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

Are secret mandatory government bargaining orders the new face of public-sector labour relations in Alberta?

Posted on October 29, 2019, 2:03 am
6 mins

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and his government moved yesterday to impose big changes on public sector bargaining in Alberta, not to mention a host of other areas. They’re sure to unleash a flood of litigation.

There’s enough stuff embedded in the Harper-Government-style omnibus budget legislation introduced to the Alberta Legislature yesterday by Finance Minister Travis Toews to make it pretty hard to keep track of — which, presumably, was half the point.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

The other half, of course, would have been to avoid having to debate a host of additional bills, which under Parliamentary government is really how legislation ought to be introduced.

So in addition to picking a fight with the doctors and trying to tilt the playing field in bargaining with public-sector unions heavily in the government’s favour, there are provisions that would allow higher interest on student loans, let inflation eat into Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped, impose crippling budget cuts on post-secondary institutions, and maybe even let the province grab cash from municipal speeding fines!

On the labour relations front, something called the Public Sector Employers Act would let the government give secret mandatory orders to employers during negotiations related to any term of the collective agreement.

This possibly unconstitutional provision is buried in Bill 21, the Ensuring Fiscal Sustainability Act, 2019, introduced with its companion law, Bill 20, the Fiscal Measures and Taxation Act, 2019.

I’m not making this up. Consider: A directive issued by the Minister under this Act is confidential and may not be disclosed by the employer to any third party without prior consent of the Minister.” Presumably that means including the people the employer is negotiating with — which, needless to say, is not a formula for encouraging good faith negotiations.

Naturally, it’s certain that someone — perhaps several people, all of them lawyers working for public sector unions — will argue just that. They may have a reasonable chance of success.

The government would also have the right to impose the time frame of agreements — very long ones, presumably, with no pay increases. Readers will get the picture.

Of course, Section 33, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms’ Notwithstanding Clause, awaits in the event the courts are unimpressed with the Alberta Government’s legal reasoning, as seems quite likely. How ready the UCP will be to use that tool, though, will presumably depend on whether or not Mr. Kenney has given up his prime ministerial dreams.

Bill 21 also includes provisions to lift the previous NDP Government’s ban on the use of replacement workers during strikes (to which the Supreme Court has ruled workers have a right to resort) where an essential services agreement is in place.

In other words, the government wants to have it both ways — essential services rules, plus the ability to hire scabs.

Interestingly, as noted, the government also seems prepared to take on physicians — always a risky strategy. Bill 21 will give it the power to unilaterally end the doctors’ current agreement, signed by the government and the Alberta Medical Association last year.

The UCP’s thinking here seems to be that since that deal was negotiated by the NDP, it has no validity anyway. This may not sound to you, dear readers, like the way representative democracy works, but all the evidence suggests it’s nevertheless the way Alberta’s Conservatives think.

Perhaps the UCP reckons it can placate members of the medical profession for tearing up their agreement by offering rich opportunities to make a killing, metaphorically speaking, through privatization.

Bill 21 also includes provisions that would force new physicians to go where the government wants them to — not where they choose. You want to go to Calgary, you say, not Manyberries? No billing number for you, then!

Needless to say, this is likely to be found unconstitutional by any court worthy of the name under the Mobility Rights section of the Charter, which is not subject to the Notwithstanding Clause. But what the hey, the government must be thinking, nothing ventured nothing gained!

Thwarted by the courts, Mr. Kenney could always unilaterally declare independence — a thought that nowadays doesn’t seem as remote to his ilk as it once might have, because Trudeau, and all that. (Something to think about: Pierre Trudeau had the right idea about how to deal with that kind of thing; it may still linger somewhere in the Liberal Party’s lizard brain.)

This is not a government much enamoured of due process or the rule of law, of course, unless there’s something in it for them. So expect a protracted legal fight, enriching lawyers, not necessarily of them all Conservatives. Stand by for updates.

12 Comments to: Are secret mandatory government bargaining orders the new face of public-sector labour relations in Alberta?

  1. J.E. Molnar

    October 29th, 2019

    This sh*t is downright scary!!

    Jason Kenney and the UCP are gradually checking off the boxes, one by one, toward a dystopian, Orwellian government designed to punish and control non-conservative voters and non-supporters. Scary as it may seem —Big Brother just isn’t classic literature any longer in Alberta.

