House of Commons Hansard #12 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was post.

Topics

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services Legislation
Government Orders

11:30 a.m.

An hon. member

Sensible.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services Legislation
Government Orders

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

Bob Rae Toronto Centre, ON

That is a perfectly sensible solution. It is not ideal, it does not assert the ideological interests of anyone over anyone else.

To my colleague from Acadie—Bathurst, for whom I have a great deal of respect and, dare I say it, even affection, when he talks about the rights of the workers I say yes, but let us not forget we have to have an efficient Canada Post. We have to have a profitable Canada Post. We have to have an employer that is solvent. It is a good idea to have those things.

We cannot just say we are here for the interests of the workers and we do not give a darn about the state of the employer or the company. If we are going to be fair and reasonable about things, we have to say that we want to protect the rights of the workers and we also want to have an effective and efficient organization that continues to serve the public and does so in an affordable way. Those are all legitimate objectives.

I know my colleagues in the New Democratic Party share those objectives. I just wish that once in a while they would state them more explicitly so people would understand that not every economic movement in the country is a kind of morality play where there are good guys wearing white hats and bad guys wearing black hats. This is not how the world works.

The post office needs to do well and the workers need to do well. When they cannot reach a solution and it disrupts services to the public, the government has to step in, but not like this. This is not the way to step in. This is a way of stepping in that ensures more ill-feeling and potential conflict as time goes on.

There is a wiser solution to the one that has been proposed by the government. I do not know whether a government that is in this state of triumphal mentality is going to be interested in discussing amendments, changes or ways of improving the legislation, I have no idea. However, I would say to members of the House and members of the public who are listening that there is a better way and we in the Liberal Party look forward to pursuing it.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services Legislation
Government Orders

11:35 a.m.

Conservative

Brian Jean Fort McMurray—Athabasca, AB

Madam Speaker, I recognize that in 1997 or thereabouts the previous Liberal government actually—

I find it difficult to ask my question because of the Liberals across the way. As the leader of the Liberal Party said, there is some noise in different places and it is very difficult to think when it takes place.

In 1997, the previous Liberal government did something similar in comparable circumstances with Canada Post. I notice today that the leader of the Liberal Party is taking a different position. Of course, he was previously an NDP leader and I am wondering if this is the preliminary notice of a joint venture between the NDP and the Liberals in all future governing matters and positions on legislation or, indeed, if this is the new policy of the Liberal Party and the NDP leader.

I would like him to clarify that for us to find out where he is going long-term since it seems to be such a divergent path from a responsible governing party as the Liberal government used to be.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services Legislation
Government Orders

11:35 a.m.

Liberal

Bob Rae Toronto Centre, ON

Madam Speaker, I wonder if my friend was actually listening to what I was saying. I am astonished.

What I said was there are many circumstances in which back-to-work legislation may well be justified. I have said there are governments across the country that have brought it in. It is not unique to the current government. It is not a uniquely ideological step. What the government has done with this legislation in this way has turned it into an ideological step. That is the problem we in the Liberal Party have with it.

The circumstance in 1997, and one can check it historically, was that there had been a strike rather than a lockout that had gone on for two or two and a half weeks. There have been many times in the postal service and many other areas, rail strikes and others, where the federal government has felt a need to intervene. I would be supportive of that in principle as long as what is being substituted for the right to strike is fair and reasonable. What I am saying, and perhaps the member was not listening to what I was saying, was that what the government has put in this is not fair and reasonable.

I hope the member opposite will listen to the amendments as well as to the arguments. He is entitled to make the jokes and comments he likes. I am only going to be here for a short time, so where I lead this group I have no idea, but what I do know is that it is going to be based on some principles and I do not see any worthwhile principles in this bill.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services Legislation
Government Orders

11:35 a.m.

NDP

Alex Atamanenko British Columbia Southern Interior, BC

Madam Speaker, I would just like to make a comment that I have been following the file of Canada Post and its effect on our rural communities for quite a while now. I have seen some pretty devastating policies that cut back part-time work and that transferred people arbitrarily.

