Mr. Speaker, sometimes debate influences a government’s actions and also public perception.
If Canadians initially had the impression that the Conservatives were a heartless and untrustworthy bunch who flouted human rights and freedoms, well, the government's actions are now giving credence to this perception.
If there is one area where good faith must prevail, it is labour relations. The Supreme Court has told us that labour relations are guaranteed by the charter because they constitute a subset of our economic rights, our freedom of expression, and our freedom of association.
What have we seen over recent weeks from this Conservative government? Why does Canadians’ mistrust of the Conservatives now appear justified?
Let us consider the government’s concrete actions, and the response we have heard here today. To begin with, this is a crown corporation. The government owns the corporation on behalf of all Canadians, and it has the last word when it comes to what Canada Post Corporation does. Throughout the bargaining process—with the government on one side, and employees and their union representatives on the other—everything was going along swimmingly. There were a number of attempts by the employees—legitimately and according to their rights—to voice their point of view through rotating strikes, for example, which did not significantly affect service to the public.
That was one way for the employees, who had the right to strike, to say that the bargaining process had gone off track, and to give us a sense of the steps they intended to take to make management see reason.
What happened then? The very same Canada Post Corporation, owned by the government, locked out its own employees. They locked their doors, with the employees on the outside. The government, through one of its own bodies, a crown corporation, has shut its employees outside and is keeping them there. Then they turn around and look at the situation they just created and pretend to be surprised, saying, “For God’s sake, this cannot go on like this. Look, these people have stopped working.” That is how one of the Conservative backbenchers just put it.
“We have to bring these people back to work”.
Those creeps, those things, as if they were not citizens endowed with all due rights, which they are exercising in a calm, practical way under legislation duly passed by the House of Commons. That is what we are talking about here. These are people who exercised a right guaranteed by legislation passed by this House. Not content just to trifle with this, showing their usual bad faith, the Conservatives are going so far today as to tell us that they are not only going to throw these people out but they are going to lock the doors and come up with a solution to the problem they just created themselves by throwing these people out. Special legislation will be passed to deprive them of their rights, even though those rights are guaranteed under the Charter and in legislation passed by the House of Commons.
This is not a new way of doing things. My colleague from Vancouver East already showed us how the very same thing was done in 1997 by a Liberal government. It was very interesting the other day to hear certain leading lights of the Liberal Party pretending to be outraged by the tactics employed by the Conservatives when they are a carbon copy of Bill C-34 passed by a Liberal government in 1997.
Governments change but the tactics remain the same. When it comes to showing respect for working people and their rights, what the Conservatives are doing is clearly in line with all the social and economic policies of the Conservative government. It is as if we were in the early 1980s, in the Reagan era with the air traffic controllers. What could be better for a government of the far right than to flex its muscles at the expense of working people, look at its Reform Party base and say, “Finally you can see why you supported us from the beginning. We will put working people in their place”. The Conservatives will do that, even though the bad faith is as obvious as it is right now.
It is the Conservatives who are imposing a lockout, bolting the door themselves, throwing everybody out, and saying how terrible it is that these people are not working anymore. But it is the Conservatives who locked them out, and now because they are not working any more, the Conservatives want special legislation to force them back to work. The funny thing is that the Conservatives are even going so far as to copy from the Liberals’ legislation the part where the Liberals lowered the salary offers already on the table. Several of my colleagues, including the hon. member for Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, asked about this. But as we all heard, there was no answer.
They cannot answer because this makes absolutely no sense. If the objective is to settle a dispute between an employer and its employees, they would have at least put on the table what the two parties had already agreed on. But no, the Conservatives are rubbing salt in the wounds of workers who were just locked out and telling them not only that they are the bad guys for getting locked out, but also that they are being punished and getting less than they managed to agree on with the employer. They are being told they should have been happy with the crumbs they had been offered. Now even the crumbs are being taken away, because they did not appreciate the fact that their employer is a good employer and they should have accepted whatever they were offered. So it is their fault.
