This is page numbers 4777 - 4802 of the Hansard for the 18th Assembly, 3rd Session. The original version can be accessed on the Legislative Assembly's website or by contacting the Legislative Assembly Library. The word of the day was strike.

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Motion 31-18(3): Request for Government of the Northwest Territories to Enter Binding Arbitration with Union of Northern Workers, Defeated
Motions

Page 4784

The Speaker Jackson Lafferty

Colleagues, we left off on a debate of the motion. Next on my list, Member for Sahtu.

Motion 31-18(3): Request for Government of the Northwest Territories to Enter Binding Arbitration with Union of Northern Workers, Defeated
Motions

Page 4784

Daniel McNeely Sahtu

Good afternoon, colleagues. To the motion. We make status quo decisions every day in our homes, in our communities, community and regional leadership roles, and in this Legislative Assembly in what we can only deem hopefully would be in the best interest for those whom we serve.

Collectively, we possess the opportunity in researching, gathering, and seeking advice on the information that would assist during our decision making process. Concluding our decision is not an easy one to make, and not acceptable by some. However, we have shown leadership by deciding where we stand and what we believe would be in the best interest of those who placed their trust, the general public, in our abilities on November 23, 2015.

Mr. Speaker, no one wants a strike. The Public Services Act describes the process for achieving a collective agreement. We are currently in the mediation stage. The request for binding arbitration is problematic for a number of reasons.

First, the Public Service Act does not include any provisions for binding arbitration to settle negotiations. Then, there is needed agreed principles guiding the arbitration process.

In our deliberation leading to today's decision, this information I share is very important for the public to know. A motion of the Assembly cannot compel the Government of the Northwest Territories to take a particular action. That is, a motion adopted by the Legislative Assembly is not binding on the GNWT. A motion that is defeated in the Assembly has no effect and cannot be introduced again during the same session.

Our NWT economy is combined by the public, industry, and private sectors. All are complementary in generating revenues and opportunities.

With the government's prudent and management capacity through the Fiscal Responsibility Policy and the Financial Administration Act, in a fiscally responsible manner, we can see adjustments for capital growth and workforce acknowledgments while realizing the positive measures.

Unexpected disruptions or forced growth must be considered a gap and, more importantly, where is the loss in covering this gap? These are elements and principles during strategic planning. Capital planning, for example, on schools, health centres, and housing are important parts of the NWT economy, and the ability to deliver services to our NWT residents.

I can only hope our collective bargaining representatives are negotiating with honesty, integrity, and with the utmost passion and understanding of the challenges faced every day by the majority of small communities that make up this territory and the citizens of the Northwest Territories.

I must respect the process, show leadership by developing a conclusion to a decision. Through research, I'm confident in my abilities not to support this motion and I have full confidence in both the collective bargaining parties with their knowledge and wisdom in arriving to an equitable agreement this weekend.

In closing, I want to say to our colleagues in the House and the listeners that I, too, have received many e-mails and they were, I would say, very sympathetic to the process and very convincing on the challenges that they face constantly, giving examples of what may happen during a strike to their incomes, to their constant day-to-day challenges of payments. I hope that I have concluded faithfully with the decision today despite the fact that Members of my riding gave me options. I have chosen an option and I hope it is in the best interest of everybody in the Northwest Territories. For all these reasons and my views, I can't support this motion. Mahsi, Mr. Chair.

Motion 31-18(3): Request for Government of the Northwest Territories to Enter Binding Arbitration with Union of Northern Workers, Defeated
Motions

Page 4785

The Speaker Jackson Lafferty

Masi. To the motion. Member for Tu Nedhe-Wiilideh.

