Queen’s Bench Justice Dennis Ball’s decision on the constitutionality of the Public Services Essential Services Act (Bill 5) and the Trade Union Amendment Act (Bill 6) was issued on Monday afternoon. Tuesday morning, I did a short interview with Charles Smith, a constitutional and labour law expert who teaches at St. Thomas More College in Saskatoon, for a news brief on the judgement. Here’s a link to the brief.
Ball’s ruling runs 132 pages. Most of it concerns Bill 5. In his judgment, Ball didn’t dispute the government’s right to pass essential services legislation. As he noted, most provinces in Canada have some form of legislation to ensure that services that are essential to the health and safety of citizens aren’t adversely affected during a strike involving public sector workers. Prior to the legislation being passed, essential services were provided at the discretion of the union involved. Outside of a few isolated instances, unions generally ensured that the public’s welfare was looked after.
When the government introduced Bill 5, it did so with little consultation with organized labour. In the bill, it gave employers virtually blanket authority to deem employees as essential. In the area of Health, that resulted in hospitals, nursing homes and other facilities declaring over 80 per cent of their employees as essential. While recreation therapists, maintenance personnel and other staff undoubtedly make an important contribution to the long-term well-being of patients and residents it’s a bit of a stretch to deem them as essential to the institution’s operation.