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Canada Post debate drags on – and could for days more

Pat Martin slept on the couch in his Centre Block office from midnight to 4 a.m. The NDP MP from Winnipeg then went to the Parliament Hill gym for a shower and back to the House of Commons – "Feel like a champion now," he told The Globe Friday.

Dean Del Mastro, the parliamentary secretary to the Prime Minister, drew the 3 a.m. to 6 a.m. shift – but has been awake for 24 hours. Elizabeth May, the Green Party Leader, has been in her seat in the Commons all night.

And they could be back at it again Friday night and Saturday night and possibly Sunday night and into Monday morning. The NDP are fighting with every procedural trick they know to block the Harper government's attempts at bringing in back-to-work legislation in Canada Post's lockout of its workers.

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They are putting forward all of their 103 MPs at each stage – meaning that with 10 or 20 minutes speeches and time for questions and answers, each stage could take a day or so. They will not be able to kill the legislation as the Conservatives have a majority in the House of Commons.

"But the speeches are animated and lucid and passionate," Mr. Martin said. "No one's reading their laundry list or the phone book. It's interesting and fresh, a real debate."

MPs have been surviving on pizza and water with a little lemon squeezed in it. There was also some Scotch about.

Ms. May, who was just elected to Parliament on May 2, said the Liberals brought in some pizza. Hedy Fry, the Liberal MP for Vancouver Centre and a medical doctor, told Ms. May to eat something. She said she also has a supply of "veggies."

"The Bloc (there are only four MPs) shared single malt scotch at 10:30. Definitely a highlight," she told The Globe.

The NDP ordered in pizza, too. Mr. Martin noted that the "dregs" of the order "got hauled off" around 5:30 a.m.

The marathon session means the House will be sitting through St. Jean Baptiste Day, an important holiday in Quebec. More than half of the NDP's 103-member caucus is from province; they wanted to be back in their ridings to help celebrate the holiday.

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In fact, rookie Quebec MP Mylene Freeman, who was up speaking early Friday morning, said she was disappointed she could not be with her constituents on this day.

Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae, however, said he was heading to Quebec City and Montreal for St. Jean Baptiste Day celebrations. Prime Minister Stephen Harper was to be in Thetford Mines Friday.

Mr. Rae called the this filibuster by the NDP "shambolic."

"There was an effort yesterday to amend the arbitration sections of the law, to set up what's called a "mediation/arbitration" process – but in the end the government decided to stick with its final offer selection and very strict directions to the arbitrator," he told The Globe.

"That was going on yesterday afternoon and evening. Important to stress government crafted the procedural motion and closure in such a way as to allow a filibuster, and NDP took the bait. I guess the idea of slumber parties and all nighters has an appeal to them, but the exercise is "shambolic". " Mr. Rae said that if the government had accepted the amendments, "this thing could be over."

Around 6 30 a.m., MPs were getting a little testy. Veteran Ontario NDP MP Charlie Angus accused the Conservatives on the other side of the chamber of being "delusional."

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He took offence at the Tories interrupting the speeches and advised they "calm down and have some respect, calm down and have some respectful debate ... have a little cup of Ovaltine and everything will be fine."

Especially egregious to the NDP Leader is the section in the bill that imposes wage rates that actually reduce the offer that Canada Post had proposed to its workers.

"That's like trying to poke people in the eye," Mr. Layton told reporters after Question Period Thursday.

Talks broke off between Canada Post and its union Wednesday night. The company said in a news release that the two sides remained far apart on several issues after 72 hours of negotiations.

The Canadian Union of Postal Workers says it is doubtful talks will resume in the face of the government's determination to impose a settlement in the three-week dispute. The postal workers were locked out last week.

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About the Author
Ontario politics reporter

Jane Taber is a reporter at Queen’s Park. After spending three years reporting from the Atlantic, she has returned to Ontario and back to writing about her passion, politics. She spent 25 years covering Parliament Hill for the Ottawa Citizen, the National Post and the Globe and Mail. More

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