Premier David Eby welcomed Ottawa’s stepped up involvement in the current labour dispute at B.C. ports, but called on the federal government to play a bigger role in infrastructure.
Speaking at the Council of Federation in Winnipeg, Eby said Wednesday (July 12) that the current labour dispute needs to be urgently resolved.
“I’m very glad to see the federal government being actively involved at the table to get a lasting solution between the workers and the employer.”
He made these comments after federal Labour Minister Seamus O’Regan had given a federal mediator 24 hours to send him recommendations to end the current dispute between the BC Maritime Employers Association and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Canada, which has largely shut down Canada’s largest and third-largest port.
Both sides in the ongoing British Columbia port strike will have to decide today whether to accept terms of the settlement recommended by a federal mediator that would end the 13-day-old industrial action.
More than 7,400 longshore workers went on strike almost two weeks ago after months of negotiations with help of the federal government had not resolved issues around pay and maintenance work.
The dispute has caused disruptions up and down supply chains and raised questions about the reliability of Canada’s economic infrastructure, a point of discussion which Eby said dominated talks during the final day of three-day-long meeting of provincial and territorial leaders.
The Council of Federation called on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to convene a First Ministers’ Meeting to discuss the related issues of economic competitiveness and strategic infrastructure.
“(What) threatens to damage our international reputation is failure for the provinces and the federal government to be working together on a strategic infrastructure plan to get those goods to global markets that we produce here in Canada and to get imports in our country in a way that reduces costs for Canadians,” Eby said.
The premier added the current labour dispute underscores the significance of the Port of Vancouver, but resolving the dispute itself won’t necessarily solve larger issues. He pointed to a recent survey that ranked the port second from bottom in terms of efficiency among 348 ports around the world.
“These are problematic things,” he said. “But even worse, is the possibility that we’re not all sitting at the table to address these very serious and ongoing issues. That’s why it’s our number one call (to the federal government).”
This appeal for improvements in Canada’s economic infrastructure co-exists with appeals for additional investment in housing.
Eby said housing is one of the biggest economic constraints facing British Columbia and housing cannot stand separately from more traditional forms of infrastructure like roads and bridges.
“So the solution that we really came to at the table is that we need to have an integrated national approach to this central infrastructure,” he said.
Eby also touched on the future of contract policing with the RCMP in his remarks.
The federal government is currently reviewing the role of the RCMP as a front-line policing supplier but Eby said affected premiers are still waiting to hear from Ottawa as existing contracts approach their end.
Three 20-year agreements that allow the RCMP to act as British Columbia’s provincial police force as well as the municipal force for municipalities are due to end in 2032 and Eby called on the federal government to provide clarity sooner rather than later.
“We need to which direction the federal government is going with contract policing, because the current situation is not sustainable,” Eby said in referring to RCMP staff shortages across the province. “We don’t see a clear path from the federal government about filling those vacancies (and) we have the largest RCMP contract force in Canada.”
Municipalities with RCMP forces have also complained about rising costs and a lack of accountability, one recent sore point being the federal government’s refusal to absorb retroactive pay increases, leaving municipalities on the hook for somewhere between $138 and $145 million.
The federal government is planning to release an interim summarizing its review thus far in the fall.
— with a file from The Canadian Press