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.


11:40 a.m.


The Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

The hon. member for Dartmouth—Cole Harbour has 19 minutes left to conclude his speech.

11:40 a.m.


Robert Chisholm NDP Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to stand for a few more minutes and share some of my thoughts on the direction the government is taking in relation to the negotiations between Canada Post and the postal workers.

When I last was on my feet, I said that I was somewhat surprised and perplexed that government members were justifying their decision by saying that small businesses in their constituencies were being adversely affected by the decision of Canada Post to completely shut down mail delivery. Their response was not to deal with the executives who made that decision and fire them, or bring in legislation that would rescind the decision to shut down mail delivery; instead they directed their anger, venom and frustration at the workers who, under a very difficult set of circumstances, tried to maintain the emergency delivery of mail. The workers tried to keep things operating while exerting pressure on Canada Post to get negotiations moving in a positive direction. That was why there were rotating strikes.

I have heard from some constituents in the last day or so about a situation which really underlines the extent to which the workers at Canada Post have gone to rectify the consequences of the decision by Canada Post to shut down mail delivery. The Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship was organizing a trip to Kazakhstan and seven passports were caught in the mail. One of the people involved in organizing the trip went to the postal outlet in Wolfville, spoke to one of the workers and explained the problem.

11:40 a.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

I regret to interrupt the hon. member, but there are many side conversations happening. Out of respect for the member who is speaking, I would ask all members to take their conversations out to the lobbies.

The hon. member for Dartmouth—Cole Harbour.

11:40 a.m.


Robert Chisholm NDP Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Madam Speaker, I appreciate that intervention.

As I said, members of a university Christian fellowship group were organizing a trip to Kazakhstan and their passports were caught in the mail because Canada Post, the employer, decided to completely suspend mail delivery. One of the trip organizers explained the problem to a postal worker who committed to try to track down the passports and intervene in order to rectify the problem. After his efforts in Wolfville in dealing with members of management, the worker went to union officials in Halifax and they identified where the passports were. After some insistence by the union officials, they were able to get into the postal station and retrieve the passports and get them into the hands of the people who were going to travel to do important work on an important exchange with Kazakhstan.

The point I am making is that the government is introducing legislation that pounds on the rights of the people who work for Canada Post when, in fact, it has been the people who work at Canada Post, the workers represented by CUPW, who have done everything in their power to try, at the same time as putting pressure to get negotiations moving forward, to not adversely inconvenience Canadian citizens and small business. In the case I mentioned, they even went so far as to intervene and make sure people could get their passports that were being held up as a direct result of the employer's decisions.

Again, I say to the members opposite that it was Canada Post that shut down completely the mail service in this country. The government should be directing any action toward the employer to either get rid of the members of the executive who are making decisions that adversely affect that operation or have them change their decision. However, that is not what the government is intending to do.

What the government has in mind is to engage in a direct attack on the rights of working people in this country. As a worker told me last night, workers across the country are not going to stand idly by and watch the government do away with rights which have been fought for so hard over the last century. That is an important thing to remember.

I was in Nova Scotia on June 11. That day is officially known as William Davis Miners' Memorial Day to recognize miners who have died on the job. In 1927, William Davis, in a dispute with the coal company, was shot dead. It is an example of the commitment that workers, women and men, have made in this country to ensure that they have some rights over their wages, benefits and working conditions. That is why unionized workers in this country are so discouraged, animated and angry at the attempt by the government to take away those hard-won rights.

Unions do not only exist to protect the rights of their workers, although if they did, that would be important, and to improve the rights and benefits of the people who are represented by that union. The history of the trade union movement in our country and around the world has been to make an important contribution within its community. Unions have played a significant role in the advancement of women's rights. They have worked diligently and tirelessly to bring forward universal medicare and to support and protect it. They have worked to protect public pensions for all.

