This week, I changed much of the tech behind this site. If you see anything that looks like a bug, please let me know!

House of Commons Hansard #12 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was post.

Topics

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services LegislationGovernment Orders

10:40 a.m.

Conservative

Kellie Leitch Conservative Simcoe—Grey, ON

Madam Speaker, we are all disappointed that the parties have been unable to reach an agreement of their own, despite months of negotiation. Nothing in this proposed legislation precludes the employer and the union from entering into a new collective agreement before the legislation is passed. I strongly encourage the parties to return to the bargaining table and send those outstanding issues that they deem appropriate to voluntary arbitration in order to resolve this dispute now.

This is about Canadians. This is about ensuring Canadian businesses, charities and small businesses can get back to work.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services LegislationGovernment Orders

10:40 a.m.

Conservative

Dan Albas Conservative Okanagan—Coquihalla, BC

Madam Speaker, some of the residents of my riding would like to know and understand our role. I would like to ask the parliamentary secretary what role Labour Canada has played throughout the negotiations of a new collective agreement between the parties?

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services LegislationGovernment Orders

10:40 a.m.

Conservative

Kellie Leitch Conservative Simcoe—Grey, ON

Madam Speaker, with respect to the back-to-work legislation, Labour Canada has worked diligently, as has our minister.

Since January 31, Minister Raitt has supported the parties in their negotiations by appointing a conciliation officer and a mediator. Over the past five months, proposals and counter-proposals were exchanged. However, the parties are still far apart and no agreement has been achieved.

While a negotiated settlement is always preferred, the consequences of work stoppage extend far beyond the parties themselves and the economic impact of the dispute can no longer be tolerated. Canada has weathered a global economic crisis and it is the federal government's responsibility to intervene in these unique circumstances.

Given the lack of progress of these two parties, Minister Raitt tabled our back-to-work legislation which puts in a process to help ensure that this dispute is determined and that the dispute comes to an end so Canadians can get back to work.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services LegislationGovernment Orders

10:40 a.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

I would just remind all hon. members that sitting members' names cannot be mentioned in the House. A very brief question, the hon. member for Western Arctic.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services LegislationGovernment Orders

10:40 a.m.

NDP

Dennis Bevington NDP Western Arctic, NT

Madam Speaker, I rise to question the parliamentary secretary on her seemingly inconsistent approach to this.

She says the government has taken the recent public sector wage increases into account when it put this legislation together, yet at the same time she does not recognize Canada Post as a crown corporation.

Why would the parliamentary secretary not put forward to that crown corporation, the requirement that it quits this lockout, which has really been the problem in this whole dispute? That has stopped the postal service from working at all.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services LegislationGovernment Orders

10:40 a.m.

Conservative

Kellie Leitch Conservative Simcoe—Grey, ON

Madam Speaker, our government has been working with both parties. We have viewed it as the responsibility of both parties to come to an agreement that they find appropriate and acceptable.

We are hopeful that they will continue at the bargaining table and come to a resolution of their issue together. That is what is best for the parties and what is best for Canadians.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services LegislationGovernment Orders

10:40 a.m.

NDP

Jinny Sims NDP Newton—North Delta, BC

Madam Speaker, why is the government not allowing the two parties to negotiate? Why does it not take away the gun, that is this legislation, which is being held to their heads?

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services LegislationGovernment Orders

10:40 a.m.

Conservative

Kellie Leitch Conservative Simcoe—Grey, ON

Madam Speaker, as I mentioned before, these two parties have both been at the table with the help of a conciliation officer as well as a mediator for numerous months.

This is about making sure Canadians can get back to work. Our economy is fragile. We need to move forward so that small businesses, charities, and those individuals who need to receive their benefits, eyewear and drugs, in the far north, actually receive those things.

We need to get them back to work.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services LegislationGovernment Orders

10:45 a.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to participate in this debate, but under the circumstances, I am certainly not happy that it is taking place, given the current crisis.

I listened to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development. I asked her why the government's bill sets out a 1.75% salary increase, which is less than Canada Post's offer of 1.9%. Now she is inviting the parties to return to the bargaining table to reach a collective agreement; otherwise, the government will pass legislation. What planet is she living on? Canada Post is saying to itself that if there is no settlement, it will not need to grant a 1.9% salary increase because the government will legislate that it be set at 1.7%. Is that bargaining? In reality, the government has taken away any possibility of bargaining. With its proposed bill, it is interfering directly with negotiations instead of finding a bargaining mechanism.

