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United Conservative Party introduces the Open for Fast Food Act -- sorry about the 13% pay cut, kids

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Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and Labour Minister Jason Copping, in shirtsleeves. Photo: Screenshot of news conference

Premier Jason Kenney's newly elected United Conservative Party introduced its second bill yesterday, calling it the Open for Business Act.

The NDP immediately dubbed Bill 2 the "Pick Your Pockets Bill," seeing as its provisions include a 13-per-cent pay cut to $13 an hour from $15 for students under 18 and a way for employers to force their employees to accept time off at straight time for overtime worked. The bill also makes it harder for working people to get holiday pay.

Actually, though, a better name for Bill 2 might be the "Open for Fast Food Act."

After all, there wasn't actually much meat in this unappetizing little burger, and most of the condiments appear to have been designed to please fast-food corporations.

The fast-food industry was so delighted it sent Vancouver-based Mark von Schellwitz, Restaurant Canada's chief Western Canadian lobbyist, to chair the news conference put on by Kenney and Labour Minister Jason Copping in an Edmonton barroom. Richard Truscott of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, an organization that is also not exactly a friend of the workingman and woman, stood by beaming.

From the way the newser was organized, you almost would have thought Restaurants Canada was a branch of the Alberta government and von Schellwitz a senior official. Then again, maybe that's a pretty accurate description of the way things now work in our open-for-business UCP government.

Why pay for government lawyers when you can just get industry lobbyists to cook up legislation for you?

Hell, if that had been the case in 1944, when Restaurants Canada was known as the Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association, it wouldn't have been necessary for the group to complain so vociferously about prime minister William Lyon Mackenzie King letting the fight against Hitler and his Nazis cut into Canadian restaurant profits!

Well, that was then and this is now. Just the same, Restaurants Canada, one of a group of organizations with a history of advocating for anti-union laws, ran an energetic third-party campaign during the run-up to the April 16 election to help get the UCP elected.

So this may be what is known in politics as "you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours," or, as Kenney put it yesterday, "promise made, promise kept."

Predictably, there were a few mischievously anti-union timbits in Bill 2, though none of the really outrageous stuff observers had been braced for, like right-to-work rules designed to put unions out of business or restrictions on union activities other than narrowly defined labour relations work.

Don't go to sleep, though. Hints were dropped yesterday in response to reporters' questions that such changes might be included in another round of labour legislation in the fall.

Meantime, the bill restores the requirement for "democratic" certification votes in all union drives, no matter how many employees sign cards, and includes provisions for a mysterious government program to support unionized employees. Since unions already provide assistance for most things under the Labour Code, this presumably means members who aren't happy with the representation they're getting from unions will have a new government bureaucracy to help them.

Alberta unions should have no trouble dealing with either of these provisions. The first will make organizing a little harder when the employers bend the rules to bully their employees, as often happens, and the second may turn out to be an occasional nuisance.

Maybe the UCP can contract the work out to Restaurants Canada to avoid being accused of creating additional red tape!

Well, the Conservative attitude evident yesterday seemed to be no pain, no gain. Still, they were careful to ensure the pain is felt by students trying to get through their education and working people owed overtime pay, while the gain should go into the pockets of foreign corporate fast-food executives.

Pretty much standard operating procedure for Conservatives, in other words.

Kenney remarked during the news conference that the NDP government made "radical changes to Alberta labour law." This is a bizarre claim when you consider the NDP only brought the province's labour legislation mid-way up to standards that had had prevailed in other provinces for decades.

The premier also blew off concerns about the big pay cut for young workers by glibly reminding his audience that "13 bucks an hour is a heck of a lot more than zero bucks an hour, and that's the option here." This, of course, is untrue. But it is pretty much what you'd expect from a guy with a million-dollar pension who used to live in the basement of his mother's old folks' home.

Face it, Canadians don't elect Conservative governments to be empathetic. They elect them to squeeze people they resent. In this regard, the UCP is performing to specifications.

The news conference also distracted nicely from the torrent of nasty stories about former UCP leadership candidate Jeff Callaway's "Kamikaze Campaign" that just won't quit.

Yesterday's installments revealed how the Office of the Election Commissioner has levied another $22,000 in fines against Callaway's former campaign manager and chief finance officer, and how Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer, who refuses to appoint a special prosecutor to oversee the case, has now been interviewed by the RCMP about it.

Wilson-Raybould and Philpott to run as … independents

In the big national story of the day, former Liberal cabinet rebels Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott announced they will seek re-election this fall as Independent candidates.

No, they won't be running for the Green Party, as had been widely rumoured, or even for the NDP, a possibility the Ottawa press gallery seems to have ruled out a few days ago.

This will give them an opportunity to take some votes from candidates in their ridings for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's Liberals, the party from which they are estranged.

But actually hold onto their seats? Anything is possible, but it seems unlikely. Certainly campaign finance rules in Canada are tilted heavily against Independent candidates, which usually makes such efforts quixotic.

So that hissing sound you hear is probably just the air leaking out of this story.

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with The Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca

Photo: Screenshot of news conference​

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