If the deputy premier wants free speech for Ukraine so badly, why is he attacking it in Alberta?

Alberta Deputy Premier Thomas Lukaszuk in the Rotunda of the Alberta Legislature. Note, in the background at left, Wildrose Opposition Leader Danielle Smith. Below, a recent Twitter message from Mr. Lukaszuk, an inveterate and confrontational Tweeter, who thinks your free speech rights are a matter of LOL and #wink.

Last weekend, Alberta Deputy Premier Thomas Lukaszuk was in Edmonton’s Churchill Square enthusiastically demanding free speech and recognition of other fundamental rights for citizens of Ukraine.

Premier Alison Redford’s second in command told his listeners he recalled being in Kiev in 2004, observing the Orange Revolution: “Never again should there be a time in Ukraine that protests would have to be sparked in favour of democracy, but unfortunately that wasn’t so.”

Presumably his speechifying was well received.

But if the Polish-born Mr. Lukaszuk is so in favour of free speech and democracy in Eastern Europe, how come he’s attacking it in Alberta?

This is a reasonable question that should be answered by Mr. Lukaszuk, who is one of the principal architects behind the anti-union legislation now being rammed through the Legislature by the Alberta’s spineless Progressive Conservative caucus without a whinny of protest or principle.

Bills 45 and 46, after all, include an egregious attack on the free-speech rights of all Albertans, and make a mockery of the ideas of due process, free association and natural justice. As Calgary Herald columnist Don Braid, who I can tell you from personal experience is not exactly a rabid trade unionist, said yesterday: It’s hard to imagine a more blatant violation of free speech.”

Indeed, if you’d tried a stunt like this in Kiev this week, you could have expected streets full of angry citizens armed with gasoline bombs, manning barricades and preparing for an illegal general strike.

Mr. Lukaszuk has his fingerprints all over the matched set of unconstitutional bills rammed through Legislature by the PC Party’s cowed and unprincipled backbenchers – laws that have also had better-behaved crowds of protesters braving the chill in the streets of Edmonton, Calgary and Lethbridge.

This is easy to forget because Finance Minister Doug Horner and Human Services Minister Dave Hancock, both of whose public images retain a few tattered shreds of respectability, have served as the human faces charged with making excuses for the excesses of Bills 45 and 46.

But of the lot, it was Mr. Lukaszuk who was best positioned to push forward his agenda as the chair of the secretive Public Sector Resource Committee, a little-known body that oversees the government’s direct and almost-direct negotiations with unionized civil servants and other public employees.

In the past, Mr. Lukaszuk has said the committee’s role is to impose uniformity on all public sector labour contracts. Revealingly, he told the Edmonton Sun a few days ago that the meaningless decision to “freeze” MLA salaries until after the next election at $156,311 plus generous benefits, in the words of the Sun’s reporter, “will give himself and the committee ‘the moral authority, in a way’ for continued negotiations with AUPE.”

Considering that the MLAs just got finished giving themselves a 71.5-per-cent pay raise last spring – and, no, that’s not a typo – that’s not much of a position of moral authority!

Mr. Lukaszuk, who is also advanced education minister in Ms. Redford’s cabinet, also told the Sun negotiated agreements “may not be ideal because they mean compromise” – although in the case of Bill 46, the government seems to have solved the problem of having to compromise when it comes to “negotiating” with the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees. That is to say, there are no negotiations, only orders.

Certainly Mr. Lukaszuk and the other members of the committee knew that the government had already agreed to go to arbitration to find an agreement with AUPE when in an act of bad faith they pulled Bills 45 and 46 out of their hats.

It cannot be known with absolute certainty what prompted Mr. Lukaszuk’s apparent vendetta against AUPE in particular, and labour organizations in general, although we have to presume it’s not merely part of a plot to enrich constitutional lawyers with, in Mr. Braid’s delightful phrase, “sugar plum dreams of Supreme Court of Canada arguments dancing in their heads.”

But the public service labour scene in Alberta in the months leading up to the bills’ introduction suggest a plausible interpretation of events in which the confrontational minister – infamous for such shenanigans as a doorstep shoving match with an elderly Wildrose supporter suffering from asthma and liver failure – was infuriated by labour’s refusal to knuckle under to his bullying like a terrified university administrator.

