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Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word was rail.

Last in Parliament October 2015, as NDP MP for York South—Weston (Ontario)

Lost his last election, in 2015, with 30% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Restoring Mail Delivery for Canadians Act June 25th, 2011

Mr. Speaker, I was fascinated to listen to the suggestion that the increase in profitability of this corporation is actually theft of the employees. It made me think that what is happening is that by making Canada Post a profit centre for the government it is using the postage system as a form of taxation. In fact the government is forcing small business owners and others to pay more taxes through higher than necessary postal rates in order to conduct their business.

Does the hon. member have a comment on that?

Restoring Mail Delivery for Canadians Act June 25th, 2011

Mr. Speaker, I agree that this action by the government is just the beginning of what will likely be a Wisconsin-like attack on workers in this country. It will not be just on public-sector workers, but that is where they can start. That attack will demonize anything to do with unions. It will demonize anybody who has a good pension, good wages or a good collective agreement or, even without collective agreements, anyone the government believes is getting too much while the bosses the government represents, the CEOs, are getting too little.

Restoring Mail Delivery for Canadians Act June 25th, 2011

We absolutely agree that this should end and do so in a way that is fair to everybody. However, it is not this piece of legislation that is fair. The Canada Post workers have offered to go back to work if Canada Post will just cut the locks off the doors and let them go back.

The member opposite suggested that I was not agreeing that this was essential. I did not say that. I said the government and Canada Post have the opportunity to declare this an essential service. If they do that and they believe that an immediate and serious danger to the safety or the health of the public is at risk, then they can declare it an essential service and the Canada Industrial Relations Board will decide how to arbitrate a collective agreement in a fair and impartial way. The Canada Industrial Relations Board will not actually legislate one side or the other to win.

Restoring Mail Delivery for Canadians Act June 25th, 2011

Mr. Speaker, this labour dispute, and I have heard it called various things, is something with which I have some familiarity as I was a union leader for many years. One of the things taught to me was that we never ever start something we cannot finish. We do not let workers go out unless we know how to get them back.

Canada Post apparently knew how to get them back. It locked them out because it knew full well that it had allies on the other side of the House who would legislate them back to work immediately. Mere hours after the labour dispute, the lockout, got started, the minister notified this august body that she would be legislating them back to work, and that is unfair.

We in Canada have developed a labour relations system that is the envy of the world, because we have predictable, regular, understandable timeframes for labour disputes. In other parts of the world, the labour disputes can start whenever the union wants them to start, but here in Canada, we know there is a clock. When that clock comes around, we know it is when we are collectively bargaining that we are in a legal labour dispute position, and we in Canada have set up mechanisms that force the parties to talk to one another, that force the parties to sit down and negotiate. That is not happening here. Why is it not happening here? Because some signals apparently were sent from the other side of this legislature to the mandarins at Canada Post that they did not have to worry about a labour dispute, because they would find legislation in their favour as soon as a labour dispute got going in earnest, as soon as they locked people out.

We need to figure out how to resolve it ourselves. That is why we are having this conversation, because the parties are unable to do it. The parties are unable to do it, because one side knows full well it does not have to do so. It does not have to have that conversation, because that conversation will be shortened by the government.

The other side in this dispute, the company side, does not have to actually bargain in good faith. It does not have to sit down and actually talk about what it needs and what the employees need and see if it can find a way to make those needs meet. All it has to do is sit with its hands crossed and say no, and here we are.

We have a number of examples in Canada of protracted labour disputes. I do not think there has ever been a protracted labour dispute at Canada Post, but I have been involved in some. I had a 17-month strike at one of my employers over pay equity, over women being paid the same as men. Women were being paid $8.99 each hour for their work, and they had to go on strike for 17 months. In that case, really nobody won.

I have been involved in a four-month strike. It was a Crown corporation, and it took that long for the employer to get its instructions from the government about what it was supposed to do. I have been involved in a two-week lockout that the employer kept calling a strike, publicly. Eventually the Canada Industrial Relations Board had to rule that in fact it was a lockout, that the thing the employer was calling a strike was a lockout because it had locked the doors.

How do we get out of this? One way to get out of it is to let the labour dispute take place and wait for one side or the other to say that enough is enough and we have to settle this thing. Let us get to the table and talk about it. That will not happen here, quite clearly, since Canada Post has been told it does not have to actually sit down and bargain.

Another way we could do it is with a declaration. There are two kinds of declarations, one in the Public Service Staff Relations Act and one in the Canada Industrial Relations Board, that this is an essential service, that this service is something that cannot have a strike or lockout.

That seems to be what the current government is arguing, that there cannot be a postal disruption in Canada, even for a day. It was on the day the lockout started that the government announced Canada Post workers would be legislated back to work.

The definition of an “essential service” in the Canada Labour Code is that the employer or the trade union and the employees in the bargaining unit must,

continue the supply of services, operation of facilities or production of goods to the extent necessary to prevent an immediate and serious danger to the safety or health of the public.