Motion 31-18(3): Request for Government of the Northwest Territories to Enter Binding Arbitration with Union of Northern Workers, Defeated
Motions

Page 4785

Tom Beaulieu Tu Nedhe-Wiilideh

Marci cho, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, this is a very difficult motion. As far as I'm concerned, it has its positive sides and it has its negative sides. I can say that, if this motion was contemplated after a strike, I would support it 100 percent because I am 100 percent opposed to a strike, and I told that to the media. I spoke to the media. The media reached out to me and asked me the question: "What is your opinion on that?" I said a strike is probably the most awful thing that can happen to our communities. A few people in our communities who have good jobs will no longer be employed. Or they will be employed, I guess, at some point in the future, but it's going to have quite a disruption.

If this motion does not pass today, or even if this motion passes today, Cabinet can take that as advice for the House and continue on with the mediation. If this motion was put on the floor when there was a strike, I would suggest that everyone in this House would support a motion to go to binding arbitration because that would mean that mediation has failed.

We sat in the House here. We sat in committee and we have asked the government to negotiate in good faith with the union. That is what we have done. We have asked them to go to the table, to go to the table and negotiate in good faith. As they start their discussions, their mediation, at the table, Mr. Speaker, we then want to put in a tool that makes that unnecessary.

Binding arbitration would make mediation unnecessary. If we had binding arbitration in our back pocket, why would we continue to mediate? We have hired mediators, good mediators. I don't know the guy, but everybody who knows him tells me he is an excellent mediator. We are not going to give him that opportunity with this motion. Why should he continue? Why should anyone listen to him? Right? Let's give him the full opportunity. I'm sure we are paying him good money to do that. Give him the opportunity. If it fails, if we come to an impasse, then you put this kind of motion on the floor and you vote on it. Then you have people. Then you will see who is supporting a strike and who is not supporting a strike.

As it turns out now, there is information coming saying that people who vote against this motion support a strike. That is ridiculous. I don't know one person here who supports a strike, but I'm not saying the same, that everybody here is going to vote for this motion because as far as I'm concerned, we should do this if mediation fails. Not to say right now we are going to pre-empt this before they go into the last critical thing.

I find it funny that the union puts a deadline on when they are going to strike, made it very clear. "We will strike 12:01 Monday." Well, then why are they now coming to us? It is not specifically union, but why are they now saying, "We want you to remove our strike mandate by agreeing to binding arbitration"? You say, "I am going to strike," one day. The next day, you say -- no, not even the next day. In the same communication, that is what it said. "Twelve o'clock, we are going to strike. We want you to remove our mandate to strike." If that is the case, why not say, "If mediation fails, would the MLAs consider binding arbitration?" I think that would be a no-brainer. Every MLA in this House would support that type of motion.

Not every MLA wants to trip the process up halfway through or close to the end. Nobody really knows how close we are. We could be very close to an agreement. We don't know. We are not privy to that information. What we are privy to is communications. I am not happy with some of the communication that comes from the government, and I am not happy with some of the communication that comes from the union.

I do think that people shouldn't strike. I do think that the government should make an agreement with the union. It is for the betterment of the people who work for the public service. That is a big group of people. There are 4,000 people out there who are a part of the union who could be walking out on Monday. Don't walk out. Don't ask us to remove your mandate, and don't walk out. I think the lines have been drawn in the sand, as far as I am concerned.

I am concerned about a couple of things, and that is communications. When we started to engage in this process, I found it funny that the union felt that they communicated to the government that binding arbitration was something that the union had asked for. They were very detailed in what they said, that the mediator at two different tables, that two different mediators went back and forth to the government to ask for binding arbitration verbally.

If that wasn't good enough, then I think the people negotiating on behalf of the government should have said, "That is not good enough. Put it in writing," because that is what it came down to. It was not good enough. It should have been put in writing right away, or the government should have said, "Hey. These guys have come forward, and we are going to bring this up to the Minister. This is what the union has said. They are offering binding arbitration at two tables. It is verbal. What should we do?" Ask for it in writing. If I was the Minister, that is what I would say, "Ask for it in writing." That would be the first thing I would say when that came to me. I think there is something to be said about the way that communication has gone.

