On Bill C-46, An Act to Provide for the Resumption and Continuation of Railway Operations

Mr. Speaker, I rise on behalf of the NDP as we now enter third reading of Bill C-46, An Act to provide for the resumption and continuation of railway operations.

Having looked at that name, and as many of my colleagues have said earlier in debate today, the bill is a very draconian bill and it is nothing more than ramming through back-to-work legislation that is impacting the health, safety and lives of workers who assume a tremendous risk in terms of their operations on the railway.

I want to say that many of my colleagues in the NDP have been on the picket lines. We have spoken with workers who have been out on strike and I would point out that this was a legal strike.

There have been many comments made in the House that have undermined the rights of workers who have been engaged in a legitimate strike, in a legitimate process under Canada’s Labour Relations Act. Even today there is a perception that somehow the
workers who have been involved in this labour dispute, a very nasty dispute with an employer, CN, are somehow in the wrong.

However, let us be very clear. When the workers rejected the tentative offer that was negotiated, as they have the right to do, they began a series of rotating strikes. Let it be known and let it be very clear, that it was the company it was CN, which then proceeded to lock out the workers.

The misconceptions that have taken place in terms of this labour dispute have done a huge disservice to the members of this union. I want to say to the 2,800 members of the United Transportation Union who have had the guts and the courage to uphold their rights in the face of a very difficult situation.

We are here in our places because we want to uphold the labour rights in this country. What we have seen the government do in terms of ramming through this legislation has been something that we find very despicable and insulting to the process and the history of what labour rights are about in this country.

It is very curious that once the tentative agreement was rejected, it was less than a week that the government then brought in the back to work legislation. I think we have to ask this question. What was the rush on the government’s part? We have heard
repeatedly that the economic sky was going to fall in Canada and things would fall apart, but that was certainly not the case.

I think it begs the question that maybe this Conservative government has another agenda and that is that it wants to clear the decks for a possible election. It knows that it needed to get this back to work legislation through the House because once an election is called it would not be able to do that.

I want to put that out there because there was really no reason for the government to move so quickly against these workers who have a legitimate interest and who have a legitimate process that they were abiding by. I would say again, they were out on a legal strike. They engaged in a legal process. They voted on a tentative agreement which they had a right to approve or to vote down. They chose to vote it down. They also have the right to a process to engage in further rotating strikes, to engage in further negotiations. We believe that is what should have happened instead of this kind of legislation that is being brought forward.

I want to say in speaking to this bill that some of the issues of concern about why this strike happened in the first place have been entirely lost. I want to commend my colleagues in the NDP for standing up one after another today to keep this debate going, to put on the public record what the real issues have been in this strike. I want to say that the main concern that has been put forward by the 2,800 members of the United Transportation Union has been health and safety. These are the men and the women who keep our railways operating. These are the men and women who work sometimes terrible shifts, in terrible working conditions, in unsafe working conditions to keep these trains
rolling across the country.

We believe that the issues that they have placed in terms of why they went on strike are issues that have to be resolved. For that reason we are very concerned that the government’s bill that includes only a final offer selection will not be an adequate process and will not allow these issues to be fully addressed.

We happen to believe that the health and safety of workers is of paramount importance to all Canadians. That is why we have a Labour Code.

If we cannot address that in a labour agreement, if we cannot address that during a strike, if we cannot get those issues on the table, and we are left with just basically a final offer selection, then we believe that is very undemocratic and very unfair.

We want to say to the government today, because we know that the bill is going to be rammed through tonight and it is going to be approved, that it has a responsibility in terms of ensuring the health and safety of those workers. We want to ensure that those
men and women do not experience the kind of derailments that we have seen across the country.

One of my colleagues pointed out earlier that we have seen a doubling of the derailments and the safety incidents that have taken place. Whether it has been in the Fraser Canyon, Pickering, Ontario, or in New Brunswick this has become an all too common occurrence under CN operations. It begs the question as to what is taking place in this company and why is it that health and safety issues and working conditions have fallen so far down the agenda. What is the government doing to address those concerns because it will not be fairly addressed through a final offer selection?

I do want to say as well that in this debate we have brought forward the issues that are of concern to the workers. We have been very dismayed by the debate in this House. It has been completely dismissive of those issues.