    Ministry of Truth: (O &G war room) check!
    Ministry of Love: (Reduced LGBTQ rights because we’re Christians) Check!
    Ministry of Plenty (Oversees rationing of AISH and Union wage increases) Check!
    Memory Holes: (destruction of evidence/legislation of the past – pick your pleasure here) Check!

    Orwell’s “1984” classic isn’t just literature — it’s the future of Alberta under Jason Kenney and the UCP — with more to come. Believe it!!

    Reply
  2. Jim

    October 29th, 2019

    This is a government by and for Kenney donors, everything passed so far seems to have the underlying purpose of funneling public money to private hands. Picking a fight with the doctors is just a way to further undermine the public system and create chaos. It appears the privatization model Kenney is going for in health care doesn’t include the Doctors as the owners. They will be treated as just employees of larger organizations, wonder how they are feeling about that?
    When the jobs don’t materialize will the average Alberta conservative voter realize they got duped? Will they realize even in a free market there are some thing that should remain public? Perhaps when they are denied entry to a medical facility that their tax dollars paid for because it is now under new management and they can’t afford it they will wake up. At that point it will be to late of course.

    Reply
  3. tom in ontario

    October 29th, 2019

    Welcome to the club, Albertans. As we in Ontario learned in 2018, stating the bloody obvious, you get what you vote for and vote for what you get.

    Reply
  4. Scotty Donaldson

    October 29th, 2019

    Quebec: separation, Bill 21

    Alberta: separation, Bill 21

    Next thing you know, Alberta will start paying women to have more children so it can be even more like Quebec…

    …except for the union part.

    Reply
  5. Dave

    October 29th, 2019

    I have a feeling there are going to be a lot of court cases in Alberta against the provincial government in the near future.

    The current provincial government seems to take the position, we won the election so we can do whatever we want, however we want and that is wrong both legally and politically. It is true the government has a general mandate for restraint which was billed as freezing spending or small reductions in the election. However, some areas are being cut from 10% to 30%, which I think far exceeds their political mandate. They are also making various changes to make it harder for people to fight back against them, presumably as a way to make it easier to implement their agenda. I think that restricting peoples rights is getting into legal over reach and in some cases like proposing to restrict where doctors can practice, they are potentially making new powerful political enemies and are also on shaky legal ground.

    Some things they did are in contradiction to promises or past statements, such as ripping up the city charters and freezing AISH. Not only do these things upset those affected greatly, they also do not look good politically. Kenney did win the election with large margin, but as I recall so too did Stelmach and Redford won a convincing number of seats with a comfortable plurality. A government that does not pay enough attention to who it alienates and upsets and how it goes about it can find its political popularity suddenly changes in a negative way. The UCP may seem like it is a continuation of the natural conservative governing party, but like the PC’s before them who probably thought the same, this is not unrestricted.

    There is also a bit of a shell game and a big gamble by the UCP in their budget. The cuts are larger than necessary, to fund a large corporate tax cut, so the net reduction to the debt is not actually that much more than it was projected to be before the UCP budget. The gamble by the UCP is that corporate tax cuts will revive the Alberta economy, but so far that does not seem to be having much impact. Ultimately, I think the fate of the UCP will be decided on whether the economy improves significantly and this gamble pays off.

    Reply
  6. Bruce Turton

    October 29th, 2019

    Old Chinese proverb: You cannot pick up a turd by the clean end.
    Only about 3+ years of these ______’s to go. What will this bunch do in a recession that extends beyond the CAPP-captive crowd’s little provincial jurisdiction? More of “Gotta get them poor types – they are a real drain on our $$$!!!” while the corporations spend their tax reductions on more share buy-backs, more dividends, and more investment other than in our poor little province (will other companies follow the Husky Oil trajectory?).

    Reply
  7. St Albertan

    October 29th, 2019

    I’m definitely too old for this, but here goes. The single most distressing feature of this whole deal, was the arbitrary and utterly out of bounds delegation of billions of dollars of private citizen’s money to a clearing house for graft and corruption. AIMCO? It is not the friend of pension sustainability! Please tell me I’m dreaming! Even the kneecapped LAP was out-performing. I guess the end times are all about picking the losers. Who knew?