Last April, about 2,500 AUPE Correctional Officers walked off the job in a wildcat strike provoked by the government’s attempts to discipline guards who had complained about dangerous working conditions at the then-new Edmonton Remand Centre.

Both the fanciful costs of this strike dreamed up by the Redford Government and the all-too-real inconvenience it caused have been used as a government talking point to justify the introduction of Bills 45 and 46.

But the illegal strike was neither encouraged nor desired by AUPE’s leadership, which in fact worked desperately behind the scenes to bring the dispute to a quick resolution.

The seeds of the push for Bill 46 in particular, including such childish touches as specifically not allowing AUPE to collect union dues on a lump-some payment in Year 2, are surely connected to the fact Mr. Lukaszuk’s trustworthiness was called into question by AUPE when the deal that ended the strike unraveled in public.

When AUPE President Guy Smith met Mr. Lukaszuk alone in an Edmonton restaurant on April 29 and made the deal, Mr. Smith went out the door sincerely believing the deputy premier had agreed to an amnesty for the ringleaders.

But when it emerged media viewed the agreement as a climb-down for tough-guy Lukaszuk, who just hours before had vowed never to talk to the union while the strike continued, the government quickly changed its story. Eventually, several AUPE members were severely disciplined.

AUPE subsequently filed an unfair labour practice complaint with the Alberta Labour Relations Board in which it said its members felt “betrayed by the government and AUPE and take the position that they were tricked into returning to work.”

The government’s childish response to that was to file a statement calling Mr. Smith a liar who intentionally misled his own members – and then to ensure the confidential filing was leaked to the media.

It’s never been clearly established just who slipped the package to the press, but when the dust settled, the effect of the juvenile gesture was to persuade even more voters the Redford Government could not be trusted to keep any promise.

Days before, using freedom of information requests, the Alberta Federation of Labour and a CBC investigative journalist both revealed yet another example of Mr. Lukaszuk’s modus operandi, dating back to 2011 in the dying days of premier Ed Stelmach’s government.

Then the employment minister, Mr. Lukaszuk had tried to introduce a review of labour legislation without telling any unions about it, the CBC reported. Well, there was one exception: the Christian Labour Association of Canada, a controversial organization favoured by many employers to keep traditional unions out of their workplaces.

Late 2011 seemed an odd time to launch a review, with the government about to change leaders. And the make-up of the two-member review panel hardly inspired confidence – a lawyer with tight connections to the government and another well known for his anti-union views.

However, the CBC and AFL researcher Tony Clark provided a possible explanation for those circumstances.

They published correspondence netted through the FOI request that showed how a group of anti-union contractors (some working with CLAC) tried to tie generous support of the PC Party to specific changes they wanted in the Alberta Labour Code.

The evidence presented by the CBC suggested several influential government members – including Ms. Redford and Mr. Lukaszuk – enthusiastically entertained the group’s lobbying efforts, although they must have known only one member, the virulently anti-union Merit Contractors, was registered as a lobbyist.

By the 2012 election campaign, many of the group’s ideas had made it into the PC Party’s official election platform, where they can be found on page 30. Not long after that, the premier’s staff received a withering letter from a leader of the group that rebuked the PCs for moving too slowly on the file.

The net effect of these revelations was the impression Alberta’s anti-union construction companies demanded, and very nearly got, the chance to write their own governing legislation thanks to a sympathetic employment minister.

It is hard to believe these embarrassing circumstances had no impact the vindictive and unconstitutional final form taken by Bills 45 and 46.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

14 Comments on "If the deputy premier wants free speech for Ukraine so badly, why is he attacking it in Alberta?"

  1. anonymous says:

    What Kenney said….
    Union Sundown
    Well, my shoes, they come from Singapore
    My flashlight’s from Taiwan
    My tablecloth’s from Malaysia
    My belt buckle’s from the Amazon
    You know, this shirt I wear comes from the Philippines
    And the car I drive is a Chevrolet
    It was put together down in Argentina
    By a guy makin’ thirty cents a day

    Well, it’s sundown on the union
    And what’s made in the U.S.A.
    Sure was a good idea
    ’Til greed got in the way

    Well, this silk dress is from Hong Kong
    And the pearls are from Japan
    Well, the dog collar’s from India
    And the flower pot’s from Pakistan
    All the furniture, it says “Made in Brazil”
    Where a woman, she slaved for sure
    Bringin’ home thirty cents a day to a family of twelve
    You know, that’s a lot of money to her

