Mr. Speaker, I rise today to ask members of the House to expedite the passage of a .
Today, we are experiencing a work stoppage at Canadian Pacific Railway that will have a significant impact on our Canadian economy. Canadian employees, members of the public, international trade, and our national economy will suffer.
Our economy has faced challenging times since the recession. However, we have stood out among leading industrial countries. Our government is proud of its record of protecting Canadians from the worst effects of the economic downturn and of laying the foundation for recovery.
The Canadian economy still faces risks from global factors that we cannot control. A disruption of rail services could lead to job losses and poses a great risk to the Canadian economy. A work stoppage will only further exacerbate the uncertainty of our economic state and further complicate an already complex situation.
In Canada, we have a large and well developed rail system that carries freight to all parts of the country. Rail is a vital part of the Canadian economy. It is an extension of our communities and their links to industry and resources, and it is part of our link to the world.
Our rail system is complex. It interconnects a wide range of businesses, including shippers, terminal operators, transloaders, port operators, shipping lines, and trucking, all of which are part of a very complex and complicated supply chain. Railway transportation is a backbone of an integrated supply chain that moves Canada's resources all over the globe. Problems occurring in one part of the chain can affect all stakeholders. There is a domino effect. Something that happens on the ground in British Columbia can have an impact on someone living in Ontario, and this can have an impact on tens of thousands of Canadian jobs.
CP plays a critical role in our economy, with its network spanning Canada and the United States. As the second largest rail freight service provider in Canada, CP has nearly 15,500 employees. CP Rail's network spans approximately 22,000 kilometres from Port Metro Vancouver to the Port of Montreal, and to parts of the U.S. northwest and midwest. In 2013, CP generated $6.1 billion in revenue, an increase of about 8% and a company record. CP transports seven commodity groups: industrial and consumer products, containers, grain, coal, fertilizer, sulphur, and automotive products. CP provides its customers, Canadians, the ability to trade with many partners across the country and around the globe. This allows us to employ thousands of Canadians.
Maintaining an effective supply chain is critical to meeting the government's objectives related to strategic gateways and trade corridors, such as the Asia-Pacific gateway. The 21 members economies of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation group account for almost 2.8 billion people, over half of the world's GDP, and in excess of 80% of Canada's total merchandise trade.
Canada is a trading nation and CP plays a critical role in North America's supply chain for moving goods to and from Canadian, U.S., and international markets. This strike could have a detrimental effect on Canada's reputation as a reliable trading partner. It could have lasting effects on an already uncertain economy and, most importantly, on Canadian businesses and jobs. It could have an impact on communities who rely on rail services for certain goods.
I have received letters from many people, such as Spectra Energy, urging the federal government not to hesitate to take action to ensure a quick resolution to this dispute. Spectra Energy provides a number of natural gas liquids, such as propane, butane, and ethane, all of which are supplied by rail to key markets in Canada and the U.S. Hundreds of thousands of Canadians rely on their products for heat and power. Without the ability to transport the product to residential and commercial customers, including hospitals, I can tell members that it would be catastrophic. Standing on the ground without heat in a hospital is something I cannot imagine.
The Propane Gas Association of Canada has urged that rail delivery of propane gas should be declared an essential service, since rail is the only effective means of transportation and propane is essential for heating homes and businesses.
Teck, Canada's largest diversified mining company has sent me a letter, stating that “...if a strike at CP or CN occurs, we urge that the Government take early action by exercising the legislative measures available to you, including the imposition of back-to-work legislation and binding arbitration.”
Teck's products represent one-third of our bulk exports going through the Port of Vancouver. Teck is the single largest Canadian exporter to Japan, Korea, Taiwan, and Brazil. On a global scale, the implications of a rail disruption are grave. Teck further states that “...rail disruptions can cause serious harm to the Canadian economy and reputation and hurt our competitiveness as international customers are forced to look elsewhere to import goods.”
A work stoppage by CP could also have an adverse impact on the movement of grain, which is only now returning to normal conditions following last year's backlog. As members may recall, last March our government introduced an order in council to ensure that the supply chain operated effectively to deliver Canadian grain to market. The strike is causing a setback and it could take months to recover the lost business and lost investments.
Without CP Rail operating, our ability to move freight is more limited. This strike in rail transportation in Canada will have such an important impact on so many individuals and industries that the cumulative effects could be immense. However, it is not just the industries that use railways. The railways also provide the tracks for commuters in our cities, particularly Montreal in this case. A strike creates slowdowns and congestion, decreasing productivity and impacting hundreds of Canadians.
Over the past few years our government has been taking all necessary steps to protect Canadians from the worst effects of the economic downturn, but the work stoppage at CP, especially in our current economic reality, will have devastating effects on many workers and their families: those directly involved in the railway, and the tens of thousands of Canadians who rely on rail not only for product but also to get to work. We are not just talking just about the CP employees but the hundreds of thousands of Canadians whose livelihoods depend on the goods carried by rail.