This is a key tool, binding arbitration. It is not in the Public Service Act, but it is a key tool. It is a tool that can be used in a worst-case scenario. That is what it should be used for. Today, if this motion does not pass, and I don't think it will, I am sitting in the committee room with the Regular Members. If this motion does not pass, this motion cannot come back to the House on Monday. When we need it most, Mr. Speaker, we are not going to be able to use this motion. That is why I have a problem with it. It has put me in a quandary because, for me, I would say I should vote for this motion. I should, because this is my last chance, my last chance to actually put this motion.

It would have been nice if this motion was necessary, and I am not saying it will be, if this motion was necessary, that it comes out on Monday. If there is a strike, then this motion comes out on Monday. I think the union would have gladly pulled back the strike if this motion came out. Binding arbitration basically means that both the union members and the government will put their faith in an arbitrator, then that arbitrator will make a decision. I am still not 100 percent sure that the arbitrator is mandated to pick one of the two positions or something in the middle. I don't know 100 percent what would happen.

For me, failing the motion on arbitration does absolutely no good at all. Nothing. It does nothing. It does nothing to advance the process. I want a tool like this. This is a big tool for us, a big tool for the union, and a big tool for the government. It should be used when it is critical, not pre-emptive. I will not support the motion. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Motion 31-18(3): Request for Government of the Northwest Territories to Enter Binding Arbitration with Union of Northern Workers, Defeated
Motions

Page 4785

The Speaker Jackson Lafferty

Masi. To the motion. Member for Hay River North.

Motion 31-18(3): Request for Government of the Northwest Territories to Enter Binding Arbitration with Union of Northern Workers, Defeated
Motions

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R.J. Simpson Hay River North

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, as has been stated, this motion, if successful, would not require the GNWT or NTPC to enter into binding arbitration. The Minister of Finance has already stated that, because mediation is scheduled to begin today, the government will not consider binding arbitration. Further, if this motion is defeated, it may actually embolden Cabinet's position. I wanted to make this clear, because some of the people who have contacted me seem to believe that this motion represents a silver bullet, but that isn't the case. I apologize to those whose expectations have been raised.

While I agree with much of what Mr. Beaulieu said, especially regarding the wisdom of bringing this motion forward at this point, the fact is that it is before us. If it has any utility, it is that it's promoting a level of dialogue among residents that I have never seen in my time as an MLA. I have heard from as many constituents in the past two days as I usually hear from in six months.

Some are eager to place blame for the ongoing impasse, alleging bad-faith bargaining or ego-driven negotiating by one side or the other. However, Mr. Speaker, most of those who have contacted me believe that both the GNWT's and UNW's leadership share the responsibility for this ongoing failure:

  • There is dismay at the fact that not only were collective agreements not in place prior to the previous agreements expiring, but that for years, teams of well-paid, professional negotiators haven't been able to find enough common ground to reach a deal;
  • There is confusion as to why, in all of 2017, 2018, and 2019, the GNWT and UNW have been at the bargaining or mediation table a total of nine days; and
  • There is concern that the UNW's push for binding arbitration and the GNWT's proactive counselling of how to cross a picket line are indications that neither side is prepared or expecting to reach a deal this weekend.

Mr. Speaker, it has become clear to me that our residents have lost faith in the abilities of the powers that be, on both sides, to do what is necessary to avoid a strike.

The importance of avoiding a strike, Mr. Speaker, cannot be overstated. The effects of the Town of Hay River's 2015 strike are still being felt to this day. There were 31 employees involved in that job action. A GNWT and NTPC strike would be of a much greater magnitude and could take an incalculable toll on residents who rely on government services, on unionized employees and their families, on small businesses and their employees, and for our community has a whole. The results of a prolonged strike would be nothing short of catastrophic.

Don't get me wrong, Mr. Speaker, I would like nothing more than for both sides to do what they're paid to do and come to an agreement. It is always preferable to have the relevant parties involved in the decision making, especially in this case where the decisions made will have far-reaching effects on the future of our territory. However, the potential consequences of a strike are far too great to leave this process in the hands of parties who have continuously proved themselves incapable of compromise.

