House of Commons Hansard #14 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

3:20 p.m.

Conservative

Phil McColeman Brant, ON

Mr. Speaker, many of us in the House would prefer not to be in this situation. I think that is the case on all sides.

However, we must take action to protect especially the small and the medium-sized businesses, like the ones in my community.

I have heard from, and many MPs have heard from their constituents, the owners of these companies. One in particular is a small rural weekly newspaper. This particular newspaper, the Burford Times, relies on the post office for the delivery of its revenue from advertisers. Also the businesses of that small community rely on getting their word out. Therefore, they are suffering as well. These are the one, two, three or five-person operations, which are affected the most.

I received another interesting email from another individual who totally relies on the postal service for his revenue into his company. He said that if this went on for another seven days, he would be out of business.

This is especially hitting the small operators.

Yesterday, we heard about the call for respect of the workers. We are calling for the respect of all small and medium-sized Canadian businesses.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services Legislation
Government Orders

3:20 p.m.

NDP

Jamie Nicholls Vaudreuil-Soulanges, QC

Mr. Speaker, does the member opposite know the names of the postal workers who deliver the mail to his home? Does he know their families and their situations? Does he know how they live their lives? Does he know their families and the condition of their families?

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services Legislation
Government Orders

3:20 p.m.

Conservative

Phil McColeman Brant, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member's question is completely relevant to my personal situation. I have two nephews and a niece who are postal carriers. I also understand that many postal carriers prefer that this situation had never arisen. They would like to have more control of their own job situations.

I do have a relationship with a lot of people. I was a small employer and I know what makes for success. It is the people who are on the ground and are actually doing the work.

A lot of people in this country, including postal workers, would prefer not to be in this situation. I do know their situation personally. They are somewhat upset that we must be here to face this for our economy. However, we must do this to protect their rights.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services Legislation
Government Orders

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, the former speaker would know that we are talking about a lockout as opposed to postal workers going on strike, and many believe that the government had a good idea that the lockout was going to happen.

Could the member give the House any assurances that cabinet had no idea that Canada Post was going to lock out its workers, or did the government have an idea that this was going to occur? Could he provide some information on that point?

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services Legislation
Government Orders

3:20 p.m.

Conservative

Phil McColeman Brant, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am not in a position to have any of the information the member is asking for, but I do know many of the people in my community who are being directly affected by this, as I mentioned earlier. In fact, I have received numerous emails not only from businesses but also from seniors and people who live on disability allowances from government sources, who are being greatly affected by this.

This is a situation that is untenable for a lot of the individuals who rely on mail service for the money they need to sustain themselves. Frankly, right now there are certain people who are panicking because of this.

This government must take action. We are being decisive and we will pass this legislation.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services Legislation
Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

NDP

Alexandre Boulerice Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, since this morning, our Conservative Party colleagues have been shedding crocodile tears over the fate of small and medium-sized businesses, while forgetting the fundamental fact that the current dispute at Canada Post is a lockout. That makes all the difference in the world. The unions had planned to use moderate pressure to raise public awareness, by taking action for just 24 hours in one city at a time. Canada Post was told to put an end to the dispute and only aggravated the situation by imposing a lockout. It got out the bazooka and shut everything down across the country.

I would like to ask our hon. colleague if he cares at all about the interests of the small and medium-sized businesses that are suffering because of the lockout imposed by Canada Post. Would he be willing to stand up and ask Canada Post to lift the lockout?

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services Legislation
Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

Conservative

Phil McColeman Brant, ON

Mr. Speaker, even before the lockout I was receiving emails from business people, the ones who own the three or four person operations, about the rotating lockouts that were happening. In my community we rely--

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services Legislation
Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

Conservative

Royal Galipeau Ottawa—Orléans, ON

Strikes.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services Legislation
Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

Conservative

Phil McColeman Brant, ON

Yes, they were strikes, Mr. Speaker. There were walkouts by employees or strikes in various centres, meaning that the mail was not moving. Invoices and things that people needed to get out were not being received at the local rural post offices.

There was such disruption to the system at that point before the lockout happened that this government had to do something decisive to make sure that our economy was protected, that the jobs in those small companies were respected and that we got this country back to work.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services Legislation
Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

Conservative

Royal Galipeau Ottawa—Orléans, ON

Mr. Speaker, would the hon. member for Brant agree with me that the rotating strikes before the lockout were just as crippling to the system as the lockout itself?

