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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

7 p.m.

Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia Manitoba

Conservative

Steven Fletcher ConservativeMinister of State (Transport)

Mr. Speaker, I was hoping my colleague from Winnipeg Centre would have an opportunity to ask a question, because the brand new mail facility is right on the edge of our shared riding boundary. This is a great improvement not only for the delivery of mail but also for the people who work for Canada Post and provide the mail for our shared constituents and throughout the region.

In answer to the question, I wonder if the member is aware that Canada Post, partly for that facility, is investing $1.5 billion in infrastructure. The return on investment is very marginal, which implies that Canada Post is working for Canadians right at the margin.

We do not want taxpayers subsidizing the operations, but we also want to ensure that people in Canada get the mail when they ask for it. There are a lot of factors here.

The bottom line is that at the end of the day we can go into all of this, but we need Canadians to get their mail. Right now they do not. This legislation will ensure that Canadians will get their mail, our economy will move along and everyone will be able to enjoy the great institution of mail delivery.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services LegislationGovernment Orders

7 p.m.

Conservative

David Wilks Conservative Kootenay—Columbia, BC

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the Minister's comments today.

One thing we have overlooked for a lot of small businesses and larger businesses within Canada is that at the end of this month, everyone must remit the HST or GST. A lot of the small business owners still receive it by paper form. We cannot remit without that paper form.

How much of a problem will it be for the government when we small business owners will not be able to remit our taxes to it?

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services LegislationGovernment Orders

7 p.m.

Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia Manitoba

Conservative

Steven Fletcher ConservativeMinister of State (Transport)

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate the member on his election.

The member has pointed out one of probably millions of examples of the vital role Canada Post plays in the lives of Canadians.

Right now Canadians are not receiving the mail. There are a lot of reasons. The two parties, Canada Post and CUPW, have not been able to come up with a negotiated settlement. We want to get the mail flowing, and the only way to do this is for the government to bring forward back-to-work legislation so that the stakeholders, the people of Canada, will get their mail.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services LegislationGovernment Orders

7:05 p.m.

NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Burnaby--New Westminster in this debate. Since this is also my first speech in the House since we returned, although I did participate in question period and a few questions and comments, I will take the opportunity to thank the voters of St. John's East who returned me to this House to represent them. I am very proud to be their representative.

This is a very crucial debate. It is a crucial debate because it is really about the values Canadians have and the values this government is trying to impose on them against their will through this legislation.

Let us look at what happened here. The previous speaker, the Minister of State for Transport, said it very well. We have an excellent postal service. We deliver 55 million pieces of mail per day. We have rural and urban delivery. We have a service that is in fact profitable. As stated by my colleague, the member for Winnipeg North, Canada Post has made from $100 million to $300 million per year for the last 10 years. It is a profitable public corporation that is providing a service to Canadians and is able to negotiate fair wage and pension benefits for its workers. It is in a position to do so because it is a profitable service.

What do we have happening here? We have a combination of three things.

First, this crown corporation, essentially run on behalf of the government, has locked out its workers, effectively shutting down the postal service, which it is complaining about. Why does it not tell them to unlock the locks, open the postal service and deliver the mail? Instead of talking about pensioners not getting their cheques, it should open the doors. The employees said they were quite happy to deliver the pension cheques even if they were on strike. They were not trying to disrupt pensioners or people who were dependent on receiving cheques in the mail.

Second, after the workers were locked out and the post office was shut down, there is now legislation ordering the workers back to work, including workers who are not even on strike. At the same time, their wages are being reduced with a wage offer below what was on the table. A profitable corporation made a wage offer in the middle of negotiations, and the government came in and ordered the workers back to work, telling them they will get less than the profitable corporation was prepared to offer through collective bargaining.

What are we doing here? What are we telling the people of Canada?

Part of the problem going on here is the attempt by this profitable corporation to drive down the pension benefits of workers. The government is facilitating, aiding and abetting that attempt. What message are they trying to send to the people of Canada? I do not mean necessarily all the people of Canada, but a certain group of the people of Canada to whom this message is going. I am talking about the next generation of workers.

