Mr. Speaker, this morning, we are taking a special procedural measure because of the importance of the economy, which is now somewhat paralyzed by a labour dispute between CN and the United Transportation Union.
The first question we must ask is the following: Why should the government introduce this bill? What is at stake? What is at stake is the Canadian economy or the operation of the Canadian economy. What does the operation of the Canadian economy rely on? At what point can we say that things are going well in Canada and that we have economic prosperity? The answer is when companies can receive the goods they need to manufacture their products and, once manufactured, they can deliver them to the consumers and businesses who need them.
At this time, the economy is paralyzed. The situation is such that businesses in many areas are not receiving their goods. Some must even stop production and, as a consequence, people are being laid off.
If Canada's economy is paralyzed, who will pay the price? We will all pay the price. Every Canadian will have a price to pay. The government uses the money it receives from businesses and taxpayers to offer services to Canadians. If businesses cannot operate and lose money as a result, there will be consequences. Some may go bankrupt, people will lose their jobs and will not earn money. Another consequence is that revenue coming into the country will stop coming in.
Also at issue is international credibility. If our merchandise is not delivered to the countries that are expecting it, they will no longer count on us. That is what is happening in our economy right now. I would like to give some concrete examples from the existing situation.
Right now, in Vancouver, about 15 boats are moored at the Port of Vancouver. These boats cannot unload their goods or load goods they have to deliver elsewhere. This means that the port is blocked and half paralyzed. Some companies have to pay fines because they cannot deliver their goods by the agreed-upon deadlines.
Here is another example: British Columbia forestry. Forestry companies transport wood by train, by Canadian National. Canadian National is not currently in a position to offer its regular services. Some say its service levels are between 60% and 75%. The union says its service levels are at 25%. Either way, the result is that companies are calling us and writing us to say that they will shut down this or that sawmill and that they will have to temporarily discontinue operations because the train is not delivering the goods.
Here is one more example. In the Prairies, grain transportation is being affected. Grain is that part of the country's major economic activity. Once the grain gets to the Port of Vancouver, it has to be loaded onto boats and delivered. The boats have to cross the sea to deliver the goods to other countries. Economic activity is paralyzed. There are also two potash mines in Saskatchewan that have closed their doors and two more are getting ready to do the same. Many jobs will be lost.
Ford, in Ontario, is another example. This week, in St. Thomas, work shifts had to be cut, and another one will be cut today. We are talking about 2,400 jobs. How does the auto industry work? Parts have to be delivered when an automobile is being built. The problem is that these parts are no longer being delivered, which brings the assembly line to a halt. And that is not all. Once the vehicle has been built, it has to be put on a train to be delivered to its destination. Right now, this cannot be done because CN no longer provides this service to companies as it usually does.
Here is another example. When a business closes its doors, people wrongly believe that its employees are the only ones who are affected, but it goes way beyond that. There are contractors who are associated with that business. If it shuts down, the contractors can no longer sell their product to that business.
Right now, this has an impact on all aspects of economic activity in Ontario. I see the member for Chicoutimi—Le Fjord who is here and who knows how important the forest industry is in Quebec. Guy Chevrette was saying this week that the forest industry had enough problems as it is with the softwood lumber issue that it did not need CN to stop delivering our products. That is a great example since Mr. Chevrette is highly respected in that community.
This morning, Novalis, in the Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean area, said that its products could not leave the plant. They have to be delivered, but CN no longer provides this service. The same problem exists at the various ports in the Maritimes.
In the Northwest Territories, diamond mines account for 50% of gross domestic product. This sector needs to receive its goods right now. During the winter months, there is a window of time when ice bridges are built to transport the goods and fuel needed for the whole year. At present, this is not happening. The goods have not been delivered to Edmonton and this service is not operating. We do not know what will happen to this company, which employs a huge number of workers and is vital to the economy of the Northwest Territories.
Remote communities are another example. At present, various remote communities are no longer receiving the food they were expecting, nor oil, an essential fuel. What are the basic needs in life? What are the basic needs of a human being? Food heating, especially in a country such as ours. That is why we are saying today that our government, that the parliamentarians in this House, must take action and pass back-to-work legislation in order for the economic activity of our country to get back to normal.
