Tick-tock talk: Alberta legislators in marathon debate over workplace rules

Jason Nixon said the UCP campaigned and won the election on a promise to change workplace rules to encourage business investment

Alberta politicians talked around the clock into the evening Thursday in a marathon debate over a bill that would cut the minimum wage for young people and change rules on calculating overtime pay.

Opposition NDP members began delivering speeches during second reading of the United Conservative’s labour bill at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday.

“We’re not about to let the UCP government ram this bill through because they are taking overtime pay away from hardworking Albertans,” NDP house leader Deron Bilous told reporters Thursday morning as debate entered its 15th consecutive hour.

“This bill will have a significant impact on those especially in the construction industry and the energy sector.”

Government House Leader Jason Nixon said the UCP campaigned and won the election on a promise to change workplace rules to encourage business investment and won’t be distracted by the delay tactics.

“If the Opposition wants to filibuster they’re welcome to use the chamber to do that, to get their thoughts on the record. That’s the process. I respect that process,” said Nixon.

“(But) we will get our agenda through the house.”

There needs to be 20 members in the house for quorum or proceedings are adjourned.

On Thursday morning there were about 20 UCP members in the chamber along with nine for the NDP.

During debate some members worked off laptops, others did some reading, looked at their phones, or sat and listened, often with one hand propping up a chin.

Premier Jason Kenney sat in the front row and signed off on correspondence as NDP leader Rachel Notley, in her speech, urged the house to re-think the bill.

The government rejected an Opposition motion to refer the bill to committee for further study.

Bilous said the NDP caucus was ready for the long haul.

“Our crew has been very energetic. In fact we just swapped out our night crew,” he said.

“We have a fresh set of eyes and ears in the legislature that are prepared to talk to this and ensure that Albertans are aware of what’s in this bill.”

Nixon said he’s ready, too, especially given that his home and family are not in Edmonton.

“All I have waiting for me is an empty motel room,” he said.

“If the NDP want to spend the entire night up here hanging out with me inside the legislature, I’m happy to do it with them. Especially when I’m getting something that matters to my constituents so much through the house.”

If passed, the bill would roll back the minimum wage for workers aged 13 to 17 to $13 an hour from $15 an hour, starting June 26.

The $15 rate, the highest in Canada, would remain in place for everyone else.

The bill also proposes to cancel changes instituted by Notley’s government on banked overtime, allowing it to be calculated as straight time rather than time-and-a-half.

The bill would also restore a mandatory secret ballot for all union certification votes, and proposes a return to a 90-day period for unions to provide evidence of employee support for certification.

After second reading, the bill will be examined in detail in committee of the whole before moving to third and final reading.

On a procedural note, the official business of the house that began Wednesday night officially remains Wednesday’s business even after the clock ticked over to Thursday.

Speaker Nathan Cooper posted on Twitter later Thursday a photo of a tray of Red Bull energy drinks. After 5:24 p.m., he said, ”this will be the longest Wednesday (longest continuous sitting day) in #Alberta’s history.”

Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press

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