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.


12:45 p.m.


Marc-André Morin NDP Laurentides—Labelle, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have noticed something. I am sure that all across the country, in every bar, kitchen and living room, there are people who do not have a pension plan, there are people who do not have job security, and there are people who have lousy salaries. They will all say that union workers have it good and that they are overprotected. They will make comments that do not take every aspect of the situation into account.

We can expect to hear that type of argument being made over a beer, but not in Parliament.

12:45 p.m.


Rodger Cuzner Liberal Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, let me elaborate on some of the offhanded comments that have been made by members on the other side.

The members figure that the postal workers in this country have some soft, cushy jobs and that the perks are elaborate. They should know that anything that the postal workers have is as a result of negotiations over years and years of bargaining. They may have given up wage increases in a particular contract in order to get a benefit in another area. That is just due process. Every organized labour group in this country finds itself in a different reality and a different situation.

We just came through an election so we had five weeks of going door to door knocking on doors. It is not a whole lot of fun. Think about letter carriers carrying 40 pounds of letters while being chased by dogs or dealing with whatever the weather might be.

I would like to share this story. I spoke with a guy in Sydney who was delivering mail and as he went up to a property, a dog came around the corner and jumped at him. He fell off the step, shattering his arm. It is a tough job. Postal workers deserve our respect and deserve the respect of the government.

12:45 p.m.


Denis Coderre Liberal Bourassa, QC

Mr. Speaker, ironically, 14 years ago I took part in this same debate, but there were significant differences: after two weeks of strike action by Canada Post postal workers, the Liberal government of the day wanted to introduce back-to-work legislation. That is obviously when an arbitrator is appointed. However, unlike what we are seeing today, the arbitrator spoke to both the employer and the union. A binding agreement was reached. Having an arbitrator makes the decision binding. It ends the strike and people return to work.

I would say, for the benefit of the thousands of people watching us on television, that a number of things are going to happen today. First, since the government has a majority, it will not matter who tears their shirt over this; the bill will pass. Then, the official opposition will tear its shirt and engage in what we call a filibuster: it will take all the time in the world in order to look good to the workers and the union. The opposition will have done its job, but the bill will pass nonetheless.

I think we must take this opportunity to help people understand what is really happening and how dangerous this bill is. This tactic is often used by this government. It is important to remember that we are not just talking about Canada Post. The government showed its true colours in the case of Air Canada; in less than 24 hours, the government was ready to introduce a bill. It was a warning. That means that, as of now, the government no longer believes in bargaining power. The government no longer believes that employees and unions can sit down and talk with management. The government is on management's side and that is that. There are no more collective rights.

What is troubling is the way this bill is being introduced. I want to talk today about respect because, as the hon. member for Laurentides—Labelle said earlier, the government is also starting to label: unions are bad and management is good. The bad guys are the greedy employees who have a very big collective agreement and who, when it comes right down to it, are well paid. Does the government need that? Now, it is going to try to make the public believe that this bill is important because some people are losing a lot of money and others are not receiving their cheques, etc.

Can we put things into perspective? The Liberal Party believes that we must take a pragmatic approach. Yes, it is true that Canada Post is an essential service and is linked to an economic reality. However, it is also important to understand that, unlike 14 years ago when the strike lasted two weeks, this time the workers were not on a general strike but, rather, a rotating strike. Service was still being provided. It was the employer itself that decided to reduce the number of days that the mail would be delivered: three days a week rather than five. In addition, according to the union—and this information must still be verified—a little bit of mail was being set aside. This made it more difficult to deliver all the mail. Then, after 12 days, Canada Post declared a lockout.

The problem is that Canada Post is owned by the government . It is a crown corporation. I refuse to believe that the Minister of Labour was not speaking directly to Canada Post's management. In summary, this whole situation does not really hold water.

The Canadian public must understand that, yes, the mail is an essential service; yes, the mail must be delivered; yes, there are economic considerations, particularly in rural regions. We understand all that.

To demonstrate the good faith of the Canada Post workers, I note that some people were to receive their cheques last week. They received them because the postal workers did deliver social assistance cheques, for example, and cheques for seniors. That shows that there is some element of good faith in this situation.

