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.


Railway continuation Act, 2007Government Orders

5:25 p.m.


Don Bell Liberal North Vancouver, BC

Mr. Speaker, I too have had experience in labour negotiations in my previous career in municipal politics. In fact, in my business career with a major Canadian corporation I was associated with a variety of negotiations. I am familiar with the distinctions the hon. member makes, but I do not think one precludes the other. I think what we have to look at is what problems are involved.

In dealing with what the root causes are of some of the concerns in this labour dispute, I have taken the trouble to speak both to rail workers and to the people from the communities that are concerned with the safety issues over the last year.

I acknowledge the distinction the hon. member is making between final offer bargaining and some kind of an arbitrated settlement that hopefully is somewhere between the positions that people have taken. However, I understand that there are issues in terms of rest times and some of the other issues to which my colleague referred and I have heard about. These issues are such that perhaps they need to be put to the test of a final arbitration settlement, a final offer settlement, because they have been well discussed and because the company has been moving in a position away from them.

It is my hope that this is going to work in the interests of the concerns about safe conditions for the workers and restoring pride and dignity to the workers of the rail operations.

I believe that there is a 90 day period from the time this legislation is passed until the arbitrator has to report, before which both the company and the unions involved can arrive at a negotiated settlement. If they cannot, then there is going to be the reality and bringing them to that reality of what they have to try to achieve as a settlement.

I am hoping that many of the ancillary safety issues will be dealt with by our committee and dealt with ultimately by Parliament to ensure that the regulations, where we have the ability to regulate, will address some of their issues and concerns.

I appreciate the principle. I do not see it as a contradiction. I see it as pragmatic. I have already indicated my concern for the economy of Canada and my concern for British Columbia as a gateway to ensure that we continue to have the goods from central Canada and from the Prairies flowing through ports to the Asia-Pacific, as well as enabling imports to come into Canada and thus having the benefits that accrue to all of Canada from that.

Railway continuation Act, 2007Government Orders

5:25 p.m.


Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for trying to address the concerns I raised in this serious matter, but I do not think he fully gets the point I was trying to make. Final offer selection finds its origins in pro baseball. That is where it first was used. After all the other issues are stripped away and there is only money left and the two parties are still at an impasse, then both sides are forced to temper their demands with reason because the arbitrator can choose one or the other but not elements of both.

We suggest the way to settle this impasse is that there should be some sort of interest arbitration. The arbitrator should be able to arrive at something that is in the best interests of both parties by taking elements of both. That is far different from FOS.

In this case, the company is going to be able to write the final package. The company is going to be able to write what becomes a collective agreement. The union wants satisfaction on things like work rules, safety issues and complex issues such as pension contributions. The union has a whole package of things that are non-monetary or difficult to put a price on.

The company will simply come in with a good monetary offer and all those things will be left unaddressed in this round of bargaining, and probably will be unaddressed for the remaining four years of this collective agreement. Safety on the rails throughout the country will not be addressed even though people have invested so much sacrifice in this strike/lockout.

I hope my colleague and his party think seriously that final offer selection is not the right instrument by which to resolve this particular labour impasse. They would be far better served if they were to support an amendment to the effect of interest arbitration versus FOS. Perhaps there will be an opportunity later at other stages of debate where they will be able to consider an amendment to that effect.

Railway continuation Act, 2007Government Orders

5:30 p.m.


Don Bell Liberal North Vancouver, BC

Personally, Mr. Speaker, I am always open to listening to good ideas. I will give consideration to the points that have been made by the member, but I must say that I have concerns. In my opinion and in my observations from reading the reports and from what I have been aware of, CN basically has been running the Canadian operation much as an American railroad is run, and there are differences between the two. There are substantial differences in terrain, in what the expectations of the public are and in the rules that we have as a federal government, our Transport Canada rules.

My concern is that it appears that the Canadian operation has been run almost as a branch plant. I can speak of British Columbia being run as even a sub-branch plant to the extent that when this came in it had problems because it did not recognize the steep terrain, ran trains that were too long, in my opinion, and has not maintained things such as dynamic braking.

I believe that the combination of getting this contract settled and the work that is going to be done by the transport committee will see things improve substantially.

I have been told by most of the people I have spoken with that money is not the issue. Safety is the issue. While I listen with respect to the suggestion that final offer settlement, FOS, may not be as effective as an arbitrated or an interest-based settlement or arbitration, I believe there comes a time when what is needed is a resolution and that further delay is damaging to the relationship between the unions and also damaging to our economy and to the credibility of Canada as a country that is available for other countries to be trading with, both in imports and in exports.

I want to restore that confidence as soon as possible. I have watched while the bargaining process has gone on. It has not gone on satisfactorily. I believe that finally, reluctantly, it is time for us to act and to take the action that has been proposed.

Railway continuation Act, 2007Government Orders

5:30 p.m.


Brian Masse NDP Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am here today to speak to Bill C-46, An Act to provide for the resumption and continuation of railway operations.

It is very difficult to speak about the act in the context we have today because we are actually giving public safety in this country a free ride. We have an opportunity in Parliament right now to address the very serious nature of railway operations that have hampered our economic trade and prosperity and have put the general public at risk and we are throwing that aside for expediency. That is unacceptable.

We should put in perspective the fact that there have been only five months of negotiations in this current element right now, whereas there were 18 months of negotiations between the union and the company in the previous contract. That is why it is important to look at the issue of final offer selection versus interest arbitration in Bill C-46.

The member for Winnipeg Centre noted very well that final offer selection was introduced by major league baseball in the 1940s. Interestingly enough, that is probably about the same time that CN actually invested proper money into the railway infrastructure. As someone who rides the rails from the Windsor corridor into our region and from talking with workers, I can tell the House that shake, rattle and roll is the policy of CN and CP in terms of their actual investment in infrastructure.

Rail is important for our actual economic prosperity and our vibrancy as a nation. The World Economic Forum has Canada falling from 11th to 16th in global competitiveness and also ranks Canada 27th out of 28 OECD nations with respect to the environment. This issue is very important in regard to the productivity issues related to our rail system because the actual infrastructure deficit affects Canadian workers and our ability to compete.

We are throwing away an opportunity here by going to arbitration about dollars, which is not the reason why we are having labour problems right now. We are giving up that opportunity. We are telling the public, concerned about all the derailments, some of which I will go through later on if I have time, that we are giving up on them and their concerns for expediency because we want the arbitrator to basically set a dollar amount and there we go, back into the same pot.

What we could do is provide the arbitrator an opportunity or a tool that this Parliament has not addressed in the past 10 or 15 years: improving our rail system. This is interesting because there have moments of this and there have been times when we have been so close to dealing with rail issues such as public safety and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but we have failed.

I remember when former prime minister Jean Chrétien announced almost $1 billion in rail transportation infrastructure investment from Quebec City to Windsor, Ontario, but because it was seen as his legacy, the member for LaSalle—Émard tore it up. I remember sitting in the plane with David Collenette after that announcement and talking about how that money was actually going to fix our rail beds, fix our infrastructure, get partners moving and get something done. But as a result of their internal fighting over there, they killed an opportunity to improve our prosperity and our environment. It was killed because of squabbling. I have heard nothing from the government on that.

That is what Bill C-46 is about. We are giving up that opportunity.

I want to put this in perspective. I want to talk about the workers who are affected. I have a letter from some of the workers in my constituency in a local union there. I will tell members what they wrote to me with regard to this issue.

They said that first and foremost it is imperative that we maintain the ability to self-determination. This is as it relates to maintaining our fundamental ability to negotiate and ratify an agreement that may have such an enormous impact on the lives of the employees at Canadian National Railroad and, in a broader stroke, the citizens of our country.

They said that Canadian National railroad is just that: Canada's national railroad. Its trackage traverses almost every community from coast to coast. They said, “We haul various commodities, including various toxic chemicals, across this country 24 hours per day, seven days per week, 365 days per year. We are some of the best and safest employees in the rail industry, this while performing to the best of our abilities”.

Unfortunately, they said, if the government is permitted to interfere with their union/company negotiations, they are certain that “our current work environment will be adversely affected, resulting in disastrous results for ourselves as well as the communities in which we live and work”.

It is their position that it is essential, they said, that their duly elected original negotiators be permitted to complete the task to which they were assigned without interference of the Canadian government, that being to successfully negotiate an acceptable collective agreement with their employer, utilizing their years of experience in the railroad industry as well as the information they have received from the affected members that they have been elected from to their current positions.

Simply put, they said, there is no threat to the Canadian economy, this with reference to economic sanctions being imposed against Canadian National railroad. As such, the proposed back to work legislation is unwarranted.

The letter goes on to read: “As previously stated, we do currently have a couple of minor issues to deal with in our union. These are issues scheduled to be dealt with in a timely manner with the assistance of the CIRB. Again, it is absolutely imperative that we be permitted to resolve our labour conflicts from within, this without the intervention of outside influences. I am extremely confident that given a reasonable amount of time, we could accomplish this goal.

As previously submitted, our last round of contract negotiations with exactly the same negotiating committee lasted approximately 18 months. Currently, we have only been negotiating for approximately six months.

UTU members across Canada have expressed concerns over the recent derailments that have decimated the pristine environment of our country, not to mention the resultant deaths of at least four of our fellow employees. I am certain Canadian National Railroad will take exception to my comments, but, nevertheless, I stand behind my claims. I have forwarded various e-mails and articles that I have done and I am going to go forward on the issue”.

That comes from a railroad worker, someone who goes out every day to protect my community.

