House of Commons Hansard #172 of the 41st Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was rcmp.

Topics

Rail Service Resumption Act, 2015Government Orders

12:10 p.m.

Conservative

Kellie Leitch Conservative Simcoe—Grey, ON

Mr. Speaker, our government has been very clear. The economy is extremely important. It is in fact our top priority.

These parties have been given ample opportunity. As I mentioned in my speech, starting as early as November and December of last year, both parties were provided assistance, conciliators and mediators through the Federal Mediation and Conciliatory Service, to come to a negotiated agreement that both parties could live with on their job sites.

As recently as this weekend, I was in Montreal working with the parties to try to reach an agreement. As I said, because CN and the Teamsters and CP and Unifor worked hard with the Federal Mediation and Conciliatory Service, they came to an agreement. The best agreement is one they reach themselves. In this case, we have not been able to resolve the disputes and in the best interest of the Canadian public and the Canadian economy, we will be moving forward to make sure that CP Rail is back in action.

Rail Service Resumption Act, 2015Government Orders

12:15 p.m.

Liberal

David McGuinty Liberal Ottawa South, ON

Mr. Speaker, the minister is missing a large element here: this is about security and safety. For two years the government has been warned repeatedly by the Auditor General, the Transportation Safety Board, and other voices, including the Teamsters and other union groups, that there are problems with the safety and security of rail in Canada.

We know on this side of the House that the government has spent more money on advertising its economic action plan than on rail safety for the past five years. We know that. The government cannot deny it because the numbers do not lie. It is the government's responsibility to address the serious safety issue of adequate rest for railway operators. That would have prevented this CP Rail strike. It is its responsibility to establish rest periods for railway workers to ensure the safety of Canada's railways and the communities that our railways travel through.

Railway employees have been asking the Minister of Labour, the government, as well as the transport minister, for safe working conditions. It is the government's obligation. It has been warned, forewarned, and warned again, and the result of the failure to take serious action on rail safety is the two parties with seemingly irreconcilable differences.

Can the minister explain to Canadians who are watching and following this debate why her government has not taken measures to prevent this draconian legislation being brought forward?

Rail Service Resumption Act, 2015Government Orders

12:15 p.m.

Conservative

Kellie Leitch Conservative Simcoe—Grey, ON

Mr. Speaker, having spent a significant amount of time with both parties, I can say that there are a number of issues still on the table, as both parties would state. There are numerous issues on the table.

With respect to rail safety, our government has taken action. In fact, we have moved forward with putting in place a number of legislated and regulatory directions to ensure that rail transportation in this country is safe. We take that exceptionally seriously. I encourage the opposition to support those initiatives so that individuals working with and impacted by the railway are safe.

Speaking about the public interest, another significant part of the public interest is the economy and making sure that Canadians have an opportunity to work. The shutdown of rail services by Canadian Pacific will have a $205 million impact on our GDP per week. In addition to that, it is not just about the jobs that are impacted directly at CP but also the individuals working in other industries who now cannot ship their goods. Individuals who work in tech industries or otherwise might be out of work. Quite frankly, commuters in Montreal, I can tell members, are not pleased they will not be able to get to work, and this will affect productivity.

There are a number of issues on the table, as both parties would admit. I am hopeful that they will come to a resolution, because the best option is always when the parties reach an agreement together.

Rail Service Resumption Act, 2015Government Orders

12:15 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, as my colleague, the member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, has said very eloquently, the issue of the right for collective negotiations is something we on this side of the House believe is fundamental. The Supreme Court, in its admonishment to the government a couple of weeks ago on the right to strike, has agreed with the idea that in a free democracy there should be the right to collective negotiations.

This is a problem of the government's own making. We have seen steadily increasing incidences and accidents in rail safety. A number of organized men and women have come forward and said that one of the main aspects they have to tackle is the issue of crew fatigue. The incredibly archaic way that the crew schedules are sometimes put together means that they have to deal with crew fatigue.

As we saw last night on the news, there are crews, who after working a shift for a number of hours are called back to work early in the morning after an hour's sleep. The issue of crew fatigue is something that most Canadians are aware of, and most Canadians understand that we need to have the utmost standards of rail safety. However, the government has done nothing to bring in regulations to govern working hours so that we can diminish crew fatigue, and it has done no review of the Rail Safety Act.

Why has the government not acted on regulation, not acted on the Rail Safety Act, not acted to put in place the kind of regulation that would bring about a lower rate of accidents in a rail system, rather than a higher level?

Rail Service Resumption Act, 2015Government Orders

12:20 p.m.

