Mr. Speaker, the closing of the Electro-Motive Diesel plant in London is a devastating blow to London, particularly to all the employees whose livelihoods have been impacted by this decision.
Ironically, the tragic news came out on the same day and within hours of finding out that London's unemployment rate had taken a dramatic drop. The reality of this situation is quickly settling in for the community, especially for the families and workers involved.
These workers are some of the best in the world and I believe their talents and skills will help them find future employment. LIke them, I hope this is in our city of London. I truly ache for those who are now struggling to pay their bills, trying to take care of their kids and lying awake at night wondering where to go next. I will continue to do what I can, to help where I can.
Some will assert that the federal government did not do as much as it could have to save these jobs. I stand honestly before the House today to say that is not the case. The efforts of many parties were not enough in the end.
What has been most notable about this labour dispute in London was the amount of misinformation that was circulated. It was further complicated by many in the media, who continually repeated information without checking the facts. Like the overall situation at Electro-Motive, it was the workers in particular and the community at large that suffered from the constant circulation of misinformation.
It is important that Londoners and Canadians understand the situation more accurately before making judgment of those involved. I will share with the House some of the myths that were circulating in this past month.
The first myth was that Electro-Motive was a Canadian company that was sold to the American company, Caterpillar. The truth is that Electro-Motive has been owned by several American companies since 1930. In effect, Electro-Motive has been a Canadian subsidiary of different American companies for over eight decades. It was originally two Canadian companies, Winton Engine Company and Electro-Motive Corporation, that were purchased and merged by America's General Motors beginning in 1930. In 2005 an American equity firm bought the company and resold it to the American firm, Caterpillar Progress Rail Division, in 2010.
I will be sharing my time, Mr. Speaker, with the hon. member for London North Centre.
Another myth was that the federal government gave money to Electro-Motive. The truth is that no federal government, Conservative or Liberal, has given money to Electro-Motive.
Another myth was that the Prime Minister visited the plant a few years ago to announce a tax break for Electro-Motive. The truth is that the Prime Minister visited the EMD plant to announce a tax change that would make it more affordable for Canadian rail companies to purchase newer, better and more environmentally friendly locomotives. This was a tax write-down for the customers of companies like EMD, but not for EMD.
To be clear, no monies were given to Electro-Motive. Nor were its taxes reduced as a result. In fact, customers like VIA Rail, CN Rail and CP Rail would benefit as they all ran a mix of both Electro-Motive and General Electric locomotives.
Another myth was that London's Conservative MPs did not meet with the Canadian Auto Workers Union representatives or the workers. The truth is that London's Conservative MPs did meet with members of CAW Local 27 in meetings in their MP offices. These meetings were intended to be productive and constructive conversations rather than photo opportunities.
There is no shortage of people willing to go to the picket line for a photo op, but as was too often the case, there was a shortage of thoughtful dialogue taking place. I met with workers privately and I also spoke to them at a demonstration in downtown London. Anyone with access to YouTube can see it for themselves.
Another myth was that the federal government had been silent about the Electro-Motive situation. The truth is that our federal labour minister had private discussions directly with Electro-Motive, the Canadian Auto Workers Union and London Mayor Joe Fontana in an attempt to encourage both sides back to the bargaining table. These discussions took place in mid-January. As the federal government had no legal jurisdiction over this labour dispute, although the Province of Ontario did, the federal labour minister appealed to the senses of both sides, but could not order that talks take place. She used her best moral suasion, but neither side was willing to blink.
I have not been silent either. I have now conducted more media interviews on this situation than on any other issue since being elected. While my comments are not always carried by the press, my message has been the same all along. Both sides should have returned to the bargaining table in good faith to bring an end to the uncertainty that lingered for the workers, their families and the community at large for more than a month. Nothing could be resolved until talks began.
It is also worth noting that I sent a very lengthy letter explaining this situation and my position to several thousand of my constituents. I have been providing weekly updates by email to almost 15,000 Londoners.
Another myth was that the federal government could legislate an end to this labour dispute. The truth is that if only it were that easy. The federal government did not have the power to end this labour dispute through legislation. It was a labour dispute between a private company and its labour representatives. The federal government did not have jurisdiction over this labour dispute.
The Government of Canada holds jurisdiction over federally-regulated workplaces, crown corporations and the federal public service. Some pointed to the example of recent federal labour disputes at Canada Post and Air Canada, one a crown corporation, the other a federally-regulated workplace, as examples of federal intervention. Electro-Motive is a private company. It is not a federally-regulated workplace.
I was genuinely surprised that the union in this case basically let the Province of Ontario off the hook. Instead, much energy was wasted trying to blame those with far less control over the situation for political reasons. Our mayor, a former Liberal minister of labour, jumped on the same bandwagon.
Another myth is that the federal government can order Caterpillar to continue Electro-Motive operations in London. The truth is Caterpillar is an American company that can legally decide where it wishes to operate in the world. The Canadian government cannot order any foreign company to do its business in Canada. This goes the same for Canadian companies.
Another myth is that the federal government could have reviewed the sale of Electro-Motive to Caterpillar and placed conditions and/or protections for the workers in the agreement. The truth is the sale of Electro-Motive did not trigger a foreign investment review by Industry Canada because the sale of the company was below the monetary threshold required for such a formal review.
Every day businesses are bought and sold by Canadians and foreign companies, and most do not trigger a formal review. This extraordinary intervention by the federal government is reserved for extremely large and sensitive transactions. They are triggered by the conditions in the legislation and they are not initiated at the whim of politicians.
When the Canadian Auto Workers was asked about the purchase of Progress Rail in 2010, CAW local 27 president, Tim Carrie, was quoted in the London Free Press saying, “This is an employer who has an interest in locomotive and rail. We’re looking at it in a positive light”. Had a review even been triggered at the time, it is likely, based in part on these comments, that the union would have been fully supportive of the sale. There was no indication that trouble lay ahead.
I again emphasize that the workers and the community were largely misled on many of the key issues. This did nothing to help bridge the gap between both sides, and I hope both sides have learned a lesson from this. The tragedy and fallout from this is that several hundred unionized and non-unionized workers from EMD, and even more firms doing work for EMD, are left to wonder what lies ahead for them.
Some have since suggested that the Canadian government ban Caterpillar products from being sold in Canada. While this would likely violate a number of trade agreements, Canadians can take action as they choose. Canadians can exercise their buying power however they wish. No government needs to legislate this power to citizens.
If people do not want to buy from Caterpillar, then they should not. If they can convince their friends and neighbours to do the same, they can. The power already rests with Canadians to make these decisions. Good companies should be rewarded with those dollars and those that fail to meet expectations should expect to find that it will affect their bottom line.
Has Caterpillar acted honourably in this labour dispute? If its intention was always to leave, then I would ask this question. Why did it not just make that announcement on January 1, which coincided, by the way, with the seven month contract extension that ended on December 31?
The misery and fear placed on all EMD workers was brutal. If Caterpillar truly intended to stay, was its in-the-face wage and benefit reductions due to local profitability concerns or because it had other options in Indiana? Now we will never know.
Clearly, the CAW was not prepared to preside over the single largest pay cut and benefit cut in its history. Neither side moved enough from their positions, and the workers in London are the losers for it.
I look forward to the rest of this debate and hope that these factual clarifications will help my colleagues debate honestly and factually about the issue at hand. I only wish to remind my hon. colleagues of the cautionary words provided to me by my Cape Breton mother. She said “Ed, no matter how many times they tell a lie, it does not make it the truth.”