    Reply
  8. Colino

    October 29th, 2019

    (The Only Thing New in the World is the History You Don’t Know.- Harry Truman)
    The Conservatives in the 80’s used the lack of work caused by the National Energy Program to kill the Mechanical Trade Unions. They passed a law allowing businesses to have a union and non-union side. As a result we were locked out and when we returned our wages were cut from $19.00/hr. to $12.00/hr. with no benefits and no pension. The companies kept their rates the same therefore making an additional 30%. To rub salt in the wound the Conservatives tried to decertify the registered trades, which would have made 4 to 5 years of apprenticeship worthless. However it caused such an uproar among us tradesmen they backed off on that one. Why working people voted for the UCP is beyond my comprehension because once Conservatives have your vote they’ll kick you to the curb every time.

    Reply
  9. just socialist me

    October 29th, 2019

    I am so livid at this government. I can’t believe how angry I am.

    Reply
  10. alan

    October 29th, 2019

    According to current democratic political myth, the voter is always correct, even though; the historical past and even the present day demonstrates that the the voting public have not ceased to pay heavily for getting what they think they both want and need. As such, according to that great arbiter of public reason and insight, the MSM, “With almost all polls reporting Tuesday night, the UCP had a clear majority of the popular vote, with 55 per cent support,” roughly 1,040,004 votes out of approximately 2,615,000 registered voters.

    https://globalnews.ca/news/5179026/alberta-election-voter-turnout-70-per-cent/

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2019_Alberta_general_election

    https://www.theglobeandmail.com/canada/alberta/article-alberta-election-2019-kenney-wins-majority-as-ucp-rout-ndp-in/

    It is interesting to note that the Jason Kenney mandate and the much touted clear majority rests upon a result that appears well short of an endorsement by 50% of registered voters. There is much wrong with the current political system and a resurgence of tribalism is only going to further exacerbate those ills. That tribalism will be the result of the coming economic creative destruction, as the under skilled finally realize that the gravy train is going to be severely reduced as the inevitable economic change unfolds. In order to avoid a complete social meltdown, scapegoats will be needed.

    Meanwhile, Mr. Kenney and all those who voted for him long for a return to the halcyon days of massive oil sands projects and the $100, 000-plus/year jobs that accompany such projects, where; many individuals spent weeks and months collecting big pay checks without so much as turning a screw. As the word got out of the fabulous riches to be had for negligible output, everyone across Canada and beyond wanted a piece of the action. It was the new Canadian dream, Hollywood style, do as little as possible and get paid big dollars doing it. (And even though there was a true labor shortage at the time, an artificial ceiling was imposed on wages. In fact, an academic from the University of Calgary stated at the time that one would never see oil sands labor being paid $100.00/hour no matter how severe the labor shortage, and so it came to be, as labor was imported, from both outside the province and outside the country.)

    Then the boom went bust and the creative destruction of a new economic order looms on the horizon. After the oil sands boom/bust economic hangover wears off, talk of economic diversification and more cronyism cannot be far behind as the same tribal groups of unoriginal people with the same unoriginal ideas keep trying to reinvent the same wheel, over and over again. It is Alberta, after all, and those individuals and their friends and family ‘in the know’, will most likely be the largest financial winners, as usual.

    https://www.policyschool.ca/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/siren-song-economic-diversification-morton-mcdonald.pdf

    Reply
  11. Just Me

    October 30th, 2019

    Judging by Kenney’s emulation of Harper’s legal tactics, imposing bizarre unconstitutional violations on pretty much everything, and then engaging in long, expensive, and fruitless legal battles in the hope that the other side runs out of money and the will to continue.

    This behaviour is not unusual for Kenney. Recall the antics and chaos that occurred during his tenure and the federal Minister of Employment over the TFW scandals and you get just a taste of the mayhem to come. Kenney won Harper’s favour and protection for his relentless attack dog, both outside and within the CPC caucus.

    In the middle of every single piece of legislation that’s coming, the UCP government will be the implementing the Notwithstanding Clause like there’s no tomorrow. Kenney will declare Alberta is in crisis and the Bolsheviks must be crushed. It’s said that people, through experience, evolve. Kenney, however, is no different that the person he was when he was in his 20s.

    So, this is only the beginning. Kenney and his UCP fellow travellers will wreck havoc on Alberta’s society for the purpose of destroying it, then remaking it in Kenney’s image. How far is Kenney willing to go? Just watch him. Far enough to go too far and ruin his chances to win the leadership of the CPC and the PMO? Kenney is a sociopath, maybe tipping toward psychopathic behaviour. For Kenney there is no such thing as too far.

    Reply

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