Alberta Politics
In what is again becoming a typical Alberta scene, workers, this time unionized nurses, protest Kenney Government policies at the Alberta Legislature last week (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Alberta union leaders summoned to provocative weekend ‘consultation’ by Kenney Government

Posted on November 26, 2019, 1:17 am
6 mins

Alberta union leaders have been summoned to a “labour relations consultation” next weekend in Edmonton at which they will be informed how Premier Jason Kenney’s government plans to “protect workers from being forced to fund political parties and causes.”

The announcement of the one-hour meetings came in an email from Deputy Labour Minister Shawn McLeod received by unions late Friday.

Deputy Labour Minister Shawn McLeod (Photo: Government of Alberta).

The email was not particularly informative, although it wasn’t hard for the elected union leaders who got it to figure out what’s really going on. The short notice and brief time scheduled do not suggest an interest in genuine consultation, the tone is likely to cause offence, and the timing during the United Conservative Party’s annual general meeting in Calgary was surely no coincidence. Labour Minister Jason Copping, accordingly, will presumably be otherwise occupied that day.

Union presidents were advised to pick three of several one-hour time slots between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. for the swift “consultation.” Officials will let them know at which one they’ll be told how the government intends “to bring back balance to legislation.”

In the context of Alberta labour relations, the latter phrase is Orwellian. Since the creation of this province in 1905 there has never been true balance in labour relations in Alberta, although some modest reforms to labour law were passed by the NDP government in 2017.

The NDP billed its 2017 changes as bringing “Alberta’s workplaces into the 21st Century,” an exaggeration as they really only brought them into the mid-20th Century in terms of law already on the books in other provinces. The NDP revisions also ensured some legislation likely to be ruled unconstitutional was brought into accord with court decisions on the rights of Canadians to bargain collectively under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms’ guarantee of freedom of association.

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

By the sound of it, the UCP is determined to roll back Alberta labour law to the 1950s or before, ignoring the Canadian Constitution if necessary, to silence union opposition to the party’s agenda.

If Canadian Charter rights stand in the way of that objective, the UCP seems prepared to bulldoze them.

Because unions are effective advocates for workers’ rights, public services and income equality, the Kenney Government would very much like to make it illegal for them to speak up in opposition to its plans to hijack pension funds, underfund public health care and education, privatize public services, kill pharmacare, and downgrade workplace safety.

“Protecting” working people and their families from being “forced to fund political parties and causes” was the rhetorical sleight of hand used by the party in its successful election campaign, and is now repeated in the emails from Deputy Minister McLeod. A lawyer and former member of the Alberta Labour Relations Board, Mr. McLeod sought the UCP nomination in the Edmonton-Riverbend riding in 2018, although he withdrew from the contest before the vote.

Federal Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Other UCP labour relations legislation includes the government’s effort to grab control of public sector pensions enabled by Bill 22, the Reform of Agencies, Boards and Commissions and Government Enterprises Act, which is now law; provisions in Bill 21, the Ensuring Fiscal Sustainability Act, not yet passed, that would allow the government to give public-sector employers compulsory “bargaining” mandates before, during and after collective bargaining; and the government’s vow to use legislation to roll back government employees’ wages.

The department’s hurry, while unexplained, is likely that it intends to introduce the legislation soon, possibly next week.

Needless to say, this will be a long fight with a government determined to radically change Alberta to serve as a bridgehead for the dystopian new Canada the Conservative movement is determined to impose on our country, despite sufficient opposition from citizens in most provinces to make its election difficult.

So it’s important for unions in other provinces to remember that this is their fight too, and their members’ fight.

The time is going to come soon that the Trudeau Government will have to face up to the need to deal more aggressively with Mr. Kenney. After all, while workplace relations are a matter of provincial responsibility in the Canadian Constitution, the fundamental freedoms of all Canadians are not.

Surely that was starting to become evident to Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland after her meeting with Mr. Kenney in Edmonton today produced a lengthening list of arrogant demands from the premier that the Liberals enact Conservative policies.

12 Comments to: Alberta union leaders summoned to provocative weekend ‘consultation’ by Kenney Government

  1. Bob in B.C.

    November 26th, 2019

    Time to tell Mr. Kenney: No human rights, no pipelines.

    Reply
    • Doug

      November 26th, 2019

      Rolling back wages or restricting the mandatory portion of union dues from funding anything other than bargaining is far from human rights abuse.