Conservative

Kellie Leitch Conservative Simcoe—Grey, ON

First, Mr. Speaker, let me correct the record. We are reviewing the decision taken at the Supreme Court, but it had to deal with the Government of Saskatchewan. It was about essential services, and that is not what we are discussing today. We are discussing making sure that CP Rail continues to function so that Canadians are protected. I want to be very clear that the decision dealt with the Province of Saskatchewan, not the Government of Canada.

With respect to the issues, as I just mentioned in response to a previous question, these parties have numerous issues on the table. We have been working with them since November 2014, providing mediation, conciliatory services, and making sure they were supported as best they could be to deal with the numerous issues on the table.

Some progress was made on some issues; progress was not made on many issues. Having sat with these parties through several days of bargaining recently, it is my opinion they would not resolve their differences. In the interests of the Canadian public, the Canadian economy, I think it is now time for the Government of Canada to act in the best interests of Canadians.

Rail Service Resumption Act, 2015Government Orders

12:20 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, the minister made reference to the fact that the government has been in negotiations, attempting to try to assist in mediation, since November 2014.

Can the minister give an indication as to when she would have informed either party, or one particular party, as to the government's intentions with regard to back-to-work legislation? When was that issue first raised with either CP management or the union side?

Rail Service Resumption Act, 2015Government Orders

12:20 p.m.

Conservative

Kellie Leitch Conservative Simcoe—Grey, ON

Mr. Speaker, as I just mentioned, we have been working with these parties, both CP as well as the Teamsters, since November, providing conciliation and mediation services.

I was sitting with the parties up until the deadline of when the strike action could be taken. We were very clear: If they were unable to get to an agreement themselves, would they consider voluntary arbitration or mediated arbitration?

Those offers were provided to the parties. One of the parties was willing to do that; another party was not willing and decided to strike. I worked with them up until the very last minute, quite frankly, including yesterday and continuing today.

As I said, the best agreement is one that the parties come to themselves. I have encouraged them, even in this period of time when the TCRC is on strike, to continue to speak to each other to see if they can come to an agreement. That is in their best interests, and I think the very best result.

That being said, if these parties are unable to come to that negotiated agreement that is in their best interests, working together with the help of Canadian mediators from Labour Canada, we will act, and we will act swiftly this afternoon, in the interests of the Canadian public and the Canadian economy.

A hit of $205 million per week to the Canadian GDP is simply too much. Canadians losing their jobs is too much. We will act.

Rail Service Resumption Act, 2015Government Orders

12:20 p.m.

NDP

Alexandre Boulerice NDP Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, it saddens me once again today to rise in the House, in the Parliament of Canada, to oppose a bill. I rise as a member of the official opposition to represent the values of the NDP, which is opposing a back-to-work bill for the seventh time since the Conservatives took power in 2006. This government is certainly a repeat offender when it comes to attacking workers, violating their legitimate rights and preventing them from exerting pressure, which includes going on strike.

In 2007 we had Bill C-46 for the continuation of railway operations, so this is not the first time. In 2009 we had Bill C-61 for the continuation of railway operations once again. In 2011 it was Bill C-6 to restore mail delivery. That bill targeted postal workers and letter carriers. Also in 2011 was Bill C-5 to continue air service for passengers. Then we had Bill C-39 and Bill C-33 in 2012, when the Conservatives once again created a power imbalance between the parties. They systematically took the employer's side and took away fundamental rights from unionized workers, who are well within their rights to exert pressure.

I asked the minister a question earlier that I believe is the key issue we are concerned about: do people still have the right to strike and use pressure tactics in Canada today? Does this Conservative government recognize that striking is a legitimate way of expressing the right of association and freedom of collective bargaining? The Conservatives seem to be completely ignoring that aspect, and I will come back to that later. The Supreme Court's recent decision has once again upheld this right that the Conservatives have been flouting, year after year, in Canada.

We have reached a point where workers have to ask themselves whether they will be bothering anyone if they exercise their right to strike. Will the government systematically intervene and break the rules to give the employer more power and additional arguments? The situation is always the same. If the employer knows for sure that it does not really have to reach an agreement because its friends in the Conservative government will intervene, violate rights and prevent its workers from striking, then what incentive does the employer have to negotiate in good faith and try to find a solution? That is the major problem.

They should give negotiation a chance.

We have a Conservative government that is always on the side of the employers and never on the side of the workers of this country. Workers have a fundamental right to exert economic pressure and strike if they need to in order to force employers to recognize problems and find solutions.

The minister just said that a negotiated deal is always better than an imposition of anything. Why is she imposing back to work legislation again and again? It is the seventh time that the Conservatives would do that since they were elected in 2006. It is a bad habit that they have; they take a side every time and break the balance of power between the two parties. We are saying to give the workers a chance to negotiate and to exert their rights.

