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House of Commons Hansard #28 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was workers.

Topics

Parliamentary ReformGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Brian Fitzpatrick Canadian Alliance Prince Albert, SK

Mr. Speaker, the member's response toward the senate is something that I would like to follow up on. Assuming that we are not going to have a sovereignty issue in the province of Quebec and that we are one country, I think the member would agree with me that one of the problems we have in this country is that too much power is concentrated in the hands of too few, in the Prime Minister's Office.

The Australians, the Americans and the Germans have a federal system of government. I think that the regions in those countries feel that they are better represented. They feel that way because they have a senate that has real power at the centre and can represent their interests effectively and act as a check and a balance on the concentration of power in the prime minister's office.

Would my learned colleague see the merit, if the country is to stay intact, in having an elected senate that can fairly represent all the regions, including his region, at the centre and take some of the power away from the Prime Minister's Office?

Parliamentary ReformGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

Bloc

Michel Guimond Bloc Beauport—Montmorency—Côte-De- Beaupré—Île-D'Orléans, QC

Mr. Speaker, what did not help with the fact that people have lost faith in the institution, is when they saw the absences of Senator Thompson who, I believe, set foot in the Senate 21 times over a 14-year period.

This does nothing to help the credibility of the institution. We must look at how political appointments are made. The people who want to keep a second House say, “It guarantees regional representation”. However, I believe that regional representation—given the number of seats in the House, we would have to look into this if it is not fair—is already guaranteed enough, to a certain extent.

However, I do agree with the member when it comes to the process for appointments. We have seen the latest appointments made by the Prime Minister. He appointed a very popular artist in Quebec, Jean Lapointe, to the Senate, even though he continues to tour throughout Quebec and give performances.

I trained as a lawyer and I no longer have time to devote to any cases. I no longer have any time for practicing law, because my job as an MP has become a full time job, seven days a week. How could the likes of Jean Lapointe, who has been appointed to the Senate, or Jean-Louis Roux, whom the Prime Minister appointed to the Senate, continue to perform? Is being a senator a full time job? That is something that has to be asked.

We who are members of Parliament on either side of this House do not have time to continue our second careers in parallel. Ours is a full time job, a seven day a week job.

Parliamentary ReformGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

Liberal

John Bryden Liberal Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Aldershot, ON

Mr. Speaker, I wanted to pick up on the electronic voting proposal. I have voted against the government about six times in my nine years here. Always it took courage to rise in my place and be seen to be voting against my colleagues. On one occasion I was the only one who stood.

It serves two purposes to stand and be counted. One is to make sure that members do not squander party solidarity by too easily being able to vote without being seen by constituents and without being seen by one's colleagues. Alternatively, one of the reasons to stand up and be counted is to send a message to the government that members are not happy with the legislation before them.

I would suggest to my colleague opposite that if we have electronic voting, these two great instruments of standing up and being counted and sending messages to the government and to Canadians at large on how we stand on legislation is an important privilege of being a member of Parliament that should not be lost.

Parliamentary ReformGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

Bloc

Michel Guimond Bloc Beauport—Montmorency—Côte-De- Beaupré—Île-D'Orléans, QC

Mr. Speaker, in the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, I have already had the opportunity of answering that question. I will repeat what I have already said.

Instead of standing up one after the other, which takes an average of 15 to 18 minutes, we could have an electronic system with one, two, three or four stations in order to get it all over with in four or five minutes. For the public aspect of our expression, we would vote using an electronic card with an access number. It would be possible to see whether we had voted for or against a given item. Perhaps the following day, as is the case at the present time in Hansard , or the House of Commons Debates , to use the correct title, it could be seen who had voted in favour and who against.

I have objections to the performance of popping up one after the other like performing dogs or trained seals. It is counter-productive. I realize that this could be indicated in Hansard the following day. People would see who voted with the government and who against it.

Parliamentary ReformGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

NDP

Bill Blaikie NDP Winnipeg—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, first, I want to say that I agree with the Bloc member. As in several other legislative assemblies, there is a lot to learn from Quebec's National Assembly on parliamentary reform.

I am always pleased to talk about parliamentary reform. It has been a preoccupation of mine. In 2003 it will be 20 years ago that I was appointed to the special committee that was struck at a time of crisis in the life of Parliament.

You perhaps will recall, Mr. Speaker, the bell-ringing crisis, when the bells rang for 16 days in this place and the whole place ground to a halt. As a result of that, a special committee of the House was struck, under the chairmanship of former Liberal whip Tom Lefebvre. The work that committee did in 1983-84 actually became the basis for a much more prominently known report called the McGrath report, but really the first report of the Special Committee on Reform of the House of Commons, sometimes known as the McGrath report, in effect was what the conclusions were that had been reached by the Lefebvre committee in a previous Parliament. I sat on both those committees.

I want to begin by saying that at the end of the day procedurally we can lead many horses to water, but we cannot necessarily make them drink, because ultimately parliamentary reform is a cultural matter. Parliamentary reform is something that happens in the individual and collective heads and minds of members of Parliament and their respective political parties. No amount of tinkering with the rules or with how committee chairmen are elected or whatever other things we might do, while all of these are appropriate and all help to create a context in which that cultural change might be encouraged, will do it. Ultimately what needs to happen is that people need to change their way of relating to Parliament and to each other.

It seems to me that we have an opportunity after the vote today to see whether or not there has been a change in the attitude of the House and in the attitude of the government toward the House.

The House just passed, unanimously, an NDP motion calling for the withdrawal of proposed amendments to the Income Tax Act having to do with people with disabilities. The government yesterday was asking us to weaken our motion so that it might be able to feel freer to vote for it. In the end, we refused to weaken our motion. Because our motion was so correct, I think, because it called for something so obviously right, in the end the government voted for the NDP motion.

So that motion is there now. Tomorrow I want to see an announcement by the government that those proposals have been withdrawn, that the wishes of the House have in fact been respected, because too often I have seen motions passed unanimously in the House and then nothing has happened.

I remember a motion from February 9, 1999, when the House unanimously passed a motion calling for a national ban on the bulk export of water. Do we have a national ban on the bulk export of water? No, we do not, yet the House unanimously called for such a ban.

So one of the things we need to have around here is a little more respect for the decisions taken either by the House or by committees. When there is a unanimous recommendation by a committee that something happen, it should happen. We should not have to bring the matter before the House and have the House express itself as it did today.

However, now we have the committee and the House. The next stage is for the government to show respect for the House and the committee and make that happen. I think that when this kind of thing starts to happen, then we will know that we have made real progress at the cultural level with respect to parliamentary reform.

I listened to the member from the Bloc. He talked about the need for chairmen of committees to be chosen from different parties. I recall that this was one of the things that we did achieve for a short time. Probably not too many members of Parliament know this, but following the initial implementation of the McGrath committee, the House adopted two different kinds of standing committees, standing committees that would do investigative work and study of different issues while legislation would go to special legislative committees. Those special legislative committees were actually chosen from a panel of chairmen made up of people from all parties.