Since the members opposite have not argued this, I guess this is not an immediate and serious danger to the safety or health of the public. It is an inconvenience, and it means Canada Post is losing money. We agree that it certainly causes some very serious consequences not for everybody but for certain individuals, for pensioners and people in receipt of other government cheques. The postal workers' union has agreed to deliver those things. They will deliver the things they deem essential and that people in this House seem to agree are essential.

Somebody locked the doors. It was not the NDP and it was not the postal workers. It was the government and its Crown corporation that decided to lock the doors and prevent the delivery of what might be argued is essential stuff, though it has not yet been. We have agreed that it is stuff that it is pretty darned important to have delivered to people. Pension cheques, social security, and family allowances are the kinds of things that need to be delivered. We argue that they should be delivered, and Canada Post workers are willing to deliver them, but the government is preventing them from doing so.

There appears to be no way to stop this from dragging on, so what is another option? The only option that has been presented to us is the sledgehammer option in which, mere hours after a labour dispute starts, the government indicates it will not let that happen and forces workers back to work with less than was offered before. The government will force workers back to work with a bad faith position.

I say “bad faith position” because in my many years of bargaining if any employer brought an offer to the table and then reduced it for no good reason, not because there had been a sudden change in the economic conditions of the employer or there was legislation, in order to provoke the other side, that was considered to be bad-faith bargaining. That is not what the NDP is about here. We are about good faith. We are about fairness and we are about trying to get things done. We are about trying to get people back to work. That is really what we want to do.

The sledgehammer approach was brought about after the Minister of Labour claimed to have used everything in her power to bring these parties to an agreement. She talked at length about the number of months they had met. Of course if one side is just sitting there with their arms folded, the meeting does not really mean anything. The minister talked at length about the number of months that were involved in conciliation.

She did not appoint a conciliation commissioner. The difference, for those who do not know labour relations parlance in this country, is that a conciliation officer meets in private with the parties and never publishes a report, except to the Minister of Labour. The minister gets to know, but the conciliation officer's deliberations and decisions and ideas and proposals are all private.

However, a conciliation commissioner is public and that person actually reports to the public on what he or she thinks the outcome should be on a resolution to the dispute. That was not allowed to happen here. That was not allowed to take place, so we are faced with a situation that just got worse.

With regard to one other small piece, one of the members opposite keeps referring to the fact that they should let them vote. In fact, that is another thing the minister did not do. She has the power to force a vote, and she did not exercise it. I suspect we all know why.

Restoring Mail Delivery for Canadians Act June 24th, 2011

Mr. Speaker, we do not know who the arbitrator is, but assuming that it is a good arbitrator, I would certainly trust the judgment of a third-party arbitrator, as did the police services in Toronto in the last few months.

However, the arbitrator's hands are being tied in terms of wages, in terms of working conditions, and in terms of this unknown solvency ratio that the entire collective agreement cannot have the effect of increasing or decreasing. So his hands are completely tied.

I do not have any doubt that it will be almost impossible for him to find anything other than what Canada Post presents in this particular way of conducting an arbitration.

Restoring Mail Delivery for Canadians Act June 24th, 2011

Mr. Speaker, my leader signalled last night that we were in fact willing to negotiate a peaceful resolution to this dispute with this government. As far as I know, there has been no response from this government.

Restoring Mail Delivery for Canadians Act June 24th, 2011

Mr. Speaker, we are actually willing to have these workers go back to work. In fact, yesterday we said unlock the doors, they will be back, the fiscal damage will stop, and they can negotiate a collective agreement, freely and without worry of legislation.

This legislation signals to employers that they do not have to negotiate because the government will jump in and rescue their bacon the instant they lock people out.

There is no ongoing labour relations peace here. This union has had 20 labour disputes in the last 46 years and a lot of them have been legislated back to work.

Why does the government continue to do that? Why does the government continue to signal to this employer and the union that they do not really have to bargain because something bad will happen to them at the end of the day?

Restoring Mail Delivery for Canadians Act June 24th, 2011

Mr. Speaker, I rise this morning to add my voice to the growing concern over the government's heavy-handed and draconian legislation.

Essentially, the government has declared war on working people in Canada. Within hours of Air Canada's workers going on strike, the government advised that it was bringing in back to work legislation. Within hours of Canada Post locking out its workers, the government advised that it was bringing in back to work legislation. There was no attempt to reason or to meet with the sides in this dispute; they just brought in the sledgehammer.

Workers in Canada should look out, because this government has decided that it is appropriate that the standard of living of ordinary workers in Canada continues to slide backwards relative to inflation. They have decided it is okay for pensions to be clawed back. They have decided that it is okay for young workers to be paid less for doing the same job.

The government's intention is clear. It is attacking in the holy name of profit and ideology the very standards of living that working people have struggled to reach over the past fifty-plus years. This legislation attacks working families by making them take a lesser wage increase, $40 million less in fact. It attacks pensioners and retirees by demanding that the agreement not touch the solvency ratio. It attacks working conditions by demanding that the arbitrator look at the imaginary market place of postal companies for comparisons of working conditions. There is no comparator, but the arbitrator is forced to do that.

