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.