What exasperates me in this kind of debate is that everything is black or white. Unfortunately, the NDP is dogmatic, with its all or nothing approach. We heard the member for Acadie—Bathurst who was fit to be tied. We are also fit to be tied, but he should watch his blood pressure.

Even on the Conservative side, just now, there was a member who did not understand that in the Canada Labour Code there is a right to stage rotating strikes. Things are not going well.

That is why this debate is important: people have to understand how things work.

What I find even more disrespectful, as a Quebecker and a French Canadian, is that with the NDP's symbolic obstruction and the way the Conservative Party is proceeding, it has been decided that even though June 24 is the national holiday of Quebec, Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day, we are going to sit anyway. The national holiday is being treated as something of no importance. I agree with the Bloc, as I mentioned this morning, that we could have adjourned. If we believe Quebec is a nation, we should respect the Quebec nation. I do not see why we would sit on that day. In any event, let us not panic; on the 24th, there is no mail delivery in Quebec, and so we would not have received any, in any event. At some point, we have to have some principles.

That being said, it is unfortunate to see a bill offering employees a lower wage than what the employer had offered in the first place. We have an arbitrator who is essentially being held by the throat and told what he has to impose, how he is going to achieve it, that it is either the employer’s package or the union’s package. The way things are working, I would find it very surprising if the union’s package were accepted. We are on a very slippery slope in Canada. At some point, the issue is one of rights and values.

Certainly if there had been a general strike for two weeks in the same circumstances as the strike 14 years ago, the situation would be different. After two weeks of a general strike, the bill could have given the arbitrator some latitude and the binding authority to look at both sides of the coin and pick some things from each side. When there is an arbitrator, there are losers on both sides, the employer’s and the union’s. I have seen enough examples in my lifetime to know that. But in this case we get the clear impression that the dice are loaded.

I think it is really very sad that we find ourselves in this situation. The government is going to try to tell us how awful it was during the Liberals’ time, and that this government believes in the economy. We believe in the economy too. In 1993, when we took power, the Conservatives had left us with a $42 billion deficit, and we balanced the books, as my former leader Jean Chrétien said. And now we have another deficit.

It is odd; Canada Post is earning a profit. They cannot pick and choose. The hot topic concerning the economy this fall will be the future of pension plans for those who have them. Look at what is going on with the City of Montreal and others. All collective agreements are being reopened. There is something going on with pension plans. Furthermore, young people are entering the labour market. They will notice they do not have the same working conditions and will perhaps not have any pension plan.

Bullying tactics, like the action being forced down our throats, will not solve anything. They are simply sweeping things under the rug. It looks good, people return to work, but the problems will still be there. The government could have been more creative and respectful of collective rights, while still respecting individual rights, by creating appropriate legislation. I hope that the minister will want to make some amendments.

As a member from Quebec, I will not be here on June 24. If we are still sitting on June 25, I will be happy to return, but out of respect for Quebeckers and French Canadians, I will not be here on June 24. If there is something on the 25, we will be here. We believe that we must have just as much respect for French Canadians and Quebeckers as for workers.

The Liberal Party has a pragmatic approach. I congratulate and thank my colleague from Cape Breton—Canso, our labour critic. He has shown how different our approach was compared to the NDP's and the Conservatives'. At some point, any government, regardless of the political party, will introduce back-to-work legislation. There must be a balance to help the general public, but we must not ignore the fact that workers also have rights and that, above all, they deserve decent working conditions.

12:55 p.m.

Simcoe—Grey Ontario


Kellie Leitch ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and to the Minister of Labour

Mr. Speaker, I will first address the orthopedics analogy that was used earlier by the member for Cape Breton—Canso.

I am a pediatric orthopedic surgeon and it is not as he depicted it. This is more like a patient being brought into the emergency department, fast-tracked to the trauma room and treated immediately. That is what we need to do. We are taking action to act for Canadians and Canadian businesses and to keep the economy moving in this fragile time.

I have a question for the member. There have been numerous instances in history, as the member commented on, when the member's party introduced and supported back to work legislation, including in 1997 when wage rates were imposed. Why is the member so decidedly against this particular back to work legislation? Does he not feel that Canadians deserve to continue to receive mail in a timely fashion?

12:55 p.m.