    Well, it’s sundown on the union
    And what’s made in the U.S.A.
    Sure was a good idea
    ’Til greed got in the way

    Well, you know, lots of people complainin’ that there is no work
    I say, “Why you say that for
    When nothin’ you got is U.S.–made?”
    They don’t make nothin’ here no more
    You know, capitalism is above the law
    It say, “It don’t count ’less it sells”
    When it costs too much to build it at home
    You just build it cheaper someplace else

    Well, it’s sundown on the union
    And what’s made in the U.S.A.
    Sure was a good idea
    ’Til greed got in the way

    Well, the job that you used to have
    They gave it to somebody down in El Salvador
    The unions are big business, friend
    And they’re goin’ out like a dinosaur
    They used to grow food in Kansas
    Now they want to grow it on the moon and eat it raw
    I can see the day coming when even your home garden
    Is gonna be against the law

    Well, it’s sundown on the union
    And what’s made in the U.S.A.
    Sure was a good idea
    ’Til greed got in the way

    Democracy don’t rule the world
    You’d better get that in your head
    This world is ruled by violence
    But I guess that’s better left unsaid
    From Broadway to the Milky Way
    That’s a lot of territory indeed
    And a man’s gonna do what he has to do
    When he’s got a hungry mouth to feed

    Well, it’s sundown on the union
    And what’s made in the U.S.A.
    Sure was a good idea
    ’Til greed got in the way

    Copyright © 1983 by Special Rider Music

  2. Mark Roseman says:

    Duhh… union members and supporters are de facto terrorists, who should be stripped of their citizenship, and who therefore have no right to free speech. Ipso facto oilo pumpo. QED.

  3. Janice Epp says:

    @Mark: thats what they say of everyone who seeks freedom of speech in a country that squashes it inorder to retain power, also known as a dictatorship. I am proud to be associated with a union that fights to keep YOU safe in a hospital. Even though I allow you to voice your opinions however inaccurate they are.
    Well written article and very noteworthy.

  4. Joel Teeling says:

    With all due respect, I think suggesting the new legislation in Alberta is equivalent to communist restrictions in Eastern Europe is a tremendous overstatement. Much like the Wildrose, who made the gross overstatement that Alberta’s deficit is (or could be) reminiscent to that of Greece.

    Regardless of your opinion on Bills 45 & 46 (I’m not for or against the bills, as both sides of the argument have merit) suggesting our free speech is being confiscated is a true overstatement.

    Debate is healthy, sensationalizing issues is not.

    • Excuse me, Russia hasn’t been a Communist state since 1991 and the situation in Ukraine that has Mr. Lukaszuk’s knickers in a twist is happening right now. As for our free speech not being “confiscated,” as you put it, how is the situation in Alberta and Ukraine that different right now? Some things you’re allowed to talk about, some things you’re not. Our Constitution says we enjoy freedom of expression, not freedom of expression about stuff the provincial government approves. Yes, things in Ukraine aren’t as bad as when it was under the thumb of thew Communists – who, you might argue, are the same people running Russia today. And, yeah, things in Alberta aren’t as bad as when ti was under the thumb of Social Credit – who, you might argue, are the same people running Alberta today.

  5. Sam Gunsch says:

    20+ years of overtly corporatist governance in Alberta.

    Mark Lisac (1993) excerpts Edm Jnl column:

    1. “When I look at the way things are going and write about a drift toward a corporate state I mean a different method of government, not just a government influenced by business.”

    2. “… tends to stifle criticism on grounds that the people have spoken, although some people have a stronger voice than others while some may have no say at all. It tends to devalue debate. It separates political decisions from elections.”

    e.g. : “…a group of anti-union contractors (some working with CLAC) tried to tie generous support of the PC Party to specific changes they wanted in the Alberta Labour Code.”

    corporatism def’n, an excerpt: “The state determines which organizations will be recognized as legitimate and forms an unequal partnership of sorts with such organizations. The associations sometimes even get channelled into the policy-making processes and often help implement state policy on the government’s behalf. ”
    2008. Encyclopedia Britannica Online

    e.g “… the employment minister, Mr. Lukaszuk had tried to introduce a review of labour legislation without telling any unions about it, the CBC reported. Well, there was one exception: the Christian Labour Association of Canada, a controversial organization favoured by many employers to keep traditional unions out of their workplaces..”

