What Does the Alberta Election Mean for Employers?

Yesterday Albertans made a decision that surprised many in our province by electing an NDP majority government. The election results were:

Alberta Party1

We will leave it to the pundits to analyse how these results came to be, but one thing is for sure - changes are coming to the Government of Alberta.

Many clients are concerned about what an NDP government will mean for them and their organizations. We thought it would be worthwhile to highlight some of the policies that will affect employers and businesses.

The NDP platform includes the following:

  • Increasing the personal income tax rate as follows:
    • 12% tax rate on income between $125,000 to $150,000
    • 13% on income between $150,000 to $200,000
    • 14% between $200,000 and $300,000
    • 15% over $300,000
  • Increasing the corporate tax rate from 10% to 12% while retaining the current small business tax rate and no sales tax
  • Establishing a "Job Creation Tax Credit" that will be designed to help Alberta businesses which invest to create new jobs
  • Increasing the minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2018
  • Reviewing employment standards to support family-friendly work standards, including improving compassionate care leaves and providing time off for family responsibilities

The NDP has also been a proponent for extending Occupational Health and Safety legislation to farm workers.

In the election, the NDP promised to "actively support economic diversification in other sectors, including alternative energy (including our proposed building retrofit loan fund), high tech, advanced research, knowledge industries, film and television production, small Alberta brewing, wind power, forestry, value-added agriculture, food processing and tourism."

They have also promised an "Owners' Rights Commission" to report to the Premier on "measures to promote greater processing of Alberta's energy resources and to ensure a full and fair return to the people of Alberta for their energy resources". While the platform does not specifically commit to raising royalties, there will be considerable uncertainty throughout this process which we believe, and have been advised by others, will have significant negative impact on new investment decisions. The NDP have committed to act on the recommendations of the Commission within the first year of the next Legislature.

There are no specific policy items that speak to labour code reforms, but we expect that changes are on the way as many elected NDP MLAs have extensive union backgrounds and Premier Notley was herself a labour lawyer who worked both with and for unions.

The Government of Alberta is in the midst of reviewing labour legislation (particularly the Public Service Employee Relations Act) arising out of the Supreme Court of Canada's decision giving Constitutional protection to the right to strike. This may provide opportunity for more widespread changes to Alberta labour legislation. The Alberta Government also recently announced it would not be proceeding with recommendations to change Alberta's construction labour legislation arising out of the Sims Report. The new government could revisit these issues.

Other provinces which have elected NDP governments have sometimes moved towards the following concepts:

  • Union certification without a secret ballot vote based only on membership evidence
  • Bans on replacement workers in labour disputes
  • First contract arbitration
  • Automatic certification
  • Restrictions on employer free speech
  • Novel employer unfair labour practice provisions
  • New appointments to the Labour Relations Board from a more union-friendly background

It is uncertain what if any priority the new government will give to labour law reform or any of these possible issues, but they all have the potential to significantly change labour and employment law in the province.