In Windsor West there is a massive transportation hub for the country. We have many toxic chemicals. The public pressure that has been necessary to get CN to even open up to the proper support systems so that the public safety officers can actually examine the sites to ensure they are supported is incredible. It is like pulling teeth.

It is interesting to look at the government and its close allegiance to the United States on many positions. It will not look at rail safety in that way. We know the United States has actually been implementing procedures and policies that protect citizens. It has not been the national government, it has been coalitions, for example, that have asked for toxic chemicals and different types of materials to circumvent populated areas. Cleveland is an example. Washington is on the debate list and there are a whole series of other cities. We do not do the same here. We plead ignorance.

Once again, this bill is an opportunity to allow an arbitrator sit down and examine what the root cause is. Let us look at the public perspective and what the discourse has been. Let us look at some of the headlines concerning rail safety, “fatigue, work schedules, accidents linked”; “Train in fatal CN crash was overdue for repairs”; and, “CN profit a boon for top brass”.

That is important to note because what we are arguing is how much money we want to stuff in the railcars and send over to some CEO in the United States: $2 billion in profits for the CEO and $56 million in payouts. How many different supports do we need to send over? How many railcars of Canadian taxpayer money do we need to let go? It is not up to the arbitrator to tell them that based upon baseball arbitration back in the 1940s. We know all the progressive things that were happening then.

I can tell the House that what we are giving up in this opportunity is unsatisfactory for workers and also the people they support in their communities. They want to be able to go to work safely, they want to protect the citizens in their region and they want to return home. How can they do that when the real issue of why they are going on strike is not being addressed?

There are more headlines, “Railway safety check notes 21 violations...”; and “Wabamun residents want CN to remove all oil before winter”.

The people of Local 472 told me right away that it looked like they would have a settlement and that they would go back. They have been back every day. They understand economics, commerce, trade, safety and all those different things. What they are calling for is time to sort things out and go back to deal with the real issues. They talk about the fact that it is not wages. They understand the offer is important but safety is really important.

These are some of the things they have asked for. First, the goals of the UTU members is worker safety and railroad safety. The pressure to produce at CN is huge and a safety audit released in 2007 expressed concerns about management's approach to safety measures.

Where is the action on that?

Second, CN is seeking to increase its away-from-home hours that are already at 80 hours a week.

Third, key concessions at UTU are fighting to maintain better rest provisions. They want washroom breaks and a 40 minute lunch break for a nine hour shift, an end to the 16 hour work days and safety. There were over 100 derailments in Canada in 2005.

Those are the things that are happening. Are they validated? Is there any evidence? Is it in front of us right now? All we need to do is look at the headlines and the timeframes. I want to read some articles of recent derailments to ensure people understand.

On March 10, 2007:

Rail traffic along Canadian National's main freight line through central New Brunswick was disrupted until the next day by 17-car derailment in the Plaster Rock area.

On March 4, 2007:

Grain was spilled near Blue River, B.C., two hours north of Kamloops, when 27 cars of a westbound train fell of the track.

On March 1, 2007:

CN freight train derailment in Pickering disrupted VIA service on the Toronto-Montreal-Ottawa corridor and commuter rail service in the Toronto area.

I have travelled that corridor on the train and the rail in that area needs vast improvement, not just in terms of our environment and our productivity but also because it needs to be done if we want to have the same functions that we currently need. I do not understand why that investment has not been made. These are Canadian workers. A Canadian aggregate is going to produce a solution for many of our professed political espoused values of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by taking trucks off the road.

I have talked about the tens of thousands of trucks that go through my community every year. If we actually had a functioning rail system with a vision, we could actually look at options, such as rail to road options. We could do a whole series of different things if we made the proper investment but we have not. We blindly subsidize the road system and the transport industry versus that of looking at rail as a viable alternative option for safety reasons. The province of Ontario is even looking at lowering truck speeds and having regulated elements there that were not there before because of concerns for safety. All those things can be looked at but they are not.

I will continue with the rail derailments. On February 28, 2007:

Hydrochloric acid spilled from one of five cars on the CP Rail train that went off the tracks in the Kicking Horse Canyon in southeastern British Columbia. Emergency crews managed to contain the spill and none of the chemical went into nearby waters.

On January 14, 2007: northern Ontario dumped more than 30 cars, one containing paint-related supplies, into a swamp. Officials said there was no sign of leaking, but train traffic was blocked near Gogama while the incident was cleared.

On January 8, 2007:

24 cars of 122-car freight train derailed in...Que., about 60 kilometres east of Quebec City. There were no injuries, but the accident occurred in a residential neighbourhood and one rail car came to rest about 12 metres from a home.

It goes on and on. The argument has been that our economy will collapse despite the fact that when workers went back it was only in strategic areas and, on top of that, CN chose to lock its own workers out. What reparations happened to them? Nothing happened to CN. Why does it not pay for that loss to the economy if that argument is so valid? CN chose to put the chains on the doors and gates. The decision was made in its corporate boardrooms to lock those people out.

Where was the minister and the government on safety then? They are claiming safety now but at that time they said that it was okay for management. The government cannot have it both ways. Management thinks it can actually chain up the gates and doors and do the job. Why do we not give the negotiators the tools necessary to deal with the root issue?

I would again point to the red herring economic argument. The other day I met with General Motors and other groups in the auto industry and they did not bring up rail issues. I am sure they have concerns about it as long as they move and are serviced. What they are concerned about is the government's fee-bate program that it announced in the budget. The reason General Motors has halted its decision on Oshawa and other parts of the country, including Windsor, on where to expand plants is because of the budget and what it will do to the auto industry.

If the government is really concerned about the economy, where is the comprehensive program for that? Where is the actual auto policy which the flip-flopping, floor crossing previous Liberal minister who crossed over to the Conservatives, had with him and was supposed to produce but never did? Where is that policy?

The policy to put workers back to work and to usurp their rights is available. The Conservatives have had the policy for over a year. However, they will not come clean as to whether it even existed. We see it in other parties because they exchange different boxes here and there. They will talk about those documents but the minister and his colleague are right there. Where are those economic plans? Over 200,000 jobs shed and, I would argue quite sincerely, that rail infrastructure and safety are part of that.

Since we know that the current system is one that does not work, do we just say that this is all about a few dollars per hour for the workers or do we actually realize what the opportunity is and do something meaningful to give an arbitrator a chance to flush out some of those real problems?

It must be tough for both those sides over there, the Liberals previously and the Conservatives now, to hear that we actually might need to invest some dollars in infrastructure and rail and that there might be some accounting to do but that will be very necessary for us to compete in a global economy.

I am less worried right now about the fact that we have workers who will commit themselves to arbitrate and to negotiate with their employer to get a satisfactory arrangement for the long term. They potentially could go out but they have given their word and they have stuck to it before in the past. Will we tackle the real problem which comes from the lack of public policy to deal with rail transportation in this country?

It goes on and on. We could look at some of the derailments and look at the concern I have, for example, coming from Windsor, about the safety of the workers as they transport chlorine gas and other things. I remember talking with our fire department. I give some of the rail operators due credit because some things have changed. It has been a little better than before. However, fire officials must ask for permission to go on the property to do different types of inspections and planning.

Miami-Dade county is a famous case where it actually banned chlorine gas going through that county. Within a 15 mile radius, an explosion or an accident could kill hundreds of thousands of people. It actually has legislation now that prevents that from happening. What was interesting about that banning process was that the water treatment facilities that use the chlorine actually found other substances they could use to do a better filtration process.

Here we are fighting for rail and hazardous material safety and we still do not have any of the answers. The government has not produced anything on that.

I remember when we had discussions on the International Bridges and Tunnels Act, a very good act that was a good start. We need other acts to support that but at least it puts a footprint in terms of where the government is with regard to having some responsibility for border crossings that are privately held and that there is a general accountability across the main spectrum. We talked about hazardous materials and rail but it was dismissed by the government. Any amendment that I had at committee was dismissed. The government did not want to deal with it at that time and it still does not want to deal with it now.

Why is that important? I can talk about Fort Frances, for example. People will wonder about this but the bridge that connects Fort Frances to the United States is actually a mixture of road and rail that cross over each other. When I was visiting there were actually three car accidents hitting trains trying to cross the bridge that week. Where is the vision of separating these two with a proper infrastructure investment? The reason there is none is that a private corporation holds that bridge and does not want to spend the money. The governments, federally and provincially, do not seem to care and are hands off.

What we are talking about today is a lack of vision. What we are talking about today is not actually doing what is responsible and right and that is to move through a process. A New Democratic amendment would at least provide the opportunity and hope for the arbitrator to raise the issues that are important to workers, their families and the communities that they serve, and this country and to start being responsible about rail safety and transportation in Canada.

Railway continuation Act, 2007Government Orders

5:50 p.m.


Chris Warkentin Conservative Peace River, AB

Mr. Speaker, in the last two weeks I spent a fair bit of time in my constituency, particularly in the farming communities. Again and again the one thing I heard was that yes, CN has some issues and CN has to resolve this union issue. The farmers said that we have to get these trains rolling again because their farms are on the line. Again and again I heard from desperate farmers and desperate farm families that they are not able to deliver their product. They are not able to deliver their commodity to port to get the sales they desperately need so that they can get cheques in their pockets to make the payments that are coming due.

There are some legitimate concerns that the NDP has brought forward and CN will have to resolve them. However, a lot of the issues that the NDP is bringing forward have nothing to do with the negotiations that are happening right now.

