History made as debate on back-to-work bill continues
Published Friday, June 24, 2011 11:05PM EDT
Last Updated Saturday, May 19, 2012 5:10AM EDT
Members of Parliament remain locked in a political standoff as the government continues to press its back-to-work legislation to end the ongoing postal labour dispute.
More than a day after the debate began in the House of Commons, MPs were still at it Friday evening, as NDP MPs filibustered and prolonged the debate through political maneuvering.
On Friday evening, Prime Minister Stephen Harper held a small beer and pizza gathering for a few weary MPs in his office on Parliament Hill, CTV Ottawa Bureau Chief Robert Fife reported.
Other MPs took naps on their office couches as their colleagues continued late into the evening. Someone was seen walking across the House of Commons foyer with Monopoly and Operation board games under his arm.
Earlier, Labour Minister Lisa Raitt reaffirmed the Conservatives' commitment to sit as long as necessary until back-to-work legislation is passed, saying Canadians want postal workers back on the job.
Raitt took a break from the ongoing debate in the House of Commons to speak to reporters. The debate began Thursday morning.
The NDP has committed to stalling the legislation as long as possible.
"Our concern is quite frankly we're still in a situation where the bill isn't even close to being passed and we're continuing to debate, and I think we just want to make it clear we're here to sit until the legislation passes so Canadians can get their mail, so the economy can recover," Raitt said.
She said charitable organizations, small business owners and residents all want Bill C-6 to pass. The legislation would force both Canada Post and locked-out union members back to work.
"We have a strong mandate from Canadians and that's been more than supplemented by the correspondence and emails we've been receiving throughout this time," she said.
Members of Parliament -- who should have started their summer break on Thursday -- were alternating between sleeping in their Parliamentary offices and sitting in Commons for six-hour shifts on Friday.
MPs were delivering 20-minute speeches, a delay tactic that could potentially drag the process out for days.
The NDP's main complaint with the back-to-work legislation is a proposed wage increase that is lower than the last offer put forward by Canada Post.
The NDP's Pat Martin lashed out at the Conservatives on Friday, suggesting the bill favours management and is a "shot across the bow" to the labour movement.
The Conservatives have opted not to accept any proposed amendments to the bill from the opposition parties.
Raitt introduced the legislation on Monday, after the Crown corporation locked out its unionized workers who had been staging rotating strikes across the country.
She said the two sides have had ample time to work out a deal, but haven't done so, and the government needed to step in.
Formal debate began on Thursday morning. It will continue as long as there are MPs who have issues to raise in Commons. The moment debate ends, a vote can be called.
New Democrat Leader Jack Layton has called on the federal government to remove the section on wages from the legislation, saying the move sets "a terrible precedent."
Layton asked the government to refer the wage issue to an arbitrator.
"The prime minister has rendered collective bargaining pointless in this country," Layton said.
"He's signalling that if you can't get what you want at the bargaining table, never mind, Ottawa will legislate it for you if you're an employer. Why bother to bargain? It's a terrible precedent."
The NDP has long allied itself with the labour movement in Canada, and has little choice but to oppose the government on the issue, said Craig Oliver, co-host of CTV's Question Period.
The Conservatives, however, said the proposed wage increase is fair because it matches other agreements the government has negotiated with public servants.
Earlier this month, the government introduced back-to-work legislation to end a strike by Air Canada workers, however the union and employer managed to work out a deal before the bill came into effect.
NDP strategist Robin Sears told CTV's Power Play that Canadians should get used to such political maneuvering, given the majority government in Ottawa.
"It's been a while," he said. "It's been almost six years since the boys and girls have had the freedom to do things like filibuster without worrying about triggering an election by accident."