The CPP is an initiative unions strove for and supported. Many union workers have negotiated pensions in their workplace, but unions recognize that all workers deserve to have a pension and deserve to live in dignity when they retire. That is why, to this day, we have a proposal coming out of the trade union movement to expand and strengthen the Canada pension plan. It has not asked the government to pony up and put all the money into it. It has asked the government to come up with a proposal, which we have endorsed on this side, that would see the Canada pension plan expanded. It would see the increase of premiums on behalf of the employees and the employers in a gradual fashion that would be sustainable. It would ensure that at the end of the day, once this plan is put forward after five years, people who have contributed for their full working lives would recognize a doubling of benefits from the Canada pension plan. People who are not now covered by the Canada pension plan would have access to that.

Those are some of the important things that unions do in order to support the community, pushing for better occupational health and safety and for an increased minimum wage, a liveable wage for all workers, not just union workers. Those are the kinds of initiatives that benefit society and all our communities, and unions have been and will continue to fight for that.

This is important because the initiative undertaken by the government to strip away the rights of the workers at Canada Post is just the beginning. If the government can walk in and unilaterally make changes, which will inevitably change the Canada Labour Code that affects all federal employees, that will be just the beginning.

I suggest that the government is inserting itself in the greater public sector and in the private because it has decided, and it will decide in this case, that these negotiations have gone on too long. It has decided that the conditions under which the collective bargaining positions are being determined are not sufficient. Contrary to the Canada Labour Code and, in fact, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the government is stepping in to make these unilateral changes and, frankly, it is just the beginning.

As an aside, I think the government will have some trouble moving this forward in the court, given what has happened in British Columbia and other provinces, where the Supreme Court has struck down attempts by those provincial governments to insert themselves into the collective bargaining process, basically taking away rights enshrined in the charter, to ensure that workers have the right to assemble and to bargain collectively and freely, without the interference of the state.

We need to recognize these things.

It was interesting when we talked the other day about the successful motion by my colleague from London—Fanshawe to properly fund and raise all seniors out of poverty. We talked about people who had reached retirement age being able to live in some dignity.

Frankly, the disputes that the government has inserted itself into with Air Canada and Canada Post has some considerable significance regarding pension plans. The government members opposite support companies that say they cannot afford the pensions they have freely negotiated with their employees. Therefore, they want to change, dilute or ensure that new employees are not eligible for the same level of pension benefit.

Surely the consequence of that is clear to all members. We are now dealing with 250,000 to 300,000 seniors living below the poverty line because they have inadequate pensions. If we continue to push down the pension levels of working people, that problem will only be exacerbated. What will the government do then?

I believe the government does not think too far into the future other than maybe beyond the next election. In many cases, the people of small businesses in my community support the rights of working people to earn a fair wage and to get their benefits so they can live in some dignity when they are in their later years.

It is important that all businesses recognize that if we continue to allow the government to push down wages and pension benefits, people will be unable to afford groceries, furniture, condominiums, nice apartments, cars, or the goods and services that make our communities work. If we continue to shove everything down to the lowest common denominator, the workers will not have enough money to pay for decent lodgings, for fridges and stoves, or to have their lawns cut, those services that are so important to small businesses, in my community anyway.

What will happen then to those small businesses, some of which are now urging members opposite to start putting the strap to working people, hammering away and taking away their rights, their benefits and their ability to function appropriately and live in dignity, or to contribute to their families, their communities and their organizations?

What will the end result be? I ask the members opposite to think about this.

I suggest that in many jurisdictions the balance that has been struck in the Canada Labour Code and the Trade Union Act of Nova Scotia, as well as other statutes dealing with labour relations in the country, is already outweighed by employers. Having said that, the Canada Labour Code has existed for many years and continues to operate.

If the government inserts itself so clearly on the side of the employer to completely tip the balance in that regard, the Canada Labour Code, as we know it, will no longer exist. Why would any federal employer, or any employer that operates under the Canada Labour Code, come to the table in good faith and be prepared to negotiate with its workers? Even in non-unionized situations, why would employers be willing to negotiate a good wage, a fair wage, a good pension plan, a good health plan if they know the Conservative government would be willing to help them out any way it could to shove down their costs and, in many cases, reward inefficiency?

That is another bizarre thing about this situation. Canada Post, because of its workers, has shown itself to be very successful in generating revenues.

