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House of Commons Hansard #95 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was rail.

Topics

Government Business No. 10Air Service Operations LegislationGovernment Orders

7:10 p.m.

NDP

Pierre-Luc Dusseault NDP Sherbrooke, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have a quick and simple question for the hon. member.

This reminds me of the debate on Canada Post, when the Conservatives pitted two groups of people against one another: workers and other Canadians.

We are seeing the same thing here. One might say that the hon. member does not think Canadians who work at Air Canada have the same rights as every other Canadian across the country, in other words the right to negotiate agreements with their employers or go on strike. These fundamental rights have been recognized for years.Today we are being told that Air Canada employees do not have the same rights as other employees.

I have a very simple question: does the hon. member think that Air Canada employees have the same rights as every other Canadian, in other words the right to negotiate their collective agreement?

Government Business No. 10Air Service Operations LegislationGovernment Orders

7:10 p.m.

Conservative

Wai Young Conservative Vancouver South, BC

Mr. Speaker, we are very disappointed, I think I have made that clear in my speech, that the three parties have not come to an agreement. They have had months and months, up to a year of negotiations, and in fact had reached a tentative agreement.

What we know is that one million passengers over spring break, 26,000 direct staff at Air Canada and 250,000 indirect staff are being impacted throughout the country. Some 59 Canadian communities and 170 destinations around the world are being impacted by this stoppage.

I would like to say that obviously this is not something that the government wanted to interfere in. However, we do have a fragile economy. We have a mandate from the voters that we should assure that this kind of thing does not happen to jeopardize our fragile recovery.

Government Business No. 10Air Service Operations LegislationGovernment Orders

7:10 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I disagree with the member in terms of not wanting to interfere. I believe that the government wanted to be able to interfere. People who work for Air Canada, or even to a certain degree Canada Post, are not going to be fooled by the members. We recognize that the government has not been supportive. It has taken the side of corporations over employees.

I just want to ask the member a question in regard to the Air Canada Public Participation Act which guaranteed jobs in Winnipeg with Air Canada. There was a guarantee in law. However, the overall maintenance base was actually closed down, transferring jobs out into the private sector. Many argued this was illegal. Why did the government not stand up for the employees back then?

Government Business No. 10Air Service Operations LegislationGovernment Orders

7:15 p.m.

Conservative

Wai Young Conservative Vancouver South, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to remind the member that the facts are that these groups have been in talks for many months, almost a year.

They were supported by the Minister of Labour who appointed conciliators and mediators to help them along. A tentative agreement was reached. However, the members did not ratify the agreement. It is jeopardizing our fragile economy. Canadians have to get back to work.

Government Business No. 10Air Service Operations LegislationGovernment Orders

7:15 p.m.

Conservative

Bryan Hayes Conservative Sault Ste. Marie, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask my hon. colleague if she could please explain the necessity the expedite the passage of this bill?

Government Business No. 10Air Service Operations LegislationGovernment Orders

7:15 p.m.

Conservative

Wai Young Conservative Vancouver South, BC

Mr. Speaker, again, this week over a million Canadians will be travelling. It is imperative that we get these people home. These businesses will be impacted across the country. Some $22.4 million per week, every week of a stoppage, is being jeopardized. That is why it is so important for this legislation to be passed.

Government Business No. 10Air Service Operations LegislationGovernment Orders

7:15 p.m.

NDP

Laurin Liu NDP Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Pontiac.

I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak in order to denounce Motion No. 10, moved by the government in order to muzzle parliamentarians and introduce back-to-work legislation for Air Canada.

This government thinks that because it has a majority it can do whatever it wants.

This government was elected less than a year ago and has already invoked closure more than a dozen times in order to muzzle parliamentarians and shove its conservative ideology down Canadians' throats. That happened with the elimination of the firearms registry, the creation of the pooled registered pension plans, the dismantling of the Canadian Wheat Board, the bill to implement the last budget and the bill on the distribution of seats in the House.

Just yesterday, the government used its majority to muzzle the opposition and impose its crime bill, a bill that is widely rejected, particularly in Quebec.

I want to remind my colleagues that this is the same party that, when it was in opposition, denounced time allocation motions moved by the Liberal government. I have here, for example, a quote from the current Minister of Public Safety who, on November 27, 2001, said:

For the government to bring in closure and time allocation is wrong. It sends out the wrong message to the people of Canada. It tells the people of Canada that the government is afraid of debate, afraid of discussion and afraid of publicly justifying the steps it has taken.

