Manitoba

Pallister takes aim at organized labour in 1st state of province address

Premier Brian Pallister launched an attack on organized labour in Manitoba in his first state of the province speech to a packed audience at Winnipeg's RBC Convention Centre on Thursday.

Premier says Manitoba has too many bargaining units in health care

Brian Pallister spoke to a packed room at his first state of the province address as Manitoba premier on Thursday. (Sean Kavanagh/CBC)

Premier Brian Pallister launched an attack on organized labour in Manitoba in his first state of the province speech to a packed audience at Winnipeg's RBC Convention Centre on Thursday. 

He said there are too many bargaining units in the province and the number should come down.

Pallister told the crowd that Manitoba has 169 bargaining units in health care alone, compared to just 20 in Alberta, Saskatchewan and British Columbia combined.

Pallister takes aim at organized labour in 1st state of province address

5 years ago
1:48
Premier Brian Pallister launched an attack on organized labour in Manitoba in his first state of the province speech to a packed audience at Winnipeg's RBC Convention Centre on Thursday. 1:48

A spokesperson for Pallister later told CBC News that Alberta has four bargaining units, Saskatchewan has six and B.C. has five.

"It just makes sense to benefit the working people of our province to reduce the top-heavy nature of too many collective bargaining agreements, too many clauses that contradict one another; administrative clauses are higher because of it," Pallister said.

He said other provinces have tackled the challenge and Manitoba needs to do the same. Pallister would not give a target for how many collective bargaining units would be right for Manitoba, suggesting that was better determined after consulting with labour unions.

He also singled out bereavement provisions in collective agreements, saying there were 47 different provisions in various contracts.

The premier said he wants to team up with organized labour to build a stronger economy. 

"Union bosses have to understand this is positive for their members," Pallister said.

Unions caught by surprise 

Manitoba Federation of Labour President Kevin Rebeck said he was puzzled by the premier's comments. 

"It was a surprise to hear that today," he said. "The reality is when workers want a union in a workplace they often let a union know and they vote to join a union of their choice and then they have to bargain a collective agreement.... Workers need to have that choice and they've exercised that choice and have agreements they worked hard to get."

Rebeck said there have been no conversations with government about reducing the number of bargaining units, and he's concerned about how the message was delivered. 

"I wonder what's underneath all that, and what is the end goal that's being worked towards. Again, Finding out these kinds of questions or this kind of wish from government at a forum like this is unfortunate." 

Business leaders tapped for enterprise team 

Pallister also announced who would lead the Premier's Enterprise Team for economic development and special projects.

Hartley Richardson will chair the initiative. Insurance executive Paul Mahon, manufacturer Gerry Price, human resources consultant Barbara Bowes and grain company owner John Heimbecker are among the business people included on the list.

Pallister returned to familiar themes in his speech, using a metaphor of a canoeist hundreds of years ago that sees trouble ahead and has to change course to avoid danger.

The dangers for Manitoba, Pallister said, are growing deficits, record wait times for hospital and child-care spaces and a backlogged justice system.

Pallister also said poor outcomes in education are a danger for the province that have to be steered around and improved.

He said while fixing finances is key to Manitoba's future, improving services must go hand-in-hand with that. 

"We must remember to walk and chew gum at the same time," Pallister said.

He said his government is "knocking down silos" between government departments and bureaucrats.

Referring to the coming national inquiry on missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, Pallister said the province will participate enthusiastically but can't wait until the inquiry begins to start acting on what Manitoba has already learned about issues such as reconciliation.

Three Northern Economic Summits will be held in the spring of 2017, as part of the PC government's Look North initiative. They will take place in The Pas, Thompson and Churchill, he said.

The premier also challenged the chamber audience to volunteer for the Canada Summer Games in Winnipeg next summer.

The Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce, which sponsored the event, says the estimated 1,300 attendees for Pallister's speech represent a record crowd for the event.

Mr. Pallister goes to Ottawa to 'crash' agenda

Pallister is travelling to Ottawa on Thursday night to attend a conference of first ministers.

The agenda will be focused on climate change and the federal government's plan for a carbon tax, but Pallister said he's "not above crashing an agenda item in there, and I think one of them is the sustainability of our health-care support."

Pallister said Manitoba has "pressing" problems in terms of delivering health care in the province.

"We need to be able to be sure that going forward we have a federal government as a partner in the delivery of health care," he said.

Pallister was asked if his announcement on Thursday for a maintenance hub in Winnipeg for new search and rescue planes has softened his recent frosty tones about the federal Liberal government and unfulfilled promises to Manitoba in the aerospace sector.

He said he wants to have a trusting relationship with Ottawa.

"The announcement today goes part way back in the direction we need to go. We need to build our aerospace industry in Manitoba. It's the right place to build it," Pallister said.

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