House of Commons Hansard #93 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was workers.


Points of OrderRoutine Proceedings

3:10 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

John Reynolds Canadian Alliance West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast, BC

Mr. Speaker, I do not normally intervene in these matters. However, since I do sit on that committee that is looking at this legislation, I would like to support the right hon. member from Calgary on this issue. My party, with the support of his party, the support of the Bloc, and the support of the NDP, moved to invite all the presidents of all the parties to this committee and it was voted down, with every Liberal voting against it. Every Liberal was brought in there to stuff the committee with members who had never been on a committee before. They got rid of the guys who might have voted for it.

We could go on and on in this debate, but it is obvious the Liberals do not want the president of their party here. We would love to have him here and I actually sent him a letter this afternoon inviting him to come.

Points of OrderRoutine Proceedings

3:20 p.m.


Stan Keyes Liberal Hamilton West, ON

Mr. Speaker, maybe on a more serious note, because I cannot help but notice some kind of Cheshire cat grins on both the right hon. leader of the Conservative Party and the member from the Alliance, quite obviously they are taking--

Points of OrderRoutine Proceedings

3:20 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh.

Points of OrderRoutine Proceedings

3:20 p.m.


Stan Keyes Liberal Hamilton West, ON

This is a noisy place.

They are taking their information from a newspaper article that was quite incomplete and, in fact, not very well researched.

Let us go back to the committee itself. I have been monitoring the committee with great interest. As the national caucus chair--

Points of OrderRoutine Proceedings

3:20 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Vic Toews Canadian Alliance Provencher, MB

I bet.

Points of OrderRoutine Proceedings

3:20 p.m.


Stan Keyes Liberal Hamilton West, ON

Maybe members would want to hear this first. As the national caucus chair I am also our caucus representative on the national executive which just met on the weekend.

It was clear in committee that the request was made not to the parties but to the leaders of the parties, specifically the Prime Minister and the leaders of the opposition parties. Those requests went out and those leaders made their decisions on who would represent them in committee.

Subsequent to that, there has been a discussion in committee, which will carry on in short order and be brought back to the table after some careful consideration, some thought, and some phone calls to see if these witnesses are available. Many of the witnesses that the committee had hoped to have are not appearing for one reason or another, and we want to ensure that if the invitations go out that certainly these individuals would be available.

It is my understanding that the president of the Liberal Party of Canada will make himself available at a moment's notice to come before the committee if it so desires.

Points of OrderRoutine Proceedings

3:20 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Joe Clark Progressive Conservative Calgary Centre, AB

Will he be allowed to speak?

Points of OrderRoutine Proceedings

3:20 p.m.


Stan Keyes Liberal Hamilton West, ON

The right hon. member for the Conservative Party asks if he will be allowed to speak. Yes, he will be allowed to speak. Last weekend a resolution was passed at the party level. The first part of that serious resolution reads:

The National Executive of the Liberal Party of Canada affirms its support for the stated objectives of Bill C-24, advancement of transparency and increase in public confidence in the political process.

The president of the party voted for that resolution, in other words, endorsing the principles of Bill C-24. He would be more than happy to come.

Points of OrderRoutine Proceedings

3:20 p.m.

The Speaker

The Chair has heard all the arguments advanced. I have heard more than enough on this point, with great respect to the hon. deputy government whip, who I know wants to intervene.

There is a limit to how much we can hear on a point of order that in my view is not well taken. It was very interesting to hear the member for West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast suggest that some committee had been stuffed. I am not sure that is parliamentary.

The right hon. member for Calgary Centre has raised a point of order that he made in a very serious tone, but which I think he knows is perhaps of interest as a newspaper story and not of relevance in democratic or procedural terms in the House. He is aware, as well as every other hon. member, that committees are masters of their own procedure.

Committees have the power to send for persons, papers and records. There is an excellent treatise on this subject written by the hon. member for Scarborough—Rouge River which explains the power of committees to summon witnesses.

Whoever the Prime Minister may choose or not choose to send to committee, according to this newspaper article, and I appreciate the hon. member for Hamilton West's assistance on this matter, does not matter. The committee can choose whomever it wants. The committee, being master of its own procedure, can do what it likes. It can choose whatever witness it wants and can enforce attendance should it choose to do so. It can request the assistance of the House in compelling the attendance of a witness.

I invite the right hon. member to have another look at the book written on this very subject by the hon. member for Scarborough—Rouge River. It is extremely clarifying on the issue. It might even assist the hon. member for West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast to understand something of the composition of committees and how they get appointed rather than stuffed. I am sure he would appreciate that assistance as would all hon. members.

While on the subject, I am sure it is one that we could go on at length this afternoon. I think it is not a well taken point of order. We can proceed with another matter.

Points of OrderRoutine Proceedings

3:20 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Joe Clark Progressive Conservative Calgary Centre, AB

Mr. Speaker, do I then take it that this incident, in your judgment, falls outside the exception that you referred to in your judgment of April 7?

Points of OrderRoutine Proceedings

3:20 p.m.

The Speaker

At the moment far outside, the right hon. member is absolutely correct.

PrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

3:25 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Garry Breitkreuz Canadian Alliance Yorkton—Melville, SK

Mr. Speaker, I am rising on a question of privilege. I have been waiting since April 14 for the House to reconvene so I could raise this important question of privilege. I just returned to Ottawa with committee duties that I was engaged in and this is the first opportunity I have to bring this matter to the attention of the House.

Section 2 of the Firearms Act defines “Federal Minister” as the Minister of Justice. In 1995 members of the House voted five times on Bill C-68. It was Parliament's clearly stated intent that the Firearms Act be administered by the minister of justice, not the solicitor general.

Imagine my shock on April 14 of this year when the Minister of Justice and the Solicitor General issued a news release saying that the federal minister responsible for the Firearms Act would no longer be the Minister of Justice but that it would now be the Solicitor General of Canada. If true, they amended an act of Parliament without coming back to Parliament to ask for our approval of the amendment. How could they possibly have such contempt for Parliament? Even the fact that the Prime Minister's Office waited until the House of Commons was just starting its two week Easter recess to make this change was insulting. Did they really think we would forget about it over the two week break?

I asked the lawyers in the Library of Parliament, parliamentary research branch, this question. How did they transfer the firearms program without getting it approved by the House of Commons? The law and government division responded as follows:

Further to your e-mail dated 15th of April, 2003, the transfer of responsibility of the Canadian Firearms Centre was accomplished by means of an Order in Council. This O-I-C was enacted pursuant to the Public Service Rearrangement and Transfer of Duties Act. The transfer took effect on the 14 April, 2003.

The research branch provided a link to the specific order in council posted on the Privy Council Office website. The order in council registration number SI/2003-96, dated Friday, April 11, 2003, states:

Her Excellency the Governor General in Council, on the recommendation of the Prime Minister, pursuant to paragraph 2(a) of the Public Service Rearrangement and Transfer of Duties Act, hereby:

(a) transfers from the Minister of Justice to the Solicitor General of Canada the control and supervision of the portion of the public service known as the Canadian Firearms Centre over which the Solicitor General of Canada shall preside, and

(b) transfers from the Minister of Justice, who is defined as the federal minister in the Firearms Act, to the Solicitor General of Canada the powers, duties and functions of the federal minister under the Firearms Act.

effective April 14, 2003.

We did get some advance warning that the PMO might try to use, or one might say abuse, the Public Service Rearrangement and Transfer of Duties Act to make this amendment to the Firearms Act without giving MPs a chance to debate and vote on the amendment.

On the day the justice minister announced his action plan for the firearms program, justice department bureaucrats were overheard saying that they did not have to come back to Parliament to change the definition of federal minister.

Based on this obvious disrespect for what is clearly stated in an act of Parliament, I asked the parliamentary research branch again to investigate how it would be possible for the government to use a subordinate act of Parliament, originally passed in 1918, to override a specific section of the Firearms Act passed after nine separate votes of Parliament in 1995.

