Madam Speaker, I rise to add my voice to those who are speaking on Bill C-66.
I want to begin my comments by relating to the House the importance of this issue, in particular as it affects prairie grain producers who are often the victims of labour disruptions in the grain transportation system.
It is easy to become removed from the realities of how this actually affects people. We as members of Parliament have to be careful that we do not lose contact with the realities and the hardships that are imposed on innocent people when something totally beyond their control happens that affects their livelihood.
If it is something like a flood, such as we have seen on our television screens from time to time, the last one being in the United States, where somebody's home is washed away or their property is destroyed, we feel for them. We think that they did not deserve this. This should not have happened to them. They had no control over the weather. Oftentimes there is charity shown to these people and that is the way it should be. We acknowledge those who help others in times of need.
When it is something like a labour disruption which affects the livelihood of others in just as real a way as a flood that sweeps through someone's property and washes away their life's belong-
ings, we do not always have that same emotion. We do not recognize the seriousness of the situation.
There are thousands of farm families across the prairies whose livelihood is dependent on moving their grains to port for export. That is what pays the bills. That is what puts food on the table for many of my constituents in Kindersley-Lloydminster. That is what pays for the little things like buying that new dishwasher, or paying for music lessons, or perhaps buying that new piece of equipment that the farmer has been waiting so long for, for the money to actually make that purchase.
These are real decisions that real people have to make. It is very disheartening when one is trying to pay the bills and trying to get ahead, in particular if commodity prices are on the rebound as they were two or three years ago, and then one sees a labour disruption wipe out any potential for recouping losses of the past. It is pretty hard for a member of Parliament to go home and talk to people and say the House did not really care about the plight of these people. It was more interested in other issues like distinct society for Quebec or in their own MPs' pensions and so on and it was not particularly concerned that these strikes and lockouts keep reoccurring and very little over the past 30 or 40 years has been done to remedy the situation.
People who live in the agricultural community are used to taking risks. They understand that they are in a risky business. Their success is determined by the weather, by international markets. They recognize that they do not have total control over their future. But the problem of unsure markets because of transportation problems and disruptions in our transportation system is one added risk that is not required. That, added to the other risks which are unavoidable, is certainly a real problem.
To outline how serious the situation is, it was highlighted just a few weeks ago when we saw over 40 ships anchored in English Bay in Vancouver costing prairie farmers about $10,000 a day every day that they sat there waiting to take on their cargo of grain.
This problem in the grain handling system was not the result of a labour disruption but more often than not when these things do happen it is because of a labour disruption somewhere in the grain transportation system.
Whether it is a labour disruption, an equipment problem or a weather problem, of course the person who pays for the problem is the producer. In every instance the producer has had absolutely no control over the situation that has been thrust on them.
I want to recall a situation when I was first elected in 1993. It was actually in early 1994 when there was a labour disruption on the west coast. We brought the problem to the attention of the House. The minister at the time, currently the Minister of Foreign Affairs, said: "I think we can get this problem resolved". The minister of labour at the time said: "We think this is not going to be a serious problem. This lockout will pass. We trust that the two parties will come together and resolve their differences".
I do not know why the minister thought that. History tells us that is not the way these labour disruptions, these work stoppages are resolved. In fact, since 1972 six labour disputes related to the west coast ports were settled by federal back to work legislation. Two other labour disputes were settled by federal back to work legislation in 1988 and 1991. That is a total of eight disputes in less than 20 years, each one costing millions of dollars to producers.
We had two bills that we brought to this House, one in 1994 and one in 1995 that legislated workers back to work. I would contest that it is not the primary responsibility of this House to be bringing and introducing into this House back to work legislation on a regular basis.
Certainly we have the power to do that as legislators and we have done that. Members would think when we keep returning to this process time and time again that somebody somewhere would wake up and recognize that we are not solving the problem, that it seems to be getting worse.
It is a bit like raising children. If they do not deal with the difficult situation they are facing it is apt to repeat itself. People need to find some solutions if they are having problems, whether they be problems with a child's attitude or problems with a child's health.
