Government and opposition MPs both say they're trying to find a compromise on back-to-work legislation for Canada Post, something that could give hope to Canadians waiting for their mail and to parliamentarians staring down a long few days of continuous sittings.
Talks were happening Friday evening, an NDP spokesman confirmed, although he wouldn't offer any further information.
Earlier Friday, NDP Leader Jack Layton said his party was working on new proposals on the government's back-to-work legislation, but wouldn't say more so as not to derail discussions.
Layton said the filibuster will go on until there is a resolution to the dispute.
For the first seven hours of debate, each MP gets 20 minutes to make a speech, followed by 10 minutes of questioning. After that, each speaker gets 10 minutes with a five-minute question and answer period.
Debate is expected to wrap up sometime between midnight and 2 a.m. on Layton's Thursday night "hoist" motion to delay second reading for six months.
Once all 103 NDP MPs have spoken, the House votes on the hoist motion. After that, they move to second reading of the bill and the clock resets to allow another seven hours of 20-minute speeches.
Layton's comments came around the same time as those of Labour Minister Lisa Raitt, who also maintains she's looking for an agreement. But the Conservative government is prepared to sit until its legislation passes to send Canada Post back to work, Raitt said Friday after the House sat through the night.
Raitt said her message for the Official Opposition NDP is that her party is "here for all Canadians."
"Our concern, is, quite frankly, that we're still in a situation where the bill isn't even close to being passed," she said, explaining the bill still needs to get to committee stage.
"We're not even debating the bill. We're debating whether or not to debate the bill."
Raitt said she met with NDP labour critic Yvon Godin Thursday night but they couldn't break an impasse over language. She said they discussed arbitration options generally, but didn't get into any hard back-and-forth negotiations.
Liberal MP Scott Brison, however, says the Conservatives could have avoided the filibuster by consulting the opposition parties before tabling the bill. He said his party can bring "common sense" to the discussion if the Conservatives are open to it.
"We're not coming at this from the NDP's perspective, where they can only see this as a black or white issue," Brison said.
"We're hoping that they [the government] are sincere when they say they're open to that kind of compromise because it does take a little bit of common sense right now."
The NDP opposes stepping into the collective bargaining process, but is particularly against clauses in the bill that would force the two sides into final offer selection binding arbitration, meaning each side tables its final offer and the arbitrator picks one or the other.
The government says the wages are fair and based on the last collective agreement negotiated with another public sector union.
MPs were supposed to leave Ottawa on Thursday to head home for the summer, but instead pulled overnight shifts in the House of Commons debating Bill C-6, which would order both sides in the Canada Post labour dispute to resume mail delivery immediately.
About 48,000 Canadian Union of Postal Workers members were locked out on June 14. They had started rotating strikes earlier in the month.
As a new day began Friday, opposition MPs continued to make lengthy speeches designed to delay passage of the bill and to take turns filling their seats in the House. About 35 MPs were in the Commons mid-morning, some looking more tired than others. Some grabbed naps during the night, but Green Party MP Elizabeth May didn't sleep a wink.
"I'm wondering at some point if this will make sense," she said Friday morning.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper was there bright and early, taking a brief turn at helping to maintain quorum in the chamber after spending the night in his Parliament Hill office, as so many other MPs did.
He was gone by about 8 a.m. ET and headed to Thetford Mines, Que., for St-Jean-Baptiste Day, attending Fête nationale celebrations with Industry Minister Christian Paradis.
Other MPs from Quebec, including the large new NDP Quebec caucus, will not be leaving the parliamentary precinct in order to sustain the filibuster. Many made mention in their remarks of their regrets that they are missing what are normally high-profile events in communities across the province.
By a quirk of parliamentary procedure, the actual date in the House of Commons remains at Thursday, June 23, regardless of how many calendar days the debate continues.
Debate and delaying tactics
The NDP is leading opposition to the bill and is using procedural tactics to talk out the clock, which has put off debate on the bill itself. Parliament is trying to pass the bill in a compressed time frame instead of pushing it through the normal three stages of readings and committee hearings that are usually spread out over a number of weeks.
