Mr. Speaker, I am quite appalled by what I see here this afternoon. We have the Liberal Party and the Bloc Québécois helping the Conservative government do something that we know is not in the interest of Canadians. We know full well that this is not in the interest of Canadians because they are telling us that they are increasingly concerned about the escalating accident rate, the loss of life, communities devastated and environments destroyed. CN has refused to treat any of those safety issues.
Now, after the employees are crying out to Parliament to take action so they can start addressing these safety issues, we have Bill
What does Bill do? It allows the government to hand over a blank cheque to the CN management to impose whatever final agreement it wants to see. The government will be given, through final offer selection, the right to appoint the person who will impose this settlement. Employees at CN have been trying desperately to have members of Parliament from the four corners of the House recognize the safety issues that have arisen over the last few years and that have reached a critical point in the last few months. Instead they are completely forgotten.
The government has the right through this legislation to impose whatever situation CN decides to put forward. There is no arbitration. There is no negotiation. There is an imposition by American management in the United States on what conditions the railway will function under.
It is absolutely appalling that any party would try to impose safety standards through CN management. What is most appalling is earlier today we saw the Liberals and the Bloc Québécois support closure so we cannot have a full debate on this issue and we cannot have a full addressing of the issue of safety, even though we have seen problems across the country. Instead we are simply going to hand over a blank cheque to CN management in the United States to decide what the future of our rail system for CN is going to be.
What has it done so far? We are giving these rights to CN management to decide on safety issues. That is the major point of contention. Employees have not hidden that. They have been raising this concern for months and months and years. Over the last five years we have seen a rapid escalation in the number of accidents, derailments, collisions, fires and explosions. Over the past five years they have escalated at CN.
The former Liberal government did very little. The Conservative government has done nothing to address this issue of safety. Instead of addressing it, instead of having the sit down with the and work out some way of addressing these legitimate concerns raised by employees, we have Bill being imposed with the support, as they say the accomplices, of the Liberal members and the Bloc members.
What happened earlier this year? After we had seen this rapid escalation over the past five years, we saw a spike up, a doubling, of main track train derailments since January 2007. What does that mean?
Let us look at some of the examples over the last few weeks. On January 4, CN rail engine crew had to be rescued from B.C.'s Fraser Canyon after a locomotive plunged down an embankment. On January 8, 24 cars of a 122 car freight train derailed in Montmagny, Quebec, about 60 kilometres east of Quebec City. On March 1, a CN freight train was derailed in Pickering, which disrupted train service on the Toronto-Montreal-Ottawa corridor and disrupted commuter rail service in the Toronto area. On March 4, grain was spilled near Blue River, B.C. On March 10, train traffic along Canadian National's main freight line through central New Brunswick was disrupted by a 17 car derailment.
We are seeing derailments across the country. What we have had from CN management is utter contempt for Canadians. It is not addressing it at all.
The employees have implored us through their actions to say that the government needs to take action. Safety issues are the number one concern. Instead of addressing any of those safety issues, we have the handing over a blank cheque to CN management.
It is not just the employees, and Canadians generally, who should be concerned about this. We know that shippers are facing, increasingly, these roadblocks and obstacles. Because successive governments, Liberal and Conservative, did not take action on safety and on these derailments, we are seeing a permanent state of uncertainty in our rail transport system where we know any day there are three to four major accidents, any one of which can shut down rail service.
To say that we are helping shippers by ramming through this draconian legislation, with the support of the Liberals and the Bloc Québécois, rather than addressing the fundamental safety issues that the employees have said are their chief concern is ludicrous. We have seen shippers shut down as a result of these various accidents, collisions, derailments, fires, explosions, and the government has taken no action at all.
This leads to the question: Why has the government not taken action? Why did the government not, months ago, start to address safety concerns?
It is throwing its weight around now, imposing a situation where CN management decides how safe the system will be based on how many executive bonuses it wants to pay and what it wants the profits to be for CN in the United States. There has been absolutely no consideration given to Canadians, not even to shippers, who have been complaining about the increasing number of derailments, who have been complaining about the increasing concerns that parts of our rail system is being shut down because CN has not been treating safety as a major concern.
There was one thing the government did, and that was to actually do a safety audit at CN Rail. After prompting and pushing from the NDP, it was finally released. Let us just read some of the conclusions of that audit. This is an audit that was conducted in 2005 and it was held onto by both Liberals and Conservatives.
The two-phase audit revealed problems with both targeted safety inspections and with CN safety management practices.
Investigators found a number of safety defects in CN's equipment, defects that could cause derailment, personal injury or property/environment damage.
Auditors found a significantly high rate of safety defects on the locomotives they inspected, with problems ranging from brake gear defects to too much oil accumulated on locomotives and fuel tanks.
The audit recorded a number of different system and brake gear defects and defects with the cars themselves, including 27 occurrences of an unsecured plug-type door.
The audit also found more than a third of the locomotives inspected violated parts of the Labour Code regarding trains. Problems included: out-of-date fire extinguishers, incomplete first aid kits, and missing protective covers on electrical equipment.
The report also found that many front line employees say they felt pressured to get the job done. It said current practices allowed locomotives with safety defects to continue in service.
The audit revealed in part, and commented, the view of many employees and front line supervisors who reported that they felt pressured in regard to productivity workload and fear of discipline to get the job done, compromising safe railway operations.
We have an escalating accident rate, collisions, derailments, fires and explosions. We have concerns raised by employees about the lack of safety standards and the government's only action, rather than addressing that, was to hide a report for a year until the CBC pressed for a release and the NDP pressed for a release. And then, instead of dealing with any of those safety issues, the government brings in this draconian legislation to help CN management in the United States decide what the rail system is going to be like even though we know that escalating rate hurts shippers and hurts people across this country. The escalating rate of railway accidents means that parts of the system are shut down virtually every week.
We would have a permanent state of uncertainty in our railway system if this bill were to pass. Rather than addressing the safety issues, rather than acting responsibly, this government acts absolutely irresponsibly. Whether it is a wheat farmer on the Prairies or whether it is a company in Ontario, what this would mean if we were to allow CN management to impose its low safety standards on Canadians is a permanent state of uncertainty in our railway system.
Mr. Gordon Rhodes, who is a long time locomotive engineer, the only survivor of one of the most egregious recent accidents where two CN employees were killed due to CN's poor safety management practices, was at the transport committee yesterday. Here is some of what he said about safety management in his testimony, which is the first of what we certainly hope will be many opportunities to inquire into the low safety standards that we are seeing with CN.
Mr. Rhodes said:
--I can speak about the fact that from my experience working for CN when it was Canadian-owned and my experience working for BC Rail, and now we've gone to CN again which is American-owned, the contrast is immense...When you opened up your rules books, when you opened up your timecards, safety was number one when it was Canadian-owned.
Now it is not. He talked about the lack of proper enforcement:
I think that Transport Canada has dropped the ball and I'm not pointing fingers at individuals, it's the system.
He is referring to a system that has been put in place of course by the Liberals and continued by the Conservatives.
He went on in his testimony:
How does a bridge fall down with a train on it? Sorry, I'm emotional as I've been part of something very awful. I've witnessed two of my friends die right in front of me. Why? Because people don't want to hear the truth. People are afraid to talk about the truth because the truth is going to cost money.
