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Province of Alberta
The 30th Legislature
Second Session
Alberta Hansard
Monday evening, July 27, 2020
Day 51
The Honourable Nathan M. Cooper, Speaker
Legislative Assembly of Alberta
The 30th Legislature
Second Session
Cooper, Hon. Nathan M., Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills (UCP), Speaker
Pitt, Angela D., Airdrie-East (UCP), Deputy Speaker and Chair of Committees
Milliken, Nicholas, Calgary-Currie (UCP), Deputy Chair of Committees
Aheer, Hon. Leela Sharon, Chestermere-Strathmore (UCP)
Allard, Tracy L., Grande Prairie (UCP)
Amery, Mickey K., Calgary-Cross (UCP)
Armstrong-Homeniuk, Jackie,
Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville (UCP)
Barnes, Drew, Cypress-Medicine Hat (UCP)
Bilous, Deron, Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview (NDP),
Official Opposition Deputy House Leader
Carson, Jonathon, Edmonton-West Henday (NDP)
Ceci, Joe, Calgary-Buffalo (NDP)
Copping, Hon. Jason C., Calgary-Varsity (UCP)
Dach, Lorne, Edmonton-McClung (NDP)
Dang, Thomas, Edmonton-South (NDP)
Deol, Jasvir, Edmonton-Meadows (NDP)
Dreeshen, Hon. Devin, Innisfail-Sylvan Lake (UCP)
Eggen, David, Edmonton-North West (NDP),
Official Opposition Whip
Ellis, Mike, Calgary-West (UCP),
Government Whip
Feehan, Richard, Edmonton-Rutherford (NDP)
Fir, Hon. Tanya, Calgary-Peigan (UCP)
Ganley, Kathleen T., Calgary-Mountain View (NDP)
Official Opposition Deputy House Leader
Getson, Shane C., Lac Ste. Anne-Parkland (UCP)
Glasgo, Michaela L., Brooks-Medicine Hat (UCP)
Glubish, Hon. Nate, Strathcona-Sherwood Park (UCP)
Goehring, Nicole, Edmonton-Castle Downs (NDP)
Goodridge, Laila, Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche (UCP)
Gotfried, Richard, Calgary-Fish Creek (UCP)
Gray, Christina, Edmonton-Mill Woods (NDP)
Official Opposition Deputy House Leader
Guthrie, Peter F., Airdrie-Cochrane (UCP)
Hanson, David B., Bonnyville-Cold Lake-St. Paul (UCP)
Hoffman, Sarah, Edmonton-Glenora (NDP)
Horner, Nate S., Drumheller-Stettler (UCP)
Hunter, Hon. Grant R., Taber-Warner (UCP)
Irwin, Janis, Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood (NDP),
Official Opposition Deputy Whip
Issik, Whitney, Calgary-Glenmore (UCP)
Jones, Matt, Calgary-South East (UCP)
Kenney, Hon. Jason, PC, Calgary-Lougheed (UCP),
Premier
LaGrange, Hon. Adriana, Red Deer-North (UCP)
Loewen, Todd, Central Peace-Notley (UCP)
Long, Martin M., West Yellowhead (UCP)
Lovely, Jacqueline, Camrose (UCP)
Loyola, Rod, Edmonton-Ellerslie (NDP)
Luan, Hon. Jason, Calgary-Foothills (UCP)
Madu, Hon. Kaycee, QC, Edmonton-South West (UCP)
McIver, Hon. Ric, Calgary-Hays (UCP),
Deputy Government House Leader
Nally, Hon. Dale, Morinville-St. Albert (UCP)
Deputy Government House Leader
Neudorf, Nathan T., Lethbridge-East (UCP)
Nicolaides, Hon. Demetrios, Calgary-Bow (UCP)
Nielsen, Christian E., Edmonton-Decore (NDP)
Nixon, Hon. Jason, Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre
(UCP), Government House Leader
Nixon, Jeremy P., Calgary-Klein (UCP)
Notley, Rachel, Edmonton-Strathcona (NDP),
Leader of the Official Opposition
Orr, Ronald, Lacombe-Ponoka (UCP)
Pancholi, Rakhi, Edmonton-Whitemud (NDP)
Panda, Hon. Prasad, Calgary-Edgemont (UCP)
Phillips, Shannon, Lethbridge-West (NDP)
Pon, Hon. Josephine, Calgary-Beddington (UCP)
Rehn, Pat, Lesser Slave Lake (UCP)
Reid, Roger W., Livingstone-Macleod (UCP)
Renaud, Marie F., St. Albert (NDP)
Rosin, Miranda D., Banff-Kananaskis (UCP)
Rowswell, Garth, Vermilion-Lloydminster-Wainwright (UCP)
Rutherford, Brad, Leduc-Beaumont (UCP)
Sabir, Irfan, Calgary-McCall (NDP)
Savage, Hon. Sonya, Calgary-North West (UCP),
Deputy Government House Leader
Sawhney, Hon. Rajan, Calgary-North East (UCP)
Schmidt, Marlin, Edmonton-Gold Bar (NDP)
Schow, Joseph R., Cardston-Siksika (UCP),
Deputy Government Whip
Schulz, Hon. Rebecca, Calgary-Shaw (UCP)
Schweitzer, Hon. Doug, QC, Calgary-Elbow (UCP),
Deputy Government House Leader
Shandro, Hon. Tyler, QC, Calgary-Acadia (UCP)
Shepherd, David, Edmonton-City Centre (NDP)
Sigurdson, Lori, Edmonton-Riverview (NDP)
Sigurdson, R.J., Highwood (UCP)
Singh, Peter, Calgary-East (UCP)
Smith, Mark W., Drayton Valley-Devon (UCP)
Stephan, Jason, Red Deer-South (UCP)
Sweet, Heather, Edmonton-Manning (NDP),
Official Opposition House Leader
Toews, Hon. Travis, Grande Prairie-Wapiti (UCP)
Toor, Devinder, Calgary-Falconridge (UCP)
Turton, Searle, Spruce Grove-Stony Plain (UCP)
van Dijken, Glenn, Athabasca-Barrhead-Westlock (UCP)
Walker, Jordan, Sherwood Park (UCP)
Williams, Dan D.A., Peace River (UCP)
Wilson, Hon. Rick D., Maskwacis-Wetaskiwin (UCP)
Yao, Tany, Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo (UCP)
Yaseen, Muhammad, Calgary-North (UCP)
Party standings:
United Conservative: 63
New Democrat: 24
Officers and Officials of the Legislative Assembly
Shannon Dean, QC, Clerk
Teri Cherkewich, Law Clerk
Stephanie LeBlanc, Clerk Assistant and
Senior Parliamentary Counsel
Trafton Koenig, Parliamentary Counsel
Philip Massolin, Clerk of Committees and
Research Services
Nancy Robert, Research Officer
Janet Schwegel, Director of Parliamentary
Programs
Amanda LeBlanc, Deputy Editor of
Alberta
Hansard
Chris Caughell, Sergeant-at-Arms
Tom Bell, Assistant Sergeant-at-Arms
Paul Link, Assistant Sergeant-at-Arms
Jason Kenney
Leela Aheer
Jason Copping
Devin Dreeshen
Tanya Fir
Nate Glubish
Grant Hunter
Adriana LaGrange
Jason Luan
Kaycee Madu
Ric McIver
Dale Nally
Demetrios Nicolaides
Jason Nixon
Prasad Panda
Josephine Pon
Sonya Savage
Rajan Sawhney
Rebecca Schulz
Doug Schweitzer
Tyler Shandro
Travis Toews
Rick Wilson
Laila Goodridge
Jeremy Nixon
Muhammad Yaseen
Executive Council
Premier, President of Executive Council,
Minister of Intergovernmental Relations
Minister of Culture, Multiculturalism and Status of Women
Minister of Labour and Immigration
Minister of Agriculture and Forestry
Minister of Economic Development, Trade and Tourism
Minister of Service Alberta
Associate Minister of Red Tape Reduction
Minister of Education
Associate Minister of Mental Health and Addictions
Minister of Municipal Affairs
Minister of Transportation
Associate Minister of Natural Gas and Electricity
Minister of Advanced Education
Minister of Environment and Parks
Minister of Infrastructure
Minister of Seniors and Housing
Minister of Energy
Minister of Community and Social Services
Minister of Children’s Services
Minister of Justice and Solicitor General
Minister of Health
President of Treasury Board and Minister of Finance
Minister of Indigenous Relations
Parliamentary Secretaries
Parliamentary Secretary Responsible for Alberta’s Francophonie
Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Community and Social Services
Parliamentary Secretary of Immigration
S
TANDING AND
S
PECIAL
C
OMMITTEES OF THE
L
EGISLATIVE
A
SSEMBLY OF
A
LBERTA
Standing Committee on the
Alberta Heritage Savings
Trust Fund
Chair: Mr. Orr
Deputy Chair: Mr. Getson
Allard
Eggen
Glasgo
Jones
Loyola
Nielsen
Singh
Standing Committee on
Alberta’s Economic Future
Chair: Mr. Neudorf
Deputy Chair: Ms Goehring
Allard
Armstrong-Homeniuk
Barnes
Bilous
Dang
Horner
Irwin
Reid
Stephan
Toor
Select Special Democratic
Accountability Committee
Chair: Mr. Schow
Deputy Chair: Mr. Horner
Allard
Ceci
Dang
Goodridge
Nixon, Jeremy
Pancholi
Rutherford
Sigurdson, R.J.
Smith
Sweet
Standing Committee on
Families and Communities
Chair: Ms Goodridge
Deputy Chair: Ms Sigurdson
Amery
Carson
Ganley
Glasgo
Guthrie
Neudorf
Nixon, Jeremy
Pancholi
Rutherford
Yao
Standing Committee on
Legislative Offices
Chair: Mr. Schow
Deputy Chair: Mr. Sigurdson
Gray
Lovely
Nixon, Jeremy
Rutherford
Schmidt
Shepherd
Sweet
van Dijken
Walker
Standing Committee on
Public Accounts
Chair: Ms Phillips
Deputy Chair: Mr. Gotfried
Barnes
Dach
Guthrie
Hoffman
Reid
Renaud
Rosin
Rowswell
Stephan
Toor
Special Standing Committee
on Members’ Services
Chair: Mr. Cooper
Deputy Chair: Mr. Ellis
Dang
Deol
Ganley
Goehring
Goodridge
Long
Neudorf
Walker
Williams
Standing Committee on
Private Bills and Private
Members’ Public Bills
Chair: Mr. Ellis
Deputy Chair: Mr. Schow
Glasgo
Horner
Irwin
Neudorf
Nielsen
Nixon, Jeremy
Pancholi
Sigurdson, L.
Sigurdson, R.J.
Select Special Public Health
Act Review Committee
Chair: Mr. Milliken
Deputy Chair: Ms Rosin
Ganley
Gray
Hoffman
Long
Lovely
Neudorf
Reid
Rowswell
Shepherd
Turton
Standing Committee on
Resource Stewardship
Chair: Mr. Hanson
Deputy Chair: Member Ceci
Dach
Feehan
Getson
Loewen
Rehn
Rosin
Sabir
Singh
Smith
Yaseen
Standing Committee on
Privileges and Elections,
Standing Orders and Printing
Chair: Mr. Smith
Deputy Chair: Mr. Schow
Armstrong-Homeniuk
Carson
Deol
Ganley
Issik
Jones
Lovely
Loyola
Rehn
Reid
Renaud
Turton
Yao
July 27, 2020
Alberta Hansard
2401
Legislative Assembly of Alberta
Title: Monday, July 27, 2020 7:30 p.m.
7:30 p.m. Monday, July 27, 2020
[The Speaker in the chair]
The Speaker:
Hon. members, please be seated.
head:
Government Bills and Orders
Third Reading
Previous DocumentBill 33Next Hit
Alberta Investment Attraction Act
The Speaker:
The hon. the Minister of Economic Development,
Trade and Tourism.
Ms Fir:
Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I rise to move third reading of
Previous Hit Bill 33Next Hit, the Alberta Investment Attraction Act.
Traditionally investors from around the world have regarded
Alberta as an attractive and compelling place for investment thanks
to our low taxes, skilled workforce, and an affordable high quality
of life. As we continue our economic recovery, Alberta must make
important decisions. This means making the right decisions that
position Alberta for a return to economic prosperity in the future.
Previous Hit Bill 33Next Hit will enable the creation of the invest Alberta corporation,
whose primary function would focus on driving high-value, high-
impact investment to Alberta, targeting our key growth sectors.
The world needs to know that Alberta remains open for business
and is still one of the best places to do business and invest. New
investments to Alberta will revitalize our industries and subsectors,
which create the conditions for economic development and growth.
More importantly, new investments will lead to jobs across the
province. The invest Alberta corporation would also be responsible
for leading a global marketing strategy, promoting Alberta’s
investment opportunities and value propositions to investors in
Canada and key global markets. We are not just telling the world;
we are showing the world that Alberta’s entrepreneurial spirit is
alive and well.
I heard from the members opposite that they don’t believe in this
investment attraction effort. They think that this agency is
unnecessary. But, Mr. Speaker, this agency is necessary. It is
necessary because over four years of NDP government, a third of
the total foreign investment in this province fled. It is necessary
because the NDP raised taxes on job creators by 20 per cent. It is
necessary because they brought in the largest tax increase in Alberta
history with their carbon tax without consulting Albertans. After
decades of seeing Alberta as a destination for investment, it took
the NDP only four years, mere months, really, because it started
almost immediately under their tenure, for them to destroy the
Alberta advantage. The NDP claim that the Department of
Economic Development, Trade and Tourism – I’m not sure I’ve
actually heard any of them get the full name of the ministry correct,
which speaks volumes – does this work already. The department
will continue to work with our existing investors. They will help
them expand.
That attitude really shows that the NDP don’t understand
economics. While they sat behind their desks and tried to pick
winners and losers, in the end costing all Albertans, while they sat
in this building and raised taxes, investors and job creators took a
look at what they were doing and went elsewhere. The advantages
we had when it came to high-impact investment were gone under
the NDP. Under our government we’re bringing them back.
But, Mr. Speaker, we need a boots-on-the-ground, eyeball-to-
eyeball aggressive approach to investment attraction. We need to
be present in the major investment markets, in the financial capitals,
and we need to be able to say that the days of the NDP are over, and
Alberta is once again open for business. That message is: we are
growing our existing industries, we are diversifying, and we want
you to create jobs in the jurisdiction with the best investment
climate in North America, create jobs in the province with the
lowest taxes on job creators, a low cost of living with the highest
standard of living. Hire our well-educated workforce. We will
pursue investment opportunities with determination and
confidence.
We have created the conditions for growth. Our tech incentives,
for example, make us the most competitive place in Canada to
invest in tech and innovation, and our sector strategies will give us
competitive advantages. Every step of the way the invest Alberta
corporation will be on the ground. They’ll be in the markets that are
best positioned to hire Albertans. They’ll be advocating for Alberta,
and they’ll be telling the world our story.
Mr. Speaker, I listened to the members opposite as they whined
about this legislation for hours. It again reinforces, as my
colleague the Member for Red Deer-South said, that it’s really a
good thing they’re over there not harming Alberta businesses and
families anymore with their reckless policies. The NDP question
the need for this legislation. They think we don’t need it. What I
can tell you is that we definitely need it because, again, after four
years of NDP government, foreign direct investment fell by a
third. The members opposite sat behind their desks for four years
raising taxes and driving out investment. They drove it out. They
told companies: “Alberta doesn’t want your business. We’re
raising corporate taxes high. We’re taxing you for heating your
shops and driving to work.”
The Member for Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview said that there’s
already an Invest Alberta that’s part of the department. They still
exist. They’re going to work with existing investors in the province.
What this legislation does is strengthen our presence
internationally, eyeball-to-eyeball meetings around the world.
Silicon Valley and Dubai: the member brought up those offices, and
they’re good, but we’re going to have offices in Houston, our
second-largest U.S. trading partner; in New York, the global
finance capital. We’re going to look everywhere. High-value, high-
impact investment.
The NDP refused to let their tax credits go into the dumpster
where they belong. They say we aren’t getting investment because
we’re not telling investors they have to check in with government
every time they make a decision. The NDP took the Alberta
advantage and turned it into a bureaucratic advantage, Mr. Speaker.
Let’s look again at what happened under their watch. Investment
fell under the previous government by 7 per cent in agriculture and
forestry, 10 per cent in manufacturing, 21 per cent in construction,
27 per cent in finance, insurance, and real estate, 35 per cent in
transportation, 36 per cent in utilities, 65 per cent in retail trade,
and, of course, by 61 per cent in the oil and gas extraction sector.
After all that they ask why we need this legislation. We need it
because the NDP destroyed investor confidence. They took a torch
to the investment climate and put up a closed-for-business sign on
our province.
This legislation is an acknowledgement that investment fled this
province thanks to the socialist dumpster fire that engulfed our
economy for four years. This is our government taking an
aggressive approach to investment attraction. It’s the right thing to
do to create jobs, grow the economy, and diversify. If the members
opposite had actually done their homework, they would know that
we need an agency like this to compete with other jurisdictions as
global economies reopen. Quebec, Ontario, B.C., Saskatchewan all
have agencies like the invest Alberta corporation.
2402
Alberta Hansard
July 27, 2020
Mr. Speaker, when the accidental NDP government was elected
in 2015, I woke up the next morning hoping it was just a nightmare.
Well, it wasn’t a nightmare, but I thought: “Well, maybe I’ll give
them the benefit of the doubt. Maybe this will be an Alberta version
of the NDP, and it won’t be so bad.” Nope. When they increased
taxes and took in less revenue, I thought: well, surely they’ll see
that that’s not working and change that. Nope. I thought maybe
they’d look at the history of socialist regimes across the world and
see that people don’t flee democratic countries to come to socialist
countries; people flee socialist countries to go to democratic
countries. Nope, they didn’t see that either. They like to say that this
invest Alberta corporation is necessary because the minister, I, am
not doing my job. No, it’s because the NDP did not do their job.
Fact: they drove out billions of dollars of investment. They drove
out thousands of jobs. They taxed everything that moved and
breathed.
The invest Alberta corporation will bring investment and jobs
back to hard-working Albertans and will show the world Alberta is
the best place to do business and invest.
Thank you.
The Speaker:
Hon. members, before the Assembly is Previous Hit Bill 33Next Hit,
Alberta Investment Attraction Act, at third reading. Is there anyone
else that would like to provide a question or a comment? The hon.
Member for Edmonton-Gold Bar.
Mr. Schmidt:
Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I’m pleased to rise and
offer some comments on Previous Hit Bill 33Next Hit, the Alberta Investment Attraction
Act, and respond to some of the comments made from the minister.
It’s interesting to note that in the bulk of the time that the minister
had given to speaking to this bill, she spent far more time attacking
us over here on this side of the House than actually defending the
need for this piece of legislation or the corporation that it would
seek to establish.
I can understand, Mr. Speaker, why the minister might be feeling
a little bit touchy. I certainly view this bill as a vote of no confidence
in the work that she’s done so far in her role. You know, it’s no
secret that Alberta is in the middle of the worst economic downturn
that this province has seen since the 1930s, and, unfortunately, the
government has seen fit to delay the release of an economic update
until the end of August, so we don’t yet know fully how much the
economy has contracted over the last six months. We do know that
prior to COVID, this government lost 50,000 jobs implementing its
failed economic policies, and since COVID we’ve certainly seen
half a million Albertans either lose their jobs or lose hours of work
and increase the economic precarity that they’re experiencing.
7:40
So it would only make sense, Mr. Speaker, that we would hear
nothing but an endless stream of announcements from the Minister
of Economic Development, Trade and Tourism. I did a little bit of
a Google search, and I found that the minister has released 12 press
releases since she was appointed to that role on April 30 of 2019.