On March 14, 2003, the law and government division of the parliamentary research branch wrote the following answer:

It is unclear if the statute of general application can be used to re-define the Minister responsible in statutes of specific application such as the Royal Canadian Mint Act. The issue becomes more acute when the statute as set out in Justice Canada's website defines the Minister as one person but, in reality, that Minister is someone else entirely.

A subsequent paper, written by the law and government division of the parliamentary research branch, dated March 20, 2003 states:

Ministers in Canada have most of their responsibilities assigned by statute. Despite the broad language and the PSRTDA [Public Service Rearrangement and Transfer of Duties Act], any transfer of responsibilities made by the PSRTDA remains a subordinate legislation.This may explain why the PSRTDA was given a fairly restricted interpretation, at least until the major reorganizations of federal departments in 1993. It is presumed that regulatory provisions, such as Orders in Council under the PSRTDA, are meant to work together, not only with their own enabling legislation, but also with other Acts and other regulations as well. In so far as possible, the courts seek to avoid conflict between statutory and regulatory provisions and to give effect to both...

On the one hand, any argument limiting the [Where conflict is unavoidable, however, the statute provision prevails], scope of a PSRTDA order based on the superior nature of the statute conferring the power in question could, potentially, eviscerate the PSRTDA and the ambit of its operation. On the other hand, to go to the other extreme by completely emasculate the supremacy of Parliament to legislate who has responsibility of administering its enactments.

The latter interpretation is the position I take in this question of privilege and the one the Speaker must resolve before allowing this amendment to the Firearms Act to take place without any debate or a vote by members of the House.

When the courts are confused by the wording of legislation, they often go back to the debates of the legislation to determine what the original intent of the legislation was. Even a cursory review of the debates of Bill C-68 will show that both the government and Parliament clearly intended that the federal minister in the Firearms Act would be the Minister of Justice and no one else.

I cannot find one reference in any of the debates or the testimony before the Standing Committee on Justice that suggested that any minister other than the Minister of Justice would be or should be responsible for the Firearms Act.

The House of Commons voted on Bill C-68, An Act respecting firearms and other weapons, on five occasions: second reading, report stage, third reading and two time allocation motions.

On June 7, 1995, the Standing Committee on Justice and Legal Affairs reported Bill C-68 back to the House with amendments, but the definition of federal minister was not one of the amendments proposed. The Senate also held extensive committee hearings, reported the bill back with 14 amendments and had four votes on Bill C-68. No one ever disputed or debated the question of who the federal minister should be, and on December 5, 1995, Bill C-68 was proclaimed into law. After months of debate, extensive committee hearings in both the House and Senate and nine parliamentary votes, the clear intent of Parliament was that the federal minister would be the Minister of Justice.

It is my position that a subordinate act of Parliament should not be used to subvert the clear intent of Parliament in a statute of specific application and if the government has valid reasons for wanting to transfer responsibility for the Firearms Act to the Solicitor General, then it should bring such an amendment before the House for full debate and a vote.

The powers of the federal minister are extensive and are described in Firearms Act sections 2, 7, 82, 95, 97, 118 and 119 and the Criminal Code sections 103 and 104. The federal minister's powers include: prosecuting Criminal Code offences for the illegal import or export of firearms or ammunition; laying regulations before each House of Parliament; entering into federal-provincial compensation agreements; approving firearms safety courses; prescribing forms and designating chief firearms officers and firearms officers for provinces and territories.

These are important legal responsibilities approved by Parliament and the decision concerning which minister will carry out these duties in the future should have been debated in the House before being amended. Under section 118 of the Firearms Act, regulations are to be laid before each House of Parliament. How can the government propose such a major amendment to the Firearms Act, the definition of the federal minister responsible, without extending the same courtesy to Parliament?

My privileges have been breached and the government has shown contempt for the House by trying to amend the Firearms Act through the back door by order in council.

Clearly, it was Parliament's intent that the Firearms Act be administered by the Minister of Justice, not the Solicitor General. The Minister of Justice has discharged these responsibilities under the Firearms Act for more than seven years. Why is it necessary to change ministerial responsibility now after so many years? What can the Solicitor General do better than the three justice ministers have done? Clearly, these are questions requiring full debate in the House of Commons.

Why is the government amending an act of Parliament without giving Parliament the opportunity to debate and vote for or against the amendment? Why does the government have such contempt for what is clearly stated in an act of Parliament passed by the House? The lawyers in the Library of Parliament stated:

It is unclear if this statute of general application can be used to re-define the Minister responsible in statutes of specific application...

I ask the Speaker to clarify this important issue for Parliament.

In the House of Commons Debates for April 29, 1971, Speaker Lamoureux stated:

In my view, parliamentary privilege does not go much beyond the right of free speech in the House of Commons and the right of a member to discharge his or her duties in the House as a member of the House of Commons.

One of the most important duties is to represent my constituents in the House and to vote on their behalf. The government's actions have prevented me from debating and voting on an important amendment to a bill that is very important to them. The government's actions have directly impeded my work as a member of Parliament.

Joseph Maingot's “Parliamentary Privilege in Canada”, second edition provides “A practical definition” of parliamentary privilege on page 13, which states:

If someone improperly interferes with the parliamentary work of a Member of Parliament--i.e. any of the Member's activities that have a connection with the proceeding in Parliament--in such a case that is a matter involving parliamentary privilege. An offence against the authority of the House constitutes contempt.

I believe the Prime Minister's order in council registration number SI/2003-0096 dated Friday, April 11, 2003 has improperly interfered with my parliamentary work as a member of Parliament and has also undermined the authority of the House.

I believe changing the definition of federal minister in the Firearms Act from the Minister of Justice to the Solicitor General by order in council using the Public Service Rearrangement and Transfer of Duties Act rather than bringing the proper amendment before the House undermines the supremacy of Parliament and constitutes a prima facie breach of privilege. Mr. Speaker, if you agree, I am prepared to move the appropriate motion and appreciate your attention to this matter.

PrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

3:35 p.m.

Halifax West Nova Scotia


Geoff Regan LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to respond to this question of privilege that has been raised. It is certainly a creative attempt on behalf of my hon. colleague.

First, we know that there has certainly been considerable discussion in the House about the change of duties from one minister to another in relation to the Firearms Act and responsibility for it. We also know that the Public Service Rearrangement and Transfer of Duties Act does provide in fact that such a transfer can be made by order in council. It is provided for in law. The House has considered the Public Service Rearrangement and Transfer of Duties Act obviously. It has passed that act and given that power to the governor in council to make those changes. Therefore, it is clearly not a question of contempt.

Nevertheless, as usual, the government has had no notice of this question of privilege and I would like to reserve the opportunity to come back at a later time to make further submissions, if need be.

PrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

3:40 p.m.

The Speaker

The Chair will take the matter under advisement and provide time for the hon. parliamentary secretary to make further submissions on the point.

The House resumed consideration of the motion.

SupplyGovernment Orders

May 1st, 2003 / 3:40 p.m.


Gilles-A. Perron Bloc Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to the motion introduced in the House by my charming colleague the member for Laurentides, who is asking that we recognize the urgency of amending the Canada Labour Code to ban the use of strike breakers whom I will call scabs during my speech since I believe that this word is much more telling than strike breakers.

I am doubly pleased to speak today since it is May 1, International Workers Day. Mr. Speaker, I know that you are tolerant and that you will allow me on this day to pay tribute to workers in my riding, Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, in Quebec and in the other provinces of this country as well as to workers around the globe.

Today we are debating a bill that concerns them directly. Before I start making a list of all its benefits or debating why the use of scabs should be banned by the Canada Labour Code, I would like to briefly review the history of the work done in Quebec.

This history starts before a major turning point that occurred in Quebec in 1977. Let us remember the disputes that took place in Asbestos where the likes of Trudeau, Marchand, Hébert, Michel Chartrand and others sided up with workers who were fighting against scabs who were doing their jobs in the Asbestos mine.

