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 #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

6:05 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Madam Speaker, that is the nice thing. Our leader has an open mind. Our leader sees the benefits of a bargaining system. He recognizes the difference between a walkout and a strike. He is not as dogmatic as New Democrats in this chamber. He sees what is important to Canadians. I could go on, but I do not know how much time I would be allowed.

I could maybe better educate the New Democratic Party in terms of the merits of the leader of the Liberal Party of Canada and the ways in which we could make a better difference if only a few of them would consider joining us with good ideas and supporting us, as opposed to flipping on different ideas such as budgets and so forth.

At the end of the day I am confident in the abilities of our leader in making sure that the Liberal Party takes the right position on the issues that are important to all Canadians.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services LegislationGovernment Orders

6:05 p.m.

NDP

Claude Patry NDP Jonquière—Alma, QC

Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with my colleague from Abitibi—Témiscamingue.

To know where we are going, we must know where we have come from. It takes two to tango. I was a worker in the Jonquière aluminum plant. I am a former union president and in 1976 I was locked out for six months. That experience leaves scars. After working for three years, we had a strike in 1979 and a labour dispute in 1995, trying to improve our pension fund, our living conditions and our wages. These are three important aspects for workers who fight to have something decent in their lives.

I believe that, in the union movement, both parties can find a solution if they want to, and if they must. They have to have the opportunity. The proof is that the union had started with rotating strikes. The legislation came down and there was a lockout even though the union was prepared to return to work and abide by the former collective agreement while waiting for the outcome of negotiations. It was a sign of good faith and they were locked out too quickly in that case.

Everyone is talking about the mail and email. I spoke with one woman, a letter carrier, who was on leave because of a work accident. All her documents were in limbo, her supervisor was in the dark, she was not being paid and no one was giving her any information. If that is how people are treated at Canada Post, I can understand that the employees are frustrated from time to time. This is not a normal situation.

A lockout is never a pleasant experience. The government, Canada Post and the workers have all lost money. For the head of a household, the impact is even greater. The rent is due at the end of the month and groceries are needed every Thursday, the same day the car's gas tank has to be filled. Thus, I am very cautious in this regard.

I spoke this morning with the union president. The member for Chicoutimi—Le Fjord and I, in my capacity as the member for Jonquière—Alma, sent a press release to our constituents informing them of the NDP's support and that we would be in the House, even if that meant that we would be here on the June 24 national holiday. It is our duty to stand by the people because it is a major problem. I would have liked the parties to sit down again to find a solution. When both parties want to, they can find solutions. It takes two to tango.

What also worries me is that everyone is talking about pension funds. The mayor of Montreal spoke about it in the newspaper. It is the same in Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean for Rio Tinto Alcan. There is not enough money in the fund. What these companies are not saying is that they were given employment insurance premium holidays and now they are facing the consequences. That is where a nerve is struck and the hurt sets in. Workers and the company contribute to pension funds to ensure viable retirements. If these people start to see their pensions decrease, we will not need to pass legislation because they will be forced to work until they are 65. That is the difference. They should at least have a chance at a good retirement at 60 or 65. What is happening right now is terrible.

There is talk about Canada Post's profitability. It is the same for the forestry industry. Wood is not selling, neither is paper. We communicate electronically now, so it makes sense. There are no paper books anymore; they are all electronic. Of course that has an impact. But Canada Post made $281 million in profits. That is a lot of money. A stamp in Canada costs 59¢, but stamps in Austria and the Netherlands are more expensive, they cost 64¢. There has to be profitability somewhere.

I am proud of these people, because they work hard to deliver the mail through snow and rain. Today there are equal numbers of men and women who do this job and it is not easy to carry parcels. I cannot help but think of the scars this lockout will leave when they go back to work, if they are forced to do so. Consider the poisonous work environment that will prevail. I am very disappointed that people are being treated like this in 2011, when they were trying to find peaceful solutions and communicate in order to improve the situation, rather than stretching the elastic until it snapped, leaving us to deal with lawsuits.

The right to bargain is a legitimate right and the right to strike is the only action that workers can use, just as the employer has the right to lock out its employees.

Let me just say again that the government moved a little too quickly on this.