I have sort of come to the conclusion that Canada Post is functioning as a ruthless corporation, certainly in regard to rural B.C. I would like the hon. member to comment.

The other fact I learned is that Canada Post is mandated to make a profit, but not only to make a profit but to give part of this profit back to the federal government. Other industrialized nations actually subsidize their national postal service.

I would like to hear the hon. member's comments on what seems to be a ludicrous idea, that we have a corporation here that is mandated to make a profit, not only to make ends meet but to give part of this money back to the federal government, and institutes policies on the backs of the workers.

There is something that is not quite logical here. I would just like to hear the hon. members comments on this.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services Legislation
Government Orders

11:35 a.m.

Liberal

Bob Rae Toronto Centre, ON

Madam Speaker, it is when I hear questions like that, that I realize why I am over here.

I say to the hon. member with the greatest of respect that profit is not a nasty word. If Ontario Hydro or B.C. Hydro is going to operate, we do not want every crown corporation or every operation of government to be operating at a loss. That is not a great idea. That creates huge problems for the government, when that happens.

The member may be advocating massive public subsidies for Canada Post as the answer to the problem, so that Canada Post would be supported by taxpayers generally.

I think the model is having a postal corporation that works effectively and efficiently, that makes changes. I would not describe Canada Post as ruthless. Canada Post is facing a world of competition, a world with many private companies competing for business. It has customers that are saying that if it does not provide them with a reliable service, they are going to take their business somewhere else. Having that cycle is not in the interests of postal workers and it is not in the interests of the Canadian public.

So the notion, somehow, that Canada Post has joined the ranks of the ruthless corporations and that Canada Post is doing something evil, called making a profit, really confirms my view that for all that may or may not have happened on the weekend, moving into the future does not seem to have been one of the events that took place.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services Legislation
Government Orders

11:40 a.m.

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the comments put forward in the member's intervention.

For all of those watching today, they saw that it was practical and pragmatic in the assessment of the overall current situation, but also in how we should be approaching labour relations in this country.

I believe roughly 35 pieces of back-to-work legislation have been passed since roundabout 1950. Over 60 years, that is about how many have been passed. The government has come forward with and tabled two pieces of back-to-work legislation in less than two weeks.

My question to my colleague is, does he see this as the template? We know that a number of contracts are coming due this summer. Is this what organized labour can expect? Or, does the member think the government is simply trying to break some kind of a record here, wowing the world with how fast it can pass back-to-work legislation? Is there a Guinness book of records entry that the government is trying to pass?

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services Legislation
Government Orders

11:40 a.m.

Liberal

Bob Rae Toronto Centre, ON

Madam Speaker, I want to assure the House that the good thing about this caucus is that I have no idea what questions my caucus colleagues are going to be asking, so I appreciate the chance to respond. This is quite an unscripted organization.

In response to the member, this legislation serves two purposes, like many things in politics.

We have gone through over the last week political theatre of a classic kind. This is a government which is, as I have said, playing out its part in a morality play. It is trying to demonstrate what would have happened if the Air Canada dispute continued, which had gone on for a full total of 24 hours, which had no disruption to service, which had no disruption to the flying public, and which had no threat to anybody or anything.

Yet, the Minister of Finance was giving a scrum, nodding very seriously, saying this is very ominous for the fragile economic recovery. The parliamentary secretary stood in her place today and said, and I was waiting for the words, we need to do this in order to stop the fragile economic recovery. So there is a theatre going on here.

However, there is also something very serious. It is taking away the rights of all Canadians, not just the postal workers. This says that the government places zero value in the constitutional rights that have been put forward by the Supreme Court of Canada. That is what the government is saying.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services Legislation
Government Orders

11:40 a.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Madam Speaker, my question is for the hon. member for Toronto Centre. In grappling with this, and I have some background, as members might know, in labour law, it seems that the employer invoked a lockout at a very critical moment. It is the employer and not the union that has created the problems with the delivery of mail. The revolving strikes were not impeding that.