I remember very little of this event because I was very young. My colleague, the member for Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, does not really believe how old I was then, but yes I was quite young. But having seen reports of the dispute on television, I remember how it divided even the clergy. Half of them were in favour of businesses and the other half in favour of workers. This dispute divided families. Even today, there are still scars from this dispute involving scabs and illegal workers from one company.

Remember the dispute at Wabasso in Trois-Rivières in the late 1940s and early 1950s. The same thing happened there. The provincial police got involved; there was some arm twisting; strong harm tactics were used against workers; scabs were brought in to replace employees who were fighting for their way of thinking, for their jobs.

Let us remember the dispute at the Noranda mine, in my hometown, in the early 1950s. Things got really rough there. Strikers threw stones, and scabs threw nails and pellets. Scabs even splashed strikers with gasoline and set them ablaze. One of my uncles, Joseph-Albert Perron, suffered third-degree burns in that dispute.

Before 1977, labour disputes in Quebec were just horrible. I could mention the disputes at Radio-Canada and at Ogilvie Mills Limited. Do you remember the Ogilvie dispute in Montreal? I could add to that the Murray Hill dispute, and the United Aircraft Corporation dispute, in Longueuil, the company that is now known as Pratt & Whitney. I think that the move to ban the use of scabs in the latter was the last straw for Quebeckers and for the premier of the day, René Lévesque. This happened in 1976, the year before the passing of the anti-scab legislation in Quebec.

What did this anti-scab legislation do in Quebec? What kind of result did it produce? Why is the government opposite so afraid of such legislation?

Anti-scab legislation is indispensable to ensure that bargaining in labour disputes will be civilized. It balances the relationship between employers and employees, so that employers do not have all the power, and employees none. Anti-scab legislation promotes industrial peace. Later on, I will use statistics to prove this. It has changed the labour environment in Quebec.

Anti-scab legislation is the cornerstone of balanced bargaining power between employers and employees. Including such provisions in the Canada Labour Code would create one type of worker in Quebec instead of two, namely those who are governed by the Canada Labour Code and those who are governed by the Quebec labour code.

There are many benefits. Earlier, I heard members opposite who are against such legislation say that it would cost money, that it would affect productivity, and so on. This is absolutely false.

Quebec has had its anti-scab legislation since 1977. I could give statistics. I will just give a few because I do not want to overwhelm people with figures.

Between 1992 and 2002, all the disputes under the Quebec Labour Code lasted an average of 15.9 days, compared to 31.1 days for disputes under the Canada Labour Code. That is a difference of 95.6%.

In terms of days lost per employee, for the same period, that is between 1992 and 2002, for disputes falling under the Quebec Labour Code, there were 121.3 days for 1,000 employees, compared to 266.3 days for disputes under the Canada Labour Code. For the benefit of my colleague from Champlain, that is a difference of 119.5%.

You do not need to be a rocket scientist to realize that those who talk about all the time, money and efficiency lost are sticking their heads deep in the sand. It is completely false.

I want to add one more thing. Nobody can criticize the Bloc Quebecois for not believing in the need for anti-scab legislation. Since the Bloc Quebecois has been represented here, in Ottawa, so for the last 12 years, a number of its members have tried to have this legislation passed. The first was my hon. colleague from Bas-Richelieu—Nicolet—Bécancour who introduced Bill C-201 in 1989 or 1990. That is how long we have been working on this issue. We do not give up easily.

Lastly, I want to remind the House once again that we in the Bloc Quebecois are not the only ones who would like to see anti-scab legislation. I have here a list of unionists not only from Quebec, but from all over Canada, who support this motion from the Bloc Quebecois. I hope that everyone in the House will vote in support of the bill introduced by my colleague, the hon. member for Laurentides.

SupplyGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.


Mac Harb Liberal Ottawa Centre, ON

Madam Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to take part in this interesting debate on the motion by the member for Laurentides.

The motion reads as follows:

That this Houserecognize the urgency of amending the Canada Labour Code toban the use of strikebreakers.

As you know, the Canada Labour Code is composed of three parts: the first deals with industrial relations; the second deals with occupational health and safety; and the third deals with standards related to the workplace.

Today's motion calling for a ban on the use of strike breakers concerns Part I of the Canada Labour Code.

You will recall that Part I of the Code was amended in 1999. These amendments, which were passed by the House, came about after a long and thorough review process during which a study was conducted by an independent task force, the Sims Task Force. This group was composed of experts in industrial relations.

What came out of these consultations is that the representatives of the unions and companies directly impacted by the code agreed on a number of major reforms. However, as concerns the use of replacement workers, the positions of the unions and of the employers remained entirely different, and the working group was unable to make recommendations based on consensus.

The government has already implemented most recommendations of the Sims working group. With the new provisions, the use of replacement workers is not prohibited generally, but it is possible to prove that it is an unfair practice in labour relations.

The parties involved in collective bargaining under part I of the code consider the current approach a reasonable compromise.

As you know, the government thinks that this balanced approach is the best way to settle this issue in the context of federal jurisdictions. The government does not see any compelling reason to change the legislation at this time.

Personally, I am quite pleased to address the House on the motion by the hon. member for Laurentides. I encourage her and all my colleagues in the House to nonetheless examine all the ramifications of this motion.

As we all know, the issue of replacement workers can lead to positions that are opposed one way or another. Typically, employers see things one way, and unions have another point of view. There are sometimes diverging views.

That is why we should take a few minutes to consider what the Canadian Labour Code says on this issue. More specifically, let us examine the amendments that were passed in 1999, as I said earlier.

What these amendments achieved was an eminently balanced approach to the issues, an approach that protects the interests of workers and employers during work sabotage. This balanced approach prohibits the use of replacement workers if they are hired to undermine a union representational capacity during the work stoppage, yet it is simultaneously an approach that allows an employer to continue operating. In the event there is a dispute about the use of replacement workers, employees and their representatives can make their case before the Canada Industrial Relations Board.

As my colleagues know, the Canada Industrial Relations Board is an independent third party. It is made up of an equal number of members from both the employer and the employee communities. As well, the board has an independent chairperson.

I want to point out that this board already has the appropriate expertise and mandate to address these labour relations issues. It is incumbent upon the Canada Industrial Relations Board to determine the circumstances underlying the dispute and help the parties reach an agreement.

I also want to talk a little more about some of the other provisions of the current Canada Labour Code concerning replacement workers.

Current legislation contains several provisions regarding practical issues arising from the use of replacement workers. These are the kind of issues that, in the past, led to bitter and endless disputes.

Finally, I also wish to give a very good example of this. Under the provisions of the code, replacement workers are now excluded from the bargaining unit. In practical terms, this means that these workers do not have the right to participate in representation votes to decide whether a recognized bargaining agent should be either replaced or removed, nor in other votes in the collective bargaining process.

As well, no employer can cancel or threaten to cancel medical, dental, disability, life or other insurance plans or deny these benefits to employees who are on strike or in a lockout position.

In addition, during the prolonged work stoppage, no application to change or decertify a union can be made without the independent consent of the Canada Industrial Relations Board. The board, as I stated earlier, is in a sense bipartisan and in a sense is chaired by a person who is not associated with representatives of either the employees or the employers.

Finally, the code recognizes the rights of employees in the bargaining unit to return to their jobs at the end of the work stoppage ahead of any replacement workers. As the hon. member may be aware, in the past an employer could apply to decertify a union after a work stoppage had continued for six months.

Since it was amended, the Canada Labour Code provides that employees have the legitimate right to choose their bargaining agent. The object of this provision is to ensure that work stoppages do not last unduly.

Under this balanced approach, part I of the Canada Labour Code now provides the settlement of disputes through arbitration, in the case of dismissal or disciplinary action taken during a work stoppage.

Altogether, the 1999 amendment to the code adds up to a very balanced package that we believe is the right way to proceed.

Well over 90% of all disputes that arise between employers and employees under the Canada Labour Code are settled without a work stoppage. This fact in itself speaks volumes about how well the code's balanced approach is working.

