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Call it what it is, says labour minister: Conservative governments denied Alberta working people their rights

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Alberta Labour Minister Christina Gray (Photo: Alex Shevalier).

For many years, Alberta working people were routinely denied rights other Canadians take for granted, Alberta Labour Minister Christina Gray said last weekend in a bluntly worded speech on labour relations policy in Alberta.

The speech provided insights into the direction the NDP government of Premier Rachel Notley will take in its campaign for re-election in 2019, and as such it deserved media coverage.

It got nada. No reporters attended. The paid media, at any rate, were all busy watching the United Conservative Party shoot itself in both feet an hour and a quarter to the north in the city of Red Deer, best known as the halfway point between Calgary and Edmonton.

Gray's remarks to the Alberta Federation of Labour's mid-term conference at the University of Calgary were the sort of thing that, once upon a time, the Calgary media would have covered as a matter of responsibility and routine.

No more. And while the UCP bunfest was unquestionably the more important political story in Alberta, it wasn't the only one. Alas, the days are apparently gone when Alberta media are capable of covering more than one story on the same topic on the same day.

So it falls to me to help readers catch up on another important story in a busy week for Alberta political news.

Given her assertion, Gray started her remarks by observing that "denied" is not too strong a word to use when addressing the rights of working people in Alberta. "What do you call it when our workplaces were deliberately kept unsafe? When government after government ignores a recommendation to give workers the right to participate in health and safety matters? When our workers can be fired for caring for a sick kid?

"I call that rights denied!"

Governments have choices, just as individuals do, Gray observed. "Previous governments chose to do nothing. Our government chose to act. Welcome to the 21st century in Alberta, friends."

Well, to the mid-20th century anyway … since the reforms to labour law introduced by the NDP are highly significant, but far from groundbreaking in the Canadian context. Nevertheless, Gray said, Alberta has finally joined other Canadian provinces by giving our workers the right to refuse unsafe work, a significant development that will take effect on June 1.

"We're also making health and safety committees mandatory in workplaces that have 20 or more workers, so there's no excuse for unsafe working conditions. This was a recommendation made to the Progressive Conservatives in 1974! We're finally getting the job done."

"The Conservatives didn't forget about these policy gaps," Gray explained. "They consciously chose not to do them." Indeed, the United Conservative Opposition led by Jason Kenney has vowed to roll back these basic improvements to Alberta workplace safety law, which are common in most other Canadian jurisdictions.

In other words, Gray observed, "Jason Kenney and his friends aren't talking about building this province, they're talking about cuts, and pain, and dialling back the clock on everything Albertans have fought for. They're talking about incoherent and unconstitutional 'right-to-work' laws. They're talking about cutting back teachers and nurses …"

She concluded: "Let's keep Alberta moving forward."

And mainstream media didn't have a word to say about this sharp riposte to the nattering nabobs of negativity in Red Deer. What's with that, anyway?

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

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