Mr. Speaker, it is no exaggeration to say I am profoundly distressed and sickened to have to stand in the House today to oppose the government's super motion and ultimately the legislation drafted with the sole purpose of forcing CUPW members back to work.
The government, in its arrogance, is ignoring the charter rights for workers to organize and to withdraw services when the employer refuses to bargain a collective agreement in good faith. Every person in this country who earns a living from employment should be aware and hopefully furious with the government's abuse of their human and constitutional rights. It is especially heinous in light of the fact that we have been down this road before in 2011.
In 2011, Stephen Harper was the prime minister of a majority government, and the NDP formed the official opposition. While it sickened me then as it does now, I was also never more proud to stand with Jack Layton and fight with every tool at our disposal against the back-to-work legislation imposed on CUPW to curtail its efforts and rights to bargain a fair and equitable collective agreement with Canada Post.
While there is a distinct echo of that shameful past in the air today, there are also two major differences between the proceedings in 2011 and the situation we find ourselves faced with today.
For the first part, the legislation imposed by the Harper Conservatives back then was subsequently deemed in violation of the union's charter rights. Yet, our sunny-ways Prime Minister has no qualms about following in Mr. Harper's footsteps to once again violate the union's and the workers' charter rights. It is disgusting. Of course, we all know what happened to Mr. Stephen Harper.
The other difference here is that while the Liberals have waited a little over five weeks to violate CUPW charter rights, the Conservatives took the opportunity to do so as soon as they possibly could. However, the Liberal motion, believe it or not, is even more restrictive than Stephen Harper's, in that it limits debate to the shortest possible time frame. We are expected to wrap up this farce before the end of the sitting day today. It is an abomination of democracy, and the Prime Minister does not even have the decency to be ashamed about that.
It is simply another broken promise thrown on the trash heap of abandoned election promises from 2015: electoral reform, treating veterans and their families with dignity and fairness, balanced budgets and moderate deficits, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. I would like to know how purchasing a leaky, second-hand pipeline for $4.5 billion works there. The fact is, our greenhouse gas emissions increased significantly in 2017. Let us not forget the promise to never use omnibus bills. The Liberals wanted to create an open and transparent government. Let us also remember restoring home mail delivery, and they crossed their hearts and hoped to die. All of this brings us back to Canada Post and its refusal to bargain a fair and equitable collective agreement with its CUPW union members.
If we leave the spin unexamined, we are supposed to believe that this is yet another case of greedy unions exploiting public funds to pad their executive coffers. Let us examine the facts. I am sure the Prime Minister would like to hear the facts.
Workplace injuries at Canada Post have increased by 43% over the last two years, largely as a result of postal transformation, which requires workers to walk longer routes while carrying heavier loads. Today, the disabling injury rate for a letter carrier is eight times the average of the rest of the federal sector, a sector that includes longshoremen, mining, road transport and railways. A request via Facebook from CUPW Mike Palecek for stories from injured workers yielded more than 450 responses in a matter of a couple of hours, and the stories are heartbreaking. We should be ashamed of a government that allows, and in fact seems quite prepared to condone, its Crown corporation's exploitation of workers in this way.
It is as if we are back in the dirty thirties. We hear stories of workers unable to put their children to bed because of forced overtime and being unable to return home until their routes are completed, walking in the dark in unsafe areas.
We hear stories of workers being told to wear a headlamp, as if that would solve everything. We hear stories of strained relationships because of the stress of the long hours endured by workers and about moms whose children think they have bad parents because those parents are unable to attend sports or school events or tuck their children in at night.
Think of this time of year, workers out late in the dark, navigating snowbanks and icy sidewalks. Workplace injuries are avoidable and preventable. It is unconscionable that the CUPW members are asked to endure this kind of risk just to put food on the table and keep a roof over their heads, food, I might add, that workers are unable to share with their families and homes that they are unable to enjoy and find rest in because there are not enough hours in the day to walk the routes Canada Post expects them to walk.
We have heard stories over the course of the rotating strikes that began on October 22 of workers whose disability benefits and parental leave top-up have been discontinued by Canada Post, leaving workers anxious, stressed and at greater risk for mental health issues.
There is no other way to describe this other than mean-spiritedness on the part of Canada Post, especially in light of the fact that CUPW has been so conscientious about its job action so as to provide the least possible disruption of service to Canadians, while still making them aware of the issues that have forced them to take this action.
Please take note that there is more than money at stake here for CUPW members. Let us talk about that. Let us talk about the fact that Canada Post is entirely profitable. I quote from the 2017 annual report. They posted a 2017 before-tax profit of $74 million, largely due to unprecedented growth in the parcel business.