That’s less than one announcement per month. It’s quite obvious to
me and to many in my constituency that when the government is
looking at what they can do to revitalize Alberta’s economy, you
would think that the Minister of Economic Development, Trade and
Tourism would be front and centre, would be the lead spokesperson
for the government on what their plans are for revitalizing Alberta’s
economy, but in fact she’s almost completely missing in action.
So now, when Albertans are starting to notice that perhaps the
Minister of Economic Development, Trade and Tourism isn’t doing
the job that Albertans expect her to do, we have this bill, which sets
up an Alberta investment corporation, an arm’s-length agency that
the minister doesn’t really have the power to direct other than
appointing a number of board members. It’s very disappointing,
Mr. Speaker, that we’ve come to this place.
As my friend from Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview has clearly
pointed out on a number of occasions during debate, there’s nothing
new here in the Alberta investment corporation that Economic
Development, Trade and Tourism doesn’t already do. In fact, when
the minister introduced this bill for third reading not just a few
moments ago, she didn’t actually tell us anything in addition to what
the department already does that this investment corporation will
do. She just said that they would work with the existing structures
within her department to attract investment. To me, that sounds like
they’re increasing the bureaucracy, the number of administrative
hurdles that businesses will have to jump through in order to decide
to invest here in Alberta. That certainly runs counter to what
members of the government caucus like to tell us they’re doing
when it comes to attracting investment here in the province of
Alberta.
The second point that I’d like to make is that I think that setting
up this investment agency is incredibly fiscally irresponsible. It was
irresponsible on the day that it was announced, in my view, to
appoint Dave Rodney as the representative in Houston at a salary
of $250,000 a year, twice what most members of this Chamber earn.
It’s widely agreed that Dave Rodney, while a fine gentleman, has
no qualifications for filling this role in Houston. In fact, the
members opposite continually refer to the fact that Dave Rodney
summited Mount Everest twice, which is indeed true, and that’s
certainly a significant achievement, but there aren’t even mountains
in Texas. It just smacks of pure political patronage to give Dave
Rodney this position for which he is not suited.
Mr. Speaker, I think the government wasn’t even happy with the
level of fiscal irresponsibility that was baked into the investment
corporation on the day that it was announced. In fact, when we
reached Committee of the Whole, the government brought forward
an amendment, which I think also goes back to my point that the
minister is not doing her job. She had nothing but time to come up
with this legislation, and then it wasn’t until it was introduced in the
House that we realized that, oh, maybe there are some mistakes, and
we have to introduce a government amendment.
That’s beside the point. My original point was around the fiscal
irresponsibility that’s baked into the investment corporation. The
government wasn’t happy with the level of fiscal irresponsibility
that was baked into the existing corporation, so they made some
changes to enhance the fiscal irresponsibility of that corporation.
They increased the number of board members from seven to 11.
Now, Mr. Speaker, you may be asking how that speaks to the topic
of fiscal irresponsibility, but one of the things that I note in the
legislation – and there certainly hasn’t been any clarification in any
other government communications whether or not these board
members will be paid or how much. I expect that these board
members will be paid something. It’s no secret that the people who
occupy the commanding heights of world finance demand a rather
generous salary. We certainly see that with the Premier’s principal
adviser, David Knight Legg. He certainly doesn’t do his job of
attracting investment to Alberta for nothing and, in fact, has no
compunction about sticking the people of Alberta with the bill for
his extravagant travel.
We expect that the government will be drawing these board
members from the same pool of people from which they drew
people like David Knight Legg, so they’ll expect to have their
expenses covered, Mr. Speaker, at the very least, and they could
very well expect to be paid some kind of salary. I expect that the
jobs that they’ll be taking time away from to commit to this task
will be rather high-paying endeavours, so they’ll need to be
July 27, 2020
Alberta Hansard
2403
compensated for that. Seven such board members wasn’t enough
for the members opposite. They needed to increase that to 11.
Nobody explained to us why we need to increase the number of
board members on this board by nearly 50 per cent, thereby running
up the costs that the people of Alberta will have to pay to this board,
probably by up to 50 per cent. We don’t know.
More importantly, this government amended the legislation to
remove the ability of the corporation to participate in loan
guarantees, investment credits, any kind of equity ownership in
potential investors here in Alberta and restrict itself to only grants.
Now, Mr. Speaker, I can’t think of anything that could be more
fiscally irresponsible, because they’ve removed the ability of this
corporation to make any kind of investment that would make a
return to the people of Alberta. The people of Alberta could
potentially profit from equity investments in enterprises that are
seeking to invest here in Alberta. They could potentially profit from
the repayment of loans that we would make to companies that
requested those loans to invest here in the people of Alberta. But
no. We’ve removed that possibility entirely. We’ve decided that
we’re only going to give grants to potential investors, and there’s
nothing in this legislation that actually sets out what conditions
those grants will be given under or what kind of investment returns
the people of Alberta can see from those grants.
It boggles my mind, Mr. Speaker, that we hear endless tirades
from members opposite about how fiscally irresponsible we were,
but when we created economic development measures here in the
province of Alberta, we made sure that investors came to the table
with their money first before Albertans put their money up and put
their money at risk. They’re flipping that argument on its head.
They say: no; we’re going to put up Alberta taxpayers’ money first
and then cross our fingers and hope that some investor will come
forward with some investments that will make a difference in
improving the economic situation here in Alberta. I can’t think of
anything more irresponsible than what this government has done
with this corporation.
Thirdly, Mr. Speaker, I think this legislation misses the point
when it comes to economic recovery here in Alberta. We could set
up 10 of these kinds of investment corporations, and it wouldn’t get
to the crux of the issue that is stifling economic growth here in the
province of Alberta and that is containing the spread of the COVID-
19 virus.
7:50
Now, I see that Dr. Deena Hinshaw and the government of
Alberta released the new number of cases. We still continue to hit
on average a hundred cases a day, Mr. Speaker, and we have
sections of the province of Alberta that have higher infection rates
than in most American jurisdictions, which we will all agree have
significant issues containing the coronavirus. Because we failed to
contain the coronavirus adequately, people are still sitting at home
with no job or a severely restricted job. People can’t work to their
full capacity because their businesses remain closed or severely
restricted because we haven’t contained the virus. I would humbly
suggest that perhaps widespread mask wearing might be an idea
that we should consider on a province-wide basis. I certainly note
that the city of Calgary has implemented a city-wide requirement to
wear masks, and the city of Edmonton has implemented a weaker
resolution but has also put its voice behind more widespread use of
masks.
What’s more frustrating, Mr. Speaker, is that we hear the updates
from the chief medical officer of health of the number of cases
every day, but we’re never told where those transmissions have
occurred and what we might do differently to prevent those.
An Hon. Member:
That’s not true.
Mr. Schmidt:
I hear the Member for Calgary-Glenmore saying that
that’s not true, and I encourage her to correct me if she’s given the
opportunity in this debate. You know, Mr. Speaker, I have looked
to see if we have found out where the cases of transmission in
Alberta are occurring and what we could possibly do differently to
limit the number of cases that have occurred, and there isn’t any
information out there that I can see. Again, we’re going to be here
for a long time, so I’m willing to stand corrected on that matter. I
hope that the Member for Calgary-Glenmore takes the opportunity,
if given, to address this issue. I would be grateful for that.
The most important thing that we can do though, Mr. Speaker, to
revitalize Alberta’s economy is to reopen schools safely, and we
have seen nothing but a colossal failure from this government to do
that. They pound their chests and pat themselves on the back and
say: what a wonderful plan it is that we’ve got to reopen schools
safely. Here’s their plan. It’s normal school plus hand soap. That is
not acceptable. Since the minister announced her nonplan to reopen
schools, my office has been flooded with e-mails and phone calls
by the thousands because people are terrified that their children are
going to get sick and that they’re going to get their teachers sick
and they’re going to bring that home and get their family members
sick, too. [interjections]
I hear the members opposite saying that we’re talking about Previous Hit BillNext Hit
Previous Hit 33Next Hit, and I would just remind everybody that we’re talking about
attracting investment and revitalizing Alberta’s economy. The most
important thing that we can do is open schools safely, and this
minister and this government have colossally failed to do that. We
are going to see nothing but more sick people and a stalled economy
because of their colossal failure to take the issue of school
reopening seriously.
Mr. Speaker, in the time that I would have left, I would like to
address the issue of investing in Alberta. The minister gave a lot of
time to running down our record of economic development here in
Alberta. They talked about the number of foreign investors who
left, and I would remind the members, of course, that just today, I
think it was, Deutsche Bank announced that they are not going to
be investing in any more oil sands companies because this
government has failed to take the issue of climate change seriously.
And that’s on the heels of a number of international investors who
have decided to pull out of oil sands development here in the
province of Alberta because they have failed to address the issue of
climate change seriously.
Moreover, the minister and the government don’t understand the
nature of Alberta’s economy when they place so much importance
on foreign investment, because if you look at the largest companies
that are in Alberta right now, they are all Albertan-owned and -
started companies. The top four of the five major oil sands
companies are Suncor, which started out as Petro-Canada;
Syncrude, which started out as a government investment; Cenovus,
which also started out as a government investment made here in
Alberta; Husky, of course, which is now owned by a Hong Kong
billionaire but I believe started out in Alberta.
And it’s not just the oil sands, Mr. Speaker. You would look at
other companies that are operating here in Alberta. I think of the
power companies: ATCO, Capital Power, EPCOR. These are
significant players in the Alberta economy, and they were all started
here in Alberta by Albertans with Albertans investing in ourselves.
So any economic recovery plan that this government is putting
forward, if they wish for it to be taken seriously, needs to seriously
look at promoting Albertans investing in ourselves, like we have
done through history and will also be the way forward.
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July 27, 2020
Now, before anybody takes this statement to mean that I am
endorsing the Premier’s move to take pension funds out of the
Canada pension plan and put them into AIMCo for the minister to
invest into his pet projects, I am not doing anything of the sort, but
we do have significant financial capabilities and resources here in
the province of Alberta that we can start investing in Alberta’s own
homegrown economy. We have a very talented, hard-working
population, we have vast resources, and we have no shortage of
skills that we can put to work, but we need the government to invest
in our own people. What does that look like, Mr. Speaker? It doesn’t
just mean, you know, offering investments into homegrown
businesses so that they can have the start-up capital to get to work.
It also means investing in their education. If we educate the people
of Alberta, they will be better prepared to revitalize our economy
than we are today.
Certainly, I see the government taking a number of steps in the
wrong direction, making massive cuts to our investments in the
postsecondary education system, raising tuition. You know, we
need to understand that Alberta’s economic recovery depends on
the ability of Albertans to pick themselves up, and it’s up to us as a
government to start investing in them so that they can create that
economic recovery that we’re all seeking.
So, Mr. Speaker, I would like to summarize the points that I have
made today as to why I won’t be voting for this bill. I think, you
know, that this bill is a massive vote of no confidence in the
minister. Rather than setting this up, I think the government would
be wise to let her go and have somebody else fill that role.
The Speaker:
Hon. members, is there anyone else wishing to join
in the debate? The hon. Government House Leader.
Mr. Jason Nixon:
Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I move that we adjourn
debate.
[Motion to adjourn debate carried]
8:00
head:
Government Bills and Orders
Committee of the Whole
[Mrs. Allard in the chair]
The Acting Chair:
Hon. members, I’d like to call Committee of the
Whole to order.
Bill 32
Restoring Balance in Alberta’s Workplaces Act, 2020
The Acting Chair:
Are there any members wishing to bring
forward amendments? I see the hon. Member for Edmonton-
Rutherford has risen.
Mr. Feehan:
Thank you, Madam Chair. I appreciate the
opportunity to speak to Bill 32. I have many concerns about this
bill. I have had an opportunity to speak to some of them along the
way, but it’s always good to have a chance to go over some of the
problems that are inherent in the bill and to ask for the government
to seriously reconsider the bill given the inherent attack on workers’
rights that we see in this bill. I am quite concerned that the intent of
this bill is particularly problematic.
The reality over the last many years in western democracies is
that there has been an assessment by many societies and
governments and so on to look at the issue of workers and whether
workers’ well-being is protected in the process of their work
activities, and the overall focus of western democracies over the last
200 years, essentially, has been to move in the direction of ensuring
that workers’ rights are well protected.
You know, often when talking to my students about the issue of
workers’ rights, I would just talk briefly about the fact that this
debate has been going on for a long time and has been certainly
supported quite widely, including by the Catholic Church, of which
I’m a part and happen to have had an opportunity to study some of
the papal encyclicals on work over the last number of years. I’m
always very proud to point out that in the papal encyclicals, starting
from the mid-1800s on, they have been talking about the necessity
of having unions to protect the well-being of citizens. There was an
initial encyclical – encyclicals are letters from the Pope – called
Rerum Novarum, which focused on the rights of workers at the
time, and that has been duplicated on four other occasions by Popes
who have spoken to the need to have appropriate protections for
workers and the necessity of actually having unions specifically
identified.
I’m just pointing that out – and people don’t need to share my
faith at all – in that this is an old discussion, not a new discussion,
and it’s been on the record for many years. The concerns that have
been repeated over and over again by the people who have studied
these things that are spoken to in Bill 32 are that there really is an
imbalanced relationship between employer and employee just in
terms of the factors which contribute power to decision-making in
employment situations and that workers really only have a single
power. That single power is their labour. If their labour is taken
without due compensation, then it is truly a moral problem. It is a
concern that leaves us wondering whether or not we’re headed in
the right direction.
Now, the reasons why I’m concerned about Bill 32 are that the
whole emphasis of the bill is shifting power away from the worker
to the employer in a variety of ways. That makes it very difficult
for employees to have their needs met in an appropriate way, and
that’s the issue that I think we need to spend a little bit more time
talking about.
Now, in the past I have gone through the bill in a number of ways
to look at individual sections of the bill and the problems that are
inherent, the problems such as the creation of boards that can make
a significant number of decisions that they previously couldn’t
make, that the boards can make those decisions alone, that those
boards can summarily change conditions of employment for
workers and, in fact, can make decisions about a variety of aspects
of the employment contract without even going back to arbitration.
I think that this is a particular problem here.
We know that there has been a particular emphasis – and it’s been
identified by the Government House Leader – that this bill is very
much focused on the issue of union dues. I suggested it the last time
I was in the House speaking to the bill, so I think we should spend
a bit of time particularly looking at the issue of union dues given
that the only power that a worker has is the power to either apply
his or her labour or to withdraw his or her labour. It is very
important, then, that we look at the mechanisms by which he or she
can do that, can apply their labour or not.
We know that if we reduce workers to the situation where they
only have an individual right to choose to apply their labour or not
apply their labour, then they have almost no power at all, because
individuals can be fired, can be transferred, can have consequences
in terms of their supervision, have consequences in terms of their
evaluation, and so on. They stand very little likelihood of being able
to speak to the issues that are of concern to them individually.
As a result, there has been wide support, as I mentioned earlier in
my comments, for the idea that workers need to have the right to
join together, to establish a group, a collective that will come to the
place of being able to meet with an employer on some level of
balance in terms of the amount of power that they bring to the
negotiations so that indeed they are, in fact, negotiations. One
July 27, 2020
Alberta Hansard
2405
worker refusing to engage in work can easily just result in a firing,
but all the workers refusing to engage in work leads to the necessity
for the employer to have a conversation and try to find a negotiated
middle-ground position in which they are able to satisfy the
concerns of the worker and, at the same time, establish the basis for
their own activities as an employer.
This particular right has not only been reinforced, as I say, by
writers for the last few hundred years on the subject but by the
Supreme Court of Canada, who have indicated that workers do have
a right to collectively argue on their behalf. If we are going to
recognize that Supreme Court decision that says that unions do need
to be recognized, we also need to make sure that we are recognizing
what it is that the unions are doing. You can’t simply recognize a
union but then give them no rights at all. That would be a hollow
victory, and we know that the Supreme Court has also made
declarations on that as well, that you cannot ascribe to a group of
people a right but then define the right in such a way that the rights
themselves are actually taken away. In other words, you cannot say
that people have a right to join a union, but the union has no power
to do anything on their behalf. That’s, I think, the issue at hand here.
8:10
In Bill 32, while we continue to allow unions to exist, we are
taking the right of workers away to have their voice heard in an
appropriate way in the discussions with the employer. We can see
that because we can see that the government is giving the power to
directors to make all kinds of decisions outside of union contracts,
giving the power to directors to make decisions about things like
holiday pay, vacation pay, number of hours worked, changes to the
number of rest periods that are existing within a period of work
time, and all of these things. I think that it is problematic if we are
removing all of that. It’s contrary to the intent of the Supreme Court
decision on the existence of unions and the rights that unions
actually have power to negotiate on behalf of members.
Now, the way the unions do that is the thing that the Supreme
Court is saying that we need to protect, and the way that unions do
that is that they ask their members to contribute financially through
union dues to the activities of the unions. Now, fortunately, unions
in this country have been set up along the lines of a very democratic
process; that is, the union members can vote for the people who
head the unions. They can vote them out if they don’t like the people
that are heading the unions and the practices that they engage in,
and they can review the financials of their union and vote for or
against the financial arrangements that the unions have established.
Furthermore, they can vote on the part of the financial statement
that talks about the union using their union dues for various
activities that are important, sometimes specifically related to the
job site and sometimes related to the larger issues that unions care
about.
Now, we know the government has often stood up – and they just
did on Previous Hit Bill 33Next Hit – and talked about creating a situation or a climate in
which the work happens for businesses. Well, the same is true of
workers. They aren’t just concerned with the conditions of how
many washroom breaks they get or even the amount of pay they
get; they’re also concerned about the conditions for workers in
society. That means that they are concerned about issues such as
climate change and how it might affect their future employment.
They’re concerned about issues like health care and how it might
protect the well-being of themselves and their families. And they
can choose to ask their unions to take actions on their behalf on
those kinds of issues because it really does make a difference in
terms of their well-being. That’s a democratic process.
Now, sometimes, of course, union members will be on the losing
side of a democratic process. Sometimes union members will vote
against a particular article within spending, and their side won’t
win. But that’s the nature of democracy. It’s very much the same as
we have here in the House, that people vote for a government. In
this case the UCP won the election, so they make the rules, and they
move forward. While we might challenge them here in the House,
so far they haven’t accepted a single variation to any one of their
bills, so we know that they are acting in exactly the way that they
are now prescribing the unions should not act. This is very
problematic.
I know thousands of people who would love the opportunity to
say to the government: I don’t agree with the decision you made, so
I don’t want my portion of taxes going to that particular thing. In
this case, in this Bill 32, the government is saying: we agree with
that thinking. But they are not saying that with regard to their own
budget, which they have failed to present here in the House, by the
way, and I think that that’s really problematic, because what is good
for the goose is also good for the gander. If the government is able
to say, “We can institute policies based on the fact that we got a
majority” – and we have all heard that they got a majority, a very
large majority, dozens if not hundreds of times since the
government has been elected, something which they’re very proud
about. But they refuse to acknowledge that union leaders are also
elected, also typically win with significant majorities, and also
therefore have the right to present budgets, which are subsequently
voted on by members. All of that has been taken away from others
but not from the government themselves. I think that that’s very
problematic, when your philosophy of democracy is so inconsistent
that you would allow this to happen.
I think it’s unfortunate that sometimes union members’ dues are
used for things they don’t particularly wish to have them used for,
but that’s a democracy. I certainly feel that way with my taxes, and
I certainly have been part of other organizations that used money in
a way that I didn’t completely support.
However, I really do believe in democracy, so at those times
when I have lost, I take it on the chin and I say: that’s unfortunate;
that’s too bad. I may even be upset about it or angry about it at the
time, but I certainly don’t try to defeat the democracy in order to
get my way, because that wouldn’t be a democracy at all – would
it? – if you always removed the democracy every time you didn’t
get your way. Yet that’s essentially what this government has
chosen to do in Bill 32. I think that that’s very problematic, and I
would like to see the government go back and think about the
particular changes that they made and think about the implications
they have here.
