Alberta politicians participated in a marathon 24-hour debate on Thursday over a labour bill that would cut the minimum wage for young people. (File photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Tick-tock talk: Alberta legislators in marathon debate over workplace rules

EDMONTON — Alberta politicians talked around the clock into the evening Thursday in a marathon 24-hour debate over a bill that would cut the minimum wage for young people and change rules on calculating overtime pay.

The legislature passed second reading of Bill 2 at 7:45 p.m. and then adjourned, more than a full day after debate began.

It was a filibuster by Opposition NDP members, who filled the time delivering speeches and asking and answering questions to draw attention to what NDP house leader Deron Bilous said is an unfair and punitive bill.

“We’re not about to let the UCP government ram this bill through because they are taking overtime pay away from hardworking Albertans,” Bilous told reporters.

“This bill will have a significant impact on those especially in the construction industry and the energy sector.”

Government House Leader Jason Nixon said the UCP campaigned and won the election on a promise to change workplace rules to encourage business investment and won’t be distracted by the delay tactics.

“If the Opposition wants to filibuster they’re welcome to use the chamber to do that, to get their thoughts on the record. That’s the process. I respect that process,” said Nixon.

“(But) we will get our agenda through the house.”

As the debate moved from Thursday morning, to afternoon, Speaker Nathan Cooper posted on Twitter a photo of a tray of Red Bull energy drinks.

After 5:24 p.m., he said, “this will be the longest (continuous sitting day) in Alberta’s history.”

There needs to be 20 members in the house for quorum or proceedings are adjourned.

On Thursday there were about 20 UCP members in the chamber at any given time along with nine for the NDP.

During debate some members worked off laptops, others did some reading, looked at their phones, or sat and listened, often with one hand propping up a chin.

In the morning, Premier Jason Kenney sat in the front row and signed off on correspondence as NDP leader Rachel Notley, in her speech, urged the house to re-think the bill.

The government rejected an Opposition motion to refer the bill to committee for further study.

If passed, the bill would roll back the minimum wage for workers aged 13 to 17 to $13 an hour from $15 an hour, starting June 26.

The $15 rate, the highest in Canada, would remain in place for everyone else.

The bill also proposes to cancel changes instituted by Notley’s government on banked overtime, allowing it to be calculated as straight time rather than time-and-a-half.

The bill would also restore a mandatory secret ballot for all union certification votes, and proposes a return to a 90-day period for unions to provide evidence of employee support for certification.

The debate is far from over.

Next week Bill 2 will be examined in detail in committee of the whole before moving to third and final reading.

On a procedural note, the official business of the house that began Wednesday night officially remained Wednesday’s business even after the clock ticked over to Thursday.

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