It is clear that we parliamentarians have an important role to play in putting an end to a situation that could negatively impact our economy and the well-being of Canadians. Our economy must be protected. Our products must reach markets. Canadian jobs must be preserved.
As we can see, rail transportation is key to maintaining our country's economic growth. Canadians and businesses count on us to make tough decisions like this one. We are doing this for the good of our country and the good of Canadian citizens.
I am happy to report that the Canadian National Railway and the TCRC, and CP and Unifor were able to reach agreements to renew their collective agreements. I am optimistic that these agreements will be ratified.
It is true that it would be preferable for the parties to resolve their differences on their own.
Our government would like nothing more than to see these parties, the CP and TCRC, reach an agreement on their own, because the best solution is the one the parties reach themselves. We have offered dispute resolution assistance to the parties, provided through the Canada Labour Code, but to no avail. The services and mediators of the Federal Mediation and Conciliatory Service are still available to help CP and the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference in their negotiations. In fact, I know they have been continuing to work with them, even today.
On several occasions, I too have met in person and talked by phone with the former and current presidents of the union and the CEO of CP. As early as November and December last year, I was expressing my expectations for the current round of bargaining. More recently, in Montreal over the course of Friday and Saturday, I have been encouraging these individuals to reach a negotiated settlement, because the best solution is always the one the parties reach themselves.
If they cannot reach an agreement, I have asked them to go to voluntary arbitration to resolve their outstanding issues. Indeed, last Friday, I went to Montreal and continued to work with them, this time actually at the bargaining table. I continued to express my desire for them to reach a negotiated settlement, and failing that, agreeing to voluntary arbitration. Thus far they have not.
We feel that the parties have had ample time to reach a negotiated agreement. At this point, I have to be honest, the parties are not close to a deal.
For every day of a work stoppage, our economy and trade relationships will be further undermined. The cost to our economy will be enormous, an estimated $205 million decline in GDP per week.
Therefore, I ask my fellow members to stand up for Canadians and Canadian businesses and pass this bill to resume operations at CP Rail.
I can assure the House that our government will continue to focus on the growth and sustainability of our economy. Rail services must continue so that Canadian businesses and, more importantly, Canadian families can continue to be safe and prosper.
Mr. Speaker, it saddens me once again today to rise in the House, in the Parliament of Canada, to oppose a bill. I rise as a member of the official opposition to represent the values of the NDP, which is opposing a back-to-work bill for the seventh time since the Conservatives took power in 2006. This government is certainly a repeat offender when it comes to attacking workers, violating their legitimate rights and preventing them from exerting pressure, which includes going on strike.
In 2007 we had Bill for the continuation of railway operations, so this is not the first time. In 2009 we had Bill for the continuation of railway operations once again. In 2011 it was Bill to restore mail delivery. That bill targeted postal workers and letter carriers. Also in 2011 was Bill to continue air service for passengers. Then we had Bill and Bill in 2012, when the Conservatives once again created a power imbalance between the parties. They systematically took the employer's side and took away fundamental rights from unionized workers, who are well within their rights to exert pressure.
I asked the minister a question earlier that I believe is the key issue we are concerned about: do people still have the right to strike and use pressure tactics in Canada today? Does this Conservative government recognize that striking is a legitimate way of expressing the right of association and freedom of collective bargaining? The Conservatives seem to be completely ignoring that aspect, and I will come back to that later. The Supreme Court's recent decision has once again upheld this right that the Conservatives have been flouting, year after year, in Canada.
We have reached a point where workers have to ask themselves whether they will be bothering anyone if they exercise their right to strike. Will the government systematically intervene and break the rules to give the employer more power and additional arguments? The situation is always the same. If the employer knows for sure that it does not really have to reach an agreement because its friends in the Conservative government will intervene, violate rights and prevent its workers from striking, then what incentive does the employer have to negotiate in good faith and try to find a solution? That is the major problem.
They should give negotiation a chance.
We have a Conservative government that is always on the side of the employers and never on the side of the workers of this country. Workers have a fundamental right to exert economic pressure and strike if they need to in order to force employers to recognize problems and find solutions.
The minister just said that a negotiated deal is always better than an imposition of anything. Why is she imposing back-to-work legislation again and again? It is the seventh time that the Conservatives would do that since they were elected in 2006. It is a bad habit that they have; they take a side every time and break the balance of power between the two parties. We are saying to give the workers a chance to negotiate and to exert their rights.
The just said that the recent decision of the Supreme Court had nothing to do with the right to strike. I contradict that. I have a quote from a Supreme Court judge in that decision from a few weeks ago. Judge Abella wrote the following:
Where good faith negotiations break down, the ability to engage in the collective withdrawal of services is a necessary component of the process through which workers can continue to participate meaningfully in the pursuit of their collective workplace goals. In this case, the suppression of the right to strike amounts to a substantial interference with the right to a meaningful process of collective bargaining.
