Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Nanaimo—Cowichan. This is a debate. What do we want here? The motion proposes to amend the Investment Canada Act to ensure that foreign buyers are held to public and enforceable commitments on the net benefit to Canada and on the protection of Canadian jobs.
What is the Investment Canada Act? This act is the main mechanism for reviewing foreign investment proposals and for approving or rejecting them. The legislation came into force in 1985. Its main purpose was to ensure that foreign acquisitions represented a net benefit to Canada. Since its coming into force, more than 1,500 foreign acquisitions have been approved under this legislation and only two acquisition applications have been rejected. More than 12,000 other acquisitions were not reviewed under this legislation because they did not meet the threshold for application of the act.
The NDP's 2011 electoral platform contained a number of proposals with regard to the Investment Canada Act, namely: reducing the threshold for investments subject to review; providing explicit, transparent criteria for the “net benefit to Canada” test; requiring public hearings; and ensuring public disclosure of important information. Our detailed proposals were included in that section.
As far as the closure of the Electro-Motive plant in 2012 is concerned, as we know, the employer, Electro-Motive Canada, had been acquired in 2010 by Progress Rail Services, a wholly owned subsidiary of Caterpillar. In accordance with our Investment Canada Act, a notice regarding the acquisition of Electro-Motive was submitted to the Minister of Industry and approved. A receipt was issued in September 2010 declaring that this investment did not require further review.
This plant is located in London, Ontario. It produced diesel locomotives. The 465 plant workers were represented by Canadian Auto Workers union Local 25. During the collective bargaining process, the employer sought concessions, the result of which would have cut the salaries of a number of employees in half, eliminated the defined benefit pension plan and reduced a number of other benefits. Naturally, the workers refused to accept those terms.
I want to add here that the community, the chambers of commerce and all those involved in London should have taken a stand as soon as they knew the employer wanted to cut employees' salaries in half. They should have asked: what does that mean for the economy? What does that mean for small businesses? What does that mean for their families?
On January 1, 2012, the plant's workers were locked out. Picket lines were set up in front of the plant. Then, on February 3, Caterpillar announced it was closing the London plant. The union thinks that Caterpillar wanted to move the plant's operations to a non-unionized plant in Muncie, Indiana. As hon. members are probably aware, just a few days before that, Indiana passed a law recognizing the “right to work”, which means that workers do not have to pay mandatory union dues in order to be employed. Most of the states that have this kind of legislation are in the southern United States. Unions are much less common there and salaries are lower.
As we know, there is a movement in the United States whereby unions are no longer required by law in several domains, including the public sector.
Because this labour dispute came under provincial jurisdiction, it was not examined by the Minister of Labour. However, Caterpillar's acquisition of Electro-Motive in 2010 was subject to a federal decision under the Investment Canada Act. It is important to note that Caterpillar recently announced record profits for 2011—nearly $5 billion. Reuters reported that these revenues far exceeded Wall Street's expectations. The profits represented an 83% increase over 2010. The forecast for 2012 is just as positive. Caterpillar's CEO had an income of over $10 million in 2010.
So people are wondering what is going on here. We have a multinational corporation earning record profits, yet it wants to close the plant. We have no doubt that offering workers 50% of their salaries was just an excuse to close the plant and move its operations south to the United States.
Rumours abound in the media suggesting that Caterpillar bought the plant simply to get its hands on the technology and patents. The union claims that the company had no intention of keeping the plant open. The Canadian Labour Congress says that Caterpillar should be forced to find a Canadian buyer. The Canadian Auto Workers' Union, the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada, the United Steelworkers and the Canadian Labour Congress have asked the government for stricter criteria for the approval of foreign takeovers so that workers' jobs, salaries and benefits are protected.
It is interesting to see that the members across the way are sympathetic to the workers' plight, but that is not enough. People have lost their jobs because of a policy that lets businesses do as they please. As the people's representatives here in the House of Commons, it is up to us to try to help these people. Sympathetic words are not enough. These workers need policy that protects them. These people belong to a community and contribute to the economy. With their good salaries, they buy cars, go to restaurants and contribute to the vitality of the community. We see that across Canada. Sympathy is not enough. The government must act. I urge the government to do something so that these people can get their jobs back in London, Ontario.