Jamie Baillie’s Labour Pains

As the transit strike in Nova Scotia’s capital continued, we saw Conservative leader Jamie Baillie’s demonstrate once again why he’s not ready for prime time.

In a radio interview, Baillie said he would solve the issue by locking the union and management in a room until they agreed to a deal, and slide pizzas under the door for food. That’s not problem solving, that’s dangerous hostility.

On March 8th, Baillie claimed that “negotiations between the city and transit union appear to be no further ahead today than they did at the beginning of the strike.” Three days later, on March 11th, an agreement was in place. That’s not vision, that’s uninformed guesswork.

Presumably, Baillie would have ignored the binding arbitration route and forced in back-to-work legislation. That’s what today’s Conservatives do. But instead of saying specifically what he would do, Baillie just repeated the line that “the strike could be over now.” That’s not leadership, that’s empty populism.

As Liberal leadership hopeful Andrew Younger put it, when talking about the idea of a Premier meddling in a municipal issue:

The role of the province is to support municipalities in democratic and appropriate decision making, not second guess elected municipal leaders. Frankly, if a Premier is more interested in personally reviewing every decision of council rather than focusing on important provincial matters, there is a municipal election he can run in.

Ugly Negotiations

Ugly pizza, while tasty, solves nothing.

Smart, effective governments help solve problems by being honest brokers. They bring two opposing sides together and act as a conciliator. If either the city or the union asked the government to step in, then they would have presumably considered it. But only then. This is what is so alarming about Jamie Baillie’s view of labour negotiations – neither the city nor the union asked for the province’s help. Stepping into that situation without being asked would have been undemocratic and permanently damaged the relationship between the city, the union and the provincial government. It would have led to more hostility and more instability.

Oddly, when the province acted to solve the Dalhousie University Faculty pension problem, thereby contributing to an agreement between Dalhousie and the Faculty, Baillie called the province’s actions “interference” in a labour dispute, accusing the Premier of being “happy to solve the Dalhousie professors’ pension problem.” What’s not to be happy about? We hope university professors and their students took notice of Baillie’s attitude. While the government’s move to fix the university’s pension crisis may have removed a key road block to a potential Dal Faculty strike, it wasn’t interference. Interference would have been back-to-work legislation, union-busting or locking the two sides in a room and sliding pizzas under the door.

Instead, the province did what responsible governments should do – they provided a provincial conciliator to the negotiating parties. As Jane Taber put it in the Globe and Mail:

For three days, John Greer, a provincial conciliator, ran between floors in a Dartmouth hotel, sorting out not one but two high-profile labour disputes that had gripped the city and province…

Finally, on Sunday, Mr. Greer’s marathon shuffle came to an end. Just after 3 p.m., Dalhousie University and its 870 professors and librarians reached a tentative agreement, only hours before their midnight strike deadline. Seven hours later, Halifax’s 750 transit workers reached a tentative deal with the city.

Smart governments help broker deals.