House of Commons Hansard #42 of the 36th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was workers.


Government Response To PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Peterborough Ontario


Peter Adams LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 36(8), I have the honour to table, in both official languages, the government's response to two petitions.

Information CommissionerRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell Ontario


Don Boudria LiberalLeader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I think you will find unanimous consent for the following motion, to be passed without debate. I move:

That, in accordance with subsection 54(3) of the Act to extend the present laws of Canada that provide access to information under the control of the Government of Canada, Chapter A-1 of the Revised Statutes of Canada, 1985, this House approve the reappointment of John Grace as Information Commissioner, to hold office until April 30, 1998.

(Motion agreed to)

Postal Services Continuation Act, 1997Routine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell Ontario


Don Boudria LiberalLeader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I move:

That, with respect to Bill C-24, an act to provide for the resumption and continuation of postal services:

(1) No later than 4 p.m. this day any proceedings before the House shall be interrupted and all questions necessary for the completion of the second reading stage shall be put without further debate;

(2) At the beginning of the committee of the whole stage any member wishing to propose an amendment or amendments shall table the same and the said amendment or amendments, if found to be in order, shall be deemed to have been duly proposed at the appropriate point in the proceedings of the committee provided that no later than 6.30 p.m. this day proceedings before the committee shall be interrupted and all questions necessary for the completion of the committee of the whole stage shall be put without further debate;

(3) No later than 10 p.m. this day any proceedings before the House shall be interrupted and all questions necessary for the completion of the third reading stage shall be put without further debate.

(Motion agreed to)

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Peter MacKay Progressive Conservative Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to present a petition today from the constituents of my riding of Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, pursuant to Standing Order 36.

These petitioners call upon Parliament to adopt an official pledge of allegiance to the Canadian flag, the wording of which would be determined through consultation with Canadians.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.


John O'Reilly Liberal Victoria—Haliburton, ON

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 36, it is my pleasure to present a petition from the people of Victoria—Haliburton calling on the government and the Parliament of Canada to support the immediate initiation and conclusion by the year 2000 of the international convention which will set out a binding timetable for the abolition of all nuclear weapons.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.


Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 36, I wish to present a petition to the House today from a number of Canadians, including those from my riding of Mississauga South.

The petitioners would like to draw to the attention of the House that managing the family home and caring for preschool children is an honourable profession which has not been recognized for its value to our society.

The petitioners would also like to agree with the report of the National Forum on Health which suggests that the Income Tax Act does not take into account the cost of raising children for those who choose to provide care in the home to their preschool children.

The petitioners, therefore, pray and call upon Parliament to pursue initiatives to assist families who choose to provide care in the home for preschool children.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.


Judy Wasylycia-Leis NDP Winnipeg North Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 36, I am pleased and honoured to present a petition on behalf of the constituents of Winnipeg North Centre and from other Manitobans, reflecting their concerns with respect to proposed and current changes to Canada's retirement system.

The petitioners call upon this government to rescind Bill C-2 and to put in place a national review of the retirement income system in Canada in order to ensure adequacy of Canada's retirement system today and tomorrow.

Questions On The Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Peterborough Ontario


Peter Adams LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

I move that all questions be allowed to stand.

Questions On The Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is it agreed?

Questions On The Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Some hon. members


Postal Services Continuation Act, 1997Government Orders

10:10 a.m.

Cardigan P.E.I.


Lawrence MacAulay LiberalMinister of Labour

moved that Bill C-24, an act to provide for the resumption and continuation of postal service, be read the second time and referred to a committee of the whole.

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-24, the Postal Services Continuation Act, 1997, legislation directed at bringing about the resumption of postal service in Canada.

Hon. members will be aware that the work stoppage which began at Canada Post Corporation on November 19 followed a lengthy period of negotiations. Despite the efforts of the parties, the two sides were unable to reach a resolution to their differences.

As hon. members will recall, I had stated on several occasion in the House that the collective bargaining process as part I of the Canada Labour Code had to be allowed to work.

I am a firm believer in the democratic concept of free collective bargaining. Naturally I am disappointed that in this case the parties failed to accept their responsibilities under the process and achieve a settlement. I am also mindful of the resulting economic harm which the work stoppage has had on Canadian businesses and charities. However, I have no regrets in having provided the parties with every possibility to resolve the dispute themselves.

Fortunately the Canadian experience has been that these occasions are relatively few and far between. The vast majority of labour negotiations, in excess of 90%, are settled without resort to work stoppage action by either of the parties. That underscores the faith which governments at various levels have expressed in the collective bargaining system.

The dispute which has led to the proposed legislation involves negotiations for the renewal of the collective agreement between the corporation and the Canadian Union of Postal Workers which covers some 45,000 employees. The previous collective agreement which was reached in direct negotiations expired on July 31 of this year.

Following six weeks of direct negotiations between the two sides, the union filed a notice of dispute pursuant to section 71 of the Canada Labour Code. While the union expressed a preference for no further assistance from my department, I felt the interest of all parties would be well served by the appointment of a conciliation officer to assist the parties in their deliberations. This was done on June 20, 1997.

The parties decided to continue with direct negotiations prior to the conciliation officer joining in the discussions on August 19. Following a series of conciliation sessions, the union asked the officer to report to me, ending their involvement. On September 18 CUPW rejected a global offer made by the employer three days earlier.

After careful consideration of the situation, I decided to provide the parties with a second stage of conciliation assistance and appointed Mr. Marc Gravel, a well-respected third party neutral, as conciliation commissioner on October 7. Mr. Gravel held meetings on October 14 and continued to explore avenues of settlement with the parties until the end of the month.

In his report to me, the conciliation commissioner indicated he was unable to help the parties resolve their differences. He suggested the parties needed the pressure of a strike or lockout deadline to conclude a settlement. He also recommended that they urge the parties to negotiate their dispute promptly, diligently and in good faith and that they make the services of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service available to them. I released the commissioner's report to the parties on November 10 and they acquired the legal right to strike or lockout at 12.01 a.m. on November 18.

During the week that followed the release of the commissioner's report the parties met on several occasions in direct negotiations. These meetings continued following a nationwide strike action by CUPW on November 19.

After speaking with both parties and being given their assurances that they still desired a negotiated settlement of the dispute, I appointed the director general of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, Mr. Warren Edmondson, as mediator in the dispute. As I indicated, this action had also been endorsed by the conciliation commissioner in his report.

Mr. Edmondson's reputation as a professional in the dispute resolution field is well known. His presence in the proceedings provided the parties with an opportunity to demonstrate their resolve to arrive at a new collective agreement.

Unfortunately, neither of the two parties displayed the flexibility necessary to move toward a resolution of the dispute. The mediator after some four days of intense meetings determined that there was very little chance of a settlement.

After speaking with Mr. Edmondson on Friday, I decided that the time had come to bring the work stoppage to an end and restore postal services to Canadians. It is for that reason I stand before the House today to introduce this bill which provides for the resumption of postal operations and a dispute resolution mechanism to settle the outstanding issues.

Bill C-24 contains two main features: a resumption of regular postal operations and the appointment of a mediator-arbitrator to resolve the issues remaining in the dispute between the employer and the union with minor exceptions.

The bill will implement a new collective agreement of three years duration expiring on July 31, 2000. It will provide for a wage increase of 1.5% effective February 1, 1998, a further 1.75% effective February 1, 1999 and an additional 1.9% effective February 1, 2000. The three year term is in line with most collective bargaining agreements being signed these days. The wage increases are not unreasonable given the current level of settlements in the public sector.

The remaining issues will be referred to the mediator-arbitrator who will be guided by the need for economic and service related goals for the corporation as set out by the government, while taking into account the need for good labour-management relations between the employer and the union.

The guiding principles contained in the legislation are designed to ensure that the mediator-arbitrator recognizes the directions which have been provided to the employer by the Government of Canada in terms of financial performance and service standards, while at the same time balancing these issues with the importance of good labour relations within the workplace. Most experienced arbitrators take such factors into account and this clause is included in the legislation for greater certainty.

There may be questions as to why the legislation provides for a mediator-arbitrator given the fact that mediation was already provided to the parties in an attempt to resolve the dispute. There are basically two reasons for this. The first is that there are still a large number of complex issues outstanding between the two sides. Second, the process contained in the legislation offers the parties one last opportunity to resolve these issues themselves at the bargaining table.

As I indicated, both the union and the employer maintain their position that they would prefer to reach a settlement by themselves. Both sides are aware that failure to reach an agreement at this stage will result in the issue being determined by arbitration. Anyone with a knowledge of labour relations understands that the best collective agreement is one which the parties are able to arrive at through the bargaining process rather than one imposed by a third party.

I regret having to take this action particularly after providing the parties with the full range of assistance available to me as Minister of Labour. I personally remain convinced that the collective bargaining system can and does work for the majority of Canadian employers and unions. However, these parties have been unable to demonstrate the required flexibility to make the process work for themselves.

When I appointed the mediator I indicated that we would carefully monitor the mediation process and assess the situation as it progressed. We have done that and have determined that the time is appropriate to act to end this work stoppage which is beginning to harm Canadian businesses, charities and Canadians at large.

