I gave the following speech on the floor of the House of Commons on Saturday morning (June 25th) at roughly 9:30 a.m., Ottawa time, just prior to the start of a rally on the St. John’s waterfront to protest the closure of the Marine Rescue Centre. The speech was interrupted multiple times by Conservative MPs, so that I had to cut it short. A 5-minute question-and-answer session followed the speech, part of the filibuster debate on the Conservative government’s back-to-work legislation for postal workers. I read the end of the speech as the answer to a question posed by a Conservative MP.
Honourable members of the House of Commons.
I wasn’t supposed to be here today.
I was expected back in my riding of St. John’s South-Mount Pearl to speak at what’s predicted will be the largest rally in years.
A rally on the St. John’s waterfront, the size of which hasn’t been seen in my home province in decades — since the fall of the fisheries in the early 1990s.
Thousands of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians are expected to turn out.
The rally is in protest of the closure of the Maritime Rescue Centre in St. John’s.
The centre handles marine distress calls — more than 500 a year — 28 per cent of which are actual at-sea emergencies.
The Conservative government plans to close the search and rescue centres in St. John’s and Quebec City next year — transferring the jobs to Halifax.
People fear the closure of the rescue centres will endanger lives.
I have stood in this chamber in recent days and used words like senseless, reckless, hasty, and indefensible to describe the actions of the Conservative government.
We have one of the worst search and rescue response times in the world.
We should be improving our services — not cutting them.
Most of the great fisheries of Newfoundland and Labrador are endangered.
Now, our people are in danger.
The cost-cutting move by the federal government will reportedly save $1 million.
I mentioned that figure in Question Period this week to the Prime Minister and the member opposite for Fort McMurray (the home of thousands of transplanted Newfoundlanders and Labradorians) clapped.
He actually clapped.
What price is the Government of Canada prepared to put on the value of the safety of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians?
The shores of Newfoundland and Labrador are about as far away from Ottawa as you can get in this country.
Rallies such as today’s in St. John’s send a clear signal to the Government of Canada — there's no price too high to pay for the lives of our mariners.
I expected to be in Newfoundland today, but I stand before you representing the people of my riding, of my province, on another front.
In another battle that’s been waged by the Conservative government against the Canadian labour movement.
Against the workers of this country, and all that they stand for, and all that they worked for.
Against the pensions and benefits that make Canada one of the most enviable in the world.
It seems the Conservative government is content to leave labour stranded at sea.
Stranded at sea with our mariners.
Stranded in a sea of uncertainty.
The legislation that we debate in this House would force the 48,000 locked out postal workers back to work.
Back to work for less money than was last offered by Canada Post.
Back to work with 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.
If the Conservative government will attack the pensions of the 48,000 workers of Canada Post, whom will they attack next?
Whose pensions will they go after?
Federal public servants — will they be next?
Are they safe?
The employees of other Crown corporations — will they be next?
Who, who’s next?
If this contract is imposed on the postal workers of this country, which labour union will be next?
This is just the beginning.
Look off to the horizon, Madam Speaker, do you see there?
Do you see the job cuts off in the distance?
The rally today on the waterfront in St. John’s — a rally that will be held within sight of one of the wonders of my world, The Narrows, the entrance to our 500-year-old port — will draw more than worried mariners and their families.
The rally will draw more than fishermen and fisherwomen, the ones we have left.
The rally will also draw worried members of one of the federal government’s largest unions — the Public Service Alliance of Canada.
The PSAC is holding its regional conventions in St. John’s this weekend.
The union fears the closure of the search-and-rescue centre signals the start of cuts to the entire federal civil service.
As many as 1,000 job losses in the Atlantic region alone.
Whose job will be next?
They too — the workers of this country — are sending out a distress call.
And it falls on deaf Conservative ears.
Madam Speaker, on Friday afternoon I spoke via telephone will two leaders of the 850 locked out postal workers in Newfoundland and Labrador — members of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers.
Their membership isn’t prepared to live with a two-tier pension plan — one pension plan for existing workers, and another, less attractive pension for new employees.
If the Conservative government has its way the postal workers will carry the burden of diminished benefits on top of the mail.
The union leaders told me Friday that as of 2010 their pension plan was fully funded to the tune of $15.3 billion.
Why are the workers being broadsided?
Why is their pension being targeted when Canada Post made $281 million in 2009?
The Conservative government talks about how cuts are imminent — billions of dollars in cuts.
To Maritime Rescue Centres.
To pension packages.
To federal jobs.
When will it end?
I asked that question on Friday, Madam Speaker, to the union leaders in St. John's.
They had an interesting answer: "The only people left are our children."
Here's another quote: "If we don't stand up and fight for our younger workers right now there will be nothing to fight for in the future."
One of the union leaders in St. John's told me about a senior postal worker, a woman with about 30 years seniority.
She doesn't need to be on a picket line — she can retire any day — her pension is safe.
But she heard the leader of the Opposition's speech in the House of Commons on Thursday, and it motivated her to walk the line.
Paul Moist, national president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, says a pension that averages $18,000 a year is far from extravagant.
Are aging workers greedy?
Are younger workers expecting too much?
$18,000 a year?
I don't think so.
Here’s a quote from Moist: “For the Harper Conservative government to support unwarranted attacks on defined benefit pensions, while at the same time refusing to expand Canada Pension Plan benefits, shows they have no interest in addressing the retirement needs of Canadian workers.”
We have to protect our pensions.
We have to make sure that workers nearing retirement have enough to live on.
This backward legislation is more than a devastating blow to postal workers.
It is an assault on the foundations that this country’s labour movement was built on.
Madam Speaker, I stand in this House today as a man divided.
Part of me wants to be on the St. John’s waterfront with thousands of other Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, standing as one against the senseless, reckless, hasty, and indefensible actions of the Conservative government.
But my fight is best waged here, in the face of the Conservative government.
The attack on postal workers must not be tolerated.
The attack on rescue centres must not be tolerated.
The attack on Canadian labour must not be tolerated.
Our way of life — the Canadian way of life — must be defended.
I wasn’t supposed to be here today.
But the line’s been drawn.
I could be nowhere else.