House of Commons Hansard #58 of the 36th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was contractors.


The House resumed from November 5, 1999, consideration of the motion that Bill C-238, an act to amend the Canada Post Corporation Act (mail contractors), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Canada Post Corporation ActPrivate Members' Business

11:05 a.m.


Gary Lunn Reform Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the debate on this private members' bill put forward by the NDP. In a nutshell, this bill would remove provision 13(5) from the Canada Post Corporation Act which excludes rural route mail couriers from section 3(1) of the Canada Labour Code. I am opposed to this bill and I believe that most of my colleagues are as well.

I want to state from the outset some of the problems. First, I would acknowledge that there are severe problems concerning how rural route mail couriers are treated in Canada. I want to acknowledge the member of the NDP for recognizing this, although I do not agree with his solution.

It is important to identify what is happening with the rural route mail couriers. As independent contractors, rural route mail couriers must submit tenders for their jobs and then negotiate a contract with Canada Post after the fact. That is what is happening right now. That is why they are so frustrated. Of course, we do not see that in the private sector. It would be ludicrous to bid on a job and then enter into negotiations for compensation after the fact.

Canada Post does not have any guidelines for the tendering process or contracting process that would ensure fairness. The mail couriers believe that they are being asked to do jobs under extremely poor conditions, at very minimum wages, and they are being force by Canada Post officials to lower their bids to maintain their contracts. There is a very serious problem with the rural route mail couriers and something needs to be done about it. In speaking with some of these couriers in British Columbia, it is absolutely clear that they are not being treated fairly. It is absolutely ludicrous to bid on a contract and then have to negotiate after the fact.

It is the government's responsibility to correct this situation and I would call upon the government to put it on its agenda. Something needs to be done.

At the current time an exemption under the Canada Labour Code prevents rural route couriers from being deemed employees. The NDP member has proposed that they be deemed employees, and therefore CUPE and a number of other unions would be in a struggle to unionize them for collective bargaining purposes. Clearly, I do not believe that is what they want.

There is no question that there are differing opinions, but I believe what they really want is the ability to negotiate and have a very open and fair tendering process with sealed bids. That is what we should be focusing on. Clearly, this bill does not do that.

Another problem is that there are a number of other organizations within our mail delivery system which also bid. I would submit that they are not being treated fairly either. Some of them are urban expedite contractors, suburban contractors, highway regional service contractors and marine contractors.

There are a number of organizations which are also facing similar conditions and are not being treated fairly by Canada Post, yet this private member's bill, an act to amend the Canada Post Corporation Act, only deals with one small aspect, the rural route mail couriers.

Although it has been recognized that there is a problem, I do not see this as a solution. In fact it would probably make it much worse. We would see a number of unions trying to decide who would control these employees, and I am not so sure that is what the employees want.

What the employees really want at the end of the day is an open, transparent tendering process with sealed bids so they can bid openly and fairly and receive fair compensation for the contracts they are awarded.

Canada Post Corporation ActPrivate Members' Business

11:10 a.m.

An hon. member

Free enterprise.

Canada Post Corporation ActPrivate Members' Business

11:10 a.m.


Gary Lunn Reform Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Free enterprise. That is it in a nutshell, much as it is done in the private sector. That is what should happen, but that is not what is happening.

What is happening is that contracts are being bid on and then negotiations are being held after the fact. I cannot imagine anything so ridiculous.

Although I cannot speak for all members, the majority of us will be voting against this private member's bill. In my discussions with members they have indicated that they have concerns with the bill. Nevertheless, it identifies a problem that needs to be addressed. The Government of Canada should instruct Canada Post to ensure that independent contractors are treated fairly, that there is an open and transparent tendering process, such as there is in the private sector.

That is it in a nutshell. I cannot add much more. Again, I call upon the government to address the situation to ensure that Canada Post has a tendering process, not only for rural route mail couriers but for all of the people in the other organizations, which is fair, open and transparent.

Canada Post Corporation ActPrivate Members' Business

11:10 a.m.


Peter Stoffer NDP Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am proud to stand on behalf of my colleague from Winnipeg Centre who presented this very important private member's bill, Bill C-238, which would repeal section 13(5) of the Canada Post Act which restricts contractors from being treated as employees.

The reason the hon. member for Winnipeg Centre presented this bill was not only to represent the 5,000 people who do a superb job in delivering Canada Post's mail from coast to coast to coast in the very rural and very far-reaching areas of this country, it was also to correct a historical wrong.

Unfortunately these people have been restricted from obtaining any kind of furtherance in economic value by the restrictions which the Canada Post Act places upon them. They are not, in any way, shape or form, considered under the Canada Labour Code. Rural route couriers form one of the major sectors which is excluded from the Canada Labour Code strictly for economic reasons.