We had a very good experience with that. We abandoned that system for a bunch of other reasons, but one of the good things about that system was that members of opposition parties, all opposition parties, got to exercise the role of chairman and we actually developed a number of people who become known for their expertise at chairing committees. I just wanted to put that on the record.

There are a number of things I would like to talk about, things that we have suggested and that still have not been achieved. I would like to put them on the record.

We wanted, and we still do want, the Standing Orders to be amended to give the Speaker authority to determine whether there has been reasonable opportunity for debate before a motion of time allocation or closure is heard. We still think that the Speaker should have the authority to protect Parliament and a minority point of view in Parliament from being abused in a time-allocated way by the majority. It is not unusual for speakers in other parliaments to have this kind of power and I think our Speaker should have it too. That is certainly something that the NDP will continue to work for.

We also wanted the minister responsible for the legislation that was having time allocation moved on it to have to come to the House and answer questions for 60 minutes. We got 30 out of the modernization committee. Not bad. I think it is a good start and a good procedure to have that requirement put upon a government that wants to move time allocation with respect to any particular legislation.

We would like the House to be taken more seriously. I think that the Bloc member made this point. Over and over again I have had occasion to rise in the House and complain that major policy announcements were being made outside the House. Here we are in a week when we have just come back and it appears that the government does not have much on its agenda, but one of the things it could have on its agenda is having ministers making policy announcements in the House and taking the House seriously. Then the opposition could respond and Canadians would come to see the House of Commons as the place where major policy announcements are made. That might be an improvement in terms of how Canadians see the House of Commons.

When Canadians see major policy announcements being made elsewhere and they see, in some cases, arguably meaningless debate, because we are having more and more take note debates and we are not really debating motions that will be voted on and have some effect, arguably this is not something that enhances the reputation of the House of Commons. If we had more policy announcements being made here, as they should be, by ministers, it would be one way of enhancing the role of the chamber. This is something that I have argued for before and that I intend to keep arguing for.

With respect to standing committees of the House, we are not going to get real independence on committees until we implement the recommendations of the McGrath committee. It recommended that membership on committees be independent of whips for a certain period of time. Then, once people get appointed to a committee, they can replace themselves if they are going to be absent but they alone choose their replacement, so that members on committees cannot be disciplined, at least for a period of time, either for a session or an entire Parliament or whatever we determine. They cannot be disciplined by their whips and they cannot be removed by their whips if they begin to have independent thoughts.

Because we know all too often what has happened around here. Members, particularly government members, get on a committee, they study the legislation, they find out that it is maybe not as good as they were told it was, they begin to demonstrate critical faculties or independent thoughts, and the next thing we know they are not on the committee and what we often refer to as parliamentary goon squads show up to vote one way or another. They do not even know what they are voting on. This has to stop. One of the ways to do that is to appoint people to committees for the duration of a Parliament or a session and enable them and only them to name their replacements in circumstances when they cannot be there.

With regard to treaties, this is a funny kind of thing. We have asked for treaties to be considered by the House of Commons for a long time. I was surprised and pleased when the Prime Minister said that he would bring the Kyoto accord before Parliament to have it debated and ratified. I hope this is the beginning of a new attitude on the part of the government and subsequent governments toward Parliament when it comes to the ratification of treaties.

If I am not mistaken, the Prime Minister is on his way to Prague at the moment to participate in a NATO meeting which is considering the expansion of NATO. Canada is the only country in NATO whose Parliament never debated the expansion of NATO, which is an alteration of a treaty. All the other countries in NATO, when the original expansion took place, debated the expansion of NATO, even the Westminster parliament. It was not required to do so, but nevertheless the government of Tony Blair provided the opportunity for that debate in the House of Commons in the United Kingdom. It is only in Canada that these issues are not regularly debated and are not required to be debated.

We will see how it is done. I do not want to approve of a procedure I have not seen yet, but the idea of debating and ratifying the Kyoto accord in Parliament seems to me to be progress. I hope from here on in we might see Parliament involved in a way that just does not suit the political agenda of the Prime Minister but happens as a result of a growing sense that Parliament is the place where treaties ought to be debated and ratified.

We would like to see some of the Standing Orders amended to reflect the fact that there are five parties of the House. We just went through a procedure. In this case it was the government and the official opposition that were treated differently than the other parties, and perhaps that should stand. However we have other Standing Orders where things are allocated in threes. It says that the first three parties shall have so many minutes in terms of speeches. These Standing Orders were designed when we had a three party House, nearly 10 years ago.

It is not too much to ask after nine years that the Standing Orders of the House of Commons catch up with the reality that we now have a five party House, or are we waiting until we go back to three parties so we do not have to change the Standing Orders. It is kind of ridiculous. All we are asking is a reality that was once recognized, that all the parties be treated the same, be reinstituted through changing the numbers in the Standing Orders, yet that has not happened.

These are some of the things that I wanted to mention. The House leader of the official opposition talked about parliamentary review of appointments. The McGrath committee recommended that certain appointments be reviewed by House of Commons committees, although I do not think we went as far as to recommend that ambassadorial appointments be reviewed. I am not sure I agree that would be progress to have them reviewed by a parliamentary committee, but there is room for an expanded role of parliamentary committees in considering certain kinds of appointments. That recommendation goes back 20 years and we need to look at that.

I wish this was called the reform debate and not the modernization debate. I want to say that in closing. I think I said it at the beginning of my remarks the last time we set up a modernization committee. It is as if the government does not want to admit that it is reforming the House of Commons or does not want to be answerable to a spirit of reform but wants what happens to only be seen in the context of this modernizing paradigm of seeking efficiencies or whatever. We should not be apologetic about wanting to reform the House of Commons. People want the House of Commons reformed. They also want their electoral system reformed.

We will not be addressing voter apathy and voter cynicism about politics until there is parliamentary reform, which is just so much inside baseball to a lot of Canadians. Nevertheless they are concerned about the inordinate amount of power that the Prime Minister has, et cetera. They want to see a package. They want to see parliamentary reform and see electoral reform. Many people are arguing for a system of proportional representation. Some people want the Senate abolished or replaced with an elected Senate or something done to ensure that the regions are more properly represented at the centre here.

We need reform when it comes to campaign finances and the financing of political parties. I think the government is finally moving very slowly in that direction. We will see what it comes up with and what is finally produced.

In terms of democracy, ultimately we need to look at the trade agreements differently. I know not everybody in the House will agree with me but the fact of the matter is that we can have an absolutely perfect democracy in Parliament. We can have a perfect electoral system and all that. However, if in the end we have nothing left to decide because it is all decided at some trade tribunal somewhere, either at the WTO or the NAFTA, behind closed doors, non-transparently and decided only on the basis of what constitutes a barrier to commerce and not whether it is in the public interest, then we do not have much of a democracy. It seems to me that, at least from an NDP point of view, a debate about democracy in this country has to extend to debating the extent to which the trade agreements, global and regional, are restricting the power of duly democratically elected people to act in the public interest.