I understand that people need Canada Post's services and that this is hurting small and medium-sized businesses. I am aware of that and I have been receiving calls about it. But we need to understand what has happened here. Negotiations were under way, but the parliamentary secretary felt that they were taking too long. But sometimes that is what is needed in order for a settlement to be reached. That is how bargaining works. When the two parties come to an agreement, labour relations are better than if the government forces things by passing legislation. That is not the government's role. Let us be clear: many people today do not believe that unions should exist. I invite those people to go to countries where there are no unions, where people are paid minimum wage, which is not the same as it is in Canada. It is a form of slavery. Is that what the government wants?

This bill to force a return to work demonstrates a lack of respect for working men and women who were able to form a union under a statute of Canada. Unionization is a right. Today, the Conservative government is taking away that right. It did the same thing last week with Air Canada after only one day of strike action. The government used the economic recovery as an excuse, saying that it had received a strong mandate from Canadians to do whatever it wants.

Yes, the Conservatives received a majority mandate here in the House of Commons, but they did not in the rest of the country. Only 40% of Canadians said that they wanted to be governed by the Conservatives. I believe it may have even been 39.9% or 39.8%. That is 39% or 40% of 61% of voters. That is not even 100% of voters; it is a mere 40%. Before unions existed, people took to the streets to improve their situation. Workers had to take to the streets. There was fighting in the streets, blood was spilled and people lost their lives to improve their families' situation and to have the right to free bargaining.

So what happened? The government said that this must stop, that it was going to pass laws allowing workers to form unions and negotiate collective agreements. The government said that it was going to give workers the legal right to call a strike, which prevented all the bloodshed in the streets. That is what happened.

Do we want to go back to the way things were? Is that what the Conservative government wants? Canada Post is not going bankrupt. Canada Post made $281 million in profit. Canada Post's most recent financial report is two months overdue. I would like to see the latest numbers. I would like Canada Post to give them to us. Perhaps Canada Post made more than $281 million in profit.

At a certain point, Canada Post employees decided to hold rotating strikes. Employees in Montreal went on strike for one day and those in Toronto, Vancouver, Bathurst and Halifax, for example, each also took their turn at conducting a one-day strike.

Canada Post also decided to deliver the mail only three days a week. The Minister of Labour stated publicly on the news yesterday that she did not receive any comments from Canadians while the employees were working only three days a week or when they were on a rotating strike. She received maybe 30 emails on this subject and that was it. There was no problem.

What did the government want? The employees did not want to stage a general strike, so Canada Post, a crown corporation, responded with a lockout. Once the lockout was imposed, the government would decide to force the employees back to work and to take away their benefits. The government is proving this right now, with this bill.

What did Canada Post employees and the Canadian Union of Postal Workers say? They told the government and Canada Post to reinstate and respect their old collective agreement. They asked for their health benefits to be reinstated and said they would go back to the bargaining table without any rotating strikes. They asked that all workers be called back to work. Canada Post refused. I personally went to see the Minister of Labour to ask her why the crown corporation was not told to do that alone, that is, to go back to the bargaining table to try to resolve the conflict between the two parties and to reach a collective agreement.

The government refused to tell Canada Post, a crown corporation, to go back to the bargaining table and respect the collective agreement. Was it because the government does not want to interfere with a crown corporation? Yet at the same time, it is introducing a bill that is not good for workers.

What does this mean for other non-unionized workers who do not support what is happening here? Let us think about that. If Canada had no unions, if they all disappeared tomorrow, we can only imagine the abuses that would take place. Has anyone thought about that? The workers did not want to take away people's right to receive mail, since letter carriers were willing to go back to work if Canada Post would respect their old collective agreement.

I would remind the House that an agreement could have been reached to allow Canadians and our SMEs to start getting their mail again.

I remember when I worked as a miner in the Brunswick mine in 1976. In an 18-month period, six people were killed underground. I remember what we were able to do with the union: change the country's laws to give the families of the miners who got up and went to work in the morning the right to see their family members come home in the evening and to ensure better working conditions in order to prevent miners from getting killed.

