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House of Commons Hansard #14 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

3:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

The hon. Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Documents Regarding Afghan DetaineesPoints of OrderGovernment Orders

3:10 p.m.

Ottawa West—Nepean Ontario

Conservative

John Baird ConservativeMinister of Foreign Affairs

Mr. Speaker, I apologize to the member for Brant. I am told that the copies that were provided to each party in the House, the 4,200 pages documents, included an invitation to attend the briefing. Officials were there. It was on top of the binders that were provided to each party.

I thought that would add further clarification, and I thought you, Mr. Speaker, would want to know it, too.

The House resumed consideration of the motion, and of the motion that this question be now put.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services LegislationGovernment Orders

3:10 p.m.

Conservative

Phil McColeman Conservative Brant, ON

Mr. Speaker, I was at the point of saying that the last thing we would like to see is this situation deteriorate any further and see businesses fail, unemployment increase and our economy go into a tailspin. Canada Post, a crown corporation, has more than 70,000 full and part-time employees. It is one of the largest employers in Canada. Every business day, it delivers service to 14 million addresses. Canada Post spends about $3 billion a year on goods and services and it contributes $6.6 billion to the country's GDP.

The Canada Post direct marketing sector accounts for $1.4 billion of its revenue. During the recent economic recession, this sector suffered financial losses. So many businesses still rely on Canada Post to get their business done and connect with their clients and customers across the country and internationally. While many aspects of business can often be accomplished online, not everything can be done in the absence of the mail. Mail service is still essential to the functioning of many small and medium-sized businesses and even large corporations.

Canada Post provides a crucial connection for Canadians in rural and remote areas.

Seniors are finding this work stoppage very difficult to deal with. Many of my colleagues have heard from seniors in their constituencies who would like to see an end to this work stoppage. A prolonged work stoppage at Canada Post may well affect some of the most vulnerable sectors of our economy.

How would Canada Post be affected as a viable business? Over the past decade, with the growth of the Internet, email, electronic billing and electronic funds transfers, there has been a corresponding decline in personal mail. However, small and medium-sized businesses still rely on the postal service for direct marketing, billing and filling orders. It is this sector of the business that could be jeopardized with a long-term work stoppage. Right now there is co-dependence. Now is not the time to put them at risk.

What is at stake is our economic recovery. All the job losses incurred during the global economic recession have been recovered. Our government has a responsibility to act on behalf of all Canadians to ensure the momentum continues. We have a process in place to deal with labour conflicts in the federal domain. It is called the Canada Labour Code and it has been followed each step of the way in this conflict.

The collective agreement covering CUPW and Canada Post expired on January 2011. Both parties have been bargaining since October 2010.

When those talks stayed at an impasse, a reconciliation officer was appointed. Throughout the month of May, a mediator from the labour program's Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service met frequently with the parties. The Minister of Labour even met with both party leaders. Despite all these efforts at mediation and conciliation, CUPW announced, on May 30, its intent to strike. On June 3, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers walked off the job. On June 15, 2011, the employer declared a lockout.

The postal workers have now been without a contract since January 2011, despite many rounds of bargaining. Of course, there are always cases when collective bargaining hits an impasse and the parties involved reach a stalemate. When this happens, the parties can request the Minister of Labour to appoint an arbitrator.

It is certainly not the preference of the government to intervene in labour disputes. Our government respects the right of free collective bargaining, which includes the right to strike or a lockout. However, when employers and unions choose a course of action that has harmful effects on the economy and the country as a whole, then it is incumbent on Parliament to stand up for the country and to protect our economic recovery.

That is why our government has introduced Bill C-6. We are taking decisive action on behalf of all Canadians.

What would the act do? It would impose a four-year contract and new pay rate increases. That would mean a 1.75% increase as of February 1, 2011, 1.5% as of February 2012, 2% as of February 2013 and 2% as of February 2014.

It also means, for final offer selection, a binding mechanism for all outstanding matters. 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. It will also strive to ensure the short and long-term economic viability and competitiveness of Canada Post Corporation, maintain the health and safety of its workers and the sustainability of the pension plan.

The terms and conditions of employment must also take into account: (a) that the solvency ratio for the pension plan must not decline as a direct result of the new collective agreement; and (b) that the Canada Post Corporation must, without recourse or undue increases in postal rates, operate efficiently, improve productivity and meet acceptable standards of service.

