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UCP bulls ahead with plan to ignore public employees' collective agreements

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UCP Finance Minister Travis Toews (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

One thing you can say for Jason Kenney's United Conservative Party government: they don't even pretend to act in good faith!

Early this month they mailed public sector unions a letter asking them to take part in "a consultation session" about the government's wish to delay contractually stipulated wage arbitration included in a number of public sector collective agreements, including those for thousands of nurses, medical professionals, hospital support staff and other health-care workers.

Now, without even bothering to do any "consulting," they're introducing something to the legislature today called the Public Sector Wage Arbitration Deferral Act.

This isn't a surprise. Finance Minister Travis Toews has been saying repeatedly he's prepared to use legislation to override legal contracts between unions and provincial agencies to delay contractually mandated bargaining and arbitration. That delay, in turn, is the set-up for the government's planned attack on public service wages.

Say what you will about these guys, at least they don't pretend. With the exception of when they're whining about pipeline protests in Vancouver, they have complete contempt for the rule of law!

I mean, face it, this government and its lawyers know perfectly well that thing called the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms nowadays includes a guarantee of meaningful collective bargaining.

This doesn't mean the process ensures a specific result. It's easy to find lawyers who will tell you it lets governments dictate terms and conditions as long as there's a veneer of meaningless consultation with the union in the crosshairs.

But they're not even pretending to obey the law -- which, after all, Alberta Conservatives have always believed is only for other people.

Naturally, Premier Jason Kenney and his government know the affected unions are sure to challenge them in court, and win there eventually, but in the meantime they believe they can act as if the law doesn't apply to them -- with some evidence they may be right.

Well, welcome to the new Alberta, just like the old Alberta.

Of course, there will be some naïve souls who preach that if the government won't abide by one contract (say, with a labour union) it may just as likely ignore another (say, with a corporation). But if you still believe in such quaint notions as the rule of law, it's said here you can count on it you are almost certainly outnumbered in this province by people who will support the government over due process and fundamental rights.

So if you're a public employee about to take a haircut to finance huge tax cuts for billionaires and foreign corporations, you can also be confident many of your neighbours and family members will take quiet satisfaction from your bad fortune. You might want to think about that the next time your right-wing brother-in-law comes to you for a loan!

Today's legislation, as noted, is a lead-up to the government's presumed plans to roll back the wages of public employees.

We can say this with confidence even though the government hasn't yet officially admitted it plans to roll back wages. After all, it's hard to avoid that conclusion when the person they've appointed to lead their "blue-ribbon" panel to find ways to cut, recently published a paper calling on the government to declare war on public employees by engaging in quick, bogus consultation, then legislating a 2-per-cent wage cut followed by two more years of frozen wages.

Janice MacKinnon is a University of Saskatchewan history professor and, as you're sure to be reminded, a former NDP finance minister. In the latter position, she was the one who closed 52 rural Saskatchewan hospitals and went on a privatization spree.

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 Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

Photo: David J. Climenhaga

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