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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

7:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

Before I recognize the hon. member for Peace River, I will let him know that the top of the hour will bring this particular debate on this motion to an end.

The hon. member for Peace River.

Government Business No. 10Air Service Operations LegislationGovernment Orders

7:45 p.m.

Conservative

Chris Warkentin Conservative Peace River, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege for me to be in this House this evening. I am proud to be here defending my constituents with regard to this legislation that we have before the House today.

I believe it is important for us as Canadians, including those who might be watching this tonight and for some in the opposition, to talk about Canada's air carrier industry. There is a larger issue at stake here, one that needs to be fully explored if we are going to understand the state of affairs we find ourselves in today.

As all of us in this House know, Canada's land mass is the second largest in the world. It spans six time zones. That factor alone underscores the importance of the aviation sector.

Our aviation sector links us together as a nation, connecting us from coast to coast to coast and beyond to the rest of the world. We, as members of Parliament, with constituencies across this country know it very well.

Our aviation sector not only helps to bring us to together as Canadians but contributes enormously to our economy as well. Shippers use air services to move time critical and other goods across this country and around the world, and of course people use air services to connect and to make renewed relations with those people they meet for business, family or other reasons, including, especially in the case of the constituents in my riding, medical treatment.

The prosperity of the air carrier industry directly reflects how well the economy is performing. When the economy is doing well, air carrier services do well, but when the economy is faltering, there is a corresponding drop in passenger and cargo traffic. This reflects the relatively discretionary nature of travel.

When times are tough, much air travel either gets cut back or does not happen at all. Indeed, the volume of air cargo is often cited as a reliable barometer of how well the economy is doing. The air carrier industry is generally a low margin, high fixed cost industry.

The International Air Transport Association, IATA, is an international trade body representing some 230 international air carriers. They have estimated that for 2012, the industry's profit margin would be a mere 0.8%—less than 1%—owing to the large reduction in their capacity as well as the increases in fuel prices. In short, low margins are characteristic of the industry.

As I indicated, the vitality of the aviation sector is largely derived from the health of the economy. Statistics Canada recently reported that Canada's economy grew at an annual rate of 1.8% in the fourth quarter of 2011. Historically, when economic growth is below 2%, the air carrier industry overall loses money, particularly the large carriers like Air Canada.

Air Canada is Canada's largest air carrier, and together with its partners that operate in its regional services, Air Canada accounts for about half of the domestic capacity. Air Canada also provides about one-third of the transporter and other international capacity. These are the largest volumes of capacity provided by any air cargo to, from or within Canada. They represent essential connectivity, both within the country and with the rest of the world.

For a country such as ours, which is very large and highly dependent on trade, the importance of this connectivity cannot be understated. Given the large capacity that Air Canada provides our country, any work stoppage at the airline as the result of a strike or lockout would have serious impacts for Canada's economic future, as well as for the travelling public.

On average, Air Canada transports over 100,000 people a day at this time of the year. Thus, each day of a work stoppage would represent an important disruption for individual Canadians who might be stranded, or who had to change their plans or assume important additional cost to get to their destinations and this would be compounded over time.

We have heard it said in the House many times that during this March break period that over one million Canadians are expected to travel with Air Canada. This is a huge number of hard-working Canadians who will be significantly impacted by any work stoppage at Air Canada. Under these circumstances, at the present time this is not what the economy needs and it is certainly not what the travelling public needs.

There would be an important spillover effect for many Canadian businesses that rely on air traffic, as well as the many companies that provide services on behalf of Air Canada. For example, food suppliers, partner airlines, airports, Nav Canada and other organizations rely heavily on Air Canada in order to maintain their own operations and, thus, a lengthy disruption in Air Canada's operations would mean lost revenues for these entities.

Along with passengers, a disruption of Air Canada's service would have an important impact on the supply chains and, thus, on Canadian manufacturers and retailers. This is because there is simply no substitution for air transportation when it comes to the movement of critical time-sensitive goods. In our just-in-time world when suppliers can ill afford an unnecessarily tie-up of capital in inventory, the efficient movement of air cargo is vital to a trading nation like Canada.

As I hope everyone in the House begins to realize, Air Canada is of such a scale and scope that it is a major economic player in Canada. In 2011 Air Canada spent nearly $2 billion on wages, salaries and benefits for its employees, just over $1 billion on airport and navigation fees and $681 million on aircraft maintenance. The vast majority of these expenditures by this company, particularly those related to wages, salaries and benefits, have third party impacts for all Canadian businesses.