For example, they have suggested in this bill that it’s not good
enough for members to come to their AGM and to see the budget
and to ask questions about the budget and to vote on the budget like
every other organization I’ve ever belonged to. At every nonprofit
organization, every institution I’ve ever worked for, that’s how it’s
done, but in this one case we have the situation where, because this
government doesn’t like unions, they’re taking away the process
that is used by all other institutions in the province. When I was at
Catholic Social Services, that’s what we did. We presented the
budget once a year to our members, and they came and they voted
on accepting or rejecting the budget. When I was at the university,
we had opportunities to review the budget for our faculty and to
vote on which way it went.
In this case that’s exactly what they’re taking away from
members of the union here, and it’s giving powers to other people,
not the union, to make decisions for things. It’s giving powers to
the board to adjust “the timing and frequency for the setting or
charging of . . . dues [and] assessments.” They can’t even
democratically vote on the dues that they’re going to contribute
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July 27, 2020
now. That power has now been shifted from the union members to
a government-appointed director. How is that democratic?
I’m very concerned that in the situation with all other institutions,
you go into the AGM and you vote on the budget. But in this case
they’re being told: you can’t simply have people come to the AGM
and get a copy of the documents and vote on them; now everybody
must be given a written copy of these things outside of the AGM.
What’s the purpose of that? How does that change things here in
this situation in a way that would make them different from all other
institutions? Nonprofits don’t have to send every one of their
employees a copy of their budgets ahead of time.
What will happen here, though, is that then makes the private
information of the union publicly available to the employer so that
the employer will now know exactly how much money is in the
strike fund, for example, and that will, therefore, affect employer
decisions. Not only that, but if a union member decides to opt out
of some of the union dues under this new bill, that will be reported
to the employer, so the employer will know which of their
employees are opted in and opted out. If you don’t think that’s
going to affect evaluations, if you don’t think that’s going to affect
promotions, that that’s going to affect a variety of other activities
that occur every day to day, you’re fooling yourself.
We know that some employees will start to be deemed as good
employees who are not causing trouble, who are opting out of the
larger work that the union is doing, and they will be pitted against
those bad employees who actually care about the society in which
they live and seek to make changes not only in terms of their
specific working conditions but the larger, global working
conditions of their union and all of their brothers and sisters. I think
those kinds of changes are very problematic. Having reviewed
some legal assessments of Bill 32, I have found that there is a
suggestion that this will be a clear violation of the freedom to
associate.
Thank you.
8:20
The Acting Chair:
Thank you, hon. member.
Are there other members? I see the hon. Member for Edmonton-
McClung has risen to join debate.
Mr. Dach:
Thank you, Madam Chair. I’m pleased to rise this
evening to speak to this rather offensive piece of legislation and
offer my comments and perspective on it. I’d like to start by saying
that this government seems to pride itself by claiming to have great
respect for all Albertans no matter who they are, all races – black,
brown, indigenous – all religions, socioeconomic backgrounds, all
educational levels, any gender, all newcomers, refugees, people
who were born here, professionals, tradespeople, mothers, fathers,
students, young people, seniors, children, able-bodied, those with
disabilities, the list goes on.
But when a person in this province decides they wish to join a
union or happen to be a member of a union already, they all of a
sudden become an enemy of the government. That’s an attitude that
permeates this piece of legislation, Bill 32, because it seeks to target
those individuals who seek to become union members or who
already are union members – and unions themselves – as somehow
less than equal citizens. They are becoming targets of the
government, and this legislation squarely has its sights set on
making union membership and the organized labour movement a
thing of the past in this province. If, indeed, they could get away
with it, the government would, with the stroke of their pen, attempt
to eliminate unions right off the bat.
However, they’re rather insidiously doing it by a thousand cuts.
This is happening quite brazenly in front of us, Madam Chair, and
without apology from this government. I don’t know what school
of thought exactly this may be coming from or emanating from. I’ve
hearkened to this before: any student of western democracy will
know that a fundamental pillar of that democracy, if it’s healthy, is
the ability of organized labour to freely organize and to actually
challenge the government and have a voice readily able to challenge
the government on issues of the day and to represent the voice of
working people freely and on an equal footing with government,
rather than to be put in the crosshairs of the government as an
enemy of the state and something to be countered every step of the
way.
The government seems to forget, Madam Chair, who actually these
union members are. Many of them, actually, maybe even still are
union members themselves but somehow forget exactly what the
fundamental basis of organized labour is all about. It’s a poor
example of how we should be understanding a major portion of our
society. Unions are a critical element to a healthy democracy, as I’ve
said, and those individuals who happen to be involved in business on
the other side, whether they were running a business which had a
labour movement or organized labour or union, or whether or not they
simply were in the private sector, will know that the ability of an
employee who may have a grievance or a concern with their employer
to come forward and bring that without reservation and without fear
of reprisal to an employer is greatly enhanced when, in fact, they have
a representative, organized labour.
It hasn’t just occurred out of thin air. Organized labour and the
labour movement have developed over the course of decades. We
of course celebrated in 2019, this last year, 100 years since the
Winnipeg General Strike, which established the labour movement
and organized labour and the ability to freely have the right to
organize in this country over a hundred years ago.
[Mr. Milliken in the chair]
It unfortunately caused the deaths of a number of workers who
came to that city square to demand that they be treated as human
beings, and 101 years later this government in the province of
Alberta, I’m ashamed to say, is treating our labour force, those
individual human beings, who they espouse to be the great
respecters of, as less than human. They’re some kind of a
subspecies, the way this government seems to be operating in terms
of Bill 32, where they talk about restoring balance. They’re doing
nothing of the sort, Mr. Chair.
This whole piece of legislation is designed to smash the ability of
organized labour to organize themselves and to operate and to
function as a pillar of our healthy democracy. It behooves all
Albertans to be aware of this. I know that this piece of legislation is
one of those that the attention of Albertans is focused on right now,
and it’s not something that this government will be able to get away
with without penalty. When you go and attack such a large element
of our society, it’s not something that Albertans let go lightly. The
organized workforce, those who are unionized here in the province
of Alberta, the number – correct me if I’m wrong – I believe is
around 25 per cent of the workforce that are union labourers, and
that’s a significant population group in the province. That
represents the breadwinners of a whole lot of families in Alberta.
To be willing to disenfranchise those individual workers and those
families and to disavow them of their rights to represent themselves
and be represented by their union leadership in the province is a
disgrace, but it’s not something that’s going to be let go by any of
the members of this side of the Legislature or of the labour
movement as well.
We will be looking towards making a number of amendments to
this legislation, Mr. Chair, to try to improve it. The best thing that
July 27, 2020
Alberta Hansard
2407
could be done, in my humble opinion, would be to completely
withdraw it and leave in place the measures that we brought forward
to make it easier to join a union, to improve the ability of organized
labour to operate on a level playing field with the business
community, with the employers because that’s when you end up
having a healthy environment for negotiations and long-term
relationships, when both parties have an equal footing and there is
actually balance in the relationship. This legislation goes a long way
to breaking what we attempted to do, which was to bring a little
balance to the relationship, when we were in power in 2015 to 2019.
The government claims to have great respect for the individual
working people in this province, but this legislation belies that fact.
It’s the opposite of respect when you go ahead and tell an individual
union member that they’re not going to have the same rights that
they enjoyed before, to go ahead and allow their union to advocate
on their behalf.
I was terrified for workers in the Cargill plant most recently, Mr.
Chair, when against the clamouring of UFCW 401, the government
failed to listen to the union leadership. It was a reflection of the total
lack of respect that this government has for unions in general.
Where that was born – I have yet to find the well that that’s crawled
out of, but it is a horrific attitude to have, and it belies a total lack
of understanding of the human dignity that the labour movement
offers to its membership when they are able to organize freely in a
democratic society.
We have different pillars of democracy in our country, in the
western democracies, Mr. Chair. Of course, we have the legislative
branch of the government. We have the judiciary as well. We have
the electorate itself. We have a free press, ostensibly, although this
government is hell bent on attacking that as well.
8:30
On top of those pillars that I just mentioned, freedom to organize
and form a union is a fundamental right that this government would
just as soon do away with if they could get away with it. That is a
pillar of our democracy that I think we all let go at our own peri
because if, indeed, we start chiseling away at that fundamental
right, we will see that the only pillar left is the government pillar,
and that, Mr. Chair, is what we’re seeing in a number of
democracies in the world where a populist movement has seriously
begun to erode the ability of organized labour and a free press to
operate.
You know, we see things in Hungary, for example, where they’ve
just in the last couple of days had thousands of people in the streets
to demonstrate against the loss of a major news media outlet that
the government has seen fit to disband. The same type of attitude
seems to prevail here in this country when legislation that seeks to
prohibit dissent of any type is insidiously being implemented right
in this province.
Part of that onslaught against democracy in our province is this
Bill 32, which is a piece of legislation that is so counter to my being
that it makes me want to scream. I hope the government is hearing
the screams of Albertans along with mine, who say: “Don’t you
dare. Don’t you dare think that you’re going to get away with this.”
Well, I mean, the government members, the Government House
Leader is laughing and chuckling away. He thinks that he’s got
things in the bag and that he can keep chipping away at our
democracy with impunity. You know, if, indeed, that’s the way that
he wants to operate, so be it. He will be so snide at his own peril.
I’m a son of a union carpenter. I joined three unions myself in my
working career before I was in the private sector selling real estate,
but those three union jobs, Mr. Chair, put me through university and
allowed me to better my station in life. I was a member of CUPE
local 30, where I drove a little garbage truck for the city, I drove a
DATS bus, was a member of the Amalgamated Transit Union, and
I was with UFCW 401 when I worked in a packing plant. All of
those labouring jobs I did proudly as a union member, and I had the
backing of union representation during labour negotiations, and I
had wages and working conditions that allowed me to make a
decent living and put some aside so that I could afford to go to
university and better my education.
That’s exactly the type of things that unions will fight for: better
working conditions, the ability to have a pay scale that is beyond
hand to mouth that allows an individual family member to better
educate their children and to be upwardly mobile in our society, and
that’s what every family wants. The power structure that exists in
our country is something that, if it’s going to function properly,
needs to be in balance, and it wasn’t and hasn’t been in balance for
most of my adult life in this province. It’s been out of balance, and
we sought in 2015-2019 to bring it to some form of balance.
I must say that I thought we did it rather gently, but nonetheless
we did what we could at the time to make it a simpler matter for a
union to organize and to make sure that it did so in a way that it
wasn’t so easily interfered with by an employer who was dead set
against having a union in their workplace. Much of what we
managed to accomplish is being stripped away by this piece of
legislation, and the government members are quite happy to do this.
I can’t help but wonder how they must feel towards looking in
the face of, say, my late father and telling him that this is good for
him, this would be good for his family that he was being denied the
rights that his union organization had when he joined his
carpenters’ union to fight for better working conditions and better
wages over time so that he could feed and care for his family. I
hesitate to think what, indeed, he might have told this government,
had he been alive today, when they tried to foist upon him the
arguments they’re making in Bill 32, that somehow working people
don’t deserve to be treated with the respect and dignity, if they
decide to join a union, that they otherwise would get from this
government.
The working people in this province are really feeling that they’re
under attack. It doesn’t matter what field you happen to be in,
whether it’s in construction, certainly in health care. You know,
we’ve got a situation where the government is telling our nursing
professionals that they’re real heroes, but come October you could
be a zero because they’re going to end up turning their contracts
into dust, just like they did with the doctors.
They’ll do it without remorse because they have no respect for
individuals that are willing to oppose the government. That’s not a
healthy sign to see in a government, where the government of the
day decides that a certain sector of the society is an enemy of the
government simply because it was willing to stand up to it and
simply because they wish to become an active voice in a union
movement or even start a union in the first place in their own
particular workplace or create a job action or advocate on behalf of
their workers.
But I will never forget in my life, Mr. Chair, the deaf ear this
government turned towards UFCW 401 in Cargill, where they
disallowed the ability of the union to actively go in the plant and
where they accepted a video tour of the plant and wouldn’t listen to
what the union members were saying as increasing numbers of
infections grew in the plant from 38 in one week to, two or three
weeks later, we had 1,500 infections and three people had already
died. Unforgivable action or lack thereof on the part of this
government in the face of a pandemic that was growing, where
those workers needed the support and the backing and the
compassion of their government but they got nothing but the back
of their hand. That’s unforgivable, what happened in that packing
plant.
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That’s something that I’ll continue to bring forward in this
Legislature time and time again because 1,500 people didn’t have
to be sick. It was the attitude of this government towards unions,
towards their ability to advocate that contributed to that huge
number of people who got infected in the Cargill meat-packing
plant. I will never forgive this government for allowing that to get
out of hand and for expressing the attitude they did towards the bona
fide, duly elected union representatives to participate and advocate
on their behalf. That’s the kind of attitude, Mr. Chair, that is
reflected time and time again in the very bits and pieces of this
horrific piece of legislation, this Bill 32, that claims to restore
balance in Alberta’s workplaces but does nothing of the sort.
I don’t know what more to add as far as adjectives to describe
how I feel about the matter. I know that when I go home to my
constituency and I end up talking to folks in the drug store, the
grocery store, they are confounded as I am, asking just what in the
world this government thinks they’re up to and how they think they
can get away with it or who do they actually think they’re
representing. “They don’t care about us? Like, we’re actually the
people of the province. We’re the Alberta voter.”
Yet they seem intent on the government side to think that the only
way we’re going to find a healthy economy is by making sure that
we’ve set the table for business. Well, tell you what, Mr. Chair, the
table happens to have a lot of chairs around it, and that table
includes the representatives of working people, and the government
has taken those chairs away and said: you don’t belong.
8:40
The Deputy Chair:
Thank you, hon. member.
Bill 32, I see the hon. Member for Edmonton-Ellerslie has risen
to debate.
Member Loyola:
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair. It’s an honour
to get up and speak to this bill and specifically defend the rights of
working people in this province since this government is hell bent
on attacking them. Of course, we’re talking about people who live
paycheque to paycheque in some circumstances. You know,
especially right now, during this pandemic, working people in this
province are finding it incredibly difficult to make it from one
paycheque to the next. There are some people who have just been
laid off and just completely lost their job as well. I find it heinous
that this government would introduce this bill at this particular time
under this, the context of COVID, where it’s actually stripping
workers of specific rights at a time when they need those rights the
most.
You know, I remember when I was working at the University of
Alberta and had the honour of serving the working people of the
University of Alberta through the Non-Academic Staff Association
as their vice-president and then president. I was always proud to get
up and say that I come from a working-class family because we
were working – there’s nothing wrong with dedicating yourself,
working for an employer. I mean, I get it. Like, there’s a wide
diversity within our economy of people that we need that are
instrumental to making the economy function. Yes, we need
entrepreneurs. We need people to create businesses. We do need a
certain level of foreign investment in order to make it all happen.
But the backbone of this very economy, Mr. Chair, is, indeed, the
working people of this province. These are the people that we in
this House should be here defending their rights and making sure
that we’re not stripping them of their rights, particularly in a time
like right now, under the current pandemic and how it’s affecting
people in this very province.
I want to reiterate something that was stated by the Member for
Edmonton-Rutherford. I’ve said it before in this House, but I’ll
remind this UCP caucus once again that unions, Mr. Chair, are
democratic institutions. Every aspect of a union: the members of
the union have the opportunity to voice their opinions and then vote
on particular aspects, including the budget of the union. Now, as
was stated by the Member for Edmonton-Rutherford, there are
going to be times when certain members are going to be against a
particular aspect of the budget, but – guess what? – it’s a
democracy.
It’s like if you were to say: okay; well, you don’t have to pay for
that certain section of the budget. I’m sure we probably all
remember that kid – maybe you didn’t have this opportunity, but it
happened to me quite a number of times. You know, being on a
soccer field, playing soccer as a kid, and the one kid is like: “Oh,
well, you’re not going to follow the rules the way I want to set
them? Well, then, too bad. I’m taking my ball, and I’m going
home.” You can’t do that in a democracy, Mr. Chair. This is a
democracy, and just like here in this province we respect the
democratic process, we also need to respect the democratic process
of democratic institutions like unions that represent the interests of
working people here in this province. We don’t get to say: well, you
know, we’re all for democracy when it suits us, but then we’re
totally and completely against it when it doesn’t suit us. This is what
we need to do moving forward in this province together. We need
to make sure that we respect democracy at all times and the
principles upon which our democracy is founded. But, see, that’s
not what’s happening with this UCP government.
You know, I can go into the fact that with almost every bill that
has been introduced in this very House with this UCP government
being in charge, they’re taking the power out of the hands of
Albertans who represent us on agencies, boards, and commissions,
and they’re putting that power in the hands of ministers. That
doesn’t sound very democratic to me, when you have institutions
where you have these agencies, boards, and commissions that
actually help the government do its work in the service of Albertans
and you’re taking the power away from those very agencies, boards,
and commissions and you’re putting more and more and more of
that power in the hands of the ministers, the cabinet along with this
very Premier. This is, to me, incredibly antidemocratic.
Like that, here we go with Bill 32. They’re not satisfied with the
fact that people should have a voice. At the end of the day, that’s
what the union is. It’s a voice for working people of this province.
I believe it was the Member for Edmonton-Decore who reminded
us that only 24 per cent of the working people of this province are
actually in a union. Twenty-four per cent. Actually, it was the
Member for Edmonton-Glenora now that I remember correctly. It
was the Member for Edmonton-Glenora who reminded us that it’s
only 24 per cent, and that’s way below the Canadian average. When
you compare us to other jurisdictions across this great country of
ours, we’re way below the average with only 24 per cent of the
working people of this province that are actually represented by a
union.
When the members opposite get up and talk about the Alberta
advantage, they’re trying to – and, you know, this is what I find
unfathomable, Mr. Chair, the fact that the minister of labour has the
audacity to get up in this House and say: oh, no, we’re only
returning us to a place of balance. Well, that’s what we did,
Minister, when we were in government. When you did a
crossjurisdictional of all of the aspects as they relate to labour, we
were way behind the curve when you compared us to other
provinces across this nation. You know, the now Member for
Edmonton-Mill Woods, who at the time was the minister of labour,
I remember that she worked so hard. It wasn’t about trying to make
us quote, unquote, into this socialist paradise. The members
opposite get up, and they use that word “socialist” to denigrate us.
July 27, 2020
Alberta Hansard
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They all have their big chuckle: ha ha, he used the word “socialist.”
It’s like, oh, my goodness, how childish.
This is about ideas. This is about ideas, and it has to do with the
rights of people. In this particular instance, we’re talking about the
rights of working people of this province and that they should have a
voice. They should have an opportunity to collectively come together
and speak up for their particular rights, sometimes as they relate to
international agreements – international agreements. Then you have
their constitutional rights, which has been spoken about a number of
times by members on this side, by the opposition. We’re talking about
constitutional rights as they’re respected under Canadian law. This
government would have us turn our backs on those constitutional
rights of working people here in this province. They actually have the
right to be in a union, and that union has the right to actually protect
the interests of the working people here in Alberta.
8:50
I wanted to go into more specifics here about this bill. The reality
is that this here piece of legislation is actually amending six pieces
of legislation. It’s amending the Employment Standards Code. It’s
amending the Labour Relations Code, which is the majority of what
we have before us. It also amends the Police Officers Collective
Bargaining Act, the Public Education Collective Bargaining Act,
Post-secondary Learning Act, and the Public Service Employee
Relations Act. I want to just touch a little bit on bargaining. You
know, perhaps some of the other members on the other side have
never been part of a union, haven’t been through a bargaining
process, so they may not understand how it actually works. Let me
shed a little bit of light on that.