There are many people who do not have anything to do with CN who are going to end up paying the price for any prolonged labour action in the case of CN. The farmers that I talked to again and again expressed with tears in their eyes that they will lose their farms will and their families will be on the streets if they cannot move their product.

By stalling this, the opposition members who are opposing this are saying to the farmers, to the mill workers, to the value added producers in my constituency and many constituencies across the country that they do not care about those people. They do not care that tomorrow those people will go out of business. They do not care that farmers will lose their farms. The members opposing this are saying that they believe the country should come to a halt and that product should not flow.

I want to make the submission to those members who are considering voting against moving this legislation forward that these farm families, the people in my community and across the Prairies and in many other small communities where there are lumber mills, are demanding that we stand up for them so that they can be protected and their families will have an income moving forward.

I ask the member if he has considered the people who are impacted, who are not CN employees or CN management, the people who will be affected, the people who truly have the most to lose.

Railway continuation Act, 2007Government Orders

5:55 p.m.


Brian Masse NDP Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the hon. member's intervention.

Absolutely, I have considered them. I actually met with farmers in my area in Essex County just this past week. They were saying that the Conservatives misled them in the last budget and what they had promised in the election. That is what they told me. The CAIS program and a whole series of other promises went out the window. They said that was unacceptable. That is something they expected from the Liberals but they did not expect it to be delivered so quickly by the Conservatives. That is what they told me.

As far as Saskatchewan is concerned, absolutely we are really concerned about that. There is no doubt about that.

A short term solution for a wage dispute is not what is at stake. The long term viability of our rail network is, as is the safety of the residents in the communities and also the future investments of farmers. Their actual farming operations and long term investment have to be addressed through proper rail infrastructure investments and continuity.

The farmers are desperate right now because of the government's policies and laissez faire hands off attitude. If other governments subsidize farming industries, “So sorry, so sad, you are on your own, good luck”. We have done that for 10 to 20 years which has resulted in desperation. That does not change the public policy issue that we actually have to deal with.

Maybe we should support those farmers. If that is a legitimate case, why does the government not live up to the programs it promised to ensure they would have vibrant farms? The government could do that. There could be both if the government chose to do so. It is not one or the other. This pick and choose approach that is being false fronted right now is unacceptable because it is not responsible.

Let us look at other trade agreements. There is a constituent in my riding who has lost his business because of the softwood lumber deal. Even in Windsor West we had post end production, and it is gone because of that deal.

Short term deals are no longer acceptable. It is pick or choose winners or losers. That is not the Canada I grew up in. It was about working to get a better solution at the end of the day.

That is why the NDP amendments are a better solution. We get to the issue. The issue is rail safety and sustainability. That affects all of us.

Railway continuation Act, 2007Government Orders

5:55 p.m.


Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, my colleague really spoke to the heart of the matter, which is the fact that this strike, this lockout has raised issues about the failure of a national strategy to deal with transportation.

For the viewers back home, I would say that one thing we learn when we come to Parliament is that it is a bit like Dorothy at the end of the The Wizard of Oz. We come into this auspicious chamber and we think we are dealing with people whose whole focus is how to make an economy work in the 21st century. Then we look behind the curtain and see that little wizard and think, is that how economic policies are made and designed in this country?

I will quickly give an example of how policies are done in this country in terms of short term versus long term.

The Conservative government, and it could have been the Liberal government before it, will announce in the budget that it is going to give a special tax credit to parents to buy shoelaces for their kids' hockey skates. Then of course it can announce that by allowing a tax credit for those who want to buy shoelaces for hockey skates the government is helping young people stay off the street and therefore, it does not have to worry about crime so much because the kids are skating. And by giving a tax credit for shoelaces the government says that it is doing something about health and for all the issues of wait times, and it will not have to worry about wait times in the future because the kids are skating now. Of course the government will make sure that the lace manufacturer has a factory in the minister's riding. That will help as well because that of course allows the government to show that it is looking after those constituents back home.

Those are the kinds of decisions that these governments come out with. They are short term, driven by a headline and press release and no substantive response. Meanwhile, a long term plan for how to make an economy work is ignored.

We have spoken today of a horrendous record of accidents in this country within the last year and it has barely caused a ripple from the two main parties in here. They would say it is just the cost of doing business. What, an accident every three days is the cost of doing business?

There are serious problems at CN. There are serious problems with having a country that does not have an industrial plan for transportation like our country does not have right now.

I would like to ask the member if he could explain to this House, to some of the Conservative and Liberal members who might not really understand the difference, why it is that we need to start taking these long term infrastructure issues seriously instead of just playing short term politics.

Railway continuation Act, 2007Government Orders

6 p.m.


Brian Masse NDP Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, simply, Canada has abrogated its responsibility to create the proper conditions to win. We have allowed the United States to do that. We have allowed China and Southeast Asia to do that. We have allowed other countries to do intervention, to foster, whether it be through infrastructure, whether it be through a national strategy. We have given all that up. That is what has been wrong in the past 10 years.

I learned as a city councillor that if we had to deal with the railway company, there was the federal government, there was God, and then there was the railway company, in that order. It seems that order has not changed.

To conclude, it is amazing that we are giving up an opportunity here to address the problem of a system of arbitration that was based on 1940s baseball rules. I would say that having reading one, two and three, it is three strikes for this nation because 1940s baseball rules to decide a railway system that the workers, their families and our citizens and their future will be tied to is perplexing at least and dangerously troubling at most.

Railway Continuation Act, 2007Government Orders

April 17th, 2007 / 6 p.m.


Peggy Nash NDP Parkdale—High Park, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to join with my colleagues this evening in this important debate on this back to work legislation. For those viewers who are watching this debate and who may not fully understand the background, I want to take a minute to go through some of the background. I do understand the perspective of people who see a disruption, whether it is in rail or whatever the industry is, and they say can those people not just go back to work and problem solved.

I want to take a few minutes to talk about the collective bargaining process. I understand the concern about the economy and the need to get our freight moving. We have to understand from the very outset that the collective bargaining process is about two parties. This is a negotiation process whereby two parties try to arrive at an agreement that they will have to live with day in and day out for the term of the agreement.

For the people who work in rail, for the people affected by this collective agreement, they may have concerns that come up from time to time, day in and day out over a period of months and years. The only opportunity they have for their voices to be heard in a democratic fashion is through their elected representatives in the bargaining process. The representatives take their concerns to the bargaining table and in a situation of equals the people who are covered by the collective agreement, labour and management sitting as equals try to resolve their differences through this process.

It is a process that is defined by law. It has been defined over a period of decades, of generations. The rights that are enshrined in the collective bargaining process are rights that people have fought for. They were not just given by a government or by the employer. These were rights that people had to organize and fight for, and sometimes they were terrible fights, in order to achieve that basic opportunity to sit down with elected representatives face to face with the employer, raise the issues of the day and resolve those concerns in a democratic fashion. It is an opportunity for the people covered by the collective agreement to address a range of concerns.

Usually when there is some kind of dispute in bargaining the focus of the media and therefore the public is automatically on wages and they become the central issue. Usually wages are a part of the concern, but not the entire concern. Certainly issues that are negotiated are wages, benefits, working conditions, relationships in the workplace in terms of how disputes will be dealt with, how concerns will be dealt with. As part of the working conditions the most important working conditions are those of the health and the safety of the people who work in a given environment.

My concern always when a government comes in with ham-fisted back to work legislation is that it pushes all of those rights and the democratic process off the table. It is a very ham-fisted, heavy-handed way of resolving what ought to be a very finely negotiated collective agreement that everyone has to live with.

Often when agreements are imposed, whatever the method of the imposition, they are less satisfactory. The issues that remain unresolved fester and they remain concerns, whether they are issues on the side of the employer or on the side of the workers. That is one major concern that I have.

This is not an isolated situation. Over the last number of years the Canadian government has enacted a number of pieces of legislation that chip away at the rights of working people, legislative rights that were designed to protect them and their fundamental rights in the workplace and their democratic right to collective bargaining, and ultimately the right to strike.

I want to take a minute on the right to strike because it is about the issue of power. The employer has a great deal of power in the workplace. Employers decide who to hire, who to fire, who to promote. In addition to that, employers decide what their product or service will be, how they will manage that product or service, what equipment they will invest in, what kind of advertising they will do or what kind of clients will buy their products. They decide the advertising and how they are going to market their services. They have a great deal of power over what it is they are producing in the marketplace, and that is certainly well known. That is the system that we have.

For people who work for the employer, as I said earlier, the only opportunities they have to give their input and to exercise any kind of rights in the workplace is not as an individual person but through the collective, through their collective agreement.

Organizing that process, being part of collective bargaining, is something for which people have fought for years. Chipping away at these rights, as we have in Canada, has led us to the point where Canada now has one of the worst records when it comes to labour rights in the western world. This it is very troubling and it is something about which all Canadians ought to be concerned.

Some may say unions are a problem, they are too much trouble, they are always after something, Whether it is labour rights, or other legal rights or human rights based on religion, ethnicity, gender or disability rights, the other person's rights may not seem quite as urgent as one's own rights, but when directly affected, one understands how important they are. I think fair-minded people everywhere in the country ought to be concerned that if labour rights are being eroded, as they are, what other rights are being eroded in Canada?

We had a discussion earlier today with questions about the cancellation of the court challenges program by the government, thereby undermining the ability of Canadians, usually the most disadvantaged Canadians, to access their basic rights under the Charter of Rights.

