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House of Commons Hansard #94 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was drugs.

Topics

Air Service Operations LegislationGovernment Orders

8:25 a.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I listened to the hon. minister's presentation on the Air Canada labour disputes with two unions representing the pilots and mechanics.

I share the concerns of the hon. member for Cape Breton—Canso that we in the House repeatedly are interfering in independent collective arrangements between employers and employees in areas that do not represent essential services.

As inconvenient and disruptive as it would be, and I agree with the minister, I have tremendous concern for people who have planned March break vacations, but where does this stop? We are clearly undermining free and fair collective bargaining rights.

The Supreme Court of Canada ruled in the B.C. hospital workers case that collective bargaining rights were human rights, and I am afraid we are undermining something very essential to the health of this society.

Air Service Operations LegislationGovernment Orders

8:30 a.m.

Conservative

Lisa Raitt Conservative Halton, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member brings up a good point of when interventions occur. Taking a look at the history of Parliament since 1950, Parliament has intervened between 31 and 35 times with respect to these matters. Normally they are in the transportation and the logistics field. That is just a reflection of the reality in 1950, as it is now. We are a large geography. We depend upon our interconnectivity, both in air and rail, and we have to ensure that we keep both people and goods moving.

That is compounded by the reality of the economy and the economic recovery today, and that is why we need to intervene in this matter.

Air Service Operations LegislationGovernment Orders

8:30 a.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, I note with sadness that this has all been said before. It is sad to have a bill or a motion of this type from the government. I am going to explain this, so that Canadians understand.

Yes, it is true that it is a break week and that people want to enjoy their vacation time. I very much sympathize with that. I am also a human being and I know that there are families who have planned vacations. However, at the same time, workers have rights, fundamental rights according to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. They have the right to negotiate freely. As I watch the government continually intervene in negotiations, as the Conservative government does, I think it sends a direct message to employers that they do not need to negotiate. They can take as much as possible from their employees because the government will not tolerate lockouts or strikes, and it will legislate to force workers back to work. In the meantime, the employers get everything they want. They can rely on the government to support them in their battles.

I find this unacceptable and wrong. That is not what the Charter of Rights and Freedoms provides for when it comes to unions. The Supreme Court has even stated that workers are entitled to negotiate freely. It is wrong for the government to interfere in this manner. The government can assist parties by way of conciliation and mediation, and help them reach an agreement, but it should not be interfering in this fashion.

Moreover, there is a lack of respect for democracy in the House of Commons. Earlier, in my question to the minister, I referred to time limits. Not only is the government taking away employees' right to strike or the company's right to lock out employees, no debate is even allowed in the House of Commons. The bill may be read twice or thrice in the same sitting. One, two, three times in one sitting and it is done.

First we hear, “not more than two hours shall be allotted for the consideration of the second reading stage of the said bill, following the adoption of this Order.” That is two hours of debate. Then, “when the bill has been read a second time, it shall be referred to a Committee of the Whole.” We then hear that at the very most “not more than one hour shall be allotted for the consideration of the Committee of the Whole stage of the said bill.” One hour, no more. Then, the motion says, “not more than one half hour shall be allotted for the consideration of the third reading stage of the said bill, provided that no Member shall speak for more than ten minutes at a time during the said stage and that no period for questions and comments be permitted following each Member’s speech”.

Where are they going with this, Mr. Speaker? What are they doing to our democracy and the fundamental right to have a Parliament to debate such important questions?

The minister herself said that this was an important issue. Last week in Toronto, the Prime Minister himself said—and I find this hard to believe—that a part of him did not want to intervene in the dispute. Give me a break. Where is the Prime Minister? I do not have the right to say his name, but I think that everyone in Canada knows who the country's Prime Minister is. He is the same person who wants to intervene to raise the retirement age to 67. He is the same person who intervened in the partial strike by postal workers, not only to say that he was legislating them back to work, but also to intervene in the collective agreement. The employer, Canada Post, was going to give workers a 2% wage increase, but the government intervened and lowered it to 1.5%. The government said that Canada Post employees did not need a bigger wage increase than public servants. The government intervened directly in the negotiations.

I am going to say this to Canadians and workers. Last year, it was the postal workers. Today, it is the pilots and maintenance workers at Air Canada. Tomorrow, it may be them. The government's argument is that we cannot allow a group of people to blackmail the rest of Canadians. The interests of all Canadians must be defended.

The government could apply the same argument to the negotiation of every collective agreement. It could apply the same argument to the economy, to the mining industry. For example, if the miners at a large mine in Sudbury went on strike, there is no denying that it would have a negative impact on the entire city. However, striking is a fundamental bargaining right. It is not up to the government to intervene. This is not a matter of health and safety. It is not an essential service. I am anxious to hear what the industrial relations boards will have to say about it.

And there is more. Air Canada has just said that it is going to lock out its pilots the minute maintenance workers go on strike. This basically means that the government is cracking down not only on the unions but also on the company itself. Air Canada could say that its right to declare a lockout is being taken away. Once again, I do not believe it. Talks are being held between the company and the government. The minister herself said that the company was having financial problems.

Let me talk about Air Canada's financial problems. My colleague from Cape Breton—Canso said earlier that the president received a $2 million bonus. My colleague is indicating to me that it was $5 million that Mr. Milton, the former president of Air Canada, left with when he washed his hands of Air Canada and all its problems. He collected $80 million in salary from the company. It was Air Canada's workers who paid for all that; the ones who ensure that people boarding a plane receive services, from flight attendants to baggage handlers. All those services are delivered by these workers and Air Canada now wants to make cuts in order to offer cheaper flights. That is good for the general public, but not for the workers.

