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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

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services LegislationGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, I find that an odd question. Previous Liberal governments were always against the working rights. Now the Liberals are onside with us, but want to know if there could be a hypothetical situation down the road where they could jump ship. I am sure we will jump ship from them as soon as we can down the road from this legislation on many things. I will not get into whether there could be a hypothetical situation.

I am glad to hear my hon. colleagues in the Liberal Party speaking up for working rights. I am certainly glad to hear that they will be with us as we stay up night after night in the House. Maybe as we talk all night, we can find some hypothetical situations where he might find a reason not to support the legislation.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services LegislationGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.

NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

Mr. Speaker, the member talked about the union's rights and workers' rights, but one of the great principles of collective bargaining is the obligation on both sides to bargain in good faith.

I wonder if the legislation, the lockout, the order back to work and then the imposition of a wage less than what was on the bargaining table will have any impact on good faith bargaining.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services LegislationGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, the issue of bargaining in good faith is fundamental to union and management negotiations. When a government intervenes, locks out workers, forces a crisis and then imposes a new wage agreement that is lower than was negotiated, that sends the signal to management and all other sources of work.

The government has taken sides and intervened above and beyond its right. A very bad precedent is going to be set by the government.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services LegislationGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Timmins—James Bay for reminding this House and explaining to it some of the history and tradition involved in free collective bargaining and the struggle working people went through to enjoy what we now consider fundamental rights and freedoms, the right to free collective bargaining and, when that bargaining reaches an impasse, the right of working people to withhold their services as a legitimate economic lever to apply pressure to a bargaining relationship that is imbalanced at the outset from the obvious advantage that management has.

I want to begin, though, by clearing up some misinformation that the Minister of Labour has been sharing with this House. She keeps coming back to the point that she believes that what the government has imposed here by its legislation is somehow final offer selection, or FOS. I happen to know something about final offer selection, because it was in fact law in the Province of Manitoba for a period of time, and as a former trade union leader, I have negotiated dozens of collective agreements. In some of those collective agreements, the parties I was representing chose to settle their bargaining negotiations through final offer selection.

This has nothing to do with FOS, which is only effective when both parties voluntarily submit themselves to it as a form of arbitration to settle their differences. The fact of the matter is that both parties present their last best offer and then an arbitrator chooses one or the other. This does not resemble FOS whatsoever, which had its origins in major league baseball to settle wage disputes between teams and players. Once the two parties have stripped away all the other language issues and are down to just money and cannot agree on the money, they put their best offer forward and an arbitrator chooses one or the other, but not a combination of the two.

Therefore, the minister is misleading the House if she is trying to sell this package as a form of final offer selection.

The second thing I would like to raise is that if we scratch the surface of this impasse, its root cause is Canada Post's saying that it is unwilling or unable to maintain fair wages or to meet the wage demands of its employees. However, in actual fact, for the last 10 years or more, Canada Post has been paying a dividend to the Government of Canada to the degree of $200 million to $300 million per year in profits.

If one reads the mandate of Canada Post, and I used to be the critic and know it quite well, nowhere in its mandate is Canada Post supposed to be a cash cow for the government of the day. Its mandate is to provide the best possible mail service to the most people at the lowest possible cost. If there ever is a surplus, it should perhaps go to expanding Canada Post's delivery service to Canadians, or lowering the cost of stamps or buying new vehicles or sorting stations, but not to putting $200 million a year into the general revenues of the federal government.

If we add up the 10, 12 or 15 years that it has been putting $200 million to $280 million a year into general revenue, we would have $2 billion, $3 billion, $4 billion a year worth of accumulated surplus. With that, Canada Post would have no problem meeting the reasonable wage demands of a reasonable settlement. I am not going to judge what is reasonable or what is not. However, it could not claim poverty or inability to pay, if it were actually following its mandate instead of handing over all this money.

We can scratch the surface of this assault on pensions and get back to its root cause. I think the root cause is the unofficial prime minister of Canada, Thomas d'Aquino, and I do not hesitate saying that, and his new incarnation, John Manley. I say this because 12 years ago, Thomas d'Aquino stood and listed 10 or 15 things that he thought Canada had to do to move forward. What he really meant was what we had to do to re-create our country in the image of the United States, but in his mind it was to move forward. One of those was legacy costs. He flagged those as an unsustainable expectation of Canadian workers for the pensions that had became the norm in the post-war years.