I wonder if there is such a thing one could conceive, and the hon. member for Toronto Centre might have an idea, and that is for back-to-work legislation for management to do its job.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services Legislation
Government Orders

11:40 a.m.

Liberal

Bob Rae Toronto Centre, ON

Madam Speaker, my colleague from Saanich—Gulf Islands is quite right when she points out, as I did in my remarks, and others, that this is not a strike. This is a lockout; a lockout which has kept the workers from doing the work which they themselves want to do.

However, what I have also said is, and I think it is important to stress this, that if one were to simply say, as the union has suggested, “Let's just go back to work and bargain”, which sounds very nice and we all would like to see that happen, there does have to be some quid pro quo for that. We do have to say to the union, “Okay, go back to work, but no more flying strikes, no more rotating strikes, no more disruptions of service”. That poses a consistent threat to the ability of the company to attract business. There are many customers that have now left Canada Post and will not come back if their service cannot be guaranteed. They will simply take their business elsewhere. This is the commercial reality in which Canada Post is operating. While it is a crown corporation, no crown corporation operates, today, outside the framework of commercial reality.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services Legislation
Government Orders

11:45 a.m.

Conservative

Ed Komarnicki Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Madam Speaker, I rise in the House today in support of Bill C-6, An Act to provide for the resumption and continuation of postal services. I, too, have heard many of the comments, including some of the entertaining, at times, logical comments made by the member for Toronto Centre. However, this is in fact a very serious matter--

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services Legislation
Government Orders

11:45 a.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Denise Savoie

Order, please. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. member.

I would ask the members at the back of the chamber to please keep it down. Several members have mentioned that they are being disturbed by the loud comments.

The hon. member for Souris—Moose Mountain.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services Legislation
Government Orders

June 21st, 2011 / 11:45 a.m.

Conservative

Ed Komarnicki Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Madam Speaker, it is obviously very disappointing that we are faced with the current work stoppage at Canada Post. Our government has spent countless hours and resources encouraging Canada Post and CUPW to resolve their differences and to come to an agreement. Mediators have spent countless hours with the parties in an attempt to bring them to some sort of consensus and to form an agreement. Mediators have been employed to do the very same thing. Despite all of the efforts, all of the resources, and all of the countless hours, the parties have not been able to resolve their differences and come to an agreement.

In all cases, the best solution in any labour dispute is one where the parties are able to resolve the differences themselves and come to an agreement on their own volition. That is always the best course. We try to facilitate that by every means that we can to provide the underpinnings, to provide the atmosphere, and to provide the basis for which that can happen.

In this case the government has exhausted every avenue available under the Canada Labour Code to bring the parties together and to assist them to reach an agreement. Despite all of that and all of the resources, it was to no avail. It is clear at this point that the negotiations between the parties have stalled and that some decisive action is necessary. We have decided to act decisively to bring this matter to a conclusion.

That is why this legislation was introduced. It is fair and reasonable. It is an objective way to bring the parties to a resolution of their dispute and resolve their differences. In a case like this, when parliamentarians step in, it is with the view of ending the current work stoppage that is affecting Canadians right across the country.

Whether it be rotating strikes or a lockout, they have consequences on Canadians. We have to look at not only the interests of the parties, whether it is the employer, Canada Post, a government department, and the effect it may have on employees, and the member for Acadie—Bathurst spoke about the effect on employees. But a third party is also involved in this dispute and that is the average Canadian. The consequences on many Canadians are significant. There needs to be a way to resolve the dispute, to resolve the differences between the parties in such a fashion that does least hurt to the parties, that does least hurt to Canadians, and does least hurt to the economy.

What is at stake right now is our economic recovery. Our country has so many reasons to be optimistic. We have experienced the strongest economic growth among the G7 countries since mid-2009. We have recovered countless numbers of jobs since July 2009. Things are looking up. They are going in the right direction. All of the job losses incurred during the global economic recession have been recovered. We must protect that recovery.

