Mr. Speaker, I thank all hon. members for clarifying the issues. The issues are divided into two parts. One, of course, is the safety issue, which has nothing to do with the bill but we will address it and I want to address it, especially because it was raised by my colleague on the committee. The other one, of course, is the economic package. The economic package is subdivided into two parts: one that deals with the specific situation, and that is CN workers and CN itself; and the other one is the implications of that economic package on the rest of the economy.
Since my hon. colleague from Burnaby—New Westminster wanted to address the issue of whether or not shippers would agree, I have a list of about 20 of them who approached me in my office about what we ought to do. While we have a labour relations situation, negotiations have been collapsing with CN and their workers. I will not comment on why negotiations have collapsed but they have collapsed.
Now we have the Grain Growers of Canada, which employs some 70,000 people, and all their members have asked for a resumption of service. Otherwise, those 70,000 employees will be put at great disadvantage and may be out of a job.
For example, Canfor Pulp and Paper, which is in my colleague's province, would employ some 7,300 people and about another 2,200 independent contractors. It will be completely out of business if it does not get access to the service that CN is supposed to provide. I will say more on that in a moment.
Millar Western Forest Products Limited, with a mere 275 employees, which is not as important as the 2,800 at CN, but its employees have families that they too must support.
For example, Maple Leaf Foods has come forward and said that this collective agreement is not just about CN and its employees, that it is about its workers as well. Some 24,000 families depend on each and every one of its workers and if this collective agreement is of import to the people at CN and its workers, then it is important, as my colleague said, to everybody else that works for Maple Leaf Foods.
Let us talk about the Forest Products Association, 20 associated members around the country, many of whom rely exclusively on CN to get their product to market. They came forward and said that they need that service. They said that they cannot be held hostage by the differences between the management and the employees of CN. They demanded that the Government of Canada, which included all the parliamentarians, the Parliament of Canada, come forward and take care of Canada's collective interests which includes all of them.
The Canadian Wheat Board is not next door to my riding but it claims to represent some 65,000 to 70,000 growers, farmers and their families. It cannot get its product to market because CN employers and CN employees cannot come to an agreement. What does the Wheat Board do? It turns to the Parliament of Canada, to the Government of Canada and asks that we get those people back to work and that we have them find a solution that is consistent with the best interests of all Canadians.
If we are talking about shippers, about other employees or about other employers who are dependent on this service, then we need to keep those people in mind as well. We should keep in mind, for example, the Western Canadian Shippers Coalition, a coalition just in western Canada that has 280,000 people who depend on the activity of all of those shippers. It is saying that if we cannot get that service that it will not be able to provide work for its people.
What do we tell all of those families? Do we tell them that we will not be involved or do we tell them some airy fairy story about the way that relationships are going? We are in fact saying, and this is a collective “we” in this instance, that there are various ways to achieve a negotiated settlement, one being final offer selection because they have not been able to reach a decision on their own.
A final offer selection means that one side gives us its best and the other side gives its best and our arbitrator will pick the one that he or she considers to be the most appropriate.
Will it necessarily mean that it is going to be appropriate to choose the union model or the management model? We do not know. They have not been presented yet. I think it is a little bit of a red herring to talk about the salary of the CEO of Canadian National, because of course everybody is offended when they hear that somebody is making $56 million. I do not think there is a parliamentarian here who makes more than $150,000, other than cabinet ministers. I do not want to begrudge anyone what they earn, but it does not come close to $56 million.
Does the man deserve it? Does he merit it? I do not know, but that is not the issue. The issue is whether we will allow all these hundreds of thousands of people who work in the economy of Canada and other industries the opportunity to continue to work as a result of the solving of a problem that is resident in Canadian National and its employees' union.
What caused that collapse? I really do not know. I know that they have turned down a series of offers as they have gone through this. I think every parliamentarian understands that when parties get into negotiations there are some things upon which they can agree and some things upon which they do not agree, and when there is a final decision and they vote, they turn it down.
My colleagues in the NDP are constantly speaking about the auto industry. By the way, as a little bit of an aside, I was pleased to be the minister responsible for putting together a $500 million auto package. It was the very first time in 20 years that the Canadian government entered into an agreement to ensure that there was an investment with the auto industry to keep jobs in Canada. It was worth $500 million and it tied the province of Ontario to doing a similar investment, so that was $1 billion.
Therefore, I am putting that forward because I think that makes me perfectly qualified to be able to talk about, for example, the Ford Motor Company. It came forward and said on February 23 that it had already had to shut down its car plant because of the strike at Canadian National and it could not continue to delay parts shipments across the boarder.
It asked us what we wanted it to do. Did we want it to tell its head office that it could locate assembly plants south of the border because it could get access to the parts and to the final product? Or did we want to ask the government to make sure that everybody addresses their labour issues in a fashion that is consistent not only with their personal interest, legitimate as it may be, but with the interests of all Canadians?
I am really quite surprised that the Conservative government has actually finally moved on this.
Mr. Speaker, I know that might offend you, but it is nothing personal.
We wish that we had not come to this and that the government had given an indication much earlier. To its credit, the government did that about four weeks ago, and so here we are, but the macroeconomic indicators are the ones that we have to deal with. The mining industry, the forestry industry, the automotive industry, the chemical sectors and the farming industry all predict slowdowns and closings if their rail service is not restored. We need to have it restored. It must be restored.
As an example and only as an example, in eastern Canada industries rely almost exclusively on CN for any rail service to access their market. Their only other choice, of course, is trucking.
I have already given the House a list of the people in western Canada who say they cannot get their goods and products to market unless CN comes back to deliver that service. In an environment where there is a shortage of some 30,000 long haul truck drivers in this country, eligible, qualified and capable truck drivers, they do not have another option. If we want to get our products to market, we need to have that service continued.