I would emphasize that the movement of passengers and cargo is essential to many industries that make up the Canadian economy. In many cases, they are inextricably linked. Tourism, for example, would be difficult to sustain without the capacity to bring in travellers by air. Similarly, the ability to deliver high-value and time-sensitive goods, such as seafood, Canadian diamonds or pharmaceuticals, is almost exclusively dependent on the ability to transport these goods by air.

Air Canada plays an important role in providing Canada's capacity to move people and goods. Any labour action that would affect the company's operational safety and efficiency could negatively affect our nation's livelihood. We are proud of the fact, thanks to good stewardship, that Canada's economy has been resilient despite the global economic crisis. However, we are also aware of recent financial turmoil beyond Canada's borders which could threaten the strength of Canada's recovery overall. As such, this is not time to further weaken our recovery, with very real impacts for Canadians families by way of a work stoppage at Air Canada.

We will not sit by and let the airline shut itself down. That is why the Minister of Labour has introduced Bill C-33, An Act to provide for the continuation and resumption of air service operations. These actions are essential to keep the airline flying. The government's concern is the broader Canadian public and we think that the public overwhelmingly expects this government and members of Parliament to act.

I come from a rural constituency, one that is served well by Air Canada. If a strike were to occur, the capacity of our local airport would drop significantly. It is absolutely essential that communities like mine have connection through air travel, not only for the local economy, not only for the travelling public, not only for those leaving on vacation, but it is also important for us to recognize many communities that are in rural and remote parts of our country need the airlines to provide attention for medical services.

Many people in my constituency will travel to larger centres for medical treatment and thus any disruption within the airline service, specifically for Air Canada or its regional partners, would have a significantly negative impact on those people who would be travelling for those reasons.

For this reason, as well as the many reasons that I have outlined in this speech, I am very supportive of my colleague, the Minister of Labour's important efforts to facilitate a solution to this situation. I believe we as members of Parliament are called to the House to undertake a number of things, but first and foremost in our minds should always be the defence of our constituents.

In the House we have heard tonight, and many times, people articulate very clearly their own reasons they believe that air service is essential during this March break for the people who live in their constituencies. For those reasons, I am proud to be here to defend air service for my constituency and for those people who travel.

Government Business No. 10Air Service Operations LegislationGovernment Orders

7:55 p.m.

NDP

Robert Chisholm NDP Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, does the member opposite not think there is a bit of inconsistency with his government getting involved in the private sector with a company and a union that have not even concluded negotiations yet? Conservatives are introducing legislation to legislate them back to work. Does he not think there is a bit of irony there, let alone a ham-handed effect on the negotiation process?

Government Business No. 10Air Service Operations LegislationGovernment Orders

8 p.m.

Conservative

Chris Warkentin Conservative Peace River, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is important that we have fair and balanced legislation, one that does not take sides, one that protects the rights of both the employers and employees but also respects the needs of the employer.

The member did not mention what I believe is the most important person at the table, and that is the general Canadian population. When I consider some of the impacts that would be precipitated by a long strike or one that would take place during March break, our economy would be affected, the travelling public would be affected and those people seeking medical assistance would be affected by a work stoppage at Air Canada.

The inability to travel would have a significant impact on the Canadian population. I was sent here for one reason and I will continue to defend that until I leave this place, and that is to defend my constituents and Canadians from coast to coast.

Government Business No. 10Air Service Operations LegislationGovernment Orders

8 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

It being 8 p. m., it is my duty to interrupt the proceedings and put forthwith every question necessary to dispose of the motion now before the House.

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Government Business No. 10Air Service Operations LegislationGovernment Orders

8 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

Government Business No. 10Air Service Operations LegislationGovernment Orders

8 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

Government Business No. 10Air Service Operations LegislationGovernment Orders

8 p.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

Government Business No. 10Air Service Operations LegislationGovernment Orders

8 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

All those opposed will please say nay.

Government Business No. 10Air Service Operations LegislationGovernment Orders

8 p.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

Government Business No. 10Air Service Operations LegislationGovernment Orders

8 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

In my opinion the nays have it.

And five or more members having risen:

Call in the members.

(The House divided on the motion, which was agreed to on the following division:)

Vote #158

Air Service Operations LegislationGovernment Orders

8:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

I declare the motion carried.

Protecting Air Service ActGovernment Orders

March 13th, 2012 / 8:45 p.m.

Halton Ontario

Conservative

Lisa Raitt ConservativeMinister of Labour

moved that Bill C-33, An Act to provide for the continuation and resumption of air service operations, be read the second time and referred to a committee of the whole.