No doubt we will face criticism from various corners for this action, by the labour movement for our legislative intervention in the bargaining process, and from the business community and various segments of the public for not having acted sooner in the dispute. But I believe strongly that our actions in this dispute reflect the will of the majority of Canadians.

We have given the free collective bargaining process, a key element of our democratic society, an opportunity to work free of interference. The Canada Labour Code gives the parties the right to strike or lockout. Early intervention to take away the right would be contrary to the spirit of the law and would discourage the parties from any serious attempts at settling their own differences.

However when it became evident that the parties were unable to effectively work within that process, we acted to protect the interest of Canadians. I would urge hon. members to support this action and restore postal service to this nation.

Postal Services Continuation Act, 1997Government Orders

10:25 a.m.


Jim Gouk Reform West Kootenay—Okanagan, BC

Mr. Speaker, right at the start I will open by making it abundantly clear that the Reform Party supports having back to work legislation in order to get the postal service operating again for the 30 million Canadians who depend on it. In essence what we are doing in this particular bill is making the best of a bad situation with a flawed piece of legislation.

Before I get into the main content of my speech, I would like to address a couple of comments to the speech made by the Minister of Labour. One of the things he said is that he has no regret in allowing this process to take place and he said that while acknowledging the incredible economic and personal harm that this has done to Canadians. I find that shameful. I find it very shameful that he said that he has no regret at the harm this strike and this process has brought to Canadians.

He also talked quite eloquently, as he has throughout the time leading up to this particular debate, about how you have to let the collective bargaining process work—he is down to just over 90% today, before he was saying figures of 94%—without work stoppage. The reality is that this is the fourth strike by Canada Post in 10 years.

There were two strikes in 1987 and in fairness that would have been one if the unions were combined as they are now into a single union. Presumably there was a settlement in 1989 and there was another strike in 1991. Then a little bit of labour peace and here we are in 1997.

Whether the minister uses the figure of 90% or 94% without a strike, that is not the case with Canada Post and he knew that going into this. What we have called on the government time after time is to provide some mechanism for the union and for Canada Post that does not involve a strike or lockout. Reform's position on Canada Post has always been that there should be a no strike, no lockout solution for all postal contract disputes. Our first concern is and always has been the Canadian public's right to have an uninterrupted mail service.

In the Liberal Party's rhetoric during question period, the Minister of Finance keeps bragging about this great 10% reduction to employment insurance premiums and how much it is going to cost the government. He keeps talking about what a great thing this is, what a tremendous sacrifice by the government because there is going to be a $1.4 billion reduction in government revenues.

Since this strike has started, it has cost Canadian business over $3 billion and that is still going up by over $200 million a day. By the time this legislation can get passed and the whole process can get started with some lag time, it will be at least another $1 billion. That is a $4 billion cost to the Canadian economy. And the government has the nerve to say, “Look at the tremendous sacrifice we are making with a $1.4 billion reduction in our revenues because of our very, very generous change in the employment insurance deductions”.

Prior to the strike actually starting 1,000 people were laid off from mail dependent businesses just from the threat alone. That is the time the government should have opened its eyes and said we have a real problem and we have a responsibility to do something about it. Unfortunately the government completely ignored its responsibility to the Canadian people.

Since the strike got under way it is estimated that in excess of 10,000 people have been laid off. I hope the minister dealing with employment in this government takes those figures into mind when he starts talking about the wonderful job creation record of the Liberal government when in fact its inaction has cost so many people their jobs as Christmas approaches.

This is starting to have an impact on non-mail dependent businesses as we go into the highest retail sales period with all the business cutbacks and the layoffs that have ensued. For many charities this is prime fund-raising time, a time when they raise as much as 80% of their annual funds. A large chunk of that time has been lost and it will not be recovered. The impact for charities alone on this labour disruption is going to be felt next year, all through the year when various people in need come to these charities for the services which they offer. They are going to find that those charities do not have the money. The reason they do not have the money, again, is the failure of the government to act swiftly in the interests of Canadians.

None of these figures take into account the human hardship and suffering by many people who are looking to the mail for things like employment insurance cheques, welfare cheques, support payments and a variety of other income cheques normally delivered through the mail. Although arrangements were made for some people, many fell through the cracks and many were left in dire straits. We have had calls from all parts of this country with people absolutely heart broken, in total despair. They have no cheque from wherever that source was supposed to be. We had one that I mentioned in this House, a woman from Vancouver Island, a young mother with two young children who is on employment insurance. The cheque is already a week late.

With this great government program which said it would take care of everyone and deliver cheques, well, the cheque was lost somewhere in post office limbo. That woman had no food in the house to feed those children. Maybe the government does not care about that. I guarantee we do.

We owe it to all these people and to the rest of the citizens of Canada to ensure that this situation does not continue to occur every few years. We need an alternative to strikes and lockouts that is fair to all the parties involved and fair to Canadians who count on the postal service. The government's legislation does not provide that.

The current back to work legislation is nothing more than a band-aid applied to a festering wound without any real repairs that are necessary for a long term solution. The government must accept a large portion of the responsibility for this current dispute. It provided no reasonable alternative to a strike. It has intentionally provoked CUPW throughout the negotiations. Unfortunately CUPW has played into the government's hands with talk of targeting postal businesses and promoting civil disobedience. I am pleased to see it has backed off in that somewhat, at least for the time being. It is to be congratulated for seeing through this ploy of the government.

On that, there is quite a bit of action from the union leadership chastising organizations like to the Canadian Direct Marketing Association, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business. Those organizations are acting on behalf of their membership in a proper manner. Is the CUPW leadership suggesting that these people should not be allowed to speak out about the harm that this is doing to their members?

I would hope that the post office union leadership would keep in mind that when you target a business because you do not like the activity it has had during this dispute, the business is not a stand alone entity. That business has employees, quite possibly union employees. When you target that business you also target those employees because of the impact, if you are successful, you will have.

In the interest of the Canadian public, Reform will support back to work legislation. However, we will be offering amendments to the legislation in an attempt to make it fair for all parties. The principle reason for our actions is to ensure some measure of labour peace in the postal service. Our motivating factor is to provide an effective and reliable postal service for all Canadians.

If the process is not fair and balanced, and what the Liberals are proposing certainly is not, then the tension that exists between Canada Post management and its employees will only get worse if indeed that is even possible.

We need to have a process that can be held as a model of fairness and replace the current and past disruptions to postal services. Invariably these strikes end with legislation but not before causing great public harm.

There is a growing resentment of the union for going on strike in the first place. Before we proceed immediately to place all the blame on the union we have to consider one point. It had no other alternative mechanism to use and the blame for that falls on the government both present and past.

If the government can see the need to end strikes for the public good, then why can it not see the need for a no strike, no lockout alternative to this action? It would appear, many claim, and I would not dispute them, that the government has been proceeding on a predetermined agenda since this dispute began; between statements made by the Minister of Public Works and Government Services regarding the legislation and the actions he would take and in stating that he would ensure that CUPW takes the blame for any strike, through government controlled delays in the negotiations which caused the seemingly inevitable strike being delayed until the Christmas mailing season was upon us, to the latest item of an intentionally meanspirited piece of legislation. I am going to deal with why I call this meanspirited in a minute.

First I think it is appropriate to review the about face of, for example, the Minister of Public Works and Government Services. I would remind the House that this is not the first time that we have had a post office service continuation act. There was one in 1991 and of course there was one in 1987.

In 1987 the then Tory government brought in basically the same legislation that we are faced with today, perhaps not as draconian as what is being brought in today because there was not a legislative settlement. I quote from Hansard , October 9, 1987, the now Minister of Public Works and Government Services who at that time was the post office critic: “We should let Canada Post Corporation manage its own affairs”. That is what CUPW was saying going into this. He further stated referring to the Tory government: “You are an anti-worker government. That is what you are”.

It seems that something happens when they walk across that floor. Further to that I would like to add one of the other members of the now government who was in opposition at the time, the former deputy leader of the party, now down to being the Minister of Heritage. She stated, from Hansard October 13, 1987, referring to the back to work legislation: “It is so draconian in its influence that it is possibly a violation of the charter of rights and freedoms. This is a very onerous and draconian piece of legislation”.

Interestingly the legislation then, flawed though it may be because it did not offer a final solution to this, was not as flawed and draconian as that which introduced in this House today.

The reason that I have referred to this legislation as meanspirited is one specific provision in the bill. That is the inclusion of the rate and implementation dates of pay increases. The government is appointing an arbitrator to settle outstanding issues in this dispute but is taking the wage question out of the hands of its own appointed arbitrator.

The settlement in this legislation is less than what was offered by Canada Post. I am not talking in terms of what is the appropriate increase or whether this one is appropriate or not. There is no justifiable rationale for including the actual wage settlement in the legislation when you have your own arbitrator in place except to intentionally invoke a reaction from the unions.

The important question in this area is why did the government do this and what is its real agenda. Removal of this preimposed settlement is one of the amendments that Reform will be putting forward during committee of the whole. I sincerely ask the government to strongly consider allowing that amendment and supporting that amendment because it will take a bit of the meanness out of this legislation. Then it will only be as flawed as past legislations. guess. We are going to deal with other aspects of this as well to try to fix this legislation for the government.