Mr. Rhodes, in his testimony yesterday at the transport committee, went on to say:
I'm not American, I'm Canadian and I used to be proud to call my company Canadian National Railroad back in the 1980s. Now I'm not even allowed to. I'm supposed to say CNR. What's this?
Referring to the American management, he said: “They're telling us how they're going to run things”. In referring to government and to members of Parliament around that table at transport committee, he said: “I think it's time you guys tell them how it's going to be run”.
That is part of the message from Mr. Rhodes, the only survivor of one of the many accidents that CN has had, an escalating accident rate over the last few years. These problems were identified through the safety audit and identified by the employees who have, in a real sense, said to parliamentarians, “You have to help us with this. Communities are being devastated. Environments are being destroyed. Lives are being lost. You as parliamentarians have to help us with this”.
Instead, in three corners of the House, we are seeing three parties, the Conservatives, the Liberals and the Bloc, saying to employees that they do not care about that, that they are not going to address any of those safety issues. They do not care about the communities that are devastated. They certainly do not care about the shipping problems that happen as a result of the devastation of these derailments, collisions, fires and explosions. They are not going to address any of those issues.
They are going to toss the entire weight of the government behind a plan to simply hand a blank cheque to CN management to decide really what it wants to have as a railway. They are not going to impose any standards. They are going to impose a piece of legislation that allows CN management to keep its big executive bonuses and decide what the future of the rail system is going to be.
I certainly hope that every single member of this House reads Mr. Rhodes' testimony before they vote on this draconian legislation brought in by the Conservatives. He speaks to what should be important to every member of Parliament here: the safety and the continuation of our rail system, and not allowing CN management to decide what the rail system is going to look like. He said:
CN has gone in the opposite direction and they're very adversarial. I call it the poisoned work environment because that's what it is. Nobody wants to go to work there. Everybody's counting the days, the months and years, till they're gone, they're out of there, and that's not the way it was, and that's not the way it was at B.C. Rail. [...]
The way I look at it is this: CN is a big multinational corporation. Their railway goes from Mexico to Canada. They have amalgamated many or absorbed, and I don't know the proper terminology, but they've bought many railways and they've absorbed them into their system. They're experts at doing that. The problem here is that they absorbed one railway that they had no expertise on. They thought they did, but they don't. Their arrogance is what happened in the sense that they came in, they took our GOI, General Operating Instructions, with 50-some years probably of railroad knowledge of how to run trains on that track, but you're going to do it our way because we want it all homogenized. We all want it one way and that's it. They didn't listen to anybody, they just ploughed ahead with their system.
Their system, as we know, was running railcars and locomotives that were appropriate for the Prairies and the mountains of British Columbia, with the loss of life that resulted from that foolish managerial move, foolish, shortsighted, irresponsible and reckless. That is, indeed, the company to which the Conservative government wants to provide a blank cheque.
It is saying, “Sure, you have been reckless and irresponsible, you have disregarded safety standards, but here is a blank cheque. You decide whatever you want. The sky is the limit. We are going to impose it on the employees of CN. We are not going to listen to their safety concerns. We are not going to listen to the concerns of Canadians from coast to coast, no, sir. We are simply going to allow you, as CN managers, to keep your executive bonuses and American managers can impose whatever solution they think is appropriate”.
Mr. Rhodes talked about the difference between the United States and Canada. He said, for example, that in the United States there is no requirement yet to have a safety alerter on the head end of the train for the engine man, a dead man's switch. In the United States there was no requirement for the SBU, which is the replacement for the caboose.
Transport Canada insisted there be an emergency release feature, which means that as an engine man I can release the air brakes, set up the brakes from the tail end, release the air out of the train and the brakes will all be set up. In the United States that is not required because it is an extra $1,000 a unit. Six men died back in the 1990s in the United States because of this.
Mr. Rhodes said it was not better in the United States than here. The safety standards were better here. Of course, our system is eroding and declining. That is exactly why we have had this very clear direction from employees of CN to start addressing these safety issues. Instead of addressing any of these safety issues, we have the draconian legislation being brought forward today.
CN employees are imploring us to look at the safety issues. Communities in the Fraser Canyon, Montmagny in Quebec and across this country are saying safety has to be put back on the agenda. The employees had only one way to do this and that is by pushing the collective bargaining process to start bringing the safety standards back up to what Canadians want to see.
Instead of the government in any way being responsible by looking at the bigger picture and saying that CN has been irresponsible and that it is going to address the safety concerns because it knows those are the chief problems and if addressed we know that there will be an agreement, instead of doing any of that, we have what we have before us today, Bill . Bill C-46 imposes whatever CN wants on the employees. With final offer selection, it is simply giving a blank cheque to impose whatever lack of safety standards it prefers to see, a blank cheque which is completely and utterly irresponsible.
It begs the question: why did the Bloc Québécois support this entire process of a forced return to work? We know very well that the people of Montmagny, Quebec were seriously affected by the company’s lack of safety measures. We know very well that CN’s employees have been deeply affected by what the CN managers did.
The Bloc preferred to support the Conservative government and be its accomplice. It is clear, now, that this bill will be imposed, likely because of this action, this support, this complicity on the part of the Bloc and the Liberal Party.
To conclude, the chair of CN in the United States receives over $1 million a week in salary. Canadians deserve much better than Bill . They deserve to have Parliament listen to them.
Mr. Speaker, I thank all hon. members for clarifying the issues. The issues are divided into two parts. One, of course, is the safety issue, which has nothing to do with the bill but we will address it and I want to address it, especially because it was raised by my colleague on the committee. The other one, of course, is the economic package. The economic package is subdivided into two parts: one that deals with the specific situation, and that is CN workers and CN itself; and the other one is the implications of that economic package on the rest of the economy.
Since my hon. colleague from Burnaby—New Westminster wanted to address the issue of whether or not shippers would agree, I have a list of about 20 of them who approached me in my office about what we ought to do. While we have a labour relations situation, negotiations have been collapsing with CN and their workers. I will not comment on why negotiations have collapsed but they have collapsed.
Now we have the Grain Growers of Canada, which employs some 70,000 people, and all their members have asked for a resumption of service. Otherwise, those 70,000 employees will be put at great disadvantage and may be out of a job.
For example, Canfor Pulp and Paper, which is in my colleague's province, would employ some 7,300 people and about another 2,200 independent contractors. It will be completely out of business if it does not get access to the service that CN is supposed to provide. I will say more on that in a moment.
Millar Western Forest Products Limited, with a mere 275 employees, which is not as important as the 2,800 at CN, but its employees have families that they too must support.
For example, Maple Leaf Foods has come forward and said that this collective agreement is not just about CN and its employees, that it is about its workers as well. Some 24,000 families depend on each and every one of its workers and if this collective agreement is of import to the people at CN and its workers, then it is important, as my colleague said, to everybody else that works for Maple Leaf Foods.
Let us talk about the Forest Products Association, 20 associated members around the country, many of whom rely exclusively on CN to get their product to market. They came forward and said that they need that service. They said that they cannot be held hostage by the differences between the management and the employees of CN. They demanded that the Government of Canada, which included all the parliamentarians, the Parliament of Canada, come forward and take care of Canada's collective interests which includes all of them.
