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Senator Plett blasts government over delaying Canada Post back-to-work legislation

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Canada Post back-to-work legislation (Bill C-89)

Hon. Donald Neil Plett: Honourable senators, I also want to make a few comments about Bill C-89. Let me start by saying I don’t think this bill has been handled — I’m not with Senator Woo on this — the right way. In fact, I think it is shameful. I’m not talking about the fact the government sat on its hands until the eleventh hour and then, in a panicked rush, suddenly decided something needed to be done. I’m talking about certain members of this chamber.

There are times, honourable colleagues, when, for the sake of the national good, we need to realize the most important thing we bring to this chamber is not our special interest or our pet hobby horses. It is our responsibility to ensure that legislation tabled in this house achieves the greater good. Yes, you may have an area of interest, but when it blinds you to the bigger picture, you — we — are not helping anyone. The nation depends on us to do what is right and to do it at the right time.

Let’s take a step back for a moment and consider where we find ourselves today. It was no shock, colleagues, to anyone when the government announced last week it would be tabling back-to-work legislation. We all knew the clock was winding down and that government intervention was all but inevitable. I suspect each one of us has followed the developments of the contract talks between Canada Post Corporation and the Canadian Union of Postal Workers over the last year. We’re well aware of the lack of progress the parties were making. Their failure to come to an agreement was stamped into the minds of every Canadian as the possibility of strike action grew nearer along with Christmas.

Well, senators, those rotating strikes started October 22. That was five weeks ago today — five weeks where businesses in Canada dependent on Canada Post have been struggling to operate; five weeks where anxiety has filled homes over how their businesses were going to cope and what would happen to their income. I repeat: five weeks!

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business tells us the strike action has cost the average Canadian business at least $3,000. Some small businesses have been forced to suspend their operations or even close.

Honourable senators, these are real people, businesses and families. They don’t get to pick a different courier company and carry on as usual. They don’t have the luxury of a recession-proof appointment to the Senate of Canada. These things impact their lives in significant ways and needless stonewalling in this chamber by ISG senators is not helpful.

Colleagues, when the government announced last week it was going to introduce back-to-work legislation, nobody in this chamber should have been taken off guard. We were all aware of the situation and we all knew legislation was becoming inevitable. It happens this way every time there is an impasse between these two parties.

In fact, between 1950 and 2014, this legislation has been used 34 times. From Air Canada, to CN, to Canada Post, back-to-work legislation has been passed over and over again. The majority of those times it happened under none other than Justin Trudeau’s father Pierre in the 1970s. It also happened under Brian Mulroney, Jean Chrétien and Stephen Harper. In fact, in 1997, the former Chrétien government acted in just 10 days to end a postal strike that year. That’s two days quicker than what Stephen Harper did in 2011. Although Harper acted very quickly, it took him 12 days. Justin Trudeau has taken over four weeks to finally make a move. He has been incredibly lax in taking the proper leadership.

Honourable senators, there was absolutely no reason why we could not have started debate on this bill Saturday morning at 9 a.m. and sat here until the legislation was passed, or at least voted on, on Saturday. It could have been wrapped up on that same day and sent on for Royal Assent. If passed, the mail would be moving by now. But instead, some senators threw a hissy fit over the idea of starting work that early in the morning and insisted on leaving our Canadian postal workers out there in inclement weather, striking instead of delivering the mail.

They opted to stall and delay for no good reason, costing both the postal workers and Canadian businesses millions upon millions of dollars over the course of just one weekend — not to mention the senators who needed to fly back and forth as a result of this.

Colleagues, this bill could have been taken care of in one day. If — for some inexplicable reason — we were not able to complete our work on Saturday, we could have sat on Sunday to finish it off.

But here we are. Now this legislation will, at the earliest, take effect Tuesday afternoon. It could have taken effect yesterday. The mail would now be moving. Canadians would be back in business. Instead, we wander in here at two o’clock in the afternoon, while the mail is still not moving at the rate it should be. Regardless of whether it’s 391 trailers, or 526 trailers, or 128 trailers, the mail is not moving. There are backlogs that need not be there.