It would be very helpful to reflect for a moment on just what this legislation means to Canadians. The federal legislation applies to employees and employers under federal jurisdiction. This includes Crown corporations and industries with an interprovincial or international dimension, such as the transportation sectors, the banking sectors and the broadcasting sectors. The Canada Labour Code also applies to many first nations activities.

Employees under the jurisdiction of the Canada Labour Code make up approximately a total of less than 10% of the Canadian workforce. The House is well aware that the provinces each have their own labour legislation. Provincial laws and regulations therefore apply to approximately 90% of Canada's labour force. These various jurisdictions all share the same vision: we want to promote and work toward a fair, safe, healthy, stable, cooperative, productive work environment. We also want to foster a work environment that contributes to the socio-economic well-being of all Canadians.

I believe that the balance struck in the existing provisions of the Canada Labour Code greatly support this vision.

By reaching a fair compromise between the values and interests, which are not easy to reconcile, of employers, unions and employees, part I of the Code touches on the critical issue of replacement workers with logic, balance and respect for all parties.

In fact, the philosophy underlying part I of the Canada Labour Code recognizes the precedence of compromise and negotiation in the resolution of the problems we are facing.

I greatly appreciate that my colleague, the member for Laurentides, has given the House the opportunity to deal with this issue. But, for all the reasons that I have just set out, and for another reason that my colleague knows—a bill has already been presented to the House—I hope that the House will have the opportunity to discuss this issue, which has been brought forward by my colleague—in a straightforward manner.

If the House decides to support this bill, I hope that the appropriate committee of the House of Commons will have the opportunity to examine these issues again, to analyze them in a fair way and to listen once more to representatives from all sides, that is the employees and the employers. This could lead to suggestions that will improve the bill in one way or the other.

I am sure that the government is listening to ensure that it responds positively. You know that, in my riding of Ottawa Centre, we had problems, several times, where employees and employers could not reach an agreement or a positive resolution that was beneficial to one party or the other.

I know that the then Minister of Labour, Alfonso Gagliano, worked extremely hard to ensure that there would be a positive solution in this regard.

Another time, with the new Minister of Labour, another problem was front and centre in the national capital region. We saw how the minister managed to promote a positive dialogue between representatives of management and labour. Once again, we were able to find a solution.

I point this out to show how most problems that may arise at times between employees and employers are solved through mediation, and sometimes through direct or indirect negotiations or arbitration.

So far, we have not seen, at the federal level, problems indicating that the system is not working. We talked about these issues in 1999, when the government asked a task force o study the labour code, to look at the different aspects of this code and to make recommendations to the government to act positively to help employees and industries. Most of these recommendations were included in a bill that was passed by the House.

Even though I know that the intentions are good, this is perhaps not a good time to raise these issues and to adopt these provisions, particularly because the motion before us does not provide details. We would need the appropriate details to take action on this issue. However, perhaps the member's bill will be drafted in such a way that we can look into this issue more closely.

SupplyGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.


Francine Lalonde Bloc Mercier, QC

Madam Speaker, I listened very carefully to the remarks made by the member for Ottawa Centre. I was most disappointed to hear what he said because I do not understand why he is not shocked—let us take Quebec for example—by the fact that disputes under the Quebec labour code are half as long, which means that the number of working days lost is also reduced by half. This can be taken both ways. There surely is a reason for that.

If disputes are twice as long and the number of working days lost per 1,000 is twice as large, there must be a reason. It is not because one group of workers is under federal jurisdiction and the other is under Quebec's jurisdiction. Studies have shown that one of the main reasons is the lack of anti-scab provisions in the Canada Labour Code.

I would like to look a little more closely at the reason for this result. In 1977, when the anti-scab legislation was passed, Pierre-Marc Johnson was labour minister, and I was vice-president of the CSN and one of those who supported the passing of such legislation.

I remember that most employers were strongly opposed to this move at the time. Certain people in political circles had some concerns, but the dispute at United Aircraft had left such a mark on the political and economic landscape in the Montreal area and in the whole province of Quebec that experience and reason led Mr. Johnson to take the risk of making this change to the labour code.

I would like to add something that members may not know. When Premier Bourassa came back to power in 1985, since he was a Liberal, someone who was supposed to favour corporations—at least in those days—, they asked him if he was considering going back to the way things were before. He said, “We now have industrial peace and we will certainly not go back to the way things were”. He was even quoted in Les Affaires . I remember that perfectly well.

Why is this the case? It is normal. What is negotiation? I heard your explanation of how it was settled, but essentially that happens when there is a relationship of strength on both sides and each party has an interest in settling. Every time one party thinks it can win out over the other, through strength alone, the conflict continues. Workers who decide to go on strike penalize themselves; no more wages. There may be a little bit of strike pay, but no wages.

What makes them do this? It is different in the public sector, but in the private the purpose is to stop the employer from making a profit. The effects are felt. This may lead to negotiations. When there is a strike, if the employer is able to decide that production can go on, it is abundantly clear that it will thumb its nose at the strike, continue production and continue to make a profit.

What reaction does this elicit in the workers? My colleague has spoken of violent strikes triggered by this kind of provocation. People are on strike because they are convinced that their demands are justified and make sense, and that the employer should negotiate, not give them everything but negotiate with them, and see their employer carrying on as before, production still continuing. This makes them angry. Sometimes—and we do not approve of this—they do not care about the serious consequences that might result from their actions.

If his company cannot carry on its operations, before heading for a strike, the employer, who has a say in the matter, will take the bargaining more seriously. He will know that, in case of a strike, if he cannot use strike breakers, he will be hard hit by a work stoppage. So, it is quite normal then for disputes not to last as long.

I would love to say that bargaining can usually be resolved at teatime, but that is not how things work out. The employer wants to keep making as much profit as possible. We do not have anything against that, but the workers say, “Not at our expense. He has been making huge profits for the last two or three years, the economy is doing fine, so it is now our turn to get our fair share”.

Frankly, I would say that it would also be good for the economy. It cannot be good for the economy of Quebec or for that of Canada to have employers raking in huge profits while workers are unable to get their fair share and to sustain the economy.

It would also be good for labour peace; it would be in the interest of workers and of labour relations within the company. In fact, when people go back to work after a strike where scabs were used, it takes some time to restore good working relationships and to reach a good level of output. It would also improve our economic well-being. There is nothing better than anti-scab legislation to restore some sense of balance and to achieve harmonious labour relations.

In many cases, I was told that workers and employers had been able to reach an agreement, but I never believed it. The workers had a choice between a package or nothing. They took the package they were offered.

Legislators have other things to do. They must know what is good for society, for workers, for the economy and for businesses. As I said, a prolonged strike and the use of scabs virtually destroy a business. It takes years to rebuild, to create a suitable working environment to promote the level of productivity we are entitled to expect today.

I really would like the House to vote on this issue. It will not happen now, but we will vote on the bill introduced by my colleague from Laurentides. I would remind members that this is the eleventh time the bill has been introduced in this House. Members should not be afraid to support this bill. True enough, similar legislation does not exist in some provinces. So what? Should we adopt the least favourable approach because it does not exist in some provinces, and not follow those which are the most favourable, which have been tested and which have a proven record, as is the case in Quebec?

I hope the issue comes back to the House. We do not talk enough about labour relations. Labour relations are not something magical. They require knowledge of the elements that are in place and in opposition. When these elements are known and recognized, we can developt of labour relations that are productive, desirable socially and conducive to the development of a society where workers do not feel the joke is on them while companies are lining their pockets.

Also, we should not forget that we live in a world that has just witnessed certain scandals, such as Enron, in the United States. It is a world whose faith in the business world has been shattered.

I often go on missions with Canadian parliamentarians who like to say, “Canada does this, Canada does that.” In the field of labour relations, Canada is not at the forefront, on the contrary. And those who are paying the price are the workers and their families, society as a whole, the economy and even businesses.

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4:15 p.m.


