That, notwithstanding any standing order, special order or usual practice of the House, a bill in the name of the Minister of Labour, entitled An Act to provide for the resumption and continuation of operations at the Port of Montreal, be disposed of as follows:
(a) the bill be ordered for consideration at the second reading stage immediately after the adoption of this order;
(b) when the House begins debate at the second reading stage of the bill, two members of each recognized party and a member of the Green Party may each speak at the said stage for not more than 20 minutes, followed by 10 minutes for questions and comments, provided that members may be permitted to split their time with another member;
(c) at the conclusion of the time provided for the debate at the second reading stage or when no member rises to speak, whichever is earlier, all questions necessary to dispose of the second reading stage of the bill shall be put without further debate or amendment, provided that, if a recorded division is requested, it shall not be deferred;
(d) if the bill is adopted at the second reading stage, it shall be deemed referred to a committee of the whole, deemed considered in committee of the whole, deemed reported without amendment, deemed concurred in at report stage, and deemed read a third time and passed;
(e) during consideration of the bill, the House shall not adjourn, except pursuant to a motion moved by a minister of the Crown;
(f) no motion to adjourn the debate may be moved except by a minister of the Crown; and
(g) upon completion of proceedings on the said bill, the House shall adjourn to the next sitting day.
She said: Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by acknowledging that I am joining members from the traditional territory of the Haudenosaunee and Anishinabe people covered by the Dish With One Spoon wampum agreement.
I am here today to talk about our intention to take action to end the labour dispute between the Syndicat des débardeurs, also known as CUPE Local 375, and the Maritime Employers Association, or the MEA.
My maiden speech in the House of Commons discussed a proud history of the labour movement in Hamilton and Canada. I spoke to how our government was passing a bill, Bill , that replaced the previous government's anti-labour bills: Bill C-535 and Bill C-377.
I have been a staunch supporter of the labour movement that has done so much for my hometown and for Canada. I grew up in a community that was driven by labour values. Those values are what drive me today: hard work, fairness, safety and healthy and inclusive workplaces.
I want to be clear that neither I nor the government wanted the situation to come to this point. This legislation was always our least-favoured option. Our government believes in the collective bargaining process. The parties have been at the bargaining table for two and a half years. For over two and a half years, we have supported the parties throughout the collective bargaining process in the hope of them arriving at a negotiated agreement.
The Port of Montreal is essential for the economic prosperity of Canadians across the country, especially Quebeckers and the people of eastern Canada. We believe that the government has no choice but to take action.
Let me be clear. The government will continue to support the parties and strongly encourages them to reach an agreement as soon as possible. Let me provide some context.
The Port of Montreal is the second-largest container port in Canada. Every year it handles over 1.6 million 20-foot equivalent units and 35 million tonnes of cargo, representing approximately $40 billion in goods. It is also a major link in the various Canadian and American supply chains for raw materials and consumer goods.
The work stoppage we are seeing right now is causing harm. It has the potential to cause severe, immediate and lasting damage to the economies of Montreal, the province of Quebec and Canada. This work stoppage affects more than 19,000 direct and indirect jobs associated with transit through the Port of Montreal, including in the rail and trucking industry. In fact, it would affect the jobs of up to 250,000 employees in Montreal and 273,000 workers in Ontario employed in the production of shipping container products. Shippers that have been forced to reroute to other ports may not return immediately. They may not even return in the long term, meaning that the negative impacts on Montreal, Quebec and all of Canada could last longer as the work stoppage continues.
The Port of Montreal is a major link in many Canadian and American supply chains of raw materials and consumer goods. These goods are fundamental to the manufacturing, agriculture and health industries, among many others. Vital PPE arrives via the Port of Montreal. Important goods to various manufacturing industries do as well.
The August 2020 strike had a disruptive and protracted effect on the east coast transportation system. More than 21 ships were diverted to other ports, including Halifax and Saint John, leading to congestion, longer transit times and additional costs for shippers. The current work stoppage is leading to similar rerouting to other ports, including in the U.S. This is having a strong negative economic impact.
Earlier this year, long before the strike action took place, we heard from stakeholders such as the Shipping Federation of Canada, which stated:
The mere threat of a work stoppage by longshore workers at the Port of Montreal is forcing North American importers and exporters to divert large volumes of international cargo away from the port and is already causing havoc to supply chains...
