My comments on the Arbitration Motion

Mr. Speaker, I was a member of the Local Steel Workers 182 as an employee of Con Mine when the Giant Mine strike took place. I assure you I do not need to be reminded of the impacts of a strike. I lived it.

Mr. Speaker, clearly no one in this House wants a strike to take place, for so many obvious reasons. Countless constituents and members of the public from all over the territory have shared their deepest concerns with me about fears of a strike. We all know that any reduction or stoppage in critical government services and programs would be detrimental to all Northwest Territories residents, so I understand the intention of this motion, which I know is to offer a path to resolve a contract dispute without favour to either the GNWT or the Union of Northern Workers, and for that I commend the mover and the seconder of the motion.

Mr. Speaker, I want to be clear to all who are following today’s proceedings about what today’s motion is procedurally and what this motion can or cannot do. It’s a recommendation only. Many of my constituents, GNWT employees, business owners, and the public at large have written, called, or messaged me, encouraging me to support this motion today, thinking, believing, or understanding that MLAs have the power by third-party intervention to legally direct the GNWT to accept binding arbitration as a means to resolve this dispute. That is not the case at all. Today’s proceedings are not a magic wand or a silver bullet. Only the union and the government can agree to use arbitration and set the terms to be used for the arbitration process, period.

I want to repeat this. Today’s proceedings, regardless of outcome on the vote, will have no legal bearing or binding on either party involved in the collective bargaining process, as has been the case all along, and only the two parties can agree to use arbitration as a new process to continue toward reaching a tentative agreement.

With that said, my concern is the effect of a recommendation for binding arbitration at this time, during what appears to be the last days of mediation toward a collective agreement. At this crucial time, both parties must concentrate on reaching a tentative agreement and not be hindered or impeded by political influence.

Mr. Speaker, what I hear from my constituents and see in the news daily causes me great concern. The government and the union do not seem to be concentrating on the job at hand, which is to get a tentative agreement during mediation this weekend. Frankly, I am shocked by some of the conduct I have seen so far.

Responsibility is what Members expect from both parties going into the ongoing mediation. It is a time for bargaining, not bluster, not threats, not provocation. It is a time for calm and reason to prevail. Mr. Speaker, anything less is an abrogation of their duties to all the people of the Northwest Territories.

I wish to remind the government and the union that they agreed to this mediation process and chose one of Canada’s best mediators to conduct its proceedings. Their duty is to bargain honestly and in good faith, and I have no doubt that Mr. Ready will remind them of this should they stray from the path.

There have been too many grave distractions from the path in recent days. I am concerned that dangling the hope of binding arbitration in the middle of mediation is another distraction that will not help produce a tentative agreement this weekend.

Collective bargaining is a sensitive matter, with its own set of rules and protocols, foreign to most of us outside the profession. These have evolved over many years, from experience, to maximize the chances for good results. It worries me when pressure is so high to have a new process when mediation is still under way.

The mediator has not declared an impasse or made recommendations. As I submitted previously, Mr. Ready and the respective bargaining teams must not be influenced by a newly recommended process from this House.

Mr. Speaker, in the interest of getting the most effective mediation possible, I am not willing to support a new process at this time. Again, I want to be clear. This is not to say that I oppose arbitration as a potential tool to reach a collective agreement, definitely not! I would support arbitration if the point is reached when it is needed, and I sincerely hope that tool will not be lost to us if needed.

Moreover, I would hope that the government and the union would both be interested in a new process if the current one does not yield results.

The bottom line, Mr. Speaker, no matter the chosen process, negotiation, mediation, or arbitration, the process does not do the bargaining. The process is intended to enable a spirit of compromise but cannot force it on unwilling negotiators. If these bargaining teams live up to their titles as negotiators, we should see a tentative agreement emerge.

Mr. Speaker, no doubt they are under tremendous pressure, with a heavy burden of responsibility, and I know as they meet this weekend that both sides are very much aware of what is at stake for all residents of the Northwest Territories and that no additional outside influence is required.

Mr. Speaker, I remain confident that, under the current agreed-upon process and by using any and all means available within it, that a tentative collective agreement can and will be reached.

Those are my comments. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

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