Mr. Georges Valade (Sainte-Marie):
Mr. Speaker, I think that it is quite proper for me to take part in this debate, in order to state my views on the bill which I feel, as the Minister stated this afternoon, is another rather unfortunate precedent in the history of Canadian Parliament.
I am justified, I think, in taking part in this debate, since as you well remember, I introduced a motion in this House on June 16 last in which we told the Minister exactly what the situation was and what solution the government ought to choose to put an end to the long-
St. Lawrence Ports Operations Bill
shoremen's strike on the St. Lawrence. The conditions have since remained unchanged. At that time, we told the Minister of Labour (Mr. O'Connell): "You have just one thing to do to settle that conflict: force the parties into arbitration or take suitable measures."
I remember very well that the time that discussion took place, the hon. member for Winnipeg North Centre (Mr. Knowles), who spoke then on behalf of his party, had stated that he did not seem to understand the scope of the motion I had brought in, that it was not clear and that my findings or suggestions were not at all in keeping with reality, and that the ways and means we were suggesting to the minister were not those that the government should consider.
This afternoon-I think I must emphasize it, because I should like the NDP's to agree among themselves and tell the House on which side of the fence they stand-the NDP leader (Mr. Lewis), obviously contradicted the spokesman for his party who had taken the floor in this House on June 16 about this matter. This afternoon, the hon. member for York South, who seemed to wish to use this very important debate probably for politic purposes, told the House that he was in favour of the passage of the bill brought in by the government, that we ought to pass it as soon as possible, even though he would do so somewhat reluctantly. He added and I quote from memory: "I want to see this legislation passed as soon as possible". He said later, and I also quote from what I remember: "We are obliged to do so."
Mr. Speaker, if I refer to the debate we had just a few weeks ago, the spokesman for his party, the hon. member for Winnipeg North Centre (Mr. Knowles), gave a completely opposite view. I should like to know what is the real opinion and position of the NDP in the House, not because I want to raise any bitter debate that would be a negative one, but rather in order to know the position of different members and parties on such an important dispute.
May I refer the House to Hansard of June 16, 1972, particularly to page 3112. Speaking on behalf of his party the hon. member for Winnipeg North Centre said, and I quote:
I see the Minister of Labour (Mr. O'Connell) disagree with what I am saying about the dispute being a lockout, but if the hon. member has in mind-
-he was referring to me because he did not seem to understand the scope of the motion we had tabled.
I proceed with my quotation:
If the hon. member has in mind calling upon the government to bring in legislation to put these employees back to work, the employees who may not be employees because they have been suspended, we do not agree with that either.
So, the hon. member for Winnipeg North Centre who is his party's House leader stated only two weeks ago that if the government wanted to pass special legislation to force longshoremen to resume work they would oppose it.
Now, the leader of his party in a flash of administrative or legislative consciousness has at last recognized that under the present circumstances there was left only one alternative since the two parties to the conflict after numerous deliberations, consultations and attempts at
July 5, 1972
St. Lawrence Ports Operations Bill
reconciling their attitudes, have been unable to bring about a solution.
Now it was obvious, Mr. Speaker, a fortnight or a month ago, or since the conflict started that only through legislation could a settlement be reached in this conflict which causes considerable if not irreparable damage to the three St.-Lawrence ports of Montreal, Trois-Rivieres and Quebec City. Indeed, considerable damage is caused to the economic activity of Montreal and Quebec City as well as to thousands of longshoremen's families who are involved in a conflict from which they would like to extricate themselves but have not yet found the means to do so, since as was pointed out earlier by the hon. member who spoke before me, there was perhaps no mechanism enabling the workers to freely express their views during their union meetings and reach a decision their union has now to make for them.
What was still difficult to accept was the incompetence of the Minister of Labour, his misunderstanding of the situation, in spite of the advice, the information he received from his experts, in spite of the opinions of the House, the members of the Progressive Conservative party, and also from Liberal members from the Montreal area; because I know that some are not happy with the situation.
I know from talking with the strikers that they were not happy with the minister's attitude. They urged him to wake up at last, decide to assume his responsibilities and introduce in Parliament a bill to bring about a solution to that conflict.
