Mere weeks into their mandate as the Alberta Government, the UCP is showing an alarming contempt for democratic debate and the role of the opposition.
Twice in the first month of the new Legislature, the government has leveraged time allocation and procedural closures to limit debate on their controversial Bill 9 – the Public Sector Arbitration Deferral Act.
Facing a pending arbitration hearing with the Alberta Teacher’s Association (ATA), the United Nurses of Alberta (UNA), the Alberta Union of Public Employees (AUPE), and the Health Sciences Association of Alberta (HSAA), Finance Minister Travis Toews introduced the bill, claiming that it was necessary to delay any sort of changes in public sector compensation prior to the new government having a new budget ready.
Budgets are traditionally delivered in the Spring, but the UCP has opted instead to introduce supplementary supply bills and deliver one this fall instead.
Aside from denying the employees represented by the Unions their Constitutionally protected due process and collective bargaining agreements, one concern raised by the NDP is a section of the bill which gives Cabinet powers “respecting any other matter that the Lieutenant Governor in Council considers necessary or advisable for carrying out the intent of this act.”
It is the view of the Opposition that this is legalese to allow the forcing of wage rollbacks on employees.
I’m not a legal expert, and as such my immediate concern is less about who is more right in their position, it is more with the manner in which the UCP is forcing its legislation through.
A healthy democracy thrives on opposition and debate. When a government is moving to remove Charter rights from anyone, it is reasonable to expect that opposition will do their job, which is to oppose.
Twice now in the debate of this Bill, the UCP has utilized procedural tricks to limit debate and invoke closure on the scrutiny a Bill like this deserves. This is what leads to corrupt practices in government, and ultimately the infringement of rights. In the end, it is taxpayers who foot the costly legal bills for the defence of flawed legislation.
An hour-long debate is not sufficient time to protect people who have legally signed agreements from the tyranny of the state. Even if ultimately arbitration or negation end in stalemate and wage agreements must be imposed, due process must be granted to those who have earned it.
Further adding to this contempt was Premier Jason Kenney handing out earplugs to the government MLAs so that they could tune out the little bit of opposition that they would face. It is an affront to the hundreds of thousands of voters who did not mark their X next to the UCP on their ballots.
For a Premier who has promised to raise decorum in the Legislature, this stunt was anything but that.
While the majority of the public may currently be ok with looking the other way on this buffoonery, it would serve all Albertans well to remember that it was this attitude of arrogance that led the PCs to think they had absolute right when it came to our province.
We need to examine the bar we hold all of our representatives to lest we implicitly endorse them abusing the trust they’ve been given to act in our best interests.