June 8, 2016 • No. 18 | PDF Previous Issues
June 8 Public Service Workers’ Day of Action
June 8 National Day of Action
CALENDAR OF EVENTS
Public service workers organized in the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) are holding a June 8 National Day of Action to demand the Liberal government stop its attacks on sick leave rights in their collective agreement. PSAC has been in negotiations for a new collective agreement since July 2014. PSAC points out that the new Liberal government is “sticking with the previous Conservative government’s proposal to replace… negotiated sick leave with a short term disability plan. They have offered only a 0.5 per cent yearly wage increase, even though members of Parliament and senators received a base salary hike four times that much.”
A “short-term disability plan,” as opposed to contractually-protected sick leave benefits, would allow the government to make unilateral changes any time. The new system would be administered by a private insurance company outside the collective agreement. Imposing this system was an objective of the Harper government which passed legislation to take control over the right to sick leave. The Liberals are now proposing to repeal those measures through government Bill C-5, while giving themselves the same power through their demands to the workers in collective bargaining. Bill C-5 was introduced in the House of Commons on February 5 and has yet to proceed past first reading.
The Liberal government and Treasury Board President Scott Brison are carrying on the disinformation against the workers that their sick days are a “cost” to government and that the system must be “modernized” to “save money” using methods no less arbitrary than those of the Harper government. It is a fraud and an attempt to abscond with public funds to be used for the pay-the-rich schemes in the Liberal budget.
PSAC informs that in the six months since the Liberals came to power, there has been “no meaningful progress at any of the federal bargaining tables,” despite the promise to “do things differently than the former Conservative government.” Three sessions of bargaining have taken place under the new government. “We need to tell the government to come to the table with new proposals — not recycled Conservative messages. A new government should give itself a new mandate,” PSAC says.
PSAC is calling on its members to go all out on June 8 to oppose cuts to the right to sick leave, support their collective bargaining teams and send a message to the government that they will not stand for the same attacks from a new government which promised “bargaining in good faith with public sector unions.” Public service workers held monthly days of action throughout 2015 and in doing so contributed to the defeat of the Harper government and put all governments on notice that attacks on their rights will not be tolerated.
Renewal Update calls on Canadians to support and take part in the June 8 Day of Action wherever possible and inform their peers about the Liberals’ unacceptable anti-social attacks on public service workers.
The Liberal government has so far introduced two bills to repeal Harper-era anti-worker laws and says that more are to come. Neither bill has been adopted by the House of Commons or recently debated and are not said to be a priority before the Parliament adjourns for summer break on June 23.
It is notable that these bills are under consideration at a time when public service workers and postal workers are in negotiations with the government or Crown Corporations and facing demands for concessions. In the case of public service workers, the Liberals are demanding the same cuts to sick leave provisions as the Harper government as well as handing over management to private insurance companies. Canada Post is demanding severe and wide-ranging concessions on postal workers’ working conditions, wages and benefits. It has promised legislation to eliminate the government’s power to unilaterally declare services “essential” and outlaw strikes, but this will not be introduced until the fall.
In other words, at a time when the largest unions of public employees in Canada are in the midst of negotiations for a new contract to be in effect for years to come, the government still has all the “tools” of the Harper era to impose an outcome by force, deeming a service essential and thereby outlawing a strike, or imposing dictate on public service workers in relation to sick leave. This is besides the powers of its majority in Parliament to outlaw a strike should one take place, as was done by the Harper majority government in the case of postal workers in 2011.
The two previously introduced bills are:
C-4, An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code, the Parliamentary Employment and Staff Relations Act, the Public Service Labour Relations Act and the Income Tax Act (Introduced January 28, now at stage of committee report to House) – Repeals Bill C-377, An Act to amend the Income Tax Act (requirements for labour organizations)
C-5, An Act to repeal Division 20 of Part 3 of the Economic Action Plan 2015 Act, No. 1 (Introduced February 5, still at first reading) – Removes the Treasury Board Secretariat’s powers to unilaterally change sick leave provisions outside of the collective bargaining process.
