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House of Commons Hansard #129 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was workers.

Topics

Restoring Rail Service ActGovernment Orders

10:10 p.m.

NDP

Marc-André Morin NDP Laurentides—Labelle, QC

Mr. Speaker, earlier you said that the unanimous consent of the House was needed to share speaking time.

Restoring Rail Service ActGovernment Orders

10:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

Well, we are now in the fourth round. After the first three rounds, it is possible for hon. members to share their time with someone else.

The hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and to the Minister of Labour.

Restoring Rail Service ActGovernment Orders

May 29th, 2012 / 10:10 p.m.

Conservative

Kellie Leitch Conservative Simcoe—Grey, ON

Mr. Speaker, Statistics Canada figures confirm that in April of this year employment increased by 58,000, mostly in full-time work. This was the second consecutive month of notable gains on the jobs front for Canadians. Moreover, confidence among Canada's business leaders, a leading indicator for future economic growth in job creation, edged up in the first quarter of 2012. According to The Conference Board of Canada, business leaders showed increasing optimism over the future performance of their firms and the Canadian economy.

We can add to these glowing statistics the support for our economy contained in the Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity Act recently introduced by the Minister of Finance. As a result of our government's efforts, Canada has an economy that is the envy of many other countries in the western world. At a time of global financial uncertainty, at a time when sluggish world demand is impeding job growth, why would we allow anything within the boundaries of our own country to jeopardize our economic prospects? Why would we deliberately undo the good work that has protected our economy so far?

Canadian Pacific Railway is one of the iconic components of Canada's vast transportation system. Founded in 1881, the railway itself is a phenomenal engineering feat. It is one of the reasons we exist as a nation, uniting Canada from coast to coast.

In the 21st century CP Rail remains a crucial player in Canada's economy. Each year CP Rail moves freight in Canada valued at approximately $50 billion. According to Transport Canada, CP Rail annually carries about $11.1 billion worth of grain, $5 billion of potash and $5.25 billion of coal.

I would like to tell the House how the CP Rail work stoppage is harming Canadian businesses. In October 2009 the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management report estimated that four key Canadian bulk shipping industries, oilseed and grain farming, coal mining, wood products manufacturing, and pulp and paper and paper products manufacturing contribute more than $81 billion to the Canadian GDP each year and account for close to 1 million jobs.

I find it staggering to contemplate the losses these four sectors of our economy will suffer as a result of the disruption in CP Rail shipping services. These services are very essential for these key sectors of our economy.

It is no mere metaphor to describe CP Rail's 22,000 kilometre network as a lifeline of our nation's economy. Moreover, its capacity for facilitating trade within Canada and other nations is enormous. This is a rail network that operates in six provinces and 13 states. It extends to the U.S. industrial centres of Chicago, Newark, Philadelphia, Washington, New York and Buffalo. Agreements with other carriers extend CP's market reach east of Montreal within Canada, and throughout the United States and into Mexico. By moving freight to and from Canada's west coast ports, CP Rail is also a vital link to the markets in Asia through the Asia Pacific gateway.

This work stoppage is preventing our ability to keep products moving in and out of Canada and undermines Canada's reputation as a reliable place to do business. This is a setback from which it could take years to recover lost business and lost investments. Is the House prepared to stand by and allow a vast number of Canadian businesses to continue to be harmed as a result of the CP Rail work stoppage? As with any company, every lost day of business could weaken a firm that is already coping with reduced revenues.

A rail work stoppage has created an unsettling business climate. Businesses do not like uncertainty. When businesses do not feel confident about the future, they may postpone opportunities to expand, or change their shipping suppliers altogether. They may even lay off some of their employees. At a time when we want to build jobs and nurture our economic recovery, can we actually sustain this risk? Do we want this stoppage at CP Rail to jeopardize our work and achievement to date and put our recovering economy in peril?

The answer must be a resounding no. The time for action must be now. The legislation will end the work stoppage at CP Rail and provide the parties with an interest-based arbitration process to help them resolve their outstanding issues. The failure to reach a collective agreement has not been for lack of trying. The Government of Canada has done its utmost throughout the negotiation process to encourage the parties to reach an agreement. However, despite assistance from the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, the parties have been unable to resolve their differences.

I would like to take this opportunity to commend the Minister of Labour and the mediators and conciliatory officers from the labour program for their efforts to assist the parties under the Canada Labour Code.

Canadians can take pride in the fact that 94% of labour negotiations in this country are settled without a work stoppage ever taking place when the labour program's professional mediators and conciliatory officers get involved. This would definitely be the preferred option for resolving the disputes under consideration today. Sadly, this preferred option is not one that was chosen for this dispute between CP Rail and its running trades employees and rail traffic controllers.

