Mr. Speaker, one of my favourite expressions is that everybody is a democrat when they win. However, the true test to determine people's commitment to a principle of democracy is how they act when they lose, because the whole system is predicated upon people ascribing to a principle that in exchange for a peaceful exchange of ideas in a competition for votes, everybody agrees to live by the end result. That is how we know if someone really believes in democracy.
It is the same thing when it comes to labour rights. A lot of people profess to believe in free collective bargaining as a fundamental right. However, the true test of whether or not they really do is how they act when presented with a situation where they have to actually implement a decision.
In this case here, we are watching a government that has clearly showed its true nature, that when push comes to shove, it absolutely rejects the notion of and will trample over the rights of Canadians to exercise their right to free collective bargaining. I will develop that idea in a moment, but I want to pause for a moment to talk about process.
With respect to democracy, the Liberal government has tabled legislation that purports to limit debate of members of Parliament in this House on something as important as back-to-work legislation that will be implemented on a national scale, country-wide, on a major Canadian Crown corporation. It wants to limit debate to a few hours. That is unbelievable.
It does not matter where we sit on the merits of the question before the House. I think all Canadians who are fair-minded, all Canadians who value democracy, all Canadians who understand the need for a free and fair exchange of ideas in debate in this chamber will condemn a government that does not have the courage to allow the people in this House to fully express not only their thoughts on this legislation but also the interests and opinions of the constituents who we come to this House to represent. That is shameful and it is cowardly.
I want to talk about free collective bargaining. People either believe in it or they do not. The way we determine whether or not politicians or policy-makers really believe in it is how they act when the chips are on the table.
Here we have a rotating strike by Canada Post workers. We have job action that is being taken. What is happening? We are being inconvenienced. The country is being inconvenienced. Customers are being inconvenienced. Businesses are being inconvenienced. We all are being inconvenienced. That is what the purpose of job action is. It is the withdrawal of services or a lockout by management which is intended to put economic pressure on the other side and the members of the public as a means for resolving the issues between the parties when they are unable to do so by agreement. That is what job action is. That is what a strike does. That is what a lockout does.
Therefore, for the Liberals to say that they believe in free collective bargaining but they will interfere to make sure that nobody will ever actually be able to take that final job action, which is the final expression of the right to free collective bargaining, makes a mockery of their so-called avowed commitment to the principle of free collective bargaining. Saying that one believes in the right of free collective bargaining but not in the right to exercise the right to strike or a lockout is absurd. That is what the Liberal government is saying right now.
What I have noticed about the Conservatives and Liberals is that they tend to believe in the right to strike when workers are on strike and it does not have any real impact. However, the minute that workers withdraw their services and it actually has an impact on the economy, that is when they scramble for return-to-work legislation and strip those workers of their right to exercise their economic impact. Basically, people have a right to strike in this country so long as the strike has no impact. That is the net result of the approach by the Liberals and Conservatives to free collective bargaining and labour in this country, and it is wrong. It is unconstitutional and it violates Canada's signature on any number of international treaties where we say to the world that we believe in the right of free collective bargaining. We say that when we are out of Canada, yet in Canada we strip our workers of that right any time those workers take a move to act on that right and it actually has an impact.
The longshore union in this country does not even have a strike fund anymore. Why? Longshore workers always get ordered back to work. The longshore workers belong to a federally regulated union. They have taken the decision that under Liberal and Conservative federal governments that regulate them, they should not even bother having a strike fund because if they ever move to strike, within days they get ordered back to work. Why? When longshore workers go on strike, the government indicates to the Canadian public how important the value of their labour is to the Canadian economy. Again, workers can strike if they have no impact on the Canadian economy, but if they have a pivotal impact on the Canadian economy, then they do not have the right to strike. That lays bear the contradiction that exists in the Conservative Party and the Liberal Party in this House. There is only one party in this House that stands completely for the principle of free collective bargaining, and that is the New Democratic Party of Canada, and we are going to continue to do that.