At that time, the Montreal Port Authority also confirmed that some of its clients had pre-emptively diverted container goods to other ports. Of course, it is important to point out that we are in the midst of the pandemic and COVID-19 has exacerbated this situation.
If these diversions to American ports become permanent, they could have long-lasting negative effects on the integrated transportation and logistics network around the Port of Montreal. A direct effect would be lower demand for rail and trucking services in Canada that support the movement of cargo between Canada and the United States. We also know that production and manufacturing in natural resource sectors, such as forestry, were seriously impacted during the strike last summer. These sectors are once again seeing major impacts to their supply chains with this latest action.
For example, the Prince Edward Island Federation of Agriculture has said that seed, fertilizer, crop protection and other important inputs arrive at the port destined for farms across the region that need them to successfully get their crops in the ground.
Small businesses that rely on the Port of Montreal for supplies will be especially hard pressed to absorb the extra costs associated with the work stoppage if it is left to continue for a long period. Many of these smaller businesses cannot afford high-cost alternatives, such as expediting cargo through busy ports along the east coast of the U.S. at the last minute. They often cannot afford to pay workers while their businesses remain idle as they wait for operations at the Port of Montreal to return to normal.
All of this comes at a precarious moment in Canada's economic recovery from the ongoing pandemic. Supply chains have been disrupted for over a year now. Industries are working very hard to recover from and manage these complexities. These industries employ workers who are not just numbers: They are people who depend on their jobs to take care of themselves and their families and all those who depend on them. For businesses in central and eastern Canada, this second major work stoppage at one of the main gateways to international suppliers and markets is a serious blow in the already challenging COVID-19 environment.
The impact on our economy of these disruptions to supply chains will be devastating. Ensuring the uninterrupted flow of commodities and goods to and from international and domestic markets through the Port of Montreal is essential to the economic well-being of Canadians across the country, particularly now as we enter a period of economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Government of Canada has provided significant assistance to the parties. Over the last two and a half years, a federal government mediator has supported over 100 bargaining sessions. Despite our best efforts and this support, there is no agreement in sight as the parties remain unable to find common ground. This has now resulted in yet another disruption at the port with very real consequences for multiple industries that depend on access to international markets.
Our government firmly believes that the best deals are reached at the bargaining table. However, intervention is sometimes necessary when the parties are at a significant and long-standing impasse, particularly when a work stoppage is causing significant harm to Canadians. We cannot allow the situation we saw in August 2020 to repeat itself, particularly in the midst of this pandemic. If the current stoppage continues, serious accumulated and negative impacts will continue to be felt all over Canada.
Canadians are counting on us to help the parties resolve their differences as quickly as possible to avoid a worsening of the situation. Stakeholders are counting on us as well, many of whom have already reached out directly to urge the government to do everything in its power to protect the economy, workers' jobs and the well-being of Canadians. As I mentioned earlier, the government will continue to support the parties in their negotiations, and it strongly encourages them to reach an agreement as soon as possible. We take the use of this legislation very seriously. It is our least-favoured option. I very strongly encourage the parties to reach a deal as soon as possible before this legislation is passed. The parties are at the table now. I hope the message continues to be heard loud and clear, but we cannot afford to wait.
We are committed to free and collective bargaining, and we believe in the collective bargaining process. Negotiated agreements are always the best solution. The parties began this round of collective bargaining in September 2018, and the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service has been involved since October 2018.
In the last two and a half years, the parties have met over 100 times. This is a significant investment on the part of the government and clearly demonstrates our commitment to the process. The existing collective bargaining agreement expired on December 31, 2018. The agreement covers all approximately 1,100 workers employed by the member companies of the MEA engaged in the loading and unloading of vessels, and other related work at the Port of Montreal.
On October 11, 2018, the government appointed a conciliation officer from the federal mediation and conciliation service. On December 11, we appointed two mediators to attempt to help the parties resolve their differences and reach an agreement that worked for everyone. On February 4, 2021, I added two senior mediators to this file to assist the parties in their negotiations.
The Canada Industrial Relations Board has also been involved in this dispute.
