All-night filibuster against labour bill ends Thursday evening

A overnight filibuster by the NDP Official Opposition against proposed changes to labour legislation ended Thursday night, completing the longest Wednesday in Alberta legislature history.

Longest Wednesday sitting in Alberta history ended Thursday night

The UCP's Bill 2 allows companies to pay a wage of $13 an hour to employees who are under age 18, down from the current $15. (Elaine Thompson/Associated Press)

An overnight filibuster by the NDP Official Opposition against proposed changes to labour legislation ended Thursday evening, completing one of the longest days in Alberta legislature history. 

The debate over Bill 2 began in the legislature at around 7 p.m. Wednesday and continued all day Thursday.

Speaker Nathan Cooper told the house around 5:30 p.m. that this was the longest Wednesday sitting in Alberta legislative assembly history and one of the five longest sitting days. Even though debate continued all day Thursday, it is still considered a Wednesday by the assembly because house business kept going without an adjournment. 

MLAs voted around 7:30 p.m. Thursday on a hoist motion introduced by the NDP, which was defeated. Second reading of Bill 2 was then passed and the government moved to adjourn for the weekend at 7:44 p.m

Bill 2 would roll back the previous NDP government's changes to banked overtime, holiday pay and union certification votes.

The government has also enacted a new $13-an-hour minimum wage for youth, which will take effect on June 26.

The changes were introduced in the Alberta legislature on May 27. The minimum wage change was made by cabinet through an order-in-council. 

The NDP is opposed to all those measures and vowed to dig in to get the government to change its mind. 

The use of referral motions and other procedural tactics allowed each member of the 24-member caucus to speak four times in second reading, which is the first stage of debate.

The Opposition can make an unlimited number of motions in the bill's next stage of committee of the whole, until the government side invokes closure. 

"We have a very, very energetic caucus and we'll go as long as it takes," Bilous said.

Earlier on Tuesday, Government House leader Jason Nixon reminded the NDP that his party had the proposed changes in its election platform and Albertans voted the UCP into government. 

"If the opposition wants to filibuster, they're welcome to use the chamber to do that, to get their thoughts on the record, it's a process," Nixon said. "I respect that process. I used to do it when I was in opposition."

He said the government will get its agenda through the House, even it if takes all summer.

NDP urges more consultation

Thomas Dang, the MLA for Edmonton-South, said the discrimination against young workers is "shameful."

He said approval of the bill should be delayed to allow more consultation with Albertans. 

"Four hundred thousand Albertans will be affected by this bill and the government needs to understand how this will impact people's lives," Dang said Thursday morning during the filibuster.

"This is something that we certainly need to have a longer conversation about.

"We're going to be forcing families to go to food banks instead of letting them bank their overtime. We're going to be forcing students to go to food banks while they're trying to save up for their education."

At one point, Dang's comments against the bill were interrupted by the relentless chime of a cellphone.

He paused and suggested the guilty party should be fined under the legislature rules for chamber decorum.

"It that somebody's alarm, Mr. Speaker? I thought there were fines for something like that."

In response, Cooper acknowledged it had been a long night and asked for patience.

"With respect to fines and cellphones, a little grace may be able to be displayed," Cooper said. "I can only imagine it was someone's alarm to be encouraged to come to the chamber on this wonderful day."

Under Bill 2, the lower minimum wage would apply to students under age 18 who work up to 28 hours a week. It would also apply for all hours worked during summer holidays, Christmas and other school breaks.

The legislation would make changes to the Employment Standards Code so that employees must work 30 days before being entitled to holiday pay.

Workers would only receive holiday pay for days they would normally be scheduled to work — for example, a restaurant that is normally closed on Mondays wouldn't have to pay staff holiday pay for Thanksgiving if they aren't working.

The previous NDP government changed the rules to banked overtime so that workers who bank an hour of overtime can take an hour and a half of time off.

Bill 2 proposes changing that back to a straight hour-for-hour exchange. If the banked time isn't used within six months, it would be paid out in cash at time-and-a-half.

Edmonton-North West NDP MLA David Eggen said the changes are reminiscent of a Dickensian novel.

"Here we are in 2019, rolling back to the 19th century, that's not the way to open for business. I think that's a way to show mean-spiritedness and regression," Eggen said.

"To not read this for a second time is an imminently reasonable approach and I think we have exercised to the fullness, to this legislature's capacity, to shine a light on Bill 2. People are not happy about this."

Kenney has said the regulations, tax increases and "radical changes to Alberta labour law" passed by the NDP government were hard on businesses.

The NDP called the UCP's proposed legislation the "Pick Your Pockets Bill."

"Look.Thirteen bucks an hour. That's a heck of a lot more than zero bucks an hour. And that's the option here," Kenney told reporters after the Open for Business Act was tabled in the legislature.

"We've got 30,000 young Albertans here out of work. We want to get them their first job experience. We're talking about part-time, teenagers who are typically in high school, working typically 20 hours a week or less."

Under the former NDP government, Alberta's minimum wage increased to $15 an hour from $10.20.

Some previous Alberta filibusters

May 2000: The opposition Liberal party, led by Nancy MacBeth, protested Bill 11, the private health-care bill launched by the Conservative government of then-premier Ralph Klein. The bill had undergone 34 hours of discussion in the legislature when the government announced it would cut off debate.

November 2010: Opposition MLAs filibustered through the night to support an amendment from Raj Sherman, then an independent MLA, to Bill 17, a Conservative government initiative to establish a health charter for Albertans. The amendment would have enshrined emergency room wait times into law. Bill 17 was passed in December 2010, without Sherman's amendment.

May 2014: Alberta's Wildrose, Liberal and New Democrat parties joined forces to protest Bill 9, a proposed amendment to the Public Sector Pension Plans Act, launched by then-premier Dave Hancock's Conservative government. As a result of the filibuster, the bill — which would have affected the pension plans of more than 200,000 public sector workers — was sent back for further review.

With files from the Canadian Press