Steam vents from the cabinet room at the Alberta Legislature. Actual eruptions of Tory fury may not be exactly as illustrated – and, actually, that’s the Lieutenant Governor’s office. Well, whatever, it’s better than a file shot of the law courts sign! Below: AUPE President Guy Smith.

Who wouldn’t want to be a fly on the wall at today’s meeting of the Redford cabinet when the topic of yesterday’s ruling by Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Denny Thomas on the matter of Bill 46 comes up?

One imagines the air will be pretty blue behind the closed doors of the cabinet room as the gathered Progressive Conservative ministers consider the unavoidable political implications Mr. Justice Thomas’s decision to grant a two-week stay halting the application of the Public Service Salary Restraint Act, as the bill has been known since it was passed on Dec. 11 by Premier Alison Redford’s timorous PC caucus.

As a result of the judge’s decision to make the parties wait while he decides what to do about the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees’ call for a long-term injunction against the act until the courts rule on its constitutionality, a process that could take several years, the agree-or-else ultimatum set out in the act for tomorrow becomes moot.

In the great scheme of things, this is likely to make little difference to anyone, because the government had almost certainly already decided to use another provision of Bill 46 to put off AUPE’s statutory surrender-or-take-what-we give-you moment until the end of March – the whole idea of Bill 46 having turned out not to be nearly as popular with voters as the government had anticipated.

Under the terms of the legislation, if AUPE won’t “negotiate” an agreement with the government, the government will impose a two-year wage freeze and other lousy conditions by legislative fiat.

But after 42 years of virtually unchallenged rule, Alberta PCs are unlikely to think they should be told by anyone for any reason that they can’t do whatever they feel like whenever they feel like it – even if the orders come from an independent and impartial judge of a superior court with the constitutional power to do so.

So in the privacy of their privileged legislative chambers, you can count on it they will be furious at even this tiny setback.

In public, of course, Premier Alison Redford’s ministers will have little choice but to fume silently and wait politely.

Even though it is impossible for any of us to know what this means about what Mr. Justice Thomas is likely to decide, it will be difficult for members of the public not to conclude yesterday’s stay indicates the government has bitten off more than it can chew with this legislation.

Moreover, the ruling symbolically illustrates that in a constitutional democracy like Canada, even Alberta’s Progressive Conservatives are not all-powerful. That’s a reminder Alberta Tories will not welcome, to say the least.

AUPE was very careful not to gloat or imply this represents a victory for its members – which it does not.

All that’s going to happen now is that the law is going to remain on hold until Valentine’s Day while Mr. Justice Thomas decides if it should remain that way, as AUPE desires, until its the courts have definitively ruled the validity of the union’s argument Bill 46 violates its members fundamental freedoms under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Given the Redford Government’s attitude, if the decision fails to go its way, it is likely to fight that all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada or until the last taxpayer succumbs to bankruptcy.

Still, AUPE President Guy Smith cautiously observed in a brief news release on the union’s website, “while it isn’t a comment on the merits of our case, it does mean the matter is of sufficient complexity that the court needs time to write its decision.”

Meanwhile, elsewhere in Canada at the nexus of labour relations and the courts, the British Columbia Supreme Court yesterday ordered the B.C. Government to restore language that was stripped by legislation from the British Columbia Teachers Federation’s collective agreements in 2002 and pay the union $2 million in damages.

Madame Justice Susan Griffin ruled that the 2002 law and “virtually identical” legislation passed in 2012 violated unionized teachers’ constitutional rights by prohibiting them from bargaining key issues. The damages were awarded because the government extended provisions in the second bill already ruled unconstitutional in the first law.

“It’s a great day for democracy, a great day for all working people across Canada, and it’s a great day for citizens of British Columbia,” BCTF President Jim Iker said in news reports from the West Coast. “The government can’t just break the law. They can’t just violate the rights of people through legislation.”

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A good song reminds us what we’re fighting for.” Rest in peace, Pete Seeger, 1919-2014.

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  1. As Pete stomped around on stage at the Jubilee Auditorium in the early 70s, so he might stomp over such an attempt by our provincial governement

    We shall overcome

  2. The universe must be in far worse shape now that Pete Seeger has been called -and at such a young age too. Can it be that heaven is now being corrupted by free market economics that it needs sorting out. I blame Ralph kliein

    On a serious note I first saw Pete Seeger years ago at a anti-nuke protest rally I stumbled across outside the UN in New York. Here’s a flyer from that rally.

    One sign I saw that day was especially cute: “Better to be active today than radioactive tomorrow.”

    My motto ever since.

  3. Mr. Climenhaga, told u so before last election. Collective bargainers lost an opportunity to play a part in helping to reset democracy. Short sighted gains from one contract to another from election to election, you guys have pooched yourselves into a corner. The very party you guys make deals with before elextion has now gagged any any mention of a strike for any reason.

    Do you understand now how collective bargainers have such poor direction, that they are victims of their own political apathy and short sightedness??

    Rest assured, before the next election, you guys will continue the same self serving interests and make another deal with the Tories before election time to buy labour peace before the next election.
    The problem with this cycle is that unions are conceding more and more rights and legal ground each time and at the same time, union’s reputation is being severly damaged in AB each time more and more and this is very troubling.

    At this rate, unions will be a thing of the past. You guys have nobody but yourselves to blame. I for one would love to see unions thrive and succeed, but much more than that, championing and leading albertans to have a social conscience in our society. You guys have lost your way and need to reset a vision and prove to the public, what your original intent was. Unions should stand as a political block for social justice, keepimg govt accountable and promoting the betterment of society. As an ex union member, I so wish the culture of unions in AB would change into the betterment of our political landscape and promotion of social concience in AB.

    Sadly bargainers are locked in a vicious cycle where every 4 years they joust with the Tories, lose benefits but get some of them back before the next election, just enough to buy their silence on pressing human issues like education, healthcare, the economy and seniors care.

    Is there any possibility of breaking this cycle, or do we keep conceding ground every 4 years just to have a contract, and have our public image destroyed each time, benefits clawed back, and legal right to advocate revoked further and further each time? Yo guys need the public on your side again.

  4. My apologies to all of you who had to wait too long to see your comments posted here and beneath other posts. I have been on the road. I find it very hard to disagree with Welcome’s principal argument, which boils down to the two related facts about Alberta’s so-called Progressive Conservative Party: (a) that they are fundamentally anti-labour and anti-worker and dedicated to eliminating all effective champions for working families, and (b) that they are quite simply liars and cannot be trusted to keep their word.

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