This government seems to forget that, although it was elected to form the government, 60% of Canadians did not vote for it, and it has a duty to govern for all Canadians.

This is particularly true when we see new revelations every day about the Conservatives’ fraudulent practices in their effort to win power last May.

As columnist Vincent Marissal wrote this morning:

It seems that the Conservatives are not just allergic to debates in the Commons; they also abhor labour disputes. In this case, not only are they abusing the gag rule in Parliament, they are also wielding the bayonet to force the union members into line.

It is barely 11 months since I was elected, but this is the third time I have seen the government introduce special legislation to avert a strike or lockout. After Canada Post and Air Canada last June, here the Conservatives are once again twisting the arms of Air Canada workers.

It now seems that the right to strike and to bargain on equal terms is on the verge of extinction in businesses under federal jurisdiction, whether they are public corporations like Canada Post or private ones like Air Canada.

The strangest thing is that this ideological government is still telling us that it does not want to intervene in the economy, but to “let the market do its job”.

It does not intervene to help workers in the forestry industry. It does not intervene to help workers in the manufacturing sector. It does not intervene to help fishers and agricultural workers. It does not intervene to help taxi drivers and workers who are the victims of fluctuations in the price of gas. This is shameful.

However, when this government intervenes in the economy to correct imperfections in the market, we notice that most of the time it is to the disadvantage of working people. The Canada Post and Air Canada examples speak volumes.

This time, the government is telling us that an Air Canada pilots strike during the school break could have terrible effects on the Canadian economy. And yet this same government is telling us that the economy is fine, the job market is robust and we have the soundest banking system in the world. Either the government is exaggerating the impact of the labour dispute at Air Canada, the better to wield the club, or the Canadian economy is not as strong as it claims.

To come back to the labour dispute at Air Canada, we have to understand that the government is preparing to take the right to strike away from more than 10,000 Air Canada employees. In fact, the bill targets the company’s 3,000 pilots and 8,600 mechanics, baggage handlers and cargo agents.

In addition to denying Air Canada employees the right to strike, the government’s approach sends a very bad message to all employers governed by the Canada Labour Code. From now on, they need only impose or threaten to impose a lockout and the minister will come out with his gags and his bayonet and order the employees back to work.

Under this system, the employer will always be the winner, because workers will be deprived of their ultimate pressure tactic.

Let us remember that we are here today to talk about Motion No. 10, proceedings on Bill C-33. This weekend I had the pleasure of spending time in my riding and especially with young people in my riding. What I discovered was that young people are losing faith in politics and our political system. It is due to dirty tricks like this, time allocation motions and actions to limit debate, that young people are losing faith in politics. That is very discouraging to me.

This morning at a press conference the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment accused all those wanting a robust consultation process in environmental assessment of economic vandalism. The government continues to refer to the economy when it talks about back to work legislation and when it talks about labour conflicts. This begs the question: Are the real economic vandals the environmentalists who want the government to be responsible? Are they the first nations people who want robust consultation processes given by the government? Are they the workers who require just pay and the right to strike to put pressure on their employers? Is the real economic vandal the government that keeps giving tax cuts to oil companies and large corporations, that keeps giving tax cuts to corporations like Caterpillar that pick up and leave when the going gets tough?

We realize that when the government talks about the economy it does not take the economy seriously. We call on the government to listen to workers. I believe that the government should seriously consider the fact that Canadians are losing faith in our parliamentary institutions, especially since 60% of Canadians did not vote for this government and it refuses to govern for the majority of Canadians. For this reason I oppose Motion No. 10 on proceedings on Bill C-33.

Government Business No. 10Air Service Operations LegislationGovernment Orders

7:20 p.m.

Newmarket—Aurora Ontario

Conservative

Lois Brown ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Cooperation

Mr. Speaker, I too am very concerned about the average, ordinary worker in Canada who will be impacted by this interruption of service by Air Canada. I recently attended a convention in Toronto where I was told that the convention was going to bring in some $70 million to the economy of Toronto. It was going to create work for the restaurants in the area. It was going to create jobs at the hotels because there were so many hotel rooms in demand.

I know my hon. colleague also represents an area where that kind of investment in the economy is critical at this point in time. I wonder if she could tell me how she would explain it to her constituents, who may be hotel workers or people who serve in restaurants, average ordinary Canadians who would be depending on that money for income that is being brought in by people who are coming to those conventions. How does she explain to them why they will not have a job?

