Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak after my colleague from Repentigny. She gave a very clear, rigorous and thorough speech. She made her point. Even though there may be disagreements, she spoke eloquently to support her position, without any vitriol or bitterness. Perhaps that is why she was voted the most collegial member in a Maclean’s poll recently.
I have been sitting in on the debate pretty much all day. I listened to the member for Vancouver East, who has also taken a position that is different from that of the government. I was rather touched by her description of the place her postal worker occupies in her life and the life of her family. She mentioned how she would even send letters to her children, so they could receive mail. The letter carrier would bring it to the House. This is a wonderful memory for her.
Canada Post letter carriers and those who work at the counters at postal outlets are a significant part of our lives. When we think about it, letter carriers have visited our homes five days a week for as long as we can remember. In fact, I remember, as a young child, when postal workers would deliver mail six days a week. There was a Saturday morning mail delivery. That was not because postal workers were hard done by. Everybody worked five and a half days a week. I remember my father would work a five-day week and go to work Saturday morning. He would be back home at noon and do whatever chores he had to do around the house.
Unions have improved our lives by pushing for shorter work weeks and fighting for important social programs, better pensions and safer workplaces. The House of Commons administration goes to the max to provide a very safe workplace. That is a product of the work unions have done since they started becoming a fixture of our economy back in the 1920s and 1930s. They are very important.
No one is suggesting postal workers do not work hard. We know they do. We have a cold climate.
Two postal workers visit the building in which my riding office is located. One does the morning shift. He empties the mailboxes in front of the building at 8:30 a.m. and does it while the motor is running. He does not waste any time. He is very friendly. If I happen to be going into the building at the same time, he greets me with a smile. However, he does not have too much time to talk because he has to empty the mailboxes, put the bags in the truck and go on to the next set of mailboxes further down the street.
When my riding office has to send something priority post to the Ottawa office, there is a postal worker who comes to the office to pick up post packages. Again, he does not have much time to waste. At times, when I hear the door open and hear the gentleman’s voice, I walk out of my office, ask my assistant where he is and I am told he has left already because he has no time to waste. He takes the priority post parcels and he is out of there. He is working hard.
All the letter carriers who I have known seem to really enjoy their work. They do it with a smile and they do it with an obvious sense of pride. I think they do it with an attitude of pride for a couple of important reasons.
The first is that they like to provide the service. It is a service industry in many ways and it attracts people who want to provide good service and help others. Also, when people work for Canada Post, somehow they feel they are working for the country, which they are. They are working for a Crown corporation, which was a government department at one point, so they are working for Canada. That is how important Canada Post is to our country, and it always has been.
Usually, a Crown corporation serves a purpose that goes beyond any kind of corporate entity. It usually has an important function. We usually create Crown corporations because the service or products they provide are very important for the country, for its economy and for holding the country together.
Therefore, right off the bat, Canada Post is different. It is not GM. It is not Fiat Chrysler. It is not Ford. None of these companies totally dominate the market. When one of these companies goes on strike, consumers have a choice. They can buy a car from a competing manufacturer. That actually influences the bargaining process. The workers at GM can flex their muscle, but if they flex it too much, the company will lose customers and they will not be better off because of that. That is all part of the interplay. That is all part of what the hon. members on the other side called “rapport de force”, which is normal and healthy.
However, when we are dealing with Canada Post, we are not just dealing with another corporation. We are dealing with an entity that has enormous influence on the economic well-being the country. That is the difference. The challenge is, and has always been, in the public and para-public sector.
I remember when I was younger, the police in Montreal went on strike. It was not a pretty day. Labour relations in the para-public and public sector evolved. In fact, different dispositions were created such that essential services had to be maintained. It is a very different labour relations climate. However, that is how it is with labour relations. As it is with every other aspect of society and the economy, we evolve and we adapt.
The point is that Canada Post has a major impact on the country. Therefore, how do we handle labour negotiations when we deal with Crown corporations that are in many ways essential services? Someone said before, and I think it was my colleague, the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Labour, that 70% of online purchases went through Canada Post. That represents an incredible amount of market power. We cannot ignore that.
We have a corporation that plays an important part in the functioning of the country. We have a powerful corporation, because it has large revenues and the management is powerful. We also a powerful union. Members on the other side are saying that the union should be able to flex its muscle as much as it wants to. There is nothing wrong with that motivation. However, at what point do we say that in the interests of Canadians we need to get the two parties to the bargaining table to work out a solution so those who are not part of a union have a voice? They may not have a strong voice because they are a mom and pop shop, or they are entrepreneurs and may not even be incorporated or registered.
Their voice is our voice. Their voice is from those who have been elected to the House of Commons to form the government. They are speaking out in this particular labour conflict. They are telling us the effects.
Where we seem to have a difference of opinion is with members on that side, the NDP, where the prevailing opinion is that there is no problem and that the Canada Post rotating strike is not causing grief to small businesses and their families. We know that many families are supported by small businesses. Even though the prevailing opinion on the other side is that there is no problem, the Retail Council of Canada and various groups that represent small businesses are saying there is a problem and they are feeling the pressure.
Yes, there are alternatives. There is, for example, Federal Express. However, we know that these courier companies do not service the north. What happens when Canada Post is not around to service the north? Do we just drop the north and not worry about it? There are people who are telling us that this is going beyond being a major inconvenience and that it is undermining their economic interests.
There is an issue as to how we manage labour relations in these kinds of situations. There are different approaches.
When I was in university, I remember taking a labour relations course with Professor Carla Lipsig-Mummé, who is very well-respected in the labour movement. I am sure many of the members on the other side know Carla Lipsig-Mumme. She was an excellent professor because she allowed debate from all sides of the political spectrum. Her mission was to stimulate debate.
She was part of the labour movement and was proud to be, and she challenged us. I learned a lot from her. Many of the ideas I had evolved because of her teaching methods. As a matter of fact, she was on the Hill recently, I believe, to talk about work in the 21st century.
We have this challenge as to how to manage labour relations in a Crown corporation which can have a great impact on the economy. I think we found a positive, constructive solution through this legislation, because we talk about naming a mediator or an arbitrator. That person will be neutral. I do not understand why the NDP has this idea that the arbitrator will be a friend of business and that the arbitrator will not care about labour. Just in case the arbitrator had different ideas, what the arbitrator has to consider when mediating and doing arbitration is spelled out in the law. The arbitrator has to take account of principles like equal pay for equal work and ensuring that the health and safety of employees is protected.
Here we have a process that may not be ideal from labour’s point of view, because labour obviously wants to flex its muscle as much as possible, and there is nothing wrong with that. There is nothing wrong with that at all. It is like when businesses are motivated by profit. These are not dirty words. Every party has its own motivations, but at some point it is the role of government to try to broker a fair solution in the best interests of the country and of those who do not necessarily have an organized voice. That is essentially what the government is doing.
I see there is a lot of consternation on the other side. I did not mean to be this provocative. It is quite interesting that the member for Repentigny, who made the most eloquent defence of labour rights, is not heckling right now. I think that is to her credit.
There are some very good guiding principles. We are not imposing work conditions like the previous Conservative government did. I was in the House when we had the debate on that legislation. The Conservative government at the time was trying to put an end to a labour dispute and I understand that, but I think it went a little too far. It was trying to make some kind of point, some kind of anti-labour point, which is clearly not in the DNA of the Liberal Party or the Liberal government regardless of what is coming from the other side.
This an attempt to find a fair solution. The labour movement has contributed greatly to improving working conditions. What Carla Lipsig-Mummé taught me was that unions have not only improved labour conditions for people who work in unions, but also for the entire society by the programs that they have fought for.