Then the modus operandi kicked in. First, a bunch of right-wing think tanks validated that notion. Then a bunch of lobbyists started chatting up this notion on talk shows and wrote articles in newspapers. Then those lobbyists were dispatched to Parliament Hill and a neo-conservative government dutifully fell into line and did exactly what it had been told to do a decade before by the Business Council on National Issues, or now the CEO of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives, John Manley. That is where this comes from. They are hell-bent and determined to re-create Canada in the image of the United States.

Let me point out the folly of that in the context of union rights and fair wages. The greatest strength of the United States and what made it the economic powerhouse that it was until recently was its burgeoning middle class, a middle class that could consume. The United States got that because of free collective bargaining and the rise of the trade union movement from World War I through to the World War II and post-war eras, when unions negotiated fair wages. People want to dump on guys like Jimmy Hoffa, but the one thing that people should remember him for is that he took the lowest-paid occupation in the country and within a decade had turned it into one of the highest-paid blue collar jobs in the country.

Fair wages benefit the whole community. How can people not get that through their heads? When working people have a dollar in their pocket they spend it and they spend it again. In fact, a dollar is usually spent four times before it reaches its natural state of repose in some rich man's pocket. However, in the process on the way to the rich guy's pocket, it benefits a lot of people.

During the Reagan years, they set out to squash the unions in the United States and they succeeded. They went from 35% unionization to 20% to 15% to 12%. The Americans are now down to 9% unionization, and believe me, wages followed, because free collective bargaining had been the only way to elevate the standard of wages and working conditions of the people of the United States. Now they are wondering where all those good union jobs have gone that paid $20 an hour and provided a pension, the jobs that people could raise a family on. Guess what, they do not exist any more. The Americans effectively stamped out the unions because their right wing think tanks told them that it was the way to prosperity.

Our right wing think tanks are telling the government that the road to prosperity means stamping out unions and pushing back and that the notion that people deserve a fair wage and a decent pension is a wild expectation that we can no longer afford. If we buy into that bill of goods, we will be following the Americans right down that same path, because it was middle class consumers who were the United States' greatest strength.

We have not followed the Americans there yet. We are still about 30% or 32% unionized. However, we can see it in the eyes of the guys across the floor that they hate unions. They would love to stamp out unions if they could get away with it. Also in their eyes is the notion of those fat pensions. What is fat about them?

When Marcel Massé stole the $30 billion surplus in the public service pension plan, which I do not hesitate to say he did, we did some research. The average public service pensioner is a woman, aged about 68 to 70, making $9,000 a year from her pension. That $30 billion the Liberal government stole from the public service pension plan and gave in the form of corporate tax cuts to its friends could have doubled the pension of every person collecting a public service pension benefit and we would still have change left over.

There has been a successive assault on fair wages and the notion of pensions, which can be traced right back to Thomas d'Aquino. The unofficial prime minister of Canada dictated that is what they needed to do and a bunch of toady governments, from the Liberal toady government to the Conservative toady government, fell successively into line and implemented and executed just about every single thing on his wish list. They ticked them off one by one, and if we keep following them they will want to re-create Canada in the image of the United States, and it is not a pretty sight south of the border, believe me.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services LegislationGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

Jim Hillyer Conservative Lethbridge, AB

Mr. Speaker, if we want to make comparisons between countries and what they have tried, the roads to prosperity and bondage have both been proven through 5,000 or 6,000 years of human history. We may look to the south sometimes for examples of free markets, but we do not have to look south. We could look east and west for the examples of free markets versus socialism. I do not know what our handbook is but we know about some of the planks written by Mr. Marx on socialism and the redistribution of wealth. It is very clear that socialism has always led to poverty and despair.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services LegislationGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, fair wages benefit the whole community. I do not know if anyone could argue with that.

There are low-wage, low-cost economies, like the United States and even like some provinces. They advertise themselves as this, thinking it will attract investment if they say they are a low-wage, low-cost economy. Frankly, the product of that leaves a lot of social consequences.

Then there are places like New Zealand and Australia where a coffee server in a coffee shop makes $22 an hour. People working at London Drugs or whatever their equivalent is make $25 an hour. I have been to Denmark, Sweden and Norway, where, again, a coffee shop worker makes $20 to $25 an hour.