You know, every so often, depending on the agreement that
exists between the employer and the union, they have this
opportunity to enter bargaining once again. That’s what I can speak
to because that’s what I actually lived, when I was president of the
Non-Academic Staff Association. We went back to the members of
the union. We said: look, this is the reality that we have before us.
Now, there are kind of two main aspects of collective bargaining.
There’s remuneration, or then there’s the actual benefits that you
get with your contract with the employer, okay? So you can work
on both sides of that. If the members are willing to forgo an increase
in pay, then they’re definitely going to want some more benefits out
of the process, the collective bargaining process. This is what I’m
talking about. You go back to the membership. We actually did a
survey with our members when we were going through this process,
so that we could be informed as the – oh, and just so you know, let
me take one step back.
As the president of the union I wasn’t actually on the bargaining
committee because I wanted members of the union themselves to
feel like they had the opportunity – I’ll stress: the opportunity – to
participate on the bargaining committee on behalf of all of the
workers of the Non-Academic Staff Association. I actually forwent
– people were like: “No, you’re the president. You should actually
sit on the bargaining committee.” I was like: “No. If it means that
someone who’s really interested in wanting to participate on this
bargaining committee will have the opportunity to do so, I will step
back. I don’t need to be on the actual bargaining committee.” Then
we put it out to the entire union: who would like the opportunity to
actually sit on this bargaining committee? And then there was an
actual vote so that the members of the union actually voted for who
was going to represent them on this bargaining committee. See how
democratic it is? Do you see how democratic it is? It’s not just one
person making all the decisions for everybody the way that it’s kind
of painted across the way, where it’s some union boss making all
the decisions. It doesn’t work that way, and to represent it that way
is false.
Getting back to it, the members of the actual bargaining
committee were elected to those positions. Then it was their
responsibility to do a full consultation with the membership as a
whole on what the members of the union actually wanted moving
into this bargaining cycle. They actually put out a questionnaire.
There were a whole bunch of questions. The draft of the questions
was given over to the board of directors of the union. There was
eight of us that were on the board of directors: myself being the
president, vice-president, treasurer, secretary, and then a number of
members at large, chairs of committees. Eight or nine of us in total.
I can’t remember the exact number at this time. We read over the
draft of the questions that were going to be sent to the membership.
We made some recommendations. It was a thorough process.
Then those questions, that survey, actually went out to all the
members of the union. At that time we were representing about
4,900 and some members; 4,900 people had the opportunity to fill
out a survey. I’ll be honest with you, not everybody took the
opportunity to fill out the survey, and that’s what happens.
Sometimes you send it out and not everybody answers, but we
actually had a 68 per cent response rate on that survey, I remember,
that year. Actually, 68 per cent of the members of the union gave
feedback through the survey on what they wanted the collective
bargaining committee to actually work on as we went into the next
round of bargaining.
So it’s not one person that makes all the decisions on behalf of
the entire union. You have a great number of people who are
actually involved in the process and are providing feedback. Then
when you finally go into bargaining with the employer, you’re
going in there with a good understanding of what it is the workers
that you represent actually want. This is the reality of how
bargaining takes place. Now, I’m going to say that perhaps it’s
different in different unions. There are different aspects of how they
go through the entire process, but for the most part this is how it’s
done. It’s really important that we respect that because this is their
democratic right to do so. Again, what we’re here, on this side of
the House, getting up and speaking about is defending those actual
rights that workers have, their constitutionally protected rights that
they have as being part of a union.
Now, again I’ll go back into the budgeting aspect of it. Of course,
every year there’s a new budget set. Actually, in the Non-Academic
Staff Association the treasurer had their own committee. This was
something that I was really proud to make the suggestion of. I
wanted more members providing input for the actual budget of the
union, and it wasn’t just the board of directors, not just the
president, vice-president, et cetera. I encouraged the treasurer to go
out there and identify more members of the union that would be
interested in the actual creation of the budget of the union. This
particular treasurer that was on at that time did find more members
and had a committee of three others plus themselves that actually
worked on putting the entire budget together.
By this I want to stress that there is no lack of opportunity.
There’s no lack of opportunity for members of unions to actually
participate in their union. It’s encouraged. It’s absolutely
encouraged. If you want to get involved, there are opportunities to
do so. You can participate on the committees. You can participate
on a number of aspects of the union. In this particular case, that
committee put together a budget, and it brought it to an annual
general meeting of the membership with the membership.
9:00
I’ll never forget. We spent about 45 minutes picking that budget
apart, with members getting up to the microphone, you know, those
who were for a particular aspect of the budget and those who were
against a particular aspect of the budget. Everyone had the
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July 27, 2020
opportunity to get up and say whether they were for or against a
particular line item in the budget. But, at the end of the day, there
was a vote. You voted on all of these aspects of the budget, and then
the final budget was approved, all done democratically.
The Deputy Chair:
Thank you, hon. member.
Are there any other hon. members looking to join debate? I see
the hon. Leader of the Official Opposition.
Ms Notley:
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair. I’m pleased to be
able to begin the conversation, mine, in Committee of the Whole
with respect to Bill 32, An Act to Completely Eliminate Anything
Bordering on that which Might Be Characterized as Balance in
Worker and Employer Relations, or something like that. This is a
bill that, as members in this House would have heard from many,
many different people, purports to make a significant number of
changes both to the rights of people who are in unions or who want
to be part of unions as well as to the actual amount of money that
exists in the pockets of all workers and, in particular, those workers
who are not in unions.
There’s a whole bucket of changes that are very much geared
towards taking money from waged working people and having
them live on less, and then there is, as I said before, another set
that’s very much focused on attacking unions, who would otherwise
attempt to represent those workers, who are being asked to work for
less in more dangerous circumstances for longer hours and all those
kinds of things. It is, in totality, of course, then, quite a dramatic
attack on regular working people.
Just to mirror the comments made by my colleague, let’s be
perfectly clear. The province of Alberta has a long history of not
having balanced labour laws. It’s well known. We endeavoured to
change it, and most observers, most experts in labour law looked at
the package of changes that we made when we were in government
and said: yeah, they brought the province forward quite a ways. It’s
not the most progressive labour legislation in the country, it is not
actually cutting-edge on a number of critical fronts that labour
unions would have liked to have seen, but it definitely brings
Alberta into the mainstream and a little bit ahead of the mainstream
on some critical issues that we were actually very proud of.
By no means was there this massive, dramatic tipping of the
scales away from employers or anything like that. That’s utterly
ridiculous, and there’s not a labour law expert anywhere in the
country who would ever suggest that that was what happened. Quite
the contrary.
Alberta had a very, very different regime with respect to labour
law and relative to the rest of the country in that it was very
antilabour and antiworker, so much so that it had developed its own
case law and its own sets of precedents around the relationship
between working people and the rest of the law that applied to
workers across the country such that, you know, people – the
Supreme Court of Canada and others – when looking at decisions
coming out of Alberta, would say: well, this decision came from
Alberta, and we all know that Alberta authorities, when it comes to
labour law, are very much unique to Alberta, so we’re going to
actually probably not follow those authorities in most other parts of
the country because they are so imbalanced. You see commentary
like that by judges throughout the country, including at the Supreme
Court of Canada.
In fact, that was so significant that one of the things that we did
do when we changed the legislation back in the day was that we
added a clause to compel, you know, arbitrators and Labour
Relations Board adjudicators to actually adhere to the national
labour jurisprudence and precedents so that we could start to close
the gap between what Alberta workers could secure in terms of their
rights in front of the courts in Alberta relative to what would be
secured by working people in front of the courts in other
jurisdictions across the country. We didn’t put in a clause saying:
oh, you know, Alberta has to have its own worker-friendly amount
of jurisprudence that always puts the worker ahead. Oh, no, no. We
said that Alberta simply needs to note the judicial consensus on
labour law issues that exist outside of Alberta in the rest of the
country. Simple. Not a sign of being grossly imbalanced, just a sign
of catching up with the rest of the country.
Of course, that’s one of the clauses that this bill removes.
Inherent in that decision to remove that is, of course, the admission
that Alberta is out of step with the rest of the country and that we
need to aggressively move the balance back towards employers,
where it has always been for, well, probably since the inception of
labour relations adjudication in labour law. So, just to be clear, that
is very much the context within which this bill exists. It is nothing
about balance. It’s all about picking winners and losers, and in this
case, in this UCP province, the losers are working people.
Now, the one part – there’s so much of this bill that I look forward
to being able to talk about over the course of however much time
the government deigns to let us speak about it – the one piece that
I’m going to focus on in the next 15 minutes or so is this ridiculous
argument that we keep hearing from the members opposite about
why it is they are, I would argue, abusing the authority of this
Legislature in order to gag the free speech rights of working people,
that they had guaranteed to them through the Constitution of
Canada, why it is that we are using this Legislature to do that. Bear
in mind that what we see here is an example of this Premier making
very, very involved, thoughtful, strategic progress towards
silencing his opposition. That’s what we see here.
Now, the Premier likes to argue. He likes to cherry-pick. I mean,
you know, props – it’s very rare that I say “props” to his issue
management team because most of the time they give me nothing
but hours of gleeful entertainment reading them and watching them
sort of, you know, cook their own goose over and over and over
again. I have to say that I’ve never seen a more sort of Keystone
Kops collection of outcomes – I would never personally say that
about humans but certainly about the outcomes that come from the
Premier’s issues management. They are certainly very entertaining
most of the time.
But I’ll give them props on this one. They did do their research.
They went off and they found some rather objectionable and in
some cases offensive statements made by people who also happen
to be union leaders. They then decided that they were going to build
a whole campaign around this and say: we must protect workers
from the statements of these union leaders. Now, in most cases the
union leaders aren’t actually from Alberta, just to be clear; they’re
union leaders that live in other jurisdictions. Nonetheless, they do
engage in that argument.
Now, that being said, as members here might have heard and, of
course, as anyone who has watched the conversation on social
media and other places would see, you know, many people say:
“Well, okay; if union members can,” as the Member for Edmonton-
Ellerslie pointed out, “take their soccer ball and go home and
therefore break the collective strength of the union in the process,
if we’re going to give union members that right in the name of
democracy and free speech, why are we not giving the same right
to shareholders?” The Premier guffawed, and he said: well,
shareholders can just sell their shares as opposed to union members,
who would have to quit their job.
Well, quite frankly, in many case shareholders can’t sell their
shares, just to be clear. For instance, right now I’m going to bet that
9 out of 10 shareholders do not want to be selling their shares, and
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Alberta Hansard
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it would be a rather unwise move for anyone to be selling their
shares. That is actually kind of a bogus argument.
9:10
In addition, there are, as the Member for Edmonton-Ellerslie
pointed out very clearly, a number of mechanisms well before
quitting your job to deal with a union leader who says something
with which you disagree. Unions are exceptionally democratic
organizations, and they have multiple forums within which people
can have their views heard. Multiple forums.
But let’s just carry on with the analogy a little bit. If we were
really worried about democracy – and members opposite are
thinking: well, you know, probably 55 per cent of those members
of the union disagree with what that union leader just said, and only
35 per cent of that union agree with what the union leader said, and
therefore that 35 per cent must be able to withdraw from the union
that very moment and pull their dollars. So 55 per cent, 35 per cent:
where have I heard that percentage before? Oh, wait. The provincial
election. Right. Okay.
In a union at least every year the union members have delegated
conventions at which they review their finances, and any member
of that delegated convention, which often involves thousands and
thousands of people, can ask questions of the treasurer about what’s
in that budget and why it’s there, and they can then just randomly
propose motions to amend the budget. Well, can we do that in
Alberta? Hmm. No, we can’t. Why? Well, because, first, we haven’t
actually had a budget based on real numbers since November 2019,
and when they did bring in a budget that didn’t include real numbers
by the very admission of the Finance minister, what did they do?
Well, rather than be fully held to account for the fact that the budget
consisted of a whole bunch of numbers that weren’t real, they
brought in an incredibly unprecedented and historically heavy-
handed set of rules to limit debate on the budget and to cut it in half.
I’ve got to tell you that I haven’t seen that in a union.
Now, the other thing that happens with unions is that members
have the ability to go to the Labour Relations Board if they feel that
the job that the union is supposed to be doing for them is not being
done. But there’s no place for anybody to go to say: “Hmm. The
Premier promised jobs, economy, pipelines, but we’ve lost 55,000
jobs, we have a pipeline to nowhere, and the economy is shrinking.
Who is going to reach in and hold him accountable? I guess not
anybody.” But, hey, the Premier is the massive saviour and fighter
for democracy. I would suggest that that’s not actually correct and
that the arguments that the members opposite make are rather
disingenuous at best. They are disingenuous rhetoric that is of the
most cynical way.
Now, I’ve mentioned before that what you do actually see from
unions is a lot of advocacy for things that relate to the benefits of
their members, as is contemplated in the whole labour relations
regime and as is contemplated in the series of rights that make up
the constitutionally protected right of unions collectively and
individually to exist in this country. They do that. Of course, you
know, what they do talk about in many cases are things that impact
their members, but that would be barred by the gag which is in this
act. We could also, I guess, rename the act An Act to Gag Union
Workers. But I thought: what the heck? Let’s just see. Maybe the
Premier is right. Maybe unions are out there doing nothing but
promoting dictatorships in other countries to the exclusion of all of
the things that their members need done.
Now, members here might not know, but I’m actually a proud
member of the United Steelworkers. I’m one of the few people that
gets a lifetime membership, and I was very proud, actually, to be
the first Premier of Alberta to have my lifetime membership
hanging on the wall of the Premier’s office and to take pictures of
it. I’m a proud member of the United Steelworkers. So I decided to
start with my own union. I thought I’d just go through randomly,
and I have to say to the members that this is absolutely random. I
just did this five minutes ago while I was waiting to speak. I went
to their website, and I went: let’s see what their releases and
advisories are saying. So here we go. Here is this horrific attack on
the rights of working people, this antidemocratic attack on the rights
of working people and the desire to bring in a socialist dictatorship.
Here we go.
First one: Government Must Act Now on Occupational Cancer
Claims. That one was July 24. July 22: Governments Must Act Now
to – wait for it – Address Women’s Inequality. Oh, my Lord, we
need to shut them down for that one. How dare they? How dare
they? Number 3: oh, Steelworkers Union and Gateway Casinos
Sign Return to Operations Agreement for Ontario, July 10. July 10
as well – oh, this one; thank goodness we have this legislation.
Thank goodness we’re never going to see something like this ever
again in press releases talking about unions. Oh my gosh. Thank
goodness you guys are acting now. In June, Steelworkers Humanity
Fund Provided $15,000 to Organizations to Support Workers
Affected by COVID-19. Oh, what horrible propaganda.
Here’s one, July 9: Pressure on Canadian Aluminum, Steel and
Softwood Lumber Shows Fundamental Problems with
International Trade: Steelworkers. That’s what they said. Oh, my
goodness. I just thank goodness, Mr. Chair, that this government
is acting to gag this kind of communication, this kind of
investment in talking to both members and community members.
Here’s one. July 3: Community to Protest Racist Violence in
Toronto’s East End. Yeah, we wouldn’t want anyone to know
about that. How dare they promote a protest against racist
violence? Goodness’ sakes.
June 26: Aluminum Tariffs Would Make Mockery of NAFTA 2
and Ignore the Real Problem. So there’s the United Steelworkers
advocating against aluminum tariffs and promoting free trade. Oh,
well, I don’t know. They must have not gotten the memo from the
Premier because they’re supposed to – I mean, clearly they’re all a
bunch of promoters of socialist or even fascist dictatorships in other
parts of the world.
Oh, here’s one: the government needs to Grant Exemption to Bill
124 or Risk Seniors in Long-Term Care: Steelworkers. You
wouldn’t want to be talking about seniors and long-term care.
Here’s one: Ford Government Allowing Undue Risk to Workers
Amid Province-Wide Reopening: Steelworkers. Oh, here’s one:
Steelworkers Union Welcomes WSIB Decision Recognizing
McIntyre Powder-Related Parkinson’s as Occupational Disease.
Well, there they were advocating to have their members’ rights
protected as a result of apparently being exposed to a workplace
hazard which caused Parkinson’s disease.
Let’s see. Oh, here’s one. Well, I could see why members
opposite wouldn’t like this one, June 19:
Even Richer Than You Think – Time for Liberals to Act on
Growing Inequality, Says Steelworkers Union.
Then it goes on:
This is an outrageous imbalance . . . The richest, wealthiest
families in Canada are holding more than $3 trillion, which is a
quarter of the worth of the whole country. This is out whack.
Let’s heed this warning.
No. You certainly wouldn’t want unions to be able to talk about the
fact that one-quarter of the value of the whole economy is held by
just the wealthiest number of families. You wouldn’t want to talk
about income inequality. You wouldn’t want to talk about it to the
members of the union. You wouldn’t want to talk about it to
working people elsewhere. You would never want them to have the
right to talk about something like income inequality.
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Oh, here’s one: Pandemic Pay for Security Guards: We’re
Waiting! So they’re basically asking for them to be some kind of
pay for security guards. Here’s one. Thank goodness we hopefully
will never have to hear about this ever again. Federal Prison
Chaplains Apply for Conciliation in First-Contract Negotiations.
Just to be clear: the United Steelworkers represent chaplains in a
federal prison, and they’re in the process of negotiating a first
contract. They had to go to the board to apply for it, so they put out
a press release talking about that. But you know what? Yeah, those
federal chaplains, you wouldn’t want the union ever to be able to
speak up for them.
9:20
Here’s another one: June 5. This, again, is another thing that will
be banned or significantly undermined by this bill: Steelworkers
Humanity Fund Provides $37,690 to Support Workers Affected by
COVID-19. Let’s make sure we stop that kind of thing.
Then we have: Steelworkers Call for Health and Safety Reforms
Following Report into Worker’s Death. [Ms Notley’s speaking time
expired]
Oh, I can’t wait to talk about more, though.
Thank you.
The Deputy Chair:
Thank you, hon. member.
The member who caught my eye in regard to debate is the hon.
Member for Peace River.
Mr. Williams:
Well, thank you, Mr. Chair, and I thank the Leader
of Her Majesty’s Opposition for that speech. I want to go and talk
a bit about unions and continue talking a bit about Bill 32 and how
that legislation affects unions today.
In the late ’60s and early ’70s in Poland there was a soviet
socialist republic in power, and the leaders of the day who opposed
that were union leaders, particularly an individual named Lech
Wałęsa. Now, this is an individual that many Poles today see as a
hero. I myself look up to him. Members opposite might not realize
nor be interested in it, but the fact is that I have huge admiration for
this union leader. I know many Conservatives that not only have
huge admiration for those leaders but also are union members
themselves.
Now, what Lech did in Poland: he started off as an electrician in
Gdańsk in the shipyards, and as a member of his union he ended up
promoting the interests and the dignity of the individual through a
movement called Solidarity, which is a word that members opposite
know but had a particular meaning in Poland at that time. The
meaning at that time became a rallying call and a flag to gather
around in opposition to the socialism that was oppressing them. It
was through the union of Solidarity that socialism in the communist
socialist republic of Poland was brought down.
Now, Lech eventually won the Nobel peace prize in 1982. He
met Ronald Reagan and worked with Pope John Paul II from 1979
all the way until 1989 and the fall of the communist regime and the
evil empire, and eventually he became the president of Poland. A
union leader became the leader of the country of Poland. I think that
was a huge step forward for freedoms, and that what he did was a
huge step forward in the interests of the people of Poland and the
west. I recite this, Mr. Chair, because it’s important for our context
today to understand the origins of unions to some degree, at least in
the precise case of Poland, and how that influences unions today
and how that can reflect on the way that unions operate today.
Now, my understanding of the opposition’s concerns: they’re
numerous, but I’d say that the number one concern is that somehow
Bill 32 is limiting the rights of individuals, particularly limiting the
rights of unions as an entire group, as an organism, to be able to
defend itself and articulate. Now, the fact is that this legislation
changes nothing about the scope of what unions can speak to.