After dealing with a procedural vote much of Thursday to allow the bill to be sped up, debate began on it around 9 p.m. ET with a speech by Layton. He spoke at length about the commitment of postal workers and their work conditions.
He accused the government of interfering in labour relations and siding with Canada Post management and called on Harper to order Canada Post to end the lockout.
How soon would mail service resume?
Once the back-to-work legislation passes in the House of Commons, it moves on to the Senate, assuming, of course, that no deal is reached by the two sides at the bargaining table in the meantime.
In anticipation of its passage in the House of Commons, Senate leaders are negotiating in advance how to deal quickly with this bill. The Senate could debate and pass the legislation in a single (one day) sitting if a procedural agreement can be reached.
Consent and co-operation from the Liberal opposition in the Senate is required or else quick passage cannot be assured. The Senate is not scheduled to sit past Thursday. However, it could sit on Friday or Saturday if necessary to pass the back-to-work legislation.
Once it passes the House and then the Senate, it would take effect 24 hours after the Governor General signs it into law. Mail service is supposed to restart immediately. According to the bill, both the employer and employee must resume postal service and duties "without delay." Canada Post says it has a plan in place to resume operations, but it would take 24 to 48 hours for workers to sort mail so delivery to homes wouldn't start until two or three days after the bill passes.
It's expected to take weeks before service is completely back to normal.
Conservative House Leader Peter Van Loan has said if the bill gets through the Commons and the Senate before the weekend, he hopes mail will resume early next week.
The NDP leader then introduced what is known as a "hoist motion" that calls for the bill to move to second reading in six months.
The party says it has amendments to propose, which would also prolong an eventual vote on Bill C-6. The Liberals prepared their own amendment that they could also table.
As of Friday night, no return to the bargaining table was planned unless something happened to end the stalemate. Negotiations on a new collective agreement broke off Wednesday and the Crown corporation said the two parties were still far apart on a number of issues.
The two sides are in a deadlock over proposed new work conditions and wage scales.
Canada Post wants new hires to start at a lower wage than for past hires, and while they would eventually all be getting paid the same salary, it would take new hires longer to reach that maximum salary. The union argues a "two-tier" wage system is unfair and would cause division in the workforce because people doing the same work as each other would be paid differently.
The union is also concerned about health and safety risks it says are raised with new workflow systems Canada Post has introduced for sorting and delivering the mail.
MPs, ministers spent night on Hill
MPs spent a long night Thursday on Parliament Hill and even cabinet ministers took their turns, with Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney and Defence Minister Peter MacKay sitting into the early hours of the morning.
Harper appeared around midnight and spent about half an hour sitting with Labour Minister Lisa Raitt and House Leader Peter Van Loan.
MPs who weren't sitting in the House of Commons chamber socialized in the lobbies just off the House, or visited each other's offices.
Roughly 50 MPs read or did paperwork in the House.
Rumours were flying prior to an 8:15 p.m. procedural vote that the NDP and Conservatives had reached a deal to remove the controversial salary provisions from the legislation.
But MPs settled in for a long night, with Liberal MPs instructed not to leave the parliamentary precincts to sleep, and to sleep fully clothed in case they are called back for a vote.
The House of Commons won't rise for its summer break until the legislation is passed.
Quebec interests weigh heavily on the NDP because 59 of its MPs are from that province and they helped propel the NDP from its fourth-place position in the House of Commons to second in the May 2 election.
Government defends back-to-work bill
As debate on the motion began Thursday morning, Raitt fended off accusations from the opposition that the government was being heavy-handed.
Raitt said the parties have been unable to reach a deal on wages, pensions, short-term disability benefits and other contract issues, and that the government had to step in because the dispute is affecting the Canadian economy.
"There were significant issues on the table that they simply cannot close the gap on in a short period of time. It is affecting the Canadian economy and Canadian citizens and we are acting," she said.
The government introduced the back-to-work legislation Monday, and was quickly criticized for its design.