Here, for some reason we have convinced ourselves that it is a good thing to have low wages. How can that possibly be a good thing? In the richest and most powerful civilization in the history of the world, how is it a good idea to pay people a wage they cannot live on?

The rate of child poverty in Norway, Denmark and Sweden is zero. There are no poor children there because they believe in fair wages for people.

What is wrong with this country?

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services LegislationGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am sure the member for Winnipeg Centre is quite aware of one of the saddest days I ever sat inside the Manitoba Legislature. It was in committee when I had retired teacher after retired teacher come to the committee until past midnight, asking the NDP government why it was not giving them any form of COLA increase and to allow their pensions to go up.

The member for Winnipeg Centre loses his focus in trying to take shots at the Liberal Party on pensions. The Liberal Party has been a long-time advocate of decent pensions.

The issue here is Canada Post and why there is a lockout today, as opposed to the government trying to resolve this so that the postal workers can have that collective agreement.

Would the member for Winnipeg Centre not agree that the government was wrong in allowing Canada Post to enforce a lockout? Would it not have been better if there had not been a lockout and we had allowed the negotiations to take place in a much better way?

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services LegislationGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I was the labour critic during the 1997 Canada Post lockout.

The member for Cardigan was then the minister of labour. I believe it was a guy who became the ambassador to Denmark, or was it Hans Island that we sent him to, Minister Gagliano, who was the minister for Canada Post. That was when the Liberals imposed an almost equally draconian back-to-work legislation package on the workers of Canada Post.

The fact is, these impasses often come down to the ability to pay. In the private sector there is often a legitimate inability to pay the workers' demands. In this case, Canada Post has been showing a surplus of $200 million to $300 million a year for the last 10 to 15 years. There was no inability to pay. There was no reason it could not tolerate the rotating strikes, which in fact left the mail still being delivered. There was no reason to lock them out.

If we took the total accumulated surplus over the last 15 years, there would have been $2 billion to $3 billion, more than ample room to provide a fair cost of living increase while leaving their pensions alone. In other words, do not start an assault on pensions based on the inability to pay if the numbers do not bear it out.

Message from the SenateGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

Before we resume debate, I have the honour to inform the House that messages have been received from the Senate informing this House that the Senate has passed the following bills:

Bill C-2, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (mega-trials); and

Bill C-3, An Act to implement certain provisions of the 2011 budget as updated on June 6, 2011.

I also have the honour to inform the House that a message has been received from the Senate informing this House that the Senate has passed the following private bill to which the concurrence of the House is desired:

Bill S-1001, An Act respecting Queen's University at Kingston.

The bill is deemed to have been read the first time and ordered for second reading at the next sitting of the House.

The House resumed consideration of the motion, and of the motion that this question be now put.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services LegislationGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

Brad Butt Conservative Mississauga—Streetsville, ON

Mr. Speaker, it will not come as a surprise to anyone in the House or even in this country that our government has had to bring forward back-to-work legislation to end the work stoppage at Canada Post. We were fully prepared to use back-to-work legislation in the case of Air Canada and I must say I am particularly relieved that we did not have to take that step. I congratulate and thank both Air Canada and the Canada Auto Workers for finding a solution on their own. That is always the best way.

We would all be immensely relieved if the crisis at Canada Post could also be resolved as quickly and without the need for the government's intervention, but unfortunately it does not look like we will be that lucky. As I speak, the postal workers are still locked out, and there is no sign of a real and constructive move back to the bargaining table. Therefore, the government is obliged to invoke our powers that we have under the Canada Labour Code to end the work stoppage and appoint an arbitrator to impose a settlement.

The pros and cons of back-to-work legislation have already been thoroughly discussed in the media and of course, by the various stakeholders. The reactions have been entirely predictable.

If I may summarize all the objections I have heard, I would say that they seem to come down to three points: one, that the government is acting too forcefully; two, that the government has intervened too quickly; and three, that the government is exaggerating the effect on the national economy.

Let me take a few moments, if I may, to respond to each of these objections. A significant number of people believe that imposing arbitration in a labour dispute is inherently unjust and dictatorial, even if it is a perfectly legal option enshrined in the Canada Labour Code. These people believe that the right to strike or lock out is absolute and that it trumps all other rights.