The Canadian Wheat Board is not next door to my riding but it claims to represent some 65,000 to 70,000 growers, farmers and their families. It cannot get its product to market because CN employers and CN employees cannot come to an agreement. What does the Wheat Board do? It turns to the Parliament of Canada, to the Government of Canada and asks that we get those people back to work and that we have them find a solution that is consistent with the best interests of all Canadians.
If we are talking about shippers, about other employees or about other employers who are dependent on this service, then we need to keep those people in mind as well. We should keep in mind, for example, the Western Canadian Shippers Coalition, a coalition just in western Canada that has 280,000 people who depend on the activity of all of those shippers. It is saying that if we cannot get that service that it will not be able to provide work for its people.
What do we tell all of those families? Do we tell them that we will not be involved or do we tell them some airy fairy story about the way that relationships are going? We are in fact saying, and this is a collective “we” in this instance, that there are various ways to achieve a negotiated settlement, one being final offer selection because they have not been able to reach a decision on their own.
A final offer selection means that one side gives us its best and the other side gives its best and our arbitrator will pick the one that he or she considers to be the most appropriate.
Will it necessarily mean that it is going to be appropriate to choose the union model or the management model? We do not know. They have not been presented yet. I think it is a little bit of a red herring to talk about the salary of the CEO of Canadian National, because of course everybody is offended when they hear that somebody is making $56 million. I do not think there is a parliamentarian here who makes more than $150,000, other than cabinet ministers. I do not want to begrudge anyone what they earn, but it does not come close to $56 million.
Does the man deserve it? Does he merit it? I do not know, but that is not the issue. The issue is whether we will allow all these hundreds of thousands of people who work in the economy of Canada and other industries the opportunity to continue to work as a result of the solving of a problem that is resident in Canadian National and its employees' union.
What caused that collapse? I really do not know. I know that they have turned down a series of offers as they have gone through this. I think every parliamentarian understands that when parties get into negotiations there are some things upon which they can agree and some things upon which they do not agree, and when there is a final decision and they vote, they turn it down.
My colleagues in the NDP are constantly speaking about the auto industry. By the way, as a little bit of an aside, I was pleased to be the minister responsible for putting together a $500 million auto package. It was the very first time in 20 years that the Canadian government entered into an agreement to ensure that there was an investment with the auto industry to keep jobs in Canada. It was worth $500 million and it tied the province of Ontario to doing a similar investment, so that was $1 billion.
Therefore, I am putting that forward because I think that makes me perfectly qualified to be able to talk about, for example, the Ford Motor Company. It came forward and said on February 23 that it had already had to shut down its car plant because of the strike at Canadian National and it could not continue to delay parts shipments across the boarder.
It asked us what we wanted it to do. Did we want it to tell its head office that it could locate assembly plants south of the border because it could get access to the parts and to the final product? Or did we want to ask the government to make sure that everybody addresses their labour issues in a fashion that is consistent not only with their personal interest, legitimate as it may be, but with the interests of all Canadians?
I am really quite surprised that the Conservative government has actually finally moved on this.
Mr. Speaker, I know that might offend you, but it is nothing personal.
We wish that we had not come to this and that the government had given an indication much earlier. To its credit, the government did that about four weeks ago, and so here we are, but the macroeconomic indicators are the ones that we have to deal with. The mining industry, the forestry industry, the automotive industry, the chemical sectors and the farming industry all predict slowdowns and closings if their rail service is not restored. We need to have it restored. It must be restored.
As an example and only as an example, in eastern Canada industries rely almost exclusively on CN for any rail service to access their market. Their only other choice, of course, is trucking.
I have already given the House a list of the people in western Canada who say they cannot get their goods and products to market unless CN comes back to deliver that service. In an environment where there is a shortage of some 30,000 long haul truck drivers in this country, eligible, qualified and capable truck drivers, they do not have another option. If we want to get our products to market, we need to have that service continued.
If we want to guarantee the jobs to Canadians everywhere in this country we need to make sure that service is provided. For a party, and it does not matter whether it is on the left or right of a spectrum, or whether it is sane or insane, to suggest that the rest of the country can be held hostage by one particular company and its employees is absolutely shameful.
It is equally shameful to expect that a company can get people at the last minute, whether they are management or not, to fill the jobs of qualified employees and provide a service that is safe. It is unconscionable. We are not talking about people moving checkers across a checkerboard. We are talking about employees who must have training that is absolutely and completely perfect to ensure the safety of both people and product. We are not getting that now.
That is why earlier on in the day I had a reluctant compliment for my colleague, the , because he at least tried to approach this in a dispassionate fashion. He wanted to deal with this on the labour side. I said that was fine.
We in the Liberal Party believe in negotiated settlements. We believe in negotiation, in the collective bargaining system, but we also believe in responsibility. If this represents a responsible approach, and we are not predicting which side of the final offer solution the arbitrator is going to come to, what we do need is something to go forward. That is what has happened. We have started to talk about safety issues and infrastructure. Transportation infrastructure has been absolutely crucial to the building of this country.
Mr. Speaker, I know you are always attentive on history lessons. I am not going to begin one, but if it were not for transportation issues and the way they have been addressed by governments in the past, including my own government of the past, we would not have had the building of this country. The new government is fond of saying that for 13 years the Liberals did not do anything while it has done everything in the last 13 months. It appears that it has not done anything in 13 months. In fact, we are now up to this situation.
I know that my colleague from Burnaby says CN has three accidents per day. I think the actual figures are that every third day there is an accident on a primary line, and it is not something that is acceptable. Is this part of the collective agreement and the collapse of the collective agreement? While it may be part of the negotiations, those were not the ones that I heard were voted down.
We should be talking about the who is not even in the discussions about what to do to maintain the viability of our transportation infrastructure in this country.
When I gave an indication a moment ago about eastern Canada's almost complete reliance on CN and its system, I could have said the same thing about many other parts of Canada. For instance, B.C. Rail was bought out by CN and now we have the predominance of CN in that particular market as well.
If we cannot ensure that the rail infrastructure provides a competitive and efficient system of delivery for all of our shippers, then we are putting the jobs of hundreds of thousands of Canadians in jeopardy. There are 320 communities around the country that rely almost exclusively on the industries that are dependent on Canadian National for delivery of product to market.
So when the NDP asks what we would do when those communities are in jeopardy, there is only one thing that we on the Liberal side can say and do. Every one of those 320 communities and every one of the families in those communities is as valid and as viable a Canadian as any other. We have a commitment and a legal obligation as parliamentarians to ensure that the lifeblood of a thriving economy is part and parcel of their lives as well.
I do not want to address the standard of living and quality of life issues. I am just talking about actually having a job to go to so that people can make decisions on a daily basis about how to care for their families, how to keep their communities growing, and how to keep that bond, the glue, that makes Canadians Canadian, that makes Canada a viable entity and a country that is first in the world.
When we talk about infrastructure and transportation, we also need to address the issues that, to the credit of some members, have been raised here, and yes, they have to do with safety.
It is absolutely shameful that the has over the course of the last several months completely ignored the exhortations of members of the committee to appear before the committee and address the safety issues, especially as they relate to CN. They have nothing to do with the collective bargaining process that has been ongoing for several months, but they have everything to do with the responsibility of good government and management on the government side for a minister who is responsible for the maintenance of the infrastructure and who is absolutely responsible, legally responsible, for the safety of rail travel in this country.
