Brad Wall open to using 'notwithstanding clause' over labour ruling

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall is open to using a 'notwithstanding clause' to address his government's essential services legislation, which the Supreme Court has ruled violates charter rights.

Saskatchewan could invoke clause in response to Supreme Court ruling against province

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall spoke to reporters following a speech given to delegates at a meeting of municipal leaders. (CBC)

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall is open to using the Charter of Rights and Freedoms' notwithstanding clause to address his government's essential services legislation, which the Supreme Court has ruled violates charter rights.

Saskatchewan's labour legislation prohibits some public-sector employees from striking.

On Wednesday, Wall said he will try to recraft the legislation to conform with the court's ruling, but he is ready with a backup plan.

"If it looks like we cannot do that, then the only option we would have is to use the notwithstanding clause and simply say to the Supreme Court that we want to put public safety and welfare at the foremost, as our top priority for the people of Saskatchewan," Wall said.

The notwithstanding clause is laid out in Section 33 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It allows the federal government or a provincial legislature to enact legislation to override several sections of the charter that deal with fundamental freedoms, legal rights and equality rights. 

The Supreme Court ruling gave the province one year to bring the legislation into conformity with the Charter.

Wall noted Saskatchewan has already passed, but not proclaimed, a new essential services law that will be examined further to see if it satisfies the court's ruling.

"We're going to look at the court's ruling with respect to our new legislation to see if we can accommodate what they're saying, but still have essential services protection for people, so that a strike or lockout does not threaten public safety or health," Wall said.

After winning power in 2007, the Saskatchewan Party introduced essential services legislation, which said employers and unions had to agree on which workers could be deemed essential and not allowed to legally strike. The law also said that if the two sides couldn't agree, the government could choose who was an essential worker.

Labour groups challenged that legislation all the way to the Supreme Court. In its 5-2 ruling, the court affirmed the principle that any labour relations law that gives management a final say over the conditions of its workers violates the charter.

"I was hoping that the government would accept the decision and respect the decision of the Supreme Court of Canada," said Larry Hubich, president of the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour, on Wednesday after learning of Wall's remarks. "It was a pretty resounding defeat."

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