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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

11:35 a.m.

Liberal

Bob Rae Liberal Toronto Centre, ON

Madam Speaker, it is when I hear questions like that, that I realize why I am over here.

I say to the hon. member with the greatest of respect that profit is not a nasty word. If Ontario Hydro or B.C. Hydro is going to operate, we do not want every crown corporation or every operation of government to be operating at a loss. That is not a great idea. That creates huge problems for the government, when that happens.

The member may be advocating massive public subsidies for Canada Post as the answer to the problem, so that Canada Post would be supported by taxpayers generally.

I think the model is having a postal corporation that works effectively and efficiently, that makes changes. I would not describe Canada Post as ruthless. Canada Post is facing a world of competition, a world with many private companies competing for business. It has customers that are saying that if it does not provide them with a reliable service, they are going to take their business somewhere else. Having that cycle is not in the interests of postal workers and it is not in the interests of the Canadian public.

So the notion, somehow, that Canada Post has joined the ranks of the ruthless corporations and that Canada Post is doing something evil, called making a profit, really confirms my view that for all that may or may not have happened on the weekend, moving into the future does not seem to have been one of the events that took place.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services LegislationGovernment Orders

11:40 a.m.

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Liberal Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the comments put forward in the member's intervention.

For all of those watching today, they saw that it was practical and pragmatic in the assessment of the overall current situation, but also in how we should be approaching labour relations in this country.

I believe roughly 35 pieces of back-to-work legislation have been passed since roundabout 1950. Over 60 years, that is about how many have been passed. The government has come forward with and tabled two pieces of back-to-work legislation in less than two weeks.

My question to my colleague is, does he see this as the template? We know that a number of contracts are coming due this summer. Is this what organized labour can expect? Or, does the member think the government is simply trying to break some kind of a record here, wowing the world with how fast it can pass back-to-work legislation? Is there a Guinness book of records entry that the government is trying to pass?

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services LegislationGovernment Orders

11:40 a.m.

Liberal

Bob Rae Liberal Toronto Centre, ON

Madam Speaker, I want to assure the House that the good thing about this caucus is that I have no idea what questions my caucus colleagues are going to be asking, so I appreciate the chance to respond. This is quite an unscripted organization.

In response to the member, this legislation serves two purposes, like many things in politics.

We have gone through over the last week political theatre of a classic kind. This is a government which is, as I have said, playing out its part in a morality play. It is trying to demonstrate what would have happened if the Air Canada dispute continued, which had gone on for a full total of 24 hours, which had no disruption to service, which had no disruption to the flying public, and which had no threat to anybody or anything.

Yet, the Minister of Finance was giving a scrum, nodding very seriously, saying this is very ominous for the fragile economic recovery. The parliamentary secretary stood in her place today and said, and I was waiting for the words, we need to do this in order to stop the fragile economic recovery. So there is a theatre going on here.

However, there is also something very serious. It is taking away the rights of all Canadians, not just the postal workers. This says that the government places zero value in the constitutional rights that have been put forward by the Supreme Court of Canada. That is what the government is saying.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services LegislationGovernment Orders

11:40 a.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Madam Speaker, my question is for the hon. member for Toronto Centre. In grappling with this, and I have some background, as members might know, in labour law, it seems that the employer invoked a lockout at a very critical moment. It is the employer and not the union that has created the problems with the delivery of mail. The revolving strikes were not impeding that.

I wonder if there is such a thing one could conceive, and the hon. member for Toronto Centre might have an idea, and that is for back-to-work legislation for management to do its job.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services LegislationGovernment Orders

11:40 a.m.

Liberal

Bob Rae Liberal Toronto Centre, ON

Madam Speaker, my colleague from Saanich—Gulf Islands is quite right when she points out, as I did in my remarks, and others, that this is not a strike. This is a lockout; a lockout which has kept the workers from doing the work which they themselves want to do.

However, what I have also said is, and I think it is important to stress this, that if one were to simply say, as the union has suggested, “Let's just go back to work and bargain”, which sounds very nice and we all would like to see that happen, there does have to be some quid pro quo for that. We do have to say to the union, “Okay, go back to work, but no more flying strikes, no more rotating strikes, no more disruptions of service”. That poses a consistent threat to the ability of the company to attract business. There are many customers that have now left Canada Post and will not come back if their service cannot be guaranteed. They will simply take their business elsewhere. This is the commercial reality in which Canada Post is operating. While it is a crown corporation, no crown corporation operates, today, outside the framework of commercial reality.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services LegislationGovernment Orders

11:45 a.m.

Conservative

Ed Komarnicki Conservative Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Madam Speaker, I rise in the House today in support of Bill C-6, An Act to provide for the resumption and continuation of postal services. I, too, have heard many of the comments, including some of the entertaining, at times, logical comments made by the member for Toronto Centre. However, this is in fact a very serious matter--

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services LegislationGovernment Orders

11:45 a.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

Order, please. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. member.

I would ask the members at the back of the chamber to please keep it down. Several members have mentioned that they are being disturbed by the loud comments.

The hon. member for Souris—Moose Mountain.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services LegislationGovernment Orders

June 21st, 2011 / 11:45 a.m.