Those committee members and I, as a member of that committee, have been demanding that he appear and address those issues. In fact, colleagues on both sides of this House will recall that I raised this issue in debate about a month and a half ago.
As for the person who responded when I said that we have been looking for the audit on CN, which was conducted by the government, to be made public and to be made available to the committee for study, and which a national television program aired, that person said the minister could not and would not give it because the company, CN, forbade him to.
It is absolutely ludicrous. Let us imagine that a minister of the Crown puts forward moneys and a mandate for an inquiry and then will not release it because the company that is under investigation says no, he cannot do it. I asked the company why it was putting this constraint on the minister and it said it was not.
I raised it in the House. Not the but the leaned forward and, to paraphrase, said, “The hon. member is the first one who has raised this. Why does he not ask the ?”
Two days later, the report appeared on the website. It is available for everybody. Here is what it said. After that first inquiry, which was available to the minister in spring of last year in draft format, transport officials sat down with CN officials and they went through a list of incidents, accidents and contraventions of the code and asked what CN was going to do to change that. CN committed to a series of changes.
Six months later, there was an audit to see the extent to which CN had complied with that report to which it had signed off. The minister refused to release that audit. I did not see the NDP ask for it.
We got it. If people were to read that audit today, they would see damning evidence that CN management has created a climate, a culture, of non-compliance with the agreement that it had already struck.
So if my hon. colleague wants to address an issue of collective bargaining in that context, let us do it and let us put the on the carpet, but let us leave this issue for what it is. It is a collective bargaining situation that has enormous impact on the rest of Canada and which we need to ensure gets resolved so that the millions of Canadians who are dependent on this agreement, whenever it is struck, can continue with their lives.
Let us not forget as well that the Parliament of Canada and the Government of Canada are not imposing a solution on either side. Through its arbitrator CN will pick the better of the two offers when they are put forward. We have a right and an obligation to ensure that process continues while the benefit to the commonwealth of all Canadians is taken care of.
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak to this very important issue. It speaks to a number of areas of vital importance for Canadians.
At the outset, I was quite surprised to hear the Liberal Party say that the CEO of CN made $56 million a year. That is completely irrelevant to this discussion. In fact, it cheapens the debate to talk about how much is made at the top. What it signals clearly is how much is being paid out in dividends and how much people are making off the CN line, while the issue of safety is relegated to one of those dead-end tracks. For New Democrats to talk about this incredible disparity and gap is somehow beneath the discussion, but it is very pertinent to the discussion.
I am going to speak about four areas with respect to the bill. There is the issue of safety, which we as New Democrats have raised consistently in this debate. There is a discussion of the need for an infrastructure plan that addresses our industrial capacity and how one part of the country can work with another. There is the question of accountability, both at CN and the government. Then there is the issue of the fundamental right of collective bargaining and how that has to be respected.
I and many Canadians are very close to the whole idea of railways. There is something in our psyche where the sound of the rail hearkens us back to something. I will talk about my family's background in the rails. My mother and father's families either worked in the mines or on the rail lines.
My great-grandfather, John P. McNeil, worked on the Sydney Flyer, bringing the train back into Cape Breton. John P. was apparently quite the man in his day. He claimed he could always tell someone who was bringing booze into Sydney because a man who carried alcohol in his bag put that bag down with just a bit more care than if it were full of underwear. In fact, my grandfather picked up on that. When he would go on a trip, my grandmother would ask him how long he would be away. If he said he was getting a one bottle satchel, that was for one night. If it was a two bottle satchel, that was for the weekend. If it was a four bottle satchel, he was going home to Cape Breton.
My grandfather, like so many men of his generation, left Cape Breton on the CPR. In fact I still have his card. When he was age 17, he travelled on a CPR card to work in the mines of Porcupine. The mines were opened by another railway, the TNO, the time is no option railway, which is now the ONR line. When it was founded, it was built in a very interesting manner. It was built to stop the francophone settlement in northern Ontario. The good burghers of Upper Canada were afraid of all the francophone Catholics coming over the upper part of Lake Témiscaming and had to put some English settlers there. When they hit mileage 103 of the railway line north of North Bay, they hit the largest discovery of silver in North American history, and that opened the mining camps of the north. That is just a side issue, but it shows how much our history is tied up in the railway.
I live at mileage 104. If any people watching TV want to visit me, I am up the street on the rail line from the largest discovery of silver in North American history. Every night the train goes past my house. It carries the sulphuric acid which come from the Rouyn-Noranda smelter and the Kidd Creek smelter. We can hear that train coming it seems like hours in advance of its passing because it is hundreds of cars long.
This leads me to the issue of safety. When a train that long is carrying sulphuric acid, we need to ensure the proper working people on that line to ensure safety. If that train goes over, it is a very serious issue. We just had a spill in the Ontario Northland line this past week and a half on the Blanche River. A sulphuric acid train went over spilling into the Blanche River, causing great concern because it is right in the middle of our dairy farming belt.
Therefore, the issue of safety, when we talk about trains travelling across such a massive distance, is very crucial. It is crucial in terms of this debate because we have to talk about a management philosophy, the philosophy of reinvesting in the infrastructure, which is the second point of my whole discussion today. The management philosophy about safety is important.
I do not want to mix apples and oranges for the folks back home. The sulphuric acid spill accident, about which I spoke, was on the Ontario Northland line, which is not a CN line, but I spoke about it in terms of the issue of safety. When we look at the CN lines and the cars that run on them, some of these trains are two kilometres long, carrying everything from hydrochloric acid, chlorine, sulphuric acid. When we think of all our little towns across the Prairies where the trains run right behind people's backyards, safety has to be number one. These are in a sense two kilometre long missiles carrying these kinds of gases and acids.
When I speak about my number one concern, and that is the issue of safety, we can look at the safety audit that was done on CN Rail. It said that there were numerous problems with safety inspections and with CN's safety management practices. Again, we are getting back to the whole issue of a corporate philosophy.
The auditors found a “significantly high rate of safety defects”, in the order of 54% on the locomotives they inspected, with problems ranging from freight gear defects to too much oil accumulated on locomotive and tanks.
The auditors identified issues relating to rail defects, ranging from damaged rail to rail where there were numerous cases of missing bolts and cracked splice bars.
Train crossings in the audit were another major problem, with 26% of the crossings inspected had inadequate sight-lines. The majority were unprotected crossings. They found major problems all along.
The second phase of the report saw that many front line employees said they felt pressured to get the job done. The audit said that current practices allowed locomotives with safety defects to continue in service.
This leads me to the number three issue that I will speak about, which is accountability. The issue of safety has been raised and the threat that it poses. Since 2000, we have seen a massive escalation in the number of rail accidents on the CN lines. We are not talking about an accident here or an accident there. Any accident of these rail cars with what some of them carry is serious enough. However, when there is incident after incident it goes back to the whole issue of a corporate culture that has to be addressed.
I bring this up today because these are the issues about which the rail workers have spoken. They are concerned about this. I would venture to guess this is part of the problem of the breakdown in relations between management and workers at CN. People on the front line are growing increasingly concerned about the corporate culture, in terms of safety, from the U.S. corporation that is running CN.
Let me talk about the last two months or so.
On January 8, 24 cars of a 122 car freight train derailed at Montmagny, Quebec, 60 kilometres east of Quebec City.