On October 23, the MEA filed an application with the Canada Industrial Relations Board to determine which activities would need to be maintained in the event of a work stoppage at the port to prevent an immediate and serious danger to the safety or health of the public. Neither party could initiate a work stoppage until the CIRB decided on the matter.
The proceedings before the CIRB and related litigation in federal court lasted over a year. During this time, the parties continued to bargain with the help of the federal mediators, holding 40 bargaining sessions between December 11, 2018 and June 8, 2020, the date the CIRB decision was rendered.
Ultimately the CIRB found that the parties did not need to maintain any activities in the event of the work stoppage beyond their statutory obligation under the Canada Labour Code to continue service for grain vessels. However, the CIRB did acknowledge the union's commitment to continuing servicing two vessels that supplied Newfoundland and Labrador. The parties were legally entitled to begin a strike or lockout as of the date of the decision, provided they gave the 72-hour notice.
Less than a month after the CIRB decision was released, with the support of 99% of its membership, the union commenced a partial strike on July 2, 2020. Four work stoppages followed that summer, each one increasing in duration and impact, ending an unlimited strike that started on August 10, 2020. There was also increasing tension around the port on August 13, 2020. Eight people were arrested and charged with intimidation, mischief and assault, following a confrontation between union members and managers who were brought in as replacement workers.
Eleven days later, on August 21, 2020, the parties agreed to a seven-month truce, during the period of which they would keep bargaining and assume all port activities. That truce ended on March 21, 2021.
Throughout these events, the parties have continued to receive intense mediation support from the federal mediators. I want to take this opportunity to thank the federal mediators for their support.
However, despite these ongoing mediation efforts, at the start of February, the MEA filed a bad faith bargaining complaint with the CIRB, asking it to order the parties to binding arbitration. The CIRB issued its ruling on March 17, finding that any determination of bad faith bargaining would be premature, as the parties were still working on the negotiation of a new collective agreement.
My colleague, the , and I have also reached out to the parties directly to urge them to continue to work toward an agreement. Despite these efforts, negotiations remain stalled and no end is in sight.
On April 10, the employer gave 72 hours' notice of its intention to modify the conditions of employment for members of CUPE 375. According to the notice, employees would no longer be guaranteed a minimum weekly income and would instead be remunerated only for hours worked.
Later that same day, the union gave 72 hours' notice of its intention to no longer perform overtime, work on weekends or participate in training. The union committed to maintaining services for vessels coming to and from Newfoundland and Labrador, and services for grain vessels that must be maintained in accordance with section 87.7(1) of the Canada Labour Code, which specifies that in the event of a job action, the movement of grain must not be affected.
On April 13, the parties implemented the actions described in their respective notices. Recently, the situation has escalated. On April 22, the employer advised the union that it would be invoking the provisions of the collective agreement that imposed a specific shift schedule requiring workers to work the entire shift.
The following day, the union gave notice of its intention to stop all work at the port, beginning at 7 a.m. on April 26. On Monday morning, that is exactly what happened, a complete general strike, unlimited in duration, began at the Port of Montreal.
The parties have reached an impasse and it is clear that despite ongoing assistance from federal mediators for the last two and a half years, they remain unable to find a common ground. We urgently need to find a way to move forward, particularly in light of the recent escalation in job action, which has paralyzed the port.
Our government has done everything we could to help the parties resolve their differences without a stoppage. We believe in the collective bargaining process. There are, however, exceptional circumstances where the government must step in. This is one of those exceptional circumstances. The impact is vast and deep and the situation is dire.
When it is only the two parties at the bargaining table that stand to suffer grave consequences as a result of work stoppage, there is no justification for the government to intervene. However, when a strike or lockout is disrupting the economy to the degree that it has and has caused significant and permanent damage to the livelihoods and well-being of Canadians across the country, such as what we are seeing with this escalating work stoppage at the Port of Montreal, the government must intervene even if it is to intervene with a heavy heart.
Canadians are counting on medicines and medical equipment, farmers are counting on receipt of seed and fertilizer to grow crops and feed Canadians and Canadians are counting on products and goods, including food, medicines and medical equipment, specifically dialysis products. This is a concern in the best of times. Now, in the midst of a pandemic, these concerns are heightened.