      The Kenney government is in a bind. Energy prices are unlikely to rebound enough to balance the budget. Austerity is the only path forward and since wages comprise the bulk of spending, they are the only possible target. Given the state of the private sector job market, few voters will sympathize with public sector workers taking a 5% rollback in return for virtually assured job security.

      The corporate tax cuts may or may not spur investment. Besides that and red tape reduction, nothing else stands a chance. Alberta is too remote and too distant to attract business unless it offers substantial cost, tax or regulatory advantages.

      Reply
      • Jerrymacgp

        November 28th, 2019

        So, Doug: can I opt out of that portion of my taxes that goes to stuff the government is doing that I disagree with? Of course not … this is a democracy, & our governments, by & large, get to make decisions for the majority, even when there is a minority that disagrees with it.

        Similarly, unions are also democracies, and their members decide — by majority voting — what their dues go towards. How those decisions are reached are, in detail, determined by their constitutions or bylaws, which are also determined by majority votes. Members can’t decide, willy-nilly, to opt out of supporting certain activities undertaken by the union on members’ behalf & in the members’ interests, just as I can’t, for example, opt out of paying the portion of my taxes that goes to support the War Room or the “foreign funded anti-oil inquiry” — would that I could lol.

        Some unions are more or less politically engaged than others, but that is up to the expressed will of their members. There will always be a few dissenters, but they can’t opt out of paying their share of union dues. (There are a few people in some unionized workplaces who do not support unions for religious or similar reasons, and they are allowed to have the equivalent amounts donated to charity in lieu of paying union dues).

        Reply
  2. Just Me

    November 26th, 2019

    Wow. Invoking the Notwithstanding Clause to crush what few rights workers have in Alberta.

    This is taking a turn into the insane…or at least into Alabama.

    What else is coming down the UCP’s gullet?

    A “heartbeat” law?

    Right to Work legislation?

    The end of the Labour Board and tribunal?

    When rights are rolled back for one, they are rolled back for all.

    Gilead just got a lot closer.

    Reply
  3. J.E. Molnar

    November 26th, 2019

    “Let’s Make Alberta Kentucky!”

    That appears to be the caterwauling mantra from the new iteration of conservative knuckle-draggers now occupying the front benches of our esteemed Legislature. This is not just a made-in-Alberta problem any longer. The Canadian labour movement, through the Canadian Labour Congress and the Alberta Federation of Labour, must marshal resources, people and money to prevent the creation of a dystopian playing field for labour that hearkens back to the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. It’s time to get after it!

    Reply
  4. Bill Malcolm

    November 26th, 2019

    Another station along the way in the gathering social trainwreck that is Kenney’s Alberta.

    Consultation for unions? Right. Participants will instead be informed of the UCP agenda they will be forced to follow, which we might as well call the Kenney warped view of the world.

    For the life of me, I cannot understand that a person can walk around professing to be Christian, having unconstitutional prayer breakfasts in a secular society because he’s so upside his own behind, and yet having so little empathy for the average citizen. He seems to regard that individual as a nonentity barely deserving to be recognized as human and with no right to be independent in thought and feeling. Their job is to hail him as Imperator, no more no less, and complain about the rest of the country treating Alberta badly. Most Albertans are not oil rig workers celebrating their rugged individuality with mechanized shovels or farmers who have been somehow gifted the brains to innately work safely on farms without endangering others.

    Apparently people will be pushed and shoved into conformity by threat or loss of job or cutback, until civil opposition ends by fear. In Canada, no less. If the dictator doesn’t get his way enacting fascist policies of the warm state/business collaboration variety, then the Notwithstanding Clause will be invoked to enforce the cutback of liberties once regarded as bedrock of our supposedly democratic system. So the beaten-down regular people will be forced to join those with already broken minds for a magnificent Goose Step into the future, where the main freedom will apparently be to poison the world with ever-increasing volumes of dilbit. Is this an exaggeration? Not much. All that Kenney hasn’t revealed in the current march to oblivion is what his secret sign of solidarity will be; the remainder of his nonsense ideas are unfolding in an easy to predict manner — imagine the worst curtailing of freedom and that’s what you’ll get.

