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

4:30 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, I find that an odd question. Previous Liberal governments were always against the working rights. Now the Liberals are onside with us, but want to know if there could be a hypothetical situation down the road where they could jump ship. I am sure we will jump ship from them as soon as we can down the road from this legislation on many things. I will not get into whether there could be a hypothetical situation.

I am glad to hear my hon. colleagues in the Liberal Party speaking up for working rights. I am certainly glad to hear that they will be with us as we stay up night after night in the House. Maybe as we talk all night, we can find some hypothetical situations where he might find a reason not to support the legislation.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services Legislation
Government Orders

4:30 p.m.

NDP

Jack Harris St. John's East, NL

Mr. Speaker, the member talked about the union's rights and workers' rights, but one of the great principles of collective bargaining is the obligation on both sides to bargain in good faith.

I wonder if the legislation, the lockout, the order back to work and then the imposition of a wage less than what was on the bargaining table will have any impact on good faith bargaining.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services Legislation
Government Orders

4:35 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, the issue of bargaining in good faith is fundamental to union and management negotiations. When a government intervenes, locks out workers, forces a crisis and then imposes a new wage agreement that is lower than was negotiated, that sends the signal to management and all other sources of work.

The government has taken sides and intervened above and beyond its right. A very bad precedent is going to be set by the government.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services Legislation
Government Orders

4:35 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Timmins—James Bay for reminding this House and explaining to it some of the history and tradition involved in free collective bargaining and the struggle working people went through to enjoy what we now consider fundamental rights and freedoms, the right to free collective bargaining and, when that bargaining reaches an impasse, the right of working people to withhold their services as a legitimate economic lever to apply pressure to a bargaining relationship that is imbalanced at the outset from the obvious advantage that management has.

I want to begin, though, by clearing up some misinformation that the Minister of Labour has been sharing with this House. She keeps coming back to the point that she believes that what the government has imposed here by its legislation is somehow final offer selection, or FOS. I happen to know something about final offer selection, because it was in fact law in the Province of Manitoba for a period of time, and as a former trade union leader, I have negotiated dozens of collective agreements. In some of those collective agreements, the parties I was representing chose to settle their bargaining negotiations through final offer selection.

This has nothing to do with FOS, which is only effective when both parties voluntarily submit themselves to it as a form of arbitration to settle their differences. The fact of the matter is that both parties present their last best offer and then an arbitrator chooses one or the other. This does not resemble FOS whatsoever, which had its origins in major league baseball to settle wage disputes between teams and players. Once the two parties have stripped away all the other language issues and are down to just money and cannot agree on the money, they put their best offer forward and an arbitrator chooses one or the other, but not a combination of the two.

Therefore, the minister is misleading the House if she is trying to sell this package as a form of final offer selection.

The second thing I would like to raise is that if we scratch the surface of this impasse, its root cause is Canada Post's saying that it is unwilling or unable to maintain fair wages or to meet the wage demands of its employees. However, in actual fact, for the last 10 years or more, Canada Post has been paying a dividend to the Government of Canada to the degree of $200 million to $300 million per year in profits.

If one reads the mandate of Canada Post, and I used to be the critic and know it quite well, nowhere in its mandate is Canada Post supposed to be a cash cow for the government of the day. Its mandate is to provide the best possible mail service to the most people at the lowest possible cost. If there ever is a surplus, it should perhaps go to expanding Canada Post's delivery service to Canadians, or lowering the cost of stamps or buying new vehicles or sorting stations, but not to putting $200 million a year into the general revenues of the federal government.

If we add up the 10, 12 or 15 years that it has been putting $200 million to $280 million a year into general revenue, we would have $2 billion, $3 billion, $4 billion a year worth of accumulated surplus. With that, Canada Post would have no problem meeting the reasonable wage demands of a reasonable settlement. I am not going to judge what is reasonable or what is not. However, it could not claim poverty or inability to pay, if it were actually following its mandate instead of handing over all this money.

We can scratch the surface of this assault on pensions and get back to its root cause. I think the root cause is the unofficial prime minister of Canada, Thomas d'Aquino, and I do not hesitate saying that, and his new incarnation, John Manley. I say this because 12 years ago, Thomas d'Aquino stood and listed 10 or 15 things that he thought Canada had to do to move forward. What he really meant was what we had to do to re-create our country in the image of the United States, but in his mind it was to move forward. One of those was legacy costs. He flagged those as an unsustainable expectation of Canadian workers for the pensions that had became the norm in the post-war years.