Maybe at one time in our history those economic reasons may appear valid, but they are no longer valid. I will read a subsection which asks why subsection 13(5) denies RRMCs, rural route mail couriers, their basic rights. Andre Ouellet outlined in 1980 when he was postmaster general that there were largely financial reasons for including subsection 13(5) which prohibits collective bargaining. He said that 60% of RRMCs worked fewer than four hours per day and if unionized would press for full time work. He also said that costs would escalate. That is absolute nonsense.

Today most RRMCs work eight or more hours a day. When they have a contract with Canada Post they are restricted from working anywhere else. Part of the contract is that they can only do that and nothing else. It restricts them in terms of their economic lives.

It is unfortunate that the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands and his party are not supporting this initiative. If he truly cared about the 5,000 RRMCs across the country he would go to the back lobby and instruct his party that this is actually a very good initiative. Perhaps he is afraid that these 5,000 people, heaven forbid, may want to organize themselves into a union.

That is not what we are pressing for. We are saying that if those people desire to organize, if they choose to organize, which they already are doing right now in terms of a quasi-group, an association to press issues forward through all members of parliament, they should have the right to do so.

We live in a democracy. The member for Saanich—Gulf Islands, whom I respect tremendously as a friend, should know that one of the key fundamentals of democracy is that workers have the right to organize. Whether or not he agrees with union principles is not the question. They should have the right to organize, and that is part of what this private member's bill will enable them to do if they so desire. The key point is for them to bargain collectively with the employer, which in this case is Canada Post, a crown corporation of the Government of Canada.

Canada Post in past years has made a tremendous amount of money in profit. A lot of it came from rural route mail couriers across the country. Pretty soon when the contracts come up Canada Post will contact the current holders of contracts, for example in Jeddore and Sheet Harbour in my riding or in areas outside Prince Rupert, in Yukon and in other areas of northern Manitoba or wherever, to say that the contract bidding time has come up and it expects them to lower their bid in the event they wish to be successful in furthering the contract. After working three, four or five years, depending on the length of the contract, they are being asked to work for less when inflationary pressures and everything else have hit them very hard.

I know you understand, Mr. Speaker, being from the great riding of Kingston and the Islands, that a large part of rural Canada is suffering under the weight of the lack of infrastructure, the lack of medical and educational facilities and the lack of business opportunities. These people are out in the dead of winter. Can we imagine delivering mail at 35 degrees below zero in northern Saskatchewan? That is a tremendous task and they are doing it for far less than the minimum wage.

Can we tell these people that for economic reasons they are not allowed to organize? I say no. The easiest thing the government could do, and perhaps it could sneak it into the budget today, is repeal subsection 13(5) of the Canada Post Act. We would all be happier for it.

Many Liberal members come from rural ridings. They must speak with these people on a daily basis, I am sure. They understand this is a very good initiative and would put the government in a good light with 5,000 people. We may even applaud the Liberals for their effort on this very rare occasion.

The question is whether or not there are fairness and equity in today's government. We have now passed into the new millennium. It is really unfortunate that as we turned the calendar we left 5,000 people and their families behind. It is an important initiative. I encourage all members of the House to look into themselves to see if it is fair to discriminate against 5,000 people who do yeoman's work every day out there.

Many people in rural Canada do not have access to the Internet. They do not have access to the technologies of today. Their major link to government is through Canada Post, through the mail system. The first people they see are those people whose basements have been transformed into a postal outlet. Or, the first person they see is the one at their mailboxes on rural roads who delivers the mail sometimes in very treacherous conditions. To them they represent government and the best part of government, a warm body. They actually get to speak to someone who is working for the government through the Canada Post Corporation. The average person out there thinks of these people as employees of the government when in reality they are not. That is most unfortunate.

The bill should have been presented many years ago. Thank goodness the member for Winnipeg Centre had the foresight and aptitude to understand this was a very serious issue and presented it for debate today.

I mentioned before that their contracts with Canada Post prohibit them from doing work for other companies while performing their post office duties. Canada Post controls the timeframes for sorting and delivering the mail, the order of delivery on routes, the number of returns to the post office, and the manner in which the mail is sorted. Rural route mail couriers have to hire their own replacements, not because they are entrepreneurs who control their own work but because their contracts require they find replacements when they are sick or on vacation.

Canada Post has total administrative control over the day to day work of the RRMCs. Canada Post does not give them the mail and leave to them how they wish to deliver it. Rather there is a whole set of rules that determine how RRMCs do their work and there is direct supervision.

Basically what do RRMCs want? They want subsection 13(5) of the Canada Post Corporation Act repealed so they can bargain collectively. Letter carriers of Canada Post do the same work in other ways and they have collective bargaining rights. Private sector workers who deliver parcels in rural areas also have collective bargaining rights as do rural route postal workers in the United States.

