On February 8, 2019, in hope of avoiding a strike by the Union of Northern Workers, the MLA for Yellowknife Centre, Ms. Julie Green, moved motion 31-18(3) requesting”that this Assembly call on the government of the Northwest Territories to agree to enter into binding arbitration before the scheduled strike begins.” The Motion was defeated with 6 members in favour, 11 members opposed, and one member abstaining. The following is my statement in support of the motion.
Mr. Speaker, this motion, if successful, would not require the GNWT or NTPC to enter into binding arbitration. The Minister of Finance has already stated that because mediation is scheduled to begin today, the Government will not consider binding arbitration. Further, if this motion is defeated, it may actually embolden Cabinet’s position. I wanted to make this clear, because some of the people who’ve contacted me seem to believe that this motion represents a silver bullet, but that isn’t the case, and I apologize to those whose expectations have been raised.
While I agree with what much of Mr. Beaulieu said regarding the value of bringing this motion forward at this point, the fact is that it is before us now.
If this motion has any utility, it is that it’s promoting a level of dialogue among residents that I’ve never seen in my time as an MLA – I’ve heard from as many constituents in the past two days, as I usually hear from in six months.
Some are eager to place blame for the ongoing impasse, alleging bad faith bargaining or ego driven negotiating by one side or the other. However, Mr. Speaker, most of those who’ve contacted me believe that both the GNWT’s and UNW’s leadership share the responsibility for this ongoing failure:
- there’s dismay at the fact that not only were collective agreements not in place prior to the previous agreements expiring, but that for years, teams of well paid, professional negotiators haven’t been able to find enough common ground to reach a deal;
- there’s confusion as to why in all of 2017, 2018, and 2019, the GNWT and UNW have only been at the bargaining or mediation table a total of nine days; and,
- there’s concern that the UNW’s push for binding arbitration, and the GNWT’s proactive counseling of how to cross a picket line, are indications that neither side is prepared or expecting to reach a deal this weekend.
Mr. Speaker, it has become clear to me that our residents have lost faith in the abilities of the powers that be – on both sides – to do what is necessary to avoid a strike.
The importance of avoiding a strike, Mr. Speaker, cannot be overstated. The effects of the Town of Hay River’s 2015 strike are still being felt to this day – there were 31 employees involved in that job action. A GNWT and NTPC strike would be of a much greater magnitude, and could take an incalculable toll on residents who rely on government services, on unionized employees and their families, on small businesses and their employees, and for our community has a whole. The results of a prolonged strike would be nothing short of catastrophic.
Don’t get me wrong, Mr. Speaker, I would like nothing more than for both sides do what they’re paid to do, and come to an agreement. It’s always preferable to have the relevant parties involved in the decision making; especially in this case, where the decisions made will have far reaching effects on the future of our Territory. However, the potential consequences of a strike, are far too great to leave this process in the hands of parties who have continuously proved themselves incapable of compromise.
As I said earlier, I’ve heard from many constituents, and regardless of why they think we are in this situation, they have all had the same message for me: support this motion and encourage the Government to enter into binding arbitration, and I’m doing just that.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.