Mr. Speaker, a responsible government must show leadership and act in the best interest of the majority. This means that it must occasionally make difficult decisions and take necessary measures to resolve specific situations. That is what we are doing tonight.
We are overcoming the impasse in the labour dispute between Canadian Pacific Rail and the two Teamsters Canada Rail Conference bargaining units, one representing running trade employees and the other rail traffic controllers.
The government introduced Bill C-39 to ensure the continuation and resumption of Canadian Pacific services. Why? Because Canada's ongoing but fragile economic recovery simply cannot withstand the impact of a prolonged Canadian Pacific work stoppage.
Allowing the dispute to get out of hand would deal a severe blow to our economy, which is just now getting back on its feet. If there is one sector in which a work stoppage can have serious economic repercussions, it is the rail transport sector.
In a country with an area of almost 10,000 km2, railways have been and continue to be a preferred means of transportation, especially when it comes to transporting freight. Agricultural products, forest products, chemical products, metallurgical products or everyday consumer goods—a host of industries rely on the approximately 22,000 km of railway that Canadian Pacific uses to transport and deliver the materials needed to manufacture those products and take them to markets. Any interruption in the Canadian Pacific services has an impact on other sectors and their workers.
As an article in the Canadian Press from January 26, 2012 said, and I quote, “The Canadian Pacific Railway transports coal, fertilizer, grain, vehicles, consumer goods and other products across North America. So it is commonly viewed as a barometer of economic health.”
In a very competitive and increasingly interdependent global market, all inputs count, all deadlines are critical and jobs are fragile. Without our intervention to ensure continued service, a growing number of businesses and workers would be affected.
It has to be remembered that Canada is one of the countries in the world that relies most heavily on international trade. We depend on international trade to ensure our prosperity.
Think about it. By virtue of its geographical position, our country is a crossroads between North America and the burgeoning economies, such as those of China, India, Korea, and Japan.
The rapid, safe and uninterrupted flow of goods along our supply chain and transportation network is a decisive factor in ensuring the vitality and success of our trade.
Most of Canada's bulk commodities and a lot of our manufactured products are transported by rail to their export destination. According to Transport Canada, in 2010, Canadian Pacific alone transported 74% of the potassium, 57% of the wheat, 53% of the coal and 39% of containers across Canada. Moreover, our railways are used to transport many imported products.
For example, the major increase in shipping trade over the past 15 years, especially by container, has been largely driven by Chinese exports. These containers are shipped to destinations in Canada and the United States through efficient intermodal gateways and corridors, which are a key factor in competitiveness.
The Canadian Asia-Pacific gateway and corridor offer world-class maritime, rail, road and air transportation infrastructure.
These are important assets, and we have set ambitious goals regarding this gateway and corridor with a view to bolstering Canada's economic outcomes.
However, the success of these initiatives depends on cooperation by all partners, including CP Rail. When a single link in the chain is broken, everything grinds to a halt. A work stoppage means that Canadian Pacific's activities cease, thereby blocking the flow of goods through the Asia-Pacific gateway and corridor.
To give listeners an idea of the importance of Canadian Pacific to our transportation infrastructure and supply chain, the value of freight transported by the company is estimated at approximately $50 billion. Clearly, any extended work stoppage at Canadian Pacific would foil our efforts to make the Asia-Pacific gateway and corridor a reliable segment of our transportation infrastructure, which would be extremely damaging to our economy and our reputation globally.
One thing is certain, an economy in which goods do not flow properly would be quickly compromised, and the alternatives are extremely limited. There are only two class 1 railway freight transportation companies in Canada: Canadian Pacific and Canadian National.
What is a class 1 railway? It is one of the largest goods piggybacking services based on operating revenue. For those like me who are unfamiliar with railway vocabulary, let me explain specifically what piggybacking is. It is the process of transporting truck trailers on special railway flat cars. CN has confirmed that its capacity to increase traffic would be very limited.
For example, for grain, CN could only handle no more than 10% of Canadian Pacific's freight. As for VIA Rail, well, it could not mitigate the negative impacts of a work stoppage at Canadian Pacific, because it is designed for passenger travel. A work stoppage would also have a negative impact on VIA Rail activities, because some of its trains travel on tracks that belong to Canadian Pacific. No trains could travel on these tracks without the approval of the rail traffic controllers.
We are here debating the merits of this bill because the very stability of railway traffic and the future of our economy are at stake. Negotiations between Canadian Pacific and the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference, which began in October and November 2011, are at an impasse because of major differences.
The collective agreements for the running train employees and the rail traffic controllers units expired on December 31, 2011. On February 17, 2012, the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service received a notice of dispute from Canadian Pacific. Shortly thereafter, two conciliators were appointed to work with the parties—one for each unit—to ensure that the process was consistent.
For those unfamiliar with the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, it was established to help employers and unions subject to the Canada Labour Code resolve and prevent disputes. It therefore makes conflict resolution services available to employers and unionized employees in the form of assistance from conciliators and mediators.
The mandate of these third parties is precisely to help the parties reach agreements. It is true that it would have been preferable for these parties to have been able to resolve their dispute themselves. Everything possible was done to bring them closer together. Unfortunately, there are no signs of a favourable outcome.