The Minister of Labour just said that the recent decision of the Supreme Court had nothing to do with the right to strike. I contradict that. I have a quote from a Supreme Court judge in that decision from a few weeks ago. Judge Abella wrote the following:

Where good faith negotiations break down, the ability to engage in the collective withdrawal of services is a necessary component of the process through which workers can continue to participate meaningfully in the pursuit of their collective workplace goals. In this case, the suppression of the right to strike amounts to a substantial interference with the right to a meaningful process of collective bargaining.

This is exactly what the decision of the Supreme Court is about. It is about the fundamental right of workers to exert some pressure on an employer to improve their working conditions.

If those workers are refused the right to strike, that is an interference of their fundamental rights. This is exactly what the Conservative government is doing, again and again.

It is a sad day. The right to strike in this country is under attack. Unions were considered illegal organizations before 1872. We are asking whether the government wants to go back to that point in time. Every time that it can crush workers and their unions, the government does it systematically. It has done it with Bill C-525, Bill C-377, and Bill C-4, other attacks on health and safety issues.

It is a sad day for democracy. It is a sad day for the workers of this country. It is a sad day for the labour movement. Workers can count on the NDP to defend their rights because we will protect the freedom of negotiation and collective bargaining. This is a value that we on this side of the House cherish and care about. Workers know that in a few months they will have the opportunity to have the first social democrat, pro-union, pro-worker, government in this country. It is coming.

I would like to reiterate that the labour minister told us that the Supreme Court's recent decision had nothing to do with exerting economic pressure or the right to strike. However, Justice Abella indicated in the ruling given a few weeks ago that the suppression of the right to strike interferes with the right to a meaningful process of collective bargaining, a process that provides an opportunity to get results.

In this case, it is extremely dangerous for the entire labour movement and for all workers to have a government that systematically takes the employer's side and tramples on workers' rights.

It is critical with the CP issue, and when there is a threat of back-to-work legislation hanging over their heads, to ask why the employer would negotiate in good faith. The employer knows it has good friends in power in Ottawa. The government will be on the employer's side and will force workers to go back to work. There is no reason for the employer to negotiate and look for a compromise.

Our concern is also the safety issue that is on the table for Canadian Pacific workers. It is a safety issue for everybody in this country: for the workers, first and foremost, of course, but also for everybody else. It is a question of the hours of work being too long, and extreme fatigue. We are talking about conductors who are driving freight trains that can be four kilometres long. We can imagine the consequences if the conductor is too tired to be aware of the dangers or everything that is going on.

This is not only the vision of the union. It is a problem that has been recognized by Transport Canada, and even by the companies. Transport Canada's own analysis of CP and CN employee scheduling records, from six different rail terminals across Canada, concluded that on the timing and length of each shift, assigned through an unpredictable on-call system, extreme fatigue was rampant.

In 4% of cases, employees were already extremely fatigued at the start of their shift because they did not have enough hours to sleep. It is a shame.

The government is not acting to correct that situation. Canadians should know that their safety is being put at risk by the government. We want that to change.

Forty-five percent of employees became extremely exhausted during work, and nearly all, 99%, were fatigued at least once during a month.

It was the same problem, the same issue, three years ago when employees of CP went on strike for a couple of days. After that, of course the Conservative government came here to vote on back-to-work legislation. The workers at that time were promised that the situation would be fixed: “Do not go on strike, we will negotiate and fix it.”

However, three years later, it is the same story. The same problems are still there. Extreme fatigue is still a problem for members of the Teamsters who are working for CP. Nothing has changed. We are back here again in the House of Commons, talking about back-to-work legislation.

My guess is that in three years we will be back again, because the issue will still not have been solved. There is no incentive for CP to solve the problem. The Conservatives are not helping. The Minister of Labour is not helping.

I think it is worth repeating, because the main issue in dispute here is not that workers want higher pay or want to extort more money from their employer. This is not about money. Incidentally, Canadian Pacific is an extremely profitable company. It has nothing to complain about; business is good. The discussions and debates are really about a matter of public safety. People need to be aware of that, because this is about the problem of too much overtime and the fatigue this causes. Canadian Pacific workers, the train operators, are not getting the rest they need, which leads to extreme fatigue.

What do the workers want? To be able to stop working and go home after 10 hours of work. All they are asking for is to not work more than 10 hours. What is this, the 19th century? Right now, train conductors have to work up to 12 hours straight before they can get a real rest. This is 2015; this is shameful. This Conservative government is doing nothing. In fact, it is actually helping rail companies perpetuate this practice.

