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Alberta premier under fire for handing out earplugs during legislative debate

WATCH ABOVE: During debate in the Alberta legislature Wednesday night, Premier Jason Kenney handed out earplugs. The move was not taken lightly, with NDP MLA David Eggen stopping debate to call out the caucus.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney is under scrutiny for handing out earplugs to members of his caucus during debate in the legislature late Wednesday night.

Alberta MLAs debated through the night on Bill 9, which passed early Thursday morning. Bill 9 imposes a delay on wage talks for unionized workers who took pay freezes in the first years of their contracts, but had the right to reopen pay negotiations this year — with arbitration if needed.

The government says the delay is only until November, but unions and the NDP predict arbitration will never take place and the government will begin imposing wage cuts as early as this fall.

READ MORE: Alberta finance minister won’t guarantee delayed union arbitration will occur

During the debate, Kenney walked up and down the aisles handing out earplugs to members of his UCP caucus, a move which wasn’t accepted lightly.

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NDP MLA David Eggen called out the UCP caucus while expressing concerns about the bill.

“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,” he said.

“So probably many of them can’t even hear what I’m saying right now.”

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The Alberta NDP called the earplug move “a stunning show of disrespect.”

“I have been in this legislature seven years, and I have never seen such disrespect,” NDP Opposition House Leader Deron Bilous said in a statement. “First, the UCP cut off debate of this terrible Bad Faith Bargaining Bill and then they literally drown out what little debate we have left with earplugs.”

READ MORE: Alberta limits debate on bill to strip some public sector bargaining rights

In a statement issued Thursday morning, said it 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.”

LISTEN BELOW: Thomas Dang, NDP MLA for Edmonton-South talks with 630 CHED’s Ryan Jespersen about Kenney handing out earplugs

One of the topics Kenney campaigned on during the spring election was legislative decorum. Shortly after taking office, a motion was introduced to prohibit members from thumping their desks during debate, which Kenney called distracting and demeaning.

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READ MORE: Alberta UCP changing legislature rules to allow MLAs to abstain from voting, ban desk-thumping

The president of the Alberta Federation of Labour said he is outraged that the bill passed, adding handing out earplugs during debate “adds insult to injury.”

“Kenney didn’t want his caucus listening to the NDP explain how the bill violates decisions from the Supreme Court of Canada on the definition of good faith bargaining and the obligations of governments when it comes to collective bargaining,” Gil McGowan said in a media release Thursday.

“What the UCP did last night was outrageous and insulting,” McGowan continued. “They showed disrespect and contempt for both Alberta workers and the democratic process.”

Watch below: Debate raged Thursday over the actions of Premier Jason Kenney, who handed out earplugs to MLAs during an overnight session. Vinesh Pratap has reaction and analysis on the political theatre.

Alberta premier hands out earplugs during overnight debate
Alberta premier hands out earplugs during overnight debate

Unions have called the bill a drastic and illegal override of collective bargaining rights. They have promised to challenge the legislation in court but haven’t ruled out job action.

McGowan said unions are considering their next step.

“If the premier thinks he can tear up contracts and trample on workers’ rights without a fight, he has another thing coming,” McGowan wrote in a release.

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“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.”

In the end, the NDP said it did “all it could” to fight Bill 9.

“We will continue to speak out on behalf of workers and will work into the night again and again to hold this government to account if that’s what it takes,” Bilous said.

The workers affected by Bill 9 include nurses, social workers, hospital support staff, prison guards, conservation officers, toxicologists, restaurant inspectors, therapists and sheriffs.

With files from The Canadian Press.