We will have the opportunity to speak more about this and I will certainly stand as many times as I can to talk about this legislation.


Peterborough Ontario


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

Madam Speaker, I listened intently to the member and what I did not hear from him was discussion about the workers themselves and perhaps where they stood on this dispute. He gave the position of the union bosses.

However, I have received a number of emails from postal workers in my riding, friends of mine, and I would like to share a few words from one of the emails with the member and get his response.

It is addressed to me and the subject is, “VOTE YES TO BACK TO WORK LEGISLATION”. It states, in part:

I am a postal clerk and I feel that legislation is our only hope to keep our jobs. Our union has not allowed us to vote on any of the revised offers that CPC has made. Most of us think the final revised offer is fair and wanted to vote but were not allowed to by the union

On this side of the House, we actually understand.

Yesterday, we had a motion on small business from the NDP. We know those members do not really believe in supporting small business or they would understand that Canada Post is an essential service and this commands responsibility from the House.

However, does the member know that the big bosses, the people who are really intimidating people right now, are the union bosses? That is who he is standing up for, not for the workers.



Robert Chisholm NDP Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the member's intervention. I saw him paying close attention to what I had to say. I hoped he would rise to his feet and engage in this because this place is all about that, a democracy and people participating in the discussion.

Speaking of democracy and democratic organizations, trade unions are one of the most democratic organizations in our society. The decisions taken by the union are as a result of majority votes and as a result of consultation with employees. That does not mean there will not be dissent within the organizations. There is dissent in many democratic organizations, as opposed to the Conservative Party, where we do not hear any dissent on the prevailing wisdom of the Prime Minister's Office because that is not allowed on the government side. The Conservatives are not allowed to oppose. They are not allowed to dissent. They are not allowed to speak their own minds.

Good for the Canadian Union of Postal Workers for allowing its members to express their opinions, while at the same time respecting the democratic wisdom of the majority.



Rodger Cuzner Liberal Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the comments that were made by my colleague from Nova Scotia. What came out during his presentation was the fact that both opposition parties understood full well that there was an inconvenience to the Canadian public and to small business. However, it is because of a lockout by Canada Post. That is what has to be underlined here. It is because the corporation locked the workers out and I think it did that understanding full well that this legislation would end up making its way to the House.

It certainly is not a level playing field and that level playing field has been taken away by the actions of the government

Today nurses at IWK have signed a contract with their employers. Their contract had lapsed October 31, 2009, but due process was followed.

In this case, the contract of the postal workers lapsed January 31 of this year. Does the member agree that if due process is followed, if given the opportunity, both—

12:05 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

Order, please. I would ask all hon. members to look to the Chair for guidance in terms of keeping their questions within a reasonable period of time.

The hon. member for Dartmouth--Cole Harbour.

12:05 p.m.


Robert Chisholm NDP Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, the point my colleague made was absolutely right. What gives the government the right to decide what is a reasonable time to negotiate a deal? I have to watch my language, and I will in respect to you, Mr. Speaker, and the House and the member opposite.

I do not think members opposite understand the process. It is about two parties that have conflicting interests. The point is that negotiations are done through a process in order to bring the parties as close together as possible in order to reach an agreement. Sometimes that takes longer than others but we need to let the parties work it out so they are both in agreement once the document is signed and then there is peace in the workplace for the duration of that collective agreement. That is key.

12:05 p.m.


Ryan Cleary NDP St. John's South—Mount Pearl, NL

Mr. Speaker, I spent a lot of time knocking on doors during the federal election, especially in the afternoon, and I met a lot of seniors and people on fixed income. These people were often dressed in jackets, hats and mitts. The reason they were dressed that way is because they could not afford to turn on the heat. I know that seniors, people on pensions and people on fixed income are having a hard time paying their bills, especially with the rising prices of food, oil and gas.

Pensions are becoming a major issue in this country and now the pensions of postal workers are under attack. Does the member for Dartmouth—Cole Harbour see pensions becoming more of a major issue facing Canadians?

12:05 p.m.