In closing, I would like to read a press release that was sent this morning. I took a few notes. As I said, it is a strange coincidence. Is the government trying to undermine pension funds? Will the private sector do the same thing to its workers and reduce their pensions? In that case, we will not have to pass legislation to make them work until the age of 65 or 70, because they will have to work that long, because they need the money.

I will read the press release and then give the floor to my colleague.

For healthy negotiation

The members of Parliament [for Chicoutimi—Le Fjord and Jonquière—Alma] stand in solidarity with the postal workers and strongly oppose Bill C-6, which imposes an unfair ruling on thousands of postal workers.

Chicoutimi, June 23, 2011—As the House of Commons debates Bill C-6, introduced by the [Conservative] government to force the resumption of postal services in the country at the expense of working conditions for the postal workers, the hon. members for Chicoutimi—Le Fjord and Jonquière—Alma would like to announce their solidarity with the locked out postal workers; they are currently working on convincing the government to drop this bill and make room for bargaining in good faith.

“The Conservative government's current attitude is unacceptable. The fundamental right to bargain in good faith concerning working conditions at Canada Post is put in jeopardy by this special legislation. The Prime Minister is taking sides in this labour dispute and condemning Canada Post workers to double punishment: being thrown out in the street by a lockout and then being asked to return to work under less advantageous conditions than were being bargained for. I must say that my background as a union activist is motivating the position I am taking today as a member of Parliament: I support the postal workers and their right to negotiate”, said the hon. member for Jonquière—Alma...

“We are currently working in the House to make the government understand that this special legislation is unacceptable and that it must be withdrawn in order to allow both parties in the dispute to continue bargaining to end the lockout and resume postal services. The postal workers contribute fully to the success of this crown corporation, which offers an excellent service to the Canadian public that compares favourably with other postal services around the world and makes a profit. It is unacceptable that a frontal assault on our postal workers' pension fund or working conditions is being sanctioned by an exceptional provision. While the government is the guarantor of the country's postal service, it must also protect workers' rights. That is the principle we will defending until the end in this debate, even if we have to spend our national holiday in the House to do it,” said ..., the hon. member for Chicoutimi—Le Fjord.

As a negotiator, I have spent long nights and weekends negotiating. I would be proud to spend the national holiday here with my colleagues working to settle this dispute.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services LegislationGovernment Orders

6:15 p.m.

Peterborough Ontario

Conservative

Dean Del Mastro ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister and to the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs

Madam Speaker, I listened with interest to the member's comments. He said that it takes two willing parties to negotiate such a deal. I believe he said, “We have to have a partner to dance”. I would agree.

Negotiations on this contract have been going on since October. One thing is clear. Whether through the rotating strikes that were occurring, which were having impacts on Canadians from coast to coast to coast in this country, or the lockout that ensued, this is punitive on the Canadian public, punitive on the millions of Canadians who are not at the bargaining table.

I wonder if the member has considered those Canadians or if he has thought about them. The NDP had a motion on small business yesterday. Has he thought about the impact that this impasse is having on small businesses, on seniors, on everyday Canadians? What about them?

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services LegislationGovernment Orders

6:15 p.m.

NDP

Claude Patry NDP Jonquière—Alma, QC

Madam Speaker, I am very sensitive to that. I, too, think about the families that are deprived of their livelihood and about the fact that there will be no groceries on Thursday because there is no paycheque. I am sensitive to all of that.

I think we should have given people a chance to sit down or even asked other mediators to work on moving the issue forward. I still believe in that. It is too fast. It is disgraceful, although I hesitate to use that word in the House, since I am new here. I cannot use just any word, but I find this disgraceful.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services LegislationGovernment Orders

6:15 p.m.

NDP

Hélène LeBlanc NDP LaSalle—Émard, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague, who gave a good summary of the current situation, with all the passion we expect from him.

I would like to know whether the steps undertaken in Bill C-6 create a dangerous precedent with respect to the erosion of public services and collective bargaining.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services LegislationGovernment Orders

6:15 p.m.

NDP

Claude Patry NDP Jonquière—Alma, QC

Madam Speaker, I did not hear my colleague's entire question.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services LegislationGovernment Orders

6:15 p.m.

NDP

Hélène LeBlanc NDP LaSalle—Émard, QC

Madam Speaker, I congratulate my hon. colleague on the speech he made with all the passion we expect from him.