In this day and age of free trade, globalization, NAFTA, et cetera, why would the so-called great democracy below us, the United States, allow its rural route mail couriers in its many rural areas to have the ability to bargain collectively for their rights? Why is it that Canada excludes that? The reason is subsection 13(5) of the Canada Post Act, which needs to be repealed.

I could go on at length about this issue but what we need to do is quite clear. It would make the government look good, especially at budget time. The Liberals could even use it as an election ploy. I am sure they would love to use something to help them out after the recent HRDC fiasco, et cetera.

On behalf of my colleague from Winnipeg Centre and all members of the New Democratic Party federally and provincially across the country, we are proud to stand on behalf of over 5,000 rural route mail couriers so that subsection 13(5) of the Canada Post Act is repealed and these people are included in the Canada Labour Code and have collective bargaining rights for themselves and their families.

Canada Post Corporation ActPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

Mississauga Centre Ontario


Carolyn Parrish LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Public Works and Government Services

Mr. Speaker, it is with pleasure that I rise today to participate in the debate on Bill C-238, an act to amend the Canada Post Corporation Act.

It is important to remind all members present of the incredible economic progress and turnaround that Canada Post has achieved in the years since its creation as a commercial crown corporation. I will not go into great detail on this point other than to say that since 1981 Canada Post has transformed itself into a profitable enterprise through a combination of innovation marketing, sound planning and good business practices. However, above all, this remarkable performance is a tribute to the men and women of Canada Post who daily provide to Canadians a high quality and cost efficient postal service. I know all members join with me in paying this tribute.

As stated earlier in the debate, Canada Post's primary mandate is to ensure that all Canadians receive reliable and affordable postal service. To some this essential service is taken for granted. It is sometimes easy to forget the challenges the sheer size of the nation presents to Canada Post in maintaining service on a daily basis yet remaining competitive with businesses that do not have to meet such an important and vital requirement.

The key to Canada Post's ability to provide a reliable and cost efficient mail service is its use of contractors. Here is the crux of the matter and why I believe Bill C-238 to be fundamentally flawed. The bill seeks to repeal subsection 13(5) of the Canada Post Corporation Act, thereby allowing that contractors who consider themselves to be dependent within the meaning of part I of the Canada Labour Code may be found to be employees for collective bargaining purposes.

This would involve or impact upon all contractors regardless of the nature of their work or contracted activity. Put simply, to allow passage of the bill would significantly affect the corporation's ability to meet its objective and would mean serious increases in costs with no accompanying improvement in service.

Canada Post simply cannot afford to take on thousands of new full time employees. Such an unnecessary and unjustified action would wipe away years of hard work to build a profitable, competitive, world class business. The author of the bill, in a misguided attempt to change the status of one type of contractor, the rural route contractor, has failed to comprehend the dire consequences and far-reaching implications of this proposed legislative change.

Rural route contractors have had a long and proud relationship with Canada Post. For decades now these people have delivered the mail in rural and in some cases remote areas of our country. They play an important part in Canada Post's mandate to deliver mail to all Canadians. They are reliable, hardworking individuals who take pride in the valuable work they perform.

In many cases mail contractors reside on or near their designated routes and are therefore not only performing a vital service on behalf of Canada Post but also ensuring that their own neighbours receive mail in a reliable and efficient manner.

However, what has been overlooked by some is the essential fact that rural route contractors are not employees of Canada Post or a group of workers being denied fundamental rights. They are valued contractors who have fundamentally different work relationships than those employed full time by the corporation. Let us examine very briefly the wording of subsection 13(5) which states:

Notwithstanding any provision of Part I of the Canada Labour Code, for the purposes of the application of that Part to the Corporation and to officers and employees of the Corporation, a mail contractor is deemed not to be a dependent contractor or an employee within the meaning of those terms in subsection 3(1) of that Act.

Rural route mail contractors are awarded their respective contracts through a competitive tender process. This type of work is of a part time nature and individuals seek this work to supplement their income, not to obtain full or part time employee status with Canada Post.

These conditions are spelled out in the contract documentation. Let me make it very clear that rural route couriers agree that these terms are in full understanding of conditions governing this type of contracted work. It is also not their primary employment or source of income. Nor does it lead to some form of permanent employment status within the corporation.

Let me remind members that the Federal Court of Appeal ruled in 1987 that rural route couriers were indeed contractors as defined in the Canada Post Corporation Act. In addition, the federal court found that subsection 13(5) did not violate any equality rights as defined in our charter of rights and freedoms.

Behind the bill is an attempt to portray rural route contractors as being abused, underpaid and generally exploited by Canada Post. Nothing could be further from the truth. Rural route contractors are treated and compensated fairly.