Parliamentary ReformGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

Liberal

John Bryden Liberal Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Aldershot, ON

Mr. Speaker, first, a minor comment about voter apathy. One reason for voter apathy is the fact that for so long we have not had a strong opposition facing the government benches. In the British parliamentary system, one really needs a strong choice to galvanize the electorate. I just make that point in passing.

The member has a lot of experience in the House and I would like to share with him one thing that distresses me with the way Parliament works, and that is the total monopoly the Department of Justice has on the creation of legislation. One often finds oneself in the House trying to effect changes when the horse is already out of the barn.

I deplore, first and foremost, the new practice of referring bills to committee after first reading. What happens there is it deprives this chamber and people like myself of debate or to be even aware of the bill before it goes to committee. The member will agree that, as committees are presently structured, the committees can be so weighted that there is not genuine debate in committee.

Second, could member also comment on any way he can see to give the House of Commons a greater role in the creating of legislation and in the analyzing of legislation, be it by adding to the legal staff of the House or by the creation perhaps of legislative committees that could be involved in drafting legislation, not just for private members but for government as well?

Parliamentary ReformGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

NDP

Bill Blaikie NDP Winnipeg—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, the need for more staff in terms of legal help for members is an ongoing debate about what is and is not required.

However the member makes an interesting point about referring legislation to committees before second reading. This has tended to have been regarded as a very progressive step. However the member's skepticism is well advised in the sense that sometimes it is a way of fast tracking legislation. It is not a way of trying to have more input.

The argument goes that if we get it to committee before it has been passed in the House, there is less commitment on the part of the government. Therefore it is more open to changing it, et cetera, and members can have more say in the nature of the legislation before it actually comes before the House to be debated in principle at second reading.

However it may well be two things. First, it sometimes has been used as a way of fast tracking legislation and therefore should only happen when there is unanimity about sending it to committee that way.

Second, we act as if committees are this pristine place where democracy flourishes. Therefore, if we can just get it off to committee and have all this intelligent, rational, non-partisan, reflective input into the legislation somehow, this will be a wonderful experience. It will not be, necessarily, unless we have the kind of reform to the committee process for which many of us are calling. Only if members in the committee are truly independent of the government can they have that kind of input when the bill goes to the committee before second reading. If they are still under orders from the government, then not much has changed except that we have the appearance of a different process but we still have the same culture dominating that process.

Parliamentary ReformGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Brian Fitzpatrick Canadian Alliance Prince Albert, SK

Mr. Speaker, I want to compliment the member for Winnipeg--Transcona. As far as House procedures and understanding this place, he is a prestigious person in the House.

With respect to question period, it has occurred to me that it brings a lot of disrespect to the House. It comes down to one single problem and that is the inability to get government cabinet ministers to answer questions. They are masters of evasion and of using devices to avoid answering.

It seems to be in vogue at the present time not to comment on personal cases or individual cases. However, when I open the newspaper, I read an article where the minister is commenting to the media about a personal case. It seems to happen quite often.

My past experience is as a lawyer. I have often thought that perhaps the Speaker should have the power of a judge in a trial and direct the minister to answer the question and not use evasive attempts to steer around being accountable.

What would the member suggest for bringing some real meaning to question period?

Parliamentary ReformGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

NDP

Bill Blaikie NDP Winnipeg—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I do not think that we can find a procedure that could compel government ministers to answer questions if they do not want to.

I would certainly agree with the member that sometimes there seems to be a selective reading of rules, some rules which may not even exist. Certainly the one that the member cited, the fact that cabinet ministers often say they cannot discuss a personal situation when in fact other times they do and, as the member says, sometimes outside the House.

On the other hand, I would not want to see the House of Commons be a place where we try to do our case work by getting into the details of personal grievances that people have against the government. We have to be selective and exercise judgment as to what we bring to the floor of the House of Commons.

I am an opposition member too and I am as frustrated as the hon. member with the quality of the answers we sometimes receive. I say in fairness that sometimes members of the opposition leave themselves open to inadequate answers through preambles that invite the ministers to address the preamble rather than the question.

My advice to the member is not to provide the ministers with anything to shoot at but the question itself. If they do not answer the question, then they look bad for not having answered it, rather than having appropriately engaged the member in some matter having to do with the preamble.

Parliamentary ReformGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell Ontario

Liberal

Don Boudria LiberalMinister of State and Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I want to ask a question about question period. The U.K. has arguably thematic question periods. In other words, not all ministers attend every day. By the way, I would not advocate that. Attendance is certainly not too rich around here anywhere, so I do not recommend that only certain ministers be on duty.

However what would the hon. member think of a process by which we would at least designate a day a week for a particular theme for question periods to ensure that we could perhaps improve unarguably the quality of the responses but also the quality of the questions too because they would all be in the same area?

We have to recognize that under our five party system one member asks about widgets, then another party asks about the aerospace industry, then it switches back to crime prevention and then back to widgets in the next question. It does not make for a very coordinated approach.

Parliamentary ReformGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

Order, please. I would ask hon. members to please adress their comments to the chair. The hon. member for Winnipeg—Transcona.

Parliamentary ReformGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

NDP

Bill Blaikie NDP Winnipeg—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, yes, I am aware of how it works in the Westminster Parliament.

I have always thought there was some merit to the idea of being able to predict or telegraph not just to the media but to the public, that on a certain day a certain minister, because of a particular theme or whatever, would be under sustained questioning. I like that at one level, but I know that our system works entirely differently. Question period is generally about the story of the day in the newspaper and in the media. Not only is it that, but various parties are trying to create other stories of the day by virtue of bringing things to the attention of the public and the media by what they raise.

It is a difficult question. I understand where the government House leader is coming from. It may be that one of the things we could look at is trying not so much to replace question period with that, but to provide other opportunities for thematic events, not just dramatic events but thematic events, in which ministers could be questioned in a sustained way by members.

Perhaps it is in that context that we could look at other things that the government House leader mentioned, such as not a second chamber but main committees, or all the other kinds of things he was talking about, although I am skeptical about those myself.

I agree with him that we need to find more opportunities for sustained questioning of the same minister over time so that people can develop a line of questioning and really explore a particular issue.

Parliamentary ReformGovernment Orders

5:35 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

Before I give the floor to the hon. member for Fundy—Royal, I am suggesting to him, because there is exactly 20 minutes left before we move on to private members' business, that he may want to use part of his 20 minutes for questions or comments.

Parliamentary ReformGovernment Orders

5:35 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

John Herron Progressive Conservative Fundy Royal, NB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to use my full time on debate. I would like to use my 20 minutes to discuss a very important issue that is on the minds of Canadians, which is that of parliamentary reform, democratic reform not only in this chamber, but also in the provincial chambers.

