Alex Binkley on ending the CP strike

Alex Binkley is a foremost political and economic analyst, whose website is Readers will be aware that his columns in True North Perspective have foreseen political and economic developments in Canada. This week in ...
The Binkley Report

Ending CP strike settles nothing

Parliament must set process that is fair to both sides

By Alex Binkley
True North Perspective

It’s a scenario we’ve seen many times in this country. Parliament ends a strike in the rail, airline, port or postal sectors. The sides go back to work until the next time they can’t reach a new agreement.

And then the political infighting and protests in Ottawa start all over again.

There have been 33 legislated returns to work since 1950. No Liberal or Conservative government has been willing to risk the economic fallout of letting these disruptions drag on. It’s hard to believe an NDP government would tolerate it for very long.

It’s the same in many other countries.

As the government pushed through its bill to end the CP strike, with the support of many groups from the Canadian Wheat Board to Port Metro Vancouver.

Bob Ballantyne, President of the Canadian Industrial Transportation Assocation (CITA), wondered out loud whether it wasn’t time to look for a better way to prevent strikes and lockouts in the federally regulated industrial sector, which also includes banks and telecommunications companies.

“CITA has recommended to the government that there needs to be an alternative to strikes or lockouts in the rail industry when negotiations fail,” says Ballantyne. “The time has come to look at the definition of essential services under the Canada Labour Code.

“If rail work-stoppages are always ended through legislation, the time has come to acknowledge that strikes and lockouts aren’t working and some other settlement mechanism needs to be devised when negotiated settlements aren’t reached.”

Saskatchewan tried that route last year with its public service, but the law was struck down by the courts. That dispute may end up in the Supreme Court.

Ballantyne says the essential services law or whatever solution is chosen cannot be used to give the companies an edge over their unions in collective bargaining.

But it won’t be easy to convince the unions to give up the main tool they have in negotiations. Just look at all the griping aimed at Labour Minister Raitt from the Teamsters Canada and its supporters.

Raitt has been trying to suggest that a way has to be found to protect the economy and preserve the rights of the employer and employees since she took the portfolio.

She stepped in quickly in the Air Canada dispute and warned CP and the railways’ locomotive engineers, conductors, and rail traffic controllers that the government would bring in back to work legislation in the event of a strike.

Friends say Raitt has a union background in her family and she knows that a lopsided dispute resolution system will only lead to long term trouble.

She also knows that unions are understandably testy about how they could effectively represent their members without the ability to strike.

It’s hard to know where to begin the conversation, although it should be in Parliament. This isn’t something that can be fixed quickly.

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