I will emphasize again that intervening in these disputes is not the option we would choose if circumstances were otherwise. The Minister of Labour always encourages parties to work together to find mutual solutions to their differences. Most regrettably, it would seem that the will to come together for such a resolution does not exist with the parties in this case.

Our government fully recognizes that free collective bargaining is the basis for sound industrial relations. This is also clearly stated in the preamble of the Canada Labour Code. That code gives the parties the right to strike and lock out. Intervention is only in situations when the public interest is negatively affected. This is true, for example, when the national economy is affected by a work stoppage, as it is in this case.

Let us keep the statistics that are crucial in mind. CP Rail handles 74% of potash containers, 57% of wheat containers, 53% of coal and 39% of other containers in this country.

I would like the House to reflect on just a few questions. First, can we afford to let Canadian businesses and our economy continue to suffer? Second, can we let down the people of Canada who are counting on us to act? Third, can we deliberately undermine our enviable position of being one of the few nations in the western world to weather the global economic downturn?

To my mind, the answers to these questions are self-evident and that is why we must act now. I urge the members of this House to join me in doing the right thing. Let us give our full support to Bill C-39 to protect our economy.

Restoring Rail Service ActGovernment Orders

10:20 p.m.

NDP

Carol Hughes NDP Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Mr. Speaker, I greatly appreciate the comments that were made. However, we are seeing over and over again that the Conservative government does not seem to understand that unionized workers are actually our neighbours, brothers, sisters and fathers, and they play an important role in our society. They are our service providers as well.

With respect to CP Rail, I wonder if the member is aware that the whole issue here is the government taking away the rights of the workers. It is a collective bargaining right, where there is an equilibrium for the employer and employee. By forcing this back-to-work legislation, the government is actually siding with the employer, an employer who seems to forget that for the last 108 years these CP workers have been paying into a pension, which they are about to lose.

I wonder if the member could actually consider that in her deliberations and realize that it is about protecting the workers' pensions, wages and well-being because of the hours they have to work.

Restoring Rail Service ActGovernment Orders

10:20 p.m.

Conservative

Kellie Leitch Conservative Simcoe—Grey, ON

Mr. Speaker, the reason the government is acting now is that it is in the best interest of the Canadian public.

In my riding of Simcoe—Grey, we have the largest Honda plant in the country. Right now it is in a position where it will have to start asking workers not to come to work because it actually cannot move its product.

I say to the member opposite that we have allowed the opportunity for these two parties to come together. In fact, on May 22, the minister offered an additional 120 days and the parties said no.

So let us be very clear. The parties are unwilling to come together. They are entrenched. We need action now to make sure the Canadian economy is protected. That is why we are putting forward this legislation.

Restoring Rail Service ActGovernment Orders

10:20 p.m.

Liberal

David McGuinty Liberal Ottawa South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have a simple question for my colleague across the floor.

We hear an awful lot about the economic rationale and justification for this intervention. Following that logic, can the member please stand and tell Canadians who are watching the debate this evening in what instance the government would not intervene?

There are work stoppages that occur on a regular basis. These, of course, have an impact on customers, on inventory and on deliveries. The government has already intervened repeatedly in a single year four or five times: Air Canada, Canada Post, CP Rail.

Could the member please inform the House in what instance the government would not interfere in collective bargaining?

Restoring Rail Service ActGovernment Orders

10:20 p.m.

Conservative

Kellie Leitch Conservative Simcoe—Grey, ON

Mr. Speaker, 94% of disputes that come forward are actually resolved before there is any work stoppage. In this case, this has a huge impact on the national economy, more than $540 million per week. In the case of this ongoing work stoppage, it represents an increasing loss to the Canadian economy, not just affecting rail but affecting the forestry industry, the auto industry, coal and grain seeds. We have heard from farmers.

Let us be honest here. This is about acting in the interests of the Canadian public. That is what we are doing. That is why we have brought forward this legislation. That is why we are acting now.

Restoring Rail Service ActGovernment Orders

10:25 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, if this were the first piece of back-to-work legislation in the House, I might take a different view of it. We do know that CP is an important service provider. We do know the rail needs to move.

As my colleague from Ottawa South just mentioned, we have now seen repeated interventions that are undermining the fabric of collective bargaining rights in Canada.

If the hon. parliamentary secretary and her government believe that Air Canada is an essential service, that Canada Post is an essential service and that CP rail workers and the Teamsters Union are an essential service, then why do they not declare them essential services?

Restoring Rail Service ActGovernment Orders

10:25 p.m.

Conservative

Kellie Leitch Conservative Simcoe—Grey, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rose in the House yesterday and I presented earlier today as well about how the Minister of Labour has been listening, and listening not just to unions and big union bosses but actually listening to Canadians.

