This week, I changed much of the tech behind this site. If you see anything that looks like a bug, please let me know!

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.

Topics

Restoring Mail Delivery for Canadians ActGovernment Orders

8:50 p.m.

Liberal

Ralph Goodale Liberal Wascana, SK

Mr. Speaker, in light of the polarized ideological barbs that have gone back and forth between the government and the official opposition in the last few minutes, I wonder if the minister could tell us what in fact has been accomplished by that type of exchange. The postal system is still dysfunctional, the workers are still out of work, the small businesses across this country that depend on Canada Post are still without service. Why can the minister not adopt a more constructive approach?

Will the minister entertain specific constructive amendments to her legislation to try to improve that legislation and actually get this problem solved rather than have ideological polarization on the floor of the House of Commons? What good does that do?

Restoring Mail Delivery for Canadians ActGovernment Orders

8:50 p.m.

Conservative

Lisa Raitt Conservative Halton, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member because obviously what he is indicating is that the Liberal Party will gladly support the bill and we can count on its full support for quick passage of the bill.

Restoring Mail Delivery for Canadians ActGovernment Orders

8:50 p.m.

Toronto—Danforth Ontario

NDP

Jack Layton NDPLeader of the Opposition

Mr. Speaker, I have to say that we start this debate on a bit of a sad note. We have just heard the Minister of Labour say, in thinking about the situation before us, that there are 45,000 postal workers, though I believe there are more than that but I will use the number she used, and there are 33 million Canadians. In other words, she is dividing the people who provide the mail to us from the rest of Canadians.

First, I find it sad that the Minister of Labour would see the world that way and, second, that we would be approaching this issue on such a divisive basis. I have said in the past, and I was hoping things might have been different, that it is a government that preys on the concept of dividing Canadians, one from the other. Unfortunately, we are starting off in that frame of mind.

I do not intend to use that approach. In fact, when I think about postal workers, the first image that comes to my mind is the postal delivery fellow who comes to my home. His name is Gary and he provides mail service to my house. At my house people are normally home during the day, so it is my 85-year-old stepmother who receives the mail. Like a lot of senior citizens and Canadians, a relationship develops between the person who delivers the mail and families. It becomes quite a personal thing.

When families celebrate the important seasons and everyone wishes each other well, it is one of those cases where the services that government provides comes right up against the public in a particularly intimate and important way. I think we all want to start this debate by realizing that we need to appreciate the work of those who work in the public service.

Second of all, I want to say that we are here to achieve a positive outcome. We are going to propose amendments to this legislation. I want to tell thePrime Minister and the Minister of Labour that my team and I will be available, no matter what time it is, to discuss the possibility of finding a solution to this situation.

We in the NDP do not support the legislation that has been presented and we will explain why. We are here to propose changes, amendments and propositions that could improve the legislation. We are prepared to work with the government to find language that might actually get us out of the predicament that we find ourselves in today.

I simply want to say that we are available, it does not matter what time of day or night, to work with representatives of the government to try to accomplish that goal in the interests not only of 33 million Canadians, but also the people who work so hard to make sure we get mail service in this country.

Ensuring good labour relations in this country depends on the good faith of everyone, and unfortunately, the Conservative government has decided to act in bad faith. Postal workers in Canada's urban centres have been in talks with Canada Post since last October. Their contract expired just five months ago, on January 31. Now, this government, as the owner of this crown corporation that took in revenues of $2.81 million last year, is imposing wage reductions, especially on all new employees. The government is ordering an 18% reduction in the basic wage rate, as well as a reduction in vacation time, in addition to forcing new employees to work an additional five years before they are eligible to receive full pension benefits.

Even so, these workers have bargained in good faith. Throughout all of the bargaining, they made sure that Canadians got their mail and that all social services cheques were delivered on time. That is very important for Canadians to understand.

I think about these folks who work so hard for us. The image I have in my mind right now is visiting the large postal sorting stations. These postal sorting stations are huge operations. I visit them at least once every year to touch base, because it is a huge employer right on the border of my riding. Thousands of people are working there to sort the mail, and it is actually a surprisingly intimate process, despite all the machines.

I am thinking of some of the people who sit in their chairs and have all of these sorting boxes into which to put the mail that we write. Some of it cannot be sorted by a machine and has to be looked at by an individual.

There they are, and looking over their shoulders and talking to them, I have seen mail from all over the world. There are personal stories and messages from one Canadian to another, or from someone beyond our borders who is not a Canadian but is communicating with a Canadian. Chances are it is family related, or maybe it is business related, but there is an intimacy there. The respect with which those workers ply their trade is quite remarkable.

A lot of them, I noticed, wear various forms of braces on their hands and their arms because of the repetitive motions that they do. These motions produce a strain on their bodies to the point moving is painful and difficult. However, there they are, working nonetheless to try to provide a service and also because they have to provide for their families.

