Tag Archives: Bill 46

Detente or Entente Cordiale? AUPE and Hancock Government reach tentative agreement

Entente Cordiale

A simple detente or the start of a new “entente cordiale” between AUPE and the Alberta Government?

At 10:00 a.m. on April 28, 2014, Hugh McPhail, a lawyer representing the Alberta Government requested the Court of Appeal to adjourn a scheduled hearing on Bill 46, the controversial anti-labour law that had been halted by a court injection months ago. The law would have forced a regressive contract on the 22,000 government employees represented by the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE).

Dave Hancock MLA Edmonton-Whitemud

Dave Hancock

At 3:00 p.m. on the same day, AUPE President Guy Smith took to the podium at a press conference to announce that, after a long and tumultuous process, his union had reached a tentative agreement with the provincial government for a new contract (here are the details of the tentative agreement).

Contrasting the current and previous premier, Mr. Smith praised Premier Dave Hancock for working with him to find a resolution to the acrimonious round of negotiations. In the same breath which Mr. Smith heaped glowing praise on Mr. Hancock, he delivered a harsh shot at Labour minister Thomas Lukaszuk, who he said played no role in achieving this resolution.

We are prepared to rebuild the relationship with the government that is needed to ensure that Albertans get the quality services they deserve,” Mr. Smith said in AUPE’s press release.

By reaching a tentative agreement and abandoning the fight to salvage an unpopular law (which was likely unconstitutional), the governing Progressive Conservatives hope to avoid a nasty and very public battle with AUPE over bargaining that could have been drawn out over the course their leadership race. They may also hope this agreement could derail AUPE’s informal alliance with Danielle Smith‘s Wildrose opposition, which threatened to dog the Tories into the next election.

It is perhaps not surprising that Mr. Hancock, whose dedication to his party in unquestioned, would wish to put this issue to rest before the next PC leader leader, possibly Jim Prentice or Ken Hughes, is chosen at that party’s September leadership vote.

At least for the moment, Albertans can have hope that the current premier may take a more mature approach to labour relations than we saw under the province’s previous leadership.

Settling the negotiations with the province’s largest union was a sensible decision and the beginning of a detente at best. But if the Tories hope this announcement is a first step in creating an entente cordiale with Alberta’s labour movement and progressive voters, there is still a long way to go (backing down on the attack on public sector pensions would be another meaningful next step they could take).

Fresh meat and Alberta politics

House of Cards

Words of advice from fictional Vice-President Frank Underwood.

Fresh meat
Last week, he was publicly criticizing Premier Alison Redford for her  over-priced $45,000 trip to South Africa (see below) and faced a threat of expulsion from the Progressive Conservative caucus. This week, coincidentally, Edmonton-Riverview PC MLA Steve Young faces a new set of revelations dating back to his time as a Sergeant with the Edmonton Police Service (EPS).

Last week, an RCMP spokesperson told the Edmonton Journal’s Paula Simons that they had never conducted a criminal investigation into the decision by the EPS, including Mr. Young, related to the release information about an alleged young offender. This week, the CBC revealed that the RCMP conducted a year-long investigation related to the incident.

The $45,000 trip to South Africa
It’s the story that won’t disappear. People across Alberta shook their heads in disbelief when they learned the government spent $45,000 to send Ms. Redford and her executive assistant, Brad Stables, to attend Nelson Mandela‘s funeral in South Africa. Bringing Mr. Stables added an estimated $20,000 to the cost. It is unclear why he was required to travel with Ms. Redford to South Africa.  Nova Scotia premier Stephen McNeil made the same trip for less than $1,000. He did not require an executive assistant to accompany him.

Pension changes decreed
Finance minister Doug Horner is proposing significant changes to the province’s public pension plans, which could impact the retirement security of hundreds of thousands of Albertans. But you wouldn’t have read about it in the last election. The 2012 PC Party platform, “Alberta by Design,” does not once mention the word “pension.”

