Third reading of Bill C-29, An Act to provide for the resumption and continuation of operations at the Port of Montreal—Senator Mercer

By: The Hon. Terry Mercer

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Red River, Winnipeg

Hon. Terry M. Mercer: Honourable senators, today I would like to present some of my thoughts on this legislation. Bill C-29 provides for the resumption of operations at the Port of Montreal. Did we want to be here in this situation? No, but I think it is important to try to understand why we are here.

We heard the testimony from the witnesses on both sides of the issue. Of course, each side is going to have its own views on why we are here, but the question before us is: What can we do about it now?

I grew up around the Port of Halifax. I am the son of and come from a long line of proud union members. Unions have long fought hard to represent their workers and achieve pay equity, proper time off, dignity in retirement and many other protections, and I will continue to support the unions in this noble pursuit.

I also recognize that the employer has a duty to their employees to treat them fairly and to run a profitable business, but at what real cost? The two parties involved are at an impasse, and I appreciate the efforts of both sides to come to a settlement, but those efforts have not produced a satisfactory agreement, and here we are considering back-to-work legislation.

Honourable senators, we are talking about hundreds of millions of dollars in trade and thousands of jobs, but do not forget that because of this strike, the free flow of goods is threatened and the cost of goods could rise, and that will affect all Canadians at a time when they can least afford these sorts of disruptions; not to mention it is harming our image as a trading nation. A lot is on the line.

We have seen in the past labour strikes in a variety of sectors in our economy, and many times agreements were reached equitably. This is not the case here.

So what is the problem? Is it about salaries? Is it about schedules? Is it about working conditions? It depends on who you ask, but the blame game must stop, and the two sides need to come together. It is a shame a bill like this is even necessary, but hopefully an equitable agreement can be reached, and I encourage both parties to do whatever they can to reach a reasonable resolution, whether this legislation passes or not.

The Port of Montreal could suffer severe economic and supply losses, and that only hurts Canadians as we grapple with the third wave of this deadly pandemic.

In the past, port traffic has been diverted to the Port of Halifax. While we will indeed take the business, I will not stand for pitting one part of the country against another, even if the supply chain demands it. The Port of Halifax has enjoyed continued labour peace for years, and I applaud the unions and the employer for keeping and sustaining agreements and hope that all involved will continue to do so.

The Port of Vancouver, for example, has also suffered labour strife, and lots of it, over the years, similar to what’s going on at the Port of Montreal now.

That raises the question, one I posed earlier: Why do we continue to have difficult, lengthy and sometimes acrimonious negotiations? Can we not learn from one another across the country about how to do this right and respect both sides?

While I do not want an interruption in supply chains, I have a hard time voting for legislation that seems to undercut the union’s efforts. However, the damage to the Port of Montreal and the loss of value, as we heard testimony earlier, could be significant, and with the temporary diversion of shipping elsewhere, whether it be the Port of Halifax or other ports along the eastern seaboard, it’s not all going to come back. That’s going to cost jobs and hurt us all.

However, colleagues, I will vote for this bill in the hopes that both sides can come to an adequate agreement — albeit forced. Canadians are counting on it.

Thank you, honourable senators.

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