Mr. Speaker, I know that all members in the House are tired at this point, but it is our duty to be here to speak on behalf of our constituents regardless of our opinion.
As this is my first moment in the House to be giving a brief speech, I want to thank the constituents of Edmonton--Strathcona for re-electing me and for having the confidence in me to represent their interests in the House.
As have all of my colleagues in the House, I too have received quite a few emails, and some letters too. I do not know if those came by passenger pigeon; I thought those went via the way of the dodo.
As members on both sides of the House have said, our constituents are deeply concerned that they are not receiving their pension cheques, their old age security cheques, their provincial welfare cheques, disability assistance cheques and so forth. We all share that concern.
And we all share the concerns of the various non-governmental organizations that our communities depend on. They depend on government cheques for grants and donations and the campaigns they run in order to gather funding.
I am gratified by some of my constituents who have raised concerns about the impact of the strike on their businesses but nonetheless they have congratulated me on my re-election. They respect my determination and principles, wish me luck and tell me to keep up the great work.
Those are the kinds of constituents I have in Edmonton--Strathcona. They understand that we deal with difficult issues. They understand that there are pushes and pulls between employers, employees and unions. There are those who are not necessarily for unions and would like to strike the unions down.
One of the things that has troubled me in this debate is the suggestion by members on the other side of the House that somehow we are doing something importune by continuing this debate into the wee hours. Let us remember that it is the government that is trying to force this legislation through in a rushed manner. We were forced to resort to mechanisms to represent our constituents and those who are going to be impacted by this repressive legislation.
I too share, with my colleagues from Jonquière—Alma and Scarborough—Rouge River, the concern about the suggestion that we on this side of the House only care about people who work in unions. There is a bit of hypocrisy there. There have been complaints that my fellow caucus members are not speaking to the subject of the legislation. At the same time they accuse us of only representing the interests of union workers. They cannot have it both ways.
As some members have reminded the House, we are talking about legislation that is going to affect the rights and privileges of union members, particularly union members who are postal workers. Therefore it is logical that if members are speaking to the bill then that is what they would address.
In no way does that mean that our members, or any member in the House, do not care about people who work in any place of employment, whether they are sole proprietors, lawyers in a law firm, surgeons or dentists, working in a corner grocery store or a large corporation, or they are miners or farmers. Surely all Canadians have rights and privileges, and we have the responsibility to protect those rights and privileges.
I would remind the House that we are discussing a particular piece of legislation that the government has tabled in the House. By the way, it was at the last minute and just before we were about to adjourn.
I am also deeply troubled by the suggestion that we are either for seniors or for private entrepreneurs, or we are for union workers. Surely our responsibility as elected members is to represent every Canadian equally and to make sure their rights and interests are protected.
I heard a lot of discussion in the House about protecting the rights of various members who run businesses themselves, but I have not heard a lot about the people who are working for those businesses and whether provisions are in place to protect the rights and interests of those workers.
As a number of members on my side of the House have mentioned, it is through the organized labour movement that we have the right to practise what some members in this House call family values.
What are family values? Surely it is the right for people to have time off from employment to spend with their children, with elderly parents, to visit them in their retirement homes, to travel across the country and visit cousins.
That is what these workers are fighting for: the right to have extended time off. It is my understanding that what is being proposed is to limit the time off from work. That does not sound like family values to me.
We have heard in the House over the past week about the reports of rising family debt. Yet, the proposal in the government legislation is to reduce the salary levels below even what the employer was offering. The result down the line is that we will have even more family debt. Surely every Canadian should have the right to a liveable wage.
If we do not ensure that the employers are providing a liveable wage, somewhere down the line the taxpayers will have to supplement that. That is why we fight for a liveable wage. People prefer to work hard and earn that liveable wage. They do not want to have to turn to one order of government or another to supplement them, or to turn to a food bank.
We have heard the discussions by some hon. members that even some of our veterans, who have served valiantly overseas in defending the freedoms of our country or other countries, are now having to turn to food banks. We need to make sure that all workers, our armed forces, RCMP, police officers, postal workers, nurses, have a liveable wage.
It troubles me very deeply. I am getting the sense that some employees should have rights and that some employees do not deserve those rights.
I want to give hon. members a concrete example of where unions have stood up for the kinds of workers that the government has been promoting: temporary foreign workers. In the province I come from there were tens of thousands of temporary foreign workers brought in. Who was looking after their interests? It was the unions that stood up and came to the forefront. They offered free legal assistance to these workers where the governments had dropped the ball.
Both orders of government dropped the ball on that. Who was looking after the interests of workers who were working for private businesses and big corporations? The government was not there for them; it was the unions that stepped up to the plate.
The unions had no interest in protecting foreign workers who could potentially replace their own members' employment, but they fought for proper inspections to ensure the rights of the temporary foreign workers were being respected. That is the value of the unions.
I have never been a member of a union. I have not done union work or labour work in my practice. That does not mean that I do not respect the work of my colleagues. I have great respect for my colleagues who have done this work. It is tough, hard, arduous work to be at those negotiation tables. It is a very valuable role to play, whether one is on the management side or the employee side. I think we should respect the advances that have been made in this country.
I have had the honour and privilege of working overseas in countries where we trade, and these rights and privileges do not exist. These are the kinds of countries where we are exporting products like asbestos. Daily I would go to my work and I would see the workers in bare feet going to construction sites. They were not provided with boots. They had no helmets, no proper clothing, no proper way to wash and no union protections. In fact in most cases, if they tried to unionize, they would be beaten.
We are very fortunate in this country. We are very fortunate that a lot of those who work in the unions have freely been offering their assistance to other nations to make sure they have the same rights and opportunities.
Why is that important? It is very important to an operation, whether it is a mine, a petrochemical industry or an agricultural operation, to have proper working conditions and health and safety. An organization has to maintain a healthy workforce in order to deliver its product.
We should be honouring these workers who are willing to stand up against a major employer. It is not easy to stand up to against a major employer.
I have to say that I find--