Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services Legislation

Elizabeth May: Madam Speaker, this discussion and debate has now taken us through several calendar days, although, as we know, the date on the table remains unchanged. I hope our minds do not remain as fixed as the table date of Thursday, June 23.

I will review some of the things that I think are salient about this situation and see if I can shed some light on it, hoping that it does some good to the discussion we have had here.

The first thing is to look at Canada Post. It is the most important public service for delivery of mail and other things that are really important to us.

As a public service, it is worth noting that it has been profitable every year for 15 years. It is also worth noting that it is facing challenges and its profit margin is going down in competition with other areas, competition with email and with commercial carriers like UPS and FedEx, even though it was able to take over Purolator and run it very profitably.

It is in a challenging situation. One of the reasons it continues to turn a profit, and in the last year I could find was for 2009, a $281 million profit, is due to the dedication and professionalism of its workforce.

We take these things as good starting points for maintaining what we want. I presume we all want Canada Post to be a public service and not privatized. I agree with my friends in the official opposition that there is some risk of that, but I do not think it is as blatant as they do. We have to guard against privatization by ensuring Canada Post remains public and profitable.

Into this we now have, and have had for some time, difficult labour management relationships between Canada Post management and CUPW. The remaining issues on the table, when things fell apart, really had almost nothing to do with the wage issue except for the differential wages for younger workers. Other issues included health and safety issues, which makes sense given what the postal workers go through, as well as staffing issues, sick leave, questions of short-term disability, wages, pensions, benefits, job creation and the ongoing issue of training.

These issues are certainly solvable. I practised in a number of areas of law, but for about three years I practised union-side labour law. I am somewhat familiar with collective agreements and bargaining, working with unions and having long negotiations. Eight months really is not that long as long as a collective agreement can be honoured and stay in place while the parties negotiate.

This is just some of the background that came to me and it is worth looking at it.

We all know the chronology. As things began to fall apart, CUPW instituted rotating strike action, which led, very short days afterwards, to a lockout. I think we all find it somewhat inexplicable that Canada Post management took that route because it brought mail service in Canada to an absolute standstill. We now find ourselves here.

I will start with where we all agree. Then I will deal with what I think are the red herrings where we do not agree. I believe we all agree that we want the mail to move. We all agree that we would like it to move as quickly as possible. I think we probably all agree that we would rather not be here at 2:15 on a Saturday morning. I think that is a presumption that will probably be shared around the room.

On the other hand, despite the occasional moments of lack of decorum, overall all members of Parliament from all parties have conducted themselves with that sense of duty, recognizing that we are here and this issue is important. It falls on us as elected members of Parliament not to just argue endlessly, but to solve it.

I think we would all agree with those statements.

Where do I see red herrings? A couple of them really relate to the larger cultural problem of this place, which is an addiction to partisanship, but I will leave it aside. However, I cannot vote for this legislation as drafted.

I am uncomfortable with some of the accusations. Some of the members of the official opposition make a good point and then take it one step too far. I find myself thinking it was too partisan, it was a cheap shot. On the other hand, in defending the position of the government legislation, some government members have gone too far. If we could tone that down, it would help. I do not mean to sound like I am preaching or lecturing, and I hope members will forgive me.

On the other hand, in defending the position of the government legislation, I think some government members have gone too far. If we could tone that down, it would help. I do not mean to sound like I am preaching or lecturing and I hope members will forgive me.

Something that is a problem and a bit of a red herring is that the issue before us is what do we do as members of Parliament to ensure that the mail starts moving, that there is a fair collective agreement bargaining process that works for all parties. That is our job. It is not really relevant to discuss the fact that other workers do not have such a good deal.

I can say that until May 2 I never had a pension plan, medical benefits or paid vacation time. I have never had any of those things nor have other people in my family, but that is not relevant to what we have in front of us. What we have in front of us are legal entitlements of CUPW negotiated under Canadian law that must be respected. It is not to insult other workers that we respect unionized rights. It is not to divide one set of workers against another.

We have a responsibility to uphold Canadian law and Canadian law says CUPW has a legitimate collective agreement that has been negotiated under Canadian law, which is valid for a very important public service delivery of our postal system. Workers do a fantastic job and one of the reasons they do a fantastic job is that they are in a good union that negotiates well. That is the issue before us.

There are other questions. Does the 2007 Supreme Court decision in the B.C. hospital workers case have any bearing here? I know the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence said it does not, but I think there are questions.

I will now come to the difference between us. One group of people in the House believes the best way to get the mail moving is to push through Bill C-6, come hell or high water. One group of people in the House thinks the best way to get the mail moving again is to fight as hard as possible against Bill C-6 in the hope that somehow, while we are in this place in our suspended animation of June 23, there will be some progress somewhere else that solves the problem.

But it is in members’ hands to solve the problem now. I made this point earlier today and I will ask my friends in the government to consider it. The fastest way to get the mail moving, which I know is their number one objective, is to change Bill C-6 through amendments that allow all of us in this place to agree that we have respected collective bargaining rights, the labour laws of Canada and Canadian workers, and we have acted quickly in the interests of all people, whether they are small business people or families waiting for cheques.

We should not allow ourselves to be so enamoured by our own rhetoric that we forget that the fastest way to get the mail moving is to amend Bill C-6 so that we can all agree, get the mail moving and go home at some point this weekend.