On January 14, there was a derailment near Minisinakwa Lake in northern Ontario, dumping more than 30 cars, one containing paint supplies, into the water.
On February 28, hydrochloric acid spilled from cars on the CP Rail line that went off the tracks in the Kicking Horse Pass canyon.
On March 1, a CN freight train derailment in Pickering disrupted VIA service on the Toronto-Montreal-Ottawa corridor and commuter service into Toronto.
On March 4, grain was spilled near Blue River, British Columbia, two hours north of Kamloops, when 27 cars in the westbound train fell off the track.
On March 10, rail traffic along CN's main freight line through central New Brunswick was disrupted until the next day by a 17 car derailment in the Plaster Rock area.
On March 12, 3,000 VIA passengers had to board buses on the first day of the March break after train service in the Toronto-Montreal-Ottawa corridor was disrupted after a CN freight train derailed near the station in Kingston.
That is quite a sorry little record in the space of only a few short months.
When we ask about accountability of CN management, we have the CEO getting paid $56 million a year. Obviously, the investors think he is doing a good job, which leads us to the growing gap between management and workers at CN because questions of safety have been raised. The question of having adequate staff along the lines has been raised. Yet we see a massive increase in accidents. Therefore, we have to speak about what kind of corporate culture exists in CN where one man gets paid $56 million a year while the workers have to deal with trains that jump off the tracks at an alarming rate.
That is the issue of safety.
There is also the issue of accountability with government. We have seen very little in terms of a government response to growing concerns of public safety. I do not want to speculate about the threat of a major derailment with chlorine gas in an urban area, but we have to start realizing that if something is not done, something could happen.
We are not seeing any action from government. The Transportation Safety Board review rates of accidents are shockingly low. Yet when we talk about what is at stake, we would expect that any of these accidents would involve major inquiries and an examination at every step along the way to ensure that these things did not happen again, but it is not happening.
What we have in this situation is a growing gap of discontent between the people who are on the front lines, the people who are literally risking their lives, and members of upper management, who are paid $56 million a year.
The Liberal Party tells us that a CEO makes $56 million a year is irrelevant. The average Canadian should not bother themselves about that. The little peasant peons that make up the Canadian public should not worry about how these mandarins live in their upper echelon chambers with their $56 million a year payout. I am not speaking about this man in particular, but if any of these CEOs really botch it in particular, they are guaranteed a golden parachute. The average Joe and Josephine citizen back home does not get a golden parachute if they botch it at work. If they botch it at work, they are gone. They are down the road. Of course they are not getting $56 million a year, but then they are also not responsible for safety records like we see at CN.
The second issue about we have to talk about is the need for an industrial infrastructure plan for our country so we look at transportation as a whole.
The hon. member for talked about how we were competing against truck driving. That is true. He said that there was a shortage of 30,000 truckers in the country. I live in a part of the country where many families are fed by truckers. Many of my neighbours are truckers. It is interesting, this race to the bottom that we see in the trucking industry. I have truckers telling me that they are having to compete against workers now who are being brought in on HRD projects. Trucking companies do not want to pay a proper rate to haul trucks. Now, suddenly, there is a shortage. Is there a shortage of truckers or is there a shortage of truckers who are willing to drop the price down below what Canadians would do it?
That is the time we see Conservatives intervening in the economy. They do not intervene to help build an economy. They think that is all kind of socialist mishmash. However, when it comes to driving the rates down by bringing in truckers to work at lower rates than an average Canadian could afford, that is a good use of our taxpayers dollars, according to the Conservatives. Bringing these workers in on work contracts is good.
A good friend of mine, who a truckers trying to make a living, applied for a job in a trucking company. It offered him the kilometre rate. He said that he would love to work for the trucking company, but he already had a mortgage on his house. He would have had to take out a second mortgage just so he could work for it. That is unsustainable.
So rail is having to compete against trucking and the trucking rates are being subsidized and driven down with cheap labour. The question is how can we ensure a proper transportation infrastructure when rail with its fixed costs has to compete against trucking continually? We end up with nickel and diming. Rail transportation has to nickel and dime continually in order to meet this race to the bottom against trucking. That is simply not sustainable.
I do not see why we have HRD projects to bring in truckers to compete against our own truckers. We do not have a shortage of truckers in this country. A lot of young people want to get into trucking and they should be paid the going rate.
That's not so. There is a big shortage.
Mr. Charlie Angus: Mr. Speaker, my Liberal colleague says there is a big shortage. I know many people in northern Ontario who would drive a truck but they are not going to drive a truck at the rates that are being paid right now. We have an unfair distorted market thanks to the Conservative government subsidizing industry at the expense of working people.
I am raising this because it is creating pressure on our rail lines which have very large fixed costs. Not only do they have very large fixed costs, but their CEO expects a $56 million a year payout and their shareholders across the U.S. are expecting very high returns on their investment. Once again there is pressure on the bottom line and of course the working families are the bottom line. Unfortunately in this case the bottom line is safety.
Do we see a poisoned atmosphere between management and workers at CN? Unfortunately we do, but it is something that has to be addressed because it is speaking to a larger issue. This is not simply a battle between management and workers. This is not simply about imposing a baseball arbitration and everything will be all right. The disparity that we are seeing in terms of a common vision at CN between workers and management speaks to a much larger problem that is growing in this country, a lack of a transportation vision for this country, a lack of commitment to make the necessary investments in transportation, whether it is in rail or roads, or in my area, for example, in airports where numerous small airports are facing shutting down.
The Conservative government has a laissez-faire attitude toward transportation. It is one area of our economy we cannot simply have a laissez-faire attitude toward because the distances between our regions are vast. As someone who has had to travel from one end of the country to the other many times for my work, I can tell the House that it is quite daunting just to cross the province of Ontario, or cross the Prairies which can sometimes take up to 10 or 12 hours between each major urban centre. Transportation is vital to maintain a viable economy in this country.
This debate we are having today about bringing closure with Bill is really a debate about the larger issue. CN workers are crying out and saying, “Enough”. This is a company that has not put the necessary investments into its infrastructure. This is a company that is paying its CEO $56 million a year. This is a company that is giving dividends to shareholders across North America. Meanwhile the people on the front lines who are doing the work, who are putting their lives at risk with these train derailments, are not enjoying the prosperity that the CEO and the dividend shareholders are enjoying.
There is obvious anger, which of course brings us to the issue of collective bargaining, the fourth point in my conversation today. Collective bargaining is a very important right. It is a right that was fought for in many communities. The right to collective bargaining was won in my own riding in 1941 in the Kirkland Lake gold strike. Members of the Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers union stood out on the line month after month through the winter in 1941 and won the right to collective bargaining. After that strike the federal government recognized the right to collective bargaining. That was a hard won right. There was never a strike in any of those years where we did not hear the same kind of claptrap we are hearing from government officials about shutting this down and how essential it is.
Sometimes working families have to draw the line. As the hon. member for said today, there has never been a strike that did not have an economic impact. That is what strikes are. They have economic impacts on both sides. The fact that we are facing that today is too bad, but we have to stand up for the right of collective bargaining.
Mr. Speaker, I am here today to say that I support Bill .
The concern I have, both as vice-chairman of the transportation committee and one who instituted last October a motion passed by that committee with respect to rail safety, is with air, water and rail safety.