Mr. Speaker, the labour disputes between Air Canada and the two unions, the Air Canada Pilots Association and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, IAMAW, have continued for the past year. They have moved through the many stages of collective bargaining, from direct negotiations to requesting and receiving support from both myself and the labour program. This includes the appointment of conciliators and mediators at various stages.

Just last month, I was very happy to hear that Air Canada had successfully ratified collective agreements with three of its unions, which represented flight dispatchers, in-flight service and flight operations crew scheduling personnel.

Air Canada and the IAMAW bargaining unit had also reached a tentative agreement, and it seemed to be one that was strong.

At the time the union's negotiators said that the deal provided “wage and premium increases, improved benefits and secures a defined benefit pension fund for the members”.

The conciliator commissioner whom I appointed said, “The tentative agreement is reasonable and fair”, and, “Under the full circumstances, I consider that a reasonable agreement had been reached”.

However, the union membership did not agree, and on February 22, the union announced that the deal was rejected by 65.6% of its members, and they also voted 78% in favour of strike action. Talks between the IAMAW and Air Canada broke down on March 5. On March 6, the union gave notice that on March 12, it intended to exercise its legal right to strike.

For the pilots, things had seemed promising for Air Canada and the Air Canada Pilots Association. In fact, in April 2011, through direct negotiations, not utilizing the services of Labour Canada, a tentative agreement was reached. While it was rejected, negotiations did not recommence until November 2011.

As they moved through the process, I met with the parties twice in February and found that they were committed to working together to reach an agreement that was in the best interests of the airline, the employees and Canadians.

At those meetings, specifically on February 6, it was suggested, having noted how far apart the parties were and how little time was left, that the parties agree to interest-based arbitration to bring the matter to a close.

While Air Canada accepted the process, the pilots rejected the solution outright. As a result, to further facilitate their efforts, I offered them a special six-month extended mediation process with two co-mediators appointed to the file. This time they both accepted my offer and began meetings with their mediators. However, things did not progress--

Protecting Air Service ActGovernment Orders

8:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Order. I will just ask all hon. colleagues who need to carry on conversations to do so outside the chamber. The Minister of Labour has the floor and some members have indicated they are having trouble hearing the minister. Could members keep the noise down. Members are free to use either of the two lobbies conveniently located on either side of the chamber in order that the Minister of Labour can be heard.

Protecting Air Service ActGovernment Orders

8:50 p.m.

Conservative

Lisa Raitt Conservative Halton, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for Acadie—Bathurst for requesting order in the House while I was speaking. I appreciate that.

Protecting Air Service ActGovernment Orders

8:50 p.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

I wanted to hear you talk.

Protecting Air Service ActGovernment Orders

8:50 p.m.

Conservative

Lisa Raitt Conservative Halton, ON

Thank you.

As I was indicating, however, things have not progressed toward a negotiated agreement between the pilots and Air Canada. Indeed, after the first meeting with the mediators, I received a notice, unfortunately, from the external mediator assigned to the file to indicate that she was resigning. She wrote this:

I should also mention to you that I am very surprised that the first session of mediation has been made public by ACPA in its entirety. It is a well known ground rule that mediation is a confidential process. Failure to observe confidentiality will not help the resolution of the dispute and will make it impossible for a mediator to function effectively as a neutral.

Air Canada tabled a final offer to the pilots union on March 8, 2012. The ACPA issued a press release stating that while Air Canada pilots would vote on this final offer from their employer, the association recommended that the pilots reject the offer and send the message to their employer to get serious about negotiations. On that same date, Air Canada advised that it intended to lock out the pilots as of March 12 as well.

I would like to be clear on this: Resorting to a work stoppage is not the norm for labour disputes in Canada. There are over 300 collective agreements negotiated in the federal jurisdiction each year and over 94% of these are settled without a work stoppage ever taking place. These agreements would not have been reached without the good faith efforts of the parties involved. It is also important that employers and the unions carefully consider maintaining the strength, viability and competitiveness of their company while continuing to work closely together to negotiate a deal, because work stoppages and labour instability can only lead to long-term impacts on the future of their company, on job prospects, on Canadians and the economy as a whole.

I have personally seen cases where this commitment at the table has provided results. As an example, the ILWU decided early in its negotiations with the British Columbia Maritime Employers Association that it did not want a work stoppage to occur. It understood that it could result in a loss of jobs for its members, and it also understood the importance of the Pacific gateway to the economic prosperity of the country. Both sides remembered throughout their negotiations that the economic health of their companies was of vital importance, and this helped the parties work together to reach two historic eight-year agreements.

