House of Commons Hansard #79 of the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was justice.


Canada Labour CodePrivate Members' Business

September 22nd, 2016 / 5:15 p.m.


Garnett Genuis Conservative Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to rise to address Bill C-234, an NDP private member's bill that would effectively ban the use of replacement workers within federal jurisdiction. I am, to the great surprise I am sure of my colleagues, going to be speaking against the bill and sharing a bit about what I think the negative impacts of the bill would be.

Let me start with a bit of the underlying context. When we talk about labour relations, it is very important to reflect on the concept of solidarity. Certainly a concept invoked by people from different political traditions is the idea of solidarity being rooted in empathy, that we should be concerned about the well-being of others, that we should stand with others and have empathy for the circumstances of others. Solidarity is a call to regard the humanity in others and to seek their good. Our economy is well served when we emphasize in particular, though, a lens of universal human solidarity, not exclusively particular-group solidarity. In other words, it is best served when we reflect on how particular decisions impact the well-being of everyone in society, not just members of particular individual groups, not just, let's say, members of our own group, be it an economic group or otherwise.

Through the lens of solidarity, I would suggest that members approach the bill by reflecting on its impact with regard to the interests of all concerned, of all who would be impacted by it: the interests of unionized workers, the interests of the business community, and the interrelationship between the interests of those groups; the interests of society as a whole, in particular the consumers of services that may be provided by businesses and unionized workers in areas of federal jurisdiction; and in particular I would say the best interests of the most vulnerable group in our society in many senses, those who are unemployed. A holistic ethic of human solidarity is about thinking of the common good of all, analyzing the interests of all groups, and in this way, the way I have sought to divide it up, of these four principal groups.

I do not think this bill is in the interests of unionized workers, businesses, the public as a whole, or the unemployed. I will spend the balance of my time reflecting on each of those groups and the impact of the bill on them.

First, what would be the impact of the bill on unionized workers? As I was preparing to make this speech, I read a speech given in this place on a similar bill by my predecessor, the MP for Edmonton—Sherwood Park, Mr. Tim Uppal. He had some very good things to say about this and he talked about studies on the impact of the bill on work stoppages. In his speech, he said:

Independent studies have looked at the impact of anti-replacement worker laws on work stoppages. Most found no evidence that a legislative ban had an effect on activity, but some found that a prohibition on replacement workers led to more frequent and longer [work stoppages].

It is not hard to understand how a ban on replacement workers would have that impact. A ban on replacement workers increases the amount of pain that a strike can impose on an employer. Some might argue it creates a perverse incentive to have more and longer strikes in the hopes of extracting additional concessions. However, workers are rarely well served by extended work stoppages. Certainly they are better served when agreements can be found earlier on without the necessity of resorting to a work stoppage. Obviously, during a work stoppage workers lose access to their wages and they lose the positive opportunities that come from being productively engaged in work. A bill that upsets the good and appropriate balance that we currently have in federal legislation by creating a perverse incentive for more work stoppages does not serve unionized workers. Unionized workers are not well served by an overly conflict-oriented work environment.

The current balance encourages negotiation and collaboration between workers and employers, but upsetting that balance has the potential to create a more conflictual work environment that will not serve either side and, with reference to this particular point, not serve unionized workers.

I will also say about unionized workers that we know that the economic well-being of workers is intimately tied, especially in the private sector, to the economic position of their employers. If an employer goes out of business, the workers involved lose their job. If employers face a particularly challenging economic time, they may be forced to lay off workers, or at least will not be able to offer increases in wages they might otherwise wish to offer. We can understand that the economic well-being of workers is tied to the economic position of their employers.

That brings us to the next point, which is the impact of this on businesses. Economic activity certainly requires certainty, so that businesses have an effective functioning economy when they are making decisions about investing here in Canada, about starting in the first place, and about expanding their operations. They want to know that they will be able to continue to do business.

If in certain circumstances they are prevented from the possibility of hiring replacement workers, that will create a significant amount of uncertainty. It will discourage investment. It will make it more difficult for them to work here and create jobs in Canada.

Again, we need to be concerned about the well-being of businesses, of job-creators, because of those economic interrelationships and because of this idea of universal human solidarity, which calls us to reflect on how, economically as well as in other respects, we are interconnected.

This kind of a measure, which would be devastating, as various groups have pointed out, to the activities of business in this country would be devastating to job creation. It would have a devastating impact on workers.

I want to talk about the impact of this on the public. When we are talking about federally regulated areas, we are talking about some very important sectors of our economy. We are talking about interprovincial transportation, rail, road, air. We are talking about things like grain handling, mining operations, certain crown corporations, museums, and many important areas of our economy.

If we do not allow replacement workers in certain circumstances, the public will lose access, or the public can lose access, to these vital services. That, obviously, will not serve the public very well.

With regard for the public, with regard to the importance of our museums, transportation, telecommunications, crown corporations, etcetera, I think members should reflect on the negative impacts of this bill, and certainly join me in defeating it.

Let us talk, finally, about the impact of this legislation on the unemployed. A replacement worker ban would prevent those who are unemployed from gaining temporary employment, which might well provide them with valuable experience and skills, and strengthen their position financially, and be a real asset to people who are able to take advantage of replacement work opportunities.

Again, nobody welcomes a work stoppage, but to stay that in a situation where nobody is working in a particular area, that those who are unemployed should not be able to step in on a temporary basis, perhaps learn some skills and gain some valuable resource, to suggest that they should not do that, I would argue, is unfair to those unemployed people.

