We did not see that from the member for Gatineau either, Mr. Speaker.
The reason we walked out is that this kind of bill, which takes away people's right to strike, is very serious. The government and the Minister of Labour said that the situation had gone far enough and they had no choice but to take action. First of all, it is not a general strike; it is a rotating strike. Service is still being provided, unlike what happened during the 1981 strike I mentioned in my question. That was a general strike and service was disrupted.
That is why it is so surprising that the minister, who has the nerve to call herself progressive, would say that, after a month of rotating strikes with no service disruption, the government has no choice but to take away the union's right to strike.
That is part of the problem. We have a Prime Minister who says he is a progressive. We have a labour minister who claims to be a progressive. Now they have introduced back-to-work legislation which is the last thing progressive governments should be doing. Why did they do it? They did it because they had gone to the full extent of how long they could wait. The reason the minister is actually doing this is that the Prime Minister's Office told her, Gerald Butt told her, it was time to put an end to the strike. The government kneeled down to the ebays and the Amazons who heavily lobbied the government to put an end to this strike.
What exactly are the union's demands? The deadlock is primarily around improved working conditions pertaining to health, safety and fairness. Someone in the gallery told us that she works 14 hours a day but is paid for only six hours. She works in the rural sector. The union wants to fix that and make sure that all hours worked are paid hours. In the urban sector, workers are being forced to work overtime, so they are missing out on time with their families, because the employer refuses to hire more employees. It is unacceptable.
We have also heard a lot about the injury rate, which has increased by 43% in the last two years. The reason is simple: Canada Post delivers far fewer letters and far more parcels, and although the government if perfectly aware of that, the regulations have not changed. Procedures have not been adapted to the new reality.
We would like Canada Post to actually negotiate in good faith, but it will not negotiate in good faith when the government immediately said that it might possibly intervene. It is really funny because when Canada Post is depriving the workers at Canada Post of sick leave provisions, especially short-term disability payments as a measure to put pressure on the most vulnerable of the workers, the Liberals said they could not intervene. However, once the rotating strike reached a certain point, they needed to intervene. The impact regardless of what the minister is saying, regardless of what the Liberal benches are saying, is giving power to Canada Post.
Worse than the government making people believe that Canada Post is an outside entity that it cannot do anything about, it is interesting that in January, John Ibbitson from The Globe and Mail wrote this about Canada Post:
In a move bound to frustrate reform advocates of both the left and the right, the Liberal government announced on Wednesday that it has decided not to proceed with major changes to Canada Post.
Analysts predict that such an arrangement will lead to a funding shortfall and escalating losses for the postal service. To prevent that, the government will install a new management team at the Crown corporation, charged with finding new methods to cut costs and increase revenues.
He concluded his article by saying:
“Chief executive Deepak Chopra”, who was actually at his post when bargaining started, “has already announced he will step down at the end of March. The new board and CEO will have full authorization”, from the government, “to explore potential revenue sources and cost savings.”
Canada Post is working under the government's orders. Where can we get obvious cost savings during bargaining? We can get them from the workers by refusing to give them what should actually be something very simple to give them, which is health and safety.
The government says there is nothing it can do, but Canada Post is a Crown corporation. The government gave Canada Post the authorization, the permission and the mandate to bring in cost-saving measures. My colleagues mentioned that no board chair has been appointed. Indeed, no board chair has been permanently appointed, but whether my colleagues like it or not, in 2018, the Liberal government appointed several board members. The Liberal government is responsible for stacking Canada Post's board of directors with people who have absolutely no interest and no desire to come to a fair and equitable agreement.
Several people have commented on contradictions expressed by certain Liberal members who were here in 2011. They were in this place in 2011, and they opposed the Conservatives' response to Canada Post locking its workers out. I remember that very well. We were here debating it for three days. I have a quote that is a bit long, but I think it is important for people to hear it. It is by a former member of Parliament, Bob Rae. In 2011, he was a Liberal MP.
On June 21, 2011, he said:
The right to bargain collectively, to create a union and to be able to legally strike is a constitutional right that must be recognized. Yet, because of a public interest greater than this right, or because of a public emergency, the government may decide that it has the right to do what it is doing now [that is, back-to-work legislation]. However, if the government exercises this right, it has a responsibility to protect the public interest. ...But this right must be exercised intelligently and in a way that respects the rights of individuals and communities.
If the government takes away the right to collective bargaining, it has to be careful how it does it. It has to recognize that it is interfering in an important constitutional right and it cannot be done just any old way....
However, when a government exercises its duty to protect the public interest, it has to do it in a way that is careful and thoughtful because it is taking away an existing right, even it if is popular.
The laughter I heard from the Liberal side was caused by the suppression of this right and by our reaction, on the NDP side, to the suppression of a fundamental right, which is the right to strike. The Liberals can laugh all they want. They are currently in power. They could say whatever they wanted to say in 2015. They could vote however they wanted to in 2011. However, they cannot expect us to stop pointing out their contradictions to them.
At the time, the member for Scarborough—Guildwood said:
“We have the hard right ideologues in the government jamming the union with legislation that it cannot possibly accept”. The member for Cape Breton—Canso said, “Mr. Speaker, I appreciate and agree with the vast majority of what my colleague from Hamilton Mountain”, who at the time was Chris Charlton, “has shared with the House, and certainly the fact that this legislation is not only heavy-handed, but wrong-minded.”
