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Air Canada dispute, crime bills put Tories and NDP on collision course

Another labour strike is threatening to dominate debate in the House of Commons as MPs return from a three-month summer break.

Labour Minister Lisa Raitt said her government was concerned to receive notice that Air Canada's 6,800 flight attendants could walk off the job as of 12:01 a.m. on Wednesday and urged both the airline and the union, which are still bargaining talks, to reach a deal.

"Any work stoppage would negatively impact Canada's economy and threaten our fragile economic recovery," Ms. Raitt said in a statement issued Monday. "I remind the parties that the best solution in any dispute is one that the parties reach themselves."

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When postal workers went on strike following the spring election, the Conservative government introduced back-to-work legislation that was vehemently opposed by the Official Opposition New Democrats. The ensuing debate turned into a 58-hour filibuster that kept the House of Commons sitting past its scheduled summer break.

"Our hope is of that there will be a settlement among the parties," Conservative House Leader Peter Van Loan said at a news conference scheduled to mark Parliament's return. "That is the best arrangement in any one of these situations and I know that Minister Raitt is working hard on achieving that kind of settlement."

Ms. Raitt planned to meet with the union and the airline in Ottawa on Monday afternoon to press the two sides to come to an agreement.

NDP House Leader Thomas Mulcair, who held his own news conference, said he expects to see the NDP stand up strongly "if again [Prime Minister Stephen] Harper tries to force back-to-work legislation without allowing the process to go through."

The New Democrats have not decided their next step because they have been waiting to see what transpires, Mr. Mulcair said.

"I saw an example of utmost bad faith on the part of the government when we dealt with the postal workers situation in the month of June," he said. "It was the last thing that we worked on with [former leader] Jack Layton," he said. "I remember very well as Jack's passionate plea for the respect for worker's rights and for the collective bargaining process and it's that vision that's going to continue to guide us as we move forward on Air Canada and on other issues."

Mr. Van Loan told reporters that his government's top priority in this fall session would be the economy. "With the global economy still fragile, Canadians expect us to focus on measures to create more jobs and economic growth," said Mr. Van Loan.

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The government, he said, would be passing a second budget implementation bill that will include a hiring credit for small business to create jobs and a tax credit for children's art, music and dance lessons. There will also efforts to sign new free-trade agreements, said Mr. Van Loan.

But legislation to impose harsher penalties for criminals is also high on the Conservative agenda, he said. An omnibus crime bill is expected to be introduced on Tuesday.

Many justice experts say the measures will actually make streets less safe while costing billions of dollars at a time when crime is on the decline.

When it was pointed out that crime statistics show a decline, Mr. Van Loan said the crime rate is still "far too high in this country." Various elements of the bill have been obstructed by the opposition for far too long and Canadians are looking forward to seeing the government deliver on its commitments, he said.

But Mr. Mulcair said the crime legislation is the result of the Conservatives posturing to their base. "The facts are that crime is on the decrease in Canada," the NDP House Leader said.

"They seem to be stealing a page from their opposite members in the U.S. where, interestingly enough, a lot of people who have long pushed for a very strong law and order agenda are starting to realize that it simply hasn't worked."

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