My colleagues and I have been on those picket lines. We have spoken to the workers. We know that their decision to go on strike in the first place was not made lightly. People only do this as a last measure when all other resources and processes have failed.

I think we have to come to an acknowledgment in this House that with this legislation that is being rammed through tonight there still will be all kinds of outstanding issues and conflicts that will result for this company and for the workers who work for this company.

As has been pointed out before, this is truly scandalous and obscene for a corporation where the CEO makes $56 million a year in salary and bonuses, which is something like $9,000 an hour. It is truly obscene to see that on the one hand and on the other hand to see that the legitimate interests of workers are not being adequately addressed. Where is the fairness in that process? We have to ask ourselves why this company allowed it to get to this point where we are now in this kind of situation.

The NDP has been very unequivocal in its opposition to this back to work legislation. I remember that when I was first elected in 1997 we had another piece of back to work legislation concerning the postal workers. I remember standing in this House at about 2 a.m. and feeling disgusted that one of the first pieces of business that I had to vote on was sending workers back to work when they had not had a fair negotiating process. I
did not think we would see that kind of situation come about again, but here we are again tonight.

I am very dismayed to see that only members of the NDP and members of the Bloc have been opposed to this back to work legislation. It makes me wonder what on earth has happened to members of the Liberal Party, who purport to support labour rights. We saw them vote against the anti-scab legislation. We saw them flip-flop on that. But on something as basic as this back to work legislation, I can tell members that the labour
movement is truly dismayed that the Liberal Party has abandoned workers in this country by voting in favour of this back to work legislation. It is something that we expect from
the Conservative government, but it is not something that we expected from the Liberal Party.

We stand here proudly, because even when it is unpopular to do so we believe that back to work legislation should not be used. We believe a legitimate process should be allowed to take place.

I am very proud today to rise in my place and to say on behalf of all New Democrats that we categorically oppose this back to work legislation. We believe it is a denial and a violation of the rights of these workers. It is not a democratic process. The elements of this bill will not produce a fair arbitration process and will not address the issues that are still outstanding for the 2,800 members of this union.

We will be voting against this legislation. We do it on principle. We do it on substance. We do it for an understanding of what it means for these workers. We do it on the basis of understanding what it means for workers in this country as a whole.

It is a black day for workers when any legislation like this is used by Parliament, legislation that violates our Labour Code and our labour standards and undermines those democratic processes.

House of Commons
April 17, 2007

Mr. Peter Julian (Burnaby—New Westminster, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I appreciated the intervention from the member for Vancouver East. She comes from British Columbia, as I do, and we have seen the government systematically betray British Columbians with dozens of broken promises. We saw it with the softwood sellout and hundreds of lost jobs in British Columbia as well as half a billion dollars in illegally taken tariffs given away just as a gift to the Bush administration.

The Conservatives applauded the hundreds of lost jobs, which shows how seriously the Conservatives take British Columbia. In fact, the Minister of Finance stood up on budget day and said that his Conservative Canada goes from the Alberta Rockies right through to Newfoundland and Labrador. What he said was insulting to any British Columbian.

Last week, on the pine beetle epidemic, we heard the Minister of Natural Resources saying quite simply that the pine beetle epidemic that has devastated the interior of British Columbia was “not a priority”.

Now we have the issue of rail safety, which British Columbians have been concerned about for years as we have seen the loss of life and the environmental devastation. British Columbia has been more profoundly impacted by CN’s irresponsibility than any
other province. British Columbians have said repeatedly that rail safety has to be a priority, and the Conservative government, like the previous Liberal government, has completely ignored British Columbians’ concerns.

We have here tonight a case of the Conservative government choosing CN management and giving it a blank cheque to impose any sort of working conditions on its workers while very clearly the employees of CN have signalled to all arliamentarians
that safety has to be addressed.

My question for the member for Vancouver East is quite simple. Why does the Conservative government not get the fact that British Columbians’ concerns have to be taken into consideration?

Ms. Libby Davies:
Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for Burnaby—New Westminster for his very fulsome question. My quick response would be that maybe the Conservative
government members have become as arrogant as the former Liberal government so quickly that they forget the interests of the people they represent.

As for that list the member read off, whether it is the pine beetle infestation in British Columbia, the impact of the softwood lumber agreement and the incredible impact it has
had on workers’ lives, or this back to work legislation and the impact of rail safety, all of these are issues that affect people in their working lives and affect their families.