When I think about this legislation, I think about my children. I think about the young people in this country, the next generation. I am of a generation that is getting close to retirement, but there are young people, and we have them in our caucus, who are being told by the government not to expect for themselves, their friends and their children the same benefits, the same retirement possibilities and the same opportunity to live in dignity in their senior years as exist today.

We are becoming more prosperous as a country, yet we are telling people that if they work for the post office, they should not expect the same kind of retirement security as the people who came before them.

The same thing was happening at Air Canada. The government was aiding and abetting the employer, a profitable company, to drive down the expectations of young people. They are your children and your grandchildren. Members over there are telling them they are not entitled to share in the prosperity of this country.

That is wrong. Members opposite are aiding and abetting it, and that message has to be stopped, Mr. Speaker.

This legislation is going to be opposed as long as it does those things to these workers.

I heard the member for Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound speak earlier, and I like the hon. member. I do not like what he said, though.

The hon. member offered a letter from a constituent who wrote about a grandchild who felt lucky to have a job receiving the minimum wage for a couple of days a week. There may be some people with that sentiment, but the member used that letter to suggest that is a reason to resent someone who has a job with decent pay.

If the argument made by the hon. member is that this is the principle on which we should be talking about these issues, what the hon. member is saying is that everybody should be grateful to have a job, any job at any wage, with any offer from anybody, and should be thankful. That is a recipe for poverty, for disaster, for people working for slave wages without any bargaining rights.

We have heard many moving speeches on this side of the House today concerning collective bargaining. The member for Timmins—James Bay talked about miners being challenged by police officers with machine guns for going on strike in Kirkland Lake to win the right to bargain collectively. It was not that long ago, just some 50, 60 or 70 years ago.

Now members opposite are seeking to destroy that right to bargain collectively with a profitable corporation in the 21st century, in one of the most prosperous countries in the world, with a postal service that is quite capable of paying decent wages and bargaining collectively in good faith. The strike and lockout mechanisms that exist are part of that good-faith bargaining, and the parties could reach a bargain.

What does one do with that? What did the government do? The union and its members offered to end the rotating strikes and to return to work under their existing contract and to continue negotiations. There would be no worries about the postal service working, no worries about rotating strikes, no worries about anything. The union offered to continue to negotiate in good faith.

Sometimes negotiations go on for a couple of years. They do not always take two or three months. Sometimes they take two or three months, but sometimes when there are tough negotiations and people want an opportunity to figure things out, they do that.

However, Canada Post said no and locked the doors.

The Conservative government supported the company by stepping up virtually immediately to say it would bring in back-to-work legislation. In fact, notice was given on June 15. This is what is going on.

It is happening in lockstep. Who locked the doors? Canada Post locked the doors, but the government was there a minute later to say it would order the workers back to work because the postal service could not be shut down.

That is wrong. The challenge the Conservative government is putting to workers and to ordinary people has to be challenged back, and that is what we are here to do.

To actually interfere with collective bargaining and impose a wage rate below what fair collective bargaining in good faith was producing is outrageous.

I see that my time is coming to a close. I have a minute left, but as someone who has practised law for 30 years, a good portion of it labour law, I am very familiar with the kind of situation that we are facing here today with back-to-work legislation.

To put people back to work, to reduce their wages from an offer that was on the table, to impose with this legislation a final offer on parties that have not agreed to it is one of the most draconian pieces of legislation that I have seen in the 30 years I have been practising labour law. That is something the parties agree to sometimes as a way out of a situation, and these parties may at some point have agreed to such a thing on certain aspects of their contract, but it should not be imposed by a third party.

It is utterly wrong on all counts, and we are opposed to it.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services LegislationGovernment Orders

7:15 p.m.

Conservative

Mike Wallace Conservative Burlington, ON

Mr. Speaker, this is the first time I have had an opportunity to stand up in the House since being re-elected on May 2. I want to thank the voters of Burlington for sending me back to this fine institution. I hope to be able to support the needs and causes that are important to Burlington over the next four and a half years.

My question is simple. I stand to be corrected if I am wrong, but it is my understanding that the postal workers have never had an opportunity to vote of any offers that Canada Post has made to them. I have had calls from CUPW workers asking me to support back-to-work legislation because their union would not let them vote on the offers that had been made by Canada Post.

Can the hon. member explain to me what the responsibility of union leadership is in allowing its workers an opportunity to vote on offers that have been made to them?