We have looked back and we have seen an increasing number of derailments across Canada, particularly in western Canada and particularly with Canadian National. We felt that it was time that we had an audit of its safety record because it appeared from the information we had that 2005 was a particularly bad year for derailments.
We have seen an example of a derailment in British Columbia, in the Cheakamus River, where the spill of caustic soda into the river basically killed the fish stocks for generations to come. We have seen an example, in the summer of 2006, where a locomotive left the tracks near Lillooet, which resulted in the death of two rail workers and the serious injury of a third. We have seen another incident in Lake Wabamun, in Alberta, where there was oil spilled into a lake. I could go on and on.
Basically, it was the trend toward those kinds of incidents that caused the previous Liberal government and the minister at that time to call for a two-phase review of rail safety, particularly of CN. One phase was to look at the issue of an actual audit of the figures and the second phase was to look at what was called the safety management system.
The reason I mention these in the context of the current bill is because these safety measures are largely what the labour concern of the workers is currently about. They have said it is not the money that they are concerned about, but it is their working conditions.
I would give the example where a decision taken by CN took away the ability of workers to phone in and say that they felt they were unfit to work on a particular shift. They work 12-hour shifts and the question is whether they get adequate time to rest before they have to take another shift as they can be called back on very short notice. They used to be able to say they did not feel fit to work as an engineer or to work as a conductor.
On most trains, and these can be trains that have anywhere from a few cars to 100-plus cars, there are two workers. There is an engineer and a conductor. So, we have two people running a train who are responsible for cars that are 130 tonnes each, in terms of loaded freight cars, and engines that are capable of producing anywhere from 3,000 to 5,000 horsepower.
These trains have become a concern because of the lack of maintenance and concern about the track conditions and the rolling stock conditions as evidenced by the reports that were finally released, and these were reports that were called for by the previous government. A promise was made that these reports would be released to the public. They were not released to the public until just recently, through an access to information request. However, in that time it resulted in not only what is under the Railway Safety Act a section 31 order, which is from Transport Canada, but in fact a ministerial order, a section 32 order, where for the first time the minister himself had to order certain restrictions on the operation of CN.
The concern we have is that there have been outstanding notices on orders against the railway, 99 of them in this period and some of them in fact going back prior to the year 2000, that had not been answered.
The company claims that 2005 was a particularly bad year. Its record has improved substantially since then. However, the concern is that the level is still well above what it should be, and we see in these reports that we now have access to, phase one and phase two, that the safety issues the workers have talked about as their concerns are valid in my opinion.
We have situations where track has not been maintained properly. We have situations where the reporting of incidents is quite often mirrored on American railroad standards because they are lower than Transport Canada standards for either maintenance of cars or maintenance of engines. We have situations where 53% of the locomotives were deemed to have some kind of problem, ranging from relatively minor to inadequate braking; and that is of course what happened with the engine that jumped the track and the two men died down in Lillooet.
There was a decision, for example, when B.C. Rail, which was a relatively well managed system in the province of British Columbia, was acquired by CN. All the engines in British Columbia had dynamic brakes, a system whereby the electric motors in the trains can be reversed, or the polarity changed, and it can be used as a backup safety system to slow the train down. In fact, I am told by engineers and conductors that they can actually stop the train.
Those engines were sold. I do not know why but they were disposed of and other engines were brought in from other parts of Canada that did not have those features. In some cases there are still engines left, I gather, in which the dynamic brakes for some reason have not been adequately activated, or they have been deactivated.
I have a lot of empathy when I receive emails, letters and calls from rail workers who say that they feel concerned about their safety. That is at the heart of this discussion and the labour dispute that is currently going on.
Having said that, we have to recognize that safety is not just the safety of the rail workers, but it is also the safety of the communities through which the trains pass.
In my riding of North Vancouver we have chlorine tank cars passing through the community every day. We have seen what can happen in Mississauga with a propane tank or when there is a serious chemical spill. All we have to see is a major derailment to see how much destruction the cars can make when they scatter and the damage caused if they rupture, whether it is by a river or in a residential area, or whether it is injuries to railway workers or the public.
We have to ensure as a committee that we focus on this. The minister has commissioned a panel as well to report by October, but I do not think we can wait until October. We need to make this a high priority. Our committee began hearings yesterday and we heard from the first representative, a Mr. Gordon Rhodes, who was the lone survivor of that locomotive accident. It was very touching to hear his testimony about what it meant to him in his life and what it meant to him in terms of his concerns about safety and working on the railways. I have a lot of empathy for the workers.
On the other hand, I have to say, as the Liberal Party critic for the Pacific gateway, that I also have a concern that we continue to ensure that the movement of goods and services, both exports and imports, continue to flow because it is the economic lifeline of the country. We know, for example, that British Columbia is the gateway to the Asia Pacific which is a growing market.
Within 20 years to 25 years, it is estimated China will be either number one or tied for the number one economy in the world. We know that India has a growing economy. We know that Japan, Korea and Taiwan are economies that are important to the trade with Canada. We have to ensure that the facilitation of those goods, once they arrive at the ports, be it through truck, rail or air, is done as smoothly as possible.
We know the devastating effects of interference with that, whether it is a longshoremen or trucking strike that costs millions of dollars a week to have ships sitting idle in a harbour because they cannot be unloaded, or because of a trucking strike or a rail strike. It is just not satisfactory, let alone not being able to get Canadian goods, wheat and other products, to other parts of the world.
What will happen in the very fluid market that is international trade? The Chinese Overseas Shipping Company, COSCO, has nominated Vancouver as a port of first call. If it finds that when it has ships arrive in Vancouver, or Prince Rupert as we are growing a container port there, that it is not reliable because of a variety of reasons, it is going to end up bypassing Vancouver and will go south to Portland, Seattle or Los Angeles. We will just be out of the equation. In other words, we will cut our nose off to spite our face.
We as a government, and as a Parliament, need to ensure that there is adequate investment in port infrastructure. That includes highways, roadways and railways, and part of that aspect is to ensure that the railways are moving efficiently and safely, that we do not have derailments that can cause delays, injuries, and create the kind of tension that we are seeing currently within the CN Rail operation.
While I share and appreciate the concerns that the workers have for the issues currently part of the labour negotiations, and I have spoken with a number of them, I think there are ways in which we can deal with that through our transportation committee, through regulation, and through ensuring that the issues of rail safety are important to the government and to Canada, and that we follow through with appropriate action.
However, I believe that it is also important for the economy that we have the continuation of that service. We cannot afford to have it dismantled or disturbed and creating problems for small businesses as well as medium and large businesses who rely on imports and exports. A delay of a week or a month can be in many cases devastating for these businesses and for many other employees who are affected.
Having said that, I think the issues that have been raised with respect to the need for the back to work legislation are valid. The minister's representation earlier today stated that the discussions have been going on since last September. The contract expired in December. We have had petitions and information from businesses that are affected and from employees who are affected.
Ideally, the labour negotiation process should be allowed to work itself out, but there are some areas that are of national importance, almost what I would call an essential economic service. I feel that it is important for the government to be able to bring that stability in and to let the parties work things out in an environment that allows the service to continue. With the kind of agreement that we would have now, the back to work legislation, hopefully the union and the company will be able within the 90 days that are proposed in this bill to indeed come to a resolution, a negotiated settlement, before there is the imposition of an arbitrated settlement.