Could Bill C-6, which is before the House, not create a dangerous precedent with respect to the potential erosion of public services in the future?

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services LegislationGovernment Orders

6:15 p.m.

NDP

Claude Patry NDP Jonquière—Alma, QC

Madam Speaker, yes, the danger is that this could have an affect on other movements.

If things like this become commonplace, others will use such measures in the future. Not just Canada Post, but the private sector as well. That is what bargaining will turn into. When a government starts interfering with laws and the legitimate right to bargain, and to strike if the bargaining does not work, when a government imposes laws like that, it leaves scars and creates a bad work environment. Things are very difficult in a factory or workplace when conflicts are ended this way.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services LegislationGovernment Orders

6:20 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Sgro Liberal York West, ON

Madam Speaker, I listened quite intently to the hon. member and his comments. He makes it sound as if nobody else in the House cares about the workers or the impact that all of this has on all sides and on the citizens of our great country.

His party often exposes what its members would do if they were to form the government. If they were in this position, what would they do?

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services LegislationGovernment Orders

6:20 p.m.

NDP

Claude Patry NDP Jonquière—Alma, QC

Madam Speaker, I would force the two parties to sit down, to work and to find a solution.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services LegislationGovernment Orders

6:20 p.m.

NDP

Christine Moore NDP Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Madam Speaker, I rise today because I consider this motion to be one of the most important this legislature has had to consider to date.

It is important because we are being asked to rush through the consideration of a bill that is every bit as important to the future of all Canadian workers as it is to that of the employees of Canada Post.

This bill, if adopted by the House, will be a major step backwards following decades of work by our Canadian unions. It will fly in the face of the legitimate right of workers to negotiate their working conditions, a hard- won fight waged by our ancestors who helped shape Canada’s labour history.

Here is what has occurred: Canada Post employees went on a rotating strike at 11.59 p.m. on June 2, 2011, giving the assurance that it would have no impact on the delivery of government cheques, thereby minimizing any potential adverse impact on the public, even though there was no legal obligation to do so.

Moreover, the Minister of Labour stated on the morning of June 14 that back to work legislation was not necessary since it was a rotating strike and mail delivery was continuing. On the morning of June 15, 2011, the minister announced that she had, in fact, received very few complaints regarding the rotating strikes at Canada Post.

On the evening of June 14, 2011, claiming it had suffered losses of $100 million, the employer, one of this government’s crown corporations, decided to impose a lockout, completely paralyzing the postal service, despite the fact that the rotating strikes continued to ensure the delivery of mail.

The government then decided that the disruption to postal services had gone on too long, and chose to introduce legislation to force Canada Post employees back to work only one day after the imposition of a lockout that it had itself created, on the pretext that it was in the best interests of the Canadian economy.

Worse still, the government has included working conditions in the bill that are worse than those proposed to workers under the employer’s most recent offer, as if they had not already been sufficiently insulted. The arbitrator will have to choose one of these proposals. There are no shades of grey; it is all black or white.

This bill may end up setting an incredible precedent in the history of Canadian workers. The implication is that the government could henceforth take it upon itself to intervene in a situation of its own making by forcing workers to return to work under worse conditions than those initially proposed.

This bill is clearly important, as it will draw a line in the sand in terms of workers’ rights in our country.

We have a motion before us today to limit debate on this bill, with no acknowledgement of its importance. This bill will violate the rights of workers, and yet the government has the gall to ask us to approve it as quickly as possible.

Given the importance of this bill, I feel it is crucial that we take the time to think things over and ask the questions that need to be asked. But it will be impossible to do that with a clear head if there is no adjournment until the end of debate on this bill.

Giving orders about working conditions can have disastrous consequences. In 2005, I had working conditions forced on me when I worked in the health sector in Quebec, and I suffered the consequences.

First, I felt as though it were an attack. People with no real concept of our day-to-day reality had decided for us, even though it is the workers who live that reality. My trust in the government that made the decision was shattered. And that feeling lasts and lasts.

Being left out of the talks that will govern your reality is the worst affront for a worker who is dedicated to the job. It is as though the worker has become nothing but a number to a machine that is too big to realize that people are affected by these decisions—mothers, fathers, young, motivated workers and others with more experience—all proud of the professions they have chosen.

