It goes without saying that when we have before the House an issue such as we have today, as a western member vitally interested in the transportation of grain to market I should rise in my place and comment on this very serious situation.
First, Mr. Speaker, I wish to compliment the hon. member for Sainte-Marie (Mr. Valade) for bringing forward the important matter of the Montreal dockworkers' strike through his motion under our rules which allow
Quebec Longshoremen's Strike
opposition members to raise matters of great urgency. I also compliment the hon. member for Lisgar (Mr. Murta) and the hon. member for Lachine (Mr. Rock) for their very comprehensive remarks in connection with this serious matter.
I should like to review some of the events leading to the present serious situation. I trust hon. members will excuse me if I take up the time of the House for a few minutes; I was not here during all the speeches made this afternoon. In any event, I believe the people of Saskatchewan will be interested in the preliminary observations I have to make in connection with the great port of Montreal and the effect the strike there will have on the Canadian economy generally as well as upon Montreal itself.
I should like to list a few of these events. National Harbours Board ports in Canada handled a record 93.7 million tons of traffic in 1971, up by 7.9 per cent from 1970. The port of Montreal, however, showed a decline of
5.4 per cent in tonnage handled during the same period. Since May 16 the port of Montreal has been paralyzed by striking longshoremen numbering about 3,200. The ports of Quebec and Trois-Rivieres are also affected. Grain is the staple item of commerce on which the ports depend, and since the strike began 500,000 tons of grain have been diverted to other ports.
According to the chairman of the Wheat Board, Canada will be unable to honour her commitments in respect of European markets because of the strike. I shall repeat that statement because it is of vital interest to myself personally, to my province and, I am sure, to all of western Canada. According to the chairman of the Wheat Board, Canada will be unable to honour her commitments respecting wheat shipments to European markets, as planned, because of the strike.
I should like to give the House some background information with respect to this strike which is paralyzing the great harbour of Montreal. It is costing shipping agents in Montreal alone an estimated $100,000 a day. The cost to the community in lost salaries and direct income exceeds $1 million a day. At least 132 ships have sailed from Montreal or have been diverted from the port with full holds. This represents a loss of 425,000 tons of cargo. Ten thousand people depend directly on the port for jobs, and many times this number employed in service industries are adversely affected by the strike.
The port pumps approximately $250 million a year into the Montreal economy. A consortium of five large Japanese shipping companies which has been scouting for an eastern Canadian terminus for its ships has decided to give Montreal a wide berth even as a secondary distribution centre. A foreign automobile manufacturer who had been seriously considering Montreal as a base for increased unloading capacity in eastern Canada, is having second thoughts. Material for a display destined for China and vaunting the strength of the Canadian economy is held up in the strikebound port. Export grains shipments to Russia and other destinations across the Atlantic have been rescheduled out of terminals on the north shore of the St. Lawrence River and more than 100 jobs in the Montreal area could disappear as a result.
June 16, 1972
Quebec Longshoremen's Strike
Mr. Speaker, I believe hon. members would be interested in a further brief outline of the main events in this dispute. On March 30 of this year management and labour signed a three-year contract aimed at improving the port's obviously low productivity by eliminating the outmoded gang system. In return, the employers provided the men with job security and a lucrative pension scheme. The agreement was subsequently ratified by the union rank and file. Irregular work stoppages began on May 9, culminating in a walkout by 3,200 longshoremen on May 16. The strike directly affects the harbours of Montreal, Quebec and Trois-Rivieres, paralyzing transport over much of eastern Canada.
What was the main cause of this strike? The main gripe which set off the wildcat action arose from dissatisfaction over changes made in the system of work gangs. In the last labour contract management won the right to break up the work gangs. They were to be replaced by a computer system which was to come into effect this fall. Instead of a constant unit of 17 men doing all jobs, the computer would call up only those men needed for any particular task. The men signed and ratified the agreement, but when the break-up of the work gangs started, they walked out.
What was the reaction of management to this situation? Attempts at negotiation failed and three court injunctions ordering the men back to work were ignored. On May 31, the Maritime Employers Association suspended the striking longshoremen. Management has offered to ask for arbitration providing the union will attend the sessions and abide by the decision of an independent arbitrator. As yet there has been no success in bringing the two parties together. Labour took the following position: the day after their suspension, about 300 members of Montreal local 375 of the ILA voted to continue the walkout at the three St. Lawrence ports. Only about one-tenth of the available union members took part in the vote. The union president said the men were prepared to stay out for as long as was necessary to gain a satisfactory settlement. An unnamed spokesman for the union stated there was no question of arbitration.
The federal government took its usual position in such cases. The Minister of Labour (Mr. O'Connell) has repeatedly called on either or both parties to make use of the arbitration clause in their contract in order to settle the dispute. He has often declared his intention not to interfere, both to this House and to the press. It is the usual story-Nero fiddled while Rome burned.
Let us review, now, the short-term problems resulting from this strike. Until the early 1960s the port of Montreal enjoyed an enviable reputation. It could handle goods more cheaply than anywhere else in North America. Labour relations, though paternalistic, were good and strikes were infrequent. In the late 1960s, government and labour forces pushed through a contract on behalf of the International Longshoremen's Association which, among other things, fixed the size of labour gangs unloading ships at an arbitrary number regardless of the number actually needed. Production declined drastically. One Montreal company estimates that in 1966, 20-man gangs handled about 35 tons of flour an hour. Today, 17-man gangs handle a maximum of 16 tons an hour. This means
ships stay in port for longer periods at a cost of between $2,500 and $3,000 a day. This has grave implications for the future of the port since an important factor in the scheduling of shipping today is the speed at which cargo can be unloaded.