Consider what happened at the Westray mine in Nova Scotia, when 26 miners were killed in the mine. The bodies of 11 of those miners are still in that mine today. The company violated every health and safety law. Even when the mine closed, the employees joined the steelworkers' union. They fought by bringing bills here to the House of Commons because under the law, the government could not even prosecute company presidents who were not in Nova Scotia for failing to meet health and safety requirements. We called it the Westray bill, to ensure that these people could be brought to justice. If the union had not fought for the health and safety of the miners, we would not have this legislation that every worker in Canada benefits from today.

I know the people of this country need their mail. We understand that. Postal workers understand that. They are professionals.

We all see people from Canada Post delivering our mail. These people are professionals. They work hard. We just need to look at the conditions they work in. On a hot day during the summer, they are outside with their backpacks delivering our mail. Even during a storm in the wintertime these people bring our mail to our door. We have to respect these men and women who work hard for us. They deserve a pension plan. The new generation deserves to have the same thing our parents and their parents fought for.

The government should not have introduced a bill to take away the workers' rights, their pension plans or their health benefits. The government has no business doing that or getting involved in the way it has.

Canada Post was ready to give a 1.9% increase to its workers, but in Bill C-6 the Conservative government is bringing that down to 1.75%. The government is telling postal workers that if they do not want that increase, they should get back to the table and negotiate a contract. And why does the government expect Canada Post to get back to the negotiating table and negotiate a contract when it will get a better one forced by the Conservative government of this country?

I do not know what is wrong with the Conservative government. Why does it hate the workers? Why is it attacking the workers through the bill? Why is it saying that a postal workers' agreement should be compared with those in other industries? I do not know if I sleep on a different planet, but I thought that Canada Post was the only industry in our country bringing Canadians their mail. Who is Canada Post going to be compared to? The United States? Mexico? Is it going to be compared to Brazil? What comparison will the arbitrator make?

If the government believes in workers, if it respects workers, then why is there not even one little paragraph in the bill taking the side of the workers? There is not one paragraph in the bill where the government sides with the workers.

Other workers might be next. Today it is Canada Post, tomorrow it will be somebody else, and it could be those in the private sector too. I say this because the government became involved last week with Air Canada in the same way. Other workers can sit back and wait, because this will happen to them. One day people will say enough is enough.

The government wants to save money for what? It gives big tax breaks to big corporations. We just need to look, for example, at Air Canada. The president and CEO of Air Canada paid himself $7 million and will leave with a pension of $350,000. That is no problem for him. The banks made profits of $20 billion and paid $11 billion in bonuses, yet the Conservatives have given them a break. The Conservatives are running out of money to give their big friends.

I respect the workers. The one thing the government should do is to get out of the negotiations. The government should provide a mechanism for the negotiations and tell the parties to get back to the negotiations, respect the old collective agreement and get to a contract. However, the government does not seem to believe in that. It will negotiate a contract and make sure that the parties do not negotiate one, and it will use the economic recovery as the reason and “take care“ of the workers for Canada Post.

Why? It is because the Conservatives are the friends of big business, not of the working men and women who get up in the morning and build this country. These men and women have the right to receive a pension and a decent living. They have that right. They earned their pension plans. They earned those benefits.

The Conservative government should be ashamed of itself. Yes, it got support. Yes, it is a majority government.

However, did the Conservatives ever tell all workers what they would do with them if they ever got elected? Did we see in their platform their intention to legislate people to work with a lesser collective agreement than their employer would give them? Did they say that? No, according to the union. It is not honest for the Conservatives to do that.

Just give the people free bargaining and the mechanism to do it. That is the way to go.

The government's behaviour is shameful. It is setting a precedent for which everyone will pay dearly. I cannot say enough that I do not understand why the Conservative government hates workers so much or why it is slapping them with a bill like this. I hope that in the coming days, the government will receive motions in amendment, will recognize what the workers do and will be able to find solutions.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services LegislationGovernment Orders

11 a.m.

Simcoe—Grey Ontario

Conservative

Kellie Leitch ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and to the Minister of Labour

Madam Speaker, let us be clear. This is about ensuring that all Canadians can receive essential services, like drugs and eyewear and services in the north, and so that businesses can still function and charities can still receive funds and donations.

What is the member's response to the CNIB and, in particular, to the little girl who is not receiving her eyeglasses through the mail and who therefore cannot learn or play? What would he say to that six-year-old child about not receiving her eyeglasses so she can go to school and play in the playground like she wants to?