In order to protect this economic recovery, it became clear that it was necessary to introduce back-to-work legislation in the House of Commons. We need to protect the sustainability of the economic recovery and ensure that injury is not done to Canadians.

Just a few weeks ago our government indicated in the throne speech that our priorities remain focused on jobs and economic growth. We also noted that the global economic recovery remains fragile and risks to our economic recovery persist. That is a reality. That is a present fact.

When we look at what other economies are doing in the world and across our border to the south, we know that any gains are incremental and must be safely guarded and protected to ensure that we go forward with the knowledge that our economy is going to continue to grow and that Canadians will continue to benefit from that.

The legislation we are talking about would bring an end to the work stoppage that involves approximately 50,000 members of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers urban operations unit, otherwise known as CUPW, and Canada Post.

The collective agreement covering CUPW and Canada Post expired in January of this year and both parties have been bargaining since October 2010. That is a good number of months. It is not as if the parties just started to bargain a short while ago and we are now introducing legislation. They have been at this since October 2010. They have done their best to bridge the gaps between them. They have done their best to agree on the points they can, and they have come to an impasse. They cannot agree on what remains to be done to bring this to a satisfactory conclusion.

Throughout these months, they have used the resources that the Canada Labour Code provides for. They have used the personnel to bring them along. Therefore, it is unfair to say that there has not been a sufficient period of time for the parties to reason their way through without harm to themselves or the economy. However, there comes a point, when the parties are unable to resolve their differences, that there must be an intervention of some kind that ensures that the impasse is bridged.

I can say that when those talks were stalled or at an impasse, a conciliation officer was appointed. The conciliation period was even further extended until early May and, during that time, the conciliation officer again met with the parties. Throughout the month of May, a mediator from the labour program's Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service met frequently with the parties. It was not a one-off meeting. It was not just an occasional meeting. It was a concentrated effort to try to resolve the differences and the gaps that existed between the parties.

However, despite all of these efforts at mediation and conciliation, and the Minister of Labour meeting with both leaders, the Minister of Labour also used her offices, her person and character to intervene with both leaders to try to bring them to a place where the matter could be settled. However, CUPW announced its intent to strike. Following the announcement, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers began rotating strikes. This then led to Canada Post later locking out union members.

We can see what effect this is having right across our country. Sometimes collective bargaining does hit an impasse. It is something we need to realize, to understand and accept. Employees can pressure employers by walking out. That is a fundamental right and nobody disputes that right. It is enshrined and it is there.

Employers can also bring pressure by locking out workers and trying to carry on business without them. That is something they are entitled to do. The law and the Constitution provides for that. They can do that and they have done that. Notwithstanding the fact that they have implemented these strategies, they have not had a resolve.

I will quickly draw attention to the fact that Canada Post spends about $3 billion a year on goods and services. It contributes $6.6 billion to the country's GDP. It is not a small matter when those types of services, economies and expenditures are interfered with.

Canada Post has countless industries that rely on its services. Canadian retailers depend on Canada Post to reach their customers. The Canadian magazine industry relies on Canada Post for most of its distribution. Therefore, any disruption does something to its bottom line, to its business and to its customer base.

There is no question that Canada Post offers an essential lifeline to Canadians in rural and remote areas. My riding represents a number of those. While rural letter carriers are not part of the current bargaining dispute, rural communities are still acutely affected due to the fact that no sorting or bulk distribution of mail is taking place.

In fact, in my own riding of Souris—Moose Mountain, I have received correspondence and calls on this work stoppage. I received a letter from a constituent of mine who I know very well and who is someone who does not always agree with the viewpoint of the current government or the viewpoints that I may have from time to time and is quite able to express those differences in a point of view or opinion. I think what the constituent says in this letter to me captures what many Canadians would like to say and, in fact, are saying from coast to coast.