Robert Chisholm NDP Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, my colleague from St. John's South—Mount Pearl is absolutely right about pensions, and I spoke to that a bit in my speech.

It is so important that we not take pensions away from those people who now have them. We should be strengthening existing pensions and creating opportunities for more Canadians to have access to pensions.

Instead of driving everything down to the lowest common denominator, we should be raising things up so that all Canadians have an income that will provide them with the opportunity to house themselves, feed themselves and live in dignity.

12:05 p.m.


Matthew Dubé NDP Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for his comments.

What people seem to be forgetting in this debate, despite the importance of the situation, is that this is about more than just Canada Post. It is about all employees working in various situations. What sort of precedent will be set if this is how the government acts whenever it is confronted with such a situation?

I would like my colleague to go into further detail about the following issue. It is very important that seniors have pension plans, but many workers have young families, and we are here to protect them too. I wonder how important it is to have a good argument in order to ensure that we do not set a precedent that might negatively affect workers' rights.

12:10 p.m.


Robert Chisholm NDP Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, that is the real concern when I talk about this being the beginning. This is the slippery slope.

If the government is allowed to continue forward, stripping away the rights of the workers at Canada Post, who will be next? What rights will be taken away next? It is not just workers' rights, but the rights of people in our community to live a fair and equitable life, to make a living and to contribute to their community. It is all the hard-won rights that we, our parents, grandparents and the generations before have fought world wars to protect our rights.

What is next once the government gets beyond this point, feeling that it can take any right away from anybody it decides to?

12:10 p.m.

Halton Ontario


Lisa Raitt ConservativeMinister of Labour

Mr. Speaker, before I commence my speech, I want to pick up on something the member for Dartmouth—Cole Harbour said.

He mentioned Davis Day, which is on June 11, and it is celebrated in mining communities across Nova Scotia. It is a very important day in the culture that I come from. However, it is also important to note that it is a day when a very tragic incident happened. It was the day when William Davis was shot in cold blood as a result of protests at the mines because employees were not receiving wages and, indeed, were being asked to take a further cut.

My take from Davis Day, however, is one that is even more important, which is that it only escalated to that level of violence after the government refused to intervene, even though the families and the men asked it to do so. That is valid. The Government of Canada should intervene when it is appropriate to do so in the public interest.

This government has been given a strong mandate by Canadians to complete our economic recovery. As Canada's labour minister, it is my view that the Government of Canada must take decisive action now before further damage is done to our economy. That is why our government introduced in the House Bill C-6, An Act to provide for the resumption and continuation of postal services.

After eight months of collective bargaining and mediation, a labour dispute between Canada Post and more than 50,000 employees, represented by the Canadian Union of Postal Workers Urban Operations Unit, has resulted in a work stoppage. It is an event that, if left unresolved, could jeopardize Canada's economic prosperity.

Today I will discuss the specific details of this proposed legislation, but, first, there are some important facts that will help put this extraordinary legislative measure in its proper context.

Canada Post is one of Canada's largest corporations and delivers a service that many Canadians count on. It supports 70,000 full-time and part-time employees and contributes $6.6 billion to our country's GDP. A reliable postal service without interruption is an important part of what keeps our economy running smoothly.

As a result of a labour dispute between Canada Post and more than 50,000 of these employees, the service is now interrupted and at a standstill. However, this labour dispute has been simmering for many months and, now that postal services have stopped, this dispute is having more of an impact on the Canadian public, not just Canada Post and its employees. It could affect the livelihood of many Canadians across the land.

Contrary to the assertions of the opposition, we do not take back to work legislation lightly, but this measure is necessary. All other avenues have been exhausted. This is the right thing to do. There is too much at stake for Canadians and our economy on the whole. We must and we will act now.

I will take a few minutes to outline the potential economic risks entailed by this work stoppage. I will also talk about the intent of the proposed legislation.

As I indicated, a reliable postal service is far more than just personal mail. It is a fundamental part of doing business in Canada and the economic risks of no longer having that service are significant. Canada Post is an integral part of what keeps Canada in business and what puts money in the pockets of its citizens. Many small and large businesses rely on Canada Post to issue bills, to process orders and to receive payments. This is a service that matters.