Louis Plamondon Bloc Bas-Richelieu—Nicolet—Bécancour, QC

Mr. Speaker, before I begin, I would like to thank the member for Laurentides for introducing this bill and particularly for her thoughtfulness in asking me to talk about it with certain members of the Bloc.

Let us remember that historically, more than 10 years ago, I was the first member not only in Canada, but from the Bloc, to introduce an anti-scab bill in order to amend the Canada Labour Code to ban forever the use of scabs. Members will recall that it was rejected by 18 votes.

Why, in 1987, did I introduce this bill, which was not selected? At the time, there was a sort of lottery. Private members bills were subject to a draw and since mine was not selected, I had to introduce it again in 1989. In 1990, it was debated in the House and voted on.

But why did I introduce it in the first place? Because it was part of a reflection process on ways to prevent bitter strikes like that of the letter carriers in the spring and summer of 1986. Throughout the country, Canada Post Corporation hired scabs, most of them young unemployed individuals, to replace employees who were legally on strike. This made things worse and resulted in tragic scenes of violence. This bill was aimed at countering these measures taken by Canada Post Corporation.

However, 10 years later, we see that it remains a pressing issue because disputes are still taking place, as at Radio-Nord and Cargill. We are still talking about a number of disputes. A few years after the postal strike, there was the well-known dispute at Voyageur that lasted for a long time also. The federal charter therefore encouraged the use of scabs.

These were sad events. It is even more urgent that the federal government provide an instrument to encourage negotiations rather than confrontation. Given all of the talk about the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, I think it is the responsibility of the government to put an end to scenes that violate human dignity and human rights.

This anti-scab legislation being proposed is based on section 97(a) of bill 45, the Act to Amend the Labour Code, introduced on April 29, 1977 by Quebec's minister of labour of the day, Pierre-Marc Johnson.

If you would allow me, Madam Speaker, I would like to go back briefly in time to remind you of some of the arguments given to support the anti-scab provisions that were so talked about 26 years ago. The purpose of these provisions was to help eliminate one of the reasons that some of the conflicts soured, and one of the most obvious sources of frustration and violence during work stoppages.

The history of labour disputes in Canada shows that a systemic imbalance between parties quickly leads to the frustration of one of the parties, if not both, which degenerates into either physical or verbal violence. Given that the Canada Labour Code provides for the right to strike, does it not then follow that this right to strike also be paired with the protection of the job for which it is associated?

Only a small minority of employers use scab workers. However, tolerating the regressive actions of this minority of employers is tantamount to denying the basic right to strike.

It is worth noting that Quebec's legislation has not only limited the number of labour disputes that have led to the use of strikebreakers, but it has also considerably reduced the average length of these disputes despite the fact that scabs were used before. There is, therefore, a reduction in the number of days a dispute lasts and a reduction in the overall number of conflicts. There was a 35% decrease in the years since the legislation was enacted.

The Quebec legislation also minimized the negative impact of labour stoppages on workers and their jobs, in terms of the number of days of work lost to disputes. If a dispute is shorter, there is less probability of violence and exasperation, which causes atmosphere of tension that is not conducive to resolving disputes. When employees return to work, the climate is calmer and the end result is, of course, getting back to work more quickly.

I would like to specify that the current bill would in no way prevent establishing essential services and maintaining business operations, but instead to humanize these essential services.

Like the Quebec government in 1977, the current federal government must introduce a new dimension to labour relations in federal institutions. The goal is not, as some people think, to give more to one side at the expense of the other, but to eliminate, once and for all as best we can using the tools at our disposal, the factors most likely to generate disputes and tension in employer-employee relationships.

Of course, these provisions give precedence, initially, to those exercising their legal right to strike. They protect the workers' dignity, but aim, first and foremost, to limit the unfortunate times when companies decide to hire workers to replace those exercising their legal rights.

By restoring a certain balance between the parties, by forcing them to continue their negotiations in a calmer climate, the government is showing its leadership in changing mentalities.

Too many employers have failed to maintain this balance between the parties during bargaining, and this works against them. Is not the purpose of bargaining for an employer to know in advance the rules and criteria under which a company will operate for the next two or three years? For employers, a collective agreement means two or three years of smooth operations without external pressures. Employers that have failed to accept these fundamental rules have created more problems for themselves and other employers.

With increasing talk these days of new agreements between employers and employees, of co-management and the role of each worker in ensuring smooth operations, with the insistence on the need to implement permanent bargaining mechanisms, with the increasing efforts to get everyone to fully participate as workers and citizens aware of national issues, this archaic custom from the dark ages of using scab labour must stop.

It is with this in mind that we have to examine the need for federal anti-scab legislation. If we want working citizens to trust the government, we must preserve what is most precious to them, that is their dignity. The right to strike was acquired over the years, thanks to the courage of many workers and their belief in human dignity. Along the way, there were some tough battles in which many workers sacrificed their health. And it is this basic right that is threatened by the use of scabs.

By allowing the use of strikebreakers, the government is indirectly putting the right to strike on the back burner. With the presence of scabs in certain disputes, the right to strike has become an illusion because one party creates, to its own advantage, an imbalance in the rules of operation and hinders the normal balance of power.

I do not believe the government wishes to rewrite history. On the contrary, it should be looking forward, towards creativity, technology and better developed and more modern management techniques.

Far from prejudicially affecting the relationship between the parties involved, I reiterate that the object of this bill is to get things back on track and to restore balance between the parties. It is the parties who are responsible for this balance, and the outcome of bargaining will depend on the way they use it.

As I pointed out at the beginning of my speech, most strikes and lock-outs lead to service agreements without employers resorting to scabs. In this sense, the anti-scab bill focuses more on incentives than coercion.

The bill is also aimed at preventing situations from deteriorating and culminating in violence and aggressiveness among striking workers, material damage, to the detriment of the business itself, and often in injuries to some people.

I say and I repeat, the idea is not to wage a war against employers, but to ensure the respect of humane and reasonable conditions during disputes, to create tools that will allow workers to negotiate calmly during strikes and lock-outs, without being scared of having their job stolen by scabs.

The important thing is to limit the duration of disputes to ensure that the public, workers and businesses are not excessively penalized. Statistics show that all disputes that have led to the use of scabs have gone on too long.

I encourage all members of the House to take what I just said into consideration and to vote for this bill.

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4:30 p.m.

Mississauga West Ontario


Steve Mahoney LiberalSecretary of State (Selected Crown Corporations)

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to have an opportunity to talk about issues involving the labour code, issues that are somewhat near and dear to my heart given my background growing up as the son of a fairly major labour leader in the country.

As some members may know, my dad was the national director of the United Steelworkers in Canada. He was also vice president of the Canadian Labour Congress as well as chairman of the ICFTU, the International Congress of Federated Trade Unions, the home base of which was in Geneva. My mother and dad had 10 children so home was a bit like a union unto itself. It was at least described as a local, and at times I had to play the role of shop steward in trying to find ways to at least get the food off the table without somebody getting seriously injured.

I have grown up around unions. As a young man I wanted to work in the labour movement, and unknown to my father I applied for a job with the steelworkers so I could be an organizer and go up into the mines in Timmins and perhaps follow in his footsteps. He was not keen on that and told me there was no room for nepotism in the labour movement. He suggested I go find my own career, which I did.

Notwithstanding that, many of the issues being discussed today are issues with which I am quite familiar.

I also had the privilege and opportunity of serving in opposition to the Bob Rae government for the better part of five years where I was, for most of that time, the labour critic of that government. It was fairly easy to be critical of the Bob Rae government, whether it was labour policies, or economic policies or other issues.

The issues of replacement workers or as they have been colloquially referred to, scabs, has always been an issue that causes a tremendous amount of emotion and concern in the workforce, and leads to a lot of situations where there can be violence or problems if real care is not taken in the regulation of them.

