would like her to comment on the notion she raised in her speech, and I may be wrong but I think I heard it, that competition is not always a good thing.

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12:55 p.m.


Bev Desjarlais NDP Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, I think the days of the gladiators in Rome are gone. Competition is not always a good thing if one is fighting to the death and there is no balance.

There is no question that competition can be beneficial to the consumer. However, at some point, when competition becomes the only goal and all we want to do is give a cheaper product at a cheaper price--

Competition ActGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Deborah Grey Canadian Alliance Edmonton North, AB

Cheaper plane tickets.

Competition ActGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.


Bev Desjarlais NDP Churchill, MB

Cheaper plane tickets are okay as long as we are maintaining safety in the air, security at the airports and reasonable standards of wages and labour conditions. Those things are crucially important too. Quite frankly having strictly competition with nothing else in sight is not the answer.

We hear of numerous stores that lower the price of a particular product to get customers into the store in the hope they will buy that product. If a shopper goes in for only that product and gets the cheaper price, that is great, but the bottom line is that the customer usually ends up buying something else in the store at a higher price.

In the case of cheaper airline tickets, we also want to know that the airline is safe, that it is a good quality product, that the workers are being paid fairly and that safety practices are followed. However those areas often end up being cut as well.

Competition for the sake of competition is not beneficial.

I want to mention something I saw on a program a number of years ago dealing with young children in Mexico. These children were not brought up strictly on the basis of competition, as are a lot of our children who are involved in competitive sports and those kinds of things. They compete at school as to who will get the best mark. They do not help each other to do great. They compete to make sure they get the best marks and do the best because that is what is most important.

However these young children in Mexico were given a game and whoever won would get a prize. Let us just say the prize was two chocolate bars. What they found was these young children in Mexico, who had not been brought up in a competitive environment, did not really care who won. They were able to come to a balance in not really caring who won and they would share the two chocolate bars.

That is the difference between whether or not competition is absolutely necessary and where we need a balance in maintaining the quality of service, not just something for the sake of a lower price.

Competition ActGovernment Orders

1 p.m.


Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, I was also a member of the committee and I supported the bill and the amendments. The amendments improve the bill tremendously.

I support the bill but perhaps for a different reason than the member who just spoke. I support it because I believe competition is the foundation of capitalism, a free democracy and the best way to build an economy.

The amendments to the bill ensure that competition exists. When we get into virtual monopolies or oligopolies in this type of system, there may appear to be conditions when competition is not working the way it should. The provisions in the bill, such as private access, help to ensure that competition will be there to build a vibrant economy.

I am sure Canadians would not object to ensuring competition in the airline industry these days and that they have good choices in that industry.

I am delighted that the member referred at length to the deceptive competitions that we all get in our mail. Hopefully the bill would eliminate a lot of those so that if we get a notice of winning something we will have actually won something and it could not possibly cost us more to collect the prize than it would be worth.

My concern is mostly with the elderly. They get these notices in the mail but they do not know what they are. They think they have won something but it ends up costing them through the mail, through the 900 numbers or through whatever. I am delighted that all the parties have support this aspect of the bill.

I congratulate my colleagues who brought forward the amendments, such as the hon. member for Pickering--Ajax--Uxbridge in the great work he has done on the bill and on in bringing these issues forward.

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1 p.m.


Bev Desjarlais NDP Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, the member used words that do not go together: good competition in the airline industry. Quite frankly, that is an area where it does not exist. There has been a lot of criticism of Air Canada's practices. Competition generally is okay. I am not opposed to competition but there are times when competition is not the be all and end all. We have to find a balance between providing quality of service and recognizing that having the cheapest price when one is not up front with what is provided with that cheapest price is not always the answer.

Certainly good, clean competition is fine, which is why we have rules in place, but we need to recognize that competition is not always the answer, that we can work together for the best possible service in a number of areas as well.

Competition ActGovernment Orders

1 p.m.


Jocelyne Girard-Bujold Bloc Jonquière, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to the hon. member for Churchill and I am very surprised by her position on the issue of competition.

Today, in Canada, competition no longer exists in the airline industry. Air Canada controls 80% of all Canadian flights. This is why there is no competition in the regions. We cannot question airline safety. There are airline safety standards that must be met by each carrier.

In the regions, there is no longer any competition, and the result is that a Bagotville—Ottawa return airfare costs me $850 every week. Before Air Canada held a monopoly, the same flight cost me $200 less every week.

I am very surprised by the hon. member's position. I wonder if she could elaborate on this issue, and more specifically on what consumers lose with a monopoly.