In this instance, she has written to me urging me for a resolution to this dispute and calling on the government to introduce back to work legislation. Why? This particular constituent owns a small newspaper business and her business is suffering immensely due to the work stoppage at Canada Post. She is calling on this government to do the right thing and to stand up for small business owners who rely on Canada Post to keep their businesses making money.

I will read portions of the letter. She says:

Please add my voice to your growing list of Canadians who want our Canadian majority government under your leadership to pass legislation forcing the CUPW members back to work so that Canada Post can function normally.

She goes on to say:

We own a small newspaper business in the riding of...for Souris—Moose Mountain. and we are unable to mail our newspapers to our readers this morning. ... We have staff employed whom we need, and they need to be employed. We have customers buying ads which help pay for a community newspaper. All of these Canadians are being inconvenienced. Also, if we turn to using alternative methods to distribute our newspapers we risk having our local post office lose profits and possibly become closed.

Those are the realities of what impact this is having on Canadians. She is urging this government to pass legislation that would bring the postal workers back to work so her readers can continue to receive their newspapers. If this work stoppage goes on much longer, it will have a negative impact on her business, as she outlines, and other businesses and her employees. That is a fact. It is something we must not forget. There are not two parties to this dispute. There are many parties to the dispute and there is the best interest of the country that we must keep in mind. That is why we must find a solution where a solution cannot be found by the parties themselves. It must be one that we bring them to, even if it means legislation like the legislation we are proposing before this House today.

My constituent expressed how impressed she was that this government moved forward with back to work legislation for Air Canada and she expressed hope that we would act in like manner with Canada Post. We have, which is exactly why we have acted and introduced back to work legislation to bring this work stoppage to an end.

The same constituent sent me another letter. She wrote:

I had previously contacted each of your offices explaining the hardship that this postal disruption was causing to rural communities and small businesses such as our own.... I want to thank you for listening to Canadians, as I know there were many speaking out in favour of government legislation to end this disruption.

She does not speak to us just for herself, for her business or for her community. She speaks for the broader Canadian right across this country who is being affected by what the parties themselves are imposing on Canadians or a hapless bystander looking at what is going on between the parties and saying that they see no end in sight or any resolve to the impasse, that they would like to see a responsible government take some action to provide the means to bring this to a conclusion so they are no longer hurt, so our economy is no longer hurt and so they can continue to do what average Canadians want to do. They want to work hard, make a profit, spend the money back in their communities and cause our economy to continue.

The constituent writes, “Personally, I believe in the right of union members to negotiate and strike under unfair labour practices”. Nobody is denying the fact that the right exists. Nobody is denying that the right must be protected, but not at all costs. It is not an overwhelming right that takes over all other rights. It has some limitations.

“However, when negotiations drag on”, she says, “to the point they threaten the livelihood of Canadians or the good health of Canadians, then we need a government that will legislate”.

In the legislation that is proposed, it is not legislation that does not allow for some objectivity in terms of what the arbiter must do. It appoints an arbiter for a final offer selection that is to be made by both parties. It says that the employer and the union must each submit to the arbiter a list of matters on which the employer and the union were in agreement as of a date specified by the arbiter, the things with which they are in common, the things on which they have bridged the gap, the things that they say they can do, and also a list of matters remaining in dispute, and a final offer in respect of the matters referred to that are in dispute and then the selection will be made. It is a process that has unfolded to allow for the parties to put their best case forward in that area and then a decision will be made.

My constituent is not alone in her comments, in the way she feels or in her call for the introduction of this legislation. The Minister of Labour has been inundated with correspondence from stakeholders and members of the public looking for resolution to this dispute. I am sure if all members were fair with this House, they would say they that too had been receiving calls with respect to this dispute. What is required is a balance in terms of how we approach resolving the issues between the parties in the dispute to the benefit of all Canadians.

Small and medium-sized businesses, especially home-based businesses, are feeling the effects of this postal service disruption and the time has come to protect them.