I want to talk about the impact. In this case, the government is acting as if Canada Post is an essential service. I just pointed out that I have great respect for the value and importance of the work of Canada Post, but according to the legal definition under labour law, it is not an essential service. If the government wants to treat it as an essential service, then it can make an application to the Canada Industrial Relations Board and make the case that Canada Post should be declared an essential service. If that is the case, the government is then entitled to perhaps place some restrictions on the right to strike. The government has not done that, is not doing it and will not do it. Why? It is because Canada Post is not an essential service.
The very argument the Liberals want Canadians to believe, that they have to legislate Canada Post workers back to work because they are essential to the Canadian economy, the Liberals actually do not have the intellectual integrity to demonstrate that before an independent arbitrator to determine if that is the case because they know they cannot. Why? It is because there are alternatives.
Yes, of course, if Canada Post workers are on a rotating strike, or even if there is a full strike and they withdraw services, that will have an impact on Canada, but there are alternatives. There is UPS. There is FedEx. There is DHL. There is Purolator, although it is owned by Canada Post. I am not sure if it is affected by this job action, but assuming it is not, there is Purolator. There is any number of courier services across this country that can make sure things still move.
That is the difference between that and true essential services like health care workers, police, firefighters or air traffic controllers, where Canadians accept that there could be meaningful limitations on the right to strike because the withdrawal of those services may put public health and safety at risk. That is not the case with Canada Post and the government is trying to slide this regressive act underneath that sort of fabric of essential service when it knows that is not the case.
I want to talk about the middle class. The government constantly repeats “middle class” ad nauseam in the House, as if the Liberal Party is the only party that cares about the middle class. My Conservative colleagues care about the middle class and the NDP cares about the middle class. We all do. However, for the Liberals, middle class is almost like their trademark. They have made it a talking point. The true test of whether the Liberals really believe in the middle class is not what they say, because I have heard more rhetoric in the last three years from the Liberals than I have heard in my lifetime, it is how they act.
What is the best way to enter the middle class? It is to carry a union card, to sign a union card. Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel Prize winning economist, and any number of economists across the political spectrum will tell us that countries that have high rates of unionization have higher rates of people in the middle class. That is only common sense. Obviously, unions work to raise wages and improve working conditions. That is how people enter the middle class.
What do the Liberals do when what is happening in the private and public sectors and a union fights for improvements to its workers' wages and working conditions? They move to scuttle it. They move to restrict the ability of CUPW to improve the working conditions of its workers to enter the middle class. It is pure rhetoric on the Liberal side. The emperor has no clothes on this. If they really cared about the middle class, they would be letting CUPW and Canada Post bargain and allow CUPW come to a resolution, fight for its workers and gain improvements in the workplace that would assist them in moving to the middle class, but no, the Liberals are rushing to order them back to work.
I want to talk about workplace safety. About two and a half years ago, not one kilometre from here, I was present at a ceremony attended by the Prime Minister and all sorts of cabinet ministers and members of the Liberal Party. It was a function organized by Canada Building Trades Unions, where it unveiled its monument to the construction worker. It also served to remind us of those construction workers who have paid with their lives and injuries to build this country. It is a monument to injured construction workers. All the Liberals showed up and beamed with pride and it looked like they were completely happy about this and showed their support for the building trades and union leaders across this country as they stuck up for health and safety. Now how do they act? The single most important issue going on right now in the bargaining between CUPW and Canada Post is their rates of injury, and health and safety in the workplace.
We have already heard the shocking numbers that 25% of the workers at Canada Post have a workplace health or safety incident every year. These are the issues that the unions bring to the bargaining table. They are not asking, but are seeking and demanding a response from the employer. At the end of the day, unions only have one power. Management has all the power to determine the jobs, the terms and conditions in the workplace and unions can ask, can grieve, can seek to persuade someone else, can seek to persuade the employer who has the ultimate decision. The only power unions have at the end of the day is the power to withdraw their services. When that is taken away from a union, it has no power whatsoever. That is not collective bargaining any more. It is collective begging.