Another thing I noticed about that group of workers, at least in the plant near my riding, is the diversity. I do not think a more diverse group of Canadians could be found anywhere. They come from absolutely every background. Maybe that is why there is a certain appreciation of the importance of the mail. In a way it is a part of the democratic communication process that brought them to Canada in the first place, the notion that people can communicate freely, that they can speak their mind and that there is a public postal service to make sure people can communicate with each other.

Many of them will mention the charter of rights and so on that we have here in Canada, and how proud they are to be Canadians and to be working on behalf of Canadians. That is why I found it very distressing to see them being partitioned off as though they were somehow not part of the 33 million Canadians. They are as much a part of the 33 million Canadians as anybody else.

I am very proud of Canada Post and its management and the decisions that have been made there over the years. I have had my opposition, as many of us have had, to some of their decisions. I will speak about that later.

One decision was to turn over of many of the postal operations in the small businesses in my community to Shoppers Drug Mart. I have nothing against Shoppers Drug Mart, but it does not need to be delivering the post. Lots of small mom-and-pop variety stores have had to close because of a decision by Canada Post to give the contracts to the highest bidder. That has been very hurtful.

Nonetheless, I have been very proud of Canada Post as an institution in this country. I think of Purolator, for example. Most Canadians do not even know that it is owned by Canada Post and by the Canadian people. It does a fine job of delivering on our behalf in a very competitive environment and has taken leadership in environmental areas. Purolator has a hydrogen-powered van that operates out of a garage in my riding, and that hydrogen is created by the wind turbine that you see when you come into Toronto along the waterfront at the CNE. That is where the hydrogen comes from. That is a publicly owned postal delivery vehicle that is powered by the wind. I think that is fabulous.

Another reason I am personally fond of Canada Post is that it took a decision--and I appreciate the Prime Minister's support for it along the way--to issue a stamp in honour of the 100th anniversary of services to the blind in this country by the CNIB and by the Montreal Association for the Blind, which was founded by my blind great-grandfather, Philip E. Layton.

As it happens, Canada Post took the decision to put his image on the envelope. When we buy a group of those stamps, his image is there, and I take a lot of pride in that. All of those who have been working with and involved with the blind over the years appreciate that gesture. We could cite many stamps that have been issued and many gestures that Canada Post has made because it is part of the community. It is part of who we are, as Canadians, in many different ways.

I do not want what I have to say today about the legislation to take away from all of those positive things that we have to say, nor from the public services that we rely on, because we do rely on these public services, each and every one of us.

However, I have to speak against the bill. I must briefly explain why, or maybe not so briefly, as a matter of fact, if you don't mind, Mr. Speaker.

Effective labour relations in this country rely on good faith. We have not seen that in the actions of the government here. I too, like the member for Acadie—Bathurst, was quite shocked to hear the labour minister describe the situation facing us as a strike. That simply is not true. It was the most brazen example of propaganda designed to try to turn people against these workers that I have seen, and to see it right here in the House of Commons is shocking.

What we are facing right now is a lockout. If we did not have the lockout, we would not have this debate, we would not have this legislation and people would be receiving their mail.

The workers who provide that service are ready to go to work now, but they are faced with a problem. When they show up for work, there is a lock on the door. They cannot work. They cannot go into that sorting plant. They cannot go into the Post Office. They cannot collect the bag of mail and deliver it to people like my mother-in-law and lots of other people who are waiting for their mail.

There is a simple solution. I have asked the Prime Minister repeatedly over recent days to simply adopt this solution, which I will say again: Prime Minister, take the locks off the door and let us have our postal service back.

It is not a strike. It is a lockout initiated by the management, clearly supported by the government. We say that it is supported by the government because if the government were sincere in suggesting that the strike is causing a problem for the Canadian economy, it would be taking action to ensure that the mail was delivered as quickly as possible. The simplest way to do that is to take the locks off the doors, but that is not the objective, unfortunately, despite what is being said; the objective is to interfere with the process between workers and management in coming to a fair collective agreement. That, unfortunately, I must conclude, is the objective.

The government says it has to legislate the workers back for economic reasons, but if that is the case, why did it shut down the post office in the first place?

I would again ask the government to order Canada Post to take the locks off the doors. It is an agency of the government. Let us remember that. The actions it has taken have compromised the Canadian economy; let us remember that too.

It could be done now. A simple phone call would get that process sorted out within hours. I have no doubt that would happen if the Prime Minister were to call the CEO.

However, by siding with the employer and by pitting the workers against the Canadian people in a blatant attempt to try to divide and conquer, as we have seen the government do before, the government has essentially killed the incentive to bargain.

Let us put ourselves in the position of the CEO of the company. He would have a big grin on his face after seeing this legislation, which essentially tells him he does not have to do anything anymore. He does not have to compromise and he does not even have to talk to his workers, because the government is simply going to ram legislation through.

Can we guess what the icing on the cake will be? The government is going to give the workers less in wages than he, as CEO, was prepared to give them.