Statistics Canada reports that more vessles visited Montreal in 1971 than in 1970, and figures issued by the National Harbours Board shows steady increases in general cargo tonnage handled over the past five years. Nevertheless, the effects of United States dock strikes on certain Canadian ports may have inflated the figures in relation to the total cargo handled. In fact, Montreal's through cargo declined by 5.4 per cent in 1971.
Canadian Pacific, although its headquarters is in Montreal, located its new container terminal in Quebec City, claiming it was more economic. And last summer a gang of shippers suggested that one solution to Montreal's labour problems would be to close the port. "Most of us can do our shipping through maritime ports with only minor inconvenience or additional cost; it is drastic but it might be the only way," said one company president.
Federal intervention has done little to ease the problems plaguing the labour situation. In the recent Montreal longshoremen's strike federal intervention has been non-existent. Despite pleas by the Montreal Chamber of Commerce and the Quebec Truckers Association, the Minister of Labour has refused to interfere. Rather, he has repeatedly called for either or both parties to make use of an arbitration clause in their contract to settle the dispute. Federal failure is not limited to labour relations. Its transportation policy, as it applies specifically to Montreal and generally to all ports under the National Harbours Board, has failed adequately to assess the needs of and directions for the future administration of the port.
A year ago, on May 12, the Minister of Transport (Mr. Jamieson) announced a new policy for ports. He proposed creation of local port authorities for each of the nine major ports now administered by the National Harbours Board. These local port authorities were to be representative of all local interests including management and labour, municipal and provincial authorities. Each was to have a good deal of authority, including consultation in the appointment of port managers, the preparation of budgets, forward planning and other important matters. At that time the Minister of Transport stated that the federal objective "must be concerned with the good of all Canadians and not just with any particular vested interest".
However, various comments by those asked to serve on the local port authorities raise serious questions about the eventual success of the federal government's objectives. In Montreal, several men asked to serve and the port authorities flatly refused. They pointed out that they could not very well run a major enterprise which would require them to make decisions regarding their own competitors. There could be also a conflict of interest with labour appointees in a decision between the efficient running of the harbour concerned and the demands of the labour union members. Conflicts of interest could well cause serious damage to the harbour concerned. Instead
June 16, 1972
of serving national interests, the port authorities could easily become involved in individual concerns, reflecting the make-up of the local boards.
What is therefore needed, and what has not yet been suggested by the Minister of Transport-despite the fact that members of the port authorities of Montreal, Halifax, St. John's, Saint John, Quebec, Trois-Rivieres, Churchill, Manitoba and Vancouver have been announced-is government controls. The Minister of Transport must place controls on the power of the National Ports Council's influence over the Department of Transport and the National Harbours Board. He must also establish who is going to be responsible for policy-making and for coordinating the activities of the various ports. These controls are essential if the outcome is to be fair to all concerned in all regions of the country.
What is the long term prospect, Mr. Speaker? A major problem affecting Montreal in the long run, as in the short run, is its lack of effective administration. The newly established port authority in its present form does not promise much improvement over the past administrative performance of the National Harbours Board. And yet the future of Montreal's harbour depends upon adequate planning and definition of goals. Further, it is important that the establishment of these goals be made in the context of nationwide transport policy which realistically reflects the potential of Montreal within an integrated national system.
The future of shipping lies in containerization. A critical factor in profitable and efficient ocean container transportation is to see that inland container movement and inland terminals adapt to increasing flows. According to R. R. Cope, vice-president of research for the Department of Transport:
The critical factor in influencing the directional flow of containerized cargo between the Atlantic hinterland and overseas points through the Atlantic and St. Lawrence ports will likely be the adjustments made by the inland carriers in rates and services to accommodate containerization.
In the context of substantial increases in container traffic, Montreal's future is not good. The port's potential is limited by its spatial placement between the river and railway tracks. There is little room, and no plans for future expansion to permit quick unloading of large quantities of containerized cargo. As well, the proximity of the harbour to the downtown centre hinders quick and easy access to and from the waterfront both by trains and/or trucks. Essential to efficient sea-land transport is the facility of access for loaded vehicles to main trucking and train routes.
Obviously, the direction of future development for the harbour of Montreal must be studied carefully. It is most important that the port's potential be seen in the context of national goals. If an east coast port, such as Halifax, can be more suitably developed as the main container terminal for eastern Canada, then futile dreams of maintaining Montreal as the country's premier general cargo port must die. The port's future role must be assessed according to its potential but, as has been stressed, in the context of future directions of transportation methods as they affect the entire country.
Quebec Longshoremen's Strike
Bringing this matter closer to home rather than speaking in general terms about how it affects the entire country, I ask, how does it affect our agricultural industry? It affects it in a most serious way, particularly my province of Saskatchewan which produces so much grain and depends on our major ports to keep this grain moving to world markets. Our party, on checking only yesterday with officials of the Canadian Wheat Board, found that the board, as well as all other representatives of the Canadian grain trade and farm organizations, are expressing the greatest alarm at the cutback in grain shipments from the port of Montreal. The government cannot salve its conscience by saying the grain will move through other ports. The fact is that these ports are now working to capacity in most cases and can not be expected to handle the extra volume of large amounts of grain. This means delayed deliveries to our customers, possible loss of markets to certain customers and a direct drop in farmers' income.
The fact is that the only remaining hope that even our large grain producers in the west have is that they produce large yields per acre and market these yields on a larger quota annually, having regard to the much lower price per bushel our farmers are now receiving for all their grain products. I want to re-emphasize what the hon. member for Lisgar referred to in his speech a few minutes ago, and that is that the effect of the Montreal dockwork-ers' strike more than points up the fact that the government should immediately take steps to enlarge grain handling facilities at both the ports of Churchill and Vancouver.
Topic: GOVERNMENT ORDERS
Subtopic: BUSINESS OF SUPPLY