Mr. Speaker, I would like to commend you once again for the excellent work you and the other Speakers have been doing throughout this debate. Your message is that this is the place where the issues of the people of Canada should be discussed. The discussion has to be done with a recognition of the importance of the debate. I certainly agree with your sentiment that we do not want this to be reduced to any sort of frat-house argument. I am very appreciative.
It is now 47 and a half hours before the mail begins to roll on Monday morning. There is easily enough time to address some of the key outstanding problems.
Over the weekend, I have noticed that perhaps the government has been mistaken. Perhaps there has been a plan to sort of misrepresent what has happened. When the Minister of Labour spoke on Thursday night, I was quite shocked that she continually spoke about a strike, as though this strike justified intervention.
We know that in the past there have been instances when if there was a long-term strike, government had to act in the public interest. That is what happened with the Toronto transit workers. My brother is a TTC worker. I know what it means when there is a long-term strike and there is no solution. However, the labour minister failed to tell the people of Canada that this is not what happened.
A crown corporation cut off service to the Canadian public, and the Conservative government supported it. What has happened is that people who have small businesses, people who are in rural areas, and senior citizens have been cut off from service because of the quite shocking decision by a crown corporation to deny services to the public. When the Minister of Labour gets up and blames this on the workers, it really undermines the ability to find a resolution here.
We in the New Democratic Party believe that it is unacceptable to hold the Canadian people hostage by allowing a crown corporation to deny service.
The government brought in this legislation on Thursday night. Even if the New Democratic Party acted like the old Liberal party, which come the weekend always folded its tents and went home, the mail would not have run on Friday morning. Not a single piece of mail in this country has been stopped because of what the New Democratic Party has been doing here, not a single piece of mail. Yet millions of pieces of mail have been stopped because of the failure of the Conservative government to hold Canada Post to account.
This brings us to this situation, unprecedented in recent Parliaments, of debating here on a Saturday morning. How do we solve this? This is the question.
Canadians are expecting that in this 41st Parliament, people will rise to the occasion. There will be adult behaviour. Conservatives and New Democrats disagree fundamentally on the role of public service, and we disagree fundamentally, between Conservatives and New Democrats, on protecting pensions. We disagree fundamentally, between Conservatives and New Democrats, on the right to collective bargaining. However, what we all agree on is the need to find a resolution.
It is now 47 and a half hours until the mail can start to roll on Monday morning. The only thing stopping the mail from rolling is the unwillingness of the government to accept taking the wage rollback out of this back-to-work legislation. It is important to take that wage rollback out, because if this is allowed to stand as a precedent, it will be used in every coming labour dispute, because there will be no need for the labour bargaining process to participate with public sector workers from here on in. Employers will be able to say that they do not have to set up negotiations and do not have to go to arbitration. They can count on the government to lock out the workers, manufacture a crisis, and punish the employees by actually lowering the wages they had been guaranteed at the bargaining table. Therefore, this is a bigger issue.
The Conservative government can certainly get a great win out of this if it pulls the wage factor out of the back-to-work legislation. They go back to work. It goes to arbitration. It goes to mediation, and this thing is settled. The Canadian public can be assured that in the 41st Parliament, two parties that have fundamentally different views can actually rise to the occasion and put the Canadian public interest first.
I am very concerned about this act of attempting to use a parliamentary sledgehammer to push down wages and to create a two-tier system of wages in this country.
I heard the member from Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound, on the first night of debate, say that at $12 an hour, three days a week, you should be happy to have a job--I think the term was “tickled pink”--if you are a young worker. That might be, again, one of the fundamental disagreements between the Conservative Party and the New Democratic Party.
I know what it is like in my region, where I have older people who have worked their whole lives, and some have pensions they are able to retire on. They are asking how it is that their children are never going to have the middle-class life they have, especially the younger workers, who are paying back $40,000 to $50,000 in debt. This is fundamentally wrong.
We have seen how this was done in Wisconsin, where they attacked and demonized the public service. They attempted to tell the people who were below public sector workers, the people who are earning $10 an hour, the people who have no chance of having a pension, to blame the public sector workers. There is an ongoing pension crisis in the United States. There is an ongoing pension crisis in Canada. What they failed to do in Wisconsin, and what they are failing to do in the Conservative Party, is point to where the real problems lie.
Let us go back to some of the strong symbols of the pension crisis in this country: the Nortel workers. Nortel, which was one of Canada's greatest companies, was allowed to be run into the ground. The pensioners lost their pensions. The benefits for the disabled workers were denied.
The governments of every country in the western world where Nortel had operations stood up for their pensioners, but the Conservative government did not. At the same time, while they were in bankruptcy and were selling off the company, the Canadian brain trust that Nortel was, the Nortel executives were allowed to receive $7.5 million in bonuses. I believe that to be fundamentally criminal.
I believe that if we do not address this pension crisis in this country, and we do not stop the push for two-tiered workers, we are going to see the kind of old robber baron capitalism that existed when my grandparents came to this country.
I have heard a lot of comments, but perhaps the most audacious comment I heard last night, and I was absolutely gobsmacked when I heard it, was from a new member, a former diplomat, who accused us of being communists. He even used the word “Moscow”.
Charlie Angus came from Hawkhill in Dundee, Scotland. He was called a red a whole bunch of times. My family was never afraid of being called red, because they knew what that meant.
When Charlie Angus went to work at the Hollinger gold mine, it was the richest gold mine in the western world. The average life expectancy of an underground miner was 41 because of the silicosis.
They had a two-tiered system there, too. If you were a Catholic or an immigrant, you worked down in the most dangerous gold stopes. Unless you had the Mason's ring, you were not allowed on the surface. Charlie Angus came over from the Hawkhill, and he had the Mason's ring, because you could not work in Scotland unless you were a member of the Orange Lodge. My grandmother used to say that Charlie Angus came over here to get away from the bigotry in the old country. He came over here because he thought all workers should have fair rights.
He remembered what it was like seeing the Croatian and Bulgarian miners sent underground under the gold stopes.
They called him a communist. Do you know why? It was because they started to organize. Charlie Angus walked the picket lines with my mill, and he walked the picket lines with the steelworkers.
They could not get help at a bank, so they created the workers' co-op and the consumers' co-op. I remember talking to a woman in South Porcupine who said that her father was a Finnish miner. He broke his back underground, and not a single bank would touch him, so he had to go to the workers' co-op. She said that they called them communists on the streets.
I thought that was ancient history until I came into this House of Commons. I see that we are being called communists.
We have to get back to what this issue is. By Monday morning we should settle this. We are calling on the Conservative government to stop using the language of “communists” and “reds”. Next they will be calling us North Koreans. We can settle this and put the Canadian public first.