Those who quickly dismiss labour rights ought to understand that this is only one aspect of a broader tapestry of rights that we pride ourselves on in Canada. All this chipping away leads us down a slippery slope. As Canadians and how we think of ourselves as fair-minded and protectors of human rights, I do not think it is a slope that we want to go down.

Some weeks or months back we had a debate in the House about replacement workers. A private member's bill on replacement workers was defeated. I remind the House that Liberal governments between 1993 and 2006 helped defeat 10 anti-replacement worker private members' bills in the House. I am citing this from the Montreal Gazette, which published a story on it today.

This is something that ought to be of great concern to all Canadians, and certainly I am personally concerned about it. I know my party is.

On the specific dispute at hand, we have to remind ourselves that the Canadian Industrial Relations Board ruled this a legal strike. When the strike originally took place back in February, workers, who were under the direction of their democratically elected negotiating committee, were negotiating terms to go back to work back in February, but the government kept pushing for back to work legislation. I recall this because the media kept reporting that back to work legislation would be introduced.

They came to a tentative agreement. As sometimes happens with tentative agreements, they are not imposed on people. The agreement needs to be ratified. The membership voted 79% against the offer, and it was their legal right to do so. They began rotating strikes while agreeing to maintain commuter service. However, in response to a fairly limited dispute, CN decided to lock out all the workers. The situation with which we are presented now is not a strike. We are presented with a lockout. In essence we are dealing with an employer strike.

As I said earlier, in the normal course of operations, the balance of power is very heavily weighted toward the employer and that this is the only opportunity for people to get their issues addressed. This heavy-handed behaviour on the part of CN is rewarded by the government with back to work legislation, which in fact endorses what CN is doing. It endorses its heavy-handed approach. It is an approach that undermines the democratic legal rights of the people in the workplace.

All through bargaining, CN has used back to work legislation as a bargaining chip, and that is not the first time this has happened.

Let us look at some of the issues the people in this workplace are trying to deal with at the bargaining table, like worker safety and railway safety.

A recent study was conducted by Transport Canada a couple of years ago that highlighted rather serious concerns in rail safety. The public maybe does not see all the day to day safety concerns. We do see derailments. Some of these are huge and they affect our communities. They endanger our communities. People scratch their heads and say, “How do we prevent this? It is costly, destructive and wasteful. How do we prevent these derailments?

Study after study will show that probably the best way to prevent derailments is top-notch, high quality safety measures and top-notch, high quality investment in infrastructure that ensures the tracks, the rail beds, all of the equipment being used is absolutely in top condition so derailments are much less likely.

In the agreement CN was seeking to increase the number of hours workers would spend away from home. It is already 80 hours a week. It sounds kind of like the life of a member of Parliament. On the part of the union, it was trying to get better rest provisions, washroom breaks, a 40 minute lunch on a 9 hour shift, which sounds pretty reasonable to me, an end to 16 hour workdays and a number of safety measures. There have been over 100 derailments in Canada in 2005.

These are serious issues. If I am not in that workplace, I have trouble maybe relating to those issues. I do not know them as well as the people who live in these conditions day in and day out, whether they are in the union or in the company. That is why the process of collective bargaining works so well. Those two parties, which know the workplace, the issues, the concerns, maybe from a different perspective in the bargaining process, have to sit down and hammer these issues out and come to a mutually agreeable solution.

Again, CN has been less than stellar in terms of bargaining in good faith. It has been relying on the Canada Industrial Relations Board to rule the strike illegal, which it did not, and then wait for back to work legislation.

We have heard concerns in the House about the economy and the impact on it because of this dispute. I remind us all that this is a lockout, not a strike. However, fair and safe working conditions are equally important to the Canadian economy as the continuation of the transport of goods. The economic impact of a derailment, for example, is an enormous waste of our resources. If through this process we can address some of the safety and infrastructure concerns of the railway system, that would also be very good for the economy.

I have heard members talk about the cost to the economy of the strike back in February. I remind my hon. colleagues that many other factors were involved in the delays in shipments back in February in addition to this dispute. There was a refinery fire in Ontario. There were serious weather delays both in Canada and the U.S. that caused delays in the transport of goods. There was also a general downturn in business that affected some levels of production in the manufacturing sector and in other sectors as well.

I also remind the House that the managers are working. Managers are on the job, so it is not as though the rail industry has completely ground to a halt. Managers are working at CN, and there are other forms of transit available, including other railways. However, I do not at all pretend that some farmers and other shippers are not affected. Whenever there is a dispute, people are affected. That is why it is incumbent upon both sides in a dispute to get to the bargaining table in good faith to legitimately try to address the issues affecting them and to come to a resolve as quickly as possible so that any impact is as small as possible.

However, when we impose back to work legislation like this in a ham-fisted way, it sides with the employer. It denies people the right to a fair collective agreement because they get an imposed agreement that may not, in any way, deal with the legitimate concerns that they have brought to the bargaining table. It is simply not fair to them.

My colleague earlier talked about the importance of rail to our country. We are a country that was built on the railway. It is a key part of our history. It is part of our heritage and it created the ties that bind us as a nation. A country as vast and rich as Canada, with a fairly small population, ought to be a world leader when it comes to rail. Whether it is freight or passenger transportation, we ought to have the fastest, the best, the most efficient transportation system by rail than anywhere else in the world. When I hear about safety concerns, when I hear about derailments, when I hear that people are not being treated fairly at work, that is a terrible thing.

This round of negotiations, because it is ending up here in the debate in the House of Commons, reminds us all about the need to have a rail system that is top-notch, that we invest in the infrastructure to maintain a top-notch rail transportation system, that safety is a priority, and that we have to build on our history to improve our rail transportation system for the future.

I think this back to work legislation is another bad step in a bad series of steps to erode the rights of working people.

Railway Continuation Act, 2007Government Orders

6:20 p.m.


Nathan Cullen NDP Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for her words and her experience when it comes to properly settling disputes between management and labour.

Our country has had a long and turbulent history over this, but I think many Canadians would have expected that we would have evolved to a certain point, that we would have been able to use the law available to us that had been fought for year in and year out. A good friend of mine, Jim Sinclair, the head of the B.C. Federation of Labour, said that working folks in this country have never received anything they did not fight for.

Fighting for fair laws governing the unionized workforce has been a long and steady fight for many years. Over the last number of years we seem to have lost ground through these deaths by a thousand cuts under the Liberals and now the Conservatives. We are now at a point where a legal strike is happening and workers have fair concerns about safety at their workplace, and that is what has been presented. That right seems to have been put into question almost immediately.

My question to my colleague is very specific. When a technique like this is used, and I give Bill C-46 too much credit by calling it a technique. It is a bludgeoning action on a fair and legal labour dispute to say workers simply do not have rights if they happen to work in this particular work environment. Based upon her experience and the experience of others in labour disputes, what is the affect on the short and medium term conditions within that workplace? By using something like this bill, by using something like this practice, as odious as it is, what is the affect on the short and medium term conditions within that workplace?

We have now seen that the Conservatives, the Liberals and the Bloc will all team up on these workers who are exercising their legal right. What is the result on the workplace? What is workplace productivity like? What are safety conditions like? In the eventual creation of a culture in that workplace, how does using something that the government is imposing on these negotiations affect the average worker going to work and that experience once they get there on a daily basis?

Railway Continuation Act, 2007Government Orders

6:25 p.m.


Peggy Nash NDP Parkdale—High Park, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like my colleagues in the House to imagine that they use a wheelchair. They have rights under our Charter of Rights and Freedoms. They have the right to be treated equally and to be given fair accommodation even though they use a wheelchair and have a disability.

I would like them to imagine that they are going to a concert and when they get there, the organizer says he knows they have rights, but because the elevator was not running properly it was shut down so their right would not be available. They have to go home. I would like them to imagine their right to be treated fairly. I would like them to imagine that right being taken away.

That is happening here. People who have fought for the right to have a voice in the workplace, and to raise the concerns that they may have lived with day in and day out over months and years, finally get a chance to bring these to the bargaining table, and the employer decides that it is not going to deal with those issues. The employer is forcing a dispute, locking people out, and relying on the government to side with it and force them back to work. That is happening here.

Members would feel some resentment. It festers in the workplace. It is not conducive to ongoing good labour relations, or harmony in the workplace for anybody who has been involved in any kind of contract negotiation. What they want at the end is for all parties to feel that they did not get everything they wanted, but they received what they needed and that it was a fair process. That is not happening here.

Railway Continuation Act, 2007Government Orders

6:25 p.m.


Judy Wasylycia-Leis NDP Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask my colleague a couple of questions. This is an issue that must be addressed from the point of view of a couple of different perspectives. One of course is the heavy handed nature of the exercise today with the Conservative government introducing closure, when in fact it appears that some leadership could have been offered to bring both sides together and to resolve these difficult issues.

My first question to my colleague is, what is her understanding of why the government is so compelled to bring in this heavy handed measure? Was it in fact a need to get this issue out of the way, to create some flexibility for a possible election call? Does it have anything to do with its electoral political agenda?

Second, with respect to CN as a whole, it used to be a matter of our national identity, part of our history, our tradition, our heritage, linking this country together from sea to sea and a symbol of our greatness. That whole symbolism has deteriorated over the years with the privatization and the selloff of CN, to the point now where we have this huge company that is basically running rampant without concern for the health and lives of workers, without concern for the environment, without concern for transportation needs, and without concern for disability rights. At some point it seems to me that the government has to gain control over this issue and deal with this company which has so much power when so much is at stake.