As we recover from the economic downturn, it is more important than ever that we encourage co-operative and productive workplaces.

Let us recognize that this has not been an easy situation for the postal workers and for Canada Post. Our hope is that both parties can now turn this around and make the most of this agreement. I would urge them to focus on making Canada Post relevant to Canada for the 21st century.

I also ask my hon. colleagues to join us in supporting the bill.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services LegislationGovernment Orders

3:20 p.m.

Conservative

Brad Butt Conservative Mississauga—Streetsville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank my good friend from Brant for speaking very calmly and rationally about what Parliament is being asked to deal with today. We have a situation that none of us, I believe, wanted. We certainly do not have a situation that the government wanted to step into.

However, we do have two parties that clearly cannot come to an arrangement. They have been negotiating since this contract expired in January. We have a very difficult situation on our hands today, with millions of Canadians clearly affected by this.

Perhaps my hon. friend could share a bit more from his riding's perspective. I have been to Brant, but I do not know the riding particularly well. Perhaps he could give some more specific examples of the types of individuals who have been directly affected by the fact that mail is not flowing.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services LegislationGovernment Orders

3:20 p.m.

Conservative

Phil McColeman Conservative Brant, ON

Mr. Speaker, many of us in the House would prefer not to be in this situation. I think that is the case on all sides.

However, we must take action to protect especially the small and the medium-sized businesses, like the ones in my community.

I have heard from, and many MPs have heard from their constituents, the owners of these companies. One in particular is a small rural weekly newspaper. This particular newspaper, the Burford Times, relies on the post office for the delivery of its revenue from advertisers. Also the businesses of that small community rely on getting their word out. Therefore, they are suffering as well. These are the one, two, three or five-person operations, which are affected the most.

I received another interesting email from another individual who totally relies on the postal service for his revenue into his company. He said that if this went on for another seven days, he would be out of business.

This is especially hitting the small operators.

Yesterday, we heard about the call for respect of the workers. We are calling for the respect of all small and medium-sized Canadian businesses.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services LegislationGovernment Orders

3:20 p.m.

NDP

Jamie Nicholls NDP Vaudreuil—Soulanges, QC

Mr. Speaker, does the member opposite know the names of the postal workers who deliver the mail to his home? Does he know their families and their situations? Does he know how they live their lives? Does he know their families and the condition of their families?

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services LegislationGovernment Orders

3:20 p.m.

Conservative

Phil McColeman Conservative Brant, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member's question is completely relevant to my personal situation. I have two nephews and a niece who are postal carriers. I also understand that many postal carriers prefer that this situation had never arisen. They would like to have more control of their own job situations.

I do have a relationship with a lot of people. I was a small employer and I know what makes for success. It is the people who are on the ground and are actually doing the work.

A lot of people in this country, including postal workers, would prefer not to be in this situation. I do know their situation personally. They are somewhat upset that we must be here to face this for our economy. However, we must do this to protect their rights.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services LegislationGovernment Orders

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, the former speaker would know that we are talking about a lockout as opposed to postal workers going on strike, and many believe that the government had a good idea that the lockout was going to happen.

Could the member give the House any assurances that cabinet had no idea that Canada Post was going to lock out its workers, or did the government have an idea that this was going to occur? Could he provide some information on that point?

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services LegislationGovernment Orders

3:20 p.m.

Conservative

Phil McColeman Conservative Brant, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am not in a position to have any of the information the member is asking for, but I do know many of the people in my community who are being directly affected by this, as I mentioned earlier. In fact, I have received numerous emails not only from businesses but also from seniors and people who live on disability allowances from government sources, who are being greatly affected by this.

This is a situation that is untenable for a lot of the individuals who rely on mail service for the money they need to sustain themselves. Frankly, right now there are certain people who are panicking because of this.

This government must take action. We are being decisive and we will pass this legislation.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services LegislationGovernment Orders

3:25 p.m.

NDP

Alexandre Boulerice NDP Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, since this morning, our Conservative Party colleagues have been shedding crocodile tears over the fate of small and medium-sized businesses, while forgetting the fundamental fact that the current dispute at Canada Post is a lockout. That makes all the difference in the world. The unions had planned to use moderate pressure to raise public awareness, by taking action for just 24 hours in one city at a time. Canada Post was told to put an end to the dispute and only aggravated the situation by imposing a lockout. It got out the bazooka and shut everything down across the country.