Mr. Speaker, do we know why else he would be smiling? It is because the CEO, who I am told is the best paid of the CEOs of the organizations we have in the Canadian government system, is allowed a 33% bonus on top of his salary. If a CEO's bonus is based on the profitability of the enterprise and he has just been told that a reduction of the wages of the workers has been legislated through the Parliament of Canada, can we guess what happens? It is higher profits and a bigger bonus. We know who is smiling now.

This is what leaves us with the sense that the government has essentially taken sides here, and we think in a most inappropriate way.

Let us look at the impact on the average full-time postal worker's family during the four years of the agreement.

It turns out that $857.50 would taken out of the pockets of the postal worker's family. We can understand why people would be upset about this, particularly when the CEO is going to get a bigger bonus by virtue of that very reduction.

If a government is prepared to do that to the postal workers, we have to ask ourselves who it is prepared to do that to next. Who is next?

This is why 33 million Canadians ought to be taking a very close look at this legislation and asking themselves if they are next. Will they be hit next? Will there be user charges to deal with the huge record deficit the government built up?

Mr. Speaker, we are getting commentary from the commentariat over here on the other side. One is tempted to respond by suggesting that the massive corporate tax cuts the Conservatives implemented left them with this deficit. If the government had followed our advice, it would not have this deficit.

A lot of Canadians are going to be wondering what will happen if their employer offers them a certain wage and there is a discussion and negotiation about wages. If the Prime Minister is willing to say to postal workers that the offer they were being given by their management was too high, so he brought in a law to reduce their wages, would that happen to them also?

I do not think there would be any reason to think it would not happen. In fact, I think there is every reason to be fearful that the government might well do it, and that anyone could be next. Who would that be?

The government will protest and say that it would never do that to anybody else, but there is a question of trust here that is going to be challenged by the legislation we see in front of us. The government is willing to do that to 55,000 Canadians, the very people who deliver the mail, usually with smiles on their faces no matter what the weather, and people will ask themselves if they could be next.

There is also the question of pensions.

Yes, many do not have a pension plan, so we need to strengthen the Canada pension plan to help all these people.

However, anyone who does have a pension plan for when they retire is looking at a government that is willing to impose restrictions on them. It is telling them they can't retire with the full pension they thought they had, the pension they told their families would be available for retirement and on which all family plans were dependent, the plan that kept workers going on some of the worst-weather days when their job involved going door to door or when their arms hurt as they were sorting the mail.

At the end of the day, that worker was probably thinking that he or she could retire with a certain pension and would not live in poverty, that the work would be worth it and would allow them to spend more time with their family, because a lot of this is shift work and workers do not have much time to spend with their families. So workers make promises to their spouses and kids that they will eventually spend more time with them based on their having a pension.

However, this legislation tells those workers they will have to work five years longer than they planned. That is not right. It creates further problems, which I will speak about in just a second. Sure, it would be a big saving for Canada Post, yet we could do all kinds of things if all that we wanted to do was to save money. Let us just cut everyone's salaries down to size, let us not have pensions, let us forget about health care. We could save money in all kinds of ways. Saving money is not, by definition, the best thing to do in all circumstances. It is a question of balancing things, and that has not been done in this legislation.

Canadians should therefore be forgiven for doubting Canada Post's claim that it is going to be in financial trouble if it does not squeeze the workers, the same workers who helped Canada Post make $1.7 billion in profits over the last 15 years. That was done by hard work, because the postal system did not make money years ago, as that was not how it was set up, but it has been structured that way for a number of years. Those workers have helped to create that profit, but now they are being punished for having done it. How do people get motivated when they are faced with that situation?

Canada Post made $281 million in net profits in 2009 alone, the last year for which we have the full numbers. Let us remember that the government gets a chunk of that money, so I suppose this is one of the ways that it is going to reduce the debt. To reduce its debt, the government is going to extract $857.50 from the average full-time postal worker's family. It will take that money and put it against the national debt. That is not right and it is not fair. The national debt is something that we all have to shoulder together, all 33 million of us, not just the 55,000 workers in the postal system.

The company does not need a bullying big brother to support its demands against workers who just want to support their families. This is really reprehensible legislation because of the way it tries to push people around, and it is not done in good faith.

Let us talk about the contract the government wants to impose. The contract divides workers into two categories: new versus old, young workers versus more senior workers. By asking new workers to accept lower wages, less secure retirement benefits and less vacation time, the government is turning them into second-class workers. I admire the workers for rising up against this injustice, even though it is not necessarily their rights and benefits that are in jeopardy, but those of future employees. The workers have stood up to protect the next generation, upholding the tradition of the labour movement. That is also a tradition of the NDP, one we are proud of.

It is linked to a broader value that we hold, a fundamental Canadian value, that no one should be left behind. That means that we do not create two classes of workers in a place like Canada Post.