Conservative

Ed Komarnicki Conservative Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Madam Speaker, it is obviously very disappointing that we are faced with the current work stoppage at Canada Post. Our government has spent countless hours and resources encouraging Canada Post and CUPW to resolve their differences and to come to an agreement. Mediators have spent countless hours with the parties in an attempt to bring them to some sort of consensus and to form an agreement. Mediators have been employed to do the very same thing. Despite all of the efforts, all of the resources, and all of the countless hours, the parties have not been able to resolve their differences and come to an agreement.

In all cases, the best solution in any labour dispute is one where the parties are able to resolve the differences themselves and come to an agreement on their own volition. That is always the best course. We try to facilitate that by every means that we can to provide the underpinnings, to provide the atmosphere, and to provide the basis for which that can happen.

In this case the government has exhausted every avenue available under the Canada Labour Code to bring the parties together and to assist them to reach an agreement. Despite all of that and all of the resources, it was to no avail. It is clear at this point that the negotiations between the parties have stalled and that some decisive action is necessary. We have decided to act decisively to bring this matter to a conclusion.

That is why this legislation was introduced. It is fair and reasonable. It is an objective way to bring the parties to a resolution of their dispute and resolve their differences. In a case like this, when parliamentarians step in, it is with the view of ending the current work stoppage that is affecting Canadians right across the country.

Whether it be rotating strikes or a lockout, they have consequences on Canadians. We have to look at not only the interests of the parties, whether it is the employer, Canada Post, a government department, and the effect it may have on employees, and the member for Acadie—Bathurst spoke about the effect on employees. But a third party is also involved in this dispute and that is the average Canadian. The consequences on many Canadians are significant. There needs to be a way to resolve the dispute, to resolve the differences between the parties in such a fashion that does least hurt to the parties, that does least hurt to Canadians, and does least hurt to the economy.

What is at stake right now is our economic recovery. Our country has so many reasons to be optimistic. We have experienced the strongest economic growth among the G7 countries since mid-2009. We have recovered countless numbers of jobs since July 2009. Things are looking up. They are going in the right direction. All of the job losses incurred during the global economic recession have been recovered. We must protect that recovery.

In order to protect this economic recovery, it became clear that it was necessary to introduce back-to-work legislation in the House of Commons. We need to protect the sustainability of the economic recovery and ensure that injury is not done to Canadians.

Just a few weeks ago our government indicated in the throne speech that our priorities remain focused on jobs and economic growth. We also noted that the global economic recovery remains fragile and risks to our economic recovery persist. That is a reality. That is a present fact.

When we look at what other economies are doing in the world and across our border to the south, we know that any gains are incremental and must be safely guarded and protected to ensure that we go forward with the knowledge that our economy is going to continue to grow and that Canadians will continue to benefit from that.

The legislation we are talking about would bring an end to the work stoppage that involves approximately 50,000 members of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers urban operations unit, otherwise known as CUPW, and Canada Post.

The collective agreement covering CUPW and Canada Post expired in January of this year and both parties have been bargaining since October 2010. That is a good number of months. It is not as if the parties just started to bargain a short while ago and we are now introducing legislation. They have been at this since October 2010. They have done their best to bridge the gaps between them. They have done their best to agree on the points they can, and they have come to an impasse. They cannot agree on what remains to be done to bring this to a satisfactory conclusion.

Throughout these months, they have used the resources that the Canada Labour Code provides for. They have used the personnel to bring them along. Therefore, it is unfair to say that there has not been a sufficient period of time for the parties to reason their way through without harm to themselves or the economy. However, there comes a point, when the parties are unable to resolve their differences, that there must be an intervention of some kind that ensures that the impasse is bridged.

I can say that when those talks were stalled or at an impasse, a conciliation officer was appointed. The conciliation period was even further extended until early May and, during that time, the conciliation officer again met with the parties. Throughout the month of May, a mediator from the labour program's Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service met frequently with the parties. It was not a one-off meeting. It was not just an occasional meeting. It was a concentrated effort to try to resolve the differences and the gaps that existed between the parties.

However, despite all of these efforts at mediation and conciliation, and the Minister of Labour meeting with both leaders, the Minister of Labour also used her offices, her person and character to intervene with both leaders to try to bring them to a place where the matter could be settled. However, CUPW announced its intent to strike. Following the announcement, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers began rotating strikes. This then led to Canada Post later locking out union members.

We can see what effect this is having right across our country. Sometimes collective bargaining does hit an impasse. It is something we need to realize, to understand and accept. Employees can pressure employers by walking out. That is a fundamental right and nobody disputes that right. It is enshrined and it is there.

Employers can also bring pressure by locking out workers and trying to carry on business without them. That is something they are entitled to do. The law and the Constitution provides for that. They can do that and they have done that. Notwithstanding the fact that they have implemented these strategies, they have not had a resolve.

I will quickly draw attention to the fact that Canada Post spends about $3 billion a year on goods and services. It contributes $6.6 billion to the country's GDP. It is not a small matter when those types of services, economies and expenditures are interfered with.

Canada Post has countless industries that rely on its services. Canadian retailers depend on Canada Post to reach their customers. The Canadian magazine industry relies on Canada Post for most of its distribution. Therefore, any disruption does something to its bottom line, to its business and to its customer base.

There is no question that Canada Post offers an essential lifeline to Canadians in rural and remote areas. My riding represents a number of those. While rural letter carriers are not part of the current bargaining dispute, rural communities are still acutely affected due to the fact that no sorting or bulk distribution of mail is taking place.

