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.

Topics

Question 535-18(3): Taltson Project Expansion
Oral Questions

Page 4782

Kevin O'Reilly Frame Lake

Merci, Monsieur le President. Thanks to the Minister for that. Has the Minister actually spoken to anybody from the Deninu Kue First Nation about Taltson recently?

Question 535-18(3): Taltson Project Expansion
Oral Questions

Page 4782

Wally Schumann Hay River South

As I said, I stated that I met with the Akaitcho, and the Deninu Kue were there, represented by their leadership, and I had a conversation with all the leaders of the Akaitcho First Nations. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Question 535-18(3): Taltson Project Expansion
Oral Questions

Page 4782

The Speaker Jackson Lafferty

Masi. Oral questions. Item 8, written questions. Item 9, returns to written questions. Item 10, replies to Commissioner's opening address. Item 11, replies to budget address (day 3 of 7). Item 12, petitions. Item 13, reports of standing and special committees. Item 14, reports of committees on the review of bills. Item 15, tabling of documents. Minister of Environment and Natural Resources.

Tabled Document 327-18(3): The Natural Resources Conservation Trust Fund Financial Statements for the year ended March 31, 2018
Tabling Of Documents

Page 4782

Robert C. McLeod Inuvik Twin Lakes

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Pursuant to section 13(1) of the Natural Resources Conservation Trust Act, I wish to table the following document entitled "The Natural Resources Conservation Trust Fund Financial Statements for the year ended March 31, 2018." Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Tabled Document 327-18(3): The Natural Resources Conservation Trust Fund Financial Statements for the year ended March 31, 2018
Tabling Of Documents

Page 4782

The Speaker Jackson Lafferty

Masi. Tabling of documents. Member for Kam Lake.

Tabled Document 328-18(3): Employee Acknowledgement & Waiver - Crossing Picket Line
Tabling Of Documents

Page 4782

Kieron Testart Kam Lake

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I would like to table the following document, "Employee Acknowledgement & Waiver - Crossing Picket Line." Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Tabled Document 328-18(3): Employee Acknowledgement & Waiver - Crossing Picket Line
Tabling Of Documents

Page 4782

The Speaker Jackson Lafferty

Masi. Tabling of documents. Item 16, notices of motion. Item 17, notice of motion for first reading of bills. Item 18, motions. Member for Yellowknife Centre.

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

Page 4782

Julie Green Yellowknife Centre

Mahsi, Mr. Speaker. WHEREAS the Government of the Northwest Territories and the Union of Northern Workers have been negotiating a collective agreement for the last three years;

AND WHEREAS the Union of Northern Workers and the Government of the Northwest Territories have agreed to mediation scheduled to take place on February 8 and February 9, 2019, in an attempt to reach a collective agreement;

AND WHEREAS the Union of Northern Workers has served the Government of the Northwest Territories with strike notice for 12:01 a.m. on February 11, 2019, in the event that mediation fails;

AND WHEREAS the Union of Northern Workers has agreed to enter into binding arbitration to produce a new collective agreement;

NOW THEREFORE I MOVE, seconded by the honourable Member for Kam Lake, that this Assembly call on the Government of the Northwest Territories to agree to enter into binding arbitration before the scheduled strike begins. 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 4782

The Speaker Jackson Lafferty

Masi. The motion is in order. To the motion. Member for Yellowknife Centre. To the motion.

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

Page 4782

Julie Green Yellowknife Centre

Mahsi, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, I am proposing this motion because I believe that entering into binding arbitration is preferable to a strike. If both parties agree to arbitration, then the strike action will be cancelled.

Arbitration acknowledges that collective bargaining has failed, and it provides a path forward to resolve this dispute in a way that is fair to both sides. It allows for the government and the union to save face without the parties calling one another "winners" or "losers."

Mr. Speaker, I have the greatest respect for collective bargaining. My father was a proud member of the trade union for most of his work life. I wrote my Masters' thesis on western Canadian labour history about the appalling working conditions that resulted in hundreds of miners dying in the Crowsnest Pass. I was a member of the union during my 16 years at CBC. In that time, strikes happened on what felt like a regular schedule. When I think about those events at the CBC, I think about the tension of having to cross the picket line because my union was not on strike. I remember a riot at the broadcast centre in Toronto at the end of one of those strikes, where there was a brawl in the atrium and police outside on horseback. It was ugly.