This is exactly what the decision of the Supreme Court is about. It is about the fundamental right of workers to exert some pressure on an employer to improve their working conditions.
If those workers are refused the right to strike, that is an interference of their fundamental rights. This is exactly what the Conservative government is doing, again and again.
It is a sad day. The right to strike in this country is under attack. Unions were considered illegal organizations before 1872. We are asking whether the government wants to go back to that point in time. Every time that it can crush workers and their unions, the government does it systematically. It has done it with Bill , Bill , and Bill , other attacks on health and safety issues.
It is a sad day for democracy. It is a sad day for the workers of this country. It is a sad day for the labour movement. Workers can count on the NDP to defend their rights because we will protect the freedom of negotiation and collective bargaining. This is a value that we on this side of the House cherish and care about. Workers know that in a few months they will have the opportunity to have the first social democrat, pro-union, pro-worker, government in this country. It is coming.
I would like to reiterate that the told us that the Supreme Court's recent decision had nothing to do with exerting economic pressure or the right to strike. However, Justice Abella indicated in the ruling given a few weeks ago that the suppression of the right to strike interferes with the right to a meaningful process of collective bargaining, a process that provides an opportunity to get results.
In this case, it is extremely dangerous for the entire labour movement and for all workers to have a government that systematically takes the employer's side and tramples on workers' rights.
It is critical with the CP issue, and when there is a threat of back-to-work legislation hanging over their heads, to ask why the employer would negotiate in good faith. The employer knows it has good friends in power in Ottawa. The government will be on the employer's side and will force workers to go back to work. There is no reason for the employer to negotiate and look for a compromise.
Our concern is also the safety issue that is on the table for Canadian Pacific workers. It is a safety issue for everybody in this country: for the workers, first and foremost, of course, but also for everybody else. It is a question of the hours of work being too long, and extreme fatigue. We are talking about conductors who are driving freight trains that can be four kilometres long. We can imagine the consequences if the conductor is too tired to be aware of the dangers or everything that is going on.
This is not only the vision of the union. It is a problem that has been recognized by Transport Canada, and even by the companies. Transport Canada's own analysis of CP and CN employee scheduling records, from six different rail terminals across Canada, concluded that on the timing and length of each shift, assigned through an unpredictable on-call system, extreme fatigue was rampant.
In 4% of cases, employees were already extremely fatigued at the start of their shift because they did not have enough hours to sleep. It is a shame.
The government is not acting to correct that situation. Canadians should know that their safety is being put at risk by the government. We want that to change.
Forty-five percent of employees became extremely exhausted during work, and nearly all, 99%, were fatigued at least once during a month.
It was the same problem, the same issue, three years ago when employees of CP went on strike for a couple of days. After that, of course the Conservative government came here to vote on back-to-work legislation. The workers at that time were promised that the situation would be fixed: “Do not go on strike, we will negotiate and fix it.”
However, three years later, it is the same story. The same problems are still there. Extreme fatigue is still a problem for members of the Teamsters who are working for CP. Nothing has changed. We are back here again in the House of Commons, talking about back-to-work legislation.
My guess is that in three years we will be back again, because the issue will still not have been solved. There is no incentive for CP to solve the problem. The Conservatives are not helping. The is not helping.
I think it is worth repeating, because the main issue in dispute here is not that workers want higher pay or want to extort more money from their employer. This is not about money. Incidentally, Canadian Pacific is an extremely profitable company. It has nothing to complain about; business is good. The discussions and debates are really about a matter of public safety. People need to be aware of that, because this is about the problem of too much overtime and the fatigue this causes. Canadian Pacific workers, the train operators, are not getting the rest they need, which leads to extreme fatigue.
What do the workers want? To be able to stop working and go home after 10 hours of work. All they are asking for is to not work more than 10 hours. What is this, the 19th century? Right now, train conductors have to work up to 12 hours straight before they can get a real rest. This is 2015; this is shameful. This Conservative government is doing nothing. In fact, it is actually helping rail companies perpetuate this practice.
Consider the potential consequences if a conductor driving a four-kilometre-long train is tired, does not have the necessary reflexes, and is unable to read the terrain or the dangers up ahead. Recent tragedies have shown us how important rail safety is. Everyone needs to know that this is a public safety issue and that the Conservatives are doing nothing about it.
A few minutes ago, I said that three years ago, CP workers, Teamsters members, went on strike for a few days on the issue of fatigue on the job and lack of breaks. The Conservative government forced them back to work. They were told not to worry, that this would be resolved, that there would be negotiations and recommendations would be made. Nothing was done. Today, in 2015, three years later, these same workers are going back on strike on the same issue of fatigue at work because nothing has been resolved. Now, we have another bill that is going to force them back to work again.