My hon. colleague has already mentioned the improvements made by Canada Post to its contract tendering process that will increase opportunities for more Canadians to do business with it, particularly in rural areas. In addition, I believe the corporation should also be congratulated on a number of improvements it has made as a result of listening to rural route contractors.

Measures that have been recently implemented are designed to improve their training, support and the early resolution of issues. There is always room for improvement and any business that ignores this basic rule does so at its own peril. I know that Canada Post is an organization that constantly strives for improvement in everything it does.

In closing, I will not support the bill and I would encourage my fellow members to seriously consider the factors that have made Canada Post the world class organization it is. It has proven its ability to meet its primary mandate and to successfully compete in a demanding and rapidly changing market. Let us not place unnecessary hurdles such as Bill C-238 in front of those at Canada Post. They have earned our support and it is our duty to give it by voting against the proposed legislation.

Strangely enough I find myself agreeing with Reformers in that many of the changes implemented over the last two years have been implemented as a result of their regular communication with the department. I think that is the avenue they need to pursue to improve conditions as we have done in the last year.

Canada Post Corporation ActPrivate Members' Business

11:30 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Jim Jones Progressive Conservative Markham, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-238 put forward by the member for Winnipeg Centre. This bill would delete section 13(5) from the Canada Post Corporation Act and require the Post Office to hire on as full time salaried employees all of the mail contractors whom it now does business with.

Let me first congratulate the NDP member for bringing attention to this issue. As I understand it he is primarily concerned with the rural mail contractors and the treatment they receive in their relationships with Canada Post, although the measure he has proposed would have effect going far beyond just the rural mail couriers. Even though we differ in our prescription for the problems faced by rural mail contractors, we can certainly agree that rural couriers have been subject to some of the most unprofessional business practices at the hands of the government owned monopoly. This needs to stop.

We have been dealing with this issue as a party since before the last election. My colleague the member for Tobique—Mactaquac has discussed this issue with representatives of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, the Organization of Rural Route Mail Couriers and Canada Post Corporation. Many of my colleagues have also met with the rural route mail couriers in the past year.

As we know, Canada Post became a crown corporation in 1981 by means of the Canada Post Corporation Act. As such its labour practices were no longer governed by the Public Service Staff Relations Act but by the Canada Labour Code, which allows dependent contractors to unionize, something not provided for by the Public Service Staff Relations Act.

Section 13(5) of the Canada Post Corporation Act provided an exemption to section 3(1) of the Canada Labour Code which deems all of the Canada Post mail contractors, including rural route mail couriers, not to be dependent contractors. In 1981 under the guidance of our former postmaster and at that time Progressive Conservative postal critic John Fraser, our caucus voted to support section 13(5) for a number of reasons.

First of all, this provision continued the historical relationship that Canada Post has always had with its mail contractors. Our national mail service has contracted for rural route delivery since before confederation.

Second, it was felt that changing that relationship could potentially increase the operating costs of the corporation substantially with no corresponding improvement in service levels to the public.

According to the Organization of Rural Route Mail Couriers, there are presently 7,000 rural mail contractors in Canada. If we compare the value of the average contract with the cost of a salaried unionized Canada Post letter carrier, there is a difference of between $15,000 to $20,000. That means to convert all 7,000 mail contractors to full time unionized post office employees would cost up to $140 million. Where would the money come from to make this change?

The Post Office could raise stamp prices and the prices for other postal services and the customers would have to pay. But Canada Post is limited to increasing stamp prices at less than the rate of inflation so most of the money would have to come from elsewhere. That elsewhere of course would be the taxpayer. Canada Post would be pushed back into a deficit position and the difference would have to be made up by taxpayers.

What would Canadians get in exchange for shelling out more money for their postal service? Better service? Better or more frequent delivery? No. In exchange for the $140 million, Canadians would see no improvement in postal service. This is not a change my party is prepared to support.

Third, the nature of this change would have removed some of the flexibility for both parties to negotiate an arrangement particularly suited for each individual contractor. For example, under the current arrangement contractors have the ability to subcontract while employees do not.

Finally, this arrangement kept Canada Post on a level footing with many private sector companies which also use private contractors for deliveries.

For all of these reasons our party continues to support section 13(5) of the Canada Post Corporation Act. That is why we cannot support this bill.

Let me however set our opposition to the specific measure proposed by the hon. member. Anyone who has ever done business can tell us that more often than not, Canada Post is big, bureaucratic and bullying. Its guiding principle seems to be squeezing out as much as it can from customers, suppliers and partners.

Two examples come to mind: postal rental retail franchisees and the ad mail program for large volume customers. In both instances, Canada Post arbitrarily introduced large changes that were poorly communicated and very costly to the people with whom it did business. In both cases business partners were not consulted on changes but were instructed that they had to purchase new, expensive and confusing systems if they wanted to continue to do business with Canada Post. In the former case commissions were simultaneously slashed, while in the latter case costs were unilaterally raised.