The problem is that they are not the only ones who will be affected. Who will be next? That is the message the government is sending to industry. I do not like the fact that this is happening during March break either, but whether it happens now or in April, May or June, the flights are always full. This is always going to affect travellers. Air Canada's workers will never have the right to negotiate freely, a right guaranteed under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. They will never have the right to strike. What is happening to the balance of power between workers and employers?

The Minister said in her presentation that the union representatives, the people at the bargaining table, had made recommendations to the workers, and they had not accepted them. That is like thinking the workers are required to abide by the recommendations made by the bargaining committee. However, when the government wants to speak ill of the union, which it has done repeatedly, it says the employees never get a say and it is always the union bosses who decide. I have always said there are no union bosses. The real bosses are the members. The members have the democratic right to put a team in place that will bargain for them. It is up to the members to decide whether the offers are sufficient or not, not the team. The team can make recommendations.

I have been a union representative and I have made recommendations that the members refused. I was not angry with them. It is their union; it is their association. It does not belong to the bargaining committee or the company or the government.

The union is the members. The bosses have always been the members and we need to respect the members. They are the ones who chose to join a union. They are the ones who pay their union dues, and the union is accountable to its members.

How does this work? Bargaining is initiated. A presentation is made and it is followed through to the end. At the end of the process, the union presents its members with a collective agreement and makes a recommendation. The day when the bargaining committee decides for the members will be the day there is no more democracy and the union no longer belongs to them. So we have to be careful here, be careful about the message we are sending. That is why there is a vote, a sacred vote. It gives the members the chance to vote democratically within their union, so that it is their own decision and not their representatives’ decision.

I have participated in many union meetings and I have never hesitated to tell people that the union is not the people at the table, or the president, the vice-president, the treasurer or the secretary. The union is them. It belongs to them; it is their association. We must not be ashamed of having unions in this country.

The reason we have a fine country, one that is considered to be among the best in the world, the reason we have good conditions, with pension funds and the right to stop work if the job is dangerous, the reason we have all these conditions in collective agreements is that there are unions. People should go to other countries or the third world to see how workers are treated. Should we be going back to those days?

I charge the Conservative government with being anti-worker and anti-union. During the negotiations with Canada Post, the Conservative government could have intervened to say that it was sending the parties to arbitration to have an arbitrator resolve the problems. That is not what it did. Its bill even included lower wages than the employer was proposing. There cannot be more interference than that. It is not possible to be more anti-worker than that, when the employer promises 2% and the Conservative government reduces it to 1.5%, if you can imagine. Where is the respect?

On Friday, the Prime Minister said that part of him refused to intervene in the dispute. I doubt that very much. We need to remind the Canadians who are watching us today that this is the same government that wants to push the age of retirement up to 67 years. It is the same government that has no respect for the men and women who get up in the morning and go to work and build this country. The Conservative government wants to blame it all on the economy. It should stop spending money on F-35s, gazebos and fake lakes and put the money where it belongs, instead of making working people bear the burden. Then we might well have a smaller deficit in this country.

There is one place where the money might be spent. In our offices, we get telephone calls criticizing the cuts being made in the public sector in relation to employment insurance. How is it possible for this government to decide to close over 100 Service Canada offices when workers are losing their jobs and have to wait 40 days before they receive employment insurance benefits? That is insane. There will be only 22 offices left. That is all connected with the cuts that have a negative impact on working people and on the services provided to Canadians.

Today, the minister has the nerve to stand up and say that she is working in the interests of Canadians, while at the same time the services provided by Service Canada are being cut. All Canadians and Quebeckers are going to lose services to an extent never before seen, be it in relation to old age security benefits, the Canada pension plan or benefits paid to veterans. We are the only country doing this.

For example, the United States and England will not be reducing the benefits paid to veterans and will not be cutting the services provided to veterans in their next budgets, while that is what Canada will be doing in the next budget. The Conservatives voted against the NDP motion.

For all these reasons, and to give working people their rights, we must not be ashamed to stand up and say that there are fundamental rights in this country, and we will defend them.

The Conservative government is making all Canadians pay the price, and that is not right. The government sent a clear message to companies that if they have problems, the government will help them out. Without that, Air Canada would already have negotiated a collective agreement. The airline would have had no reason not to. There is no longer a balance of power; the employer has it all.

This motion is anti-democratic. It would take away our right to hold debates in the House of Commons. The government plans to introduce another bill this afternoon or tomorrow to take away Canadian workers' labour relations rights.

One day, Canadians will decide what kind of Canada they want. Do we want to build prisons, buy F-35s, spend tons of money and attack workers' pension plans? People will decide what kind of government they want. I am sure that this is not the kind of government they want.

Ask anyone planning to get on a plane what they think of an Air Canada strike, and of course they will say that they do not want it to interfere with their trip. I sympathize with those people, but I want the employer and employees to go back to the bargaining table to negotiate a collective agreement. The government has to send a message to both parties that it will not negotiate for them and that they have to do it themselves. In the long term, that will be a better investment for the economy, democracy, employers and workers' rights.

Air Service Operations LegislationGovernment Orders

8:45 a.m.

Conservative

Ed Holder Conservative London West, ON

Mr. Speaker, both the ACPA and the IAMAW shook hands at the table with Air Canada following thorough collective bargaining sessions. Why does my hon. colleague believe it is okay for these unions to turn their backs on the deals that they shook hands on and use Canadian families, when they travel, as leverage?