While it does not ban outright the use of replacement workers, one thing that the Canada Labour Code does in my opinion, in a far superior way to the provincial labour codes or at least the province with which I am most familiar, Ontario, is it clearly puts into place some rules and regulations, which I would like to share with the House, that I think maintain a sense of peace and harmony in the labour management relations field which we have not enjoyed for a long time.

If we take a look at what is happening in this country, we will see there are disputes but the collective bargaining process is working and it is working well. There is the right to strike if it is a non-essential service, and that is a right that is as inherent in law in this country as one could imagine. It is part of the democratic process and is based upon the fact that the labour movement offers a real and necessary service to protect workers.

Too often people think the labour movement was important 20, or 30 or 40 years ago but is not so important today. I reject that idea. It is even more important today because it has changed dramatically. In the old days everybody worked in the steel industry and it was pretty clear cut what the issues were. It was the same way in the auto industry. Only 25% of the membership in the Canadian Auto Workers actually work in the automobile industry. The rest of them are in various workplaces. It is an extremely varied situation that is not as cut and dried or black and white as it used to be back in the forties and fifties when unions were growing with great strength.

Frankly, I think we should celebrate the fact that we have a very strong labour movement in this country. It is a movement that is dedicated to bettering the quality of life for the workers, with health and safety being a very major issue. It is important not only to the workers but to the people who run the actual unions.

I think more and more the labour movement is finding opportunities of negotiating with governments right across this country, provincial and federal, on how they can improve the situation.

The Canada Labour Code governs about 10% of the labour force while 90% of it comes under provincial jurisdiction. Of course it should be of no surprise that once again we are debating an issue that has a much greater impact on the provincial labour scene than it does on the federal. However that is not to say that we do not have a role to play. In fact we do.

As I have said, the Canada Labour Code does a number of things in relationship to this issue that I think should give some comfort to the labour movement. While it does not ban replacement workers outright, let me share with members what it does do.

Replacement workers, under the Canada Labour Code, cannot claim the status of employees in the bargaining unit, which means they cannot take part in votes on whether the current bargaining agent should be replaced or removed.

I submit that is extremely important. If in fact there is a situation where some replacement workers are being used, they cannot come in and take away somebody's job. It is quite clear that in many cases, particularly today, there is probably a requirement for some skilled training, for some proper knowledge of health and safety rules, and of the use of equipment. Therefore, it is not as easy today as maybe it was 30 or 40 years ago to bring in replacement workers, other than perhaps to use some of the management who might come in and who would know the system. They might have some training to keep the plant going, to keep the lights on while the negotiations take place.

If we were to ban that opportunity outright I think we would tilt the balance of the labour management relations that we have. Particularly in the federal employ we would tilt it too much in the wrong direction.

This gives some protection to workers because they know full well that if they go on strike their jobs are protected under the Canada Labour Code. Once the strike is settled, once they have signed an agreement and have a new agreement in place, they know these people will not be able to take over their jobs.

The next thing that the code does is it gives existing employees in the bargaining unit, as I said, the right to return to their jobs ahead of replacement workers following a work stoppage. I think I covered that in the same description of the first area.

Third, applications cannot be made to change or decertify a union during a prolonged work stoppage without the consent of the Canada Industrial Relations Board.

Certification, decertification, these are all very sensitive issues in the labour movement. I do not want to move away from the issue of replacement workers but as an adjunct to that, on the issue of whether there should be secret ballots in an organizing or certification drive, where the union comes in and wants to convince the employees that it can provide the kind of protection and service that will be to the benefit of those employees, there is a big debate over whether there should be a secret ballot vote.

On the surface, people say that it does not make any sense. Why would there not be a secret ballot vote? It is democratic. It seems fair. Why would we put people in a position where they would have to get involved in the politics of the labour movement?

Let me tell members that if they think this is tough politics, I can assure them that the politics of labour is a real blood sport. There are problems because there is intimidation. We do not see that much today because there are laws that protect against unfair labour practices by management or by the labour movement. However we used to see situations where the actual workers would be intimidated as to how they should vote.

I do not think that is fair and it is not something we should support. People should have the right to decide if they want to join a union or an association without being subjected to any kind of intimidation tactics on the part of an employer or, for that matter, on the part of the union organizers.

I have known a few union organizers in my time. I have known some great ones and I have known some who were not afraid to use the hammer, shall we say, in terms of creating problems in the workplace.

While the Bloc's intention here may be good in the sense that it wants to protect workers by eliminating the use of replacement workers, we have found across the country that provinces have come down on both sides of the issue. There is not a clear agreement. There is no consensus on this particular issue anywhere in the land. Some provinces have banned it outright and others have not touched it at all. Other provinces banned replacement workers, found it did not work and then changed the law again.

As long as there are rules, as long as there is balance and fairness in this thing, the old axiom is, “if it ain't broke, why fix it?”. I do not think there is any evidence, nothing that I have heard argued here today on behalf of the Bloc or anybody else, that would lead me to conclude that this situation is broken or that we need to make this kind of an amendment which could create some kind of chaos throughout the country.

I should also point out that while one cannot apply to decertify a union during this, this is an extremely important aspect for the safety and solidarity of the unions. Just because there is a strike and they have brought in replacement workers to keep the business going, to keep the lights on and the basic fundamentals operating, they cannot, through the back door, turn around and apply to decertify, therefore putting the union out of business and, in essence, break the strike that way. That is not what I would call fair and reasonable labour practices.

The Canada Labour Code addresses that by saying that one cannot decertify during such a time period. My friend shakes his head. I guess he does not like the truth, but that is one of the ways the Canada Labour Code actually protects.

I would also add that there is a further protection under the code, and that is that employees are free to choose their bargaining agent, and work stoppages cannot be prolonged in the hope that workers will be forced to abandon their collective bargaining rights.

I have known men and women who literally have died in the pursuit of the right to bargain freely and collectively in this country. The days are not that far in the past. In my home town of Sault Ste. Marie where I was born and where most of my older siblings grew up, it was and still is basically a one industry town. Algoma Steel would be familiar to everyone. I used to listen to horrible stories of accidents that occurred in the steel plants. I know they would also have happened at Stelco in Hamilton, down on the east coast and wherever. I even heard of stories where the situation was so unsafe that people were actually dragged into a blast furnace and killed in a terrible industrial accident.

We cannot say that those kinds of things will not happen again, but it was not all that uncommon an occurrence in the 1930s and 1940s in this country. While we may have moved way beyond that, we have to recognize the gains that have been made.

Just to give an example of how far I think we have come in labour relations, Canada Post is one of the crown corporations that reports to me as a Secretary of State for Selected Crown Corporations.

I think in general the Canadian public would agree that the labour relations between Canada Post, management and labour have never been better.

I do not know what all the fuss is about but perhaps some members do not understand the labour issues. In any event, the labour relations between Canada Post, the management and labour have never been better. We seem to have peace in our relationships.

There are still some outstanding issues. I know CUPW wants to talk about organizing the rural mail couriers, and that is an ongoing issue that will be dealt with, but by and large we have very good, solid relationships. I think that is as a result of having a law in place, such as the Canada Labour Code, that gives confidence to people on both sides of these issues.

I should also say that the Canada Labour Code, further to the other comments, protects workers who are unfairly dismissed or disciplined during a work stoppage by providing them with recourse to grievance arbitration. It also ensures that employees continue to be covered by their benefit plans during a work stoppage.

What would we achieve if we were to adopt this recommendation by the Bloc Quebecois? If we were to make the amendment then we would come down hard on one side of the issue. I am quite sure people in the corporate sector and people in crown corporations would have concerns. People who run operations in which 10% of the Canadian labour force are employed would be very concerned that we would do anything in a unilateral fashion such as this by simply a stroke of the pen. We have very positive, solid, long term relations with the labour movement in this country, particularly with those who are affected by the Canada Labour Code.