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services Legislation
Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

Conservative

Phil McColeman Brant, ON

Mr. Speaker, my colleague's question underscores what I said previously, that this is not just because of the lockout, as the opposition would now characterize the situation, but of an ongoing series of disruptions right across the country.

The issue then from a management point of view is, how do we prioritize? How do we tell some people that we will get mail through and others that we are not, and to give those directions to the people on the ground?

If one has a sense of business and knows that one has a responsibility to all business customers, not just to a certain few that are regarded as more important than others, a decision must be made to deal with the larger picture in a quick and decisive fashion. That is what our government is doing.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services Legislation
Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

NDP

Anne Minh-Thu Quach Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Mr. Speaker, what I find most irritating is that the Conservatives do not seem to realize that they are violating the rights of workers. Over the noon hour today, I spoke with a Canada Post union steward who turned up in my office on the Hill. He told me that the workers feel as though this government has sided with the employer. The workers want to negotiate. They were locked out by the employer and, more importantly, they are saying they that contribute to the profits.

Why punish the workers when their duties are constantly increasing and they have already gone through staff cutbacks?

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services Legislation
Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

Conservative

Phil McColeman Brant, ON

Mr. Speaker, nothing can be more distorted than that comment. Obviously, the member did not listen to the fact that although the workers have the right to strike, the employer also has the right to a lockout.

By all means, let us get them back to the table. We are not siding with one side or the other. We are saying, let us get both parties back to the table, let us make sure that we can get this resolved, hopefully without this kind of legislation. We have been saying that for a long time.

The member needs to get her facts straight.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services Legislation
Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

NDP

Alexandre Boulerice Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like first to say I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Vancouver East.

Today is a dark day for Canada. The tabling of Bill C-6 is a blot on respect for democratic rights and workers’ right of association. This day will not go down in history as one where the government showed great respect for Canadians and for the rights of union members. The good news is that maybe the Conservative government has finally been unmasked. The mask has fallen away, revealing its true face. Unfortunately, it is not a pretty sight to behold. What we see is a government that is authoritarian, arrogant and contemptuous of working people, who just want to do their jobs in a reasonably healthy, safe environment. Instead of extending them a hand and pushing for real negotiations with the postal workers’ union, the government gets out its bazooka and bludgeon and tries to force the employees back to work by means of a special act, which even imposes salary conditions while not allowing the arbitrator to make a decision in full knowledge of the facts after drawing comparisons with the market and the economic situation at Canada Post.

I want to emphasize that this is a crazy, surrealistic, even Kafkaesque situation. I would encourage my colleagues to read The Trial by Kafka. It is very interesting and there are some strong parallels with the situation in which the postal workers now find themselves.

Since their negotiations were going nowhere and the employer was insisting on cutbacks in the collective agreement—I will talk a little later about the health and safety problems and the discriminatory treatment, especially in regard to the pension plans, which are a topic of great concern to many Quebeckers and Canadians these days—the union wanted to start applying gradual pressure. It did not want to launch a general strike because it did not want to paralyze the system. It wanted to use gentle pressure tactics at first, affecting one city at a time for 24 hours. The rest of the country would continue to function. This would get the employees talking and raise the awareness of Canadians, and the media would take an interest. That is how a dialogue is started with the public to move the issue along while pressuring the employer in a way that is legal, peaceful and progressive.

After only a few days, what did the employer do? The employer is a crown corporation and the government is ultimately responsible for it. The employer imposed a lockout. It shut down Canada Post across the country. It created the problem itself. The Conservative government is telling us that this is a terrible situation that is jeopardizing the economic recovery and the economic health of the country. But it is the one that created this situation by locking out the employees. If it is responsible for this paralysis, why is the government now riding in like a knight in shining armour to save the day and solve the problem, saying that everything will be fine, that it will bring in special legislation to force workers back to work? That is absurd. The Conservatives are the ones who stopped the delivery of regular mail across the country. Why do they not stand up and urge Canada Post to put an end to the lockout and to return to the bargaining table? This would enable members from Quebec to return to Quebec to celebrate Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day tomorrow with their constituents.