That is what the Liberal government is forcing CUPW to do. Instead of letting CUPW do its job, exercise its constitutional right and reflect the constitutional rights of its members and bring those issues to the table and refuse to go back to work and to continue to put economic pressure on Canada Post until they get improvements in health and safety in the workplace, the government seeks to interfere with that process.
Do the Liberals really care about health and safety like they professed on that day when that monument was unveiled and they clapped politely? No. Now they will throw that in front of an arbitrator and that, like a lot of other issues, will be swept under the rug.
The government claims to care about pay equity. Liberals have entered their fourth year of government. With a majority government they could have done anything they want in the last three years. They have entered their fourth year and now they pat themselves on the back for introducing pay equity legislation some time in the future with no money attached to it. Other than that, it is a great pay equity scheme.
What does CUPW do at the bargaining table? It is seeking to get redress for the inequities between the wages of men and women and between urban and rural carriers and workers. Again, what is the government doing with that? When the Liberals have a chance to really see actors in the Canadian economy get real improvements now to pay equity and to health and safety in the workplace, they seek to interfere in that process and derail it. That is some commitment to pay equity.
The rights of labour in this country have been hard fought for. They were not given to them. The rights of labour in this country were paid for by the sacrifice, by the sweat, and frankly, by the blood of workers from coast to coast who stood up and sacrificed for the rights of their sisters and brothers, sons and daughters and grandchildren to be able to live in a free, democratic country where workers have rights. The government shows again by this behaviour, this anti-democratic, anti-union behaviour that it is spitting in the face of that sacrifice.
I want to talk about what happens when we end job action by referring a matter to binding arbitration. I was a labour lawyer for 16 years before I was elected and I have lots of experience with this kind of situation. Something that everybody knows and the government members may or may not have the courage to admit, is that when they refer matters in the collective bargaining environment to an arbitrator in any kind of forum, whether final offer selection or any of the myriad of processes used to come to a binding dispute, they give the power to resolve the issues in dispute to one person. In that kind of environment, they always get a mediated, moderated compromise. They rarely get principled, real solutions to the crux of the issues in dispute. The only way labour really wins the day and has an opportunity to win its case is on the street when it is flexing its economic power and when it is taking the risk of having management exercise its economic power back.
Job action, as I have heard my colleagues say, is not taken lightly. It is not a picnic; it is a sacrifice. We have CUPW workers out there in the freezing cold who are receiving a fraction of their real wages. In fact, sick and injured workers have had their benefits cut off by Canada Post, as the most shameful, disgusting form of pressure to be put in a labour dispute, putting pressure on the most vulnerable workers who are sick and injured, and the Liberal MPs said nothing about it. They let Canada Post use injured workers as a pawn in a labour dispute, and they did not say a word about it.
These workers are out sacrificing, and when Canada Post loses business to companies like UPS and DHL and the other courier companies that are no doubt taking its work right now, they run the risk, when they go back to work, of not having that business there. There is risk, but that is the nature of a strike. It is economic conflict at its base. We do not like to say it, but that is what it is.
Again, I come back to my first point. People either believe in free collective bargaining in this chamber and in this country or they do not. If someone says, “I don't like the economic impact of a strike,” then they do not believe in free collective bargaining. He or she should have the courage to say that then. I challenge my Liberal colleagues, in 2019, to go to the union leaders, go to all of the union halls across this country, walk in there and tell them that they believe in the right to strike as long as there is no economic impact; and tell them that if there is any economic impact, then no, unions get ordered back to work and they will let some appointed person with no interest or accountability in the process make the decision for them.
I have been in this chamber 10 years, and the worst times I am in this chamber are when I see a government violate the constitutional rights of Canadians, and I am going to end with this. The right to strike is a constitutional right. The right to join a union and exercise all of the associated benefits of that is a constitutional right. A government that will interfere with that in this case will interfere with it in any situation. Therefore, we are not just standing up for CUPW workers today or for all workers across this country, we in the New Democratic Party are standing up for all Canadians who believe that this is a country ruled by a Constitution and rights. That means sticking up for them in all situations, not only when it is convenient to do so.