This sounds a lot like how Canada Post treated rural mail contractors. In many conversations with individual contractors, with representatives from the Organization of Rural Route Mail Couriers, CUPE and some Canada Post employees, we have heard many horror stories about the contracting practices of the post office.

For example, at one point it was common practice that when a delivery contract was up for renewal, a Canada Post employee would phone up a contractor saying that it had received a bid from another source which was thousands of dollars less than what the contractor was currently being paid. Because Canada Post operates a closed bidding system, there was no way for the contractor to verify the claim of the postal representative. The contractor would be faced with the difficult decision to undercut his or her own price by several thousands of dollars or lose the contract. These and other bad faith practices by the post office have led my party into discussions with Canada Post.

As a result of complaints from contractors and others acting on their behalf, the post office has introduced a series of new measures that I hope will alleviate a great number of the difficulties contractors have had in the past. These include the following. Rural routes will be contracted individually. Contractors that in turn subcontract out their routes at a reduced price will be ineligible for renewal. Rural contracts will be issued for five years with a five year renewal option based on satisfactory performance and tendering after 10 years. A negotiated adjustment will be included for the five year renewal option to ensure that market conditions such as inflation are considered. A performance component will be included in the contract renewal and awarding process to recognize the past performance of incumbent contractors. The evaluation of tenders will be based on criteria such as experience, performance, reliability, image and cost.

In addition, when contracts are up for bid, Canada Post will make contractors aware of the specifications of the routes they will be performing, such as the number of points of call, daily kilometres, number of stops for personal contact items and the amount of ad mail they can expect to deliver. These numbers will be updated annually or more frequently if a significant change occurs. Contractors will be compensated for these changes.

The post office has also prepared a handbook to provide assistance and guidance with a reference and a phone directory of key individuals at Canada Post to call when a problem arises. In addition, local supervisors and postmasters will be provided with an operator's handbook and supporting training material to assist them in working with contractors.

Canada Post is currently in discussion with representatives of rural route mail couriers in order to finalize this new package. I am hopeful that both sides will be able to improve on the relationship they have had in the past and will be able to agree on a set of business practices they both can live with. In the meantime we will continue to work with and listen to rural mail couriers to ensure that they are treated fairly and that Canada Post deals with problems that arise in a timely and equitable fashion.

Canada Post Corporation ActPrivate Members' Business

11:35 a.m.


Peter Mancini NDP Sydney—Victoria, NS

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak in favour of Bill C-238 which has been presented to the House by the member for Winnipeg Centre. In many ways it is a telling piece of legislation.

When I first came to the House, I talked about the new two solitudes in Canada. Those solitudes are urban and rural Canada. Increasingly the government tends to cater toward urban Canada. People from the regions of the country, whether they are in my region in the east, Saskatchewan or the north, see that there are different standards and different rights for people in different parts of the country.

This legislation deals directly with a vital service to rural Canada, the delivery of mail to people in rural parts of the country.

I was shocked and did not know until I read this legislation that rural route mail carriers are denied fundamental rights that are guaranteed to many other Canadians particularly in urban centres. We have to ask why. We know why the Liberal government justified it almost 20 years ago when they were exempted. But we have to ask why today are 5,000 people denied the right to collective bargaining?

We are in a new millennium. We heard and lived with the hype leading up to new year's eve about how this is a new century. Surely we do not have to repeat the same mistakes of the last century. Surely there should be the right to collective bargaining, the right for workers to come together and say that they collectively want to ensure that they have a better standard of living. Surely we do not have to go back to 1920 or 1930.

Those workers, as has already been stated, do some of the most difficult work. I know because I represent an area that has rural route mail service. I can talk about the northern part of Cape Breton, Inverness and Victoria counties. The rural route mail carriers are vital especially to seniors. Seniors are the ones who wait for parcels from many of their children who have been called to the urban centres because that is where the work is. For those people the rural route mail carriers represent a vital link.

Why is it that these 5,000 employees across the country are denied the same basic rights as their urban counterparts? They do the same kind of work so it cannot be justified on that ground. What do they face because they do not have the same rights?

Their employment can be terminated on 90 days notice. Surely in this day and age 5,000 Canadian workers who are told that they have to submit bids in a lower tendering process, have the right to come together and say “We would like to organize so we can bargain with the employer and we will not be constantly under the gun or constantly having to downgrade our standard of living”. Today if they were to say they do not like the conditions, they could be terminated on 90 days notice. If I were one of those carriers that is one aspect I would seek to change.