In fact, in my own riding of Souris—Moose Mountain, I have received correspondence and calls on this work stoppage. I received a letter from a constituent of mine who I know very well and who is someone who does not always agree with the viewpoint of the current government or the viewpoints that I may have from time to time and is quite able to express those differences in a point of view or opinion. I think what the constituent says in this letter to me captures what many Canadians would like to say and, in fact, are saying from coast to coast.

In this instance, she has written to me urging me for a resolution to this dispute and calling on the government to introduce back to work legislation. Why? This particular constituent owns a small newspaper business and her business is suffering immensely due to the work stoppage at Canada Post. She is calling on this government to do the right thing and to stand up for small business owners who rely on Canada Post to keep their businesses making money.

I will read portions of the letter. She says:

Please add my voice to your growing list of Canadians who want our Canadian majority government under your leadership to pass legislation forcing the CUPW members back to work so that Canada Post can function normally.

She goes on to say:

We own a small newspaper business in the riding of...for Souris—Moose Mountain. and we are unable to mail our newspapers to our readers this morning. ... We have staff employed whom we need, and they need to be employed. We have customers buying ads which help pay for a community newspaper. All of these Canadians are being inconvenienced. Also, if we turn to using alternative methods to distribute our newspapers we risk having our local post office lose profits and possibly become closed.

Those are the realities of what impact this is having on Canadians. She is urging this government to pass legislation that would bring the postal workers back to work so her readers can continue to receive their newspapers. If this work stoppage goes on much longer, it will have a negative impact on her business, as she outlines, and other businesses and her employees. That is a fact. It is something we must not forget. There are not two parties to this dispute. There are many parties to the dispute and there is the best interest of the country that we must keep in mind. That is why we must find a solution where a solution cannot be found by the parties themselves. It must be one that we bring them to, even if it means legislation like the legislation we are proposing before this House today.

My constituent expressed how impressed she was that this government moved forward with back to work legislation for Air Canada and she expressed hope that we would act in like manner with Canada Post. We have, which is exactly why we have acted and introduced back to work legislation to bring this work stoppage to an end.

The same constituent sent me another letter. She wrote:

I had previously contacted each of your offices explaining the hardship that this postal disruption was causing to rural communities and small businesses such as our own.... I want to thank you for listening to Canadians, as I know there were many speaking out in favour of government legislation to end this disruption.

She does not speak to us just for herself, for her business or for her community. She speaks for the broader Canadian right across this country who is being affected by what the parties themselves are imposing on Canadians or a hapless bystander looking at what is going on between the parties and saying that they see no end in sight or any resolve to the impasse, that they would like to see a responsible government take some action to provide the means to bring this to a conclusion so they are no longer hurt, so our economy is no longer hurt and so they can continue to do what average Canadians want to do. They want to work hard, make a profit, spend the money back in their communities and cause our economy to continue.

The constituent writes, “Personally, I believe in the right of union members to negotiate and strike under unfair labour practices”. Nobody is denying the fact that the right exists. Nobody is denying that the right must be protected, but not at all costs. It is not an overwhelming right that takes over all other rights. It has some limitations.

“However, when negotiations drag on”, she says, “to the point they threaten the livelihood of Canadians or the good health of Canadians, then we need a government that will legislate”.

In the legislation that is proposed, it is not legislation that does not allow for some objectivity in terms of what the arbiter must do. It appoints an arbiter for a final offer selection that is to be made by both parties. It says that the employer and the union must each submit to the arbiter a list of matters on which the employer and the union were in agreement as of a date specified by the arbiter, the things with which they are in common, the things on which they have bridged the gap, the things that they say they can do, and also a list of matters remaining in dispute, and a final offer in respect of the matters referred to that are in dispute and then the selection will be made. It is a process that has unfolded to allow for the parties to put their best case forward in that area and then a decision will be made.

My constituent is not alone in her comments, in the way she feels or in her call for the introduction of this legislation. The Minister of Labour has been inundated with correspondence from stakeholders and members of the public looking for resolution to this dispute. I am sure if all members were fair with this House, they would say they that too had been receiving calls with respect to this dispute. What is required is a balance in terms of how we approach resolving the issues between the parties in the dispute to the benefit of all Canadians.

Small and medium-sized businesses, especially home-based businesses, are feeling the effects of this postal service disruption and the time has come to protect them.

Charities are also being hurt because they cannot fundraise and donations are being lost. It is a serious consequence. How long do we let it go? The longer we let it go the more difficult it is for them and the more difficult it is for businesses. Therefore, at some point we must say that a reasonable time has passed and now it is time to take action.

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business, CFIB, estimated that small and medium-sized businesses could expect to see a loss of around $200 for each day mail service is interrupted. I would say that in a number of other cases where there is specialized services a loss is even far greater and in excess of that.

The Canadian National Institute for the Blind, the CNIB, which we heard here today, estimates that its losses may be as much as $250,000 at this time of year because the majority of its donations are received through the mail service. What about the CNIB? What about the things it does? What about its financial base? Who will consider that? Who will take best interests into account? The people in this House, the parliamentarians, the legislators, need to take CNIB's interest into account in this situation and in this dispute.

We have all heard of the effect this has had on live animals that Canada Post had in the system for delivery. Many of those shipments were being shipped by businesses that had no other shipping alternatives and money has now been lost.

Many large corporations have been able to find alternate means of communicating with customers and clients. That may continue even after the strike is over, so there may be some losses to the parties that they do not yet envision. However, small and medium-sized businesses still rely heavily on traditional postal services. This work stoppage is crippling for these smaller businesses.

