June 24, 2011 / 3:17 PM / 6 years ago

Harper sleeps on couch as postal bill debated

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Opposition parties kept debate going all Thursday night in Parliament on a bill to force an end to a postal-service work stoppage, while Prime Minister Stephen Harper slept on his office couch and a legislator serenaded colleagues in the lobby with a guitar

<p>Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa June 15, 2011. REUTERS/Chris Wattie</p>

The opposition New Democratic Party (NDP) is intent on stretching out debate on the back-to-work legislation. The NDP would not say for how long it will try to stall passage of the bill, but the Conservative government says the House of Commons will not adjourn for its summer recess until the bill to restore postal service passes.

Postal workers started rotating strikes to back contract demands on June 3, leading to a lockout by Canada Post, a government-owned corporation, on June 15 that shut the mail service down.

The Canadian Union of Postal Workers, which represents 48,000 urban postal workers, says that in talks for a new contract management has demanded unfair concessions in areas including wages, staffing and safety.

Canada Post says that in an age of e-mail and the Internet, it must offer new hires less generous salaries and pensions to be competitive, particularly with courier companies.

The government bill would legislate an end to the work stoppage and provide for an arbitrator, who will pick the best final offer from those put forward by the union and management.

The opposition NDP gets support from many unions and in stalling the back-to-work bill it is running a fine line in trying to back the postal union without angering the broader population. A poll found 70 percent of Canadians support the legislation.

The debate in Parliament is akin to a U.S. Senate filibuster, but the difference is that there is a limit on how long each Canadian lawmaker is entitled to speak.

So while each of the 308 members of Parliament is allowed to speak at each stage of the bill, in the end there is a limit to how long debate can go on and the bill will eventually pass, thanks to the Conservative government’s majority in the House.

While debate continues, the Conservatives have to keep on their toes, staying close to the House chamber to be ready for a procedural or other kind of vote that could kill the bill or amend it beyond recognition. Their majority is only useful if they are able to get to the floor on time to vote.

Harper’s office is just a few steps from the House, and he slept on his couch on Thursday night, visiting the chamber occasionally as the debate went on.

His office brought in pizza for Conservative caucus members, while the opposition Liberals chowed down on ribs being sold at a nearby cook-off.

After passing the House, the legislation will have to pass the Senate, but the Conservatives have a majority there and quick passage is assured.

Mail service can resume 24 hours after the Senate approves the bill.

Reporting by Randall Palmer; editing by Peter Galloway

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