Mr. Speaker, I would like to speak about the current work stoppage at Canadian Pacific Railway involving its engineers, conductors, real traffic controllers and others. I am very pleased to do this because I feel very passionately about the fragile economy happening in Canada and the first responsibility of the government to see that people have jobs, get back to work and cause the economy to continue to grow and flourish.
I would also like to take this opportunity to present to the House a potential solution to this conflict. Bill C-39 is that solution.
As members of the House know, CP Rail and the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference have been actively negotiating since last fall. However, I am very sorry to say that during that time no progress has been made. As we all know, work stoppages in any of our key industries will negatively affect our economy, particularly while the world continues to struggle through the economic downturn. I think we can all agree that things are still shaky and that we are still recovering.
To be frank, no country's economy can afford a disruption in one of its primary industrial transport industries. This fact, together with the mandate Canadians have given us to protect our national interests in this period of economic uncertainty, makes the need for action clear.
We continue to encourage CP Rail and the TCRC to reach an agreement through the negotiation process. However, even with help from the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, the parties have been unable to resolve their differences. Therefore, we need to act now to stop this work stoppage. CP Rail is only one of two class I freight railways in Canada. It does significant business. According to Transport Canada, CP Rail moves almost $50 billion in freight in Canada every year.
This work stoppage could have a deep impact and does have a deep impact.
In 2010, CP Rail handled the shipment of 74% of potash, which we just heard a few minutes ago from my hon. colleague, and many other kinds minerals and products go via rail. On an annual basis, this represents $5 billion worth of potash, over $11 billion worth of grain and over $5 billion worth of coal. That is a lot of industries.
While the economic impact of this work stoppage could be considerable, we must also consider the well-being of our citizens. For many Canadians, at first glance, rail transport is almost like an invisible industry, until people are sitting at a railway stop and watching freight cars up to 14,000 feet long go past the crossing. If they looked a little closer, what would they see as the train rolls by?
CP carries materials related to agriculture, manufacturing and heavy industry. This means a lot of trains are full of grain, coal, cars, trucks, steel, lumber, et cetera, and countless amounts of manufactured goods. Virtually everything in people's houses today likely moved on a train at some point. Think about it. It means products that make people's lives easier, more pleasant, more efficient and safer, even products that are necessary for food production.
However, rail freight is not only about products that make our lives easier.
CP Rail trains also carry the basic building blocks for products that are critical to the well-being of Canadians. For example, they carry potash, an ingredient used in fertilizers that allow us to feed our citizens and export food around the world. It is essential to agriculture because it improves, among other things, nutrient value, food texture and disease resistance of food crops. Fruits, vegetables, rice, wheat, sugar, corn, soybeans, even cotton all benefit from potash.
From that one example, everyone can see just how important it is that we resume the CP Rail services as soon as possible. We rely heavily on this mode of transport to keep the supply of goods moving across the country.
I would like to provide the House with some quotes taken directly from stakeholders that have written to the government, urging action to prevent a prolonged strike at CP Rail.
The Vancouver Board of Trade wrote to the Minister of Labour to say:
“Canadian Pacific is a critical supplier for many industries in British Columbia and, in many cases, there are no practical alternatives to maintain continuity in shipments to customers and suppliers. Even a short disruption in service will have significant impacts on business — directly on immediate sales commitments and very quickly thereafter on production...At this delicate state of our economic recovery, any service disruption stands to undermine the confidence placed by our interprovincial and international customers in doing business in this region”.
Spectra Energy has also voiced concerns over its natural gas operations being affected by a strike. It said, “CP Rail provides the critical rail services Spectra Energy requires at Empress, Regina and Winnipeg”. Winnipeg is where I come from and we have seen the train roll in every day until now. It went on to say:
“The rail strike has immediately eliminated Spectra Energy's capability to ship its product by rail at these terminals, and should the rail strike not be resolved in the very near future, Spectra Energy will be required to shut down its Empress plant. This has the potential to result in the loss of approximately 200 well-paying direct jobs linked to Spectra Energy's Empress, Regina and Winnipeg network”.
It is clear that the well being of our citizens associated with the work stoppage will impact Canadians all across the country. We cannot stand by, as a government, and watch, while the supplies that we need to create goods and sustain agriculture sit idle. Protecting the well-being of Canadians is one of the government's most basic responsibilities, and it costs $500 million a week for this strike. That is a lot of money going down the drain. I assure members that we take this responsibility very seriously.
Intervening in a labour strike is always a last resort. With CP Rail and two of its unions still at odds and with a strike currently taking place, we are left with few options. As I mentioned before, we have to consider Canadians. We also have to consider another key factor, the impact on the Canadian economy.
I do not need to remind members of the House that we continue to live in a climate of global economic uncertainty. We are proposing this legislation today to protect our still recovering economy.
I am not sure hon. members realize just what CP Rail means to Canada's economy. An October 2009 report by the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management estimated that four key Canadian bulk shipping industries, oilseed and grain farming, coal mining, wood products and manufacturing and pulp and paper and paper products manufacturing contributed over $81 billion to the Canadian GDP each year.
Canadians are looking to the government to sustain and grow the economy. That is our principal mandate, and Canadians should expect nothing less.
We must take decisive action to resume rail services. I ask the members on all sides of the House for their support for the bill and for the good of the Canadian economy and Canadian families.