Denis Coderre Liberal Bourassa, QC

Mr. Speaker, I do not know if it makes sense to use waiting rooms as an example, but I know that this will disappoint some people even more. Given the number of people in waiting rooms, it is pretty sad to think that there is a fast track. That would explain why the government is in favour of a two-tier or two-speed system.

I said earlier that I agree with back-to-work-legislation, but that each situation is different. A balance needs to be struck between collective rights and individual rights. Bargaining is normal, as is tension between employers and employees, or between unions and employers. I believe that the rotating strikes were a good choice. It was a pressure tactic, not a national strike. I have been involved with unions enough to know that.

The NDP member spoke about how democratic unions are. As an aside, Local 144 is one example that contradicts that idea of democracy, and there may be others. It is true that talks can sometimes be difficult, but they work. Disputes are normal. I find it sad that we are imposing this sort of thing, especially given that the current context is entirely different from 1997.

1 p.m.


Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Bourassa for his speech.

He says that this situation is different from the 1997 strike. From experience I know that negotiations are never identical. The Liberals are using the excuse that the strike lasted 12 days and that they had every reason to legislate employees back to work. I would like the member to explain what was different in 1997. In their legislation, the Liberals also stipulated lower wages than what had been offered by Canada Post. It is exactly the same problem that we are facing today with the Conservative government. That was in 1997, under Jean Chrétien's Liberal government, and I believe that the hon. member was in the House at the time. They voted for a bill that included lower wages than Canada Post was offering. I have a problem with that.

1 p.m.


Denis Coderre Liberal Bourassa, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Acadie—Bathurst. His blood pressure is fine today. I am pleased to see that he did not explode. I do like him personally.

You have to be pragmatic when it comes to bringing in back-to-work legislation. All governments, even provincial NDP governments, have introduced back-to-work legislation. A dogmatic approach should not prevail. It looks good, it will be make a good news clip, we can rip our shirts to shreds over it—the shirtmakers are the only ones doing all right in Parliament during the recession. We show our anger and that works, but we must find a balance between respect for the rights of workers and those of the general public, because it is an essential service.

Naturally, circumstances lead us to make decisions. In 1997, there was no lockout or rotating strike. After 12 days, the employer had not taken the action that it has at this point. Thus, decisions were made and it was right to do so at that time. I am saddened by the NDP's dogmatic approach. It is clear that only the Liberal Party has a pragmatic approach.

1 p.m.


Robert Chisholm NDP Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. When I was on my feet earlier, I may have misspoken some dates. I was talking about Davis Day, also known as Miners' Memorial Day, and now, since November 25, 2008, officially known as William Davis Miners' Memorial Day. At 11 a.m. on June 11, 1925, William Davis was shot dead in a protest against the mining company. It is a day that has been recognized. I have had the opportunity to attend numerous services in both Glace Bay and Springhill. It is a very important day to me and to many Nova Scotians. I would not want anyone to think that I did not appreciate how important it is to ensure the record is clear.

1:05 p.m.

Delta—Richmond East B.C.


Kerry-Lynne Findlay ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak in support of Bill C-6, An Act to provide for the resumption and continuation of postal services.

This bill would bring an end to the work stoppage involving Canada Post and about 50,000 members of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, Urban Operations Unit, or CUPW.

As my fellow members know, the government has used every tool available under the Canada Labour Code to bring the two sides together, without success. This legislation would end the strike. It would impose a four-year contract and new rates of pay. The legislation also provides for final offer selection, a binding mechanism on all outstanding matters.

Furthermore, in making the selection of a final offer, the arbitrator would be guided by the need for terms and conditions of employment that are consistent with those in comparable postal industries and that would provide the necessary degree of flexibility to ensure the short and long-term economic viability and competitiveness of the Canada Post Corporation, maintain the health and safety of its workers and ensure the sustainability of its pension plan.

The terms and conditions of employment must also take into account that the solvency ratio of the pension plan must not decline as a result of the new collective agreement, and that the Canada Post Corporation must, without recourse to undue increases in postal rates, operate efficiently, improve productivity and meet acceptable standards of service.

The best solution in any dispute is always the one that the parties reach themselves. It is always better when employers and unions can negotiate contracts at the bargaining table without the need for Parliament to intervene. We have come a long way since the 1920s.