Air Service Operations LegislationGovernment Orders

8:45 a.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, if my dear colleague had listen, I told him why.

The leader of the union cannot dictate, like the Conservative government is trying to do today in this House. The union leader cannot dictate a collective agreement to the employees because the union belongs to the to the membership not to the officer. The only power the officer has is to make a recommendation on the collective agreement, which was done.

At the end of the day, I hope my Conservative colleague across the way believes that the members in any association are the ones who make the last decision, not the leadership. That is what the government has argued all along. It keeps referring to the union representative as the union boss. The only boss I know of in a union is the membership. The union belongs to the membership. The union organizes, it fights, it goes to the streets. Our grandfathers and great-grandfathers lost blood in the fight. They went down fighting to have a union, to have health and safety and a pension plan.

Today the Conservative government wants to take it away, the same way it wants workers to work until the age of 67. This is totally wrong and we will fight back. We will fight back for all Canadians, all labour organizations, all men and women who get up in the morning and put in a hard day's work. We will not go backwards in 2012. The workers are not the ones who should pay the price, not at all.

Air Service Operations LegislationGovernment Orders

8:50 a.m.

Liberal

Marc Garneau Liberal Westmount—Ville-Marie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Acadie—Bathurst for his speech.

The Minister of Labour said that she was reluctant to intervene. I think that she was actually in a hurry to intervene, citing a very fragile economy. She first talked to the Canadian Industrial Relations Board about health and safety issues. That is ridiculous, because those issues are not even part of this dispute.

I have two questions for the member from Acadie—Bathurst. First, the minister said that job action would have a devastating effect on the economy, but provided no numbers or evidence to support that claim. Second, does the member think that the minister is sending us an implied message that the air transportation sector is an essential service?

Air Service Operations LegislationGovernment Orders

8:50 a.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, there are two sides to this.

Let us first talk about the negative impact on the economy. Disputes sometimes take place. These things can last a week, two weeks, three weeks or a month. That is when a dispute becomes harmful to the economy and we should consider what can be done. But that is not at all the case here. The government announces five months ahead of time that if there is a strike or lockout, it will intervene. It is completely interfering in the negotiations, which upsets the balance of power between the two parties. It is as though the minister told Air Canada to sit back and do nothing, because the government plans to intervene and get the collective agreement that the company wants. The problem with this government is that it interferes. The government should not interfere; instead, it should simply appoint mediators and conciliators. That is the government's job.

Furthermore, as for essential services, last year the government was already looking at the possibility of declaring the economy an essential service in the Canada Labour Code. Come on. If it did that, it would mean the end of bargaining and the end of unions. They would no longer exist. Well, that is the Conservative government for you. It suggested the economy should be considered an essential service. Any employer could then simply claim that a strike would harm the local or national economy, and the right to strike would be over. This goes against the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. If something like this were to go to the Supreme Court, I think we would win. The government is going further than any other country in the world right now by taking away the right to strike and the right to lockout.

Air Service Operations LegislationGovernment Orders

8:50 a.m.

NDP

Christine Moore NDP Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to know what my colleague thinks about this motion and the situation of the economy. If we count speaking times, seven members will have the opportunity to speak, if everyone uses their time. That means that 2.27% of the House will have the opportunity to speak to this bill. I think this is a complete lack of democracy. As well, she says it is to protect the economy because of the situation.

I would like my colleague to answer my question. Air Canada is an airline, but are there other airlines in Canada? If someone really has no choice but to travel, can they do business with another airline? Are there buses in Canada? Are there cars, trains, boats or other things? Are Canadians absolutely incapable of travelling if Air Canada is the only one affected? Is it the economy in its entirety and transportation capacity in Canada that are completely threatened by this strike, or is it only a portion, with alternatives for people who really have no choice?

Air Service Operations LegislationGovernment Orders

8:50 a.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, there are several airlines: CanWest, WestJet and Porter, or Air Transat for people going on vacation. There are indeed airlines. As she said, there are boats, ferries and all sorts of things. In any event, the economy could be used as an excuse for everything. That is what I am afraid of here: the economy can be used as a pretext everywhere. It will always be an excuse. Fundamental rights cannot be taken away from working people.

I want to remind Canadians about the Canada Post case. That was a small group, if we compare it to 33 million people. The government said that 33 million people were going to be deprived of their mail. That was true, but by saying it they automatically deprived those people of a right. It meant that those people did not have that right.

Now it is Air Canada. The government says this is going to prevent people from travelling, so they lose their rights. Who else is going to lose their rights? Who? That is what is disturbing. This is a fundamental right that our parents, our grandparents and our great-grandparents fought for. To put an end to those battles, workers were given rights: the right to bargain and the right to strike legally so we do not have street fights, so that blood does not run in the streets. That is what was done so that working people would have the right to be respected.

The Conservative government is taking that right away from them. That is not right; it is unfair and it is unacceptable. I say that this way of doing things is contrary to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The government is taking away the right to debate in the House, here, because that is indeed what this is: only 2% of the debate on an important subject will take place. The minister herself says it is important, but she is depriving the workers of fundamental rights.

Air Service Operations LegislationGovernment Orders

8:55 a.m.

NDP

Lysane Blanchette-Lamothe NDP Pierrefonds—Dollard, QC

Mr. Speaker, my father worked in maintenance at Air Canada for 30 years. Today my thoughts are with him and his former colleagues.

