Madam Speaker, the big question here, as we know, is why the Conservatives are backing the lockout by Canada Post and why they are intervening in such a biased way in something that should be a labour dispute between employer and workers.
Labour disputes happen in virtually all modern market-based economies. They are a fact of life, and it is a normal situation for market-based economies. Therefore, I am surprised at the government. It says it is in favour of small government, yet we see it intervening in this way and as we know, the Conservatives are anything but small government.
The Conservatives have formed the largest government we have had in the history of Canada. It has the largest deficits and the largest number of cabinet ministers. It is a heavy-handed government that is interfering in our collective bargaining process.
Whatever happened to the supposed Conservative goal of small government? It is not there, not that I can see.
Now the government is interfering in labour market negotiations in a way that is nothing less than a violation of the Charter of Rights for Canadians.
If the Conservatives do this now on this issue, where is it going to end? Are they going to step in every time there is a dispute in the marketplace? Are they going to legislate every time two sides do not agree on something? It is worrisome.
Let us be very clear. We have no postal service right now because Canada Post shut down the service completely, backed by the government. It has locked its workers out, encouraged and backed by the government. It seems clear to all of us.
Instead of introducing legislation to end this lockout, to resume rotating service and negotiation, to get both sides back to the bargaining table and to get the mail moving, the government has decided to interfere with the rights of collective bargaining and impose a settlement even below what management had originally suggested.
Canada Post is being rewarded for shutting down the mail service that so many Canadians rely upon. This is a dangerous precedent, regardless of the particulars in this labour dispute or any other.
Knowing the mindset of the government, from now on will any large corporation in Canada, whether crown corporation or other critical corporation, simply refuse to negotiate and just wait for the government to interfere and legislate people back to work? Will Canada Post be encouraged in the future to just hold our postal service hostage and hold Canadian mail recipients hostage any time it does not feel like bargaining?
This is a dangerous path the Conservatives are leading this country down. It is one that can lead us to more entrenched positions; more, not less, labour unrest; and more, not less, interruption of services that Canadians use. In the future, what incentives will there be for corporations to bargain in good faith or to settle?
The government should not be in the business of imposing labour contracts for businesses or workers. It is not free or fair collective bargaining. It is not letting the process work. It is not the way it has been building and developing for decades. It is wrong-headed.
I am also left wondering if this has something to do with the government's desire to increasingly privatize Canada Post services and reduce services to Canadians, as they have been reduced in my riding of Thunder Bay—Superior North to small communities. It is Canadians living in rural and remote areas who are going to suffer the most. My riding of Thunder Bay—Superior North has 31 communities, one large one and 30 small ones, and they have been increasingly impacted by Canada Post's reduction in services. The people in those communities feel threatened by this trend.
Canada Post insists it is still respecting its so-called policy of not shutting down rural services itself, because it can just throw up its hands and say there is no alternative. The government is supporting Canada Post in that.
The irony here is that Canada Post is profitable. It does not need to shut down rural services any more than it needs to privatize or walk away from the bargaining table in labour negotiations. As we know, it has been highly profitable for many years. The CEOs are well paid. Some would say they are quite overpaid. They have been getting much larger increases than the workers have been asking for.
I can agree with one thing that the Conservative government has been saying inside and outside the House, which is that we want to see the mail moving again. Both sides want to see the mail get moving. It is a shame that we have this impasse and that we have to have this impasse. It is mostly within the government's power to do something about that, quickly, in an hour, a day or a couple of days at the most. I hope it will reconsider.
I am a small business person. My businesses, like many across the country, rely on the post office for services. Many businesses rely on the mail to ship their products, including mail-order businesses. Many of them are waiting to send or receive cheques.
Canada Post's lockout and shutdown of all services has negatively impacted small business more than it has most Canadians, although all Canadians are negatively impacted.
It is also impacting the workers who want to work but who have been locked out of their jobs in the same way that Canadians have been locked out of their delivery services.
Let me talk about a worker from Red Deer who has worked for 37 years and used almost no sick leave during his entire career. Then he became very ill just as the lockout was happening. He was denied benefits, of course, because Canada Post locked him out.
My office has also talked to workers in my own riding. There is a single mom of two children, a 20-year veteran who has worked Canada Post, who needs medication to stay alive and be able to support her family. Like many Canadians, she has a mortgage to pay, but because Canada Post has locked her out, she can no longer afford to pay both. Her family either has to give up their house or give up the life-saving medicine.
It is our duty as parliamentarians on both sides of this House to figure out how to get the mail moving again and how to get people in these kinds of situations back to work so that they can receive the benefits they sorely need.
The other thing I would like to comment on is a big issue, but I am not going to go into it in big detail. It is the pension issue.
There is a real problem here in Canada. The Conservatives need to decide what they are going to do about seniors in Canada. They were resistant to the idea of giving us a CPP system that people can live on.
The NDP suggested basically a doubling of benefits so that people could actually live on CPP. If the government is not going to do that, in the short term it should at least allow a defined benefits program for crown corporations, public service workers and other workers in Canada who need sufficient money in retirement and need the security of knowing that it is coming and they will actually be able to live on it.
What is at stake here is much more than just the way the government has handled this one labour dispute. It is about the precedent set by interfering with the collective bargaining process. The right to organize and the right to collective bargaining was affirmed and reaffirmed by the Supreme Court of Canada, most recently in 2007.
The court ruled that collective bargaining was a right, not a privilege, protected under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Collective agreements are central to freedom of association, according to the courts.
The court also said that substantial interference with collective bargaining over essential rights violates Canadians' freedom of association. In 2007 the court found that the charter gives the same protection for collective bargaining as is contained in the international labour conventions that Canada has ratified internationally.
In interfering with free collective bargaining and imposing its ideology, the government is dangerously close to violating fundamental freedoms that generations of Canadians have fought hard for.