Protecting Air Service Act (Bill C-33) (B)

Elizabeth May: Mr. Chair, I have some questions, but I would rather look at Bill C-33 and figure out how we got here.

The hon. parliamentary secretary referred to constituents. I have constituents too and a lot of them work at Air Canada. I know them to be very hard-working. They have accepted a lot of concessions to help the employer, two billion dollars’ worth of wage concessions over the last 10 years.

I feel very grateful to all the people because I happen to use Air Canada to travel between my home in British Columbia and here. I will admit to the House that I am terrified of flying. I approach a flight with the same anticipation that most people have when visiting their dentist. It is only on Air Canada that I have any margin of comfort. I feel very good about the safety record, the work of the mechanics, and the work of the pilots. I would like to pay tribute to how hard they work and to express my regret to the Minister of Labour that we are not allowing them to fulfill their collective bargaining rights in a way that allows a fair process.

This is a slender piece of legislation, but it packs a punch. What we are doing with successive pieces of legislation like this is undermining collective bargaining rights in Canada. I am sure the public sector workers are watching what is happening here. As we saw with the back to work legislation for Canada Post, we are seeing a pattern which undercuts labour rights in the country.

Getting to the specifics of this legislation, I do not know that I have ever seen a bill that includes clauses like clause 4 and clause 19. Back to work legislation is usually about a situation where there has been a work stoppage. In this case, we have anticipatory work stoppage legislation. Clause 4 deals with the air service operations. Clause 19 deals with pilots. In both cases, the legislation that we are called upon to pass tonight assumes that if the legislation comes into force and there is no strike or lockout, at that moment there would be a freeze. A strike would not be allowed nor would a lockout be allowed.

That certainly strikes me as unusual in the frame of back to work legislation that we have seen in the House in the 41st Parliament and in labour relations in general. Anticipating a strike or labour action undercuts labour relations. From a management point of view, when management knows that back to work legislation is in the offing, it certainly makes it easier not to work as hard as it should in a collective bargaining relationship to come to terms and to meet each other halfway.

I accept what the hon. Minister of Labour has said, that in a conciliatory process in which a very respected judge was acting as a conciliator, a deal was struck but was rejected by the workers. That is their right. Could we not now use those mechanisms again and give those workers the chance through free and fair collective bargaining rights to choose to accept or reject the terms of an agreement that affects everything about their working life?

I am very concerned as well by the final offer selection provisions in clause 11. I am wondering how we have come to something which is so extremely arbitrary. The hon. member for Cape Breton–Canso has read into the record how the judge felt about the previous arbitration decisions in relation to Canada Post that were forced through the House last June. We see it again here.

Certainly, even at this late hour, could we not see an amendment to this legislation that would allow us to ensure that normal collective bargaining rights are pursued in the choice of an arbitrator?

The hon. parliamentary secretary referred to working with a hockey team in his previous life. In my previous life I did labour law in Halifax with a lovely firm that was then called Kitz, Matheson, Green and MacIsaac. It was the only big downtown establishment law firm that did labour law from the union side. We did a lot of collective bargaining and a lot of arbitration. The first step was always the choice of the arbitrator. The union and management each would put forward a list of names. There would be a process. There would usually be a bit of back and forth in choosing the right arbitrator.

In this instance, we are very rapidly moving to the most strict and draconian approaches to arbitration. It is binding arbitration with final offer selection. On top of that, neither the union nor management will have any input as to who the arbitrator is.

I would ask the hon. Minister of Labour if she could respond to this question: Even at this late stage with the process before the committee of the whole, would the minister be prepared to consider an amendment to allow the union and management to each put forward a list of arbitrators before the selection is made?

I am not sure the minister heard my question. Would she consider an amendment to allow a list of acceptable arbitrators’ names from management and the union to be put forward to replace what we now see in clause 11?

Hon. Lisa Raitt: Mr. Chair, I can say that the practice we followed with respect to Canada Post and the Canadian Union of Postal Workers was that we did indeed ask both parties for consultation on arbitrators when we first set out to appoint an arbitrator. We received their advice not once, but twice. I see no reason why we would not take the same approach. However, we do not need to make any amendments to this bill in order for that discretion to be exercised.