The minister talked about the tremendous efforts the government is making to facilitate the negotiations, and she said that the workers had refused attempts to reach an agreement. That is an edited version of the story, and it attempts to demonize the workers and the unions. We still do not know why these workers refused the agreement, what they are calling for and what working conditions are important to them.

Since the hon. member for Acadie—Bathurst is an expert on these matters, perhaps he could refer to the Canada Post case and tell us what the workers wanted in their agreements and what they were not willing to give up. Can he give us any information on what Air Canada's workers want as working conditions, which they are not willing to give up?

Air Service Operations LegislationGovernment Orders

8:55 a.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, Air Canada's employees have been making concessions for 10 years. For the past 10 years, they having been working to save Air Canada. While they were making efforts to save the company, Air Canada's former president took off with $80 million in his pockets. Another president left with $5 million in his pockets. In the meantime, the workers gave their all. Today they are saying that it is their turn to have better conditions, better wages, a guaranteed pension and a better schedule.

All of us here know, but maybe Canadians do not: between flights, Air Canada workers do not even have a place in the airport where they can go to take a break. They do not even have a room where they can go and sit down. They walk around and sit on the benches like passengers do. Those are the types of things they want, improvements to their working conditions. Now, the government will decree that the workers will not get what they are asking for, because it is going to step in. The minister herself said that things were not going well for Air Canada and that the government had to intervene. She did not say that things are not going well for the employees, but for Air Canada. She is the Minister of Labour and she has to provide for the well-being of the employees as well.

Air Service Operations LegislationGovernment Orders

8:55 a.m.

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Liberal Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, it is an episode of Groundhog Day here. Here we go again with more back to work legislation presented. The government is injecting itself in the midst of a labour dispute with a private company.

I would like to go back and comment on some things the minister shared during her speech. She said that Parliament has intervened in various labour disputes in the country over 35 times since 1950. That may be so. If we look at essential services, and what is considered to be essential changes over time, there are times where intervention is warranted. It would be interesting to go back and see, of those over 35 interventions by Parliament, how many have been preceded by a motion to limit debate on a bill that was not even seen yet. The government is setting the table in limiting the debate even before we see the proposed legislation. We have seen some pretty archaic legislation presented by the government, certainly in the case of Canada Post. I would like to know how many interventions have been led by notice restricting the amount of debate on a particular motion before it even came forward.

She also indicated during her comments that the government was taking this action as an important and integral step so that the economy of the country would not slow down, so that this work stoppage would not interfere with the progress that has taken place with the economic recovery in Canada.

I would like to take a moment to reflect on the progress. We know now that 1.4 million Canadians are unemployed. This number has continued to grow since October of last year. We know that there are more unemployed young Canadians. The youth unemployment rate in the country right now is about 14.7%. Even more compelling than that is the shrinking participation rate of the youth workforce in the country over the last number of months. Some young Canadians have given up seeking work. They are disengaging from the economy.

We know that people are unemployed for longer periods of time. In 2008, the average duration of unemployment was 14.8 weeks. Last year, that duration was 21.2 weeks. Under the stewardship of the Conservative government, we are reaching record highs in youth unemployment. Its answer to that is to close the youth employment service centres across the country and give young people even less of an opportunity to find employment. That has been its approach. If it is doing this for the economy, I am sure Canadians are saying, “the government has helped enough, step away from the economy, the damage has been done”.

I would think the impact on the economy of this particular strike would be marginal. It would be fairly limited. There are other carriers in the country. WestJet, Porter and various air carriers offer other opportunities to travel across the country. Most business operators, even though they still travel and use air travel during the course of regular business, use the technology we have available today. Skyping and Internet calling are very commonplace.

Coming from a small community like Sydney serviced by Jazz Air, if we are not able to get to Halifax with a connector flight, we certainly can still get access to it because there are other ways to get out of Sydney. Whether or not this is an essential service, let us look at the transit strike in Halifax. A great number of the residents normally access that public service on a daily basis, ensuring that they can get back and forth to work. That strike has been going on for eight weeks now. Therefore, comparing a public transit strike with this particular lockout and the legislation being brought forward by this minister is like comparing apples and oranges.

We see this as a heavy-handed approach on the part of the government to inject itself here. It is certainly not new. This is the fourth time the government has injected itself into the midst of a labour dispute, and we have seen the actions undertaken by the government in these cases. We know that employees at Air Canada, the grounds crew, baggage handlers, machinists, pilots, flight attendants and customer service attendants, have all been impacted by the actions of the government. Those 48,000 employees have lost their right to free and fair collective bargaining. If we throw in the postal workers, about 75,000 Canadians have lost their rights. All of those lost rights add up to one colossal wrong, and it is wrong on the part of the government to inject itself here.

I am going to give the minister some kudos here because I think she did what she could leading up to this, and I am going to recognize that. She changed the mediator. She did not inject her own personal views into this but saw that the talks were stalling and put in another mediator. If we were in power, we would have done the same thing. However, it was the past actions of the government that gave an indication to the management at Air Canada that the minister was going to come forward with legislation regardless of the outcome of the mediation talks. The management believed it could count on the government to bring forward back to work legislation; that is where the well was poisoned. The landscape was changed as a result of the minister's prior actions because Air Canada management knew this was coming.

