I gave the following speech in the House of Commons on Friday (June 24th) as part of the ongoing marathon Canada Post debate.
The No. 1 issue during the 2011 federal election campaign in my riding of St. John’s South Mount Pearl was pensions.
It was the No. 1 issue for seniors.
It was the No. 1 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’s 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 FOG, the acronym for food, oil and gas.
The cost of necessities like food, oil and gas continue 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 couldn’t 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 couldn’t afford to turn on the heat.
They asked me not to forget them — I will not.
Seniors weren’t the only ones concerned about pensions.
We heard the concern from young couples — working couples — who spoke to me at their doors about how they’re 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 can’t.
We heard the concern from middle-aged firemen who question how they can afford to retire on modest pensions given the claw-back on their Canada Pension Plan.
I can tell you this, Mr. Speaker, 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 Labor Critic said in the House of Commons on Thursday: the pension plan is in “danger.”
And as the NDP Opposition Leader said so eloquently on Thursday: Canada Post wants to create a “two-tier” wage and benefit package.
For new workers who join the federal Crown Corporation, they would have to work 5 extra years to qualify for a pension.
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 already face high unemployment rates as it is.
Here’s a direct quote: “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 rates, which the Conservative government, as we know, won’t do anything about.
If the Conservative government will attack the pensions of the 48,000 workers of Canada post, who will they attack next?
Whose pension plan will they 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 5 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 how the damage to the Canadian economy from the Canada Post strike, which she was corrected on — it’s not a strike, it’s a lockout.
The use of the word strike — as the Opposition leader pointed out — 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 she describe that as significant?
Whose pension will be next?
The Labour Minister says Canadians can’t go on without postal service.
I can say this with authority — the authority of the hundreds of pensioners and working people I spoke with during the campaign in St. John’s South-Mount Pearl — Canadians cannot go on without decent pensions.
Let me ask again: whose pension will be next?
Is the ultimate goal here of the Conservative government to weaken the voice of workers?
Is that part of their 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’s a race to the bottom, Mr. Speaker, except for those on top.
Well, Mr. Speaker, not on the New Democrat watch.
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’s obvious.
During the federal election, the MP for St. John’s East 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. Bitter.
The workers mentioned how they might be headed toward job action.
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, mind you, 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’s 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 post offices using vehicles, picnic tables, pallets and what Judge Robert Hall described as a “vigorous picket line.”
The injunction prohibits workers from blocking access to people walking by, and called for any barricades on picket lines to be removed by Thursday night.
I’m sure they were — the workers of Canada Post are good, law-abiding citizens.
But can you blame the workers for being vigorous in their attempt to secure their futures?
Can you blame them?
Again, if this is allowed to happen to the 48,000 workers of Canada Post who will be next?
Let me ask that again so it can 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?
When it comes to pensions, six out of 10 Canadians rely solely on CPP or QPP, or other government assistance, or some savings — modest savings, I might add.
I got that stat from The Globe and Mail.
Here’s a quote from The Globe: “Pension experts estimate that about 30 per cent of the population will be poorer in retirement, sometimes significantly, and that share grows every day.”
Here’s 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. That is what it’s all about.”
I can tell you what the New Democrats are all about.
They’re about working Canadians.
They’re about Canadian families.
The Labour Minister made a snarky remark Thursday in this chamber about how labour unions have a hot line to the New Democrats.
I can tell you this, Mr. Speaker, when Canadians call the New Democrats about issues that are critical to them.
Issues that are critical to their families …
Issues that are critical to their futures …
We don’t put them on hold for Big Business.
We don’t put them on hold for anyone.
We answer the call.