Ms. Carolyn Parrish (Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of Public Works and Government Services, Lib.)
Mr. Speaker, it is with pleasure that I rise today to participate in the debate on Bill C-238, an act to amend the Canada Post Corporation Act.
It is important to remind all members present of the incredible economic progress and turnaround that Canada Post has achieved in the years since its creation as a commercial crown corporation. I will not go into great detail on this point other than to say that since 1981 Canada Post has transformed itself into a profitable enterprise through a combination of innovation marketing, sound planning and good business practices. However, above all, this remarkable performance is a tribute to the men and women of Canada Post who daily provide to Canadians a high quality and cost efficient postal service. I know all members join with me in paying this tribute.
As stated earlier in the debate, Canada Post's primary mandate is to ensure that all Canadians receive reliable and affordable postal service. To some this essential service is taken for granted. It is sometimes easy to forget the challenges the sheer size of the nation presents to Canada Post in maintaining service on a daily basis yet remaining competitive with businesses that do not have to meet such an important and vital requirement.
The key to Canada Post's ability to provide a reliable and cost efficient mail service is its use of contractors. Here is the crux of the matter and why I believe Bill C-238 to be fundamentally flawed. The bill seeks to repeal subsection 13(5) of the Canada Post Corporation Act, thereby allowing that contractors who consider themselves to be dependent within the meaning of part I of the Canada Labour Code may be found to be employees for collective bargaining purposes.
This would involve or impact upon all contractors regardless of the nature of their work or contracted activity. Put simply, to allow passage of the bill would significantly affect the corporation's ability to meet its objective and would mean serious increases in costs with no accompanying improvement in service.
Canada Post simply cannot afford to take on thousands of new full time employees. Such an unnecessary and unjustified action would wipe away years of hard work to build a profitable, competitive, world class business. The author of the bill, in a misguided attempt to change the status of one type of contractor, the rural route contractor, has failed to comprehend the dire consequences and far-reaching implications of this proposed legislative change.
Rural route contractors have had a long and proud relationship with Canada Post. For decades now these people have delivered the mail in rural and in some cases remote areas of our country. They play an important part in Canada Post's mandate to deliver mail to all Canadians. They are reliable, hardworking individuals who take pride in the valuable work they perform.
In many cases mail contractors reside on or near their designated routes and are therefore not only performing a vital service on behalf of Canada Post but also ensuring that their own neighbours receive mail in a reliable and efficient manner.
However, what has been overlooked by some is the essential fact that rural route contractors are not employees of Canada Post or a group of workers being denied fundamental rights. They are valued contractors who have fundamentally different work relationships than those employed full time by the corporation. Let us examine very briefly the wording of subsection 13(5) which states:
Notwithstanding any provision of Part I of the Canada Labour Code, for the purposes of the application of that Part to the Corporation and to officers and employees of the Corporation, a mail contractor is deemed not to be a dependent contractor or an employee within the meaning of those terms in subsection 3(1) of that Act.
Rural route mail contractors are awarded their respective contracts through a competitive tender process. This type of work is of a part time nature and individuals seek this work to supplement their income, not to obtain full or part time employee status with Canada Post.
These conditions are spelled out in the contract documentation. Let me make it very clear that rural route couriers agree that these terms are in full understanding of conditions governing this type of contracted work. It is also not their primary employment or source of income. Nor does it lead to some form of permanent employment status within the corporation.
Let me remind members that the Federal Court of Appeal ruled in 1987 that rural route couriers were indeed contractors as defined in the Canada Post Corporation Act. In addition, the federal court found that subsection 13(5) did not violate any equality rights as defined in our charter of rights and freedoms.
Behind the bill is an attempt to portray rural route contractors as being abused, underpaid and generally exploited by Canada Post. Nothing could be further from the truth. Rural route contractors are treated and compensated fairly.
My hon. colleague has already mentioned the improvements made by Canada Post to its contract tendering process that will increase opportunities for more Canadians to do business with it, particularly in rural areas. In addition, I believe the corporation should also be congratulated on a number of improvements it has made as a result of listening to rural route contractors.
Measures that have been recently implemented are designed to improve their training, support and the early resolution of issues. There is always room for improvement and any business that ignores this basic rule does so at its own peril. I know that Canada Post is an organization that constantly strives for improvement in everything it does.
In closing, I will not support the bill and I would encourage my fellow members to seriously consider the factors that have made Canada Post the world class organization it is. It has proven its ability to meet its primary mandate and to successfully compete in a demanding and rapidly changing market. Let us not place unnecessary hurdles such as Bill C-238 in front of those at Canada Post. They have earned our support and it is our duty to give it by voting against the proposed legislation.
Strangely enough I find myself agreeing with Reformers in that many of the changes implemented over the last two years have been implemented as a result of their regular communication with the department. I think that is the avenue they need to pursue to improve conditions as we have done in the last year.
Subtopic: Canada Post Corporation Act