Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to join in this conversation, having listened to so many of my colleagues illustrate not only the history of workers' rights in Canada but the clear and present danger the government, in its treatment of postal workers, represents to all working people across this country.
This is a proud moment, not only for me personally but for New Democrats across the country and for the four and a half million people who gave us a clear and solid mandate to stand up for working people. I invite the Conservative majority to see what it looks like when there is a stable, solid, dedicated New Democratic opposition when things go wrong. Gone are the days of having the red-flag-waving surrender monkeys sitting in these benches. One “boo” and they were gone to their weekends. We now have an opposition that is dedicated to standing up for what is right in this country.
I am also quite encouraged to join with many of my new colleagues, whom I have been most moved and inspired by. One would think that after many hours of debate, some of our newer members, and maybe some of our older members, might be feeling some fatigue. Yet every time I tune in, and every time I come by the House, not only are we not fatigued, we are gaining in our energy and enthusiasm.
This must be so difficult for my Conservative friends as we sit through this debate. I almost want to put quotation marks around the word debate, because debates are usually judged on the merits of logic and intelligence. This is not a fair fight we have going on here. Time and time again we have Conservative members standing up with so-called questions, which are more like diatribes. They ask why, if the economy is so important, we cannot get these workers back to work. They know full well that the power rests in their own hands. Rather than deal with the situation, the Prime Minister has gone off to barbecues.
If the economy were so important and so sacred, if it was so necessary, given all the quotations from their local citizens, business owners, pensioners, and charitable groups that are worried about not getting their mail, if all of that were so important to the government, one would think that this government would bother to pick up the phone and tell the head of Canada Post that rather than lock out the workers, which has been done, the corporation should open the doors, get the mail moving, and return to the bargaining table for what has been established, in the highest court of the land, as a proper and fair collective bargaining agreement and arrangement. That has not been established by any measure of Parliament alone. It has been established by the blood, sweat, and tears of working people across this country, year after year, who have fought for the basic right to collectively come together and together rebalance the equation between employer and employee. When the employer does not offer a fair term of work, those people can come together and exercise a democratic right, have a vote, and bargain in what we call good faith.
Does this sound familiar to anybody else? A company comes into a negotiation for a new contract and begins an exaggeration process, a public posture, saying that things are not so good at the corporation. The company says that it is not making much money anymore. Times are tight. Things have changed. People are not, in this case, sending letters anymore. The company begins to amp up the rhetoric and begins to set the stage for what it knows is coming, which is a downgrade of the opportunity it will offer its employees, who are, ironically, the very employees who built the company to its current state of prosperity. The company knows that in its back pocket it has a very powerful and willing accomplice that is waiting for an opportunity as the company sits at the bargaining table, week after week and month after month, not bargaining in good faith or offering a give-and-take situation. It is more a take situation.
The company knows all that time that it has a hotline to the Prime Minister to say that it is going to lock these guys out and to get legislation ready, which is what was done. The legislation was ready before the lockout even started. When the company does not bargain with its employees in good faith, the government can come in and simply force them back to work under terms that are worse than the terms the company just offered.
Does that sound familiar or ironic at all? The reason it sounds familiar is that there is a sad and sordid tale of business relations with working people in this country. Businesses do this time and time again, but it only works if they have a willing accomplice in government.
It only works if they have a government in their pocket that is ready to operate on their behalf and is ready to side with them.
As the Minister of Labour—that has to be in quotations—said the other day, “...there are in fact 45,000 members of the union and in reality there are 33 million Canadians”, as if somehow those Canada Post workers, when they went to work that day, gave up their rights as Canadian citizens. How dare a labour minister stand in the House of Commons and take one group of Canadians and exclude those people from our society because they are doing what? They are standing up for their rights.
We hear constantly from the government that it somehow believes that it has a majority mandate from Canadians, that 40% of the vote somehow equates to 100% of a tyrannical majority, and that this is justifiable in all cases. I welcome the Conservatives to a new reality. I hope this gives them pause the next time they try this, because believe me, my friends, there will be a next time. There will be another dispute. There will be another transgression the Conservatives do not like and their friends on Bay Street do not feel comfortable with. The Conservatives say, “Never mind. Never worry. We have a majority in Parliament. That gives us 100% of the power. We will just steamroll over any other democratic institutions we feel are in our way”.
Note that this is a pattern with the government. There are the so-called arm's-length watchdogs. My friends laugh, but we all remember the case of the nuclear safety watchdog in this country who raised concerns about a certain reactor nearby. When the government did not like what she was saying, it fired her. Lo and behold, a few months later, the reactor went offline. Why? It was because of the very things she pointed out.
The government must understand that when people stand in opposition to its ideas, that is not a bad thing. Those people do not need to be shut down, cut off, or fired. They do not need to be locked out or forced back to work. Their issues need to be debated and entertained in this place and in the broader dialogue in this country of Canada, because it is through that dialogue that we come to better resolutions.
New Democrats do not believe that we have all the answers, but we know that these guys do not. It is time for them to get a little humility.
It has been clearly said by many of my colleagues that this goes well beyond the particular interests of the workers of CUPW in the Canada Post dispute. This speaks to something much larger. It is a much larger struggle for people around the world and in this country who for many decades did not have any rights. It was okay for employers to send kids to work. It was okay for employees to die while on the job. It was okay for employers not to pay employees a fair wage for a fair day's work. Those things, through struggle and time and sometimes blood, were established as wrong. It was confirmed that an evolved and advanced society understands that for the good of the economy, for goodness' sake, you ought to pay your workers a fair wage. How radical an argument is that?
The NDP is saying that fair pensions are good for the Canadian economy, and the government argues otherwise. The NDP says that a fair wage and safe working conditions are good not just for the workers but for the Canadian economy. The government argues otherwise.
Time and again we see excuses thrown up by the government that suggest that Canadians are not on our side. A friend of mine sent me an e-mail from a person I don't know who lives in my riding that said,
Keep on with the good work on behalf of the workers at Canada Post. This proposed legislation punishes the workers for being locked out while they were exercising their right to strike (in a manner that provided minimal interruption of the postal service)...and strangely enough, rewards the employer for the action of locking their workers out (whereby the employer shut the whole postal service down).... SHAME!
That is absolutely right.
We are getting many e-mails from members in Conservative ridings, which I quite enjoy reading, that say that they have sent their members of Parliament, their voices in this place, much correspondence on this issue saying that they are wrong, but the members will not read them out. The government somehow will not express that there may be dissent in this country over the idea of locking out employees and bringing in a sledgehammer to force them back to work.
I ask my friends on the government benches to be amenable to the changes the NDP is proposing. Be amenable to the idea that it is not always right. Be very much open to the idea that the arrogance that can come with a majority government can be overplayed and overstated. If the Conservatives continue to do that, New Democrats will be in our seats day after day, pushing them back.