Then there was the return to work. The workers were bitter and unmotivated after the ruling, their hope lost in light of a true evaluation of their worth. They lost their sense of belonging. When you are treated like a pawn, you are prone to act like one.

Many nurses deserted the public health system because they felt ignored after the ruling. The vast majority of them chose to go to private nursing placement agencies where they have the right to do what was refused them—negotiate their working conditions.

Private nursing agencies have had disastrous consequences for our health care system in Quebec. They have quite simply caused costs to skyrocket, when it comes to the salaries paid, to pay for these agency nurses. The agencies have been a contributing factor in major conflicts between employees in the public system, who then often have to work overtime, and private agency employees, who go home without suffering those consequences.

Other conflicts have erupted when hospitals had no choice but to assign additional day shifts to private agencies, since they refused to work the evening and night shifts. The hospitals then turned to their own employees and demanded that they work the night and evening shifts.

What point is there in staying in the public system if it means being saddled with lower wages and less favourable working conditions compared to private agency employees?

When the 2011 collective agreement was negotiated, the Quebec government did not make the mistake of legislating working conditions. There was real bargaining, which brought the two parties to a satisfactory agreement. Bit by bit, the feeling of sharing in the pride of a profession has returned, but the wounds take a long time to heal.

The damage done to our health care system by the intrusion of private agencies will take much longer than five years to heal. Those wounds would probably not have been so deep if the government had not legislated working conditions in 2006.

The reason I have brought all this up is that I am concerned about the potential privatization of Canada Post. What seems to be hidden in this bill is a desire to privatize Canada Post.

This motion wants to make me give the bill hastier consideration, even though it may bring about profound changes in the future of a corporation as important as Canada Post, a corporation, a system, that has left its mark on Canadian history.

Considering the hidden agenda to privatize postal services, it is crucial to point out that Canada Post is a very profitable concern at present: it had revenue totalling $281 million last year. The cost of sending a standard letter is currently $0.59 in Canada, while in all countries that have privatized their postal services it is always higher. In Germany, it is $0.77, and it is $0.88 in Austria and $0.64 in the Netherlands. Obviously our public system is benefiting. And the other thing is that if we move toward a private system, the competition will push a lot of businesses toward the major centres and there will be no one left to serve small, remote communities.

Who will come to serve the country roads and isolated communities in my riding? No one. What business would agree to come and serve the towns of St-Lambert-de-Desmeloizes, Belleterre, Saint-Nazaire-de-Berry and Bellecombe? None. Why? Because it would not be lucrative.

There are seniors in my riding who live out in the country and no longer have a driver's licence. They have made the decision to remain in their homes, many of which they built themselves. I wonder how they will get their mail.

Therefore, if I am asked to hurry up and pass this bill as soon as possible, despite all the consequences it could have, I will stand up and firmly oppose it. I would also like to point out the disrespect this government is showing for our Quebec nation. It is telling us that if we want to celebrate our national holiday, we must do so at the expense of the Canada Post workers.

I have missed Saint-Jean-Baptiste celebrations in the past, when I worked as a nurse in the hospital. It did not really bother me that much, because I told myself that my patients needed me. Today I know that the Canada Post workers need members who will stand up for them, as the NDP members will. I will miss my national holiday for them. It does not bother me, because I know they need me.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services LegislationGovernment Orders

6:30 p.m.

Peterborough Ontario

Conservative

Dean Del Mastro ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister and to the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs

Madam Speaker, as I said earlier for one of the other members, bargaining on this current contract began last October. Clearly, the parties had a significant number of issues to discuss, and not the least among them is the fact that the Canada Post business model is changing dramatically. In fact, many Canadians, if they live in an urban setting and if they have access to broadband and Internet, have found ways to significantly replace a lot of their mail. In fact, Canada Post's own numbers indicate that postal flow is dropping fairly dramatically.

One of the things that really concerns me, and I wonder if it concerns the member, is this. From the moment in time that the rotating strikes began and then throughout the lockout period, it was clear that Canadians, financial institutions, utility companies and others had been encouraging people to move away from using the mail and to move toward use of electronic statements. This is damaging the post office's long-term business structure.

I am concerned that rural Canadians in my riding are going to have to pay inflated prices for mail because the Canada Post business model is being permanently damaged by these actions.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services LegislationGovernment Orders

6:30 p.m.