Should we allow the Conservatives to remain in power, I would not be surprised if people have to deal with a CP strike in three years. Unfortunately, if the Conservatives are still in power, they will again force them to go back to work. However, even Transport Canada recognized the issue of workplace fatigue for train conductors. It is not the Teamsters, the union, the CLC, but Transport Canada that is talking about this. Investigations of six different train terminals across the country led Transport Canada to conclude that the problem of extreme fatigue was rampant across Canada. In 4% of cases, employees are even extremely fatigued at the start of their shift, at the start of their work day, because they often do not get enough rest between two shifts. Fully 45% of employees are extremely tired or even exhausted while on the job. Forty-five per cent. Almost everyone, 99% according to Transport Canada, is tired at least once a month.
That has an impact on the workers. Obviously, it is bad for their health, their family life and their work. It puts everyone at risk.
The NDP does not want train conductors to experience fatigue at work. That is basic and straightforward. We do not understand why the Conservatives are still refusing to resolve this issue.
Even our neighbours to the south, the United States, where private enterprise is king and people despise regulations, have more regulations governing hours of work for rail company employees than we do. That is bizarre.
Why have the Conservatives never managed to fix this problem? We do not understand, but it puts huge swaths of our communities at risk.
Over the past five years, there have been at least seven accidents that, thankfully, did not cost any lives, but that happened because train conductors were tired at work. This is a real problem.
We have to find a solution, but we will not find a solution by preventing workers from exercising their right to take job action or go on strike. We know that because this is like groundhog day: it is the same old story over and over again.
I want to emphasize the fact that it is a real problem. The extreme fatigue of CP workers is real. Transport Canada has revealed that in the last five years, at least seven accidents or incidents were caused by fatigue of drivers or conductors of those trains. It is a real problem, but the government has no solution. Its only way to act is always ideological, always against unions, always against workers and against the safety of Canadians.
It is really sad. It is another case of the Conservatives going against international law. There is a labour organization in Switzerland that recognized that the right to strike is a fundamental right in modern societies. Once again, the government is going against the last decision of the Supreme Court and against international law.
On this side of the House, we think that workers can organize, defend their rights, and improve their working conditions. It is not the job of the government to oppose that, because it helps to build better communities. We always hear the Conservatives talk about the middle class and how they will defend the little guys of the middle class, but the middle class is, for the most part, a creation of the labour movement in this country and in all countries. Without the labour movement we would have no middle class.
If we want to defend the middle class, we must give the workers the tools to negotiate, to gain something in collective agreements, and to make sure that they are working in safe places. We must make sure that we do not put the safety of citizens of this country at risk.
Not only is the current federal government going against the Supreme Court's recent decision in the Saskatchewan case, but it is also going against regulations of the Geneva-based International Labour Organization, which considers the right to strike and the right to free collective bargaining to be fundamental.
However, this is not surprising coming from an extremely ideological Conservative government that always responds in the same way when Canadian workers try to exercise their rights and improve their working conditions. This government pulls out the big guns and beats them back, telling them to shut up and get back to work. It does not want to listen to them; they are annoying.
What is important to this government is that companies continue to rake in profits, regardless of how or why and regardless of the rules, even if it makes people sick.
The Conservatives often like to say they are standing up for the middle class. However, the middle class is mainly a creation and a consequence of union struggles by workers who got organized, defended themselves at their workplace and negotiated better collective agreements.
If we are talking about the middle class, we must also talk about the tools that workers created to improve their situation. The NDP will always be there to stand up for workers and their families, for workplace health and safety and for public safety.
Unfortunately, again today, we see that the Conservative government is violating workers' rights and putting public safety at risk. I hope that all of us in the House will oppose this back-to-work bill—yet another one—and stand up not only for workers, but also for the middle class and public safety.
Mr. Speaker, I have a bit of a bias in the sense of my family background and history in the CN yards in the Transcona area. Today I represent an area just north of the CP tracks. The railway lines have played a very important role, not only in my life but in all our lives, either directly or indirectly. The government needs to be held accountable for its lack of attention to our rail lines as a whole.
What we are debating today is most unfortunate. We in the Liberal Party do not support the government's proposed initiative for good reason.
It is very critical to acknowledge this. When we think of strikes and the important role unions play in today's society, we cannot underestimate how important it is that there is a sense of fairness when it comes to negotiations. However, that has been absent with the government, which is why asked the minister when she first raised the issue of back-to-work legislation.
The minister talked about the federal government being involved back in November 2014. There is no doubt in my mind that the government's intention from the get-go was that it would bring in back-to-work legislation virtually at the beck and call of one side over another.
If we were to canvass the thousands of CP workers, I do not think they would respond that they thought the government was approaching this issue in a fair fashion. We see this today with the legislation that is to be brought forward.
