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House of Commons Hansard #134 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was workers.

Topics

Government ContractsOral Questions

3 p.m.

Whitby—Oshawa Ontario

Conservative

Jim Flaherty ConservativeMinister of Finance

Mr. Speaker, we are very proud to take a step in the budget to support this vaccine for women and girls across Canada. It is the first vaccine that can actually prevent cancer. This is an important step forward.

I was pleased to be at the Ottawa Hospital yesterday, at the Shirley Green centre for women's health, to make the announcement. This is an important step forward. There is one vaccine available now. Another manufacturer is developing another one.

The important thing is that thousands of Canadian women and girls will not die from cancer because of this vaccine's availability.

Government ContractsOral Questions

3 p.m.

NDP

Penny Priddy NDP Surrey North, BC

Mr. Speaker, a cancer vaccine is very important for women, but why in this case is the government letting big corporations out of paying their fair share? Why is the Minister of Health rewarding a company that has evaded $2 billion in Canadian taxes?

I am not sure if Conservative staffer turned pharma lobbyist Ken Boessenkool was the reason Merck got the money, but I do know that Merck owes Canadian taxpayers over $2 billion. Did the minister meet with Boessenkool? Did the minister consider the issue of the tax havens when making his decision?

Government ContractsOral Questions

3 p.m.

Whitby—Oshawa Ontario

Conservative

Jim Flaherty ConservativeMinister of Finance

No, Mr. Speaker, I did not meet with Mr. Boessenkool on the subject.

I can say that I met with Liz Ellwood yesterday at the hospital. She is a 24-year-old victim of the papillomavirus, HPV. She has suffered from it and she said thanks to me on behalf of the women and girls in Canada and to this government and this Prime Minister for supporting the availability of this vaccine across Canada.

Agriculture and Agri-FoodOral Questions

April 17th, 2007 / 3 p.m.

Liberal

Gary Merasty Liberal Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River, SK

Mr. Speaker, farmers in southwest Saskatchewan have been plagued by consecutive droughts and are in need of urgent relief, but they are being told they have to wait and see what happens with the implementation of the federal-provincial cost-shared disaster relief program.

These producers are in urgent need of cash. The Minister of Agriculture has the power and the money to provide emergency funding now under the Farm Income Protection Act.

What is the minister waiting for? When will he stop hiding behind his phony fight with the province? When will the minister allow his parliamentary secretary to deliver to his constituents?

Agriculture and Agri-FoodOral Questions

3 p.m.

Chilliwack—Fraser Canyon B.C.

Conservative

Chuck Strahl ConservativeMinister of Agriculture and Agri-Food and Minister for the Canadian Wheat Board

Mr. Speaker, the parliamentary secretary from Saskatchewan delivers the goods for Saskatchewan day after day and week after week, and thank goodness, because the only Liberal representative left in Saskatchewan barely understands what a farm looks like.

Let me tell the member that right now we are working on prospects for the drought area in southwestern Saskatchewan. We are working with the Saskatchewan government. I have put forward a disaster relief framework that all the provinces have now agreed to. We are working on the funding formula for that as well.

We are aware of those problems, not only in southwestern Saskatchewan, but in Peace River and in northern Ontario as well.

Aboriginal AffairsOral Questions

3 p.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Conservative Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Mr. Speaker, the Liberal Indian Affairs critic is criticizing this government's commitment to Pikangikum First Nation. She claims the situation on the reserve is this government's fault, instead of acknowledging that her party did nothing for 13 years.

She balked at the minister's suggestion last December that the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development visit that first nation, but instead was in favour of committee members taking a trip to New York.

Our government is taking real action to improve the lives of aboriginal women, children and families. Can the Minister of Indian Affairs share with the House his findings on his trip to Pikangikum First Nation last week?

Aboriginal AffairsOral Questions

3:05 p.m.

Calgary Centre-North Alberta

Conservative

Jim Prentice ConservativeMinister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and Federal Interlocutor for Métis and Non-Status Indians

Mr. Speaker, no Canadian could visit Pikangikum and not be moved.

This is a community of some 2,000 people. After 13 years of Liberal government, they have no water connections and no sewer connections. They have no hydro connections. They have a school with 700 children in it that was built for 300 children.

Last week while I was in Pikangikum I announced that this government is going to deal with those issues. We will be spending $46 million over the next four years.

I would caution my hon. colleagues opposite who are braying at the moment, because their record on this file is one of gross negligence and shame.

Rimouski East WharfOral Questions

3:05 p.m.

Bloc

Louise Thibault Bloc Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Mr. Speaker, there is a problem at the wharf in Rimouski East. Transport Canada is neglecting its infrastructure, and Fisheries and Oceans Canada is abandoning users of the part of the wharf it owns.

This inaction is delaying work that is vital to the economic development of the riding and the region. While the ministers are passing the buck, companies are dealing with infrastructure that is not at all suited to the economic activities of our marine technocity.

