The Saskatchewan Party & Canadian Federation of Independent Business: Tax cuts, deregulation, attacking the Crowns and labour
“My party has had a very good relationship with your organization through the years and that will absolutely not change under my leadership. The position the CFIB puts forward, for the most, reflect our own.”
– Brad Wall, Saskatchewan Party Leader, in a March 31, 2004 letter to Marilyn Braun-Pollon, Director, Provincial Affairs Saskatchewan, Canadian Federation of Independent Business
“I encourage you to urge business owners to participate in our “Stop the Job Killing Monster” Campaign which can [be] accessed on our website…I would also like to offer my cooperation and any resources which may be of assistance to the Saskatchewan Business Council in opposing this policy of government directed hours.”
– Brad Wall, Saskatchewan Party Leader, in a December 14, 2004 letter to Marilyn Braun-Pollon, Director, Provincial Affairs Saskatchewan, Canadian Federation of Independent Business
The Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) was formed in 1971 as an advocacy organization for small- and medium-sized enterprises. It represents over 105,000 member businesses across
“As we prepare for the upcoming provincial election, CFIB hopes that its pre-election document will serve as a guide to constructive actions that the future government can take to encourage jobs and growth in the small business sector,” stated Marilyn Braun-Pollon, CFIB’s Saskatchewan director of provincial affairs and author of the report.
“What is needed is an entrepreneurial vision for
Besides massive tax cuts, deregulation and axing public service jobs and government ministries, the CFIB’s demands also included Crown asset sales and privatization and “a total re-thinking of labour policy in
(It is interesting to note that the CFIB report states that “cutting taxes does not mean endangering social programs” but only named health and education as being “valued”.)
The CFIB recommended the following action on Crown corporations:
– Conduct a review of role, mandate and structure of each Crown corporation, including an examination of privatization.
– Introduce legislation that requires all proceeds from privatization be applied directly to
– Introduce legislation to prohibit direct public sector investment in new or existing businesses.
– Examine and cease all cases of unfair government competition with the private sector.
– Privatize the retail sale and distribution of alcohol.
The CFIB report states that the current NDP government’s “pro-union policy framework…has failed both job creators and employees alike.” To “promote fair and balanced labour laws” the CFIB recommended the following sweeping changes:
Trade Union Act:
– Introduce a secret ballot vote in all union certification attempts.
– Ensure equivalent standards for regulation of employer and union speech, especially in the context of union organization. Enhance the employer’s ability to communicate with employees in a certification drive.
– Create equal access for employees to certification and decertification.
– Remove successor rights legislation that negatively impacts investment opportunities.
Labour Standards Act:
– Require employees to give notice to the employer before quitting a job, as employers are required to give employees.
– Develop greater flexibility around hours of work and overtime – such as the ability to trade overtime for time off on a 1:1 basis.
– Allow employers and employees to agree to allocate statutory holidays in a manner that best suits their own needs.
– Introduce a “training wage” under the minimum wage law for the first 6 months of employment and introduce a tiered system for those employees earning gratuities.
– Reduce the 3-hour minimum call-in rule to 2 hours.
– Remove part-time benefits provisions (which includes unproclaimed section of the Act outlining seniority rights and available hours for part-time workers).
Labour Relations Board:
– Create a more balanced climate at the Labour Relations Board.
– Ensure a more open and transparent process of selecting the Chair, Vice-Chair and members of the Board.
Construction Industry Labour Relations Act:
– Repeal the Act.
– Seek innovative ways to promote and enforce safety measures without creating a system of administrative fines.
According to Braun-Pollon, “
Reaction to the CFIB’s aggressive plan was swift. In an April 23, 2003, news release Saskatchewan Federation of Labour president Larry Hubich said “In almost every federal or provincial budget in the last two decades there have been tax cuts for business, along with legislative amendments that cater to the constant complaining of corporate lobbyists. But it is never enough for this crowd. They continually run down their employees and their country and their province. If anyone is contributing to out migration from the
In CFIB unveils gov’t proposals; SFL suggests labour boycott (Leader-Post, Apr. 23, 2003), Hubich pointed out that independent studies – like those released by the KPMG accounting firm – have shown that the cost of operating a business in Regina or Saskatoon are among the lowest in North America.