When parties commit to working together co-operatively and keep the shared interests of both workers and the business as their foundation for all decisions, strong labour–management relations and lasting collective agreements are the result. The bottom line is that negotiated agreements do work.

The best and longest-lasting solution to any labour dispute occurs when the parties resolve their differences together without a strike or a lockout. However, there are cases where the parties are just too far apart to reach this compromise. These are cases where concessions on either side will be deemed just not enough because of the longstanding history of disputes, because of economic factors or for a variety of reasons that we hear today. In situations where there is no resolution in sight, where work stoppages are being proposed and the lives of Canadians and the health of the economy will be directly affected, the government must act and that is why we are proposing legislation to prevent these work stoppages.

I truly believe in the right to free collective bargaining and I would prefer in every case to see labour disputes resolved by the parties involved and not by government intervention. The federal government only intervenes in situations where the public interest is seriously threatened. This is true, for example, when the national economy could be adversely affected by the threat of a work stoppage. Unfortunately, that means we need to pass this bill to avert a work stoppage at Air Canada. Therefore, I am asking for this House to support Bill C-33, An Act to provide for the continuation and resumption of air service operations.

Last June, there was a three-day strike by Air Canada's customer sales and service agents and I am glad to say that it was quickly resolved by the parties and that the harm caused to Canadians was limited.

Also in 2011, our government introduced and passed the Restoring Mail Delivery for Canadians Act because of the crucial economic importance of reliable mail delivery. I should mention that this legislation was supported by hon. members on the other side of the House, who also saw the potential danger to our economy of the threatened work stoppage. Again, Canadian workers and businesses, as well as citizens in general, were spared the continued hardships that an interruption in the mail could cause.

Today we are facing the prospect of work stoppages at Air Canada that would damage our economy. Once again, we have to take extraordinary measures. Just as it did last year, the spectre of a strike or a lockout at Air Canada is causing confusion and doubt where we need stability and certainty. I would ask the members in the House to ask their constituents or in fact anyone in Canada right now and they will hear what I have been hearing, that we cannot afford a work stoppage. It is that simple. The risks are too great and we have a responsibility as parliamentarians to act.

Let us talk a bit about the risks of a work stoppage. I have referred the matter of maintenance of activities to the Canada Industrial Relations Board because there is the possibility that health and safety issues could be created by a work stoppage. The CIRB will review each case independently and determine if a work stoppage would pose a threat to the safety or health of the public, and if so, it can issue orders that would compel Air Canada and the unions to continue services to the extent necessary to prevent an immediate and serious danger to the safety or health of the public during a work stoppage.

While the CIRB is considering the case, the parties are prevented from proceeding with a strike or a lockout, but once a decision is made a work stoppage could still occur. We cannot let this happen. That is why our government is introducing this bill, to prevent a work stoppage and compel the parties to accept binding arbitration. We are not happy about bringing this legislation forward, but this measure is necessary because vital interests are at stake.

As I said before, as parliamentarians we have to take a stand on the issue. We need to take a stand for Canada's economy, Canada's businesses and for Canadian citizens.

Like other industrialized economies around the world, Canada is coming out of a difficult recession. Our government is proud of its record of sheltering Canadians from the worst effects of this downturn. We have laid the foundation for recovery. However, the economy remains fragile and we know that our country is not immune to the problems affecting greater nations. There could always be more turbulence, but our government is committed to taking the necessary actions to protect Canadians, to create jobs and to lay the foundations for long-term growth.

As of March 2012, our unemployment rate stood at 7.4%, a definite improvement over last year and considerably lower than the rate in the United States of 8.5%. More people are working now than before the recession hit. However, to maintain our progress and promote economic growth we need to be careful. We cannot afford to have labour disruptions in this major Canadian industry. A labour stoppage in this key sector of our economy would be a serious impediment to recovery and growth. A prolonged work stoppage at Air Canada could negatively affect our economy. Indeed, estimates of the overall impact of the stoppage on the Canadian economy vary, but some put it as high as $22.4 million for each week of work stopped.

Consider what this could mean to businesses. A work stoppage at Air Canada would mean the loss of sales at home and abroad. Even a short work stoppage could be costly. To give members an example, in 2005 a one-day wildcat strike involving ground crew workers at Air Canada in Toronto led to 60 flights being delayed and 19 being cancelled. That was only a single day. If we let another work stoppage happen, thousands of Canadians will be affected directly or indirectly because there is more at stake here than the issues on the bargaining table.