There was reference made to the labour issues a few years ago with CP. I had the opportunity to walk with some of the workers three years ago in Winnipeg North. Many of the concerns they expressed to me back then are still there today. I have heard this spoken of in some of the debate that has already taken place today, whether from my colleague for , who talked about the issue of fatigue, regulations and safety, as well as other members who also emphasized the importance of fatigue.
When we talk about labour negotiations, it is not all about money. There is a genuine concern that many CP workers have with respect to safety, and they want the Government of Canada to step up and take its responsibility more seriously.
There are certain industries in Canada where there is a need for government, at different levels, to be more directly involved. A good example of that is long-haul truck driving. Regulations are put in place to not only to protect the industry, but to protect the community as a whole and to assist the Canadian economy. There is a need for government to recognize that fact.
The does not seem to understand the importance of Ottawa having a role to play. A good example of that was back in January or February of last year. During question period I stood in my place and was critical of the government because it had dropped the ball in getting prairie wheat to the market.
We had piles of wheat in our prairie fields, and we had empty ships in the Pacific Ocean waiting to be filled with that wheat. What did the government ultimately do? It took months for the Conservatives to realize that they needed to take some action, and then they came up with some sort of a penalty, which was virtually ineffective. They were unable to get the grain to the market.
That is why I find it interesting today that when the minister stood up, she said that this is all for the sake of the Canadian economy. The members of the Liberal Party of Canada understand the Canadian economy. We understand the importance of getting our products to market. However, we also understand that the Conservatives have not been doing their job. That is something on which we want to take the government to task.
I use wheat as just one example. We understand, for the manufacturing industry in Ontario and in other jurisdictions, how important it is for the manufacturers to get their products to market. We understand the importance of the raw materials, whether they are in the ground, above the ground, or being produced, needing to get to market. We understand the important role CP Rail and CN Rail play in Canada's economy in providing valuable middle-class jobs and many more. We understand all of that, but we also understand the importance of our unions in modern society.
I do not believe for a moment that the thousands of workers who work for CP believe that there was an even playing field when it came to the negotiations that were taking place. For many of those workers, they understood that they had a government that was biased, and that bias is now starting to show in a tangible way.
I understand the importance of that issue. When I was first elected to the Manitoba legislature, the Meech Lake accord, I would argue, was the number one issue, but following that was likely the issue of final offer selection. There was heated debate in the province of Manitoba. If there was a lesson to be learned from that, it was that when talking about collective bargaining, there has to be a sense of fair play. If there is not a sense that both parties are coming to the table on an equal playing field, arguing for their positions, then there is a significant advantage to one side over the other.
Based on listening to the minister and her inability to directly answer my question, I do not believe that CP officials for a moment felt that they were going to be threatened in any fashion with any substantial work stoppage. The Conservative Party would be there to protect their interests, not necessarily the Canadian economy. The minister stands in her place and tries to justify the action. I would rather have seen a minister who was more enthusiastic in November 2014 in ensuring that there was a sense of fairness in the negotiations that were taking place. I do not believe that it had to get to the point where we are today.
That is why I question to what degree the government is moving forward in the best interest of not only the management and the employees but in terms of the whole process in which we find ourselves today. I would suggest that based on their previous attempts, the Conservatives will be found wanting in terms of addressing important labour issues in Canada.
Let us look at what is happening at Canada Post, for example. I wish I had time to expand on that. We could look at what the Conservatives could have been doing on this issue three years ago, when the strike was there on the issue of fatigue and railway safety.
Just this last weekend, there was a tragedy 80 kilometres outside of Timmins.
There is so much more the government could be doing, whether it is through regulation or bringing people together, to ensure that a number of the issues the employees are trying to address could be addressed in a different format. That has been my experience when I have had the opportunity to talk to employees but also, on occasion, to people in management.
With those words, as I have indicated, I will be voting against the back-to-work legislation.
Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege to follow my colleague and some of the very important and profound comments he made about where we are with respect to this back-to-work legislation and why the Liberal Party of Canada cannot support it.
It is important to step back for a second so that Canadians can see the repeat pattern of crisis and back-to-work legislation.
Let us remind Canadians, from the perspective of the Liberal Party of Canada, that the federal government has an obligation to get the very big things right. One of the things a federal government has to get right is rail safety.
Rail safety in this country today is in a state of flux. We have had a 1,500% increase in the transportation of oil by rail in the last three years. Even if every single contemplated pipeline is built in Canada to transport fossil fuels south, east, and west and is used at maximum capacity, present projections suggest that by the year 2024, there will be one million barrels of excess oil capacity per day that will have to be transported by rail.
When a government minister stands up and says that this is exclusively about the economy, our international reputation, and the movement of our citizens, she is only partly telling the truth. Much more is below the surface.