KPMG’s 2002 Competitive Alternatives study found that all Canadian cities, including
The study found that of the nine countries surveyed
The rankings of
KPMG’s 2006 Competitive Alternatives study showed that
In a comparison with all 98 North American cities Moose Jaw placed fifth, Prince Albert sixth, Saskatoon 21st, and Regina 28th. KPMG ranked all cities on the basis of costs for labour, taxation, facilities (land, construction, leasing rates), transportation, utilities, depreciation and financing.
In March 2007, the Canada West Foundation predicted “
The CWF noted
Despite the good news the CFIB continued to complain and the Saskatchewan Party more than willing to entertain a good number of its demands.
On Monday, October 20, 2003, then Saskatchewan Party Leader Elwin Hermanson held an election campaign press conference in the yard of Diamond Energy Services Inc. an oilfield service company headquartered in Swift Current. The week was designated Small Business Week in the province.
In Small business a priority (Leader-Post, Oct. 21, 2003), Hermanson said that under a Saskatchewan Party government “every week in
Hermanson, a native of Beechy, vowed to make
To speed up the regulatory process for businesses, Hermanson said no extra staff would be required. The current staff in the Economic and Cooperative Development Department would simply be reassigned.
Interestingly, prior to joining the CFIB in June 1997, Braun-Pollon, also from Beechy, served as a sector specialist with Saskatchewan Economic and Co-operative Development. [Braun wants lower taxes, Leader-Post, July 9, 1997]
In his Oct. 15, 2003, response to the CFIB 2003 Leaders’ Survey on Small Business Issues, Hermanson said a Saskatchewan Party government would “launch a comprehensive Government Efficiency Review of every program, department, board, agency, commission and Crown Corporation.”
“The Saskatchewan Party believes that the provincial government should not be competing directly against
On the issue of promoting fair and balanced labour laws Hermanson said the Saskatchewan Party would address the Trade Union Act by introducing “a secret ballot for all certification and decertification votes in the province.” The party would “also ensure that both union organizers and employers will have equal ability to communicate with workers prior to any such vote while at the same time protecting employees from coercion from either side.” Changes to successor rights legislation was not part of the Saskatchewan Party platform.
As for the Labour Standards Act, Hermanson said his party would “work closely with both employers and employee on matters pertaining to notice, flexibility of hours and flexibility of statutory holidays. Any changes would have to be shown to be beneficial to both workers and employers.” A training wage was not part of the current Saskatchewan Party platform nor was a reduction in the three-hour minimum call-in.
Hermanson also noted that the Saskatchewan Party “supports repealing the unproclaimed sections of the Act outlining seniority rights and available hours provisions for part-time employees which the NDP passed in 1993 but have never proclaimed.”
“The Saskatchewan Party believes the Labour Relations Board must be completely balanced in its treatment of employees and employers in all matters before it and supports an open and accountable process in the selection of the board’s chair and vice-chair,” said Hermanson.
Hermanson also said his party would review the Construction Industry Relations Act and “supports finding innovative ways to promote greater safety in a way that will not unnecessarily hinder business development and growth in
Neither the Saskatchewan Party nor the CFIB acknowledge the fact that during the last major review of The Trade Union Act in 1992-93, a committee composed of equal representation from organized labour and employer organizations and chaired by University of Saskatchewan law professor Daniel Ish held four days of public hearings in Regina and Saskatoon in order to develop fair and reasonable proposals for a balanced industrial relations law. The committee heard 11 presentations from organized labour, 17 from employers and business organizations and two from individuals. The committee received 63 written briefs: 16 from organized labour, 34 from employers, business organizations and religious groups and 13 from individuals.
(It should be noted that similar input was sought and received when The Labour Standards Act, The Occupational Health and Safety Act and The Workers’ Compensation Act were amended.)
The CFIB, along with the Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce, the Canadian Manufacturing Association, the Saskatchewan Construction Association, the Saskatchewan Mining Association, the Prairie Implement Manufacturers Association and the Saskatchewan Health Care Association, nominated the four employer representatives on the committee.
During the review the committee carefully considered the issue of representation votes and concluded the process was fair and recommended that the current provision not be changed.
Under The Trade Union Act employers remain empowered to communicate with employees, unless such communications interfere with an employee’s right to unionize.
According to Labour act report released (Leader-Post, Dec. 22, 1993), when the committee was unable to reach a consensus the then Labour Minister, Ned Shillington, established a labour-management committee in an attempt to mediate differences on the outstanding issues.