I bring to the attention of the House that the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada took this work of parliamentary reform seriously. We earnestly worked to develop a concrete list of proposals that Parliament should consider adopting. These proposals would empower parliamentary committees, empower individual MPs, empower the parliamentary process itself, renew the Senate and restore democracy to our most important institution, that being the Parliament of Canada.

Canada today has the forms but not the substance of parliamentary democracy. Over a period of more than 30 years cabinet has gradually slipped away from its parliamentary moorings, from its real accountability to Parliament. In all the commentary in this so-called elected dictatorship, one important point gets overlooked, which is that the current Prime Minister has no more legal or constitutional power over the House of Commons than had Sir John A. Macdonald, Sir Wilfrid Laurier or John Diefenbaker. The Commons has no less authority over the executive government than it ever had.

The solution to our problem lies with the members of the House of Commons themselves. They have the power to take back their rights and exercise them on behalf of the people who elected them.

The proposals the Progressive Conservative Party voted on at the convention in Edmonton relate to the House of Commons. They could be put into effect either by changing the rules, the standing orders, or by legislation that Parliament itself could enact. All it would take is a government committed to implement these changes, or backbenchers, opposition members and government private members who are bloody minded enough to push the changes through.

The federal Progressive Conservative Party wants to lead the way in revitalizing parliamentary democracy. That is what we did at our Edmonton convention. We borrowed and adapted some ideas of direct citizen involvement that have been utilized in the Scottish parliament and perhaps in the U.K. government. Essentially we have put forth a concrete list of proposals that would empower individual parliamentarians through enhancing parliamentary committees.

The Westminster and Canadian systems allow for a strong united executive government exercising real powers, but really accountable and responsible to the representatives of the people in Parliament. Strong government makes a strong Parliament with a strong democracy.

Without having to trace the history of the past 30 or 40 years, Canadians know that over that period executive government has relentlessly accumulated power. It has found ways to circumvent Parliament, which sadly in practice has become weaker, programmed to the convenience of the executive government.

We propose that Parliament could directly and fairly quickly make changes that would weed out this interference from the parliamentary process. The report that we tabled greatly limits the imposition of whips and House leaders to discipline and use party solidarity on virtually every vote in the House of Commons. The report we tabled last summer in Edmonton would make it more difficult for any Prime Minister to brandish the confidence weapon and threaten his followers with an election according to his mood swings.

The report that we presented would have Parliament legislate an ethics code for senators and members of the Commons, with special and more stringent provisions for ministers and parliamentary secretaries. Parliament would appoint an ethics commissioner who would report to us.

A year ago more than $160 billion in spending estimates was deemed to have been approved in a procedural shortcut involving one vote in the Commons without any committee having opened a book on the spending procedures. Progressive Conservative members of Parliament stood up in protest.

A few months ago the Auditor General gave chapter one of her report the heading “Placing the Public's Money Beyond Parliament's Reach”. That says it all. Our report would go some way to restoring the power of the purse to the House of Commons, the ancient and fundamental power by which Parliament traditionally held the government to account.

I would like to take this opportunity to go into detail on the specifics of the report itself. There are essentially 14 chapters in the document, ranging from free votes to revitalizing Commons committees, and codes of ethics for parliamentarians, ministers and parliamentary secretaries. I would like to touch on a few of these initiatives.

One of our proposals under the chapter entitled “Free Votes, Confidence Votes and Party Discipline” is that free votes especially on amendments to government bills and at third reading stage of bills should be the norm rather than the exception. The extravagant and unwarranted use by government of the confidence convention with its threat of dissolution and a new election in the event of losing a vote would essentially be eradicated.

Another chapter is that members of Parliament themselves be assigned to committees by a vote of the House. Once there, they would be permanent and would serve until prorogation of that session of Parliament. A member of Parliament must co-sign any whip's notice for his or her removal from the committee. We could do away with the ugly spectre of a member of Parliament who was inclined to vote for a particular motion being tapped on the shoulder by a staffer from the whip's office and told to move on because someone else was taking his or her place. We saw this occur on countless occasions in the environment committee.

We also proposed that committee chairs and vice-chairs be elected by secret ballot by members on the committee. That particular issue has become increasingly more in vogue today than it was only a few weeks ago. It was an initiative we brought forward in a proposal last spring and was voted on by members of the Progressive Conservative Party last August.

We also propose, in order to provide a broader perspective at the committee level, that opposition parties should have a share of the committee chairmanships that is roughly equal to their share of seats in the House. This would be negotiated among the House leaders. The other place follows a similar route. I encourage the House of Commons to go down that track and allocate the chairmanships proportionately to the number of seats that the parties have in the House of Commons itself.

We also advocate that parliamentary secretaries and other MPs in receipt of extra pay, such as whips and caucus chairs, should generally not be eligible for membership on standing committees. Those standing committees should be there for parliamentarians and not merely there as a process to carry out the wishes of the executive branch of the government itself.

We advocate that when their bills and amendments are discussed, the ministers should be required to remain at committees while the witnesses are heard. In particular, ministers must be present for clause by clause consideration of their bills.

We also call for the establishment of a code of ethics system for parliamentarians to discipline parliamentarians for particular infractions. Our proposal essentially reads as follows:

Parliament should legislate a code of ethical standards for members of Parliament and senators, including particular and more stringent provisions for ministers of the crown and parliamentary secretaries, and create an “ethics commissioner” to be an independent officer of Parliament with authority to monitor compliance, investigate alleged breaches and report to either or both Houses as applicable.

The essence of this is to adopt what other professions do, whether it be the medical community or the legal community. No one likes being dragged before an audience of their peers and their peers would have a chance to make a determination about what particular sanction could actually be taken.

The ethics commissioner would report his or her findings to Parliament. Parliament would set up a discipline and ethics committee to decide what sanctions would be appropriate based on the recommendations of the ethics commissioner. Sanctions would include censure; fines; suspension, with or without pay; and declaring a member's seat to be vacant, which could trigger a byelection.

We also are advocating that we need to address the loophole that we have in legislative federalism. This really speaks to the Kyoto debate that we are going through right now. Hardly a week goes by without a meeting of 14 federal, provincial or territorial cabinet ministers in one part of the country or another, whether it is agriculture, environment, finance, health or justice. Under the present government, these meetings, like first minister's meetings, are held behind closed doors. On their agendas we have no idea what they are going to discuss in advance more often than not. Decisions involving billions of dollars of taxpayer money are made on policy and programs between these different levels of government, yet Parliament is not in the loop.

We are advocating that Parliament have a briefing session before any of these conferences between the federal, provincial and territorial cabinet ministers are held so that Parliament can understand what is being debated and potentially what is at stake, and that we provide some insight. Having that more constructive approach would have paid huge dividends in building a broader consensus with respect to climate change.

