April 9, 1974 (29th Parliament, 2nd Session)


Thomas Speakman Barnett

New Democratic Party

Mr. Thomas S. Barnett (Comox-Alberni):

Mr. Speaker, 1 have been listening with some attention to this debate tonight. Let me say at once that if the fact that we are having it indicates that the members of the House from various parts of Canada are concerned about the situation in British Columbia, then perhaps it will have had some value. It may indicate that in our minds there is real concern that we arrive quickly at a fair settlement of the negotiations regarding this particular situation in British Columbia.
Having just listened to my colleague from southern Vancouver Island, I think we should not put this matter out of perspective. It is not as if we are faced with a national disaster in any sense of that word. It is quite true that a large number of people in British Columbia are seriously inconvenienced, and one cannot discount that. But the fact remains that if we are going to have what some of us like to consider a free society in which working people are not serfs under the lash of the employer, then we must continue the bargaining process. If grievances reach the point where they have to be strongly expressed, that is part and parcel of that process. Certainly this particular situation does not mean the end of the world for people on Vancouver Island, in Vancouver or in Prince George.
The hon. member for Prince George-Peace River (Mr. Oberle) suggested that he would be prepared to stay here all next week-I thought I understood him to say-to debate this issue. My only comment would be that if we were to stay here all next week and listen to the kind of inflammatory speech that was made by my colleague for Prince George-Peace River, there would probably be a strike at all airports in Canada.

April 9, 1974
Airline Firefighters Strike
I do not believe that this House of Commons, in the kind of debate we are having here tonight, is indeed the proper forum in which to arrive at a settlement of a collective bargaining dispute. I certainly agree with what was said by the hon. member for York South (Mr. Lewis), that this dispute is not the responsibility of the Minister of Transport (Mr. Marchand). He is not the employer. His job, for better or for worse, is to operate the airport system in Canada. The only person in this House who has any ministerial responsibility to whom we can address ourselves is the President of the Treasury Board (Mr. Drury). He, in effect, is our agent in this situation, and when I say "our agent" I mean in the sense that the government of the day is responsible to this House for its action or lack of action. In this instance the proper member to whom we should address our remarks is the President of the Treasury Board.
In the days before collective bargaining in the public service had been introduced-days when the only kind of business agent people in the public service had was their member of parliament-I remember putting forward the proposition advanced tonight by the hon. member for Verdun (Mr. Mackasey), namely, that rates of pay of people in the public service in St. John's, Newfoundland, should be roughly the equivalent of rates in Vancouver. I must say that all efforts I made in this direction were not apparent as far as producing results is concerned, but it is heartening to find someone on the government side of the House advancing that thesis. It is only unfortunate that the hon. member for Verdun, in advancing the thesis, is not speaking as a member of the ministry. Perhaps one of the reasons he is not in the ministry is that he has not been able to convince the President of the Treasury Board of the equity of that kind of position.
One hon. member mentioned that the President of the Treasury Board said it would cost $64 million to equalize rates. We hear a lot of debate about equalization payments, and quite frankly I cannot think of any more economically sound form of equalization payments that might flow from the federal treasury of Canada than reasonably equalized rates that are uniform across the country within reasonable limits. Those rates, just as the equalization payments, have to be based on some calculation of the highest average rather than on some calculation either of the median or lowest average. I hope the hon. member for Verdun will continue to pursue his line of argument with his colleagues in the Liberal caucus, and in particular with the President of the Treasury Board.
That is the real solution to this situation and that would bail the Minister of Transport out of his present dilemma. That and that alone is the kind of approach I feel this House of Commons should suggest to the government tonight. I do not believe that much more can be achieved by the House of Commons at this point in time. When we reach eleven o'clock tonight we will not have passed any motion except that the House adjourn. Unless the President of the Treasury Board is in a position and willing to rise some time before eleven o'clock and make a real announcement, we will have to endure the collective bargaining behind the scenes in which he is involved and

await the outcome of that process. Otherwise, I see little advantage in prolonging this debate.
We have made our views clear and we have tried to say what should happen. That having been done, the matter should go back to the collective bargaining forum with the realization that sooner or later something has to be settled. I think even the President of the Treasury Board would be prepared to make that admission. I know that he likes to take the hard-fisted approach on occasion, particularly in reference to money matters, and in part at least that is his responsibility.
However, I suggest that if he wants to do a real service toward resolving the kind of dilemma which keeps recurring, the dilemma which some of us from areas such as Vancouver Island have to wrestle with from time to time as a real and proper grievance, he will be prepared to rise tonight and announce that he accepts the principle of the federal service of Canada being paid on a national rate at a level which is reasonably equivalent to the average of perhaps the two highest salaried provinces in Canada, or some such formula. Then perhaps hon. members such as the hon. member from southern Vancouver Island will be able to go home for a comfortable sleep in the knowledge that Canada is not falling to pieces quite as badly as he suggested.

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