I have heard messages from stakeholders loud and clear. This is literally a matter of life and death has been the message communicated to me. If medical products and life-saving medical devices do not get to hospitals and patients in a timely manner, the health of Canadians is at stake. We know there are ships currently with COVID-related products, pharmaceutical and medical equipment, that now cannot get through. The impacts are vast and deep. Ensuring the uninterrupted flow of these goods is critical at this time.
The parties could not reach a negotiated agreement after two and a half years of negotiations, and the help of a federal mediator at over 100 bargaining sessions. We cannot afford to wait any longer to intervene. There is too much at stake. We must act before irreparable damage is done to the economies of Montreal, the Province of Quebec and Canada as well as the health and safety of Canadians across the country.
We will continue to work with both parties in an effort to help them find common ground. The federal government will continue to support the negotiations between the parties. As I have said, the parties are currently at the table. We strongly encourage them, with the support of the federal mediation and conciliation service, to come to an agreement at the table.
We also have a responsibility to act in the interests of Canadians whose lives and livelihoods are affected by the work stoppage, which is the result of failure to reach a negotiated agreement after the two and a half years of federally supported negotiations of the Syndicat des débardeurs, known also as CUPE Local 375, and the Maritime Employers Association. That is why we are introducing this legislation today.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased and honoured to be a member of the House and to have had the opportunity to duly represent the people of Louis-Saint-Laurent for nearly five and a half or six years now.
Normally, I am always pleased and enthusiastic to rise in the House. However, today, it is quite the opposite. Rising in the House to debate and pass special legislation to force employees back to work is the furthest thing from a victory. It is not a victory for workers, for the employer, or for the business people and companies dealing with the problems resulting from the dispute, and it is certainly not a victory for parliamentarians.
Parliament's job is to pass bills that help society move forward, not to force people back to work. Unfortunately, we are obligated to debate this motion, which will lead to the passage of special legislation forcing Port of Montreal dock workers back to work. Obviously, we have a lot to say about that. We are here because the Liberal government, and particularly the and member for Papineau, a Montreal riding, unfortunately failed to show leadership at the appropriate time.
Let us consider the facts. The Port of Montreal is extremely essential. It is the beating heart of Montreal's economy, Quebec's economy and Canada's economy because goods that go through the port end up everywhere. That is why we have to pass this bill, which will cause port operations that have been stalled for more than a day now to resume.
The Port of Montreal is a crucial economic tool. It is Canada's second-largest port. Some 40 million tonnes of cargo and two billion products go through the Port of Montreal. For that to work, the port has to be efficient and reliable. Unfortunately, it is neither at the moment. This dispute is tarnishing the Port of Montreal's reputation, and now 1,150 dock workers are on strike because of it.
This dispute has deep roots. For nearly two and a half years now, the Port of Montreal's 1,150 dock workers have been without a contract. Anyone working for an organization wants to know what to expect. Disputes may arise occasionally, and contracts have to be renegotiated from time to time, but when it takes almost two and a half years to reach an agreement, that does not fly, and that is when problems come up.
These workers have been without a contract since December 2018.
Members will recall the sad events of last summer, when the Port of Montreal was hit by a 19-day labour dispute. Over those 19 days, $600 million was reportedly lost due to the work stoppage at the port. It took three months for economic activity to return to normal and for the backlog to clear. Since everything was shut down for 19 days, the containers piled up and could not be moved. The total economic impact of the dispute was $600 million.
Given the pressures of last summer, in the middle of a pandemic, we would have expected negotiations to resume civilly so that the parties could quickly find some middle ground. Unfortunately, that is not what happened. Instead, there was a seven-month truce, but it did not last.
There was an attempt at mediation. Experienced mediators were called in to help move things along. We recognize that. More importantly, however, we recognize that it did not work. That is the problem.
The government claims to have goodwill and talks about how terrible this is. I heard the minister talk about her goodwill earlier. Incidentally, I want to congratulate the minister for speaking a few sentences in French. I do not doubt her goodwill, but we need to see some results. There are no results to speak of. That is why the Prime Minister should have shown some leadership. I will come back to the lack of leadership a little later.