As I said earlier, I've heard from many constituents, and regardless of why they think we are in this situation, they have all had the same message for me: support this motion and encourage the government to enter into binding arbitration, and I'm doing just that. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Motion 31-18(3): Request for Government of the Northwest Territories to Enter Binding Arbitration with Union of Northern Workers, Defeated
Motions

Page 4786

The Speaker Jackson Lafferty

Masi. To the motion. Member for Nahendeh.

Motion 31-18(3): Request for Government of the Northwest Territories to Enter Binding Arbitration with Union of Northern Workers, Defeated
Motions

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Shane Thompson Nahendeh

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, this is one of the most difficult things I have been asked to decide since being elected. From the beginning, my position has been clear and concise: the government needs to get back to the table and negotiate with the Union of Northern Workers. I believe in the collective bargaining process.

Mr. Speaker, the GNWT and the Union of Northern Workers have been involved in a difficult bargaining process since 2016. It has been in mediation for some time, and we are now at the point where the union has given strike notice.

This is a serious and extremely stressful event for all involved, and even for the NWT residents who are not directly involved. The stakes are very, very high. This is about the workers, the government, and most importantly, the residents of the Northwest Territories.

It is not a win/lose situation here. It is about people's lives. These pressures are an unfortunate side effect of collective bargaining, when the parties do not readily reach agreement. It is getting down to the wire. Right now, those of us on the sidelines have to accept that the pressure is part of the process. The pressure focuses the parties to face up to the consequences of failure to get a deal.

Mr. Speaker, it has been a while, but as we speak in this House the parties are in the process of returning to the negotiation table with the help of a skilled mediator. The GNWT and the Union of Northern Workers are very lucky to have one of the best mediators in the business, Vince Ready, to help them this weekend. Both parties asked for him to do the mediation. Remember that. Both parties asked for him.

I did not want to take action that might distract the parties from doing their absolute best to get a deal. We should have had the faith in everybody to do their job, and let the process proceed with integrity. I am assuming there will be good faith and positive results.

Mr. Speaker, I have had the opportunity to sit in meetings with the Union of Northern Workers and the Government of the Northwest Territories to hear both sides. I thought we were very, very close in reaching an agreement this weekend. That was my personal opinion, Mr. Speaker.

In the event the parties do not reach agreement this weekend, it is very likely that Mr. Ready will recommend a way forward. He will be laser-focused on getting constructive results. History shows that he is very astute and resourceful in this regard. If Mr. Ready does need to make recommendations, the GNWT and UNW will again be faced with some very important choices.

This is a process laid out in the Public Service Act, and that is the process that should have been allowed to unfold. No one wants a strike. I especially don't want a strike. A strike hurts everybody in the NWT. I believe everybody needs to respect the collective bargaining process, so why are Members of this House now trying to get involved in the process? Why are we considering a motion that calls on both sides to give up their right to bargain when there is still negotiating to be done?

The simple answer, Mr. Speaker: politics. We are feeling the pressure from both sides, and I will stand up here and say that. We are here because it is political now.

I believe that both parties were heading into mediation today in good faith. Yes, the UNW was the first to put the pressure on by giving strike notice for midnight on Sunday. To me, this is part of the process. Then, we saw the government jump in by suggesting, directly or indirectly, that it would welcome unionized employees back to work if there was a strike. I did not agree with this, but I figured this was again part of the process. Getting information out there, sharing things out there.

Mr. Speaker, I respect what my colleagues are trying to do with this motion. I know Ms. Green has been through a strike, and I know all of us remember the painful events that happened in Yellowknife in the early 1990s. This is scary stuff. Mr. Speaker, I had a question to the timing of this motion. I was sincerely hoping the parties would reach an agreement over the weekend, or at least agree on a way forward. That may or may not include binding arbitration. I see this motion circumvents the process and puts our Cabinet colleagues into a corner. I felt it was turning up the pressure on the parties this weekend, rather than let them negotiate in good faith.