The second bi-partisan committee was chaired by Ted Priel, a
On April 14, 1994, Shillington reported in the legislature that the “committee was able to reach agreement on approximately 60 per cent of the issues” and “since then we have been able to add to the success of the Priel committee in other signs of a more cooperative atmosphere in labour relations in this province.”
In the end
In his June 1993 report to Shillington, Ish said his recommendations were “premised on the view, virtually universally accepted today, that workers’ rights to bargain collectively and to organize for that purpose without interference must be ensured by the governing legislation. It is the workers who determine whether they want to organize and bargain collectively; it is solely their prerogative to make this determination.”
Ish made the interesting observation that “The Trade Union Act has become a highly politicized piece of legislation, often used as a tool of political change. More often than not, a change in government has been accompanied by significant changes to the Act in response to that government’s particular political agenda.”
Enter Brad Wall, the
Wall became leader of the Official Opposition Saskatchewan Party on March 15, 2004. He replaced Elwin Hermanson, who resigned after leading the party to defeat in the 2003 provincial election. Shortly after his victory was announced Wall restated his call for a sweeping policy review by the party. He also wasted little time in reconfirming his support for the CFIB.
In a March 31, 2004, letter to Marilyn Braun-Pollon, Wall wrote:
“Thanks so much for your kind words on my election as Leader of the Saskatchewan Party and Leader of the Official Opposition.With Wall’s letter one might be hard pressed to find better evidence that so starkly illustrates the Saskatchewan Party’s pro-business bias. It wouldn’t be Wall’s last letter to Braun-Pollon either.
“My party has had a very good relationship with your organization through the years and that will absolutely not change under my leadership. The position the CFIB puts forward, for the most, reflect our own.
“I would be delighted to meet with you to discuss your issues. I would ask that you contact Terri Harris in our office at 787-4300. I am sure a date can be arranged in the near future.
“Thank you once again for your congratulations.”
On September 21, 2004, Saskatchewan Party Leader Brad Wall released his economic vision for
The Promise of Saskatchewan: A New Vision for Saskatchewan’s Economy is a 37-page document that details Wall’s plan for restructuring
Central to Wall’s “vision” is the establishment of a partnership called
“Enterprise Saskatchewan will…ensure that industry groups, local governments, First Nations, post-secondary institutions, labour and economic development bodies such as Agrivision and the Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce are part of the strategic planning, implementation, governance and monitoring of the Enterprise Saskatchewan Plan,” Wall states on page eight.
“Its board will represent both government and the aforementioned partners, with the chairperson coming from the non-government members of the board.”
“Rather than taking direction from government” Wall’s non-elected Enterprise Saskatchewan partners “will establish provincial economic development goals and strategies for endorsement by Cabinet and the Legislature. Government departments; agencies and, in some cases, Crown corporations, will then be tasked with implementing these strategies.”
Wall’s plan, however, appears to torpedo the board’s mandate and credibility before it even gets started by pre-determining in its terms of reference what the alleged barriers are and what outcomes are to be expected.
In a speech delivered to the North Saskatoon Business Association on December 8, 2005, Wall said “Non-negotiable and foundational to the terms of reference given to
“New growth tax incentives will also be part of the terms of reference for
“These initiatives are non-negotiable and are hard wired right into
The Saskatchewan Party and CFIB often complain that the Saskatchewan Labour Relations Board lacks openness and transparency, particularly the process of selecting the Chair, Vice-Chair and members of the Board.
The same can certainly be said about Wall’s
To date the Saskatchewan Party has not released the complete terms of reference for
References to the exact make-up of the
Stakeholders from government
Regional economic development authorities
Non-profit and institutional sectors
Other economic stakeholders
On December 10, 2004, Saskatchewan Party Leader Brad Wall’s constituency office faxed a letter to the newly formed Saskatchewan Business Council (SBC) in care of the CFIB’s Marilyn Braun-Pollon, requesting a meeting between the SBC and members of the Saskatchewan Party Caucus, including Wall, on Friday, December 17 in
The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the provincial government’s “proposal to impose government-directed hours on
Judging by the letter’s content its clear the request for a meeting between the parties was initiated by the Saskatchewan Party, which serves to bolster the perception that it harbours a pro-business bias.
It’s interesting to note that in the letter Wall states that the government’s proposal “will badly damage
Just four days later, on December 14, 2004, Wall sent yet another letter to Braun-Pollon, this time thanking her for adding her voice “to those opposing the policy of government directed hours.”