One of the issues in this labour dispute and strike is the health and safety issue. The hours of work affect not only the workers on the railroad but affect their families too. This is about quality of life, something we hear that the Conservatives believe in supporting. They seem to have forgotten that in British Columbia, as they have across the country.

Again I think it begs the question as to why this legislation really has been brought in. Is it for a political agenda? Is it to clear the political deck so that the Conservatives can make whatever decision they want if they decide to go for an election?

This certainly is not being done in the interests of workers, neither those at CN nor any other workers. It is not being done in the interests of British Columbia, because if that were the government’s motivation it would have invested its resources, its influence and its political work in making that process work.

Instead, what we seen is that at the earliest opportunity Conservatives opted out to bring in back to work legislation. That is a sign of their failure and their lack of responsibility in making sure that a process that exists could work.

I would agree with the member that the Conservative government has completely let down British Columbians and certainly has let down these workers who are doing their
best to make these processes work and to get their legitimate issues addressed. The government has let them down.

Mr. Chris Warkentin (Peace River, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, it seems that the NDP is going to keep us here this evening, so I think that while we are here I may as well give an intervention on behalf of the farm families that I represent in my constituency.

Over the last couple of weeks I have spent the time travelling from one end of my constituency to the other. What I have consistently heard from farm families is that the rail disruption that is happening is affecting the farm family to the extent that many families are in a situation where they are going to be unable to pay their bills. They will be unable to make these important payments that the banks and the different suppliers
are demanding. Unfortunately what this means is that many farm families will experience financial devastation and many will actually lose the home they are living in because they
are unable to get their product to market.

Again and again we have seen the NDP be totally unresponsive to the needs of our farm families. I stand here today just to beg the NDP to allow the grain to start to move in this country so that our farm families will get what they need. I will tell the members of the NDP that the people they have consistently not talked about, those for whom this labour disruption has the most devastating effect, are our farm families.

Again and again I ask the NDP to consider for just one moment the effect that this is going to have on our farm families.

Ms. Libby Davies:
Mr. Speaker, first of all I would like to say that I am most terribly sorry if this member is inconvenienced because he has to be here tonight to deal with this legislation. That is really so sad. We consider it a matter of duty to deal with this legislation and to debate it in a legitimate and serious way. If it takes all night and if it takes all day that is what we are prepared to do. My apologies if that one member has been inconvenienced by being
here tonight.

In terms of his assertion that the NDP has been unresponsive to farm families, I have to say that he should go and look at the record. He should go and look at which party and which members have been raising the issues of farm families in this House. It has been the NDP.

Which members have been raising the issue of the Wheat Board and the democratic rights of farmers who were elected to that Wheat Board, which the Conservative government has thrown out and has been trying to violate? It has been the New
Democratic Party.

In any labour dispute or any strike, there is an economic disruption. That is a reality. I do not deny that. Nobody in this House could deny that. But we have rights in this country for workers and employers. It is a process that has been well honed. It is based on practice. It is based on law.

Yes, there can be economic disruption and economic hardship, but the fact is that if the government had taken the time to act properly and to make sure the process worked, then we would not be where we are today: dealing with this legislation.

I put it back to the member. I believe it is the government that has let down those farm families by letting us get to the point where we now have back to work legislation. There could have been much earlier preventative action taken. We could have had a collective agreement and a fair process could have taken place.
The member should not lecture us about supporting farm families. We have done our job and we will continue to do our job. It is the Conservative government that has let
down those provinces and the Prairies.

Mr. Wayne Marston (Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I spent nine years working for the Canadian National Railway. I was a signal maintainer. I saw accident after accident. I was there when the bodies of four people were picked up off the ground. I know the concerns that come from the workers. I speak to these workers back in Hamilton all the time. They are concerned.

The members opposite can talk about the farmers and the wheat. Let us think in terms of how many railcars go off the tracks and how many derailments we have had in this country over the last six months. They should ask themselves what the problem is.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Andrew Scheer):
There are eight seconds left for the hon. member for Vancouver East.

Ms. Libby Davies:
Mr. Speaker, the member for Hamilton East—Stoney Creek knows what he is talking about. He is speaking from his own experience of what these health and safety issues are for railway workers. I thank him for raising this.