No member of this House is pleased about having to vote on this kind of legislation. However, it is absolutely vital that we do intervene. Parliament must act. In a moment I will talk about what is at stake for our national economy, but first I will take a little time to summarize the events that brought us to this point. I will start with some background on this dispute.

Canada Post is a crown corporation that employs more than 70,000 full and part-time employees. Every business day, Canada Post delivers approximately 40 million items. That adds up to 11 billion pieces of mail every year. Canada Post has to be reliable and efficient and offer services at a reasonable price if it is going to keep its customers. It also has to generate revenue and control expenses, like any other business.

For its part, the union, naturally, wants the best possible deal for its members in terms of salary and working conditions. The dispute between Canada Post and CUPW relates to the renewal of collective agreements covering some 50,000 postal workers, plant and retail employees, letter carriers and mail service couriers. The latest collective agreement expired on January 31, 2011.

Negotiations for a new agreement began in October 2010. Major and complex issues had to be addressed at the negotiating table, including the introduction of a short-term disability plan and Canada Post's interest in moving toward a two-tiered wage approach.

On January 21 of this year, the parties informed the Government of Canada that they had reached an impasse. The Minister of Labour immediately appointed a conciliator to help the parties resolve their differences. When no progress was made after the initial 60-day conciliation period, it was then extended by another 32 days.

A solution was still not forthcoming and on May 5 a mediator was appointed. Throughout the month of May, an officer from the labour program's federal mediation and conciliation service met frequently with the parties.

Despite this lengthy process and the breadth of federal government support, on May 30, CUPW gave 72-hours notice of its intent to strike. On June 3, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers started rotating strike action and, on June 15, 2011, the employer declared a lockout.

I heard the member opposite talk about what our minister and our government have done with respect to this matter. This gives a very good idea of the lengths that have been gone to over many months to attempt to resolve this dispute in a different way.

The postal workers have been without a contract since the end of January of this year despite many rounds of bargaining. The two sides have been unable to close the gap between their positions. It is unfortunate when employers and unions cannot find a way to reach settlements that are in their mutual interest.

However, the reality is that sometimes collective bargaining fails. When that happens, the parties have several options. They can jointly request that the Minister of Labour appoint an arbitrator. Employers can also bring pressure to bear on the union by locking out workers and trying to continue business without them. Workers can pressure the employer by withdrawing their labour. All of those options are of course legal as long as certain conditions are met.

Under normal circumstances, the Government of Canada does not intervene in labour disputes of this kind. We respect the right to free collective bargaining, which includes the right to strike or lockout. Parliament will stand aside as long as the people most affected are the parties to the dispute themselves and there is no threat of serious harm to the national economy or public health and safety.

When employers and unions choose a course of action that has serious consequences on the country as a whole, this situation changes. Parliament can no longer stand aside. Parliament may then decide that the right of the parties to exert pressure through a strike or lockout has to be weighed against the rights of all Canadians in all provinces and territories.

The losses caused by a shutdown of postal services are not borne only by Canada Post and its employees. They are borne by hard-working Canadians and their families across the country. Jobs are at stake and businesses are on the line. Whole sectors of the economy will be affected and the ripple effect will reach everywhere.

Bringing in back to work legislation is always a difficult decision, but in this particular case we feel we have no alternative. We must do what is necessary to keep Canada and the Canadian economy running. That is the strong mandate we were given in the last election.

We need to consider what a strike means in the mail order sector. By definition, these businesses depend on reliable postal services. They could hardly exist without them. Many of these enterprises are mom and pop operations run out of someone's home. Not all of them can afford to switch to courier services. If the strike continues, many small businesses will go under. As all parties in the House have been expressing support for small businesses, they should support this government initiative.

This is not speculation. Interestingly, my notes have me saying that I am sure everyone here remembers the mail strike of November 1997. However, mindful of many young parliamentarians, I would say that everyone over a certain age perhaps remembers that mail strike of 1997. It lasted for 15 days and many small and medium-sized businesses suffered or went under.

Reliance on postal services has diminished somewhat since 1997 due to the advent of the Internet and the increased use of faxes, email, electronic billing and electronic funds transfers, but small and medium-sized businesses still rely heavily on postal services for billing and order fulfillment. A work stoppage at Canada Post is hitting small and medium-sized businesses much harder than large corporations.

Again, if the opposition members are determined, as they have stated, to champion small business, I encourage them to proudly support the legislation.