Consider the potential consequences if a conductor driving a four-kilometre-long train is tired, does not have the necessary reflexes, and is unable to read the terrain or the dangers up ahead. Recent tragedies have shown us how important rail safety is. Everyone needs to know that this is a public safety issue and that the Conservatives are doing nothing about it.

A few minutes ago, I said that three years ago, CP workers, Teamsters members, went on strike for a few days on the issue of fatigue on the job and lack of breaks. The Conservative government forced them back to work. They were told not to worry, that this would be resolved, that there would be negotiations and recommendations would be made. Nothing was done. Today, in 2015, three years later, these same workers are going back on strike on the same issue of fatigue at work because nothing has been resolved. Now, we have another bill that is going to force them back to work again.

Should we allow the Conservatives to remain in power, I would not be surprised if people have to deal with a CP strike in three years. Unfortunately, if the Conservatives are still in power, they will again force them to go back to work. However, even Transport Canada recognized the issue of workplace fatigue for train conductors. It is not the Teamsters, the union, the CLC, but Transport Canada that is talking about this. Investigations of six different train terminals across the country led Transport Canada to conclude that the problem of extreme fatigue was rampant across Canada. In 4% of cases, employees are even extremely fatigued at the start of their shift, at the start of their work day, because they often do not get enough rest between two shifts. Fully 45% of employees are extremely tired or even exhausted while on the job. Forty-five per cent. Almost everyone, 99% according to Transport Canada, is tired at least once a month.

That has an impact on the workers. Obviously, it is bad for their health, their family life and their work. It puts everyone at risk.

The NDP does not want train conductors to experience fatigue at work. That is basic and straightforward. We do not understand why the Conservatives are still refusing to resolve this issue.

Even our neighbours to the south, the United States, where private enterprise is king and people despise regulations, have more regulations governing hours of work for rail company employees than we do. That is bizarre.

Why have the Conservatives never managed to fix this problem? We do not understand, but it puts huge swaths of our communities at risk.

Over the past five years, there have been at least seven accidents that, thankfully, did not cost any lives, but that happened because train conductors were tired at work. This is a real problem.

We have to find a solution, but we will not find a solution by preventing workers from exercising their right to take job action or go on strike. We know that because this is like groundhog day: it is the same old story over and over again.

I want to emphasize the fact that it is a real problem. The extreme fatigue of CP workers is real. Transport Canada has revealed that in the last five years, at least seven accidents or incidents were caused by fatigue of drivers or conductors of those trains. It is a real problem, but the government has no solution. Its only way to act is always ideological, always against unions, always against workers and against the safety of Canadians.

It is really sad. It is another case of the Conservatives going against international law. There is a labour organization in Switzerland that recognized that the right to strike is a fundamental right in modern societies. Once again, the government is going against the last decision of the Supreme Court and against international law.

On this side of the House, we think that workers can organize, defend their rights, and improve their working conditions. It is not the job of the government to oppose that, because it helps to build better communities. We always hear the Conservatives talk about the middle class and how they will defend the little guys of the middle class, but the middle class is, for the most part, a creation of the labour movement in this country and in all countries. Without the labour movement we would have no middle class.

If we want to defend the middle class, we must give the workers the tools to negotiate, to gain something in collective agreements, and to make sure that they are working in safe places. We must make sure that we do not put the safety of citizens of this country at risk.

Not only is the current federal government going against the Supreme Court's recent decision in the Saskatchewan case, but it is also going against regulations of the Geneva-based International Labour Organization, which considers the right to strike and the right to free collective bargaining to be fundamental.

However, this is not surprising coming from an extremely ideological Conservative government that always responds in the same way when Canadian workers try to exercise their rights and improve their working conditions. This government pulls out the big guns and beats them back, telling them to shut up and get back to work. It does not want to listen to them; they are annoying.

What is important to this government is that companies continue to rake in profits, regardless of how or why and regardless of the rules, even if it makes people sick.

The Conservatives often like to say they are standing up for the middle class. However, the middle class is mainly a creation and a consequence of union struggles by workers who got organized, defended themselves at their workplace and negotiated better collective agreements.

If we are talking about the middle class, we must also talk about the tools that workers created to improve their situation. The NDP will always be there to stand up for workers and their families, for workplace health and safety and for public safety.

Unfortunately, again today, we see that the Conservative government is violating workers' rights and putting public safety at risk. I hope that all of us in the House will oppose this back-to-work bill—yet another one—and stand up not only for workers, but also for the middle class and public safety.

Rail Service Resumption Act, 2015Government Orders

12:45 p.m.

Conservative

Bev Shipley Conservative Lambton—Kent—Middlesex, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is an interesting discussion we are having today, particularly the one that we just heard.