There are no benefits. Imagine that workers, who everyone assumes work for Canada Post but who are in fact independent contractors, are denied the same benefits that their urban counterparts have. They are denied bereavement leave. There was one postal worker whose parents were both rural carriers. She had to use her bereavement leave to deliver her mother's route when her father died so that her mother could attend the funeral. In the year 2000 in this country.

And we are going to deny these people the right to come together collectively, to organize, to change these kinds of things to get the kinds of benefits that most Canadians take for granted.

There is the tendering process. They have to bid on their routes. They also have to do all kinds of other work. They are the ones who have to shovel out and clear away the area around the mail boxes. There is no compensation for that. They do all kinds of extra work and they get no benefit for it. If they complain, the employer can say, “If you do not like it, here is your three months notice. We will find somebody else in the rural community to deliver the mail”.

Some might say that is the free market economy and that we should let it dominate. I say that it is unfair to the rural people and to the rural economy. Even if one person gets better pay in a rural economy there are spinoff factors. It comes down to why rural communities are treated differently. Why are rural workers not treated in the same way as urban workers?

It is not just the NDP arguing this. Perhaps most telling is the Canada Labour Relations Board decision regarding this. For those who do not know, the labour board is like a court. The clarity bill, which will be coming before the House, was based on a ruling of the Supreme Court of Canada on the Quebec succession agreement. The government has often taken rulings of the courts and incorporated them into legislation. It says that the matter has been articulated and argued before the courts which have given some guidelines, so it will enact legislation.

The Canada Labour Relations Board is no different. It is not partisan, at least we hope it is not. It gives us some rational guidelines to go by. These rural route mail couriers brought their case to the Canada Labour Relations Board and it decided that there was a similar content in the two kinds of jobs.

What the hon. member for Winnipeg Centre is seeking in his bill is to guarantee those 5,000 workers the same basic rights as other workers have in the country. I cannot believe that members of the Liberal Party would oppose giving collective bargaining rights to people in the country. I cannot imagine the Minister of Labour being able to look her colleagues in the face. I know the Minister of Labour supports collective bargaining. The test, I suppose, for the other members of her caucus is to see if they support the collective bargaining rights that have been fought for and are hard won by the workers in the country.

This is a private member's bill and I do not know whether the Liberals will have to vote as a block. It will be interesting to see whether they grant one of the things that makes this country so different from perhaps other countries and that is the right of workers to collectively organize.

As my colleague said, I cannot believe we would deny rural route mail couriers a right that American rural route mail couriers have. I have never thought of the United States as a bastion of labour legislation and to allow America to be a guiding light is a shameful statement for this country. For us to be in the shadows of America when it comes to granting rights to our workers is something I think the people in my riding are ashamed of.

This is a private member's bill that will give members of parliament an opportunity to do the right thing. I would ask them to do so and support the legislation.

Canada Post Corporation ActPrivate Members' Business

11:45 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Before resuming debate, the Chair has a confession to make, having made a mistake. The Chair recognized the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Works and Government Services for the second time in this debate, which of course is not allowed, and did not realize his blunder until after the parliamentary secretary had spoken. I apologize to the House.

Canada Post Corporation ActPrivate Members' Business

11:45 a.m.


Lynn Myers Liberal Waterloo—Wellington, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a great honour to rise today and speak to Bill C-238.

I listened with great interest to my colleague from the New Democratic Party on the opposite side speak about things American. My mind flipped back to the last election when the NDP found it necessary to go the United States to get some of its work done in terms of the election. I always find it interesting when members opposite, such as the hon. member, say one thing and yet the party, at least during the last election, does quite another.

Having said that, it is with great interest that I speak today about this very important bill. At the outset, I want to express my great respect for the hardworking Canadian men and women who deliver our mail.

I have a substantial background in this subject as my father was a rural route mail courier for 35 years. He did that with honour and in terms of doing the right thing for my family and for the community. I am happy to contribute to the debate to improve the working conditions of these entrepreneurs who are rural route mail couriers.

As I understand it, the member for Winnipeg Centre has received representation from the Organization of Rural Route Mail Couriers, as most of us have over the past little while. He has decided now to support them by tabling this legislation.

We know that Bill C-238 would allow contractors to be considered as employees of Canada Post. Ironically, I do not think the bill would benefit the very group it is trying to help. I agree with the hon. member for Kelowna on this point, and I think there are others in the House who would agree with us as well, that it would in fact harm them.

Rural route contractors continue to do this work, primarily because it gives them flexibility. They do not have to punch a clock and they do not have to do exactly what people tell them to do. More importantly, they can exercise their own initiatives and resourcefulness in this important area.

As the member for Winnipeg Centre knows, much of this work is of a part time nature. During the last hour of debate the member himself stated that rural route couriers do this work to earn supplementary income for their families. Repealing subsection 13(5) of the Canada Post Corporation Act, as Bill C-238 suggests, would eliminate all this. I would think this is not at all what we want to do here.