The effects of this work stoppage are far-reaching and the government recognizes that and has responded by introducing the legislation that is before the House now.

The most vulnerable of Canadians are receiving minimal service and it is time to restore full service to all Canadians. Businesses are hurting and jobs are on the line. We cannot allow this work stoppage to continue. We received a strong mandate from Canadians and we need to remain focused on the economic recovery. We are committed to the completion and protection of our economic recovery.

There is evidence that this work stoppage is causing serious harm to small businesses across the country. This government is acting to protect the public interest and the country's economy as a whole by tabling this bill to ensure the resumption and continuation of postal services.

Not only would this bill restore mail services to Canadians who desperately need it, it also includes guiding principles which provide the direction for the arbiter to ensure that Canadian taxpayers are not left with the bill for Canada Post's pension plan.

In closing, it is important to remember that as we recover from our economic downturn, it is more important than ever that we encourage co-operative and productive workplaces. I hope all members will join me in the support of this important piece of legislation.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services LegislationGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, all of us certainly want people to go back to work at Canada Post, but we are very concerned about there being a fair collective agreement process. Unfortunately, this back-to-work legislation has completely nullified that.

After listening to the member, he has put forward some erroneous information. Canada Post is a very profitable organization. It has given back to the general revenue, to the people of Canada and the Government of Canada almost $2 billion over the last 15 years. I remember visiting with representatives from Canada Post just a few months ago and they showed me the slide that pointed out the revenue they produce. It is not a matter of the corporation not having the ability and capacity to deal with issues.

I want to correct the member. There is an issue about a two-tier wage system in which starting employees on the Canada Post side would get 18% less in wages. I want to ask him why he thinks that in any way is fair and why anyone in his riding or anywhere else would accept that?

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services LegislationGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.

Conservative

Ed Komarnicki Conservative Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Mr. Speaker, first of all, making a profit, as the member for Toronto Centre said, is not something that should be looked at in an unfavourable way. It is the type of thing that allows corporations to hire employees, continue to do business and remain viable.

Of course profits are made, but at the same time, we have to be mindful of the fact that over $100 million is lost as the strike continues simply by the volume of mail declining. Many companies and consumers are finding alternative options to the postal service for a variety of services and some of them will never go back to Canada Post. The reality is we want to be sure that the ability to earn profit is something the corporation can do while being fair to its employees and its operation.

The legislation would provide for wage increases that would be incorporated in the agreements and would allow for a certain objective framework for the arbiter to take into consideration to ensure the long-term viability of the corporation, the employees' pensions plans and the kinds of things that will keep them competitive going into the future. That is an appropriate type of consideration to have.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services LegislationGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, a point that needs to be emphasized, and I look to the member for a response, is the fact that it is Canada Post that made the decision on the lockout. The government quite possibly would have been aware that Canada Post was even contemplating that.

Does the member believe that Canada Post made the decision on its own to conduct the lockout without the government being aware of the fact that it was going to be taking that sort of action? Does the member believe the government had no idea that Canada Post was going to lock out employees?

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services LegislationGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.

Conservative

Ed Komarnicki Conservative Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Mr. Speaker, both parties are independent of the government and they take such action as they are entitled to under the Canada Labour Code. Some decide to go by way of disruptive rotating strikes and the employer has the right, of course, to lock people out.

Let me say this. If I run a business, when there are rotating strikes and I lock out striking employees in Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Winnipeg and Regina on a repetitive basis, that is disruptive to the types and levels of services that people expect and perhaps at some point it is best to simply shut it down if parties cannot come to a conclusion.

They can do what they want to do, but our responsibility kicks in at some point when the parties are behaving in such a fashion that they are not able to reach an amicable settlement, which is always best and what we would prefer, and Canadians are bearing the brunt of their individual exercises of power. At some point the government is obligated to step in and attempt to find a path to resolve it to the benefit of all parties, the employer, employees and all Canadians who depend on that service. Whether employees are locked out or strike in certain areas and disrupt services, the effect is the same on all Canadians. It is unacceptable.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services LegislationGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.

Conservative

LaVar Payne Conservative Medicine Hat, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege for me to ask my colleague from Souris—Moose Mountain a question in terms of the postal bill that is before us.

I have heard a number of the opposition MPs speak about undermining the negotiation process with this bill. Does this legislation actually undermine the collective bargaining process?

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services LegislationGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.

Conservative

Ed Komarnicki Conservative Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Mr. Speaker, the short answer is, of course not. The parties are still able to bargain collectively and reach their own conclusion at any time. This is not something that anyone would impose on them arbitrarily. However, there is a time when action must be taken.

The parties are encouraged even now to see their way through and come to a conclusion. As we know, Air Canada was able to do that without the necessity of legislation to go forward. People were disrupted and there is an understanding of that. As they are entitled to exercise their rights, there will be some disruptions. However, at some point, given all of the circumstances, given where we are in our economic recovery and where the country is headed, there is a time and a place where decisive action must be taken.

I think Canadians are looking for this government to take some decisive action and have an objective plan in place for the parties to resolve their dispute so that Canadians can go on with their lives and their business, which they are entitled to do.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services LegislationGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.

NDP

Djaouida Sellah NDP Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, QC

Mr. Speaker, since this morning, I have been listening to the speeches of the hon. members opposite about Canada Post and its workers. One hon. member raised the issue of minor services.