Is the Conservative government prepared to fund a study to find a real solution for the people in our community?

Rimouski East WharfOral Questions

3:05 p.m.

Pontiac Québec

Conservative

Lawrence Cannon ConservativeMinister of Transport

Mr. Speaker, of course, we are always concerned about the economic development of the region. I was glad to see that my colleague was in attendance last Thursday when the Government of Canada gave $15 million to the Régie intermunicipale to rebuild the wharves in Trois-Pistoles and Les Escoumins.

We are going to continue our efforts to make real progress for our community, not only through my department, but also through the Economic Development Agency of Canada.

Comments by Member for Winnipeg Centre--Speaker's RulingPoints of OrderOral Questions

3:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

Order. I am now prepared to rule on the point of order raised by the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons concerning the alleged use of unparliamentary language by the hon. member for Winnipeg Centre on Friday, March 2, 2007.

I would like to thank the hon. parliamentary secretary for raising this matter, the hon. Chief Government Whip, the hon. member for Acadie—Bathurst, and the hon. member for Winnipeg Centre for their interventions.

On March 2, 2007, during the debate on the motion for concurrence in the 11th report of the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food, the hon. member for Winnipeg Centre referred to the hon. Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food as “Il Duce”, compared the minister to Mussolini and characterized the minister's actions relative to the Canadian Wheat Board as “fascism”.

March 2 being the sitting day immediately preceding the two-week March break, the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons rose on a point of order on March 21, 2007, to take issue with the language used by the hon. member for Winnipeg Centre. The hon. parliamentary secretary cited page 150 of Beauchesne's 6th edition, which lists the word “fascists” among those considered to be unparliamentary. He continued, and I quote from page 7714 of the Debates:

The fascist regime committed untold atrocities during World War II and for any member of this House to compare another member to anyone in the fascist regime is unconscionable.

In his intervention, the hon. member for Winnipeg Centre stated that it had not been his intention to call the hon. minister a fascist, but rather to imply that he had acted like one by virtue of decisions he had taken in respect of the Canadian Wheat Board.

Quoting from page 143 of Beauchesne's 6th edition as follows, “An expression which is deemed to be unparliamentary today does not necessarily have to be deemed unparliamentary next week”, he maintained that the words he had used were no longer as “volatile and emotionally charged” as they had once been. He invoked the principles that in these matters the Chair must consider the context in which the disputed remarks were made and whether or not they created disorder in the chamber.

I undertook to review all of the relevant statements and submissions and to return to the House with a ruling on the matter.

One of the most basic principles of parliamentary procedure is that proceedings in the House be conducted in terms of a free and civil discourse (Marleau and Montpetit, pp. 503-4).

The Chair has often reminded hon. members of their concomitant duty to use their freedom of speech in a responsible fashion and to exercise moderation in their choice of language.

On the occasion in question, in my view there is no doubt that the term “fascism” is unparliamentary when used to refer to the actions of a member of Parliament, and the corollary references comparing the member to Il Duce and Mussolini only exacerbate the problem. In making this determination, I looked carefully at both the context in which these expressions were used and at their immediate and potential effects on the ability of this House to conduct free and civil discourse.

In the opinion of the Chair, the inappropriateness of this language was in no way mitigated by the context in which it was used.

Admittedly, the immediate reaction to the comments in question was somewhat muted and the hon. member for Winnipeg Centre has drawn the attention of the Chair to this circumstance. However, in considering whether or not his remarks created disorder in the chamber, the Chair cannot look only at the immediate reaction of those present in the chamber.

In a ruling given on December 11, 1991 found at pages 6141 and 6142 of the Debates, Mr. Speaker Fraser reminded members that offensive remarks can linger and have a suffocating effect on the fair exchange of ideas and points of view. Anything said in this place receives wide and instant dissemination and leaves a lasting impression. Offending words may be withdrawn, denied, explained away, or apologized for, but the impression created is not always as easily erased. He went on to comment:

--few things can more embitter the mood of the House than a series of personal attacks, for in their wake, they leave a residue of animosity and unease.

That residue is the soil from which disorder springs and it is incumbent on the Chair to discourage language so provocative in character that it positively nourishes disorder.

So, once again, I appeal to hon. members on all sides of the House to choose their words with greater care. A reasonable degree of self-discipline is not a luxury; it is indispensable to civilized discourse and to the dignity of this institution.

Whatever the hon. member's intentions may have been, the Chair is not in doubt that this language is provocative and under the circumstances, I find that it is also unparliamentary and I ask the hon. member for Winnipeg Centre to withdraw his remarks immediately.

Comments by Member for Winnipeg Centre--Speaker's RulingPoints of OrderOral Questions

3:10 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I would never knowingly show disrespect for the House of Commons by using language that I know to be unparliamentary. Now that you have clarified that in your view the remarks I made on March 2 were in fact out of order and unparliamentary, I do withdraw those remarks and I apologize to the House of Commons and to the minister in person.

