Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today despite the disagreeable nature of what we are discussing.
Once again, the government wants to impose its way of doing things and seeing things. As everyone knows, CP and its employees are conducting negotiations on a safety issue that affects the public in a very broad sense.
As the transport critic for the official opposition, I have seen all the government's failures with respect to rail safety. Take Lac-Mégantic, for example. That tragedy affected many people. There were many failures on the government's part. I am not the one saying so; the Transportation Safety Board of Canada and the Auditor General are. Not only does Transport Canada not have enough resources, but the department was also singled out by the Transportation Safety Board of Canada, which is quite rare, for its lax approach and failure to enforce laws and regulations. Furthermore, the transport minister at the time, who is now the Minister of Infrastructure, Communities and Intergovernmental Affairs, granted MMA an exception permitting it to have only one conductor on the train.
His notion of rail safety and the system he put in place are very worrisome. This is a matter of safety. For those who do not know, we are debating the fact that CP workers want to address how fatigue is managed in their negotiations. At meetings of the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities, we learned that fatigue is a huge problem. Who is ultimately responsible for conductor fatigue? The government has singled out a few individuals in the case of MMA, but it was an entire system that failed, the system that the Conservative government put in place and is continuing to put in place. Workers are negotiating safety issues and, once again, the government wants them to get back to work, so it is flexing its muscles and interfering with the negotiation process.
We are debating a motion today, even though we have not yet seen the bill and its content. This is yet another example of the Conservatives' wanting to impose their own views. We are used to this since we unfortunately have a majority government. However, since we are talking about public safety, it is beyond comprehension that the government is acting in such a cavalier fashion, without considering all aspects of the problem. For example, in the United States they looked at how to manage fatigue. Other companies, such as VIA Rail, have also looked at the possibilities and negotiated with their own employees. In this case, we are talking about CP, the Canadian Pacific Railway, and even though negotiations are not even complete, the company seems to have the blind support of the government to force workers back to work.
I cannot stress enough the importance of public safety. The government's primary role is to protect Canadians. Not only has the government failed to take action with respect to rail safety—it lets rail companies regulate and inspect themselves—but it is also making cuts to the budget for rail safety. This is having a major impact on the number of inspectors. Transport Canada is supposed to fulfill this role, but the Auditor General and the Transportation Safety Board of Canada both stated that this was a problem.
I want to emphasize why it is important to talk about rail safety today. Rail safety is what the employees of CPR are negotiating with the employer. We are talking about making sure that conductors or engineers, people who work on the trains, are not overfatigued. This is why there are negotiations right now.
Unfortunately, we have a government that says that regardless of what the parties are doing, it is going to impose back-to-work legislation. Again, as I mentioned, we are debating before we see that whole process, which shows how quickly the government wants to act on this front, without looking at the issue of safety for Canadians.
This is not the first time the government has imposed its view of things. It is going against the principle of freedom of negotiation, which was upheld in a Supreme Court of Canada decision at the end of January.
The Supreme Court of Canada has reprimanded the government a few times, but the government continues to ignore the law and show no concern for safety even though it is important to people. This makes absolutely no sense. Unlike the government, I believe in the rule of law and the protection of our rights and freedoms.
I cannot overemphasize the importance of safety because we are talking about fatigue among train conductors. The employer and the employees—the unions—will have to negotiate the best approach to protecting train conductors even though they are not the only ones operating the trains.
It is important to protect workers' right to negotiate and their right to safety so they can work under appropriate conditions. The government should consider the terrible consequences in the many countries where workers' rights have been ignored. For example, in Bangladesh, where those rights were ignored, many people died following an unfortunate incident. Our situation is different, but this shows that the government is heading in the wrong direction.
By imposing its way of looking at things and refusing to listen and by forcing the workers back to work, the government is taking away their right to negotiate in good faith and find common ground. The government is therefore favouring the employer without even taking the issues being negotiated into account.
The parliamentary secretary talked about economic impact. In my riding of Brossard—La Prairie, this will affect people who take the train in Candiac, for example. I agree that it is unfortunate, but we have to focus on the objective, which is keeping people safe. People will not be well served if the problem of fatigue among conductors is not resolved. The government is imposing its views without proposing any solutions. Will Canadians really be any safer?
The government needs to examine whether safety really is one of its priorities. The minister says it is important, but the government's concrete actions say otherwise. The Lac-Mégantic tragedy really opened our eyes to the importance of safety when it comes to transporting dangerous goods and to unsafe practices, including what MMA was doing, for example.
Again, those are not my words. The TSB clearly said that safety was not a priority for this company. It had financial concerns to tend to and it made its finances a priority over safety. We saw what happened.
The government is doing the same thing now. It is making the economy a priority. I realize this has an impact. I agree. However, safety has an even bigger impact. How much is the life of a train employee or the aftermath of a disaster worth to the government?
Again, we heard about the derailments near Nickel Belt and in Alberta. Derailments continue to happen. What is the government doing instead of finding solutions to increase public safety and rail safety? It just rejected what the employees are saying, in other words that there needs to be a system in place that protects the safety of both the employees and the public. Unfortunately, the government is turning a deaf ear yet again.
When we really look at the facts, what is rather shocking is that all the relevant questions were raised in the aftermath of the Lac-Mégantic tragedy. We know that there is a problem with inspections. I am not the only one who is saying it. As vice-chair of the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities, I know that many witnesses spoke about how important it is to have thorough inspections and how important it is that the government provide the resources necessary to protect the public.
The employees are negotiating to ensure that the public is protected. Meanwhile, the government did not even really look at the facts or the scientific evidence before saying that the things being negotiated are not serious and that the employees need to return to work, regardless of whether the fatigue problem has been resolved.
I would like to give an example that people can relate to. Think about how you would feel after driving your car on a highway for 10 or 12 hours. You would be tired and it would be dangerous. Some people fall asleep. In this case, we are not talking about just one day but perhaps two or three days in a row. Fatigue accumulates. People are negotiating and trying to fight for that protection, but the government is telling them that what they are saying is not serious and forcing them to return to work, regardless of what they have to do. That is totally unacceptable.
This is not the first time the government has done this. The same thing happened with Canada Post and in several other situations. This government does not listen. Who pays for that, unfortunately? The public does.
The Conservative government needs to remember what happened in Lac-Mégantic. It needs to learn from its mistakes and make public safety a priority.