Mr. Speaker, it will not come as a surprise to anyone in the House or even in this country that our government has had to bring forward back-to-work legislation to end the work stoppage at Canada Post. We were fully prepared to use back-to-work legislation in the case of Air Canada and I must say I am particularly relieved that we did not have to take that step. I congratulate and thank both Air Canada and the Canada Auto Workers for finding a solution on their own. That is always the best way.
We would all be immensely relieved if the crisis at Canada Post could also be resolved as quickly and without the need for the government's intervention, but unfortunately it does not look like we will be that lucky. As I speak, the postal workers are still locked out, and there is no sign of a real and constructive move back to the bargaining table. Therefore, the government is obliged to invoke our powers that we have under the Canada Labour Code to end the work stoppage and appoint an arbitrator to impose a settlement.
The pros and cons of back-to-work legislation have already been thoroughly discussed in the media and of course, by the various stakeholders. The reactions have been entirely predictable.
If I may summarize all the objections I have heard, I would say that they seem to come down to three points: one, that the government is acting too forcefully; two, that the government has intervened too quickly; and three, that the government is exaggerating the effect on the national economy.
Let me take a few moments, if I may, to respond to each of these objections. A significant number of people believe that imposing arbitration in a labour dispute is inherently unjust and dictatorial, even if it is a perfectly legal option enshrined in the Canada Labour Code. These people believe that the right to strike or lock out is absolute and that it trumps all other rights.
In a democratic society, there can be no absolute rights because there are circumstances where the rights of one group will inevitably conflict with the rights of another group. Some degree of compromise is always necessary. When people will not co-operate with each other and their co-operation is vital to society, the state must step in and use the law. I will readily admit that the law can be a blunt instrument, but it is sometimes the only tool we have.
Let me address the second most common objection. Some people who accept the use of back-to-work legislation in principle are still convinced that in this particular case, the government is acting too hastily. In this country, the great majority of disputes between labour and management are resolved at the bargaining table, often with the help of mediators and conciliators from the labour program. These mediators and conciliators typically work behind the scenes and where their efforts are successful, they do not hold press conferences or media opportunities to boast about it, they get the job done. Because they keep such a low profile, the general public may not appreciate how hard these women and men work and how much they contribute to good labour management relations in this country.
When collective bargaining fails and a strike or a lockout occurs, the spotlight suddenly shines on the government, and it looks like we have somehow suddenly arrived on the scene, even though we have been there all along the way.
Many Canadians are simply unaware that the Canada Post negotiations have been going on for quite some time and that the Government of Canada has been involved almost from the beginning. The Minister of Labour has already described at length all the steps we took over a period of many months to avert this work stoppage.
In the Canada Post dispute the mediators and conciliators used all their skills and resources, but unfortunately, to no avail. Naturally, we prepared for the possibility of a strike or a lockout. We gave this situation a lot of thought.
The decision to table this back to work legislation was not made recklessly or impulsively. Some say we should sit and wait a little longer to see how events play out, but every day that this lockout continues is another day of losses to our economy, losses we can ill afford.
That brings me to the third most common objection to our back to work legislation and that is that this government is exaggerating the danger to our economy from a prolonged postal strike.
For several months now we have been telling the Canadian public that our economy is emerging from the global recession but that our recovery is still fragile. People who doubt the second part of this statement should read the financial section. Better still, they should talk to business owners who are just beginning to get back to profitability, or the many Canadians who have just recently started collecting a paycheque again. Ask them if they feel our economy is already so strong that it can afford to endure a major disruption in basic postal service.
In this situation our government is not being unduly alarmist. The threat to our recovery is real. The objections to back-to-work legislation, which might have some force under different circumstances, are not really valid right now. My hon. colleagues must recognize this reality. We need to get the mail moving again and the only way we can do that is by passing this bill.
I have been participating today and listening to many colleagues in the House express very eloquently and passionately their views on this. I really believe that there is a bigger and wider issue here, which is that we are a very large and vast country geographically and not so large in our population. We are very much spread out as a country. We have one mail service. I have heard members who represent rural ridings talk about the major impact even a day or two of mail not being delivered can mean to those communities.
I represent a fairly urban municipality, certainly a suburban city from the City of Toronto. Residents have said to me that any disruption of mail delivery significantly impacts them, their families and particularly seniors and our most vulnerable citizens who rely not just on cheques and pension money and so on coming to them on a timely and regular basis, but correspondence from family members who may live far away from them. They rely on getting that letter. It is that important connection they have with their family and sending a letter is the best way for them to communicate. I am speaking of people who get well wishes cards, birthday cards and other things that mean so much in their life that they count on each and every year. I think of my daughters who are 11 and 7 and if they did not get a birthday card from grandma and grandpa who live in Peterborough and we live in Mississauga, they would be very disappointed. An email does not cut it for that kind of thing. People rely on our postal service to do that.
Governments have to make tough decisions and I think we were elected to make tough decisions.
Like all members of this House, I spent 36 days knocking on thousands of doors. I heard very clearly from my constituents what they wanted from their government. They wanted reliability and responsibility. They wanted a strong government that was going to look after the economy and continue to work to create jobs. They wanted a secure economic future for all kinds of Canadians, not just those Canadians who might have the benefit of working in a unionized environment. There are millions of Canadians who do not have a union. They still make a contribution to the country. They have well-paying jobs in many cases, certainly in my community, and they want to continue to do that. They want to continue to work for companies that will invest in our community.
I cannot stress enough how important it is to have the Canadian postal service working each and every day, contributing in a very significant way to the economy.
The last point I will raise is on the impact I believe a prolonged postal strike will have on charities. I was very proud that for close to 30 years I was a very strong volunteer in the city of Mississauga. In fact, the mayor and members of council recognized me with an award for 30 years of community service just last year. I have served on many boards that count on individual donations that come in through the mail to keep those organizations running. Food banks and other community service programs rely on individual donations.
Many of the people who donate to those organizations are not sophisticated online donors who use credit cards and Internet. They write a cheque out of the goodness of their heart and they put it in the mail. When that cheque is received at the food bank, it is deposited and it makes a huge difference in those people's lives who have to use organizations like the Mississauga Food Bank, whose board of directors I have served on for many years. We rely on that. Other charities rely on that. If we were to allow this labour dispute to continue through the summer, organizations that count on annual donations that normally come in May and June would be in deep trouble because those cheques would simply not be delivered to these agencies.
There are millions of Canadians, thousands of agencies, thousands of small, medium and large businesses that count on mail delivery. There are children and others like my kids who count on getting that birthday card or well wishes. They count on an efficient and effective postal service.
Our government has a responsibility. It is responsible to oversee the operation of Canada Post on behalf of Canadian taxpayers who ultimately own the crown corporation. In essence, the government has that fiduciary responsibility to step in only when necessary.
I certainly would not advocate this in every case and clearly we have not done this before; the last time it was done was in 1997. Obviously, most of the time the parties are able to come to an agreement, which is the preferred solution in all cases of collective bargaining, such as Air Canada has been able to do. The parties have been able to sit down and negotiate a tentative agreement which hopefully will be ratified and Air Canada will continue to serve the public.
Unfortunately, it looks like in this situation the parties simply cannot get together and read from the same songbook as to how they see Canada Post as a corporation moving forward. It is unfortunate, but I think we have a bigger responsibility to the citizens of this country to ensure the mail continues to flow.
I am thankful for the opportunity to speak in the House today and I would be more than pleased to entertain any questions from hon. members.