Mr. Speaker, Yellowknife has its own tragic experience with strikes. I am of course talking about the labour dispute at the Giant Mine. I did not live here then, but what happened in Yellowknife was news everywhere. Labour action polarized the community. People threw punches, ended friendships, and moved away. I got to witness the fallout while I was a reporter covering the civil trial in 2003-2004. Widows and mothers talked about their lost husbands and sons, their lives broken and unable to mend without them. At the trial, union members watched video of the mayhem on the picket line and said they did not recognize themselves as those angry, volatile people of 10 years earlier. They told the judge they said and did things in the heat of the moment that they still regretted.

My point is that strikes can be dangerous because stakes are high, tempers flare, and the results are unpredictable. We have already seen the tension rising. The union served legal strike notice. Government put out an email to staff highlighting the possibility of crossing the picket line. The union confronted the Premier at his constituency meeting. Most recently, the government has distributed a waiver for people to sign who want to cross the picket line. It's easy to see how confrontation on the picket line is not just likely, it is inevitable.

Mr. Speaker, I have had dozens of emails and messages supporting the union's request for binding arbitration. One woman is a single mom, a relief worker with two part-time jobs. She is struggling to keep up with her bills. She is asking for an end to casual positions so that she has job security. Another woman has talked about the need to end the widespread use of casual and term positions in order to build up a permanent northern workforce.

I am touched that people have shared their personal circumstances with me and their belief that I, that all of us, can help them by supporting this motion. I believe that, of all of the communities, Yellowknife has the most to lose if there is a strike. We have the biggest number of workers who are eligible to strike, and we have the largest retail sector. A strike is bad news in every way. At a minimum, it will divide the community and put families on the financial ropes. I have also heard from people who are not members of the union, but who are worried about their small businesses, specifically that a strike will dry up consumer spending and result in them laying off staff or even closing shop. Mr. Speaker, there is no upside to a strike; none at all.

Mr. Speaker, I want to make a couple of points that may be obvious to us as MLAs, but may not be clear to the public. The first is that this motion is legal, and what it is requesting is legal. The Public Service Act does not say anything about arbitration in these circumstances, but that doesn't mean it can't happen. The union did not give up the ability to participate in arbitration when they acquired the right to strike. The two are not mutually exclusive.

The starting point for arbitration is to have the GNWT and the Union of Northern Workers agree between themselves to enter binding arbitration, and they can do this at any point. In fact, they could decide to do it today as a backstop to the possibility that mediation doesn't produce an agreement this weekend. The rules of arbitration would be set by the parties themselves, and they would agree on the choice of the arbitrator. As I said earlier, once the parties agree to arbitration, the strike action is cancelled.

To clear up any confusion around the issue of whether the union has formally requested arbitration, the president of the union wrote a letter to the Minister of Finance this week requesting the government to agree to enter binding arbitration. We are waiting for the Minister to respond.

Mr. Speaker, these negotiations have gone on for far too long. Negotiations began in January of 2016, and while the two sides met frequently through that year and in 2017, there was only one negotiation session last year. It's hard to say what mediation produced in the fall, except an agreement to meet again this weekend.

I haven't given up hope that an agreement is still possible. I encourage both parties to put aside the escalating tensions of this week, and work hard to get an agreement through mediation. It is the last opportunity to negotiate an agreement that both parties have a say in. If that fails, binding arbitration moves everything to a third party, and he or she will decide on the concessions. There are no guarantees that either side will get what they want, but this process is preferable to a strike.

Mr. Speaker, I am aware that this motion is not binding on the government even if all Regular MLAs vote for it, but it important for us to provide advice to this government. We have the right as MLAs to speak on any topic in this House, especially on one of the biggest issues of our Assembly. We are not interfering. We are doing our jobs. I truly believe that a strike would be a disaster for Yellowknife, for our families and friends, for our communities and our territory, and that's what I've heard from constituents throughout the last few days.

Colleagues, I urge each and every one of you to support this motion, and bring the possibility of a strike to an end before it starts. 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 4783

The Speaker Jackson Lafferty

Masi. To the motion. Member for Kam Lake.

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

Page 4783

Kieron Testart Kam Lake

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.

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

Masi. To the motion. Member for Yellowknife North.