The government must, in advance of any federal, provincial and territorial meeting, table the agenda in Parliament together with a statement of the federal position on the major issues facing the conference. At that same time there must be an opportunity for opposition critics to express their views and to question the responsible minister. It is a very prudent approach for us given the nature of our federation itself. The same process must be respected immediately upon the conclusion of intergovernmental affairs ministers meetings.

I also would like to touch very briefly on Senate reform. I also would like to use my full 20 minutes, if I can. The House empowered British Columbia to be a separate region for the purposes of a constitutional veto. Ontario has 24 Senate seats and Quebec has 24. I see no reason for B.C. not to be granted 24 Senate seats as well if we consider it an equal region, as well as the western provinces. Those are elements that are in this document.

Parliamentary ReformGovernment Orders

5:50 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

I heard the member say that he wanted to use his full 20 minutes. His prerogative could be to ask for unanimous consent, if he wishes.

Parliamentary ReformGovernment Orders

5:50 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

John Herron Progressive Conservative Fundy Royal, NB

Mr. Speaker, I ask for the consent of the Chamber to use my full 20 minutes.

Parliamentary ReformGovernment Orders

5:50 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

Is there unanimous consent to allow the member five minutes?

Parliamentary ReformGovernment Orders

5:50 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Parliamentary ReformGovernment Orders

5:50 p.m.

Some hon. members

No.

Parliamentary ReformGovernment Orders

5:50 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

There is no consent but the member can use his five minutes tomorrow, as well as his ten minute question and comment period.

It being 5:50 p.m., the House will now proceed to consideration of private members' business as listed on today's Order Paper.

Canada Labour CodePrivate Members' Business

November 20th, 2002 / 5:50 p.m.

Bloc

Monique Guay Bloc Laurentides, QC

moved that Bill C-224, An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, at the outset, I would like to tell all workers currently locked out, who fall under the Canada Labour Code and cannot reach an agreement, that it is with them in mind that I introduced Bill C-224 and that I am bringing it forward for debate in this place today.

I wish to thank all those who contributed directly or indirectly to the drafting of this bill and those who agreed to support it, including my hon. colleague from the NDP who wrote a letter of support. When I held a press conference, my hon. colleague from Winnipeg Centre came along to show support for the bill. I want to thank all these people for their support, both at my recent press conference and in today's debate.

I will begin by describing the purpose of the bill. This is a bill to prohibit employers under the Canada Labour Code from hiring replacement workers to perform the duties of employees who are on strike or have been locked out.

At present, no area of staff relations is attracting more attention than the prohibition on the use of replacement workers. These are also referred to as strikebreakers or scabs.

Regardless, there is no general prohibition on the use of replacement workers, or strikebreakers, in the Canada Labour Code, while this is prohibited under Quebec legislation. Hon. members are aware of the fact that, in Quebec, we have anti-strikebreaking legislation. Later in my speech, I will quote figures about the drastic drop in percentage of days lost since this legislation came into effect.

Subsection 94(2.1) of the Canada Labour Code does contain a prohibition relating to replacement workers, but this prohibition must be read carefully because it applies only if an employer uses them “for the purpose of undermining a trade union's representational capacity”.

This prohibition is a very weak one, because all the employer needs to do is acknowledge the union in place, and therefore not undermine its representational capacity, to be entitled to use replacement workers or scabs. In other words, if an employer refuses to negotiate and then uses scabs, the Canada Industrial Relations Board can forbid their use. All that is necessary, however, is for an employer to negotiate, or pretend to negotiate, with the union for it to get around this prohibition and continue to use scabs. It can be seen, therefore, that this measure is ridiculous and opens the door to the use of scabs.

I am very pleased to see that the Minister of Labour is present in the House today during this debate, and I thank her for that, because this matter is a priority for certain companies at the present time, especially in Quebec.

In reply to a question I asked her in the House on June 19, 2002, she acknowledged this, stating:

The Canada Labour Code does not prohibit the use of replacement workers during a work stoppage.

This situation has created two categories of workers in Quebec: those who work in areas governed by the Canada Labour Code and those who work in areas governed by the Quebec labour code. What this means is that if the employer, even if the company is unionized, leaves the union in place but does not negotiate directly with the union, or if the employer allows tensions to flare up, it can hire scab workers under the current Canada Labour Code.

I do not know if members know what that does to workers when they see people going in to work every morning, doing their jobs and leaving at night when they are on the picket line and have no income. Quite often entire families suffer.

I can tell you that there is mounting discontent. Only Quebec and BC have legislative measures that prohibit the use of strikebreakers. The ban on scabs in Quebec and BC helps foster and maintain civilized negotiations during labour disputes.

I have a few statistics to share. They will most certainly get members of this House thinking.

There has been anti-scab legislation in Quebec since 1977, that is for 25 years. Hon. members will be surprised at the results. In 1976, the average duration of a strike was 39.4 working days. This figure dropped to 32.8 days in 1979, and to 27.4 in 2001. We have succeeded in providing employers and employees with equal power. We are able to get items on the bargaining table promptly, get negotiations moving faster, because there is legislation obliging us to sit down and reach an agreement that is good for the employer and the employees. Negotiators are involved, as are unions. There is give and take. We have seen many instances of this in Quebec, moreover.

The unions sit down with the workers to tell them “Come on now, if we want to save the company, we have to put some extra effort into this”. There are many examples of workers doing just that. Is it because this made-in-Quebec legislation, the anti-scab legislation, has given people a position of strength? This is not there on the federal level. It is time things changed, because there are situations where action is required, and required right away.

British Columbia has also had anti-scab legislation since 1993. Between 1992 and 1993, the amount of time lost to strikes dropped by 50%.

Here are some other statistics that speak for themselves. From 1992 to 2002, the average number of days of work lost under the Quebec Labour Code was 15.9. Under the Canada Labour Code—and hon. members will not believe their ears—the figure is 31.1 days, which is more than 95.6%. From 1992 to 2002, the number of days lost per 1,000 employees under the Quebec code was 121.3 days. Under the Canada Labour Code, the figure is 266.3 days, or more than 119.5% .

These figures do not tell the whole story, but they are troubling enough to force the government to seriously consider this important issue. The Liberal government has to explain to workers why it does not want to implement the initiative I am proposing today. But let me warn the government that workers will not give up. The labour minister can rest assured that neither will I.

I would like to talk about some labour disputes that are going on right now and that are really hurting the people. There is the dispute at Videotron. Things are really bad there. We know that a negotiator was appointed and that some people have been working really hard. It has been six long months now and they still cannot find a middle ground. I do not know how many issues have yet to be resolved.

Videotron workers were relying a lot on this anti-scab legislation. They had hoped that the bill would have been made votable, but unfortunately, that has not been the case.

If we could have voted for this bill, we would have given some support to these workers by ensuring that they could negotiate on a more equal footing.