The basis of the conflict, the source of the wrongs in this increasingly serious situation is the fact that when the difficulties arose the minister refused to intervene and did not admit that he had at his disposal-and I know the Minister of Manpower and Immigration (Mr. Mackasey) has enough experience to realize it-the whole apparatus required to attempt a rapprochement between the two parties. Had the minister intervened at the start by appointing a mediator, a conciliator or by setting up any mechanism at all, I am sure the conflict could have been solved without our having to resort to a special act which Parliament as a whole finds repulsive. An act of this type, Mr. Speaker, certainly cannot please the hon. members. We believe that we are too serious and responsible to accept a law which compels workers to go back to work when we know that there are at the basis of the conflict misunderstandings and frictions which can only lead to uncertainty and suspicion toward the employers.
What is wrong, in my view, is that management and labour are eying each other like cats and dogs. The climate of mutual trust which should exist in the field of labour-management relations just does not exist.
The two fundamental instruments of our economic system are the employer and the employee; without either one, I think that no economic system can work adequately.
It was an unpleasant surprise for me to hear the leader of the NDP when, in order to try to conceal his reluctance to fully support the Minister of Labour proposal, he said: We blame the employers, the ship-owners, for provoking the longshoremen by threatening to suspend them if they
did not return to work. I think these words are totally irresponsible and I do not believe that we would be serving the cause we claim to defend-equity and justice-by pitting one party involved in this dispute against the other.
This is what is incomprehensible and totally inadmissible: only 15 days ago, on June 16, when we were urging the Minister of Labour to introduce a legislation or to take some steps to bring the parties together, he said: I cannot intervene in that dispute; there is no question of our interfering by means of a legislation.
I want to quote from the minister's statements because I think that they are an admission on the government's part of their failure to give their administration a minister with sufficiently high standards to face not the easy situations-since the minister is not there for that-but the difficult ones and show efficiency and results.
While day after day, for a month and a half, we have been askings questions to the minister, this is what happened, as reported by the Ottawa newspaper Le Droit on June 17, 1972:
Mr. O'Connell advised that the government did not intend through legislation, to force the stevedores back to work.
In the Minister of Labour, we find inconsistencies, contradictions, reluctancy, inaptitude and, above all, inability to understand his duties while he is directly responsible for that collective agreement. His predecessor, through his good offices, his understanding, his labour experience-an experience actually lacking in the present minister-had managed to develop a formula that could or would ensure stability in the three harbours of the St. Lawrence river.
It is unfortunate that the minister failed to take into account the suggestions made to him by the opposition. We were not trying to take advantage of that dispute, since this would be the most abject thing to do, but simply to offer suggestions likely to help put an end to a situation that threatened the whole future of these three St. Lawrence harbours. The habour at Montreal is the largest Canadian seaport, the largest inland port, the one handling the greatest tonnage of goods, the most important access road for import and export.
Through his unconcern-I would not say his cowardice-because I hate to associate the words "cowardice" and "inability", the minister has failed to truly understand the importance of his decisions, and to take the necessary steps. We know that the government had been asked to act not only by members of this House, but also by the Montreal Port Council, which after sending one telegram after another, one letter after another, demanded that the government take action in order to end this conflict.
The City of Montreal authorities recently asked for action to be taken to that effect. The Quebec Minister of Labour said to his federal counterpart: Do something to solve this conflict, or we will interfere even if this does not come within our jurisdiction.
In the face of all those claims, all those representations, the minister seemed passive and indifferent; he felt that all those pressures were going to undermine his authority
July 5, 1972
as a minister, or that there was really nothing serious in this whole business, and that the situation could solve itself merely through a little agreement between the shipowners and the longshoremen.
That, Mr. Speaker, was playing with fire, and today we have come to this sad situation were we have, through legislation, to say to employees: Whether you like it or not, whether it suits you or not, whether some clauses of the agreement are under dispute or not, we do not care. You are going to go back to work against your will.
I feel this is an almost pre-historic way of solving a conflict, and if the minister had really assumed his responsibilities, if he had realized that the representations which we made in this House and elsewhere, as well as those of intermediary bodies, of provincial or municipal governments, were not without justification, we could have avoided having to introduce special legislation, and we could have avoided the collapse of the harbours involved, particularly that of Montreal.
