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C-6 - Restoring Mail Delivery for Canadians Bill - Second Reading

Referred to Committee of the Whole - Canada Post Corporation, Deepak Chopra, the President and Chief Executive Officer

Senator Joyal: Welcome, Mr. Chopra and Mr. Côté.

Mr. Chopra, my first question to you is very simple: Did you request Bill C-6 from the government or did you request a government intervention to settle the conflict that you were encountering with the union?

Mr. Chopra: As I mentioned to you, we started negotiating a long time ago, way before I even arrived on the scene, including my own personal involvement with the unions trying to continue the negotiations, and even continuing with the several days of rotating strike action. For us to have taken any other considerations into account was never a question. We were focused on trying to reach an agreement and not have all the circumstances that led to this. That has been our focus, not asking anyone for intervention.

Senator Joyal: In other words, you never requested that the Canadian government introduce legislation to end the difficult negotiation you were having with the union?

Mr. Chopra: We did not.

Senator Joyal: Were you consulted on one or the other aspects of the bill, especially the clauses dealing with the new collective agreement, clauses 14 and following?

Mr. Chopra: We were not.

Senator Joyal: Were you ever consulted on any of the provisions that would rule the future collective agreement if this bill passed, as drafted, now?

Mr. Chopra: We were never consulted.

Senator Joyal: You were never consulted.

Did you consult your legal advisers about the possibility of the bill not being constitutional?

Mr. Chopra: We have not had any discussions with my legal adviser.

Senator Joyal: Was there ever any doubt in your mind that that bill was fully in compliance with section 2(d) of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms on the recognition of the right to association?

Mr. Chopra: My focus has been and continues to be on the business. I have not spent time contemplating all the scenarios. As I answered earlier to that question, there are lots of things that we have to worry about for the business. Many questions earlier talked about employee relations and about starting to work on many other aspects. That has not been my focus or the area of interest.

Senator Joyal: In other words, when you received a copy of this bill you never sought the advice of your legal advisers on their evaluation of the substance of this bill?

Mr. Chopra: They are in the process of looking at the bill. We looked at it as it was tabled, but I have not yet received any advice of any kind.

Senator Joyal: If adopted, this bill as drafted would be totally constitutional in your opinion?

Mr. Chopra: I have no idea. I have not sought advice and I cannot comment on that.

(…)

Senator Joyal: Thank you Mr. Lemelin. I understand that, when the bill was introduced, it was not because you, the union representatives, asked the government to intervene in the dispute and end the lockout through a special bill; was it?

Mr. Lemelin: No.

Senator Joyal: When you found out about the bill, was it new to you? In other words, there were no provisions in the bill that resulted from consultations with you or your representatives on the content of these provisions, were there?

Mr. Lemelin: No.

Senator Joyal: So the bill was completely new to you?

Mr. Lemelin: The bill was new, but we were aware of the Air Canada bill the day before, so we were expecting something similar.

Senator Joyal: Did you consult your legal counsel on the constitutionality of this bill?

Mr. Lemelin: We examined the bill and analyzed certain aspects of it, such as the type of arbitration. We will really focus on these aspects of the bill in the coming days to examine the whole thing and to identify the different aspects and any possible recourse. I will be honest with you: if there is any possibility of recourse, we will have a look at it.

Senator Joyal: Are you saying that the dispute you had with your employer did not deteriorate to the point where the damage to Canadians, businesses and institutions was so unbearable that it became essential for the government to intervene?

(1640)

Mr. Lemelin: We do not think so. We held several press conferences and at each one, we were able to show that mail was still moving, with photos to prove it. It was moving more slowly, but there was lots of it. The employer, on the other hand, was never able to justify the rate of 50 per cent that it quoted. There was lots of mail. It was moving more slowly, but we wanted to continue our rotating strikes.

Senator Joyal: Would you agree with the general conclusion that the bill was premature?

Mr. Lemelin: We have always preferred the path of negotiation, and not legislation. We were at the bargaining table. We were sharing information. Before the June 15 lockout, discussions were taking place. However, it was clear that we had some major differences of opinion on some points.

Senator Joyal: To your knowledge and based on your recollections, have there been instances when a much longer period of time passed between the moment when a strike was called and the moment when a lockout was imposed before Parliament intervened?

Mr. Lemelin: The first thing that comes to mind is the strike in 1997. At that time and in that context, the workers had been striking a little less than two weeks when a special bill was passed. As for instances before 1997, a work stoppage in 1991 lasted longer than that. And before that, in 1987, it lasted about the same length of time. The time period ahead of intervention varies, but this was the first time the government ever intervened when rotating strikes were being staged.

Senator Joyal: If I understand you correctly, you maintained a minimum level of service. I understand you were still delivering pension cheques, social assistance cheques and so on, and therefore you were considering the most vulnerable citizens in precarious personal situations.

Mr. Lemelin: Absolutely. Since November 2010, in all previous negotiations, we had reached an agreement with Canada Post whereby we would still deliver pension cheques, old age security cheques, children's benefits, social assistance cheques and so on. For the various provinces, we planned to deliver over 2.5 million cheques a month across Canada. We had between 8,000 and 9,000 volunteers to deliver those cheques.

When we were locked out, only a little less than half the Canadian public had been affected by a day of rotating strikes. A major portion of the population was not affected.

Senator Joyal: If I understand what you are saying, the permanent harm and inconvenience that may have been caused had more to do with the employer's lockout than with the union's rotating strikes and partial delivery of certain types of mail.

Mr. Lemelin: That is how we see it. It will be two weeks on Wednesday since we were locked out. The lockout prevented all mail from being delivered, especially since it came on a day when there was supposed to be general mail delivery across the country.

Senator Joyal: You were saying that Canada Post declared the lockout the night before in order to prevent that delivery, instead of waiting until the next day for the delivery to be made?

Mr. Lemelin: Absolutely.

Senator Joyal: That is what I understood from your comments. In your assessment of the legal aspects of this bill, are you going to focus on the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, in terms of your right to organize as workers and negotiate collective agreements in good faith, and the right of the employer to declare a lockout under certain circumstances? Do you not think there is a fundamental right at stake that is likely to be subject to a legal ruling based on precedents and past rulings by higher courts in the land?

Mr. Lemelin: We definitely think this is an attack on the right to negotiate. We are going to go over every aspect vis-à-vis the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and every clause of the bill to consider what to do next and how to move forward on this arbitration with the employer.

Senator Joyal: You have not asked your lawyers to do so at this stage? You are unable to tell us today your interpretation of the substance of this bill, with regard to the points I have raised with you?

Mr. Lemelin: No. Absolutely not. Our objective was to get the bill amended. Obviously, as soon as the bill passes, we will be looking at all of these things as of tomorrow morning.

Senator Joyal: Thank you, Mr. Chair.