There are Canadian families waiting for their tax refunds or HST rebates to arrive. There are citizens in the far north who rely on the mail for essential goods, like prescription eyewear, dental products, drugs and legal documents, and there are those who still make payments by mail. They will tell us that there is much at stake in this dispute.

Quite frankly, Canadians and businesses should not have to deal with this kind of uncertainty. They should not be the ones expected to bear the brunt of a labour dispute that shows no sign of being resolved through the collective bargaining process.

Just as important, our economy cannot afford to deal with a postal disruption brought by the lockout. Consider the costs that we are all having to pay. It has been nearly 14 years since Canada last had a work stoppage at Canada Post. A work stoppage could result in losses to our economy of between $9 million and $31 million per week. That means every day, more jobs at risk, more productivity lost, more challenges for business and more uncertainty for consumers.

Therefore I ask the following question. Can we afford to have this happen, especially when Canada's recovery from the recession is really starting to gain speed? I think the answer is clearly no.

As I said, every other avenue has been exhausted to help bring a full and lasting resolution to this dispute. Let me tell the House what has transpired over the last eight months.

On October 4 of last year, the union, CUPW, served the employer notice to commence collective bargaining for the purpose of renewing their collective agreement, the first step in the process. The parties negotiated directly from October 2010 to January 2011. On January 21 of this year, the union filed a notice of dispute and requested services of conciliation from the federal government. I appointed a conciliation officer on January 31 to help the parties reach a resolution. Through February and March, the conciliation officer met with the parties and on April 1 the conciliation period was extended until May 3, 2011 to get us through the general election. During that time, the conciliation officer continued to meet with the parties. As per the Canada Labour Code, the parties were released from conciliation in early May, and on May 5 a mediator was appointed. Throughout the month of May, the mediator from the labour program's federal mediation and conciliation service met very frequently with the parties. Unfortunately, despite all these efforts, an agreement between the parties remained elusive.

We need to take decisive action now. Canadians deserve no less.

This act provides for the resumption and continuation of mail services at Canada Post. First, it brings an end to the growing uncertainty that has characterized so much of this dispute in the last several months. As well, consistent with the recent settlements in the federal public service, it imposes a four-year contract and provides new pay-rate increases. The pay outcome will be a 1.75% increase as of February 1, 2011; a 1.5% increase in February 2012; a further 2% increase in February 2013; and a further 2% increase again in February 2014.

The act also provides for final-offer selection, which is a binding mechanism on all matters still in dispute and outstanding. Furthermore, in making this selection of a final offer, the arbitrator is to be guided by general principles that take into consideration the need for terms and conditions of employment that are consistent with those in comparable postal industries and that provide the necessary degree of flexibility to ensure both the short- and long-term economic viability and competitiveness of the Canada Post Corporation. It also takes into consideration the need to maintain the health and safety of the workers and to ensure the sustainability of their pension plan.

More specifically, the terms and conditions have to take into account two things: first, that the solvency ratio of the pension plan must not decline as a direct result of a new collective agreement; and second, that the Canada Post Corporation must, without recourse to undue increases in postal rates, operate efficiently, improve productivity and meet acceptable standards of service. It is a decisive approach and it is aimed at resolving this labour dispute.

In the absence of solution that is crafted by the parties themselves, which we have spent many hours trying to achieve since the rolling strikes of June 1 and which we would have preferred to see, this proposed legislation takes the steps that are necessary to safeguard our recovering economy and to ensure that Canadian families and businesses do not wind up suffering as a result of a dispute they had no part in creating.

Our government has put procedures in place to ensure the efficient delivery of services and benefits to Canadians, such as the use of courier delivery, early release of some benefit payments and in-person delivery through regional Service Canada centres. These are things we needed to do to ensure that Canadian citizens are still served by the Government of Canada during this postal stoppage.

However, by introducing this proposed legislation, we are not taking sides in the matter. What we are doing, and what all parties in this House have a responsibility to do, is working on behalf of all Canadians because that is what they expect of us. We are showing leadership in this matter. That means taking decisive action to keep business in Canada moving.

