Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I am pleased to stand in support of this motion that calls for binding arbitration as the clear resolution to the collective bargaining dispute between the government and the Union of Northern Workers, and leave us with a 100 percent chance of a no strike situation.
This motion should be uncontroversial. The honourable Members of this House have risen many times to call for a fair deal that respects both sides of the dispute and results in a new collective agreement between the government and its workers. This motion will achieve that result, a result that has not been possible under the current conditions of the bargaining process. It is imperative that Members carefully consider what is at stake, and I ask that they, too, stand in support of this motion.
Mr. Speaker, after three long years of prolonged negotiations, Northerners are frustrated and worried. The uncertainty created by the lack of a collective agreement, all the while the cost of living continues to rise, has further intensified the concern many express for the future of our territory. As leaders of the Northwest Territories, we must do whatever we can to provide confidence in the ability of the government to manage its affairs and prevent any damage to our all too fragile economy. I have accepted my responsibility in this matter. As the representative of Kam Lake, I did not speak up or speak out for a very long time. I naively assumed that the difference between both sides of the bargaining table could be overcome through mediation, and that they would be carried out in a professional and good faith manner.
When the union gave its strike notice earlier this week, it raised the seriousness of this matter to a new level. It has left me unconvinced that the next round of mediation will succeed without the intervention of political leaders.
Northerners will feel far worse than frustration if picket lines form outside their workplaces and public buildings. There will be anger, division, cost to local businesses, further insecurity, and most of all, lost wages and time spent supporting important government initiatives that this Assembly has committed to accomplish in the time remaining before the election. I cannot fathom any of my honourable colleagues wishing for that outcome, so I ask all of us in this Chamber to support the only course of action that will ensure there can be no strike and still achieve a fair deal. Binding arbitration, as it's called for in this motion.
I expect that the Honourable Premier and many Cabinet Ministers will ask us here today to believe in the process, and allow mediation to go ahead without new political direction from this House. Mr. Speaker, this process has led to the imminent threat of strike and pushed the parties farther apart in recent months. I cannot and will not continue to support what can only be seen as a clearly broken process that has spiralled out of control. The Legislative Assembly has it within its power and jurisdiction to change broken processes, to update legislation, and should do all it can to avoid a strike through binding arbitration.
In supporting this motion, I acknowledge the concerns that have been raised in the media and our citizens that binding arbitration is undefined in the current version of the Public Service Act. This confusion has been heightened by recent reporting on the history of the act wherein binding arbitration was replaced in 1996 with strike action as the final resolution mechanism available to a labour dispute.
I want to set the record straight and be very clear in my understanding of the act. Although there is a process identified in the Public Service Act that ends in strike action, there is no restriction on the ability of negotiators to pursue different dispute resolution mechanisms. The act is completely silent on binding arbitration, and most importantly, does not explicitly prohibit its use. Therefore, it is a completely acceptable and reasonable tool available to end this dispute, and I argue, far more preferable to a divisive strike that will harm our communities' relationships and our economy.
Again, if the process isn't working, I see no reason why we would force anyone to continue down a path that inevitably will lead to disastrous consequences when other options can legally be made available.
The lack of clarity within the Public Service Act on binding arbitration is just one of many examples of why we, as lawmakers, must take a careful look at this law, and propose amendments to improve its use, provide better understanding of available tools, and modernize many features of the outdated legislation. These changes are not, however, required, to support the successful outcome of this motion, but are important for future rounds of collective bargaining and to ensure that northern workers have world-class legislation supporting their labour rights.
With a better understanding of the nature of binding arbitration in the context of the Public Service Act, this motion must then be understood as a question of leadership and not a question of law. The honourable Members of this House are the elected leaders and representatives of the people here in the Northwest Territories. If they can pass laws and legislation, they can weigh in on decisions within their power and jurisdiction, including the collective bargaining process, and express their views on a dispute resolution that is different than what is contained within the act.
The only thing preventing this alternative solution from being made a reality is the political will of this Assembly. It's our job to write and maintain the rules and legislation, not find excuses to avoid action and discussion. Now, the decision rests in the hands of all of us, and I am calling on my colleagues to support this decision and end the uncertainty and fear that has gripped our communities.
I respect all the views of my constituents, but the vast majority have informed me they do not want a strike. The only way I can ensure that outcome and properly serve the people of Kam Lake is to support this motion and vote in favour of binding arbitration. If this motion passes, it guarantees a 100 percent chance that there will be no strike and both sides will craft a compromise that results in a new collective agreement. This is what the majority of our people want, and I will not compromise on my support for binding arbitration and a swift end to this already drawn out labour dispute.
Mr. Speaker, this motion is not about take a side with the union or with the government. In actuality, the Union of Northern Workers gave me a failing grade as a candidate in the 2015 election. I support many of the government's infrastructure priorities and spending decisions, but I cannot support a process that is failing: failing the union, failing the government, and failing our people. Put simply, the process must be changed to ensure the best possible outcome for the Northwest Territories.
Mr. Speaker, sticking with the status quo and continuing to just pass the buck is easy. Taking decisive action is much harder. I ask the honourable Members of this House to live up to the expectations of Northerners to put an end to the threat of strike and get a fair deal now.
I will stand in support of this motion. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.