In a democratic society, there can be no absolute rights because there are circumstances where the rights of one group will inevitably conflict with the rights of another group. Some degree of compromise is always necessary. When people will not co-operate with each other and their co-operation is vital to society, the state must step in and use the law. I will readily admit that the law can be a blunt instrument, but it is sometimes the only tool we have.

Let me address the second most common objection. Some people who accept the use of back-to-work legislation in principle are still convinced that in this particular case, the government is acting too hastily. In this country, the great majority of disputes between labour and management are resolved at the bargaining table, often with the help of mediators and conciliators from the labour program. These mediators and conciliators typically work behind the scenes and where their efforts are successful, they do not hold press conferences or media opportunities to boast about it, they get the job done. Because they keep such a low profile, the general public may not appreciate how hard these women and men work and how much they contribute to good labour management relations in this country.

When collective bargaining fails and a strike or a lockout occurs, the spotlight suddenly shines on the government, and it looks like we have somehow suddenly arrived on the scene, even though we have been there all along the way.

Many Canadians are simply unaware that the Canada Post negotiations have been going on for quite some time and that the Government of Canada has been involved almost from the beginning. The Minister of Labour has already described at length all the steps we took over a period of many months to avert this work stoppage.

In the Canada Post dispute the mediators and conciliators used all their skills and resources, but unfortunately, to no avail. Naturally, we prepared for the possibility of a strike or a lockout. We gave this situation a lot of thought.

The decision to table this back to work legislation was not made recklessly or impulsively. Some say we should sit and wait a little longer to see how events play out, but every day that this lockout continues is another day of losses to our economy, losses we can ill afford.

That brings me to the third most common objection to our back to work legislation and that is that this government is exaggerating the danger to our economy from a prolonged postal strike.

For several months now we have been telling the Canadian public that our economy is emerging from the global recession but that our recovery is still fragile. People who doubt the second part of this statement should read the financial section. Better still, they should talk to business owners who are just beginning to get back to profitability, or the many Canadians who have just recently started collecting a paycheque again. Ask them if they feel our economy is already so strong that it can afford to endure a major disruption in basic postal service.

In this situation our government is not being unduly alarmist. The threat to our recovery is real. The objections to back-to-work legislation, which might have some force under different circumstances, are not really valid right now. My hon. colleagues must recognize this reality. We need to get the mail moving again and the only way we can do that is by passing this bill.

I have been participating today and listening to many colleagues in the House express very eloquently and passionately their views on this. I really believe that there is a bigger and wider issue here, which is that we are a very large and vast country geographically and not so large in our population. We are very much spread out as a country. We have one mail service. I have heard members who represent rural ridings talk about the major impact even a day or two of mail not being delivered can mean to those communities.

I represent a fairly urban municipality, certainly a suburban city from the City of Toronto. Residents have said to me that any disruption of mail delivery significantly impacts them, their families and particularly seniors and our most vulnerable citizens who rely not just on cheques and pension money and so on coming to them on a timely and regular basis, but correspondence from family members who may live far away from them. They rely on getting that letter. It is that important connection they have with their family and sending a letter is the best way for them to communicate. I am speaking of people who get well wishes cards, birthday cards and other things that mean so much in their life that they count on each and every year. I think of my daughters who are 11 and 7 and if they did not get a birthday card from grandma and grandpa who live in Peterborough and we live in Mississauga, they would be very disappointed. An email does not cut it for that kind of thing. People rely on our postal service to do that.

Governments have to make tough decisions and I think we were elected to make tough decisions.

Like all members of this House, I spent 36 days knocking on thousands of doors. I heard very clearly from my constituents what they wanted from their government. They wanted reliability and responsibility. They wanted a strong government that was going to look after the economy and continue to work to create jobs. They wanted a secure economic future for all kinds of Canadians, not just those Canadians who might have the benefit of working in a unionized environment. There are millions of Canadians who do not have a union. They still make a contribution to the country. They have well-paying jobs in many cases, certainly in my community, and they want to continue to do that. They want to continue to work for companies that will invest in our community.

I cannot stress enough how important it is to have the Canadian postal service working each and every day, contributing in a very significant way to the economy.

