Madam Speaker, we could start with a little reminder: Walkerton. This is what happens when a government places itself at the service of lobbyists and not at the service of the people. This is not an ideology, but greed.
Walkerton is a small town that was having its water tested by the government. One fine day, the Harris government, on the advice of lobbyists, decided to privatize the lab studies. So the private company, which was supposed to do much more for a better price, decided to make it much more profitable. The tests were erroneous and the residents were poisoned.
Unfortunately, this is the type of situation that we are facing. Once again, a government on the right decides to listen to lobbyists rather than face its duties. In this case, on one side, we have a very old Canadian union that was established in 1911. This union has taken part in many conflicts and has also brought many benefits. It created the context of a permanent, professional and non-partisan public service. It was an essential element in 1911. The petty politics of personal involvement were banished.
This union has become one of the best organized, most democratic and most powerful unions in Canada. It was part of many struggles in Canada. Over the years, it has created for itself a good collective agreement, with fair wages for fair work. It also established a defined benefit pension plan, and of course indexing has been added to protect pensioners from inflation. A clause for survivor's allowance, without penalty, has also been added to prevent the spouses of pensioners from falling into poverty. The union even gave same-sex couples the same rights long before any other unions. This is a very rich, very well capitalized pension plan with blue chip stocks in banks, Canadian financial institutions, PotashCorp and so on.
Unfortunately, plans like this one are coveted by everyone across Canada. This was obvious based on how quickly the government decided to intervene in the case of Air Canada. What was the problem at Air Canada? We were told that a strike at Air Canada would trigger an economic calamity, even though the company issued a press release telling everyone not to worry because the strike would in no way compromise the company.
Yet the government said it had to intervene immediately, that the union had to be crushed, that someone must prevent it from protecting its defined benefit pension plan. That was crucial in the case of Air Canada. The big shots that supposedly saved the company suspended pension contributions. Combined with some bad investments, this led to a $2.1 billion deficit in the fund, an actuarial liability for the company.
We can only imagine what a lovely gift the government was about to give the company. By waving a magic wand, it was going to force the union to come back, to give up its defined benefit plan and, as if by magic, between $500 million and $1.2 million would have disappeared from the deficit. The net worth of shareholders was going to jump by over $1 billion in just one day. Would that not have been great? That is what the Conservative Party is all about: friends first, the people second, like in Walkerton.
The postal institution is as old as Canada. As a joke, we used to say that, even before the RCMP and even before the first settlers arrived, a Canadian post office was setting up shop. That is not far from the truth.
Historically, this public service institution has always played a vital role in Canada. It has always been in operation, whether as the post office department or as the Canada Post Corporation. It has always operated under political authority.
Never in Canadian history has a Canada Post president, a crown corporation or a postmaster general taken action without getting the Prime Minister's approval first, especially when planning to cause havoc and declare a lockout. That cannot be done without the political authority's permission. And I am not the only one to say this.
Just recently, we have seen this with the Gomery commission. The hon. member for Bourassa would be able to confirm that the Gomery commission clearly showed that the Canada Post Corporation had followed the directives from the Prime Minister's Office in the matter of sponsorships.
So here we are with a big mystery. They are attempting to persuade us that the Canada Post Corporation started the lockout without permission from the Prime Minister, who had no other choice but to take action by imposing special legislation because he thought the lockout was so terrible. Wow! And he is trying to persuade 33 million Canadians of that. Let me just say that the number of Canadians who believe them after finding out the facts will drop. It will drop like a stone, in fact. No one can believe so implausible a story, that the Prime Minister does not know what his left hand is doing while his right hand is doing the opposite. The Prime Minister's authority is directly involved in all this. It clearly means that everything that has been happening is simply an ambush. They have intentionally led the union to a lockout in order to be able to ask for an arbitrator who, under this special legislation, will eliminate the pension plan for the benefit of their friends in power.
Unfortunately for the government, the longer the debate goes on, the longer people outside the House will talk about it and the sooner they will realize that the government's version of events does not add up. I doubt that 33 million people are going to believe, after a week or two of lockout, that the Prime Minister is not aware of what is going on in his own office.
What impact is this having? Some 55,000 Canadians are without an income or wages because of the government's decision. They can not afford to buy groceries or pay the rent. Moreover this is affecting the Canadian economy.
The members opposite are saying there is cause for concern and that it is important to do something about it. That is true. They have to end the lockout, stop making backroom deals and start doing their duty by listening to people and standing up for them instead of serving the interests of their friends and lobbyists.