Les Leyne: How the port truckers strike was settled

Les Leyne mugshot genericIt was clearly a moment of triumph for Premier Christy Clark and her government.

The six-week strike at Port Metro Vancouver that only showed signs of getting worse instead came to a peaceful end over the course of Wednesday. Not only is the strike over, but her government got a full share of credit from the parties involved for bringing it to a halt.

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After hours of closed-door talks, Clark arrived at the meeting room at 5:40 p.m. Media were allowed in moments later and she and the truckers’ representatives signed a pact, with everyone talking about the value of face-to-face meetings. Moments later they appeared together at a news conference to say the strike is over.

The deal was reached based on a refined 14-point plan that was devised by mediator Vince Ready earlier.

The back-to-work legislation that the government was poised to pass will not proceed, Clark said.

Among the points of the deal:

• The port will rescind suspensions handed out to some drivers who were protesting during the work stoppage.

• The federal government will increase trip payments for truckers, and a fuel surcharge change will further benefit drivers.

• A number of operational adjustments will be made to lessen the lengthy, non-productive waiting times truckers now encounter at the port.

The deal averted what could have turned into full-scale confrontation involving the truckers, the port and the government. Unifor president Jerry Dias, who represents some of the truckers, said he came from Ottawa to Victoria with the intention of holding a news conference to announce they would be defying the back-to-work legislation when it passed.

After the deal was reached, Dias joked with Attorney General Suzanne Anton that he’d been originally hoping she’d be “putting handcuffs on me.”

His defiant announcement was originally scheduled for 10:30 a.m. It was postponed several times, the first clue that progress was being made.

Another sign of progress came in the afternoon, when the government asked the Speaker to hold off on deciding about its earlier request to fast-track back-to-work legislation that was introduced on Monday.

Government house leader Mike de Jong asked that the ruling, which could have allowed continuous debate on the law, be delayed until 4 p.m. There had been a parade of officials shuttling in and out of the meeting room prior to that.

The bill would have imposed a 90-day cooling off period on all the parties involved, and required them to continue their services, or face heavy fines. It also required resumption of good-faith bargaining.

Both the government and Opposition were bracing for hours of debate through the night, common on back-to-work legislation, before the breakthrough was announced.

Clark said everyone involved had one goal: get together and resolve the issues, before the economic impacts got more severe. She said the truckers had legitimate concerns that had to be addressed. There’s a ‘‘lot of sympathy for truckers who are struggling waiting in line and not getting paid for it.”

Laying the back-to-work law to rest, she said: “You shouldn’t have a fight if you can get a deal. We got a deal instead. We’re delighted about it.”

Dias jokingly thanked the NDP “for the filibuster in the house that gave Christy time to come to her senses.” He also rapped federal Transport Minister Lisa Raitt for not playing a role, saying she declined to take his phone calls and the federal government was looking for a fight during the dispute.

With dozens of companies involved, two governments and some truckers unionized and others not, he said it was the most complicated negotiations he’s been involved in.

Clark’s government was initially reluctant to get involved. But cabinet ministers Shirley Bond and Todd Stone were working behind the scenes on the problem. Ministers Peter Fassbender and Amrik Virk were also involved and were present at the announcement.

It goes down as a big win for everyone involved, particularly considering the alternatives. A continued stand-off would have dramatically upped the economic disruption in B.C. and across Canada. Defiance of the back-to-work law would have opened a troublesome sidebar issue for B.C. Liberals. Best of all, with limited play in the port’s affairs, the B.C. government had to give up next to nothing to reach the deal.

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