We know that the Liberals allowed this to happen back in 1995 with so many other cutbacks. They put CN on the chopping block, allowed for its privatization. They oversaw the merger of this company and basically its takeover by Americans who are now trying to create a company that is more in line with an American approach to working relations, to labour relations, to the environment, to safety, to people with disabilities, rights and so on.

I think we need to hear from the member and others about what does this all say about the present government's role in an institution that needs to unite the country and be there to provide environmentally sustainable transportation, good working conditions, and ensure that all people have access to this necessary transportation method.

Railway Continuation Act, 2007Government Orders

6:30 p.m.


Peggy Nash NDP Parkdale—High Park, ON

Mr. Speaker, I cannot speculate as to why the government felt it was necessary to bring in such heavy handed legislation to force closure on the negotiations. I cannot speculate except that perhaps the government does not fully appreciate the impact of the rights that it erodes when it takes this kind of action.

On the second question, when CN Rail was deregulated and privatized, we were assured that safety would be a number one priority. We were assured that service would be top notch. We were assured that we would not notice any difference except that it would be better.

Now we have a CEO who makes $56 million a year. We have a service that seems a little frayed at the edges. This has not been in the best interests of Canadians. If rail is such an important artery to our economy, then perhaps this was not the best course of action we took back in the 1990s.

Railway Continuation Act, 2007Government Orders

6:30 p.m.


Dennis Bevington NDP Western Arctic, NT

Mr. Speaker, in today's labour market in western Canada there is a crying need for workers in all sectors of the economy, and in my sector in the Northwest Territories. We have the same need for workers and yet we see a reluctance on the part of companies to accept the stability and long term usefulness of unions and the union movement in the country.

There is still a backlash against unionized workers across the country and that is unfortunate. I think it really degrades the potential productivity increases in our society that come from a stable workforce that is well trained and well taken care of in terms of its ability to interact with the employer.

The move that the government is making today by forcing closure and back to work legislation on the rail workers is just another example of the degradation of the labour sector in our economy.

I would ask my colleague this question. How can we continue to do this in the face of the evidence that comes from a stable workforce as being good for the economy and unions being good for providing a stable workforce? This kind of action that has been taken today will once again cause conflict in the labour movement, will degrade its ability to provide the services to its people, and will reduce its bargaining position. How in the long run is this going to work for Canadians? Certainly, that is the question. How is this going to work in the long term for the productivity of our economy?

Railway Continuation Act, 2007Government Orders

6:35 p.m.


Peggy Nash NDP Parkdale—High Park, ON

Mr. Speaker, there has been a trend over the last 25 years to 30 years toward the stagnation of the wages of working people. That is one reason why I introduced my minimum wage bill because the minimum wage has been eroded over the last 30 years.

In North America, especially, there has been a strong undermining of the rights of working people and we see it south of the border. But increasingly here in Canada there is a growing gap between those, like Hunter Harrison, the CEO of CN, who make $56 million a year and the people who work at CN.

Increasingly, the average working people are finding that costs are going up much faster than their incomes and people are eroding their standard of living, and worse than that their rights are being eroded. People become afraid to speak up. If they see a safety problem at work, they are afraid to speak up. If they see some other kind of problem, something that is not right in the workplace, they are afraid to speak up. There is a real overall danger in our society. We undermine democratic structures like the right of working people to have a voice in the workplace.

We can go to countries like China where we never have to worry about workers having a voice or we never have to worry about the environment, human rights or any of those other pesky things that get in the way of a fast moving economy, but we do so at great degradation, not only to the air we breath and the water we drink but to the quality of life and the decent functioning of a civil society.

Railway Continuation Act, 2007Government Orders

6:35 p.m.


Nathan Cullen NDP Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, I have a brief question for my colleague. She touched on this generally, but I think it is important for people to establish as well that in the midst of a negotiation, the two sides in this case will use various leverages and tactics in order to get the things that they are looking for and things that they want to achieve, understanding hopefully that neither side will get all that they want.

However, I am wondering that with this hatchet looming over the entire process, CN knows full well it has the government in its pocket and it will introduce back to work legislation at a moment's notice, which is happening.

How does it affect the actual negotiations that are ongoing? Does it destabilize them or make things less fair that are happening between the two parties that are meant to be happening in some good faith?

Railway Continuation Act, 2007Government Orders

6:35 p.m.


Peggy Nash NDP Parkdale—High Park, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would equate the situation to two boxers and suddenly one opponent has three other people on his side in the ring and they are all ganging up on the other. It is that. It is always knowing that one has that extra help, that extra power in one's back pocket and one really does not have to negotiate in a frank and honest way. That undermines the fair bargaining process.

Railway Continuation Act, 2007Government Orders

6:35 p.m.


Nathan Cullen NDP Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is with some reluctance that I join this debate, simply because the need for this in this day and age should not still exist. One would hope in 2007 that reasonable minds using legislation that this country has agreed to would be able to resolve disputes, yet somehow we find ourselves in this situation. Workers are conducting a legal and authorized action. They have serious and legitimate concerns, health and safety and otherwise. Many members of Parliament would also wish to have the ability to affect their immediate environments in their workplace, the ability to make sure that safe and fair working conditions are applied here. Certainly any of the MPs in their own self-interests would wish for the same thing. Yet here we are facing a forced negotiation at the end of a gun barrel, Bill C-46 it is called. I think there are a few terms we have to establish before we can even move further beyond.

The actual name of this bill that has been cobbled together quickly by the government is an act to provide for the resumption and continuation of railway operations.

I have tried to find in the title or the substance of the bill some mention of the main issue that has been brought forward by everyday average ordinary workers on the line, which is around rail safety based upon evidence, audits, that have been done by the government itself. Safety is the issue. Safety is one of the critical issues that has been brought forward as a reason for this dispute and this draconian piece of legislation that was introduced to stop the dispute does not mention it in the title. It would be interesting if the title were an act to provide for the continuation of safe railway operations, but the government could not do that because right now the operations are not safe. There would be no resumption of any type of safe operations because we have the audited reports that say otherwise. The records have become worse as the profits of the company have gone up.

Surely there is a way to operate a rail system in this country that is both safe and profitable, but it seems that unfortunately or otherwise that CN does not feel that those two things can actually go together and exist in harmony. It will tell us that they do but then we see a news report of another train off the tracks lying beside or in a river, and we know that not to be the case. There has been an explosion of unsafe rail practices and we also know it because the workers have told us so.

There is another term that is important for us all to realize. Because I was not sure, before entering into this debate I asked some of my colleagues what to call the company, CNR or Canadian National Rail. It has since changed its name. It reminds me of Kentucky Fried Chicken having to change its name to three letters, KFC, in order to avoid any association with chickens because it was not actually serving chicken any more. In this case, we cannot call the company Canadian National Railway because it is no longer Canadian.

Not only did it change its name, which is well and good and perhaps it was for brevity's sake, and there are a lot of syllables when we spell it out, but it forbade the workers from actually referring to it as Canadian National. They have to refer to it as CNR, and are not allowed to call it Canadian any more.

These are small but important things and are symbolic of what we are seeing take place in an industry and an operation that is at the very heart of this country. It is one of the few things that Canadians can absolutely hold on to and identify with. Different from others was the creation of this majestic dream, and it was dreamt up in this very place, to create a national railway system to connect us from coast to coast, as part of our national identity. It enabled the west to open up. It enabled all Canadians to be part of this massive country. This experiment of some peacefulness between the French and English cultures was critical.

We know the historical roots. We can walk into the foyer just outside the House of Commons and look above the sculptures. Represented there as one of the primary industries of this country is the rail industry. Clearly, it is in our DNA. It is in the very soil of our country.

Here we have an operation which by all accounts, by the audit reports, by the workers working on the line every day and by the communities that live beside those lines is no longer a source of pride. It is a source of worry. It is a source of contention, controversy and conflict.

I need to talk for a moment about my riding of Skeena—Bulkley Valley in the northwest corner of the province of British Columbia. It has one of the increasingly most important rail lines in the country. It is part of the government's laudable efforts to open up the Asia-Pacific Gateway. It is receiving a significant amount of funding that we negotiated with the previous government and ensured with this government. We are proud of being able to leverage that funding for the container port in Prince Rupert. There is also some significant funding by CN itself along the rail.

Here is an interesting thing to note. There are hazardous products that travel along this rail line that stretches right across northern British Columbia. Some months ago CN sent a letter to all of our predominantly volunteer fire departments. CN said that if there was any major spill of toxic chemicals along the line, the volunteer fire departments, which neither have the equipment nor the training to deal with such a toxic spill, should just hold the fort for 12 hours until CN got a skeleton crew up there to deal with it. This is in a letter. CN actually put it in black and white and sent it out to these noble volunteer fire departments and said that just for their information, CN would show up half a day later, once the train was in the river or on the side of the tracks. This is what a so-called responsible corporate citizen is offering to people who live cheek by jowl, right beside many of these lines, whose livelihood depends on the conservation of our environment, particularly the rivers.

Those who have visited the northwest have seen some of the most stunning scenery right from a passenger rail car because the rail runs right on the very edge of many of our most stunning and magnificent rivers. The road is on the other side. The access to these places, unfortunately, I have to say, once a train derails, based upon anecdotal and the audited experience of this company is seriously impeded.

There is no mention of safety in this bill. There is no mention of the technique being used, this heavy-handed approach that allows for final offer selection. The two sides present their cases and an arbitrator will then pick one or the other. It is a system that can or cannot work, depending on the various labour disputes.

