Alberta NDP Labour Critic Christina Gray addressing the AFL convention.
Alberta NDP Labour Critic Christina Gray addressing the AFL convention.

An NDP Government will repeal the Sovereignty Act and other controversial United Conservative Party (UCP) laws while creating better jobs in a more affordable Alberta, Opposition Labour Critic Christina Gray told delegates to the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL)’s biennial convention today.

Appearing before about 500 delegates in the Calgary Convention Centre, Gray said they can expect an NDP government to deliver big changes and many outright policy reversals to health care, education, community support, economic diversification and labour legislation. 

Vowing to restore balance to the province’s workplace legislation, Gray said an NDP government would “repeal Bill 32’s attacks on workers’ rights, repeal Bill 47’s attacks on workplace safety, and repeal the horrendous Sovereignty Act that is attacking investment in this province.” 

“Unlike Danielle Smith’s UCP, we will protect your Canada Pension,” she went on, promising the NDP will end efforts to pull Alberta out of the Canada Pension Plan, “risking your retirement security just to stick it to Ottawa.”

It will also halt the UCP’s unpopular scheme to replace the RCMP with new force under the control of the provincial government, she said.

Gray said the NDP will also freeze auto insurance rates and cap utility rates – “because payday loans are not the answer to high power bills!”

There was plenty more in Gray’s comprehensive policy speech, too, which was originally to have been delivered by Opposition Leader and former premier Rachel Notley.

In a short video message before Gray stepped up to the microphone, however, Notley told the 500 union members in the hall she has tested positive for COVID-19.

“I know how important it is for me to do my part and make sure everyone in that room is safe,” she said. “I’m fine. I’m just isolating at home and resting so I can get better before we all set out on this campaign.”

Gray, a former labour minister in Notley’s cabinet, laid out an ambitious NDP agenda to reverse many unpopular UCP policies implemented under premiers Jason Kenney and Danielle Smith, including the school curriculum almost universally reviled by educators and the UCP’s efforts to suppress wages for low-wage workers.

Instead, she said, the NDP would build better future for Alberta by “investing in capital infrastructure, building the hospitals, schools, rec centres, roads, and bridges we need to keep our economy strong.”

And that, she said to the cheers of the crowd, will mean “good-paying jobs in construction, and under an Alberta NDP government, union jobs,” a sentiment that echoes many comments made since his election by U.S. President Joe Biden. “Through community benefit agreements we will make sure more of our infrastructure is union-built,” she added.

“With an NDP government, Albertans will see real action to grow and diversify the economy,” she promised. “We’ll diversify within our oil and gas with a major boost to petrochemical refining in the Heartland and find new ways to use our bitumen.

“Our party supports energy workers and supports our proud legacy of developing energy in this province,” she said. “This means being visionary when it comes to developing hydrogen fuels, exploring geothermal wells, and extracting more rare earth minerals.”

“We’ll do that while cutting emissions and drawing more investment in our abundant wind and solar resources,” Gray continued. “We’ll diversify outside of our energy sector with new diversification funds that support the development of advanced technology, digital media, value-add agriculture, and more.”

The NDP, she said, has a plan to attract $20-billion in private-sector investment that will create “jobs that pay the mortgage and support families, so that workers can come home and pay the bills.”

Gray mocked the approach taken by the UCP and Premier Smith: “We don’t want to ‘Take Back Alberta,’ we want to lead Canada! 

“But we can’t do that with Danielle Smith and the UCP and all her extreme friends and corrupt insiders. Under Danielle Smith, public health experts get fired and Conservative insiders get big paycheques to rewrite health laws!”

Meanwhile, Gray said, while “Albertans continue to struggle against record inflation. These so-called ‘affordability payments’ – if you were lucky enough to get one – all end in June.

When that happens, she said, “the cheques stop flowing – unless you’re Preston Manning!”

“You want to know how we know Danielle Smith can’t be premier?” Gray asked. “Because right now she holds the highest position of power in the entire province, and it only took an extremist like Artur Pawlowski 11 minutes to steamroll her into interfering in our system of justice!”

Likewise, Ms. Gray said, the UCP’s refusal to take the advice of health care experts led to the near collapse of the health care system, the impacts of which are still evident today. “Now she’s talking about privatization, user fees, and fund-raising for health care.”

Noting that it was Smith herself who said that, not anyone who disagrees with her policies, Gray remarked: “Makes you wonder – when is she going to sue herself for defamation?”

The NDP will return to the work of eliminating poverty and the social impact of poverty in Alberta by housing 40,000 Albertans building more permanent supportive housing and increasing rental supplements, she said. 

“We will restore fair overtime pay, fair holiday pay, and, yes, we will increase the minimum wage to match inflation,” she said.

And if you work in Alberta, she added, “you should be able to take care of those you love, which means having sick leave, and parental leave, and affordable child care, and predictable schedules that give your family some stability.”

“We will invest directly in union-run training centres, recognizing Labour’s role in skilling up our workforce,” she said, addressing issues of concern to her audience.

“We will restore workplace health and safety laws. We’ll expand the right to refuse unsafe work. And we’ll put the ‘worker’ back into Workers’ Compensation.”

“We’ll expand general presumptive coverage for PTSD, and we will expand coverage for the brave firefighters who fought the Fort McMurray wildfire! Every last one of them.”

Gray also promised to restore card-check certification, which limits the opportunities for anti-union employers to bend the law to stop union organizing drives, and to restore first-contract arbitration, which provides a legal mechanism for newly unionized employees to reach a first collective agreement with an employer that refuses to negotiate. 

And she said the NDP would end the practice of “double-breasting,” running affiliated companies, union and non-union, to suppress wages while being able to bid on union-only work. 

David J. Climenhaga

David J. Climenhaga

David Climenhaga is a journalist and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. He left journalism after the strike...