The government actually wants to impose a contract that takes that very value and turns it on its head. It says that some should be left behind and says who they are going to be, essentially structuring it to give one generation of workers an inferior arrangement. This invites resentment in the workplace, which is only human. Over time the younger workers are going to resent the older workers and the better deal they have. How can that be positive for the morale of a workplace or the efficiency or quality of life of the workers?

It is really quite a negative a thing. It is dividing people once again. It weakens the bonds that can exist in a workplace between people working together. It pits worker against worker, and worse, in this context, a generation against another generation. I think that is a very dangerous situation.

It weakens their collective voice because to the extent they are not working and feeling like they are part of the same team but are feeling that there is a conflict within, their collective voice is not going to be as strong or as effective as it could be. Maybe that is what the government wants. Maybe that is what is really going on here, amongst other things, to try to weaken the voice of working people at their workplace. Certainly, if we look at this legislation in its many dimensions or the actions of the government in recent days on both of the strikes we have been dealing with here, people would have to come to the conclusion that this could be part of the strategy

From the perspective of some employers and governments, maybe this is somehow seen to be a good thing, to divide and conquer in a race to the bottom, except for those at the top who do better and better. In fact, the statistics in our country should be alarming for all members of Parliament, because the inequalities that are growing in our society are the kinds of inequalities that ultimately lead to a reduction in quality of life, a reduction in the sense of well-being. There are lots of measures of this.

The societies that have a greater level of equality, where the distance between the top and the bottom is not as great as other societies, have all kinds of advantages when it comes to the well-being of their citizens, everything from lifespan to measurements of disease and happiness, and the list goes on and on.

There has been a lot of work done on this. In fact, I know that a lot of parliamentarians of all political stripes are starting to pay attention to the work that is being done on the growing inequality and how that needs to be challenged.

Unfortunately, the policies of the government, piece by piece, have actually helped the inequality to grow. So there are cases where, for example, if someone is not a taxpayer with a decent income, some of the tax credit approaches offered by the government are not available to them.

Many of the tax reduction strategies have ended up benefiting those at the top, to a greater extent. Or, some of the measures that have been offered up are really only workable for people who have extra money at the end of the month or end of the year, when there are a lot of folks who do not have that.

The result is that we are going to see a step-by-step growth of the distance between those at the top and those at the bottom. What are we looking at here but a piece of legislation that actually makes that the case within this group of 55,000 employees, creating a distance within the workforce and, of course, the distance I spoke about earlier between the CEO with that whole bonus system and the workers. There are probably other upper echelon managers who get some kind of a bonus as well.

So the inequalities within that workplace are going to increase. That is a reflection of a pathology that is afoot in our society right now. This legislation runs counter to the sorts of initiatives we should be following to deal with that pathology.

It also undermines the workers' voice. Now some people perhaps think that is a good idea. I was doing an interview earlier today with Mr. O'Leary of The Lang and O'Leary Exchange. I had challenged him in an earlier interview, taking issue with that quote of his that “greed is good“. I took him on and said that I did not think that greed should be considered a good thing. I just needed to go on the record saying that on the public broadcaster.

I had the opportunity to be interviewed by him on this very topic this afternoon. He asked me, “Wouldn't we be better off if we just simply didn't have unions at all, Jack?” He used my first name. I hope I can use it in that context. In responding to him, I pointed out that he had just saluted the very successful economy of Australia, which has a labour government and a strong union movement.

The fact is that the union movement in our country has given us and working people wherever unions are allowed to form a dramatically improved standard of living. We could go through the list of the things that have been accomplished by trade unionists over the years. Most of them were negotiated, perhaps in labour contracts to begin with, but became sufficiently popular with all Canadians that they became the law of the land.

One could start with child labour. Had we not had the union movement, we would have child labour. If we have any doubts about that, we should go to the places where there is child labour and find out how easy it is to organize a union there.

We could also take a look at things such as weekends off. We would not have weekends off if it were not for trade unionists organizing for the right of working families to have a little time together once every seven days.

We would not have health and safety committees in our workplaces, which sit down and talk about how to make working conditions safer and better for workers, without unions. However, we still have three workers a day dying on the job in Canada. We have an awful lot more work to do in these areas. We passed the Westray bill. That never would have happened, had it not been for the union movement. Here I refer to the steelworkers and all of those who supported that strong legislation we now have, which is being brought to bear in appropriate circumstances. I know there are corporations, large and small, that have changed their practices as a result of that bill.

I had the privilege of sitting on the board of directors of the fourth largest energy utility in the country, Toronto Hydro, and we did not. When I joined that organization, we did not have anywhere near adequate workers' health and safety. We had the worst record of any public utility in North American. This bill came in. We were all briefed on it as board members. I do not mind saying I had been pushing for change there, but it was that bill that ultimately said to the managers and directors of the board that they could be criminally liable if they knew that a situation was dangerous and did not do something about it. That snapped everyone to attention darn quickly.

I want to salute Toronto Hydro, because within six quarters it went from having the worst quarterly record of injuries and those sorts of situations on the job to having zero injuries a quarter, and it was because of that legislation.