My colleague Mr. Beaulieu talked about allowing the process to go forward and then using this motion later on, and that's what I was hoping.

I wonder why we would expect our Cabinet colleagues to both support this motion and then go into mediation in good faith. I want the public to understand, if this motion passes, Cabinet is not bound by it. If it fails, our rules stop us from considering a similar motion again next week, when it might actually do some good. I believe this motion would take energy and focus away from the bargaining table and bring it into the political realm.

Mr. Speaker, I look back into history, and in 1996 this Legislative Assembly changed the Public Service Act to eliminate binding arbitration. They did this at the urging of the UNW, who wanted to restore the right to take job action. I felt this motion would revisit that history. Has anyone thought about the implications of this on an ongoing basis? If we open the door to binding arbitration now, it may doom all future collective bargaining to the same fate. How would we expect either party to compromise and work together in the future? Some may think that it wouldn't be a precedent. I think we may have to think about this again.

Mr. Speaker, how can we ask the government to give up their right to negotiate in the best interests of the people of the GNWT? How can we ask the union to give up their right to strike? This is what binding arbitration does.

In saying it again, Mr. Speaker, no one wants a strike, but the right to strike is a fundamental part of the collective bargaining process in a free democracy. The risk of all parties of a strike is what keeps them at the table. It's what causes them to compromise. It's the lubrication in the collective bargaining process.

Mr. Speaker, if this motion were up for debate next week, I would full-heartedly support it. I was hoping this weekend a process where both parties would have control over their own actions and outcomes and where both parties have a lot at stake if an agreement can't be reached.

Mr. Speaker, I am encouraging both parties to stop the posturing, stop the nonsense, stop the thinly veiled threats, and take advantage of this weekend to walk a few feet in each other's shoes. It's often said that the sign of a good agreement is where everyone walks away wishing they could have got more. If both sides are willing to compromise, I am confident that an agreement is within reach. My position has been clear and consistent, Mr. Speaker. I wanted the parties to sweat it out at the negotiation table. There is a lot at stake. The whole territory is depending upon you. Let's get a deal done.

Unfortunately, last night I saw the waiver forms given out by the GNWT to YK employees to sign if they decide to walk across the picket line. My frustration was: why did this waiver form get sent out a day before the mediation process started? I have asked the government to keep me informed on the process, but I got a surprise last night. Because of all the news from both sides, I question if we will see an agreement this weekend. The motion says the Assembly calls on the Government of the Northwest Territories to agree to enter into a binding arbitration before the scheduled strike begins. We're not asking for binding arbitration to start now. We're asking, if it fails, it stops before a strike. Therefore, I will be supporting the motion. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Motion 31-18(3): Request for Government of the Northwest Territories to Enter Binding Arbitration with Union of Northern Workers, Defeated
Motions

Page 4787

The Speaker Jackson Lafferty

Masi. To the motion. Member for Nunakput.

Motion 31-18(3): Request for Government of the Northwest Territories to Enter Binding Arbitration with Union of Northern Workers, Defeated
Motions

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Herbert Nakimayak Nunakput

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, I appreciate all the words of my colleagues up until now. I just want to say, Mr. Speaker, this motion to place binding arbitration before the mediation is not taking the proper steps in the first place, and I think what has happened here is we're tripping up the negotiators as they walk into the negotiating room. That, Mr. Speaker, is unfair. What it is, it's a lack of confidence, both in the Government of the Northwest Territories and the UNW, so I think this is kind of a double-edged sword that has been put upon us. I think, Mr. Speaker, we need to look at how we do thing in the territory, and also I think there is a level of interference, a level of political interference that we are really, really pushing people.

What it has come to, Mr. Speaker, I have had a lot of calls. Ninety-five percent of my constituents who have called are worried. They want to continue to work no matter what happens. Mr. Speaker, I have had phone calls from maybe five other constituencies, five other ridings in the territories, as well, with the same concern. As many of us here represent small communities, it's the small community people who are worried that this will affect their ability to work, to continue getting a paycheque, and continue to do the work that they are doing.