Every day this strike continues is costing our economy between $10 million and $20 million, which is huge. This is the second day of the strike, so it is time to move forward. Using special legislation is messy. No one wants that. I used to sit in the National Assembly in Quebec, and I had to vote on special legislation. As an opposition member, I agreed with the government's approach, but I could not applaud the passing of special legislation.
Special legislation undermines confidence in Parliament since it must be adopted quickly. It also causes upheaval in society when the government forces unionized workers who are striking legally to return to work and negotiate with their employers.
From the outset, I will say that we want to keep the economy rolling. We want the workers at thousands of plants, primarily in Quebec and Ontario, to be able to resume work and have access to the goods that flow through the port. We want them to be able to ship their products through the Port of Montreal. For that to happen, the workers need to return to work.
In her speech, the minister said that this dispute would directly affect 250,000 jobs in Quebec and 270,000 in Ontario. As members can see, this conflict is not a local, municipal or provincial issue. It is a Canadian one. Companies in western Canada and in the Maritimes will be directly affected by this as well.
Sadly, we will recall that during last summer's dispute about twenty vessels destined for the Port of Montreal were redirected to other ports such as the Port of Halifax. This has been happening again for the past several weeks. Why? It is because the government did not show leadership at the right time to prevent this dispute. Unfortunately, it was not prevented.
The Quebec government is calling for special legislation to be passed because Quebec's economy is being affected by this situation. Business people also want operations to resume. We completely agree. We also know that the unions think passing special legislation is appalling. That is true. Unfortunately, we believe that this government failed to show leadership. I will explain.
When such serious disputes arise, when positions are irreconcilable and there is no flexibility on certain aspects that could move things forward, that is when political leadership must be shown and unfortunately that did not happen.
I will never understand why the member for , who is from the Montreal area, the Prime Minister of Canada, who has all the authority to act, did not do anything about a dispute that is happening just a few kilometres from his riding.
The Prime Minister had a fundamental duty to pick up the phone last week and call the union and the Port of Montreal management, to encourage them to work things out and ask them what the issues were. That is a prime minister's job. That is where leadership is needed.
When every effort has been made to resolve a conflict but unfortunately nothing is working, the Prime Minister needs to step up and do something. Instead, this Prime Minister said the parties had to be left to their negotiations to see if that would work. That did not work for two and a half years. In a case like this, it is important to think outside the box. That is where leadership comes in, and that is where leadership was lacking.
The Prime Minister and member for Papineau, from the Montreal region, did not have the courage to do the right thing. That is why we find ourselves in this situation today, the same situation we sadly decried quite a while ago. I say “sadly” because we would have preferred not to do that. More than a month ago, when we felt no progress was being made, we asked questions in the House. The member for and the member for rose in the House to question the government and ensure that it would take action to avoid a dispute. Unfortunately, that is what we are facing now.
We are currently suffering the repercussions of the third wave of the pandemic, which, as members know, were exacerbated by the current government's tardiness in procuring vaccines when it mattered. We are now suffering the consequences of the 10-day gap in January and February.
Business people were hard hit by the lack of access to supplies and equipment during the rail crisis almost two years ago. Then they were hit by the pandemic and eventually the third wave. On top of all that, they are now facing the labour dispute at the Port of Montreal. Thousands of jobs throughout Quebec, Ontario and Canada are at stake. Unfortunately, this government failed by not showing the necessary leadership. Now we have to debate this bill, which has to pass so that operations can resume at the Port of Montreal.
Mr. Speaker, it is always an honour to speak to this House, this time from Chilliwack remotely. My hon. colleague, the opposition House leader, had excellent remarks. I am always pleased to share the virtual stage with him. He mentioned a few things that I want to build on.
Primarily, government members like to pat themselves on the back for their intentions. They always have good intentions and think that should be enough to get them kudos for how they operate. Good intentions do not equal good results. While the minister talked about having a heavy heart and she had good intentions to facilitate a deal, the fact is that they did not get it done. To quote Michael Ignatieff, “They didn't get it done”, so we are here today.