On May 25 the Treasury Board Secretariat Announced that it intends to repeal “portions of Bill C-4 (Economic Action Plan 2013 Act, No. 2, Division 17), dealing with essential services, collective bargaining and processes for grievances and dispute resolution.” The Treasury Board says legislation will be tabled “in the fall to repeal these provisions.”
The 2014 Bill C-4 “made it illegal for any federal bargaining unit to strike if 80 per cent or more of the positions in that unit are declared necessary for providing an essential service,” the CBC reports. It also allowed the government to define what is an essential service and the number of positions required for its provision.
Treasury Board President Scott Brison said, “By restoring fair and balanced labour laws, the Government is recognizing that labour unions play an important role protecting workers’ rights and strengthening the middle class. As another important step in rebuilding the relationship with Canada’s public service, we are moving to repeal changes to the public service labour relations regime brought into law by the previous government.” Thus far such statements from the government are seen as mere pandering to the unions because nothing concrete to “restore fair and balanced labour laws” is taking place.
Government Strikes Deal for Electoral Reform Committee
A behind-closed-doors agreement has been reached between the Liberals and the New Democrats in the House of Commons on a motion to create a Special Committee to study reform to the electoral system. This comes after the government’s proposal to create such a Special Committee was opposed by other parties in the House. The difference between the Liberals’ original proposal and the new proposal concerns what is being called a “proportional” membership composition.
The motion tabled in the House of Commons on June 2 by NDP Democratic Reform Critic Nathan Cullen is virtually identical to the one introduced by Minister of Democratic Institutions Maryam Monsef on May 11. The difference is that the Committee will now be comprised of 12 members, versus 10 in the original. The Liberals alone will no longer hold a majority of seats, and members of the committee from the Bloc Québécois and Green Party will be permitted to vote, despite their lack of official party status in the House. The Liberal government will have five seats, the Conservative Official Opposition three seats, the NDP two, and one each for the Bloc and Greens. This is said to be a reflection of the national vote in the 2015 federal election and an example of “proportional representation.”
While Canadians are kept in the dark about the reasons behind the deal — and speculation and rumours are running rampant — the Liberals have clearly decided to put a positive spin on the concessions they made to the NDP. Minister of Democratic Institutions Monsef during the debate on the motion on June 2 said that the government has “been persuaded that an additional way to demonstrate our commitment to inclusivity is to break with tradition and have both the Bloc and the Green as full voting members.” Detracting attention from whatever happened behind closed doors and seeming to miss the irony, she declared, “Who has the committee majority has never been my key priority; ensuring that Canadians have the opportunity to participate meaningfully in the electoral reform process is.” She then announced that the government would support the motion.
According to Monsef, process and substance, which is to say form and content, are not related. Now that agreement has been found between two parties, the House of Commons can go “beyond a debate on process and begin a discussion of the substance of electoral reform,” she said.
If Canadians are to believe that the purpose of the Committee is to facilitate Canadians’ ability to “participate meaningfully in the electoral reform process” then both the government and the NDP are off to a poor start. The existence of the Committee will be based on a deal worked out in private by two parties whose considerations to date have been based on pushing their own self-serving changes to how votes are counted. Time and again methods of counting votes have been studied but the aim of elections to bring self-serving political parties to power, not enable Canadians to elect and be elected, has not changed. Studying what reforms would be required for Canadians to exercise their sovereign decision-making power and studying methods of counting votes are not one and the same when the right of Canadians to exercise control over their lives is not a consideration.
The repeated refrain from parties claiming that the first-past-the-post system is the major problem with what are called Canada’s democratic institutions is the need to “make every vote count.” Renewal Update thinks that the deal-making to advance the government’s reform agenda is another example of why Canadians should seriously question whether the cartel party system can “make every vote count,” unless this refers to the votes counting for themselves. So long as reforms do not broach the question of how the democratic institutions can guarantee the people the exercise of their right to elect and be elected and to empower themselves, not political parties of the rich, such reforms will not unite Canadians.
The Marxist-Leninist Party of Canada pointed out shortly after the 2015 federal election that one of the biggest frauds of the election was the fabrication of “a cartoon anti-politics champion in the form of Justin Trudeau” who was said to represent a “movement for change.”