Some them work with children. Some of them work with children in schools and daycares, and they are worried that their program dollars may come to a halt, which sometimes when you are helping with children and their education, it has negative effects to that. It's like somebody getting up and walking out on you in the middle of a school year. Basically, that is what it is, and that is how they see it.

Mr. Speaker, I won't reiterate what some of my colleagues have said, but I believe the actions up until now are leading to something that is something that is blown out of proportion. This morning as I woke up and I thought, you know, holy cow, somebody was holding the grenade and someone just pulled the pin this morning, and here we are. It's blowing up on everybody. We need to look at this and say, well, maybe there needs to be a process moving forward. If we can't allow the professionals, the negotiators, to do their job, then what are we questioning? Does this say that we might need the negotiators that we have with the government and also the negotiators with the UNW? After three years of not negotiating, this is meant to expire in March, does that mean that everybody wants those negotiators to be changed and we put a new negotiator so that we can have a better future in the Northwest Territories rather than this division? I see the fracture, and it's getting bigger and bigger, Mr. Speaker, and I have a lot of worried constituents.

Also, I respect both sides. The unions, I have worked with unions with the North Warning System, and they are some of the highest-paid people in the territory and probably in the country, as well, Mr. Speaker. I think we need to look at the cost of living in the North, the cost of living for communities for harvesters, for people who do not have a voice to speak for themselves. I look at the number of union members who are pushing for this, and it's less than half, it's far less than half of the amount of union members in the territory. For me, that is a huge sign saying, okay, well, we need to rethink this. Maybe we need to meet with executive. You know, the legislature may need to meet with the executive of the Northwest Territories and look at a way forward, and maybe it means something. Maybe the union members across the territory need to unite and look at what's important for them, as well, and then maybe it takes a second round to get a true voice of what really is going on in the territory and what are the needs of the people who are worried about this strike.

We also need, Mr. Speaker, when we look at this, to look at the economy of the Northwest Territories. There are a number of mines that do not have 10 years left, and what's next for that. I saw a post this morning, and it said, "What now?" What's the way forward for everybody here? I think we need to really think long and hard about that. Coming from a small community, I see us struggling as the way it is right now, and for us to give this much to a union that is asking for so much, I think there is an imbalance there, and I think that is something we need to really consider when we look at these negotiations and appreciate that. There are 44,000 people in the Northwest Territories, Mr. Speaker. What about them? I think we need to really look at that and look at regions, the high cost of living, the high cost of transportation. I think those are all key factors in all of this, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, there are a lot of groups that will be affected in the Northwest Territories. I am speaking from an Indigenous perspective. Recently, I was involved with work with Indigenous groups, and I still am. Mr. Speaker, there are a lot of Indigenous groups in the Northwest Territories who have co-management agreements with the Government of the Northwest Territories. If they go into a strike, that will affect the kind of work that they are doing nationally, internationally, laterally with government-to-government relationships, and I think we really need to kind of stand back and say it has a much bigger effect than we think, than just the union.

It has an effect on Indigenous groups and Indigenous governments in the Northwest Territories, who are talking about, Mr. Speaker, an impasse on co-management in the Inuvialuit settlement region and other regions. You know, it also impacts the rest of the Northwest Territories as a lot of wildlife resources are shared in the NWT along with Nunavut, the Yukon, and Alaska, Mr. Speaker. Of particular importance is required polar bear surveys, which is a minimum three-year research program that provides vital information that leads to effective co-management of a species that is very important to the Inuvialuit, the Inuit, Canada, and the entire polar range states in the Arctic, Mr. Speaker. There are five Arctic states in the circumpolar world, and what about them, as well? I think we need to look more broadly and really see the negative effects, of what's really going on here or what could possibly happen.