It is interesting that sometimes the measures we see coming from our friends in the NDP do not consider the well-being of the unemployed. We could use the example of the unfortunate minimum wage hike happening in my home province of Alberta. The impact of that is going to hurt job creation. It is going to hurt the unemployed. The argument is that it helps those who have work. However, the negative impact on the unemployed, on those who are creating jobs and therefore on those who are negatively impacted by the loss of jobs is very clear.

I encourage colleagues to reflect not on narrow group solidarity, but on this idea of universal human solidarity, how this bill impacts the whole of the economy, and to look at these various different segments of society. I would also encourage my colleagues to join me in defeating this bill.

Canada Labour CodePrivate Members' Business

5:25 p.m.


Sheri Benson NDP Saskatoon West, SK

Madam Speaker, it is my privilege to rise today to support Bill C-234—I am sure my colleagues will not be surprised about that—sponsored by my colleague, the member for Jonquière. The last debate on this valuable amendment to the Canada Labour Code was fruitful. All members who spoke raised important questions about both the bill itself and its manner of introduction in the House.

Before I speak to the bill in question, if I may, I will respond to some of the objections we have heard. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons expressed his distrust of New Democrats' motives. This was based on his experience in provincial politics and the NDP's own history of labour-related legislation. He claimed indirectly that this piece of legislation is part of “games that are played between the Conservatives and the NDP with respect to labour”.

I would like to remind him of the distinction between federal and provincial parties and agendas. I do not hold the federal Liberals responsible for the policies and decisions of their provincial counterparts. This attitude of suspicion really is not helpful for healthy debate and is corrosive, I think, to Canadian politics.

While I might not agree with the them, I respect all of my elected colleagues' opinions and I equally hold all of my colleagues to their word. This is part of good-faith discussions and negotiations, without which any bargaining process crumbles, whether in the House or over employment conditions.

My colleague from Louis-Saint-Laurent took a principled position in opposing the NDP's amendment, and while I respect his commitment, I am saddened by his party's continued insistence upon outdated economic theory that sacrifices actual and practical considerations. He said, “Let us not forget that striking workers can always go work somewhere else”.

Individuals are not, at their core, economic beings or economic robots that just uproot and abandon their communities, friends, places, and memories for only financial considerations; and the government should not treat them as such. This brand of economic thought is blind to the realities faced by many working Canadians and, insensitive to the demands of everyday life, was really at the heart of some the previous government's destructive economic policies.

In addition, I would call into question various statistics and citations used by the member for Louis-Saint-Laurent. First, we must all remember that correlation is not causality. The numbers are not, as the member stated, speaking for themselves, but rather, the member is speaking for the numbers.

Second, while he rightly pointed to the recommendations of the 1996 Sims commission, my colleague neglected to mention that the commission found that Quebec has managed without major difficulty since the general prohibition of replacement workers. He equally neglected to mention the minority opinion of commission member Rodrigue Blouin, who noted that there was neither consensus nor conclusive evidence for the recommendations. Blouin recognized that replacement workers undermine the fundamental principles of bargaining integrity. The member for Louis-Saint-Laurent did not acknowledge this. Nevertheless, I respect the member's position, his honesty, and his valuable respect for the equality of all members.

All members spoke to the balance that exists between employer and employee, thanks to the Canada Labour Code, and the threat of upending that balance. I commend my colleague from Regina—Lewvan for his excellent response to this criticism, which was not addressed in the subsequent debate, and I wish to return to this point later.

First, however, was the member for Cape Breton—Canso's argument for the need for a wide tripartite consultation process, instead of piecemeal changes through private members' bills. This process, through deliberation and study, would preserve the employer-employee balance.

My colleague's comparison of our amendment to labour law changes under the previous government is disingenuous. Bills C-377 and C-525, two bills given as examples, were introduced and shepherded through Parliament by the previous government, which held consultations in contempt and proactively stifled consensus-building discussion. Bill C-234 has been introduced the only way we know how.

The Canada Labour Code requires modernization. If the current government is willing to initiate this consultation process, I say, let us do it. The Liberals, however, will not do this.

We are nearing one year since the election. The government promised Canadians real change, and they have done better than the previous government, it is true. Of course, transparency and wide and thoughtful consultations are necessary to open government. The current government, however, is employing these consultations with partisan judiciousness, putting us in an awkward position.

Where was the broad discussion on arms sales to Saudi Arabia? Where are the consultations on Bill C-51, legislation that blatantly infringes upon charter rights and against which experts from coast to coast have been unified? In fact, where is any whisper that Bill C-51 is being put back on the table? How many more experts must speak out against Bill C-51 before the government acts?

In many cases, we have seen deliberate delay masquerading as thorough bipartisan concern. The government is willing to listen, it seems, only when it knows it will like what it hears. I should add that unlike my colleague from Winnipeg North, I am judging the government on its own track record.

I want now to return to the carefully crafted balance that my Liberal colleague spoke of previously. The phrase “sunny ways” we know was popularized by prime minister Laurier, a famous compromiser, yet we also know that Laurier's downfall was ushered in through some of the same compromises.

I strongly believe in compromises, in listening, negotiating, and thoughtfully coming to consensus, but on some issues, talk of balance is misleading. We cannot, for example, support aboriginal land claims and propose nation-to-nation dialogue, yet at the same time green-light pipeline development without consultation.

To say that we worked toward balance in this case is meaningless. We do not need to balance news coverage of climate change with deniers who ignore the science. Likewise, there is the idea that the current iteration of the Canada Labour Code balances, as the member for Cape Breton—Canso put it, “the union's right to strike with the employer's right to attempt to continue operating during a work stoppage”.