Government Business No. 10Air Service Operations LegislationGovernment Orders

7:25 p.m.

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Liberal Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. We would like a quorum call.

Government Business No. 10Air Service Operations LegislationGovernment Orders

7:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

I appreciate the intervention by the hon. member for Cape Breton--Canso. It appears we do have quorum in the chamber.

We were in the middle of a question from the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Cooperation.

The hon. member for Pontiac is rising on the same point of order.

Government Business No. 10Air Service Operations LegislationGovernment Orders

7:25 p.m.

NDP

Mathieu Ravignat NDP Pontiac, QC

Mr. Speaker, my question is in regards to the same point of order.

At what point do you count the members who are seated? Is it once you have risen from the chair? I noticed that when you were standing up, several members on the other side of the House were still not seated.

Government Business No. 10Air Service Operations LegislationGovernment Orders

7:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

I realize this is not a question that comes before the chamber often. Typically what happens here in the case of a challenge to the quorum in the chamber is that the Chair simply watches and takes a moment to see whether in fact the minimum has been met and then makes the decision at that point. When quorum is met, then the debate will continue. As I did in this case, the Chair would announce that we do indeed have quorum and then we proceed accordingly.

The hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Cooperation.

Government Business No. 10Air Service Operations LegislationGovernment Orders

7:25 p.m.

Conservative

Lois Brown Conservative Newmarket—Aurora, ON

Mr. Speaker, I just reiterate my question. There are many people who live and work in Toronto, who provide services in hotels and restaurants and are depending on people who are coming in for tourism or conventions to support that kind of economy in the city.

How does my hon. colleague respond to her constituents who are employed in that type of employment who will not have jobs if the conventions or the tourism are not coming in?

Government Business No. 10Air Service Operations LegislationGovernment Orders

7:25 p.m.

NDP

Laurin Liu NDP Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, QC

Mr. Speaker, my honourable colleague is right. Many of my constituents work in restaurants, and in the tourism and other sectors. They are asking for better wages and labour standards. These workers support the Air Canada employees and they oppose the government’s decision to prevent employees from bargaining collectively.

I would agree. My hon. colleague did note that I had many constituents who work in restaurants and other sectors, but these people tend to be unionized. Yes, these people want the right to negotiate collectively. We do see that these workers are very concerned about the fact that the government is imposing back to work legislation and, furthermore, limiting debate in the House.

Government Business No. 10Air Service Operations LegislationGovernment Orders

7:25 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, earlier today when the minister came in she was quite proud of the fact that this is really setting the stage, that no other government has done this before in the manner in which, by bringing in this legislation, she has taken away the opportunity for Air Canada workers to participate in a true free bargaining process. It was like a badge of honour for her to be doing it today.

Would the member share the concerns we in the Liberal Party have in terms of the manner in which the employees of Air Canada are being treated and in terms of their rights to be able to have a sense of fairness, when the government's past behaviour with Air Canada employees has not been good at all?

Government Business No. 10Air Service Operations LegislationGovernment Orders

7:30 p.m.

NDP

Laurin Liu NDP Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, QC

Mr. Speaker, we do see a lack of fairness on the part of the government. We also have seen a lack of respect for parliamentary procedure. The government has imposed Motion No. 10 concerning proceedings on Bill C-33, attempting to push this through until late tonight. We have seen this behaviour in the House of Commons and in committee, and we have seen that the government has not been transparent and accountable to Canadians.

Government Business No. 10Air Service Operations LegislationGovernment Orders

7:30 p.m.

NDP

Djaouida Sellah NDP Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to make a comment and ask my colleague a brief question. I would like to draw the House's attention to the fact that this is the thirteenth time that this majority government has imposed special legislation since we have been in this House. As soon as employees go on strike, wham, special legislation. As soon as an employer locks them out, wham, special legislation. As soon as an employer threatens a lockout, again, wham, special legislation. What does my colleague think of the workers’ right to vote, which is recognized in Canada?

Government Business No. 10Air Service Operations LegislationGovernment Orders

7:30 p.m.

NDP

Laurin Liu NDP Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, QC

Mr. Speaker, by introducing special legislation, this government's behaviour is, unfortunately, becoming quite predictable. I really appreciate my hon. colleague's comments. Workers and their right to bargain in good faith must be supported.

Government Business No. 10Air Service Operations LegislationGovernment Orders

7:30 p.m.