That is why I say someone pulled the pin on the grenade this morning, and it's really blown up, for us to come here, to this point, to debate about something like this that should not have happened until Monday or Tuesday or sometime next week. If the union goes on strike, then this would be an effective tool, but right now we are taking away the strengths and the abilities of the people who are hired to negotiate this and negotiate it fairly. There are not many options other than what we have right now, Mr. Speaker, so I think we are losing those options. We are narrowing it down to the point where there is nowhere to go. We are simply cornering people who need to do their job to represent the people of the Northwest Territories, and I believe that very strongly, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, I think we should allow the mediation to happen in good faith. I know both sides want a deal. Like the Member for Tu Nedhe-Wiilideh said earlier, "How close are we?" We do not know, but there are some things in every government, in every relationship, whether it's with Indigenous governments or other countries. Even though you may not be working at the surface, Mr. Speaker, there are some working relationships in there, and I think that's where the union and the Government of the Northwest Territories really need to grasp onto to strengthen those, and I believe that's a good working point.

I think all we can do is to encourage them to do their best this weekend and come up with something that's agreeable to the people of the Northwest Territories. I think that we owe that to them, Mr. Speaker. I really believe so. Otherwise, you know, Mr. Speaker, entering binding arbitration, next we will have to find an arbitrator who is willing to take this on, and I bet you the way that things are, the atmosphere in the territory right now, there aren't many out there, Mr. Speaker, so we need to think about that, as well.

Mr. Speaker, for that matter, I won't be supporting this motion. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Motion 31-18(3): Request for Government of the Northwest Territories to Enter Binding Arbitration with Union of Northern Workers, Defeated
Motions

Page 4787

The Speaker Jackson Lafferty

Masi. To the motion. Member for Deh Cho.

Motion 31-18(3): Request for Government of the Northwest Territories to Enter Binding Arbitration with Union of Northern Workers, Defeated
Motions

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Michael Nadli Deh Cho

Mahsi, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the mover and the seconder for presenting this motion to the floor of the House. Mr. Speaker, I will not support this motion. As a Regular MLA, I try my best to work with everyone. Right now, we are being led by the Premier, Cabinet, and Ministers, who make decisions for all residents of the Northwest Territories. I understand as Regular MLAs along with Cabinet, we are the principals for driving this negotiation process, and periodically we hear from the negotiators in terms of representing the union and the GNWT. That is the negotiation process that we have seen thus far.

As I understand it, the GNWT is a system of people, policies, procedures, and fiscal resources. In considering the operations of this government, once in a while we come across issues, whether it be fiscal, whether it be policies or procedures, and sometimes people who want their concerns to be addressed. What we are seeing now is part of that process, that people want better wages, better benefits, and better hope for their futures in terms of working in the Northwest Territories.

However, the two parties have determined a collective bargaining process, and they are involved with that process and they agreed to that process. This motion is essentially asking us to intervene, to take a side, and to see an arbitration process kick in. Of course, we are all experiencing the pressure from all sides, but, for me, what is critical is the timing of this motion. At this point, you know, we are poised to see the mediation process perhaps in the final stages, and there could be an attempt to try to mediate an agreement. There is a process in place for negotiations. There are negotiations that have been going on for some time, and we are at the mediation stage. You know, I would like to strongly encourage both parties to come to an agreement and to ensure that an agreement will give assurance to everyone that everyone is a winner. Mahsi, Mr. Speaker.

Motion 31-18(3): Request for Government of the Northwest Territories to Enter Binding Arbitration with Union of Northern Workers, Defeated
Motions

Page 4787

The Speaker Jackson Lafferty

To the motion. Member for Frame Lake.

Motion 31-18(3): Request for Government of the Northwest Territories to Enter Binding Arbitration with Union of Northern Workers, Defeated
Motions

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Kevin O'Reilly Frame Lake

Merci, Monsieur le President. I want to thank all my colleagues who have gotten up and spoken today. I have tried to choose my words carefully, as I know that a lot of people are listening, watching, or will read what happens in the House here today. I am proud of my Yellowknife colleagues for bringing this motion forward, and I am pleased to support it. Our constituents, and indeed all the residents of the Northwest Territories, deserve to know where we stand on this motion. This is the defining moment and the biggest test we face in the 18th Assembly. I believe in collective bargaining and acknowledge that the mediation is occurring right now as we speak. I urge both sides to come prepared and hope for a successful outcome.