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services LegislationGovernment Orders

11:05 a.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Madam Speaker, I would tell this little six-year-old girl that the Conservative government has refused to tell Canada Post to get back to the table with its collective agreement and negotiate in good faith. I would tell the little girl that when she gets older, I hope it is not a Conservative government in power that would hit on her the way they are doing today. I would tell that little girl that if she wants to buy glasses, I hope she has a decent job with good pay that the Conservative Party will not take away from her. I would make sure that the little girl never voted for the Conservative Party her whole life.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services LegislationGovernment Orders

11:05 a.m.

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Liberal Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Madam Speaker, I agree with many of the points that my colleague from Acadie—Bathurst made. I just want to elaborate on a couple in particular.

Certainly the salary parameters in this legislation and the lesser offer by the government than the one by Canada Post just blows everyone's mind. The final offer of arbitration is something that no one wanted.

However, the point that is very concerning, and I want to hear my colleague's comments on this one in particular, is the guiding principle of the legislation, which would be just one further handcuff on the arbitrator. It states:

In making the selection of a final offer, the arbitrator is to be guided by the need for terms and conditions of employment that are consistent with those in comparable postal industries—

There are no other comparable postal industries than Canada Post. Canada Post serves this entire nation, rural and remote. If this legislation is referring to FedEx or UPS, or any of those services, those companies will come in and cherry-pick the most profitable services and let the rest of the country fend for itself.

What frightens me about this piece of legislation is that the government is pointing toward privatization of a national service.

I would like to hear the member's comments on this.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services LegislationGovernment Orders

11:05 a.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Madam Speaker, exactly. That is what the government is doing.

What the government has to remember is that if it goes with privatization of Canada Post and goes with UPS or FedEx or any of those companies, we already know that those companies will not go to rural areas. They do not want to bring little letters to six-year-old girls who want to get their glasses in the mail. Those companies do not want to go there because they will not make money. The danger with the privatization of Canada Post is exactly that. The danger is that those other companies will want to have mail routes to Montreal, Toronto, Calgary, Vancouver and Halifax. However, the little regions can forget about it.

We have had a taste of that when Canada Post said it would only deliver mail three days a week. Is this the new era? Is this the message it wants to get through in advance?

It was the parliamentary secretary for human resources who talked about making comparisons with other countries.

What happens if the arbitrator makes comparisons with another country that pays better wages than Canada? What happens if they have a better pension plan than Canada does? What happens if the arbitrator makes comparisons with five countries that pay better than Canada? Will the government accept the decision of the arbitrator?

I do not believe so, not with a bill that says that if the parties do not come to an agreement, the workers will get paid less than what Canada Post was ready to pay. That is the danger with the government getting involved in negotiations when it should not. The government should be there to put in place a mechanism to get people to negotiate, and not dictate what happens.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services LegislationGovernment Orders

11:05 a.m.

NDP

Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Madam Speaker, this is a very important debate today. I have been sitting in the House listening very carefully.

I find it really disturbing that the Liberal members at the end of the House are not exactly heckling but are not listening at all to this debate. They are talking loudly, and so I would suggest that if they do not want to hear the debate, they should actually leave the room so those of us who want to hear the debate can actually do that.

I am not making it a point of order. I am just making a comment.

I really appreciate what the member for Acadie—Bathurst has said today, because I think he has really struck at the core of the problem with this legislation. The thing that I find most disturbing is that it was Canada Post that locked out its workers. The union actually wants to negotiate, but it has been locked out by the employer.

I find it very curious that the government, instead of talking to Canada Post and insisting that it goes back and negotiates, has done nothing in terms of the lockout and now, as the member has said, has brought forward legislation that does not include a single thing that will actually assist the workers in any way.

I remember our debating back to work legislation for Canada Post in 1997, after both of us were elected to this House, when it was a Liberal government that brought in legislation. I am sure the member will remember.

I would like to ask the member to comment on the lockout, what that has meant and why the government has not taken action in regard to the lockout.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services LegislationGovernment Orders

11:10 a.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Madam Speaker, through the law, members of a bargaining unit have the right to go on strike. Through the law, employers have the right to lock out their employees.