    see also: John Ralston Saul argues that most Western societies are best described as corporatist states, run by a small elite of professional and interest groups, that exclude political participation from the citizenry. http://www.reference.com/browse/wiki/Corporatism

    Contemporary popular (as opposed to social science) usage of the term is more pejorative, emphasizing the role of business corporations in government decision-making at the expense of the public. The power of business to affect government legislation through lobbying and other avenues of influence in order to promote their interests is usually seen as detrimental to those of the public.

    More Mark Lisac observations (1993) on corporatism emerging under Klein:

    Gov’t sorting out who’s in control: [Final Edition]
    LISAC, MARK. Edmonton Journal 17 Sep 1993: 12. search.proquest.com.ezproxy.ae.talonline.ca
    1. “The public has spotty involvement. Professionals in the system are wondering what’s going on. The legislature has been largely cut out of the decisions.
    Who is running things here?
    That’s far more than a rhetorical question.
    Someone will end up running things. Who it is will say a lot about what kind of government we have. ”

    2. excerpt re one dominant corporatist method of governance: “The round table was an attempt to move public policy matters out of the hands of elected politicians and into the hands of another body largely made up of people directly involved with the industry.”

    3. “As a general concept… hardly new. It smacks of a theory pushed in various forms around Europe and North America over the last two centuries; different versions went under names like syndicalism or corporatism. The old United Farmers of Alberta embraced a variant with their theory of group government.
    When I look at the way things are going and write about a drift toward a corporate state I mean a different method of government, not just a government influenced by business.”

    4. “… tends to stifle criticism on grounds that the people have spoken, although some people have a stronger voice than others while some may have no say at all. It tends to devalue debate. It separates political decisions from elections.
    Whether embraced by unions or by business, in the 1800s or the 1900s, the effect of such ideas has always been the same: to make it easier for part of society to impose its will on another part.”

    See also, Mark Lisac’s book The Klein Revolution for detailed explication of Klein PC’s in joint-venture governance of AB with industry sectors. e.g. TransAlta almost a shadow government. Hence, electricity deregulation, hence billions for powerlines paid by citizens for export of coal electricity to USA.

    Ralph Dabbs on AB’s governance in 2006 on Tyee.ca.

    re AB under Klein… “…the first functional post-democratic government in North America, run by elites for elites — with the citizenry left on political standby to profit from a predatory economy if it can, and otherwise to fend for itself.”

    Here: http://thetyee.ca/Views/2006/09/08/RalphKlein/
    Dabbs excerpts:
    1. “So what is Ralph Klein’s legacy? Nothing less than a total transformation of how Albertans are governed.
    2. “Having served his political apprenticeship in municipal politics, which has no parliamentary tradition and no party lines, Klein came to the provincial legislature with no respect for the Canadian tradition of representative, responsible government. He showed little civility toward opposition members of the legislature and scant respect for their constitutional office.
    He began the path to post-democracy by severing the legislative assembly from the legislative process.”
    3. “Post-democratic process
    In post-democratic Alberta, the opposition has no meaningful role in the legislative process because the legislature’s committees function like committees of the Conservative caucus. Opposition members attend them only at the pleasure of the government and never participate in votes unless the Tories wish it. This means opposition MLAs are excluded from effective participation in debating and amending bills on second reading. They are denied the policy inquiry and review opportunities that legislative standing committees normally enjoy in the British parliamentary model.
    In the absence of an effective, representative, responsible legislature, new mechanisms have evolved to carry out policy scrutiny, development and review.

    When the advent of coalbed methane production created a firestorm of opposition from rural and environmental activists, the government established an elaborate public consultation process called the “multi-stakeholder advisory committee” (MAC). The government named representatives from its choice of “a broad range of stakeholder groups.”

    and AB like USA…


    : ‘For instance, liberal critic Robert Reich, the former Secretary of Labor under President Bill Clinton, refers to America’s changing political landscape as a “shrinking democracy.”[39] For Reich, democracy necessitates three things: “(1) Important decisions are made in the open. (2) The public and its representatives have an opportunity to debate them, so the decisions can be revised in light of what the public discovers and wants. And (3) those who make the big decisions are accountable to voters.”[40] If we apply Reich’s notion of democracy, then it becomes evident that the use of the term democracy is neither theoretically apt nor politically feasible at the current historical moment as a description of the United States.