I echo the comments from the member for Kelowna who said that Bill C-238 would take away the flexibility these people enjoy today, both on the rural route courier side and on the Canada Post side. Clearly it would do away with that and do away with a way of life. I do not think that is what parliament and Canadians ultimately want.

We know that the small and medium size business sector in Canada is growing very rapidly. More and more Canadians are choosing this way of life because it offers them flexibility and opportunity. The hon. member for Winnipeg Centre said that rural route contractors do not want these freedoms and would prefer to become employees of Canada Post instead, paying union dues.

Bill C-238 would not only jeopardize the entrepreneurialism of the rural route contractors, it would also have a significant financial impact on Canada Post.

As the hon. member for Tobique—Mactaquac previously stated, changing Canada Post's contracting relationship with rural route contractors would potentially increase the operating costs of the corporation substantially with no corresponding improvement in service levels to the public. That is important to note.

I will not stand here today and pretend that I have not heard the concerns of rural route contractors. I have and I think they are important to listen to. It is important to understand and, as I said before, my father was one.

The good news is that Canada Post is listening. The corporation has taken concrete steps and measures to resolve their concerns. For example, during the first hour of debate on this bill, and again today, the common message that has been heard is that rural route contractors want a tendering process that is fair, open and transparent. Canada Post has said that this is exactly what they can expect.

At a recent appearance before the Standing Committee on Natural Resources and Government Operations, the president of Canada Post, the Hon. André Ouellet, said that the rural route contractors will be treated with respect and their work will be valued and remunerated according to the contract they have signed with Canada Post.

Mr. Ouellet also confirmed that he has had several meetings over the past few months with representatives of the contractors and the couriers. As a result, Canada Post has introduced a number of initiatives to improve its relationship with this very important partner, especially in communities in rural Canada.

These initiatives will provide rural route contractors with more information and greater support which they require to meet the needs and expectations of customers across this great country of ours.

This is clearly the best solution for rural route contractors, Canada Post and all Canadians. The rural route contractors maintain the entrepreneurial freedom that they have traditionally enjoyed over time and Canadians in turn maintain a high quality, cost efficient and effective postal service.

As a member of parliament, I am concerned that Canadians get the best service possible from their post office no matter where they live, and especially in rural Canada. I am very happy that we have now put in place a moratorium on the closing of post offices because there were some in my area that were in jeopardy.

Canada Post has now introduced a number of changes to improve postal service in rural Canada. Canada Post has implemented 96 local areas to help improve the speed and reliability of mail outside of core urban areas. Delivery standards in rural Canada are now the same as those in the urban communities. That is good news for all Canadians. As well, local staff in rural offices now have the flexibility to adopt community based hours to suit local needs.

The Canadian government and Canada Post are collaborating to make government information on programs and services more available to rural Canada and all Canadians. In this regard, 12 Service Canada access centres have been established in rural post offices across Canada. These are but a few examples of Canada Post's continuing efforts to improve the postal service for all Canadians.

Although I do not support Bill C-238, I agree with all hon. members who firmly believe that rural route mail contractors and carriers deserve to be treated fairly and with respect. I hope that Canada Post continues to listen and to act on the concerns expressed by these very important entrepreneurs.

I urge all members not to support the bill. I do not think it is in the best interest of Canadians. We should proceed on that basis knowing that we will ultimately, as the government, do the right thing for not only rural Canadians but for all Canadians no matter where they live in this great country of ours.

Canada Post Corporation ActPrivate Members' Business

11:55 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Greg Thompson Progressive Conservative Charlotte, NB

Madam Speaker, I know there is not a lot of time left to debate this private member's bill but clearly Canada Post has to take a serious look at improving conditions for rural mail couriers.

There are two different sets of rules in Canada Post: carriers who deliver mail in the city and the rural mail deliverers. Most of them are working at minimum wage to deliver mail in rural Canada. Whether it is through the mechanism that the member is talking about or something else, we have to redefine the relationship with Canada Post in terms of how it negotiates with these people who have a very important job in our society. I feel they have been mistreated for a number of years by Canada Post.

Why do people in rural Canada have to deliver mail at minimum wage, use their own automobiles and compete neighbour against neighbour on a contract which they have had for years when the city mail carriers, those in the union, do not and do not work by the same set of rules?

Something has to change. We, as parliamentarians, have to make it very clear to Canada Post that it has to negotiate with these rural couriers in good faith. Everyone of these people, no matter whether it is in my home province of New Brunswick or British Columbia, are working under the same set of rules. Basically there are no rules. Canada Post makes them up as it goes along, much to the detriment of the very people who are delivering the mail in rural Canada.