To understand what a mistake this is, both economically and socially, one only has to look at everything the Conservatives have done over the past five and half years since they came to power. This is part of their right-wing ideology, which is at odds with the impression they like to give, since they always talk about families and future generations. In reality, however, all of their actions have been harmful to future generations, no matter what rhetoric they like to spew.
Let me put this into context. As this time, by eliminating all guarantees of a decent pension, the Conservatives are dumping a huge social debt on future generations. Who is going to pay for the people who cannot afford to meet their own needs once they retire? Future generations will pay.
What has been happening since the Conservatives have been here? They are in the process of leaving future generations with the most significant environmental, economic and social debt in our history. These three elements are interconnected and constitute the three pillars of sustainable development. This bill and all the Conservatives' actions are the antithesis to sustainable development. What they are doing is not sustainable.
Let us take a close look at what their approach to developing our natural resources means. Take the oil sands for example. They have decided to take everything they can immediately and export the jobs. A pipeline like Keystone exports 16,000 jobs to the United States because we do not have what it takes to do the processing and refining here. We are exporting crude. With the Keystone pipeline alone, we are exporting 16,000 jobs to the United States without internalizing the environmental costs. Cost internalization is one of the basic principles of sustainable development. We are leaving it up to future generations to clean up the soil, water and air that we are polluting with the way in which the oil sands are being developed. The Conservatives likes to exaggerate things and say that we are against the oil sands development. That is not true. We are against the way in which the oil sands are being developed because it is disrespectful of future generations. As a result of this failure to internalize the environmental cost, we end up importing an artificially high number of U.S. dollars since the cost has never been included. This artificially high number of U.S. dollars is raising the value of the Canadian dollar, which, for a while now, has exceeded the value of the U.S. dollar.
Such a high Canadian dollar makes it increasingly difficult to export our manufactured goods. The result is that, since the Conservatives came to power in January 2006, Canada has been experiencing what economic textbooks and writings refer to as the Dutch disease, named after what happened in the Netherlands in the 1960s. The Dutch were thrilled to discover large offshore gas deposits. It was a windfall. It was going to be good for the economy because everyone was going to buy gas from them. They were right, except that this occurred before the euro. Every country in Europe had its own currency. The Netherlands used the guilder, which began to shoot up in value because everyone was in fact buying gas from them and other countries' currencies were coming in. The value of the guilder spiked and completely destroyed their manufacturing industry.
Statistics Canada has indicated that we are experiencing exactly the same thing here in Canada right now. Our manufacturing industry is being gutted. Since the Conservatives came to power, they have been gutting our manufacturing industry because they are not applying the basic principles of sustainable development. The Conservatives will deny it and say that they have created so many hundreds of thousands of jobs since the crisis began. And that is true. However, they are replacing jobs in our manufacturing industry with jobs in the service industry, which are often part-time and insecure. I do not wish to take anything away from someone who works in a shopping mall and sells clothing for $12 an hour, but someone who worked for GM, which used to be on the west side of the Laurentian Autoroute in Boisbriand before it became a mega-mall, earned enough money to take care of a family. That person also had a pension to live on after he or she retired. Simply put, what the government is doing is replacing these well-paid jobs that had retirement pensions—and this is yet another attack on retirement pensions—with lower-paying jobs in the service industry that do not give employees enough money to take care of their families and, of course, do not provide them with retirement pensions.
The government is responsible for sustainable development every time it makes a decision. It must look at the environmental, economic and social aspects of a problem. If basic environmental principles are not respected, there is a negative impact on the economy. We have lost hundreds of thousands of jobs in the manufacturing sector. The social issue is that hundreds of thousands of people will retire without enough money to live on. What will happen? They will have to be supported by the government. Who will the government be then? Today's young people. They will be stuck paying for these people because we did not abide by the basic rules of intergenerational equity, our obligations to future generations.
