Multiple premiers called for the federal government to play a bigger role in ending the strike at B.C.’s ports on Tuesday, as the job action affecting billions of dollars in goods reaches its 10th day.
More than 7,400 workers from the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) walked off the job on Canada Day over issues like the cost of living, port automation, and outside contracting.
While business groups have loudly asked for back-to-work legislation to get goods flowing from Canada’s busiest port in Vancouver, the federal government has remained steadfast in allowing negotiations to continue with the assistance of mediators.
At a premiers’ meeting in Winnipeg on Tuesday, some provincial leaders said the feds should take a more active role in proceedings — including through legislation, if necessary.
“We need some intervention here,” said Scott Moe, the premier of Saskatchewan, in an interview with David Cochrane on CBC’s Power and Politics.
“About 20 per cent of what travels through the Port of Vancouver comes from our province of Saskatchewan and about 40 per cent of what we produce actually goes through that port.”
Moe said that he credited the federal government for putting mediators in place — with Federal Labour Minister Seamus O’Regan in Vancouver on Monday to further advance talks — but said they had to consider all the tools they had, including back-to-work legislation.
The premier’s comments came after the world’s biggest fertilizer producer, Nutrien, curtailed operations at its potash mine in Saskatchewan. Nutrien specifically cited the strike as the reason for the production cut.
“The best agreements most certainly do come through the bargaining process at the bargaining table,” Moe said. “We encourage all of those involved to work feverishly and work ambitiously towards an agreement.
“But we also encourage the federal government to consider ultimately, and maybe unfortunately, utilizing all of the tools that they have.”
Alberta Premier Danielle Smith has also been vocal in her calls for back-to-work legislation to end the strike.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford said the strike was “hurting the economy” across Canada.
“We need to get moving. I’m all for supporting the frontline workers, but you can’t hold the whole country hostage,” he said at a news conference. “Hopefully they’ll get a fair deal for the workers, but also a fair deal for the taxpayers and the consumers here.”
Labour groups warn against legislation
However, ILWU and other unions have warned against the idea of back-to-work legislation, saying it would go against labour freedoms and the Charter.
In an open letter to the prime minister on Tuesday, numerous workers’ groups — including the Canadian Labour Congress and every provincial labour federation — said that forcing port workers to resume operations would be a “serious misstep.”
“If the right to strike is weakened by the government legislating the ILWU members back to work, it will have a significant impact on every Canadian who expects to have their rights protected by their government,” reads the letter.
B.C. Premier David Eby did not fully echo the calls for federal legislation, but called on the government to help advance negotiations where possible.
“The port workers have seen increasing costs just like everybody else. Those workers need to be treated with respect,” he said in Winnipeg.
“What we want is a long-term deal that’s going to last and that’s going to prevent disruptions like this from happening in the future.”
On Tuesday evening, O’Regan said he has asked mediators to send him a deal that could end the strike.
“After 12 days of a work stoppage, I have decided that the difference between the employer’s and the union’s position is not sufficient to justify a continued work stoppage,” he wrote in a statement.