Oral QuestionsPoints of OrderOral Questions

3:10 p.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, today in question period one of our members asked a question of the Minister of Finance regarding the loopholes that were evident in the back taxes that were not paid by a certain corporation.

In his response, the minister mentioned visiting the Shirley Green hospital yesterday. I just want to correct that for the minister. It is the Shirley Greenberg hospital. She is a well-known member of our community and I just wanted to clear the record for him.

Statements by MembersPoints of OrderOral Questions

3:10 p.m.

Bloc

Serge Cardin Bloc Sherbrooke, QC

Mr. Speaker, in response to accusations by the hon. member for Louis-Hébert that I used public money to advertise for a company, I would like to provide some clarifications.

First, let me point out that it was the result of an unfortunate error that this pamphlet ended up in one of my mailings. Second, as soon as I found out about this situation, I immediately took the necessary measures to reimburse the House for the cost of the mailing.

Unfortunately, the Conservative members often do not get all their facts straight before asking questions.

Bill C-52--Budget Implementation Act, 2007Points of OrderOral Questions

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

Derek Lee Liberal Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise today on a point of order in relation to Bill C-52, the budget implementation bill.

It is my view that a portion of that bill is drafted in a way that is not in keeping with the practices and customs of this House, that the bill attempts to exempt itself from our rules regarding parliamentary scrutiny of subordinate law, and does not even comply with the government's own internal rules on proper drafting of legislation.

The part of the bill I am referring to is clause 13(1) at page 20, line 16. It amends section 122 of the Income Tax Act and bears the bill subclause number (2)(b) and deals with the issue of income trusts and how they are to conduct themselves for tax purposes over the next four years, until the year 2011. For ease of reference, the margin heading reads “Application of Definition SIFT trust”, which is the short acronym for income trusts.

A notice of ways and means motion on the subject of income trusts was tabled in the House during the afternoon of October 31, 2006 and was concurred in a few days later. The intent of that ways and means motion was in part to impose a 31.5% tax on income trusts starting in 2007, but that for existing income trusts the start date would be 2011.

On December 21 the government released a draft bill for consultation on this issue. However, the clause in question today never appeared in that draft bill. The implementation of the ways and means motion is now found in Bill C-52. Subclause (2)(b) of the bill found on page 20 referred to earlier reads as follows:

the first day after December 15, 2006 on which the trust exceeds normal growth as determined by reference to the normal growth guidelines issued by the Department of Finance on December 15, 2006, as amended from time to time, unless that excess arose as a result of a prescribed transaction.

This clause which I have just read deals with transitional tax measures involving how a large segment of the Canadian economy and billions of dollars of taxpayer assets are to be governed under our tax laws for the next four years, and yet this is proposed to be administered by way of a reference in legislation to guidelines only, which themselves are no more than a press release. I have a copy of that press release that sets the guidelines which I am prepared to table today. Worse yet, this press release, according to the clause in question, can be amended from time to time, as I have just read.

The bill is silent on any mechanism for amending these guidelines or press releases and there is no official or specified repository of this information. What we have in this clause, in effect, is a delegation of subordinate law, not by regulation nor by ministerial directive, but by press release.

This action of the government, that is to say to apply a tax burden or levy against a group of taxpayers using a so-called guideline or press release, is unprecedented. As a matter of fact, the only reference I could find to a budget implementation bill using guidelines dates back some 11 years to 1996 and dealt with the reimbursement of a conservation expense. In other words, the 1996 initiative gave money back to the taxpayer. For the benefit of the Chair, this was clause 66.1(6) of that bill. The situation now before the House is the reverse.

Let me remind the House that the contents and consequences of using that news release are not minor in nature. They are very broad in scope and have a large impact on this broad group of taxpayers involving billions of dollars. The news release itself says, “The deferred application of these measures is conditional on existing,” and income trusts are referred to by using the acronym SIFT, “respecting the policy objectives of the proposals”.

Materials released with the minister's announcement indicated that, for example, the undue expansion of an existing income trust might cause the deferral to be rescinded. This introduces a whole layer of conditions, at least some of which appear totally arbitrary in nature and which the taxpayer must fulfill in order to benefit from the 2011 delay date of tax liability set out in the bill, and yet the bill is silent on these conditions. They appear nowhere in the bill, only in the news release.

The news release includes the concept that if the conditions are not met, the minister, by some unknown authority, can cause the taxpayer's deferral to be rescinded. That would actually result in a tax increase to the taxpayer. That is a new power found only in the news release, that the minister could by some unknown authority rescind a taxpayer's deferred status and somehow force the person to pay the tax sooner than the bill would otherwise have him or her do. That increases the tax burden.

What we are trying to prevent is a situation where the minister or his officials conclude, based on a news release or guidelines, not as a matter of law, that this or that condition in the news release is not being met or has been amended and then is not being met and so, almost by a fiat, a taxpayer's deferral is rescinded. The taxes would be imposed on the person sooner than the 2011 date that Parliament has set out and the taxpayer would be left wondering why and how all this could happen.