Of course, this is in large part about collective bargaining and the right to collectively bargain. We all know that. However, as the vice-chair of the standing committee on transport, who has been active now for over two years in all of the details around rail safety post-Lac Mégantic, I believe that the government is trying to project a different series of concerns to mask a fundamental and lingering problem in Canadian society today, and that is rail safety. The government would have us look over here as the minister distracts from the government's failure to take serious action on safety and security.
Canadians are not going to be surprised to learn that at committee, we have had the heads of CN, CP, the Teamsters, Unifor, and other unions and stakeholders all come forward and say the same thing. They want more safety and security in the rail system. They have all agreed on this. They have all called for enhanced safety. In fact, they have been unanimous about it.
Part of the challenge we face as a country is that we have had five ministers of transport in eight years. That is not serious. How is the minister of the crown seized with one of the most important and foundational responsibilities in Canada, which is transport, supposed to do the job if he or she is being shipped out, shipped down, or shipped up through the department of transport in 16 to 18 months?
This is one of the challenges we face. We have had a succession of ministers transiting through the department of transport on their way elsewhere. The safety and security they are supposed to uphold are undermined.
By failing to address the serious issue of adequate rest for railway operators, the government has failed to prevent this CP Rail strike. It is not management. It is not labour. That simplistic, sometimes antiquated notion, often put forward by my colleagues in the NDP, is, in my view, dépassé.
All parties want to see the requisite investments in safety and security, and they know that they are not getting it from the government. That is why the government is rushing through this back-to-work legislation. It is an attempt to masquerade and to cover the fact that it has not addressed the foundations of some of the challenges we have going forward. This puts our railway employees, Canadians, and our communities at risk.
It is the government's responsibility—not the railway company's responsibility, not the union's responsibility—to establish rest periods for railway workers to ensure that railway employees, Canadians, and communities are safe. It cannot be fobbed off or sloughed off. We cannot simply pretend this is a dispute.
“Irreconcilable differences”, says the minister. “We have been there, trying to help broker a deal”, says the minister. Really?
The should talk to the and find out why it is that for over six years, the government has been meeting with union representatives, the railways, and advisory groups in backroom meetings. They have been seized with these foundational security concerns for all that time.
The Conservatives knew this was coming. It was no surprise. Now the minister comes out and says that it is merely a negotiation of differences between two parties.
She is right that several unions have settled. Unifor and 1,800 employees have settled. The Teamsters and its 3,000 members on strike have not, but this is not reducible to mere union-management or labour-management differences.
Do not take my word for it; take the report of the Auditor General. It is a scathing indictment of the government's failure to address the foundational issues around rail safety for almost nine years.
The government does not like to hear it, but I like to remind Canadians that Conservatives have spent more money each and every year for the past five years on economic action plan advertising during the NFL or hockey games. These spots cost $37,000, $67,000, and even $300,000 for 30-second advertisements.
It is interesting that not one of those Conservative MPs can look their constituents in the eye and say that they can defend that spending, because they know they cannot, not with the real needs out there in Canadian society and certainly not with the real needs of rail safety.
The Auditor General pointed out many times and in many places that there are huge problems. Here is one to remember. In the three fiscal years that the Auditor General audited, the government's Department of Transport audited only 25% of the safety management systems it said had to be audited to keep the railways safe. In the same three-year period, VIA Rail, carrying four million passengers a year, was not audited once. Those facts are indisputable.
In conclusion, we cannot support this back-to-work knee-jerk legislative response. It is a masquerade. It is hiding the foundational issues around safety and security that Conservatives have refused to address. That takes money. It takes inspectors. It takes investment. The government has an obligation to get the big things right; rail safety is one of those things, and it is not doing it.
Mr. Speaker, I welcome the opportunity to rise today to discuss the issue of the work stoppage at Canadian Pacific Railway.
The failure to resolve the labour dispute between CP and the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference, or the TCRC, is having an extremely negative impact on our economy. We heard that earlier from our .
Knowing that today one in five Canadian jobs depends on exports, it is clear that our prosperity hinges on opening new markets for Canadian goods, services, and investments. Canada is a trading nation, and trading countries must be able to count on a reliable and effective transportation system, including a railway system. This work stoppage at CP could have negative repercussions on Canada's reputation as a reliable trading partner.
CP is one of our two largest railways and plays a pivotal role in North America's supply chain for getting goods to and from Canadian and international markets. CP's rail network spans 22,000 kilometres from the port of Metro Vancouver to the port of Montreal and into parts of the U.S. northeast and the Midwest. CP plays a significant role in moving the majority of Canada's forest products, agriculture and agri-food products, petroleum products, cereal grains, coal, and consumer and manufactured goods, including automobiles.