Another amendment, the main one, will be to replace the toss a coin arbitration approach of the government with final offer arbitration in order to provide a fairer alternative to the strike-lockout approach.

Why would any government want to introduce legislation that only serves to inflame an already bad employee-employer relationship and potentially set us up for the next strike less than three years down the road? If the government will accept this amendment we will be able to have a permanent postal service that Canadians can count on and we can then commence to deal with the internal problems of the corporation and its employees.

Canada Post Corporation came into existence through 1981 legislation by the then Liberal government. It provided three mandates for Canada Post. The first was to reduce the deficit. It has reduced the deficit. In fact, it has eliminated the deficit. We can therefore say that it has made good on that one part of the mandate.

The second part of the mandate was to improve service to the public. I do not know if there is anybody in this House who wants to stand up and defend the fact that Canada Post has not improved service. In my rural riding in particular the service has gone downhill by a great deal. It has not lived up to the second part of this. It takes longer to get a letter than it used to while postal rates have continued to increase. We are not getting mail delivery in towns that come under the guideline of qualifying for mail delivery. In communities that do get mail delivery, when a new area of that town opens up it does not get mail delivery. Service has gone downhill.

The third mandate was to improve relationships with its employees. Maybe in its second mandate it might falsely try to argue that service is good, but I do not think there is a single person in this House who would have the audacity to rise in their place and suggest that relationships between Canada Post and its employees have improved.

I mentioned that our solution to this is final offer arbitration. This is something we have talked about a lot. Some people have asked what exactly it involves. We have fleshed it out in great detail. I think this is something the government should pay attention to.

I point out that when the government has occasionally made the remark that final offer arbitration does not work, the Liberals themselves, in the last Parliament, used this twice. It was the settlement mechanism they imposed to end the Vancouver port strike in 1994. It was the settlement mechanism they imposed in the Canada Transportation Act, a piece of legislation passed by the Liberals in the last Parliament as a settlement mechanism for disputes between shippers and the railroad.

I am going to pre-empt the NDP members by suggesting that if they oppose this they might consider that it was the NDP government that brought this in as provincial legislation in Manitoba some years back. In fact, it was the right wing party that took it out. I would therefore be real interested to hear their comments hopefully supporting final offer arbitration in this particular mechanism.

In final offer arbitration, as proposed by the Reform Party of Canada, all steps of the collective bargaining process will remain unaffected except for the final dispute settlement mechanism. The current final dispute settlement mechanism, which is not really a mechanism at all, a strike by CUPW or a lockout by Canada Post Corporation, shall be replaced with final offer arbitration.

At any time during the collective bargaining process an alternative dispute settlement mechanism can be used if it is agreed to by both parties provided it does not result in an interruption of service to the public. If all the steps set out under the rules for collective bargaining have been followed and one or more items of the contract remains unsettled and either party feels that no further progress can be made, the outstanding items only shall be dealt with through final offer arbitration.

One of the things that is important, and it counters what the government has done, is that the government has appointed the arbitrator in this legislation. I have already pointed out in this House that in appointing the arbitrator, the government has a conflict of interest.

It is like having a dispute between a company and its employees and the company gets to set all the rules. Alternatively, the dispute can be between a company and its union and allowing the union to set all the rules and arbitrarily impose things on the company.

I think it is wrong because the government is not even attempting to appear fair and impartial. It is simply setting the stage for the next work disruption just a few years down the road, maybe about the time some of the companies affected by this strike are just starting to recover.

In our idea of arbitration selection, when the negotiations reach the point of requiring arbitration, each party shall select three people as possible arbitrators acceptable to them. The two parties shall then have seven days to provide the other party with the names they have selected along with their curriculum vitae.

Each receiving party shall select one name from the list submitted within seven days of receipt and notify the other party of their decision.

This is to ensure that, if they simply have each party select their arbitrator, they could, innocently even or not, select someone that the other side simply cannot deal with because of past conflicts or any number of reasons.

This at least allows the opportunity for a selection from three. It still allows each party to select from that list, or select that list to be presented to the other side. It does give a little bit of leeway for each party if they have problems with one particular person.

The two selected arbitrators shall then have a maximum of 14 days to agree upon a third arbitrator who shall chair the arbitration panel and these three will then make up the arbitration team.

Upon selection of the arbitration panel, each party shall submit their best and final position on each outstanding contract item within 30 days of the arbitration panel's selection.

The arbitration panel shall notify both parties in writing of the location at which the final positions must be filed, including the precise date and time of the deadline for filing.

Failure to submit a final position within 30 days shall be considered an abandonment of the process and the other party's final position shall be accepted.

If both parties fail to submit within 30 days, the settlement shall then move to binding arbitration. The arbitration panel may not divulge any details of either party's position to any party until a decision has been rendered.

The arbitration panel shall consider each party's final position on all outstanding contract items as a single package, unless it is agreed upon by both parties to the dispute to deal with the outstanding items on either an individual basis or in specific groupings.

For example, anything that has to do with wages, money and bonuses, overtime rates and so on could be dealt with in a group that was agreed to by both parties. Anything that had to deal with hours of work, vacations, holidays, lieu days could also be dealt with in a single group if agreed to by both parties.

One of the advantages of final offer arbitration is that it tends to move both parties fairly close together. It does not guarantee that will happen but it does tend to do that.

For example, if an appropriate increase were $1 per hour, if the employer were offering 75¢ and the employee group was asking for $4, they are going to end up with 25¢ less than they would reasonably be entitled to. It would behove them to try to get close to but perhaps a little above.

Likewise, if they are asking for $1.25 when all the indicators are that they are only entitled to $1 and the employer offers no raise or perhaps a cut in pay, then they are going to get more than they are entitled to, and so should they under those circumstances.

During the deliberation period of this arbitration panel when these two sides have submitted their best position, each party will be permitted one day not exceeding 7.5 hours to make personal presentations to the panel in order to justify their positions.

Each party will be provided with not less than five working days notice of the time, date and location of their personal presentation. This notice may be provided during the interim submission period.

The arbitration panel shall select the final position of the party whose position is most justifiable in accordance with guidelines set out for the arbitration panel within 30 days of the filing deadline.

The arbitration panel may not change or modify the position of either party. It is that mechanism that tends to ensure that both parties are reasonable or know that they are going to lose.

If, in the opinion of the arbitration panel, both parties are so far removed from a justifiable position, the panel may provide both parties with notice to resubmit their final position. Where this is done, each party will have 20 days to resubmit that new final position. The arbitration panel shall again notify both parties in writing of the location at which the resubmission must be filed and a precise date and time of the deadline for filing. No information on details of the first submission may be released before the final settlement is announced.

If either party fails to resubmit their offer within the 20 day period, their last filed position shall be used by the arbitration panel.

The arbitration panel shall select the most justifiable position submitted within 20 days of the filing deadline for the resubmission.

Within 30 days of the announcement of the successful submission, the arbitration panel shall submit a full report containing the final submission of both parties and a full point by point justification of the arbitration panel's choice of the submitted offers.

If the report is not unanimous, the dissenting panel member shall submit a minority report within the same timelines as the other panel members. The minority report shall be appended to the majority report and shall form part of that report.

The report shall then be submitted to both parties and to the Minister of Public Works and Government Services. The minister shall table in the House of Commons within five sitting days of receiving it or, if the House is in an extended recess, the minister must forward copies to each opposition party within 14 calendar days.

The factors which must be considered by the arbitration panel. Before I read these, I would like to point out that I came to Ottawa as we were approaching the possibility of a strike, during the so-called break period. I contacted both Canada Post Corporation and the Canadian Union of Postal Workers. I offered to meet with them to explain the process and what we proposed, to seek their input.

I did meet with Canada Post Corporation. I talked by telephone with a member of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, but I did not receive any submission from them with regard to this. That notwithstanding, I have tried to take into consideration the things that are fair to them as well as fair to Canada Post so that this becomes a balanced mechanism so that it can be deemed fair by both sides.

The factors which must be considered by the arbitration panel are:

First, the cost of living index since the last contract settlement. One of the basic arguments for an increase in wages, other factors aside, are changes in the cost of living.

Second, the average public sector increase since their last contract. I intentionally used the public sector because although this is a crown corporation and not exactly a direct government service, the union itself has argued against the concept of privatization and does not want to be part of the private sector. Therefore, it is appropriate that we look at the wage increases in terms of what is taking place in the public sector.

Third, the impact on postal service. This gets more into special conditions and what impact they would have on the postal service, pro or con. The financial impact of the contract settlement. No business of any kind, even a not for profit business can have a settlement where we do not at least look at what the impact of that settlement is.

Fourth, will the settlement cause an increase in postal rates in excess of inflation since the last adjustment. This is done not for CUPW or for Canada Post, but for the citizens of Canada. They have a right to expect reasonable rates and efficiency and it has to be a factor.

Fifth, any changes in job descriptions. If Canada Post has changed what it expects people to do, then it has to be reflected in the submission made by the union to say “we have changed what we do and therefore we are asking consideration that these rates change”.

The final item is any public sector comparisons of any of the disputed items. What is the norm out there? If there is some condition of employment that either the union is asking for or the post office is asking for, then what is the norm in society?

