Alberta opposition stages all-night filibuster against labour bill

Alberta’s NDP Official Opposition staged a filibuster overnight in protest against proposed changes to labour legislation.

A debate over Bill 2 began in the legislature around 7 p.m. Wednesday.

As of  8:30 a.m. Thursday, NDP politicians — showing signs of exhaustion — were still standing to debate and stall second reading of Bill 2, the United Conservative government’s Open for Business Act.

The act would roll back the previous NDP government’s changes to banked overtime, holiday pay and union certification votes.

The government has also proposed a new $13-an-hour minimum wage for youth, which would take effect on June 26.

The changes were introduced in the Alberta legislature May 27.

Thomas Dang, the MLA for Edmonton-South West, said the discrimination against young workers is “shameful.”

“Four hundred thousand Albertans will be affected by this bill and the government needs to understand how this will impact people’s lives,” Dang said Thursday morning during the filibuster.

“This is something that we certainly need to have a longer conversation about.

“We’re going to be forcing families to go to food banks instead of letting them bank their overtime. We’re going to be forcing students to go to food banks while they’re trying to save up for their education.”

At one point, Dang’s comments against the bill were interrupted by the relentless chime of a cellphone.

He paused and suggested the guilty party should be fined under the legislature rules for chamber decorum.

“It that somebody’s alarm, Mr. Speaker? I thought there were fines for something like that.”

In response, Speaker Nathan Cooper acknowledged it had been a long night, and asked for patience.

“With respect to fines and cellphones, a little grace may be able to be displayed,” Cooper said. “I can only imagine it was someone’s alarm to be encouraged to come to the chamber on this wonderful day.”

Opposition leader Rachel Notley is set to hold a news conference Thursday morning with Edmonton business people who have pledged to maintain the $15/hour minimum wage for youth workers.

Under Bill 2, the lower minimum wage would apply to students under age 18 who work 28 hours or fewer a week. It would also apply for all hours worked during summer holidays, Christmas and other school breaks.

The legislation would make changes to the Employment Standards Code so that employees must work 30 days before being entitled to holiday pay.

Workers would only receive holiday pay for days they would normally be scheduled to work — for example, a restaurant that is normally closed on Mondays wouldn’t have to pay staff holiday pay for Thanksgiving if they aren’t working.

The previous NDP government changed the rules to banked overtime so that workers who bank an hour of overtime can take an hour and a half of time off.

Bill 2 proposes changing that back to a straight hour-for-hour exchange. If the banked time isn’t used within six months, it would be paid out in cash at time and a half.

Edmonton-North West NDP MLA David Eggen said the changes are reminiscent of a Dickensian novel.

“Here we are in 2019, rolling back to the 19th century, that’s not the way to open for business. I think that’s a way to show mean-spiritedness and regression,” Eggen said.

“To not read this for a second time is an imminently reasonable approach and I think we have exercised to the fullness to this legislature’s capacity, to shine a light on Bill 2. People are not happy about this.”

Kenney has said the regulations, tax increases and “radical changes to Alberta labour law” passed by the NDP government were hard on business.

The NDP called the UCP’s proposed legislation the “Pick Your Pockets Bill.”

“Look — 13 bucks an hour — that’s a heck of a lot more than zero bucks an hour. And that’s the option here,” Kenney told reporters after the Open for Business Act was tabled in the legislature.

“We’ve got 30,000 young Albertans here out of work. We want to get them their first job experience. We’re talking about part-time, teenagers who are typically in high school, working typically 20 hours a week or less.”

Under the former NDP government, Alberta’s minimum wage increased to $15 an hour from $10.20.

Political analyst Paul McLoughlin said filibusters are extremely rare in Alberta politics but the newl NDP opposition government is unusually large and they’ve decided to show off their political might, he said.

“It will be interesting to see how long they can do it,” said political analyst Paul McLoughlin during an interview Thursday on CBC Radio’s Edmonton AM, as the debate continued.

“They have 24 members in opposition now, so they can do it  for quite a long period of time.

“Can you remember the last filibuster in Alberta? No? That’s exactly my point.”

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