Alberta Politics
AUPE President Guy Smith addresses union members and supporters at Wednesday’s rally in Edmonton (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

UCP Government, with no apparent short-term Plan B, seeks leave to appeal injunction suspending Bill 9

Posted on August 02, 2019, 1:29 am
8 mins

Unsurprisingly, the United Conservative Party Government has sought leave to appeal the temporary injunction granted by the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench that halted application of Bill 9, playing havoc with Premier Jason Kenney’s strategy for putting off a crisis with the province’s public sector unions until after the federal election.

I mean, seriously, it sure doesn’t look like they’ve got a Plan B for the short term, not if they don’t want to finish off Conservative Party of Canada Leader Andrew Scheer’s chances of becoming prime minister on Oct. 21. So what else could they do?

Alberta Teachers Association spokesperson Jonathan Teghtmeyer at the same rally with the same bullhorn (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

In half-hearted defence of the government, it does have an extensive legislative agenda – temporarily on hold because of federal political considerations – and the government’s lawyers are reported to be burning the midnight oil getting all these sure-to-be-controversial laws drafted.

Meantime, they’d like their hearing in a big fat hurry – although it’s yet to be seen whether the Alberta Court of Appeal will cooperate just because Finance Minister Travis Toews has instructed its justices to jump.

Turns out it wasn’t just me who thought the Public Sector Wage Deferral Act sounded like it was drafted on a bar napkin over drinks by somebody’s unpaid and unsupervised intern. Mr. Justice Eric Macklin, who is both better qualified and better positioned to make such judgments than your blogger, seems to have come to a somewhat similar conclusion.

Leastways, as Jonathan Teghtmeyer of the Alberta Teachers Association told the CBC Wednesday, the judge “gets pretty close to saying” that he didn’t think the legislation could stand up to the constitutional challenges that have been launched by the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees, which got the injunction, and United Nurses of Alberta, and which are expected to be filed soon by the Health Sciences Association of Alberta, the Canadian Union of Public Employees, and the ATA.

Alberta Finance Minister Travis Toews (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Despite the injunction, public sector unions held information pickets Wednesday in Calgary, Fort Saskatchewan and Edmonton. The noisy Edmonton rally ended up on the street in front of the UCP’s party offices, where AUPE President Guy Smith and other union leaders expressed their determination to carry on the fight against Bill 9 and the fraught approach to labour relations it evokes.

Mr. Justice Macklin noted in his written judgment that “an arbitration within specified timelines is a substantive term of the Collective Agreement. Bill 9, therefore, may have impact on the … Charter right to freedom of association since it raises the issue of whether it makes collective bargaining between the government and employee representatives effectively impossible.”

“Bill 9 is a unilateral action by one of the two parties to a collective agreement, freely negotiated, to amend the terms of the agreement,” the decision continued. “AUPE compromised its position and its rights in order to reach the agreement. As stated above, the term now being amended by the legislation is substantive, therefore Bill 9 is a substantive interference with associative activity.”

Former Alberta Conservative premier Alison Redford (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Furthermore, he wrote later in the ruling, “it is generally in the public interest that parties to otherwise valid agreements, freely negotiated, honor their obligations under those agreements. Members of the public often turn to the Courts or other dispute resolution mechanisms to enforce contracts or seek remedies for their breach. …”

“Members of the public expect that parties to an agreement will honor commitments made in agreements, and they reasonably expect that parties with whom they contract, regardless of who they may be, will honor the terms of the agreement made. It is no different if one of the contracting parties is the government. A member of the public expects, and is entitled to expect, that an agreement reached with the government will be honored. …”

Therefore, he concluded, “it is in the long-term public interest for the public to see that its government cannot unilaterally change its contractual obligations through legislation that may interfere with Charter rights.”

The 10-page decision, which can be found here, is clearly written and is worth reading in its entirety.

This kind of situation is unusual, although it’s not unheard of in the troubled history of the relationship between Alberta Conservative governments and their public sector unions.

The late Jim Prentice, Conservative premier of Alberta (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

The most recent example, which similarly showed signs of either slapdash legislative drafting or too much attention paid to legal advice that put ideology ahead of the law, happened in 2013 when then premier Alison Redford’s Progressive Conservatives passed obviously unconstitutional legislation that among other things included disproportionately heavy penalties for unions, their members and members of the public who dared to even advocate an illegal strike.

After Ms. Redford was effectively fired by her own caucus at the end of March 2014, the legislation lived a zombie existence before a Legislature committee, and was finally put out of its misery by the more sensible Jim Prentice after he became premier that September.

Mr. Prentice introduced legislation repealing the law, and on March 25, 2015, it was unanimously passed by the Legislature.

Alas for Mr. Prentice, by then he had already persuaded Opposition Leader Danielle Smith and most of her Wildrose Party caucus to cross the floor of the House to his PC benches, and decided to ignore convention and call an election a year earlier than almost everyone in the province wanted it. Neither of those moves pleased voters, and the result was election of the NDP led by Rachel Notley in May 2015.

Conservatives have now returned to power, but beyond a nastier tone to their rhetoric, it really doesn’t appear as if very much has changed at all since the days of Ms. Redford.

Should the Appeal Court uphold the injunction, it will be interesting to see which is more important to Mr. Kenney and his party: Preserving Mr. Scheer’s and his federal Tories’ election chances, or getting on with their own radical agenda.

4 Comments to: UCP Government, with no apparent short-term Plan B, seeks leave to appeal injunction suspending Bill 9

  1. J.E. Molnar

    August 2nd, 2019

    Alberta’s political gangbangers aren’t wasting any time.

    It’s painfully obvious that the UCP is out to shred collective agreements, destroy public services and poison labour relations with rabid evangelical enthusiasm these days. Is anyone really surprised?

    One can go back at far as the 90s when Ralph Klein and his PC government were vilified by the International Labour Organization (celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2019) for rolling back the wages of public sector workers — again shredding collective bargaining rights entrenched in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The antagonistic history of labour relations between conservative governments and public sector unions in Alberta is no secret. It appears Jason Kenney is working diligently to add to that conservative legacy of oppressive labour relations gaffes. Dumb, really dumb.

  2. Joe Waldron

    August 2nd, 2019

    As I recall in the case of UNA, Klein did not roll back wages.
    The members voted in favour of a rollback, declining to confront
    that ignorant oaf of a “leader”.

    • Albertan

      August 3rd, 2019

      It is true that the UNA membership voted in favour of a rollback in 1994. I was one of the members who voted against it.
      As I recall, at the time, I believe that there was the ‘Klein government’ promise that if UNA took a voluntary wage rollback that there would be no further layoffs. Not only did the rollback go through, but there were layoffs anyway. Lesson learned.
      Many awesome, well trained Alberta health care professionals left Alberta at the time for the USA, who were only too happy to have us. In the years following, subsequent Alberta Conservative politics came to the realization re: health care professional shortages, that we needed to keep our people here and promised to keep wages high enough to keep them here. Memories seem to be a bit short. Many of us are still working in a very heavy health care workload scenario due to “not enough staff.” As the saying, perhaps, goes, “Walk a mile, or several miles, in our shoes.”
      Now, as a senior UNA member who is still working ‘casual,’ I, of course, am experiencing deja vu with regard to the Kenney UCP “radical Bill 9 agenda.”

      • Jerrymacgp

        August 5th, 2019

        Ditto to everything you said … from another long-time UNA member who remembers the Klein cuts. I was actually a local Union officer at the time, and had to attend many a lay-off meeting with employees & management. It was a dark time indeed.

        Layoffs are for when there isn’t enough work for employees to do, which was far from the case, then or now.


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