In conclusion, I would reiterate that we are taking extraordinary measures. We are doing so because no workable solutions have been found to resolve the dispute at Canada Post. Parliament has an obligation to respond in turn and we have to act in the best interests of the country. Canadians, quite frankly, deserve much better than delays or excuses or random rhetoric. They have a right to expect that Parliament will do the right thing to protect our economy and to ensure that the business of Canada keeps moving.

I would ask all members of this House to join me in meeting our collective responsibility to Canadians and support this proposed legislation.

12:20 p.m.


Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, this morning the minister said in the House that the arbitration between Canada Post and CUPW in 1997 had cost the taxpayers many thousands, probably millions, of dollars. However, from the information we have, all of the arbitration costs were paid by the union and Canada Post, not by the taxpayers of this country. Therefore, I would like the minister to correct her statement.

Second, the minister said she was not taking sides. How could she say that when in the last proposal of June 9, 2011, Canada Post offered its employees 1.9% for 2011, 1.9% for 2012-13, and 2% for 2014, or 3% below the inflation rate, and the Conservative government has come up with 1.75% for 2011 and 1.5% in 2012, or 0.4% less?

What have the workers done to the government that it hates them so much? How can the government say it is not taking sides?

12:25 p.m.


Lisa Raitt Conservative Halton, ON

Mr. Speaker, on the comment I made with respect to payment, that was the information I was given. I will correct the record if I am incorrect on the costs associated with that. I will do that this afternoon. I will just get more information on it. I thank the member for bringing that to my attention.

With respect to the wages, we believe these wages are fair. They are wages that have been negotiated within collective bargaining processes both in the federal service as well as in the private sector. They match what has been going on in industry. These are good increases that would happen over four years, as I indicated in my remarks.

The other point to remember is that we have an obligation to the taxpayer with respect to the ongoing viability of Canada Post, and that is an important aspect of this too.

12:25 p.m.


Massimo Pacetti Liberal Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the minister for her speech, but after listening to it and to some of my colleagues from the NDP, we now know more than ever before why the Liberal Party is needed. Both parties are obviously picking sides. The government has chosen to be on the side of management, and the NDP is on the side of labour. Meanwhile, the Liberal Party has to defend Canadians.

I listened carefully to the minister's speech. She started by saying that all avenues had been exhausted, and yet all we heard about was why we needed Canada Post. I am glad I became a member of Parliament so I could sit in this House and learn about Canada Post. Meanwhile, she is thelabour minister. I did not hear how she had intervened or become involved at all in trying to resolve this issue.

What has the minister done for Canadians? I did not hear that in her speech. The only thing the minister was able to tell us is why we needed Canada Post. I think we are all aware of why we need Canada Post. Let us get the mail delivered, but it does not have to come about through a lockout.

12:25 p.m.


Lisa Raitt Conservative Halton, ON

Mr. Speaker, the importance of talking about Canada Post was that it set out the economic reasons that we felt it was necessary to move as quickly as we have.

With respect to what Labour Canada and I have done with the dispute, we have been engaged on the issues from very early on, since we returned to the House in May. I have met with the parties about six, seven or eight times each. I brought the parties together on June 1 and June 3. I have spent that last 72 hours working with the parties.

I know their issues and I know exactly how far apart the parties are. That is the concern I have, and why I see no prospect of a resolution either. Indeed, last evening, competing press releases came out from both Canada Post and the union indicating that their collective bargaining was at an end and that they saw no hope of a resolution.

We tried very hard to bring the parties together, to narrow and define what the dispute was. However, at the end of the day, there was no will at the table to do the deal, and the will of Canadians is, of course, for the service to resume.

12:25 p.m.


Rick Norlock Conservative Northumberland—Quinte West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened to the minister and prior to that I listened to the comments by a member of the official opposition. I heard him mention the word “rights”.

I want to ask the minister about the right of Canadians to receive their mail. What about the right of the single owner, the taxpayer who owns Canada Post? What about their right to make sure that the service is provided?

