Who leaked the Alberta government's response to the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees' unfair labour practices complaint to an Edmonton Journal political reporter, and why?
This is an important question because at the time the leak took place, the government document questioning AUPE President Guy Smith's personal honesty in harsh and colourful terms was being kept confidential by the Alberta Labour Relations Board.
This was done as a fairly routine part of the board's effort to effect a settlement of AUPE’s complaint that the Alberta government had broken an agreement it made to end the illegal strike by about 2,500 jail guards on May 1.
On May 9, the day before the Journal story was published, Labour Relations Board Chair Mark Asbell appointed Vice-Chair Lyle Kanee under the terms of Alberta's Public Service Employee Relations Act "to enquire into the complaint and endeavour to effect a settlement."
To assist Kanee's effort to bring the parties together to reach a settlement, the board halted formal processing of AUPE's complaint until the vice-chair's inquiry and settlement efforts could be completed.
To promote opportunities for settlements, it is the board's policy in such circumstances not to release or comment on any complaints or replies it receives from the parties to a dispute.
So, just to make this crystal clear, although the government document according to the Journal was filed with the board on May 7, acting officially, the ALRB did not provide and would never have provided the document to the Edmonton Journal.
Indeed, because the processing of AUPE’s complaint had been suspended by the board -- and even before the vice-chair was appointed to seek a settlement, everyone involved must have known this was an almost inevitable step in the process -- there was really no requirement or need for the government's position to be filed with the board at that time.
Regardless, the only way the Journal could have received this document was in the form of an unofficial leak from a person or persons who for the time being remain unknown.
So it is reasonable for us to ask what the objective was of whoever leaked the government position.
AUPE and the government were making conflicting claims at the time and were in a battle for public opinion. AUPE said the guards who had struck illegally on April 27 had been offered an amnesty by the government, which in this case is also the employer. The government claimed there never was any such agreement.
So by making the government's argument public, the leak of the government filing to the Journal story delivered a potentially significant public relations blow to AUPE.
The document was summarized by the Journal’s reporter as saying AUPE President Guy Smith, desperate to stop the heavy fines the courts were piling onto the union for the strike, intentionally lied to his own members to get them to go back to work.
It is reasonable to conclude the leak of this document was a gesture of bad faith, by whoever leaked it. It is possible to conclude it was an act of sabotage, intended to make a settlement impossible.
At the very least, the assault on Smith's reputation will certainly make achieving a resolution much more difficult -- although AUPE is now reacting in a very measured fashion, no doubt on the advice of its legal counsel.
Only four general groups of people would have had access to the document before it was leaked: ALRB staff and officials, the union, lawyers involved in the case, and the government, including the political infrastructure of the Progressive Conservative Party.
It is said here it is extremely unlikely that anyone associated with the board, the union or any of the lawyers involved in the case would have done this.
We can rule out the union because the document paints it and its president in an extremely unflattering light, and had the potential to damage the president's reputation among the members who elect him.
We can rule out the ALRB because despite a legislated structure designed to be employer friendly, its staff is thoroughly professional and aware of the need to act in good faith and enforce its own policies.
We can rule out any lawyer involved in the case because they are sworn to uphold the law and obviously understand clearly the professional implications of engaging in unethical jiggery-pokery with material of this sort.
So this leaves us, by process of elimination, with only one group of likely suspects for this highly unorthodox and unethical information leak.
To wit: someone in the government, most likely associated with the Progressive Conservative Party.
One can argue that there are also practical arguments from the government's perspective not to leak the document -- at least if it is serious about reaching an settlement to end AUPE's complaint.
Certainly, if mediation fails as a result of the leak, it seems extremely likely the union will call Deputy Premier Thomas Lukaszuk to the stand and examine him under oath.
After all, what transpired at Lukaszuk's dinner with Smith on April 29 -- the one at which Smith says they agreed to an amnesty deal and Lukaszuk says they did not -- is the key to the dispute between the union and the government.
Nevertheless, the government is the only party that stands to gain in any way from the publication of this material.
Moreover, the Progressive Conservative Party is well known to have a history of using questionable leaks to media of confidential information as a political strategy. Conservative parties generally are known to put a premium on appearing tough, and eschewing flip-flops like the one executed by Lukaszuk in the AUPE's version of post-strike events.
It is highly evocative, moreover, that in addition to its timing, the leak was made to the Journal's political reporter, who conveniently works in the Press Gallery of the Legislature Building.
Naturally, no one can fault a journalist for reporting on such a document.
But the leaker needs to be identified and dealt with if Albertans are to continue to have faith in the work of quasi-judicial bodies like the Alberta Labour Relations Board.
This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.