Threatening to strike in Alberta? Under Bill 45, that’s a paddlin.

Jasper Beardly explains the Redford Government’s Bill 45: “Threatening to strike? That’s a paddlin’. Talking about going on strike? That’s a paddlin’.”

In their rush to pass anti-labour laws that would force the province’s largest union into a new contract and increase penalties public sector unions that enter illegal strikes, could Premier Alison Redford‘s Government also be infringing on the free speech rights of ordinary Albertans?

Athabasca University professor Bob Barnetson, in a recent blog post, expressed concern about many of the “chilling” aspects of Bill 45: Public Sector Services Continuation Act, including an issue of free speech.

Section 4(4): “No person shall counsel a person to contravene subsection (1) or (2) or impede or impair a person from refusing to contravene subsection (1) or (2).

Section 18(d): in the case of a person to whom or an organization to which none of the clauses (a), (b), or (c) applies, to a fine of $500 each day or partial days on whihc the offence occurs or continues.

Alberta Legislature Building Alison Redford

More than 700 Albertans gathered outside the Legislative Assembly to protest the Redford Government’s anti-labour laws.

According to Bill 45, any “person” who suggests that public sector employees strike or threaten to strike could be fined $500 and prosecuted within one year. The bill vaguely defines a “person” as someone who is not a government employee or trade union official, meaning that the $500 fine and prosecution could arguably apply to newspaper reporters, columnists, bloggers, or just ordinary Albertans who publicly suggest that unionized government employees participate in an illegal strike or consider taking illegal strike action.

The addition of the term”strike threat,” a new concept introduced in this bill, is both vague and open to interpretation and it is not unimaginable that the government could use the clause to punish public sector unions in the event of conflict or disagreement.

Dr. Barnetson suggests that because free speech is protected by Section 2 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, it is unlikely that these sections the Redford Government’s Bill 45 would survive a challenge to the Supreme Court of Canada. Why would the government introduce a law that they must know is vulnerable to a constitutional challenge?

16(1) If the Minister or a delegate appointed under the regulations is of the opinion that an employee has contravened section 4(1), (2) or (4), the Minister or delegate may, by notice in writing served on the employee, require the employee to pay to the Crown an administrative penalty in the amount determined in accordance with this section and the regulations and set out in the notice.

Section 16(1) of Bill 45, appears give significant powers to the Minister of Human Services  to issue fines to government employees if there has even been a hint of discussion about an illegal strike or strike threat. The prohibitions in this bill are vague, subjective, and place Alberta’s public servants in a position where their freedom of speech is limited.

If Bill 45 becomes law, could the Minister of Human Services issue a fine to a government employee for posting a comment on his or her personal Twitter account or Facebook page that is perceived as a “strike threat?”

If passed into law, Bill 45 would apply to employees of the provincial government and its agencies, Alberta Health Services employees and employees in approved hospitals, employees of ambulance operators, Non-academic staff in post-secondary institutions, and firefighters.

When Bill 45 was initially introduced, Human Services Minister Dave Hancock made clear that he wanted the Assembly to pass this bill in a short 48 hour period, making it law by the weekend. Facing two days of large protests outside the Legislature Building, the Redford Government has abandoned its plans to ram the bill through in 48 hours, opting instead to begin debate on the bill in the Assembly early next week.

22 thoughts on “Threatening to strike in Alberta? Under Bill 45, that’s a paddlin.”

  1. With leave granted by Supreme Court of Canada in the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour et al vs Province of Saskatchewan one must wonder why the Redford government is seeking to rush the passage of this legislation. Many of the issues around freedom of association and whether there is a constitutionally enshrined right to strike were basis of the SFL’s arguments. While the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal rendered a unanimous judgement upholding the Saskatchewan’s government’s position it wrote a broad judgement that basically said it was up to the SCOC to revisit the issues brought forth in the successful challenge of the BC government of Gordon Campbelll
    nullifying contracts of healthcare worker

  2. Perhaps if dozens, hundreds? or thousands? of Albertans chose to speak out in ways that explicitly contravened Redford’s anti-democratic legislation we could create a situation that called for something like a class-action lawsuit in defense against the Redford government’s attack on democracy?