What Canadians are most concerned about is our fragile economy and making sure they have a job. That is why we are moving forward with respect to this back-to-work legislation to make sure the rail is moving, to make sure jobs are protected and to make sure we can grow the economy.

Restoring Rail Service ActGovernment Orders

10:25 p.m.

Lotbinière—Chutes-de-la-Chaudière Québec

Conservative

Jacques Gourde ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Works and Government Services

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.

Restoring Rail Service ActGovernment Orders

10:35 p.m.

NDP

Alain Giguère NDP Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member from the Quebec City region said this was a difficult decision to make. If the decision were all that difficult, then it would not be made so often. This is the third time the government has introduced special legislation. Despite its so-called goodwill, it says it is difficult to come to an agreement.

How can the Conservatives hope to come to an agreement when they ask the workers to give up 40% of their pensions, to give up the chance to balance work and family life and to give up the chance to simply see their salary indexed to the rate of inflation?

After that, the government says it tried to come to an agreement where the employees sacrifice everything, where all the sacrifices were one-sided. The government says that it will come and make a decision, but as usual, it always decides against those who do the work and not those will come out $17 million ahead.

Restoring Rail Service ActGovernment Orders

10:35 p.m.

Conservative

Jacques Gourde Conservative Lotbinière—Chutes-de-la-Chaudière, QC

Mr. Speaker, we were elected to make decisions in the interests of all Canadians. As I said in my speech, the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service was established to provide dispute resolution and dispute prevention assistance to trade unions and employers under the jurisdiction of the Canada Labour Code.

The service offers employers and unionized employees tools for dispute resolution through the services of conciliation and mediation officers. These are third parties whose mandate is to assist both parties in reaching an agreement.

Restoring Rail Service ActGovernment Orders

10:35 p.m.

Liberal

Denis Coderre Liberal Bourassa, QC

Mr. Speaker, I do not think that the parliamentary secretary is going to win any Oscars tonight. We are going to have a little chat about important matters.

He wants to tell me about the economy. I want to tell him about fatigue and about safety. I am not saying that he tires me out; fatigue is just what I want to talk to him about. Let us consider an employee who is on call around the clock for seven days a week and who, with two hours notice, may be called on to work 36 hours in a row. But there is no way to deal with the situation because that bunch at Canadian Pacific does not want to hear a word about fatigue management.

If he is so close to those who elected him, would the parliamentary secretary be willing to explain to them that there might be a safety issue because Canadian Pacific was unwilling to follow up on what the employees want? Fatigue management looks simple to me. We will not talk about pension funds yet; we will talk about them later because the employees are being robbed. But fatigue management is directly related to the safety of Canadians.

Is the hon. member waiting for a derailment? He wants to pass his special legislation. What does he have to say about fatigue?

Restoring Rail Service ActGovernment Orders

10:40 p.m.

Conservative

Jacques Gourde Conservative Lotbinière—Chutes-de-la-Chaudière, QC

Mr. Speaker, let me respond to the future mayor of Montreal, because I am sure he is tired of being here in this House.

Our government is responsible and we have been elected to make decisions in the interest of all Canadians.

We have made a commitment to them to promote job creation, growth and long-term prosperity in Canada. That is what Canadians are expecting from us. That is why we have to have the courage of our convictions.

Restoring Rail Service ActGovernment Orders

10:40 p.m.

Liberal

Denis Coderre Liberal Bourassa, QC

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. Is it relevant when someone is reading something that he does not understand and when he is not answering my question?

Restoring Rail Service ActGovernment Orders

10:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

I am not sure that is a point of order.

The hon. parliamentary secretary.

Restoring Rail Service ActGovernment Orders

10:40 p.m.

Conservative

Jacques Gourde Conservative Lotbinière—Chutes-de-la-Chaudière, QC

Mr. Speaker, this type of question, this type of comment in the House, does not deserve an answer.

Restoring Rail Service ActGovernment Orders

10:40 p.m.

NDP

Carol Hughes NDP Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate that I will probably be the last to speak to this before we have to see the reaction on the other side.

Over and over again tonight, we have heard varying comments. I think the member for Simcoe—Grey had one of the best ones that I heard tonight when she said, “We allowed them to come to an agreement”.

This is collective bargaining between an employer and the employees and she is trying to tell us that the government allowed them to try to come to an agreement. However, within 20 hours of a strike deadline, the government decided it would start talking to them about imposing back-to-work legislation, back-to-work legislation that favours the employer.

The government seems to forget who unionized workers are. Unionized workers are real people. They are not aliens or diseases, as the government would like people to believe they are. It is unbelievable what it tries to depict workers as.