This bill protects not only the employees, but also the negotiations. That is how I see it. It protects the negotiations. It ensures that people sit down and come to an agreement more quickly.

With the employees and the employer on a more equal footing, it is a lot easier to go back to work after a few days of strike or negotiations. People are much happier to go back to work, after negotiating an agreement that is good for the workers and good for the employer. It does not force the employer to agree to some kind of increase or anything like that, but it does force him to sit down more quickly at the bargaining table and find a middle ground.

A more equal footing ensures quicker negotiations and a better climate afterwards, when work resumes. Without such a footing, how do you think the workers at Videotron or Secur--which is another company whose workers went on strike for several months and were offered pay cuts--reacted? The workers had no bargaining power. They went back to work. Do you think they were happy to go back to work the following morning? Not at all. But they had to because they and their employer were not on a level playing field.

It is far from over. I have the feeling that in the years to come the number of labour disputes will increase, because more and more collective agreements will have to be renewed. We have reached the point where we need to negotiate new agreements. After 10, 15 or 20 years of big profit business, some corporations now have to sit down with their employees and negotiate. Other companies have run into trouble and now have to open their books and renegotiate with their employees.

It has happened in Quebec. This is something the unions have had to face on a regular basis. They have come to some agreements. Workers have even invested to save their companies. That is the spirit we need. It is a very responsible attitude, but we must be able to provide these workers with the tools they need to make it through and eventually succeed.

I would like to talk about another company that is important to me. For us here in the House, it may not seem important, but for me and for others as well, it is extremely important. I am talking about Cargill. Employees have been on strike for about 30 months now. Some 40 or so employees—just a small group of employees, but they are employees with specialized skills—have been on the street for 30 months. The company even had the gall to put up a fence, so its people would not have to see them picketing on the street out front.

When the situation comes to something like this, it is because somewhere, someone has not done their homework. It means that people do not have the tools they need to get to the table and to negotiate an agreement. Right now, the employer has no willingness to negotiate a settlement; none whatsoever. So, for three years now, these employees have been out on the street, with no income, in Baie-Comeau, where it is not easy to find work with another company or in a specialized area.

If we do not act now, the problems will extend beyond Cargill, Vidéotron and Sécur; there will be problems across Canada. It is even more maddening to experience these problems in Quebec, because we have anti-scab legislation. What is more, in Quebec, the labour code protects employer-employee negotiations. However, workers who are under the Canada Labour Code are out of luck and are not looked after by their government.

There will be a debate. We will continue to discuss it here in the House. I hope that all parties will take part and make a contribution to the legislation. I will end on that. Since 1989, we have been talking about this here, I could quote all the speeches. I have the names of members from all of the parties in the House who have introduced anti-scab bills. Even the Liberal Party has voted for such a bill.

I eagerly await comments from my colleagues, and I will come back to complete my comments during the five minutes I have left.

Canada Labour CodePrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

Bramalea—Gore—Malton—Springdale Ontario

Liberal

Gurbax Malhi LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Labour

Mr. Speaker, I welcome the opportunity to participate in the debate on this important question of labour policy.

Bill C-224 seeks to amend the Canada Labour Code and more specifically part I of the code dealing with labour-management relations. As members will recall, there are three parts to the Canada Labour Code. Part I deals with labour relations issues, part II deals with workplace safety issues, and part III deals with workplace standards. The proposal to prohibit employers from hiring replacement workers pertains to part I of the code.

It was not that long ago that the Government of Canada went through a lengthy period of consultation with stakeholders in the labour community, including representatives of both employers and employees, prior to introducing amendments to part I that were debated and passed by the House.

The issue of replacement workers was considered carefully at that time, both through consultation and debate in the House. During the public consultation process it became clear there were two opposing positions being taken on the issue of replacement workers. Some thought there should be a general prohibition on the use of replacement workers during strikes or lockouts. The opposing view was that there should be no prohibition on the use of replacements.

The government sought to find a balance between these two positions. It proposed an amendment to part I of the Canada Labour Code to prohibit employers from hiring replacement workers if that action would harm the legitimate bargaining objectives of the unions. It was not to be a complete ban on replacement workers, but at the same time it would not allow employers to bring in replacement workers to prevent the union's legitimate bargaining objectives. That amendment was passed by the House as part of a package of reforms to the Canada Labour Code and came into effect in 1999.

There are still opposing points of view on the issue. Bill C-224 reflects one of these points of view but there remains two sides to the issue. One difference lies with being part of the government or being in opposition. An opposition member can afford to promote a particular point of view, but the government must take a stance with a broad perspective and act in the overall national interest.

That is what the government did when the matter was before the House earlier and that is what it would do now. I do not mean to dismiss the concerns raised by the member opposite. Indeed, we recognize she is representing a valid point of view that is held by particular interests.

We believe part I of the Canada Labour Code is able to deal fairly with the issue of replacement workers in the federal jurisdiction by accommodating the competing values and interests of employers, unions and employees.

I will explain how the existing legislation brings a balanced approach to the issue. The law that came into effect in 1999 did not impose a general prohibition on the use of replacement workers during a legal work stoppage. However, the law did prohibit the use of replacement workers for the demonstrated purpose of lessening a union's representational capacity rather than the pursuit of legitimate bargaining objectives. Such action could be described as an unfair labour practice.

If a union or employee organization believes an employer is involved in unfair labour practices, as just described, it has the option of filing a complaint with the Canada Industrial Relations Board. The board is an independent quasi-judicial tribunal responsible for the interpretation and administration of part I, and certain provisions of part II, of the Canada Labour Code. Its members include representatives from employer, union and independent third party groups.

If employees governed by the Canada Labour Code dispute the motives of an employer in using replacement workers they have the choice to go to the Canadian Industrial Relations Board which has the expertise and the mandate to deal with labour relations issues. It is the board's responsibility to determine the underlying causes of disputes and to help find agreement among the parties. In practice however, the Board receives few complaints of unfair labour practices under the replacement workers category.

How much of a problem is this? As a practical matter most federally regulated employers do not hire replacement workers during work stoppages. Instead, they reassign management or other non-bargaining unit personnel.

A recent study entitled “Impacts of Strike Replacement Bans in Canada” raised some questions about the conventional thinking concerning the relationship between a ban on replacement workers and the length and number of strikes. For example, the researchers discovered that a prohibition on replacement workers was associated with more frequent and longer strikes. These findings contradicted the perception that the absence of a provision in the Canada Labour Code for an outright ban on the use of replacement workers contributed to an increase in the number and duration of work stoppages. The study underlined the complex nature of this question.

The government believes the balanced approach that is set out in part I of the Canada Labour Code is the best way to deal with the issue in the federal jurisdiction. We do not see any compelling reason to change the law now.

Canada Labour CodePrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jim Gouk Canadian Alliance Kootenay—Boundary—Okanagan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am sure a couple of people are waiting to hear exactly what I am going to say on this. I see the grins starting already.