Marleau and Montpetit's House of Commons Procedure and Practice reminds us at pages 686 and 687:

In 1950, Parliament adopted the Regulations Act, which decreed that all “orders, regulations and proclamations...” would be systematically and uniformly published and tabled in the House.

This language is from the Regulations Act, 1950. I ask rhetorically, how does the scheme described in the bill herein comply with these practices. Clearly, they do not. It attempts to exempt itself from those rules.

Erskine May's Parliamentary Practice also has references defining statutory instruments.

Our current Statutory Instruments Act provides clear direction regarding subordinate law, offering instructions in areas such as the coming into force date, the means or instruments by which the coming into force will be achieved, the method to be used to publish the subordinate law, and even Parliament's role in the revocation of the instrument should it be found not to be in compliance.

Again, the so-called guideline tax measure referred to in the budget implementation bill also appears to exempt itself from parliamentary scrutiny.

I want to briefly turn to the oversight issue. Marleau and Montpetit at page 688 describes the authority of the Standing Joint Committee for the Scrutiny of Regulations to “scrutinize any statutory instrument made on or after January 1, 1972”. Statutory instruments are referred to therein as:

--any rule, order, regulation, ordinance, direction, form, tariff of costs or fees, letters patent, commission, warrant, proclamation, by-law, resolution or other instrument issued, made or established...in the execution of a power conferred by or under an Act of Parliament.

Clearly, Parliament intended that important issues such as the one found in the budget implementation bill, should be manifested in a statutory instrument subjected to parliamentary oversight and not left to the status of a guideline or press release which can be amended from time to time by an unidentified government official with a computer and a printer.

Again, referring to the Statutory Instruments Act, the Standing Joint Committee for the Scrutiny of Regulations is mandated to report to this House to ensure that instruments conform to 13 criteria of good governance. I draw the attention of the Speaker to criterion number 7, which requires compliance with the act with respect to transmission, registration or publication.

How are members of this House to know whether or not one of the minister's guidelines, which can be amended from time to time, was even published, let alone whether or not it conforms to the rules?

Criterion number 11 guards against an unusual or unexpected use of the powers conferred in enabling legislation. Again, in this case, members will not have the tools to make such a determination because a press release was used.

Clearly in this clause and perhaps others, the government has attempted to create subordinate law by press release in a way that is not accountable to anyone and certainly not accountable to this Parliament. This is not a proper and accountable way to legislate, particularly for a government that proclaims or touts accountability as an attribute of its administration.

Finally, this part of the budget implementation bill does not even conform to the government's own rules on proper legislative drafting. I have in hand a copy of the Privy Council Office document entitled “Guide to Making Federal Acts and Regulations”, which I am prepared to table as well. Page 3 of the document describes what it considers to be proper subordinate law-making. Suffice to say this bill, or at least the clause I have referred to, does not even come close to adherence to those rules governing the making of subordinate law. Given the historic strictness with which the House imposes on tax measures, these vague and arbitrary provisions should be treated as out of order and a nullity. This is taxing by press release.

I conclude by inviting the Chair to review this submission and to rule that the clause in the budget implementation bill is out of order and cannot be proceeded with in its current form. A bill with references such as this should not be accepted in principle and read a second time. This clause, and any other clause or subclauses ancillary to it, should be struck from the bill and ordered reprinted.

If the government insists on proceeding with the objectives of this clause, as wrong-headed as some members may think they may be, it could do so by way of a separate, properly drafted bill dealing with its scheme for taxing income trusts to which the transition rules are central, which the government seemed to be prepared to do last December in any case and which a committee of the House endorsed earlier this year. Obviously, we would expect that the new bill would be properly drafted and conform to the rules of the House.

Given that Bill C-52 could be voted on at second reading fairly soon, I would ask the Chair respectfully to rule on this at the earliest possible opportunity.

Bill C-52--Budget Implementation Act, 2007Points of OrderOral Questions

3:25 p.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

Mr. Speaker, very briefly, the government will want to respond to the intervention by the hon. member and will do so as quickly as possible after reviewing the objections raised by the member for Scarborough—Rouge River.

Bill C-52--Budget Implementation Act, 2007Points of OrderOral Questions

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

I thank the hon. parliamentary secretary for his comment and the hon. member for Scarborough—Rouge River for his argument. The Chair is happy to have a little time to consider this rather technical argument. I must say my head is spinning now from hearing it, but I will do my best to follow the argument by rereading the remarks of the hon. member for Scarborough—Rouge River in due course. I look forward to the comments from the hon. parliamentary secretary when he is ready.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-46, An Act to provide for the resumption and continuation of railway operations, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Railway continuation Act, 2007Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

Prior to oral question period, the hon. member for Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert had the floor to respond to questions and comments about his speech.

The hon. member for Burnaby—New Westminster.