I noticed a lot of focus on rights. One thing I never heard, though, was a reference to rights in conjunction with responsibilities.

The other focus was on 10 hours of work. It is interesting that nurses in Ontario work 12-hour shifts saving lives, and we do not hear about these issues from our nurses. Their standard hours are 12-hour shifts, although they do not work every day of the week.

With respect to the time, the discussions and negotiations started back in November, about three and a half months ago.

Where I come from in Ontario, agriculture and the auto industry are the largest industries. The rail system is used to move grain out west and to bring in fertilizers and potash. The auto industry hires tens of thousands of workers. How do those members feel when those plants shut down and union workers do not have work?

Hospitals in most places up north require the rail system to deliver propane and fuel to run them. How does the member feel knowing that the north does not have the energy to run them, especially on a day like today when it is so cold? I wonder how the member feels about those union workers who do not have a job but likely do have health concerns. How does the NDP plan on telling all these—

Rail Service Resumption Act, 2015Government Orders

February 16th, 2015 / 12:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

The hon. member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie.

Rail Service Resumption Act, 2015Government Orders

12:45 p.m.

NDP

Alexandre Boulerice NDP Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, there are very many misconceptions on the Conservative side. It is terrific. Only someone who knows almost nothing about labour relations and collective negotiations could say things like that. Oh, my God. The member said that the workers have negotiated for three months and that is long enough. No, it is not. It takes time, and we have to give them time. The two sides at the table need a balanced position of power, and right now the Conservative government is taking one side. It is breaking the balance of labour relations in this country.

The workers have not even been on strike for 48 hours, yet the Conservatives claim it is too long. The workers have some rights and should be able to exert pressure on their employer, and the reason is public safety.

Rail Service Resumption Act, 2015Government Orders

12:45 p.m.

Liberal

David McGuinty Liberal Ottawa South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague. I really appreciated his comments.

He just said that this is about employees exerting pressure on their employer. However, is the real issue that we are debating in the House today not the role that the federal government plays as the regulatory authority in Canada, with responsibility for the safety of our rail industry?

Is this really about pressure between two parties? Is that not exactly what the Conservative government would have us believe? Does it not want us to see these differences as just disputes between two parties? The government is trying to distract us so that it does not have to justify the fact that for nearly five years now, it has not invested as it should have in the inspectors, inspections, controls and staff required by the Department of Transport.

That is the major challenge we are facing today.

Rail Service Resumption Act, 2015Government Orders

12:45 p.m.

NDP

Alexandre Boulerice NDP Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I see where my colleague from the second opposition party is going with his question. However, the issue today is that the Conservative government is taking a stance against the rights of workers to negotiate and engage in free collective bargaining.

That said, he raised an interesting point, which is that the Conservative government could have been proactive and ensured that there were good working conditions in the rail network. That is true. That does not prevent us from rising today and doing our job to defend workers and their fundamental rights, which were recognized in the Supreme Court's recent ruling.

However, if the Conservatives had wanted to help CP and CN train conductors, they could have taken action years ago and looked at what is being done in the United States to give these workers decent hours to avoid extreme fatigue, which puts everyone in danger.

Rail Service Resumption Act, 2015Government Orders

12:50 p.m.

NDP

Brian Masse NDP Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is interesting that a number of years ago the rail system brought in the safety management system, which is self-reporting. The Lewis report, an independent study commissioned by the Conservative government, outlined how members of CP and CN rail felt the culture of fear to report safety and hazardous conditions that they and their colleagues faced on the job.

Could my colleague address the issue of the culture of a self-regulatory system?

Rail Service Resumption Act, 2015Government Orders

12:50 p.m.

NDP

Alexandre Boulerice NDP Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Windsor West for his excellent question.

This Conservative government really deregulated a huge number of sectors. Companies now have to inspect themselves and send their own reports about how nice they are and how well they treat everyone to the federal government. This is a real problem because it is completely biased.

My colleague was right when he said that the people who work for these companies now feel completely abandoned because there is no independent third party to visit the workplace and see if the company's claims are true.

We need a tougher regulatory system with real inspections. We need people who do not work for the company to be the ones writing the reports. Otherwise, of course they are going to make themselves look good.

This culture of fear and bullying in the workplace is a direct consequence of the Conservatives' bad decisions.

Rail Service Resumption Act, 2015Government Orders

12:50 p.m.

NDP

Claude Gravelle NDP Nickel Belt, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague from Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie for his excellent speech. He is doing a great job as the NDP labour critic.

We just had a derailment in Nickel Belt, on Saturday night if I am not mistaken. I cannot say exactly what caused it at this point, because we do not know yet.