Nothing. There is no measure, no aspect of this act that prohibits
unions from saying something that they couldn’t before. That’s a
matter of fact, and I don’t believe that it’s in dispute from the
opposition. There’s no censorship going on here. There are no
draconian measures taking away the ability for unions to advocate
on topics.
Now, we heard our Leader of the Opposition cite income
inequality, pandemic pay, COVID-19, federal prison chaplains as
advocacy topics that unions that she knows were working towards.
I think that’s terrific, Mr. Chair. I think that that’s something that
unions have the right to do. In fact, after this legislation passes, they
will continue to have the right to do so. No rights have been
removed, not one.
Now, what is changing – and this, I think, is where the members
opposite are misleading individuals of the public – is that members
of unions now have the ability to opt out of paying for political
advocacy. Now, I think that’s very different from saying that unions
don’t have the right to articulate for higher wages or the issues that
we just heard from the hon. Leader of the Opposition. What instead
is happening is that if individuals choose not to contribute, they
don’t have to. Nothing has fundamentally changed in terms of the
rights of unions. That will remain the same, and that’s important.
It seems to me, as a solution, that all the union leaders must to do
is approach their electorate, which we hear is incredibly well
informed and transparent and union organizations are democratic to
the core. I genuinely am not saying that sarcastically. I take their
word for it. They’ve been members of unions much longer than any
of us on this side of the House have been, most likely. If they
approach the electorate in their transparent and democratic way and
say that these are the issues I want to advocate on, then they can
continue getting the funding they need to advocate on that. It is not
a threat in any way to their ability to speak to that.
Ms Sigurdson:
But why do it?
Mr. Williams:
I encourage members opposite, instead of heckling,
to rise and counter the points. I’m happy to engage on that.
Now, as soon as they make that case, if individuals want to
continue supporting those causes politically, they’re welcome to it.
But I’ll say that, from my side, when I speak to individuals across
Alberta, particularly not even in my riding – I’ll say my family. I
have family members that are teachers. I have family members that
are firefighters. I have family members that are a part of a number
of different trade unions and unions across the province. Many of
them support me. Some of them don’t, to be fair. My family is like
any other, Mr. Chair. That being said, many of them support my
politics. But their unions are advocating against their own interests
and the values they hold. It seems reasonable and fair that if it’s an
issue that they support – and I dare say my family would support
federal prison chaplains – and if their union approached them to
support them on that issue, they’d get a resounding applause.
They’d ask if they could double their union fees for that particular
interest.
But there is nothing – there is nothing – to say that these unions
cannot continue to advocate for the interests they have. I really do
admonish the members opposite for implying that there are
somehow rights taken away from a union or their ability to speak
freely or advocate freely. That is the furthest thing from the truth,
Mr. Chair, the furthest thing from the truth.
The reality is that if you want to have a democratic institution in
a union, as the members opposite, particularly the leader of Her
Majesty’s Opposition and the Member for Edmonton-Ellerslie, so
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Alberta Hansard
2413
eloquently put, this is not a threat. If their ideas and their political
action are compelling, they will have the support of their members,
their electorate, as they like to put it, within that union. It’s
democratic. Let them support that. There is no issue with it. But I
dare say that members of my family or members of the ATA or
firefighters’ unions or others, they might have issue with some of
the advocacy groups and the issues that they took up, particularly
in the last provincial election. Now, if the members opposite or the
union bosses don’t like that, that’s democracy.
Now, I’m going to close by quoting the individual I mentioned at
the start of the speech, Mr. Lech Wałęsa from Poland. One of his
favourite quotes was in referencing democracy in Poland as it
started. He said, “As we say in Poland, it’s hard to make a bull move
unless it really wants to [go].” Now, the members opposite and the
union bosses can try and get their electorate to vote for these
political issues, campaigning against the interests of pipelines and
the economic viability of the province, but I dare say it’s going to
be real tough to move that bull. They’re welcome to try, but if they
really want to double down on the rhetoric of saying that unions are
democratic and they’re transparent, this is the way to do it. It’s no
harm, no foul.
I dare say the Solidarity movement would have had no difficulty
if this law was in place. They would have had no problem signing
up and getting their members to continue paying their political
union dues because they believed in the cause. If the ideas you hold
and your members hold in a union are so compelling, put it to the
people. This should be no threat whatsoever. Political parties do this
all the time. It’s how we democratically are elected. It’s how the
members opposite got their mandate in 2015, putting the issues in
front of the people and letting them choose. If they have contempt
for their electorate and say: “No, no. We can’t let them choose, but
we’re still democratic,” that’s no democracy at all. The institution
itself crumbles.
9:30
I implore members opposite to consider the democratic option,
which they like to boast so highly of, within unions and say: we will
put these ideas, these compelling ideas they believe they have to the
union members and let them vote on them politically. It will be no
threat to their political interests.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
The Deputy Chair:
Thank you, hon. member.
I see the hon. Member for Edmonton-Riverview has risen to join
debate.
Ms Sigurdson:
Well, thank you very much, Mr. Chair. It’s my
pleasure to join my voice to the debate of Bill 32, Restoring Balance
in Alberta’s Workplaces Act, 2020. Of course, we know that this
bill is not about restoring balance; it is about tipping the scales of
power in favour of corporations, which this government has done
repeatedly since they’ve been elected, first, of course, with the $4.7
billion handout to wealthy corporations. So let’s not be confused.
It’s not about balance. It’s absolutely not about balance.
Before our government was elected in 2015, the employment
standards labour code hadn’t really substantively been updated for
over 30 years, Mr. Chair – for 30 years – and it badly needed it. Our
government did bring it up to sort of average legislation across
Canada. We were, like, you know, the dinosaurs. We were years
and years behind legislation, good legislation, for workers. We did
the work and improved both employment standards and the labour
code. We know that in fact we were so far behind due to successive
Conservative governments’ union-busting policies that demonstrated
they didn’t care about workers; they cared about big corporations
only.
When we first were elected and we reached out to, you know,
many stakeholders in all different areas of Alberta, one of them, of
course, was unions. We care about workers. We want to make sure
that workers are supported, and we spoke to some of the union
leaders, and they said that they had never, ever been invited to speak
to the cabinet of the government of Alberta for decades. Decades.
That just shows how little Conservative governments care about
workers and about workers’ rights and employment standards and
the labour code. So when I hear this government, “Ah, we care
about all Albertans,” I know it’s not honest. They have a select
group of people that they are focusing on, and it’s certainly not
workers and certainly not the organizations that support workers.
This legislation is just same old same old, more union-busting
policies from a Conservative government. Nothing new to see here.
It is, of course, the same old disturbing story, and it’s a very sad
place for Alberta to be. Certainly, you know, as someone who has
worked all of my career to create more fairness and justice in this
province, when I see legislation like this, I’m deeply disturbed
because I know that it’s going to do the opposite, and Alberta is
going to continue to be a place for elites, and the rest of us, we have
to work twice as hard to get anywhere. Money is pooled more and
more in the top percentiles of income earners.
That’s not my kind of vision for Alberta. My vision for Alberta
is that it’s an inclusive province with income equality, gender
equality. These are things that I care about, and that’s why I stand
in this place, because, you know, year after year of my life I saw
government policy after government policy take away rights of
workers, of the average Albertan, and again here we are, Bill 32,
legislation that does exactly that.
I certainly am speaking against supporting Bill 32. You know,
just to help the hon. member across the way from Peace River
understand some of my concerns because he’s saying that there’s
nothing to see here; everything’s fine; we’re not doing anything.
Page 24, section 26.1. It says:
In setting union dues, assessments or initiation fees, a trade union
must indicate
(a) the amount or percentage of the union dues,
assessments or initiation fees that relates to political
activities and other causes, including
(i) general social causes or issues,
(ii) charities or non-governmental organizations,
(iii) organizations or groups affiliated with or
supportive of a political party, and
(iv) any activities prescribed by the regulations,
And it goes on. On the next page it says:
Effective on and after the date prescribed by the regulations, a
person is not required to pay the amount or percentage of the
union dues, assessments, or initiation fees that relates to activities
referred to in subsection (1)(a),
which is some of the stuff I already said,
unless the person makes an election in accordance with the
regulations.
Of course, this is introducing a whole new section in labour code
indicating that people can opt out. Please, let’s not be silly here; we
know that this makes it much more difficult. It’s just another union-
busting bill. It’s just another way to take away power from unions
who actually speak up about fairness and justice and equality,
things that this government doesn’t seem to care about. So don’t try
to pretend to me that there was nothing in this document that stood
in the way. That’s ridiculous. That’s ridiculous. It obviously is very
much in the way, so I completely disagree with the Member for
Peace River regarding that.
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July 27, 2020
One of the really important things about unions is that they do
advocate for societal concerns. I’ve spoken extensively previously
in this House regarding gender equality and some of the very, very
sad statistics about women’s equality in our province and that the
best and worst places for women to live in Canada according to the
largest centres are – out of 26 places, Edmonton is 25, Calgary is
21. That’s pretty low, and it’s for many different indicators that I’ve
spoken to quite extensively. I’d like to look at just income
inequality in our province and sort of the state of affairs just so that
Albertans, members in this Chamber understand what’s actually
happening in Alberta.
In Alberta exceptional increases in income over the last, you
know, three decades or so means that more and more money is
being pooled in that sort of top 1 per cent, right? So the rest of us
have less. Actually, most Albertans’ incomes have stagnated. A
measure that is used to sort of look at income inequality is called
the Gini coefficient. It’s a measure of inequality. Every province,
the federal government measures the Gini coefficient. Zero means
that everybody is exactly the same, and 1 means that all the money
is in one person’s hands, okay? So that’s, you know, how they sort
of measure it. In Alberta .34 is our Gini coefficient, and that is by
far the highest of any province in Canada. That means that we have
the greatest income inequality. That means that more and more
money is in the top percentiles of income, and there’s less for the
rest of us. Alberta is by far the most unequal province in Canada.
But you know what union membership does – and you know
what else is true about Alberta is that we have the greatest
inequality, and we have the lowest unionization. In provinces where
there is higher unionization – guess what? – there’s less income
inequality because unions make a big difference for workers. They
advocate for fair wages, good benefits for them, and they have this
lighthouse effect that I’ve also talked about before, where they
support not only union workers but also workers who are non-
unionized because the environment is rich, that workers are
supported. So if employers who are non-unionized want to keep
those workers and, you know, want to make sure that they stay with
them, of course they increase their wages and give them better
benefits also. Because in Alberta we have the lowest rates of
unionization in Canada, about 24 per cent, that means that we have
the greatest income inequality, and this is nothing to be proud of,
Mr. Chair. This is something that we should actually be ashamed
of. We should want our province to be equal. We should want
everybody to have a fair chance and not only support the elite, make
sure that everybody is supported in our province, not just those in
the top income percentages.
9:40
Alberta certainly stands out as the most unequal province in
Canada. We know that after three decades of tremendous income
growth in the upper percentiles. That’s shown that to us. Certainly,
inequality is a social problem that makes people feel like they don’t
fit into society as their incomes stagnate or go down. Everything is
relative. It’s very important that, you know, there be a robust middle
class, where people have a chance and support, but Alberta has not
created that kind of environment.
I mean, this is sort of flagrantly obvious if we look at some of the
stats. This is national, but we know that this is happening certainly
much more in the United States, other parts of the developed world,
absolutely. I’m looking now at Canada. We know that CEOs, like
the top CEOs, make 184 times more than the average wage earner
in Canada. There’s a huge pooling of income in the hands of fewer
and fewer people. Everybody’s familiar with the study that says that
by lunch on the first workday of the new year Canada’s 100 highest
paid CEOs have already earned the average worker’s salary. This
has augmented, you know, over the last three decades, where CEOs
would make maybe 10 times what the average worker does, but now
it’s like 184 times. No one can say that that’s fair. That’s ridiculous
that all the income is so pooled into just so few hands.
A healthy society redistributes the wealth and makes sure that
people have what they need to be able to care for their families and,
you know, make a living that’s fair, but when incomes are so pooled
into only the hands of so few people, that society becomes less and
less just, and we know that there’s more social unrest. We know
that in Alberta. I mean, certainly, I know the UCP are very
concerned about rural crime, and certainly we’re concerned about
that, too. But a lot of people, of course, in rural Alberta have lost
important jobs in the oil and gas industry, and they’re lost. They’re
desperate, and sometimes when that happens, people make bad
choices.
What does the government need to do? The government needs to
be more fair and support people to maybe retool themselves so that
they can have different kinds of work. But what does this
government do? They cut postsecondary education, and they make
it harder for people to better themselves. All of these policies just
make absolutely no sense to me.
I mean, I guess I know this, having lived in Alberta most of my
life, since I was seven years old, and knowing that for many years
I worked in low-wage jobs. I struggled. I was a single mom for
many years, and I certainly didn’t have access to sort of elite
positions or anything like that. It was very difficult. Then as I
educated myself and became a professional, became a social
worker, and worked with people who were marginalized more than
me when I was a single mom, I saw the deep, deep struggles that
they had to overcome and how they couldn’t. It was often too
overwhelming.
I saw time after time Conservative government after
Conservative government, you know, cut programs, certainly
through the Klein era. Public programs were cut by 50 per cent.
Grants to students going to university to try to better themselves to
be able to have a decent job so they could take care of their families:
those grants were cut by Klein and the Conservative government at
that time. I saw very little supports in child welfare when I was
employed in Children’s Services years ago. It wasn’t about the
women and their families we were serving – and largely it was
women – it was about cutting those caseloads, cutting those
budgets. That’s what it was about. It wasn’t a fair place.
That’s why I, over the years of having had this front-row seat to
the devastation of the province that I love very deeply, decided to
run politically and to speak up against these kinds of policies. Bill
32 is, of course, another one that is going to put power, put income
into the hands of a few and not care for, you know, most of society,
the workers in society, and that is deeply disturbing to me. I really
don’t understand why it is needed. It’s not needed.
The reverse is needed. We need to have more fairness and justice
in our province. We already have the greatest income inequality in
Canada. A union actually advocates for more fairness for the
regular worker so that all the leaders, the CEOs, the managers – I
mean, the way the situation is going now, of course, the money is
pooling in those top percentiles, and it’s not fair to the workers. It’s
not fair to create so many barriers for people to be successful in our
province. Of course, Bill 32 is just creating more inequality, and
unions can turn that back. They can actually make more fairness
and justice in our province.
So I really challenge the government to, you know, be at least
honest about what they’re doing, that it is intentional and it is to sort
of bust the unions, because they want to silence them. They don’t
want to hear their voices, so they’re going to make it harder for
them to speak up by having this opt-out clause. We do know that
July 27, 2020
Alberta Hansard
2415
Alberta is way behind all other provinces in terms of, like,
unionization or fairness for workers. We know that 42 per cent of
union certifications failed before we changed the legislation, like,
the year before, and then after it only 7 per cent changed. So this
legislation matters. Of course, it matters. It’s going to change the
game – it’s going to change the game – and it’s going to make us
go backwards, you know, 30 years again. Alberta will again be a
place for elites, and it’ll be harder and harder for people to make a
decent living.
The voices of the advocates – you know, I’m not sure what the
government is afraid of. They certainly like to speak about
supporting freedom of speech and including all the voices. They
encourage it amongst their members: they are happy to talk about
separation, and that’s fine; members can have diverse views. But
these voices aren’t important to them. They’re concertedly saying
no to these voices, and it’s so clear what is being done here. It’s not
innocent, as sort of the Member for Peace River seems to make out.
It’s intentional, and it is taking power away from unions. It’s just
another union-busting bill.
Certainly, as someone who has fought for fairness and justice
throughout my career, it’s just challenging to understand why a
government would bring this legislation in, because having fairness
for all its people – I would think, you know, the public good would
be the most important thing, but this isn’t what this legislation does.
It actually takes away some important voices in the debate. It
silences them, and that’s not good for the public discourses.
I really challenge this government. I mean, if they’re open to
amendments, that section of the bill should certainly be taken out
as it will inhibit, it will silence the voices of the unions. They won’t
be able to have as much force or power in their arguments because
they won’t have as much support because this makes it way harder
for them to have that support, with this opt-out clause. I mean, it’s
just that if you care about democracy, if you care about supporting,
you know, a robust debate, then it would stay in. There’d be no need
for this opting-out clause. I really challenge the government to look
at that and think about what it is that is so terrifying to them. Why
do they need to silence the voices of people who believe in equality,
who believe in workers’ rights, who believe in keeping workers
safe?
9:50
The Deputy Chair:
Thank you, hon. member.
I see the hon. Member for Peace River.
Mr. Williams:
Well, thank you, Mr. Chair. In the spirit of that
robust debate that the member is asking for, I fail to see how the
member addressed any of the concerns that I addressed in my
speech. If introducing an open, transparent, free, democratic opt-
out for union political causes is, quote, union-busting, then unions
need new causes because the only way any voices can be, quote,
silenced, when union is if nobody voluntarily supports them within
the union. That’s not depriving society of a voice; that’s accurately
articulating the lack of interest in those issues, except for a few elite
union bosses. Again I say to the member opposite, in light of the
spirit of debate she’s entered into, rise again, please, and respond to
the genuine question: in what way is it threatening to have union
members choose their own politics?
The Deputy Chair:
Thank you, hon. member.
Are there any others? I see the hon. Member for Edmonton-Gold
Bar has risen.
Mr. Schmidt:
Thank you, Mr. Chair. It’s always a pleasure to rise
and participate in debate although I do hate to interrupt the cabinet
auditions that are going on here this evening. But I do have some
things that I would like to contribute to the debate. In the time that
I have allotted to me right now, there are two issues that I would
like to address. First is the issue around who has the power to say
where money created and earned by workers is spent on political
donations, and I’d also like to turn my attention to the issue of
termination pay with respect to the employers’ responsibilities to
pay out the money that is owed to their employees when they’re
terminated.
Firstly, with respect to the issue of political donations and
whether or not workers should have a say in those political
donations, I would like to echo my colleagues, my friends from
Edmonton-Ellerslie, in particular, and the Leader of the Official
Opposition, in their quite clear arguments in favour of the
democratic nature of unions and the ability of workers to have their
say over how their union dues are being spent. I don’t want to spend
a whole lot of time re-covering that ground.
But I do want to touch on something that the Leader of the
Official Opposition raised with respect to some of the comments
that we have raised regarding corporations’ ability to contribute to
third-party political advertisers. She touched on the fact that the
Premier stated in debate that, you know, shareholders, if they were
unhappy with the political contributions of the companies they were
invested in, disagreed with those political contributions, could sell
their shares. I would agree with her comments that the freedom to
buy and sell shares isn’t nearly as complete and total as the Premier
had suggested they were, but it also ignores the fact that companies
create value by extracting that value from the labours of workers.
You know, workers create a product or a service at a company,
and they get paid a rate which is less than the total value that is
created from that labour, Mr. Chair, and the additional value of that
labour accrues to the owners and the shareholders of the company.
So it seems odd to me that, you know, the members opposite seem
to be arguing that workers work hard for their money and they
should have the absolute right to the say over how it is spent, but
when it comes to the money that is created by workers in
corporations and companies, they have absolutely no say over how
that money, that they have created, is spent above and beyond what
they’re earning.
I would suggest, Mr. Chair, that if we were to be fair, we would
be also seeking to enable workers who work at companies to also
be able to participate in how the owners and managers and
shareholders of those companies spend the money that workers
create – I have a number of examples, I guess, of companies that
have contributed – because we’ve heard time and again about
concerns regarding the number of dollars that labour unions have
spent on political campaign donations and third-party advertising
over the years. But I think it would be educational for the people of
Alberta to understand which companies are contributing to third-
party advertising here in the province of Alberta as well.