Mr. Speaker, when on June 16 last I moved the motion which I mentioned earlier, I would have liked to advocate six steps, to suggest to the minister six ways to try and solve the conflict. Hon. members will remember that I was prevented from making those suggestions; fortunately, I was able to send them to the media, and I think my hon. colleague from Lachine (Mr. Rock) who, following his speech, was able to put them on the record. However, I realize that some of the suggestions which I made two weeks ago are exactly similar to the means which the minister used today by introducing legislation.
Unfortunately I see that the minister did not take into consideration an extremely important suggestion in order to avoid this kind of conflicts, so that in other conflicts we are not forced to introduce special legislation, in other words to see to it that we amend the Canada Labour Code to ensure that workers can vote secretly.
There was a successful experience particularly in the port of Quebec City. I have been told that longshoremen had the opportunity to vote secretly on going back to work, in the present circumstances, and that 99 per cent of them-the Minister of Manpower and Immigration is aware of this, I think-were in favour of this. It is the only place where a secret vote has been held.
This mechanism must be included either in the Labour Code, the collective agreements or in any other legislation. The government should not hesitate to ensure the secrecy of the vote.
I represent a labour constituency which is particularly affected by that work stoppage. I receive many longshoremen; I am also acquainted with people doing business with the Montreal port. For several weeks, many longshoremen have come to see me and told me: We would like to go back to work. At a union meeting, we would like to be able to cast a secret ballot and say, without being subjected to direct or indirect threats, if we agree with our leaders. We would be surprised at the results. We could often if not always avoid such painful conditions.
Certainly, the minister is aware of this situation; he knows perfectly well that during a union meeting when leaders are controlling the meeting or its proceedings, it is normal for the union members to rely completely on what
St. Lawrence Ports Operations Bill
the leaders tell them to do. The union leaders explain quite honestly, sometimes not so honestly, the scope of such or such legislation, of such or such contract, and the workers can indicate their views but generally, they rely on those elected to represent them.
But when you feel that in certain meetings, people have been ordered to be there by union leaders to influence and intimidate the union members, it is difficult for an individual to vote against the instructions of his leaders and we should put an end to this situation. This situation could be clarified by simply using the democratic election system of this country and ensure that the votes are kept secret. In this manner, I am confident that we will be able to avoid such legislation as that which we are obliged to debate today. We would also prevent many inconveniences to some families most affected by situations such as this one.
We should not forget that in such disputes, maybe the shipowners can afford to skip a season even though some cannot afford it; maybe the businessman can afford the luxury of staying idle for a season but the workman, the longshoreman as any worker with a family cannot afford the luxury of a year without work.
It is a human problem which should interest us first and this explains why a few weeks ago I brought in a motion and said to the minister: You have but one and only solution; the appeal to arbitration, and the only way to have this arbitration accepted is to intervene personally. And the minister replied: I regret but I cannot intervene. Today he is directly intervening. Through the bill brought in today I note that he corrects a defect in that procedure. And I refer to clause 8 of the bill which stipulates:
8. The Minister of Labour may refer any matter in dispute between an employer and a union to an arbitrator selected or chosen as provided in the collective agreements-
So the minister becomes the necessary and essential lever, if the two parties involved in such a conflict do not ask for or resort to arbitration. The minister can step in then.
The minister came up with the following argument: I cannot intervene since the collective agreement provides mechanisms to settle grievances and according to which both parties must ask for arbitration and if they don't, they will have to pull themselves out as they can. That was stupid since a section of the collective agreement whose number I do not remember exactly provides that should there be a conflict as to the selection of an arbitrator, the Department of Labour may name the arbitrator. Therefore, the minister was implicitly party to the contract, to the collective agreement. Had the minister been the least intelligent, he would surely have used that little "technical opening" in the collective agreement; he could have intervened by selecting an arbitrator and obliging both parties-not today but three weeks ago or one month ago-to resort to arbitration, which would probably have settled the conflict without Parliament having to step in with the introduction of special legislation.