I should say as well, in addition to the issues of what else the Canada Labour Code does to protect workers in case of a strike, that it does prohibit their use if they are hired specifically to undermine a union's ability to represent its members during a work stoppage. I understand that might be subjective and that it might be hard to prove, but in reality in the workplace it is not as hard to prove as one might think. The rhetoric and the heated exchanges that take place during a labour strike, very often the Labour Relations Board would see clearly if there were attempts to decertify or to undermine the credibility of the management of the union.

This actually takes me to an interesting point. People do not really think of a union as a business but I can tell members firsthand that it is a business and a big business. In the 1960s I acted as a chauffeur for my father and a number of his cohorts as we drove from Toronto to Sudbury. I was not totally sure what was going on, but I have since studied it and have found out what was going on. It was called a raid. I think anyone involved in the labour movement would understand what a raid is. It was the United Steelworkers attempting, and successfully doing so, to take over Mine Mill.

That happened in the 1960s. It was not too many years ago, in the early 1990s, 30-some years later, when I was in Sudbury at a meeting and some people wearing Mine Mill jackets came up to me and said that they remembered my father who destroyed their union. In reality, however, the steelworkers led the raid, took over the membership in that area and built the strength of their union.

I can hear members opposite asking what that has to do with the issue. It all has to do with the strength of the labour movement and how one maintains confidence in a relationship in the labour movement. Labour is a business and a big business. Union dues are involved. The labour leaders are absolutely committed and dedicated to representing the men and women, the rank and file who work in the workplace, to ensure they are safe, that they have good collective bargaining agreements and that they are protected, as they clearly are under the Canada Labour Code.

By just simply putting in a motion that would cast aspersions against the code and that would destroy the balance between management and labour, does absolutely nothing to contribute to the labour peace which exists in the country and which protects men and women in every industry, not only the federal industry that is governed under the Canada Labour Code but also by those that are governed under the provincial code.

I think we have struck the right balance and for that reason cannot support the Bloc's motion.

SupplyGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

It is my duty pursuant to Standing Order 38 to inform the House that the question to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment is as follows: the hon. member for New Brunswick Southwest, Health.

SupplyGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.


Pierre Paquette Bloc Joliette, QC

Madam Speaker, allow me first to inform you that I will be sharing my time with the charming member from Longueuil.

I also take this opportunity to pay my respects to all the workers in Quebec and Canada. They are fortunate to have the Bloc Quebecois looking after their interests, because neither the Liberal nor the Alliance members are standing up for the workers in Canada, the Bloc Quebecois is, along with the New Democratic Party, I must say.

On this May 1, International Workers Day, I pay my respects to all the workers in Quebec and Canada. I would like remind hon. members that, as they are aware, May 1 commemorates a tragic event. In Chicago, in 1886, labour leaders who were just fighting for their right to organize, for their right to work, for better working conditions and, ultimately, for better living conditions were subjected to brutal repression.

I find it absolutely incredible that, 117 years later, in Canada, which is described by some as the best country in the world, we are discussing in this House something as obvious as the prohibition of the use of strikebreakers. With a government like this one, which defends the use of strikebreakers, we could think Canada has gone back to the late 1800s.

I think it is disgraceful, especially since in Quebec and British Columbia, and to some extent in Ontario, there already are measures prohibiting the use of strikebreakers or scabs. In Quebec, we have been working within the context of this legislation for 26 years, since 1977, and I think that we can agree that labour relations in Quebec are much more harmonious than in many other provinces.

Let us consider the serious disputes in Ontario in recent years, while in Quebec, we were able to reach agreement, within the framework of summit meetings, especially on improving the public finance situation.

I think that we should stop the hypocrisy that has prevailed since part 1 of the Canada Labour Code was amended. The current Minister of Labour and her predecessors are not fooling anyone. By using terms such as replacement workers or replacement staff, everyone knows that, in the end, the law permits the use of strikebreakers or scabs. It disturbs the balance of power among unions, workers and employers.

That is not at all fair, because the business is allowed to carry on its activities, to continue to make money, while the workers are out on the street, trying to gain some bargaining strength, simply to be able to respect themselves.

I was secretary general of the Confederation of National Trade Unions or CSN. I know that on the Liberal side there are not many who know that, because they have never set foot in Quebec. The Confederation of National Trade Unions is the second largest labour organization, after the Fédération des travailleurs et des travailleuses du Québec or FTQ.

So, I was secretary general of the CSN at the time that the idea of amending part 1 of the Canada Labour Code got started, and I took part in the work of the Sims committee, along with other people, including the current President of the FTQ, Henri Massé. I know that the current Minister of Labour is doing nothing to quash the rumour that there was a deal made with the FTQ, the CLC and the Teamsters to leave out any anti-scab clauses. That is utterly false.

I think the labour minister should correct what she said, especially what she stated in the House. Let me read you part of the letter the President of the FTQ, Henri Massé, sent to the minister after she put forth such drivel in answer to a question by the hon. member for Laurentides. Henri Massé wrote:

Before the parliamentary committees of the House of Commons and the Senate, the differences were maintained.

We are talking here, obviously, about the differences between the position of the employers and that of the unions:

Madam Minister, organized labour, whether it is the FTQ, the CTC or any other labour union--

And that included the CSN:

--has been asking for years now that anti-scab provisions similar to those found in the Quebec labour code be included in part I of the Canada Labour Code.

Of course, in the end, we agreed that the reform as a whole was acceptable. We have to remember that we had the choice between that or nothing. That is what the Liberals did. They offered organized labour a heart-wrenching choice between, on the one hand, some kind of improvement—because there were improvements made to part I of the Canada Labour Code, but without any anti-scab provisions—and, on the other hand, absolutely nothing.

Given the circumstances, he concluded his letter by saying:

We always argued that it was not good enough in terms of anti-scab provisions.

I find it utterly unacceptable that, in the Liberal caucus, the Minister of Labour would, as we have learned, skew the reality and distort the facts, play on words simply to defend an indefensible position, that is allowing the use of strike breakers in this day and age—this is 2003, and not 1886—to put an end to strikes and break the unions, which are simply trying to represent the interests of workers.

Once again, we think, along with many others, that it is just window dressing when we are told there is a difference between replacement workers and scabs. In this regard, the current President of the CSN wrote a letter for this May 1 celebration. It helps us understand the position of the government on the amendments to part I of the Canada Labour Code. Here is what she had to say:

Right now, the Canada Labour Code prohibits the use of strike breakers only when the purpose is to undermine the capacity of the union to represent the workers. In practice, how can we know that what is at stake in a strike or lockout is the right of employees to be represented by a union and that strike breakers are used only for that purpose? It is impossible, and the unspeakable remains unspoken.

That is the truth of the matter. Even with the amendments made to part I of the Canada Labour Code, this government did not defend the interests of the population. It gave in to the arguments of the employers against the union demands. And this argument now stating that there is a balance in the Canada Labour Code is nothing new. That is utterly false. There is no such balance.

First of all, the union and the workers have two opponents to face, the scabs and the employers. That is two against one. In my view, this is not a balance. This situation breaks the balance of power and allows the strikes to last longer under the Canada Labour Code than under the Quebec labour code.

I have seen many of those, both as President of the Conseil central de Montréal and as Secretary General of the CSN. I remember one in particular, the strike at Voyageur. The owner of that company was none other than the member for LaSalle—Émard.

Scabs were used to let buses go in. I can tell you that it was very difficult for us, union leaders, to hold the members back. Three of them were affected by the lockout, because it really was a lockout. When they saw the police or security guards hired by the member for LaSalle—Émard open up the way for buses full of scabs, we had to step in to try to prevent violent confrontation. Some other time, I can show you pictures of me trying to hold back exasperated workers who wanted to fight with these scabs.

In order to reduce violence on the picket line, it is obvious that if there were no scabs, violence would not be as prevalent. In fact, there would be no violence. In Quebec, in most of the labour disputes under the Quebec Labour Code, there is no violence any longer, because the disputes are based on a real balance of power and not on an imaginary one, as is the case with the Canada Labour Code.