We all understand that. However, in this case, the government is saying that it wants people back to work and the union is saying to the government that it should tell Canada Post, a crown corporation, to just respect the old collective agreement and then the union will then be back at the table. Canada Post decided to lock out its employees, yet the government is neither noting this nor introducing a bill to punish Canada Post. Instead, the government is punishing the workers by offering them a wage increase of 1.7% instead of the 1.9% Canada Post offered them.

Do we not believe the government was behind Canada Post not negotiating? Do we not think Canada Post was talking to the government? It was all fixed, as far as I am concerned. If not, why is the government taking Canada Post's side and going further?

This will not result in negotiation. I cannot see in any way the government bringing negotiations. How could the parties negotiate a collective agreement when the umpire, in its back pocket, has a bill coming to the House of Commons with less than what Canada Post proposed?

That is why I said, my dear colleagues—

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services LegislationGovernment Orders

11:10 a.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

Order, please. Many people are rising and I would like to give them the opportunity.

For a last question, the hon. member for Fort McMurray—Athabasca.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services LegislationGovernment Orders

11:10 a.m.

Conservative

Brian Jean Conservative Fort McMurray—Athabasca, AB

Madam Speaker. I remember when remailers had 10,000 jobs, in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal and they were on the hook. The NDP did not support those workers.

I come from a constituency that has the largest number of union members per capita of any city in the country. They tell me clearly that they want Canada Post to get back to work. They need their mail because some workers get their cheques by mail, just like the seniors who get their cheques by mail, which they cannot get right now because Canada Post on strike.

NDP members voted against the economic action plan, the biggest investment ever by any government in Canada's history in real dollar terms. How can they say today that workers do not use roads, or do not use bridges or do not use all those investments, the green infrastructure that went into the economic action plan? Why do they now stand and say that? Is the hon. member red faced because he is doing too much sucking and blowing? That is what it causes, a red face. It is not fair that today he says he stands up for workers.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services LegislationGovernment Orders

11:10 a.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Madam Speaker, if the member has integrity, he should apologize. I do not choose that my blood gets right to the brain and gets me to do my job. I will not apologize for that. He should apologize. This is wrong.

Is that what he feels about workers and people who do their jobs? He will never take away my right to speak in the House. I cannot control my blood. I cannot control my heart, and my heart is for the working men and women and all those in small businesses who get up in the morning and do a hard day's work. We are here to get better benefits for them, not like the Conservative government that wants to take benefits away.

In the member's own riding in Alberta, they bring in foreign workers to do cheap labour and Canadians do not even have a job. How many times have I talked to him about it? He never got back to me. He keeps saying that he is defending the workers. The Conservatives should give our workers work as well instead of bringing cheap labour—

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services LegislationGovernment Orders

11:15 a.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

Order, please. Resuming debate, the hon. member for Toronto Centre.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services LegislationGovernment Orders

11:15 a.m.

Liberal

Bob Rae Liberal Toronto Centre, ON

Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak in the debate following the comments from the member for Simcoe—Grey, who we all welcome to the House, and, as well, my colleague and friend from Acadie—Bathurst, who gave a particularly eloquent and forceful address to the House this morning.

In looking at the legislation and hearing the debate, it is hard to avoid the sense that we are caught in this almost absurd situation where the government's narrative and description of itself is that it alone stands between the Canadian people and chaos. It says that if it were not for the bill, the Canadian economy would be brought instantly to its knees, the fragile economic recovery, which is the phrase the Conservatives use over and over again, would be smashed on the floor to smithereens. It says that this legislation, and this legislation alone, which protects pensioners, workers, charities and all those institutions so important to the country, would provide this protection.

That is the morality play on one side. In response, the Conservatives brought in back to work legislation, but it is back to work legislation with a real difference.

For my friends in the House, and particularly my friends in the New Democratic Party, I do not think there is a government, either federally or provincially of whatever political stripe, whether it is of any political stripe, that has not, at one point or another, had to bring in back to work legislation in order to protect the public interest. I have not heard members of the NDP in opposition ever say that they would consider doing such a thing, but I can assure them that at the provincial level, the NDP governments of Saskatchewan, Manitoba and British Columbia have had to bring in back to work legislation from time to time.

That is not the cardinal sin we are talking about here. No government in the country can ignore the public interest, which is impossible to ignore. Any party that trumpets itself as wanting or aspiring to be a government would recognize that it is not back to work legislation in and of itself that is the cardinal sin. It is how it is done.