If a problem does not go away, if it keeps repeating, they will go to a doctor or to someone who will offer some advice about how to correct the situation.
Here we have these recurring labour problems on the west coast. It is not necessarily the problem of labour all the time or management all the time. They probably both share equal responsibility for the problem.
Nevertheless, we keep blindly introducing back to work legislation, clean up the little mess and meanwhile there are millions of dollars lost to prairie producers. Then we go on our merry way, hoping that it does not reoccur.
Of course a few months later or the next year the situation does reoccur and we go back to the same debate. They will solve the problem. Government drags its feet. Finally the situation becomes intolerable and the government grudgingly brings in back to work legislation, has another debate, passes the bill and forces the workers or management to restart operations while the problem is resolved.
What happens in this case is that the two parties that disagree have no incentive to resolve their problems. They recognize that Parliament will do it for them. Therefore they are intransigent in
their positions. They fail to maximize the potential of the collective bargaining process.
If we were just talking about a trucking company, if we were just talking about a department store or if we were just talking about some other entity where there is a lot of competition, it would not matter so much if the two disputing parties could not resolve their problem and management locked out the workers or if the workers went on strike. That is fine because if we are talking about a trucking company there are 1,000 other trucking companies we could use. If we are talking about buying an automobile, if it is a major automobile manufacturer which has a work stoppage, there are other companies that we can buy our automobiles from.
The interesting thing on the prairies when there is a labour disruption on the west coast or through the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence seaway system is that it stops the flow of the lifeblood income for a major industry in Canada. That is why this situation is so serious. That is why it needs to be addressed with constructive and progressive legislation.
I am speaking about grain today because as the agriculture critic for the Reform Party it is my responsibility to represent the industry and the people who earn their livelihood from it. However, it would be the same for potash or coal. The large mining and forestry industries are affected in the same way. They also have a strong case to make in calling for adequate and uninterrupted service in getting their products to market.
If we take all the sectors together, millions of jobs and livelihoods are dependent on the efficient movement of product for export. Canada, after all, is an exporting country and when we do not export efficiently we suffer immensely on the domestic scene.
I talked about all the labour disruptions and that emergency legislation was brought into the House. Finally, the minister of labour at the time recognized that it was important to end this labour disruption and something had to be done. At that time I was House leader for the Reform Party. We got together and we agreed to speedily pass legislation through the House. The second time we introduced legislation when another labour problem reared its ugly head, there was not as much co-operation in the House. I believe the House had to sit over a weekend, including Sunday, to pass the legislation because not all parties in the House co-operated.
Emergency legislation is required when the government has waited too long to introduce legislation. There are the technicalities of trying to get the legislation through the House quickly, before further damage is done. That does not always happen. Sometimes some parties, the NDP or the Bloc Quebecois, do not co-operate. It could even be the Liberals. When in opposition they flip-flop on these types of issues. Nevertheless, the legislation is not guaranteed an easy ride through the House of Commons.
The disputing parties have no incentive to reach an agreement because they know that if they do not reach an agreement the House of Commons will legislate them back to work, at extra cost to taxpayers. Oftentimes the cost to the parties involved is less through back to work legislation than if they resolve their differences in a more constructive way.
Finally we did pass emergency legislation at a cost to the taxpayers. The taxpayers are the innocent third parties. The prairie economy lost millions of dollars. Basically nothing was resolved because the same situation could occur within months. It certainly will occur within a year or two.
What are we going to do about this? I have identified the problem. I believe my colleagues in the House would agree that it is a recurring problem. However, to identify a problem is not enough.
The government launched an inquiry. It is pretty good at holding inquiries. This inquiry was called the industrial inquiry on west coast ports. That inquiry was given a mandate and it held hearings, primarily in western Canada because its focus was on the west coast ports. The problem is not solely in the west coast port region. There are labour disputes right across the country which affect the movement of our products for export. However, the primary focus was on the west coast ports when the inquiry was commissioned by the new Minister of Labour, who retains that portfolio today.