One must imagine also what it is like in small communities. In a village or a region where there is a large business, like a mine or a sawmill, the use of scabs pits people in the community against one another. Sometimes it is even fathers and mothers against sons and daughters. I have seen that happen.

All these aspects must be taken into account with regard to both the power relationship and the issue of labour relations. In a broader perspective, we must also take into account the nature of our society, the need to respect a social contract where unions are not only tolerated as a necessary evil, but where they are considered as partners on the same level as businesses. This is not the case right now under part I of the labour code, nor is it what this government is doing.

One could ask why, if it has been in existence in Quebec for 26 years and if it is used in British Columbia, the Liberal government, that has supported such a measure before, refuses to listen to reason.

I believe that we had the answer this morning in the National Post . Let us look at contributions to the Liberal Party of Canada. Contributions from corporations are in excess of $6,411,000, whereas those from individuals barely reach $2,384,000. This means that there is three times as much money coming from large corporations. The Liberal Party is the party of big business in Canada. It defends big business against workers and unions.

Fortunately the Bloc Quebecois is there. I invite all members to vote in favour of the motion brought forward by the member for Laurentides.

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5 p.m.


Caroline St-Hilaire Bloc Longueuil, QC

Madam Speaker, it is quite an experience for me to follow such a great speaker with such vast experience. Still, I am pleased to speak today on the motion before us, which falls on May 1, International Workers' Day. I want to take this opportunity to pay homage to all workers, especially those in the Longueuil riding.

It also coincides with the protest today on Parliament Hill by several hundreds of workers in support of the anti-scab legislation introduced by my hon. colleague from Laurentides. I want to highlight her tenacity, her ability to listen to and her will to work for the workers of Quebec.

Several hundred workers came to tell the federal government that it is high time it took a stand, once and for all, and said that they are entitled to the same things are their brothers and sisters working under Quebec jurisdiction.

It is impossible to imagine that, in 2003, in a so-called democratic society, all these people who play a fundamental role in the economic development of Quebec and Canada do not have the same rights.

How is it that, in 2003, the rights of the those primarily responsible for our economic prosperity are being trampled on? It is high time to introduce measures for civilized bargaining between equal parties to ensure labour peace, as proposed in my colleague's bill.

I am particularly aware of the devastating effects that hiring replacement workers can have. To illustrate the effects, I would like to tell a few stories.

Many members may remember, others perhaps all too well, the infamous dispute at United Aircraft in Longueuil. This dispute deeply affected the history of Quebec's labour movement. In 1974, 2,200 union members, members of the United Auto Workers, went on strike.

These workers were victims of numerous attempts at intimidation and provocation by the employer, who did not hesitate to hire scabs who, furthermore, came from around the world to replace the union members.

Eight hundred of these workers stood strong until the end and then returned to work. Others, however, did not get this chance and bowed under family and financial pressure.

That strike and the sacrifice of those who went on strike must never be forgotten. On the contrary, it must be a lesson to us and guide us toward concrete and positive actions. Above all, we must not forget those obscure workers whose dignity and rights were, in several cases, trampled on.

However, one must use the positive aspects of those stories to build the future. There were positive effects, in fact, and it took René Lévesque, who respected workers' rights, to understand that those shortcomings had to be corrected and to bring the National Assembly to pass anti-scab legislation in 1977. René Lévesque had understood how important it is to respect tworkers' rights.

This is exactly what I am asking all my colleagues in this House to do today, that is, to understand how important it is to respect workers' rights. Too much energies and too many resources were wasted on these disputes for them to be forever forgotten. And, above all, we must be very careful not to lapse into old habits.

More than a quarter of a century later and in spite of the pressure the Bloc Quebecois has been exerting for ten years, the federal government has still not updated the Canada Labour Code as René Lévesque courageously updated its Quebec counterpart.

If the government had taken its responsibilities, I would not have to tell you other stories, mstories from the very recent past. We need only think of Vidéotron, Secur. History repeated itself once again. Management ruined the atmosphere of trust by hiring scabs.

This has to stop. As parliamentarians, we have a great responsibility in this regard, and also the power that is required to take action. We have the responsibility to ensure that collective bargaining is done with the greatest respect, in the greatest harmony and equity, both for workers and employers. Quite frankly, why would anyone be opposed to promoting harmony respect of the parties' rights, in collective bargaining?

A dispute is never healthy, particularly if it lasts long, and when this happens, it gets worse.

It helps no one. It hurts businesses, it hurts workers and it even hurts local economies. Nothing justifies such an attitude.

This is why I urge my colleagues today to remember, as these workers remember. They should be inspired by these stories and see to it that wenever have to go through such degrading attacks on workers' rights.

I urge those who are listening to us, particularly the people in my riding, to mobilize, to be heard and, in the end, to make the federal government come to its senses.

Experience shows that prohibiting the hiring of scabs helps to improve bargaining and, in particular, to keep management from being tempted to let disputes drag on.

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5:05 p.m.


Marcel Gagnon Bloc Champlain, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today on this day, May 1. I join with my colleagues who offered their best wishes to the workers in their ridings, and I too offer my best wishes to the workers in Champlain.

Today, my thoughts are especially for workers who have lost their job, for instance, because of the softwood lumber dispute, a dispute that has still not been settled by the government, which is just standing by and sitting on its hands.

Earlier I heard a speech that shocked me, I am talking about the last Liberal member who spoke. He says he is the son of a unionist, but I must say it has been a very long time since I heard such a depressing speech for the working class and workers, and such contempt for workers. I do not know how to say it otherwise, but it makes me seethe to hear, in 2003, speeches it would have been difficult to accept in 1975. These speeches are 30 years behind the times.

I was a member of the Quebec National Assembly when René Lévesque asked his labour minister, Pierre-Marc Johnson, to introduce anti-scab legislation. There is a reason we passed it. There is a reason it helped the situation in Quebec.

We have the numbers to prove it. My colleague from Joliette mentioned them at length since, in an earlier life, he worked in the labour movement. The situation in Quebec as far as strikes are concerned has improved greatly since 1977. It is not true that it has been detrimental to businesses. It has actually helped businesses. Days of work lost to strikes and violence on job sites have never benefited anybody. It is of no benefit for the evolution of society.

When Mr. Lévesque asked us to pass an anti-scab bill in Quebec, I had the pleasure of hearing great speeches. I also had the displeasure of hearing speeches from those who opposed it. Those speeches were similar to the one we just heard from the Liberal member. This bill brings to my mind good memories, but also bad memories linked to people who are against workers and the evolution of work and who despise the working class.

It does not surprise me to see that people like those opposite have stolen $45 billion from the employment insurance fund. That does not surprise me at all. This money is now paying society's debts. But it was not the workers who got the society into debt. With that kind of attitude, we wonder how Quebeckers would be defended if all we had were Liberal members. We can ask the workers how well protected they would be in Quebec if all we had was this kind of member of Parliament.

Fortunately, the Bloc Quebecois is on the job. This is the eleventh time we are presenting a bill asking the government to show some conscience with respect to the workers and help redress the balance of power in labour disputes.

I still hope that the government will do it, because I know the hon. members opposite. In the corridors we sometimes meet members who cannot object to a motion or a bill. I know this law has improved things in Quebec. We have said so.

In 1976, before the Quebec law was passed, the average strike lasted 39 days. In 2002, strikes lasted 15 days. And is someone going to say that this is not good for all people, including the bosses? The workers are not the only ones who lose out in a strike: bosses do too.

And then there are all the problems generated by these disputes which, after the strike is over, take months to solve. And that is because scabs upset the balance of power and prevented the strike from being settled properly.

I would like to commend the hon. member for Laurentides for raising this issue today. I hope we will debate it as often as possible, so that the hon. members across the way will one day realize that they should pass such a law. It is rather curious that, when they were in opposition, they vsupported an anti-strikebreaking law. Now they are in power and the minister tells us today that everything she has done has had the blessing of the workers and the unions.

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5:10 p.m.


Jocelyne Girard-Bujold Bloc Jonquière, QC

That is not true.