Management always has the upper hand in the current scenario, and Bill C-234 is merely trying to balance the playing field.

The carefully crafted balance the government claims exists at the moment between workers and employers under the Canada Labour Code appears to be the same as what exists between the opposition and the government here today. Management and the government will always have more resources at their disposal.

Furthermore, it is undeniable that the use of scab labour makes strikes more bitter, and sometimes violent. They also prolong the conflict. That does not really serve anyone.

As the eight-month-long strike at The Chronicle Herald newspaper in Halifax drags on, the Herald is losing subscribers and advertisers it may never get back. Workers are losing their regular paycheques and the work they so clearly love to do. Any readers that are left will have lost the quality paper of old.

Anti-scab legislation would help reduce days lost to work stoppages and would facilitate a quicker resolution to workplace disputes.

In Quebec, where anti-scab legislation has been in place since 1977, and in British Columbia, where a similar law has existed since 1993, days lost to strikes have actually decreased since these laws were enacted. These laws must be working, or subsequent governments would have moved to repeal them.

The bottom line is that nobody ever wants to go on strike, says Ingrid Bulmer, president of the Halifax Typographical Union, whose members are still on strike.

“When we went out, it wasn't because we want more, it was because management wants to take away so much. We are striking in self defense”.

She went on to say, “Strike pay is much less than what you are used to getting. If you live paycheck to paycheck it becomes a problem, and the company is using that as a weapon to bully us into surrendering. They have much deeper pockets than we do.... The balance is altogether tipped in the employer's favour”.

Bill C-234 will extend a ray of sunshine to Canadian workers under the Canada Labour Code. This legislation will restore good faith negotiations at the bargaining table, as both parties, employers and employees alike, will have something to lose by not coming to an agreement. This is not naive theory. This is a simple fact.

Canada Labour CodePrivate Members' Business

5:35 p.m.


David Graham Liberal Laurentides—Labelle, QC

Madam Speaker, It is an honour to speak today to a bill that could affect the balance in labour relations in Canada. I am referring to Bill C-234, which would prevent employers governed by the Canada Labour Code to hire replacement workers in the event of a strike or lockout.

Although most labour relations in Canada are governed by the provinces, it is important to point out that part I of the Canada Labour Code governs labour relations in private workplaces under federal jurisdiction. It covers key industries in our economy, such as international and interprovincial rail and road transportation, air and marine transportation, and telecommunications. Certain crown corporations, such as Canada Post, are also governed by the Canada Labour Code.

The Code ensures that there is balance between the union's right to strike and the employer's right to try to continue operations during a work stoppage. The current Canada Labour Code provision already restricts the employer's use of replacement workers. Employers governed by the code cannot use replacement workers to undermine a union's representational capacity.

I want to point out that opinions on this matter have always been divided, with some people being very supportive of using replacement workers and others very much against it.

A few years ago, there was a full review of the code, and this provision was one of the ones added. At that time, it was viewed as an acceptable compromise between the employers governed by the code and the unions representing their employees.

Although I am sure the member who introduced Bill C-234 probably wanted to improve labour relations, it is important to understand that the bill could upset the balance of the rights and responsibilities of both unions and employers under the terms of the Canada Labour Code. I want to remind the members of the commitment we made to re-establish balance and fairness in labour relations with the groups covered by the code.

I want to emphasize right away that, given the scope of what is being proposed, such a measure must take into account the views of all stakeholders: employers, unions, the government, and even external stakeholders, such as universities and any others that might contribute in any way. This will require feedback from and the participation of anyone who could be affected by this measure.

With that in mind, we have already introduced important measures to correct the inequities created by Bill C-377 and Bill C-525, which upset that balance. Those bills had a serious impact on workers and unions in Canada. They put unions at a disadvantage, and we believe that those bills must be repealed.

Much like this bill, Bill C-234, Bill C-377 and Bill C-525 were private members' bills, so they were not subject to the rigorous consultation that should take place on such issues. We must not take the same approach on this issue.

The issue of replacement workers is too controversial, with employers and unions having opposing views. However, in the past, both labour and employer organizations have been highly critical of changes being made to federal labour relations legislation through private members' bills without prior consultation with stakeholders.

We believe in an open and transparent approach to labour relations, one that promotes stability.

In the past, this type of reform involved consultations with employers, unions, and the government. For example, in 1995, a task force held extensive public consultations on part I of the Canada Labour Code, which deals with industrial relations. These consultations were held with unions, employers, and government stakeholders, as well as with academics and other groups that wanted to have a say on the issue.

The task force's report, entitled “Seeking a Balance”, served as a framework for significant changes to part I of the Canada Labour Code, which came into effect in 1999. Consultation and engagement help ensure that our policies are evidence-based.

The development of fair, balanced, and evidence-based labour policies is essential for both workers and employers.

We therefore do not support Bill C-234 because it does not meet this country's standards of openness and transparency, and it upsets the balance in labour relations.

The employer-employee relationship is essential to our economy. Good working relations result in stability and predictability in the labour force, factors that fundamentally support our economy.

We must therefore ensure that labour policies are in the best interests of Canadians because, in this country, we have a long tradition of labour legislation and policy designed to promote the well-being of all by encouraging collective bargaining and dispute resolution for the common good.

We are committed to implementing a labour policy that is balanced and fair for all workers and employers governed by the Canada Labour Code.

That is the spirit of our position on this very important issue.

Canada Labour CodePrivate Members' Business

5:40 p.m.


