Madam Speaker, it is Groundhog Day.
On June 23, 2011, the longest Thursday of my life, a day that seemed like it would never end, I rose in the House to give my first speech as the member for Hochelaga.
Seven years later, we may have replaced Stephen Harper's Conservatives with a Liberal government, but we are reliving the same sad story. What is happening today is so similar to what happened back then that I feel like I am in the Bill Murray movie where he wakes up every day and relives the same thing over and over again. I can say that we are pretty much following the preposterous storyline of that movie when we look a little closer at what the Liberals are trying to do today. It is so absurd that the bill introduced in the House yesterday has the exact same title as the bill introduced by the Conservatives in 2011, namely an act to provide for the resumption and continuation of postal services.
They are not even trying to pretend it is not Groundhog Day. It really is not funny. I am upset by the government's attitude and actions.
For the past five weeks, 50,000 postal workers, 42,000 of them in urban areas and 8,000 in rural and suburban areas, have been holding legal rotating strikes across Canada. That means that workers in one municipality walk off the job for one day and then go back to work the next day and deliver the mail while postal workers somewhere else in Canada go on strike, and so on. They take turns because they want to strengthen their position vis-à-vis the employer, but they do not want to disrupt services and make Canadians mad at them.
The last thing public servants want to do when putting pressure on their employer is alienate Canadians. At this point, they are negotiating with the sword of Damocles hanging over their heads in the form of special legislation that will end the pressure tactics and impose working conditions. If they were to run afoul of Canadians as well, they would not last long. Postal workers have been around this block before. This really is their Groundhog Day.
The fact is, hardly anyone is complaining about interminable delays caused by rotating strikes, but Canada Post would have us believe the opposite and has invented a fake mail backlog crisis.
Some people have pointed out that even the Société québécoise du cannabis, which put a warning on its website saying that online orders might not be delivered within the five-day timeframe, has managed to deliver its parcels on time with the help of Canada Post's mail carriers.
One of my relatives is planning his wedding and ordered invitations that were supposed to arrive within 10 days. He got them in two days. One of my employees, who was fed up with his old ties, ordered new ones online. He received his package two days later, on the very day that the government began to talk about this special legislation. He told his mail carrier that he was surprised to receive his package so quickly.
Even after all that, the government is going to try to make us believe that the pressure tactics are disrupting the service, so they can impose working conditions on the workers. Here, we stand with the workers.
Why would they invent a fake crisis? Simply because Canada Post wants the government to intervene in the negotiations and impose conditions on their workers. It is not hard to understand. A Crown corporation is fed up with negotiating with a union with mobilized members and pretends that the house is on fire so that the government will jump in. Easy, right?
It must not have been very difficult. The Liberals are so gullible that it only took a short time for them to fall for it and use parliamentary procedure to disrupt the balance of power that the union is trying to build legitimately and with respect for the service that mail carriers provide to Canadians. However, it has been shown that the reasons given by Canada Post to force employees back to work are only pretences to counter the balance of power that the union had managed to build.
In fact, when they returned to work two days ago, on November 21, members of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers discovered that the mail backlog had been somewhat exaggerated. What a surprise. The CUPW Toronto local countered the employer's claims that there were hundreds of trailers of accumulated mail and instead put the number around 70, adding that they could be cleared in a few days. Postal workers saw only one trailer in London, six in Hamilton, two in Halifax and 15 in Moncton. They did not see any in Saint John or St. John's.
Some will probably say that it is the employer's word against the union's, and we know that the NDP is always on the side of unions and workers.
Well, duh. Let me clarify one thing right away. The government agreed with the employer's claims without consulting the union, thus choosing sides and revealing its true colours.
Liberals, Tories, same old story.
The Liberal government's willingness to force workers back to work is nothing short of pointless, anti-union interference in the bargaining process between the Canadian Union of Postal Workers and the Crown corporation.
On top of that, the fact that the government is already saying that it will limit debate on this bill is outrageous. One thing the Liberal Party should have taken away from the debate on the Conservative bill on June 23, 2011, is that the NDP has and will always have something to say about protecting workers' rights and about the fundamental principles of free collective bargaining and the constitutional right to strike. They probably do not want to hear the truth from us. We proved this in 2011, and they remember, because at the time, they were on the same side as us.
In other words, what they forgot, and perhaps would like us to forget, is that their principles switch from one extreme to the other when they move from the opposition benches to the government benches. In the previous Parliament, the Liberals systematically rejected every bill that Stephen Harper's government introduced to force striking workers back to work. What is more, in an open letter to federal public servants in 2015, the member for Papineau, who has since become the Prime Minister, promised to put an end to the Conservatives' practices and to respect the principle of free collective bargaining. This comes as no surprise to me. It is just another one of the government's broken promises.
The issues on which the union based its negotiations were extremely important, namely workplace health and safety, excessive workloads, job security and insecurity, pay for all hours worked, and a better work-life balance. The collective bargaining process started about a year ago, and Canada Post finally made an offer on November 14. The union responded with a counter-offer on November 17. The employer refused the union's proposals on November 19, saying, and I quote, “After having taken the time to assess them, we must advise that they cannot unfortunately form the basis of any potential settlements.”
Lise-Lyne Gélineau, president of the CUPW Montreal local, said that Canada Post waited 11 months, until the last second, to make an offer that was supposed to look like the beginnings of negotiations. Now we have this special legislation. If I understand correctly, and I know I do, the union had to resort to pressure tactics for Canada Post to wake up and begin to negotiate a little more seriously.
The fact that the government is meddling in negotiations and fast-tracking this legislation is frankly unacceptable. The Liberals are trying to defend their use of the same tactics as Stephen Harper by saying that they support the bargaining process, but if that were true, they would not have done such an about-face and imposed this special legislation. Today they are showing us what side they are on. They prefer to impose back-to-work legislation rather than encourage negotiation. On top of that, they are muzzling members during debate in this bill. This is worse than anything Stephen Harper did.
Before closing, I just want to remind the Liberal government that if it decides to go ahead, to fast-track this bill and use the same tactics as the previous Conservative government, perhaps the Liberals should keep in mind that on April 28, 2016, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice found in favour of CUPW and retroactively struck down the special legislation passed in 2011 because it violated the workers' freedom of association and expression. With that in mind, perhaps I should hope that today turns out to be Groundhog Day.