One year ago, the PC Party was on verge of meltdown as Alison Redford resigned as leader and Premier. Since then, the political landscape has shifted so dramatically that the only significant thing that remains the same is the PC Party is still in government and will almost certainly extend its 44 year reign in the upcoming spring election.
Jim Prentice is being praised as a saviour by conservatives for turning around his party’s electoral fortunes, but he is no magician. Like each of his predecessors over the past 44 years, Mr. Prentice’s goal is to ensure the PC Party remains in government. And also like these predecessors, he is succeeding.
Most of Mr. Prentice’s success has been based on his ability to reverse many of Ms. Redford’s most unpopular decisions. And this week, with an election expected to be called soon, he announced the government would repeal the unpopular Bill 45: Public Sector Services Continuation Act.
Introduced into the Assembly by former minister Dave Hancock, the unnecessary and probably unconstitutional Bill 45 was part of Ms. Redford’s attack on public sector workers. The bill was passed with the support of 33 PC MLAs and one Wildrose MLA in December 2013 but was never proclaimed into law (five Wildrose MLAs, two New Democrats and one Liberal voted against it). If made into law, it would have significantly increased the fines for public sector strikes and made it illegal for any person to publicly suggest that government employees take job action.
The bill also appeared to 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.
When the bill was passed in December 2013, one constitutional law expert told the National Post it was “ripe for challenge” to the Supreme Court of Canada. Athabasca University professor Bob Barnetson suggested that because free speech is protected by Section 2 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, it is unlikely that these sections Bill 45 would survive a challenge to the Supreme Court of Canada (court challenges had already been launched by United Nurses of Alberta and the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees).
Killing Bill 45 is only one step in repairing the government’s damaged relationship with its front-line workers. Five months ago, Mr. Prentice said he found low morale and high turnover in the public service “shocking.” But with Finance Minister Robin Campbell warning of 9 percent across the board funding cuts in next week’s provincial budget, it is difficult to see how Mr. Prentice plans to change this situation.
It remains embarrassing that so many of our elected officials supported this bill, but today Mr. Prentice deserves some kudos for committing to repeal Bill 45.