If it cannot happen, then we have to think what is good for all of Canada because it is not just British Columbia that we are talking about. We are not just talking about the port of Prince Rupert, the port of Vancouver and the businesses in B.C. We are talking about western Canada. We are talking about all across Canada.
In fact, through the rail system we move goods from Prince Rupert and Vancouver through to Chicago. We have a two day advantage on a natural sea route from Asia. We have that advantage over the U.S. We can get goods into Chicago two days faster than the Americans can by going to the U.S. ports. We need to protect that advantage and ensure that we take the steps and do what we can for a healthy economy.
Basically, what are important are the issues that the union has talked about: personal rest time and ensuring that they are safe as employees to work, that the equipment is safe, and that Transport Canada will ensure that its policies are followed to provide for a safe operation both for the employees, the railway and the communities through which it trains pass.
We have to tackle the issue of derailments. We have to tackle the issue of railway safety, but we also have to tackle the issue, as this bill proposes, to ensure that there is a continuation of those rail services and that the economic backbone of Canada, the economic spine of Canada, is maintained.
Therefore, I am pleased and prepared to support Bill C-46.
Mr. Speaker, I am here today to speak to Bill .
It is very difficult to speak about the act in the context we have today because we are actually giving public safety in this country a free ride. We have an opportunity in Parliament right now to address the very serious nature of railway operations that have hampered our economic trade and prosperity and have put the general public at risk and we are throwing that aside for expediency. That is unacceptable.
We should put in perspective the fact that there have been only five months of negotiations in this current element right now, whereas there were 18 months of negotiations between the union and the company in the previous contract. That is why it is important to look at the issue of final offer selection versus interest arbitration in Bill .
The member for noted very well that final offer selection was introduced by major league baseball in the 1940s. Interestingly enough, that is probably about the same time that CN actually invested proper money into the railway infrastructure. As someone who rides the rails from the Windsor corridor into our region and from talking with workers, I can tell the House that shake, rattle and roll is the policy of CN and CP in terms of their actual investment in infrastructure.
Rail is important for our actual economic prosperity and our vibrancy as a nation. The World Economic Forum has Canada falling from 11th to 16th in global competitiveness and also ranks Canada 27th out of 28 OECD nations with respect to the environment. This issue is very important in regard to the productivity issues related to our rail system because the actual infrastructure deficit affects Canadian workers and our ability to compete.
We are throwing away an opportunity here by going to arbitration about dollars, which is not the reason why we are having labour problems right now. We are giving up that opportunity. We are telling the public, concerned about all the derailments, some of which I will go through later on if I have time, that we are giving up on them and their concerns for expediency because we want the arbitrator to basically set a dollar amount and there we go, back into the same pot.
What we could do is provide the arbitrator an opportunity or a tool that this Parliament has not addressed in the past 10 or 15 years: improving our rail system. This is interesting because there have moments of this and there have been times when we have been so close to dealing with rail issues such as public safety and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but we have failed.
I remember when former prime minister Jean Chrétien announced almost $1 billion in rail transportation infrastructure investment from Quebec City to Windsor, Ontario, but because it was seen as his legacy, the member for tore it up. I remember sitting in the plane with David Collenette after that announcement and talking about how that money was actually going to fix our rail beds, fix our infrastructure, get partners moving and get something done. But as a result of their internal fighting over there, they killed an opportunity to improve our prosperity and our environment. It was killed because of squabbling. I have heard nothing from the government on that.
That is what Bill is about. We are giving up that opportunity.
I want to put this in perspective. I want to talk about the workers who are affected. I have a letter from some of the workers in my constituency in a local union there. I will tell members what they wrote to me with regard to this issue.
They said that first and foremost it is imperative that we maintain the ability to self-determination. This is as it relates to maintaining our fundamental ability to negotiate and ratify an agreement that may have such an enormous impact on the lives of the employees at Canadian National Railroad and, in a broader stroke, the citizens of our country.
They said that Canadian National railroad is just that: Canada's national railroad. Its trackage traverses almost every community from coast to coast. They said, “We haul various commodities, including various toxic chemicals, across this country 24 hours per day, seven days per week, 365 days per year. We are some of the best and safest employees in the rail industry, this while performing to the best of our abilities”.
Unfortunately, they said, if the government is permitted to interfere with their union/company negotiations, they are certain that “our current work environment will be adversely affected, resulting in disastrous results for ourselves as well as the communities in which we live and work”.
It is their position that it is essential, they said, that their duly elected original negotiators be permitted to complete the task to which they were assigned without interference of the Canadian government, that being to successfully negotiate an acceptable collective agreement with their employer, utilizing their years of experience in the railroad industry as well as the information they have received from the affected members that they have been elected from to their current positions.
Simply put, they said, there is no threat to the Canadian economy, this with reference to economic sanctions being imposed against Canadian National railroad. As such, the proposed back to work legislation is unwarranted.
The letter goes on to read: “As previously stated, we do currently have a couple of minor issues to deal with in our union. These are issues scheduled to be dealt with in a timely manner with the assistance of the CIRB. Again, it is absolutely imperative that we be permitted to resolve our labour conflicts from within, this without the intervention of outside influences. I am extremely confident that given a reasonable amount of time, we could accomplish this goal.
As previously submitted, our last round of contract negotiations with exactly the same negotiating committee lasted approximately 18 months. Currently, we have only been negotiating for approximately six months.
UTU members across Canada have expressed concerns over the recent derailments that have decimated the pristine environment of our country, not to mention the resultant deaths of at least four of our fellow employees. I am certain Canadian National Railroad will take exception to my comments, but, nevertheless, I stand behind my claims. I have forwarded various e-mails and articles that I have done and I am going to go forward on the issue”.
That comes from a railroad worker, someone who goes out every day to protect my community.
In Windsor West there is a massive transportation hub for the country. We have many toxic chemicals. The public pressure that has been necessary to get CN to even open up to the proper support systems so that the public safety officers can actually examine the sites to ensure they are supported is incredible. It is like pulling teeth.
It is interesting to look at the government and its close allegiance to the United States on many positions. It will not look at rail safety in that way. We know the United States has actually been implementing procedures and policies that protect citizens. It has not been the national government, it has been coalitions, for example, that have asked for toxic chemicals and different types of materials to circumvent populated areas. Cleveland is an example. Washington is on the debate list and there are a whole series of other cities. We do not do the same here. We plead ignorance.
Once again, this bill is an opportunity to allow an arbitrator sit down and examine what the root cause is. Let us look at the public perspective and what the discourse has been. Let us look at some of the headlines concerning rail safety, “fatigue, work schedules, accidents linked”; “Train in fatal CN crash was overdue for repairs”; and, “CN profit a boon for top brass”.
That is important to note because what we are arguing is how much money we want to stuff in the railcars and send over to some CEO in the United States: $2 billion in profits for the CEO and $56 million in payouts. How many different supports do we need to send over? How many railcars of Canadian taxpayer money do we need to let go? It is not up to the arbitrator to tell them that based upon baseball arbitration back in the 1940s. We know all the progressive things that were happening then.
I can tell the House that what we are giving up in this opportunity is unsatisfactory for workers and also the people they support in their communities. They want to be able to go to work safely, they want to protect the citizens in their region and they want to return home. How can they do that when the real issue of why they are going on strike is not being addressed?