I am really trying to make the point that the unions we are talking about here perform an extremely important service in our society. People are frustrated when something they were counting on is not available. When people's mail is not delivered, it is tough and it is very tough for small businesses.

I had a small business once and I would pay my contractors, but if the cheque had not arrived from the person I had the contract with, it was tough. Some small businesses right now are struggling because of that situation. Other business owners rely on the mail as fundamental to their business.

We all know about those kinds of businesses. That is why, if we were serious about these businesses, we would take the locks off the operation and let the workers get back to work.

I would like the government to understand how important it is to build bridges between generations and between different groups of workers. I would like the government to agree to work with us to defend the rights of workers and to secure a better agreement for their families. That is why we are proposing to work with the Prime Minister and his team to come up with acceptable amendments to this bill in order to improve the situation.

Let us be clear: this bill violates the rights of workers to negotiate a collective agreement in good faith. It also weakens the collective bargaining rights of all 33 million Canadians; their right to work together with their co-workers to secure better conditions, a right entrenched in section 2 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. These are the facts. This legislation sends a message to employers across the country that the government is prepared to side with employers against employees every time it has an opportunity to do so.

Why should employers bargain in good faith if they can count on the government to step in and impose what they cannot get at the bargaining table? Where is this going to end? Once we allow this sort of thing to get started, who knows where it could go?

That is why we propose that the laws be changed and why we cannot support the legislation. It encourages employers everywhere to go out and test the waters. Look what they got at Canada Post. Maybe we can manoeuvre into a similar position. Who do we have to call in the government to get it on side? Who do we check in with? I guess we will start with some of those consulting companies that seem to be populated by former members of the party. Maybe we will get some advice there, but that is a topic for another day.

By sending a message that back to work legislation could be the new norm for labour negotiations in our country, the whole notion of good-faith negotiations really goes out the window, and it is a slippery slope that the government wants to force Canadians to go down. I simply ask the government if this is really where it wants to go because it will be very dangerous.

It is important for us to understand that the benefits provided by collective agreements go beyond a mere contract. The added benefits negotiated by workers over the years have helped to raise the standards for all Canadians. Unionized workers fought for rights that we now take for granted: a decent wage to raise a family—the salaries of unionized workers have a positive upward effect on the salaries of non-unionized workers—plus occupational safety and health standards, the 40-hour work week, weekends, protection against harassment, vacations, workplace pension plans, and the list goes on.

Hand in hand with progressive parties like the New Democratic Party, collective bargaining has been one of those engines for progress for working people. I see this as a legacy to build upon, not something to be torn down.

We are celebrating our 50th anniversary as a political movement. At our convention, we reflected on our achievements over those years. It was always with one goal in mind, which was to make life better for working families. That was and is what we are.

At our convention, we reflected on our achievements over those years and we paid a special tribute to our founding national leader, Tommy Douglas, the father of medicare. Public health care was his signature achievement for all Canadians. Public pensions were another achievement, working with Lester Pearson. However, Tommy Douglas accomplished so much more, including rural electrification, universal access to education and income stabilization for farmers.

Tommy also knew that securing workers' basic rights was a key to a just and prosperous Saskatchewan and Canada. Therefore, as premier of Saskatchewan, he passed legislation, and we are going back many years, guaranteeing a minimum wage for working people. He passed legislation establishing a 40-hour work week, paid vacations and full collective bargaining rights for all workers.

Tommy gave credit to where credit was due, which was to the ideas that had come from working people. They were bargained into existence by working people. Tommy's job, as he saw it, was to extend those most basic protections to all working people through legislation in his province and in his country.

When we see legislation in this Parliament, we hope for the kind of legislation that would accomplish those kinds of goals. Instead, we are seeing legislation today that goes precisely in the opposite direction, for several reasons that I have touched on already. Other members of our party in our caucus will speak about other dimensions of this in the debate.

Tommy's legacy was extraordinary.

Sixty years ago, Tommy Douglas was instrumental in bringing in Canada's first real labour code.

Restoring Mail Delivery for Canadians ActGovernment Orders

9:35 p.m.

Some hon. members

Hear, hear!

Restoring Mail Delivery for Canadians ActGovernment Orders

9:35 p.m.

NDP

Jack Layton NDP Toronto—Danforth, ON

Are we allowed to sing? I imagine that at times, it might improve the tone of the debate.

The labour code represented a major step forward for workers of the day. We will not sit idly by and watch the Conservatives turn back the clock and strip workers of vested rights they fought so hard to achieve.

I am simply not going to sit and watch the Conservative government follow in the footsteps of the U.S. Republicans and their Tea Party friends.

We have all been watching occurrences in Wisconsin, where the governor yanked collective bargaining rights from 175,000 public employees and nullified their rights to decent conditions, gender equality and fair pensions. The governor is not even hiding that this is an attempt to cut down the number of workers. It is not just in Wisconsin, but Ohio, Indiana and Idaho are all attacking workers, using the excuse of austerity.