I will say at the start that I personally have a problem with the concept of replacement workers. I have said this publicly before.

However, rather than look at that, I want to look at the bigger problem. Replacement workers are a problem created inside a bigger problem. What is the bigger problem? The bigger problem is that in collective bargaining we end up in a situation where people are out of work when they are on strike.

If people are on strike, collective bargaining has failed. I have had people say that if I am against strikes I am against collective bargaining. Strikes are not part of collective bargaining. Strikes are the result of the failure of collective bargaining.

The Bloc member who brought the bill forward today said in her speech that Quebec has made great improvements by bringing in legislation to ban replacement workers. However, the average strike time is 27 days; that is 27 days that workers are without their wages.

I know a lot of people working at regular jobs who sometimes find themselves, particularly in the high cost years of starting out with their family, dealing with a mortgage, a car loan, the costs associated with young children and many other costs, being as little as a paycheque away from bankruptcy. If they lose one paycheque they start missing payments. In 27 days they are missing more than a paycheque. Yes, it is a problem for them if the company hires someone to replace them on the job but the bigger problem is that they are losing 27 days of wages which they cannot afford to lose.

In terms of replacement workers, two particular points are important. There are a lot of jobs that theoretically this would be addressed to if we were to put this in where replacement workers cannot be used because of the high technological nature of the job. It is not possible to go out and get people to come in for the short term and take over those jobs. There are situations where it can and is done, but there are a whole lot of jobs where it simply cannot be done.

The other side of that is that we have to look at the trade-off in terms of replacement workers. What is the other side of replacement workers? In terms of replacement workers it is a situation where a company hires someone to replace the striking worker.

I had an interesting situation in my own riding where a union newspaper went on strike for a long time. Replacement workers were not used but employees were on strike for a long time. Basically the employer was not even talking with the strikers.

At some point, because of the problem, as I have said, where people needed an income, these union workers started their own paper. They now have an employee operated paper where the very people who were on strike, and technically are still to this day on strike, and it has been years, now operate what would be a competing paper if in fact the original paper even ran. The original paper shut down and, for all intents and purposes, ceased to exist. Although technically it is still there on the books and they are still legally on strike, the workers have gone to work. That is the other side of replacement workers. They replaced the employer.

If we want to be truly realistic and fair, and I say this totally theoretically, and ban the ability of a company to hire replacement workers, although I do not endorse having replacement workers go in, we must also give those striking workers the ability to replace the company. It seems far-fetched but it is a direct correlation.

We can look at the other things that happen in terms of strikes. I have already mentioned the loss of wages. There is the loss of business income for the company which, in some cases, results in the company ceasing its operation. The workers would no longer on strike, they would simply be unemployed. There is harm to third parties.

In the early days of strikes, in a less complicated world when trade unions first came into the country in the 1800s, it was an economic tug of war between the employer and the employee. It was a question of who could do without the money longest; the employees for wages or the company for its revenues. There was certainly some collateral damage, particularly if it were a company town, but generally speaking it was related directly to those workers in that particular factory or business, or whatever it happened to be.

However, in this global economy, for example, when a relatively small group of people go on strike at the port of Vancouver, prairie grain farmers thousands of miles away could lose their farms if that strike goes on long enough.

When air traffic controllers, who are a relative handful of people in the grand scheme of things, go on strike the transportation of goods and people ceases. Therefore there is incredible third party damage to people who are not even a party to the negotiations.

I accept the sincerity of the member who brought the bill forward and her genuine concern about the people who are impacted by strikes but I think we need look at a bigger picture.

Strikes and lockouts have been the dispute settlement mechanism that has been used since trade unionism and collective bargaining started in this country, as I say, back in the 1800s.

A lot of things have changed. In those days if people wanted to go on strike or be in charge of a strike they had to be strong. They had to defend themselves against goons hired by the company who came out with clubs and beat people into submission. Those things have changed. The education of the union leaders has changed.

Everything about how it is done has changed; the adding in of mediators, conciliators and these types of things. However we have never changed the most fundamental aspect of disputes and that is the dispute settlement mechanism.

We need to look at alternatives. Like everything else, we do not wait until we have a perfect solution to try to make a change.

I and my party very much favour the concept of going to a mechanism, for example, like final offer arbitration. I talked to the labour critic for the NDP who said that yes, it is good in certain circumstances but that it does not work in all circumstances. Nothing does.

The member from the Bloc said that we need to have civilized bargaining, that we need to get people talking and working together. I absolutely agree. The fundamental concept behind final offer arbitration is that we ultimately have each side take a final position. We can set out all kinds of parameters that must be followed in terms of the arbitrator who makes the final decision. We can lay it out in fine detail in terms of looking at corporate share profit, the economy and comparative jobs in other industries. All kinds of things can be put into the mechanism before it is even set up.

However, ultimately each side knows if they are being unrealistic. Let us say on wages that a $2 raise is what would be reasonable if all the factors were weighed. The union says that it wants $3 and the company says that because times are tough it wants a $1 cut. That is unreasonable if the realistic benchmark is $2.The workers will get $1 more and the company knows that.

Consequently, the company can determine just as easily as the union can what the reasonable benchmark is. It may try to cut it but it will try to come close enough to it that the union cannot come in above it, win and have its demands prevail. What often happens in these cases is that the two end up so close together they often settle.

This is something I feel very strong about. I could go on for a long time but I see my time is up. I appreciate the intent the hon. member had in bringing the bill forward. I sympathize with the situation but I think that if we start putting band-aids on labour problems we will divert ourselves from focusing on the real problem that we need to come up with a way where workers do not lose any money, never mind 27 days on average.

Canada Labour CodePrivate Members' Business

6:20 p.m.

NDP

Bill Blaikie NDP Winnipeg—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to support the motion and Bill C-224, whose purpose is to create anti-strikebreaking legislation. This is a policy of the New Democratic Party. I am sure that I speak for all my colleagues when I say that I hope one day our country will be as progressive as the Province of Quebec with respect to our labour code.

The Canada Labour Code already has a section on this, but it is quite weak. There is a great need for a much stronger section in order to ban replacement workers.

I want to congratulate the hon. member from the Bloc for bringing forward this private member's motion. This is the kind of motion which over the years has been brought forward by NDP and Bloc members of Parliament. The member stands in a great tradition of persisting in trying to get various Liberal and Conservative governments to bring forward anti-scab legislation in the federal domain. I am talking about real anti-scab legislation, not the kind that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Labour sang the praises of earlier, which we know is not really anti-scab legislation.

It does not pertain to the kind of situation in which we want anti-scab legislation, that is to say an actual strike or lockout. As I understand the current article, it only pertains to whether or not a company is using it to undermine the union rather than the various other and more important ways that it can be used, and that has to be prevented.