Most of parcels revenue growth of $393 million was from domestic shipments, which speaks to the important role that Canada Post plays delivering for online shoppers and retailers across the country. In 2017, for the first time, Canada Post's segment of this profit exceeded $2 billion in parcels revenue. That parcels revenue has grown annually by over $900 million since 2011, the year the corporation pivoted to focus on e-commerce. By adapting to the evolving needs of Canadians, who use the postal service less for mail and more for e-commerce delivery, Canada Post became and remains Canada's number one parcel company. Interestingly or tragically, that record revenue came about because CUPW members were delivering mail and packages in a reliable and professional manner.
Let us also talk about CUPW's request for a 2.9% wage increase per year over the course of the collective agreement. Not unreasonable, especially when you consider that workers at Purolator, which is 90% owned by Canada Post, has an average wage of approximately $5 per hour more than CUPW members for doing virtually the same work, and the Purolator employees received a wage increase of 3% in their last collective agreement.
To recap, as far as money is concerned, CUPW workers are only asking for parity with other Canada Post employees doing the same work. Speaking of parity, CUPW has only recently been successful in achieving a pay equity agreement that recognized its rural and suburban mail carriers, comprised predominantly of female workers, have been systematically discriminated against by being paid wages lower than their urban counterparts, represented largely by male workers. Let us not pretend that after decades of perpetuating this inequity that Canada Post suddenly had a change of heart and decided to pay its RSMCs fairly. No. They were forced into it in arbitration and they have yet to pay the arbitrated settlement. Not a cent has been paid. Pay equity is another reason CUPW is on strike. And all the while, Canada Post is profitable.
We do not have to stop here when speaking of profitability. CUPW understands full well the changing nature of the work environment as a result of digitization and the exploding e-commerce market. As progressive socialists, CUPW understands that they provide a vital public service that should be accessible and sustainable for all Canadians.
Simply put, CUPW understands how a democracy should work, something the Liberal government and the Conservative one that went before seem not to understand in the least. However, I digress.
Because CUPW understands it is tasked with providing a vital public service in a changing modern market, it has been proactive in making suggestions for ways in which Canada Post can diversify and expand services, using existing infrastructure, better serve Canadians and ensure profits that can be reinvested in the corporation.
The proposal, developed in partnership with organizations such as the Canadian Postmasters and Assistants Association, ACORN Canada, and Friends of Public Services, recognizes that we are at a crossroads. Our land, air and water are already feeling the effects of climate change. Economic inequality and precarious work are on the rise. Layoffs in fossil fuel extraction industries are leading to more economic uncertainty.
Canada can run entirely on renewable electricity by 2035 and transition to a 100% clean economy by 2050, if that is what we want to do. However, we have to start now.
Canada Post can drive this transition by providing vital public services, such as charging stations for electric vehicles at post offices; a renewable-energy postal fleet; door-to-door mail carriers checking in on seniors and people with mobility issues, keeping more people in their own homes and keeping them there longer; post offices as hubs for digital access and social innovation, connecting communities and climate-friendly businesses to customers; a consolidated last-mile delivery service that eases congestion in urban centres and reduces the environmental impact on our cities is entirely possible; last, but not least, postal banking that provides inclusive financial services, especially to those underserved by commercial banks, like in rural and many indigenous communities.
We have heard about postal banking in the House recently in the debate and subsequent defeat of my private member's motion, Motion No. 166, that called for a committee to study the best way of implementing a publicly delivered system of postal banking under Canada Post. There was and is no better time to make investments in the corporation, such as these proposed in “Delivering Community Power”, which would ensure healthy profits continue into the future.
Pensions for postal workers must be fully supported and there remain outstanding pay equity issues with the Canadian Postmasters and Assistants Association that must be addressed. Greater profits and a secure source of revenue would enable the government to actually keep its campaign promises to restore home delivery to those who lost it under the previous Conservative government. Kept promises, now would that not be a switch?
Since the introduction of my private member's motion, we have also seen the release of the report titled, “It's Time for a Postal Bank for Everyone” by John Anderson, commissioned by CUPW. This report confirms what we already know to be true. Corporate banks have abandoned rural and urban Canada, leaving too many people without access to a bank or credit union. Fewer than 10% of indigenous communities have a bank or credit union branch. Without access to services, people in rural communities must travel hours to access their own money or rely on private business owners to provide cheque-cashing services at their discretion or at a high premium.