However, the Union of Northern Workers has formally offered and requested binding arbitration. We haven't responded. This is the off-ramp for what is now a very risky and serious situation. There is no other plan and no process if negotiations fail. We need to do everything we can to prevent a strike and binding arbitration will do that. There are no legal barriers to binding arbitration and the parties can set whatever conditions they want on that process, including timelines, the scope of the arbitrator, salary increment ranges, you name it. There is lots of experience to draw on.

Of all the issues during my time as an MLA, this one has brought forward the most emails, phone calls, and conversations. The messages are not some cookie-cutter campaign, but very sincere, often expressing frustration and desperation with the position of this government and the impacts a strike will have.

I have worked very hard to avoid a strike and all that will bring, much of which we cannot predict, but we know it will be bad, very bad. I will never forget the sight and sounds of sirens heading out to Giant Mine in 1992 and 1993. That terrible strike tore Yellowknife apart, and the scars are still here. The strike at CBC was also very painful. How ironic that we are on the cusp of our first-ever territorial government-wide employee strike 27 years later and 4 km away from Giant Mine, yet appear to have learned so little from that infamous and tragic episode in our history.

Those of us in this House have little influence over what the Union of Northern Workers does, but when I have been contacted and met with representatives, I have urged moderation and a focus on getting a deal at the negotiating table. I do not condone some of the recent events of this week.

What we do have some influence over as Regular MLAs, and indeed a duty to act, is to attempt to work with our colleagues in Cabinet to bring these negotiations to a successful conclusion before a strike. I am disappointed and distressed that Cabinet has done very little to de-escalate this situation and more recently has enflamed it with deliberately provocative communications and actions.

As MLAs, we must know what is going on, ask tough questions, and have input into decisions. That's not interference in any sense of the word. That's our job as MLAs. I should have demanded sooner to have some meaningful input into the UNW negotiations mandate. I don't need or want to be at the table, but I should know what is going and what the range of the offer will be.

Cabinet has never sought our input on the negotiations mandate, let alone told us what is in the mandate of the negotiators. That mandate has largely been framed by Cabinet's fiscal strategy that I have disagreed with at every opportunity. I called on the Minister of Finance to ensure that our negotiators have a mandate to offer binding arbitration at the table if the negotiations are not successfully concluded during this mediation. I have not received any assurances that the negotiators' mandate includes binding arbitration and thus have very little confidence in Cabinet's current approach.

My confidence was shaken even further late yesterday upon hearing and seeing that some GNWT supervisors are distributing an Employee Acknowledgement & Waiver form for crossing picket lines. Employees would acknowledge they are making a free decision to cross a picket line and that they will not hold GNWT responsible for anything that may happen. In the labour world, this is union busting and deliberately provocative. This action from our government came after Regular MLAs specifically requested in writing that the Minister refrain from such actions. Clearly, Cabinet has not listened to regular MLAs and has ignored our advice yet again. Everything I have tried with this Cabinet on this issue has failed.

This situation is now spiralling out of control. A strike will change us all, and those divisions have already started. Yellowknife and the regional centres will feel the initial brunt of a strike, but make no mistake, those impacts will certainly spread out across the entire Northwest Territories. That is not the legacy that any of us should want.

While this motion is not binding, the Premier and this Cabinet have the ability to avoid a disruptive and divisive strike at this point. I implore you, I beg you, I plead with you to turn this around right now and show the leadership the Northwest Territories need. The risk of a strike is just too big. Stop the provocative actions, live up to the leadership you were entrusted with, and agree to binding arbitration now. Mahsi, Mr. Speaker.

Motion 31-18(3): Request for Government of the Northwest Territories to Enter Binding Arbitration with Union of Northern Workers, Defeated
Motions

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The Speaker Jackson Lafferty

Masi. To the motion. Member from Mackenzie Delta.