Then the modus operandi kicked in. First, a bunch of right-wing think tanks validated that notion. Then a bunch of lobbyists started chatting up this notion on talk shows and wrote articles in newspapers. Then those lobbyists were dispatched to Parliament Hill and a neo-conservative government dutifully fell into line and did exactly what it had been told to do a decade before by the Business Council on National Issues, or now the CEO of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives, John Manley. That is where this comes from. They are hell-bent and determined to re-create Canada in the image of the United States.

Let me point out the folly of that in the context of union rights and fair wages. The greatest strength of the United States and what made it the economic powerhouse that it was until recently was its burgeoning middle class, a middle class that could consume. The United States got that because of free collective bargaining and the rise of the trade union movement from World War I through to the World War II and post-war eras, when unions negotiated fair wages. People want to dump on guys like Jimmy Hoffa, but the one thing that people should remember him for is that he took the lowest-paid occupation in the country and within a decade had turned it into one of the highest-paid blue collar jobs in the country.

Fair wages benefit the whole community. How can people not get that through their heads? When working people have a dollar in their pocket they spend it and they spend it again. In fact, a dollar is usually spent four times before it reaches its natural state of repose in some rich man's pocket. However, in the process on the way to the rich guy's pocket, it benefits a lot of people.

During the Reagan years, they set out to squash the unions in the United States and they succeeded. They went from 35% unionization to 20% to 15% to 12%. The Americans are now down to 9% unionization, and believe me, wages followed, because free collective bargaining had been the only way to elevate the standard of wages and working conditions of the people of the United States. Now they are wondering where all those good union jobs have gone that paid $20 an hour and provided a pension, the jobs that people could raise a family on. Guess what, they do not exist any more. The Americans effectively stamped out the unions because their right wing think tanks told them that it was the way to prosperity.

Our right wing think tanks are telling the government that the road to prosperity means stamping out unions and pushing back and that the notion that people deserve a fair wage and a decent pension is a wild expectation that we can no longer afford. If we buy into that bill of goods, we will be following the Americans right down that same path, because it was middle class consumers who were the United States' greatest strength.

We have not followed the Americans there yet. We are still about 30% or 32% unionized. However, we can see it in the eyes of the guys across the floor that they hate unions. They would love to stamp out unions if they could get away with it. Also in their eyes is the notion of those fat pensions. What is fat about them?

When Marcel Massé stole the $30 billion surplus in the public service pension plan, which I do not hesitate to say he did, we did some research. The average public service pensioner is a woman, aged about 68 to 70, making $9,000 a year from her pension. That $30 billion the Liberal government stole from the public service pension plan and gave in the form of corporate tax cuts to its friends could have doubled the pension of every person collecting a public service pension benefit and we would still have change left over.

There has been a successive assault on fair wages and the notion of pensions, which can be traced right back to Thomas d'Aquino. The unofficial prime minister of Canada dictated that is what they needed to do and a bunch of toady governments, from the Liberal toady government to the Conservative toady government, fell successively into line and implemented and executed just about every single thing on his wish list. They ticked them off one by one, and if we keep following them they will want to re-create Canada in the image of the United States, and it is not a pretty sight south of the border, believe me.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services Legislation
Government Orders

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

Jim Hillyer Lethbridge, AB

Mr. Speaker, if we want to make comparisons between countries and what they have tried, the roads to prosperity and bondage have both been proven through 5,000 or 6,000 years of human history. We may look to the south sometimes for examples of free markets, but we do not have to look south. We could look east and west for the examples of free markets versus socialism. I do not know what our handbook is but we know about some of the planks written by Mr. Marx on socialism and the redistribution of wealth. It is very clear that socialism has always led to poverty and despair.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services Legislation
Government Orders

4:45 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, fair wages benefit the whole community. I do not know if anyone could argue with that.

There are low-wage, low-cost economies, like the United States and even like some provinces. They advertise themselves as this, thinking it will attract investment if they say they are a low-wage, low-cost economy. Frankly, the product of that leaves a lot of social consequences.

Then there are places like New Zealand and Australia where a coffee server in a coffee shop makes $22 an hour. People working at London Drugs or whatever their equivalent is make $25 an hour. I have been to Denmark, Sweden and Norway, where, again, a coffee shop worker makes $20 to $25 an hour.

Here, for some reason we have convinced ourselves that it is a good thing to have low wages. How can that possibly be a good thing? In the richest and most powerful civilization in the history of the world, how is it a good idea to pay people a wage they cannot live on?

The rate of child poverty in Norway, Denmark and Sweden is zero. There are no poor children there because they believe in fair wages for people.

What is wrong with this country?