    Freeland has managed to show so far that she is a first class neoliberally-minded neocon. A two-for-oner. Running around like a dingbat, she has managed to issue complete nonsense on Bolivia, Venezuela, Cuba and especially Ukraine. She seems to think dumping the Bolivian socialist leader Morales with the new “regime” insulting the indigenous population as practisers of satanic rites is wonderful. Apparently some woman name of Anez has anointed herself President in Bolivia with a massive 2.7% of the vote from the election just one month ago, and Canada recognizes this as legitimate. Amazing. One can hardly praise the corporate Canadian media for pointing out the nonsense – they seem to think it all just fine, and we have had zero honesty in reporting. What are journalists for if they can be led around by the nose to write horse manure? Job security seems to be the only answer that fits.

    Freeland follows the US neocon Democratic Party practice of classifying free democracies as existing only in those countries that swear fealty to the US hegemon and exceptionality, whether the place is run by a dictator or not, and has never been called to account for her nonsense leading the Lima Group to denigrate sovereigntist-minded governments in Latin America Quite the opposite – she is praised as wonder woman in our upside down world. One wonders what her view of our indigenous First Nations might be. In addition, she and Trudeau just love those Investor Dispute Resolution clauses in international “free trade”, where corporations have disputes settled by panels whose power exceeds that of the Supreme Court of the affected countries. So, she’ll understand some of Kenney’s bleatings innately, and maybe the Liberals will bend to accommodate his kind of nastiness and drive to make Canada more like Alberta by way of some excuse or another. I am not a Freeland fan.

    The only thing I can project from Kenney’s brand of nastiness couched in his trademark glib and smarmy tones is that he is in it only for himself, and has surrounded himself with brain-dead acolytes unable to think for themselves, willing to follow slogan-fed policies of regression to an earlier time. It’s not a comforting thought.

    OTOH, can this be for real? The Teamsters claim to have reached a deal with CN, so Kenney has been foiled in loudly jeering both unions and the Feds.

    Reply
  5. Death and Gravitys

    November 26th, 2019

    Re DPM Freeland, I am concerned that the Government of Canada seems to think that the Province of Alberta can be appeased, or reasoned with, or that indeed it’s people have specific grievances that might be addressed by real-world policies. It can’t, it can’t and they don’t.

    Reply
  6. theo nelson

    November 26th, 2019

    UCP = United Cruelty Party

    Reply
  7. Abs

    November 26th, 2019

    So this is the demagogue’s “come to Jesus” moment. Because he’s on as mission from God. I can’t wait for the car chase scene in the empty mall. I might be confusing this Sermon on the Mount for a John Belushi movie. Oh, well. The lead character looks the same.

    Reply
  8. November 26th, 2019

    And will the puppet premier of Big Oil silence the paid spokespersons for industry in this province including his own Canadian Taxpayers Foundation, Stephen Harper’s National Citizens Committee, the Frontier Institute, the C.D. Howe Institute, and on and on? They are all phoney baloney, paid for each piece of pseudo-research and its dissemination by various corporate groups. Until the early 1960s, big business spoke directly to the people through such organizations as the Canadian Chamber of Commerce and the Canadian Manufacturers Association. The Canadian Chamber was told at its 1961 convention by its pollsters that its interventions in policy discussions got voters’ backs up and helped those supporting social programs and regulation of business. Why? Because the organization was viewed as a spokesperson for privilege. So, as in the US and UK about the same time, the business groups started creating “institutes” and “foundations” that were closed shops but pretended to be either public organizations or branches of something at universities. In fact they were paid puppets of the same folks who once spoke through the chambers and associations that made no pretence of being anything but the voice of privilege and profits.

    Reply
  9. Dave

    November 26th, 2019

    The invitation (to the Sky Palace?) should probably read “You have been summoned by the Emperor, who will proceed to tell you what he thinks and may provide hints about what he plans to do. On this occasion, it would be best to refrain from commenting on his attire or lack thereof. You may provide other limited feedback, but any comments or criticism will probably be ignored.”

    I suspect many of the far reaching things Kenney tries to do will end up being challenged in courts. Legality does not seem to be the current premiers strongest suit.

    Reply
  10. Athabascan

    November 28th, 2019

    Nice history lesson, but it’s of little value now. Albertans are in uncharted waters never encountered before. History is not useful. Think of your worst sci-fi dystopian vision – that’s where we are at right now!

    Firing the elections investigator, re-writing the laws so illegal activities during the kamikaze campaign are no longer illegal, stealing public pensions, ignoring legally negotiated collective agreements, promoting faith-based schools at the expense of public ones?!!

    I’ve been in Alberta all my life, and I’ve never seen this kind of sustained disregard for the democratic process. History, Phst!

    Reply

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