What is happening with Mr. Rovinescu, the CEO of Air Canada, is that the Minister is really doing his job. He should be compelled to find a way through these negotiations, to find some way to accommodate his workforce so that the airline can continue to operate and serve Canadians. Knowing the minister is coming forward with this legislation makes his job easier. In his situation, at the end of this month, he will get his $5 million bonus. That is unbelievable. Over 10 years, since Air Canada filed for protection under the bankruptcy laws, we know that the concessions made by the workers total $2 billion. They had wage rollbacks and benefit concessions totalling $2 billion over 10 years. They have done their part to bring this company around and to help Air Canada survive.

When Mr. Milton left, he got a golden handshake of $80 million on the backs of the workers. Now we have Mr. Rovinescu picking up $5 million. I know $5 million does not look like a lot to some people on the government side, but it is not bad. His job is just made that much easier knowing that the Conservative government will come up with back to work legislation.

It rattles the morale of this company. It further wedges the worker-management relationship within Air Canada and serves no one well. It further hurts a great airline. Every Canadian complains about the weather and we complain about Air Canada. There is not a lot of love for Air Canada by those who have ever lost a piece of luggage or ever been delayed by them. For them, it is about that darned Air Canada.

I fly three weeks of the year back and forth to my riding and a few times outside of that. I do not think there are any people at any company who have a tougher job and do a better job than the people at Air Canada. The disregard and disrespect for their rights shown by the government is shameful.

Judging by some of the comments made, there is no justification for the steps taken by the government. I want to read a couple of quotes, if I could. The union president, Paul Strachan, from the Air Canada Pilots Association talks about the track record of the government injecting itself into past disputes and the concerns about that. He states that “It does affect the bargaining landscape, absolutely” and that the power to intervene is like the “sword of Damocles hanging over the heads” of all union negotiators.

Dave Ritchie, the Canadian general vice-president of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, says:

I asked [the minister] to stay out of the process, but she didn't, so I am disappointed in her move. I'm not too happy about it.

He added that it hurts their relations.

However, it is not just union officials who are going on the record talking about the actions of the government. There is a quote from George Smith, Air Canada's former director of employee relations and now a professor at Queen's University. He talked about the interference of the government in the current dispute and in past disputes. He is a person who sat at the table a number of times and who has been through many negotiations over the years. He argues that if disputes are placed in the hands of arbitrators, management is unlikely to get what it wants. That is a fact.

In his own words:

We had strikes and lockouts over my 10 years at Air Canada and the government never had to intervene.

This has all the appearances of the federal government doing what's best for the country but really it's a disaster.... If you are negotiating a difficult labour contract, the process is being taken out of your hands and the government will do it for you. The “showdown” element which hurts in the short run but results in a fair settlement is gone. The net result will be labour agreements that are uncompetitive.

That comes from a respected voice, a guy who sat on the other side of the table representing management in many negotiations.

We know that hammering out labour agreements is a difficult process. Certainly, when we consider the global economy, we see that many businesses are just trying to stay on their feet through these tough times. However, I think that most Canadians understand when they work for a company that has been able to sustain itself and to right itself that they were part of the good work that went on to make sure that company was competitive and stayed afloat and, really, has grown over the last number of years.

There has to be an opportunity provided to those workers who contributed to that success. There has to be an opportunity to share in that success. However, even just the opportunity to share in that success has been taken away by the government. That is what is egregious and truly unfortunate in this case.

We have seen this time and time again where two parties sit down and think they have an agreement in place. The representative of a union representing 8,000 or however many people may leave the table thinking he or she has the bases covered. However, it is not for the union executive to say they have a deal, but instead that they are willing to take the deal back to their membership.

Once a union executive signs off at the negotiating table, it probably has a pretty good feel that it has a chance of getting it through their membership. However, it not a fait accompli, not a done deal. They go back to the membership and have a vote and, in this case, it has been rejected, which just gives them the wherewithal to go back to the table and address the shortcomings of the proposed deal. That is their responsibility and what was going to take place in this case.

However, with the government coming forward with legislation, the management has seen the end of the movie already. One could say that they had a deal in place and that everything was done already, but that it not the case. The union membership has to sign-off on any tentative deals. That is why these are called tentative deals, because they are pending the acceptance of the membership. The union executive takes the deal back to their membership and if it gets voted down, we then go on to the next aspect of the process. In this case, they did not get the opportunity to do that.

This is the situation we find ourselves in. I am sure the government has legislation on the shelf ready for it to plug in the name of a company, whichever one is currently in a position to take its membership out and force management to come forward with serious considerations. However, we certainly have not seen any kind of resolve on the part of the government to be seriously supportive of fair and open collective bargaining. We have seen the government compromise that, and I do not think we can get it back. The dye has been cast. I am sure the public service unions in this country know they are in the crosshairs and that they have some tough times ahead. Certainly they are watching the upcoming budget with a great deal of anticipation. However, make no mistake about it, this government will certainly be willing to bring the hammer down on them as well.

To wrap up my comments, it is unfortunate that we find ourselves in this situation again. It is unfortunate that the government has taken away the fair right of unions to negotiate fair collective agreements. The government has tilted the playing field in favour of the company. I think organized labour in this country has been dealt a blow since the Conservative government came to power and it is something we are going to see more of in the years to come.

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9:15 a.m.

Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo B.C.

Conservative

Cathy McLeod ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Revenue

Mr. Speaker, I listened intently to my colleague's comments regarding the strike and there are two things that stuck out in my mind.

First, he indicated that he did not believe this was an essential service. Coming from small rural communities, I beg to differ.