I have before me today's issue of Quorum, which contains an article that I would like to bring to the hon. member's attention. It reads:

...lockout or no lockout, these days, many Canadians are still finding envelopes in their mailboxes. Under an agreement reached well before the dispute began, Canada Post workers committed to distributing government cheques for various benefits such as social assistance, old age security and income assistance for families.

According to the union, close to 9,000 of its members will process and deliver over 2 million cheques this month. Unionized workers will not be paid for delivering the cheques but will receive a lump sum of $50.

From my analysis, it seems that Canada Post has begun a misinformation campaign of sorts. People need to know that negotiations are happening between the two parties, despite the fact that the media is saying otherwise.

By way of evidence, Canada Post contacted the finance issues subcommittee to find out how much bargaining demands would cost. Canada Post also indicated that it had questions about the recent proposals, despite the fact that it rejected those proposals as it has been doing for eight months now. Canada Post is waiting for the back-to-work bill to pass and has been hoping this would happen for several months.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services LegislationGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.

Conservative

Ed Komarnicki Conservative Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Mr. Speaker, first of all, those relying on the post office to receive a cheque or a benefit would certainly have some anxiety. I am sure they were ill at ease with the disruption of services and rotating strikes, notwithstanding any agreement. However, it is not just pension cheques, there are other things going through the mail that people rely on and are most anxious about.

It is not as if the parties have not had time to negotiate. They have been negotiating since October 2010. They have had the services of mediators and conciliators, but they have not been able to reach an agreement. What they were doing has been disruptive to our economy and to Canadians as a whole. The time has come for us to act and to act decisively.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services LegislationGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, today we are being asked to approve a motion that would expedite the passage of back-to-work legislation that was introduced only yesterday.

How can this House vote on a process to end the debate that has not even started yet, a debate on a bill that we have not even been able to discuss in our caucus? I suppose coming from the Conservatives, a party where independent political thinking is rarely apparent and never encouraged, that should not be surprising. The Prime Minister muzzles his MPs in his own caucus and tells them what they can say, when and where.

In our caucus, though, we actually believe in the vital role that Parliament plays in the legislative process. We take seriously our role in the deliberative process of the House of Commons which manifests itself in the debate of bills and motions.

All too often with the Conservative government, legislation contains poison pills that are not apparent from a cursory review. I do not need to remind members in this House about the purported economic recovery bill from the last Parliament that included sections gutting pay equity, killing the court challenges program and other provisions that had nothing to do with helping us get out of the current recession.

Asking us to vote on something before it has been adequately debated is simply not on, and for good reason. Here is what a former member of Parliament had to say on the subject:

--if closure can be resorted to in order to implement these rule changes, and can be used so as to alter fundamentally the very nature and role of the House of Commons, then we are in a very sorry state indeed in so far as democracy and freedom are concerned.

Who said that? It was none other than former Conservative leader, Robert Stanfield. Mr. Stanfield was right. It is contempt of our rights as members of Parliament. It is contempt of Parliament as a democratic and representative institution. It is contempt of Canadian labour laws. It is contempt of Canada's signature on UN and ILO conventions. It is contempt of workers' rights in our country.

What is at issue here is the impending legislation that seeks to impose an end to a dispute between Canada Post and the 54,000 members of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers. It is a bill that diminishes and constrains hard fought for workers' rights, a bill that the NDP certainly has no intention of supporting.

The right to bargain collectively is recognized through international human rights conventions that Canada is a signatory to, yet once again we find ourselves in a position where the Conservatives are violating Canada's ILO obligations and using unnecessary legislation to end a labour dispute.

The government had a choice. As the owner of Canada Post, it had the option of instructing management to resume postal service to the public, get back to the bargaining table and negotiate a lasting resolution to this dispute. That is what it should have done.

Instead, the government chose to introduce back-to-work legislation to show utter disrespect for workers' rights. This is exactly what the employer, Canada Post was waiting for.

Instead of negotiating in good faith, Canada Post Corporation will be provided with a government appointed arbitrator who has clear instructions to side with the employer and roll back rates and benefits that postal workers have struggled to achieve for decades.

Let us have a look at how this unfolded. On June 2, in an effort to persuade Canada Post to abandon its demand for significant concessions and instead negotiate fair solutions, the union began limited, rotating strikes at various locations throughout the country.

Aware of the effects of the service disruption on the public, the union chose action that would minimize the inconvenience to Canadians.

On June 6, the union agreed to suspend all strike activity and continue to negotiate, but Canada Post rejected that offer. Indeed, on the morning of June 14, the Minister of Labour said that there was no need for back-to-work legislation because the strike was rotating and mail was still moving.

That evening, Canada Post took the draconian step of locking out all workers and shutting down postal services entirely.

The very next day, the Minister of Labour announced that she would give Canada Post the legislation that it had been waiting for. For the workers of Canada Post, this is a profound violation of their right to strike and their right to free collective bargaining, a process that works fully 95% of the time, ending disputes without any type of work disruption.

When the government interferes in that process, it undermines the democratic rights of workers. It is a heavy-handed way of forcing a resolution to a dispute that could have been resolved at the bargaining table. It takes away the level playing field and instead tips the scale squarely in favour of the employer.

I have to say that in this dispute it was particularly insulting to the workers and to all Canadians, frankly, when the Minister of Labour decided to speak out and inform the employer that all it had to do was stop the movement of mail and she would introduce a back-to-work bill.

