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).
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).