British Columbia

Province staying out of transit dispute as full-scale strike looms

Premier John Horgan is showing no signs of appointing a mediator despite threats of a system-wide Metro Vancouver bus shut down next week. The government continues to urge both sides to return to the bargaining table, with hopes a deal can be hammered out this weekend.

Premier showing no signs of appointing a mediator despite threats of system-wide Metro Vancouver bus shut down

Premier John Horgan takes reporters' questions during a media availability at the B.C. Legislature on Nov. 21. (Tanya Fletcher / CBC)

All eyes are turning to the B.C. government for possible intervention ahead of a looming full-blown transit strike that could hit Metro Vancouver next week.

Unifor, which represents bus drivers and SeaBus operators, is threatening a system-wide shut down if an agreement isn't struck with its employer, Coast Mounatin Bus Company, by next Wednesday. 

And now, unionized SkyTrain workers have also voted overwhelmingly in favour of job action, although they have agreed to mediation with the employer, BC Rapid Transit Company, beginning next week.

The premier is urging both sides to resume negotiations but is remaining at arms length from the dispute, despite growing pressure on the province to step in.

"The best place to be is at the bargaining table," said Premier John Horgan. "I'm hopeful that by next week, the parties will have spent the weekend working hard on getting a collective agreement."

Timing is everything with labour disputes — the best place to be is at the bargaining table- Premier John Horgan

Horgan was asked repeatedly about it Thursday during his weekly media availability at the B.C. Legislature, and he repeatedly answered with the same three words: free collective bargaining. 

"Free collective bargaining has worked around the world for a long time, and the best way to resolve this dispute is to have the parties mindful that the people they serve are desperate to have that service; I'm confident they'll be able to do that," he told reporters.

The possibility was also raised of extending the fall legislative session, which is set to wrap up next week, but Horgan indicated that would be unlikely. 

"Never has there been a labour dispute resolved in question period. Never has there been a labour dispute resolved in a scrum with the media," he said.

Opposition piling on

The official Opposition has wasted no time trying to pin the labour unrest on the NDP, using it as headline fodder during question period several times this week. 

"The premier has the power to help end this strike by appointing a mediator to get both parties back to the table," said Leader Andrew Wilkinson, clearly branding the issue as a priority for government.

"Now that a system-wide shut down is planned for next week, why won't John Horgan finally do something?"

But Horgan bristled at the idea of taking advice from the leader of the Opposition. 

"He's got nothing to offer on this question, quite frankly," he responded. "I take no lessons from the B.C. Liberals, whose finest hour when it comes to labour relations was ripping up collective agreements and who oversaw a four month transit strike in the Lower Mainland," Horgan responded. 

When asked a few weeks ago about the 2001 Metro Vancouver strike that crippled the system all summer, Horgan noted he wouldn't let that happen on his watch.

About the Author

Provincial Affairs Reporter covering the B.C. Legislature. Anything political: tanya.fletcher@cbc.ca

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