It’s been nearly a month since Canada Post workers began rotating strikes across the country, causing a backlog of undelivered parcels and mail during an impending holiday season.
And now Canada Post is saying without a labour deal in sight, Canadians can expect delays of parcel and mail well into January.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has previously steered away from getting involved in federal labour disputes and has never tabled back-to-work legislation. But this could soon change, according to Ian Lee, an associate professor at Carleton Universityès Sprott School of Business.
“I think it’s not only possible but probable that he will use it,” he said.
“Trudeau has said he is not going to do what Harper did [who tabled back-to-work legislation with Canada Post in 2011], but that is false. Every prime minister who was in for a period of time has used it.”
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Stephen Harper, Jean Chretien, Brian Mulroney and even Trudeau’s father, Pierre Trudeau, all used legislation to end Canada Post labour disputes.
“If you look at every work bill at the federal level from 1950 to 2014, you see the Parliament of Canada has used this 34 times,” he said, adding that many of the cases involved the transportation and communication sector, such as Air Canada, CN Rail and Canada Post.
And a majority of the back-to-work legislation was introduced in the 1970s when Pierre Trudeau was in power, he said.
“Pierre Trudeau wins the prize for using this legislation the most, although he was in power longer. But that does not negate that he used it regularly when in office.”
Harper used it but the union fought back
The last time the federal government used back-to-work legislation with Canada Post was in 2011 under former prime minister Stephen Harper.
His Conservative government passed the legislation to end a two-week series of rotating strikes, citing the action was needed to protect a fragile economy.
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However, the postal workers took the action to court. The union won the key legal case when an Ontario court found that legislation was unconstitutional.
“The criticism of Harper was that he did it too quickly; he didn’t wait long enough to see how it would play out like Mulroney and Pierre Trudeau did. Harper jumped on and used it right away,” Lee said.
Has Trudeau waited long enough?
On Monday, the Trudeau government signalled it is willing to give Canada Post a couple more days to settle the labour dispute with the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW), but the prime minister’s patience seems to be slowly wearing thin.
Last week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau warned his government would look at “all options” to end the rotating strikes if a resolution isn’t made soon.
This comes after online auction giant eBay called on the federal government to legislate an end to the Canada Post contract dispute, warning that quick action is needed so retailers don’t lose out on Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals.
But the two sides remain at a crossroads, with CUPW demanding improvements to job security, an end to forced overtime and better health and safety measures. But Canada Post has said it has made a number of offers that include increased wages and better job security.
On Monday, Canada Post asked the union for a “cooling-off” period until the end of January to allow for negotiations. But CUPW quickly rejected the offer.
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When Ottawa has previously ended labour disputes, most of the time the reason was to limit damage to the economy
“So if this plays out long enough, it could damage the economy,” Lee said. “I think he will intervene because of the national economy.
However, he said it’s important to note that Canada Post is not the essential service it was once. In the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, the crown corporation had a monopoly on letter delivery and there was no alternative, such as email.
“But today, with letter mail collapsing and parcel and e-commerce taking over, it changes things,” Lee said. “Parcels are not an essential service and Canada Post does not have a monopoly on them.”