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services Legislation
Government Orders

4:45 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am sure the member for Winnipeg Centre is quite aware of one of the saddest days I ever sat inside the Manitoba Legislature. It was in committee when I had retired teacher after retired teacher come to the committee until past midnight, asking the NDP government why it was not giving them any form of COLA increase and to allow their pensions to go up.

The member for Winnipeg Centre loses his focus in trying to take shots at the Liberal Party on pensions. The Liberal Party has been a long-time advocate of decent pensions.

The issue here is Canada Post and why there is a lockout today, as opposed to the government trying to resolve this so that the postal workers can have that collective agreement.

Would the member for Winnipeg Centre not agree that the government was wrong in allowing Canada Post to enforce a lockout? Would it not have been better if there had not been a lockout and we had allowed the negotiations to take place in a much better way?

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services Legislation
Government Orders

4:45 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I was the labour critic during the 1997 Canada Post lockout.

The member for Cardigan was then the minister of labour. I believe it was a guy who became the ambassador to Denmark, or was it Hans Island that we sent him to, Minister Gagliano, who was the minister for Canada Post. That was when the Liberals imposed an almost equally draconian back-to-work legislation package on the workers of Canada Post.

The fact is, these impasses often come down to the ability to pay. In the private sector there is often a legitimate inability to pay the workers' demands. In this case, Canada Post has been showing a surplus of $200 million to $300 million a year for the last 10 to 15 years. There was no inability to pay. There was no reason it could not tolerate the rotating strikes, which in fact left the mail still being delivered. There was no reason to lock them out.

If we took the total accumulated surplus over the last 15 years, there would have been $2 billion to $3 billion, more than ample room to provide a fair cost of living increase while leaving their pensions alone. In other words, do not start an assault on pensions based on the inability to pay if the numbers do not bear it out.

Message from the Senate
Government Orders

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

Before we resume debate, I have the honour to inform the House that messages have been received from the Senate informing this House that the Senate has passed the following bills:

Bill C-2, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (mega-trials); and

Bill C-3, An Act to implement certain provisions of the 2011 budget as updated on June 6, 2011.

I also have the honour to inform the House that a message has been received from the Senate informing this House that the Senate has passed the following private bill to which the concurrence of the House is desired:

Bill S-1001, An Act respecting Queen's University at Kingston.

The bill is deemed to have been read the first time and ordered for second reading at the next sitting of the House.

The House resumed consideration of the motion, and of the motion that this question be now put.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services Legislation
Government Orders

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

Brad Butt Mississauga—Streetsville, ON

Mr. Speaker, it will not come as a surprise to anyone in the House or even in this country that our government has had to bring forward back-to-work legislation to end the work stoppage at Canada Post. We were fully prepared to use back-to-work legislation in the case of Air Canada and I must say I am particularly relieved that we did not have to take that step. I congratulate and thank both Air Canada and the Canada Auto Workers for finding a solution on their own. That is always the best way.

We would all be immensely relieved if the crisis at Canada Post could also be resolved as quickly and without the need for the government's intervention, but unfortunately it does not look like we will be that lucky. As I speak, the postal workers are still locked out, and there is no sign of a real and constructive move back to the bargaining table. Therefore, the government is obliged to invoke our powers that we have under the Canada Labour Code to end the work stoppage and appoint an arbitrator to impose a settlement.

The pros and cons of back-to-work legislation have already been thoroughly discussed in the media and of course, by the various stakeholders. The reactions have been entirely predictable.

If I may summarize all the objections I have heard, I would say that they seem to come down to three points: one, that the government is acting too forcefully; two, that the government has intervened too quickly; and three, that the government is exaggerating the effect on the national economy.

Let me take a few moments, if I may, to respond to each of these objections. A significant number of people believe that imposing arbitration in a labour dispute is inherently unjust and dictatorial, even if it is a perfectly legal option enshrined in the Canada Labour Code. These people believe that the right to strike or lock out is absolute and that it trumps all other rights.

In a democratic society, there can be no absolute rights because there are circumstances where the rights of one group will inevitably conflict with the rights of another group. Some degree of compromise is always necessary. When people will not co-operate with each other and their co-operation is vital to society, the state must step in and use the law. I will readily admit that the law can be a blunt instrument, but it is sometimes the only tool we have.

Let me address the second most common objection. Some people who accept the use of back-to-work legislation in principle are still convinced that in this particular case, the government is acting too hastily. In this country, the great majority of disputes between labour and management are resolved at the bargaining table, often with the help of mediators and conciliators from the labour program. These mediators and conciliators typically work behind the scenes and where their efforts are successful, they do not hold press conferences or media opportunities to boast about it, they get the job done. Because they keep such a low profile, the general public may not appreciate how hard these women and men work and how much they contribute to good labour management relations in this country.