NDP

Mathieu Ravignat NDP Pontiac, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will not say it is a pleasure, but I am happy to speak against this motion.

What the Conservative government does not seem to understand about its approach to collective bargaining is that the separation between civil society and the government is, in fact, a fragile thing. The ability to pressure the government through appropriate non-violent measures such as demonstrating and striking is an essential part of the checks and balances of our democracy. Unions have been at the forefront of social progress in our society. Whether it be work safety, working hours, child labour, anti-child labour legislation, et cetera, they have been at the forefront of these issues. They have pushed for change, and change has happened.

Let me share a personal story. My great-grandfather, Ernest Ravignat, came to this country from Belgium as a stonemason in the beginning of the last century and he came to work on these very Parliament buildings. He may have even carved some of the stones in the House of Commons. He spent decades working on public works for his new country and, because of low safety standards, died of dust inhalation at a very early age, poor and penniless. I dare say that if he were unionized and if his union had negotiated better working conditions and a disability pension, he may have lived longer. I may have even known him, and what stories I would have heard even about this place.

What has improved these types of conditions is, unfortunately, not the goodwill of employers and governments but a long struggle for workers to have the right to organize and pressure their employers and government. The independence of the labour movement is key to our society and our democracy, and that includes the right to bargain fairly and freely their wages and conditions without interference. If one does not own one's own labour, one does not own anything. This must include the right to strike.

Let me make this point very clear. If the only actions unions can take are actions authorized by the government, then what is the point of workers' rights to free association? This is a slippery slope, and I dare say members on the other side of the House will regret these actions. They lead to an unhealthy relationship with civil society and a dangerous one, I dare say, one in which only approved unions and professional associations are allowed by the government to exist. This blurring of lines between government and civil society is one of the main features of authoritarian governments. There is a name for it. It is called corporatism and it was a feature of the Duplessis government and many governments whose commitment to real, messy, sometimes chaotic but beautiful democracy was questionable.

The decision by the government, which is before us, is in many ways a line in the sand for the labour movement. It is a crossroads, and if we cross it we send a clear message to the whole world that Canada has no respect for the independent rights of citizens to defend their interests. The situation with Air Canada is hardly a crisis. The employees have not gone on strike or engaged in any form of work action that harms the interests of Canadians.

On the contrary, the company is aware that the government is going to stand up for its interests, as it did for Canada Post. This is the government that gave employees an ultimatum to accept management’s latest offer. In this case, a notice of lockout issued by Air Canada will soon take effect. It is therefore up to Air Canada to return to the bargaining table with its employees.

We in the NDP, while defending the interests and rights of all Canadians to associate and to strike, call on the two parties to bargain in good faith in order to find a solution that does not cause problems for travellers.

The government must remain neutral and help both sides reach an agreement, and not favour one party over the other.

We continue to fight for the rights of Canadians, and we will vote against this back-to-work legislation.

The minister and her government claim that they are protecting the interests of all Canadians. Let us take the time to see if this is true. What the minister undoubtedly means is that she is protecting the profits of a company rather than the interests of hundreds of workers.

The reality is that Canada is a country of unions and unionization. The government may not like that image because it may fly in the face of its laissez-faire corporate values, but Statistics Canada reported in 2010 that just over 4.2 million employees belong to a union in Canada. This is to be celebrated.

During the first half of 2010, membership was up by 64,000. In 2010 union membership rose at a slightly faster pace than total employment. As a result, the nation's unionization rate edged from 29.5% in 2009 to 29.6% in 2010.

The government is arguing—strangely, considering these facts—that the disruption of air service to those thousands of Canadians and the curtailment of profit to an irresponsible corporation somehow outweigh the interests of 4.2 million Canadians who are unionized and recognize that the right to strike and negotiate their collective agreement is a fundamental right. That does not even talk about the families of these 4.2 million people.

The Conservatives talk about disruption of travel plans and economic impacts. What is more important: a temporary inconvenience impacting a few thousand Canadians, or the rights to collective free association and bargaining?

It is not as though Air Canada is the only carrier in this country. It is not as though we are talking about a protracted strike lasting for weeks. It is not as though the demands of the Air Canada workers are all that unreasonable.

What are the workers of Air Canada asking for? It is simple: good, reasonable pensions for all workers, young or old.