Railway continuation Act, 2007Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, in the House today, the Bloc Québécois and the Liberal Party have allied themselves with the government.

The Bloc says it might vote against this bill later today, but everyone knows that the Bloc Québécois supported the government's closure motion. The only reason we are having a closed debate, a forced debate in so little time, is that the Bloc and the Liberal Party supported it. Of that there can be no doubt.

The Bloc cannot say that it is against the bill and then support closure. It has been the government's ally on this back to work legislation, which means that not only are workers in Quebec not being served by this Canadian Parliament, but also, Quebeckers will be forced to put up with the problems, collisions and other accidents that happen on our rail network. The Bloc helped the government impose this legislation, so try as it might, it cannot vote against the bill in the final stages and claim that it was not an accomplice. It is an accomplice.

My question is a simple one. Why did the Bloc vote with the Conservatives in favour of the decision made by CN managers in the United States? What this decision will impose on workers in Quebec is not at all in Quebeckers' best interests.

Railway continuation Act, 2007Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

Bloc

Carole Lavallée Bloc Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, QC

Mr. Speaker, this is really not the NDP members' day. They are a pitiful sight.

Not only did they demand this morning that we all vote twice, but they made us come back to vote because they had forgotten that they wanted to speak against the closure motion. We might have expected them to speak, because they were responsible for the 308 members of this House meeting this morning to vote. We took a half-hour of our time to come to the House to vote. And we might have expected them to speak again to motion 15. But they said nothing and they did nothing. They did not understand that this was the time for them to speak. So things are not going well for them now.

Earlier, before question period, another colleague from the NDP had also not really understood that the Bloc Québécois did not support Bill C-46, An Act to provide for the resumption and continuation of railway operations.

As I said a moment ago, the Bloc Québécois does not support Bill C-46 in principle. I reiterated this earlier to another colleague from the NDP because I thought he might not have been listening. We know that the French to English interpretation services in the House are excellent. So the only reason why his colleague before him had not understood was undoubtedly because he was not listening. And now another colleague from the NDP is rising. Clearly they are having a bad day, so we are going to try to move on.

On the question of CN's management, it is important to recall what they said when they addressed us at the Committee on Human Resources, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities on February 8. In fact, it is important to note how the Vice-President and Chief Legal Officer of CN saw matters at that time. At the time, the situation was heating up at CN and the strike was in full swing.

Of course, CN management spoke against the anti-scab bill. In fact, it said that "this would mean a return to a system where any nationwide railway work stoppage would inevitably require government intervention". They cannot be said to have had a lot of vision.

This is what the Vice-President of CN said: "First, the commuter rail service in Toronto and Montreal would quickly grind to a halt." We know that this is not what happened. He said that it would lead to "traffic jams and great inconvenience". We know that this is not true and we have not seen great inconvenience.

In short, CN management cannot be said to have had a lot of vision in these disputes. They have very little understanding of the consequences and repercussions that labour disputes in their company can have. So we can see why they have exhibited such a serious lack of respect in bargaining with their employees and the employees' representatives.

Railway continuation Act, 2007Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

Bloc

Christian Ouellet Bloc Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like first to congratulate my colleague from Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert on her excellent speech about this bill, which she really summarized well. It seems to me that it was all very clear for those who were listening, though not for the others.

I would like, though, to ask her two small questions to clarify something. Could she tell me whether it is absolutely necessary to resolve the dispute by passing a bill today and why today?

I would also like my hon. colleague to enlighten us on whether there might have been some other way of approaching this. In the event that this legislation does not pass today, what could the minister do or what should he have done to settle the dispute?

Railway continuation Act, 2007Government Orders

3:35 p.m.

Bloc

Carole Lavallée Bloc Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would tell my hon. colleague that there were many other ways of dealing with this dispute. Special back-to-work legislation should be the last resort considered. I mentioned some other approaches in my address a little while ago. First, if there had been anti-scab legislation, there would have been a balance of forces and CN management would not have acted so arrogantly and with such little regard for its employees and their safety. Many other things should have been done in advance.

The Minister of Labour should also have shown leadership far earlier and ensured that the parties were talking to each other and, most importantly, that CN management showed some regard for the union representatives. It should have sat down at the bargaining table and negotiated seriously instead of thinking up some phoney strategy like hiring replacement workers and retired people to fill in for the striking workers and thereby merrily brushing them off.

Railway continuation Act, 2007Government Orders

3:35 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am quite appalled by what I see here this afternoon. We have the Liberal Party and the Bloc Québécois helping the Conservative government do something that we know is not in the interest of Canadians. We know full well that this is not in the interest of Canadians because they are telling us that they are increasingly concerned about the escalating accident rate, the loss of life, communities devastated and environments destroyed. CN has refused to treat any of those safety issues.

Now, after the employees are crying out to Parliament to take action so they can start addressing these safety issues, we have Bill C-46.