Christine Moore NDP Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak to this topic because it is pertinent to one of my areas of study. I am a nurse by training, but I also did additional training in workplace health and safety. The reason I want to emphasize this is that in many cases, workers do not go on strike to get a better salary, but to protect against dangerous working conditions. Throughout history there have been strikes that sought to denounce dangerous working conditions and to call for change.

Some sectors remain quite dangerous no matter how careful companies might be. Take for example the history of mining work. It is extremely dangerous work. Even though mining companies are now making tremendous efforts in the area of workplace health and safety, the fact remains that deaths occur in the mining sector every year.

If workers decide to go on strike to denounce working conditions that are inadequate or put their health and safety at risk and the employer can simply use replacement workers, then the situation will not improve. This does nothing to address the danger. This simply puts pressure on the workers by calling them babies and saying that others are prepared to do the work and that they should stop complaining. That is not the way to improve workers' health and safety, especially for those who work in dangerous fields.

Without anti-scab legislation, strikes tend to drag on. In 1974, there was a strike in Quebec that lasted 20 months and resulted in an amendment to the Quebec Labour Code. However, prior to 1974, there were several strikes that went on for more than 10 months. That is almost a full year of unemployment.

When workers refuse to work for 10 months, they clearly have a reason. If employers are simply allowed to replace their employees with other workers who are prepared to do the job—probably because it is that or nothing—the working conditions of employees do not improve. Employers do not strive to improve employees' health and safety.

The workplace has changed significantly. We need only think of what our grandfathers told us. It is unfortunate, but in my family, there are four or five men missing part of a finger. That may not seem like much, but it is because the health and safety standards were not the same at the start of their careers, and they were in manual trades that were a little more dangerous than other trades. Although minor, these are life-changing accidents, and yet, they could have been worse.

Anti-scab legislation ensures that employers must negotiate with their employees. If something undermines the health and safety of workers as it does in the case at hand, at some point it costs less for the company to improve practices than to have employees who are on strike for a long time. However, if the employer is allowed to call on replacement workers, its negotiating strength is no longer the same. That is why my colleague's bill is so important. It changed a lot of things in Quebec, and I hope we will be able to do the same here.

Of course, there may be different legislative approaches. That is why we have committees in our parliamentary system. Committees allow us to choose how extensive of a study should be conducted, depending on the bill. If the committee thinks that the bill is extremely important, it can choose to examine the bill over ten sittings or so and hear from many witnesses and stakeholders.

The committee is controlled by the Liberals.

If the Liberals think that this issue is extremely important and warrants extensive consultation, there is nothing stopping them from moving a motion in committee to conduct a study that will last long enough to hear everyone's views and perhaps make amendments to the bill.

This is such an important bill affecting bargaining power and labour law that we cannot simply dismiss it out of hand. We absolutely must send this bill to committee so that we can discuss it and resolve the situation.

Right now, only two provinces have legislation to prohibit replacement workers: Quebec and British Columbia. In practical terms, some people may not have ideal working conditions, but since they know that they will simply be replaced if they go on strike, they accept the risks and continue to work, hoping that nothing bad will happen to them. This is a dangerous attitude that can destroy families.

In my riding of Abitibi—Témiscamingue, I have friends who have become widows because of mining accidents. Adolescents have become orphans. They lost their father at age six or eight. These are not easy situations. However, I also know that mining companies have done a lot to improve workplace health and safety.

Unfortunately, accidents still happen, and that is why we need to bring in legislation that enables us to make improvements the various systems and companies as much as possible, to ensure that workers are as safe as possible and that they are not afraid to speak out about dangerous working conditions for fear of being replaced in the event of a strike.

This is an important bill, and it has a history in the House. This is not the first time this matter has come before us. Yvon Godin talked about it many times here in the House. It is an important bill. The fact also remains that some federally-regulated professions can be very dangerous. Railway workers labour in a profession that is very physically demanding and very dangerous. Accidents can happen.

Consider those who repair railways. They often have to hammer huge spikes with weights of about 150 pounds and have to carry heavy objects. There are other dangers, too. For instance, if repairs are not done properly, this can cause accidents not only for workers, but also for rail users.

Some federally regulated occupations involve significant risk, so it is appropriate to protect people by preventing employers from hiring replacement workers in a strike situation, whether it is company-wide or just in one particular unit. Strikes can involve people in specific trades for whom working conditions are unacceptable and may have nothing to do with other employees.

It is important to remember that many of the demands employees make, whether they are unionized or not, have nothing to do with compensation and everything to do with health and safety.

I think that passing this bill can help us save lives, advance labour law more quickly, and continue to be a global leader in health and safety. In many sectors, such as mining, we are considered world leaders when it comes to safe workplaces, but if we stop now, if we stop improving, our international reputation will suffer.

It would be nice if the government chose to provide truly improved worker protection and signalled its intention not to go down the same path as Stephen Harper's government.

Canada Labour CodePrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.


Robert Aubin NDP Trois-Rivières, QC

Madam Speaker, it is truly a pleasure to speak to this bill because I have the impression that as a new MP I will be able to continue the work I did previously for a long time as a union representative. Although I was not with the union from the beginning, I will say that unions have always helped improve working conditions, whether it is wages, health and safety standards, or the work week.

What we all too often forget is that this does not just benefit unions. All the concessions earned by union struggles are subsequently passed on to all workers. As the former union president representing the teachers of my institution, I am proud to rise in the House to continue standing up for workers' fundamental right to free bargaining.

For many years, the NDP and the labour movement have been asking the federal government to prohibit the use of strikebreakers during strikes and lockouts.