The last point I will raise is on the impact I believe a prolonged postal strike will have on charities. I was very proud that for close to 30 years I was a very strong volunteer in the city of Mississauga. In fact, the mayor and members of council recognized me with an award for 30 years of community service just last year. I have served on many boards that count on individual donations that come in through the mail to keep those organizations running. Food banks and other community service programs rely on individual donations.

Many of the people who donate to those organizations are not sophisticated online donors who use credit cards and Internet. They write a cheque out of the goodness of their heart and they put it in the mail. When that cheque is received at the food bank, it is deposited and it makes a huge difference in those people's lives who have to use organizations like the Mississauga Food Bank, whose board of directors I have served on for many years. We rely on that. Other charities rely on that. If we were to allow this labour dispute to continue through the summer, organizations that count on annual donations that normally come in May and June would be in deep trouble because those cheques would simply not be delivered to these agencies.

There are millions of Canadians, thousands of agencies, thousands of small, medium and large businesses that count on mail delivery. There are children and others like my kids who count on getting that birthday card or well wishes. They count on an efficient and effective postal service.

Our government has a responsibility. It is responsible to oversee the operation of Canada Post on behalf of Canadian taxpayers who ultimately own the crown corporation. In essence, the government has that fiduciary responsibility to step in only when necessary.

I certainly would not advocate this in every case and clearly we have not done this before; the last time it was done was in 1997. Obviously, most of the time the parties are able to come to an agreement, which is the preferred solution in all cases of collective bargaining, such as Air Canada has been able to do. The parties have been able to sit down and negotiate a tentative agreement which hopefully will be ratified and Air Canada will continue to serve the public.

Unfortunately, it looks like in this situation the parties simply cannot get together and read from the same songbook as to how they see Canada Post as a corporation moving forward. It is unfortunate, but I think we have a bigger responsibility to the citizens of this country to ensure the mail continues to flow.

I am thankful for the opportunity to speak in the House today and I would be more than pleased to entertain any questions from hon. members.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services LegislationGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

NDP

Alain Giguère NDP Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to the hon. member and I think he is missing the real issue.

The problem is not the services provided by Canada Post or Air Canada. It is not production at Nortel or AbitibiBowater. The problem is the workers' right to keep an effective pension plan, a defined benefit plan. That is the problem. We cannot expect people to agree to live in poverty in their senior years. That is what the government is asking.

That is what was happening with Air Canada. They came to an agreement because they decided not to include this issue. They decided not to talk about the pension plan and, in two days, the whole thing was settled. The issue of wages at Canada Post was settled. The issue of working conditions was settled. Everything was settled except the pension plan and the disability benefit plan. What this government is essentially asking is to recognize people's right to give up a viable pension without access to the food banks in which the hon. member told me he is actively involved.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services LegislationGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

Conservative

Brad Butt Conservative Mississauga—Streetsville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I certainly did not expect to be involved in the collective bargaining process as a member of Parliament. However, I have been asked to comment on pensions. Obviously in the collective bargaining that has taken place, there are a number of issues that are on the table. I am certainly not in a position to determine what pension levels are appropriate or not in the case of a collective agreement between a union and management, whether it is a crown corporation or a private sector company.

However, the one thing we have to be realistic about is if we are going to have a pension system for people in the future who work for companies, whether they be in the public sector or private sector, those companies and crown corporations have to be economically viable in the longer term, not the immediate term but the longer term, because these agreements often stretch out for many years. If we do not have a situation where Canada Post, Air Canada, and any of those other organizations are economically viable, there will be no pensions for anybody because there will be fewer jobs and there will be less service. They will not be viable.

I am concerned about pensions, too, but I think it is a two-way street. The union has to be realistic with the company's ability to pay and management has to be realistic as to what is a fair pension for the employees.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services LegislationGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

Nepean—Carleton Ontario

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for a very informative commentary on the subject at hand. He has tremendous experience in the charitable sector and the volunteer sector, for which he has been recognized by his community in Mississauga.

I would like him to talk about the impact of work stoppages at Canada Post on the charitable sector. I would also like him to comment on the fair and reasonable approach the government has put forward in the legislation that would align the wage increases that Canada Post personnel would receive if the bill passes with the increases that were negotiated with the broader public sector at the federal level.