What does Bill C-46. do? It allows the government to hand over a blank cheque to the CN management to impose whatever final agreement it wants to see. The government will be given, through final offer selection, the right to appoint the person who will impose this settlement. Employees at CN have been trying desperately to have members of Parliament from the four corners of the House recognize the safety issues that have arisen over the last few years and that have reached a critical point in the last few months. Instead they are completely forgotten.

The government has the right through this legislation to impose whatever situation CN decides to put forward. There is no arbitration. There is no negotiation. There is an imposition by American management in the United States on what conditions the railway will function under.

It is absolutely appalling that any party would try to impose safety standards through CN management. What is most appalling is earlier today we saw the Liberals and the Bloc Québécois support closure so we cannot have a full debate on this issue and we cannot have a full addressing of the issue of safety, even though we have seen problems across the country. Instead we are simply going to hand over a blank cheque to CN management in the United States to decide what the future of our rail system for CN is going to be.

What has it done so far? We are giving these rights to CN management to decide on safety issues. That is the major point of contention. Employees have not hidden that. They have been raising this concern for months and months and years. Over the last five years we have seen a rapid escalation in the number of accidents, derailments, collisions, fires and explosions. Over the past five years they have escalated at CN.

The former Liberal government did very little. The Conservative government has done nothing to address this issue of safety. Instead of addressing it, instead of having the Minister of Transport sit down with the Minister of Labour and work out some way of addressing these legitimate concerns raised by employees, we have Bill C-46 being imposed with the support, as they say the accomplices, of the Liberal members and the Bloc members.

What happened earlier this year? After we had seen this rapid escalation over the past five years, we saw a spike up, a doubling, of main track train derailments since January 2007. What does that mean?

Let us look at some of the examples over the last few weeks. On January 4, CN rail engine crew had to be rescued from B.C.'s Fraser Canyon after a locomotive plunged down an embankment. On January 8, 24 cars of a 122 car freight train derailed in Montmagny, Quebec, about 60 kilometres east of Quebec City. On March 1, a CN freight train was derailed in Pickering, which disrupted train service on the Toronto-Montreal-Ottawa corridor and disrupted commuter rail service in the Toronto area. On March 4, grain was spilled near Blue River, B.C. On March 10, train traffic along Canadian National's main freight line through central New Brunswick was disrupted by a 17 car derailment.

We are seeing derailments across the country. What we have had from CN management is utter contempt for Canadians. It is not addressing it at all.

The employees have implored us through their actions to say that the government needs to take action. Safety issues are the number one concern. Instead of addressing any of those safety issues, we have the Minister of Labour handing over a blank cheque to CN management.

It is not just the employees, and Canadians generally, who should be concerned about this. We know that shippers are facing, increasingly, these roadblocks and obstacles. Because successive governments, Liberal and Conservative, did not take action on safety and on these derailments, we are seeing a permanent state of uncertainty in our rail transport system where we know any day there are three to four major accidents, any one of which can shut down rail service.

To say that we are helping shippers by ramming through this draconian legislation, with the support of the Liberals and the Bloc Québécois, rather than addressing the fundamental safety issues that the employees have said are their chief concern is ludicrous. We have seen shippers shut down as a result of these various accidents, collisions, derailments, fires, explosions, and the government has taken no action at all.

This leads to the question: Why has the government not taken action? Why did the government not, months ago, start to address safety concerns?

It is throwing its weight around now, imposing a situation where CN management decides how safe the system will be based on how many executive bonuses it wants to pay and what it wants the profits to be for CN in the United States. There has been absolutely no consideration given to Canadians, not even to shippers, who have been complaining about the increasing number of derailments, who have been complaining about the increasing concerns that parts of our rail system is being shut down because CN has not been treating safety as a major concern.

There was one thing the government did, and that was to actually do a safety audit at CN Rail. After prompting and pushing from the NDP, it was finally released. Let us just read some of the conclusions of that audit. This is an audit that was conducted in 2005 and it was held onto by both Liberals and Conservatives.

The two-phase audit revealed problems with both targeted safety inspections and with CN safety management practices.

Investigators found a number of safety defects in CN's equipment, defects that could cause derailment, personal injury or property/environment damage.

Auditors found a significantly high rate of safety defects on the locomotives they inspected, with problems ranging from brake gear defects to too much oil accumulated on locomotives and fuel tanks.

The audit recorded a number of different system and brake gear defects and defects with the cars themselves, including 27 occurrences of an unsecured plug-type door.

The audit also found more than a third of the locomotives inspected violated parts of the Labour Code regarding trains. Problems included: out-of-date fire extinguishers, incomplete first aid kits, and missing protective covers on electrical equipment.

The report also found that many front line employees say they felt pressured to get the job done. It said current practices allowed locomotives with safety defects to continue in service.

The audit revealed in part, and commented, the view of many employees and front line supervisors who reported that they felt pressured in regard to productivity workload and fear of discipline to get the job done, compromising safe railway operations.