Here we are today with a disrupted railway system. We have to take the situation very seriously. This is about keeping the Canadian economy healthy and prosperous. It is about making sure Canadian jobs are protected. It is about ensuring that Canadians are able to distribute their products across Canada and the United States. A responsible government must show leadership and act in the interests of all Canadians. That is exactly why we are doing everything we can to help the parties arrive at an agreement.
Let me give an idea of how badly the work stoppage at CP is affecting our economy. A work stoppage in rail transportation in Canada has such an important impact on so many people and industries that the cumulative effects are significant. For example, a railway stoppage could cause layoffs in manufacturing and automobile production. The work stoppage at CP will have other major impacts on workers and their families. I am talking not just about job losses, but also about the broader impact for the hundreds of thousands of people who depend on the goods carried by rail.
A work stoppage at CP would also have an adverse impact on the movement of grain, which is only now returning to normal conditions following last year's backlog. As members may recall, in March of last year our government introduced an order in council to ensure that the supply chain operates effectively in delivering Canadian grain to market.
It is not just the industries that rely on freight that will be affected. The railways also provide the tracks for commuters in our country's three largest cities of Vancouver, Toronto, and Montreal. A strike will create slowdowns and congestion in these vital cities.
The economic cost of a work stoppage at CP is profound and will cost our economy an estimated decline of $205 million in GDP per week. We just cannot afford such a loss of productivity and revenue. The world economy is more interdependent than ever before, and a work stoppage like this one will affect both inbound and outbound goods and merchandise in Canada. Our industries could take years to recover from lost business and lost investments caused by this work stoppage. The strike will only further exacerbate the uncertain state of our fragile global economy.
It is clear that we as parliamentarians have an important role to play in helping the parties to resolve this situation. Our economy must be protected. Our products must reach their markets, and Canadian jobs must be preserved.
Canada offers some of the best working conditions in the world and we have a solid reputation for having safe, fair, and productive workplaces.
The Canada Labour Code establishes a framework for collective bargaining so that representatives of both employees and employers have an opportunity to negotiate the terms and conditions of employment.
Our government is doing everything possible to help the parties find a resolution.
Let me explain how we got to this point in the dispute. The collective agreement for CP running trades employees expired on December 31, 2014. In mid-November 2014, the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service received a notice of dispute from CP.
Of course, since that time, we have continued to make every effort to help both parties reach an agreement. We offered the parties every resource and support set out in the Canada Labour Code, including the appointment of conciliation officers and mediators from the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, to help them reach a resolution. There have been numerous meetings between the employer, the union, and FMCS officials, with the aim of resolving the dispute. Moreover, the has encouraged representatives from CP and the TCRC to continue working together to reach an agreement.
On February 15, a work stoppage began.
A negotiated agreement is always the best solution to any labour dispute. We are still hoping that CP and the TCRC will find a way to resolve their differences. However, we must also be prepared to act to ensure the resumption of rail services at CP.
The entire Canadian population will feel the impact of this work stoppage, not only Canadian businesses. We need to do everything we can to keep our economy rolling. To do that, we have to ensure that CP resumes its operations. We must do what is necessary to protect our economy, our workers, and our businesses. All members of this House must act in the best interest of all Canadians.
For this reason, I stand here today to urge all hon. members to quickly pass this act to provide for the resumption of rail service operations. I strongly encourage each of my colleagues to support the bill so that we can continue creating jobs, growth, and long-term prosperity for all Canadians.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today despite the disagreeable nature of what we are discussing.
Once again, the government wants to impose its way of doing things and seeing things. As everyone knows, CP and its employees are conducting negotiations on a safety issue that affects the public in a very broad sense.
As the transport critic for the official opposition, I have seen all the government's failures with respect to rail safety. Take Lac-Mégantic, for example. That tragedy affected many people. There were many failures on the government's part. I am not the one saying so; the Transportation Safety Board of Canada and the Auditor General are. Not only does Transport Canada not have enough resources, but the department was also singled out by the Transportation Safety Board of Canada, which is quite rare, for its lax approach and failure to enforce laws and regulations. Furthermore, the transport minister at the time, who is now the , granted MMA an exception permitting it to have only one conductor on the train.
His notion of rail safety and the system he put in place are very worrisome. This is a matter of safety. For those who do not know, we are debating the fact that CP workers want to address how fatigue is managed in their negotiations. At meetings of the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities, we learned that fatigue is a huge problem. Who is ultimately responsible for conductor fatigue? The government has singled out a few individuals in the case of MMA, but it was an entire system that failed, the system that the Conservative government put in place and is continuing to put in place. Workers are negotiating safety issues and, once again, the government wants them to get back to work, so it is flexing its muscles and interfering with the negotiation process.
