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

An Act Respecting Queen's University at Kingston
Government Orders

7:20 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Denise Savoie

The House has heard the terms of the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

An Act Respecting Queen's University at Kingston
Government Orders

7:20 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

An Act Respecting Queen's University at Kingston
Government Orders

7:20 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Denise Savoie

(Motion agreed to, bill read the second time, considered in committee of the whole, reported without amendment, concurred in, read the third time and passed)

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

7:20 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Madam Speaker, given that display of unanimity one would hope that we would be able to get actual bills through the House that would deal with credit card gouging, gas price gouging and all the things the government has not been willing to take action on. We are always willing to work with the government when it actually works in the interests of ordinary people.

I would like to start by saying a few words to our Quebec colleagues, Canadians who live in the province of Quebec.

I would like to wish a happy Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day to all Quebeckers. As hon. members know, this day will be celebrated tomorrow all across Quebec.

I was a manual labourer in a previous life. I worked in a number of factories and went back to school eventually. I have never been a member of a labour union. Following my university education I went on to work as a negotiator from the management side on a number of collective agreements. I have been a long-time member of the New Westminster Chamber of Commerce and a proud member of the Burnaby Board of Trade. I have won a number of business excellence awards.

I am going to take a slightly different tack from a number of my colleagues in this wonderfully diverse caucus, which is the new official opposition, the NDP caucus of 103 members of Parliament, people who come from a variety of backgrounds. Some have been involved in the labour movement. Some have been involved in the business community. Some have been involved as professionals. Some have been involved in the trades. All of them have the interests of Canada at heart, and we are excited to take on our new role as official opposition and to bring a lot to Parliament because of our diversity.

In the case of every single member of Parliament in the NDP caucus, our focus is on the community. That is why we are very concerned about what the government has done in this particular case.

We saw this first with Air Canada and even more of increasing concern around the Canada Post negotiations. I would like to briefly go back a few steps to talk about the process because this is what is so profoundly worrying about how the government has reacted in this case.

There have been broad concerns about how the management of Canada Post has managed the negotiations in the collective agreement. What we have had is a very broad base of support from postal workers, 50,000 strong across the country who contribute enormously to our communities and to the strength of Canada. What we have found is, because of certain intransigence from Canada Post management, there was a series of very limited, rotating work stoppages in various parts of the county. There was some mild impact on mail generally.

We had postal workers playing the role that they do, going through rain, sleet and snow, making sure that the mail gets delivered, ensuring that cheques are delivered for seniors, ensuring that those most vulnerable in our society are taken care of. The workers took a very responsible and principled approach to what was clear intransigence from Canada Post management.

When we talk about Canada Post management, in the case of the CEO we are talking about an individual who receives $650,000 a year and has seen the salary for his position double over the last few years. There has been a massive increase in management salaries. It is a profitable corporation because of the hard work of the employees who, as usual, never receive the credit for the work they do for Canada. It is a very profitable corporation with extremely high executive salaries and intransigence from the management side.

In the midst of this, instead of reacting in a moderate way, which is what the government could have chosen to do, it reacted in a very immoderate way. We all know that as we came through the end of the month of April and to the May 2 election what we heard from the Prime Minister was repeated assurances that he would be moderate in government.

We have not seen many examples of that since May 2. Certainly we could talk about the appointments of failed Conservative candidates to the Senate. We could talk about this bill. We could talk about a number of other measures that have shown those commitments that were made to Canadians to have a moderate government, a government that would be balanced in its approach, have proven to be vain promises. In my riding I have met a number of people who voted for the Conservative Party who feel that they have been betrayed by the immoderate actions of the government.

What did the government do in this case? Management reacted by locking out the workers. The letter carriers across the country, in a very moderate, reserved way had limited, rotating work stoppages in various parts of the country that slowed down only slightly the overall delivery of mail.

Management reacted by shutting down the entire system. Far from reacting in a moderate way, what the government has done is twofold. It has taken the side of management. It has decided that it will aid management in its intransigence in negotiating what should be a collective agreement that would be relatively easy to negotiate given how moderate the requests have been from the workers working for the company.

It did much more. The government imposed what would be a collective agreement. I cannot call it a collective agreement when it is imposed by the government. In a free and democratic society, collective bargaining is one way where more of the resources and more of the profits that a company has actually remain in the community. It allows for a much more balanced approach in family income. It means that, in a very clear way, more of the profits that a company may have may actually remain in the community in which those profits are earned and benefit other businesses as well.