This legislation also attacks young workers by signalling to them very clearly that they should expect less than their senior colleagues in working conditions, wages, pensions and everything else. That is not the message this party wants to convey to the people of Canada. We want to convey a message that Canadians should continue to expect to do better every year, that our standard of living should continue to grow, that our ability to purchase our homes and food should continue to grow and not slip backwards.

The solvency ratio part of the legislation really bothers me, because the government has advised that it is concerned about the cost of a mediated or arbitrated system. Yet in order to determine the solvency ratio of the offers to be sent to the arbitrator, they will have to spend millions of dollars to have actuarial evaluations of a $14 billion pension plan done on each offer and then on the final selected package. That is an incredible waste of money.

The government only mentions the solvency ratio and not the going-concern ratio. What does that mean? A solvency ratio shows what will happen if a pension plan is wound up. If Canada Post ceases to exist, how much money will be owed to the pensioners? That is all they talk about. Does that signal a hidden agenda to privatize Canada Post? I say this because the government did not talk about the going-concern ratio, which Canada Post itself is not worried about. Canada Post states that:

Since the going-concern deficit is small, it is anticipated that this can be eliminated quickly—

That is Canada Post itself saying that. The deficit in fact is 1%.

I think this points to a government intention to perhaps contract out the postal service in the near future, and we should be very concerned about that.

I also want to point out to the members opposite that I have a long history in the labour movement in Canada. I remember what started me on this quest in the labour movement, the 1975 legislation by a certain Prime Minister who had promised not to do so, but who limited wages across Canada. That legislation in 1975 was called wage and price controls, and it was introduced by a Prime Minister this party does not really like, Mr. Pierre Trudeau. Today, the government smells an awful lot like that Prime Minister, because the government is introducing legislation to limit wages. It is awful.

Then again in 1982, he brought in some more wage controls. Again, this legislation seems to have the air of the beginning of wage controls in this country.

That prime minister lasted only a couple of years before he was kicked out of office. The government should pay attention.

If this is about restraint, if that is what this is about, that the workers of Canada Post are being told they must exercise restraint, why is the restraint not being practised at the senior levels of Canada Post? Why is the Canada Post CEO continuing to get wage increases and bonus increases that far outstrip the rate of inflation? That is a clear message to the people of Canada that the government actually cares more about the CEOs and their wages than it does about ordinary working Canadians and their wages, working conditions, and ability to get by.

The other thing that bothers me about the government's comments is its complaint that bargaining took too long and that is why they had to step in. In fact, I have bargained collective agreements that took 22 months to negotiate, and that is because the issues were so complex and so detailed that it took that long to actually figure a way out of the morass without a strike or a lockout. That is part of what happens in Canada when things are complicated. We take a long time to discuss them; we take a long time to deal with it.

The minister also claims that she did everything possible--everything possible--under the legislation to prevent this dispute. That is not true. The legislation still contains a provision for a conciliation commissioner, which was not used by this minister. A conciliation commissioner has the power to issue a public report, and while the commissioner is deliberating, there is no possibility of a strike or lockout. That was not done here. The minister did not do everything she could.

Let us also talk about the other effects of this legislation on the rest of the people of Canada and the signals it is sending to other governments in this country.

My son-in-law is a police officer and his job is declared to be an essential service, and he does not have the right to strike. In return for that denial of his right to strike, he has an understanding that is put in place by the province that his wages, benefits, and working conditions, if they cannot be negotiated, will all be sent to a third party for determination--not some of his benefits, not everything but pensions, not everything but wages because we are going to define the wages over here.

Recently the police officers in the city of Toronto, with an arbitrated settlement, reached an 11.5% wage increase over four years. That is an appropriate wage increase. They accepted it. That is what was determined by a third party.

However, here the government has decided to instruct the third party that they are not to give more than 7.25%. That is more than 4% less than an arbitrated settlement in Canada. I believe that a lot of those police officers may have voted for this party. But if this government introduces this kind of legislation, it will signal to other legislatures across the country that it is okay to limit wage increases in arbitrated settlements, it is okay to limit benefit increases in arbitrated settlements, and it is okay to touch pensions in arbitrated settlements. That will be a very sorry day for the rest of Canada.

I just want to say one other thing. In a Canada Post press release right after talks broke off on June 22, the company announced:

Canada Post must now find ways to deal with the financial damage caused by the work disruption.

That is a self-inflicted wound. They did it to themselves, and now they are worried about the damage?

Restoring Mail Delivery for Canadians Act June 24th, 2011

Mr. Speaker, I would like to direct this question to my colleague who just spoke.

Concerning the maternity leave benefits that were put in place by this union in 1981, how has that impacted Canadian society in general, and what is the good that has come from that?

The Budget June 9th, 2011

Mr. Speaker, the NDP believes that one of the problems facing many Canadians now in the health care system is the lack of access to family doctors, which is crucial. That is facing many Canadians, and many in my riding of York South—Weston do not only not have access to family doctors but have access to only one emergency facility, which will be closing in the near future.

It is that which the NDP has tried to focus on with its proposals: to make sure that the government creates a mechanism whereby family doctors become available to each and every Canadian across this country.