We are debating a motion today, even though we have not yet seen the bill and its content. This is yet another example of the Conservatives' wanting to impose their own views. We are used to this since we unfortunately have a majority government. However, since we are talking about public safety, it is beyond comprehension that the government is acting in such a cavalier fashion, without considering all aspects of the problem. For example, in the United States they looked at how to manage fatigue. Other companies, such as VIA Rail, have also looked at the possibilities and negotiated with their own employees. In this case, we are talking about CP, the Canadian Pacific Railway, and even though negotiations are not even complete, the company seems to have the blind support of the government to force workers back to work.
I cannot stress enough the importance of public safety. The government's primary role is to protect Canadians. Not only has the government failed to take action with respect to rail safety—it lets rail companies regulate and inspect themselves—but it is also making cuts to the budget for rail safety. This is having a major impact on the number of inspectors. Transport Canada is supposed to fulfill this role, but the Auditor General and the Transportation Safety Board of Canada both stated that this was a problem.
I want to emphasize why it is important to talk about rail safety today. Rail safety is what the employees of CPR are negotiating with the employer. We are talking about making sure that conductors or engineers, people who work on the trains, are not overfatigued. This is why there are negotiations right now.
Unfortunately, we have a government that says that regardless of what the parties are doing, it is going to impose back-to-work legislation. Again, as I mentioned, we are debating before we see that whole process, which shows how quickly the government wants to act on this front, without looking at the issue of safety for Canadians.
This is not the first time the government has imposed its view of things. It is going against the principle of freedom of negotiation, which was upheld in a Supreme Court of Canada decision at the end of January.
The Supreme Court of Canada has reprimanded the government a few times, but the government continues to ignore the law and show no concern for safety even though it is important to people. This makes absolutely no sense. Unlike the government, I believe in the rule of law and the protection of our rights and freedoms.
I cannot overemphasize the importance of safety because we are talking about fatigue among train conductors. The employer and the employees—the unions—will have to negotiate the best approach to protecting train conductors even though they are not the only ones operating the trains.
It is important to protect workers' right to negotiate and their right to safety so they can work under appropriate conditions. The government should consider the terrible consequences in the many countries where workers' rights have been ignored. For example, in Bangladesh, where those rights were ignored, many people died following an unfortunate incident. Our situation is different, but this shows that the government is heading in the wrong direction.
By imposing its way of looking at things and refusing to listen and by forcing the workers back to work, the government is taking away their right to negotiate in good faith and find common ground. The government is therefore favouring the employer without even taking the issues being negotiated into account.
The parliamentary secretary talked about economic impact. In my riding of Brossard—La Prairie, this will affect people who take the train in Candiac, for example. I agree that it is unfortunate, but we have to focus on the objective, which is keeping people safe. People will not be well served if the problem of fatigue among conductors is not resolved. The government is imposing its views without proposing any solutions. Will Canadians really be any safer?
The government needs to examine whether safety really is one of its priorities. The minister says it is important, but the government's concrete actions say otherwise. The Lac-Mégantic tragedy really opened our eyes to the importance of safety when it comes to transporting dangerous goods and to unsafe practices, including what MMA was doing, for example.
Again, those are not my words. The TSB clearly said that safety was not a priority for this company. It had financial concerns to tend to and it made its finances a priority over safety. We saw what happened.
The government is doing the same thing now. It is making the economy a priority. I realize this has an impact. I agree. However, safety has an even bigger impact. How much is the life of a train employee or the aftermath of a disaster worth to the government?
Again, we heard about the derailments near Nickel Belt and in Alberta. Derailments continue to happen. What is the government doing instead of finding solutions to increase public safety and rail safety? It just rejected what the employees are saying, in other words that there needs to be a system in place that protects the safety of both the employees and the public. Unfortunately, the government is turning a deaf ear yet again.
When we really look at the facts, what is rather shocking is that all the relevant questions were raised in the aftermath of the Lac-Mégantic tragedy. We know that there is a problem with inspections. I am not the only one who is saying it. As vice-chair of the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities, I know that many witnesses spoke about how important it is to have thorough inspections and how important it is that the government provide the resources necessary to protect the public.
The employees are negotiating to ensure that the public is protected. Meanwhile, the government did not even really look at the facts or the scientific evidence before saying that the things being negotiated are not serious and that the employees need to return to work, regardless of whether the fatigue problem has been resolved.
I would like to give an example that people can relate to. Think about how you would feel after driving your car on a highway for 10 or 12 hours. You would be tired and it would be dangerous. Some people fall asleep. In this case, we are not talking about just one day but perhaps two or three days in a row. Fatigue accumulates. People are negotiating and trying to fight for that protection, but the government is telling them that what they are saying is not serious and forcing them to return to work, regardless of what they have to do. That is totally unacceptable.
This is not the first time the government has done this. The same thing happened with Canada Post and in several other situations. This government does not listen. Who pays for that, unfortunately? The public does.
The Conservative government needs to remember what happened in Lac-Mégantic. It needs to learn from its mistakes and make public safety a priority.