However, there was also a derailment in western Canada just a few days ago. The young woman who was in charge of the train has been subjected to disciplinary measures. She said she did not receive any training. This is happening more and more. Companies like CN and CP are not required to train their employees because the government will protect those companies. Training comes with contract negotiations, which take a really long time.

Right now in my riding, Nickel Belt, negotiations are under way with Vale. They began three months ago and will continue for another three or four months. However, the Conservatives are not giving the two parties a chance to negotiate.

In his role as the NDP labour critic, I wonder if the member could talk about what we could do better, besides getting rid of the Conservatives in 2015.

Rail Service Resumption Act, 2015Government Orders

12:50 p.m.

NDP

Alexandre Boulerice NDP Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague from Nickel Belt for that great question. Indeed, getting rid of the Conservatives is a good place to start. After that, we have to have an NDP government that will be able to respect the unions.

The 4 million people in the country who are members of a union make unions the greatest strength of civil society and the largest democratic movement in the country right now. We must respect that and avoid upsetting the balance of power during collective agreement negotiations. We have to allow them to come to an agreement. The government must not attack the workers yet again.

My colleague from Nickel Belt mentioned the train derailment that occurred in his region on the weekend. Fortunately, no one was hurt. Extremely heavy and very long trains and locomotives cross through all of our communities, towns and villages. We need to have the strictest rail safety measures, because this is very dangerous.

The Conservative government is twiddling its thumbs and letting the companies do what they want so that they can make us much profit as possible. This jeopardizes the safety of Canadians. An NDP government would take the necessary measures to enhance rail safety and to provide good working conditions to the employees.

Rail Service Resumption Act, 2015Government Orders

12:55 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I ask for unanimous consent of the House to split the time with the member for Ottawa Centre.

Rail Service Resumption Act, 2015Government Orders

12:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

Is that agreed?

Rail Service Resumption Act, 2015Government Orders

12:55 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Rail Service Resumption Act, 2015Government Orders

12:55 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I have a bit of a bias in the sense of my family background and history in the CN yards in the Transcona area. Today I represent an area just north of the CP tracks. The railway lines have played a very important role, not only in my life but in all our lives, either directly or indirectly. The government needs to be held accountable for its lack of attention to our rail lines as a whole.

What we are debating today is most unfortunate. We in the Liberal Party do not support the government's proposed initiative for good reason.

It is very critical to acknowledge this. When we think of strikes and the important role unions play in today's society, we cannot underestimate how important it is that there is a sense of fairness when it comes to negotiations. However, that has been absent with the government, which is why asked the minister when she first raised the issue of back-to-work legislation.

The minister talked about the federal government being involved back in November 2014. There is no doubt in my mind that the government's intention from the get-go was that it would bring in back-to-work legislation virtually at the beck and call of one side over another.

If we were to canvass the thousands of CP workers, I do not think they would respond that they thought the government was approaching this issue in a fair fashion. We see this today with the legislation that is to be brought forward.

There was reference made to the labour issues a few years ago with CP. I had the opportunity to walk with some of the workers three years ago in Winnipeg North. Many of the concerns they expressed to me back then are still there today. I have heard this spoken of in some of the debate that has already taken place today, whether from my colleague for Ottawa Centre, who talked about the issue of fatigue, regulations and safety, as well as other members who also emphasized the importance of fatigue.

When we talk about labour negotiations, it is not all about money. There is a genuine concern that many CP workers have with respect to safety, and they want the Government of Canada to step up and take its responsibility more seriously.

There are certain industries in Canada where there is a need for government, at different levels, to be more directly involved. A good example of that is long-haul truck driving. Regulations are put in place to not only to protect the industry, but to protect the community as a whole and to assist the Canadian economy. There is a need for government to recognize that fact.

The Prime Minister does not seem to understand the importance of Ottawa having a role to play. A good example of that was back in January or February of last year. During question period I stood in my place and was critical of the government because it had dropped the ball in getting prairie wheat to the market.

We had piles of wheat in our prairie fields, and we had empty ships in the Pacific Ocean waiting to be filled with that wheat. What did the government ultimately do? It took months for the Conservatives to realize that they needed to take some action, and then they came up with some sort of a penalty, which was virtually ineffective. They were unable to get the grain to the market.

That is why I find it interesting today that when the minister stood up, she said that this is all for the sake of the Canadian economy. The members of the Liberal Party of Canada understand the Canadian economy. We understand the importance of getting our products to market. However, we also understand that the Conservatives have not been doing their job. That is something on which we want to take the government to task.

