05 Jun Bill 17: Fair and Family-friendly Workplaces Act

Mr. Clark: Thank you very much, Madam Speaker. As I rise to speak to third reading of Bill 17, I truly wish that it was two bills because I am absolutely enthusiastically in support of the changes to employment standards, especially as it relates to job-protected leave. I’d probably vote in favour of the employment standards portion of this bill. If that was a stand-alone bill, I absolutely would have easily voted for it, and I suspect this entire House would have as well. I’d proudly vote in favour of job-protected leaves like bereavement leave, compassionate care leave, parental leave, leave for victims of domestic violence, long-term illness and injury leave, leave for attending a citizenship ceremony. These are very good changes. They’re good for Albertans, and they are welcome.

But, unfortunately, the changes to the labour code did not provide the same benefits that were found in the changes to employment standards, and I couldn’t support the changes to the labour code. So here at third reading, Madam Speaker, I will be voting against Bill 17 based on the changes that are contained for the labour code and to the labour code alone.

While the government calls this a modernization, what they really are repealing are modern policy measures. Innovative ideas like the secret ballot seem to have gone away. This bill and this government aim to increase the ease and frequency of unionization and union density in Alberta while directly increasing costs for business. Now, like I say, I strongly support job-protected leave, but now is not the time to put in additional barriers and cumulative impacts for industry and small business in this province. Albertans who want to join a union can do that today. They don’t need the help of a union-friendly government to help expand the footprints of unions in this province.

One of my biggest concerns is how rushed this bill was. The NDP introduced two pages of amendments here after midnight and pushed them through the Legislature with virtually no time for the opposition to review them. Before the bill was introduced, there were very few actual consultations that directly involved employers and employees. Now, talking to just employer and union advocacy organizations absolutely must be supplemented with public consultation and meaningful dialogue with employers and employees and all Albertans, and on this the NDP badly missed the mark. The government should have consulted on the draft legislation throughout the summer, like they did with the MGA, to give all Albertans an opportunity for input on the dramatic changes proposed to Alberta’s labour code. I sincerely fear, Madam Speaker, that there will be serious unintended consequences.

The process on Bill 17 was an absolute failure. From start to finish it failed and showed how little the NDP care, really, about what Albertans need, especially those in the business sector. I specifically don’t like getting rid of the secret ballot provision, Madam Speaker. They refused our amendment to increase accountability of the card check process. They continually reminded the House and Albertans how long it’s been since the legislation was reviewed and then rejected multiple attempts to establish a mandatory review period. The last-minute amendments with very little time for us to review that and consider the implications of that were very disrespectful, I think, to the House and to members. The changes to overtime pay, without allowing employers time to adjust, is yet another brick in the wall that business owners in this province have to face as a result of this government.

The specific changes in this bill are troubling enough on their own, but when added up with all the other changes this government has brought in, it makes it increasingly difficult to start a business in Alberta, it makes it increasingly difficult to expand a business in Alberta, it causes companies to want to look at other jurisdictions, and for the companies that are looking to be located in Alberta, it causes them to think twice. These sorts of changes cause a flight of capital out of our province, Madam Speaker, and that impacts the prosperity of all Albertans. When Albertans are not as prosperous, they pay less tax, which means we have less money to fund important social programs, which I know this government believes in. The money has to come from somewhere.

What we have in this province is a strong track record of very good relationships between employers and employees, a true partnership, and that is what I don’t think this government understands. Hearing the debate here in this House on Bill 17 lays bare the bias this government has and the true belief they have about business and how the terrible business owners are only out to take advantage of the poor workers. Well, you know what, Madam Speaker? It’s very important that we protect people who need protection. There’s absolutely no question. There are changes in this bill, especially to employment standards, which achieve that goal, and I’m enthusiastically in favour of and supportive of them. But there are other changes which do nothing more than constrain business in a way that’s unhelpful, which causes capital to flee our province, and that is not good for Alberta.

For those reasons, I will be voting against Bill 17.

Thank you.