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services LegislationGovernment Orders

7:15 p.m.

NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

Mr. Speaker, I want to congratulate the member on getting re-elected and serving here in the House. I thank him for his question. It is one that is often misunderstood.

An individual union member may not agree. If there is a strike vote the member may vote against going on strike. That same person may think he or she should vote on every piece of paper, every comment, every single offer that is made, that negotiations will be taking place pretty shortly so we will have a vote on this and another vote on this.

These cost thousands of dollars. There are 48,000 workers and that member feels the workers and their families should vote on every offer.

The democratic union elects the bargaining committee. It elects the process. It is a democratic organization. That is the way this works and that is the way it happens. Some people may disagree, but it is a democratic organization that has its own democratically chosen procedure as to how to deal with this.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services LegislationGovernment Orders

7:15 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Andrews Liberal Avalon, NL

Mr. Speaker, let me congratulate my colleague from Newfoundland for his re-election in St. John's East. I remember a time when he was the provincial leader of the NDP in Newfoundland and Labrador. I do not recall him supporting any back to work legislation ever. I remember the nurse's strike of 1996. He did not support back to work legislation for that essential service in Newfoundland.

Would the member ever see himself supporting any type of back to work legislation that is good for the public?

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services LegislationGovernment Orders

7:15 p.m.

NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

Mr. Speaker, I want to congratulate the member for Avalon on his re-election against the senator. I know it was a hard fought election. It is good to see him back here.

What I am hearing is a bit of an echo of a Liberal mantra today. The Liberal mantra is not about will we support this legislation, do we support postal workers, do we believe that governments should order people back to work, impose contracts, lower people's wages. All they want to know is some theoretical, philosophical issue to do with something that may or may not happen in the future.

I do not speculate on the future. What I will say is that this legislation is as bad, probably worse, than the legislation that he is talking about that was brought in by his provincial counterparts against the nurses. It is probably just as bad, if not worse. I said in my speech they had the worst legislation. So if someone brings in legislation like this, we will vote against it, as we did in Newfoundland, as we will here today.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services LegislationGovernment Orders

7:15 p.m.

NDP

Nathan Cullen NDP Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Madam Speaker, while we are dealing with a very specific labour dispute between Canada Post, the workers and the management, and this government's intervention, are we not also dealing with the more fundamental principle of how the government treats the legislative process that exists in law in Canada that has been supported by constitutional experts and in fact the Supreme Court that says that when workers have a dispute with management if they are in a union they can go and freely and fairly bargain with those that employ them?

For a government to intervene and impose a wage settlement, as it has done here, I am trying to find a precedent for a government having done that with an arm's-length institution like Canada Post before, intervening on the actual settlement, not even allowing an arbitrator or mediator to work out the details. Is there not a fundamental principle for which the NDP members are standing in our places for time and time again today and potentially tonight and tomorrow?

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services LegislationGovernment Orders

7:20 p.m.

NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

Madam Speaker, I will be brief. The Supreme Court of Canada has recognized that the fundamental right under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is the right to organize and to bargain collectively is part of the freedom of association. There is a case in B.C. where legislation that imposed restrictions on collective bargaining was struck down.

It is a very high level of right protected by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The government is attacking those rights in this legislation and that is one of the many reasons why we are opposing it.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services LegislationGovernment Orders

7:20 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

The member hon. member for Leeds—Grenville has a point of order.

(Bill S-1001. On the Order: Government Orders:)

June 23, 2011--Second reading, An Act Respecting Queen's University at Kingston

An Act Respecting Queen's University at KingstonGovernment Orders

7:20 p.m.

Conservative

Gord Brown Conservative Leeds—Grenville, ON

moved:

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.

An Act Respecting Queen's University at KingstonGovernment Orders

7:20 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

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

An Act Respecting Queen's University at KingstonGovernment Orders

7:20 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

An Act Respecting Queen's University at KingstonGovernment Orders

7:20 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

The House has heard the terms of the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

An Act Respecting Queen's University at KingstonGovernment Orders

7:20 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

An Act Respecting Queen's University at KingstonGovernment Orders

7:20 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

(Motion agreed to, bill read the second time, considered in committee of the whole, reported without amendment, concurred in, read the third time and passed)

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

7:20 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Madam Speaker, given that display of unanimity one would hope that we would be able to get actual bills through the House that would deal with credit card gouging, gas price gouging and all the things the government has not been willing to take action on. We are always willing to work with the government when it actually works in the interests of ordinary people.