    All of the conditions he claims are crucial for a democracy are now undermined by financial and economic interests that control elections, buy off political representatives, and eliminate those public spheres where real dialogue and debate can take place. It is difficult to imagine that anyone looking at a society in which an ultra-rich financial elite and megacorporations have the power to control almost every aspect of politics—from who gets elected to how laws are enacted—could possibly mistake this social order and system of government for a democracy.

  6. Sam Gunsch says:

    Today’s oil/tarsands news item below seems related to Lisac (1993) re corporatism: “…although some people have a stronger voice than others while some may have no say at all.”

    2013 AB corporatism gets more assertive…

    Oilsands environmental agency in danger of folding
    By Sheila Pratt, Edmonton Journal December 4, 2013 9:00 PM

    excerpt: “CEMA’s reports are all released to the public.”

    excerpt: ““… we discuss everything in detail, we all have equal voice at the table and it’s one of the few places that happens,” he said.”"

    excerpt: “This is the second year the oil industry has balked at funding CEMA, the Cumulative Environmental Management Association.

    excerpt: “Industry may be reluctant to continue funding because CEMA decisions don’t always go their way, Loutitt said.”

    excerpt: “The oil industry argued that a new association of oil companies called COSIA, the Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance, could take over the scientific and technical work that CEMA does for government. Or CEMA’s work could be taken over by the three-year Joint Oilsands Monitoring program (JOSM).
    But COSIA is very different as it involves only the energy industry while CEMA brings all parties — First Nations, environmentalists and governments — to the discussions of how to clean up the oilsands, said Stuckless.”

  7. Sam Gunsch says:

    Citizens ensuring their pleas for government help aren’t misunderstood as disloyalty to AB’s corporatist governors… excerpts below from a website linked in an email appeal received tonight:

    excerpt: “The purpose of this website is not to destroy our most lucrative industries nor is it to send Baytex Energy COO Marty Proctor back to Calgary with his tail between his legs. Our goal is to shed light on conditions that shouldn’t be permitted to exist anywhere, but especially in a prosperous province like Alberta.”"

    I take this as evidence of the lack of a functioning democratic system of governance. Ordinary AB citizens subjected to poisonous pollution believe it’s necessary to also declare loyalty to industry to avoid alienating their government/industry corporatist governors against them in their pleas for help.


    Are we still citizens or have we been reduced to subjects, when AB citizens seeking basic protection against poisonous pollution think it’s also necessary in AB to make it clear that you aren’t suggesting you are dissing the petro-economy, even when your life is threatened.

    excerpt: “We want Baytex to be accountable for emissions forcing us out of our homes.”

    excerpt: “We don’t consider ourselves “tree huggers” or “environmental activists.” We’re Albertans that believe in financial prosperity but not at any cost.”"

    excerpt: “The oil and gas industries are the backbone of Alberta’s economic wellbeing.”
    excerpt: ” Alberta’s Tar Sands Pollution Refugees

    excerpt: “A member of the Energy Resource Conservation Board (Alberta’s lacklustre energy regulator) told Labrecque this week that low levels of hydrogen sulfide (H2S) had most likely poisoned the family but that the board had no rules for controlling low levels of H2S.”

    For some years now, I believe, many AB citizens understand AB governance/politics have degenerated so far from a democratic system concerned with the public good, into a corporatist system based in large part on the expectation of loyalty to vested interests, that they know it’s useful or perhaps necessary, before criticizing industry/government for failing to protect them, that they must first proclaim loyalty to the petro-economy, and explicitly differentiate themselves from other AB’s who might dissent/protest against corporatist governance, (as in Redford’s I have no time for protestors because the don’t have solutions), when they appeal for support of their fellow citizens. Some sort of corporatism induced McCarthyism? Modern feudalism? Subjects rather than citizens?

    My heart goes out to these people. In my volunteer and paid work I’ve met many like them in rural AB. It’s sad and borderline surreal the extent to which industry rules/governs jointly with the PC’s, and now also holds a wildrose trump card.

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