Resolutions by our federal party also called for the review of the Canada Labour Code in order to ensure healthy labour relations and to give workers the opportunity to freely negotiate their collective agreements.

The bill's primary objective is to prevent employers under federal jurisdiction, of course, from recruiting replacement workers, thereby strengthening the negotiating position of unionized workers when negotiating with management.

To give the bill some teeth and encourage employers to respect it, our proposal involves a fine of up to $10,000 if an employer hires replacement workers during a strike. As they say, money talks.

Before Quebec adopted its anti-scab legislation in 1977, the history of labour relations in la belle province was marked by some very dark episodes in which physical altercations broke out between unionized workers and replacement workers.

I am sure many will remember the dramatic events that took place in Quebec after a strike was called at United Aircraft. The labour-management negotiations were essentially about the Rand formula, under which non-unionized workers had to pay union dues because they enjoyed the same benefits as unionized workers.

The employer rejected the Rand formula and hired scabs to thwart the union's bargaining power. The tale took a dramatic turn when management assaulted striking workers and the unionized workers then targeted strikebreakers. Violence only begets more violence.

The employer called in the Sûreté du Québec to end the striking workers' occupation of the plant. The workers were savagely beaten by police, and many were arrested.

Another incident took place at the Robin Hood mill, where the company's security guards opened fire on eight workers. Why? Because they were picketing outside the mill demanding the right to a decent standard of living.

These tragic events occurred before Quebec passed its anti-scab legislation. Violent social conflicts led to greater awareness among Quebec political decision makers. On the one hand, unionized workers extracted only meagre benefits from their job action because the use of scabs pressured them to go back to work. On the other hand, businesses slowed down and became inefficient because toxic labour relations overshadowed production.

The Quebec Labour Code was modernized for all of these reasons. For 39 years now, Quebec has armed—if members will forgive the expression—its labour code, rather than workers or employers, with anti-scab measures and this policy has had many positive effects.

Many studies show that, since Quebec adopted anti-scab measures, labour disputes have been shorter because employers are encouraged to quickly find a solution to the problem. What is more, shorter labour disputes generally result in less potential for violence.

Anti-scab legislation has another objective besides maintaining industrial peace. In that regard, I would like to quote former Quebec premier Bernard Landry, who said: “In order for the right to strike to be effective, it must penalize the company”.

A slowdown in a company's activities forces management to negotiate a solution to the labour dispute.

Keep in mind that our collective labour relations rest on three pillars. The first is freedom of association and union recognition. The second is the obligation to bargain in good faith. Finally, the third is the ability to use economic pressures to encourage the conclusion of a collective agreement.

It is that last pillar that is at play in the bill introduced by my colleague. Striking is a fundamental right, and the Canada Labour Code must not seek to minimize the impact of this democratic right. In the absence of federal legislation on the matter, a labour dispute drags on and is more likely to result in the employees returning to work without any improvement in their working conditions. Society as a whole ends up losing in these wars of attrition because labour rights take a hit and so does the companies' economic performance.

In order to ensure balanced labour relations, the legislation must ensure that only the two parties involved negotiate an agreement. As soon as a third party is introduced, striking becomes ineffective and often results in a a weakening of workers rights.

Recourse in current anti-scab legislation does not provide adequate protection for workers' rights and their unions. Hiring scabs has become a legitimate practice for some employers, and the burden of proof lies with the unions. The union has to prove that the employer intends to undermine the union's representational capacity. That is ridiculous.

Many stakeholders have condemned the malicious intent of that recourse. On that, I would like to quote Claudette Carbonneau, past president of the CSN:

It also puts an unfair burden on the union, which has to establish that the employer intended to undermine the union's representational capacity, as if the consequences alone of that practice were not enough.

The recourse in the legislation purports to protect workers, but it is a sham.

Canada ratified the International Labour Organization's Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise Convention. All of the international organizations to which Canada belongs protect the right to strike and dispel the myth that a business is less competitive if it fully respects its workers' rights.

Under our international obligations, the Canada Labour Code must be updated, because Canada must set an example for the developing countries that it is supposed to be supporting in their quest for democracy.

This government can show real leadership by making its own labour relations more democratic. What is more, Canada voted in favour of the 17 sustainable development goals for 2030. Number eight clearly stipulates the need to defend the rights of workers and the right to decent work for all.

As a past critic in this area, I would remind the members that the sustainable development goals for 2030 do not apply only to developing countries, but to all 193 signatory countries. The sustainable development goals are universal in scope, which is a fundamental reason why our federal labour code needs to be updated.

In closing, now, in the 21st century, it is high time that we updated the Canada Labour Code by prohibiting replacement workers and any strategy whose aim is to circumvent the law, such as teleworking.

The Liberal government began its term by reversing Conservative legislation that undermined the legitimate work of unions. In addition to getting rid of those Conservative initiatives, this government must also show leadership when it comes to protecting the rights of workers.

Canada Labour CodePrivate Members' Business

6 p.m.


Karine Trudel NDP Jonquière, QC

Madam Speaker, it is an honour for me to have the last five minutes of debate to speak to my bill C-234.

We talked about this bill in the House for two hours. It is a bill that seeks to modernize the Canada Labour Code. The time has come to do so. We have made progress. We have been talking about this for years. The bill has been introduced several times in the House. Under the proposed bill, if negotiations are under way at an institution involved in a strike or a lockout and the employer asks people to telework, then the employee could be identified as a scab. This is where modern technology has taken us.

