Calgary Herald: Shame on Redford

A Dec 6 editorial from the Calgary Herald:

[ ]Editorial: Shame on Redford
New union laws violate basic rights


The passing of Bills 45 and 46 on Wednesday night mark a dark chapter in Alberta history.

Bill 45 is a draconian assault on the right to freedom of expression and Bill 46 removes the right of the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees from seeking binding arbitration.

Let’s start with Bill 46. Back in 1977, then Premier Peter Lougheed made it illegal for any public sector employee to strike, declaring them essential, even if they weren’t. To compensate for removing their right to strike, Lougheed provided public sector unions with the right to binding arbitration should their negotiations with the province break down.

Bill 46 tears up that deal for at least the next four years with the AUPE in light of negotiations breaking down. While most Albertans want to see public sector wages and benefits reined in to more closely reflect those earned in the private sector by comparable workers, this long-standing compromise has led to labour peace in Alberta for the most part.

Instead of allowing binding arbitration, Alison Redford’s government is insisting that the union leadership continue negotiations with a deadline of Jan. 31, 2014, or have a four-year wage contract imposed.

The contract the government wants to impose is zero per cent for the first two years and then one per cent in each of the next two years. The union and province reached an impasse and the union decided to wait for binding arbitration, where it believed its chances would be better. That right and historic arrangement has been shredded.

Even more disturbing however, is Bill 45. Under this bill, public sector workers, union leaders and even members of the general public can be fined thousands of dollars for just musing about or encouraging a strike. If this sounds Orwellian, it’s because it is.

The fundamental right to freedom of expression is being violated here and should concern all citizens who value our rights and freedoms.

This legislation will also impose $250,000 fines per day for any illegal strike and a $1-million fine per day that would go into a liability fund. Fines for illegal strikes are not unusual, though these ones are onerous.

Needless to say, making it illegal to just talk about striking is the kind of law one might expect in some banana republic or other oppressive totalitarian state.

Every opposition party opposes this legislation, but their voices could scarcely be heard on the issue as Redford limited debate on the legislation in the legislature.

“The Wildrose believes strongly in respecting the rule of law and upholding contracts including collective bargaining agreements,” Wildrose House Leader and Finance Critic Rob Anderson said in a written statement.

“Negotiating a collective bargaining agreement that is fair for taxpayers is an important goal; however, it does not give the government the right to terminate the legal arbitration rights of public sector employees.”

Exactly. Redford, who is a human rights lawyer, has clearly discarded what she learned when she helped Nelson Mandela work through changing the laws of post-Apartheid South Africa after he became that country’s first black president. That these bills passed third reading just one day before Mandela passed away on Thursday is both ironic and coincidental. It’s reasonable to assume that Mandela would be appalled by these laws that strip workers of their rights.

As Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, wrote in a column that ran in the Herald on Wednesday, “given the fact that there have only been four or five illegal strikes in Alberta over the past two decades, it’s hard to see a need for this kind of legislation.”

That Premier Redford actually has the gall to claim that among unionized workers “there’s an appreciation for what we’re trying to do,” is laughable.

Nobody believes that and no one can believe that a so-called human rights lawyer would allow such an abomination to the most fundamental right of any free and democratic society — the right to speak and say things that the state might not agree with.

© Copyright (c) The Calgary Herald

Dave Cournoyer
Communications Advisor
United Nurses of Alberta
Office: 780 425 1025
Mobile: 780 913 1563

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