Could the minister talk not only about the rights of Canadians to receive their mail but also how this is affecting the Canadian economy, in particular small- and medium-size businesses who are the generators of our economy and how they are being affected by this strike?

12:30 p.m.


Lisa Raitt Conservative Halton, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for his question and all the work he has been doing with small business, especially in his area.

As a member indicated this morning, we have heard from groups as diverse as a seed company to magazine delivery companies to people who produce nutritional bars to people who operate in very niche industries that rely upon the mail service. They are indicating that they are hurting with respect to the actual delivery of their product to their consumers. We know in this day and age that if companies are unable to deliver a product or provide a service, the consumer will go to the next company, especially in this competitive world we are in.

The other aspect, too, is the actual doing of business, the collecting and making of payments and companies being good to their receivers and to those who owe them money, so the business can continue. They need those profits to look after their families and to give back to their communities.

It is a very large issue that has been brought to our attention. After all, the government indicates all the time that it is on the side of small business. It is here to make sure that small businesses are able to operate efficiently and as well as they can.

June 23rd, 2011 / 12:30 p.m.


Djaouida Sellah NDP Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have a question for the minister. Why is the government in such a hurry to impose back-to-work legislation? We know that Canada Post officials were the ones who imposed the lockout. The Conservatives talk about the best interests of Canadians, but are the workers not Canadians? Are those workers not part of Canada? Why do the Conservatives always want to protect employers' rights while abandoning the workers?

Why are they trying to violate workers' rights and open the door to privatization through this government's insidious actions?

12:30 p.m.


Lisa Raitt Conservative Halton, ON

Mr. Speaker, with respect to the rights of workers, this government supports the Canada Labour Code and supports the charter section 2(d) that provides for freedom of association.

The courts have been very clear. They indicate that a collective bargaining process needs to be in place, and I think members can agree with me that eight months for a collective bargaining process is indeed a very long period of time. That is an ample amount of process for the parties to reach a deal. They have been unable to do so and third party harm to the Canadian economy and to the public is just too great for it to continue. We had to act. We acted decisively and that is why we have introduced this legislation.

12:30 p.m.


Rodger Cuzner Liberal Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with my colleague from Bourassa in the debate today.

We had the chronology from the minister, but one thing she did not identify or point out was the political chronology that paralleled the negotiations through the last number of months, that being the fact that we were approaching an election during those contract talks. We had the election and now the minister is certainly buoyed by the fact that she is in a majority situation and the Conservatives will deal with it like they would have liked to deal with it a number of months ago. Their fingerprints are all over the final outcome of this labour dispute.

We do not doubt in any way, and certainly the government members have said time and time again throughout the course of this debate, that it is important to get Canada Post workers back to work. They have said that businesses, charities and individual Canadians are being inconvenienced. The opposition parties do not dispute that.

I had the opportunity to speak with a number of the striking workers in Sydney this past weekend. CUPW members had made it perfectly clear that they were willing to go back to work. They wanted to go back to work. They had a meeting with Mr. Chopra. They identified three particular points, one of those points being that they would go back to work under the past collective agreement. They would be willing to go back to work under those terms. However, the corporation knew full well that it was supported by the government and that the government, in tabling legislation, would reinforce its position, its seat at the bargaining table. He asked, “Why would we do that? We will get the legislation coming forward from the government and we will maintain this lockout”. Let us be perfectly clear, this is a lockout. It is not a strike by CUPW. This is a lockout by Canada Post.

The workers wanted to get back. They were content to go back under the terms of the last agreement. They were willing to do that. We in the opposition understand that. Government members portray it like this is a nefarious plan to really jig up Canadians by not delivering cheques or not providing services. Anyone who has been in any strike before, whether it was on the union side or on the management side, knows that strikes are absolutely no fun.