NDP

Christine Moore NDP Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to tell my hon. colleague that, although the use of Internet services has increased, for paying bills, for instance, there is nevertheless a limit to everything. There are things that cannot be done online. Furthermore, in my riding, many people in the country do not even have high-speed Internet service. How can those people use that method to pay their bills?

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services LegislationGovernment Orders

6:30 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Madam Speaker, sometimes in these discussions we forget the realities of people's lives. I have an email from a worker in my riding. I will not read the whole email, but this is the reality for some of these letter carriers.

The email says that letter carriers start out as temporary workers and are told they are likely to be temporary for three to five years. In Nanaimo they are temporary for much longer. Mike in this case has worked for Canada Post as a temporary letter carrier since 2004. He receives no paid vacation, no paid sick time and no pension. Mostly he works full-time hours, but sometimes he finishes a work week and is told that there may not be work for him in the following week. In 2009, he spent five months in this situation, and out of that five months he only worked three weeks.

I wonder if the member could comment on the fact these letter carriers are often in precarious employment situations and that we need to do everything that we can to support workers in their right to bargain for fair and reasonable employment.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services LegislationGovernment Orders

6:30 p.m.

NDP

Christine Moore NDP Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Madam Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for her comment. The working conditions for postal workers are often not every secure at first. One of my roommates started working at Canada Post and at first his job varied quite a bit. He had to work as both a security guard and a letter carrier. He tried to juggle both positions, never knowing when he was going to be called by either employer. I think negotiating this collective agreement could have helped these workers avoid such situations.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services LegislationGovernment Orders

6:30 p.m.

Oshawa Ontario

Conservative

Colin Carrie ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health

Madam Speaker, I just heard one of the member's colleagues talk about reality. Well, I would like to talk to her about the reality in my riding and some of the calls I am getting at my office.

I am getting calls from seniors who are worried about strike's effects on the cheques they need, if the strike is prolonged. I am getting calls from people with disabilities who are worried about having their cheques delivered. I am getting calls from small businesses that are relying on cheques coming into their offices so they can pay their employees.

We are just exiting one of the worst recessions in history. I would like the member to tell my constituents, the people who are real to me, what she is going to say to them when they are depending on that postal service to provide jobs in my community. What is she going to say to them?

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services LegislationGovernment Orders

6:35 p.m.

NDP

Christine Moore NDP Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Madam Speaker, during the rotating strike, there were very few consequences for the general public. The government could have acted to prevent the lockout and to ensure that people in every constituency in Canada did not have to deal with lengthy delays.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services LegislationGovernment Orders

6:35 p.m.

Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia Manitoba

Conservative

Steven Fletcher ConservativeMinister of State (Transport)

Madam Speaker, this is my first opportunity to present a speech to the House since the last election. I would like to take a moment to thank the people of Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia for re-electing me, the people of Winnipeg for electing several more Conservative colleagues, and the people of Canada for electing a strong, stable majority government.

I would also like to thank the Prime Minister for the opportunity to serve as Minister of State for Transport.

In this role as minister of state, I am responsible for a number of crown corporations. Canada Post is one of them. Therefore, I am pleased to have the opportunity to address the importance of the legislation to resolve the labour dispute that we now see occurring between Canada Post and the Canadian Union of Postal Workers.

Canada Post and the urban component of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, otherwise known as CUPW, have been negotiating since October 2010. I am sorry to note that despite some eight months of discussions, the parties have made little progress in their negotiations.

Today, I will be focusing my remarks on the impact of the work stoppage on Canadian postal consumers and businesses and on Canada Post, both today and in the future.

The current labour action is damaging to the Canadian economy and to many small businesses and individuals who rely on the postal service. Canada's economy is still in a fragile recovery. In fact, if we look around the world, including at the situation in some European countries and the geopolitical instability in the world, we realize there are many forces that create uncertainty. This is not a pleasant reality but it is reality, and a reality in which Canadians must live.

The work stoppage will only slow our economic recovery if it is allowed to continue. Therefore, the government needs to take action. To mitigate the damage, our government is enacting back to work legislation. The economic downturn of 2008 has had a severe effect on the Canadian economy and on many businesses, including Canada Post.

