Mr. Speaker, in real life the NDP are not quite ready for the debate on this particular bill at this time, so we are more than happy to pick up the slack.
I can assure all members of the House that the Liberal Party is indeed very concerned about the actions of the government and the way in which it is managing the labour file. All we need to do is look back less than 12 months ago, when Canada Post workers were facing the same sort of a situation. When I think of how the government treated the Canada Post workers, I really have to try to understand why the government has so much against the average worker.
The minister talks about her concern for the public and the economy. I must say that Liberals are also concerned about the public and recognize some of the fragilities within the economy. However, we in the Liberal Party do support the concept of the free collective bargaining process. That is something the government has demonstrated, time and time again, that it does not support. To illustrate, I suggest to the Minister of Labour that she reflect on how she shafted the Canada Post workers.
Members will recall that there was a negotiated agreement back in January that would have seen those Canada Post workers receive an increase. That was agreed upon between the union negotiators and the management negotiators. What did the minister do? She brought in back to work legislation and roleds back something that was actually agreed upon.
Not to be outdone, the minister has now brought in this legislation. The legislation is unique. It was brought forward by my colleague earlier today that this is the first time we have had legislation such as this brought forward, implemented and made law before there is any real opportunity for that free collective bargaining process to take place.
There are a few things I would like to share with the minister. I can tell the minister why the Air Canada employees just do not trust the government, do not trust the minister and believe that the government is not concerned about the employees.
There were overhaul maintenance bases in Montreal, Winnipeg and Mississauga. Those bases were guaranteed to stay open and in place under the Air Canada Public Participation Act. The minister will recall it. She should, because it was the law of the land. If the minister reads that particular act, and I wonder if she has in fact read it, she will find that those jobs were supposed to be guaranteed.
The Prime Minister and the Minister of Labour did nothing when Air Canada started to take those jobs away. They were valuable jobs, and important to the economies of Montreal, Mississauga and Winnipeg. The government allowed the company to offload those jobs into the private sector. Ultimately, if we were to talk to the people who used to work at Air Canada, the ones the minister should have stood up for and protected, they will say that the government did nothing, absolutely nothing, to protect the interests of those workers, even though there was a legal obligation for the government to do so.
Members in the Liberal Party stood up and petitioned the government on the issue. They posed questions to the Prime Minister on this issue. The government did absolutely nothing. It stood by and did nothing.
Now, is it any wonder that the Air Canada workers have lost confidence in the government and the Minister of Labour? The Minister of Labour has not been an advocate for workers; that has been well established. That is why, when we look at the legislation and the mechanisms that have been put into place, we see that they are not mechanisms that are going to protect the interests of labour.
There is suspicion by the workers, justified suspicion, that the government just does not care about the outcome of the labour negotiations. The government is more concerned about its own right-wing Reform agenda. It does not appreciate the importance of free collective bargaining, and that has had a very profound impact.
Here today we have the government once again victimizing a union that has, over the years, done a phenomenal job in protecting the interests of its union members. It is unfortunate that the government has not realized that. Instead, and I find it truly amazing, the government walks around the issue of calling it an essential service.
In fact, listening to the Minister of Labour and what every other member of the Conservative Party is saying about this issue, one would think that the government would have deemed it an essential service. However, the government has not had the courage to admit that is really what this agenda is all about.
The government is not prepared to recognize it as an essential service. Instead, in a roundabout way, it tries to say that it is because of the economics and that it just does not trust the employees to be able to negotiate because they would go on strike and cause all this harm. As a result, the government is saying that it is the economy that is driving it to pass this legislation.
We should take a look at the process that has been put in place and read the legislation. We just finished passing a number of clauses—in a very interesting way, I must say.
Someday I hope the New Democrats will enlighten me as to what their strategy actually was. I do not quite understand it. I realize I have only been a parliamentarian for 20 years, but I have never quite experienced that before.
I can say that one party in this House has consistently stood up for the workers, but it is not the New Democratic Party. Whether it is Canada Post or the charade that we just witnessed, the NDP literally collapses in terms of principle. That said, we will continue to push the government to take actions that are necessary to protect the workers, whether in Air Canada or any other industry.
I think Canadians need to take note that what we really should be debating today is the issue of essential services. I challenge the government to put its cards on the table and tell us why it believes Air Canada is an essential service, and if in fact it believes it, to declare it.
The reason is that once a service is deemed an essential service, there are special circumstances and situations that must be taken into consideration when negotiating and talking about a contract settlement. That is something that speaks to fairness and justice, which the government, and particularly the Minister of Labour, have not been in tune with, whether in relation to Air Canada or the postal workers.
We value the concerns that Canadians have and we will stand up to protect the interests of Air Canada employees. We see these jobs as valuable and important to the economy of Canada.
We recognize that the government has failed time and time again in its responsibility to stand up for Air Canada workers. I challenge the Minister of Labour to do just that: be a minister of labour and start advocating for all workers.