The province has announced it will start a commission in August to help end the almost 18-month long contract dispute between The Chronicle Herald and the union representing striking newspaper employees.

Employees with the Halifax Typographical Union, representing 53 striking reporters, photographers and other workers, have been on strike since Jan. 23, 2016.

Acting Labour Minister Derek Mombourquette made the surprise announcement Thursday following a regularly scheduled cabinet meeting.

He said the government decided to step in now because of the length of the strike and the fact numerous talks between the parties broke down.

Acting Labour and Advanced Education Minister Derek Mombourquette

Acting Labour Minister Derek Mombourquette said he hopes mediation results in a deal between The Chronicle Herald and the Halifax Typographical Union. (CBC)

"This is one of the tools that we can use as the department to bring both parties back to the table and as a government we believed it was time to take action," said Mombourquette.

Until now, the government had repeatedly rejected calls from the union to intervene.

The process will start with the commissioner, William Kaplan, trying to mediate between the two parties. That will start Aug. 4.

Mombourquette hoped that would be enough to find a resolution.

"We want both parties to utilize this opportunity to get back to the table with an independent mediator to try to come to a deal to end this dispute," he said.

Ingrid Bulmer

Ingrid Bulmer, the president of the Halifax Typographical Union, has said she's happy the province is intervening in the contract dispute. (CBC)

If an agreement is not reached, the commissioner will then investigate the causes of the dispute by holding a public inquiry and report his findings and potential recommendations to the minister. Those recommendations are not binding.

Kaplan is an experienced labour mediator and arbitrator who was most recently appointed by the federal government to mediate a dispute at Canada Post.

18-month contract dispute

The Chronicle Herald, which is headquartered in Halifax and is Canada's oldest independently owned newspaper, has relied on reporters who have crossed the picket line for almost 18 months while its unionized newsroom employees have been on strike.

Ingrid Bulmer, the president of the Halifax Typographical Union, was happy the government accepted this latest call for help.

"This is a bit of a bright light in this long dispute. And I personally am relieved that this is going to happen and I'm anxious to get started," she said.

Herald officials 'puzzled' by commission

Ian Scott, COO for SaltWire Network — a new media group that publishes the Chronicle Herald — said Thursday afternoon they were "puzzled" by the announcement.

"As recently as June 15, I met with a member of the union executive to find a resolution to the strike," he said in a statement.

"At the time, the union executive said the union would provide a contract proposal that, more than three weeks later, has not been received."

Scott said until they have more clarity on why the inquiry was called, they would not be commenting further.

'The right road to go down'

NDP Leader Gary Burrill supports the government's move.

"It would have been much better had the government made this move when the call was first made, which was when the strike was in somewhere around day 100," he said.

"Now we're in day 500 and something. But having said that, I think this clearly is the right road to go down and we'll hope for a resolution from it."

According to the province, the last time it appointed an industrial inquiry commission in the private sector was in 1993. The parties in this case were the Construction Management Bureau and the Nova Scotia Building Trades Council.

With files from Cassie Williams and Jean Laroche