As a result of the recession and the increasing competition from other channels of communication, such as email and the Internet, Canada Post has experienced declines in its domestic letter volume, as well as in its domestic parcel and ad mail volumes. The decline in letter mail to postal addresses amounts to some 17% over the last five years. That is a significant number.

Also, as the Canadian population grows, the number of addresses and delivery points increases, and so does the cost per piece of delivered mail. In other words, it costs more to send mail due to the increase in the number of addresses.

There are many pension plans in Canada. Canada Post has a pension plan, but it has lost substantial value following the economic downturn. I understand that the loss in value of the plan was more than 19% between 2007 and the end of 2008.

Since 2008, Canada Post has reacted strongly to the threats posed by the economic downturn and the increased competition. Canada Post has been seeking ways to position itself for the future. It is hoping to improve its business sustainability by working with its employees to bring about greater efficiencies and more flexibility in the way work is carried out. It has cut its management ranks by 15% and has reduced other costs in a bid to become more efficient.

Like other competitive postal service providers around the world, Canada Post is trying to become even more efficient and competitive. It has started a major infrastructure renewal project across the country called postal transformation.

In fact, on the boundary of my riding in my home city of Winnipeg, I was fortunate to have the opportunity, with my colleague, the member for Yellowhead and former minister of state, to see the opening of a fantastic facility with state-of-the-art infrastructure. The efficiencies were evident. Canada Post is obviously planning for the future.

It is through this project that Canada Post will replace obsolete and outdated plants, equipment and processes. It will implement technology that other postal administrations around the world are using successfully. It will renovate its plants to ensure safer working conditions for its employees. Canada Post has stated that without subsidies from taxpayers, these measures will not be enough for it to continue to deliver affordable mail to Canadians.

Since the postal business is labour intensive, most of Canada Post's costs are labour related. For example, Canada Post's pension plan has liabilities that are more than twice the company's annual revenue. At the end of 2010, the company had an estimated pension solvency shortfall of more than $3.2 billion. Canada Post is committed to meeting its pension obligations. The money it spends ensuring that its pension plan will remain solvent is money not available to be spent on operations or modernization.

Our government's position on these negotiations is clear. We would prefer a negotiated settlement. We have been encouraging Canada Post and CUPW to come to a negotiated agreement. However, there is a third party in these negotiations that our government cannot ignore. That is why we are here today. Canadians are that third party. They are the shareholders and customers of the important postal services that Canada Post and its employees provide. As a crown corporation, if Canada Post's profitability drops and it cannot fund its pension plans, taxpayers will be left with the bill.

The union's demands during this labour dispute do not reflect many of the economic realities that Canada Post is facing. A drastic increase in costs at Canada Post will only end in taxpayers footing the bill.

There are those who believe that back to work legislation is not needed. They claim that the postal service is no longer an essential one, as it once was. While it is true that Canadians are increasingly using a growing number of other channels of communication, it is not simply a question of replacing one mode of communication with another. Many modes co-exist and the postal service will continue to remain important for the foreseeable future. For example, parcel and small packet delivery by Canada Post is critical to Canadian businesses and consumers and to the economy in general.

Canada Post is working toward building a sustainable future. In developing other services that will complement traditional mail, Canada Post is adapting. An example of this is Canada Post's retail network, one of the largest in the country. It is leveraging its retail network to provide services to Canadians. Canada Post has recently set up a new secure online service for comparison shopping and online advertising to allow consumers to quickly find the best deal on the right product and, of course, to ensure it is delivered at a reasonable price.

Nonetheless, traditional mail remains an important channel of communication for businesses and consumers alike. Many small businesses are dependent on mail for advertising and the delivery of parcels. While it is true that couriers also deliver parcels, at least in urban areas, none can fully compete with Canada Post.

Many businesses are turning to other modes of communication due to this work stoppage, so the longer this work stoppage goes on, the greater the damage is to Canada Post's prospects for the future.

For some firms there are no alternatives to Canada Post. These are small businesses without the ability or technology to conduct their business online. Some small businesses are using other courier companies to deliver their packages but are finding they have to pay more than they had to with Canada Post. This is affecting those small businesses' profitability and competitiveness.

Also, small businesses and charities still rely on Canada Post for billing purposes and fundraising. This work stoppage is drying up their cash flow. The cash flow of charities, small businesses and individuals is what we are really talking about, grassroots Canadians.