The member also provided some quotes from Captain Paul Strachan, the president of the Air Canada Pilots Association. I will give the him another quote and ask him for comment. Mr. Strachan testified before the Senate transport committee that he believed Air Canada was an essential service for this country and “...a cornerstone of our entire economy”. We happen to agree with Captain Strachan that it is an essential service and important for our economy.

Why does the member disagree with the president of the union and why is he in favour of jeopardizing our fragile economic recovery? Again, he quoted Mr. Strachan on the one hand and then on the other hand said it was not an essential service. That is in direct contradiction with the language Mr. Strachan used before committee.

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9:15 a.m.

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Liberal Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, rather than finding ourselves back here in the House time after time discussing back to work legislation imposed by the Conservative government, the government might want to scope out what essential services actually are in this country and then there would be one blanket over all of those essential services. Maybe that is the debate that should be taking place.

If WestJet and Porter, two private airline companies, find themselves in the same situation as Air Canada, will the government bring in back to work legislation with them? That is the question that needs to be asked.

We know we have access to other service providers, other great Canadian airlines and VIA Rail. There are other modes of transportation that Canadians can use.

In order for the government to make it easy on itself, I would suggest that it map out what is considered an essential service here in this country.

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9:20 a.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to bring forward on a personal note an issue involving the city of Winnipeg in Manitoba.

We need to understand that the government has never been a friend of Air Canada workers, whether they work in Winnipeg, Mississauga or Montreal. We could talk about the flight attendants base or the pilots base in Winnipeg or the overhaul centre that was in Winnipeg. These are all important and valuable jobs to the province of Manitoba and yet Air Canada literally shafted the workers by not standing up for them. In the case of the overhaul maintenance workers, Air Canada allowed a form of privatization into a different area even though it had a legal obligation to maintain those jobs.

For the last couple of years, the Government of Canada has not stood up for those workers and now we see labour legislation being brought in once again to not allow free collective bargaining in an important industry.

Does my colleague understand and appreciate why many of the workers at Air Canada feel that the Conservative government just does not care about the worker, that it seems to support Air Canada over the worker? Does he not think that is unfair in terms of the free collective bargaining process?

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9:20 a.m.

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Liberal Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, under the public air act, commitments were made to certain communities with regard to staffing levels and the allocation of resources in particular areas. That came about when Canadian Airlines and Air Canada merged. It is important to ensure that Air Canada abides by the commitments made through that act.

The government claims that Air Canada is a private company and, as such, it does not want anything to do with it. However, in this case, the government is treating Air Canada like a public service provider. It is duplicitous on the part of the government the way it treats Air Canada. It is hands off when it is a private firm, when it is in the interest of the workers, but when, in a case like this in contract negotiations, the government says that Air Canada is like a federal public service so it puts itself in the midst of the situation in an effort to bring it to a close because the Conservatives feel it is their responsibility as a government.

I can see why the member is confused with the government's approach to this particular case.

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9:25 a.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, in the context of this debate, my largest underlying concern is that we are undermining collective bargaining rights. However, when I focus on pilots, what comes to mind is the great hero "Sully" Sullenberger who landed a plane on the frozen Hudson River. One of the things that came to light in his interview after that great feat of heroism was his concern that pilots were not being paid enough, that the competition in the U.S. was allowing pilots to fly passengers when earning under $20,000 a year and that the cutthroat nature of the industry meant that passenger safety was at risk.

If the government is going to intervene, would it not be nice if just once it intervened on the side of increasing wages instead of undercutting the workers in favour of management? If that were to happen, then maybe there would be an incentive for management to come to a fair term and deal with its workers.

In this case, does the hon. member for Cape Breton—Canso think we might be undermining safety?

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9:25 a.m.

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Liberal Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, when my friend and colleague from Saanich—Gulf Islands made reference to landing a plane on a frozen body of water, I thought for sure she was speaking of J.A.D. McCurdy on Baddeck Bay .

Her point is absolutely valid and real. With the actions undertaken by the government, we certainly have not see anything that would lend itself to increasing safety within the operational guidelines of Air Canada. Rather, it has been, “What can we do to help our big corporate friends and certainly help along the management at Air Canada?” Whether intended or not, that is what has happened in this case.

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9:25 a.m.

Conservative

Royal Galipeau Conservative Ottawa—Orléans, ON

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member for Cape Breton—Canso is an active member both in the House and in his community, so I suppose t he was in his district over the weekend. How would he have returned back here to make that eloquent speech this afternoon if the airline had not been in the air? Is Air Canada not essential to him and to the service that he gives to this country?

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9:25 a.m.

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Liberal Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, it is as convenient as heck. Is it essential? Absolutely, positively not. We would have driven to Halifax by car. We could have taken a train from Halifax and came up yesterday. We were delayed as it was. It is certainly convenient but it is not at all essential.

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9:25 a.m.

Simcoe—Grey Ontario

Conservative

Kellie Leitch ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and to the Minister of Labour

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to the necessity of the bill that the Minister of Labour has given notice on, an act to provide for the continuation and resumption of air service operations.

Keeping Air Canada flying now is essential to the economy and travellers. Over one million hard-working Canadians and Canadian families have scheduled travel with Air Canada over the March break period. Those people are depending on the government and we think that the travelling public overwhelmingly expects the government to act. As much as we wish that these disputes could have been settled among the three parties themselves, government action is essential to keep the airline flying and Canadians travelling. We will not sit by and let the airline shut itself down. We need to act to provide for the continuation of air service operations at Air Canada.