That is disappointing. None of us are happy that we are here debating back-to-work legislation. Back-to-work legislation indicates a failure. It indicates that there has been a failure from the government to facilitate a negotiated settlement, that the bargaining has broken down and that this is, as the minister said, the last tool in the tool box, but here we are. It is being deployed. That is something we have heard. Certainly, I spoke to the union today. It said that once the minister telegraphed, some time ago, that back-to-work legislation was an option she was considering, the negotiations fell off the table. The negotiations started to get less serious and no longer were tackling the issues at the heart of this dispute, because one side could say it would wait to see what the government does before bringing forward ideas.
I think that has been really unfortunate. As was said by the member for , when the pressure is removed from a negotiation, there is no more impetus to come to the best deal. A pressure valve has been released by the government here. To signal that before a strike was even under way was truly unfortunate. From the reports that we are hearing on the ground, it did have a negative impact on negotiations.
We have seen that when there is a deadline, it seems the government fails to manage a file even more than usual. When there is a hard deadline, the government's failures increase. We saw it last fall, when the CERB benefits were going to run out. We all got pushed up against the wall because the government had failed to manage the timeline. We saw it with medical aid in dying, where the government absolutely failed to respond to court deadlines. We saw it with the U.K. trade agreement, where the government has failed to meet deadlines. Now, with a seven-month truce period, the government has failed to facilitate a negotiated settlement between the union and the employer. Once again, this deadline was known. It is not a surprise, and neither is the situation at the Port of Montreal a surprise, but the government has failed to get a deal done with the parties.
We know that the Port of Montreal is extremely important to the country. It is the second-busiest port in the country and it has connections to more than 140 countries. It is the largest port in eastern Canada: 40 million tonnes of cargo were handled in 2019; 2,500 trucks a day go through that port, and 60 to 80 trains a week; there are $2.6 billion in economic benefits, $250 million in tax revenue, and over 19,000 direct and indirect jobs; a hundred billion dollars' worth of goods go through there. We cannot overstate the importance of the port, and we cannot overstate as well the difficulty that has been felt around the world because of the uncertainty that is happening at the port.
We saw that with the August 2020 shutdown, when there was a $600-million cost to the economy for a 19-day strike. It took three months after that strike for port activities to get back to where they were and for the backlogs to be cleared.
We know that, as we go forward, any work stoppage is going to have a massive impact on Canada's economy, at a time when we can afford it the least. We already have some of the highest unemployment rates in the G7. We have seen the pandemic have a devastating impact on small businesses right across the country, and the last thing they can afford is a prolonged stoppage that will impact their bottom line again.
We have also talked to the port itself, which is not the employer in this situation but is an interested party. It has indicated that since the truce ended, it has seen about a 10% drop in shipping volumes. That is before any action was taken by either side, before any work stoppage occurred. At the same time, ports in New York and New Jersey and Norfolk were seeing a corresponding increase in traffic as the shippers from around the world were making decisions on the reliability of the Port of Montreal.
That is what is at stake here: the continued questions about the reliability of the port. By failing to get a deal done, by failing to facilitate a deal, those questions remain, so people and businesses are making decisions that will impact workers not only at the port but right across the country. If the volumes do not come back and the 10% decline becomes a permanent decline, that will result in fewer union jobs. If we cannot get product across the country to manufacturing facilities, that will result in fewer jobs and the impacts will be felt all along the supply chain.
We Conservatives, too, believe in the collective bargaining process. This is the process that the government says it had good intentions to support, but it failed to help the two parties come to an agreement. We want these decisions to be made at the table, without the guillotine, if we want to call it that, of back-to-work legislation hanging over their heads. The best deals are made at the table between willing parties. Certainly we want to reiterate our support for collective bargaining, and that we are not celebrating today that the government has taken this action.
However, we do believe that Canada cannot afford a prolonged work stoppage at this port. We cannot afford to see companies choosing to temporarily or permanently shift their operations to other ports. As the CEO of the Port of Montreal has indicated, extra dollars to move a product using a different port are one thing, but reliability is non-negotiable. Companies cannot have their products tied up in port or be unsure that they will be able to get to the customers in a timely fashion.
It is unfortunate that we are here today. It is unfortunate that the government was unable to facilitate a deal between the two parties. We do not celebrate the fact that this is before us, but here we are. We have to make a choice, and we choose to support the Canadian economy and support the workers right across the supply chain who are relying on the products that come through that port.