This is where the government has allowed its ideology to take hold, to take over and to create legislation that is an affront to the notion of a fair and equal treatment of people in a back to work situation. Let us remember the very basics. The right to organize, to bargain collectively and to withdraw labour is a right that is now, thanks to the Supreme Court of Canada, is a constitutionally protected right in our country. It is recognized as fundamental to the notion of living in a democratic society.

The right to bargain collectively, to create a union and to be able to legally strike is a constitutional right that must be recognized. Yet, because of a public interest greater than this right, or because of a public emergency, the government may decide that it has the right to do what it is doing now. However, if the government exercises this right, it has a responsibility to protect the public interest. As Liberals, we recognize that this right exists in each democratic government. But this right must be exercised intelligently and in a way that respects the rights of individuals and communities.

If the government takes away the right to collective bargaining, it has to be careful how it does it. It has to recognize that it is interfering in an important constitutional right and it cannot be done just any old way.

My colleagues opposite are currently rapt in attention to every word I am saying, though sometimes it is hard to tell. I can see the members shaking their heads from time to time. However, when this right is exercised, it has to be exercised with care.

In this case, it has not been exercised with care, although we on this side recognize that the legislation will be and is popular with a public that is frustrated with a work stoppage and very much wants the service to be resumed. People want their postal service. We understand that. Everybody understands that. We understand there is an inconvenience to the public and not only an inconvenience, as the parliamentary secretary has rightly pointed out, but people are losing money.

Canada Post is losing money to the tune of about $25 million a day. The workers are losing money because they are not being paid and they are not getting their benefits. We also know many businesses across the country, small and large, charities and individuals, are losing money because of this lock-out. There is no question this is taking place.

However, when a government exercises its duty to protect the public interest, it has to do it in a way that is careful and thoughtful because it is taking away an existing right, even if it is popular. We all know that, from time to time, taking away people's rights can be temporarily and in the short term popular. I am perfectly well aware that when we go outside in a scrum, talk to the media and say that we are not in favour of the legislation, many Canadians will shake their heads and ask why not, that it is a good thing, that people will be getting back to work.

It is not a good thing for some very precise reasons. The precise reasons are to be found in clauses 11, 13 and 15 of the legislation. I ask members to turn clause 11 of the legislation and follow along. My colleague from Cape Breton has already talked about this. It is the way in which the discretion of the arbitrator has been entirely tied and fettered by what the government has done. When the right to strike is taken away, usually an arbitrator is appointed whose job is to provide as fair a conclusion as might be reached by an effective collective agreement, if a collective agreement could be reached.

However, in this instance, the government has said that it will appoint an arbitrator, but the arbitrator has to follow all the criteria with respect to comparable postal industries, whatever they might be. There is only one postal industry in Canada of which I am aware. There is a variety of logistics companies and there is a variety of competitors for the post office, but they operate under very different conditions as has already been stated. They have a very different market. They are not providing a service to the general public, which includes everyone, including services that have a great deal of difficulty making money. It goes on to say that the arbitrator will:

—provide the necessary degree of flexibility to ensure the short- and long-term economic viability and competitiveness of the Canada Post Corporation, maintain the health and safety of its workers and ensure the sustainability of its pension plan, taking into account

(a) that the solvency ratio [which cannot be changed]...; and

(b) that the Canada Post Corporation must, without recourse to undue increases in postal rates, operate efficiently, improve productivity and meet acceptable standards of service.

Therefore, the arbitrator is really being asked to do a job, but he or she is being asked to do a job in a very particular way. The arbitrator is also being asked to do a job, not in finding a solution based on judgment alone but, saying that he or she wants the final best offer from either side. Basically we are asking the union to compete with the employer to see who can bid down these rates as low as possible and who can come up with the cheapest possible plan in order to get to the end.

Then section 13 says that we can bargain and in the meantime we can bargain on salaries.

However, subsection 13(3) says that if a salary calculated in accordance or determined under a new collective agreement is not identical to the result of the increases referred to in section 15, to which I will come in a moment, the new collective agreement is deemed to provide for the salary being increased as provided for in that section.