We are not doing this to take sides. We are not doing this to punish any of the parties. We also are not doing this because it is an easy solution to a difficult problem. We are doing this because it is the right thing to do. We need to do this because it is necessary to protect the Canadian public and Canada's economy recovery that we are all counting on for growth and prosperity in the years to come. Time is of the essence. We must act now.

We need to ensure that Air Canada's operations continue at regular peak period capacity before serious damage is inflicted on our economy. We need to act before Canadian businesses suffer and go elsewhere, and before travelling Canadians have their vacation plans ruined. Under these circumstances at the present time, this is not what the economy needs and it is certainly not what the travelling public needs.

Would our government have preferred that the parties come to an agreement on their own? Absolutely. My hon. colleague, the Minister of Labour, is on the record saying repeatedly that the best solution to a labour dispute is when the parties can resolve their differences together without a work stoppage. In fact, 94% of labour negotiations in Canada are settled without a work stoppage. That statistic is not lost on either employers or unions in Canada. There is a better way to solve these disputes and the better way is the path chosen by the parties in an overwhelming majority of cases. In spite of what we wish and, of course, what we find works in the majority of cases, these points do not change the fact that the two disputes are still before us today.

We need to consider the following. On February 10, 2012, IAMAW and Air Canada reached a tentative agreement. However, on February 22, 2012, the union informed the employer that its membership had rejected the agreement. On March 17, 2011, ACPA and Air Canada reached a tentative agreement. On May 19, 2011, the union informed the employer that its membership voted to reject the tentative agreement. That is two tentative agreements that Air Canada reached with two separate bargaining units, two tentative agreements that the respective union memberships voted to reject.

The threat of labour action can be a tool in labour negotiations. It can bring pressure to bear on an employer, which is a legitimate prerogative, but the effect of this pressure does not end at Air Canada. Everyone who depends on air transport feels it and is potentially affected by it. That includes those who are travelling for business, school, new opportunities, vacations or to visit their loved ones.

As everyone knows, Air Canada has an excellent safety record. Air Canada follows rigorous safety rules and procedures. The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers represents Air Canada employees who are responsible for the technical, maintenance and operations services, including cabin grooming, aircraft cleaning, the handling of baggage and the purchases and distribution of parts and supplies. In effect, they are a fundamental component of making Air Canada transportation operations move smoothly, safely and efficiently. They are skilled workers who cannot be easily replaced.

In addition, Air Canada's pilots are responsible for the operation of the aircraft, the safety of passengers and crew members and all flight decisions once in the air. The pilots are obviously a fundamental and key component in the safety of Air Canada's operations. Again, these are highly -trained and skilled workers who are not easily replaceable. Therefore, work stoppages by either of these groups of valuable workers would have a far-reaching economic impact. A work stoppage could threaten the very future of Air Canada. The direct impact on Air Canada could be severe at a time when it is facing financial constraints.

We need to consider the impact on the travelling public and businesses that use Air Canada. To properly understand the scale of that impact, it helps if we look at the size of Air Canada's operations. Air Canada is Canada's largest domestic U.S. transborder and international airline and the largest provider of scheduled passenger services in the Canadian market, the Canada-U.S. transborder market and in the international market to and from Canada. Air Canada serves over 32 million customers annually and provides direct passenger service to 170 destinations on five different continents.

A disruption at Air Canada could cost the Canadian economy as much as $22.4 million a week for every week that it is allowed to continue. However, financial figures are only one of the ways that we can measure the cost of a labour dispute. There is also the cost of jobs lost. There is the cost of lost time and of missed opportunities for every business that relies on Air Canada. There is the cost of someone being stranded, or someone whose business is grounded.

We must also consider the impact on other Air Canada employees. There are approximately 25,000 staff directly employed by Air Canada and there are another 250,000 staff members indirectly related to Air Canada who would be affected. Many of these employees have families. If the airline were to be grounded, all of these direct and indirect employees, as well as their families, would be affected.

As we see, every action has consequences. There would be a ripple effect as the losses are compounded affecting stakeholders in the process. The reduced operations at Air Canada would adversely affect Canada's airports and Air Canada's third party suppliers. What about the passengers? Alternative carriers are not always readily available. Even if passengers switched to other modes of transportation, as suggested by the member opposite, they would suffer inconvenience as well as extra costs. Those who could not switch may be left in a difficult spot and could find themselves stranded at an airport or elsewhere.

As we have said before, over one million passengers are scheduled to travel with Air Canada over the March break period. That is a huge number of Canadians. That means hundreds of thousands of Canadian families' travel plans would be affected or even cancelled due to a work stoppage. What is clear is that these two labour disputes involve more than just Air Canada and its machinists and aerospace workers, more than just Air Canada and its pilots. It involves all Canadians who are stakeholders, whether they want to be or not. Clearly the public interest is at stake and that is why we must act for the continuation and resumption of air service operations at Air Canada.

Some might ask what today's actions say about the status of collective bargaining in Canada. Let me address that point. The Canada Labour Code strikes a balance between rights and interests of employers and workers. The code reinforces a long-standing tradition of co-operative labour management relationships. It recognizes the principles of freedom of association and free collective bargaining. It promotes the negotiation of terms and conditions of employment and the constructive settlement of disputes.

The Canada Labour Code does not promote government intervention. Rather it is designed to help labour and management settle their differences on their own. The code provides a framework for constructive dispute settlement in federally regulated workspaces and this process is usually all that is required. As I mentioned earlier, the vast majority of collective agreements are negotiated successfully, with compromises made on both sides. If the parties are unable to resolve their differences on their own, the Canada Labour Code provides a process of conciliation and mediation.