We have an escalating accident rate, collisions, derailments, fires and explosions. We have concerns raised by employees about the lack of safety standards and the government's only action, rather than addressing that, was to hide a report for a year until the CBC pressed for a release and the NDP pressed for a release. And then, instead of dealing with any of those safety issues, the government brings in this draconian legislation to help CN management in the United States decide what the rail system is going to be like even though we know that escalating rate hurts shippers and hurts people across this country. The escalating rate of railway accidents means that parts of the system are shut down virtually every week.

We would have a permanent state of uncertainty in our railway system if this bill were to pass. Rather than addressing the safety issues, rather than acting responsibly, this government acts absolutely irresponsibly. Whether it is a wheat farmer on the Prairies or whether it is a company in Ontario, what this would mean if we were to allow CN management to impose its low safety standards on Canadians is a permanent state of uncertainty in our railway system.

Mr. Gordon Rhodes, who is a long time locomotive engineer, the only survivor of one of the most egregious recent accidents where two CN employees were killed due to CN's poor safety management practices, was at the transport committee yesterday. Here is some of what he said about safety management in his testimony, which is the first of what we certainly hope will be many opportunities to inquire into the low safety standards that we are seeing with CN.

Mr. Rhodes said:

--I can speak about the fact that from my experience working for CN when it was Canadian-owned and my experience working for BC Rail, and now we've gone to CN again which is American-owned, the contrast is immense...When you opened up your rules books, when you opened up your timecards, safety was number one when it was Canadian-owned.

Now it is not. He talked about the lack of proper enforcement:

I think that Transport Canada has dropped the ball and I'm not pointing fingers at individuals, it's the system.

He is referring to a system that has been put in place of course by the Liberals and continued by the Conservatives.

He went on in his testimony:

How does a bridge fall down with a train on it? Sorry, I'm emotional as I've been part of something very awful. I've witnessed two of my friends die right in front of me. Why? Because people don't want to hear the truth. People are afraid to talk about the truth because the truth is going to cost money.

Mr. Rhodes, in his testimony yesterday at the transport committee, went on to say:

I'm not American, I'm Canadian and I used to be proud to call my company Canadian National Railroad back in the 1980s. Now I'm not even allowed to. I'm supposed to say CNR. What's this?

Referring to the American management, he said: “They're telling us how they're going to run things”. In referring to government and to members of Parliament around that table at transport committee, he said: “I think it's time you guys tell them how it's going to be run”.

That is part of the message from Mr. Rhodes, the only survivor of one of the many accidents that CN has had, an escalating accident rate over the last few years. These problems were identified through the safety audit and identified by the employees who have, in a real sense, said to parliamentarians, “You have to help us with this. Communities are being devastated. Environments are being destroyed. Lives are being lost. You as parliamentarians have to help us with this”.

Instead, in three corners of the House, we are seeing three parties, the Conservatives, the Liberals and the Bloc, saying to employees that they do not care about that, that they are not going to address any of those safety issues. They do not care about the communities that are devastated. They certainly do not care about the shipping problems that happen as a result of the devastation of these derailments, collisions, fires and explosions. They are not going to address any of those issues.

They are going to toss the entire weight of the government behind a plan to simply hand a blank cheque to CN management to decide really what it wants to have as a railway. They are not going to impose any standards. They are going to impose a piece of legislation that allows CN management to keep its big executive bonuses and decide what the future of the rail system is going to be.

I certainly hope that every single member of this House reads Mr. Rhodes' testimony before they vote on this draconian legislation brought in by the Conservatives. He speaks to what should be important to every member of Parliament here: the safety and the continuation of our rail system, and not allowing CN management to decide what the rail system is going to look like. He said:

CN has gone in the opposite direction and they're very adversarial. I call it the poisoned work environment because that's what it is. Nobody wants to go to work there. Everybody's counting the days, the months and years, till they're gone, they're out of there, and that's not the way it was, and that's not the way it was at B.C. Rail. [...]

The way I look at it is this: CN is a big multinational corporation. Their railway goes from Mexico to Canada. They have amalgamated many or absorbed, and I don't know the proper terminology, but they've bought many railways and they've absorbed them into their system. They're experts at doing that. The problem here is that they absorbed one railway that they had no expertise on. They thought they did, but they don't. Their arrogance is what happened in the sense that they came in, they took our GOI, General Operating Instructions, with 50-some years probably of railroad knowledge of how to run trains on that track, but you're going to do it our way because we want it all homogenized. We all want it one way and that's it. They didn't listen to anybody, they just ploughed ahead with their system.

Their system, as we know, was running railcars and locomotives that were appropriate for the Prairies and the mountains of British Columbia, with the loss of life that resulted from that foolish managerial move, foolish, shortsighted, irresponsible and reckless. That is, indeed, the company to which the Conservative government wants to provide a blank cheque.

