Deputy Premier Dave Hancock holds forth in the Legislature this morning as a few bored reporters half-heartedly listen. Below: Comedian Jerry Seinfeld, who could have written Mr. Hancock’s script; former Reform Party and now former SIRC chair Chuck Strahl.

With nothing to report in “negotiations” between the government of Alberta and the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees and the prospect of a self-imposed deadline to bring down the Bill-46 hammer next Friday, Deputy Premier Dave Hancock held a media availability in the Legislature yesterday morning.

Actually, it was a Seinfeld availability – you know, an availability about nothing.

Mr. Hancock told the few disengaged reporters who bothered to show up and try to spin a desperate little Friday yarn out of the non-event that he really, really, really wants a negotiated settlement with AUPE. You know, one “that will be fair to taxpayers and fair to employees.”

And, oh gosh, does the government of Alberta ever love and respect its public employees, Mr. Hancock hastened to add.

Having reached an impasse in bargaining last month, and because it’s been illegal since 1977 for civil servants to strike in Alberta, AUPE was moving toward impartial arbitration on behalf of the 21,000 direct government employees it represents when the Redford Government passed its authoritarian labour legislation on Dec. 11, eliminating the threat of an agreement in which it couldn’t dictate all the terms.

Bill 46, known since it was passed by the trained seals in the Premier Alison Redford’s Progressive Conservative caucus as the Public Sector Services Continuation Act, is designed to allow the government to impose whatever “deal” it wants on AUPE without recourse to any impasse-resolving mechanism.

So when Mr. Hancock told the gathered reporters yesterday that “as we go forward, we need to make sure we’re not leading the market too much,” Albertans can be pretty confident there’s not much danger of that happening now.

Perhaps Mr. Hancock, QC, Premier Alison Redford and the other coruscating legalists in the Tory caucus missed their law-school lecture on “natural justice.” Or maybe they just don’t care.

Regardless, Mr. Hancock insisted, not only does the government want a negotiated settlement – or, leastways, something it can pass off as such – it’s quite optimistic it will get one. Anyway, he said, there are “some hopeful signs.”

Not that they’ve been noticed by anyone at AUPE, but one supposes anything can happen when someone is holding a sledgehammer over your head!

Still, Mr. Hancock manfully insisted that what’s happening now truly can be described as bargaining. “We’re flexible within the fiscal parameters we’ve got,” he explained. “This is not a question of determining (a deal) arbitrarily.”

And, hey, if Alberta civil servants’ pay falls a little bit behind inflation, that’s OK too because “over the last 10 years public sector employees have done well.”

Under the terms of Bill 46, the government can extend its final agree-or-be-crushed deadline to AUPE until the end of March if it desires. Or it can just impose its planned two-year wage freeze on the union by fiat on Friday.

Mr. Hancock said the decision whether to delay will likely be made at a cabinet meeting next week. Expect it to happen, because it’ll take some time for this government to build up a sufficient head of steam against the union in public opinion.

During that time, look for the government to publish its “Sunshine List” of highly paid public employees. One problem, of course, is that literally only about 85 of the approximately 85,000 AUPE members (most of whom work in health care) actually earn enough to make the Sunshine List if it’s set at a level of $100,000 in base salary, as has been expected. That would be 0.1 per cent of AUPE’s members.

So count on it that Redford Government bean counters are hard at work right now adding in overtime, time off, dental work, lottery winnings, coins found on the sidewalk and anything else they can think of to fractionally boost the embarrassingly low numbers of well-paid Alberta civil servants.

As of yesterday, no further talks were scheduled between AUPE and the government.

While Mr. Hancock braved the media, Premier Redford and Finance Minister Doug Horner were safely globe trotting.

Calling move ‘best for all,’ Chuck Strahl quits spy watchdog committee

As predicted in this space on Jan. 13, former Reform Party, Canadian Alliance and Conservative MP Chuck Strahl has resigned as chair of the Security Intelligence Review Committee.

While serving as the leader of the important federal committee that keeps watch over the activities of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, Mr. Strahl had also registered with the B.C. government to act as a lobbyist on behalf of Enbridge Inc.’s Northern Gateway Pipeline proposal.

“Notwithstanding his purported need to continue making money, he is a loyal Harper Conservative and this issue is getting to the point where it surely causing some political pain to Prime Minister Stephen Harper as we begin the countdown to a federal election next year,” it was argued here two weeks ago.

“So despite Mr. Strahl’s brisk defence of his actions – characterized by some as hiding behind the conclusions of the federal Ethics Commissioner, who correctly found he had broken no laws or rules – it is said here he will quit his role with SIRC soon.”

Explaining his decision to quit SIRC, Mr. Strahl said in a statement, “I retired from politics three years ago and do not wish to be in the centre of the political fray,” the Globe and Mail reported late yesterday. “…I have concluded it is best for all concerned that I step down as chair of SIRC.”

Said Prime Minister Harper: “Mr. Strahl has submitted his resignation to me, and I have accepted it, effective immediately.” End of story, he hopes.

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    1. Brad: You’re right that pension “reform” – although I’m not sure reform is the right word – is a very big deal and I’ll write about it in this venue soon. I believe that if this government goes ahead with the changes Finance Minister Doug Horner has announced – and since they are both destructive and stupid, it would be foolish of us to imagine they wouldn’t – there will be a wholesale exodus of experienced employees from the civil service and health care. One of the results will be a severe shortage of skilled workers, similar to the one that Ralph Klein caused in health care and from which we had just recovered. That said, I do like to tie my blog posts to events in the news – the “hook” as we used to say in my journalistic days – and the hook this week is embedded in Bills 45 and 46.

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