Earlier today and yesterday, unions were being praised in the House. The government was said to be on their side. Modernizing the Canada Labour Code would be a testament to that. Bargaining relationships have to be on equal footing. There can be no imbalance. Currently there is an imbalance on the side of the workers. When a company is in a lockout or a strike, its employees are out on the street and scabs are called in, the imbalance is on the side of those in the street. The company continues to make profits, manufacture its product, and ship it across Canada. Therein lies the imbalance.

We have reached that point. It is 2016, as the government and members here like to keep telling us. Let us do it. Let us walk the talk. We were talking about consultations earlier. It is not complicated. We just have to vote for the bill at second reading and it will be sent to committee. The government will be able to draw its list of witnesses. We will be able to talk to them and travel if need be. We can bring in the unions, the employers, and listen to them and hear what they have to say.

If we shut down this debate right now, we will never know what people want. We have the option to vote to send the bill to committee.

This summer my colleagues and I talked a lot about long strikes. Conflicts drag on. In Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean, a lockout lasted three years. Men and women were without jobs for three years while it was business as usual for the company. That is unacceptable.

We have to make changes. Even today, as we speak, employees of the Old Port of Montreal are on strike. They are going to start feeling the cold because strikebreakers are still arriving and providing essential services, while the employees are not being paid and cannot reach an agreement. This situation is dragging on because it works for the company.

On the one hand, the government praises unions and says that it backs them. On the other hand, when it is time to take real action, such as sending this bill to committee, it is dismissive and says that the bill creates an imbalance. I would like to hear what else the employees of the Old Port of Montreal have to say this evening. There is an imbalance. We have the opportunity to do something. Let's do it.

We are talking about 12,000 companies in Canada and 800,000 jobs. That is a lot. This morning, some of us had coffee in the cafeteria. The woman who served us is a union member. The customs' officer at the airport who helps us is a union member. The employees of the Old Port of Montreal, whom I mentioned, belong to a union. Those are the people we must help.

Amending the law does not create an imbalance. It simply creates a level playing field for bargaining.

I believe that we are at that point. It is time to modernize the Labour Code to ensure that, when there is a strike or lockout, it does not create an imbalance of power that prolongs the dispute. We need to allow employees to negotiate with their employers on an equal footing.

I am repeating myself, but we have the opportunity to send this bill to committee. Let us do just that. Let us hear from witnesses and then make a decision. Some people in the House already voted at second reading. Let us do it again. Let us go through the process again and do something to build the future for once. Let us amend the Canada Labour Code.

Canada Labour CodePrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker NDP Carol Hughes

Is the House ready for the question?

Canada Labour CodePrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

Some hon. members


Canada Labour CodePrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker NDP Carol Hughes

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

Canada Labour CodePrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

Some hon. members



Canada Labour CodePrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker NDP Carol Hughes

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

Canada Labour CodePrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

Some hon. members


Canada Labour CodePrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker NDP Carol Hughes

All those opposed will please say nay.

Canada Labour CodePrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

Some hon. members


Canada Labour CodePrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker NDP Carol Hughes

In my opinion the nays have it.

And five or more members having risen:

Pursuant to Standing Order 93, the recorded division stands deferred until Wednesday, September 28, 2016, immediately before the time provided for private members' business.

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.

Post-Secondary EducationAdjournment Proceedings

6:05 p.m.


Richard Cannings NDP South Okanagan—West Kootenay, BC

Madam Speaker, my original question dealt with the increasing disparity in access to higher education in Canada, based on a Parliamentary Budget Officer's report from May 5, 2016, entitled, “Federal Spending on Postsecondary Education”.

Before getting into the details of that report, I would first like to set the stage with a broader view of where Canadian post-secondary education funding has been and where it is going.

Twenty years ago government funding for post-secondary education accounted for 77% of university and college operating expenses. After years of the federal government's downloading of costs onto the provincial governments, and provincial governments' downloading of those costs onto universities and colleges, it now covers less than half of the costs.

Universities and colleges have been forced to download those costs onto students. As a result, over the same time period, tuition fees have risen by more than 137%. The students are shouldering a rapidly increasing portion of the load when it comes to funding post-secondary education.

Increasingly, many students are shouldering that load with crushing personal debt. The average student debt at graduation is now about $28,000, about half of which is in the form of federal student loans. That is the average. As they start their careers, many graduates have debts of over $40,000, and that debt is rising every year.

Getting back to the Parliamentary Budget Officer's report, it stated that students from wealthy families are much more likely to attend colleges and universities and that this disproportionate ratio is growing. Right now, 60% of students come from families with the top 40% of incomes. The report also states that the government programs to help students also disproportionately help those wealthy students more than students from lower-income families. These benefits come in the form of tuition tax credits and RESP savings grants.

The new measures in this year's budget were supposed to help lower-income students, but the PBO found that “These measures will not, however, significantly change the distribution of total federal spending on postsecondary education”. Giving lower-income students $1,000 more in grants per year does not really put a dent in debt when it costs $15,000 to $20,000 to attend university or college for a single year. In other words, students from wealthy families will continue to benefit disproportionately from government spending on post-secondary education and government programs that provide financial assistance for students.

The purported middle-class tax break will not help either, since it is targeted at these wealthy families that I am speaking of. Any student with parents who, individually, are making less than $45,000 per year will not get a cent from that tax cut, while those with parents making between $100,000 and $200,000 will benefit substantially.

I believe that a good post-secondary education is not a privilege in Canada but should be available to every capable and enthusiastic student who wishes to take that path. They should be able to complete that education without mortgaging their life before they even have a job, and before they even think of owning a home.

I think we have to look at the structural cause of this problem, the declining proportion of government funding to universities and colleges. While the federal government provides funding to the provinces in the form of a social transfer, post-secondary funding is not provided as a dedicated item. Provinces are free to spend that social transfer more or less how they choose.

