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Wednesday, February 08, 2012 

Labour Ruling A Blow To Premier Brad Wall's image

REGINA -- Critical in the subtle battle for the hearts and minds of those in the so-called "new Saskatchewan" has been the portrayal of the self-entitled left of the "old Saskatchewan".

Or at least, that's what the soundtrack of Premier Brad Wall's Saskatchewan Party government has been since its 2007 election win: that the real hardworking taxpayers of the province shall no longer be bullied by left-wing elitists who abused the unearned and elevated status they received during years of NDP government.

Admittedly, it hasn't always been Wall's government itself directly delivering that message. In fairness to Wall, bullying people in that way has never been a characteristic associated with this pleasant and jovial family-oriented man. But that hasn't stopped others in the new media, the old media and the business community from sometimes doing exactly that in their eagerness to convince us that the bane of Saskatchewan's existence has been the self-interested left.

The Sask. Party government says we can never look at changing potash royalties? Of course we can't, says the ever-present hallelujah chorus in this province. Regardless of how profitable the potash companies are, mere examination of a more equitable royalty structure benefitting Saskatchewan taxpayers would discourage mine expansion. And as we also all know, those who want mine expansion stopped are the unions (which would actually benefit from more good-paying jobs). As with most rhetoric, this, too, has become illogically silly.

Nor has the Wall government propaganda machine been shy about less-directly implying the same thing - especially on the labour front. The government's labour fight has always been with labour's leaders - not the rank-and-file workers, who are always somehow duped into voting for strikes by leaders working against the new Saskatchewan's interests. Such is the stranglehold of this mighty union leadership that the Sask. Party government must free the rank-and-file from the shackles of leaders eager to waste precious union dues on election ads critical of the government.

Of course, provincial labour leaders have sometimes acted in a way that's underpinned the "new Saskatchewan" narrative. Hiking dues to pay for anti-government ads just before an election or threatening to pull out essential snowplow operators before the biggest blizzard in a century would be prime examples.

But if one is still under the misguided impression that union leaders alone have been guilty of such bullying, one should read Court of Queen's Bench Justice Dennis Ball's ruling, which found the Sask. Party government's essential services law to be unconstitutional.

Admittedly, it wasn't a complete victory for the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour (SFL), which had launched a challenge of the constitutionality of both the Essential Services and Trade Union Amendment acts. Ball - the chair of the Grant Devine government's Labour Relations Board long before being called to the bench - upheld the Trade Union Act Amendments and supported the government's right to impose an essential services law.

But in the way the essential services law has been written in Saskatchewan, the government has infringed on the right to strike or even bargain collectively, as protected under Section 2 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Ball wrote in his decision, released Monday afternoon. "The Public Service Essential Services Act infringes on those rights by empowering all public sector employers to make non-reviewable decisions that effectively preclude the capacity of their employees to engage in meaningful strike action."

Ball chastised the "serious flaws" in an act that doesn't have an adequate dispute-resolution process and hammered the Sask. Party - which said, weeks before its 2007 election win, that an essential services law wasn't even needed - for proceeding with the act before consulting. "No other essential services legislation in Canada comes close to prohibiting the right to strike as broadly, and as significantly, as the PSES Act," Ball added.

So after years of being told the only issue here was squawking union leaders too used to getting their own way, we have been told by a learned court justice that Saskatchewan workers, essentially, have been bullied by the government's bill.

It's a ruling that's a blow to the Wall government ... and its entire narrative.

Murray Mandryk

(Political columnist for the Leader-Post)
Regina Leader-Post

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