THE CANADIAN PRESS — OTTAWA — The federal government appears to have ruled out back-to-work legislation for now in the labour dispute that is increasingly disrupting mail service at Canada Post.
Acknowledging concern about the impact of the dispute on the economy, the parliamentary secretary to federal Labour Minister Lisa Raitt said Monday that the government is still hoping for a negotiated settlement.
"The best solution is one that the parties come up with together, by themselves," Conservative MP Kellie Leitch told the House.
"The minister is monitoring the situation closely and will continue to provide the parties with the support and assistance required through the mediator."
But there was no sign the two sides were any closer to an agreement and, late Monday, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers identified Toronto and Montreal as its latest strike targets.
About 15,000 CUPW members in the two cities were slated to walk off the job just before midnight for 24 hours in the union's continuing series of rotating strikes.
Meanwhile, spokesmen for the CUPW and Canada Post both stepped up their rhetoric in an effort to paint the other side as irresponsible.
Canada Post spokesman Jon Hamilton accused the union of undermining the future viability of the service, saying the series of rotating strikes was chasing away long-time customers, possibly for good.
Hamilton said the Crown corporation had lost $65 million in direct revenue since the work stoppages began June 3, including $35 million in cancelled contracts.
"They are digging to the bone, they are pushing major customers to go to the competition," he said in an interview.
"There are spin-off losses, there are customers cancelling contracts, there are customers moving away and there are Canadians not putting mail on the general mail stream."
Hamilton warned some of the lost business may never return, undermining a service that already faces fierce competition from the private sector and the Internet.
Union president Denis Lemelin accused Canada Post of trying to provoke a general strike with its decision to reduce postal service to three days a week in most cities starting this week.
"Canada Post wants a full-scale strike and back-to-work legislation," he told reporters at a morning news conference.
Lemelin disputes that the work stoppages are severely damaging Canada Post, saying only 30 per cent of the country has been affected. He displayed two photographs purporting to show backlogs of mail ready to be processed.
Canada Post shutting down for one day would have more impact on the country than the total of the union's actions so far, said Lemelin, who described the tactic by Canada Post as a "partial lockout" designed to get Ottawa to legislate an end to the dispute.
The union has offered to return to work under the conditions of the expired contract, but Canada Post has rejected the offer.
Hamilton said the Crown corporation is not going to take on the costs the union is demanding for "short-term peace."
Lemelin has kept the option of a general strike open, but has given no sign that one is imminent.
The union executive meets virtually daily to decide which location or locations will walk off the job next, or whether the time had come to escalate the strike action.
Postal workers in Red Deer, Alta., spent the weekend on strike and employees in 10 other places walked off the job next.
Strikes began late Sunday in Corner Brook, N.L.; Fredericton; Cape Breton, N.S.; the Quebec towns of Trois-Rivieres and Sherbrooke; Cornwall, Windsor and Niagara Falls in Ontario; Regina, and Nanaimo, B.C..
By Julian Beltrame, The Canadian Press