When I talk about my community, I know how hard hit the small businesses have been by many of the policies of the government. I just have to name the HST as one example. The idea of collective bargaining is to ensure there is moderation and balance. When there is a $200 million profitable corporation, the workers should receive money that at least meets the inflation rate. That is something that is a reasonable request.

The government imposed a wage settlement and, more important, it imposed what is very clearly a pension structure and framework that will be of enormous disadvantage to anyone else who works for Canada Post in the future. It means that younger workers will be treated as second class within the Canada Post system.

This is an important issue. When we look at the middle class and what has happened over the last five years under the present government and what happened under the previous government in the previous five years, we have seen a dramatic erosion in middle class earning power. For most families, their real income has declined somewhat dramatically, particularly among the poorest of Canadians. We have seen problems with pensions and seniors living under the poverty line. We have seen the debtload of the average family in Canada double over this period as well.

We have seen a dramatic restructuring of how families in Canada cope economically. Far from us being economically prosperous, as the government likes to pretend, the middle class is struggling. One of the ways that struggle can be addressed is through free, collective bargaining, which is the hallmark of any democratic system.

What the government has done by imposing this legislation is ensuring that bad management is helped, management that is stubborn and unwilling to sit down and negotiate an effective agreement. Having been on the management side in collective agreement negotiations, I can say that it is not rocket science.

In negotiating a collective agreement, parties need to be transparent, honest, sincere and willing to work for a solution. When parties do that, they get a collective agreement renewed. There are collective agreement negotiations. When collective agreement negotiations are approached in a meanspirited way, in a non-transparent way, in a way where the people who are working to actually build that firm or build that organization are being pushed back, then the parties will not get the same results.

What has happened here is that the government has helped bad management try to impose a bad agreement that is bad for Canadian communities.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services Legislation
Government Orders

7:30 p.m.

Conservative

Joy Smith Kildonan—St. Paul, MB

Madam Speaker, I was listening to the member opposite talk about this lockout. It is passing strange that there was no mention of what is happening to everyday Canadians who rely on their mail. There are cheques in the mail that have not arrived.

For instance, a young family in my riding was given $15,000 from the parents to put a down payment on a cottage. The family has never been able to afford anything but the parents helped them out a little and together with their siblings they are buying a cottage. However, the money has not arrived and the deadline to purchase the cottage has passed. There is an 81-year-old senior who has been waiting for a cheque and it has not arrived.

I am asking the member about everyday Canadians who are waiting for the mail and hoping it will come very soon so they will not lose their chance to—

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services Legislation
Government Orders

7:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

The hon. member for Burnaby—New Westminster.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services Legislation
Government Orders

7:30 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

It is inconceivable, Mr. Speaker. The member admits that there was a lockout and that Canada Post management is to blame and then tries to justify legislation that punishes the workers who approached this whole conflict in a very moderate, reasonable way.

The management shut down the system and yet not one Conservative member of Parliament has said that the government understands what a lockout is, that management acted inappropriately and that it will ensure that management is compelled to negotiate a collective agreement. The Conservatives have not done that. They have done exactly the opposite. They are punishing the workers who have been delivering the cheques to seniors, who had a very moderate and reasonable series of rotating work stoppages that slowed the system only slightly. Management came in with a sledgehammer to bust the system apart and Conservative MPs are saying that it is the workers' fault that management shut down the entire system.

I think any reasonable, fair-minded Canadian can see how immoderate the government is becoming. It blames ordinary middle class families for something that is management's fault. Management shut—

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services Legislation
Government Orders

7:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

Questions and comments. The hon. member for Nanaimo—Cowichan.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services Legislation
Government Orders

7:35 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Burnaby—New Westminster for laying out so clearly what some of the issues are.

Numerous times in the House today we have heard, particularly Conservative members, talk about the economics of this and declining revenues from the post office. I want to put on the record that the Canadian Union of Postal Workers has actually had some proposals around increasing the business line. The article states:

Canada Post is at a crossroads. On the one hand, it faces significant challenges due to economic recession, electronic diversion and years of underinvestment in facilities and equipment. On the other hand, it is well placed to meet these challenges with its enormous, nation-wide infrastructure and trained workforce.

