Mr. Speaker, the number one issue during the 2011 federal election campaign in my riding of St. John's South—Mount Pearl was pensions. It was the number one issue for seniors. It was the number one issue for working people.
For seniors, their concern was how to get by on a fixed income. Seniors asked me not to forget them when I went to Ottawa. I have not. I will not.
There is a lot of talk in Newfoundland and Labrador these days about fog, and not just the type that creeps in off the North Atlantic and shrouds the outports and cities, but F-O-G, the acronym for food, oil, and gas. The cost of necessities like food, oil, and gas continues to rise as fixed incomes remain just that, fixed.
Seniors struggle with the question of how to pay for the rising cost of living while on fixed incomes like pensions. I could not count the number of seniors I visited in their homes and apartments over the course of the election who came to their doors in hats, mitts, and winter coats. They dressed that way in the middle of the afternoon in their own homes because they could not afford to turn on the heat. They asked me not to forget them. I will not.
Seniors were not the only ones concerned about pensions. We heard the concern from young people, working couples, who spoke to me at their doors about how they are supposed to prepare for their retirement when they can barely get by in the prime of their working lives. They can just manage to pay the bills. In some cases, they cannot.
We heard the concern from middle-aged firemen who questioned how they could afford to retire on modest pensions, given the clawback on the Canada Pension Plan.
I can tell you this. The fog in Newfoundland and Labrador, the fog in Canada, is getting thicker.
One of the central issues in the dispute between the 48,000 locked out postal workers and Canada Post is pensions. As the New Democrat labour critic said in the House of Commons on Thursday, the pension plan is in danger. As the NDP opposition leader said so eloquently on Thursday, Canada Post wants to create a two-tier wage and benefit package. New workers who join the federal crown corporation would have to work an extra five years to qualify for a pension--five years.
Paul Moist, national president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, says:
...proposals to institute two-tier wages and benefits for new Canada Post employees [is] unwarranted and unfair to young Canadians, who are already facing unemployment rates.
They are extremely high as it is.
Here is a direct quote from Paul Moist:
There are no such things as two-tier rent or mortgages: young and new workers don't get a discount on utility or grocery bills. “It's outrageous to say young workers don't deserve the same wages and benefits for doing the same work.”
Young people have a hard enough time as it is paying off student loans and incredibly high credit card interest rates, which this Conservative government, as we know, will not do anything about.
If the Conservative government will attack the pensions of 48,000 workers at Canada Post, who will it attack next? Whose pension plan will it go after? We know whose side the Conservative government is on. Canada Post made a net profit of $281 million in 2009 alone. Who will directly benefit from the five extra years that new Canada Post employees will have to work? Not the workers, I can tell you that.
The labour minister stood on the floor of the House of Commons on Thursday and spoke about the damage to the Canadian economy for the Canada Post strike, which she was corrected on--it is not a strike; it is a lockout. The use of the word “strike”, as the opposition leader pointed out, to use his words, “is a brazen example of propaganda”.
The labour minister said the damage to the economy from the lockout could be significant. What about the damage to pensions? Would the minister describe that as significant? Whose pension will be next?
The labour minister says Canadians cannot go on without postal service.
I can say this with authority, the authority of the hundreds of pensioners and working people I spoke to during the campaign in my riding of St. John's South—Mount Pearl, Canadians cannot go on without pensions. Let me ask again, whose pension will be next?
Is the ultimate goal of the Conservative government to weaken the voice of workers? Is that part of the strategy? Is that the new Conservative action plan? Is the true goal, as the opposition leader said, to make profit while taking advantage of workers? As has been said before, it is a race to the bottom, except for those on the top.
The Conservative government's back to work legislation gives the employer, Canada Post, the advantage in the labour dispute. The legislation will force employees back to work for less money than Canada Post last offered. Whose side is the Conservative government on? Not the workers of Canada Post, that is obvious.
During the federal election, the MP for St. John's and I met the workers of the Canada Post headquarters in St. John's early one morning. By early, I mean 6 a.m. We shook hands in the parking lot as the workers arrived for their shifts, and it was bitter cold. The workers mentioned how they may be headed toward job action, and as New Democrat candidates we vowed to be there for them.
When I was back in my riding two weeks ago, I visited the workers again outside the Kenmount Road station. They had set up an information line and served lemonade. It was still cold, but the lemonade was good. The workers were generally young. They were fired up. They were concerned about benefits and what they had to lose. They have a lot to lose.
There was a story Thursday in the news back home about how a Newfoundland Supreme Court judge issued an injunction against locked out Canada Post workers in eastern Newfoundland. Canada Post had complained that workers in St. John's and Mount Pearl were blocking access to the post offices, using vehicles, picnic tables, palllets and what Justice Robert Hall described as vigorous picket lines.
The injunction prohibits workers from blocking access to people walking by and calls for any barricades on picket lines to be removed by Thursday night. I am sure they were. The workers of Canada Post are good, law-abiding citizens, but can we blame the workers for being vigorous in their attempt to secure their future? Can we blame them? Again, if this is allowed to happen to the 48,000 workers of Canada Post, who will be next? Let me ask again so it will sink in, who will be next?
The Conservative government keeps talking about how Canada led the world in weathering the recession, but the Conservative government also talks about how cuts are on the horizon, billions of dollars in cuts. Who will pay for the savings? The working poor? The young? The old? Pensioners?
When it comes to pensions, six out of ten Canadians rely solely on CPP or QPP, other government assistance or some savings, modest savings, I might add. I got that statistic from the Globe and Mail. Here is a quote from the Globe and Mail:
Pension experts estimate that about 30 per cent of the population will be poorer in retirement, sometimes significantly, and the share grows every year.
Here is another quote from John Gordon, president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada:
The agenda of this government is to take on unions and do away with free collective bargaining. This is what this is about,
I can tell hon. members what the New Democrats are about. They are about working Canadians. We are about Canadian families. The labour minister made a snarky remark Thursday in this chamber about how labour unions have a hotline to the New Democrats. When Canadians call the New Democrats about issues that are critical to them, issues that are critical to families, issues that are critical to their future, Canadians can call the New Democrats. We do not put them on hold for big business. We do not put them on hold for anyone. We answer the call.