Tensions were running high in the Alberta Legislature Building on Wednesday night.
The Public Sector Wage Arbitration Deferral Act, or Bill 9, a piece of legislation that would remove bargaining rights for unionized workers who took pay freezes in the first year of their contracts, faced a limited debate on Wednesday night.
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As NDP MLAs debated against the bill, Premier Jason Kenney had evidently gone around and handed out earplugs to members of his caucus.
The live video of the session picked up NDP MLA David Eggen calling out Kenney and those wearing the earplugs as he spoke, stating “I would beg an answer from the members opposite, although I can see that many of them are wearing bright pink earplugs that their premier is handing out to all of them right now. So probably many of them can’t hear what I’m saying.”
Bill 9 passed on Thursday morning, though not before the earplug stunt was widely scrutinized by the opposition party.
A statement from the Premier’s Office called Kenney handing out earplugs during the debate “harmless.”
“This was a harmless and light-hearted attempt to boost Government Caucus morale after being forced to listen to the NDP’s insults, lies and over-the-top rhetoric for hours on end,” the statement read.
“For example, one of the vitriolic accusations the House has been forced to endure came earlier this week when Edmonton-Rutherford MLA Richard Feehan comparing Bill 9 to slavery.”
Gil McGowan, the president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, called the bill illegal in a release on Thursday morning, which stated that Bill 9 would break the legally binding contracts of nearly 200,000 public-sector workers in Alberta.
“What the UCP did last night was outrageous and insulting,” said McGowan in the release.
“They showed disrespect and contempt for both Alberta workers and the democratic process. And the bill they passed is illegal.”
“If the Premier thinks he can tear up contracts and trample on workers’ rights without a fight, he has another thing coming. And, he should understand that earplugs aren’t going to help him in weeks ahead because we can guarantee that if the UCP continues on this course, things are going to get really loud.”