I would like to start by saying a few words to our Quebec colleagues, Canadians who live in the province of Quebec.

I would like to wish a happy Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day to all Quebeckers. As hon. members know, this day will be celebrated tomorrow all across Quebec.

I was a manual labourer in a previous life. I worked in a number of factories and went back to school eventually. I have never been a member of a labour union. Following my university education I went on to work as a negotiator from the management side on a number of collective agreements. I have been a long-time member of the New Westminster Chamber of Commerce and a proud member of the Burnaby Board of Trade. I have won a number of business excellence awards.

I am going to take a slightly different tack from a number of my colleagues in this wonderfully diverse caucus, which is the new official opposition, the NDP caucus of 103 members of Parliament, people who come from a variety of backgrounds. Some have been involved in the labour movement. Some have been involved in the business community. Some have been involved as professionals. Some have been involved in the trades. All of them have the interests of Canada at heart, and we are excited to take on our new role as official opposition and to bring a lot to Parliament because of our diversity.

In the case of every single member of Parliament in the NDP caucus, our focus is on the community. That is why we are very concerned about what the government has done in this particular case.

We saw this first with Air Canada and even more of increasing concern around the Canada Post negotiations. I would like to briefly go back a few steps to talk about the process because this is what is so profoundly worrying about how the government has reacted in this case.

There have been broad concerns about how the management of Canada Post has managed the negotiations in the collective agreement. What we have had is a very broad base of support from postal workers, 50,000 strong across the country who contribute enormously to our communities and to the strength of Canada. What we have found is, because of certain intransigence from Canada Post management, there was a series of very limited, rotating work stoppages in various parts of the county. There was some mild impact on mail generally.

We had postal workers playing the role that they do, going through rain, sleet and snow, making sure that the mail gets delivered, ensuring that cheques are delivered for seniors, ensuring that those most vulnerable in our society are taken care of. The workers took a very responsible and principled approach to what was clear intransigence from Canada Post management.

When we talk about Canada Post management, in the case of the CEO we are talking about an individual who receives $650,000 a year and has seen the salary for his position double over the last few years. There has been a massive increase in management salaries. It is a profitable corporation because of the hard work of the employees who, as usual, never receive the credit for the work they do for Canada. It is a very profitable corporation with extremely high executive salaries and intransigence from the management side.

In the midst of this, instead of reacting in a moderate way, which is what the government could have chosen to do, it reacted in a very immoderate way. We all know that as we came through the end of the month of April and to the May 2 election what we heard from the Prime Minister was repeated assurances that he would be moderate in government.

We have not seen many examples of that since May 2. Certainly we could talk about the appointments of failed Conservative candidates to the Senate. We could talk about this bill. We could talk about a number of other measures that have shown those commitments that were made to Canadians to have a moderate government, a government that would be balanced in its approach, have proven to be vain promises. In my riding I have met a number of people who voted for the Conservative Party who feel that they have been betrayed by the immoderate actions of the government.

What did the government do in this case? Management reacted by locking out the workers. The letter carriers across the country, in a very moderate, reserved way had limited, rotating work stoppages in various parts of the country that slowed down only slightly the overall delivery of mail.

Management reacted by shutting down the entire system. Far from reacting in a moderate way, what the government has done is twofold. It has taken the side of management. It has decided that it will aid management in its intransigence in negotiating what should be a collective agreement that would be relatively easy to negotiate given how moderate the requests have been from the workers working for the company.

It did much more. The government imposed what would be a collective agreement. I cannot call it a collective agreement when it is imposed by the government. In a free and democratic society, collective bargaining is one way where more of the resources and more of the profits that a company has actually remain in the community. It allows for a much more balanced approach in family income. It means that, in a very clear way, more of the profits that a company may have may actually remain in the community in which those profits are earned and benefit other businesses as well.

When I talk about my community, I know how hard hit the small businesses have been by many of the policies of the government. I just have to name the HST as one example. The idea of collective bargaining is to ensure there is moderation and balance. When there is a $200 million profitable corporation, the workers should receive money that at least meets the inflation rate. That is something that is a reasonable request.