When collective bargaining fails and a strike or a lockout occurs, the spotlight suddenly shines on the government, and it looks like we have somehow suddenly arrived on the scene, even though we have been there all along the way.

Many Canadians are simply unaware that the Canada Post negotiations have been going on for quite some time and that the Government of Canada has been involved almost from the beginning. The Minister of Labour has already described at length all the steps we took over a period of many months to avert this work stoppage.

In the Canada Post dispute the mediators and conciliators used all their skills and resources, but unfortunately, to no avail. Naturally, we prepared for the possibility of a strike or a lockout. We gave this situation a lot of thought.

The decision to table this back to work legislation was not made recklessly or impulsively. Some say we should sit and wait a little longer to see how events play out, but every day that this lockout continues is another day of losses to our economy, losses we can ill afford.

That brings me to the third most common objection to our back to work legislation and that is that this government is exaggerating the danger to our economy from a prolonged postal strike.

For several months now we have been telling the Canadian public that our economy is emerging from the global recession but that our recovery is still fragile. People who doubt the second part of this statement should read the financial section. Better still, they should talk to business owners who are just beginning to get back to profitability, or the many Canadians who have just recently started collecting a paycheque again. Ask them if they feel our economy is already so strong that it can afford to endure a major disruption in basic postal service.

In this situation our government is not being unduly alarmist. The threat to our recovery is real. The objections to back-to-work legislation, which might have some force under different circumstances, are not really valid right now. My hon. colleagues must recognize this reality. We need to get the mail moving again and the only way we can do that is by passing this bill.

I have been participating today and listening to many colleagues in the House express very eloquently and passionately their views on this. I really believe that there is a bigger and wider issue here, which is that we are a very large and vast country geographically and not so large in our population. We are very much spread out as a country. We have one mail service. I have heard members who represent rural ridings talk about the major impact even a day or two of mail not being delivered can mean to those communities.

I represent a fairly urban municipality, certainly a suburban city from the City of Toronto. Residents have said to me that any disruption of mail delivery significantly impacts them, their families and particularly seniors and our most vulnerable citizens who rely not just on cheques and pension money and so on coming to them on a timely and regular basis, but correspondence from family members who may live far away from them. They rely on getting that letter. It is that important connection they have with their family and sending a letter is the best way for them to communicate. I am speaking of people who get well wishes cards, birthday cards and other things that mean so much in their life that they count on each and every year. I think of my daughters who are 11 and 7 and if they did not get a birthday card from grandma and grandpa who live in Peterborough and we live in Mississauga, they would be very disappointed. An email does not cut it for that kind of thing. People rely on our postal service to do that.

Governments have to make tough decisions and I think we were elected to make tough decisions.

Like all members of this House, I spent 36 days knocking on thousands of doors. I heard very clearly from my constituents what they wanted from their government. They wanted reliability and responsibility. They wanted a strong government that was going to look after the economy and continue to work to create jobs. They wanted a secure economic future for all kinds of Canadians, not just those Canadians who might have the benefit of working in a unionized environment. There are millions of Canadians who do not have a union. They still make a contribution to the country. They have well-paying jobs in many cases, certainly in my community, and they want to continue to do that. They want to continue to work for companies that will invest in our community.

I cannot stress enough how important it is to have the Canadian postal service working each and every day, contributing in a very significant way to the economy.

The last point I will raise is on the impact I believe a prolonged postal strike will have on charities. I was very proud that for close to 30 years I was a very strong volunteer in the city of Mississauga. In fact, the mayor and members of council recognized me with an award for 30 years of community service just last year. I have served on many boards that count on individual donations that come in through the mail to keep those organizations running. Food banks and other community service programs rely on individual donations.

Many of the people who donate to those organizations are not sophisticated online donors who use credit cards and Internet. They write a cheque out of the goodness of their heart and they put it in the mail. When that cheque is received at the food bank, it is deposited and it makes a huge difference in those people's lives who have to use organizations like the Mississauga Food Bank, whose board of directors I have served on for many years. We rely on that. Other charities rely on that. If we were to allow this labour dispute to continue through the summer, organizations that count on annual donations that normally come in May and June would be in deep trouble because those cheques would simply not be delivered to these agencies.

There are millions of Canadians, thousands of agencies, thousands of small, medium and large businesses that count on mail delivery. There are children and others like my kids who count on getting that birthday card or well wishes. They count on an efficient and effective postal service.