Their real goal is to maximize profits by mistreating workers. The Canada Post Corporation Act does exactly the same thing: a profitable company is saying that it cannot afford to pay new hires. This Conservative government is complicit with the employer by proposing this legislation. Simply put, its inspiration is coming from the wrong place.

I will summarize our essential position.

First, we must not be dividing Canadians in this place by talking about 55,000 postal workers and 33 million other Canadians. It is time we started to see each other as all part of the same people who are trying to accomplish the same goals for our families. That is what this is about. Therefore, I am asking that we see less of this divisive politics, particularly in this debate because many Canadians will be following it.

I do not want those who deliver the mail or who sort it on our behalf, each and every day, to feel that they are somehow less than anyone else.

Second, this bill attacks the workers' basic right to negotiate their working conditions. That cannot happen.

Third, this bill will increase disparities in our society. If we begin to see numerous bills such as these in different areas of our economy and society, disparities will increase. This approach is completely unacceptable, not only to the New Democratic Party, but also to the great majority of Canadians.

People must be wondering if they and their families will be the next ones to suffer from the Conservative government's tactics. If the government can do this to Canada Post workers, will it do the same to other workers? Is there a list? Are there several other companies with the same type of contract? Will CEOs be celebrating tonight, tomorrow or this weekend because they can use the same tactic that Canada Post used? That is unacceptable.

To conclude, I want to reiterate once again that we can put an end to this dispute right now. The Prime Minister can ask Canada Post to take the locks off so that these people can return to work. My team and I are once again offering to work and create amendments to the bill so that we can end this debate and so that proper bargaining can take place.

That is all I can say at the moment.

I therefore move:

That Bill C-6 be not now read a second time but be read a second time six months hence.

Restoring Mail Delivery for Canadians ActGovernment Orders

9:40 p.m.

Peterborough Ontario

Conservative

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

Mr. Speaker, I listened quite intently to the Leader of the Opposition give his speech. There were a number of things, frankly, on which we agree but there were a number of things on which we disagree.

I do have concerns when I hear conversations about different levels of Canadians. Well there are, sadly, Canadians who have not been at the table in these negotiations but, believe me, they are being deeply impacted.

His motion, which would suggest a hoist motion, to move this in six months, unlock the doors of Canada Post, for what? Is it so we can have more rotating strikes? Maybe tomorrow it would be Toronto that shut down. Maybe next week it would be Peterborough or somewhere in Ottawa or elsewhere. This is not a solution.

I have received notes from postal workers asking why they have not had an opportunity to vote. Their union would not let them vote on this contract. There is intimidation within the ranks of CUPW and workers are afraid. Does the member know that?

Would he call on CUPW and ask it to allow a vote on the last offer by Canada Post, or is he simply going to allow this kind of tyranny from the top union leaders?

Restoring Mail Delivery for Canadians ActGovernment Orders

9:45 p.m.

NDP

Jack Layton NDP Toronto—Danforth, ON

Mr. Speaker, if that offer was so terrific one would think it would have at least been replicated in the legislation.

I appreciate the comments and observations from the Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister but he suggests that if we unlock the doors that this would take us back to the rotating strikes. We need to be crystal clear here. The representatives of the workers involved have said that if those locks are taken off they will go back to work and deliver the mail.

Restoring Mail Delivery for Canadians ActGovernment Orders

9:45 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, it was back in 1988 when I last heard of a six-month hoist motion. In fact, that was also on a labour bill. At the time, inside the Manitoba legislature, it was the New Democrats in opposition. When I get the opportunity to speak to this particular motion, I hope to fill in what actually transpired. There were some highlights and some lowlights.

I am very sympathetic to many of the arguments. The Liberal Party believes in the efforts and work that the Canada Post workers have put in and the services they provide for Canadians. We do not question that. The issue is the lockout.

Does the Leader of the Opposition believe that, if the lockout were never put in place, we would have had an agreement or the mail would have continued to be delivered to address the concerns in terms of the public interest?

Restoring Mail Delivery for Canadians ActGovernment Orders

9:45 p.m.

NDP

Jack Layton NDP Toronto—Danforth, ON

Mr. Speaker, yes I do.

Restoring Mail Delivery for Canadians ActGovernment Orders

9:45 p.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer NDP Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, I can say that in my 14 years here, the hon. member's speech has been one of the finest speeches ever in the House of Commons.

My father was a letter carrier in south Marpole for many years in Vancouver, British Columbia. The proudest moment as an immigrant to this country was when he got a job with Canada Post, which meant that he had medical benefits, dental benefits, and not just for him and his wife, but for the nine children that he had. It was the proudest moment of his day when he was on SW Marine Drive and put that postal cap on.

Does the hon. Leader of the Opposition believe that the government's real agenda is the privatization of Canada Post?