Charities are also being hurt because they cannot fundraise and donations are being lost. It is a serious consequence. How long do we let it go? The longer we let it go the more difficult it is for them and the more difficult it is for businesses. Therefore, at some point we must say that a reasonable time has passed and now it is time to take action.

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business, CFIB, estimated that small and medium-sized businesses could expect to see a loss of around $200 for each day mail service is interrupted. I would say that in a number of other cases where there is specialized services a loss is even far greater and in excess of that.

The Canadian National Institute for the Blind, the CNIB, which we heard here today, estimates that its losses may be as much as $250,000 at this time of year because the majority of its donations are received through the mail service. What about the CNIB? What about the things it does? What about its financial base? Who will consider that? Who will take best interests into account? The people in this House, the parliamentarians, the legislators, need to take CNIB's interest into account in this situation and in this dispute.

We have all heard of the effect this has had on live animals that Canada Post had in the system for delivery. Many of those shipments were being shipped by businesses that had no other shipping alternatives and money has now been lost.

Many large corporations have been able to find alternate means of communicating with customers and clients. That may continue even after the strike is over, so there may be some losses to the parties that they do not yet envision. However, small and medium-sized businesses still rely heavily on traditional postal services. This work stoppage is crippling for these smaller businesses.

The effects of this work stoppage are far-reaching and the government recognizes that and has responded by introducing the legislation that is before the House now.

The most vulnerable of Canadians are receiving minimal service and it is time to restore full service to all Canadians. Businesses are hurting and jobs are on the line. We cannot allow this work stoppage to continue. We received a strong mandate from Canadians and we need to remain focused on the economic recovery. We are committed to the completion and protection of our economic recovery.

There is evidence that this work stoppage is causing serious harm to small businesses across the country. This government is acting to protect the public interest and the country's economy as a whole by tabling this bill to ensure the resumption and continuation of postal services.

Not only would this bill restore mail services to Canadians who desperately need it, it also includes guiding principles which provide the direction for the arbiter to ensure that Canadian taxpayers are not left with the bill for Canada Post's pension plan.

In closing, it is important to remember that as we recover from our economic downturn, it is more important than ever that we encourage co-operative and productive workplaces. I hope all members will join me in the support of this important piece of legislation.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services Legislation
Government Orders

12:05 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, all of us certainly want people to go back to work at Canada Post, but we are very concerned about there being a fair collective agreement process. Unfortunately, this back-to-work legislation has completely nullified that.

After listening to the member, he has put forward some erroneous information. Canada Post is a very profitable organization. It has given back to the general revenue, to the people of Canada and the Government of Canada almost $2 billion over the last 15 years. I remember visiting with representatives from Canada Post just a few months ago and they showed me the slide that pointed out the revenue they produce. It is not a matter of the corporation not having the ability and capacity to deal with issues.

I want to correct the member. There is an issue about a two-tier wage system in which starting employees on the Canada Post side would get 18% less in wages. I want to ask him why he thinks that in any way is fair and why anyone in his riding or anywhere else would accept that?

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services Legislation
Government Orders

12:05 p.m.

Conservative

Ed Komarnicki Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Mr. Speaker, first of all, making a profit, as the member for Toronto Centre said, is not something that should be looked at in an unfavourable way. It is the type of thing that allows corporations to hire employees, continue to do business and remain viable.

Of course profits are made, but at the same time, we have to be mindful of the fact that over $100 million is lost as the strike continues simply by the volume of mail declining. Many companies and consumers are finding alternative options to the postal service for a variety of services and some of them will never go back to Canada Post. The reality is we want to be sure that the ability to earn profit is something the corporation can do while being fair to its employees and its operation.

The legislation would provide for wage increases that would be incorporated in the agreements and would allow for a certain objective framework for the arbiter to take into consideration to ensure the long-term viability of the corporation, the employees' pensions plans and the kinds of things that will keep them competitive going into the future. That is an appropriate type of consideration to have.