Those are the two questions: one, the impact on the charitable and volunteer sectors; and two, the government's decision in the legislation to increase salaries and wages at the same rate as that in the federal public sector.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services LegislationGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

Conservative

Brad Butt Conservative Mississauga—Streetsville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the parliamentary secretary very much for the opportunity to comment on two areas. One area I am very passionate about is the charitable sector. Where would we be if there were no charitable and social service organizations doing great work on the ground in all of our communities and making a real impact on people's lives?

Quite frankly, I find the smaller and leaner the organization, the stronger it is in actually delivering much needed services in communities. The problem is that charities rely on cheques that are most often mailed. They are not big highfalutin volunteer organizations with fancy websites and online donations. They are small community agencies that make a big difference, and a $10, $25 or $50 cheque in the mail to those agencies makes a big difference.

With respect to the wage increases that are being proposed in our bill, we have to be reasonable. I remind everyone that what is being proposed are wage increases, not wage rollbacks. We are not cutting people's wages. Wages would go up under the bill or if the union had settled with the last offer. The employer offered an increase in wages.

It is a balancing act, but the fact is we are increasing wages in the bill. We are asking the arbitrator to do some work. Arbitrators often side with union requests rather than management. That is a fair and appropriate process. Our government is acting very responsibly in these times.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services LegislationGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

NDP

Anne-Marie Day NDP Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate the member for Don Valley East. Today, we were supposed to return to Quebec. I must say that my heart is in my province more than it is here, but my mind remains here.

There is a lot of pathos surrounding what I have been hearing for the past few hours. I have been familiar with a number of community and charitable groups for a long time. They have been using the Internet to collect donations and grants for a long time.

My in-laws are 94 and 90 years old and they receive their pensions by direct deposit. Not every single Canadian from coast to coast is affected by this strike. We had rotating strikes that affected a small number of people, but the lockout is what made all the difference.

The government is complaining about the damage being done to small businesses, damage that it caused itself with the lockout. A lockout occurs when the employer shuts down a business in response to a strike or the threat of a strike. It just decides to shut down the business.

Who locked out the letter carriers? I will let my colleague answer that. Who is harming small-and medium-sized businesses? When the government talks about protecting the best interest, it is no doubt referring to the interests of major corporations, the banks and oil companies. When we talk about best interests, we are referring to those of the population, our constituents.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services LegislationGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

Conservative

Brad Butt Conservative Mississauga—Streetsville, ON

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member raised the issue of rotating strikes. I was in the small business world before I came to this place. If half of my employees decided not to show up or picket outside my business and the other half came to work and at another branch location half of them showed up and the other half did not, I could not run my business like that.

How could Canada Post be expected to run its business when it never knew who was going to show up on which day? Of course it had no option other than to shut the system down and protect the health and safety of the workers who did show up, because God knows that they were going to be asked to do. Who knows what they would be asked to do when half the people are out or the Halifax branch is out but Montreal is working and Vancouver is out and there are rotating strikes.

One cannot run a business that way. The union made it very clear, in my view. I really do not want to pick sides, but the union made it very clear the rotating strikes were going to continue ad nauseam. They were not going to stop. It was not just a protest for a couple of days; it was going to continue on and on, I assume until a collective agreement was reached. Nobody can run a business like that. It is impossible.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services LegislationGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Liberal

Ted Hsu Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. If you put it to the House, I believe you will find unanimous consent for the following motion: “That, notwithstanding any Standing Order or usual practice of the House, Bill S-1001, An Act Respecting Queen's University at Kingston, be deemed to have been reported favourably by the examiner of petitions pursuant to Standing Order 133(3), and that the bill be deemed to have been read a second time and referred to a Committee of the Whole, deemed considered in Committee of the Whole, deemed reported without amendment, deemed concurred in at report stage, and deemed read a third time and passed”.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services LegislationGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

Does the hon. member have the unanimous consent of the House to propose this motion?

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services LegislationGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

No.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services LegislationGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

Joe Daniel Conservative Don Valley East, ON

Mr. Speaker, after 12 days of rotating strikes, Canada Post initiated a lockout. This work stoppage comes after many rounds of collective bargaining, during which Canada Post and the postal workers union failed to close a gap between the positions and reach a settlement.

For many months now, federal mediators have worked with the two sides to find a solution. Unfortunately, the employer and the union have been unable to finalize a new collective agreement. Accordingly the government has decided to take action and tabled legislation that would bring an end to the work stoppage. The motion before us will give the House a chance to consider the labour minister's bill in an expeditious fashion.