There is no shortage of excuses going around for why the delay was necessary. I understand some senators claimed they were waiting for the Charter statement on the legislation. Well, colleagues, that was tabled in the other place just before 9 p.m. on Friday and posted to the Department of Justice’s website. It was circulated to senators at about 1 a.m. Saturday morning. There was lots of time to review it.

The document is not long — 960 words, including the title. It’s 11 paragraphs long, including the standard three paragraphs in the explanatory note. It doesn’t take long to read or digest. Like all other Charter statements before it, it contains a clearly worded line that says, “A statement is not a legal opinion on the constitutionality of a bill.” Yet, some senators have tried to convince us they were surprised the statement didn’t contain a detailed Charter analysis.

This is laughable. Was this the first Charter statement they have ever read? Did they expect a lengthy legal brief? The Charter statement legalizing marijuana was barely over 3,200 words, and the bill was 152 pages long. This bill is only 14 pages long, and unlike Bill C-45, it neither amends the Criminal Code nor the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.

How long did they expect the Charter statement to be? For Bill C-71, it was 1,040 words. For Bill C-81, it was about 2,500 words. It was 960 words for Bill C-28, and it was 1,074 for Bill C-32.

Colleagues, I’m no lawyer, but even a plumber can recognize a pattern. To suggest that Bill C-89 needed to be delayed because the Charter statement does not provide a detailed Charter analysis is disingenuous at best. It is absurd.

To make matters worse, I was horrified to sit here in this chamber and hear a colleague, an esteemed former justice of the Court of Queen’s Bench of Manitoba, say that he was surprised that this Charter statement, a government document, was not written on toilet paper. We might expect this kind of behaviour from someone who doesn’t know better, but from a former justice, this is horrifying.

And then we watched as Mike Palecek, President of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, sat here on Saturday and suggested that the President of Canada Post, Jessica McDonald, was not telling the truth. We had just heard her testimony about backlogs of parcels and mail, and the impacts this would have on families, businesses and charities. Although he did not say it directly — I asked him about it — Mr. Palecek was clearly insinuating that Ms. McDonald was lying to us when he had no evidence that such was the case.

If this is the level of character being brought into the negotiating room, I’m not surprised the two parties are at impasse.

Colleagues, Canada Post and CUPW have been at loggerheads for almost a year. It is unacceptable that the two of them could not get together and agree to a mediated process so that Canadians would not be in the predicament they are today.

This is a serious issue. As every business person knows, if you have a problem in your business, it is almost always reflective of a problem in management. Frankly, I’m beginning to think that it wouldn’t matter how long you left these two parties at the table, they wouldn’t be capable of coming to an agreement.

Mind you, in fairness, this government has done little to help them. In fact, if the Liberals have demonstrated anything over their three years in office, it’s incompetence and incoherence. One of the first things they did after the election was to cancel a plan that would have saved Canada Post between $700 million and $900 million. They don’t seem to realize that unnecessarily squeezing a corporation’s finances doesn’t put it in a good bargaining position.

I suppose the government figures Canada Post’s budget will balance itself, just as Mr. Trudeau believes his budget will balance itself. The fact is that reality has a way of catching up.

In the meantime, we in this chamber have a responsibility, colleagues, to play the cards we have been dealt. The situation may not be perfect, but today, we will once again have the opportunity to decide what we are going to do with this legislation. Will we support it, delay it or amend it?

I have difficulty voting for anything this government has brought forward, but, colleagues, I personally will be voting for this legislation. The national good demands it. Our country demands it.

But I am interested in seeing if the Prime Minister has gotten his senators to vote in favour of it. One minute they are independent; the next minute they are lining up behind the Prime Minister. What will they do today? Did they wake up this morning with their independent hats on, or have they got the Prime Minister’s hat on? I suspect we’ll know soon enough.


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