There are more headlines, “Railway safety check notes 21 violations...”; and “Wabamun residents want CN to remove all oil before winter”.
The people of Local 472 told me right away that it looked like they would have a settlement and that they would go back. They have been back every day. They understand economics, commerce, trade, safety and all those different things. What they are calling for is time to sort things out and go back to deal with the real issues. They talk about the fact that it is not wages. They understand the offer is important but safety is really important.
These are some of the things they have asked for. First, the goals of the UTU members is worker safety and railroad safety. The pressure to produce at CN is huge and a safety audit released in 2007 expressed concerns about management's approach to safety measures.
Where is the action on that?
Second, CN is seeking to increase its away-from-home hours that are already at 80 hours a week.
Third, key concessions at UTU are fighting to maintain better rest provisions. They want washroom breaks and a 40 minute lunch break for a nine hour shift, an end to the 16 hour work days and safety. There were over 100 derailments in Canada in 2005.
Those are the things that are happening. Are they validated? Is there any evidence? Is it in front of us right now? All we need to do is look at the headlines and the timeframes. I want to read some articles of recent derailments to ensure people understand.
On March 10, 2007:
Rail traffic along Canadian National's main freight line through central New Brunswick was disrupted until the next day by 17-car derailment in the Plaster Rock area.
On March 4, 2007:
Grain was spilled near Blue River, B.C., two hours north of Kamloops, when 27 cars of a westbound train fell of the track.
On March 1, 2007:
CN freight train derailment in Pickering disrupted VIA service on the Toronto-Montreal-Ottawa corridor and commuter rail service in the Toronto area.
I have travelled that corridor on the train and the rail in that area needs vast improvement, not just in terms of our environment and our productivity but also because it needs to be done if we want to have the same functions that we currently need. I do not understand why that investment has not been made. These are Canadian workers. A Canadian aggregate is going to produce a solution for many of our professed political espoused values of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by taking trucks off the road.
I have talked about the tens of thousands of trucks that go through my community every year. If we actually had a functioning rail system with a vision, we could actually look at options, such as rail to road options. We could do a whole series of different things if we made the proper investment but we have not. We blindly subsidize the road system and the transport industry versus that of looking at rail as a viable alternative option for safety reasons. The province of Ontario is even looking at lowering truck speeds and having regulated elements there that were not there before because of concerns for safety. All those things can be looked at but they are not.
I will continue with the rail derailments. On February 28, 2007:
Hydrochloric acid spilled from one of five cars on the CP Rail train that went off the tracks in the Kicking Horse Canyon in southeastern British Columbia. Emergency crews managed to contain the spill and none of the chemical went into nearby waters.
On January 14, 2007:
Derailment...in northern Ontario dumped more than 30 cars, one containing paint-related supplies, into a swamp. Officials said there was no sign of leaking, but train traffic was blocked near Gogama while the incident was cleared.
On January 8, 2007:
24 cars of 122-car freight train derailed in...Que., about 60 kilometres east of Quebec City. There were no injuries, but the accident occurred in a residential neighbourhood and one rail car came to rest about 12 metres from a home.
It goes on and on. The argument has been that our economy will collapse despite the fact that when workers went back it was only in strategic areas and, on top of that, CN chose to lock its own workers out. What reparations happened to them? Nothing happened to CN. Why does it not pay for that loss to the economy if that argument is so valid? CN chose to put the chains on the doors and gates. The decision was made in its corporate boardrooms to lock those people out.
Where was the minister and the government on safety then? They are claiming safety now but at that time they said that it was okay for management. The government cannot have it both ways. Management thinks it can actually chain up the gates and doors and do the job. Why do we not give the negotiators the tools necessary to deal with the root issue?
I would again point to the red herring economic argument. The other day I met with General Motors and other groups in the auto industry and they did not bring up rail issues. I am sure they have concerns about it as long as they move and are serviced. What they are concerned about is the government's fee-bate program that it announced in the budget. The reason General Motors has halted its decision on Oshawa and other parts of the country, including Windsor, on where to expand plants is because of the budget and what it will do to the auto industry.
If the government is really concerned about the economy, where is the comprehensive program for that? Where is the actual auto policy which the flip-flopping, floor crossing previous Liberal minister who crossed over to the Conservatives, had with him and was supposed to produce but never did? Where is that policy?
The policy to put workers back to work and to usurp their rights is available. The Conservatives have had the policy for over a year. However, they will not come clean as to whether it even existed. We see it in other parties because they exchange different boxes here and there. They will talk about those documents but the minister and his colleague are right there. Where are those economic plans? Over 200,000 jobs shed and, I would argue quite sincerely, that rail infrastructure and safety are part of that.
Since we know that the current system is one that does not work, do we just say that this is all about a few dollars per hour for the workers or do we actually realize what the opportunity is and do something meaningful to give an arbitrator a chance to flush out some of those real problems?
It must be tough for both those sides over there, the Liberals previously and the Conservatives now, to hear that we actually might need to invest some dollars in infrastructure and rail and that there might be some accounting to do but that will be very necessary for us to compete in a global economy.
I am less worried right now about the fact that we have workers who will commit themselves to arbitrate and to negotiate with their employer to get a satisfactory arrangement for the long term. They potentially could go out but they have given their word and they have stuck to it before in the past. Will we tackle the real problem which comes from the lack of public policy to deal with rail transportation in this country?
It goes on and on. We could look at some of the derailments and look at the concern I have, for example, coming from Windsor, about the safety of the workers as they transport chlorine gas and other things. I remember talking with our fire department. I give some of the rail operators due credit because some things have changed. It has been a little better than before. However, fire officials must ask for permission to go on the property to do different types of inspections and planning.
Miami-Dade county is a famous case where it actually banned chlorine gas going through that county. Within a 15 mile radius, an explosion or an accident could kill hundreds of thousands of people. It actually has legislation now that prevents that from happening. What was interesting about that banning process was that the water treatment facilities that use the chlorine actually found other substances they could use to do a better filtration process.
Here we are fighting for rail and hazardous material safety and we still do not have any of the answers. The government has not produced anything on that.
I remember when we had discussions on the International Bridges and Tunnels Act, a very good act that was a good start. We need other acts to support that but at least it puts a footprint in terms of where the government is with regard to having some responsibility for border crossings that are privately held and that there is a general accountability across the main spectrum. We talked about hazardous materials and rail but it was dismissed by the government. Any amendment that I had at committee was dismissed. The government did not want to deal with it at that time and it still does not want to deal with it now.
Why is that important? I can talk about Fort Frances, for example. People will wonder about this but the bridge that connects Fort Frances to the United States is actually a mixture of road and rail that cross over each other. When I was visiting there were actually three car accidents hitting trains trying to cross the bridge that week. Where is the vision of separating these two with a proper infrastructure investment? The reason there is none is that a private corporation holds that bridge and does not want to spend the money. The governments, federally and provincially, do not seem to care and are hands off.
What we are talking about today is a lack of vision. What we are talking about today is not actually doing what is responsible and right and that is to move through a process. A New Democratic amendment would at least provide the opportunity and hope for the arbitrator to raise the issues that are important to workers, their families and the communities that they serve, and this country and to start being responsible about rail safety and transportation in Canada.