As all members know, the procedures before us are reserved for special urgent situations. This is the case with the current work stoppage at Canada Post. Just when our economy is in the early stages of recovery, and in view of the serious consequences of paralyzing the postal service, the country can ill-afford a work stoppage. This legislation, once enacted, will bring to an end to the lockout at Canada Post.

What is at stake is our economic recovery. Right now, our country has reason to be optimistic. Our country has experienced the strongest economic growth among the G7 countries since mid-2009. All the job losses incurred during the global economic recession have been recovered. Now is not the time to jeopardize our momentum.

Our government has a responsibility, nay a duty, to act on behalf of all Canadians.

It is always better when the two parties can reach a collective agreement at the bargaining table, without the need for parliamentary intervention. The best solution in any labour dispute is one where the parties resolve the differences themselves. In this case, unfortunately, the parties are too far apart.

We could let the situation deteriorate and see businesses fail, unemployment increase and our economy falter, or the government could take decisive action on behalf of all Canadians. That is what we have done. We have taken decisive action which is in the best interests of the country and the Canadian public.

The bill would impose a four year contract and new pay rate increases. That would mean a 1.75% increase as of February 1, 2011, 1.5% increase as of February 2012, another 2% as of February 2013 and as of February 2014, 2%. It also provides for final offer selection, a binding mechanism on all outstanding matters. Furthermore, 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.

The arbitrator will also provide the necessary degree of flexibility to ensure the short-term and long-term economic viability and competitiveness of the Canada Post Corporation, maintain the health and safety of its workers and ensure the sustainability of its pension plan.

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

Let us remember that the last postal strike happened in 1997 and it lasted for 15 days. Since then, reliance on postal service has experienced a decline in personal mail due to the growth in the use of the Internet, email, electronic billing and electronic funds transfer.

However, small and mid-sized businesses still rely heavily on the postal service for direct marketing, billing and filling orders.

Business owners, seniors and other constituents of mine have contacted my office and have expressed their support for this motion and the need for the service to resume as soon as possible.

Small and medium-sized business owners are feeling the pinch. Their businesses are being affected. Business is slowing and the cost of shipping is starting to soar.

The people of Don Valley East elected me to be their voice in Parliament. Today, I am doing that by rising and speaking in favour of this motion.

Canada Post is a crown corporation. It is one of the largest employers in Canada. It employs more than 70,000 full-time and part-time employees. Every business day, Canada Post delivers about 40 million items and provides services to 14 million addresses. Canada Post, like any commercial enterprise, has to offer dependable service, generate revenue, control costs and maintain an efficient operation.

By the same token, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers is trying to gain the best salary and working conditions for its members.

The labour dispute between Canada Post and CUPW relates to the renewal of collective agreements covering some 50,000 workers, including plant and retail employees, letter carriers and mail service couriers.

We have a process in place to deal with these labour conflicts in the federal domain. It is called the Canada Labour Code. It has been followed each step of the way in this conflict.

Let me take a moment to outline the steps in this collective bargaining process, which has brought us to the situation we are faced with today.

Collective agreements covering CUPW and Canada Post expired in January 2011. Both parties had been bargaining since October 2010. When those talks reached an impasse, a conciliation officer was appointed and the conciliation period was extended until early May. During that time, the conciliation officer met with the parties. Throughout the month of May, a mediator from the labour program's Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service met frequently with the parties.

Despite all these efforts in mediation and conciliation and the Minister of Labour meeting with both party leaders, CUPW announced, on May 30, its intent to strike. On June 3 the Canadian Union of Postal Workers walked off the job. On June 15 the employer declared a lockout.

To recap, the postal workers have now been without a contract since January 2011, despite many rounds of bargaining. In fact, the parties have been bargaining for eight months.

Sometimes collective bargaining hits an impasse. It is unfortunate when the employer and the union cannot hammer out a mutually agreeable collective agreement. Unfortunately this is the situation facing the government today. When that happens, the parties can request the Minister of Labour to appoint an arbitrator.

Under normal circumstances, the Government of Canada does not intervene in labour disputes. Our government respects the right to free collective bargaining, which includes the right to strike and/or lockout. Parliament will not intervene if there is no serious harm to the national economy or public health and safety. However, when employers and unions choose a course of action that would have a negative effect on the economy and the country as a whole, then Parliament has the right to step in and protect the economic interests of the country and public interest as a whole.