To make matters worse, they now have to take on two or three mail routes by themselves in one particular area simply to make ends meet and make it profitable. It means that many Canadians are having their mail delivered later or not at all simply because we are forcing rural mail couriers to do more with less.

It is time that we took a serious look at how Canada Post negotiates with these people, because it is patently unfair. There is no other group in society that we would allow to be treated in such a fashion, given the importance of the job they do. I commend the member for Winnipeg Centre for bringing forward this bill.

Many of us would disagree as to whether it should be a union or something else, but I think that most of us would agree that something definitely has to happen.

Alice Boudreau represents the Organization of Rural Route Mail Couriers. She has visited just about every rural member of parliament on both sides of the House. She represents drivers from all across Canada. When she appeared before us and laid out the situation which she and other drivers are faced with, we could not help but feel sorry for these people.

I am not saying this in a derogatory or demeaning way, but if we look at the rural couriers, most of them are not driving new cars. They are not living in million dollar houses. The fact is that most of them, after all of their expenses, are working at minimum wage. I have to explain the term minimum wage because obviously they bid for a contract. They bid for the right to deliver mail. They bid against other people in society. In the real world there is nothing wrong with that. Each one of us bids for a position in the House. We put our reputations and our careers on the line. At the end of the day the constituents determine whether it will be me or someone else representing them in the House of Commons. That is true for every member of parliament.

However, it is unfair for rural postal drivers because Canada Post, as I have mentioned before, does not negotiate in good faith. It will take a look at the bids that come in and then go back to the rural drivers carrying the mail and tell them that someone has submitted a lower bid. Canada Post says “We want to let you know that there is a bid which is lower than yours”. Individuals who have been carrying the mail for years are forced to underbid themselves simply to get their jobs back.

Can hon. members name one organization in the free world that negotiates in that fashion? That is what Canada Post does. That is what is driving rural mail contractors to say they need some kind of protection.

The member who presented the bill says that we will have to take a look at a union of sorts. I do not think a union is the key to solving the problem.

Canada Post Corporation ActPrivate Members' Business



Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Yes, we know it is.

Canada Post Corporation ActPrivate Members' Business


Progressive Conservative

Greg Thompson Progressive Conservative Charlotte, NB

We can disagree. I know that the member who interjected is a union representative. That is fair. There is nothing wrong with that. However, in greater society, no matter what corporation we are dealing with, not every person in the world is unionized. None of us here is unionized. Most of the companies in my home province of New Brunswick are non-unionized. It is one of the most non-unionized provinces in the country.

I would say that unions are not the key to immediate success, clarification or resolving the problem. The real key is for Canada Post to negotiate in good faith, recognizing that these people have a very important job to do. It is a job on which all of us in the House depend. We would not allow this to happen in the city of Ottawa. We would not allow it to happen in downtown Vancouver. It is basically the city mouse versus the country mouse. In this case the country mouse is losing out simply because it has no protection under the rules which have been set for it by Canada Post.

Let us re-engineer this arrangement between our rural drivers and Canada Post. All we want to see at the end of the day is fairness in the negotiations.

Canada Post Corporation ActPrivate Members' Business

12:05 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

The time provided for consideration of Private Members' Business has now expired and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.

The House resumed, from February 24, consideration of Bill C-13, an act to establish the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, to repeal the Medical Research Council Act and to make consequential amendments to other acts, as reported (with amendments) from the committee, and of the motions in Group No.1.

Canadian Institutes Of Health Research ActGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.


Francine Lalonde Bloc Mercier, QC

Madam Speaker, this bill to establish a body, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, has the virtue of bringing some very greatly desired investment into health research.

Unfortunately, after making drastic cuts in health research and transfers to the provinces, the federal government has chosen to reinject funds by creating these virtual institutes.

As we saw last week, the objective set out in the preamble for these institutes is not solely to co-ordinate research, but also to centralize and integrate it.

We know that the research centres in Quebec, which have often been supported by the Centre de recherche biomédicale, are losing their desired autonomy. There is nothing in this bill that is the least bit reassuring.

I therefore move:

That the debate be now adjourned.

Canadian Institutes Of Health Research ActGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

This motion is in order.

Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Canadian Institutes Of Health Research ActGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.

Some hon. members


Canadian Institutes Of Health Research ActGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.

Some hon. members


Canadian Institutes Of Health Research ActGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

Canadian Institutes Of Health Research ActGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.

Some hon. members


Canadian Institutes Of Health Research ActGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

All those opposed will please say nay.

Canadian Institutes Of Health Research ActGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.

Some hon. members


Canadian Institutes Of Health Research ActGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

In my opinion the nays have it.

And more than five members having risen:

Canadian Institutes Of Health Research ActGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

Call in the members.

(The House divided on the motion, which was negatived on the following division:)