Politics

Canada Post bill debate heads into weekend

A late-night vote on an NDP motion to delay back-to-work legislation for Canada Post for six months failed to pass the House, meaning debate on the bill would continue into the weekend.

A late-night vote on an NDP motion to delay back-to-work legislation for Canada Post for six months failed to pass the House, meaning debate on the bill would continue into the weekend.

The Liberals joined the Conservatives to defeat the "hoist" motion by a vote of 160 to 74.

The NDP has been filibustering the bill, with party leader Jack Layton pledging it would continue until there is a resolution to the dispute between Canada Post and its postal workers.

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.

Following the vote, which was attended by Prime Mininster Stephen Harper and many of his cabinet ministers, parliamentarians moved to second reading of the bill.

Government and opposition MPs both have said  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.

Earlier Friday, 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'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.

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.

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.

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.

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 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.