Since the last election, we have witnessed over and over again the government abuse its powers to attack workers, workers' pensions and workers' wages by ramming back-to-work legislation through. We just have to think of Air Canada and Canada Post. Now it is after CP.

We cannot help but wonder who is next. The government just keeps favouring the big corporations over workers and it is trying to race to the bottom. One would think it was a Walmart.

All these workers want is a fair deal, a fair deal that they cannot get under a government that continues to stick its nose in collective bargaining. They want a fair deal so they can actually support their families and support their communities. These are who the real workers are. These are who unionized workers are. They are our brothers, fathers, neighbours and service providers. Their rights are being violated, rights that were recognized by the Supreme Court as being charter rights.

The government keeps talking about the economy. We are the ones who know the direction the economy has been taking. The government did not even believe we were going into an economic crisis until we were there. Now what is it doing? It is putting 19,000 federal workers out of work. Those are federal jobs that will be gone.

The government is attacking the workers' support network, EI. We heard the Minister of Labour talk about the fact that there are fewer people on employment insurance but what she is not telling us it that it is because people cannot access employment insurance.

Instead of putting in training dollars and ensuring there are proper support networks so people can actually get through the phone lines at employment insurance, the government is closing down offices that help support workers. It is laying off people. Then it is attacking seniors and their pensions. Why is it that the government keeps wanting to race to the bottom?

I do want to talk about the CP workers from Chapleau in my riding, people like Brian Ferguson, Michael MacDonald, Jason McKee and Robin Robitaille. They have sent me letters. I have a whole pile of letters here that I hope I will be allowed to table, such as the letter from Diane Tangie Labranche.

What they are talking about is the fact that the attack is basically on their pension and the government is allowing the employer to attack their pension and to reduce the type of pension they will have when they retire. Some of these people have 30 years of service.

Diane Tangie Labranche writes:

As our Member of Parliament we need your support to retain the pension plan that has been funded by our members for over 108 years since its existence at Canadian Pacific Railway.

It is 108 years that they have paid into this pension, a pension where the employer mismanaged the investments and now there is $1.6 billion deficit. In order for these workers to retire with enough pension to live they will need to pay for the next five years $107,000 or $21,000 annually during this five year period. It depends on how long they have been there. The more conservative alternative investment strategy considered by the company would have cost only $2,300 annually over a 15-year period, a far more desirable outcome for all parties and one that would negate the current pension concession demands.

Meanwhile, the outgoing CEO would now have a severance package of $18 million. Can we imagine that?

Meanwhile, instead of protecting the workers' pensions and instead of protecting the workers' wages, they are attacking the workers.

Here is something else that they tell us:

Many of the employees who would be affected by the pension demands made by our employer stand to have the pensions they have worked many years to achieve dramatically reduced, some of these potentially affected employees have worked for CP for 30 plus years. As a running trade employee I work long hours which frequently occupies 60 or more hours a week away from home working in this heavily regulated environment.

I do not know about other members, but I have seen these railroad workers, and I can tell members that not only do they work long hours but they also do very hard work.

They go on to say:

The nature of my employment requires me to base my work attendance on 2 hours notice to work, this places considerable demands on lifestyle and families. The existing negotiated pension benefits is one of the primary reasons that I have remained a committed CP railway employee.

What members should also know is that during their bargaining, these employees actually ensured that they were going to have good pensions. They decided that they would pay more for their pensions.

Brian Ferguson writes:

The company wants us to degrade our pensions to levels in place at CN. The 2 pension structures are totally different from each other.

They paid higher premiums and they gave a concession that they would work longer in order to ensure that they would keep a good collective agreement, which is about to disappear.

As I am terminating here, I would like consent to table all of these letters that I have received, because they show that these are real people, these unionized workers, and the letters show the government the concerns that they have and everything that they have done and worked so hard to get.

The people from Chapleau, the people from White River, the people from all over Canada who are working for CP are there because they want to make a living for their families, not because they are just unionized workers.

I would hope that we all vote down this legislation.

Restoring Rail Service ActGovernment Orders

10:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

It being 10:48 p.m., pursuant to an order made earlier today, it is my duty to interrupt the proceedings and put forthwith every question necessary to dispose of the second reading stage of the bill now before the House.

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

Restoring Rail Service ActGovernment Orders

10:50 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

Restoring Rail Service ActGovernment Orders

10:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

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

Restoring Rail Service ActGovernment Orders

10:50 p.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

Restoring Rail Service ActGovernment Orders

10:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

All those opposed will please say nay.

Restoring Rail Service ActGovernment Orders

10:50 p.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

Restoring Rail Service ActGovernment Orders

10:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

In my opinion the yeas have it.

And five or more members having risen:

Call in the members.