Hearings were held and Reform was privileged to present a brief to the inquiry. In that brief we identified the costs of the 1994 west coast port labour dispute directly was over $125 million. The indirect costs which included lost future contracts was over $250 million. A figure given by the former minister of labour, the current Minister of Foreign Affairs, suggested that threatened grain sales was around $500 million. These were the potential costs of the 1994 west coast ports labour dispute.
The commission heard briefs from various parties, including Reform. Reform's position on the movement of grain since we first addressed the issue even before the 1993 election was that initially we had suggested that the movement of grain should be declared an essential service. We recognized the importance of the industry, the importance of moving the grain in a timely and efficient manner. As we spoke more with people across western Canada and across the entire nation, as we talked to the players in the industry and reviewed the situation, it became apparent there might even be a
better solution to the problem, the implementation of final offer arbitration.
Our member from Lethbridge introduced a private member's bill. It was debated in the House. It called for that resolution mechanism to be put in place to resolve labour management disputes that affect the movement of grain to port position. Unfortunately members opposite did not support that piece of legislation. I want to speak in defence of that concept with regard to Bill C-66 which unfortunately does not support the concept of final arbitration.
Reform believes in the collective bargaining process. It is a process whereby management and labour come together and try to resolve their differences and to agree on a new contract sitting down at the bargaining table. We respect and support the right of management and labour to follow that process.
Anything we have suggested in the way of final offer arbitration would not stifle or hinder the collective bargaining process from doing its thing, from undergoing its usual process. What would happen at the end of collective bargaining if it failed, and sometimes collective bargaining does fail, rather than seeing a lockout or a walkout, the two parties would get together and commit to a final offer arbitration process. Our legislation calls for the two parties to sit down and try to agree on an arbitrator and present that arbitrator as the person who would mediate their dispute. If they could not agree on someone then the powers in the legislation would be given to government to find a neutral arbitrator who would select the person who would be responsible to oversee the process.
Then the two parties would come before the arbitrator and would explain where they had reached an agreement or where they had failed to reach an agreement. In the areas where they had failed to reach an agreement each party would be invited to bring forward their best offer. Both parties, not having seen the other party's best offer, would then wait for a ruling by the arbitrator. The arbitrator would look at the two offers and see which one was the most reasonable based on the positions they both held, where they were able to agree and where they were not in agreement. It would therefore select all of one offer or all of the other.
It does not take a rocket scientist to recognize that this makes unreasonable negotiators become reasonable very quickly. If one side in the dispute were to put forward a very unreasonable position they would be at great risk because the other side may put forward a more reasonable position and they would therefore win the final offer selection arbitration process. They would come out on top in the process.
Instead of being unreasonable the two parties will attempt to be as reasonable as possible and have a slightly better offer than the offer proposed by the other side. That is quite a change in the dispute settlement mechanism. It is a very constructive change, I might add.
I know my time has almost expired. This is not some untested resolution mechanism. It has been used many times. In the government back to work legislation passed in 1994 the legislation implemented the process of final offer selection arbitration. That mechanism was legislated to solve the dispute.
If that is what the government imposed on the two parties, why not put it in Bill C-66 and nip the problem in the bud so that we do not have to keep on reviewing the issue, bringing in emergency legislation and perhaps even implementing final offer selection arbitration anyway?
It makes sense but unfortunately the Liberal government does not seem to be very interested in making sense. It seems to want to complicate everything as much as it can.
I remind the government that while the grain companies, the railroads, the shipping companies and the customers will continue and probably survive for quite some time, it is the farm families and the millions of people who make their livelihood from Canadian exports who will not be able to live up to the standard they should be able to live up to in Canada. Simply because the labour dispute settlement mechanism is antiquated they will not be able to provide their kids with some of the basic pleasures and privileges of life most Canadians enjoy.
I bring the matter to the attention of the House. I ask the government to hear what we are saying and to fix the problem rather than to continue in this makeshift, Mickey Mouse, haywire manner that has been followed for the past number of years.