If we want to guarantee the jobs to Canadians everywhere in this country we need to make sure that service is provided. For a party, and it does not matter whether it is on the left or right of a spectrum, or whether it is sane or insane, to suggest that the rest of the country can be held hostage by one particular company and its employees is absolutely shameful.
It is equally shameful to expect that a company can get people at the last minute, whether they are management or not, to fill the jobs of qualified employees and provide a service that is safe. It is unconscionable. We are not talking about people moving checkers across a checkerboard. We are talking about employees who must have training that is absolutely and completely perfect to ensure the safety of both people and product. We are not getting that now.
That is why earlier on in the day I had a reluctant compliment for my colleague, the Minister of Labour, because he at least tried to approach this in a dispassionate fashion. He wanted to deal with this on the labour side. I said that was fine.
We in the Liberal Party believe in negotiated settlements. We believe in negotiation, in the collective bargaining system, but we also believe in responsibility. If this represents a responsible approach, and we are not predicting which side of the final offer solution the arbitrator is going to come to, what we do need is something to go forward. That is what has happened. We have started to talk about safety issues and infrastructure. Transportation infrastructure has been absolutely crucial to the building of this country.
Mr. Speaker, I know you are always attentive on history lessons. I am not going to begin one, but if it were not for transportation issues and the way they have been addressed by governments in the past, including my own government of the past, we would not have had the building of this country. The new government is fond of saying that for 13 years the Liberals did not do anything while it has done everything in the last 13 months. It appears that it has not done anything in 13 months. In fact, we are now up to this situation.
I know that my colleague from Burnaby says CN has three accidents per day. I think the actual figures are that every third day there is an accident on a primary line, and it is not something that is acceptable. Is this part of the collective agreement and the collapse of the collective agreement? While it may be part of the negotiations, those were not the ones that I heard were voted down.
We should be talking about the Minister of Transport who is not even in the discussions about what to do to maintain the viability of our transportation infrastructure in this country.
When I gave an indication a moment ago about eastern Canada's almost complete reliance on CN and its system, I could have said the same thing about many other parts of Canada. For instance, B.C. Rail was bought out by CN and now we have the predominance of CN in that particular market as well.
If we cannot ensure that the rail infrastructure provides a competitive and efficient system of delivery for all of our shippers, then we are putting the jobs of hundreds of thousands of Canadians in jeopardy. There are 320 communities around the country that rely almost exclusively on the industries that are dependent on Canadian National for delivery of product to market.
So when the NDP asks what we would do when those communities are in jeopardy, there is only one thing that we on the Liberal side can say and do. Every one of those 320 communities and every one of the families in those communities is as valid and as viable a Canadian as any other. We have a commitment and a legal obligation as parliamentarians to ensure that the lifeblood of a thriving economy is part and parcel of their lives as well.
I do not want to address the standard of living and quality of life issues. I am just talking about actually having a job to go to so that people can make decisions on a daily basis about how to care for their families, how to keep their communities growing, and how to keep that bond, the glue, that makes Canadians Canadian, that makes Canada a viable entity and a country that is first in the world.
When we talk about infrastructure and transportation, we also need to address the issues that, to the credit of some members, have been raised here, and yes, they have to do with safety.
It is absolutely shameful that the Minister of Transport has over the course of the last several months completely ignored the exhortations of members of the committee to appear before the committee and address the safety issues, especially as they relate to CN. They have nothing to do with the collective bargaining process that has been ongoing for several months, but they have everything to do with the responsibility of good government and management on the government side for a minister who is responsible for the maintenance of the infrastructure and who is absolutely responsible, legally responsible, for the safety of rail travel in this country.
Those committee members and I, as a member of that committee, have been demanding that he appear and address those issues. In fact, colleagues on both sides of this House will recall that I raised this issue in debate about a month and a half ago.
As for the person who responded when I said that we have been looking for the audit on CN, which was conducted by the government, to be made public and to be made available to the committee for study, and which a national television program aired, that person said the minister could not and would not give it because the company, CN, forbade him to.
It is absolutely ludicrous. Let us imagine that a minister of the Crown puts forward moneys and a mandate for an inquiry and then will not release it because the company that is under investigation says no, he cannot do it. I asked the company why it was putting this constraint on the minister and it said it was not.
I raised it in the House. Not the Minister of Transport but the Minister of Labour leaned forward and, to paraphrase, said, “The hon. member is the first one who has raised this. Why does he not ask the Minister of Transport?”
Two days later, the report appeared on the website. It is available for everybody. Here is what it said. After that first inquiry, which was available to the minister in spring of last year in draft format, transport officials sat down with CN officials and they went through a list of incidents, accidents and contraventions of the code and asked what CN was going to do to change that. CN committed to a series of changes.
Six months later, there was an audit to see the extent to which CN had complied with that report to which it had signed off. The minister refused to release that audit. I did not see the NDP ask for it.
We got it. If people were to read that audit today, they would see damning evidence that CN management has created a climate, a culture, of non-compliance with the agreement that it had already struck.
So if my hon. colleague wants to address an issue of collective bargaining in that context, let us do it and let us put the Minister of Transport on the carpet, but let us leave this issue for what it is. It is a collective bargaining situation that has enormous impact on the rest of Canada and which we need to ensure gets resolved so that the millions of Canadians who are dependent on this agreement, whenever it is struck, can continue with their lives.
Let us not forget as well that the Parliament of Canada and the Government of Canada are not imposing a solution on either side. Through its arbitrator CN will pick the better of the two offers when they are put forward. We have a right and an obligation to ensure that process continues while the benefit to the commonwealth of all Canadians is taken care of.