    I’m in.

  3. Redford & crew knew that there was nothing worse for her “mother of the province” image than the issue of secret dead babies, so they brought out this horrible anti-union tripe to get a response. Congrats to all the unions for helping the PCs turn the page in record time. Stephen Harper must wish his Senate woes were so easily dispatched. This is a stupid law brought forward by an incompetent government. I really can’t imagine who the target PC voter is at this point. Alberta would be infinitely better served by a “scary” Wild Rose government and a strong NDP official opposition, than by a continuance of this crap.

  4. I find this bill repugnant as well as unconstitutional. It chills free speech, not only the speech of public employees but of everyone in the world who believes that there is a right and socially useful purpose for a labor strike. It is purposely vague to thwart any and all forms of speech, comment or strike advocacy. Enforcement of the Act, including fining, is left up to the discretion of a Minister who alledgedly deals with labor issues, but now has the authority to go after everyone. (For some reason, the image of John Cleese running around in his Nazi uniform arresting people who even mention the word “strike,” such as baseball umpires or strkers on a soccer team.) That’s exactly what this government wishes to do. I noted that my MLA Dave Hancock is an advocate of quick passage–most likely to try and distract the voting public from venting about his recent comments on child abuse. He’s a lawyer, and the Rules of Conduct of the Alberta Law Society most likely (or should) bar him from supporting such a blatantly unconstitutional law.

  5. On the question of why they would introduce legislation that might be unconstitutional, the federal government has a rule: if there is even a five percent chance the law is constitutional, enact it. I would not be surprised to learn Alberta had a similar guideline. That said, counseling someone to do something is more than merely suggesting it as an alternative.

  6. It sure doesn’t take much “contrary to the public interest” for the brown shirts to come out of moth balls. Shrill and hysterical acts to protect “the orderly functioning of the Province” (read Party) being quick-marched through the leg betray Albertan’s freedoms. I counsel a general wobble.

    Preamble Bill 45, Public Sector Services Continuation Act

  7. I am disgusted by these new laws. I expected much better from a smart woman like Alison Redford. I guess I expected too much. This is not Peter Lougheed’s party anymore.

    I bought a Conservative membership for the first time ever to vote for Redford and I even voted for my local PC candidate in the last election. Not again. Alison Redford you lost my vote. Steve Young you lost my vote.

  8. There is something very wrong with a society which values commerce greater than it values people. If Bill 45 passes and a workplace in Alberta is dangerous and the union discusses with their members discontinuing work until it is safe to proceed, the union faces up to a $1 000 000.00 fine. If the workplace in Alberta is dangerous and a member dies the company faces up to a $500 000.00 fine (half of the union’s fine where no one has died). If this law passes it will be a sad day.

  9. “The S Word” = “Strike”

    Why does Redford care if I, as an AUPE member say to others, “we should go on strike”? It’s illegal for our union to strike – Pete Lougheed himself saw to that. In lieu of the right to strike however, he agreed to binding arbitration but now that’s gone.

    The Progressive Conservatives are not Progressive at all, they are neo-conservatives plain and simple. They campaign as centrists but government from the far right. That aside, the PCs are bungling idiots – Redford is a lightweight in a long chain of lightweights – Getty, Klein, Stelmach — putty in the hands of energy multinationals who under pay royalties and taxes to the point Albertans are laughing stock.

  10. June Winger’s post, above, makes a good point.

    Also today we’re noting the death of someone jailed for advocating a strike.
    Nelson Mandella’s first TV interview. He was 22. In hiding from the state for advocating a general strike, the context is perhaps interesting- and timely- given the Alberta legislation passed Wednesday to not just ban or advocate public sector strikes, but even to outlaw suggesting such a strike.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yXxsdrAgYfo

  11. Unfortunatly Albertan’s asked for this
    Commie Government.
    Hopefully after the next ellection, Redford and the Alberta Cons will be History.

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