I would imagine that Michel Chartrand is rarely quoted in the House of Commons, but the Conservative government cannot invoke its own turpitude. It created this situation. It must take responsibility and put an end to the lockout in the interests of the unionized workers and their rights, and also in the interests of the people and the small and medium-sized businesses of this country.

The situation is even more absurd, since Canada Post is a remarkable, efficient, economical and profitable public service. Let me be clear: the private sector does not offer an alternative way to move such a high volume of mail every day from coast to coast. This is the best way we have to ensure that Canadians can send mail to other Canadians and to people around the world.

As well as being efficient, it is economical, because it is a public service that does not cost a lot of money. If we draw comparisons with many other countries, like Finland, Germany and the Netherlands, the price of regular stamps to send a letter in Canada is lower than in most other OECD countries. Furthermore, and this needs to be emphasized and repeated, last year, Canada Post made about $281 million in profits.

Why attack the rights of workers? Why create a pension plan that will be less beneficial for new employees? Why risk the health and safety of workers when we have a public firm that works well and makes money to boot? Where is the problem? Why does the Conservative government want to force these people to take a step backwards? Why attack the working conditions of 50,000 people across the country? Why attack the living conditions of 50,000 families across the country? Is that how the Conservatives plan to treat workers and their families over the next four years? Is this how the Conservative government envisions the future for workers and the working class: moving further and further backwards? That is unacceptable.

Another very important aspect of all this, beyond working conditions, is that we are dealing with the fundamental issue of respecting people's rights. In the Canadian federation, certain rights are enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. I think it is important to remember this. Canadians have the right to associate. They have the right to organize. They have the right to express themselves. They have the right to negotiate freely and to exert pressure, as set out in the Canada Labour Code. And that is what the Conservative government is attacking. It wants to destroy these rights. It wants to sweep them under the rug and tell people, “Hey, you have no choice; now get back to work”.

This is a threat to respect for the rights of all Canadians. All of the groups that are making demands, talking, protesting, getting organized and trying to peacefully improve things are worried today. Has history taught us that this is how progress is made? Is this how we moved past the middle ages, the industrial age and the widespread exploitation of workers? No, those things happened because people got together, joined forces, organized themselves and defended themselves, which resulted in social policies, social rights, the right to unionize, to bargain collectively, to have a labour contract that the employer must respect and to strike. That is why today, workers and Canadians are better off than they were a century or a century and a half ago.

The Conservative bill does not give the arbitrator the freedom and opportunity to decide on the best salary increase for Canada Post employees. This is unusual, new and very, very strange. We think that it adds insult to injury by setting salary increases that are lower than the employer's last offer. Should it not be the arbitrator, along with the two parties, deciding on the appropriate salary increases? How is it that the government is trying to save money by using special legislation that strips an arbitrator of the powers he usually has to settle this type of dispute?

If the employer felt it could offer these salary increases, then why is the Conservative government getting involved and imposing lower increases than the employer was offering? The employer itself acknowledged it could offer more and show more respect for the workers. Forcing the arbitrator to decide on lower salary increases is akin to stealing $35 million out of the pockets of Canada Post employees over the next four years. Just imagine what future labour relations are going to be like in that sector. Imagine how motivated these men and women are going to be if a labour contract is shoved down their throats. Is that how the government shows respect for those who provide good service across the country?

I think the government should react and respect the Canada Post employees, forget this special legislation, lift the lockout, ask both parties to negotiate and allow Quebec MPs to celebrate their national holiday.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services Legislation
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

Calgary Centre-North
Alberta

Conservative

Michelle Rempel Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment

Mr. Speaker, the member opposite has said much about the rights of workers today and I would like to raise a concern of a constituent in my riding who is also a worker who said:

I strongly encourage you to legislate an immediate end to the postal strike. I am the head of finance for a business which employs approximately 80 people across the country. The nature of our business is such that we supply our products to many smaller and owner operated businesses who pay us by cheque and utilize the mail. In the first three days of this strike/lockout we have delayed sufficient receivables that we have now maxed out our credit line...We are in serious risk of going under if this situation is not resolved immediately.

Why will the member opposite not acknowledge that this legislation is needed to protect the rights of all Canadian workers?