I would like to ask our hon. colleague if he cares at all about the interests of the small and medium-sized businesses that are suffering because of the lockout imposed by Canada Post. Would he be willing to stand up and ask Canada Post to lift the lockout?

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services LegislationGovernment Orders

3:25 p.m.

Conservative

Phil McColeman Conservative Brant, ON

Mr. Speaker, even before the lockout I was receiving emails from business people, the ones who own the three or four person operations, about the rotating lockouts that were happening. In my community we rely--

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services LegislationGovernment Orders

3:25 p.m.

Conservative

Royal Galipeau Conservative Ottawa—Orléans, ON

Strikes.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services LegislationGovernment Orders

3:25 p.m.

Conservative

Phil McColeman Conservative Brant, ON

Yes, they were strikes, Mr. Speaker. There were walkouts by employees or strikes in various centres, meaning that the mail was not moving. Invoices and things that people needed to get out were not being received at the local rural post offices.

There was such disruption to the system at that point before the lockout happened that this government had to do something decisive to make sure that our economy was protected, that the jobs in those small companies were respected and that we got this country back to work.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services LegislationGovernment Orders

3:25 p.m.

Conservative

Royal Galipeau Conservative Ottawa—Orléans, ON

Mr. Speaker, would the hon. member for Brant agree with me that the rotating strikes before the lockout were just as crippling to the system as the lockout itself?

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services LegislationGovernment Orders

3:25 p.m.

Conservative

Phil McColeman Conservative Brant, ON

Mr. Speaker, my colleague's question underscores what I said previously, that this is not just because of the lockout, as the opposition would now characterize the situation, but of an ongoing series of disruptions right across the country.

The issue then from a management point of view is, how do we prioritize? How do we tell some people that we will get mail through and others that we are not, and to give those directions to the people on the ground?

If one has a sense of business and knows that one has a responsibility to all business customers, not just to a certain few that are regarded as more important than others, a decision must be made to deal with the larger picture in a quick and decisive fashion. That is what our government is doing.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services LegislationGovernment Orders

3:25 p.m.

NDP

Anne Minh-Thu Quach NDP Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Mr. Speaker, what I find most irritating is that the Conservatives do not seem to realize that they are violating the rights of workers. Over the noon hour today, I spoke with a Canada Post union steward who turned up in my office on the Hill. He told me that the workers feel as though this government has sided with the employer. The workers want to negotiate. They were locked out by the employer and, more importantly, they are saying they that contribute to the profits.

Why punish the workers when their duties are constantly increasing and they have already gone through staff cutbacks?

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services LegislationGovernment Orders

3:30 p.m.

Conservative

Phil McColeman Conservative Brant, ON

Mr. Speaker, nothing can be more distorted than that comment. Obviously, the member did not listen to the fact that although the workers have the right to strike, the employer also has the right to a lockout.

By all means, let us get them back to the table. We are not siding with one side or the other. We are saying, let us get both parties back to the table, let us make sure that we can get this resolved, hopefully without this kind of legislation. We have been saying that for a long time.

The member needs to get her facts straight.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services LegislationGovernment Orders

3:30 p.m.

NDP

Alexandre Boulerice NDP Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like first to say I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Vancouver East.

Today is a dark day for Canada. The tabling of Bill C-6 is a blot on respect for democratic rights and workers’ right of association. This day will not go down in history as one where the government showed great respect for Canadians and for the rights of union members. The good news is that maybe the Conservative government has finally been unmasked. The mask has fallen away, revealing its true face. Unfortunately, it is not a pretty sight to behold. What we see is a government that is authoritarian, arrogant and contemptuous of working people, who just want to do their jobs in a reasonably healthy, safe environment. Instead of extending them a hand and pushing for real negotiations with the postal workers’ union, the government gets out its bazooka and bludgeon and tries to force the employees back to work by means of a special act, which even imposes salary conditions while not allowing the arbitrator to make a decision in full knowledge of the facts after drawing comparisons with the market and the economic situation at Canada Post.