Clearly, by not mentioning any aspect of safety in the bill, the government is sending a clear signal to the company that it does not have to negotiate on the safety concerns of the workers and the communities that they have placed in the public eye. That is not a concern to the government and it certainly will not be for the company when it is negotiating. And the legislation does not name an arbitrator.

It is important to understand that once this legislation passes and it seems doomed to pass, if I can use that term, because the Liberals, Conservatives and the Bloc for some bizarre reason have decided to ram it through by invoking closure and that is democracy in action, but once this bill passes, the government can pick any arbitrator it wants, anyone. It allows anybody to finally decide upon a contract that will be imposed upon the workers in the company.

For those who have followed labour disputes across the country and the history of CN and the UTU, this is not a combative organization. I have met with the workers in my riding, both formally and informally. I met them around a coffee table just a few days ago when I was in northern B.C. I sat down with a worker, an honest, hard-working average Canadian who is just doing his job. When this labour dispute first came up in February he had had enough. He had been working on the rail for 25 years.

Anyone who has spent a day on the rail will have a sense of the working conditions. The workers work 12 hours, maybe 16 hours plus. There is forced overtime. Rattling around on the rail is hard work. The workers all knew what they signed up for and they are willing to do it, but that worker had had enough. Time and time again he had gone to his supervisors and pointed out a safety concern and said that a piece needed to be replaced because it was broken and it was part of the safety system, and he was told to just leave it be, leave well enough alone.

No longer was there a culture of care and concern that had been built up in that organization over many years to ensure that no matter what the trains would run on time and they would also run safe. That can no longer be said. That is a tragedy not just for the symbol of what CN and rail are for this country, but it is also a tragedy on other levels, and I would like to talk about a couple of them.

We have talked much about the environment and the litany of derailments. Oftentimes CN does not have to prepare any kind of a manifest. There is no legal obligation to tell communities down the line what type of products will be moved through those communities.

We have all been around this country and know that some trains move right through the very heart of communities. There is no manifest created and some of these substances are of the most toxic nature imaginable, the belief being that it is better to move them by rail than by truck, because the incidence of accidents traditionally has always been lower by rail. If a toxic substance has to be moved from a chemical plant, as is often the case, or the oil and gas industry, to another site, it is best to do it by rail, as the chance of an accident or incurring any sort of harm to the environment or human health is lower.

Can we still safely say that? On March 12, 2007, some 3,000 VIA Rail passengers were affected. On March 10, 2007, CN's main freight line through central New Brunswick was disrupted because of a 17 car derailment at Plaster Rock. On March 1 there was a grain spill from a CN freight train derailment in Pickering. In February 2007 there was a hydrochloric acid spill. On January 14, 2007 in northern Ontario there was another derailment and 30 cars went into a swamp.

Time and time again, when dealing with issues of the environment, we know it is always easier and cheaper to not have the pollution happen in the first place. Here we have a clear case of what it would mean to have a little more protection, a little more understanding up front about the types of chemicals and noxious substances that are being moved, and how much better it is from every measurement to make sure that they do not tip out somewhere along the way, never mind the human concern.

I was in Sudbury recently and there had been another derailment north of that town, reminiscent of one that had occurred the year before. All sorts of noxious substances were being pumped out of the river and lakes systems. I talked to the member of Parliament from that area. The people in Sudbury have done so much to try to remedy the damage done by previous historical practices in the industry. We all know about the moonscape and that NASA uses the area around Sudbury as a practice area for its astronauts. The damage had been severe in terms of the environment. Sudbury has dedicated itself on many levels to clean up the mess, and once a year there are trains tipping into its river and lake systems.

Canadians are concerned and they have a right to be concerned. I would hope there is not a member of Parliament who would dispute the right of Canadians to be concerned when they read their papers and turn on the evening news and see that another train has tipped over. The workers have come forward and said where they think the problems are, and they are ignored by the company.

An audit was ordered by the previous government as a third party investigation into what was happening, with no vested interest, so the union bashing going on by some of the government can stop. It was a third party audit which the government conducted in 2005. It finished in 2006 and then the government sat on it. It was not until a journalist with the CBC filed an access to information request that the findings were released.

One would have to suppose that if the audit had said that things were fine, that the Canadian public should not worry, that everything was all right, the government would have trumpeted it out. It would have had a press conference, announced it and given every detail of how wonderful it was, but we know that is not what the audit said. The audit came out with findings that 54% of the locomotives showed serious defects. More than half of the things that are responsible for moving and stopping the trains that are going through our communities, and in British Columbia in particular, up and down mountains showed serious defects.

That is why the government sat on the audit. That is why the government has now removed from this bill the concept of triggering any sort of negotiation around safety for workers. We have to understand that the whole concept of workers' safety, the whole concept of safe locations in which to work in this country, was one that initially was resisted by industry as an extra expense when it was done years ago. It has now been adopted and it is trumpeted by industries, the progressive ones in particular, that they have a safe working environment.

The lumber mills in my community, the good ones in particular, show on their signs that visitors are welcome to such and such a lumber mill, and they show many safe days and accident-free days they have had because they know it is good for business. They know it is good for worker morale when people are not getting hurt. They know it is good for absenteeism, obviously, when people are not getting hurt, and just ethically it might be a good thing, too, to not have a system or workplace set up where people are likely to get hurt.

We have had an audit come back that says the crossings and some of the bridges had faulty beams. Workers died two years ago in British Columbia because a bridge failed. Workers were coming to me prior to this saying that people were going to die. They said this flat out because they had looked at the trusses. They had looked at the structure of the bridges. They had known the upkeep had not been done, but who was watching the henhouse? Clearly it was the fox.

The reason for this legislation, the reason to force these folks back to work even though the Labour Relations Board has said that this is a legal and legitimate strike, has often been talked about. One assumes that the company thought it had this in the bag, that it could just go to the Labour Relations Board and it would order the workers back from strike immediately.

Even though this is a legal strike, it has been rolled out time and again that this is an economic catastrophe waiting to happen. Even if the government and the official opposition had the courage to stand up and speak to the legislation, which they do not, it has been pointed out by the few who have that this is an economic catastrophe waiting to happen in this country and that we need to force these workers back to work and impose a contract on them so that Canadian business can move again, because we are an exporting nation.

We would contend that this short term, poorly managed fix will lead to economic disaster in the medium term and the long term, as there is a clear indication to the railway to continue with business as usual.

A lot of the shippers in my region are completely stressed out. These are people who need to get their products to market. The cashflow is essential to their operations. They work on very fine margins and they want products to move.

However, they have also lamented to me over the last number of years that they cannot get reliable service from CN. When a train goes off the tracks, guess what? They cannot run another train right by it. There are days and days of delay and then an investigation, and then the train has to be fixed in the shop and there are fewer cars on the tracks.

It causes problems, but clearly someone within this organization has done the calculation and has figured out that it is worth the cost of business and that there are all the so-called savings they make by having people work longer and longer hours. We know as a result of studies that, like a student studying or a worker in any workplace, once past a certain point, effectiveness and clarity drop off demonstrably and in a significant way.

As soon as people go beyond the 8 to 12 hours, their ability to pay attention, to focus and to do as good a job as they were doing in the first 8 hours goes down. What CN wants to do is continue pushing people the limits of what we know to be safe when it comes to the people who are at the switch. Right now those workers are meant to be away from home for as many as 40 hours a week or 160 hours a month. CN wants them to be away more. CN wants them to work longer periods each and every day. They are working 16 hours right now. I am not sure exactly where CN would like them to go, and how someone in their 17th hour of work is meant to be performing as well as in their first or eighth seems ridiculous. It even seems counterintuitive.

A number of Canadians would be quite worried if they knew that train carrying hydrochloric acid and barrelling through their town in the middle of the night was being driven by someone in the 17th or 18th hour of work, someone who has been doing that consistently over the last number of weeks and months. How is the government meant to assure Canadians that everything is okay, that these workers are not asleep at the switch, so to speak?

When it comes to our environment and the idea that in this day and age we will knowingly operate an unsafe system and keep pushing the boundaries into places that have been proven through the government's own audit not to be safe, it is intellectually dishonest. As for the idea that somehow the government can paint itself green and run about the country claiming some sort of adherence to environmental principles and priorities when at the same time it is taking actions like this, actions that threaten exactly the heart of the clean air and clean water it purports to be defending and are unable to do so, it is intellectually dishonest. It is intellectually dishonest of the government, the Liberals and the Bloc to suggest that they are doing their jobs in this case.

A lot of MPs are pushing for this heavy-handed tactic and are trying to position one set of working families against another. It is a good old tactic that does not die out easily. The workers in my region of northern British Columbia are very much connected to the same people. The rail workers are exactly the same folks whose kids are in soccer and who go to Rotary and all the rest of it in our communities, exactly the same as the people who need to ship the product, the same workers who are just down the line at the mill or at the smelter looking for consistent rail service in order to feed their families. They are deeply connected.

They understood back in February when the strike first erupted, as they do now, how serious it is when they say that things are this unsafe and that the relationship between the company and the workers has broken down so much they are seeking to strike. They understand the consequences more than any member of Parliament does and certainly more than any of the fat cats on the frontbench of the Conservative Party do. They understand deeply what the consequences are of their actions and they are committed to them. Eighty per cent voted to reject the very deal that the government now wishes to impose on them.

It is absolutely ludicrous to suggest that using such a technique somehow will allow for any sort of labour peace or harmony in the workplace or betterment of service, whether it is the protection of our environment and Canadians' health from fewer derailments or better service by just being on time and actually picking up the freight that CN, not Canadian National, has promised to.