A report from Auditor General Merwan Saher this month chastised the government for not properly consulting with stakeholders about the proposed changes that will impact their members. The Local Authorities Pension Plan board has not endorsed Mr. Horner’s proposed changes.

Anti-labour law blocked by the courts
Court of Queen’s Bench Mr. Justice Denny Thomas issued an injunction halting the Redford government’s controversial Bill 46. Rammed through the Assembly in December 2013, the anti-labour law allowed the Tories to circumvent a neutral arbitration process which could have awarded fair salary increase for public sector employees. Bill 46 would have imposed a salary freeze. Advanced Education minister Dave Hancock said the government will appeal the court’s decision.

Grain and trains
Without a single-desk wheat board to coordinate grain sales, transport logistics and the use of port terminal facilities, Alberta’s grain farmers are at the mercy of Canada’s railway corporations.

“Today starts a new era in marketing for farmers,” Agriculture minister Verlyn Olson boasted in a press released in August 2012, as the federal government dismantled the Canadian Wheat Board. This week, Mr. Olson claimed he would push for greater rail system accountability.

The Wildrose opposition has been equally enthusiastic about the Canadian Wheat Board’s demise (one of its MLAs, Rick Strankman, was once charged for violating the board). But not to be outdone by Mr. Olson, Wildrose MLAs Shayne Saskiw and Drew Barnes are now hosting town hall meetings from Streamstown to Spirit River about the challenges of individual farmers are facing dealing with the large railway corporations.

Cheer for the athletes but don’t be naive: the Olympics are about politics

The mascots for the Sochi 2014 Olympic Games.

The mascots for the Sochi 2014 Olympic Games.

National leaders covet the opportunity to host the international event and multi-national corporations invest billions of dollars in advertising to its massive world-wide audience. Competing in glorious national stadiums and sports centres in between commercial breaks, the athletes appear to be little more than commodities. Make no mistake, the Olympic Games are political by nature.

Controversy over Russia President Vladimir Putin‘s support for deplorable laws targeting Russia’s LGBT community has caused a media storm in advance of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Games.

These laws have led many commentators, human rights advocates and celebrities to call for western countries to boycott of the Sochi Games.

The University of Alberta’s Kristopher Wells has argued that Canada should boycott the Sochi Games:

Given the ongoing and deeply tragic human rights abuses occurring in Russia, an Olympic boycott is not only necessary, it is of vital international importance. A boycott is not simply a message to Russia, it is a powerful statement to the world. There must be human rights for all, or there can be human rights for none. We are one world, with one heart and one love regardless of sexual orientation.

Critics of a boycott point to the negligible impact that western countries had when choosing not to send their athletes to the 1980 Moscow Summer Olympics. Others suggest that the public attention raised by the Sochi Olympics could “ease the plight” of Russia’s gay community.

With less than ten days before the Sochi Games’ opening ceremonies, there is little reason to believe that any western country will ask their athletes to boycott the events.

As repugnant as these laws are, the western world should not be shocked. Russia is not a liberal country and the legacy of the Soviet Union and the brutality of its government is real. The Putin government has a long history of human rights violations, cracking down on opposition critics, exploiting migrant workers and limiting press freedom.

Six years ago, I decided to personally boycott of the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics. I did my best to avoid television coverage the Beijing Games and did not shy away from writing about why I took that position.

The People’s Republic of China is notorious for its poor human rights record and its tendency to stifle freedom of speech among its citizens. I chose not to reward the People’s Republic’s public relations opportunity with my attention.

I am undecided whether I will extend a personal boycott of the Sochi Games. If I do choose to boycott, it will be in protest of the Russian government’s oppressive government. But I also feel a general indifference towards the entire event.

The $50 billion price-tag for the Sochi Games seems so needlessly excessive that perhaps it is time the purpose of the Olympic Games needs to be rethought. The “spirit of the Olympic Games” that we hear about every two years may live in the hearts of the athletes and their families, but it’s a reality that quickly diminishes when you put some thought to it.

