Madam Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Calgary Midnapore.
I would like to acknowledge today as the National Day of Mourning, a day we honour the memory of workers who have been killed, injured or suffered illness as a result of workplace incidents.
As I rise today to speak to Bill C-29, I am once again hit with an unwelcome feeling of déjà vu. There have been empty words and empty promises, and now empty railcars and empty trucks are leaving the Port of Montreal. I feel an unsettling realization that we have been here many times before with the current government. The government delays, gets pressed up against the timeline and then things are a rush and a crisis. Once again, our supply chains are at a standstill, and importers, exporters and workers are once again faced with uncertainty.
When activist-led rail blockades brought transportation networks to a standstill early in 2020, the government sat idly by. We heard it took an average of four days to just catch up for every day our transportation networks were down, and the cost to our economy was in the hundreds of millions of dollars. We heard concerns from businesses and workers about getting essential goods across the country, concerns that are especially relevant now, during the pandemic. Farmers cannot wait for seed or for fertilizer.
If the government chose not to take the situation at the Port of Montreal seriously when it first started over two years ago, it should have adjusted course last year when a strike lasting 19 days took place. This strike resulted in $600 million in losses for our exporters and wholesalers, and left workers with a lot of uncertainty. This should have been a wake-up call to the government to take meaningful actions to provide professional assistance to help the parties come to an acceptable agreement.
In March 2021, a German international shipping and container transportation company said in an email to customers that it expects “terminal performance in the port will be severely impacted”. This was based on just the potential risk of a shutdown.
In an article in March 2021, in Automotive News Canada, Brian Kingston, head of the Canadian Vehicle Manufacturers’ Association, is quoted as saying, “The situation in Montreal is deeply concerning.” He further went on to say, “We just came out of a massive economic downturn and having a critical piece of our transportation network shut down will not help the Canadian economy recover”.
On April 5, Pulse Canada sent a letter to the Minister of Labour urging immediate action. In the letter, they note that they had been advocating since February for the government to take “every approach necessary to mediate a negotiated agreement” and that “it was imperative to avoid a labour disruption that would damage [our industry], our international reputation, and the wider Canadian economy.” The letter further outlined how, even then, the industry was experiencing significant damages with customers asking them to avoid the port at all costs. The letter notes that these costs can be as high as $1,600 per container to utilize another port, not to mention costs associated with the logistics of such an endeavour. Avoiding the port means not only disruptions, but less work and potentially permanent job losses.
The Port of Montreal is essential for Montreal, Quebec and Canada.
This port is the second-largest in the country and is responsible for approximately 19,000 direct and indirect jobs. The roughly 40 million tonnes of cargo that passes through every year, which represents billions in economic activity, travels across the entire country, including to my home province of British Columbia and into my community of Kelowna—Lake Country.
What is troubling is that the concerns I mentioned above are not the first time Canada’s trade reliability has been called into recent question. I have heard this from numerous stakeholders, with the uncertainty of jobs and investment on the line, but after the government's track record, it is clear to see why.
Trade, like so many other important things, seems to be continually an afterthought for the current government. It is truly unfortunate, and it does businesses and workers across the country a serious disservice. With one in five jobs in Canada dependent on trade and nearly a third of our GDP relying on our exports, the government needs to do more. However, as we saw in the recent budget, there was little importance placed on trade, instead of working to secure our future.
We see time and again how little importance the Liberal government places on ensuring exports can get to market. We saw this with the rushing of the CUSMA legislation, and the recent example of the Canada-U.K. trade continuity agreement. The U.K. is our fifth-largest trading partner and third-largest export market. Implementing that agreement was critical to businesses and workers across Canada who rely on trade with the United Kingdom.
The government had years to get a new trade agreement signed with the U.K. after the U.K. had voted to leave the European Union, which meant that the terms of the existing CETA agreement would no longer apply. What did the Liberals do? They did not lead. They mismanaged the file, and even left it to the eleventh hour to introduce legislation.
This failure was embarrassing and caused needless and avoidable uncertainty. The Liberals left it to the last week of the last month of the last year to table the legislation. This led to missing the deadline and having to sign a memorandum of understanding. The memorandum was about to expire with no plans by the government to put it on its legislative agenda. Therefore, Conservatives showed leadership and sought unanimous consent, which we received, in order to move the legislation along so that our Canadian businesses and workers were not again left with uncertainty.
Government actions, or inactions, have once again led to uncertainty. The Minister of Labour, who is responsible for employees at the Port of Montreal, made unfortunate comments suggesting the government may bring forth back-to-work legislation should a resolution not be reached, and here we are now. We have heard that these comments took the wind right out of the sails of the negotiating position of the workers in the Port of Montreal.
Instead of making legislative threats, the government should have been actively involved in the negotiations and doing everything possible to secure an agreement and create certainty and stability. We heard from the minister that government representatives attended many meetings. It does not matter how many meetings are attended; what matters is results.
The union representing the workers called the minister’s comments “an affront to all workers in the country.” Marc Ranger, the Quebec director of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, stated, “Fundamental rights are being denied. This is shameful for a government that calls itself a defender of the middle class.”
As much as it pains me to say it, there is a clear pattern here. What is definitely noticeable is that the certainty of business is so important. It is very important for the free flow of goods to be maintained.
We find ourselves in another avoidable situation caused solely by the government's complete and continuous mismanagement of its files. Right now, at a time of so much uncertainty, we know that businesses and workers need predictability. We need to give certainty and predictability at a time when, over a year into this pandemic, there is still so much uncertainty.
While the pandemic is still occurring, businesses are still in jeopardy and are still really hurting across the country. This ultimately leads to layoffs. Farmers cannot wait. Other businesses cannot wait. Workers cannot wait. With one of the worst records on unemployment in the G7, we need to do all we can to keep our current levels of trade, our businesses viable, and workers employed. It is of utmost importance that the free flow of goods is maintained.
Whole provinces are locked down due to this third wave of COVID-19, due to poor decisions and mismanagement of the pandemic over the past year, including on vaccine procurement. Businesses and families are struggling. Costs are going up. Importers and exporters are having to make tough decisions due to uncertainty. Food security is at risk without a dependable and reliable transportation and supply chain system. We have heard that medical supplies are at risk being distributed.
Unlike other countries that are well into recovery, Canada is still full-on dealing with an economic and health crisis. Parliamentarians now have this difficult situation today, having to look at back-to-work legislation because of the government’s failure to facilitate an agreement between the parties.