Mr. Speaker, I wish to inform you that I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Joliette.
I sit here and wonder what we are doing here tonight. Why exactly are we here, when the Prime Minister has had all day to do what needs to be done?
Despite the late hour, the Bloc Québécois will not give up, nor will I, when faced with the absolute necessity of denouncing the government's intention to pass special legislation forcing workers back to work at the Port of Montreal.
Binding back-to-work legislation is an affront, but binding back-to-work legislation passed under a gag order is a double affront.
As our leader, the member for Beloeil—Chambly, clearly stated earlier today, there is a way out. A fair outcome under the circumstances is not only desirable, it is within reach for the Prime Minister. He still has a few hours left.
Through its many interventions, the Bloc Québécois has laid out all the pieces of the puzzle next to each other. The Prime Minister has to set his misplaced ego aside and simply put the pieces together. He spent time addressing the economic problems stemming from the strained labour relations at the Port of Montreal. He addressed it through special legislation that should only be used as a last resort, but it is not too late to do the right thing. The Prime Minister still has a few hours to act like a head of state and live up to his responsibilities.
The indecency of introducing such a bill speaks to a number of things, starting with the fact that an equitable alternative solution is within reach. It should be noted that the right to strike is recognized, protected by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, by the Constitution and reiterated by the Supreme Court.
Imposing special legislation is completely unacceptable. Our leader confirmed this morning that the union had clearly stated in writing that the employees would go back to work tomorrow if management retracts its unilateral change to workers' schedules.
Earlier today, in question period, it was no surprise that the Prime Minister refused to confirm that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Labour had stated in writing that the unilateral change made by the employer on April 9 to the 2013 collective agreement would be prohibited by the provisions of the special legislation. It leads us to wonder whether this amendment would be allowed under the provisions of the labour code.
Would it not be easy to pick up the telephone, call the employer and ask it to back down on the unilateral change? It is even more necessary given that the union has agreed to return to work in a few hours, tomorrow morning, and to continue bargaining if the Montreal port authority agrees to reverse the unilateral measure imposed on April 9. Why not do this? Why is the Prime Minister not upset with the employer's action taken on April 9, but is upset with the workers' action? After all, unilaterally changing working conditions, namely the scheduling, during bargaining is just not done.
Every day that the Prime Minister's pride prevails costs the Quebec economy up to $25 million. It took some nerve to say earlier today, in question period, that the mediation and arbitration process would be impartial. Really now.
I am saying this because the union asked the employer about what it made of the statement by the member for Mount Royal. The union told the employer that it understood that unilateral changes to scheduling could not be made under special legislation and told it what this means in light of the labour code provisions. The employer answered that it would reply after the special legislation was passed. Who really believes that it will be impartial and neutral? We should not be taken for fools.
The government's actions confirm that it is condoning the employer's strategy, which is to leave the bargaining table. It leads us to believe that strings were already being pulled in advance. The Government of Quebec wants the 1,500 Port of Montreal workers to go back to work. Quebec regions and many of the province's economic stakeholders want the dispute to be resolved. For their part, workers want to work. They do not want to be on strike.
The union understands what is at stake with the economy and the impact labour disputes can have. To claim otherwise is to show contempt for the labour movement and for all unionized workers, regardless of what field they are in.
Every member who is still here at this late hour tonight needs to understand that many hours of precious time have slipped by since Michel Murray explained that work would resume if the employer would go back on its unilateral change to work schedules. A few hours have already been wasted.
The federal government's actions, decisions and approaches do not support the legal framework surrounding labour law. Bill C-29 destroys that framework. The right to negotiate and the right to strike are linked. The right to strike is inherent to the right to negotiate because, without the threat of a strike, there is sometimes no power to negotiate and no way to come to an agreement. These are fundamental rights recognized in the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the fundamental conventions of the International Labour Organization, the Canadian Constitution and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
This special legislation is a back-to-work bill. By choosing to take this approach to the current dispute, the government is turning a blind eye to the very principle of those rights. According to the Canadian Union of Public Employees, this special legislation is basically an affront to all Canadian workers. I would like to add that we are right to be concerned about this legislation being imposed, because a clear solution was identified to get employees back to work as of tomorrow without compromising the negotiation process.
The points of negotiation do not need to be analyzed and dissected here by me, the Prime Minister or the government. What is worrisome is how recklessly the Prime Minister is using this process to force the hand of the parties in question. The demands of the union are not excessive or unreasonable. My colleagues have talked about them.
In the column he wrote in Le Devoir in August 2020, Professor Soares aptly contrasts the human needs that employees are seeking to fulfill, such as work-life balance through more predictable schedules, with the employer's desire to maintain the status quo. Workers' rights were won one step at a time by people who had the courage to stand up and demand that their rights be respected, that they be able to live and work safely and in dignity. The labour movement was built one gain at a time, and these gains were hard won from the government and the most powerful players in the world.
The Prime Minister claims to believe in bargaining. He claims to have exhausted all options. However, he has absolutely no problem violating workers' rights and making the choice to support an employer that unilaterally made changes to a collective agreement. The agreement may have been expired, but it is still in force during the negotiation period. He should be relieved that our leader, the member for Beloeil—Chambly, has been willing to co-operate and work diligently on this issue these past 24 hours.
If the Prime Minister is so worried about Quebec's economy, about Quebec's workers, about their rights, about the principles of bargaining and all that, why is he not being fair and responsible? Why is he not acting like the leader of a country?
Let us recap: Was he concerned about Quebec farmers in 2019, when the Premier of Quebec, the Union des producteurs agricoles and others were asking for special legislation during the conflict between Canadian National and the Teamsters union? With regard to the urgent need to supply propane to the farmers and ranchers of Quebec, what answer did he give?
The Minister of Transportation at the time said the government was convinced that the best and fastest way to resolve the issue was for both sides to continue to negotiate collectively, and that it was prepared to help. That is what needs to be done.
The present case has to do with an employer that just got what it wanted handed to it on a silver platter. When working men and women exercise their right to strike, they do not do so for pleasure. They do not like to strike. The right to strike is not some walk in the park that can be taken away at the whim of elected officials with special legislation.
So much for a progressive party and a progressive Prime Minister. With its approach, the government is sending a clear message to unionized workers in Canada: their right to strike, which is their main pressure tactic when negotiations grind to a halt and which is protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, has just been voluntarily eroded by the state.