Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to join in the debate.
Coming from Hamilton, we are dealing with a very different reality than the citizens of Saskatchewan in terms of the Potash Corporation. We were in the overwhelming majority of companies, that category where there was just a rubber stamp and was allowed to go on.
When we look at what the legislation is ultimately supposed to be about, it is about a net benefit to Canada. Last time I checked the map Hamilton was a part of Canada. Therefore, there ought to be a net benefit in the home town of where the plant is.
As of today, we are on the brink of U.S. Steel locking out its employees, the ones who are left after they shut down product and laid off a whole whack of other workers. If it gets what it wants in their negotiation demands, the steelworkers who are currently retired will lose their inflation protection going forward.
That may not seem like an awful lot when we are talking about 1% or 2% inflation, but a lot of us believe, with everything that has gone on in the last few years, there is likely somewhere in the lifetime of those steelworkers going to be a period of inflation. At the end of that, their income is going to be a lot less and their quality of life is going to be a lot less and their net benefit to being a Canadian is going to be less than it was.
Not only that, the company wants to change the collective agreement further so that every employee hired from here on in does not get the same pension benefit as the workers who came even the day before them. In fact, they will not have a pension. They will be caught into this nightmare scenario, which I think is coming for a lot of people who are invested totally with RRSPs. This is not nearly the same as negotiating a defined benefit, so one knows how much money one is going to get every month when one retires, as opposed to down on bended knee praying to the free market gods that one will be lucky enough, when one cashes out, that the market is on an upswing.
That is what the government has done to my constituents, my family members, my friends and my fellow Canadians. Where is the net benefit?
Lest one thinks this is only the NDP members doing the stuff that they do, let us have a look at what the Hamilton Spectator had to say on October 6, just a few weeks ago. It said:
It's instructive to cut through the rhetoric surrounding the shutdown under way at the U.S. Steel Hamilton plant...Essentially, it has become clear that U.S. Steel’s Hamilton plant is not considered a primary site for production. A primary production site does not shut down regularly and have its production shifted to plants in the United States. Call the Hamilton plant a backup location, an overflow operation, whatever. The plant in our city is nowhere near the top of the steel giant’s list of important places....But Canadian government approval of the purchase was contingent on commitments from U.S. Steel on maintaining certain employment and production levels.
It ends with, “U.S. Steel owes it to us”, meaning Hamiltonians, “to fulfill its employment and production commitments. If not, it should be seeking Canadian based buyers for a plant that still has productive life in it”.
Quite frankly, it is anything other than just washing its hands of it, which is what the government is doing. Make no mistake, the minister I believe yesterday, in response to a question from my colleague from Hamilton Mountain, said:
We are the first government in the history of the Investment Canada Act to actually take a company to court to enforce the undertakings that it promised with the government and the people of Canada.
That is interesting.
I will go back to the Hamilton Spectator so it makes it just a little more difficult for the government to say that this is just partisan NDP politics, because it is not. This is about people's lives. What did the Spectator say, on May 8, 2009, about that? It said:
As for the threat of $10,000-a-day fines? That is $3.65 million a year--chump change to U.S. Steel. By comparison, a Dundas optician has been subject to fines of $50,000 a day since November 2006 for operating in violation of Ontario health regulations. If Ottawa is serious about enforcing its foreign investment legislation, it needs to up the penalties considerably.
Ottawa should also change the Investment Canada Act so that future agreements and commitments would be public (with the reasonable exception of sanctions that could put a company at competitive disadvantage.)..U.S. Steel has an obligation to honour its agreement--or explain how and when it can do so. Ottawa has a duty to push for answers..
Where was the government?
The minister was in Hamilton on October 15. This is what he said, and I am quoting from a document they circulated in the Local. He said:
At this point obviously U.S. Steel is beyond the undertakings that it made with the Government of Canada. Those undertakings ended some time ago now, they were for a period of time that has now expired, so they can make decisions, good, bad or indifferent, according to their own timetable and their responsibilities.
Rolf Gerstenberger, the president of USW Local 1005, had something to say about that. I am again quoting from a document they circulated in the Local. He said:
Visiting Hamilton for a funding announcement at McMaster University on October 15, 2010 Industry Minister...made a factually wrong, socially irresponsible and politically stupid statement. Asked about the activities of US Steel about which all of Hamilton is understandable very concerned...
[The industry minister] should know that the 3 year commitment that U.S. Steel made to the Government of Canada is not “beyond the undertaking it made to the government of Canada.” He should know that “those undertaking” DID NOT END “some time ago” but in fact expire on October 31, 2010. [The industry minister] should know that U.S. Steel has yet to recognize its commitments to keep employment at 3,105 workers and production at 4.3 million tons of steel a year and that furthermore it has now shut down the blast furnace at Hamilton Works for a second time and is thereby producing no steel at all.
My contention is there is the evidence that the government has washed its hands of those steelworkers at U.S. Steel and of aluminum workers and of workers all across Canada. The only reason the potash deal was stopped was because there was such an uproar across the province of Saskatchewan that it had no choice.
Had the government put the interest of steelworkers first, had it put the interests of the Canadian steel industry first and had it put the interest and net benefit of Canadians first, it would have also turned down the U.S. Steel deal because it was just as bad for the workers.
What we are trying to do with this legislation is really not that radical. It is to throw some light on the situation and say that these deals happening in the background cannot go on. We are saying a number of things, but these are the main ones. There ought to be some public acknowledgement, some public involvement. Perhaps there ought to be some public negotiations. However, the government cannot just wash its hands based on the Holy Grail of the market, which it has now shown to be a rather elusive goal.
I hope, at the end of the day, when all the yelling, mine and everyone else's, on behalf of people who are being hurt, who are not getting any net benefit, we will finally have a Parliament that is prepared to come head-to-head and properly put rules and protection in place for workers and the communities in which they live. Without that, we will be back here over and over again trying to defend job by job.
It would just be so much easier if we had a government that believed that the interests of those working people and the net benefit of Canadians really was the top priority rather than the almighty buck, which always comes first with this government.