Canada Post heard that message loud and clear, and immediately locked out the members of CUPW.

New Democrats will not support this draconian measure and we certainly do not support the underhanded partisan conduct of the minister.

What we do support is a strong national and public postal system, a postal system that has made $1.7 billion in the last 15 years and paid $1.2 billion in dividends and income tax to the federal government and a postal system that is, by any measure, socially and financially sound. That is right, Canada Post is very profitable and by keeping Canada Post profitable, the postal workers actually save the public money.

While it is true that multinational courier companies regularly lobby the government to deregulate Canada Post and open up the letter market to competition, the truth is Canadians do not support it. The 2008 strategic review of Canada Post reported that there appeared to be little or no public support for the privatization or deregulation of Canada Post. Our NDP caucus stands united with Canadians in opposing any move to deregulate and privatize our national postal service.

Our postal service is profitable and productive. Unlike many companies, Canada Post has increased its productivity in the last two years. This productivity has, in turn, allowed Canada Post to keep postal rates low. Our 59¢ stamp is one of the biggest bargains in the entire industrialized world. People in Japan pay almost $1 Canadian to send a domestic letter. In Austria it is equivalent to 88¢. In Germany it is 78¢. While offering a much more affordable postal system, Canada Post is at the same time making profits and paying substantial dividends and income tax into public coffers.

Canada Post insists that it needs big changes in order to deal with a 17% decline in volume of mail. However, letter volume has only declined 7.2% between 2006 and 2009. Some of that 7.2% decline was due to the economic recession. Figures for 2010 have not yet been released, but volumes are likely to rebound somewhat as Internet purchasing becomes more commonplace. Although volume has marginally decreased, it is hardly the 17% figure that Canada Post is trying to sell us.

I will talk a bit about what is at stake in this dispute, not just for the workers at Canada Post but, indeed, for all Canadian workers. As we know all too well, an injury to one is an injury to all. This is a dispute between the CUPW and Canada Post, but there is a bigger fight going on here. When unions take a risk and stand to be counted on an issue of national importance, all Canadians benefit. It has been 30 years since the brave members of CUPW went on strike for 42 days to take a stand for paid maternity leave, and won. This was a major victory for all workers as the government and other employers were forced to provide the same leave for their employees, not too far down the road.

Today, these honourable union members are taking a stand for future generations. They are fighting against the corporate impulse to race to the bottom. They are standing up for fair wages and working conditions. Canada Post is determined to set a starting wage for new employees at a rate 18% less than that of current employees. For young workers who are just starting out in the working world, many of whom have a college or university education, the message is, “You don't deserve the same salary as your co-workers”. Whatever happened to the principle of decent pay for decent work? The income inequality sought by Canada Post is a slap in the face.

What about sick leave? Canada Post wants to eliminate sick leave for all employees and impose an unfair short-term disability plan. Under this plan, workers would have to apply to a private insurance company if they were sick or injured for more than one week. They want to eliminate short-term sick days and instead force workers to use personal days when they are ill. The existing sick leave plan, where sick days are earned, has been in place and working well since 1968. Almost half a century later, Canada Post suddenly decides the plan needs to be eliminated.

Postal workers are standing up for safe working conditions. Technological change, the modernization of Canada Post and five years of cutting jobs and not filling vacancies has consequences. In the last session of Parliament, I spoke about a woman letter carrier from my riding in Hamilton Mountain who suffered heat exhaustion because of extra hours on the job. Instead of allowing other employees to work regular hours, Canada Post forced its employees to work overtime. Postal workers are being seriously hurt and this practice must come to an end.

Then there are pension issues. Canada Post wants to turn back the clock on employee pensions by increasing the age at which employees can retire without penalty and capping pension indexing at 75% the rate of inflation for all newly hired employees.

In 1981 CUPW stood up for all working Canadians and fought for social benefits, in that case, maternity leave, which Canadians now consider a basic right. The women and men of CUPW are again fighting for the rights of all Canadians working to retire with dignity and respect.

Canadians are worried about their retirement security. Pension plans and retirement savings have been hit hard by this recession. The government has made it clear it has no interest in meaningfully improving the Canada pension plan. Now it is siding with employers in their determination to gut workplace pensions as well.

Pensions are deferred wages. They belong to the employees. Workers often sacrifice wage improvements and other benefits to secure a pension plan that will provide for a dignified and secure retirement.

One-quarter of a million seniors in the country currently live in poverty. It is unconscionable, it is indefensible and it is largely because CPP is inadequate and those seniors did not have a union on their side, fighting for a decent pension.

As the boomers hit their retirement years, fair and adequate pensions are increasingly an issue that matters to all of us. Unless we, as parliamentarians, are happy to preside over the creation of an even more appallingly poor generation of seniors, pensions must be protected and improved.

The attack on pensions by Canada Post and by far too many other private and public sector employers is shortsighted and fiscally and socially irresponsible.

I applaud the women and men of CUPW who are taking a stand by protecting not just their own pensions but the pensions of those workers who will follow. The Canadian Union of Postal Workers is determined to protect pension provisions for those workers who cannot yet conceive of the day they will need it. Just as they did when Canada Post denied the maternity leave decades ago, they are fighting for fair working conditions and benefits for all workers of all ages.

Fair wages, sick leave, a safe and healthy workplace and a secure pension are all fundamental worker rights. The Canadian Union of Postal Workers is right to be defending these rights against attacks by their employer, and they have done so responsibly and with dignity.