I’m looking at the Shaping Alberta’s Future election advertising
report from December 1, 2018, to April 18, 2019, and I note that
Surge Energy donated $75,000. Crew Energy donated $30,000. La
Crete Sawmills donated $25,000. A company called B.D.K.
Properties Ltd. made a donation. Sunrise Estates Services, a
division of Jasper Inn Investments Ltd., made a donation. Morgan
Construction and Environmental Ltd. made a donation. MTE
Logistix management incorporated and a numbered company
numbered 1879745 Alberta Ltd. made some donations to that
organization. Ecco Recycling & Energy Corp made some
donations. A company called RDM Motors Ltd. made donations.
Thermo Design Engineering Ltd. made donations. Kenneth J.
Robinson Professional Corporation made some donations. Royop
(Southlands) Development Ltd. made donations. Yellowbird
Products Ltd. made donations. Royop is a frequent flyer in these
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Alberta Hansard
July 27, 2020
donations. Their Barlow division made donations, and their
Deerfoot division made donations as well.
The question that I have to ask, Mr. Chair, is: did any of the
employees of the company, who are contributing to the profits that
we presume those corporations used to make these donations, have
a say in the donations that were made, and whether or not they agree
with the outcome of those third-party advertisers? Certainly, the
workers in those companies have a stake in public policy, and it’s
not always the same as the interests that their managers,
shareholders, and owners have. It would be interesting to see if any
of the employees of those companies were asked if they agreed with
those donations.
You know, the Alberta Chambers of Commerce collected and
spent $26,250. The Alberta Chambers of Commerce, of course,
represents a wide variety of businesses here in the province of
Alberta, and I wonder if any of the employees at those businesses
who comprise the Alberta Chambers of Commerce were asked or
even made aware that the donations that their employers were
making to support the Alberta chambers’ work were going to
support third-party advertising in the province of Alberta.
Merit Contractors Association, of course, collected and spent
almost $300,000. Now, it’s interesting, Mr. Chair, because, you
know, the members opposite like to talk about openness and
transparency when it comes to third-party election financing, but I
can’t find anywhere on Merit Contractors’ website which
companies make up Merit Contractors. I can’t help but wonder if
the employees of those companies who comprise Merit Contractors
were asked whether or not the profits of their labour should be
donated to the third-party advertising campaign that Merit
undertook in the provincial election that happened in 2019.
10:00
The highways maintenance contractors also engaged in third-
party advertising. Alberta Highway Services made two donations,
totalling $2,198. Carmacks Enterprises made over $2,000 in
donations. LaPrairie Group made over $2,000 in donations. Ledcor
Highways made over $2,000 in donations. Volker Stevin Canada
made over $2,000 in donations, too. This is an interesting case, Mr.
Chair, because not only do the employees, I suspect, have no say
over whether or not their parent companies are making these kinds
of third-party donations; I also note that these are companies that
are primarily operated by tax dollars. These are companies that are
contracted on behalf of the government of Alberta to maintain the
roads in our province. I can say with a hundred per cent certainty
that I as a taxpayer of Alberta was not asked whether or not I agreed
that my portion of the tax dollars that went to these companies was
spent on political third-party financing. I don’t think that’s fair, yet
here we are only concerned about union members’ donations to
political action campaigns but not about where tax dollars are being
spent and whether or not they’re supporting political action
campaigns.
Let’s turn now to the Alberta victory fund, Mr. Chair. The
Alberta victory fund is a fund that’s near and dear to the heart of
members of Executive Council. In fact, it was run by a person
named John Weissenberger, who just happened to get a position as
a vice-president at the Alberta Energy Regulator after the election
was won by the United Conservative Party. I’m sure that it’s just a
massive coincidence that somebody who oversaw over $150,000
worth of political donations to support advertising that helped that
government get elected all of a sudden found himself in a very
highly paid position in a very influential agency under this
government. But who did the victory fund get its money from?
Well, it certainly got some money from a numbered company,
2149130 Alberta Ltd. It also got money from Can-West Corporate
Air Charters Ltd. JWI Investments LP made a $10,000 donation.
Kidco Construction made a $10,000 donation. Morrison Homes
made a $10,000 donation. The Cedarglen Group Inc. made a
$10,000 donation. United Communities LP made a $10,000
donation. Diversified Staffing Services made a $5,000 donation.
Ecco Recycling made a $5,000 donation. Prairie Merchant
Corporation made a $5,000 donation. Calbridge Homes donated
$2,500. Karana Properties Inc. donated $2,500. PBA Land
Development donated $2,000. I can’t help but wonder, Mr. Chair,
if any of the workers in those companies were asked whether or not
they agreed with the election financing contributions that their
companies were making or if they were even made aware of the
donations that the companies were making on their behalf.
But wait, Mr. Chair, there’s more. The Alberta Roadbuilders and
Heavy Construction Association, which is comprised of a bunch of
companies that engage in government contracts, also collected and
spent $45,100 on third-party political financing. Now, I suspect that
the Alberta Roadbuilders and Heavy Construction Association is
primarily comprised of the companies that I listed in the earlier
financial statement, but again, I raise the issue that taxpayers were
not asked or even made aware that companies that they were
funding with their government contracts were engaging in these
kinds of third-party political advertising campaigns.
Finally, I want to look at an organization called Alberta Proud,
which collected contributions from 578917 Alberta Ltd., 578919
Alberta Ltd. One can only wonder what happened to 578918
Alberta ltd., why they weren’t included in the donation list. Park
and Jet Calgary made a donation. Prairie View Holdings. Steinbock
Development Corporation. Source Energy Services again.
Woodfield Holdings Inc. 1765662 Alberta Ltd., which is listed as
Windermere Registry. Liquor Town parent company New Star
Capital made two donations totalling $4,250. The Green Depot in
Fort McMurray made a donation. 1724629 Alberta Ltd.: Strathcona
Registry is what they’re listed as. Fort McMurray vehicle licensing
and registry/the Timberlea Registry. Fort McMurray Vehicle
Licensing & Registry Ltd. on its own made some donations.
1615016 Alberta Ltd., Abbey Road Registries, made some
donations. 1597251 Alberta Ltd., Summerside Registry, also made
donations.
Mr. Chair, the list goes on. The Green Depot, Fort McMurray,
Advanced Bottle Depot made donations. 347963 Alberta Ltd. made
donations. 2072882 Alberta Ltd. made donations. Hometown
Liquor Town made donations. The Green Depot in Banff made
donations. 1260014 Alberta Ltd. made donations. The Meredith
Michael Company Ltd. made donations. Yellowbird Products Ltd.
made donations. All of those companies made hundreds of
thousands of dollars in donations that supported the members
opposite in their election campaign, and I can’t help but wonder if
the employees in those companies were asked or even made aware
that their owners were making those donations on their behalf. Or
even their customers. Certainly, I would like to know if the
company that I’m patronizing is spending the money that I’m
spending in its store on political donations to support a political
cause that I don’t support. But I was never made aware that
Strathcona Registry was supporting the Shaping Alberta’s Future
fund. It’s not like they post a sign on their door stating that.
So if, you know, the members opposite are truly concerned about
people having control over where their dollars are going when it
comes to supporting political action campaigns, I think we should
level the playing field, and we should allow workers in these
companies to have a say and allow customers to have a say in how
their dollars are being spent, Mr. Chair.
Now, with that, I would also turn to termination pay, and I would
like to move an amendment to that effect, Mr. Chair.
July 27, 2020
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2417
The Deputy Chair:
Thank you, hon. member. If you could please
read it into the record.
For the benefit of the House, this will be amendment A1.
Mr. Schmidt:
Thank you, Mr. Chair. I’m moving this on behalf of
my friend from Edmonton-Mill Woods. I move that Bill 32,
Restoring Balance in Alberta’s Workplaces Act, 2020, be amended
in section 1(3) by striking out the proposed section 8(2) and
substituting the following:
When an employee’s employment terminates, the employer must
pay the employee’s earnings at whichever of the following times
the employer chooses:
(a) on the day following the last day of employment on which
wages would normally have been paid to the employee, or
(b) within 10 consecutive days after the end of the pay period
in which the termination of employment occurs.
Mr. Chair, the reason that we are bringing forward this
amendment is to hold the Minister of Labour and Immigration
accountable to the words that he said with respect to this legislation.
He said that it will absolutely not allow an employer to keep the
wages of a worker after termination for 31 days and that the
intention is to allow employers to wait until the next regular
paycheque. This amendment makes that clear. Certainly, it removes
the 31-day period and inserts that earnings must be paid either on
the day following the last day of employment on which wages
would normally have been paid to the employee or within the 10
consecutive days after the end of the pay period in which the
termination of employment occurs.
10:10
This amendment still allows the legislation to operate according
to the intent that the minister has stated it will operate. It prevents
employers from arbitrarily holding back pay simply because the
legislation gives them the power to do so. For example, employers
who only pay once a month: this will still apply to them. It will
mean no changes, but it will also force employers to live up to the
spirit of the law that the minister has stated in his multiple
arguments on that front during the course of this debate.
Mr. Chair, it’s critically important, especially as Alberta’s
economy continues to struggle along and people continue to lose
their jobs, to make sure that when employees lose their jobs, they
are paid as quickly as possible and not forced to wait up to 31 days
for the receipt of their final payment that they’re owed. I think that
in debate around a number of important policy issues here in this
House my friends here in the Official Opposition and I have
continually raised the fact that almost half of all Albertans have less
than $400 in the bank right now to meet an emergency expense, so
almost half of the people who could potentially face termination
right now cannot afford to wait 31 days for their final paycheque to
arrive if indeed that’s longer than what they would expect from the
normal pay systems at their place of employment.
I don’t need to remind you, Mr. Chair, that the people who are
losing their jobs right now during this pandemic are the people who
make the least. They’re service workers, they’re retail workers, and
they’re people who are working part-time jobs in occupations that
don’t pay very much money, so the people who are losing their
work right now are also the ones who can least afford to wait for a
paycheque because they have less than $400 in the bank, probably,
to address their expenses.
You know, job prospects are pretty slim in this province right
now, and certainly the Premier and Executive Council are doing
nothing meaningful to improve job prospects and, in fact, are
worsening the situation because we . . . [Mr. Schmidt’s speaking
time expired]
Thank you.
The Deputy Chair:
Thank you, hon. member.
Are there any members looking to join debate on A1? I see the
hon. Member for Edmonton-Rutherford. Please.
Mr. Feehan:
Thank you, Mr. Chair. I appreciate the opportunity to
speak to this amendment. I think it’s important that we seriously
consider this amendment because actually it is put together as a
favour for the minister of labour to bring the legislation in Bill 32
in line with his public statements about the intent of Bill 32. I think
that that’s a kindness on the part of the opposition to help the
minister ensure that the things he is declaring to be true are, in fact,
true in terms of the actual bill that he’s suggesting be passed.
Now, in this particular case, this particular amendment is focused
on the ability of employers, at their own discretion, to delay the
paying out of workers’ pay, workers that have been laid off for any
variety of reasons, to a period of time of 31 days, irrespective of
whether or not that 31 days is consistent with other factors in the
relationship between the employer and the employee in the rest of
the legislation, such that a worker who would normally expect to
receive a paycheque before being laid off in 14 days now suddenly
finds himself not only without a job but without the next paycheque
on which they were depending in order to get them through any
temporary or permanent layoff time.
As such, this actually increases stress for workers, increases the
likelihood that workers will find themselves caught short in terms
of their ability to pay their everyday bills, increased difficulty in
paying their rent, increased difficulty in paying for groceries over
the next period of time, and this is particularly difficult because it’s
compounded by other aspects of the legislation in Bill 32, where the
employer requirement to give notice of temporary layoff is also
reduced so that if you’re being laid off, you receive less notice about
it happening. You are likely to receive your pay at a time that is
unexpected in terms of your family planning for your family bills
and as a result will put workers in a very difficult place.
We know that very often businesses are in a place where they are
making decisions on a variety of factors. As such, it’s not like
employees can guess ahead of time when these circumstances may
arrive in their lives. I’m very concerned that overall Bill 32 makes
it easier to lay off the workers by reducing those notification
requirements, and it also increases the time period where no
severance is required at all. I think that this is compounded again
by the fact that this bill excludes seasonal and contract workers
from notification requirements.
What we have is a complex system of changes to the bill which
will really leave vulnerable people more vulnerable. That’s the
essence here, that the people who tend to get laid off are people who
are already in businesses that have variances in terms of the stability
of work that sometimes are as a result of seasonal changes that go
on, are often employed in businesses that are affected by large
international circumstances and world finance issues, and, as a
result, are already in the position of being vulnerable and essentially
having precarious work in the first place. We know that people with
that history of precarious work are the least likely to be able to
establish for themselves resources that would allow them to live
through the downtimes, the periods of nonemployment in their line
of work, because they have gone through this repeatedly over time.
Now, those people who have been in some kind of a contractor
position for years and have never had time off are much more likely
to be able to, within that, find a small piece of their profits each time
on their paycheques to set aside because it’s regular and ongoing,
and they can make it part of their family budgeting that they’ll put
aside 5 or 10 per cent for any vagaries in terms of their lives. But if
you’re a worker whose employment has gone up and down, up and
down, up and down, it’s very difficult to set aside money because
2418
Alberta Hansard
July 27, 2020
you’re constantly reaching back into that particular piggy bank in
order to get you through each of the downturns that occur.
In many occupational situations those downturns happen
repeatedly, sometimes multiple times throughout the year, and now
we find ourselves in the place where workers who are in that place,
who are least likely to have enough money to get them through the
next month – as the previous speaker for Edmonton-Gold Bar
indicated, a significant number of people in our society don’t have
enough money right now in their bank accounts to get through the
next month, and because of these situations they are going to find
themselves in very difficult problems.
10:20
With the conjoint reduction in notice that’s being identified in
this bill, workers will have less time, then, also to apply for EI. Had
they received sufficient notice, they could apply for EI knowing that
they’re going to be laid off in a couple of weeks and therefore have
the EI begin to start as soon as they’re laid off so that they will be
able to continue at least some level of financial input into their
family so they can pay their rent, so they can buy their groceries, so
they can take care of their kids, buy their kids school supplies.
Now, in this situation, you will not receive notice for your
temporary layoff. You will not necessarily receive money, so
suddenly you find yourself in a place where you are behind the eight
ball, needing some time to apply for EI to get you through this
period and thereby waiting for an extended period of time for either
the government program of EI to kick in or for your money to arrive
from your employer thereby making it a difficult spot for people
who already find difficult spots routine in their lives. I think that
that’s very problematic, and I certainly would like to see a change
in this part of the bill.
I really would recommend to the House that this amendment be
taken in because all it does is it helps to tighten things up a little bit
and provide a little bit more stability for workers so that they know
that, should they get laid off, the paycheque that they will receive
will come at the same time that they would normally expect a
paycheque to come. I think that’s probably, in fact, something close
to the intention of the minister when he actually created this section.
He wrote it as allowing 31 days so that it would allow those
companies that do take 31 days between paycheques to be able to
do it, but that is too loosely worded, so the end result is that all
companies, not just the ones that use 31 days to pay their
paycheques each month but those who normally would do it in two
weeks, can take the extra time and do it in 31 days instead. I don’t
think that was the intention of the minister, and as such we have
brought forward this friendly amendment in an attempt to just
tighten up the language and to allow this to work well.
It just simply says that you would then provide the termination
pay on the date that one would normally expect to receive that pay
so that life continues as normal. All we’re asking is that we continue
the normalcy of process here. We’re not asking for something new
or something grandiose here. We’re simply asking to stay with a
practice that makes life more dependable and predictable for
employees, particularly those employees who are already in the
process of suffering the vagaries of work because of issues that
often have nothing to do with their own performance but have to do
with the situation of the company that they’re working for. That
often is, again, dictated not by the company itself but rather large
world events such as COVID, when suddenly companies found
themselves having to lay off workers.
I, you know, was in a position of speaking to some of the small
businesses in my area and did speak to employers who said: the
only way I could survive this was to lay off all of my employees as
soon as I possibly could. This provision would allow them to lay
off their employees without any notice at all, and because of the
other things the government has done, not providing the kind of
supports that we would have hoped for small businesses in Alberta,
they were really stuck, too. The businesses were stuck in terms of
trying to make very difficult decisions.
The support wasn’t there from the government, so they then in
turn put that onto their employees, employees who were working
often for minimum wage and often working in a precarious
situation where they didn’t have an ongoing, dependable salary that
allowed them to take some part of that salary and set it aside to
create for themselves a buffer for these circumstances. Suddenly
workers found themselves in a place where, without notice, they
were without income and had very little time to engage in those
activities which would allow them to have greater stability such as
applying for EI.
This is a fairly small change in the bill. I mean, it’s hardly an
attack on the bill per se. It’s not trying to make the bill disappear.
It’s actually bringing the bill in line with what we’ve heard as public
statements from the minister, that they would like the employers to
have an option to continue their usual pay process and use that
process in order to pay out employees so that they didn’t have to go
through the extra expense of providing monies to an employee
outside of their regular pay cycle.
I notice that it also doesn’t differentiate between employers that
have a larger process of paying people out such that they actually
have a contracted agency paying their employees out and employers
who just simply sit down and write a cheque. Many of the small
businesses don’t go to a third party, so there is no extra expense.
They simply write the cheque themselves. I know that when I was
in private practice, if I had to make a change, I just pulled out my
corporate chequebook, and I wrote the cheque myself. They cost
nothing more than what I would normally do. There was no actual
expense because I was a small enterprise, but that’s true of many
enterprises in this province. In fact, a significant amount of the
employment in the province of Alberta is by those kinds of small
mom-and-pop shops, who will not actually experience anything
extra. They’re not contracting out their payroll services. They don’t
have to actually make a request for anybody to do anything
exceptional, and therefore there are no exceptional expenses. It’s
really just a delay in terms of providing income to people who are
already living somewhat of a vulnerable and precarious life.
Now, if the precision of the language of this bill were such that it
would only address those situations where it would provide undue
expenses to a business or corporation, then we might be a bit more
understanding of what the direction was and what the intent was
here, but instead we see that that has not been done. The precision
here is really not of the level of which we would need, and we’re
just simply trying to bring that back into the case of what the
minister has actually publicly declared that they would like to do,
and that is to avoid, apparently, $91 per layoff for each employee,
which, you know, is very curious because if we look at the numbers
that have been provided by the government, they seem to anticipate
that somewhere in the neighbourhood of a million people are going
to be laid off in the province of Alberta over the next year, which
seriously either doesn’t make sense or is really a prediction by the
government of the failure of all the rest of their policies. I’m
prepared to accept that the government would like to go in that
direction.
You know, it just seems to me that you’ve taken a club to fix a
minor problem that could be resolved with a smaller, more delicate
tool. In this case we are offering at least one aspect of the change
that would make the response to the problem that has been
identified by the government more equitable and more fair to your
average Alberta employee, one that allows them to have a certain
July 27, 2020
Alberta Hansard
2419
amount of predictability in an unpredictable time, one that allows
them to prepare for their future by applying in an appropriate and
timely way for EI, and one that does not give undue power to the
employer to create difficulties for the employee. I don’t think that
most people want to do that, so why wouldn’t we bring the
legislation in line such that the employer is not stuck in a position
where they may end up doing that? I think that the vast majority of
employers try to be really fair with their employees, so the
legislation should reflect the intentions of all good employers, of all
good governments, and of all good employees to have a fair
relationship and to have as much stability and predictability in that
relationship going forward as they possibly can.
At this point I will come to the conclusion of my remarks and
will recommend to the House that they take up this friendly
amendment, that they take the opportunity to actually adopt
something that has been suggested by the opposition, contrary to
their behaviour continuously since the beginning of their
government to ignore all suggestions for change even when that
change is a positive, friendly kind of change.
Thank you very much.
10:20
The Deputy Chair:
Thank you.
