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the NDP's amendment, and while I respect his commitment, I am saddened by his party's continued insistence upon outdated economic theory that sacrifices actual and practical considerations.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.