The Court of Appeal of Alberta has ruled in favour of the province and overturned the injunction to Bill 9, which delays wage arbitration with unions.
Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE) president Guy Smith said Albertans need to be “extremely concerned.”
“This government does not care about the principles of free collective bargaining, of respecting front-line workers who provide essential services to the people across the province,” he told reporters on Friday. “This government … is standing up for the rich and powerful in this province.
“Our members are very angry because of Bill 9, and even angrier now because of what the blue-ribbon panel reported.”
Bill 9, the Public Sector Wage Arbitration Deferral Act, was passed by the United Conservative government in June. It puts off wage arbitration with about 70,000 public sector workers until the end of October, to allow the government to respond to what it called “significant changes” in Alberta’s economy.
The AUPE, which was involved in wage arbitration at the time, sought a temporary court injunction, arguing Bill 9 was an attack on collective bargaining rights and an interference with a negotiated contact. The United Nurses of Alberta intervened in the case.
In July, the Court of Queen’s Bench granted the injunction.
Finance Minister Travis Toews said Friday’s decision to overturn the injunction allows the government to make “prudent economic decisions … during a time of fiscal restraint.”
“Our government has great respect and admiration for the work of Alberta’s public sector, and I look forward to constructive discussions with union leadership as we seek the best value for the hard-earned dollars that Albertans pay for our public services in this difficult economic climate,” he said in a news release.
‘Errors of law and misinterpreted evidence’: province
In the province’s August appeal of the injunction, government lawyer Alan Meikle argued Queen’s Bench Justice Eric Macklin made errors of law and misinterpreted evidence.
The government appealed on five grounds, chief among them that the AUPE hadn’t proved it would suffer “irreparable” harm if Bill 9 is allowed to go forward.
Meikle also said AUPE presented “no countervailing public interest” that outweighs public interest in enforcing legislation.
Patrick Nugent, appearing for AUPE, said Macklin’s reasons were sound and argued the appeal should be dismissed.
The majority, which consisted of Justices Jack Watson and Frans Slatter, set aside the injunction in a written ruling Friday.
“The decision under appeal … rests on errors of principle, and is unreasonable. The factual and other findings with respect to irreparable harm and the balance of convenience reflect palpable and overriding error,” they wrote.
Justice Marina Paperny wrote a dissenting ruling.
“The chambers judge considered the stated purposes of Bill 9 and the related public interest of the legislation,” she wrote. “I see no basis to interfere in the chambers judge’s finding these to be legitimate public interests.”
Headed to the Supreme Court?
Smith said AUPE is reviewing the ruling.
“We recognize that it wasn’t a unanimous decision,” he said. “We’re going to see if we can seek leave at the Supreme Court, if that’s deemed prudent.”
A challenge against Bill 9’s constitutionality is also still to be heard in court, he noted.
The AUPE contract, which expires in 2020, provided for periodic wage renegotiations and was signed under the previous NDP government. As part of the deal, AUPE agreed to two years of wage freezes followed by a reopening of wage talks this year.
After forming government, the UCP appointed a “blue ribbon” panel to review Alberta’s finances with a view to balancing the provincial budget by fiscal 2022-23.
Bill 9 says the government needs to “fully consider” the Aug. 15 final report and advice prior to wage arbitration hearings.
With files from Jonny Wakefield