30 May Bill 17: Fair and Family-friendly Workplaces Act, 2nd Reading
Mr. Clark: Thank you very much, Madam Speaker. I appreciate the opportunity to speak to this amendment. I speak in favour of the amendment because there’s no question, in my mind, that not enough consultation has happened, that we need some more time. I’m going to go into specifically why I think we need more time and what we need more time to consider. My honourable friends from the other side seem to have a different view of that. I’m going to talk about specifically why I think we need to spend some more time on this bill.
First off, let me say that any time there’s the word “fair” in a bill title, I’m a little concerned. I worry a little bit about what spin the government is trying to put on it. I’m more of a fan of functional bill titles than the politicized bill titles, but here we are.
Look, there’s no question that aspects of this bill I’m enthusiastically in favour of. The job protected leave provisions are long overdue for change. When we look at compassionate care leave, I’m fascinated. It’s certainly about time Alberta came up to speed with the rest of the country, with the exception of B.C., interestingly enough, who only allows eight weeks within a 26-week period. It’s good to know that Alberta will be on par or similar, at least, to Manitoba, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, other parts of the country.
Maternity and parental leave. I was very fortunate to take three months with our first daughter 13 and a half years ago. It was the greatest experience of my life, without question. We were in a position, fortunately, where my wife and I were able to split our leave. It’s a time of my life I absolutely treasure. I think that all Albertans should have that opportunity, and aligning it with the EI program makes all the sense in the world.
The long-term illness and critical injury leave, the 16 weeks, again makes a lot of sense, as does the personal and family responsibility leave, five days’ job protection for personal sickness, short-term care of an immediate family member. Again, these on just human and compassionate grounds make all the sense in the world, and I enthusiastically support those changes as I do the changes on bereavement leave.
I am pleased to see that domestic violence leave is being added to Alberta legislation. As I hope the House knows, I’ve volunteered with HomeFront in the past in Calgary. It’s an area that I feel all of us have an obligation to set our minds to, addressing domestic violence in our society. I certainly very much support the government in their efforts to add this in.
Citizenship ceremony leave is not one I expected to see in there, but I’m pleased it’s there. It’s one of the things I get a chance to do here coming up in the next couple of weeks, attend a citizenship ceremony, and those are always remarkable days.
Critical illness of a child, death or disappearance of a child. Again, these are areas that we absolutely should have in legislation in this province, and I’m very supportive of that.
If the bill was carved into these two component pieces, it would be very easy, I think, for us to pass this through the Assembly very quickly. I think you would have, perhaps, some support for unanimous consent. I know that’s not going to happen, but it should. It should.
It’s pretty obvious, I think, where the government is coming from on this. You wrap up things that are positive with things that are controversial, and then if any opposition member votes against the things that are controversial, they get called out for not supporting the things that are positive. There’s a term for that, which is most certainly unparliamentary, and I won’t even come close to going there, to what that is. I suppose I could say it and then apologize and withdraw, but that would be cheeky. I won’t do that. That would be counter to the spirit of what we’re trying to achieve in this Assembly. I’m glad to see that I have the enthusiastic agreement of Madam Speaker on that.
You know, what I see in this bill, I mean, when you look at the size of it – I have the original bill that was dropped on first reading, the fateful first reading as we’ll all recall that remarkable day – is that very clearly there was a lot of work going on in this bill right to the very last minute, which is why it’s printed on eight and a half by 11 paper and not in its booklet form. I suspect the government went through several iterations right up to the last minute, eventually running out of time, and said: “All right. This is what we’re going with,” which is one of those clues that we really need to consider whether or not enough consultation, enough consideration has gone in.
Again, I’m going to go into some very specific clauses of the bill that I have concerns with, but let me just say this. What I see in particular in the labour code aspect of this bill – but I suppose to some degree it’s in, potentially, some areas of employment standards as well – is a particular philosophy which is going away from what has served Alberta very well for a long time. That philosophy that I see in Bill 17 is a philosophy that says that employers are out to try to get their employees and that we have to have all the protections in the world from these big, bad employers and that the employees are at such a disadvantage that we need to make sure that we have overwhelming protection around these employees.
The reality in Alberta – and this has served us very well for a couple of decades as you see from the labour peace that we’ve had in this province. The reality in the vast, vast, vast majority of cases is that employees and employers are partners in creating shared prosperity in their businesses. That is tremendously beneficial to this province. Do you know what that does? That creates tax revenue. That tax revenue funds very important social programs that Albertans rely on. That’s how it works. So the question of where the money comes from: why is it that someone would put their hard-earned dollars at risk investing in a business if there’s no likelihood of a return?
What this bill does is – look, this bill in and of itself is not going to cause capital to flee the province. It may. It may have some impact on that, but it’s another brick in the wall, it’s another bump in the road for anyone who may want to invest in Alberta, anyone who may want to consider expanding their business in Alberta. It’s that cumulative impact of all of the changes this government has brought in in its two years so far that I’m most concerned about.
I have a lot of questions about this bill and a lot of questions about what impact this is going to have on Alberta’s economy, an economy that I hope is ramping up and I hope is creating jobs and I hope is creating prosperity. What I worry is that this bill may in fact stifle that prosperity, stifle the growth in this province, and it won’t be as great or as big as it could be.