Restoring Mail Delivery for Canadians ActGovernment Orders

9:45 p.m.

NDP

Jack Layton NDP Toronto—Danforth, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Sackville—Eastern Shore for his comments just now and the story about his father. It is a touching story and underlines so many points. He summarized in 30 seconds what it took me half an hour to try to explain, and I appreciate it.

The question really addresses a fear that many have, which is that the government would degrade public services to the point where people's complaints about them begin to increase and, therefore, there are calls for privatization. We have seen this occur before and that, naturally, is a concern. I did not elaborate on it here but it naturally is a concern for a great many of us.

Restoring Mail Delivery for Canadians ActGovernment Orders

9:50 p.m.

Bloc

Louis Plamondon Bloc Bas-Richelieu—Nicolet—Bécancour, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to the official opposition leader's speech, and I am wondering if he did not overlook a certain aspect of the situation. I was here in 1997 when back-to-work legislation was passed. In that bill, the legislator included provisions that required the mediator or arbitrator to take the importance of good labour-management relations into account.

However, the bill that we are debating today does not include any such provisions. There is therefore a danger that, once the regulations are imposed, the work atmosphere will not be conducive to good working relations and this will have a negative impact on the efficiency and effectiveness of the overall postal system. The arbitrator responsible for the final offer is not the person who has to live with the consequences of his decision. Can the leader of the opposition tell us whether he also hopes that such provisions are included in the bill?

Restoring Mail Delivery for Canadians ActGovernment Orders

9:50 p.m.

NDP

Jack Layton NDP Toronto—Danforth, ON

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member's comments clearly reflect his experience. He is right and we share the same concerns about this bill. That is why we proposed discussing amendments to try to address the shortfalls of the current bill.

Restoring Mail Delivery for Canadians ActGovernment Orders

9:50 p.m.

Conservative

Michael Chong Conservative Wellington—Halton Hills, ON

Mr. Speaker, the leader of the opposition said in his speech that he is opposed to this bill, but he also said that he wants to propose amendments to improve it.

The Leader of the Opposition mentioned several times in his speech that he is willing to improve the legislation. What exactly are the amendments that he proposes to bring forward?

Restoring Mail Delivery for Canadians ActGovernment Orders

June 23rd, 2011 / 9:50 p.m.

NDP

Jack Layton NDP Toronto—Danforth, ON

Mr. Speaker, there are a number of amendments touching on a number of areas that we are preparing to submit. However, it would be particularly valuable if the government would indicate a willingness to talk about amendments, because it might be possible to agree on a package of proposals that could meet our various objectives, which is why I am reluctant to run through a long list.

Restoring Mail Delivery for Canadians ActGovernment Orders

9:50 p.m.

Conservative

Eve Adams Conservative Mississauga—Brampton South, ON

Don't be shy.

Restoring Mail Delivery for Canadians ActGovernment Orders

9:50 p.m.

NDP

Jack Layton NDP Toronto—Danforth, ON

I am being called upon to be less shy, Mr. Speaker. That is the first time that has ever happened.

In my remarks, I touched on quite a number of the areas that concern us, such as impacts on pensions, the way in which a two-tier structure is set up, lower salaries and the tone and structure that is being established for any arbitration. In fact, I would have to say that the structure that has been recommended, where there would be a process of mediation to be then followed by final offer selection, is completely and utterly unworkable.

No mediator or arbitrator would be able to work in that sort of situation. It would be like, as one member said, playing poker, spending time showing our cards to the very person who we will ultimately have play against and then moving to the actual game of poker later. That is not how negotiations work.

Those are some of the areas where we would have concerns.

Restoring Mail Delivery for Canadians ActGovernment Orders

9:50 p.m.

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Liberal Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to rise to speak to the bill. Fully recognizing and appreciating the greater sense of decorum here in the 41st Parliament and the greater degree of collegiality, I would ask the House if I might split my time with the member for Ottawa—Vanier.

Restoring Mail Delivery for Canadians ActGovernment Orders

9:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

Is there consent?

Restoring Mail Delivery for Canadians ActGovernment Orders

9:50 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Restoring Mail Delivery for Canadians ActGovernment Orders

9:50 p.m.

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Liberal Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, there are a great number of aspects of the bill that cause concern, and some have been raised by the previous speaker. I would like to put a bit more meat on the bones and be somewhat more specific. There are two things about the approach that the government has taken on this legislation.

First, the government would like to paint the picture that the Canada Post workers are on strike. We know, and we know through the comments of the previous speaker, that that in fact is not the case. These workers have been locked out by Canada Post. We need to understand that is the situation. These workers have offered to go back to meetings with senior officials with Canada Post and have offered to go back to work. They said that they would go back under the past agreement. Any time people are off the job because of a labour dispute, it is not fun. There is absolutely no joy in this for the workers.

I know the government has--

Restoring Mail Delivery for Canadians ActGovernment Orders

9:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

Order, please. There is an awful lot of noise in the House. I would invite members to find their way to their respective lobbies and we will let the member for Cape Breton—Canso continue.