It is saying, “Sure, you have been reckless and irresponsible, you have disregarded safety standards, but here is a blank cheque. You decide whatever you want. The sky is the limit. We are going to impose it on the employees of CN. We are not going to listen to their safety concerns. We are not going to listen to the concerns of Canadians from coast to coast, no, sir. We are simply going to allow you, as CN managers, to keep your executive bonuses and American managers can impose whatever solution they think is appropriate”.

Mr. Rhodes talked about the difference between the United States and Canada. He said, for example, that in the United States there is no requirement yet to have a safety alerter on the head end of the train for the engine man, a dead man's switch. In the United States there was no requirement for the SBU, which is the replacement for the caboose.

Transport Canada insisted there be an emergency release feature, which means that as an engine man I can release the air brakes, set up the brakes from the tail end, release the air out of the train and the brakes will all be set up. In the United States that is not required because it is an extra $1,000 a unit. Six men died back in the 1990s in the United States because of this.

Mr. Rhodes said it was not better in the United States than here. The safety standards were better here. Of course, our system is eroding and declining. That is exactly why we have had this very clear direction from employees of CN to start addressing these safety issues. Instead of addressing any of these safety issues, we have the draconian legislation being brought forward today.

CN employees are imploring us to look at the safety issues. Communities in the Fraser Canyon, Montmagny in Quebec and across this country are saying safety has to be put back on the agenda. The employees had only one way to do this and that is by pushing the collective bargaining process to start bringing the safety standards back up to what Canadians want to see.

Instead of the government in any way being responsible by looking at the bigger picture and saying that CN has been irresponsible and that it is going to address the safety concerns because it knows those are the chief problems and if addressed we know that there will be an agreement, instead of doing any of that, we have what we have before us today, Bill C-46. Bill C-46 imposes whatever CN wants on the employees. With final offer selection, it is simply giving a blank cheque to impose whatever lack of safety standards it prefers to see, a blank cheque which is completely and utterly irresponsible.

It begs the question: why did the Bloc Québécois support this entire process of a forced return to work? We know very well that the people of Montmagny, Quebec were seriously affected by the company’s lack of safety measures. We know very well that CN’s employees have been deeply affected by what the CN managers did.

The Bloc preferred to support the Conservative government and be its accomplice. It is clear, now, that this bill will be imposed, likely because of this action, this support, this complicity on the part of the Bloc and the Liberal Party.

To conclude, the chair of CN in the United States receives over $1 million a week in salary. Canadians deserve much better than Bill C-46. They deserve to have Parliament listen to them.

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3:55 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened with great interest to my colleague's discussion about what is at stake here and our obligation as members of Parliament to get serious about the issue of safety with rail transport because we have seen a disturbing escalation across the country of railway accidents and a complete lack of a plan or accountability from the government, the Transportation Safety Board and the CN in terms of addressing the growing number of derailments, locomotive accidents, fires, spills and the threat that poses to Canadian citizens.

What I am interested in bringing home today in my question is the issue of the growing gap we are seeing right now. We see it everywhere in our country this prosperity gap where these unaccountable CEOs with their golden parachutes and all the special gifts they get and whatever money is given to them is considered completely reasonable, whereas honest working people are nickel-and-dimed time and time again by governments like that and its supporters in the Bloc Québécois who support any budget the government puts out. The CEO for CN is making $56 million a year. The gap between what he makes and basically what anyone else makes is $56 million a year.

In light of this incredible gap between these mandarins of industry who are being treated, feted and protected by people like the Conservative Party and its friends in the Liberal Party, and the gap with ordinary working people who are out trying to make an honest living and pay their taxes, how does the member feel that is playing into this CN role when a man who is making $56 million a year cannot even guarantee safe rail transport in this country?

Railway continuation Act, 2007Government Orders

3:55 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member is absolutely right. The CEO not only has over $1 million a week in benefits, the Liberals and the Conservatives have just given him a blank cheque in terms of labour negotiations to impose whatever kind of low safety standards he wants to see. CN has been given a blank cheque from the Conservative government, supported by the Liberals, of not only $1 million a week, but he not only passes go, he collects a blank cheque from Canadians.

I think Canadians would be appalled if they realized the implications for shippers, for example, to have that permanent state of uncertainty now that will be established. As the accident rate continues to grow, we will see more and more rail shutdowns because CN finds it more profitable to cut safety standards and have more accidents. It does not hurt its bottom line. In the end, it made the calculation and lower safety standards means more profit.

Obviously there is a fundamental problem but it begs the bigger question. We have seen with the banks and with the petroleum companies which have $1 billion a year handed over to them even though they made over $30 billion in profits in 2005. The Conservatives and Liberals see eye to eye on all of this. Working families are completely forgotten. What about middle class Canadians? No, do not take them into consideration.

It is time for a solid merger between the Liberals and Conservatives. They should get together and form one party because there is no difference between the Liberals and Conservatives. They all think the same way, which is to hand it over to the big companies. Since that is what they believe, we would suggest that they merge and Canadians will decide between the NDP's vision of this country and the Liberal-Conservative vision of the country.