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

Page 4784

Cory Vanthuyne Yellowknife North

Mr. Speaker, I was a member of the Local Steel Workers 182 as an employee of Con Mine when the Giant Mine strike took place. I assure you I do not need to be reminded of the impacts of a strike. I lived it.

Mr. Speaker, clearly no one in this House wants a strike to take place, for so many obvious reasons. Countless constituents and members of the public from all over the territory have shared their deepest concerns with me about fears of a strike. We all know that any reduction or stoppage in critical government services and programs would be detrimental to all Northwest Territories residents, so I understand the intention of this motion, which I know is to offer a path to resolve a contract dispute without favour to either the GNWT or the Union of Northern Workers, and for that I commend the mover and the seconder of the motion.

Mr. Speaker, I want to be clear to all who are following today's proceedings about what today's motion is procedurally and what this motion can or cannot do. It's a recommendation only. Many of my constituents, GNWT employees, business owners, and the public at large have written, called, or messaged me, encouraging me to support this motion today, thinking, believing, or understanding that MLAs have the power by third-party intervention to legally direct the GNWT to accept binding arbitration as a means to resolve this dispute.

That is not the case at all. Today's proceedings are not a magic wand or a silver bullet. Only the union and the government can agree to use arbitration and set the terms to be used for the arbitration process, period.

I want to repeat this. Today's proceedings, regardless of outcome on the vote, will have no legal bearing or binding on either party involved in the collective bargaining process, as has been the case all along, and only the two parties can agree to use arbitration as a new process, a new process to continue toward reaching a tentative agreement.

With that said, my concern is the effect of a recommendation for binding arbitration at this time, during what appears to be the last days of mediation toward a collective agreement. At this crucial time, both parties must concentrate on reaching a tentative agreement and not be hindered or impeded by political influence.

Mr. Speaker, what I hear from my constituents and see in the news daily causes me great concern. The government and the union do not seem to be concentrating on the job at hand, which is to get a tentative agreement during mediation this weekend. Frankly, I am shocked by some of the conduct I have seen so far. Responsibility is what Members expect from both parties going into the ongoing mediation. It is a time for bargaining, not bluster, not threats, not provocation. It is a time for common reason to prevail. Mr. Speaker, anything less is an abrogation of their duties to all the people of the Northwest Territories.

I wish to remind the government and the union that they agreed to this mediation process and chose one of Canada's best mediators to conduct its proceedings. Their duty is to bargain honestly and in good faith, and I have no doubt that Mr. Ready will remind them of this should they stray from the path.

There have been too many grave distractions from the path in recent days. I am concerned that dangling the hope of binding arbitration in the middle of mediation is another distraction that will not help produce a tentative agreement this weekend.

Collective bargaining is a sensitive matter, with its own set of rules and protocols, foreign to most of us outside the profession. These have evolved over many years, from experience, to maximize the chances for good results. It worries me when pressure is so high to have a new process when mediation is still under way.

The mediator has not declared an impasse or made recommendations. As I submitted previously, Mr. Ready and the respective bargaining teams must not be influenced by a newly recommended process from this House.

Mr. Speaker, in the interest of getting the most effective mediation possible, I am not willing to support a new process at this time. Again, I want to be clear. This is not to say that I oppose arbitration as a potential tool to reach a collective agreement. Definitely not. I would support arbitration if the point is reached when it is needed, and I sincerely hope that tool will not be lost to us if needed.

Moreover, I would hope that the government and the union would both be interested in a new process if the current one does not yield results, but the bottom line, Mr. Speaker, no matter the chosen process, negotiation, mediation, or arbitration, the process does not do the bargaining. The process is intended to enable a spirit of compromise but cannot force it on unwilling negotiators. If these bargaining teams live up to their titles as negotiators, we should see a tentative agreement emerge.

Mr. Speaker, no doubt they are under tremendous pressure, with a heavy burden of responsibility, and I know as they meet this weekend that both sides are very much aware of what is at stake for all residents of the Northwest Territories and that no additional outside influence is required.

Mr. Speaker, I remain confident that, under the current agreed-upon process and by using any and all means available within it, that a tentative collective agreement can and will be reached. Those are my comments. 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 4784

The Speaker Jackson Lafferty

Masi. Colleagues, at this point in time I am calling for a short break. Masi.

---SHORT RECESS