I see the hon. Minister of Labour and Immigration has risen on
amendment A1.
Mr. Copping:
Thank you, Mr. Chair. I’m rising to respond to
amendment A1. I want to thank the member opposite for the
thoughtful conversation concerning this and the intent behind the
proposed amendment. As previously indicated to the House in
terms of debate and discussion on the termination benefit, you
know, our approach is to enable employers to be able to line up
termination pay with their regular pay cycles. The way we did this
is that we used the language which we see in (2)(b) in the
amendment: “within the 10 consecutive days after the end of the
pay period in which the termination of employment occurs.” What
that really means is on their next regular pay period, and when we
speak about the next regular pay period, in the Employment
Standards Code that is the language we use, that precise language.
Now, we did contemplate, when we were assessing changes to
the language in terms of doing this, using “next regular pay,” but
one of the concerns that we had, Mr. Chair, is if you have a
termination that, you know – and we’ve seen it through COVID-19
– comes quite quickly. If you need to terminate an individual at a
certain point in time, then the issue becomes, if it’s late in the pay
period – and this was the concern that we had – like on a 14-day
pay period, for example, if you’re paying someone on a two-week
schedule and it’s on the 13th day and then your regular pay is within
five or six days of that, for the ability to pay all the termination pay,
which can include annual vacation and could include the notice
period as well, it can be very challenging to calculate that within
that short period of time on the next pay.
What we did is that we adopted an approach that we’ve seen in
other provinces, where we use our language of “the next regular
pay,” which is (b), but then we put a final date from the date of the
termination so that if the calculation needs to occur on the following
two-week pay cycle for all the termination benefits, then it could
occur at that point in time if it was late in the cycle. So we said that
we would extend it out to a maximum of 31 days from termination.
Mr. Chair, while I appreciate the intent behind which this is
given, our concern, so that it can actually hit that next pay, is that
the employers need that flexibility, because that’s what they told us
that they require. Due to that, I cannot recommend that we support
this amendment.
That said, I would like to point out to the members opposite that,
again, even if the termination happened late in the pay period, you
know, that individual would still get their regular pay for that pay
period – right? – and then termination pay would follow no later
than 31 days from the date of the termination. The intent behind that
is for the next pay, to give the employers time to make that
calculation. That was the intent behind it.
Again, I’d like to thank the members opposite for their intent in
making this amendment.
The Deputy Chair:
Thank you, hon. minister.
I see the hon. Member for Edmonton-McClung has risen to
debate on amendment A1.
Mr. Dach:
Thank you, Mr. Chair. I had the opportunity to listen to
a few rather interesting comments from the minister of labour just
now, and it struck me as a little bit strange that part of the excuse
for bringing forward this measure in its unclarified form was that it
was, quote, unquote, hard for business to calculate the termination
pay within a time period that was perhaps available, depending
upon the termination date of the employee. That’s part of being an
employer, that you anticipate these time frames and that you do
have, sensibly, if you’re properly staffed, individuals in your staff
to take care of this or a software program, if you’re a small-business
employer yourself, to make sure these calculations are done.
To go on and say that part of the reasons that the measure was
brought in was in response to employers’ needs, that part of the
reason was that they, quote, unquote, need that flexibility, it only
looks at one side of the equation. Mr. Chair, we’re in a situation
where everybody is under stress, employers and employees, right
now – we grant you that – but in this situation we’re talking about
termination pay. We’re talking about a wage earner’s dollars and
final dollars that will be bridge dollars that perhaps allow that
person to pay bills or eat between the time frame of termination and
maybe qualifying for EI or some other form of transfer payment.
That flexibility is also needed by the employee, I would argue.
What about that employee who’s just been terminated, who’s
waiting up to 31 days for the final payout in wages that are owed to
that employee?
I would posit, Mr. Chair, that the flexibility that employers need
is an even greater concern to the employee who’s waiting for those
few dollars that will allow him or her to feed family or themselves
between the time frame of termination and qualifying for other
transfer payments or perhaps starting a new job. The excuse that it’s
difficult to calculate is not palpable, really, because the business
owner should be prepared to make these calculations and know the
calculations that they have in place in terms of the labour
legislation. That’s something that as a business owner it’s your
responsibility to be able to tabulate and to account for within time
frames that are set out.
Notwithstanding the fact that employers suggested they needed
more flexibility and a wider time frame, I would suggest to the
House that the concerns of the individual worker, in this particular
case, who is reliant upon those dollars, those termination dollars, a
final paycheque to actually live and to perhaps keep the person from
going to the food bank or relying upon the generosity of friends and
neighbours for that time period – that’s where the consideration
should lie when it comes to making sure that this element of the
legislation is clear, and that’s the reason for this amendment that
we’re debating tonight.
The amendment, of course, goes a long way to restoring clarity.
That’s something that recently, during this time of pandemic, when
it comes time to consider what benefits workers were getting and
how this Alberta government was reaching out to help employees
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July 27, 2020
and individuals who lost their jobs during the time of pandemic –
it’s a pattern of behaviour that causes me to demand support for this
amendment. The amendment simply clarifies exactly what the
government claims already might happen.
The 31 days is not something that necessarily would be required,
but the fact that an employer might end up relying upon legislation
to wait the 31 days puts the employee in an untenable position
financially and one that I think should be avoided by adopting this
amendment to provide clarity and say that on the employee’s
termination date,
the employer must pay the employee’s earnings at whichever of
the following times the employer chooses:
(a) on the day following the last day of employment on which
wages would normally have been paid to the employee; [or]
(b) within the 10 consecutive days after the end of the pay
period in which the termination of employment occurs,
absolutely defining clearly in the legislation what the
responsibilities and obligations of the employer are with respect to
this termination pay, which gives a larger measure of security to a
very vulnerable employee at a time when they are no longer with
employment or income and are left wondering where their next
sustenance is going to come from.
10:40
The reason it’s important to have this clarity, I believe, Mr. Chair,
is because of an example that was very recently demonstrated by
the provincial government during the early stages of the COVID-
19 outbreak in the province, when the Premier and the government
came forward with a plan to provide isolation support of $1,146, a
bridge benefit that would be dollars in the pockets of workers who
had lost their jobs for various reasons. Either they had been
diagnosed with COVID-19, or they were caring for a dependant
who was self-isolating, or they had otherwise been directed by a
health authority to self-isolate, or they weren’t receiving
compensation from any other source.
Now, on the face of it, this $1,146 was available to Albertans who
would simply go to the website, and they would have to verify using
MyAlberta ID and register to receive the support of $1,146. Of
course, thousands of Albertans did this, but there was a problem
with the rollout of it and a problem with the computer system.
People didn’t get through, and they tried repeatedly to get through,
hoping for this $1,146 to help them bridge until federal government
programs came forward. But guess what, Mr. Chair? The response
from the government when the time frame ran out and when the
federal government came through – and many, many thousands of
people who had applied for this $1,146 benefit actually failed to get
through the computer system and therefore were left holding the
bag – was that they were just told by this government: “Too bad, so
sad. Tough luck. We’ve already oversubscribed the money. It’s too
bad that you couldn’t get through. It was more popular than we
thought. Go to the food bank, do whatever, or borrow from your
brother, but you’re not getting any more money from us.”
But that was a program, Mr. Chair. It was a promise to the people
of Alberta: $1,146 if you lose your job, if you have been diagnosed
with COVID-19, if you’re caring for a dependant who’s self-
isolating, if you’ve been directed by health authorities to self-
isolate, or if you’re not receiving any compensation from any other
source, go apply; the money will be there for you. But that didn’t
prove to be the case. Thousands applied, the time frame ran out, the
federal government money came through, and those people who
were otherwise eligible were denied the coverage, the $1,146,
simply because of the program rollout failure, the fault of the
computer system being oversubscribed.
The government could simply have come up with a proper
response, in my view, and said: anybody who was eligible during
that time frame, who would normally, had they been able to get
through the computer system, have been able to receive that benefit,
is going to receive the benefit. That would have been the mark of a
very compassionate, empathetic government, but, no, that’s not
what happened. Those people were told: too bad, so sad. And that’s
the kind of news that workers in this country come to expect from
this government when it suits them to deny a right to a benefit.
The final paycheque on termination for an employee is a similarly
precious amount of dollars in the hands of a worker, and it’s money
that they need very quickly, soon after termination, and to have to
wait a 31-day period is an egregious amount of time. In order for us
to be certain that the government is going to respect that time frame,
we have to make sure that the legislation reflects in detail that 31-
day maximum period.
I would argue that any time we look at measures that are put in
place for this government under its Bill 32, all of the measures have
to be written in stone, really, put into the legislation and not be taken
as if they – we don’t want to have to take the government’s word
for anything. We’ve seen what has happened in a situation where
people were very much vulnerable at the outbreak of this pandemic
and that the rollout of the isolation support benefit of $1,146 was
denied to otherwise eligible people because the government just
decided to change the rules of the game in midflight.
That’s not just, and that’s not fair, but that’s something that
thousands of Albertans were treated to by this government. I
believe, Mr. Chair, that that’s something that I would have a very
long memory about if I was someone who had just recently lost my
job and was told: “There’s a benefit here that will bridge you until
the federal government comes through. Just apply for it. Here are
the rules. Here are the criteria.” You read them, and you say, “Yeah,
that’s me; I qualify,” but you can’t get through. It’s like the busy
signal keeps ringing, and you can’t get through to obtain those funds
that you’re eligible for.
Your neighbours got them. Your cousin got them. Your co-
workers got it. But here you are in the same circumstances. You
meet the criteria, but you don’t get it, and guess what? The Premier
and his government are saying: ”Too bad, so sad. Game over. We
don’t care. The pot of money has been exceeded. Sorry. The
computer program kind of broke down on us. You’re not eligible
for it, in our view, even though you meet the criteria. You go ahead
and do your best to make ends meet some other way. Borrow the
money. Go to the food bank. We don’t know. Go to the feds.”
That seems to be an answer that this government is happy to use
for themselves as well in that they turn to the federal government
themselves to pay their own party officials and party employees
when a program loophole allowed them as a party to take advantage
of a federal program that would give them thousands and thousands
of dollars to pay for their staff. “Go to the feds”: that’s the common
refrain that we’ve heard a lot of times when people were waiting
for programs to be rolled out by this government. It was a matter of
waiting to see what the feds were going to do. “Let’s see what the
feds are going to do.” The leadership that we got from this
provincial government here was a matter of doing the very least
they possibly could as far as digging into the provincial treasury to
help our most vulnerable citizens at a time when they needed it
most.
I’ll tell you what. There’s a song that just occurred to me, you
know, the one that has a line that says, “You left me just when I
needed you most.” I’ll tell you what. That’s what happens to people
in this province time and again with this Premier and this
government. They’re missing in action just when they’re needed the
most by the people who need it the most. What the government is
July 27, 2020
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serving time and again is the interests of the major corporations in
this province, who they’ve given $4.7 billion to in hopes of
attracting investment, when in fact we know that trickle-down
economics theory hasn’t worked, and those who are anticipating
construction of a pipeline in the United States, that the government
has seen fit to invest directly $1.5 billion in and another $6 billion
in loan guarantees, a pipeline that is in all probability not going to
be built.
[Mrs. Allard in the chair]
So there’s lots of money out there, Madam Chair, for major
corporations, but, indeed, when it comes to somebody who has lost
their job and is waiting for their final cheque, the government is
saying: “Well, you know, employers need a little flexibility. They
need a little time to pay. We think that we’ve heard them. Those
workers who are waiting for that cash, who don’t have more than
200 bucks in the bank, in all probability, on average, will just have
to wait. They’ll tell their kids that they’ll go to the food bank. That’s
going to have to do because we’re a government that looks after
businesses first, people later, except when it comes to political
donations. I mean, we’re certainly ones who would like to empower
corporate money when it comes to influencing our government, the
political process, where it comes to third-party political donations
and perhaps even a referendum and municipal elections as well.”
However, for the business at hand, the pattern I’d like to see
change in this government’s modus operandi is one where we see a
predilection towards disregarding the plight of individual Albertans
and individual families who really have no place left to turn at a
very critical time in this province’s history, in this country’s history,
and, in fact, globally. There’s a need for governments to recognize
that and to really provide supports for individual families and
working people and not to be bringing in legislation which nickels
and dimes and hurts individual workers with measures that
negatively impact the families who rely upon a paycheque month
to month, who don’t have many resources saved up, who are
vulnerable and at risk, especially at a time when no other job
opportunities are going to be abounding for many, especially the
low wage income earners, who this legislation affects the most.
10:50
At a time when working people in this province are basically
prostrate, the Premier is saying: “No, you just take your lumps, and
we’re not going to be there for you because it’s the business interest
that comes first in our opinion. You know, it’ll trickle down to you.
You just wait there long enough, and it will trickle down to you.”
That’s not what people are saying to me in my constituency,
Madam Chair. They’re talking to me about this labour legislation
and wondering, indeed, what this government’s long-term plan is
and where they fit into those plans. Believe me, they don’t see
themselves seated at the table talking to this government. They
don’t see themselves having any influence over what the
government program and policy is with respect to labour
legislation. The last people on the list to have the ear of this
government, in fact, who don’t have the ear of this government, are
working people.
I’ve mentioned already that those people who were represented
by members of UFCW at Cargill were the last ones to be heard
notwithstanding the energetic efforts of the UFCW leadership to
raise the issue, call the alarm, raise the concern that people were
getting sick, and there were three deaths as a result and a huge
number of infections at Cargill. The government of the day, this
Conservative government, now turns its attention to the so-called
needs, existential needs of the business empires in the face of the
struggle of working people, even when it comes to their very health
and their lives at work.
This amendment seeks to, in a very small way, bring clarity to
the government’s actions and hold them to account and let the
workers know that, indeed, what the minister keeps saying is in fact
going to be followed through on. The minister keeps saying that
changes in section 1(3) of Bill 32 will absolutely not allow an
employer to keep the wages of a worker after termination for 31
days. Well, let him put his money where his mouth is – all right? –
and accept this amendment, and indeed that’s what we’re asking
him to do. The intention is to allow employers to wait until the next
regular paycheque. Well, let’s see if indeed that’s the case. Accept
the amendment, and put your money where your mouth is.
This amendment makes it absolutely clear. That’s all we’re
doing, clarifying and putting in writing what the minister is saying
that the bill actually does. It will remove the 31-day period and
insert that earnings must be paid either “on the day following the
last day of employment on which wages would normally have been
paid to the employee” or “within the 10 consecutive days after the
end of the pay period in which the termination of employment
occurs.” This amendment will still allow for what the minister says
is the intent of this change without allowing employers to arbitrarily
hold back pay simply because the legislation gives them the right
to do so. Why is this important to clarify? I think I’ve told you.
The Acting Chair:
Hon. members, we are on amendment A1 to
Bill 32, Restoring Balance in Alberta’s Workplaces Act, 2020. Are
there any other members wishing to speak? I see the hon. Leader of
Her Majesty’s Official Opposition.
Ms Notley:
Well, thank you very much, Madam Chair. Yes. I’m
pleased to be able to get up and speak to this thoughtful and humane
amendment offered up by the Member for Edmonton-Mill Woods
on behalf of our Official Opposition caucus and, of course, also on
behalf of, you know – I don’t know – a million or so working
Albertans. It is an amendment, as others have already identified,
that is focused on removing the change in Bill 32 that would enable
an employer to wait up to 31 days to pay an employee what they are
owed, what is in effect their money, should their employment be
terminated.
To be clear, we’re not just necessarily talking wages; we’re
talking vacation pay, we’re talking stat pay, and we’re talking
perhaps banked overtime. We’re talking about significant amounts
of money that belong to that working person, money that in the
absence of the termination of the employment would be payable on
a regular and predictable basis, yet somehow in their infinite
wisdom members of the government have concluded that the time
at which to press the capacity of the worker the most in terms of
how long they can wait to be paid their wages plus their overtime
and their vacation and all the other things is to do it when they’ve
just lost their job. Normally they would get paid at a regular time
and they would be counting on it and they’d have their account set
up to have their utilities come out on a certain day and have their
car payments come out on a certain day and have their rent come
out on a certain day, all those things, but somehow these folks think
that the time to most play around with that and mess it up is when
the person has just been told that they don’t have a job anymore. I
have to say that it’s really quite counterintuitive.
Now, I have to say that I’ve listened to the minister, particularly
in question period, try to justify this decision. You know, it reads
like a lot of the other efforts of the minister to justify a number of
the clauses in this bill. Let me, of course, just contextualize the
clause that we are addressing now and the amendment that we are
attempting to make by simply describing it as one of many
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July 27, 2020
provisions that exist within this bill that very definitively takes
money from the pockets of working people and redistributes it back
to their employers.
This is something that is similar to a number of other decisions
taken by this government, this notion that by racing to the bottom,
we somehow create new jobs and new, quote, unquote,
opportunities for Albertans to get work. Although, to be clear, at a
certain point, if you’re being paid little enough, the opportunity to
work is not really an opportunity as such because it’s not really a
win if you are working for a wage rate that has you, if you work
full-time, actually living at a fraction above the poverty line, which
is of course exactly what eliminating the minimum wage would do
and exactly what eliminating overtime does and exactly what
recalculating vacation pay and stat pay does, and this is just part of
that overall package. I have to say that there’s absolutely no
evidence to suggest this actually worked.
The minister, this very same minister who is asking us today to
trust him, suggested that eliminating the minimum wage, contrary
to the position taken by the UCP in the last election, and reducing
the minimum wage for young people under the age of 18 was going
to create a whole raft of new jobs for those young people. Lo and
behold, what happened? Their unemployment rate went up. So it
never worked out exactly as predicted. Nope, it didn’t. It did,
however, confuse things a lot for people that were just trying to get
into the job market at the age of 18 or 19 because some employers
were thinking, “Oh, no. I think that I can possibly find somebody
that I can pay less,” although ultimately it didn’t work out that way
or, certainly, they didn’t hire them because the unemployment rate
for young Albertans did in fact go up. Then those slightly older
young Albertans who were scrambling to find the money to pay for
the spiralling tuition hikes that had also been put in by this
government suddenly were struggling and competing on an uneven
playing field.
All that to be said, it just goes to the larger issue, which is: an
economic strategy that is premised on a race to the bottom is bound
to fail. Alberta should aim higher and Albertans should aim higher
than building businesses that succeed through exploitation, that
succeed through paying the full-time equivalent salary that we
know full well will not result in people being able to put food on
the table, for rent to be paid, for people to be able to do the things
that they need to do. It is a failed strategy. This is a strategy that is
in the process of, in fact, failing Albertans. This is part of it, and we
are opposed to it, and that’s why we’re trying to change it, and this
is one of the sections that we think is a start and a good start.
11:00
Now, I will say that in listening, as I started to say, to the minister
describing this change and how it was just a little, you know, flick
of the pen to provide greater convenience to employers, who have
this cumbersome obligation of paying their employees, and it’s oh
so complicated and confusing, and it costs so much, apparently
$100 million, to run payroll at different times – honestly, listening
to him describe this really brought to my mind recollections of
when the Minister of Community and Social Services tried to make
the same kinds of arguments around delaying the AISH payments
until the beginning of the month, when they had previously been
processed at the end of the month prior to the month for which they
were being paid.
That minister seemed to be completely unaware of what it is like
to live on the rate of pay offered by AISH, completely unaware of
how close to the poverty line these people were, completely
unaware of what it meant for the simple mechanics of buying a bus
pass: like, if I don’t have the money on the first of the month, I can’t
pay for my bus pass, but in order to get to the place where I buy my
bus pass, I need a bus, but I can’t get on the bus because I don’t
have my bus pass. Like, simple things like that, which seem to be,
“Oh, well, it’s just common sense” for those of us as privileged as
those of us who work in this building: that’s day-to-day managing
poverty for those folks. The minister was just absolutely,
completely tone-deaf, didn’t understand it, didn’t understand why
it was creating so much problem, didn’t consult with them, had no
idea what it was like to live on that much. I have to say that I was
kind of reminded of that by the minister of labour’s tone and the
kind of rationale he gave about how, well, it’d be more convenient
with respect to running the payroll.
