Mr. Speaker, at this time of the morning a few months ago, I would have finished delivering a little over half of my newspapers to my clients. I used to deliver Le Soleil; yes, I was a paperboy before I being elected to the House of Commons. At the time, I had 160 clients. However, I want to point out that today would have been a holiday for me. Delivering newspapers to 160 people, in all kinds of weather, year in, year out, makes me feel particularly qualified to understand the working conditions of our letter carriers. This makes me all the happier to be here in the House, despite the fact that we are celebrating Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day today. I have to mention that I am missing the celebrations on the Plains of Abraham, to which I was invited this year.
Mr. Speaker, when we talk about unions, about their operating principles and their democratic principles, it is important to put things in their proper perspective and understand what they represent. Regarding the back-to-work legislation and the negotiations around it, there has been a lot of confusion and shortcuts and simplification, if not simplistic speeches made in the House. This prevents us from seeing the real situation for all postal workers, and the impact that the lockout and the threat of forcing workers back to their jobs may have on the Canadian population.
We have to start by understanding clearly that the union bargaining unit represents tens of thousands of people. When we look at an organization the size of the postal employees’ union, we have to understand clearly that these tens of thousands of employees are not all sitting at the bargaining table with management. Quite the opposite. The basic starting principle is several tens of thousands of members who organize locally, who delegate powers to an executive body, which itself delegates powers to higher bodies and then instructs a bargaining committee. This is a basic principle that we see in all kinds of organizations. These are widely accepted principles, operating methods that have been tried and tested, and rules that the postal union members apply and follow today. So there is no reason now to show them no respect by pointing a gun at their head to force them back to work without allowing them to bargain as equals with the management of the corporation.
Unfortunately, as we know, unions have a bad image among a certain segment of the public, among certain groups of people. We might even say certain elites who would like, at all costs, for them to disappear. After all, the freedom to organize and come together to achieve a common goal is a very widespread principle and operating method in our society.
Take the example of a large corporation, a company that is listed on the stock exchange, in which there are a number of shareholders, equivalent to the members of a union who have decided to pursue a common goal, and they delegate certain powers to a board of directors and to the management, to operate the organization I am describing. The difference, with a union, is simply in the details. The goals and the roles within a company are obviously different, but the basic principles are the same, and they are largely adhered to and accepted. I assume they are also largely adhered to and accepted by all members of this House.
We can look at this from another perspective. My late father, whom I talked about yesterday, was a member of a senior citizens’ club. There too, this is an organization with a democratic structure that is composed of its members and delegates certain powers. I remember very well how my father would give us reports at home about internal disputes, disagreements that happened. It is a very healthy sign that an organization is operating democratically when among all the members, people can say that they do not agree with how things are working and they would prefer them to work differently. Unanimity would actually be unhealthy. At its worst, it would be a sign of dictatorship.
We hear in the House that out of several tens of thousands of people, some union members are apparently complaining about the present situation and are almost calling for back to work legislation. I am sure that is so, but I hope someone will be able to produce concrete evidence of it rather than telling us things anonymously and secretly.
I feel I can say that because I have been a member of several democratic organizations. I have held various positions; I was treasurer, chair and secretary. For two years I was chairman of the parents' committee of the Commission scolaire de la Capitale. Somewhat like in the House, sometimes I heard outrageous statements and exaggerations, but I understood that in an emotional debate where the stakes are high and people have different opinions and different interests, sometimes things get out of hand. However, this absolutely does not discredit the union model, whose democratic functioning has been amply demonstrated. No one, absolutely no one, has been able to show the House a shred of evidence that a union structure is not a functional one or does not respect those principles just as well as a large corporation trading on the stock market, or a seniors' organization.
The fact that unionized postal workers gave their negotiating team a mandate to sit down with management in no way constitutes a problem, and it is totally incomprehensible that this government is so obstinately pursuing its efforts to introduce back-to-work legislation. All the more so since there is another principle that is very important to our freedom and to Canadian society, and that is freedom of association. In this debate we are holding right now in the House, these stakes are important for our society, as the decision that will be taken in the House is going to have an impact on our collective future. Indeed, if we deprive unionized postal workers of the right to negotiate, what is the next step? Are we going to deny them the right to associate freely, to defend their interests and to defend the need to deliver collective services?
In summary, it is very important that this bill not be passed, in order, at the very least, to allow our society to maintain forever the right to freedom of association and the right to negotiate. That is fundamental.