Is it fair that hard-working Canadian entrepreneurs are held hostage by a postal dispute? Small- and medium-size businesses are engines of growth, and every day they make a significant contribution to Canada's recovery from the recession, a recovery, by the way, that is still fragile.

The 15-day strike in 1997 did a lot of damage. The strike we are now experiencing could cost our economy a lot more. I will give some figures.

Members of the House may not be aware that directly or indirectly Canada Post contributes $6.6 billion to this country's GDP. We know that past mail strikes have had a crippling effect on the economy in a very short period of time. Can our economy afford such a heavy blow when some sectors are still struggling?

The Canadian direct marketing industry, for example, suffered serious financial losses during the economic downturn. How would it cope with a prolonged postal strike?

What about the Canadian magazine industry? Those businesses have no practical cost-effective way to get their product to customers in the absence of postal service. For them, this postal strike could be nothing short of a disaster.

I could go on and on. If we do not do something soon about the postal strike, Canadian businesses will suffer. They already are. Canadian consumers will suffer. They already are. People who just want to communicate with family and friends will suffer.

I have a couple of examples of emails that I have received from constituents in my riding. One of them, which is addressed to me, says:

Canada Post does definitely affect the economy! A good portion of Canadians many of them Seniors, and the disabled, rely on Canada Post to deliver cheques, bills, bank statements, etc. Without the mail, they are stuck.

Another email came from a resident of Vancouver, B.C. I assume she thought that this might fall on deaf ears with her Liberal member of Parliament. She wrote in the subject line “I really need your help”, and said in the email:

I live in Vancouver, BC, I have a big problem, my young sister is going to marry on 01 of July this year in Mexico, in 15 days. My husband and I appl[ied] for visas to go to Mexico. Citizenship and Immigration Canada [says that] you need to send an Xpresspost from Canada Post to receive your documents faster. After 20 days of waiting they are all ready but I have a stranded envelope in a Canada post office in London, Ontario...with the passports and visas [for] my daughter, my husband and [me]. For the decision of putting down the labours in Canada post, I'm going to lose the opportunity to see my family and go to my sister's wedding. I have very important documents that are going to Mexico my country. Please help me to receive this envelope. I hope you understand....

She also said:

I really care about the problem between Canada Post and the CUPW but they really need to think of mine too.

We cannot do everything, even in this modern world, by email. For the sake of all Canadians, we must act now and pass the legislation. We must not wait until jobs are lost, until businesses start closing, and until the damage is too severe to be repaired. We must act now.

I hope all members of the House will join me in supporting the legislation.

1:15 p.m.


Malcolm Allen NDP Welland, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened with great interest as my hon. colleague went through the chronology. She very accurately job laid out the events over the last number of years. She was accurate about the fact that there are a great many members on this side of the House who probably do not remember the strike of 1997, which is a good thing. It actually livens this place and brings a breath of fresh air to this Parliament and the country.

After very accurately laying out the chronology, she switched to the second part of her presentation and continually referred to “the strike”. I would remind my hon. colleague that this is no longer a strike; indeed it is a lockout. The employer, not the union or its workers, but the employer has decided to terminate all of the business of Canada Post across the country because it has locked out all of its employees.

Partway through the rotation strikes, the postal union said to the employer that this was going to take a long time. The union leaders said that because, as the member has outlined, it has a history of taking a long time to get to an agreement. We saw that at Vale Inco in Sudbury where it took over 14 months.

I would say to my hon. colleague that if the government had taken the advice of the union leadership who said it would return to work and just go through the bargaining process and leave the agreement in place, the person the member talked about would be going to the wedding in Mexico and small businesses would be getting their transactions done. Canada Post should have been ordered by the minister to adhere to what the union wants, let the workers go back to work and get back to the bargaining table.

1:20 p.m.


Kerry-Lynne Findlay Conservative Delta—Richmond East, BC

Mr. Speaker, the fact is that in the labour environment we have in Canada, workers have the right to strike and employers have the right to lock out. These are balancing rights that they have. This is strike and lockout have been evolving over time. I gave the history of it, as my friend opposite acknowledged, as accurately as I could and now is the time for this government to act.

The parties have been unable to resolve this dispute, much as we would have hoped they would. Now it is time to get back to work.