What would be the effect of a prolonged postal disruption? Canada Post is a major employer across the country. It spends about $3 billion in goods and services. It contributes $6.6 billion to the country's GDP. Canada Post's direct marketing sector accounts for $14 billion in its revenue. During the recent economic recession, this sector suffered financial losses.

Canadian retailers depend on Canada Post to reach their customers. The Canadian magazine industry relies on Canada Post for most of its distribution.

Charities depend on Canada Post to receive donations and the funding to assist them to work. In fact, the National Institute for the Blind is now facing an estimated loss of $250,000 in funding because more than half of its regular donations are received through the mail service.

Canada Post also offers an essential lifeline to Canadians in rural and remote areas. Often the Canada Post offices are the centre of a community's daily life. While rural letter carriers are not part of the current bargaining dispute, rural communities have been affected because sorting has ceased operations.

People with disabilities have transportation and accessibility barriers that may well effect their ability to receive goods and services.

Are we going to stand by and see some of these most vulnerable sectors of our economy affected by a prolonged work stoppage by Canada Post? What would be the effect on Canada Post as a viable business? As we recover from this economic downturn, it is more important than ever that we encourage co-operative and productive workplaces.

Let us support Canadians who have recently gone through a recession and are hoping to make some gains for their families. Let us support a back to work legislation. Let us keep our economy working. Let us look to the future.

I ask my honourable colleagues to join me in supporting this bill.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services LegislationGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

NDP

John Rafferty NDP Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

Mr. Speaker, I welcome the hon. member to this place.

I listened to his comments with great interest. He talked about vulnerable people. He may or may not know that I spent a lot of time in the last session dealing with pensions and trying to ensure that all Canadians received the pensions that were due. One of the big elements that has not been talked about very much in this dispute is pensions, just as it has been in the past couple of years with the recession.

We all know what happened to the Nortel workers. We all know what happened to Buchanan Forest Products workers in my riding. When it went bankrupt, the pension funds were underfunded and a lot of families suffered, and continue to suffer right now.

In large part, the Air Canada incident that has been solved, at least for now, revolved around pensions.

This too is about pensions, but there is a big difference. In this case, for the last dozen or so years, Canada Post Corporation has shown a profit, well over $2 billion in the last 12 years, yet it has left its pension funds underfunded. It did not do it on its own. It is allowed to do that. That is one of the sticking points right now.

I have a very quick question for the member. Does he think it is fair that corporations that are making money, like Canada Post, should be trying to change a pension system that has been agreed to in collective bargaining? Does he think it is fair that it can leave it underfunded for years and years and then cry wolf and say that it does not have enough money for its pensions?

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services LegislationGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

Conservative

Joe Daniel Conservative Don Valley East, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the comments by my colleague.

Clearly, part of the agreement will take care of the pensions, but it also protects Canadian taxpayers from increased tax liabilities. The legislation also includes guiding principles on providing direction to the arbitrator such as the desire of the government to see no increase in the unfunded portion of the Canada Post pension plan.

Our government's desire is to ensure that Canadian taxpayers are not left with the bill for Canada Post's pension plan.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services LegislationGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

Liberal

Francis Scarpaleggia Liberal Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

Mr. Speaker, I find it interesting the way the government characterizes the state of the economy. It goes from saying that the recovery is very fragile to saying that the economy is very strong, that we have recouped all the lost jobs since the recession and that we have had strong growth since 2009. It chooses one characterization over another, depending on its agenda and its strategic political objectives that particular day.

Since the hon. member views Canada Post as an essential service, even as its share of the market erodes over time because of new technologies, is there a kind of minimum threshold over which the government would allow Canada Post to go on strike? In other words, is there some kind of magic annual real GDP growth in the Canadian economy over a period of time at which point it would be acceptable to allow a strike at Canada Post?

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services LegislationGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

Conservative

Joe Daniel Conservative Don Valley East, ON

Mr. Speaker, I do not think there is any point where it is an acceptable position to go on strike. Clearly, the mandate is to negotiate a settlement between disputing parties. In this particular case, Canada Post actually has $6.6 billion of business in this country and it affects our GDP directly. A situation affecting Canada Post will directly affect what we are doing.