The first step in this process is one where the parties file a notice of dispute with the Minister of Labour. The minister can then appoint one or more conciliator officers. If the conciliators are not successful, mediators can be called in. These mediators work intensively with the parties to avert a work stoppage and if these efforts fail, the Canada Labour Code also allows the employer and the union to offer binding arbitration if they both agree. Twenty-one days after the conciliation process ends, the union acquires the right to strike and the employer acquires the right to lock out their employees. At that point, the union must give the employer and the Minister of Labour 72 hours notice in advance of a strike. The employer must do the same if it plans a lockout.

Let me give the House a little background on these two disputes to show how the Government of Canada has worked to try to help each one of these parties every step of the way. The collective agreement covering a unit of approximately 8,200 employees engaged in technical, maintenance and operating support functions expired on March 31, 2011. The workers represented by IAMAW have been working without a renewed contract since that time. On December 21, 2011, a conciliator commissioner was appointed to assist the parties in their negotiations. Even though both parties reached a tentative agreement on February 10, with the assistance of a conciliator commissioner, it was defeated in a ratification vote by the union membership on February 22. The parties acquired the legal right to strike or lockout on March 12.

In the case of the Air Canada Pilots Association, its collective agreement, which covers 3,000 pilots, expired on March 31, 2011. On March 17, 2011, the parties reached a tentative agreement. However, on May 19, 2011 the deal was rejected by a vote of the ACPA membership. Again, another tentative agreement reached by Air Canada and one of its bargaining agents was rejected by the union membership. A conciliation officer was then appointed to assist the parties on November 10, 2011. Further to that, two co-mediators were appointed on February 16 of this year to work with the parties through a six month mediation period.

Despite all of this assistance, including meetings with the Minister of Labour, the parties have been unable to reach a deal.

The minister spoke very clearly on this issue, saying:

Our Government is concerned that a strike at Air Canada would have a significantly negative impact on families and our national economy....We encourage both parties to avoid a work stoppage and restore confidence for the traveling public and Canadian job creators that rely on commercial air services.

This government believes in the principle of free collective bargaining. We have made the resources of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service fully available to both parties in an effort to help them reach a negotiated arrangements. However, despite these efforts, work stoppages are still being considered.

These disputes have gone on long enough. We will not wait to see how much damage a work stoppage could do to our fragile economy. History teaches us a sober lesson about what happens when we stand by and do nothing.

Thirty-five work stoppages have occurred in the air transport industry since 1984. Six of these stoppages, about a fifth of them, have involved Air Canada. The most significant of these was in 1998, when 2,100 airline pilots went on strike for 13 days. Financial industry analysts tell us that Air Canada lost about $300 million because of the cancelled flights. That was 13 years ago, in a booming economy, both domestically and internationally. The severity of the damage this time around would be unimaginable.

Markets do not like uncertainty. Businesses do not like it either. There would be a price paid for every day that we let uncertainty overtake our air transportation system.

Air Canada is already struggling. Just a few weeks ago, Air Canada reported a higher than expected $80 million fourth-quarter loss. Now it has to contend with the cost of a strike by its machinists and aerospace workers.

All other avenues have been explored to resolve this dispute. Government action right now is necessary to solve this problem. It would end the uncertainty of this important sector of our economy. The business of Canada depends upon this, not just our industry but also our citizens. Canadians are counting on the Government of Canada to do the right thing. They expect us to act to protect our economy, to protect jobs, growth and prosperity. Ensuring the continuation and resumption of air service operations at Air Canada would help restore that certainty.

We need to keep the planes in the air. We need to keep our economy moving and working and not lose the momentum that we have worked so hard to create over the last number of months. Therefore, I urge my fellow parliamentarians to support the government in keeping Air Canada flying. Let us work together to do the right thing for all Canadians.

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9:40 a.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, she said that she believed in free bargaining. I do not know if she believes in unions. The Prime Minister says that he is kind of divided on the issue and does not want to get involved.

However, by telling business months in advance that the government will not tolerate, for example, Air Canada not flying because of the economy, would she agree that it sends a message to businesses that they do not have to negotiate with their employees, that they should do what think needs to be done and that the government will be there to legislate the people back to work, thereby taking away their Charter of Rights to be in a union? Workers have the right to go on strike. The employers have the right to have a lockout. It is a private sector. It is not essential services. In this case, for the government to get involved the way it is, is it not the wrong route to take, or is it really the route the Conservative Party wants to take? It hates the unions and workers. Is that the case? When we take a look at Air Canada after it called for bankruptcy protection for 10 years to redo the company, the president left with $80 million in his back pocket. The last one—

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9:40 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

Order, please. The hon. parliamentary secretary.

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9:40 a.m.

Conservative

Kellie Leitch Conservative Simcoe—Grey, ON

Mr. Speaker, we are very disappointed that all three parties have been unable to come to a solution.

Given our fragile economy, a work stoppage is simply unacceptable. The government is moving forward with this legislation in an effort to ensure we protect our national economy and our families.

March break, as I mentioned, is upon us and millions of Canadians are travelling. We want to ensure that Canadian parents, families and our economy are protected, and that is why we are taking this action.

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9:40 a.m.

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Liberal Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, the question posed by my colleague from Acadie—Bathurst is really the nub of the problem.

The negotiating team cuts the best deal it can and then brings it back to the membership. The government seems to have a problem with that. Does the parliamentary secretary reject the democratic right of the union membership to reject and vote against that offer?