This is going to be trumpeted by the government and those supporting it as a salient approach and a quick fix to getting the rails back on line and the trains running on time. What I will suggest to the House, to Canadians and to people in my riding is that we need labour peace. We need a drastic improvement in the way CN operates, the way it treats its workers and the way it treats the safety of Canadians on either of these rail lines, because the situation cannot go on as it is, and this bill exacerbates it. That is why I am proud to be here as a New Democrat opposing it to the nth degree.

Railway Continuation Act, 2007Government Orders

7 p.m.


Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened with great interest to my hon. colleague's discussion because it raises a number of the issues that the New Democratic Party has been trying to get out on this bill that we are dealing with now.

This is an issue of accountability. It is an issue of accountability with regard to the CN management that is making record profits. The CEO is making $56 million a year, yet we have seen cutback after cutback along the rail lines, the rail lines that run from one end of this country to the other and link so many of our communities.

There is also the issue of safety, an issue that has been raised by the workers on the front lines. It is an issue that seems to be irrelevant to the government. It was also irrelevant when the Liberals were in power. There are serious safety issues. We have seen such an increase in trains jumping the tracks, derailments and spills in the last five years, and there has been very little oversight.

Yet these issues are not being addressed by government, so in this debate what we are having is really a chance to speak to the failed management policies of CN and the need to restore labour peace. How do we restore labour peace? As my colleague pointed out, we need to have a commitment to ensure that there is proper investment along the lines and that there is safety, including safety for working families.

I would like to follow up on another element. My colleague pointed out how the government is trying to make this a debate of pitting one set of working families against another set of working families. The government is obscuring the fundamental issue. These workers were locked out. They were locked out by the CEO, who is making $56 million a year. They were locked out by the company that is setting an abhorrent record for numbers of accidents while it is making profits to send off in dividends to shareholders all over North America.

These workers were locked out. Now we are being called in as parliamentarians to stay all night if necessary to bring in legislation that would impose on them what has been called a baseball arbitration settlement, whereby management will then get to basically write the blank cheque for how it wants to write the rules for the agreement that will be imposed on the workers.

It seems to me that everything right now is in favour of this company that is run by a guy who is making $56 million a year. Let us think to back home and what it would cost a person to earn that over an entire lifetime. The average citizens back home would never even come close. They work hard for their money. They are accountable. If they do not produce, they will lose their jobs. If this man does not produce, who knows what kind of golden parachute he will be given?

In terms of production, as we see the horrific level of accidents that have been happening over the last number of years, there obviously are serious questions about the accountability of CN management. Yet these are the people who locked out the workers, the workers who have been speaking out about the safety problems and the lack of investment along the rail lines.

Where does my hon. colleague feel we need to go in terms of a railway strategy in this country to address these issues of safety and the necessary investment in rail infrastructure and to have a healthy economy for the 21st century so that no family is pitted against another?

Railway Continuation Act, 2007Government Orders

7:05 p.m.


Nathan Cullen NDP Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, I know the member for Timmins—James Bay experiences first-hand what happens when the rails go wrong. It is not often that some of these noxious substances go barrelling through the middle of Montreal, Toronto or Vancouver. They tend to travel on other routes to market. They tend to go through smaller communities to get there. It is just how the rail was set up.

That is all well and good, except when people no longer have confidence in the train coming through town. It is not just a noise disturbance people are worried about. They are worried about being able to drink the water after the train is gone and the cleanup. When the ability for people to live where they have always lived is jeopardized by the simple passing of a train, one wonders what is next.

We have been hammering away on this so Canadians can understand. If we measured this company's success by the pay packet it offers its CEO, we would think the company is doing fantastically well. The externality, as they say in business, is what is being applied. These trains have jumped tracks and spilled toxic substances into rivers, as they did in Alberta, British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec. I wonder if we can start a list of provinces which have not had a toxic spill happen within the last year or two. It would be a very select club. Perhaps Yukon or the Northwest Territories have been safe so far, but they should not hang on to that too long.

I would love to see an amendment to the bill, and maybe we can work on one in the next couple of hours, that would direct the negotiators to ensure that the CEO's pay packet was tied to the company's safety record. I am sure they will decide what reasons to give him more and more dividends and share value, but if every time another train left the tracks, he would be docked a little pay. It would be a fascinating approach. I am sure it is one the government will advocate for because clearly safety is important to the government. It has said it time and time again.

If it were so important to this company, which has left in a sense any semblance of control from within this national interest that we proclaim to hold in this place, it would not sign on to any such contract. The record is so terrible right now that the investors are clearly worried about the next quarter. When only fixated on the next quarter, the value of shares are able to move around so quickly in our marketplace that the longer term investments in safety and the investments in the rail grade itself are no longer seen as worth it, so they are not being made. The audit conducted by the federal Government of Canada showed us that.

Lo and behold, the workers come forward and say that they are not sure it is safe to go on the rail any more, and I will speak to one example in my riding recently. I will not mention the fellow's name, although knowing him I am sure he might appreciate it.

A train left the rail in February in the course of the strike. Prior to that the Liberal government had slipped a small amendment into the Labour Code which did not allow rail workers to not cross the picket line. It forced them to cross the line, unless they were under threat. There had been a strike in a northern town, a legal and perfectly well conducted strike. A man got to work that morning and said that, as a fellow unionist, he would not cross the picket line. Immediately the company was there with a copy of the legislation, as signed by the Liberals and endorsed by the Conservatives. It said that he had to cross the line. In response he said that he would not, that it was against his convictions.

The only way an individual is able not to cross is if that person makes an accusation that he or she has been threatened by one of the people on strike. The RCMP will then be called in to arrest that striking person. That was the condition he was given. At some point this moves from the absurd to the ridiculous.

The notion is that people can have an unsafe working environment under laws that were constructed by Parliament and legislatures across the country, present evidence that their workplace is unsafe. MPs would not even sit in these chairs if they were not sure the legs were solid. They would refuse and demand another chair, never mind going to work, getting on a rail not being sure if it will stay on the rail by the end of the shift and then being asked to work beyond safe hours that have also been proven unsafe. Suddenly the government says that is an infringement upon the rights of others in the country.

We in the NDP will defend the rights of workers across the country for safe working environments. We really thought we were already there. We thought the legislation was in place, that the codes had been worked out and signs posted on the wall in all work environments, which allowed people to work safe and enjoy income and receive it in a safe way.

Lo and behold we see, when push comes to shove, the government falls over with the effort. It cannot stand up. By invoking this and knowing this was always in the back pocket, it has skewed the negotiations, it has crippled them and has made it impossible for the union and the company to come to a fair and reasonable resolution. This was always waiting, and the company knew it. That, therefore, made the lowest class of negotiations come forward, which is what the government advocated for and is now accepting, pushed by the Liberals and supported by the Bloc.

Railway Continuation Act, 2007Government Orders

7:10 p.m.


Denise Savoie NDP Victoria, BC

Mr. Speaker, for this debate, I looked to arguments that might possibly offer a rationale for this draconian legislation. For example, at, the president of the Canadian Industrial Transportation Association said:

Shippers serving highly competitive export markets and retailers needing to stock their shelves with seasonal imported merchandise will all be affected.

I thought is that why we were curtailing bargaining rights, to ensure shelves are stocked with seasonal imported merchandise? I thought, no, that could not be the reason we were sacrificing a fundamental right of workers to collective bargaining to negotiate conditions under which they were going to work. Given the safety issues that have been raised during this debate, I thought there must be a more important reason.

I will come back to talk about the safety issues, but I looked further for other reasons. I found a Canadian Press article in which the Conservative labour minister said, “Employers and many groups said they would like to see our government acting”. Clearly, then, is this legislation about taking sides with one party, the employer? How can that be a government that works in the public interest objectively?

We have had a lot of talk recently about the delicate balance between employer and labour. Apparently, that balance is only judged to be fair when employers get to scuttle their way around the right of workers to bargain collectively and fairly, either by using replacement workers or now by having the government do the dirty deed of curtailing the bargaining process and forcing a settlement on workers, a right that has been achieved over a very long time, democratically.

Then I read in the newspaper that the employer welcomed the news that the government would introduce back to work legislation. I do not see the balance in that. I see the government, which is after all supposed to represent the interests of Canadians, working instead on behalf of the interests of corporations, working out of the pocket of the corporate elite, bowing to corporate pressure, now twice in one month, to curtail the rights of workers to bargain collectively and fairly.

If this were sports, we would call it cheating. Since it is real life for workers, real life for Canadians who are exposed to safety risks, it is no sport, and it is not cheating, it is reprehensible.

I thought, surely, there must be an explanation that eluded me. Then I found, again in the Canadian Press article, in which the labour minister said, “The health of our economy is very important”.

The health and safety of Canadians is important. The health and safety of Canadian workers is important. The health of our environment is important. If we pass back to work legislation every time we might lose some dollars in export profits, how do we know that other safety concerns are not overridden? All Canadians workers should be afraid that safety in their workplace will not be overridden. All Canadians should be afraid when airline safety or transport truck safety is overridden because of the economy or because of a few dollars.

I finally found the reason that I think might have motivated the government. Again in the Canadian Press article, the labour minister said, “We saw what happened in February when...about $1 billion of our exports [was] lost. Now it's time to act”. If we only had this “act now” mentality about climate change, or homelessness, or mentality, or poverty, or health care, or student debt, or literacy, or a better course in Afghanistan and all the issues about which the Liberals and the Conservatives pretend to care a lot.