That is exactly the philosophy that is on the table today. The government is going after not only existing benefits, but also wages and working conditions. I urge everyone here to speak to a letter carrier, with someone who delivers the mail, with someone who does that job. They have been pushed to the limit. There is nothing left to squeeze out of them. Hours of work, working conditions, occupational injuries: everything will get worse because from now on, they must sort for themselves as they go. What they are being asked to do is unbelievable. But the government, still riding the same general wave that they created themselves—an anti-worker, anti-union one—says that it is no big deal, that they can surf the wave and that the public will support them. That is a lesson they learned from Ronald Reagan in the early 1980s. The more you go after the unions, the happier you make a certain segment of the population, particularly the Conservatives' base. They are playing this game for the benefit of their Reform base.
They have never delivered anything. What is being left for future generations is very serious in terms of the economy. They are simply gutting the industrial and manufacturing sector. Look at what they are doing with the largest deficit in history. The largest deficit in history has been delivered by the Conservatives. They just beat the record set by the Mulroney Conservative government. They hold the deficit record and yet they claim to be such great managers of public assets. We saw that again this week.
Auditing services within the government ensure, on our behalf, that government spending follows the rules. When it came time to trim excess fat from the government, where did they start? With the 92 people who audit and monitor government spending. How on earth are we supposed to monitor spending when they fired the people who monitor that spending? It is absurd, but that is where the Conservative logic leads.
They are telling us that there are serious issues with government spending and that cuts will have to be made. It is funny: since these same people—who claim to be such wonderful public administrators—came to power five and a half years ago, the annual rate of inflation has been about 2%. Plus, government spending has increased at three and a half times the rate of the cost of living. Did you hear that? Annual spending has increased by 6% to 7% each year since they came to power. Now—and this is similar to what they are doing to postal workers—having created the worst deficit in history, never having managed to control government spending, they are saying that it is terrible, that there is a deficit, that there is waste, that public money is being thrown out the window, and that this needs to stop.
Can we have a reality check here? They are the ones who have been running the country for five and a half years. Every time they say that public money is being wasted in government administration, they are criticizing themselves. They are the ones who have been managing this money for five and a half years. They are the ones who are responsible for the situation they are currently criticizing; however, that will not stop them. They are unable to take an honest look in the mirror. They are convinced that they are always right about everything.
It is no different here today. The government's only problem is when they are asked clear and specific questions. They are never able to answer them. The system for negotiating working conditions must be based on good faith. How can they justify the fact that they are the ones who locked the doors? How can they justify their complaints that the employees are not working when they are the ones who locked out the employees?
They do not have an answer. We are asking them how they can make an offer that is not as good as what management was prepared to offer, if the system is in fact based on good faith and if they are not playing a political game.
At the beginning of my speech, I said that the right to negotiate working conditions, the right to join forces with other workers to negotiate working conditions, and the right to collectively withdraw the offer of work in accordance with the law when the collective agreement has expired and all other conditions have been met are rights that are guaranteed under our Charter of Rights and Freedoms and recognized by courts across Canada.
There was initially some indecision in this regard, particularly in terms of the RCMP's right to unionize, but all these issues are currently being upheld by the courts. These rights are a subset of the rights guaranteed under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. I am thinking of our freedom of association, our freedom to work with others to ensure that these same rights are respected and our freedom to speak out when those conditions are not met.
The moment the government enters into the negotiations, a major conflict of interest is created. When that same government controls the employer and the tools through a majority government in the House, it is a complete conflict of interest. The basic obligation to demonstrate good faith in all negotiations is even more important when this clear conflict of interest exists.
Rather than rising above the fray, the Conservative government is playing a shamelessly partisan game. That is why the New Democratic Party, which has always understood the role it plays in defending the rights of workers, will stand up and do everything in its power to stop this despicable and draconian bill from passing.