Let’s just step through some of the concerns I have and the questions that I have. Let me be very clear. It’s obviously a very long bill. My team and I are still going through it. There are aspects of the labour code, without question, that I’m sure I’ll end up supporting.
First off, the hybrid certification, the card check 65 per cent: it solves a problem we don’t have. How someone can think that anything other than a secret ballot is a legitimate way of making something happen – you know what I’d love? I’d like to spend the next two years door-knocking and getting my constituents in Calgary-Elbow to sign a piece of paper that says: we would like you to continue being MLA for Calgary-Elbow. If I get 65 per cent of my constituents to sign that piece of paper, no election. Does that sound pretty good? I imagine that would be pretty good. We could save some money, right? You know, that sounds good. Now, the 35 per cent of people who don’t sign my paper: now I know who they are, and we can have some different conversations at some other time.
That just feels wrong. Can you imagine if that’s how we were selected to sit in this Chamber? You just go around, and if you get 65 per cent of people to sign a piece of paper, no problem. It’s fundamentally wrong, fundamentally counter democratic.
An Hon. Member: It’s not as easy as you think.
Mr. Clark: It doesn’t matter how easy it is. It doesn’t matter how easy it is. The principle of a secret ballot is absolutely fundamental to democracy – fundamental – so to go away from that is certainly, clearly something I can’t support.
The timelines for certification have become shorter, more regulated. Again, I’m not convinced that this is helpful. I have questions about that.
The farm and ranch changes: I have some concerns and questions about this, frankly, from a property rights perspective. If union organizers must be given access to farm property if there are nonfamily farm workers working on that property, what are the implications for property rights for farmers and ranchers who have workers living on-site? Again, I don’t know the answer to that question.
I don’t have an answer to that question right now, but those are the kinds of things that we’re going to find out if we either split the bill in two – it sounds like it’s not going to happen – or, speaking to this amendment, we have an opportunity to take some time to do the job right, take some time to do the consultation to answer those sorts of questions, answer questions about dependent contractors. If we have people who are independent contractors or incorporated all of sudden getting caught up in a unionization drive, who had no intention of being part of it because they’re incorporated and because they are contractors: I’ve got some questions about that. As someone who worked in that mode, certainly I wouldn’t have expected to be unionized. That was part of the deal. I was able to work between different companies, different job sites.
The labour board procedures. There seems to be a lot of power heading towards the labour board. That may streamline the process. I’m a big fan of streamlining, and I certainly like a one-window approach to anything from a regulatory perspective.
I like the idea that there’s priority for disagreements regarding job loss. I actually have a constituent who’s really struggling with this right now, so I certainly would likely support something like that.
Again, I’m not convinced that we’ve heard enough from employers and union reps and employees on the implications of all of the things that are going to land on the desk of the labour board. Is this going to create a substantially increased workload? What does that mean in terms of resources required by the labour board? Who pays the freight? All these are questions that I have, that, again, I think, can be answered if we take some time to thoughtfully go through a consultation process and a study process. Once we get to committee, I can only imagine that we’re going to have some recommendations that we move this into committee.
The reverse onus clause seems like an interesting one. Again, I don’t know if this is comparable with the rest of the country. Based on my initial reading of it, it feels like what we’re seeing in Bill 17 is narrower than what we see in the rest of the country. That deserves, I think, some serious consideration and thought and input from Albertans.
The unfair practices pieces, the authority to certify or decertify where holding a vote has become impractical due to unfair labour practices, making a vote difficult, directed certification: I’d like to know how that compares to the rest of the country. I’d like to know what the implications of that are.
I’ve talked about the remote site access as it relates specifically to farming and ranching, but there are other areas.
What other points? Secondary picketing: do the provisions of Bill 17, in fact, align with the Supreme Court of Canada’s Pepsi-Cola ruling? I don’t know if they do or not. We’re still in the process of looking at that. Perhaps that’s something that we can answer here through the process of debate, but, again, I’d like to hear from a broad range of stakeholders, labour lawyers, others who may have some more expertise in that than I do.
You know, the MERFing and salting: that’s an interesting one. We had a long discussion about this this afternoon in my office, about MERFing in particular. It may very well be one of those things that is not actually, frankly, a big concern in our country. I know Alberta is the only province, to the best of my knowledge, that outlaws this. It may be one of those problems that we, frankly, don’t have. There could be no concerns in getting rid of that. I don’t know. Again, we’re looking into that.
But I do have concerns on eliminating and repealing the salting provisions. There are some examples that have been brought to me where you have a small number of seasonal workers who will come in for period of time. Perhaps they’ve been there for 90, 91 days. A large number of them come, and then they move on, and then there’s a relatively small number. Just to pick numbers off the top of my head, we have 10 permanent workers, and we have 100 people who come in on a temporary basis. One person said to me: “Well, I like the situation that we have. I’m one of those 10 permanent workers. I’m not particularly interested in being unionized, but if all of a sudden we only need 90 days before unionization can happen and we have this huge number of temporary workers who come in for 92 days, all of a sudden we’re unionized. Those folks go away, but now we’re in this position we don’t want to be in.” That’s an important, I think, and interesting question for us to both debate in this House but also hear from Albertans. So I have questions about that, and many, many, many more.
Madam Speaker, I think there’s absolutely no question in my mind that more consultation is required, that the 36 days of consultation this government did is not enough. [Mr. Clark’s speaking time expired] And there’s my time.
The Acting Speaker: Thank you, hon. member.