Our government has a responsibility. It is responsible to oversee the operation of Canada Post on behalf of Canadian taxpayers who ultimately own the crown corporation. In essence, the government has that fiduciary responsibility to step in only when necessary.

I certainly would not advocate this in every case and clearly we have not done this before; the last time it was done was in 1997. Obviously, most of the time the parties are able to come to an agreement, which is the preferred solution in all cases of collective bargaining, such as Air Canada has been able to do. The parties have been able to sit down and negotiate a tentative agreement which hopefully will be ratified and Air Canada will continue to serve the public.

Unfortunately, it looks like in this situation the parties simply cannot get together and read from the same songbook as to how they see Canada Post as a corporation moving forward. It is unfortunate, but I think we have a bigger responsibility to the citizens of this country to ensure the mail continues to flow.

I am thankful for the opportunity to speak in the House today and I would be more than pleased to entertain any questions from hon. members.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services Legislation
Government Orders

5:05 p.m.

NDP

Alain Giguère Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to the hon. member and I think he is missing the real issue.

The problem is not the services provided by Canada Post or Air Canada. It is not production at Nortel or AbitibiBowater. The problem is the workers' right to keep an effective pension plan, a defined benefit plan. That is the problem. We cannot expect people to agree to live in poverty in their senior years. That is what the government is asking.

That is what was happening with Air Canada. They came to an agreement because they decided not to include this issue. They decided not to talk about the pension plan and, in two days, the whole thing was settled. The issue of wages at Canada Post was settled. The issue of working conditions was settled. Everything was settled except the pension plan and the disability benefit plan. What this government is essentially asking is to recognize people's right to give up a viable pension without access to the food banks in which the hon. member told me he is actively involved.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services Legislation
Government Orders

5:05 p.m.

Conservative

Brad Butt Mississauga—Streetsville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I certainly did not expect to be involved in the collective bargaining process as a member of Parliament. However, I have been asked to comment on pensions. Obviously in the collective bargaining that has taken place, there are a number of issues that are on the table. I am certainly not in a position to determine what pension levels are appropriate or not in the case of a collective agreement between a union and management, whether it is a crown corporation or a private sector company.

However, the one thing we have to be realistic about is if we are going to have a pension system for people in the future who work for companies, whether they be in the public sector or private sector, those companies and crown corporations have to be economically viable in the longer term, not the immediate term but the longer term, because these agreements often stretch out for many years. If we do not have a situation where Canada Post, Air Canada, and any of those other organizations are economically viable, there will be no pensions for anybody because there will be fewer jobs and there will be less service. They will not be viable.

I am concerned about pensions, too, but I think it is a two-way street. The union has to be realistic with the company's ability to pay and management has to be realistic as to what is a fair pension for the employees.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services Legislation
Government Orders

5:05 p.m.

Nepean—Carleton
Ontario

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for a very informative commentary on the subject at hand. He has tremendous experience in the charitable sector and the volunteer sector, for which he has been recognized by his community in Mississauga.

I would like him to talk about the impact of work stoppages at Canada Post on the charitable sector. I would also like him to comment on the fair and reasonable approach the government has put forward in the legislation that would align the wage increases that Canada Post personnel would receive if the bill passes with the increases that were negotiated with the broader public sector at the federal level.

Those are the two questions: one, the impact on the charitable and volunteer sectors; and two, the government's decision in the legislation to increase salaries and wages at the same rate as that in the federal public sector.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services Legislation
Government Orders

5:10 p.m.

Conservative

Brad Butt Mississauga—Streetsville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the parliamentary secretary very much for the opportunity to comment on two areas. One area I am very passionate about is the charitable sector. Where would we be if there were no charitable and social service organizations doing great work on the ground in all of our communities and making a real impact on people's lives?

Quite frankly, I find the smaller and leaner the organization, the stronger it is in actually delivering much needed services in communities. The problem is that charities rely on cheques that are most often mailed. They are not big highfalutin volunteer organizations with fancy websites and online donations. They are small community agencies that make a big difference, and a $10, $25 or $50 cheque in the mail to those agencies makes a big difference.

With respect to the wage increases that are being proposed in our bill, we have to be reasonable. I remind everyone that what is being proposed are wage increases, not wage rollbacks. We are not cutting people's wages. Wages would go up under the bill or if the union had settled with the last offer. The employer offered an increase in wages.

It is a balancing act, but the fact is we are increasing wages in the bill. We are asking the arbitrator to do some work. Arbitrators often side with union requests rather than management. That is a fair and appropriate process. Our government is acting very responsibly in these times.