Restoring Mail Delivery for Canadians ActGovernment Orders

9:55 p.m.

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Liberal Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, the government read a number of emails and letters that it would have received over the last couple of days and we fully appreciate the impact that some Canadians have experienced because of the lockout. We know there has been an impact on some businesses. We know there has been an impact on some charities. We know that some individuals have been inconvenienced.

It has not been rosy for the workers. I shared earlier an instance where a Canada Post worker who had been delivering mail and had been going about his route. He was up on a porch and a dog ran around the corner. The postman was loaded down with mail. The dog came at him and he fell back off the step. He cracked his arm in five places. He has undergone significant surgery. He is having a heck of a time, but we know that his benefits are cut off. Anybody who is suffering any kind of hardship has his or her benefits cut off.

I have two friends who work with Canada Post, Cliff and Lorraine Murphy. If we want to put a face on postal workers, Cliff has been there for over 25 years. Lorraine has been a long-time employee. They are great members of the community. Cliff, year after year, is a committed volunteer in the community coaching young ball players, having an impact on young people's lives. For Lorraine it is the same thing. She sorts the mail. She is an incredible person. She takes in members of the major junior hockey team, the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles, and she is a billet for the hockey team. She gets up at four o'clock and does her work. She comes home and provides a home atmosphere for young major junior hockey players. Trying to keep them fed is no easy chore, but she is the mother for those players as well. Cliff and Lorraine Murphy make that commitment to the community.

The postal workers are people we live beside, that we live with, who provide a tremendous service for us. They are hurting too and they would like to have this resolved, but they certainly do not want to have it resolved in the manner that the government has undertaken to resolve it, which is to come in with the sledgehammer, with this piece of legislation. That is not the way to find agreement on this.

There are a number of aspects of the proposed legislation that cause us great concern. We would hope, ideally, that the sides would come together and find their way through this so that the service is provided, people get back to work and that way everyone wins. However, we believe that the way the legislation is written and with the provisions in the legislation it greatly handcuffs the ability to find a way through.

I wish to consider specifically clause 11(2), guiding principle:

(2) In making the selection of a final offer, the arbitrator is to be guided by the need for terms and conditions of employment that are consistent with those in comparable postal industries--

On comparable postal industries, there is only one Canada Post. There are private companies that provide similar services, but for the cost of a postage stamp they are not delivering to Nunavut. They are not bringing mail to rural communities and remote communities in this country. There is nothing comparable to Canada Post.

Under “guiding principle” it is also important that they:

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--

So we further handcuff the arbitrator by putting in these provisions.

They also identify in paragraph 11(2)(a):

that the solvency ratio of the pension plan must not decline as a direct result of the new collective agreement--

We know that points to the end of the defined benefit pension plan. We know that is what is being identified in that paragraph.

When we move amendments these are clauses in the legislation that we would like to see taken out. The minister said earlier that she would be amenable to these types of amendments and I really hope she is.

Clause 13(3) talks about salaries. It says that the salaries should be no greater than those offered in section 15, and we see what is offered in section 15. The government has put rates forward that are lower than those offered by Canada Post prior to the tabling of this legislation. That makes no sense at all.

We hope that these clauses within the legislation will be taken out. That would give far greater latitude to an arbitrator to put a deal together, a deal that would assure a safe, healthy and productive work environment. Any interruption would be a thing of the past. We think this would be productive.

We want to work toward a positive conclusion to this lockout. We in the Liberal Party would like to do what we can to make sure that we can find some kind of pragmatic approach to this so that we get mail delivered, we get the people back to work and get this thing over with.

Restoring Mail Delivery for Canadians ActGovernment Orders

10 p.m.

Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia Manitoba

Conservative

Steven Fletcher ConservativeMinister of State (Transport)

Mr. Speaker, the issue of the wage percentages in the legislation simply reflects what the public service has received. I hope that answers the member's question.

The parties have been negotiating since October and the labour minister has already outlined all the steps, the timelines and the considerable amount of effort that has gone into bringing the two parties together and yet they have not been able to come together. Would the member not agree that it was time for legislation to be brought forward to bring Canada Post and its workers back to serving the people of Canada to ensure that the Canadian economy continues to recover instead of having this very unfortunate situation? Would the member not agree that it is time for the government to act?

Restoring Mail Delivery for Canadians ActGovernment Orders

10 p.m.

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Liberal Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, these things have due process. They have a path that they follow on their own. IWK Health Centre nurses signed a contract today in Nova Scotia. Their contract lapsed in October 2009 and they have been negotiating since then. They resolved the issues. There were no last hours worked. There were no interruptions in the work service. These things can be done.

If the government had made it imperative that both sides sit down and get this deal done rather than coming in with the heavyhanded, tilted approach that really handcuffed any hope that the workers would get a fair deal out of this then we would be further ahead and we would not be here tonight and over this weekend.