In ordinary layman's terms, what that means is we cannot bargain money. Therefore, we cannot bargain pensions because we cannot affect the solvency ratio in any way, shape or form. We cannot bargain practically anything else because we might be seen to be affecting the overall competitiveness and productivity of Canada Post. We cannot bargain salaries because the salaries will be dictated by this law.

This is not an arbitration process as would be defined by any court or any labour board in the country. This is not an arbitration that is a substitute for collective bargaining and for the resolution of a dispute, by the exercise of raw, economic power, which is the way in which collective bargaining works in our marketplace.

As has already been pointed out by other speakers, section 15 provides for very precise numbers on how much the workers will be allowed to earn over the next three years, backdated to January 31, 2011.

So what does this mean? The arbitration system created by this bill is in no way equivalent to the bargaining process. It is clear in all Supreme Court of Canada decisions that, if the government takes away collective rights or bargaining rights, it must provide an alternative that guarantees that arbitration will be equivalent to bargaining, in terms of the process or maybe even the result.

The law of the Supreme Court is very clear on taking away the right to strike for whatever reason.

For example, in most provinces there is a right to strike that is taken away for police officers. There is a right to strike that is taken away from people who work in fire departments and emergency services. In some provinces, there is a right to strike that is taken away with respect to hospital workers. These are essential services and there are all kinds of laws put in place to make sure that services continue for the public when they are being disrupted.

In some situations governments would not allow a strike. However, in those circumstances governments have a legal obligation to provide a process that is equal to the collective bargaining process. It must be equal in process and in its potential result. This is not just my opinion, as valuable as I sometimes think that is, it is the constitutional law of this country.

I say to the government opposite that this law is not constitutional. Now, we would only find that out in two or three years. However, the government cannot interfere in collective bargaining to this extent and in this way and not provide an alternative that is at least equal in process and result. That has not been done in this legislation.

I think the government understands this and is engaging us in an act of political theatre knowing full well that there are some in the House who will simply play the game in response. They would say ideologically that they are opposed to any interference in the collective bargaining process. They will stand up and go on filibustering to defend the rights of workers in any and all situations pretending that there is no public interest in the provision of the service when in fact we all know that there is. Perhaps the official opposition will take the bait which is being laid before them by the government.

I have listened to the speeches so far and to the commentary that one hears in the lobby about how this would be filibustered until the cows come home to delay the legislation for all time. The members may throw themselves in front of the Mace and do everything possible to delay the passage of the legislation. I would say the bait has been laid and the bait has been taken. It is too bad for Canada that we do not have a pragmatic, practical approach to the resolution of the dispute which is there to be found.

In our party we come at this without any ideological baggage or wanting to prove to Canadians that we alone are standing between them and utter, complete chaos. We do not have any pretensions to that. We believe in collective bargaining. We believe it is an important right. We also understand that it is not an absolute right. There are times and circumstances when the exercise of it, either by an employer or a trade union, can cause damage and harm to the public. In those circumstances there is an obligation to intervene.

In this particular situation it is rather peculiar. The employer, Canada Post, is very profitable, and by the way, it is owned by the government. The government pretends, “Canada Post, who is that?” Well, the government owns and controls it.

I would be astonished if the management of Canada Post did not discuss with the government of the day what its plans were with respect to collective bargaining. It knows that if it does not go well the House would be involved coming back. No management of Canada Post would just lock people out and wait to see what happens. I do not think that is the way the world works and certainly not governments with which I have been familiar. People tend to talk through some of the consequences when crown corporations are involved and engaged.

What would a possible solution to this situation look like?

First, the government could say to the employer, the company it owns, that it does not think a lockout is a very good idea. Also, the company could say to the union that when it goes back there should be no nonsense about rotating strikes.

Before members of the New Democratic Party start nodding too loudly, they might want to listen to what I am going to say.

The government would have to say that there will be no more nonsense about rotating strikes and disrupting service, that it will give the parties time to reach a collective agreement and if they do not, it will then talk about mediation and arbitration, which will not look like this, but it is going to protect the public interest. If after a period of time, the parties are not able to reach an agreement, they will be told to reach an agreement on what they can and then refer the other issues to arbitration.

That is what happened in the Air Canada situation last week.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services LegislationGovernment Orders

11:30 a.m.

An hon. member

Sensible.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services LegislationGovernment Orders

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

Bob Rae Liberal Toronto Centre, ON

That is a perfectly sensible solution. It is not ideal, it does not assert the ideological interests of anyone over anyone else.