I use wheat as just one example. We understand, for the manufacturing industry in Ontario and in other jurisdictions, how important it is for the manufacturers to get their products to market. We understand the importance of the raw materials, whether they are in the ground, above the ground, or being produced, needing to get to market. We understand the important role CP Rail and CN Rail play in Canada's economy in providing valuable middle-class jobs and many more. We understand all of that, but we also understand the importance of our unions in modern society.

I do not believe for a moment that the thousands of workers who work for CP believe that there was an even playing field when it came to the negotiations that were taking place. For many of those workers, they understood that they had a government that was biased, and that bias is now starting to show in a tangible way.

I understand the importance of that issue. When I was first elected to the Manitoba legislature, the Meech Lake accord, I would argue, was the number one issue, but following that was likely the issue of final offer selection. There was heated debate in the province of Manitoba. If there was a lesson to be learned from that, it was that when talking about collective bargaining, there has to be a sense of fair play. If there is not a sense that both parties are coming to the table on an equal playing field, arguing for their positions, then there is a significant advantage to one side over the other.

Based on listening to the minister and her inability to directly answer my question, I do not believe that CP officials for a moment felt that they were going to be threatened in any fashion with any substantial work stoppage. The Conservative Party would be there to protect their interests, not necessarily the Canadian economy. The minister stands in her place and tries to justify the action. I would rather have seen a minister who was more enthusiastic in November 2014 in ensuring that there was a sense of fairness in the negotiations that were taking place. I do not believe that it had to get to the point where we are today.

That is why I question to what degree the government is moving forward in the best interest of not only the management and the employees but in terms of the whole process in which we find ourselves today. I would suggest that based on their previous attempts, the Conservatives will be found wanting in terms of addressing important labour issues in Canada.

Let us look at what is happening at Canada Post, for example. I wish I had time to expand on that. We could look at what the Conservatives could have been doing on this issue three years ago, when the strike was there on the issue of fatigue and railway safety.

Just this last weekend, there was a tragedy 80 kilometres outside of Timmins.

There is so much more the government could be doing, whether it is through regulation or bringing people together, to ensure that a number of the issues the employees are trying to address could be addressed in a different format. That has been my experience when I have had the opportunity to talk to employees but also, on occasion, to people in management.

With those words, as I have indicated, I will be voting against the back-to-work legislation.

Rail Service Resumption Act, 2015Government Orders

1:05 p.m.

Liberal

David McGuinty Liberal Ottawa South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask my colleague to expand on a couple of points he made in his speech.

One was the question of lingering safety concerns with respect to rail safety as a whole in Canada. He is aware, as members of the House should be aware, that the Minister of Transport, and each one who has come before her, has had detailed meetings, briefings, and exchanges with labour groups, safety groups, and the railways themselves. Each in their turn has raised profound and important security and safety concerns with the minister directly.

To what extent has the government been negligent in not taking the action required, which has now led to strike action?

Rail Service Resumption Act, 2015Government Orders

1:05 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, the member for Ottawa South is right. This is one of the reasons I indicated that the government has dropped the ball. We know that safe working conditions has been raised with the ministry for the last number of years, and the government has virtually turned a deaf ear to those concerns. The most compelling example, and I have heard it right from the CP Rail workers, is the issue of fatigue. The impact that is having is significant and serious, yet the government has not addressed that issue whatsoever.

There is no way to convince me, and I suspect many others, that the government has been doing its job in protecting the industry by ensuring that there is a safe working atmosphere and that the communities our trains drive through are becoming safer, either through regulations or other actions. The government has been turning a deaf ear and has done a minimum in terms of trying to improve overall conditions.

That is, in good part, why I am not surprised that we find ourselves in a situation that would have been completely avoidable if the government had acted on the issue of railway safety and other concerns that have been brought to its attention over the years.

Rail Service Resumption Act, 2015Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

Liberal

David McGuinty Liberal Ottawa South, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege to follow my colleague and some of the very important and profound comments he made about where we are with respect to this back-to-work legislation and why the Liberal Party of Canada cannot support it.

It is important to step back for a second so that Canadians can see the repeat pattern of crisis and back-to-work legislation.

Let us remind Canadians, from the perspective of the Liberal Party of Canada, that the federal government has an obligation to get the very big things right. One of the things a federal government has to get right is rail safety.

Rail safety in this country today is in a state of flux. We have had a 1,500% increase in the transportation of oil by rail in the last three years. Even if every single contemplated pipeline is built in Canada to transport fossil fuels south, east, and west and is used at maximum capacity, present projections suggest that by the year 2024, there will be one million barrels of excess oil capacity per day that will have to be transported by rail.

When a government minister stands up and says that this is exclusively about the economy, our international reputation, and the movement of our citizens, she is only partly telling the truth. Much more is below the surface.