Even though the law allows them to fully withdraw their labour after 72 hours' notice, they decided to have rotating strikes in an effort to minimize the impact on Canadians. They never stopped providing service to the public. People were still able to use the postal service, with the knowledge that their mail would arrive. Before Canada Post locked them out, only 51% of the population experienced a delay and there was never a full stoppage in mail service.

Is it not ironic that while the Minister of Labour was introducing legislation to order CUPW members back to work, members of the union were already on the streets working, volunteering their time to ensure the delivery of Canada pension plan, old age security and child benefits cheques, as well as provincial social assistance cheques in Quebec, Ontario, Saskatchewan, Alberta and the Northwest Territories, ensuring that our most vulnerable Canadians were not impacted by their employer's decision to lock them out.

I know my time is running out. However, before I wrap up, I will like to read into the record a commentary that was written by James Clancy, National President of the National Union of Public and General Employees, a union which, at this time, is running a campaign entitled “All Together Now”, reminding us that we are all in this together. This is our future, our children's future and our grandchildren's future.

The commentary states:

Back in the day, post offices were the heart of communities. People would go there to receive mail from afar, settle bills and accounts and, most likely, catch up on the on-goings in the neighbourhood.

Our postal service has been a central part of our country since it was first introduced by the federal government in 1867. It has been a shining example of a valuable public service--one that is often overlooked and, certainly, underappreciated.

Designed to serve the common good, it connects Canadians to each other as well as the global community.

It’s affordable. No matter where you live in this vast landscape, the cost to mail a letter is the same for everyone. Do you really think the costs are the same from Iqaluet to Edmonton than from Ottawa to Kingston? But when we pool our resources, it works.

It’s accessible. Despite more recent service delivery cutbacks, every community has access to postal service. Mailboxes are the furniture of our city streets. Post offices can be found in every town.

And it’s accountable. Since the establishment of the postal service, it’s transformed into a crown corporation of the federal government. The CEO of Canada Post is appointed by the Minister responsible for Canada Post. As citizens, and voters, we have the ability to contribute to the vision and direction of this service.

For these reasons and many more, I am urging all Canadians to pay attention to what is happening in the current round of bargaining between Canada Post and the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW).

It’s not just about wages and working conditions, although both are important, it’s about the future of this public service, one that benefits each of us, our families and our businesses.

There are some important choices being made during these negotiations. Canada Post has the choice to continue on its old path, with a singular focus on postal delivery as though the world and the way of doing business hasn’t changed dramatically over the last decade or more. Or it can look to the future, to see the opportunities and get back in the game.

To be able to compete in this recovering economic climate, we need to see that the leadership of Canada Post are up to the task. For sure, Canada Post needs to modernize. And, thankfully, it is looking to update its operations; years of under-investment in equipment and facilities require this to happen.

But what we are hearing about is the company’s strategy to use modernization as a Trojan horse to gut the workforce. Canada Post plans to invest $2 billion in new machines and work methods but eliminate 7000 jobs.

This doesn’t make any good sense. One of the best assets of a national public service is the investment in a well trained workforce. If we’re going to see any innovation, we’re going to need these people more than ever!

The real question now is whether or not Canada Post is up to the job to be the innovator the country needs. There is a massive opportunity for CEO Deepak Chopra to make a transformative shift in our postal system. Now is the perfect time for Canada Post to open itself to the future, to invest and expand.

All we have to do is take a look at what is happening around the globe to see how other countries are dealing with similar problems. They are expanding and reinvesting. Expansion of services will allow Canada Post to share the benefits of its modernization with the public by preserving and improving postal services and employment opportunities. Service expansion will help generate the much-needed revenue to keep enriching and enhancing products and the level of service for all Canadians.

Banking, expansion of parcel delivery, using current retail outlets to offer more services, as well as reinstating more door-to-door delivery so that every Canadian is provided with the same level of service are other well-founded and time-tested examples that Canada Post can adopt.

And these ideas are exactly what CUPW is proposing in negotiations. The union is not bargaining for the status quo. It is bargaining to create a solid and profitable corporation--a modern post, powered by the people--to serve the best interests of Canadians for decades to come--

It’s this kind of forward-thinking that, our postal system, and our country needs.

We need to support CUPW in its efforts and make sure Canada Post is listening.

I am proud to say that all members of the NDP caucus will be standing in solidarity with the workers of CUPW. I urge all members in the House to join us and stand up for the values and principles on which our country was built. It is a vision of Canada that is worth fighting for.

Therefore, Mr. Speaker, I move:

That this question be now put.

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12:35 p.m.

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Liberal Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, first, I agree with my colleague from Hamilton Mountain with regard to the actions of the government over the last two weeks. Although there were two different types of drama, certainly both were an attack on organized labour in our country. One was against Air Canada when the government came forward with legislation even though there were really no delays and other options were available for airline passengers. Then there is this legislation that is really, for the most part, egregious and ties an arbitrator's hands in very important areas.

For my own clarification, would my colleague comment on whether her party believes there are times when back to work legislation is necessary and could she expand on the conditions that would prompt her party to support such legislation?

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12:35 p.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, as my good friend from Nova Scotia will know, the NDP supports free collective bargaining, which should have been allowed to continue in this instance and with Air Canada beforehand. In the last Parliament, members will remember that the same issue arose with respect to the Teamsters.

