Mr. Chair, it is a secret to no one that Canada's postal service is a key element of our business and charitable sectors and indeed of our economy. When we have a major disruption in service, the impact on businesses and charities is direct and it is immediate.
I am going to go through the stories of some of the groups that have been affected.
As some members may know, charities count on the last months of the year for crucial fundraising drives, and December is the most important. As the former executive director of a homeless shelter, December was when we reached peak donation season. We counted on those donations to help us get through the end of that year.
Canada Post is essential to many other not-for-profit organizations that are doing essential fundraising work to provide the critical services to members in our communities all across the country.
As Scott Decksheimer, Canada Board chair of the Association of Fundraising Professionals, says:
Direct mail continues to be the leading way that most donors give to charity. We are concerned that donors who typically give in the fall might receive their donation requests too late – or their donations will be received too late by the charity to help people this year.
Organizations like the Salvation Army are feeling the hit as well. It has said that its direct mail donations are down by 40%. The Salvation Army's national director of marketing, John McAlister, outlined exactly what that meant. He said:
Many of our supporters choose to give each year between November and December and even those who give throughout the year boost their support during this time. We rely heavily on our mail program.
For an organization like the Salvation Army, the strain is especially difficult at this time of year. He said:
As we move into extreme cold weather across the country, we start to boost the number of services. We offer more out-of-the-cold beds, warm meals and supports for vulnerable people, including giving out free clothing.
Similarly, the Mustard Seed in Victoria has said that it normally receives 70% of its annual fundraising at this time of year. Its donations are down by 23% this month over this time last year. Janiene Boice, its director of development, says, “Our biggest concern is not getting the donations in time. It is nerve-wracking.”
Similar charitable initiatives, like citizen groups or not-for-profits, are feeling it.
Beverley Mitchell from Toronto wrote in to the Toronto Star, saying that her organization was having a hard time getting supplies to remote fly-in communities in northern Canada. She said:
I am personally involved in sending much-needed food to shelters and soup kitchens; warm clothing to the homeless, poor and elderly; school supplies and food to daycares and schools in both Nunavut and the Northwest Territories.
Besides the time delays and uncertainty of delivery, there is an added expense of about $1,000 to upgrade our service level to Express Post in the hopes these parcels will receive faster service when the strike action rotates.
Weather is always a concern in the winter in getting parcels to the North in a timely manner but the strikes have made it an incredibly difficult and expensive challenge.
We need to comprehend the full extent of the disruption that the postal strike is causing to charities, not only in the short term but over the months and years to come.
As the former executive director for Shelter House in Thunder Bay, Ontario, Christmas was our busiest time. In fact, we saw donations skyrocket at Christmas. We relied on direct mail to communicate with donors to ask them to boost their donations. Many donations arrived every day that allowed us to continue to stock the shelves, feed the people who were relying on our services and ensure that we had the dollars necessary to operate in a safe and efficient way.
Let me also tell the House about a business that I feel illustrates the dire situation faced by thousands of enterprises in all sectors of our economy.
In Hamilton, Jaime Drayer handcrafts mugs, cards, prints and apparel. She says that the holidays are typically her busiest time, but her sales are down 43% this year. She is having to warn customers that she can no longer guarantee delivery by her holiday cutoff dates.
Ms. Drayer left her job in January because she was looking forward to this being her first holiday season in which she could dedicate herself to her craft and to her business full time. “It's extra-disappointing on a personal level,” she said. This is a typical family business that is struggling to make ends meet. This is a matter that is pressing and we need to solve it urgently.
In 2016, Canada Post and CUPW negotiated a two-year agreement without a labour disruption, and this agreement expired on January 31, 2018. Starting October 22, 2018, Canada Post workers had organized rotating strikes nationwide.
I cannot overemphasize that the Government of Canada is committed to and believes in free and collective bargaining, which is why, since the start of collective bargaining negotiations between Canada Post and the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, we have been doing everything possible to help the parties come to an agreement.
Federal mediators have been assisting the parties throughout their negotiations, which began almost a year ago. When bargaining reached an impasse, we appointed a special mediator to help the process along and to iron out new differences with a new perspective. We also offered voluntary arbitration. Additionally, the Minister of Labour and the Minister of Public Services and Procurement have reached out to the parties directly on numerous occasions. In fact, the parties have spoken to me frequently throughout the weeks passing, and a special mediator was brought in two more times to attempt to help the parties resolve their differences and reach an agreement that works for everyone.
These efforts demonstrate our firm belief that a negotiated agreement is always preferable. It is always the best solution. It is not to mention the number of other disputes that have been resolved in the last three years since we formed government without resorting to back-to-work legislation. However, despite these efforts, rotating strikes by CUPW have been disrupting Canada Post operations in more than 200 communities across the country for over a month now.
This legislation has a number of functions. First, it would restore postal services to Canadians and Canadian businesses. It would do so by ordering an immediate end to the work stoppages on the day following royal assent. Second, it would provide for the extension of collective agreements of CUPW urban post operations and CUPW rural and suburban mail carriers until new collective agreements are established. The period of the work stoppages are excluded from an extension of the collective agreement. Third, it would provide that I appoint a mediator-arbitrator proposed by the parties, or if the parties fail to propose the same person, I will seek the advice of the chairperson of the Canada Industrial Relations Board before appointing a mediator-arbitrator. Fourth, it would provide for the mediator-arbitrator to resolve all outstanding issues through mediation, or if mediation fails on particular issues, arbitrate them through an arbitration model of his or her choice based on guiding principles that have been set out fairly.
I still encourage the parties to get a deal. At any point before the arbitration period concludes and the recommendations are made, the parties can enter into a voluntary agreement. Time is an important factor here. The longer this strike goes on, the more significant the damage it causes. The negative impacts of the strike continue to escalate and compound, particularly with the holiday season which increases volume significantly. We cannot afford to let this continue unaddressed.
Given the serious negative effects this strike is having on Canadians and Canadian businesses across the country, we need to resolve this situation now. That is why the government is taking this action.
I deeply regret that the parties in this strike have not been able to arrive at a satisfactory conclusion through the normal negotiation process. This is not a measure that we introduce light-heartedly. Let us keep in mind in this House that back-to-work legislation is introduced as a last resort, after we have exhausted all possibilities respecting collective bargaining. I should add that the government will continue to support the parties and strongly encourage them to resume discussions in order to reach agreements as soon as possible.¸
Our preference clearly would have been a negotiated settlement. As a principle, once a strike or a lockout has begun, the Government of Canada usually stands aside. However, there are some exceptional situations where standing aside would be highly irresponsible. Work stoppages like this one are very costly to both sides, and the real losses incurred by the parties cannot offset any eventual gains.
As long as the two parties are the only ones to suffer, the Government of Canada has no justification for intervening, but when a strike is affecting hundreds of thousands or even millions of people, the government must intervene. When a strike is substantially damaging our economy, putting communities at risk, we have the duty to step in.
The Canada Labour Code gives the parties in a dispute the right to a strike or a lockout. This disruption is bringing unnecessary hardship to Canadians, so we cannot remain on the sidelines and let the situation deteriorate even more. We are taking the action that is required.