Hon. Percy E. Downe:
Honourable colleagues, I’ll be brief. I know there is a long list of speakers.
I spent the weekend looking back on this issue of Canada Post and these constant strikes and disruptions. I think there is a role for the Senate to play here on a go-forward basis after we get through whatever happens today or over the next few days.
One of the things I noticed was when we met as a Senate on June 26, 2011, on back-to-work legislation — incidentally, it was a Sunday — the comments in the Hansard were almost identical to what happened on Saturday past, almost word for word, just in some cases the positions were switched a bit. For example, Senator Mitchell said on that date, talking about the back-to-work legislation:
I agree that this is an affront to the collective bargaining process, which is in many respects a fundamental human rights principle in our society. This matter is not receiving, in any way, shape or form, the kind of respect it deserves.
I say that only for people to understand this discussion has been going on for a continuous period of time in this chamber and across this country.
I looked back to what was done in 1997, when then-Prime Minister Jean Chrétien’s government introduced back-to-work legislation. He appointed a mediator-arbitrator, as in this bill. He — it was a man appointed — was called a mediator-arbitrator, the same as in this bill, and the mandate was to “endeavour to mediate all matters [in dispute] . . . and to bring about an agreement between the parties to those matters.’’ There were no instructions to select between two competing final offers.
In 1997, the mediator-arbitrator was to take into account — and these are important words, and Senator Pratte alluded to what is in the current legislation — “the importance of good labour-management relations between Canada Post and the union.’’
How has that worked out? Here we are, years later, with the very same problem. This legislation before us talks about — and I’ll repeat what Senator Pratte mentioned — creating a culture of collaboration, labour management relations and also to ensure the financial sustainability of the employer.
Then you look back at some of the changes the government has taken to do that. They did purchase, as was referred to earlier, Purolator, which has become a major revenue generator for Canada Post. The then president of Canada Post, when he appeared before the Senate on that Sunday in 2011, talked about the importance of Canada Post on a go-forward basis for their e-commerce business, their parcel delivery and so on.
But then the Government of Canada also took an action that negatively affected Canada Post when, a couple of years before 2011, they changed the rules to remove exclusive privilege for outbound mail from Canada Post, a decision that, at the time, cost Canada Post $80 million a year, every year.
The question is — and I raise this for senators to consider — whether there should be a role for the Senate in trying to resolve this situation. We should conduct studies in our committees, which we are all so proud of. Is Canada Post an essential service? If so, what does that mean? They don’t have the financial resources because the government, on the one hand, allows them to buy Purolator and, on the other hand, takes away this exclusive outbound mail provision that they have, costing them at least $80 million a year, putting into question the financial viability of the corporation on a go-forward basis.
Almost all of this, as senators of all stripes know, comes down to reimbursement, or money: how much the senior management is making, how much the employees are making and how much is allowed to keep the corporation functioning.
I rise very briefly to talk about this, having been here for a while and having addressed these back-to-work bills before us, mostly with Canada Post. There’s a bigger role for the Senate to play, in addition to our vote today or over the next few days.
Thank you, colleagues.