The way the Liberal government in power pushes this distinct version of anti-politics for purposes of keeping the people deprived of control over decision-making cannot fail to have an effect in the House of Commons and on the government itself. In fact, not only does Prime Minister Trudeau not represent a “movement for change,” his CV would seem to indicate he has never even been part of any political movement at all. The portrayal of Trudeau as being part of or even leading a movement was a necessary ingredient for creating a champion of the anti-social measures demanded by the ruling elite at a time when the Harper government had been severely discredited in the eyes of the working people.
The more that anti-politics becomes the government’s formula, the more that the Parliament becomes a place devoid of politics and instead the site of fierce contention and collusion between the cartel parties. Without any political atmosphere, the government is resorting to more desperate measures to ensure that the priorities of the private interests it represents are met in a timely and efficient manner. When it does not get its way it lashes out, and when this has repercussions, it vacillates. In other words, it does not stand for any principle.
This is the context of the infantile behaviour of the Prime Minister in the House of Commons on May 18, which was later turned into a diversionary debate over the circumstances of his elbow striking the chest of an NDP MP.
On May 17, the government had tabled a motion in the House of Commons to give itself unilateral control over House business, including debates, sitting hours and days and over the ability of opposition parties to put forward motions. The motion was described as going further than the Harper government in attempting to control the Parliament. This came in the aftermath of the government nearly losing a vote on its neo-liberal amendments to the Air Canada Public Participation Act on May 16. In an “act of revenge,” the government then ceased sharing the projected order of business, leading to MPs cancelling trips home and other business.
At the same time, the Liberals began frequent use of time allocation procedures, motions which allow the government to set limits on the duration of debate and the ability of MPs to speak on legislation. Time allocation was used on four bills the government insisted on making law before the summer break on June 23. The House of Commons then became consumed by debate on the government’s increasingly desperate measures to implement its agenda and the opposition’s dissatisfaction.
This culminated in Prime Minister Trudeau deciding to ‘take measures into his own hands’ on May 18 when he thought opposition MPs were delaying a vote on time allocation. The House speaker later clarified that the vote was not being delayed due to the MPs in question. Nonetheless, as MPs were standing in an aisle of the House, Trudeau rose from his seat, strode over to a group of MPs, cursed, grabbed the Conservative whip by his arm, and in the process struck an NDP MP with his elbow. Opposition MPs noted that there has been no parallel in contemporary Canadian history of a Prime Minister physically interfering with other Members. Others said that the Prime Minister’s arrogant and juvenile behaviour had been escalating for some time, particularly when the cameras are not rolling.
Renewal Update thinks that behind the Prime Minister’s infantile behaviour is something much more serious. Political problems require political solutions. The cartel parties and the interests they represent do not have political solutions but measures which continue to deepen the crisis in the economic, social and political spheres. In the 21st century, it is the working class and people who have solutions, by virtue of their pro-social outlook, broad experience fighting for their rights, and their deep understanding of the problems they face.
So long as the working class and people do not set the agenda so their solutions prevail, the anti-politics pushed by the government and cartel party system underscore the nation-wrecking and desperation of the ruling elite. The in-fighting over control will lead to more sordid incidents such as took place in the Parliament in mid-May.
1. On Monday, May 16, Bill C-10, An Act to amend the Air Canada Public Participation Act and to provide for certain other measures, went to a vote to which was returned by committee without amendments. Upon the vote being called, the Liberal Party had only 139 members in the House, the same number as the combined opposition parties. The NDP had earlier that day informed the Conservatives, who oppose the legislation for their own reasons, that they would try to catch the Liberals unawares. This was a move to try and stop the legislation, which was never part of the Liberals’ campaign platform.
The final vote was a tie of 139-139, which required the Speaker of the House to cast a vote. The vote came earlier than expected by virtue of the opposition not moving their own amendments during debate on a motion to move to the vote on the bill. Therefore the speaker had to break the tie and vote to extend debate. The next day, the government imposed a time allocation motion to cut short debate on the bill.
For more information about the bill, see Renewal Update, April 27, 2016 – No. 14.