Speaker of the house Robert Wanner puts a pin on Alberta Premier Jason Kenney after being sworn in at the Alberta Legislature in Edmonton on Tuesday, May 21, 2019. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson)

Jason Kenney hands out earplugs during debate on unions’ bargaining rights

Alberta premier gives earplugs to United Conservative caucus members so they can tune out the NDP

Premier Jason Kenney passed out earplugs in the legislature overnight as his government invoked a time limit on debate over a bill that strips some bargaining rights for 180,000 public-sector workers.

The bill passed Thursday morning following an all-night session during which Kenney walked up and down the aisles dispensing bright-orange earplugs to United Conservative caucus members so they could tune out criticism from the Opposition NDP.

New Democrat Thomas Dang said he was making a speech to the house when Kenney made his move.

“He had a big grin on his face. He was giggling. And he sort of (said something) like, ‘Yeah, we don’t have to listen to them anymore, especially this Thomas guy,” said Dang.

“He sort of took it as a joke. And he thought that the whole process of this debate was a joke.”

Dang said the plugs were given to more than 20 UCP caucus members and at least six of them, including government house leader Jason Nixon, put them in their ears. He couldn’t say for sure whether Kenney used them.

Kenney was not made available for comment Thursday, but his office issued a brief statement:

“This was a harmless and light-hearted attempt to boost government caucus morale after being forced to listen to the NDP’s insults, lies and over-the-top rhetoric for hours on end,” said the statement.

Nixon echoed those remarks.

“It was a joke between members about the ridiculous speeches that were coming from the NDP,” he said.

The bill was introduced less than a week ago and Kenney’s government invoked time limits on all three stages of debate.

It delays contract provisions for reopened wage talks and binding arbitration for public-sector workers. Under current agreements, arbitration hearings must occur between now and the end of October.

Under the bill, the hearings begin no earlier than November.

The bill imposes the delay on unionized workers who took pay freezes in the first years of their contracts but with the right in the final year to negotiate wages.

Workers affected include nurses, social workers, hospital support staff, prison guards, conservation officers, toxicologists, restaurant inspectors, therapists and sheriffs.

Kenney said Thursday the UCP didn’t know about the wage reopeners until after the party won the April election. Once the government found out, it brought in the bill on the advice of Treasury Board and Finance, he said.

“The advice we received is that we needed to … hit the pause button on this arbitration until we could come to the table in good faith with all of the necessary requisite information.”

Unions have called the bill a drastic and illegal override of collective bargaining rights. They have promised to challenge the legislation in court but haven’t ruled out job action.

Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, said unions are considering their next step.

“If the premier thinks he can tear up contracts and trample on workers’ rights without a fight, he has another thing coming,” McGowan wrote in a release.

“Earplugs aren’t going to help him in weeks ahead because we can guarantee that if the UCP continues on this course, things are going to get really loud.”

Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

LETTER: Why are mobile lab workers not getting hazard pay?

A Pitt Meadows essential service worker questions why she and coworkers are not being compensated

PHOTOS: Maple Ridge Cubs conduct porch-based food drive

A Scouting from Home effort sees kids collecting non-perishables for the Friends In Need Food Bank

A second wave of COVID-19 is probable, if history tells us anything

B.C.’s top doctor says that what health officials have learned this round will guide response in future

LETTER: Hear your postie’s plea about dogs

When a canine bites, it’s seldom the animal but rather the owner at fault

Gifted tablet help connect patients with loved-ones

Amid COVID, Ridge Meadows Hospital continues to receive a variety of different kinds of donations

LIVE: Procession to honour Snowbirds Capt. Jennifer Casey comes to Halifax

Snowbirds service member died in a crash in Kamloops one week ago

Facing changes together: Your community, your journalists

Thanks for helping The News to continue its mission to provide trusted local news

RCMP facing ‘systemic sustainability challenges’ due to provincial policing role

Provinces, territories and municipalities pay anywhere from 70 to 90 per cent of the cost of the RCMP’s services

‘Not a joke’: Promoter wants to rocket-launch man the length of White Rock pier

Brooke Colby says he’s building an eight-foot rocket in his backyard

One man dead after standoff with Chilliwack RCMP

The Independent Investigations Office of B.C. is investigating the RCMP’s role in the death

B.C. employers worry about safety, cash flow, second wave in COVID-19 restart

A survey found 75 per cent of businesses worry about attracting customers

Ex-BC Greens leader Andrew Weaver says province came close to early election

Disagreement centred on the LNG Canada project in northern B.C.

Canada’s NHL teams offer options to season-ticket holders

Canadian teams are offering refunds, but also are pushing a number of incentives to let them keep the money

Boy, 2, left with ‘soft tissue injuries’ after being hit by car in Squamish intersection

Boy was release from hospital, police continue to investigate

Most Read