This is about a fundamental right of workers. It is about free collective bargaining. We should not be negotiating that away in the House. Even worse, the Minister of Labour, when she brought in back to work legislation, was actually taking sides. I do not know if the member has had an opportunity to read the bill, but there are provisions in the bill that favour the employer. Apparently we are limiting debate on the provisions today. The minister is going to give workers less in wage improvements that already had been agreed at the negotiating table. How can this be a fair process?

All 308 of us here in the House have members of CUPW in our ridings. I would welcome members of the Conservative side of the House talking to members of CUPW in their ridings and getting direction from them, not from the Prime Minister's Office. I urge members to ask workers in their communities if they should have the right to engage in free collective bargaining and to arrive at a settlement at the negotiating table. I bet every single one of them would say yes.

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12:35 p.m.

Conservative

Dan Albas Conservative Okanagan—Coquihalla, BC

Mr. Speaker, constituents in my riding of Okanagan--Coquihalla have already shared with me that they have now signed up for online billing and banking services as a result of this strike and, as such, no longer have any use or need for Canada Post services going forward. I believe everyone in the House would agree that this will jeopardize the long-term viability of Canada Post.

I would like to ask the hon. member opposite why her party continues to advocate a position that will undermine the long-term interests of an institution that so many Canadians rely on.

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12:35 p.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, I do not know who wrote that question for the member, but I appreciate his putting it. However, how can he suggest that so many Canadians rely on this service after starting his question by saying that no one is using the mail any more because everyone is using the Internet?

I feel sorry for people in the member's community if all they are getting in the mail are bills and invoices. In my riding of Hamilton Mountain, people have an expansive social life. They communicate with people from right across this country and the globe.

When we look at the facts, it is true that letter mail volumes are declining slowly, but the letter is by no means dead and buried. In fact, transactional letter mail volumes are 10% higher than in 1997, the last time the CUPW was on strike.

I completely agree with the premise that the services provided by CUPW are still vitally important in our communities, but I would encourage the member to rethink the front end of his question where he contradicted himself and suggested that no one was using Canada Post any more.

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12:40 p.m.

NDP

Robert Chisholm NDP Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, the history cited by the member for Hamilton Mountain with respect to labour relations was very informative. I hope all members paid attention.

The collective bargaining relationship between the parties is a finely balanced one, but in this event now, the government has clearly weighed in on behalf of the employer. I would ask my colleague to comment on what motivation the employer would have to pay attention to union demands and union strategies in the negotiations when it knew that the government was going to weigh in on its behalf? Would she take a moment to discuss a little further what impact this weighing in by the government will have on this finely balanced relationship?

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12:40 p.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member for Dartmouth—Cole Harbour has put his finger precisely on what is at issue here.

Collective bargaining is supposed to be about negotiating agreements on a level playing field. I do not think any of us are naive enough to think that the playing field is ever entirely level, because all of the economic clout is on the side of the employer. Nonetheless, collective bargaining is supposed to be a freely negotiated process leading to a collective agreement by both sides.

It was not that long ago that the Minister of Labour stood up in the House and said that we did not need back to work legislation because mail was still being delivered. Canada Post heard that message loud and clear. It was not the workers who went out on strike, but the corporation that locked out its workers. Exactly as the minister had implied, she then immediately brought in back to work legislation, which has brought us to the point we are at today. The minister clearly undermined free collective bargaining.

Canada is a signatory to ILO labour conventions. As Minister of Labour, she should be upholding these. Instead, she has been undermining them consistently, first with Air Canada and now with Canada Post. I think she should resign.

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12:40 p.m.

Conservative

Brian Jean Conservative Fort McMurray—Athabasca, AB

Mr. Speaker, I was a solicitor in Fort McMurray for some period of time and owned some businesses there. I have to be honest that we used Canada Post a lot. In fact, I would say that for 20 to 30 years we used Canada Post more than any other business in our area. We received cheques from businesses and sent out bills and did advertising that way, sending out millions of flyers and promotional material. I can assure you that there was such an integral lock with Canada Post that the relationship continued for 35 years before our family business closed down, in particular our printing and sign shop.

Clearly, every single day that Canada Post workers do not deliver the mail, it has a dramatic impact on the small businesses in this country, who employ a huge number of people.

First, I would ask the member, what do I say to those small businesses facing closure? It is a serious concern. They are not operating with the margins of large companies but with small margins. What do I say to them when they get to work and do not have any mail to open, do not have any cheques to deposit and do not have any money coming in? As a result, they will suffer hardships.

Second, what kind of evidence do the members have who have suggested there was any collusion between the minister or this government and Canada Post management? It is absolutely ludicrous.

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12:40 p.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, first of all, it is refreshing to have a Conservative member say that yes, indeed, Canada Post plays a vital role in our communities. I think it is the first acknowledgement of that I have heard today and I think he is absolutely right.

Unfortunately, this labour dispute is not just hurting small businesses but also charities that raise most of their money or receive most of their donations by mail. That is why the workers of CUPW did not go on strike at the same time. They have had rotating strikes so that mail could still be delivered to those businesses, charities, seniors and families from coast to coast to coast.

When the minister signalled she was willing to bring in back to work legislation if all mail delivery stopped, that was when Canada Post locked out the workers. That was when businesses, charities, families and seniors were seriously hurt. It was not from the actions taken by the workers but from the actions by Canada Post, as it read the signals from the minister.