Mr. Speaker, having read this bill rapidly we realize it does not mean much, except that its object is to correct minor weaknesses that obviously did not exist in the col-
July 5, 1972
St. Lawrence Ports Operations Bill
lective agreement. I spoke about clause 8 and I could also have mentioned clause 7. I find it hard to understand that a few days ago the Minister of Labour delegated his mediators, his associates, his special assistants in labour relations who made recommendations to both parties. The minister referred to those recommendations this afternoon, without quoting the document of which I have a copy here and which unfortunately I could not get from the minister but got from some other source.
These recommendations contain suggestions which, in my way of thinking, might have been useful in settling the conflict. What surprises me most is that these recommendations which have resulted from the conciliation or mediation exercise carried out by the Department of Labour with the directly interested parties, have not been included in the bill which the Minister has introduced. Does this mean that the Minister is disavowing the work done by his mediators? Is he suggesting that those four days of negotiations between the mediators and the interested parties did not achieve the results which were expected? It may be the case of an unofficial disavowal by the minister. However, the fact remains that I find it quite unacceptable that recommendations submitted by the mediators who are specialists and whose capacities have never been questioned, who are used to discussing problems of a difficult enough nature in this kind of conflict, have not been considered in the drafting of the bill introduced by the minister today.
Mr. Speaker, it is with much regret that we will support the bill. As the minister said, it is a matter of public interest, of the future of the Montreal economy, of the future and the survival of the three ports of the St. Lawrence; it is also the whole Canadian economy which is feeling the backlash, since it is quite well known that thousands of businesses are awaiting their goods. The government of Quebec complained recently that it could not get the machinery necessary to complete certain public works.
Thousands of people are directly or indirectly involved with port activity either through regular or casual employment. I think in particular of those longshoremen who are known as overtime longshoremen who, normally, are counted by the thousands and work 35, 37 or 40 weeks; they will not be able to hope to benefit from that overtime this year.
It is also unfortunate about these labour difficulties that no legislation provides for any assistance to fathers and to children of unemployed workers-no welfare allowances, no unemployment benefits, no strike fund-which I suggest should have been provided for in normal agreements. There is no machinery to enable the community to assist children of striking longshoremen.
This year, we know that the dispute will soon be settled but we know very well also that before these thousands of ships come back to the harbours of Montreal, Trois-Kivieres and Quebec, there will be a delay of four to six weeks.
The season now is ruined, we all know, and the minister knows also. It is not possible for Montreal harbour to recover this year's business. We will have to think about next year. What about the effects of this situation? Will the shippers, the businessmen and the firms that do busi-
ness with Canada regain confidence in the facilities of the three ports concerned? I hope so! Whichever part of the country we may come from, and in particular hon. members from the Montreal area, and whatever our party is, we are all aware of the extremely disastrous effects of the situation on the Quebec economy.
Before passing the bill-as there are still 12, 14, 16 or 24 hours left-both parties still have time to settle on the technical terms of the agreement so that Parliament is not forced to pass this legislation because, as the minister said this afternoon, this may be the sixth time Parliament has legislated in similar circumstances.
For my part, Mr. Speaker, it is my duty to support the bill. I believe all the members have indicated their wish to support it, but we do so, I know, with great reticence. We hope that if there are other conflicts, the Minister of Labour will not wait till the last minute, in short, till the corpse has reached the cemetery to call in the doctor to take care of the patient. I trust, Mr. Speaker, that the government will assume its responsibilities and that, thanks to his foresight and his sense of responsibility, whatever the consequences may be for him-even taking into consideration his responsibilities toward the country and Parliament-the minister, by taking steps beforehand, will prevent the recurrence of such a disastrous situation.
Once again I invite the minister to tell us whether he really intends-and I want to close my remarks on this suggestion-to consider changing the Canada Labour Code in such a way that in all labour conflicts, union members are guaranteed complete and full freedom in expressing their views by secret ballot at union meetings where work stoppages, agreements, or the signing of collective agreements are dealt with.
Topic: ST. LAWRENCE PORTS OPERATIONS BILL MEASURE TO PROVIDE FOR RESUMPTION OF LONGSHORING AND RELATED OPERATIONS