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Back to Alberta politics… the Court of Queen’s Bench has ordered a temporary stay on the controversial Public Service Salary Restraint Act (formerly known as Bill 46). This judicial decision temporary delays the planned January 31 implementation of the new anti-labour law which would allow the Redford Government to bypass the neutral arbitration process and impose a contract on public service employees represented by the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees. The judge will return with his decision on February 14.

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.

Redford Government shows bad faith by rushing labour law changes

Alberta Legislature Protest #BuildingAlberta

Hundreds of Albertans gathered outside of the Legislative Assembly today to protest new labour laws.

Providing a timely distraction for a government facing criticism over the sobering news stories of unreported deaths of children in the foster care system, Premier Alison Redford‘s Progressive Conservatives today suddenly introduced two pieces of legislation that could have a significant impact on labour relations in Alberta.

The first piece of legislation, Bill 46: Public Service Salary Restraint Act, introduced by Finance Minister Doug Horner, would impose a two-year wage-freeze on more than 22,000 government employees represented by the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees. AUPE is currently in negotiations with the government for a new collective agreement and this bill would allow the government to bypass a law requiring it to settle the negotiations with AUPE through arbitration, which had been scheduled for February 2014.  Bill 46 would take effect on January 31, 2014 if the two parties cannot reach a settlement before that date.

This bill is reminiscent of threats made by Education Minister Jeff Johnson to the Alberta Teachers’ Association earlier this year. During those negotiations, Mr. Johnson threatened to cut salaries and impose a new contract on Alberta’s teachers if an agreement was not reached by an arbitrary deadline. Once a deal was finally reached between the government and the teachers’ union, Mr. Johnson then legislated the agreement after a number of elected school boards voted to reject the deal on financial grounds.

The introduction of this legislation raises a real question about the state of collective bargaining in Alberta. Can this government, as an employer, be trusted to bargain in good faith with its employees? And what incentive is there for employers bargain fairly with their employees if the government will just impose an agreement?

The second piece of legislation, Bill 45: Public Sector Services Continuation Act, introduced by Human Services Minister Dave Hancock, significantly increases the penalties for illegal strikes by workers who are determined to provide essential services. Mr. Hancock introduced this bill as a response to the wildcat strike by corrections officers that began at the Edmonton Remand Centre earlier this year. The government proposes to introduce harsh fines of up to $1,000,000 per day on a union in the case of an illegal strike or even the threat of a illegal strike.

As David Climenhaga wrote on his blog, the real reason the government is rushing these changes through the legislature is not the possibility of illegal strikes, but the compromise currently enshrined in the current labour relations system:

“While former premier Peter Lougheed deprived public employees of the right to strike in the event of an impasse in bargaining, in return they got access to a compulsory arbitration process. In other words, an arbitrator who looks at the facts, the laws and private-sector comparisons, and who then has the right to impose a settlement on both parties.”

That these new laws threaten to damage the electoral coalition that helped elect Ms. Redford in the 2012 election doesn’t appear to have been considered by the long-governing PCs. Nor did the PC government blink when it proposed changes that will negatively impact public sector pensions or when it imposed deep budget cuts on Alberta’s post-secondary education system, attacking another key community that was part of Ms. Redford’s coalition.

With Ms. Redford turning on her supporters in the public service, Alberta’s public sector employees could find themselves with allies in untraditional places.

“A Wildrose government would never act in this way. Just because your negotiation isn’t going well, you don’t take away people’s arbitration rights that are in the contract that was signed. That’s not how you govern. That’s not good faith,” Wildrose MLA Rob Anderson told the Edmonton Sun.

For reasons that are unclear, Ms. Redford’s government is moving quickly to pass this legislation. At Mr. Hancock’s urging, MLAs have made an unordinary exception to meet for a special sitting on Friday, November 29 in order to ensure that Bill 45 passes through the Legislature in the next 48 hours and becomes law before the weekend.