These are the amendments we will be asking for. If successful, we will also ask for an amendment to the Canada Post Act to ensure this becomes a permanent settlement mechanism so that Canadians who have just gone through the hardship of the fourth postal strike in 10 years will not in future have to reel under another one.

In the same context I would like to remind the Minister of Labour of his speech when he said that he had no regrets in allowing this strike to take place. We all have regrets that this strike has taken place. It is the responsibility of this government to ensure we put in place a fair process so that this strike is Canada's last postal disruption.

Postal Services Continuation Act, 1997Government Orders

10:55 a.m.


Michel Gauthier Bloc Roberval, QC

Mr. Speaker, here we are discussing back to work legislation. This law will force some 45,000 workers to return to their jobs at Canada Post.

We would not have to deal with this if the government had calmly let contract negotiations unfold as they should have. Unfortunately, today, we have to consider a bill which is depriving 45,000 people of their fundamental rights, namely the right to negotiate their working conditions.

Our labour relations system is based essentially on this capacity that workers and management have to deal with each other, to strike a balance, to discuss and ensure that decisions are taken to improve work processes, that workers are satisfied with their work and that the employer also benefits.

That is how our system usually works. But that is not how it is going to be now at Canada Post. It will not be like that because the government has decided to intervene. I can tell you right now that it would be easy to engage in demagogy over this issue. Of course everyone wants to receive his or her mail at home. Everyone is really happy when letter carriers bring their mail to the door. Everybody considers this an essential service, a normal service.

Companies will be telling us, and in fact, some have already done so, how much money they are losing with this postal strike. There is no doubt about that and there are obviously hardships for business, for charitable organizations, and also for citizens. But it cannot be otherwise. This is a strike, this is an action by a group of workers that provides them with the means to exert pressure on their employer, Canada Post, and also on the government, because it is deeply involved in these negotiations. We should normally be letting these workers exercise their rights.

Of course if this action did not bother anyone, it would be nice for the public, but it would not give the workers much leverage. By definition, a strike hurts. This has been accepted for a long time in our society, and if we do not give this tool to the workers, if we do not let them express themselves as a group, if we do not allow them to negotiate their working conditions, we distort the rules and create problems for ourselves. Today the government has decided with this back to work legislation to create all these problems for itself.

What exactly is the situation with respect to the negotiations that have taken place? For several months now, the minister responsible for Canada Post and the Minister of Labour have been questioned in this House. We have even questioned the Prime Minister. What we have been asking is: What is going on with Canada Post? Is the government going to give negotiation a chance? Every time, the Prime Minister, or the Minister of Labour who got up ever so calmly and told us, about 50 times, “Yes, yes, just leave the process alone, let things work themselves out. They are talking, everything is going fine. We hope it will be settled”. The minister responsible for Canada Post has been saying the same thing. Right up to the Prime Minister who told us “Let those people negotiate. They are capable of negotiating their working conditions. We hope it will be settled”.

But how can it be that we now find ourselves in the situation we are in today, with such a seemingly well-intentioned government? How can it be that today they are using a special bill to take away workers' right to strike? Very simple: they have not played fair. Right from the start, as far back as August, the minister responsible for Canada Post has not played fair with negotiations. I am accusing the minister responsible for Canada Post of having acted in such a way as to deprive the 45,000 employees of Canada Post of their ability to deal with the employer. They have lost their power to negotiate.

The minister was so cool when he met with representatives of the Canadian Direct Marketing Association. He felt as comfortable with them as with his buddies. He told them “Don't worry about a mail strike. First of all, they will negotiate a bit, then they'll go out on strike because they won't get anything. They will definitely go out on strike. They will look bad as a result of that. Then, within a few days, after being on strike for seven or eight days, there will be so much public pressure that the government will be justified in passing special legislation. I promise you that not only will there be a strike, but it will be a short one, and the government will intervene with special legislation”.

On August 6, it was the minister responsible for Canada Post who took away the postal workers' right to strike. Today, that same minister is trying to pass himself off as an angel of mercy, the saviour of society, the saviour of Canada Post. The big bad posties will be forced back to work. This is the person whom I accuse of depriving workers of their right to strike.

This game the government is involved in is unacceptable. The government has imposed conditions which leave union executives and workers feeling that they have had the wool pulled over their eyes, that they have been abandoned. What is more, the government not only changed the rules and maintained an artificial climate of negotiations, unacceptable things happened between the union and management negotiators. Ground was lost. There was, however, evidence of good faith on the part of the unionized employees. Moves were made, but the employer remained intransigent.

When it gave in a little on points that hinted at progress, what happened? There was an altercation between the union and management negotiators. The government, the Canada Post Corporation has changed. I mistakenly said government rather than corporation, but everyone understands that it is six of one, half a dozen of the other. The government is distinguishable from Canada Post, but we know how close they are. The government has friends at the post office. Former colleagues work there. It is all related. These people are in touch every day. Do you think the government was not aware of the corporation's strategy? Come on. They are one and the same.

So the government, or its representative, Canada Post, changed negotiators and that is when things started to slip backward. The few advances made in the negotiations were lost. Things fell back to their original inflexibility.

We could go on at length about the demands, but, in the end, the employees want to keep their jobs. Can we blame them? They want to negotiate some salary increases after years of salary freeze, like everyone else, after the difficult situations they have experienced. We cannot blame them for wanting to improve their working conditions. It is normal, human and proper. We do not have to take sides in the debate in order to understand that these people are behaving well under the circumstances. They exercised their right to strike to preserve a number of jobs. Yes, postal workers are concerned. Yes, they have been and are still hard hit by technological changes on a daily basis. Yes, they have experienced many job losses in the past and the government has announced another 4,000 layoffs this time around.

Of course, they want to defend themselves. Of course, they want to do some damage control. Can anyone listening to us blame postal workers for fighting with all their might for their jobs, their job security, their wages and their working conditions? Of course not. We can however blame the government for showing so little compassion and open-mindedness and acting this way when it is responsible for tilting the balance in the negotiation process.

The saddest thing of it all is that, if we were looking for someone to blame, the person who messed everything up, we would have to point a finger at the minister responsible for the Canada Post Corporation.

Not only is the government forcing these people back to work, but it is doing so with an extremely tough piece of legislation. Fortunately, negotiations are ongoing between the opposition and the government to ensure that this bill can be passed today without what I might call overzealousness. These discussions will soften the bill somewhat.

I am pleased to report that, at least one of the sections of the bill that poses a major problem, the one dealing with the context in which the mediation-arbitration process is to be conducted, will be changed. We have the assurance that the government will agree to change the whole context set in section 9, which basically states that the mediator-arbitrator will be required to perform his duties in a context where the Canada Post Corporation is expected to meet the criteria applicable to private enterprise, where the word competitiveness is used and reference is made, although not explicitly, to potential privatization.

The context in which the mediator-arbitrator is expected to perform his duties makes no sense. It is important to understand that the Canada Post Corporation is a public service. The corporation must be efficient. Yes, performance requirements are necessary. Yes, Canada Post must be as competitive as possible. Yes, the level of service provided must not only compare with but exceed that provided by the private sector. But this has to be done in the context of a government service, a public service, not in the context of a corporation that some would want to privatize as quickly as possible to make even more money, without regard for services provided to the public.

So, we have the assurance that, through its work, the opposition—namely the Bloc Quebecois and the New Democratic Party—will have obtained a softening of the arbitration rules by the government. Now, the arbitrator, whose hands were tied by the government even before he was appointed—even before he started his job—will at least have some flexibility. He will have some leeway, which means that workers may get an opportunity to be heard and their representations might influence the decision of the arbitrator who will be appointed.

We got this assurance and we are proud of that. The required amendments will be tabled during consideration in committee of the whole by an NDP member, but we are certain that they will be accepted.

We will also table other amendments. Bloc members will ask the government to make sure union members are consulted regarding the appointment of the mediator-arbitrator—after all, it is bad enough to force Canada Post employees to go back to work. If there is a possibility of an agreement, why would the government refuse to consult union members to appoint someone who may be able to enlist everyone's support, since that person would be entirely above suspicion and respected by all sides? We will be suggesting changes along these lines and we will see how they are received by the government.

There is also the question of salaries. Not only is the government forcing postal workers back to work, but it is giving them less than the last offer. The last salary offer was pushed back, resulting in losses for workers. Unless it was out of some sort of revenge, why would the government not give these people everything that was negotiated in good faith, the best deal possible so that there is some benefit for them?

We will also be moving amendments with respect to the obligation that the costs of the mediator-arbitrator be evenly split between the parties. The government must be asked to show some open-mindedness.

If, despite the mistakes it is making in this issue, the government were to agree during this working day to take some steps in the right direction—and I appeal to the common sense of those who sincerely do not want the situation at Canada Post to deteriorate—if the government were to agree humanely and in an open-minded manner, with the feeling that they have to make up for the gaffe of the minister responsible, they must be aware of it, if they were to agree to move, to make some accommodation, I have absolutely no doubt that Canada Post employees would return to work.

Yes, it would be with the feeling that they had in a sense been deceived by the government, but at least with the feeling that lawmakers on the government side, who are not necessarily party to the government strategy, those elected to represent the people, also represented them in this debate.