I want to emphasize that this is a crazy, surrealistic, even Kafkaesque situation. I would encourage my colleagues to read The Trial by Kafka. It is very interesting and there are some strong parallels with the situation in which the postal workers now find themselves.

Since their negotiations were going nowhere and the employer was insisting on cutbacks in the collective agreement—I will talk a little later about the health and safety problems and the discriminatory treatment, especially in regard to the pension plans, which are a topic of great concern to many Quebeckers and Canadians these days—the union wanted to start applying gradual pressure. It did not want to launch a general strike because it did not want to paralyze the system. It wanted to use gentle pressure tactics at first, affecting one city at a time for 24 hours. The rest of the country would continue to function. This would get the employees talking and raise the awareness of Canadians, and the media would take an interest. That is how a dialogue is started with the public to move the issue along while pressuring the employer in a way that is legal, peaceful and progressive.

After only a few days, what did the employer do? The employer is a crown corporation and the government is ultimately responsible for it. The employer imposed a lockout. It shut down Canada Post across the country. It created the problem itself. The Conservative government is telling us that this is a terrible situation that is jeopardizing the economic recovery and the economic health of the country. But it is the one that created this situation by locking out the employees. If it is responsible for this paralysis, why is the government now riding in like a knight in shining armour to save the day and solve the problem, saying that everything will be fine, that it will bring in special legislation to force workers back to work? That is absurd. The Conservatives are the ones who stopped the delivery of regular mail across the country. Why do they not stand up and urge Canada Post to put an end to the lockout and to return to the bargaining table? This would enable members from Quebec to return to Quebec to celebrate Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day tomorrow with their constituents.

I would imagine that Michel Chartrand is rarely quoted in the House of Commons, but the Conservative government cannot invoke its own turpitude. It created this situation. It must take responsibility and put an end to the lockout in the interests of the unionized workers and their rights, and also in the interests of the people and the small and medium-sized businesses of this country.

The situation is even more absurd, since Canada Post is a remarkable, efficient, economical and profitable public service. Let me be clear: the private sector does not offer an alternative way to move such a high volume of mail every day from coast to coast. This is the best way we have to ensure that Canadians can send mail to other Canadians and to people around the world.

As well as being efficient, it is economical, because it is a public service that does not cost a lot of money. If we draw comparisons with many other countries, like Finland, Germany and the Netherlands, the price of regular stamps to send a letter in Canada is lower than in most other OECD countries. Furthermore, and this needs to be emphasized and repeated, last year, Canada Post made about $281 million in profits.

Why attack the rights of workers? Why create a pension plan that will be less beneficial for new employees? Why risk the health and safety of workers when we have a public firm that works well and makes money to boot? Where is the problem? Why does the Conservative government want to force these people to take a step backwards? Why attack the working conditions of 50,000 people across the country? Why attack the living conditions of 50,000 families across the country? Is that how the Conservatives plan to treat workers and their families over the next four years? Is this how the Conservative government envisions the future for workers and the working class: moving further and further backwards? That is unacceptable.

Another very important aspect of all this, beyond working conditions, is that we are dealing with the fundamental issue of respecting people's rights. In the Canadian federation, certain rights are enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. I think it is important to remember this. Canadians have the right to associate. They have the right to organize. They have the right to express themselves. They have the right to negotiate freely and to exert pressure, as set out in the Canada Labour Code. And that is what the Conservative government is attacking. It wants to destroy these rights. It wants to sweep them under the rug and tell people, “Hey, you have no choice; now get back to work”.

This is a threat to respect for the rights of all Canadians. All of the groups that are making demands, talking, protesting, getting organized and trying to peacefully improve things are worried today. Has history taught us that this is how progress is made? Is this how we moved past the middle ages, the industrial age and the widespread exploitation of workers? No, those things happened because people got together, joined forces, organized themselves and defended themselves, which resulted in social policies, social rights, the right to unionize, to bargain collectively, to have a labour contract that the employer must respect and to strike. That is why today, workers and Canadians are better off than they were a century or a century and a half ago.

The Conservative bill does not give the arbitrator the freedom and opportunity to decide on the best salary increase for Canada Post employees. This is unusual, new and very, very strange. We think that it adds insult to injury by setting salary increases that are lower than the employer's last offer. Should it not be the arbitrator, along with the two parties, deciding on the appropriate salary increases? How is it that the government is trying to save money by using special legislation that strips an arbitrator of the powers he usually has to settle this type of dispute?

