February 16, 2004 (37th Parliament, 3rd Session)


Réal Ménard

Bloc Québécois

Mr. Réal Ménard (Hochelaga—Maisonneuve, BQ)

Madam Speaker, I want to take this opportunity to congratulate you on your appointment as Assistant Deputy Chair. I remember a trip we took together to Saskatoon, in your riding. I was able to appreciate how much you were recognized by your peers for your work as a member of Parliament. I know that you come from the West and that you have been a member of the Standing Committee on Health. Perhaps your riding does not include Saskatoon, but I remember that we travelled together and that we were in Saskatoon. I have happy memories of that trip.
Unfortunately, we cannot support the bill introduced by the Conservative Party's labour critic. It looks to us like a bill that would downplay the role of collective bargaining so necessary in a labour dispute. I think that, if there is any urgent concern before this House with respect to labour relations, it is not to take the right to strike away from the workers. In fact, if the bill were adopted, it could have consequences as extreme as denying the right to strike to workers in west coast ports, and going straight to arbitration, in a nearly mandatory way. I will come back to this point.
With respect to arbitration, we must be extremely careful, because it may induce a bias toward one party or the other. Perhaps mandatory arbitration is, in the final analysis, something desirable, and can be useful if there are only one or two matters at issue, for example, salaries or such things. Still, systematically resorting to it and depriving west coast port workers of the right to free negotiation of their working conditions is not a step the Bloc Quebecois is ready to take.
I represent a riding in Montreal, which lies along the river, and the port of Montreal is in my riding. It is clear that very significant economic activity takes place in the port of Montreal, as in all ports. Today we recognize one of the major factors in competitive advantage is the concept of just in time. In the transportation sector, the hon. member is correct in saying that there is a particular sensitivity for the whole sector of ports, railways and trucking. Obviously, since Canada is a continental country, the axes of communication are very important.
However, does this mean that we should sacrifice a principle that has basically produced good results? We must let the two sides negotiate. Sometimes, When negotiations break down, a group must be allowed to exercise its right to strike. What is important is that the whole process be defined.
When I talk about the right to strike, I cannot help but think about Quebec's model. Madam Speaker, I do not know whether you have had opportunities to come to Quebec. Allow me to reiterate my invitation to come to Montreal, in the riding of Hochelaga—Maisonneuve. There is no doubt that your presence would not go unnoticed. You are always welcome, and I know how enjoyable your company can be.
The fact is that, in Quebec, limits have been set regarding labour relations. In 1977, the excellent government of the Parti Quebecois took significant steps in the area of labour relations. Unless I am mistaken, it was former premier Pierre-Marc Johnson, who was the Minister of Labour at the time. The Quebec government passed anti-scab legislation because, at some point in time, going on strike may become a necessity for an organization. It is always an ultimate recourse. No one wishes to go on strike. This is why the first part of the Labour Code includes mediation, conciliation and arbitration as alternatives. Ultimately, when advance notice is given and the two sides come to the conclusion that, unfortunately, they will not be able to settle their differences, then the right to strike can be exercised.
Exercising that right is an ultimate recourse that carries consequences. These consequences affect primarily the workers, who are not getting paid, their families of course, the employer and, in some cases, the consumers.
However, we are not prepared to sacrifice the right to strike, which is a democratic recourse. The battle that all parliamentarians in this House should wage is the one for anti-scab legislation. That is what the hon. member for Laurentides asked us to do in October, with her bill, which provided a litmus test when parliamentarians voted on it.
Imagine how different things would be in labour relations if the Canada Labour Code included provisions regulating the right to strike and, more importantly, prohibiting the use of scabs. I remember that, shortly after we were elected in 1993, we had to vote on back to work legislation. When ports are affected by a strike and scabs are called in, it is very detrimental to labour relations and it leads to violence.
In this regard, our NDP colleagues righted a historic wrong. In the 1990s, when the hon. member for Richelieu had introduced a bill asking the government to include anti-scab provisions in the code, our NDP colleagues were not there to support the Bloc Quebecois. And because they were not there, we have been deprived of anti-scab provisions for a decade, longer in fact since there are still no such provisions.
The NDP righted its wrong, but this is proof of the essential role of the Bloc Quebecois in this House. If there is any battle that parliamentarians should fight, it is not that of depriving workers on the west coast of their democratic rights, such as the right to strike under specific conditions, but rather that of implementing anti-scab provisions to provide a framework of civility and a benchmark for the exercise of a democratic right which, without a framework, can result in abuses that no one wants.
For all these reasons, unfortunately, we will not be able to support our colleague's bill. He is a sensitive man. He has often shown his sensitivity here in the House, and it adds to his charm. However, I invite him to consider the consequences of mandatory final offer arbitration, which means supporting the claims of one party or the other. That is what the bill says. It says that, should arbitration be necessary, the arbitrator will select the offer of one party or the other. Consequently, it is not a matter of negotiations or balance or compromise, but favouring one party at the expense of the other.
Unfortunately, this bill does not provide balance. For these reasons, the Bloc Quebecois, which is a balanced party that has always had a favourable bias toward the workers, cannot support a bill that, in many respects, threatens industrial and harbour peace in Canada.

Topic:   Private Members' Business
Subtopic:   Final Offer Arbitration in Respect of West Coast Ports Operations Act
Full View