1:20 p.m.


Sean Casey Liberal Charlottetown, PE

Mr. Speaker, in business generally the parties want a level playing field. They want to be able to negotiate in a principled manner back and forth across the table, whether they are dealing with government, competitors, industry, or employees. The proposed legislation ties the hands of the arbitrator. It says to the arbitrator that wages are not negotiable, they are imposed. It says to the arbitrator that pensions are not negotiable, they are imposed. It says that the arbitrator is going to look at how postal services are delivered in other countries because there is no comparable postal service in Canada.

Why is it that the legislation has to show such disrespect to the intentions of the parties and the integrity of the collective bargaining process in this country?

1:20 p.m.


Kerry-Lynne Findlay Conservative Delta—Richmond East, BC

Mr. Speaker, this government has been not only patient but actively engaged in trying to help the parties come to a mutual settlement, which is always preferable. However, that has not occurred.

The proposed legislation includes wage rate increases which are consistent with other recent federal public sector collective agreements. The wage rate increases are the result of concessions in the public sector negotiations and take into consideration the future economic vitality of Canada Post.

This government was given a strong mandate to shepherd a fragile economy and continue to do the good work it has done and intends to continue to do.

1:20 p.m.


Ed Holder Conservative London West, ON

Mr. Speaker, this is an important debate. I have thought long and hard about this whole dialogue. I appreciate the contribution the parliamentary secretary is making in this important discussion. It is critical for Canada's economy.

I am going to ask her, in just a moment, to help me, Canadians and this House better understand what, by not ultimately bringing these people back to work, impact it would have on our economy.

All parliamentarians have received many letters. I want to share one of the letters that I have received:

As a small business owner I depend on the mail to run my business. While there are alternatives to using the mail service, we do not have the resources to use them. Using the courier, as well as the labour costs of contacting my customers to make alternative arrangements are additional costs that we just cannot afford at this time.

My payroll depends on the mail, if this continues for any length of time I will likely be forced to close my doors....

I am also sure that I do not have to stress to you that any of the small gains made in our economic situation in general over the past year will be quickly lost if this does not end ASAP.

Because of the critical importance it has for communities like London, Ontario, and while we are the tenth largest city in Canada I will also tell members that we are as impacted as anyone by this, could the parliamentary secretary indicate the impact this has on business right across our country?

1:25 p.m.


Kerry-Lynne Findlay Conservative Delta—Richmond East, BC

Mr. Speaker, Canada Post is a major economic enabler of the Canadian economy. Through its postal services, marketing is conducted, contracts are signed, long distance sales are made, and goods, bills and cheques are reliably delivered.

It is estimated that the Canada Post group itself spends $3 billion annually on goods and services, thereby supporting an additional 30,000 jobs in the national economy.

Canada Post is also one of Canada's largest employers. Some 69,000 Canadians in urban and rural areas work at Canada Post or its subsidiaries. These employees spend billions in the economy annually.

As I set out in my comments earlier, small and medium businesses are the ones taking the brunt of the hit, along with individual Canadians in the hon. member's riding, in my riding and in ridings in all 10 provinces and the territories. This is a matter that needs to be addressed now.

1:25 p.m.


Dany Morin NDP Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, QC

Mr. Speaker, I fully understand that the workers will eventually have to return to work. However, why is the government so intent on using this special act to give workers less than what Canada Post’s management sought to offer its own employees, and opting instead to set its own limits?

On Facebook today, I was asked whether there might be a conflict of interests, given that Canada Post is a crown corporation, whose profits go to the Conservative-led Government of Canada.

1:25 p.m.


Kerry-Lynne Findlay Conservative Delta—Richmond East, BC

Mr. Speaker, over the past five months, there have been proposals and counter-proposals exchanged. As the minister said earlier, unfortunately, the parties are still far apart. Therefore, it is time for our government to act.

As I stated earlier, the wage rate increases that are being proposed are the result of concessions in the public sector negotiations and take into consideration the future economic liability of Canada Post, which is an enabler and a large part of our Canadian economy.

1:25 p.m.


Thomas Mulcair NDP Outremont, QC

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.

1:45 p.m.