In urban areas, payday lenders prey on people of low income who cannot afford the service fees charged by big banks. Access to one's own money is not a privilege; it is a right, a right that no Canadian should ever be denied.
We know from experience in other sectors that public services delivered publicly are more robust and economical. They provide better quality service than services delivered privately. Public service profits are returned to the corporation in order to enhance services and remunerate workers rather than lining the pockets of corporate board members and CEOs.
Despite widespread support from municipalities and individuals across the country, in urban and rural communities alike, from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and the National Pensioners Federation and despite receiving thousands of postcards in support of reinstating postal banking in Canada from constituents, represented by 136 members of the House, Motion No. 166 was defeated, with the shortsighted vision and self-centeredness we have grown to expect from the government and the official opposition.
Postal banking, along with all the proposals included in “Delivering Community Power”, serve to support Canada Post, make investments in the workforce and expand services so Canada Post remains profitable for years into the future. It is a document produced thoughtfully and with pride by CUPW and presented to the corporation as a proposal for partnership in the future. In fact, it is the best example of progressive social unionism I have seen in a very long time.
I am proud of the work CUPW has done in an effort to create a more inclusive, fair and equal Canada, with public services that are accessible, sustainable and affordable for all and with an eye to the crisis of climate change. Would the government and its members and members of the House were as concerned and creative about the issue as CUPW.
In addition to proposals included in “Delivering Community Power”, the Canadian Postmasters and Assistants Association has been working on a proposal for rural transit delivered in whole or in partnership with private carriers in response to Greyhound's withdrawal of service in Canadian communities west of Sudbury, Ontario. Canada Post, with offices in rural and urban communities right across the country, has the infrastructure to deliver vital public services, such as these, in a manner that is affordable, sustainable, accessible and intelligent.
CPAA and CUPW have demonstrated principled and intelligent leadership in the proposals included in “Delivering Community Power”. Canada Post Corporation would be wise to consider such a partnership seriously. It would help stranded Canadians and Canada Post. It would connect Canadians in regions and communities, and be a great boost to the economy.
Instead, it appears we are faced with a corporation and a government that does not understand that we all thrive when workers are able to function in a safe and healthy work environment.
Before postal transformation, postal workers arrived for work every day ready to deliver the mail and deliver it with pride. However, the increasing demand on them by Canada Post, excessive demands on the bodies, family life, pocketbooks, time and mental health of CUPW workers has taken a toll, a terrible toll, all of it entirely preventable and avoidable.
With his permission, 1 would like to quote from Dru Oja Jay and his observations about this dispute and the legislation we are debating today. He says:
Every successful strike has to pass through a storm of negative media coverage and worse, and it's no different for Canada Post employees.
They're striking for their own health and safety (they are endlessly overworked and frequently injured) and for everyone's (they have a plan for transforming the postal service into an engine for economic and environmental transition). They're also bargaining for equal pay for rural mail carriers, who are predominantly women.
After stonewalling for months, Canada Post is playing its cards from a specially-stacked deck, putting lightly-edited offers on the table to tee up CBC headlines like:
“Union rejects Canada Post offer of 'cooling off' period with mediation amid strike”
"Canada Post strike 'just killing us,' says small business"
Those were quickly followed up by:
"Feds to legislate end to Canada Post strike if no resolution in coming days"
Which of course is the least subtle bat signal ever, indicating to Canada Post executives that they can go ahead and not bother to negotiate. Why try to reach an agreement, when the feds just promised to take away the workers' right to determine the conditions of their work?
When the propaganda gets this thick, when the "I love posties" Prime Minister becomes the "I love forced labour" prima inter pares: that's when support matters the most.
Your support, I mean. I hope everyone sets aside a little time to keep track of what our posties are up to, and what kind of support they are asking for. The time that people refer to when they say "when the time comes," is coming.
That time is now. I make no presumptions about our ability to do anything more than voice our profound disgust and sadness at this. The New Democrats are angry with the government forcing this undemocratic legislation through.
I will fight with every fibre of my being for democracy, fairness and the right of unions and workers to bargain fair collective agreements with their employers, unhindered by this kind of legislation, because it violates their charter rights.
In case there remains any doubt or any question, I, along with new Democrats, will not be supporting the bill. As horrible as it is, the Prime Minister has a majority and will no doubt exercise it with the abandon he has exercised since coming to power in 2015. Make no mistake, Canadians elected the government because they wanted to get rid of Stephen Harper. Sadly, they did not. He is alive and well in the current PMO.
I look forward to seeing the Prime Minister and his government reap what they have sown here today. CUPW, indeed all Canadians, deserve better.