Of course, this is in large part about collective bargaining and the right to collectively bargain. We all know that. However, as the vice-chair of the standing committee on transport, who has been active now for over two years in all of the details around rail safety post-Lac Mégantic, I believe that the government is trying to project a different series of concerns to mask a fundamental and lingering problem in Canadian society today, and that is rail safety. The government would have us look over here as the minister distracts from the government's failure to take serious action on safety and security.

Canadians are not going to be surprised to learn that at committee, we have had the heads of CN, CP, the Teamsters, Unifor, and other unions and stakeholders all come forward and say the same thing. They want more safety and security in the rail system. They have all agreed on this. They have all called for enhanced safety. In fact, they have been unanimous about it.

Part of the challenge we face as a country is that we have had five ministers of transport in eight years. That is not serious. How is the minister of the crown seized with one of the most important and foundational responsibilities in Canada, which is transport, supposed to do the job if he or she is being shipped out, shipped down, or shipped up through the department of transport in 16 to 18 months?

This is one of the challenges we face. We have had a succession of ministers transiting through the department of transport on their way elsewhere. The safety and security they are supposed to uphold are undermined.

By failing to address the serious issue of adequate rest for railway operators, the government has failed to prevent this CP Rail strike. It is not management. It is not labour. That simplistic, sometimes antiquated notion, often put forward by my colleagues in the NDP, is, in my view, dépassé.

All parties want to see the requisite investments in safety and security, and they know that they are not getting it from the government. That is why the government is rushing through this back-to-work legislation. It is an attempt to masquerade and to cover the fact that it has not addressed the foundations of some of the challenges we have going forward. This puts our railway employees, Canadians, and our communities at risk.

It is the government's responsibility—not the railway company's responsibility, not the union's responsibility—to establish rest periods for railway workers to ensure that railway employees, Canadians, and communities are safe. It cannot be fobbed off or sloughed off. We cannot simply pretend this is a dispute.

“Irreconcilable differences”, says the minister. “We have been there, trying to help broker a deal”, says the minister. Really?

The Minister of Labour should talk to the Minister of Transport and find out why it is that for over six years, the government has been meeting with union representatives, the railways, and advisory groups in backroom meetings. They have been seized with these foundational security concerns for all that time.

The Conservatives knew this was coming. It was no surprise. Now the minister comes out and says that it is merely a negotiation of differences between two parties.

She is right that several unions have settled. Unifor and 1,800 employees have settled. The Teamsters and its 3,000 members on strike have not, but this is not reducible to mere union-management or labour-management differences.

Do not take my word for it; take the report of the Auditor General. It is a scathing indictment of the government's failure to address the foundational issues around rail safety for almost nine years.

The government does not like to hear it, but I like to remind Canadians that Conservatives have spent more money each and every year for the past five years on economic action plan advertising during the NFL or hockey games. These spots cost $37,000, $67,000, and even $300,000 for 30-second advertisements.

It is interesting that not one of those Conservative MPs can look their constituents in the eye and say that they can defend that spending, because they know they cannot, not with the real needs out there in Canadian society and certainly not with the real needs of rail safety.

The Auditor General pointed out many times and in many places that there are huge problems. Here is one to remember. In the three fiscal years that the Auditor General audited, the government's Department of Transport audited only 25% of the safety management systems it said had to be audited to keep the railways safe. In the same three-year period, VIA Rail, carrying four million passengers a year, was not audited once. Those facts are indisputable.

In conclusion, we cannot support this back-to-work knee-jerk legislative response. It is a masquerade. It is hiding the foundational issues around safety and security that Conservatives have refused to address. That takes money. It takes inspectors. It takes investment. The government has an obligation to get the big things right; rail safety is one of those things, and it is not doing it.

Rail Service Resumption Act, 2015Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

NDP

Philip Toone NDP Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague from Ottawa South. His speech was very interesting.

The Conservatives are clearly causing a crisis when we should be negotiating an agreement.

We have a real problem with today's motion. I completely agree with my colleague that the Conservatives seem more interested in advertising than in solving the problems we are facing in the area of rail safety, for example. We are all too aware of this danger in Canada. Canadians, and especially Quebeckers, are very concerned about this issue given the accident that occurred in Lac-Mégantic.

We want workers to be proud of what they do, we want their working conditions to allow them to do their jobs effectively and we want them to be willing to report any problems with rail safety, as there were in Lac-Mégantic.

I would like my colleague to comment on the recent decision rendered by the Supreme Court, which found that collective bargaining is a fundamental right in Canada, and I would like him to explain how that relates to rail safety. Do agreements that are negotiated between employers and workers lead to a better workplace and can they improve the safety of Canadians?