“It is my belief that if we work together, we can defeat this insane labour policy,” Wall said.
The letter goes on to say “I encourage you to urge business owners to participate in our “Stop the Job Killing Monster” Campaign which can [be] accessed on our website…I would also like to offer my cooperation and any resources which may be of assistance to the Saskatchewan Business Council in opposing this policy of government directed hours.”
So it would appear that the Saskatchewan Party not only set out to meet and recruit the likes of the SBC and CFIB, its leader even offered them whatever “resources” they may have needed to help defeat the government’s directed hours proposal. The question becomes was any taxpayer money involved?
On February 6, 2005, at the Saskatchewan Party’s Annual Convention in
– Support for The Crown Corporations Public Ownership Act but only insofar as it applies to the four major Crown corporations: SaskTel, SaskPower, SaskEnergy and SGI.The resolutions passed, however, come with a word of warning. In
– The Promise of
Saskatchewan: A New Vision for ’s Economy as presented by Saskatchewan Party Leader Brad Wall as the foundation for the economic development plan of a Saskatchewan Party government. Saskatchewan
– The creation of
Enterprise Saskatchewanand the removal of barriers to private sector investment in ’s key economic sectors. Saskatchewan
– Ensuring Saskatchewan’s income, corporate, property and capital taxes and resource royalty rates are competitive with other provinces and do not create a barrier to increased private sector investment, job creation and economic growth.
– Eliminating the small business tax.
– Eliminating the Corporate Capital Tax and reducing the corporate income tax rate to 11.5% over four years.
– A service-based review of all government operations.
– A review of provincial government competition with the private sector through government departments, agencies and Crown corporations.
– A review of all existing out-of-province Crown business ventures and a moratorium on further out-of-province investment by Crown corporations until the review is complete.
– A complete review of provincial labour legislation and of the Labour Relations Board.
It should be remembered that in his December 2005 speech to the NSBA in Saskatoon, Wall told the audience that a Saskatchewan Party government would ensure that “Legislative changes where necessary will be readied for the first Legislative session” to force the advancement of his party’s conservative agenda.
Perhaps one of the more incredible displays of bias occurred on June 22, 2006, when the
In Labour board seen as biased (StarPhoenix, June 22, 2006), anti-NDP columnist Randy Burton, conveniently armed with apocalyptic surveys conducted by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, said a November 2005 survey of 365 Saskatchewan businesses revealed 82 per cent of them found Saskatchewan’s labour laws to be too pro-labour. In January 2006, 58.4 per cent of 699 businesses viewed provincial labour laws as a priority.
What Burton did not tell readers though was that the CFIB’s 2005-06 Pre-Budget Submission to the Honourable Harry Van Mulligen reported that approximately 70 per cent of the general public said they did not believe that Saskatchewan’s labour laws were too pro-labour/union.
Furthermore, the 58.4 per cent of businesses that viewed provincial labour laws as a priority was down from 69.2 per cent in July 2002. Oddly, in September 2005, only 41 per cent said that more balanced labour laws should be a government priority over the next five years. Perhaps even more puzzling is that the package of information Burton seemed to be drawing information from – Tax Reform to Get Saskatchewan Back in the Game (Jan. 24, 2006) – contained no reference to reforming labour laws in the short, medium and long term recommendations that were presented to Finance Minister Harry Van Mulligen.
In ruling on a dispute between Wal-Mart and the United Food and Commercial Workers over access to company documents earlier this year, Baynton was unequivocal in his view of how the board operated.Wall and Braun-Pollon, listed in the article as “prominent players” even though neither appeared to be directly involved in the Wal-Mart case, were naturally given the opportunity to comment on the matter.
He said the process was so one-sided the union won nearly every argument and even seemed to be running the process.
“Seldom as in the case before me, is a dispute or issue so one-sided that one party is successful in all of its applications while the other is successful in none,” he said.
Had this come from a player in a labour-management dispute, it would have been regarded as just another shot in an ongoing war. Coming from a judge, it made people sit up and take notice. Those who have long suspected the board of bias had all the confirmation they needed.
Baynton’s judgment in the case was later overturned by the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal. It ruled the board couldn’t really decide if the union was on a “fishing trip” for information until it actually examined the documents in question.
Braun-Pollon said that while provincial corporate tax changes have been welcome, “you can undo some of the good work by not ensuring that we have a balanced labor relations board.”