I am not short on arguments and I could continue all night, but I am trying to understand why a Liberal government that calls itself progressive and a friend of unions could act this way. Let us remember that if Canada Post were to negotiate in good faith, an agreement could be reached. We can identify the problem by looking at Canada Post's history.
Going back to the 1970s and 1980s, Canada Post has demonstrated time and time again that it is probably one of the worst employers when it comes to dealing with employees. The biggest win, which I raised with the member, was obtained by the union back in 1981. That was after 41 days of a full strike, which was done to get 17 weeks of maternity leave.
If at that point the then government, which was a Trudeau government, decided to bring in back-to-work legislation after however long it took for a full strike to be too long, two or three weeks of no service across the country, do members think that a mediator or arbitrator would have given maternity leave when it did not exist before? Up to that point, no sector in the public service had maternity leave.
There are serious issues with respect to this conflict regarding health and safety. It is estimated that the Liberal government will force the union to go back to the previous collective agreement, which the workers are trying to get out of by negotiating an improved one, contrary to the situation in 2011, when the union actually asked to have the same agreement reinstated. This is not what we are seeing now. The union wants the agreement to be updated to reflect the changing mandate of Canada Post. Canada Post does not agree with this. It does not agree with the members who were put in place by the government. These workers have a right to health, a right to safety, a right to be with their families instead of being forced by their employer to abide by the decisions of their bosses.
If the government were serious, if it were truly progressive, it would have ensured that Canada Post would have borne the responsibility of this strike. It is easy to say the economy will suffer, but why should it be the fault of the workers? Why is it not the fault of the Canada Post executives? Why is it not the fault of the Canada Post negotiators?
The Canada Post negotiators negotiated in bad faith. Everyone knows that. They did the same thing in 2011. They have no incentive to negotiate in good faith, especially since the government will invariably come to their rescue. Whether it be Liberal or Conservative, the government always comes to Canada Post's rescue. That needs to stop.
Instead of forcing workers back to work in unsafe conditions, why did the government not begin a review of the work that is being done by Canada Post's board of directors? Is it like hockey, where it is easier to trade a player than to fire a coach? It is ridiculous.
The government has a responsibility to workers. A progressive government has a responsibility to ensure that workers are treated properly, particularly in the public service and Crown corporations. Unfortunately, the current government has failed in that regard.
We, on this side of the House, stand with workers because they deserve our support. However, apparently, they deserve the support of only a few members of the House since the Liberals and Conservatives seem to be working hand-in-hand to expedite the passage of this bill and to ensure that everyone goes back to once again working in unsafe conditions as of Monday.
If the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour were truly progressive, if the minister responsible for Canada Post were truly progressive and if the Prime Minister were truly progressive, they would revise Canada Post's mandate and would start reviewing the roles each member of the Crown corporation's board of directors played in the 2015 negotiation fiasco.
I am not holding out hope that they will do so, because if there is one thing I have learned from the Liberals in my time here, and even before my time here, it is that there are, largely, two groups of Liberals. There are the ones who are progressive on the inside. We know who they are. Then there are the others who, fundamentally, are beholden to Bay Street. When there is a conflict between the two of them, Bay Street always wins. The economic Liberals always win out over the progressive Liberals. This needs to stop, but it will not, because this is how it has always been.
If the Liberals wanted to do something about this they could. However, they refuse to do so.
The Liberals laugh when we highlight their contradictions. They laugh when we protest the insane measures being proposed tonight. We have basically had a full day of debate on procedures to have two hours of debate on the bill at second reading and then 30 minutes of debate at third reading. It is all we will have to debate this bill that would force 50,000 workers back to work. It is a shame.
I would like every progressive, or those who call themselves progressives on the Liberal benches, to think hard about what they are doing right now. They have a choice. We have seen and heard Liberal MPs say that they would be opposing this bill. I am thinking, for example, of the member for Saint John—Rothesay, who has been in debate on social media with postal workers and has said that he will do what he can but that he is just a local MP. He is an MP. He can stand and express his vote. Does he have to vote the way the Prime Minister's Office is asking him to vote? He does not have to. He chooses to do so, if that is the case.
There are a few MPs who I know are opposed to this, because they have been telling the postal workers in their ridings that they are opposed. Some of them even went as far as saying that they would be opposing it. I cannot wait to see that tonight. I will not be holding my breath, because the way I see it, the Prime Minister's Office has a strong grip on the backbench of the Liberals. The backbench has not really shown much of a spine so far in opposing decisions it did not agree with. Unfortunately, I do not expect things to be changing for the workers, some of whom have been voting for Liberals. They are sorely disappointed by what they are seeing and the spectacle they are facing tonight.
I will conclude simply by saying that the NDP has spent all day talking about the unfairness of this gag order being imposed on the House and this back-to-work legislation being introduced not after a 41-day general strike, like in 1981, but after a rotating strike during which service continued.
SMEs were still able to count on their service. There might have been the occasional inconvenience, but service continued nevertheless. The government is telling us that the sky is falling and that we absolutely must do something about it. It has chosen the most draconian solution possible, by forcing the employees to go back to work and taking away their right to strike.
Coming from a progressive government that was elected on a progressive platform, there is nothing more disappointing.
On this side of the House, we will go to the wall to defend workers and their right to safety, health and fair treatment. Both tonight and after the vote, we will make sure the Liberals pay, now and in the future, for what they did to workers this evening.