Battleground Saskatchewan: Brad Wall looks to roll back labour rights

| July 10, 2012
Battleground Saskatchewan: Brad Wall looks to roll back labour rights

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Fifty years ago Saskatchewan changed Canadian history. Pushed by labour, farmer and community groups on July 1, 1962 the provincial government introduced the first universal health coverage program in North America.

The move was opposed by much of the business community and doctors withdrew their services for 23 days in a failed bid to force the government to back down. Four years later the federal government took the "Saskatchewan health model" to the rest of the country, recognizing the importance of providing this social protection to all Canadians.

Five decades later many Canadians judge Medicare to be the single most important program that makes this country better than the U.S. and tens of millions of Americans wish they had their own "Saskatchewan model."

Unfortunately, now Saskatchewan is making waves for quite a different reason. The province has become the main Canadian battleground for those who want to turn the clock back on workers' rights. In May, the Saskatchewan Party unveiled a labour consultation paper that includes a proposal to lengthen the work week and undermine public holidays.

The planned overhaul of the province's labour regulations would also undercut unions' ability to engage politically and burden labour organizations with red tape. It may also make it possible for employers to apply to the Labour Relations Board to de-certify a union and allow members to opt out of paying union dues.

Several of these proposals would probably not survive a Supreme Court challenge. That doesn't matter to the business ideologues. They are ecstatic that a sitting government would propose such changes.

In a recent piece titled "Saskawisconsin" Financial Post editor Terence Corcoran compared the government's proposed changes to recent Wisconsin reforms pushed by the Koch-brother funded governor Scott Walker. "Brad Wall may not be Canada's Scott Walker, but his Saskatchewan Party government last month issued a 'consultation paper' on labour legislation that hints at some reforms for Saskatchewan that reflect the Wisconsin reforms."

Corcoran is particularly happy that "Saskatchewan is shaking one of the pillars of union power in Canada", namely the 65 year old Supreme Court decision that all individuals who benefit from a collective agreement have to pay union dues. Business ideologues are ramping up their challenge to the "Rand formula" and the whole idea of collective bargaining.

In conclusion Corcoran writes, "Canada could use a little Saskawisconsin." But, he fails to see that there are a number of areas where Saskatchewan is currently lagging behind. At $9.50 an hour, Saskatchewan has Canada's lowest minimum wage after Alberta ($9.40).

The province is one of the few where it is possible to pay disabled workers less than the minimum wage and where women have no pay equity protection. Saskatchewan is now the hardest place to unionize. To even qualify for a vote, workers need to gather more signed cards (45 per cent) than any other province except BC (also 45 per cent) and employers have been given a much greater latitude to intimidate workers. The Saskatchewan Party also adopted draconian essential services legislation that the courts found to illegally restrict public sector strikes.

The 40-hour work week, paid holidays, freedom of assembly and collective bargaining are, much like universal health care, important rights and freedoms. They are essential social gains made by working people over decades to ensure that everyone gets the necessary support to live decently in this country.

During this moment of relative prosperity in the province, Saskatchewan is perfectly placed to once again lead the way towards greater equality for families, youth, seniors and all members of our communities. Rather than moving backwards, this overhauling of labour legislation should be a moment to advance workers' rights.

How about making Saskatchewan the first province to bring its minimum wage up to the poverty line and to tie it to a cost of living allowance? Or why not make Saskatchewan the first jurisdiction in North America to reduce the work week to 35 hours? Even better, the new labour code should entrench the idea that all workers deserve collective bargaining rights and a say over workplace decisions?

Short-sighted people will say "this can't be done, business won't survive". But, those same people argued that universal health coverage wasn't feasible. On the fiftieth anniversary of Medicare, Canadians across the country are thanking Saskatchewan for proving otherwise.


Dave Coles is president, Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada.




Here we are celebrating the 50th anniversary of medicare, the best thing that ever happened in Canada, the cornerstone of all our social programs.  Now it seems that Saskatchewan, the province all Canadians are so proud of, is being taken over by the "Greed is good." neoconservative mentality.

As for the Harper supporters who embrace the Harperite propaganda that the NDP government is a "dangerous" or "ridiculous" option, they have surely forgotten that every time they go to a doctor or have to be hospitalized, they have the incredible security of knowing that it won't impoverish them the way it does in the U.S. For this, they can thank the CCF(NDP), and especially Tommy Douglas, and Saskatchewan Premier Woodrow Lloyd.

Harper stated that he wants to "Construct our National Identity".  "Deconstruct" would be more accurate. It is all of our social programs starting with the creation of medicare and the Canada Pension Plan that form the basis of our Canadian identity, as moderate, compassionate, caring Canadians, whatever political party we adhere to.

Stephen Harper is a toy-boy for corporate interests. The neoconservative agenda is determined to discredit unions, lower minimum wage in every province, sell our natural resources to foreign interests, and provide a basin of cheap labour in Canada now that China is no longer a viable cheap labour option for anyone but the Chinese government.



Blame Roy Romanow and his NDP government. By pushing the NDP so far to the right, Romanow not only discredited the NDP forever, but opened up room for Saskatchewan's rightists to go wild. The resistance that fought Grant Devine every step of the way dissipated under Romanow's propaganda, leaving a politically exhausted and discouraged left. Romanow's election campaigns pushed his right-wing, business-friendly record while he answered all criticism by harping on Progressive Conservative corruption and incompetence. Now nothing left of the NDP's legacy. The Progressive Conservatives are barely a memory. The province is the backbone of the Conservatives in Ottawa while Wall blasts away at what Douglas, Lloyd, and Blakeney built. Surveys show that attitudes are still among the most progressive in Canada, but there's nowhere to go.

It's easy to explain Ontario, where right-wing populists and the mainstream media insight hatred of the labour movement. Times are tough here. But the response from those most in need of a union is to elect right wingers. How to explain Saskatchewan where the resource-rich economy is scooting along? Don't blame Romanow for it. Ask any Saskatchewaner under 60 who he is and they don't know. The NDP got old in power and lost the election. It happens. But the party has moved to the right. Most left-wing parties suffer from that disease. In Ontario and on Parliament Hill, the party has no appetite for deficit finance and a rebalancing of the tax system.Talk about increasing taxes is muffled. When one NDP leadership hopeful talked about raising taxes, ex-Romanow aide Brain Topp, a leading neo-con NDPer, warned against it. The PC leader in Ontario talks union-bashing and the provincial NDP leader has nothing to say.   

Very interesting comments Gonzaga and Cassius. 

Let's keep these conversations going.

Sure beats the Globe and Fail!

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