Alberta minister calls for back to work legislation to end B.C. port strike
By Ashley Joannou
Alberta’s transport minister wants the federal government to recall Parliament to consider back-to-work legislation that would end a strike at British Columbia ports.
Minister of Transportation and Economic Corridors Devin Dreeshen said he’s frustrated the strike has continued since Saturday, particularly because Ottawa used legislation in 2021 to end a walkout by Port of Montreal dock workers after one day.
“They used Parliament to resolve it. And that same amount of urgency is something that we’re hoping that the federal government has in this case as well,” he said.
Dreeshen said Tuesday that Alberta has asked federal Labour Minister Seamus O’Regan for daily updates on negotiations between the BC Maritime Employers Association and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Canada.
“It’s vitally important that the supply chain, this being a main critical component of it, remains open,” he said.
More than 7,000 workers at 30 ports across British Columbia have been on strike since Saturday morning, leading business organizations as well as officials in both Alberta and Saskatchewan to call on Ottawa to step in.
Talks stalled Monday, with the employers’ association issuing a statement saying it didn’t think more bargaining would produce a deal and the union saying the other side had changed its position on a key issue.
The union has previously said contracting out, port automation and the cost of living are key issues in the dispute.
O’Regan said Tuesday that federal mediators continue to support both sides in their negotiations.
“We encourage both parties to immediately return to the bargaining table and remain there until a deal is reached,” he said.
“Collective bargaining is hard work but it’s how the best, most resilient deals are made.”
In a separate statement responding to calls for back-to-work legislation, O’Regan’s office reiterated that it’s “not looking past the bargaining table, because the best deals are made at the table.”
Dreeshen said western ports, particularly the Port of Vancouver, are “incredibly important” to Alberta’s economy. He said 80 per cent of exports that travel through the Port of Vancouver come from the Prairies.
Saskatchewan Minister of Trade and Export Development Jeremy Harrison said Tuesday that shippers in that province have warned the strike is already slowing down the flow of goods, and the current work stoppage will have long-lasting effects on the supply chain.
“It may take weeks or even months to fully recover from these disruptions. Strain on the supply chain leads to additional costs that end up being passed along to consumers, including those in Saskatchewan,” he said. “We encourage the Government of Canada to do everything within its power to facilitate a resolution in the best interests of all Canadians.”
Dreeshen said Alberta has yet to see shortages of perishable goods on grocery shelves but that could come “very soon.”
Groups representing Canadian businesses also want the federal government to intervene, with one organization calling for legal changes that would discourage future disruptions.
On Tuesday Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters said designating ports and rail lines as essential infrastructure and limiting when and where labour and other disruptions can occur would provide manufacturers the stability they need.
“A strike of this magnitude not only disrupts the Canadian economy but damages our global trading reputation, hurts already fragile supply chains, and puts jobs at risk,” the group said in a statement.
“Given that the federal government understands what is at stake, (Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters) urges them to intervene now to reassure manufacturers that they will not bear the brunt of a labour dispute that is beyond their control,” it said.
The group, which says its members account for about 82 per cent of total manufacturing production and 90 per cent of Canada’s exports, estimates that the movement of $500 million worth of goods is being disrupted every day.
The Greater Vancouver Board of Trade is meanwhile asking Ottawa to “use every tool at its disposal” to ensure a deal is struck to resume activity at the city’s port, including back-to-work legislation, if necessary.
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