They say that education is the great equalizer, but it is getting tougher in Canada to get a good education. Again I would like to ask the minister, what is—

Post-Secondary EducationAdjournment Proceedings

6:10 p.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker NDP Carol Hughes

The hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance.

Post-Secondary EducationAdjournment Proceedings

6:10 p.m.

Saint-Maurice—Champlain Québec


François-Philippe Champagne LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance

Madam Speaker, I appreciate this opportunity tonight to address the comments of the hon. member for South Okanagan—West Kootenay for whom I have a lot of respect for bringing this important issue to the floor tonight. I want to inform the House of what the government is doing to ensure that Canadians are better positioned to access post-secondary education and to graduate.

Canadians have proven to be among the world's most enthusiastic supporters of education as a pathway to greater prosperity. As Canada's population ages, its prosperity will increasingly depend on young Canadians getting the education and training they need to prepare for the jobs of today and tomorrow. For this reason, it is more important than ever to ensure that post-secondary education remains affordable for all Canadians, including the middle class and those working hard to join it. The future of young Canadians and the future of Canada depends on it.

Budget 2016 takes important steps to make education more affordable for all Canadians, and especially for those students struggling with the steep cost of attending post-secondary institutions. With our first budget we increased Canada student grant amounts for students from low- and middle-income families as well as for part-time students. As a result, approximately 350,000 students from middle-class and low-income families across Canada will receive more financial help to make it easier for them to pursue their education.

Through budget 2016 we will also expand the Canada student grants program so that more students receive non-repayable financial help. We will do so by changing the eligibility thresholds beginning in the 2017-18 academic year. In addition to Canada student grants, students in Canada can also take advantage of Canada student loans to help pay for their education. Our government believes that students should not be penalized for working and gaining valuable job experience while studying. Under the current program students must estimate their financial assets and income earned while studying to determine eligibility for Canada student loans and grants. Students who work should not have to worry about jeopardizing their grant or loan.

For that reason, budget 2016 proposes to introduce a new flat-rate student contribution model, which will be implemented for the 2017-18 academic year. This will see students contribute a flat amount each year toward the cost of their education, and financial assets and student income will no longer be considered when they apply for a loan or grant. This change would allow students to work and gain valuable work experience without having to worry about a drop in their financial assistance. It would also benefit adult learners, many of whom work while studying or have significant financial assets.

We also want students not to worry that their debt repayment will be an overwhelming burden after graduation. For that reason, through budget 2016 we will make sure that no student needs to start repaying their Canada student loan until they earn $25,000 a year.

Budget 2016 will also invest $165 million in 2016-17 under the youth employment strategy. This government is committed to post-secondary education and growth in our—

Post-Secondary EducationAdjournment Proceedings

6:15 p.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker NDP Carol Hughes

The hon. member for South Okanagan—West Kootenay.

Post-Secondary EducationAdjournment Proceedings

6:15 p.m.


Richard Cannings NDP South Okanagan—West Kootenay, BC

Madam Speaker, we do not have to help students work more while they are studying. We should allow them to study with the least economic hardship.

I want to re-emphasize the need to tackle the root cause of this problem, the skyrocketing costs of tuition coupled with steadily increasing costs for housing. Solving those issues through a reinvestment of government funds into post-secondary education would really help us turn this troubling trend around.

Post-Secondary EducationAdjournment Proceedings

6:15 p.m.


François-Philippe Champagne Liberal Saint-Maurice—Champlain, QC

Madam Speaker, as I said, this government has invested more in post-secondary education to make sure we understand that education is key to prosperity in this country.

Let me quote another number from our last budget. We want to help young people gain the skills and experience they need to fill and keep the good jobs that are coming. This government invested more than $330 million.

Therefore, I would put to the hon. member that he should be happy to have a government like our government that believes in education as growth and wants to invest in youth, will invest in youth, and has made significant investments already into youth programs to make sure that our youth will find the jobs of today and tomorrow; and our commitment will continue.

I thank the member for bringing this important issue to the floor, and particularly for giving me the opportunity to say what this government is doing for our youth in this country.

Foreign AffairsAdjournment Proceedings

6:15 p.m.


Garnett Genuis Conservative Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan, AB

Madam Speaker, I asked a question in the spring about Iran's disregard for basic human rights, and about the Canadian response to that.

The government has indicated that it wishes to re-open an embassy in Tehran. The Minister of Foreign Affairs has noted in several of his speeches that the last time we had an embassy in Iran, several movies were made about it. This is true, but I would argue it is not a sufficient reason for us to re-open our embassy.

The closure of the embassy was driven in part by Iran's violation of UN resolutions, its various threats to international peace and security, and its absolutely horrendous domestic human rights record. However, it was also driven by imminent concerns about the safety of Canadian embassy staff. Shortly before the closure of our embassy in Iran, a mob of Iranian protestors invaded the British embassy and a separate diplomatic compound. One building was lit on fire and people were injured. Reports closely linked the militia involved in that attack with the Iranian government.

The previous Conservative government understood, rightly, that our foreign policy, whatever its other goals, could never knowingly put Canadian diplomatic staff in a country where the government would threaten their security and use their very lives as pawns in a cynical political game.

Iran has not ceased to do what almost no other country does in this respect: allow or perhaps facilitate attacks on embassies within its borders to make a political point. This year, in fact while I was visiting the Middle East, mobs stormed and burned Saudi diplomatic missions in Iran. These actions were in immediate response to mass executions in Saudi Arabia, executions that we certainly condemn, but nonetheless they again demonstrated the willingness of the Iranians to use diplomatic properties and diplomats as political tools. Again, this was this year, 2016.

