Manitoba NDP calls for ban on replacement workers, but leader wants to hear from others first

Wab Kinew knows his political party opposes the hiring of replacement workers during labour disputes, but says he wants to ask Manitobans what they think.

At the Manitoba NDP’s annual convention Saturday, the Official Opposition party’s grassroots attempted to ensure Kinew would consider a legislative ban on replacement workers. Members passed a resolution to that effect unanimously.

Kinew later said he said he wants to consult with more people before moving forward. 

While a law banning replacement workers “makes sense” to him personally, he believes the issue isn’t widely understood by other Manitobans, Kinew said.

Previous NDP premiers Gary Doer and Greg Selinger decided against such bans, saying the requirement of binding arbitration 60 days into a labour dispute had already reduced the length of strikes and lockouts and resulted in labour peace.

The party caucus is not required to act upon resolutions passed its annual convention.

‘More ideology than practicality’: Chamber president

Manitoba Federation of Labour president Kevin Rebeck, wearing a shirt at the meeting with the words “replacement workers” crossed out, said the existing arbitration demand strikes a good balance between labour and business, but “doesn’t deal with … the unfairness of negating a strike by replacing the workers while they’re out taking their stand.”

“That is patently unfair,” Rebeck said.

The Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce said unions are pushing to break a system that works.

“I don’t believe it’s in Manitobans’ interest to move forward with any legislation that would disrupt that balance” between the interests of business and labour, chamber president Loren Remillard said.

“There’s no compelling evidence that this is a problem. It’s more ideology than practicality.”

The resolution also calls for a return to automatic certification into a union if a certain percentage of workers sign union cards — a requirement the Progressive Conservative government cancelled soon after forming government, describing it as “forced unionization.”

The new proposed threshold for certification would be 50 per cent plus one, rather than 65 per cent.

The second day of the NDP convention, held at the RBC Convention Centre in Winnipeg, was devoid of much debate as party members voted overwhelmingly in favour on ideas the governing Progressive Conservatives have opposed, such as a universal meal program in schools and maintaining annual hearings for the setting of electricity rates.

There were also votes on comparatively non-contentious issues, like hiring more nurses, reducing the surgical backlog and advancing reconciliation.

In other endorsed resolutions, members urged the NDP caucus to implement a disability justice critic and, if elected, to restore a cap on kindergarten to Grade 3 class sizes. 

Last convention before provincial election

This is the last NDP convention before Manitobans head to the polls for an election that must be held no later than October 2023.

Current polling suggests the Opposition party is well-positioned heading into the next election. 

A June 2021 Probe Research poll suggested the NDP had the support of 47 per cent of decided voters, while the PCs were at 29 per cent. 

That poll came before current PC leader Heather Stefanson replace Brian Pallister as premier, but a poll a year later showed little change. Probe’s September poll put NDP support at 44 per cent, while 37 per cent said they would vote for a Progressive Conservative candidate if the election was called at that point.

At Saturday’s meeting, the NDP announced Brian Topp as the party’s campaign manager for the 2023 election.

The longtime party strategist — who served as a senior adviser to federal NDP Jack Layton in the 2011 election that led to the party winning the most seats in its history — said the Manitoba party is putting in the work to determine its platform for the next election. 

“There has to be some hope that things will get better if you change the government, that things will improve and that that’s why we need to think carefully about our offer,” he told party members on Saturday.

“It needs to be clear, coherent, understandable proposals that are about the issues that people will actually be caring about when they vote.”

Brian Topp, the Manitoba NDP’s new campaign manager for the 2023 election, addresses delegates at the party’s convention in Winnipeg on Saturday. (Ron Boileau/Radio-Canada)

He credited the party with already nominating 36 of the 57 candidates it will need. Topp said it is important to have the candidates in place and develop a team around them. 

Topp also previously served as chief of staff to then Alberta premier Rachel Notley, when the NDP were in power in that province.

Notley delivered the keynote address during Saturday’s dinner where she drew comparisons between her and Kinew as NDP leaders striving to become premier of their respective provinces in elections next year.

She also saw parallels among both provinces in the Conservative premiers they faced as leaders of the Official Opposition.

“One premier who left in a cloud of controversy only to be followed by another who set off a literal — well, maybe not literal — figurative Category 5 hurricane,” Notley said.

And if you don’t know anymore if I’m talking about Alberta or Manitoba, that’s kind of the point.”