As recently as yesterday, the president of the Canadian Labour Congress, Ken Georgetti, urged the federal government and MPs to support Bill C-224. He said:

In this matter, the federal jurisdiction is definitely outdated and backward compared to Quebec and British Columbia. The experience in both provinces has shown, without a doubt, that the express prohibition on hiring strike breakers has contributed immensely to civilized industrial relations during work stoppages on top of reducing significantly the statistics on work days lost to strike or lock-out.

Sometimes we forget that if we do things right it actually would have the appropriate consequences. I would want to take issue with those who would argue otherwise.

I was listening to my colleague from the Alliance. I heard an argument which I have heard elsewhere and which I find not to be correct, that is, that things have changed, that we do not need these kinds of laws now because everything is so much nicer, and that we do not have strikebreakers any more, or people who are on strike do not have to worry about goons or thugs. In some cases, the goons and thugs are the scabs themselves. They are actually hired for the purpose of treating striking workers in a particularly physically intimidating or violent way.

It was not so long ago I believe, in Ontario, at a strike which might have been in Chatham, where a striking worker was seriously injured by someone who drove a vehicle through the picket line. To suggest that somehow violence does not occur any more and that we have reached some new harmonious state of labour management relations in the country, or relationships between striking workers and other workers and people who are hired for the purpose of providing scab labour, is not true. I wish it was true but I do not think it is true. That is why we need this kind of legislation.

I have always felt particularly frustrated whenever I had occasion to visit picket lines in my riding where people have been on strike for weeks, months and sometimes years, and replacement workers had long since settled in. These people would walk up and down knowing that the work that they used to do was being done by someone else.

It seems to me that unless we can guarantee that these workers cannot be put in this kind of position we are forever guaranteeing something else, that is, if management is mean enough and nasty enough it will always win when it comes to a strike or a lockout situation. I say mean and nasty enough because sometimes management is not that way and does seek to go back to the table. However, the absence of anti-scab legislation really does create a situation in which the meanest and the nastiest can prevail if it wants to. That is not a good situation.

Not surprisingly, this often happens to me, I guess as a result of having been here so long, and I find that when issues like this come up I check the record and discover that I made a speech on this in 1995 or 1987 or 1983 when a previous private member's motion or bill was up or when we were debating back to work legislation and all the other occasions we have had in this place to debate the need for improvement to labour legislation in this country.

One of the arguments I tend to make, and I want to make it today, is that I always find that these debates illustrate a kind of philosophical gap between how we interpret the actions of working people and how we interpret the actions of people with money, or the owners, if we like. I hear members talk in situations when there are strikes of small businessmen or farmers or others being held hostage by longshoremen or railway workers or whatever the case may be. I sympathize with the situations that people find themselves in, but I wonder why we do not have the same sense of offence when a small number of money speculators holds a whole country to ransom.

Why is it that when the powerful exercise their economic freedom and say that unless they get what they want they are not going to behave in the economy the way they normally do, why is that when they do that, we say “that's the way the cookie crumbles” or that is the way the market works or that is the way business operates? If money speculators say they are not getting high enough interest rates out of Canada so they are going to undermine our economy, we say that is a reality we have to adjust to. But when working people say they are not getting paid enough and they are not going to work until they do get paid enough, we ask them to take into account the effect they are having on other people. We ask them to have a moral consciousness when it comes to their economic behaviour.

I like that argument. I think we all should have a moral consciousness when it comes to our economic behaviour and ask ourselves questions about what the consequences are for other people of particular economic decisions. But I always find it odd that it is striking workers who are asked to consider the welfare of the whole country, that are asked to consider the effect of their strike on a particular sector of the economy or on Canada's exports or whatever the case may be. When a business or corporation says the same thing, when it says that it has to do something because its shareholders demand it or its quarterly profit margins demand it or the money markets demand it, its economic self-interest is regarded as sacred. Yet the economic self-interest of workers is held in a different category. Often, it is held in contempt.

I have always found these kinds of debates to be interesting in that regard. I long for the day when all of us, worker and owner, corporation and union, everyone, will have to answer for how their economic behaviour affects the overall well-being of the economy in the country. But in the meantime, I will not settle for a universe in which we have this double standard, where workers are asked to behave in a particular way while people with the money, the power and the ownership can act in an opposite way and everyone regards that as perfectly normal.

Canada Labour CodePrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Norman E. Doyle Progressive Conservative St. John's East, NL

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to say a few words on Bill C-224, an act to amend the Canada Labour Code. The purpose of the enactment is to prohibit employers from hiring replacement workers.

I support the bill. I have looked at the whole bill. It is not lengthy or complicated. Clause 2 of the bill would replace subsection 94(2.1) of the Canada Labour Code.

New subsection 94(2.1) says that an employer cannot directly or indirectly employ people to do the work of the people who are withdrawing their services. That sounds reasonable to me.

New subsection 94(2.2) would give an employer the right to take measures to avoid destruction of his property. That sounds reasonable as well.

New subsection 94(2.3) would limit the ability of the employer to abuse the rights he has been given under subsection 94(2.2). Again that sounds very reasonable.

New subsections 94(2.4), (2.5) and (2.6) would give the Minister of Labour the tools to investigate breaches of the act. That sounds reasonable again.

Finally, clause 3 of the bill would amend section 100 of the Canada Labour Code to provide a fine for the people found guilty of breaches of the act.

These are all reasonable clauses that should help employees and employers in their efforts to resolve differences in a very professional and rational manner.

As I said, I support the bill. I have long been a supporter of the fundamental right to strike. I have always been very reluctant to place any undue restrictions on an individual's right to strike. Bill C-224 is a way of making the right to strike more effective once a withdrawal of service becomes a reality.

All of us have seen many withdrawals of services in our lifetime. Some have been easygoing and friendly; others have become very loud and bitter. However in every case whenever replacement workers have been brought in, it has always made matters a whole lot worse. It has always raised the temperature of the people on the picket line. We all know what results when those things happen.

When people have been out on a dirty old picket line for days in the rain or snow, the sight of replacement workers being bused in is often too much for them to take. In that event we see that shouts replace dialogue and very often push comes to shove. Implementing Bill C-224 would reduce the acrimony and violence on the picket line.

Very often management will do as much as it can to replace workers who have gone out on strike. That is fair. Management is allowed to do that. It is allowed to keep the company operating if it can. However when the people in management start hiring people to help them, such as their friends, their neighbours and replacement workers, then we are talking about a different kettle of fish. This is where the acrimony and violence develops on picket lines.

A strike is about withdrawing one's services. It is not about having one's services replaced by people who have absolutely no right to be there.

We have to remember as well that life has to go on after the strike is over. Things get back to normal more quickly if there are no nasty incidents and no violence on the picket lines. Doing things professionally and rationally is in the best interests of both management and labour.

I support the bill. I hope it will help in reducing the incidence of violence and acrimony on the picket line.