And without driving Canada Post into bankruptcy, without forcing anyone to shut down, without ignoring the need to be competitive, to provide good service, to rationalize, to do all these things, the legislator would at least have been sensitive to those who, for 12 days now, have been outside and who are quite properly calling for better working conditions.

In closing, I will say that the Bloc Quebecois is against this bill. We are not about to take away workers' rights when we know full well that they have been backed into a corner by the minister responsible for Canada Post. The government simply has to understand that the opposition is going to do the responsible thing and move amendments to the bill that are designed to improve matters, to make up for this government's blunders.

Postal Services Continuation Act, 1997Government Orders

11:15 a.m.


Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, it is customary to say that you are happy to rise to speak on a certain subject or a certain bill. I cannot say that today. I am not happy to be here speaking on this particular piece of legislation.

It is not one of the things that I came to Ottawa to do, to vote in favour of working against workers rights. We certainly have no intention of doing so.

I want to open by saying how critical the NDP is of this back to work legislation. We believe it is heavy handed. It is unnecessary. It is an unfortunate intervention into the free bargaining process. Ultimately it will only serve to draw out the hostile labour-management relations that exist at Canada Post and to condemn the Canadian public to this kind of problem over and over again because in actual fact none of the root causes of the hostility will be dealt with through the most civilized way of dealing with them which is free collective bargaining.

That avenue of recourse has been taken away by this legislation that we are dealing with today. Even if service is resumed, even if the postal workers go back to work and deliver mail, nothing really is going to be resolved and again we may be back here in three or four years having the same kind of debate and the same kind of argument.

What we should be looking for is a lasting resolution. The only hope for that kind of lasting resolution is by the parties sitting down in good faith and being allowed to bargain without interference. That is the key. All along in this round of bargaining we have been seeing one type of interference or another. From day one we can trace this history right back to when notice to commence bargaining was first served. The interference at that point was failing to come to the bargaining table in a reasonable amount of time.

There is no reason to be bargaining six months after the expiration of the collective agreement. That kind of bargaining should be done early in the year so that they can conclude a new collective agreement before the expiration of the old one. Work goes ahead, there is no work stoppage, the public is happy and workers are happy. That should be the goal and the objective. That did not happen.

Early in the negotiations, and we have heard other speakers make mention of this, we had the type of interference that is even more devastating which is that the spectre of back to work legislation was raised as early as, I believe, August 8. We heard the story from the hon. member, the House leader for the Bloc Quebecois, about the Canadian Direct Marketing Association informing its membership of a conversation it had with the minister responsible who guaranteed at that time don't worry about the delivery of your mail. Even if the negotiations grind down a bit, we'll have them legislated back to work in no time. It will be a very short interruption and within seven or eight days service will be resumed. I believe that is what he said.

How can we expect the two parties to sit at the bargaining table and be able to negotiate in any meaningful way when one party knows full well it has this heavy handed, unfair competitive advantage that it can pull out of its briefcase at any time, slap on the table and get virtually everything it wants? It is not a recipe for any kind of lasting solution. The kind of hostility that already existed before bargaining started was only compounded and escalated and resulted in the ultimate problem which is a work stoppage.

Again I say that we are critical of the legislation and I am in fact saddened to be standing here having this argument. We should be very cautious as the House of Commons and as legislators to never enter into any kind of legislation lightly which will limit or forfeit individual rights. That is the beginning. It is the thin edge of the wedge. It is the beginning of a slippery slope and it gets to be too easy and too comfortable to use that kind of a cop-out to solve complicated social problems.

Mussolini made the trains run on time. That is all very well and good, but is that the kind of direction we want to go in as a country? I would argue it is not.

We should never enter into lightly anything that would limit workers' rights to use the only weapon they really have in a meaningful way—perhaps weapon is the wrong word—the only tool they have to use, which is to withhold their services.

We might think that a strike is a violent thing or a disruptive thing. That is not necessarily so.

The very action of withholding one's services is a very peaceful and passive thing to do in an effort to settle an impasse of any type, just as negotiation is the most civilized way to try to resolve any impasse. When those negotiations break down, the next civilized thing to do in a situation like that is withhold one's services. It is a right that workers have been given under international conventions with the United Nations and the ILO because the world recognizes that this is one thing we have to have in order to remedy the historic imbalance that exists between employers and employees. There is an imbalance of power there that is clearly recognized and in order to level that playing field, workers need to be given that right.

Therefore as the House of Commons and as colleagues and legislators in this House, I really need to caution us to please keep in mind that we cannot let this kind of thing be a quick fix habit any time there is a dispute in the public sector or within the parameters of our influence, that we reach out for this heavy handed type of legislation that is a step backward for workers rights, human rights and individual rights. It puts us on that slippery slope to where we are not putting rights as our paramount and primary priority.

To understand some of the problems that we are going through today and to understand why we are here, we should have some background into the bargaining that led us into this mess. The outstanding issues are simple and both are mentioned in the legislation that has been tabled by the government.

The real issues of substance here are a shift in policy on the part of the corporation and the government to where excess revenues generated by Canada Post could be used for other purposes such as in general revenues, to pay down the deficit, et cetera. This has added a complication to the already complex bargaining relationship that has caused the problem we are having today and has resulted in this work stoppage.

The government has put undue pressure on Canada Post to yield these revenues and generate these excess revenues when in actual fact the mandate of Canada Post is to provide good quality service and to produce revenues to the degree that it can pay for its operating costs, capital investments and updating its physical plant. However, it was certainly never contemplated to be a cash cow milked by the federal government.

Canada Post Corporation is faced with this obligation to produce fixed amounts of revenue per year. It has already done all it could to increase productivity in the last seven or eight years. Even the former minister responsible for the post office, David Dingwall, commented that it had improved productivity by 63% in the years between 1982 and 1994. So it has done all it could in that respect. There has been an enormous increase in productivity.

At the same time, it had reduced its staff by 25%. I do not know how much more lean and mean, from a corporate point of view, one can get other than boosting one's productivity by 60% and reducing staff by 25%.

Now, even after all those gains, increasing and tightening of the belt or whatever the corporate terminology is, right sizing, there is this added pressure to come up with hundreds of millions of dollars more, not to add to the service provided by Canada Post but to add to the coffers of the Government of Canada. That is the pressure that Canada Post found itself under when it went to the bargaining table. The only way it could realize that kind of additional revenue was to dramatically change the rules of work and alter the workforce. It would have to harvest that revenue out of the existing workforce because it is not going to be able to do it out of increased marketing.

Naturally the union is then faced with the prospect, a looming spectre, of 4,000 job losses. It would be irresponsible on its part not to react in a vigorous way to oppose that kind of a job loss on behalf of the people it represents. Therein lies the impasse. It is really quite simple and easy to trace back. It would have been easy to fix at any time in the last six months of bargaining or at any time during the confines of this particular strike.

It would have been quite simple for the Government of Canada to tell Canada Post we are going to lighten up on this revenue thing. We want you to generate revenues sufficient to pay for operating costs and we are not too concerned about paying down the deficit using the revenues from Canada Post because it goes against the original mandate of Canada Post, against the Canada Post Corporations Act and against the mandate review that took place a recently as last year.

I would like to point out a quote from that mandate review. In the report from the Canada Post mandate review, George Radwanski recommended that Canada post be mandated to operate on a break even basis. He even said that it made no sense for Canada post to pay dividends to the federal government. He quite specifically referred to this a year ago. He said that such a requirement to pay dividends would result in postal rates that are higher than necessary, or it would result in fewer resources available to allocate for the necessary expansion of service considering that only 82% of Canadian households get direct mail delivery. There is a need for expansion of services.

The last thing I will read from the report is the actual recommendation. This is a quote from the report, recommendation No. 16: “That Canada Post Corporation be mandated to operate on a break even basis rather than pursue a commercial rate of return on equity, and that this break even basis be defined as generating sufficient revenue to cover operating costs to appropriate capital investments, expansions and improvements of core postal services, and the setting aside of such financial reserves to protect against revenue shortfalls and difficult years”.

That makes quite clear the intent and recommendation of this group of experts that reviewed the mandate of Canada Post. It clearly contemplated where excess revenues or where any revenues generated by Canada Post should be put.

What I am getting at is that we have a manufactured crisis here that was a tempest in a teapot, brought to a head by pressure brought by the federal government on Canada Post, which translated at the bargaining table into a demand essentially to change the work rules that would result in the loss of 4,000 jobs. No trade unionist worth their salt would have sat there and accepted that kind of an argument because it was so easy to trace back through recent history the mandate review, the Canada Post Corporations Act and anything else.

By way of background that is a bit of the history that got us to this terrible impasse; first the labour relations climate that has been hostile for a number of years, then the increased demand for revenue translating into problems at the bargaining table.

A solution to put the Canada postal service back to work and to provide service to Canadians and the small business people et cetera who are anxiously awaiting some kind of leadership from this House of Commons is the piece of legislation tabled yesterday. In retrospect, having had the luxury of time to review this and having come from a labour relations background where I have seen similar back to work documents, two clauses and two articles in the legislation leap out at me.