I would argue that part of this process really is about respecting the trained workforce and respecting the ideas it has put forward. I wonder if the member could comment on how important it is to have stability in that workforce so employees can continue to contribute to the bottom line for the business.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services Legislation
Government Orders

7:35 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, every member of the opposition has approached this issue with respect for the ordinary workers who carry our mail every day. We are talking about people who work hard in the community. My letter carrier climbs 40 steps up the hill to deliver every day. Letter carriers work very hard, I know the kinds of hours they put in, and they are very thoughtful. Yet the government is attacking what has been bad management practices. There is no other way of putting it.

A business plan needs to be put into place to ensure the workers who understand the system best are keenly involved in bringing Canada Post to the next stage. These workers are the backbone of the system. Instead, management has been very stubborn and obstinate. What happens? The Conservative government rewards bad behaviour. We have seen that, whether we are talking about the banking industry or anywhere else, the Conservatives reward bad behaviour, and that is really too bad.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services Legislation
Government Orders

7:35 p.m.

Conservative

Devinder Shory Calgary Northeast, AB

Mr. Speaker, I rise to support the legislation introduced by the Minister of Labour to bring an end to the work stoppage at Canada Post and to send the outstanding issues between the parties to binding arbitration.

A work stoppage is underway and a vital service is gone and Canadians have some urgent questions. How did this happen? How did things ever get this far? Do we not have mechanisms to resolve labour-management conflicts? We certainly do and, over 90% of the time, they work exceptionally well.

In this country, employers and the unions that represent their employees are able to negotiate the terms and conditions of employment through a process of collective bargaining. This usually involves some compromises on both sides. These negotiations almost always result in a settlement that is acceptable to both sides. We do not hear much about the proceedings because usually there is nothing very dramatic about the signing of a collective agreement.

What if the talks fail? This occasionally happens but all is not lost because the Canada Labour Code provides for a series of measures the government can take to help the parties in a dispute get past their differences and avoid a strike or a lockout.

What happened in the case of Canada Post? It is not my place to comment on the issues between the parties. I can speak only for the government. I can assure Canadians that we did everything within our power to help Canada Post and the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, Urban Operations Unit to come to an agreement. We used every tool at our disposal.

I will go back to the fall of last year. Negotiations between Canada Post and CUPW began in October 2010 with the goal of reaching a settlement before the existing collective agreement expired on January 31, 2011. Despite some concessions on both sides, the two parties could not agree on some crucial points. On January 21, 10 days before the contract expiry date, the parties to the dispute informed the Minister of Labour that they were deadlocked. As I said, in a case like this, there are steps the government can take and the government has taken them.

Step one is to send in a conciliator. If conciliation fails, step two is to appoint a mediator. In the case of Canada Post and CUPW, the government followed the usual process as set out in the Canada Labour Code. and we spent a lot of time meeting with both sides. I want to stress, in case there is any doubt on this point, that the Minister of Labour does not play favourites and that the experts she appoints have to be impartial. Their job is not to impose the kind of agreement that would be most agreeable to the government. Their role is to help the parties find their own solutions.

I will now go to the chronology of events.

After 60 days of conciliation, there was still no agreement between Canada Post and the union. Considering the stakes involved, both parties agreed to extend the conciliation period for another 32 days. Even after 92 days of effort by the conciliator, an agreement in this case was not forthcoming.

On May 5, the Minister of Labour appointed a mediator. The parties entered into a 21-day cooling off period as prescribed by the Canada Labour Code but there was still no progress. Instead, on May 30 the union filed a 72-hour strike notice and, on June 3, the postal workers walked out. Finally, on June 15 the employer declared a lockout.

I said before that Canadians have questions and the next question they have is what will happen now. If the last postal disruption, which occurred in 1997, is anything to go on, the damage to the economy could be significant. Businesses that rely on the mail will be severely affected if the strike is prolonged. Some of these businesses could go under, jobs could be lost , and some of those losses could be permanent.

The question before us is whether we can afford this disruption at a time when our economy is still fragile and still in recovery.

It is important to remember that not everyone uses computers exclusively. Many Canadians still communicate by conventional mail as an essential part of their business operations.

Many of our citizens depend on the services of Canada Post to receive essential government information and benefits. People who are waiting for an important cheque or a package and cannot easily get to an alternative delivery site are suffering. Everyone will be affected by this work stoppage, but people with disabilities, the elderly and people who live in remote communities will hurt the most.