Let’s talk for a moment about: okay; we hear that it’s more
convenient and it may theoretically save up to $100 million
although, as the Member for Edmonton-Rutherford quite wisely
pointed out, if you’re seriously expecting – you know, because it
apparently saves about $90 per termination and you’re going to
save $100 million, I’m quite concerned about how many layoffs the
government is counting on. I have to say that that’s worrisome: uh-
huh; a million layoffs. I’d be very curious to hear from the minister
exactly how they did that calculation and exactly what else they see
coming down the pike if they’re expecting a further million layoffs
to come into effect such that this particular change is worth $100
million to employers. Yikes, I say, Madam Chair.
Nonetheless, let’s just talk a little bit about what it means for
those folks. Now, this stat has been bandied about in this House a
little bit over the course of this discussion and many others that
impact low-income Albertans and middle-income Albertans, but I
think it’s worth repeating. MNP Consumer Debt Index released a
poll. I think it was in about March of this year, pre the most
profound implications of COVID, and at that time 60 per cent of
respondents in Alberta said that they ended the month $200 away
from not being able to meet all their financial obligations. Sixty per
cent: it’s a lot.
You know, we’re not talking about this nameless, faceless poor
person that the folks over there have never actually met. We are
talking about 60 per cent of Albertans, not that that should make it
any better because I think, frankly, that if we don’t come to work
every day and think about this nameless, faceless poor person, then
we’re not doing our job. But that being said, let’s talk about those
60 per cent of people who responded to that survey who said that
they were $200 away from being late on making their payments.
Okay. Sixty per cent of Albertans, but we’re dealing with the
convenience of people running payroll, whose job it is to run
payroll: that seems like a strange choice to make.
Now, interestingly, what was also – I think it was in that
particular poll as well. They also said that 46 per cent of Albertans
essentially said that they would not be able to cope with the loss of
employment in the following month in terms of being able to, you
know, maintain their life and support, their life payments and
financial obligations and those of their families. That number, that
46 per cent, was actually 10 points above the national average, so
not super encouraging.
A significant number of Albertans would not be able to cope with
the loss of employment, yet once again the minister of labour thinks
that for the convenience of running payroll, we need to ask those 46
per cent of Albertans to wait up to 31 days before they get the
money which, to be clear, is theirs. It’s their money. It’s not the
employers’ money; it’s their money. They have earned that money.
A court of law would say that it’s already theirs, yet somehow this
government thinks it’s appropriate to give the employer an extra 31
days to hold onto someone else’s money without giving it to them,
even when 46 per cent of respondents to a survey said that they
couldn’t cope with losing their job, financially, and 60 per cent say
that they are $200 away from incurring late payments.
July 27, 2020
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It’s curious because I remember that when the Minister of
Community and Social Services made her ridiculous decision to
arbitrarily change the payment date for AISH, there were a lot of
people that were talking about what the consequences of that were.
I found it fascinating because at one point there was actually not
one of the recipients themselves but their landlord – not all their
landlords; just one landlord that happened to have a number of
tenants who relied on AISH. This landlord said that about half of
her 90 low-income tenants receive payments through AISH, and
many of them have agreements with a third party who mails rent
cheques on their behalf once the sum is deposited: that means that
all of our AISH rent cheques that we receive because of third-party
payment agreements were released on February 28; we got them in
the mail Tuesday morning. The late rent payments added up to a
temporary $20,000 gap for that landlord: 45 AISH payments, and
because of the late payments and because of the delay, it was a
$20,000 gap.
Then, of course, other AISH recipients reported, just for that
three-day delay in paying their rent, having to pay a $50 fine for
late rent payment. Okay. You’ve got a $50 fine for being late in
paying your rent. Then you have the fees that are associated with
paying your utilities late. Then you have the interest payments
associated with missing your minimum payment on your credit
card. Then you have the fees associated with missing your car
payment. I think, you know, here’s what I’m going to say. I’m
pretty sure that by the end of the month each of those low-income
people who’d just been told that they have to wait up to 31 days
before they’re given the money that is theirs will have lost a heck
of a lot more than the $90 it apparently saves the employer to delay
running the payroll.
To be clear, I am not making these things up, because again I’m
going back to the stats which say that 60 per cent of Albertans who
were surveyed report being $200 away, at the end of the month,
from not being able to make all their payments. You add up all the
late payments, and we are well above $90. So we made a choice
here. We’re going to save $90 for the employers, and we’re going
to have those folks who just lost their jobs probably incur two or
three times that in terms of late payment fees. Hmm. Well, we’re
making our choices here, aren’t we? We’re making our choices, but
I would argue that they’re not the right ones. In the long term you’re
actually costing all of us more.
11:10
You know, I want to just sort of flip briefly. These folks that are
losing their jobs and being told that they have to wait till the end of
the month before they get their paycheque often are the working
poor, often are struggling to make ends meet. I’m just looking at a
United Way report that was done, I think, mid-2019. There’s a lot
in it, but I think one thing that is really important is that they talk
about the cost of poverty, anywhere between $7 billion and $10
billion, roughly, being spent each year in Alberta, and as Albertans
and as taxpayers each one of us is contributing between $2,325 and
$3,111 per year to address poverty.
Now, if we have just said to people that are going to lose their
jobs, apparently almost a million of them, according to the labour
minister’s calculations, that they have to shoulder the cost of all the
missed payments in order to save the $90 of payroll, I’m just
wondering where this all ends up in the long run. I feel that we are
accelerating poverty overall, and in the long term (a) those low-
income workers are subsidizing those employers, and (b) as
taxpayers we are also doing it. We are ultimately subsidizing it as
well because we are creating and enhancing and accelerating
poverty.
Let’s just talk a little bit about: you know, what’s it like to be that
poor? I mean, we’ve heard a lot about how hard it is to run payroll
if you’re an employer. Really tough, for sure. Here’s the thing.
StatsCan did a survey of folks who are living close to or right
around the poverty line, and they did a survey in order to evaluate
whether their concept of the market-basket measure of poverty was
still appropriate in terms of determining who is or is not poor. They
did focus groups with, I think, thousands of people to determine the
efficacy of the market-basket measure.
On food, they said that the people that they talked to basically, in
essence, were not able to buy the type of food they wanted, and they
weren’t able to buy as much food as they wanted. Those people just
living right around or a little bit above the poverty line made choices
around the type of food. Essentially, when they were short of
money, when they didn’t have money because, oh, say, their
employer is holding on to it for an extra 30 days, that’s the place
they were most likely to cut. They might not buy meat, actually,
and they would actually also simply not buy vegetables and healthy
things for themselves and their family.
They also talked about clothing. Now, on that one, people living
in or around, close to poverty or living in difficult financial straits,
obviously, just say: “Clothing is not a thing. We don’t do clothing.
It’s not a big thing we spend money on. It’s not a priority for us. It’s
not a big part of our budget.”
That is something we will talk about another time.
The Acting Chair:
Thank you, hon. member.
Are there any other members wishing to rise and speak to
amendment A1? I see the hon. Member for Calgary-Buffalo.
Member Ceci:
Thank you very much, Madam Chair. I want to
address the amendment, that’s before us right now, that was put by
Member Gray, to move that Bill 32, Restoring Balance in Alberta’s
Workplaces Act, 2020, be amended by the following sections.
That’s what I want to address with regard to the amendment before
us, the whole thing with regard to when employment termination
monies must be paid. It’s the second time I’ve had the opportunity
to address this issue in front of this House, and it’s my pleasure to
get up again and continue on where the Leader of the Opposition
touched on with regard to a number of issues. You know, the folks
who probably need labour legislation more readily than a lot of
people in society are those who change jobs on a frequent basis,
sometimes through no fault of their own, and other times they need
to move on to positions that are better suited to them. People on the
lower end of the income scale really are challenged when they leave
their positions, have to get a new job somewhere else. It’s for those
folks, I guess, that I’m standing up and speaking a little bit about
this amendment today.
I think just generally that Bill 32, as I’ve said before, tips the
balance, unfortunately, too much towards employers and makes it
difficult for particularly people, employees who are on the lower
end of the income scale to make their way through this legislation,
that aren’t benefited by this legislation. There are a number of ways
that they’re not supported by this legislation, whether that’s this
particular amendment or other ones that have been debated here
earlier today or will be debated after me. So I would like to focus
on that issue.
I know that a consultation with regard to both employees and
employers was released in conjunction with Bill 32 legislation.
Looking at some of the respondents and who those respondents
were is very interesting, Madam Chair. Of course, there were over
5,000 respondents for the employment standards consultation, and
three-quarters of those were employees and only 12 per cent were
employers. But, as I said earlier, it seems to me that the 12 per cent
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July 27, 2020
of employers had more sway in terms of the formation of this
omnibus legislation that’s before us today.
We know that on the issue of termination pay, which is the
subject of this amendment, 34.5 per cent of employers were
satisfied with the amount of time they currently have to pay an
administrative penalty, while 65.5 per cent were dissatisfied or
neutral. Sixty-four per cent of employees were satisfied and 36 per
cent were dissatisfied or neutral. So the preponderance of people
who were not happy with the legislation that’s before us were
primarily employees, I think that says. I think the changes that are
made here are too much in the balance and away from the needs of
employees, people who can’t wait more than two weeks to 31 days
for their payment of a job that, you know, may not have been paying
a great deal of money in the first place.
Minimum wages are $15 an hour, and we know that that’s not a
living wage in this province. Living wages are closer to, for a single
person, about $18 an hour to $21 an hour. If you are working at
minimum wage and you’re terminated from your employment, the
question really becomes: how do you fill that gap between your
termination date and when you’re finally paid? One would think
that the difficulty is more on the employee’s side rather than the
employer’s side. I know one of the reasons that was given by the
minister with regard to why this change was helpful was because it
was addressing some repetitive red tape, that they don’t want to
have to be cutting cheques for their employees, the ones that are
terminated, off-cycle from when they usually have their cheque
runs. Yeah, that would be a problem, potentially, for an employer
if they are terminating many, many employees or frequently
terminating employees.
11:20
But if you’re looking at the employee’s side, you’re leaving your
employment, and it’s a low-income wage job, then the importance
of getting that pay as quickly as possible so that you can ensure that
your family’s or your own quality of life is met is important. The
amendment talks about:
The employer must pay the employee’s earnings at whichever of
the following times the employer chooses:
(a) on the day following the last day of employment on which
wages would normally have been paid to the employee;
(b) within 10 consecutive days after the end of the pay period
in which the termination of employment occurs.
It is, as I said, something that is a rational amendment to bring
forward, that tips the balance more in the scales of the employees
at this point. We believe that that’s necessary to ensure that, going
forward, employees have what they need.
My own experience hasn’t been in being able to use labour law
or being involved with that of late. It’s been many, many years since
I’ve been in those situations and never in kind of a termination of
employment situation, but, you know, the reasons employees get
terminated are legion. There’s a lot of reasons why people get their
employment terminated. To be able to deal with that in the best way
possible to make sure that people receive their wages and then can
address their needs: as I said, whether they have families or they are
individuals matters none, but they do need to support themselves in
all cases.
That’s one significant reason that I wanted to bring forward. The
amendment makes it clear that it will remove the 31-day period and
insert that the earnings must be paid either – I read those two parts
of this amendment out. I think the amendment still allows for what
the minister says is the intent of the change that he wanted to bring
forward without allowing employers the ability to arbitrarily hold
pay back simply because the legislation gives them the licence to
do so. For employers who pay only just once a month, this will
apply to them. There are many job situations in this province where
that’s the case, whether that be in agricultural situations,
agricultural employment, or other places.
I think the principle that we all agree, probably, to is that rapid
payment once you’re terminated is not a bad idea because it deals
in a final way between the agreement that was there between the
employer and employee, and it severs that relationship properly so
that both, particularly the employee, can go on and do other things
as opposed to hanging out, figuratively, to make sure that they get
paid. This amendment will ensure that the legislation actually
achieves what the minister says it does. If the government –
certainly, it would be something that I would hope would be
supported.
We will be bringing forward a number of other amendments that
will deal with other sections. But this section is something that, as
the Leader of the Opposition was saying, matters most to low-
income people who depend on paycheque to paycheque going
forward, and they are a significant part of the employment
population that do do that. We know that in Alberta a very high
number of Albertans have very little money in their bank accounts
and do live on paycheque to paycheque, so for those Albertans this
amendment would be substantive and helpful. The number of
Albertans who depend on paycheque to paycheque and who have,
you know, as little as $200 remaining at the end of the month is far
too many.
We know that Albertans live with the most debt in the country,
and those things added together make for a risky situation for
Albertans who are losing their employment, so anything that can be
done to make sure that they are properly paid out as soon as they
can be really assists not only those Albertans and their families but
it is something that’s less expensive on our support systems in this
province, should those Albertans have to apply for any kind of
support that’s necessary to keep them in proper house and home.
Far too many Albertans are in that situation, and we have to do a
better job at making sure that they get back into employment as
quickly as possible.
So with the opportunity for them to get paid out, to have the
monies they need to search for employment elsewhere, to use those
funds to continue their quality of life so that they don’t have to look
and take time away from looking for employment to look for other
means of support are probably some of the dominoes that occur if
people aren’t feeling like they’re getting their due in terms of a
quick payment out from work once they lose their employment.
We, of course, know that there are far too many Albertans who
are unemployed at this time. That’s a challenge for trying to get
back into the workforce when there’s a predominance of people
who are looking for employment. The folks at the lower end of the
scale don’t have the luxury of looking through the classifieds for,
really, jobs that need a lot of prerequisites in terms of education and
skills. Oftentimes they’re picking up jobs, and those jobs can be,
like, on the cash corner in Calgary, and if they’re working for that
kind of pay, that’s a different kind of employment contract,
obviously, and they’re paid on a daily basis and working for
minimum wage.
We need to do a better job in terms of the kinds of employment,
the safety standards people have in those jobs. This amendment is
one that would, as I say, treat the workers like they were in
positions, they were working, and for reasons their job was
terminated, and they can get paid out on a more expeditious basis.
Madam Chair, with those kinds of thoughts in place, I just want
to address a few more other things that are in this generally. I
wanted to say that the consultation report that was done certainly
talked a lot about areas around termination pay, which I’ve talked
about. On youth unemployment, there was a great deal on that that
July 27, 2020
Alberta Hansard
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people weighed in on. Averaging agreements took up a great deal
of the consultation report as well as general holiday pay. It would
have been helpful to get that consultation report at an earlier stage
so that those findings could be reviewed in relation to the
amendments that were put together and brought forward.
11:30
We want to, of course, always balance the needs of employers
and employees, and our government brought forward a number of
amendments to previous labour standards that hadn’t been touched
in a great deal of time. We wanted to ensure that things like
overtime pay, averaging agreements, minimum wages, all of those
were necessarily left far too long, and they were worked on by the
previous government.
Lastly, just again to reinforce the amendment that is before us
right now, we believe it’s in keeping with what the minister is
wanting to do. We believe that it will assist employees upon
termination to ensure they get their wages on an expeditious basis.
It will remove the 31-day period in particular and insert the two
clauses that we spoke to. We think it addresses the intent of the
minister’s change and won’t allow employers to arbitrarily hold
back great sums of money that are legally owed to the person who
has been terminated from their job.
With those kinds of considerations, I will, Madam Chair, be
winding up my comments so that they can be picked up by someone
else. Thank you very much.
The Acting Chair:
Thank you, hon. member.
We are on amendment A1 if there are any others wishing to rise
and join debate. I see the hon. Member for Edmonton-South.
Mr. Dang:
Thank you, Madam Chair. It’s a pleasure to rise
tonight and speak to amendment – sorry; I forgot the number
there. I know you just said it. On Bill 32. I’d like to thank my
colleague from Edmonton-Mill Woods for introducing this
amendment. I think it’s certainly something that is important and
addresses some of the concerns that we had and also, I think, some
of the concerns that the minister indicated were his actual
intentions with this bill.
[Mr. Milliken in the chair]
I think that our leader, the Official Opposition leader, spoke quite
eloquently on some of the concerns in terms of the impacts it would
have on families, Mr. Chair. Welcome back. I think that certainly
there is an important realization when we look at legislation and we
look at what it is intended to do and we look at what it actually says
and we look at how we can make it better as we move forward.
Clearly, I don’t fault the minister’s intent here. I think the
minister has an interest when he says: we want to make sure that
this is as reasonable for employers as possible. We don’t want to –
and I think they said that it was $90 in some cases for employers to
do these out-of-cycle paycheques. I mean, okay. Sure. There is
some restriction on employers here, but I think certainly this
amendment actually captures what the minister is intending to say
and removes that burden from the employer, right? The minister
keeps saying in this place and outside as well that section 1(3) will
not allow an employer to keep the wages of a worker after
termination for 31 days, right? I think that the intention that the
minister keeps talking about is to allow employers to wait until the
next regular paycheque, and that is what would remove that $90
burden from employers. This amendment makes that abundantly
clear because the amendment says in subsection (a) “on the day
following the last day of employment on which wages would
normally have been paid to the employee.”
If this is indeed the intent of the minister, if this is indeed actually
what the minister means when he says that employers should find
efficiencies by not going out of cycle for paycheques, if it’s indeed
the intention so that employers will not be holding back pay longer
than one pay cycle – some employees, of course, we know get paid
weekly, biweekly, monthly, whatever it is; that will vary from
employer to employer and employee to employee – then this
removes that 31-day grace, which seems, in my opinion and I think
in many people’s opinion, excessive. Instead, it says that it either
has to be the normally scheduled pay, which removes that
redundancy, removes the exception, or within the 10 consecutive
days after the end of the pay period in which the termination of
employment occurs. I think this basically gives the employer a
couple of options. It gives the employer the option to pay them out
relatively quickly, in terms of immediately or within those 10 days,
or to say: well, you wouldn’t normally be paid for another two
weeks. It would be 14 days or 15 days, whatever it is, your next pay
cycle, so we’ll pay you then, on your normally scheduled
paycheque. I think those are some very reasonable things.
These are employees who have already earned this money, right?
They’ve already worked the hours. They’ve already done the work.
They’ve already put in the labour, whatever the employment may
be, and they’re owed this money. Like, they are legally entitled to
this money. It’s not something that they’re asking for in excess of
their pay. It’s not some sort of excess in termination or anything
like that. It’s simply that the money that they’ve already worked
for. At least on their next payday or within 10 consecutive days the
employer should pay them that money. I think that’s a very
reasonable ask.
I think it actually captures what the minister has been saying in
this place. I think if the government is actually true to their word
and actually believes in standing up for workers, if the government
actually understands what the minister is saying, and if the
government is actually being truthful when they talk about trying to
make this both fair for employers and employees, they will find that
this is a reasonable amendment. They will find that, in fact, this
amendment enhances the clarity of the intent of the legislation
because the legislation, as it currently stands, basically says that
employers have a blank cheque for 31 days to do whatever they
want. They could pay them out on day one. They can pay them out
on day 31, and that’s where it’s unreasonable, right?
If the intention is to prevent these out-of-pay-cycle paycheques,
if the intention is to remove this $90 burden, which I think the
Leader of the Opposition spoke quite eloquently to, about how for
those employees who have been terminated, that burden will likely
be for 60 per cent of Albertans well in excess of $90 when you start
adding in late payment charges, when you start adding in missed
rent, when you start adding in interest fees on credit cards, when
you start adding in interest fees on lines of credit, whatever it is, or
mortgage deferral interest, it turns out that for many of these
Albertans it will be well in excess of $90. If indeed we want to save
these employers 90 bucks and an employee that is regularly entitled