Previous speakers have correctly identified the key problem areas and we too will be presenting amendments to this legislation with the optimism that other members in the House will see the benefit in our arguments and put in place back to work legislation that is at least in keeping with the national standards of other back to work legislation and which does not go beyond the normal goals and objectives to get workers back into their jobs. That takes a bit of explanation.

I would like to start with article 9 of the proposed legislation, the terms of reference and the guiding principles that are set down for the mediator-arbitrator, really the things the arbitrator must take into consideration when making his or her rulings.

The way this clause is worded reads like a Christmas wish list for Canada Post. Within the parameters of this particular article lie virtually every hot and contentious proposition throughout the round of bargaining rolled up into one package and thrown into an article and snuck in the back door through the back to work legislation.

Normally back to work legislation, as I say, deals with getting workers back to work. It does not deal with making substantial changes to the way Canada Post conducts its business from now on and forever after.

That is what this clause would give licence to do. That is why it is offensive to us. We feel it is absolutely necessary that this clause be changed to put some element of fairness back into the whole round of bargaining and to the possible conclusion of the work stoppage.

I would like to read part of this clause that most offends members of our caucus. It says:

The mediator-arbitrator shall be guided by the need for terms and conditions of employment that are consistent with those in comparable industries in the private and public sectors and that will provide the necessary degree of flexibility to ensure the short and long term economic viability and competitiveness of the Canada Post Corporation, taking into account

(a) that Canada Post Corporation must—perform financially in a commercially acceptable range,

None of this is from the Canada Post Corporation Act. None of this can be found in the mandate review. None of this has been agreed to. Our argument is that if the Liberal government plans to make these substantial changes to the way Canada Post conducts itself, it should do it through the front door with amendments to the Canada Post Corporation Act and not try to slide it in under the table with a piece of legislation that is supposed to restore postal service to Canadians.

We will certainly have an amendment to present under that article to change it to restore some semblance of fairness to the whole issue.

Another clause that obviously leaps out is that this piece of legislation dictates the wage increase the workers going back to work will receive. This goes well beyond what we would like to see in any kind of back to work legislation in that it takes the monetary package out of the hands of the arbitrator.

The arbitrator will no longer be able to consider what is fair or what is not fair. The arbitrator will not be able to look at the arguments that were made during the negotiations or take into consideration the employer's ability to pay or the market share or prevailing cost of living increases.

None of these issues will be there on the table for the arbitrator to look at because the increases will be predetermined within the legislation.

We are critical of the whole concept of having wages set by legislation because frankly MPs in the House are not qualified to vote on this issue. We were not privy to the debate. We do not have access to the books. We do not know the bargaining history. Why should we be voting on something as specific as a 1.9% increase in the year 2000?

It is not suitable to be dealt with in the House because with all due respect nobody here has that kind of background. The people at the bargaining table do and the arbitrator will. It should be up to the arbitrator to make that ruling.

Secondary to our criticisms of article 12, above and beyond the whole premise that it should not be there, is the fact that the wage offer made is actually lower than the last offer on the table from Canada Post Corporation to the union.

We do not know, as the House leader of the Bloc Quebecois indicated, whether that is out of malice, whether they are trying to rub somebody's nose into it, whether it is just an oversight, or whether it is strictly financially driven. It is such an insignificant amount that it leads me to believe that there is more here than just financial purposes.

Let me say what the difference is. The last offer made by Canada Post Corporation was 1.5% in year one, 1.75% in year two and 2% in year three. The mandated settlement here is identical except that in year three it is 1.9% instead of 2%. We are talking one-tenth of one per cent just as a significant sort of gesture. We are going to kick them while they are down. We are sending them back to work. We are taking away their right to strike. We are taking away any opportunity for them to have any input into what their wage settlement will be. By the way, we will take a little away from them too.

There is another more costly significant change in here. They are delaying the imposition of the increases by six months.

Whereas Canada Post offered to pay the wage increases retroactive to the date of the expiry of the collective agreement, this current legislated package states that the agreement will start on February 1, 1998, a difference we have calculated to be a saving of $35 million out of workers' pockets over the course of the three year life of the agreement.

Postal Services Continuation Act, 1997Government Orders

11:35 a.m.


Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have a couple of comments to make and a question for the member.

I found it interesting that the member reviewed some of the history of Canada Post and its productivity gains. This is very important. It is also very important that the government gave the bargaining process a chance to operate. The Minister of Labour should be congratulated for the patience he extended to all parties to ensure the process had an opportunity.

When I listened to the member it resonated within me that what happened in the past is one issue, but the consequences of what has gone on so far are equally important particularly as they relate to the future of Canada Post.

The Radwanski report certainly made a number of interesting recommendations, but all members will know that Canada Post has lost substantial business to its competitors. Many businesses have now started to rely on private courier services and others. They have entered into long term contractual arrangements which will hurt Canada Post. This will exacerbate the situation it has been dealing with in terms of trying to modernize Canada Post.

Canadians know that businesses are losing $200 million a day as a result of the strike. Canadians and members will know that charities are losing tens of millions of dollars in donations because this is the period of the year in which they do most of their donation collections.

The issue of whether or not Canada Post should be an essential service does not necessarily mean there will be labour peace, but we know Canadians will be raising these questions again. It is extremely important that we stop worrying about what happened in the past and start recognizing the issues of today. The real issues today are that Canada Post will be put under more and more pressure to provide a cost effective service for all Canadians.

The member says that the legislation is offensive to the NDP. He should know the strike is offensive to Canadian businesses that are losing jobs and are cash strapped. They cannot get the cash flow they need. He should also know that the strike is offensive to Canadians who are waiting for communications throughout the Christmas season from their loved ones and families. They do not want CUPW to be the Grinch who stole Christmas from them. They want their Christmas. The member knows that this situation is also offensive to charities. I do not think like the NDP.

The member indicated that he has some experience in labour relations. The minister indicated that the settlement, including the prescribed increases up to February 2000, is in line with current settlements within the public sector in terms of rates.

The legislation lays out the parameters which are consistent with other public sector settlements at this time. Could the member explain why he feels it is inappropriate for the bill to establish the parameters of a three year contract?

Postal Services Continuation Act, 1997Government Orders

11:35 a.m.


Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I will answer the member's question first and then comment on some of his comments second.

A three year agreement should not be found in this legislation. We should not be voting on that aspect because the two parties have already agreed to a two year agreement. The wage rates of 1.5%, 1.75% and 1.9% should not be dealt with in the House.

As I outlined, we do not have the background information. All our information is anecdotal, driven by a motion. Now that we are into a strike there is no real comparable workplace we can use as a touchstone or to draw a comparison because Canada Post is unique.

We should take into account profitability or the employer's ability to pay. We have to keep in mind that Canada Post made $112 million last year. Granted in recent years it has had poor years but it has tried to correct that by increasing its market share. Granted it lost some in some areas and gained in others.

Canada Post contemplates market growth of between $500 million and $800 million in coming years. It is actively marketing and trying to make up for the share of the market it has lost through the advent of technological change and various other things.

It does not change my argument that the House is not qualified to make this type of ruling in any kind of a fair way. We can do it. We are really looking for a lasting resolve and a lasting resolve will not come from a legislative settlement because all the hostility, the pent up hostility and bad relations will still be there. None of it will have been worked through in any kind of mature or sensible way at the bargaining table as we hoped would be possible.

Other interests are disadvantaged by the strike such as the Canadian public, charities and small business people. We are sensitive and sympathetic to that but the fix was there. There was an easy solution early on in the strike. There was an easy solution before the strike even started. Those were the policies of the Liberal government which were trying—and I used the words in my speech; maybe they are a bit strong—to milk the cash cow of Canada Post by demanding revenues above and beyond the revenues necessary for operating costs.

The government could have solved it or nipped it in the bud even before we had a strike by backing off on at least some of the demands for profit, and we would not be in the crisis we are in now. As I said it is manufactured crisis.

I hope that answers some of the member's questions.

Postal Services Continuation Act, 1997Government Orders

11:40 a.m.


Jim Gouk Reform West Kootenay—Okanagan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like ask a question.

The hon. member said that the bill was unnecessary. Basically that means leaving the workers on strike in order to settle. I point out to him that in one of the strikes in which they were ultimately legislated back went on for six weeks.

There has been $3 billion worth of damage to the business economy in less than two weeks. Is he suggesting that we should allow the strike to go on for six weeks or even longer? The six week one was settled with back to work legislation.

I have another question. I am having a little trouble understanding the position of the NDP in this regard. It says it is totally opposed to the legislation. Yet it allowed the bill to be fast tracked without opposition. It also agreed to what amounts to time allocation on the bill. It did not oppose that either.

Perhaps the hon. member could explain briefly why he says on the one hand that members of the NDP will fight the legislation and on the other hand they agree to expeditiously handling it in the House?

Postal Services Continuation Act, 1997Government Orders

11:40 a.m.


Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, in answer to the first question, we have to deal with every type of labour impasse on its own merits. There is no saying that they were out for six weeks last time so we have to nip it in the bud before it goes on that long this time.

That does not wash. That really does not add up. Every set of circumstances is unique, especially this year when we are dealing with a set of circumstances the two parties have never had to wrestle with in their history.

In actual fact when I say we should leave them at the bargaining table, it was with the optimism that there would be a lasting settlement. My own experience in labour relations is that until those longstanding wounds actually start healing, you will be doomed to repeat this process year after year after year.

