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Postal workers ordered back to work in vote that divides N.B. senators

ADAM HURAS
Parliament Hill

Postal workers are being ordered back to work after a vote to end mail disruptions across the country narrowly received approval in the Senate, although with a divided response from New Brunswick senators.

It comes in the aftermath of a vote inside the House of Commons that also wasn’t unanimous among the province’s MPs.

The vote ends rotating strikes by unionized Canada Post staff with postal workers expected back to work as early as Tuesday afternoon.

The vote was passed 53-25, with four abstentions.

Six New Brunswick senators voted in favour, while two didn’t and another two weren’t present.

Richards voted in favour of sending postal workers back to work, but added he was “not happy about the choice.”

Debate on Monday centred on if the legislation was in conflict of the constitutional right to strike, where Richards said he had concerns.

“But I also think small business is losing out and being held hostage at Christmas time,” Richards said. “So to get mail running, back-to-work legislation and mediation might be the only option.”

Conservative New Brunswick Sen. Carolyn Stewart Olsen supported the back-to-work legislation with Christmas looming.

“It’s still the government’s right to say ‘look, this is essential, we need to get this straightened out,’” Olsen said in an interview. “I live in a rural area (near Sackville) where a lot of seniors send for their Christmas parcels, they wait for them, and I don’t want to see those people hung out to dry when we could attempt to settle this.”

Liberal New Brunswick Sen. Joseph Day’s office suggested in an email that the senator was undecided entering Monday’s sitting, noting “he will be listening intently to the third reading debate on C-89 this afternoon, and will decide how he will vote based on what he has heard both Saturday and today.”

Midway through the debate on Monday evening, Conservative Sen. Paul McIntyre stepped outside the chamber to also say his mind wasn’t made up.

Day voted in favour, while McIntyre voted against.

“I think the word ‘negotiate’ is very important. A fair negotiated settlement was the key,” he said immediately after the vote.

Independent Sen. René Cormier also voted against the bill, citing workers have the constitutional right to strike. In a speech, he said that Canada Post is not an essential service as an agreement ensures employment insurance and old age security cheques, among other counted-on payments, are getting through.

He added that “major surgery” is required to fix Canada Post to address workplace injuries and a disparity in pay for urban and rural postal workers.

Currently, urban carriers are paid by the hour, and rural carriers are paid based on the size of their route.

The bill’s constitutionality was one of a few sticking points for Saint John-Rothesay MP Wayne Long who was the only New Brunswick MP and of six Liberals to vote on the weekend against his own government’s legislation ordering postal workers back to work.

“I support their right for a fair negotiation,” Long said. “I want them back to work, but with a fair negotiated settlement.”

Union leaders argue the bill is in violation of their rights to collective bargaining.

The former Harper Conservative government passed back-to-work legislation in 2011, but that legislation was overturned by the courts in 2015.

Current Liberal Federal Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould tabled a Charter statement on the bill during the weekend’s debate, arguing the bill does not violate charter rights because it doesn’t impose a contract on workers.

Fundy Royal MP Alaina Lockhart said she voted in favour of the back-to-work bill, noting what she said was an “escalating impact that service disruption is having” on her riding.

“What became obvious to me was that unlike some urban areas, large parts of Fundy Royal are rural and don’t have the same options available to them in regards to service when there are Canada Post delays and disruptions,” she said. “Limited internet connectivity makes online bill payment and banking impossible for many and courier services are too expensive for some rural areas and not timely.”