“He would continually bring people back to the table. That was his greatest strength”—Ms Redford on Nelson Mandela*
Sadly, Ms Redford never learned how to bring “people back to the table” here in Alberta. So she resorted to the meat hammer—ramming through Bill 46 for force a “settlement” on the AUPE in order to abort the compulsory arbitration process.
With a stoke of the pen, Ms Redford destroyed the integrity of Mr Lougheed’s promise to 100,000 public service employees who gave up the right to strike in return for a statutory right to compulsory arbitration.
Let’s make a deal (or not)
The preamble to Bill 46, the Public Service Salary Restraint Act, overflows with vacuous statements about the government “living within its means” and seeking “better market alignment” with public service employees in other provinces.
Ms Redford said she wants the government to reach a “fair deal for taxpayers and a fair deal for public servants.”**Public servants don’t pay taxes?
Interestingly, the government’s commitment to “living within its means” does not apply to MLA compensation or paying a certain deputy minister double what her fellow DMs are being paid.
Similarly, the principle of “market alignment” only works one way—down. Mr Horner told the House that “...all of the research…would suggest that we are very competitive, and we should stay that way.”***
Well then, said Mr Bilous (NDP), Alberta should consider the fact that BC just gave its 51,000 public service employees a 5.5% increase over five years together with a bonus if the BC economy continues to grow. Mr Horner said the BC situation was unique—it came about through negotiation which (he said in a bizarre leap of logic) is exactly what the government is doing with Bill 46.
Let me get this straight. The government rammed through Bill 46 which forces a four year settlement of 0%, 0%, 1% and 1% so that AUPE will come back to the bargaining table and get what? Certainly not the five year 5.5% plus bonus settlement BC’s public service got because that’s “unique”.
Mr Horner described Bill 46 as a framework for negotiations (actually it’s a law). But he can’t explain why the law put in place by Peter Lougheed in 1971 is suddenly so inadequate.
Here’s a clue: The Lougheed arbitration clause requires the arbitrator to consider wages and benefits in the public and private sectors within the context of Alberta’s general economy. The Conference Board of Canada says Alberta’s outlook is “exceedingly bright” with a 3.4% increase in 2014 and a 2.6% increase in 2015…in other words, Mr Horner’s offer of zippo is unacceptable.
It’s just this once
Mr Horner can’t understand why we’re fussing. Sure, Lougheed’s government passed a law guaranteeing the unions compulsory arbitration, and sure, Redford’s government just passed a law breaking that law, but it’s only this once and only for the AUPE, so what’s the big deal?
Let me spell it out for you Mr Horner. Passing a law which crushes a right guaranteed by law even once is a betrayal of public trust and immoral.
Furthermore, singling out one group, who will be held up to others as an object lesson of what to expect if they don’t fall into line is also immoral.
Lastly, defending this immoral law as an example of prudent fiscal practice and living within our means is the height of hypocrisy.
Sadly, it’s working. Too many people have accepted the “taxpayers” (us) versus “unions” (them) dichotomy. They relish the thought of the unions getting a dose of their own medicine (whatever that means). They’re blind to the bigger issue at stake which is this: If the government can strip away the fundamental rights of one segment of society, they can strip away your fundamental rights as well.
Bills 45 and 46 exposed
Bill 46 took away the union’s right to compulsory arbitration without giving back its right to strike. Bill 45 made it illegal to even whisper about the possibility of a strike (all strikes are illegal) or take steps to protect the public in the event an illegal strike might be coming.
Redford’s government justifies the breach of the union’s fundamental rights on the basis of living within our means and remaining competitive—at a time of unprecedented economic growth.
Professor Charles Derber in his book Morality Wars calls this “immoral morality” where certain principles and beliefs are used to justify socially harmful or unethical policies.
Nelson Mandela fought tooth and nail against “immoral morality” in South Africa. Ms Redford worked with him as part of a team steering Africa out of apartheid and rebuilding its legal system. And yet she learned nothing from the man she called her friend.
But we have. We’ve learned we can fight these immoral laws by doing exactly what Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, asked us to do: (1) protest to protect our democratic rights, (2) reassess Ms Redford (is she really a progressive conservative) and (3) support the public sector workers.****
Who knows, maybe Ms Redford’s attempt to crush the unions will reinvigorate the union movement in Alberta. Wouldn’t that be ultimate justice!
* Calgary Herald, Dec 6, 2013, A3
**Hansard, Nov 28, 2013, 3196
*** Hansard, Dec 4, 2013, 3384
****Calgary Herald , Dec 4, 2013 A15