Peterborough Ontario


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

Mr. Speaker, I listened intently to the member's speech. While I am sure he feels he has given a very thoughtful speech to the House, there is a major chunk missing when he talks about workers. He does not talk about all workers such as all workers in my riding, all workers in his riding, all workers in anyone else's riding in the House. He is talking about a very select group.

All these other workers, by the way, are not at the bargaining table, but they are paying a price and that price is going to impact them at home. It is going to impact whether they can pay their bills. It is going to impact whether they can have a summer vacation with their kids this year because they are going to be concerned about the effects of the Canada Post stoppage.

He has not thought about that at all. He has not thought about the impacts on the economy. That is why Canadians entrusted the Conservative Party with the leadership of the 41st Parliament. They know that only we will be responsible to act in the best interests of all Canadians.

Does the member know that CUPW has refused to allow Canada Post workers the opportunity to vote on Canada Post's most recent offer? Does he support that? Does he think that is democratic? Does he really think he is standing up for those workers?

1:50 p.m.


Thomas Mulcair NDP Outremont, QC

Mr. Speaker, sometimes Conservative demagoguery goes beyond the limits.

When the member says “Canada Post stoppage”, what he forgets is that the workers have been locked out. It is not the union that has walked out. The workers have been locked out and they have been locked out by their employer, which is a crown corporation, and crown corporations are run by the government.

The government has locked the workers out to allow the member to stand, rend his garments and say, “This is terrible, they're not working, let's force them back to work”. The problem is the Conservatives are the ones who have stopped them from working.

1:50 p.m.


Rodger Cuzner Liberal Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, I have a question for my colleague.

We have to remind Canadians watching this debate that this is a lockout. CUPW has been engaged in something that is absolutely legitimate and has been part of bargaining for years in our country, and that is rotating strikes, bringing attention to their cause and issues.

For Canada Post to go to the lockout, and I know this may be conjecture but I would appreciate the member's opinion on this, does he not think Canada Post would have had some indication from its insider sources that the government would support this by coming forward with back to work legislation?

1:50 p.m.


Thomas Mulcair NDP Outremont, QC

Mr. Speaker, the question is well posed, but I will take a slightly different tack in answering it.

What incentive remains for an employer to settle? What incentive remains for an employer to act in good faith? What incentive remains for the employer to sit down, bargain and get a result in the public interest, because that is what we are all here to defend?

However, Canada Post has their gang on the other side saying not to worry, even though the union has not broken a single law. On the contrary, it has respected every letter of every law, but we should not worry about that. It locks the workers out, then blames them and then special legislation is brought in because it is good for its base.

This is Ronald Reagan politics 101.

1:50 p.m.


Brian Masse NDP Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask my colleague a question about the position in which the workers have been put.

The intervention that the government has taken is like using a sledgehammer on the workers. These men and women have served ably under a government-run business for a number of years. They have been committed to our country and to their work. We actually have one of the best recognized postal services in the world. The government has decided to use this approach to undermine the bargaining process and reduce it to the point where they are in the back seat. Would my colleague expand upon that?

Not only has the government not allowed the workers to have the process take place, it has interfered to ensure their wages, their values and also their pensions are diminished. It is a strategic plot by the Conservatives.

Again, it is important to recognize that these workers are locked out. They want to be at work, but they need a fair and just agreement.

1:50 p.m.


Thomas Mulcair NDP Outremont, QC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague from Windsor West makes the point extremely well. In fact, the workers had been using their rights under their collective agreement, under existing legislation. They had been showing their determination to get a settlement that would work for everyone.

At the same time, not only is the member right when he says that Canada Post employees are among the best of any post office in the world, which is a subjective evaluation, the objective fact is the price of a stamp in Canada is a lot lower than in most comparable countries with an economy similar to ours.

It is an extremely well-run operation, and that is thanks to the men and women who do the work there.

1:55 p.m.


Dean Del Mastro Conservative Peterborough, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have very simple questions, and I would hope that democracy within the NDP works better than it does within CUPW.

Is the member aware that there have been three contract offers made by Canada Post over a series of months and the workers were not allowed an opportunity to vote of any of them, and that includes Canada Post's most recent offer? Is the member aware that there are salary increases in there for the workers? Is he aware that there is pension security in there for the workers? Is he aware that the issues that matter to the members of CUPW are addressed in that contract? Is he aware that they have not, as workers, been given the opportunity to vote on that contract offer?