In short, mail is an important enabler of Canadian commerce which is now being threatened by this work stoppage. I would like to share a comment from a small business owner in my riding, who said:

The bill must pass immediately. This must end. Our customers are used to receiving hard copy invoices by mail and customers return payment by Canada Post. That is not happening. Couriers are much more expensive. We cannot pass on the cost in today's competitive environment.

We have cheques that were caught by the stoppage. It has cost us $12 to stop payment on those cheques to our suppliers and more to resend them by courier.

This situation must end. It is damaging small business. Canada Post must go back to work as soon as possible.

In referring to Canada Post, I believe the small business owner is talking about the corporate entity and its entire workforce.

I give that as one example from Winnipeg which highlights the impact the stoppage is having not only on Canada Post and its future, but also on the ability of Canadians to do their business.

One of the more remarkable things about the postal system is how firmly entrenched it is in all facets of Canadian society, so much so that we take it for granted or even ignore it, but we notice when for some reason the mail is not delivered.

While it is true the occasional letter or parcel may go astray over the years, Canada Post has consistently averaged on-time delivery 96% of the time, as verified by third parties. That is quite impressive considering that Canada Post processes some 40 million pieces of mail for 50 million residential and business addresses every business day. The stoppage is obviously preventing that from happening.

Let us look at the international picture for a moment. Among other major postal service providers, only the United States Postal Service is marginally cheaper than Canada Post. The United States Postal Service does this with a multi-billion dollar deficit in a country with more than 10 times the population of Canada.

As I stated, our reliance on the mail only becomes fully apparent when it does not get delivered. Although the dispute is between Canada Post and the urban component of CUPW, rural Canadians and businesses across the country are also being hurt. As a result of the work stoppage, rural mail is not being delivered. The vast majority of rural newspapers and magazines rely on Canada Post for delivery. Rural residents rely primarily on Canada Post to deliver items that would otherwise not be available through other distribution channels.

Even competing couriers have arrangements to have their packages delivered by Canada Post in rural and remote areas. As a result of the vastness and impressive network of delivery that Canada Post has across our country, couriers use Canada Post for what is described as the last mile of delivery outside of urban areas. Naturally, that last mile is not being completed at present because Canada Post is not functioning, which leads to the obvious conclusion that back to work legislation is needed.

Certain segments of the population, including seniors and shut-ins, also tend to rely heavily on Canada Post and have limited alternatives during a mail stoppage.

The labour dispute is impacting Canada Post's profitability and its continued ability to modernize without cost to taxpayers in the short and long term. I will give the House some numbers. During the rotating strikes, Canada Post estimated that mail volume had declined by 50% and that it had cost over $100 million by the time the lockout occurred.

I suspect the work stoppage will have permanent effects. Companies and consumers have found alternative options to postal service for bill payments and communication. The fact that this work stoppage has occurred leads people to accelerate their switch from traditional mail to e-billing or e-banking, for example. This loss of volume of work due to the stoppage may never return, as businesses and consumers move permanently to electronic alternatives.

At stake is the future of Canada Post and affordable and efficient mail service for all Canadians. Canada Post must modernize if it is to remain profitable. The impact of the work stoppage on Canada Post's bottom line has impacted all of us. The longer this situation continues, the worse the long-term effects will be.

CUPW and Canada Post have had many months to resolve their differences and negotiate a new collective agreement. They have not succeeded and there is no sign that they will succeed any time soon.

We expect Canada Post to provide quality postal service to Canadians on which Canadians can count. The government has introduced the Canadian postal service charter, and I thank the member for Yellowhead for his leadership in that. Through the service charter, the government has clearly expressed its expectations that Canada Post provide postal service to all Canadians, especially those in rural areas and those who are vulnerable.

This work stoppage could have a permanent impact on the quality of postal service across Canada for a long time. After eight months of failed negotiations, it is time to consider the needs of Canadians and consumers, businesses and taxpayers. It is time for back to work legislation. The time is now.

Canada Post is a critical part of not only the Canadian economy, but the Canadian way of life. By introducing back to work legislation, we are ensuring that the Canadian economy has the ability to recover from an economic downtown. We are ensuring that Canada Post has a future. We are ensuring that Canadians have the best possible postal service today and in the future. Let us get it done so Canadians can get their mail.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services LegislationGovernment Orders

6:55 p.m.

