Mr. Speaker, I rise today to ask members of the House to expedite the passage of a an act to provide for the resumption of rail service operations.
Today, we are experiencing a work stoppage at Canadian Pacific Railway that will have a significant impact on our Canadian economy. Canadian employees, members of the public, international trade, and our national economy will suffer.
Our economy has faced challenging times since the recession. However, we have stood out among leading industrial countries. Our government is proud of its record of protecting Canadians from the worst effects of the economic downturn and of laying the foundation for recovery.
The Canadian economy still faces risks from global factors that we cannot control. A disruption of rail services could lead to job losses and poses a great risk to the Canadian economy. A work stoppage will only further exacerbate the uncertainty of our economic state and further complicate an already complex situation.
In Canada, we have a large and well developed rail system that carries freight to all parts of the country. Rail is a vital part of the Canadian economy. It is an extension of our communities and their links to industry and resources, and it is part of our link to the world.
Our rail system is complex. It interconnects a wide range of businesses, including shippers, terminal operators, transloaders, port operators, shipping lines, and trucking, all of which are part of a very complex and complicated supply chain. Railway transportation is a backbone of an integrated supply chain that moves Canada's resources all over the globe. Problems occurring in one part of the chain can affect all stakeholders. There is a domino effect. Something that happens on the ground in British Columbia can have an impact on someone living in Ontario, and this can have an impact on tens of thousands of Canadian jobs.
CP plays a critical role in our economy, with its network spaning Canada and the United States. As the second largest rail freight service provider in Canada, CP has nearly 15,500 employees. CP Rail's network spans approximately 22,000 kilometres from Port Metro Vancouver to the Port of Montreal, and to parts of the U.S. northwest and midwest. In 2013, CP generated $6.1 billion in revenue, an increase of about 8% and a company record. CP transports seven commodity groups: industrial and consumer products, containers, grain, coal, fertilizer, sulphur, and automotive products. CP provides its customers, Canadians, the ability to trade with many partners across the country and around the globe. This allows us to employ thousands of Canadians.
Maintaining an effective supply chain is critical to meeting the government's objectives related to strategic gateways and trade corridors, such as the Asia-Pacific gateway. The 21 members economies of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation group account for almost 2.8 billion people, over half of the world's GDP, and in excess of 80% of Canada's total merchandise trade.
Canada is a trading nation and CP plays a critical role in North America's supply chain for moving goods to and from Canadian, U.S., and international markets. This strike could have a detrimental effect on Canada's reputation as a reliable trading partner. It could have lasting effects on an already uncertain economy and, most importantly, on Canadian businesses and jobs. It could have an impact on communities who rely on rail services for certain goods.
I have received letters from many people, such as Spectra Energy, urging the federal government not to hesitate to take action to ensure a quick resolution to this dispute. Spectra Energy provides a number of natural gas liquids, such as propane, butane, and ethane, all of which are supplied by rail to key markets in Canada and the U.S. Hundreds of thousands of Canadians rely on their products for heat and power. Without the ability to transport the product to residential and commercial customers, including hospitals, I can tell members that it would be catastrophic. Standing on the ground without heat in a hospital is something I cannot imagine.
The Propane Gas Association of Canada has urged that rail delivery of propane gas should be declared an essential service, since rail is the only effective means of transportation and propane is essential for heating homes and businesses.
Teck, Canada's largest diversified mining company has sent me a letter, stating that “...if a strike at CP or CN occurs, we urge that the Government take early action by exercising the legislative measures available to you, including the imposition of back-to-work legislation and binding arbitration.”
Teck's products represent one-third of our bulk exports going through the Port of Vancouver. Teck is the single largest Canadian exporter to Japan, Korea, Taiwan, and Brazil. On a global scale, the implications of a rail disruption are grave. Teck further states that “...rail disruptions can cause serious harm to the Canadian economy and reputation and hurt our competitiveness as international customers are forced to look elsewhere to import goods.”
A work stoppage by CP could also have an adverse impact on the movement of grain, which is only now returning to normal conditions following last year's backlog. As members may recall, last March our government introduced an order in council to ensure that the supply chain operated effectively to deliver Canadian grain to market. The strike is causing a setback and it could take months to recover the lost business and lost investments.
Without CP Rail operating, our ability to move freight is more limited. This strike in rail transportation in Canada will have such an important impact on so many individuals and industries that the cumulative effects could be immense. However, it is not just the industries that use railways. The railways also provide the tracks for commuters in our cities, particularly Montreal in this case. A strike creates slowdowns and congestion, decreasing productivity and impacting hundreds of Canadians.
Over the past few years our government has been taking all necessary steps to protect Canadians from the worst effects of the economic downturn, but the work stoppage at CP, especially in our current economic reality, will have devastating effects on many workers and their families: those directly involved in the railway, and the tens of thousands of Canadians who rely on rail not only for product but also to get to work. We are not just talking just about the CP employees but the hundreds of thousands of Canadians whose livelihoods depend on the goods carried by rail.
It is clear that we parliamentarians have an important role to play in putting an end to a situation that could negatively impact our economy and the well-being of Canadians. Our economy must be protected. Our products must reach markets. Canadian jobs must be preserved.
As we can see, rail transportation is key to maintaining our country's economic growth. Canadians and businesses count on us to make tough decisions like this one. We are doing this for the good of our country and the good of Canadian citizens.
I am happy to report that the Canadian National Railway and the TCRC, and CP and Unifor were able to reach agreements to renew their collective agreements. I am optimistic that these agreements will be ratified.
It is true that it would be preferable for the parties to resolve their differences on their own.
Our government would like nothing more than to see these parties, the CP and TCRC, reach an agreement on their own, because the best solution is the one the parties reach themselves. We have offered dispute resolution assistance to the parties, provided through the Canada Labour Code, but to no avail. The services and mediators of the Federal Mediation and Conciliatory Service are still available to help CP and the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference in their negotiations. In fact, I know they have been continuing to work with them, even today.
On several occasions, I too have met in person and talked by phone with the former and current presidents of the union and the CEO of CP. As early as November and December last year, I was expressing my expectations for the current round of bargaining. More recently, in Montreal over the course of Friday and Saturday, I have been encouraging these individuals to reach a negotiated settlement, because the best solution is always the one the parties reach themselves.
If they cannot reach an agreement, I have asked them to go to voluntary arbitration to resolve their outstanding issues. Indeed, last Friday, I went to Montreal and continued to work with them, this time actually at the bargaining table. I continued to express my desire for them to reach a negotiated settlement, and failing that, agreeing to voluntary arbitration. Thus far they have not.
We feel that the parties have had ample time to reach a negotiated agreement. At this point, I have to be honest, the parties are not close to a deal.
For every day of a work stoppage, our economy and trade relationships will be further undermined. The cost to our economy will be enormous, an estimated $205 million decline in GDP per week.
Therefore, I ask my fellow members to stand up for Canadians and Canadian businesses and pass this bill to resume operations at CP Rail.
I can assure the House that our government will continue to focus on the growth and sustainability of our economy. Rail services must continue so that Canadian businesses and, more importantly, Canadian families can continue to be safe and prosper.