To my colleague from Acadie—Bathurst, for whom I have a great deal of respect and, dare I say it, even affection, when he talks about the rights of the workers I say yes, but let us not forget we have to have an efficient Canada Post. We have to have a profitable Canada Post. We have to have an employer that is solvent. It is a good idea to have those things.

We cannot just say we are here for the interests of the workers and we do not give a darn about the state of the employer or the company. If we are going to be fair and reasonable about things, we have to say that we want to protect the rights of the workers and we also want to have an effective and efficient organization that continues to serve the public and does so in an affordable way. Those are all legitimate objectives.

I know my colleagues in the New Democratic Party share those objectives. I just wish that once in a while they would state them more explicitly so people would understand that not every economic movement in the country is a kind of morality play where there are good guys wearing white hats and bad guys wearing black hats. This is not how the world works.

The post office needs to do well and the workers need to do well. When they cannot reach a solution and it disrupts services to the public, the government has to step in, but not like this. This is not the way to step in. This is a way of stepping in that ensures more ill-feeling and potential conflict as time goes on.

There is a wiser solution to the one that has been proposed by the government. I do not know whether a government that is in this state of triumphal mentality is going to be interested in discussing amendments, changes or ways of improving the legislation, I have no idea. However, I would say to members of the House and members of the public who are listening that there is a better way and we in the Liberal Party look forward to pursuing it.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services LegislationGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.

Conservative

Brian Jean Conservative Fort McMurray—Athabasca, AB

Madam Speaker, I recognize that in 1997 or thereabouts the previous Liberal government actually—

I find it difficult to ask my question because of the Liberals across the way. As the leader of the Liberal Party said, there is some noise in different places and it is very difficult to think when it takes place.

In 1997, the previous Liberal government did something similar in comparable circumstances with Canada Post. I notice today that the leader of the Liberal Party is taking a different position. Of course, he was previously an NDP leader and I am wondering if this is the preliminary notice of a joint venture between the NDP and the Liberals in all future governing matters and positions on legislation or, indeed, if this is the new policy of the Liberal Party and the NDP leader.

I would like him to clarify that for us to find out where he is going long-term since it seems to be such a divergent path from a responsible governing party as the Liberal government used to be.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services LegislationGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.

Liberal

Bob Rae Liberal Toronto Centre, ON

Madam Speaker, I wonder if my friend was actually listening to what I was saying. I am astonished.

What I said was there are many circumstances in which back-to-work legislation may well be justified. I have said there are governments across the country that have brought it in. It is not unique to the current government. It is not a uniquely ideological step. What the government has done with this legislation in this way has turned it into an ideological step. That is the problem we in the Liberal Party have with it.

The circumstance in 1997, and one can check it historically, was that there had been a strike rather than a lockout that had gone on for two or two and a half weeks. There have been many times in the postal service and many other areas, rail strikes and others, where the federal government has felt a need to intervene. I would be supportive of that in principle as long as what is being substituted for the right to strike is fair and reasonable. What I am saying, and perhaps the member was not listening to what I was saying, was that what the government has put in this is not fair and reasonable.

I hope the member opposite will listen to the amendments as well as to the arguments. He is entitled to make the jokes and comments he likes. I am only going to be here for a short time, so where I lead this group I have no idea, but what I do know is that it is going to be based on some principles and I do not see any worthwhile principles in this bill.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services LegislationGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.

NDP

Alex Atamanenko NDP British Columbia Southern Interior, BC

Madam Speaker, I would just like to make a comment that I have been following the file of Canada Post and its effect on our rural communities for quite a while now. I have seen some pretty devastating policies that cut back part-time work and that transferred people arbitrarily.

I have sort of come to the conclusion that Canada Post is functioning as a ruthless corporation, certainly in regard to rural B.C. I would like the hon. member to comment.

The other fact I learned is that Canada Post is mandated to make a profit, but not only to make a profit but to give part of this profit back to the federal government. Other industrialized nations actually subsidize their national postal service.

I would like to hear the hon. member's comments on what seems to be a ludicrous idea, that we have a corporation here that is mandated to make a profit, not only to make ends meet but to give part of this money back to the federal government, and institutes policies on the backs of the workers.

There is something that is not quite logical here. I would just like to hear the hon. members comments on this.