NDP

Jamie Nicholls NDP Vaudreuil—Soulanges, QC

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate the hon. member opposite on his re-election.

Surely, the hon. member would know that under the rotating strikes, birthday cards, well wishes cards and small business packages had the capability of passing through the system and getting to the person.

Would the hon. member highlight for members in the chamber and Canadians the difference between a lockout and a rotating strike and how during a lockout there is no possibility for people to get their mail whereas during a rotating strike there is? Would the hon. member also highlight why the government chose to lock out the workers and thus end the possibility of anyone in Canada getting their mail?

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services LegislationGovernment Orders

6:55 p.m.

Conservative

Steven Fletcher Conservative Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia, MB

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate the member on his re-election.

The member will agree that despite differences, we live in the greatest country in the world and it is very good that we have the opportunity to debate these types of issues in this forum.

To answer the member's question, the challenge with the rotating strikes has been that they are very disruptive to Canada Post's ability to delivery mail. The rotating strikes went from smaller centres and rotated to very large centres. This caused uncertainty to the business community. Mail volumes decreased by 50% and the work stoppages were essentially almost as effective as a national strike. It is my understanding that this is why we are where we are. It is because of the impact the rotating strikes had, which was as effective as a national strike.

What we need to do now is to get things rolling, get CUPW workers and Canada Post delivering the mail to Canadians so we can all move on, and this is what the proposed legislation does.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services LegislationGovernment Orders

6:55 p.m.

Peterborough Ontario

Conservative

Dean Del Mastro ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister and to the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs

Mr. Speaker, there is this misperception that the NDP really wants to project to Canadians. In fact, it is not truthful to say that the government locked out Canada Post workers.

In fact, did the minister, who is responsible for Canada Post, lock out Canada Post workers or was the decision taken by the executives, who have been appointed to run Canada Post on behalf of Canadians?

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services LegislationGovernment Orders

6:55 p.m.

Conservative

Steven Fletcher Conservative Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia, MB

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate the member for Peterborough on his re-election and for the community museum in Peterborough.

The very important point is that Canada Post, like all crown corporations, is arm's-length from government. We do not make the operational decisions. The lockout was a decision of Canada Post. The only stake the government has here is representing the people of Canada. The government has brought forward the legislation because the people of Canada want their mail. The people in Canada want Canada Post to sustain itself in the future and they are asking their MPs to please pass this legislation so they can get their mail.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services LegislationGovernment Orders

6:55 p.m.

Bloc

André Bellavance Bloc Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to tell the minister that in this matter, the government is playing firefighter but lit the fire itself.

We will not bother bickering over whether it was Canada Post or the government that really triggered the lockout, but one thing is certain: Canada Post triggered a lockout simply because the government threatened to pass special legislation. The employer thought it was free to impose whatever it wanted on the workers who, we admit, had decided to go on a rotating strike. This affected the public on a small scale. It was a pressure tactic. In a democracy, people have to be able to negotiate until the end.

Does the minister think that the government truly gave both parties a chance to really negotiate? I think with the special legislation, the employer got the upper hand.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services LegislationGovernment Orders

7 p.m.

Conservative

Steven Fletcher Conservative Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia, MB

Mr. Speaker, the premise of the preamble of the question is completely false. I remind the member that the parties had eight months of negotiations. In fact, there was even a federal election in that period of time. There was plenty of opportunity.

It is clear now that parties are not going to come to a negotiated settlement. A negotiated settlement is the strong preference of the government and if they were able to come to an agreement, we would not be here. However, they are unable to do that. This is why we are bringing forward the proposed legislation so we can get the mail to Canadians.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services LegislationGovernment Orders

7 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague, a fellow Winnipegger, for his address. I wonder if he is aware, though, that the $3.2 billion shortfall in the pension can be traced back to its origins in the fact that it was an underfunded pension plan, and that for the last decade or more Canada Post has been generating a profit and submitting that profit to general revenue.

Does my colleague know that the mandate of Canada Post is simply to deliver mail to the greatest number of Canadians at the lowest possible cost? Nowhere does the mandate of Canada Post include giving hundreds of millions of dollars a year in dividends to the federal government.

Had Canada Post been funding its pension adequately with that money, instead of putting it into general revenue, we would not have an underfunded pension.