THE CANADIAN PRESS — Mail could be moving again by Tuesday following speedy Senate approval of government legislation ordering locked-out Canada Post workers back to their jobs.
During a rare Sunday sitting, senators vigorously debated — but ultimately approved — a bill that sets the stage for resumption of mail service.
The legislation received royal assent just hours later.
As the bill made its way through the Senate, members of the upper chamber heard testimony from federal ministers, Canada Post executives and union members.
Letter sorting should resume Monday in preparation for delivery the next day, Canada Post chief operating officer Jacques Cote told the senators.
The session followed a 58-hour marathon filibuster in the House of Commons led by the opposition New Democrats. The Conservative benches erupted in cheers after MPs passed the bill Saturday night.
The government tabled the back-to-work legislation last Monday after Canada Post locked out the union in the midst of rotating strikes that began early this month.
The NDP tried to stall passage of the bill, calling it unfair to the workers.
Several senators also gave the legislation a rough ride, peppering witnesses Sunday with questions about details of the bill, the longer-term implications for Canada Post and the government's overall approach to labour issues.
Liberal Sen. Terry Mercer said the legislation amounted to "the beginning of an attack on public service unions."
"This is contemptuous in its attitude toward a labour union of any kind," added Progressive Conservative Sen. Lowell Murray.
Labour Minister Lisa Raitt told the senators the government acted to preserve Canada's economy.
"This is not our first choice in how we would like to see this labour dispute resolved, but the choice is a necessary one," she said.
"Our citizens cannot afford to be left waiting."
Asked if back-to-work legislation would become a standard Conservative approach to labour disruptions, Raitt said, "If it is a matter of national public interest, the government will intervene."
Once the Tory-dominated Senate passed the bill 53-26, Raitt made no apologies for wading into the dispute after mere weeks.
"We did not intervene too quickly at all. There was a work stoppage that affected the national economy," she told reporters.
"You can't resort to hurting the national economy as a way in which to resolve your internal disputes."
The legislation actually provides members of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers slightly lower wages than the last offer from the post office. It also limits an arbitrator to choosing between the final offers — winner take all — of the two negotiating parties on other matters.
Talks between the two sides collapsed late Wednesday, and a final half-hour discussion Saturday morning failed to close the gap.
The union says its workers will return to the job.
"The legislation provides for enormous financial penalties for individuals and union representatives in the case of defiance," CUPW said in a statement Sunday. "We believe that this government would use any excuse to destroy the union should we defy the legislation, and we will not give them any opportunity to do so."
George Floresco, one of the union vice-presidents, said people would remember "what Canada Post did and what the government did, and the Harper government is going to wear this for a long time to come."
"We're going to take an aggressive stance in the arbitration process, even though it's a very poor way to settle issues, and we'll be coming up for bargaining in the next four years and we're going to prepare for that round ... our members are determined to keep up the fight."
By Jim Bronskill, The Canadian Press