I am not saying that we should have allowed them to strike for six weeks or six months or anything else. I am saying that we should have let collective bargaining, without political interference, take its course and play itself out. Then maybe we could go for a decade without a serious labour impasse instead of the interruptions we are seeing.

The member asked why we allowed the motion yesterday to receive unanimous consent. I would point out that his party did the same thing. We did that because there are a whole bunch of interests at stake. Reform members, Liberal members and Bloc members have all mentioned that the Canadian public wants its postal service back. Canadian business is suffering. Canadian charities are going through their main fund-raising period and they need it back. However, there are 45,000 postal workers whose interests also have to be recognized.

The legislation was being brought down. By the end of the week it would have been done. We used every political advantage we could to make the settlement as fair as possible and that was the conclusion we came to.

Postal Services Continuation Act, 1997Government Orders

11:45 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Gilles Bernier Progressive Conservative Tobique—Mactaquac, NB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to rise today on the debate on Bill C-24, the postal services continuation act, 1997, better known as the back to work bill.

I would like to talk about the strike that has been going on for two weeks at Canada Post, about how it is part of a long series of labour conflicts at Canada Post and about how the present government, far from bringing in a solution, has made the problem worse because of its neglect.

First and most important, I want to show how this work stoppage has hurt Canadians, Canadian businesses and Canadian charities.

Second, I will illustrate how a failure of leadership on this dossier is part of a pattern of this government which is failing to serve Canadians.

Third, I want to contrast the government's lack of effectiveness on this issue with how an earlier Conservative government dealt competently with a similar situation back in 1991.

Finally, I want to discuss what the future holds for Canada Post and the real need for leadership by the government in this area.

There can be no doubt by anyone who has read a newspaper, listened to the radio or watched television in the last dozen or so days that this postal strike has hurt not just Canada Post but most of the 93% of Canadians who still use the post office as an important means of communication.

For those who work in mail sensitive industries and who have either lost business or their jobs, the effect has been devastating.

Last Wednesday the Canadian Federation of Independent Business released a survey of its membership which showed that 96% of small and medium size businesses were adversely affected by the interruption of the postal service. Using conservative assumptions, the CFIB estimated that business losses are totalling more than $200 million per day.

What do these numbers mean? For Greg Dickie of Delong Farms in Truro, Nova Scotia they meant that he had to close his mail order Christmas wreath and gift business and lay off 100 people this season. For Robert Van Velzen of S.S.A. Incorporated in Markham, Ontario they meant that he lost a half-million dollar U.S. mail sorting contract and had to put a dozen people permanently out of work. Columbia House, which ships contact discs and videos across the country, had to lay off 200 people last week. Télémedia Publishing is losing hundreds of thousands of dollars a week.

The owners of Golfinn International, a company that distributes golfing equipment and accessories, Dave and Jane Finn, who make 60% of their sales at this time of the year, had to lay off 17 of their employees. A Saskatoon weekly, the Western Producer , which is distributed mostly by mail, did not publish last week and lost $250,000. According to Terry Robinson, of Sir Mail Order Sporting Goods Ltd., his company is losing $25,000 a day because of the strike.

Overall, the CFIB survey showed that almost 80% of small businesses are using faxes or higher cost couriers. About two-thirds are making their own deliveries or pickups. Half have had their cash flow interrupted and one in ten have lost orders.

The Canadian Direct Marketing Association estimates that layoffs in their industries are in the thousands. The CDMA includes many charities which estimate donations by mail have dropped $10 million per day. For example, the Welcome Home Mission of Montreal which provides food and shelter for 3,100 families each year receives 40% of its annual revenue by mail in the month of December. Their executive director wrote to us just before the strike began and said “I can attest that a postal strike will have disastrous effects on our revenues which will result in fewer services for our clients”.

He is not alone. The United Way of Greater Toronto estimates that it is out $1 million from its direct mail campaign this year. The Salvation Army reports that it too is hurting. Seventy per cent of its revenues come in the mail. The Canadian Lung Association's Christmas Seal Campaign is the country's biggest holiday fund raiser. Each Christmas it brings in $8 million in donations, representing 80% of the association's annual revenues. It is now in a state of near crisis. Likewise UNICEF Canada sells almost four million Christmas cards a year which would normally yield $1.5 million for them in earnings.

What are these organizations supposed to do this Christmas? These groups help hundreds and thousands of Canadians in need each year. Where was the Minister of Labour when they needed him?

Most of all, Mr. Speaker, this strike has hurt Canadians badly. As already mentioned, thousands have been laid off work because the government failed to act early on when it could have prevented the strike. For those most vulnerable in our society, those Canadians who depend on some form of government assistance for part or all of their income, this strike has been particularly difficult and the government has been particularly without compassion.

On August 12 I wrote the minister responsible for Canada Post and urged him to examine all available options for the dispersal of government cheques in the event of a postal strike. In response to this the minister signed an agreement with the Canadian Union of Postal Workers to allow for them to continue to deliver employment insurance, TAGS, CPP and other cheques in the event of a strike. Unfortunately, for Canadians who depend on these cheques, the Department of Human Resources Development Canada decided not to honour this commitment and chose instead to implement its own cheque distribution system which at best can be called chaotic, at worst, cruel and without compassion to those who need assistance to provide the basic necessities of life for themselves and their loved ones.

One man who has asked that I not use his name was unable to purchase insulin for his mother because his cheque was over a week late. Another women who had to rush her son to the hospital late one night last week ran out of gas. With no money for gas, she had to call on strangers for assistance to help get her son there. Fortunately he is now okay.

Normally this would be embarrassing enough for any government to take steps to treat its clients with a bit more respect, but not with this government. To add insult to injury Canadians who drove in some cases hundreds of kilometres to the nearest cheque distribution centre on November 20 were asked to sign a computer printout that had the names, social insurance numbers and the cheque dollar amount of everyone in their community who was receiving an assistance cheque. Acting on these complaints, my office was successful in asking the Privacy Commissioner to investigate and to put a stop to this Orwellian practice.

Why does this government choose through its own neglect to allow this strike to cause so much damage to the Canadian economy, to businesses, to charities and most of all to the Canadian public? This is not an isolated incident but a pattern within this government that shows a leadership vacuum beginning at the top.

In the lead-up to the 1995 Quebec referendum on sovereignty, the Prime Minister was asked many times to speak on this issue and to make a gesture of unity with the people of Quebec. He refused. It was not until the dying days of the campaign when the Prime Minister realized that all could be lost that he made some token offers to Quebec. Were it not for the generosity and spirit and sincere love of this country shown by Canadians at the Montreal rally, were it not for the commitment of the leader of my party and his willingness to put everything on the line for this country, all would indeed have been lost.

The Kyoto conference on climate change opened yesterday with all of the major countries having made their position known months ago, all except Canada. Our government waited until yesterday. Delegates from other countries and the organizers of this conference have remarked that Canada has lost its credibility on the environment.

Five years ago our Conservative government led by my leader, who was then environment minister, showed Canada's ability to lead at the Rio Earth Summit because we were prepared.

In 1993 on the advice of the defence department our Conservative government showed leadership and foresight by deciding to replace the aging Labrador and Sea King maritime helicopters with new EH-101 helicopters with made in Canada electronics and airframes. This helicopter purchase would have put Canada on the cutting edge of technology in this field with no additional burden to the taxpayers. The Liberal government, however, cancelled this deal at exorbitant expense. Now the old helicopters are five years older and Canadians are still waiting to hear what solution this government will have to replace them.

Everywhere we turn this government chooses procrastination over leadership, the same kind of failed policy that hurts so many Canadians in this postal strike.

The royal commission on aboriginal people submitted its report over a year ago. What has been the government's response? It has not finished reading it yet.

What about the year 2000 problem? What is the government's plan to overhaul its computers so that the system does not crash on January 1, 2000? It does not have one yet. It said “We'll write the cheques out by hand if necessary”. That is what the public works minister said just three weeks ago.

Then there is fish. It is not enough that the cod stocks are gone and this government could not negotiate lunch with the Americans, let alone a Pacific salmon treaty, but now the Atlantic groundfish strategy is about to run out of money and this government has absolutely no plan to deal with the thousands of fishers and fish plant workers who will be cut off next year.

Leadership, that is what successful government is all about. But we have seen that the Liberal government is devoid of anything resembling real leadership, whether it be on fish, helicopters, the environment, aboriginal peoples, the future of our country or on Canada Post.

Where can we look to for an example of real leadership? In October 1991 there was a Progressive Conservative government in power faced with a labour situation not that different from that faced by the current government. Back then Canada Post was negotiating to bring a number of unions each with their own collective agreements in with CUPW under one agreement. A series of rotating strikes in August had urged the government to do whatever necessary to allow the two parties to come to successful negotiation.

This took three steps. First, a very effective and experienced mediator, Quebec Chief Justice Alan Gold, was brought in to help the parties negotiate mini-agreements in a number of sectors. Unfortunately, Canada Post and CUPW were unable to conclude a global agreement at that stage, even though they had worked out partial agreements in many areas with Justice Gold's help.