If the employer felt it could offer these salary increases, then why is the Conservative government getting involved and imposing lower increases than the employer was offering? The employer itself acknowledged it could offer more and show more respect for the workers. Forcing the arbitrator to decide on lower salary increases is akin to stealing $35 million out of the pockets of Canada Post employees over the next four years. Just imagine what future labour relations are going to be like in that sector. Imagine how motivated these men and women are going to be if a labour contract is shoved down their throats. Is that how the government shows respect for those who provide good service across the country?

I think the government should react and respect the Canada Post employees, forget this special legislation, lift the lockout, ask both parties to negotiate and allow Quebec MPs to celebrate their national holiday.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services LegislationGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

Calgary Centre-North Alberta

Conservative

Michelle Rempel ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment

Mr. Speaker, the member opposite has said much about the rights of workers today and I would like to raise a concern of a constituent in my riding who is also a worker who said:

I strongly encourage you to legislate an immediate end to the postal strike. I am the head of finance for a business which employs approximately 80 people across the country. The nature of our business is such that we supply our products to many smaller and owner operated businesses who pay us by cheque and utilize the mail. In the first three days of this strike/lockout we have delayed sufficient receivables that we have now maxed out our credit line...We are in serious risk of going under if this situation is not resolved immediately.

Why will the member opposite not acknowledge that this legislation is needed to protect the rights of all Canadian workers?

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services LegislationGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

NDP

Alexandre Boulerice NDP Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for her question. I appreciate the message she just read. I understand how difficult the situation is for that person's business. Indeed, it is not funny.

I just want to make a correction: I take issue with a word that was used in that constituent's message. It is not a strike; it is a lockout. The employer is responsible for this. The Conservative government is responsible for this. The government should do that constituent a favour and lift the lockout.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services LegislationGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

NDP

Claude Gravelle NDP Nickel Belt, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate my colleague from Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie for his presentation on Canada Post. The corporation posted a $281 million profit last year. Its postal system is one of the best in the world. In his opinion, why did the Conservative government wish to create a crisis with Canada Post employees? Did it do so on purpose?

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services LegislationGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

NDP

Alexandre Boulerice NDP Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for the excellent question.

This is a very troubling start for this new Conservative majority government, which seems to be very proud of the strong mandate it was given, as it likes to repeat when answering every other question. They are off to a bad start. Confrontation has been their first response to dealing with labour relations, unions and workers. They do not show any respect.

The Conservative government, which is a right-leaning government, is sending the following message to all workers, and to the country's union, association and rights movements: be careful over the next four years; we do not like you; we will be breathing down your necks and we will try to break you.

However, the NDP knows which side it is on. We support the workers, families and ordinary people. We will continue the fight to defend and ensure respect for their rights.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services LegislationGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

Brad Butt Conservative Mississauga—Streetsville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have listened to New Democrats in the House wax poetic about what great champions of democracy they are, that they believe in the true democratic spirit, that everyone should have a right to vote and that everyone should have the right to self-determination. Yet I have not heard New Democrats stand in the House and suggest to the president of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers that his own members have the right to vote on any one of the three contract offers that Canada Post has made to the union.

The union bosses have refused to let their own members vote on any contract that is being offered. I happen to know that other members have indicated to me that they have had emails and phone calls from those workers who are very upset that their own union membership will not let them vote on the contract.

Would the member stand in his place and say that the union members deserve the right to vote on a contract?

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services LegislationGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

NDP

Alexandre Boulerice NDP Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I greatly appreciate this very pertinent question which allows me to set some things right. Perhaps my colleague is not very familiar with labour relations.

For the past nine years, I served as a union representative with the Canadian Union of Public Employees. I can assure him that unions, as democratic institutions, are still very vibrant and dynamic and they respect their members' freedom of expression.

In the normal bargaining process, members have had input into the list of demands, they have been part of the process, they have been consulted, they have voted on their executive, on the negotiating committee and on the strike mandate. Then, it is up to the negotiating committee to determine if it is in the interest of their members to present management's offer to a general assembly. It is their strategy, their decision, and it is respected. They have a legitimate democratic mandate.