The employees represented by the ACPA and IAMAW want to be treated fairly. They demand respect for their rights under the Canada Labour Code, and I understand that. The code does give the parties in a dispute the right to strike or to lock out, but Canadians have rights too. Therefore, I ask my fellow members to stand up for the rights of Canadians and pass this bill.

Protecting Air Service ActGovernment Orders

9 p.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, the minister is telling Canadians that she does not want this. She is saying to Canadians that 94% of the collective agreement is getting negotiated. That leaves 6%, and for that 6% the government will legislate the workers back to work. That is really what the minister is saying.

The minister is saying that she would like the other party to work with government and so forth. Instead of last-offer bargaining, why not give the power to the arbitrator to make the decision? Let the arbitrator do their job and take the responsibility. I think that is the least the government can do.

At the same time, if the government does not like this, then why does it say in the bill that “No order is to be made, no process is to be entered into and no proceeding is to be taken to court”?

That takes rights away from Canadians. If they do not like the law or feel there has been a misinterpretation of something, Canadians have the fundamental right to go to court. They have the right to seek justice, as the postal workers did and won their case.

Is this in the bill because the postal workers went to court and the arbitrator was thrown out of the negotiations?

The Minister of Labour is now saying that she does not like it but that she has to do it. Why is she going that far? Why do the Conservatives hate workers so much?

I will say it again—

Protecting Air Service ActGovernment Orders

9 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

The hon. Minister of Labour.

Protecting Air Service ActGovernment Orders

9 p.m.

Conservative

Lisa Raitt Conservative Halton, ON

Mr. Speaker, to aid the hon. member in the facts, the number of collective agreement negotiations in 2010-11 was 302 and the number of times the federal government was asked for help was 215 times. The number of back to work bills introduced before today was zero. I believe that in and of itself speaks volumes.

With respect to the method of arbitration, a final offer selection is the appropriate measure when negotiations have been going on for this length of time with respect to both the IAMAW and the pilots, which in the case of the pilots was 18 months. In both cases, the parties had a tentative agreement on which they shook hands and agreed. We believe this is the appropriate method to bring closure, certainty and security.

On the last part of his question with respect to the clause in the bill that he quoted, the hon. member should know that this was of course challenged by the Canadian Union of Postal Workers and that in January 27, 2012 the constitutionality of this clause was upheld by the court.

Protecting Air Service ActGovernment Orders

9 p.m.

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Liberal Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, what the minister would also know is that the appointment of the arbitrator was challenged. We know the judge's ruling in that particular case with regard to the minister's ability to appoint, without any consultation, an arbitrator. I quote:

In the case at hand, the lack of transparency inherent in the appointment process followed by the Minister, the little evidence or rationale provided by the Minister and the laconic nature of her communications raise serious questions and indicate that the Minister appears to have excluded...relevant criteria....

Is the minister not fearful that the same response will be given by the courts in this case?

Protecting Air Service ActGovernment Orders

9 p.m.

Conservative

Lisa Raitt Conservative Halton, ON

Mr. Speaker, absolutely not because in the same court case it was very clear that the discretion of the minister in appointing an arbitrator was not impeached.

Protecting Air Service ActGovernment Orders

9 p.m.

Conservative

Ed Komarnicki Conservative Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Mr. Speaker, I am happy to see that the minister has put together a process that can be followed to bring some sort of conclusion to these pieces between the parties that they cannot resolve.

If there were a lockout or a strike, there would obviously be a disruption to air service that would cause harm to the Canadian economy. Has there been a work stoppage in the past? Did the government intervene? Was there a time period where economic losses were suffered?

Protecting Air Service ActGovernment Orders

9:05 p.m.

Conservative

Lisa Raitt Conservative Halton, ON

Mr. Speaker, indeed, there was a strike of Air Canada pilots in 1998. It was a different climate, and it was a 13-day strike. They were not ordered back to work, and as a result, there was an loss to the economy of around $100 million, and an economic loss to Air Canada of about $300 million at a different point in time. It was also a point in time when there were two national carriers, so the ability of one carrier to pick up the passengers for the other was present.

I think it is important to note that when we are talking about Air Canada with its 26,000 employees, we need to remind ourselves that by comparison General Motors Canada has 9,000 employees and Chrysler Canada has 11,000 employees. Air Canada is far greater than putting those two car companies together. It is also three and a half times larger than WestJet with a total of 330 planes.

The sheer capacity situation, if there were to be a work stoppage at Air Canada, is such that there would not be an ability in this country for the passengers to be accommodated. Indeed, it would have a distinctive effect on the economy of Canada as a whole.