The government imposed a wage settlement and, more important, it imposed what is very clearly a pension structure and framework that will be of enormous disadvantage to anyone else who works for Canada Post in the future. It means that younger workers will be treated as second class within the Canada Post system.

This is an important issue. When we look at the middle class and what has happened over the last five years under the present government and what happened under the previous government in the previous five years, we have seen a dramatic erosion in middle class earning power. For most families, their real income has declined somewhat dramatically, particularly among the poorest of Canadians. We have seen problems with pensions and seniors living under the poverty line. We have seen the debtload of the average family in Canada double over this period as well.

We have seen a dramatic restructuring of how families in Canada cope economically. Far from us being economically prosperous, as the government likes to pretend, the middle class is struggling. One of the ways that struggle can be addressed is through free, collective bargaining, which is the hallmark of any democratic system.

What the government has done by imposing this legislation is ensuring that bad management is helped, management that is stubborn and unwilling to sit down and negotiate an effective agreement. Having been on the management side in collective agreement negotiations, I can say that it is not rocket science.

In negotiating a collective agreement, parties need to be transparent, honest, sincere and willing to work for a solution. When parties do that, they get a collective agreement renewed. There are collective agreement negotiations. When collective agreement negotiations are approached in a meanspirited way, in a non-transparent way, in a way where the people who are working to actually build that firm or build that organization are being pushed back, then the parties will not get the same results.

What has happened here is that the government has helped bad management try to impose a bad agreement that is bad for Canadian communities.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services LegislationGovernment Orders

7:30 p.m.

Conservative

Joy Smith Conservative Kildonan—St. Paul, MB

Madam Speaker, I was listening to the member opposite talk about this lockout. It is passing strange that there was no mention of what is happening to everyday Canadians who rely on their mail. There are cheques in the mail that have not arrived.

For instance, a young family in my riding was given $15,000 from the parents to put a down payment on a cottage. The family has never been able to afford anything but the parents helped them out a little and together with their siblings they are buying a cottage. However, the money has not arrived and the deadline to purchase the cottage has passed. There is an 81-year-old senior who has been waiting for a cheque and it has not arrived.

I am asking the member about everyday Canadians who are waiting for the mail and hoping it will come very soon so they will not lose their chance to—

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services LegislationGovernment Orders

7:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

The hon. member for Burnaby—New Westminster.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services LegislationGovernment Orders

7:30 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

It is inconceivable, Mr. Speaker. The member admits that there was a lockout and that Canada Post management is to blame and then tries to justify legislation that punishes the workers who approached this whole conflict in a very moderate, reasonable way.

The management shut down the system and yet not one Conservative member of Parliament has said that the government understands what a lockout is, that management acted inappropriately and that it will ensure that management is compelled to negotiate a collective agreement. The Conservatives have not done that. They have done exactly the opposite. They are punishing the workers who have been delivering the cheques to seniors, who had a very moderate and reasonable series of rotating work stoppages that slowed the system only slightly. Management came in with a sledgehammer to bust the system apart and Conservative MPs are saying that it is the workers' fault that management shut down the entire system.

I think any reasonable, fair-minded Canadian can see how immoderate the government is becoming. It blames ordinary middle class families for something that is management's fault. Management shut—

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services LegislationGovernment Orders

7:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Questions and comments. The hon. member for Nanaimo—Cowichan.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services LegislationGovernment Orders

7:35 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Burnaby—New Westminster for laying out so clearly what some of the issues are.

Numerous times in the House today we have heard, particularly Conservative members, talk about the economics of this and declining revenues from the post office. I want to put on the record that the Canadian Union of Postal Workers has actually had some proposals around increasing the business line. The article states:

Canada Post is at a crossroads. On the one hand, it faces significant challenges due to economic recession, electronic diversion and years of underinvestment in facilities and equipment. On the other hand, it is well placed to meet these challenges with its enormous, nation-wide infrastructure and trained workforce.

I would argue that part of this process really is about respecting the trained workforce and respecting the ideas it has put forward. I wonder if the member could comment on how important it is to have stability in that workforce so employees can continue to contribute to the bottom line for the business.