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Alberta Diary

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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 Toronto Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. His 1995 book, A Poke in the Public Eye, explores the relationships among Canadian journalists, public relations people and politicians. He left journalism after the strike at the Calgary Herald in 1999 and 2000 to work for the trade union movement. Alberta Diary focuses on Alberta politics and social issues.

Deplorable Wildrose attack on new government negotiator offers glimpse of what party leaders really think

| March 21, 2016
Deplorable Wildrose attack on new government negotiator offers glimpse of what party leaders really think

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The Wildrose Party's troublingly vicious personal attack on Kevin Davediuk earlier this month illustrates the degree to which rigid anti-union ideology now dominates Alberta's largest Opposition party.

Davediuk is the former corporate and union negotiator appointed as the Alberta government's senior public sector labour-contract bargainer on March 9. His most recent position was as a senior negotiator employed by the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees, which represents unionized Alberta civil servants in addition to large numbers of public-sector health care workers.

The Wildrose attack on Davediuk's appointment most likely began principally as cynical mischief designed to undermine anything done by the New Democratic Party Government of Premier Rachel Notley.

But the highly personal attack on Davediuk's character by Wildrose Finance Critic Derek Fildebrandt in particular tells a compelling story about the current Wildrose leadership's McCarthyist attitudes toward unions and people who work for them, either as volunteers or staff members.

In this, it would seem, the Wildrose Party not only reflects, but now significantly surpasses, the hostility toward unions of the former Conservative federal government of prime minister Stephen Harper.

In a Postmedia news report that appeared in the tabloid and broadsheet versions of that Toronto-based publishing company's Edmonton edition, Fildebrandt all but accused Davediuk of being prepared to intentionally throw the game in negotiations to benefit his former employer.

"AUPE will be negotiating from both sides of the table with no representation for taxpayers," Fildebrandt told the Edmonton Journal-Edmonton Sun reporter. "This is little better than hiring the fox to guard the henhouse."

If this does not meet the legal definition of a defamatory statement, it sails very close to the wind.

This union-baiting was soon repeated along the Postmedia barking chain as Calgary Sun columnist Rick Bell quoted Fildebrandt doubling down on his assessment of Davediuk's character with the claim the result would be "sham bargaining."

"The NDP is flipping the coin here and both sides are tails for the taxpayers," Bell quoted the Wildrose finance critic as saying. "This is the AUPE sitting across the table from the AUPE with the poor taxpayer not even represented in the room."

Whatever you may think about unions in general or AUPE in particular, there is not a shred of evidence to indicate Davediuk would conduct himself in the way Fildebrandt suggests, and a considerable amount to the contrary.

Now, in the interests of full disclosure, I am obligated to say that I too am a former employee of AUPE and, in that capacity, I worked with Davediuk and hold his abilities and his character in high regard.

I also know of his reputation from the many years he spent as an extremely effective employer representative at the bargaining table. So if you ask me, the parties that ought to be most concerned by his appointment are those on the union side of the table.

In my experience, union contract negotiators (and their employer counterparts) are in this regard like professional hockey players and litigation lawyers: they play to win for whomever they represent.

Some of the best ones (and in my estimation Davediuk is one of the best ones) from time to time move from one side of the table to the other.

I suppose that's why Harper, back when he was Conservative prime minister of Canada, hired a former union negotiator (and NDP politician) to represent Canada as ambassador in Washington, D.C.

Before serving ably as the New Democrat premier of Manitoba, Gary Doer, appointed ambassador to the United States by Harper in the fall of 2009, was for seven years the president of the Manitoba Government Employees Association, that province's equivalent of AUPE, and also played an important role in the Manitoba Federation of Labour.

Who knows, perhaps Harper, no fan of unions generally, was impressed by the fact that back in 1984 Doer attacked the leadership of Canadian Labour Congress president Dennis McDermott -- who, by the way, was made Canadian ambassador to Ireland by another Conservative prime minister, Brian Mulroney.

Regardless of the former PM's reasoning, Doer effectively represented Canadians in Washington until his retirement 18 days ago.

The Wildrose leadership, however, now far surpasses Mulroney and even Harper in the purity of its harsh ideology. As far as the Wildrosers are concerned, apparently, employment by a union and perhaps membership in one amounts to ideological contamination and prima facie evidence of bad character.

As for the Wildrose Party's cheerleaders at Postmedia, I doubt it would occur even to them to draw similar conclusions about a businessperson hired by a government to negotiate with corporations. And yet the same faulty logic would obviously be quite consistent.

The Wildrose Party's conduct in this case should be seen as a warning sign of its attitudes about the rights of working people to bargain collectively. Fildebrandt's unjustified character assassination of Davediuk is simply deplorable.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

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