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Wildrose blames NDP for sensible labour relations practice started in 2013 by Tories

Alison Redford

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Will Grant Hunter, the Wildrose Opposition's labour critic, apologize to Alberta's New Democrats for his intemperate accusation Wednesday that the Notley government is in bed with the province's largest union because of a sensible practice that dates back to when Alison Redford was premier?

Alert readers will recall that in addition to being premier of Alberta, Redford was for a spell the leader of the Progressive Conservative Party, the Wildrose Party's potential date at the upcoming unite-the-right cotillion.

"NDP government must clarify whether they have the best interests of Albertans or union pals at heart," hyperventilated the headline on the Wildrose news release quoting Hunter, the MLA for Cardston-Taber-Warner.

Of course, both things could be true at the same time, but let's never mind that today. The Wildrose release immediately set off the anti-NDP barking chain at a few Postmedia newspapers, although for the most part the remaining real journalists in the Alberta Legislature Press Gallery tried to keep their hands off this embarrassing Opposition effort to manufacture a scandal.

After complaining about recent raises for provincial court judges -- notorious trade unionists, those guys! -- the Wildrose release stated that "current Alberta Health Services job postings have revealed that all management and out-of-scope positions at AHS are 'being reviewed for possible inclusion in the AUPE General Support Services bargaining unit.'"

"This could potentially supply the AUPE with millions of extra dollars in union dues, and forcibly unionize more AHS employees, many of whom may have no interest in being unionized," the release screeched, quoting Hunter accusing the government of looking out for "the NDP's union pals."

It's troubling that this passage also used the sort of dog-whistle anti-union terminology associated with Cotton Belt right-to-work states and the unsavoury advocates of such policies in this country, such as former Conservative MP Rob Anders, jettisoned by the federal Conservatives as an embarrassment before the 2015 federal election.

But then, Hunter is well known for his suggestion the spectre of Communism is haunting Alberta, so that kind of rhetoric may just be part of his Montana-border shtick.

OK, here are the facts: The note that Hunter complained about has appeared on every Alberta Health Services job posting in the AHS general support service occupational bargaining unit since Oct. 14, 2013.

Every single one.

As noted, Redford was premier at the time this started. The year before, she had been welcomed to the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees' annual convention by union President Guy Smith. Subsequently, a couple more Tories were premiers of Alberta, fellows named Dave Hancock and Jim Prentice, while the practice continued.

Is Hunter also saying Redford, Hancock and Prentice are all "pals" with AUPE too?

AUPE was created, by the way, by the passage of the Public Service Employee Relations Act by the Conservative government of premier Peter Lougheed in 1977. The large general service bargaining unit was created, also by the way, by a policy implemented by premier Ralph Klein in 2003. Pals as well?

The notice is on all those job postings, an AHS spokesperson explained to me today, because as part of the collective agreement between AUPE and AHS, the union and employer have for several years been reviewing who under the terms of the collective agreement belongs in the union and who doesn't.

If I may be so bold, this is a sensible and grown-up way of settling a disagreement without wasting taxpayers' money or having a labour dispute. Nobody is being unreasonable about it -- except the Wildrose Party, of course -- which is why it has been taking a long time under two different governing parties with somewhat different philosophies. 

If there are any issues that simply can't be resolved by this process, AHS noted, the parties have agreed, like the mature people they are, to refer them to the Alberta Labour Relations Board for a resolution.

Which brings us back to the original question in this post: Will Hunter and Wildrose Leader Brian Jean, who is also quoted in the release, apologize to the NDP for their irresponsible and misleading statements?

They really should. Don't hold your breath.

Investigation of Alison Redford's role in "Tobaccogate" not over yet

Speaking of Alison Redford, it would appear the fallout from her short, unhappy time at the helm of the PC Party and Alberta will continue for a while yet.

British Columbia Ethics Commissioner Paul Fraser, asked last spring to provide a disinterested opinion on whether another investigation is warranted into the appointment by Redford's government of legal counsel to represent Alberta in litigation against tobacco companies, on Wednesday informed the government the matter should be looked at again.

One of the firms represented in the legal consortium chosen for the multi-billion-dollar lawsuit included Redford's former husband and political advisor.

Fraser advised Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley in a letter that "I have determined that are-investigation is warranted based on new information that was revealed" after a 2013 investigation by the Alberta Ethics Commissioner of the day cleared Redford of any wrongdoing. "My decision to re-investigate should not be interpreted as a finding about the propriety of the conduct of the Honourable Alison Redford, Fraser added.

"Commissioner Fraser has been asked by the Alberta Ethics Commissioner to undertake the re-investigation," a news release from the Alberta government yesterday elaborated.

No doubt the Wildrose Opposition will also try to find a way to blame the NDP for what has come to be known in Alberta as Tobaccogate.

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

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