Wall said the labour environment does not need to be unfair to unions or employers but needs to be competitive with other jurisdictions.
The board operates independently from the government, its departments and agencies. The chairperson, vice-chairpersons and all members of the board are required by The Trade Union Act to take an oath of impartiality in the performance of their office.
The members of the board are selected so that employers and organized employees are equally represented. Both the Saskatchewan Party and CFIB know this. In fact, the CFIB appears to participate in selecting the employer representatives on the board.
A March 9, 2004, letter posted on the CFIB website from Labour Minister Deb Higgins shows the nominating organizations include: the CFIB, the Construction Labour Relations Association of Saskatchewan Inc., the North Saskatoon Business Association, the Saskatchewan Association of Health Organizations, the Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce, the Saskatchewan Mining Association, the
In Wal-Mart cries foul (StarPhoenix, June 24, 2006), it was reported that Wal-Mart didn’t think it could “get a fair hearing from the Saskatchewan Labour Relations Board (SLRB), and is asking the courts to declare the board biased.”
In the motion filed in Saskatoon Court of Queen’s Bench, Wal-Mart claimed to have a “reasonable apprehension” that the board was biased. The SLRB “has and will continue to breach the rules of natural justice in failing to provide a fair hearing to the applicant.”
On July 20, 2006, Queen’s Bench Justice Frank Gerein dismissed the application from Wal-Mart Canada Corp. saying “It is alleged that there was interference with the Board and that it was required to read publications which were highly disparaging of Wal-Mart. Yet there is absolutely no evidence before this court to prove the allegations.”
In its court submissions, Wal-Mart referred to a statement of claim from Walter Matkowski, a former labour relations board member who launched a lawsuit against the government after his appointment wasn’t renewed. Matkowski said he was ousted after unions complained about his decisions. He also said board members were required to read newsletters from the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour – a union umbrella group – that were “critical and disparaging” of Wal-Mart.
Matkowski did not come forward to assert his allegations under oath.
“Without such evidence it is impossible to conclude that bias exists within the Saskatchewan Labour Relations Board or that there is justification for a reasonable apprehension of bias. To conclude otherwise, this court would be acting on pure conjecture or fantasy. That is not good enough,” Gerein said.
Coming from a judge, you’d think the decision would make the StarPhoenix editorial board and columnist Randy Burton “sit up and take notice.” It didn’t. They said nothing. The only mention of the ruling was in a tiny story buried on Page A8 of the July 26, 2006, edition.
The lone meaningful print media coverage following Gerein’s ruling was by David Shield in Labour Board Bias, Or Business Lobby Bumph? (Planet S Magazine Sept. 14, 2006).
“After that, the story disappeared – along with the angry editorials holding up the accusation of bias as supposed proof the provincial government’s “anti-business” mindset. Instead, the judgment was relegated to a back page story, where it was briefly noted that the court had rejected Wal-Mart’s case – seemingly ending discussion on the matter,” Shield said.
According to Shield the Wal-Mart decision wasn’t enough to convince the CFIB that the board is fair and unbiased.
Braun-Pollon said many of her members aren’t very happy with the labour board – even though the business community has equal representation on the board.
“When we’ve asked our members, those that have dealt with the board, about half of them said they felt that they believed they weren’t given a fair opportunity to present their information during their contact with the board. The CFIB has said for quite some time that we need to create a more balanced climate at the board.”
SFL president Larry Hubich noted that the labour board’s “track record confirms that it’s not biased. In the last eight years, out of over 1,300 cases, only six labour board decisions have been overturned.” This pertinent fact didn’t make it into the StarPhoenix.
The drama, however, didn’t end with Gerein’s ruling because Wal-Mart took its case to the Court of Appeal for
On November 15, 2006, the
With 2007 comes a provincial election and with it another pre-election document by the CFIB: The Future of
“Significant progress has been made over the last year in improving
“In fact, when asked what the impact the recent tax reductions had on their business, an astonishing 99 per cent said it was very or somewhat positive,” said Marilyn Braun-Pollon, now the CFIB’s Vice President, Saskatchewan and Agri-Business.
The good news does not appear to be enough, though.
“Tax competitiveness is not a one-time issue –
The CFIB list of demands “to assist the next government in continuing to build on
Remedies for these and numerous other ailments that business finds annoying are ready and waiting to be implemented via the Saskatchewan Party Policy Book, which was released in February 2007. After all, what are good friends for?