Step two was to pass the Postal Services Continuation Act, 1991. With the end of mediation the two sides would soon be in a position to lock out or to strike and it was necessary for the government to prevent the damage to the Canadian economy that would result from a work stoppage just before Christmas.

This law precluded either Canada Post or the union from inflicting harm on Canadians through the use of a strike or lock-out. It also recognized and formalized the agreements already reached by negotiators during six weeks of talks under mediator Alan Gold. These included an immediate pay raise of $2.03 per hour for workers and a down payment on retroactive pay amounting to over $3,600 without having to wait for the arbitrator's decision.

The third step was to provide the parties with an alternative dispute settlement mechanism. The Postal Services Continuation Act did this with arbitration as is frequently used in the case of essential services.

With the Canadian public protected from a work stoppage, the gains negotiated by the union guaranteed in the new agreement with immediate financial compensation to the workers, and a way for the two sides to reach an agreement, CUPW and Canada Post were able to do just that in the new year.

The Postal Services Continuation Act is an example of true leadership on a difficult issue and should serve as a template to other governments. However, when we contacted the labour minister's office on October 30 of this year, as soon as it became apparent that the collective bargaining process had failed, we were told not to worry, that things would work themselves out. The fact that they did not is a testament to the failure to provide leadership by this government and by this do nothing, say nothing, sleepwalk his way to retirement Prime Minister.

Unfortunately the problem does not end here. Assuming that the government is able to pass this legislation, we still have a crown corporation and a union with a labour relations record that would make Jimmy Hoffa blush. Since postal workers were given the right to strike in 1967, there have been no fewer than 11 work disruptions. This is symptomatic of a government owned company that is utterly adrift and has lost both its anchor and its rudder.

The Government of Canada has no plan of action for the future of Canada Post. The Liberals have not designed for this crown corporation a plan that takes into consideration the new choices that Canadians have for the delivery of mail, including messenger services, electronic mail, fax machines and direct deposits.

The government has not defined any business strategy to ensure the continuation of Canada Post services for Canadians, it has not looked into the means available to develop new markets such as electronic data transfer and it has not decided once and for all whether or not it wants to privatize Canada Post.

The Minister of Public Works was not straightforward on this issue during the strike; first he stated that there would be no privatization, then he threatened the union with the privatization of that crown corporation, and then he changed his mind and repeated that he would do no such thing.

The fact that the Liberal government would allow a postal strike to occur shows that it has been sleepwalking through the last four years. Now more than ever, Canadians need a plan for Canada Post.

On November 24 in this House the minister responsible stated that the government had taken the Canada Post mandate review report, answered the report and given a new mandate to Canada Post. The minister went on to say, “I am sure with the negotiated settlement that mandate can be achieved”.

As the minister will know, the mandate review contained 31 recommendations about improving Canada Post. The minister has yet to deal with those recommendations appropriately as the vast majority of them were ignored by this government. Given the current crisis that exists at the crown corporation, it is time for him to revisit those recommendations.

The report of the mandate review released in October 1996 and the subsequent report conducted by TD Securities and released in April 1997 both identified serious concerns about the labour situation at Canada Post. The government has known about the pending labour situation for some seven months yet the government failed to take constructive measures to correct that situation before Canadians became burdened with this postal strike.

We know that this crisis at Canada Post is mostly due to the chronic lack of leadership from the present government. The public has certainly complained to a large number of members here about the hardships that this useless strike is causing them.

I already mentioned one of the measures used by the previous Conservative government to settle a serious labour conflict at Canada Post and how we could have completely avoided this break in services. You have heard the story about the continuing problems of a crown corporation that is receiving almost no direction from its shareholder.

The reality of course is that Canada Post is not actually owned by the government. It belongs to the people of Canada. This government owes it to Canadians to get down to developing a practical, realistic and comprehensive postal policy for this country instead of the piecemeal approach it has taken so far.

Postal Services Continuation Act, 1997Government Orders

12:05 p.m.


Jim Gouk Reform West Kootenay—Okanagan, BC

Madam Speaker, I pretty much agree with what the hon. member had to say on the subject of Canada Post. However, I certainly do not want to give him carte blanche for everything he said.

I would very quickly point out that the previous Conservative government legislated an end to a postal disruption in 1987 and again in 1991. In both cases it recognized it was essential to keep the mail moving in this country. It reacted by bringing in legislation. But obviously it did not solve the problem because here were are in 1997 with another postal strike and legislation to end it.

Does the hon. member regret that his party did not bring in a permanent solution to this so that we would not have to keep going through this year after year after year? Does he also regret that the Liberal government has not done anything to bring about a permanent solution to this? Does he support Reform's position that we need a permanent solution to this labour disruption so that Canadians can once again count on their mail always going through?

Postal Services Continuation Act, 1997Government Orders

12:05 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Gilles Bernier Progressive Conservative Tobique—Mactaquac, NB

Madam Speaker, I agree with the hon. member from the Reform Party when he says that he agrees with most of what I had to say. I would have been happier if he had agreed with all that I had to say.

To answer the questions, if we were the government we would go the extra step because we believe that Canada Post is an essential service. In 1967 or 1969 the United States passed legislation to make it against the law for postal workers to strike.

With this postal strike now, right around Christmas, how many businesses are hurt, how many thousands of jobs are lost. Talk about the children of this country. Santa Claus is a big thing for them. They are not even sure if they would be able to send mail to Santa Claus. I may not believe in Santa Claus but there are a lot of kids in this country who do.

I totally disagree with the government's route on this that it waited so long. The economy of the country has been almost crippled by this strike over the last week and a half. Canada Post is losing $20 million a day. I have been in business for some 15 years. I do not know of any corporation or any business in this country that could sustain a $20 million loss per day. I do not know of one. Yet we have a government that has kept sleepwalking through the whole process and waited to take action until this last week and a half.

If we look at the papers from last year, Canada Post claimed that it made $112 million in profits. After five days of this strike there goes its profits for this year. Who is going to pay the difference this year? Canada Post is not going to make a profit. It is going to have a deficit.

Postal Services Continuation Act, 1997Government Orders

12:05 p.m.

An hon. member

The government.

Postal Services Continuation Act, 1997Government Orders

12:05 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Gilles Bernier Progressive Conservative Tobique—Mactaquac, NB

Oh, now it is up to the government. The government is going to pick up the tab, but who is the government? It is the Canadian people. I say enough is enough. We are here to do a job. Let us make sure that the money is well spent and put in the right place. This morning I was glad to see that Canada Post would be legislated back to work because we just cannot afford to have the corporation lose $20 million a day.

Postal Services Continuation Act, 1997Government Orders

12:05 p.m.


Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Madam Speaker, I would like to ask my colleague a question, but first I will say just a few words, mainly that the small businesses suffering because of this strike have my sympathies. We must, however, remember that the Canadian charter gives all of us have the right to belong to a union.

The government has introduced legislation, which once again attacks working men and women, and I find this regrettable. I would therefore like to know, in response to one of my questions, whether the Conservative Party would be prepared to propose amendments and to fight against what the government is in the process of doing.

It is not true that, if the government wants to pass legislation that is against the workers, forcing them back to work, they will be the only ones punished. What has been brought before the House today is shameful. It is a backward step in the negotiations that have already taken place between the employer and the workers, and a backward step as far as wages are concerned.

I would like to ask a question of my colleague from the Conservative Party. He says he does not want any more strikes at Canada Post. Will he therefore confirm before the people of Canada, the workers of Canada, that he is against free bargaining for all postal workers? Is that what my colleague is telling us?

For the record, I want it noted that the Conservatives' position is one of opposition to postal workers having the same right as all other Canadians, that is the right to strike and the right to continue to strike until a negotiated settlement is reached.

What was their opinion around August 6 when the government interfered in the bargaining process and indicated to the employer that there would be no problem if there were a strike, because it was already thinking of bringing in back to work legislation? This is not how collective bargaining is meant to work. In my experience of unions and collective bargaining, when a third party with a certain degree of power comes and sticks its nose in where it does not belong, I can guarantee that the outcome is not good negotiation.

I would therefore like to hear what my hon. colleague from the Conservative Party has to say to that.

Postal Services Continuation Act, 1997Government Orders

12:10 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Gilles Bernier Progressive Conservative Tobique—Mactaquac, NB

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the question from my colleague from New Brunswick for the NDP. We are not against unions at all but we need to be responsible.

The union at Canada Post represents 45,000 workers. Canada Post has been losing millions and millions of dollars. Businesses have been losing millions of dollars. Charities have been losing millions of dollars. And what about the other 29 million Canadians who deserve to get their mail?

In this country we have a law that police officers cannot strike. We believe that Canada Post is an essential service the same as the police officers in Canada. I am not against the union. I support the union in some cases but there has to be fair bargaining.

This strike has dragged on for the last week and a half. How many more millions of dollars does the member want to inflict on Canadians and on Canada Post? How far does it have to go for the member to recognize that they cannot reach an agreement? Something has to come out of this.

As my hon. colleague should understand, we are all here as members of Parliament to do a job and to represent Canadians. The next few words are very important: the interests of all Canadians, not just the union, all Canadians. Until the hon. member can differentiate between a few thousand workers or all Canadians, I think the hon. member has a few problems in this House.