The Information and Privacy Commissioner today ordered the Alberta Labour Relations Board (LRB) to release approximately 200 records to the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) pertaining to the drafting of the controversial Bill 27, which restructured health care labour relations and stripped health care workers of many rights. The Commissioner also chastised the LRB for "failing" in its duty to assist an applicant under the Freedom of Information Act. (Read Commissioner's Decision)
The AFL has been trying since June, 2003 to access records revealing communications between key officials at the LRB and government officials regarding the drafting of Bill 27. The Commissioner's order is the latest revelation in an ongoing scandal where LRB officials may have breached their role as independent arbiters of labour law by assisting in the drafting of government legislation.
Last November, two memos were accidentally released which revealed significant communication about the content of Bill 27. At the time the Privacy Commissioner and the LRB took the AFL to court to try to get back the documents. The Court denied the request.
"This is a significant victory," says AFL President Gil McGowan. "For three years the LRB has stonewalled and hidden behind a veil of secrecy around Bill 27. We are pleased the Privacy Commissioner recognized the important right to access these documents."
There are two parts to the Commissioner's ruling. First, he ruled the LRB must disclose portions of documents that reveal who was involved in creating, drafting, editing or commenting on legislation, as well as the dates of those communications. Second, he ruled the LRB failed in its legal duties under FOIP by issuing an incomplete response and by delaying the release of other documents.
"We are hopeful that the nature of the documents released - including dates and names - will be enough to finally answer our questions about the LRB's involvement in the creation of Bill 27," says McGowan. "Answers that are long overdue."
Under the terms of the Order, the LRB has 50 days to release the documents to the AFL or to decide to file a judicial review. McGowan hopes that the LRB finally chooses to be transparent. "Many of the documents in question, including some not disclosed today, are in the discretion of the LRB to release voluntarily. The LRB should clear the air in this matter once and for all by releasing all the records in its discretion."
McGowan also called on the LRB to adopt the recommendations of the Sossin Report, released by the AFL in June, as a method to preventing future scandals.
"It is particularly ironic that this order comes down in the middle of the government's Right to Know Week. Clearly as far as the LRB is concerned, the right to know is on a need to know basis." McGowan concluded.
- 30 -
For More Information:
Gil McGowan, AFL President Cell: (780) 218-9888
Jason Foster, AFL Director of Policy Analysis Tel: (780) 483-3021
Backgrounder: Bill 27 and Freedom of Information
September 27, 2006
- In March, 2003 the Government of Alberta introduced and passed Bill 27, the awkwardly-named Labour Relations (Regional Health Authorities Restructuring) Amendment Act, at the request of Health Care employers.
- Bill 27 radically changed the face of Health Care industrial relations in Alberta by:
a) Removing the right to strike from thousands of union members in areas like Community Health, Mental Health and Extended Care;
b) Forcing unions into run-off votes against each other, denying workers in smaller groups the right to choose the union they wanted to represent them;
c) Tearing up dozens of signed collective agreements.
- The implementation of these sweeping changes was made the responsibility of the Alberta Labour Relations Board. In order to function, the Labour Relations Board must function as a neutral umpire in labour relations.
- In June, 2003 the AFL filed a Freedom of Information request with the ALRB, asking for any record of the Board's correspondence with the government, employers, or unions concerning Bill 27. We wanted to try to determine the nature and extent of employer influence on the drafting and implementation of the bill.
- The LRB responded to the request with a one-page refusal, declining to disclose even a single record. In justification, the Board cited three sections of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.
- In the fall of 2003, health care unions and the AFL challenged the process in court, alleging that the conduct of the Board gave unions a reason to fear bias in its rulings. This allegation was supported by information from FOIP requests made to other parts of government.
- The court challenge was lost in court of Queen's Bench, and is now proceeding to the Court of Appeals.
- The AFL then proceeded to appeal the Board's decision to the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner.
- In November 2005 the inquiry produced (possibly through an accidental release) several documents that seemed to confirm that the Board played an active part in the creation of Bill 27.
- On September 27, 2006, the Information Commissioner released his decision. Among other issues decided, the Commissioner rejected the ALRB argument that it had the right to withhold any and all records relating to advice given to Cabinet, including even the names of those giving advice and the dates on which it was given. The Commissioner has ordered the Board to "sever" many of the documents, withholding only those portions properly exempted by Section 24 of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.
- This would mean that the Board has to disclose:
a) The names of those sending and receiving the documents.
b) The dates on which the documents were sent.
c) The subject matter lines in the emails or letters.
- The AFL hopes that the information received as a result of this decision may help to fill in some of the gaps in the Bill 27 story.
- The Commissioner also ruled that the ALRB had failed to meet its duty under FOIPPA, by improperly withholding documents, delaying the release of documents, and by failing to provide information as required by the Act.
- The Federation has called on the ALRB to adopt a set of protocols to prevent future incidences of real or perceived bias on the part of the Board. The protocols in question were drafted by Lorne Sossin, Associate Dean at the University of Toronto Faculty of Law, and Charles Smith of York University. Professor Sossin is an acknowledged expert in administrative law.
- The AFL is also asking ALRB Chair Mark Asbell to use the discretion granted him under the FOIPPA to release all the relevant documentation relating to Bill 27.