What is the chain of events that has brought us to where we are today? On February 10, the United Transportation Union decided to declare war. CN, the employer, subsequently challenged the Canadian union's decision by stating that they did not have the right to strike. Only the UTU International had that right. The Canadian union is an affiliate of the American union. CN filed a complaint with the Canada Industrial Relations Board, which is empowered to make such decisions, hear the parties and decide whether or not the strike is legal. In the ensuing days, the Canada Industrial Relations Board immediately proceeded to hear both parties.
Although we were all expecting a ruling on Wednesday, to our surprise, the American union did not recognize the lawyer representing the United Transportation Union and wanted its own lawyer to explain the union's position. As a result, the Canada Industrial Relations Board postponed the hearing to the following Monday, because the union wanted its lawyer to have enough time to become familiar with the case. Five days passed with no negotiation or discussion. Nothing. Everyone was waiting.
On Saturday, I tried to reach the parties through our mediators. For 36 hours, we were unable to contact the union's representatives. There is a major conflict between the American union and the Canadian union. The American union does not recognize the work that the people here are doing. On Monday, after the Canada Industrial Relations Board had heard the parties, when I realized that a ruling might not be handed down that evening, I immediately called both parties to say that the government could not wait any longer. I also told them that if the Canada Industrial Relations Board ruled that the strike was legal, they would have just hours, not days, to find a solution.
I told them that once the Canada Industrial Relations Board handed down its ruling—if the strike was declared legal—they would have hours, not days, to find a solution and that the economy was so disrupted that we had to shoulder our responsibilities and take action. I immediately informed both parties that we were sending in our top mediator to support them in their discussions.
To my great surprise, when I spoke to Mr. Beatty, the union representative, he told me that he and the entire negotiating team had been dismissed by the American union, which would be sending in a new team.
I then immediately got in touch with the American union representatives again to tell them the same things: that they had only a few hours to reach an agreement, that the country could not wait any longer, and that this dispute was having a severe impact across Canada on workers, businesses and the health of our nation's economy.
This is what has happened in the recent days and hours.
I am also in contact with our mediators several times a day. At this point, with the latest information I received this morning, nothing leads us to believe that there will be an agreement. Note that this can change quickly and that is what I am hoping for.
I do not want us to have back-to-work legislation; I want the parties to come to an agreement. They have two options: either they call a truce and continue their mediation over the next few weeks to reach an agreement, or they reach an agreement before this legislation is tabled and passed, thereby ensuring that Parliament does not have to intervene. Our hope is that an agreement is reached.
Two parties are involved: Canadian National and the union, the United Transportation Union. The dispute between the two unions is also complicating matters. However, it is not up to me to intervene to decide who is right or wrong. It is not the responsibility of the Minister of Labour. The parties have to work together.
There is some more news that hon. members should know about. An agreement had been reached between the parties ensuring that Toronto's Go Train commuter service and Montreal's commuter service would not be interrupted. Today, the parties cancelled that agreement—the union has just cancelled it. Nonetheless, the service is still running, but we do not know how much longer that will last. This may also have an unimaginable impact on the economies of Montreal and Toronto and, by extension, on the economy of Canada.
I want to reiterate that this has more than a single consequence. There is a domino effect. That is why, as parliamentarians and as Minister of Labour, we have to assume our responsibilities and take action. We cannot keep waiting.
It will take four or five days to pass this legislation. Just imagine what will happen to the economy. We are facing possible chaos.
That being said, I will conclude with this message. I want to be clear. This government will not allow the strike at CN to go on any longer. It has dragged on for too long already. Our country's economic activity is being derailed by this strike. Businesses no longer receive the materials they need to manufacture their products. They can no longer deliver their finished products to their destination in Canada or abroad. Businesses are shutting down one after the other. Workers are losing their jobs. Even CN employees are caught in a dispute within their own union. And what is even worse is that citizens of our country who live in remote communities are not getting essential goods such as food and fuel.
Enough is enough. As parliamentarians, it is our responsibility to act. In fact, I have just been informed that the Liberal Party will support the bill that I will introduce in the House this afternoon, immediately after question period.
I will repeat the title of the bill: an act to provide for the resumption and continuation of railway operations. I am still encouraging the parties to come to an agreement.
That is what we are hoping for. However, in case that does not happen, we are already in the process of assuming our responsibility with this bill that will be introduced shortly.