I remember as a student working with Nova Scotia Power Corporation and being a casual member of the pool. We were members of CBRT & GW. In the work term one summer there was an information picket and we were out on the picket lines for a couple of days. The first day was a little bit of fun. It was almost jovial the first couple of days, but I was a student and all I had to worry about was putting a few bucks together to go back to school the next year. But by day two, day three, people really started to feel the impact. They had to provide for their families and a tension is created because those people had to go back to work in that environment again. There is a tension created through the course of a labour dispute that does no benefit. There are strikes which have taken place and the scars still remain from past union-company management disturbances that take years and years to heal.

CUPW workers offered to go back. They wanted to go back, but again, the company maintained the lockout. That is why we are in the situation we are in today.

I shared with my colleague from Halifax earlier that union-management negotiations and collective bargaining follow their own path.

Today the nurses at the IWK Health Centre in Halifax signed off on an agreement that should be ratified. Their past contract lapsed in October 2009.

The last CUPW agreement finished on January 31, 2011. That is not a long time. Both Canada Post and the union should be encouraged to sit down in good faith, agree on what they can, sign off on what they agree on, and then take outstanding issues to arbitration mediation. That would make more sense than what is being rammed down the throats of the workers right now under this legislation.

The workers were having rotating strikes and getting attention to their issues, but Canada Post went forward with the lockout and that caught some people by surprise.

The fact that the government has come forward with this type of legislation should not be a surprise to anybody, because we have seen this movie before. We saw the action taken by the government during the Air Canada strike. Air travellers had numerous opportunities to take other flights to get around this country. Even with this private corporation, the government felt obliged to bring forward back-to-work legislation. The government did that to a private corporation, so none of us should have been surprised when the government presented back to work legislation once Canada Post locked the workers out.

I think the common view in this chamber is that Canada Post would not have proceeded had it not been given some indication by the government that it would present back-to-work legislation. We would be naive to think that Canada Post did not have that in its back pocket before it went ahead with the lockout.

Coming forward with this legislation is equivalent to someone with a broken wrist walking into the doctor's office expecting it to be put in a cast, but instead the doctor cuts it off at the elbow. The government has done exactly that by presenting this legislation. Rather than encouraging the parties to get back to the table and bargain in good faith, the government has pushed that all aside. It has cut off the arm at the elbow.

It is obvious that this legislation is loaded on the side of Canada Post. With the final offer arbitration, the government has handcuffed an arbitrator who will have to find a resolution that is fair to both sides. We just need to look at the salaries in this legislation. Canada Post had offered far greater than what is being offered in this legislation. The government felt compelled to send a message out to organized labour in this country that workers' rights are no longer going to be respected, it is back to work and this is what they are going to get. It is unfair. This legislation is not fair. Other avenues should have been pursued before the government came in with a hammer, before it cut the arm off at the elbow. Shame on the government for this particular piece of legislation.

12:40 p.m.


Brad Butt Conservative Mississauga—Streetsville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to get some clarification on a couple of the member's points.

The rotating strikes at Canada Post were clearly affecting mail delivery and in some ways affecting the health and safety of workers at various depots across the country. Is the member suggesting that the rotating strikes that could have gone on for a prolonged period are acceptable, but a lockout to protect workers' safety and the interests of Canada Post, which the taxpayers of this country own, is unacceptable? Are rotating strikes ad nauseam acceptable? Is that the member's position?

12:40 p.m.


Rodger Cuzner Liberal Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, I welcome the member from Mississauga—Streetsville. We have spent some time together on the human resources, skills and social development committee. It may not have been brought up in his briefing, but he should know that rotating strikes are a perfectly legitimate tactic that can be undertaken during the bargaining process. It is written in the Canada Labour Code.

There was talk about undue hardship regarding the rotating strikes that were taking place over 25 different sites. Certainly, the actions taken by Canada Post far exceeded simple inconvenience. When it talked about reducing the service to Monday, Wednesday, Friday delivery, that was a far greater inconvenience than the rotating strikes that occurred across the country. It was purposeful.

Workers did not mean to bring any inconvenience. They wanted to bring attention to the issues. They wanted to bring attention to their plight. Certainly, it is absolutely acceptable. It has been an accepted tactic. It is recognized under the Canada Labour Code.

The member should understand that before he asks a question like this.