Happy Alberta Day!
Whoops, I meant Canada Day. Sorry.
Same difference, though. As any astute observer can see clearly, the Albertanization of Canada continues apace under the heavy hand of transplanted Ontarian Stephen Harper’s Revised and Reactive Reform Party of Canada, or whatever their focus groups have them calling themselves this year.
It’s the Conservative Party of Canada at the moment, I think, a moniker that must have that great Canadian patriot John A. Macdonald, founder of a party with a somewhat similar name, spinning in his grave fast enough to send up puffs of smoke.
The latest example of the Albertanization process is the Harper government’s autocratic, punitive and most likely unconstitutional approach to ending the labour dispute at Canada Post, and its successful application of the threat to do the same thing at Air Canada.
While there is plenty of outrage at this legislation, what is not yet widely understood in the rest of Canada is the extent to which the Conservative braintrust of neo-Cons, batty (publicly paid) right-wing academics, corporate “think tankers” and their ilk have been influenced by the petroleum-driven political culture of this province. This is a place with a monochromatic mainstream media, worshipful attitude toward American-style ideological extremism and reflexive anti-labour attitudes and practices that have been reflected literally for generations in Alberta’s legislation.
So, for example, it has been illegal in Alberta for decades for essentially any publicly employed government or health care worker to strike, with the alternative of an often-employer-biased arbitration process to legally resolve disputes. In health care, a number of mechanisms also allow employers to get the strike ban temporarily or permanently extended to many workers in the private and not-for-profit sectors.
The system works as well as it does, in my personal view, more through the good will and common sense of a number of employer representatives, including many senior employees of the Alberta Public Service Commission, than through the decency or democratic instincts of a majority of so-called conservative politicians at the provincial level.
This situation is taken to almost laughable lengths in Alberta. Here, for example, workers in franchise sandwich shops that happen to be located on the premises of health care facilities may not be allowed legally to strike, the risible theory apparently being that patients literally couldn’t survive without sub sauce on their cold-cut classic cheese and baloney sandwiches. Talk about your essential health-care service!
Regardless of whether this Alberta approach to labour law has been particularly effective at preventing illegal strikes – and my observation would be that it has not – it is the ham-handed and dictatorial “new normal” that the Conservative braintrust behind Prime Minister Harper now seems to want to put in place in the rest of Canada.
So when on June 26 the Conservative majority bulled through the legislation forcing members of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers not only to return to work but to accept a deal designed on the face of it to reinforce the employer’s bargaining goal, they were only imposing the old Alberta normal on the rest of Canada.
Ditto when they succeeded in bullying Air Canada baggage handlers represented by the Canadian Auto Workers into accepting a concessionary deal while making same fatuous claim they were protecting the economy.
Count on it, however, within days this government will again be proclaiming the economy as “robust,” thanks to their wise stewardship. But then, doublethink is also an essential component of Alberta’s political culture.
This is why, for example, odious Conservative attack advertisements making up facts about various Liberal leaders cause not a ripple of reaction here, but a mildly critical ad suggesting a Conservative premier might not have had a plan is the subject of bitter commentary and unconstitutional legislation years after its final appearance. This is true even though the fact the premier in question did not have a plan is now manifestly apparent to everyone in the province.
Speaking of unconstitutional legislation, the constitutionality of the Canada Post back-to-work law will be tested in the courts by CUPW. However, it is reasonable to predict that the Albertanized Harper government will try hard to delay the process as long as it can while it works to weaken that union, another venerable Alberta labour relations tactic.
If it succeeds at that, even if its law is eventually overturned by the courts as seems probable, it is unlikely that the government will need to make use of the constitutional escape hatch provided by the Charter’s “Notwithstanding Clause” since then the damage will have already been done.
The Harper government’s knee-jerk responses to the labour disputes at Air Canada and Canada Post are just further evidence of the ongoing Albertanization of the rest of this country.
So, Happy Alberta Day, Canada. Get used to it! You’ll be seeing a lot more like it now that Mr. Harper has his majority!
This post also appears on rabble.ca.