Therefore, I would like to know from the parliamentary secretary how the government justifies its policy on Iran. I know it wants to spend more time hanging out with the Iranian government. However, can we not agree that preventing the use of the lives of our diplomats as political pawns in Iran's cynical game is a high priority?

In addition to addressing the issue of human rights in Iran, my question included points about the Office of Religious Freedom. That office played a critical role advocating for human rights in Iran and elsewhere. This was a better model than an embassy on the ground. It put the focus on advancing our values, it helped religious minorities in Iran and other groups facing persecution, and it did not put our diplomats in harm's way.

The current government has eliminated the Office of Religious Freedom. It has created a new office supposedly focused on human rights. However, that new office does not even have an ambassador. Why could it not put an ambassador in place who could be an advocate for these things. Again, we do not agree with doing away with the old model, but the fact that it has not put an ambassador in place shows its lack of commitment to this whole area of international human rights.

The government has been in place for almost a year and it has a new office that is, according to a recent National Post story, looking for programming opportunities. I would suggest some programming opportunities. It should continue with the work that the previous office was doing, and let us put in place an ambassador who can be involved in vital advocacy on the issues.

My question to the parliamentary secretary is this. Why is the government prepared to undertake a policy that may well put diplomatic staff at risk; and why not, at the very least, give this new office a real ambassador?

Foreign AffairsAdjournment Proceedings

6:20 p.m.

West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country B.C.


Pam Goldsmith-Jones LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs

Madam Speaker, as the Minister of Foreign Affairs has said, it is important not to sever all ties with a regime we disagree with. In order to best protect Canadians and promote Canadian interests, we need to maintain the ability to talk to those we disagree with.

Cautious engagement is the responsible strategy. For example, during the height of the cold war, we maintained embassies in the U.S.S.R. During the darkest days of apartheid, we maintained embassies in South Africa. Of course, we disagreed with those regimes and their actions, but those past Canadian governments were wise. They knew that without dialogue positive change would simply not be possible.

Severing ties with Iran has helped no one. It has not helped Canadians, nor our allies, including Israel, and certainly not the people of Iran.

The Government of Canada is committed to cautious re-engagement with Iran in a step-by-step manner. This week, for the first time, the Minister of Foreign Affairs met his Iranian counterpart and initiated a dialogue on a number of issues, including human rights, regional security and, importantly, consular cases. This is the value of our cautious engagement. It allows for dialogue on pressing, very challenging issues. We cannot facilitate progress if we are not at the table.

Engagement, however, does not mean support for a nation's actions. We have expressed, and will continue to express, our serious concerns with Iran's atrocious human rights record and support for terrorist groups. We continue to call Iran to account for its actions. For example, Canada intends to lead the resolution regarding human rights in Iran at the UN General Assembly's 71st session. The resolution criticizes Iran's actions and reinforces our human rights expectations of Iran. Engagement allows us to hold Iran to account.

Engagement is a much more difficult path than retreat and withdrawal. Our government knows that the harder path is the right path, and we are not alone. We are joined by our allies: Sweden, United Kingdom, France, and Finland. All have seen that re-engagement with Iran is the way forward.

The promotion and protection of all human rights is an integral part of Canada's constructive engagement, which is why, as part of the Government of Canada's commitment to human rights, the Minister of Foreign Affairs announced the establishment of the Office of Human Rights, Freedoms and Inclusion. The new office includes freedom of religion or belief as part of an expanded comprehensive vision that includes all human rights. This allows Canada to be a more effective defender of universal human rights.

Of note, a recent audit report on the former office, the Office of Religious Freedoms, said that the narrow focus on only religious freedom limited the ability of programs to accomplish their goals. By broadening the mandate, our government is better able to promote and protect core Canadian values. Furthermore, we have significantly increased funding dedicated to the promotion of human rights, including freedom of religion or belief. The government allocated up to $15 million for the Office of Human Rights, Freedoms and Inclusion, three times the amount originally committed to the former office.

Yesterday, the Minister of Foreign Affairs announced funding support to three new projects: the lifeline project, to help protect threatened human rights defenders; a partnership with UNESCO and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum to improve education about genocide; and a project at Equitas International Centre For Human Rights Education in Sri Lanka.

I am proud to say that as part of our efforts all Canadian heads of mission have been tasked with promoting human rights, including religious freedom, as part of their core objectives. Where the past administration had one champion, we have all 135 of our ambassadors.

There is still much to be improved upon in the field of human rights at home and abroad, and Canada is working continuously to promote positive change.

Foreign AffairsAdjournment Proceedings

6:25 p.m.


Garnett Genuis Conservative Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan, AB

Madam Speaker, I have four brief points in my one minute.

First, the parliamentary secretary made absolutely no effort to even approach my question about the safety of our diplomats. I hope she will correct that mistake in her response.

Second, she has not address the fact that this new office does not have an ambassador. It is not good enough to say that we have many ambassadors that work on a range of issues. It is critical to have a human rights champion who is providing that education and support.

Third, we do not disagree with the need for certain back channel forms of dialogue on issues that reflect our values and our interests. What we object to is giving something for nothing to a regime that is fundamentally wrong on human rights issues.

Fourth, I wish the parliamentary secretary would stop using the banal relativist language “regimes with which we disagree”. These are not regimes with which we disagree. Rather, they are regimes that are fundamentally wrong in their view of international human rights and basic human dignity.