Making new hires join a new defined contribution pension plan, as suggested by Air Canada, weakens the existing defined benefit plan, because all new contributions would be diverted into a new plan. Defined contribution plans, which offer no guarantees of final pension payouts, also create a two-tiered system, which would make second-class workers of future generations.

I suppose it is to be expected that the government would be sympathetic to the position of Air Canada, because it wants to do exactly the same thing to pensions in this country. By doing so, it is taking away good pensions from the youngest workers of this country. It was good enough for baby boomers, but for hard-working members of generation X and Y, it is not. If I was more skeptical, which I am not, I would wonder if this is not an economic generation war.

The Canadian Auto Workers, along with two other unions representing Air Canada workers, jointly pledged last month to fight any further attempts by the airline to reduce or eliminate their defined benefit plans, and I think they are right. While pensions for their younger worker are in danger, the airline's top managers continue to make millions of dollars annually and enjoy generous guaranteed pensions. Shame.

It is simple, the Conservatives must respect the right of employees to bargain collectively. Moreover, workers and management must have the right to collectively bargain without interference from the government and without inappropriate ideology.

Government Business No. 10Air Service Operations LegislationGovernment Orders

7:40 p.m.

Conservative

Garry Breitkreuz Conservative Yorkton—Melville, SK

Mr. Speaker, I need to correct the record. An error was made by the person who just spoke. He said that we are preventing people from coming to an agreement. In fact, if the member reads the legislation, and I challenge him to read it, we are helping people to come to an agreement. We will bring them together, and they will reach an agreement.

There are many people watching via television, so I want to paint the big picture here. We have 26,000 employees at Air Canada; we have 3,000 pilots, 8,000 package handlers and 250,000 other secondary workers who will be affected by this.

If one shakes hands and reaches an agreement, which has happened, and then comes back with a changed mind and decides to ask for more, is that fair?

Government Business No. 10Air Service Operations LegislationGovernment Orders

7:40 p.m.

NDP

Mathieu Ravignat NDP Pontiac, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to remind the member that a forced negotiation is not a negotiation at all. The reality is that this has to develop organically between the partners who are involved at the table. If the government decides that it is going to impose a negotiation, then what leverage do the workers have?

Government Business No. 10Air Service Operations LegislationGovernment Orders

7:40 p.m.

Bloc

Louis Plamondon Bloc Bas-Richelieu—Nicolet—Bécancour, QC

Mr. Speaker, historically, there may have been times when the government was justified in passing special legislation, such as when there were strikes at certain ports. I remember the case in Vancouver involving health services that were truly essential to people. At the time, there were negotiations with the opposition parties to quickly draft a bill that appointed an arbitrator but gave him complete freedom.

I did not hear the member talk about that in his speech. In both of this government's pieces of back-to-work legislation—Canada Post and this one—there have been conditions. The arbitrator will not be given complete freedom; the government is imposing certain restrictions, such as forcing the arbitrator to choose one party's demand over the other, or simply, as was the case with the postal strike, setting wage conditions in advance. That aspect of the bill is absolutely detrimental to future negotiations, especially in the public service.

Government Business No. 10Air Service Operations LegislationGovernment Orders

7:40 p.m.

NDP

Mathieu Ravignat NDP Pontiac, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his very relevant question.

This government does not stop at forcing the parties to bargain. It is dictating the conditions under which bargaining will take place. That is totally unacceptable. That is interfering in the process, which is definitely not right.

Government Business No. 10Air Service Operations LegislationGovernment Orders

7:45 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to reflect on that.

We recall when the government brought in legislation in the Canada Post strike; part of its legislation ultimately saw a wage rollback from what had been previously negotiated between the union and the corporation. We can cite the example that I made reference to earlier in regard to the Air Canada maintenance base in Winnipeg; in this case, even though the Air Canada Public Participation Act guaranteed those jobs, Air Canada privatized it out to Aveos. People asked where the government had been to protect those jobs, since, after all, the law dictated that.

Does the member believe there are any employees out there, whether for Air Canada, which is the relevant debate today, or not, who believe that the government is not taking sides with the Air Canada corporation over the employees?

Government Business No. 10Air Service Operations LegislationGovernment Orders

7:45 p.m.

NDP

Mathieu Ravignat NDP Pontiac, QC

Mr. Speaker, I certainly would think not.

One thing the government should keep in mind is that protracted negotiations have a cost for the workers themselves. Being in this situation is difficult for the workers. It is difficult to go forward and have the energy to fight this battle when they see that their government does not even care to be neutral in this situation.