I will highlight some of the many organizations in my riding of Calgary Northeast that is adversely affected by this strike. Recently I was contacted by Fred Weiss, executive director of Samaritan's Purse Canada, as well as the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association of Canada, both of which are headquartered in my riding. Between 65% to 75% of the donations to these organizations arrive through the mail. The recent postal strike has reduced those donations substantially. The very missions of these charity relief organizations is in jeopardy as a direct result of this strike.

I will share with members some of the work that people like my EDA member, Marg Pollon, are doing at Samaritan's Purse. They provided relief to citizens of Slave Lake Alberta as they returned to their fire-ravaged town. They assisted in the relief efforts during the floods in Quebec. They are assisting in post-earthquake rebuilding in Japan. They worked to treat victims in Haiti. This is only a small fraction of the work that the Samaritan's Purse does in Canada and around the world, but it needs donations to do it and it needs the postal service. It is not only the economy, it is also the victims of disasters at home and abroad. The strike will cause real hardship to many Canadians.

People have asked what the government is going to do about it?

In answer is we have made the difficult decision to end the strike with back to work legislation and binding arbitration. That means that we are imposing a solution. This is a drastic measure and we know that we may be criticized for seemingly violating the rights of free collective bargaining.

When collective bargaining fails, the worker's union has the legal right to pressure the employer by withdrawing their labour. Employers also have the legal right to lock out workers and try to continue business without them.

Our government respects the rights of both the workers and the employers. That is why back to work legislation is the exception to the rule in Canada. In the case of Canada Post versus CUPW, the rights of the corporation and the 50,000 postal workers have to be weighed against the rights of 33 million Canadians.

We know we are also being criticized for acting too quickly and forcefully, but this is not an over reaction to an unforseeable event. It is a culmination of a long process. As I said, we have been working with Canada Post and the union for several months.

The best solution in any dispute is always the one that the parties reach themselves. As parliamentarians, we would rather not intervene, but in this case we must because there is a threat of serious harm to the national economy, small businesses and vulnerable Canadians.

Our country's economy is only now beginning to emerge from the downturn caused by the global recession. If the postal strike continues, we could lose much of the ground we have gained so far.

We just cannot afford to go without our postal services. Our government has no alternative but to introduce back to work legislation to bring resolution to this dispute.

Canadians want to know when Parliament is going to act. The answer is very simple: right now.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services Legislation
Government Orders

7:45 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I could relate with and agree to much of what my colleague had to say. The hon. member said things that I believe we know to be true. It is a fundamental tenet of a western democracy that working people have the right to organize in trade unions, they have the right to bargain collectively and they have the right to withhold their service if those negotiations and collective bargaining should reach an impasse.

We enshrined those rights in our Constitution and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms as a way to ameliorate and mitigate the imbalance that exists in the power dynamic between an employer and its employees. Obviously the power is resident with the employer and its has the ultimate economic hammer. Some countervailing rights are allocated to the employees so as to be able to move forward in the bargaining process.

Has the member ever seen the movie Wag The Dog, when one creates a manufactured crisis by underfunding the pension plan and then going balls to the walls in the negotiations trying to convince the world that the pension plan is so underfunded that it is an expectation that is unreasonable? Is he aware that he is willing dupe perhaps in this ridiculous charade?

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services Legislation
Government Orders

7:50 p.m.

Conservative

Devinder Shory Calgary Northeast, AB

Mr. Speaker, my friend from the opposite side asks his question by laying out all the ground work and at the end asks a typically NDP-socialist question.

I absolutely agree with the member that the unions and workers have rights, but he forgets to mention that the employers of the businesses and charitable organizations also have rights to run smoothly. The government has the obligation to ensure that everyone runs his or her business smoothly, while at the same time protecting the rights of workers.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services Legislation
Government Orders

7:50 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Sgro York West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened intently to the comments of my colleague, but I have to ask him quite sincerely if he has actually looked at the clauses in Bill C-6? Has the hon. member looked at it from the objective of having to be fair to all sides of this issue? How can the hon. member stand there and defend legislation that clearly has only one objective, which is to break the back of the union?

Has he has actually read the clauses and is he comfortable with them? On this side of the House we are looking for compromises on various sides of the issue. Compromise means both sides. It does not mean just one side.

Has the hon. member looked at the clauses in Bill C-6 and can he tell me that he is able to live with himself when he votes for this legislation?