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Hansard – Debate on Port of Montreal

April 28, 2021


Mr. Brian Masse (Windsor West, NDP)


Mr. Speaker, I am not happy to speak on this issue tonight, but I am glad to have a slot to do so.


I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Hamilton Mountain.


I come from a port city. The city of Windsor has one of the most robust ports in the Great Lakes system. The residents have been maritime people for many years, since the founding of the country.


I want to talk about this back-to-work legislation, Government Business No. 5, in a number of different contexts. The first thing I want to talk about, though, are the interventions we have just heard by the parliamentary secretary, who represents the Prime Minister, as well as other Liberals, who have referred to PPE being withheld or at risk at the Port of Montreal despite CUPE giving assurances about that.


Recently in an exchange, the parliamentary secretary said that he did not have the expertise or the details. that he did not profess to know them, but here is the thing. How disingenuous is it to say that someone is a friend of labour, a friend of CUPE or a friend of any organization and use a threat like that in this debate. Ontario is suffering through this situation as well as Quebec and other places across our country, and to suggest, without knowing or having specifics or details, that it is a sinister approach by CUPE to withhold PPE in this labour dispute is an affront to all labour across the country.


I hope labour unions of all stripes take up this debate along with some of the things that have been said, because I cannot think of a bigger insult right now. Those who do not have specific information cannot point to some of these things and insinuate something like that after spending 10 minutes before that, saying what great friends they are of labour but, by the way, they are holding up the safety of Canadians right now. What a disingenuous way to profess one’s love and support of labour. What a disingenuous thing to say about the men and women who serve every single day, who have had this hanging over their heads for a number of years.


Do people think they want to be on strike right now? Do they think they want to get up every single day and worry about strike pay, about the future of their jobs, about their benefits or what their loved ones will have? They are all at risk. The risk is not just with Canada, it is with these workers. What are these workers doing? Historically, we are looking at dangerous situations in ports. Internationally, we have most recently seen Beirut, but domestically we have also seen things at our historic port in Halifax. Recently, the Port of Vancouver had several major accidents. That is because of the working conditions are very difficult for these men and women every single day.

Why do workers go on strike? They go on strike because of grievances. Historically, those grievances include child labour, 12-hour days, sexism and racism at the workplace. They include a whole series of things, which is why workers have to band together and it is why we have Labour Day.


We have Labour Day in this country, like many other countries in the industrialized world, because workers had to band together to get safer conditions. Today, on the National Day of Mourning, for the Liberals to say that those workers are using PPE as a negotiating tactic against Canadians is insulting, at best. It is irresponsible.


This dispute has been going on for some time now. There is potential for a solution, but what we have here is no different than scabs. It is where a a piece of paper is going to make people have to get up and go somewhere when they do not think they are being treated right at the workplace and the only leverage they have is what they give up. They give up their life, their time and their safety. They want to go to work every single day and be productive citizens, but it has come to this point for a lot of different reasons. It did not just materialize overnight. People do not want to give up their pay, they do not want to give up their job security and they do not want to a workplace where they are stigmatized. They are using the only thing they can, which is not working, unless they are made to do so. That is what is happening now. It is no different than scabs.


They want to go to work every single day and be productive citizens, but it has come to this for a lot different reasons. This did not materialize overnight. Nobody wants to give up their pay or their job security. It is no different than scabs. They are being made, by a piece of paper, to go in or lose their jobs. They lose everything: their pensions, their benefits and all the security, and during this uncertain time. That undermining of the leverage will create animosity. It will undo all the work that has gone into trying to negotiate a settlement.

Coming from a port town, where ports are regulated under the Marine Transportation Security Act, they have a lot of power. They have a lot of leverage. What do people have as their one thing to do? To band together and demand a fair bargained agreement, and this situation right here is being taken from them. It is being taken from them and it is not fair to those individuals. It is not fair to their families and it is also not fair to businesses.


I come from a labour town, and we have had various strikes. We have had sit-down strikes, have helped create the Rand Formula and have done a series of different things. I was most recently on a picket line for Local 195, where a hedge fund bought a company in the auto sector and shut it down, which created a loss of over 60 jobs. I want to thank Emile Nabbout and Local 195. All the men and women there lost their jobs because a company took part of their pay and benefits and they had to negotiate a settlement. They did not want to be out on the streets in the winter. During COVID they wanted to be making money for their families to ensure their safety, but had to band together and stop vehicles from being taken out of the place, despite being owed benefits, money and so forth.

One of the things we have to understand and appreciate is this is a last resort for unions. Taking away this as a collective right, as the government is doing, is the wrong policy. In my city, I have seen difficult strikes. Once they get through those, an agreement is set and a principle laid down, it makes for a better, longer relationship than it does by something being enforced and imposed.


Who wants the will of someone else to force a settlement? Imagine buying a car or a house and being forced into a settlement, not having a choice at the end of the day. Nobody likes that. Nobody likes that imposition. If later on there is agreement to go to binding arbitration, that is one thing, but to use the powers of Parliament right here and right now and choose this moment against the men and women in Montreal is unbelievably brutal.


There is no doubt not everybody is going to agree with this position, but they have this collective right, which is part of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It has been part of successful negotiations that have ended major grievances against working people and have uplifted many people across this country, whether it be about time off work, proper pay or safer working conditions.


As I mentioned, today is the National Day of Mourning. According to 2019 stats, the last stats available to us, just under 1,000 Canadians went to work that year and never came home. They never got a chance to say goodbye. They went to work and never came home, leaving children and loved ones and estates not settled, just for trying to put food on the table.


Today of all days, there should be recognition by the government. If it has any ounce of credibility with regard to this issue, it should actually apologize to the people of CUPE and other labour organizations for using PPE as a tool in this dispute over how to be best compensated. At the end of the day, everybody wants a successful solution. Making people do things with a piece of paper is not it. I ask the government to rescind and go back to having honest brokered negotiations and a settlement that will be lasting not only for the people of the Port of Montreal but all of our country.


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