What is the first usage of closure in this Parliament? What is the first time the Conservatives have invoked this legislative measure designed for only the most desperate and emergency situations? It is for seasonal imported merchandise.

We hear all this talk about the social conscience of the members on the other side, the Liberals, but when do the Liberals side with the Conservatives, other than to extend the flawed Afghanistan mission? To tip the delicate balance of labour relations in favour of the employers, twice recently for the replacement worker bill and now for this draconian legislation.

Do the Liberals support an “act now” approach on climate change, homelessness or poverty as well? No, I do not see that. When they do support an “act now” approach, it is for seasonal imported merchandise.

Bill C-46 infringes on fundamental rights to collective bargaining, to negotiate the conditions under which Canadians work, when it is clear that CN is using back to work legislation as a bargaining chip to disregard the very serious concerns that have been expressed by workers.

The Conservatives have invoked this restricted back to work legislation on the pretext that it is impacting the economy.They may as well state they are against collective bargaining because most strikes have an economic impact. That is why two parties work together, work across the table from each other, deliberate and try to find a solution that meets the needs. This has not occurred.

When I get up in the House, I often say that I am speaking on behalf of my constituents. Of course I am speaking on their behalf, on behalf of Canadian constituents who I think are concerned when the rights of one group might be eroded, as they are in this case. However, this evening I am also speaking on behalf of my father, who worked for 25 years for the then Canadian National Railways, which is no longer. My colleague pointed out that name has been shortened. In his years at CN, he worked and fought for workers' rights in his union. He loved the railway and he passed on that love and passion of the railway to me.

In the time that I have been in the House, I saw some opportunities to really make rail and public transportation a centrepiece of our vision for the future of our country. Rail should really be a very central part of the future of Canada.

However, rail service will only be as good as the investments made to ensure the safety of workers, the safety of the infrastructure and the safety of our environment. Yet the government has not seen fit to develop a national transportation strategy. There has been no vision for public transportation and this is an area where the government might think of acting now.

In past decades an increasing corporate culture has led to the privatization of rail lines, to focus on profitability over safety, reduction of the number of workers, disinvestment in railway infrastructure, elimination of some rail lines, no matter that some communities have been abandoned, as long as the large salaries of CEOs continue to be possible.

I want to give an example very close to my heart on Vancouver Island where a freight service was slowly eroded over the years and was finally discontinued. A passenger service was also allowed to degrade. The rail itself became so badly maintained that the service was slow, unreliable and always late, to the point where the rail companies were going to simply abandon it. However, the community came together and said that it did not want to see that right of way abandoned and did not want to see its rail service disappear.

The communities along Vancouver Island formed what is now called the Island Corridor Foundation to protect the integrity of the right of way and renew the passenger and freight rail service. From the document on their plans, they explained some of the reasons that had led us to this point. They said that in recent years a variety of business changes had occurred which created financial challenges, like lack of investment and bad business plans. They said that it simply became apparent that there was a lack of interest to maintain a good rail service. They said that slow or inadequate responses to these changes meant that rail service was not able to maintain its market status and was at risk of failure on numerous occasions.

It is very sad that in Canada, a country that was built on rail and where we see increasingly, given environmental issues, that our future will once again be based on the strength of rail transportation, that we now consider that it is okay to forget about very serious safety issues that have been raised.

In doing a very quick Google search, I found numerous articles citing safety issues: Accident comes day after release of audit finding holes in railways' safety procedures. Again, the safety jumps the track.

Trans-Canada highway in B.C. closed in two spots. Again there was a derailment. There were derailments on March 10, March 4, March 1, February 28, January 14 and January 8, all in 2007. I could go on and on and yet this is a company we are going to reward, act on its behalf to support those interests and, in a way, give it licence to continue with this disastrous safety record.

This will not help industry in the long term. It will not help the safety of our workers. It undermines the atmosphere in a workplace to do good work. It undermines the confidence that Canadians have and that companies have in the rail service. I believe this is a very ill-advised bill that the government is proposing to introduce.

I do not know when government will begin to consider that we do not support the economy at the expense of the environment or at the expense of social rights. We cannot build a three-legged stool that is balanced when we continually tip in favour of the economy at the expense of our environment and erode the rights that workers have to collective bargaining. This, unfortunately, is what the bill does.

Railway Continuation Act, 2007Government Orders

7:25 p.m.

Prince George—Peace River B.C.


Jay Hill ConservativeSecretary of State and Chief Government Whip

Mr. Speaker, I stand tonight to perhaps address some of the misconceptions that might arise from the debate we are having in this place. Somehow the members of the New Democratic Party want to suggest to the viewing public that this legislation is a reward for CN. They have suggested, which is what the member did again, that we cannot support the economy with this legislation by overruling workers' rights. That is not what this issue is about.

This issue is about families that must get up tomorrow morning and earn a living. It is about workers, not just CN workers and the workers of BC Rail in my riding. It is about the thousands and potentially hundreds of thousands of families that will be held captive if this dispute is allowed to continue. That is the reality.

On behalf of the riding I have been privileged to represent in this place for close to 14 years in northeastern British Columbia, this issue is of paramount importance to thousands of families in Prince George—Peace River. Whether it is the coal mines in Tumbler Ridge that need to have rail cars there on a predictable basis every day so that they can load their coal, otherwise they cannot go to work, or whether it is the pulp and paper mills that need rail cars to take their product to market, or whether it is the farmers in the Peace River part of my riding who need the rail cars to transport their grain to market so they can get a paycheque to buy groceries, that is the reality we are dealing with here.

Not one member in this House wants to stand up and give accolades to CN. All of us understand. We do not need any lessons from the New Democratic Party about the problems that this company has had. Certainly I am well aware of that. However, the reality is that this government must act, not on behalf of this monolithic company but on behalf of Canadian families that will lose their income.

I do not know whether the New Democratic Party understands that. In my riding alone there are hundreds of families right now that are at the point where they will begin to lose their income if this is not settled and those rail cars are not rolling again.

I have not even mentioned the fact that in rural areas of northeastern British Columbia, products like propane, which heats the homes, comes in by rail. It is fortunate that it is no longer 30° below any more but when the rail was interrupted in February, it was a serious problem and reaching a very serious point when the rail cars started to run again. We cannot allow that to happen again, which is why we need to get those rail cars moving.

Railway Continuation Act, 2007Government Orders

7:30 p.m.


Denise Savoie NDP Victoria, BC

Mr. Speaker, I share the member's concern and his need to act on behalf of Canadian families but the best way to act and achieve the kind of certainty of labour to which he refers is not through an imposed piece of legislation.

When the member mentioned the families he was concerned about, I would like him to think about the families who live around Cheakamus River where there was a huge derailment and there were serious safety issues. Their livelihood is impacted in a very permanent way.

We must listen to some of these workers who are talking about the very real safety concerns and allow the process and the two parties the opportunity to address those in a way that meets the needs of the economy, the needs of the worker and, I might say, the needs of the environment. I would mention the 500,000 steelhead fish that were killed, just to give one of many examples. There was no compensation for that. It is not coming back to address the needs of those families who rely on that.

Railway Continuation Act, 2007Government Orders

7:30 p.m.


Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, obviously the member for Victoria has eloquently spoken to this issue and the Conservatives do not get it.

The reason there is a labour conflict is because they have not acted on safety. For a year and a half now we have had employees saying that there are safety issues. We have seen derailment after derailment and the Conservatives have done absolutely nothing, just like the Liberals before did absolutely nothing to address these issues.

Now they bring in a piece of legislation that is draconian and puts the whole rail system of CN in a permanent state of uncertainty. We do not know when the next derailment will be. With the escalating accident rate, we are talking about three to four major accidents every day. Every week there is a major stoppage on the system.

The employees come here and implore the government and parliamentarians from all four corners of the House to actually understand the situation as safety deteriorates but instead of addressing a single safety issue, the Conservatives say no, that they will simply give a blank cheque to Hunter Harrison, a blank cheque to CN and they can do whatever they want. That is irresponsible and reckless. It is not a government that takes its responsibilities seriously.

It is appalling that we have Conservatives who are ready and willing to put the interests of Hunter Harrison ahead of the interests of communities throughout British Columbia and right across the country. They have abdicated the public interest. They cannot sugar-coat it or whitewash it and pretend anything other than that they are giving a blank cheque to Hunter Harrison and CN to impose whatever conditions they want, regardless of what the safety impact is, regardless of what communities are impacted and regardless of how Canadians are impacted. We have seen loss of life. We have seen environmental devastation. We have seen communities cut off because CN has been irresponsible, and irresponsible management, obviously, is rewarded by the government.

Why does the member believe that the Conservatives are so willing to protect CN's management when they have been so reckless and irresponsible, particularly in British Columbia, and why do they seem to be taking the interests of American companies above and beyond the interests of ordinary Canadian families?

Railway Continuation Act, 2007Government Orders

7:30 p.m.


Denise Savoie NDP Victoria, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is very difficult to speculate on what might have motivated the government's draconian decision to act in this way but, as I said earlier, it seems to be very difficult for recent governments, including this one, to understand the need for triple bottom line decisions, decisions that are based on meeting our economic needs, on ensuring that social rights are protected for ordinary Canadian families that are squeezed increasingly despite the high profits of these companies, and, of course, ensuring environmental rights that we owe to our children.

I think the basis of this decision is a result of a lack of wisdom and an increasing corporatism that seems to fulfill the needs of corporations. It perhaps is a misguided belief that eventually, if the corporations make enough profits, the benefits might trickle down. However, they never have. I am as puzzled by this decision as my colleague.