British Columbia

Uber, Lyft, and Independent Contractors

Ridesharing officially came to British Columbia in January, when the provincial Passenger Transportation Board approved operating licenses for Lyft and Uber.  Vancouver is one of the last major cities in North America to get ridesharing, partly because of opposition from the local taxi industry and partly because of the lengthy process to amend the complex provincial legislation regulating rides for hire.

At the moment, ridesharing is limited to the Lower Mainland area (which includes Vancouver), and ridesharing drivers are more strictly regulated than they are in other regions. Uber and Lyft drivers in BC are required to have the same type of driver’s license as a taxi driver, and also have to pay a per-vehicle licensing fee in every municipality they do business in. Those costs will make it difficult for Uber and Lyft to get the types of drivers they do in other cities, who (in Uber’s words) are part-timers “fitting their driving around what matters most” and usually aren’t commercially-licensed drivers.

Several challenges to Uber and Lyft’s operations are already under way. BC taxi companies have filed a lawsuit against Uber and Lyft being granted permission to operate, arguing that the ridesharing firms have an unfair advantage because their licensing requirements are different from taxis. The mayor of Surrey has refused to allow Uber and Lyft to operate in that city. And riders with disabilities are upset that they may not be able to use Uber or Lyft because neither company requires its drivers to have accessible vehicles.

However, one of the most interesting challenges to Uber and Lyft’s arrival actually happened before either company was given permission to start operating. That challenge came from the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union, which has already (more…)

#MeToo and Making Things Different

The #MeToo movement has generated a lot of discussion, not only around the numerous revelations of sexual misconduct, but also around what organizations can or should do to prevent those incidents from happening in the first place.

This past weekend, Christy Clark, the former premier of British Columbia, wrote an opinion article in The Globe and Mail newspaper, titled “Turning #MeToo into a tangible shift for female leaders“. Here’s some of what she said in that article:

I have been in politics for more than 30 years…Over those years, I saw plenty of men behaving badly. It made me promise myself that I would do things differently should I ever get the chance to lead…Our Speaker was a woman, our government caucus chair was a woman and our Lieutenant-Governor was a woman. The two first female attorneys-general in BC history were appointed, Our 125,000+ civil service, finance ministry and largest Crown corporation were run by women, and more than a third of our government board appointees were women.

Appointing women to high-profile positions has a lot of symbolic value, and having women in those positions is certainly better than not having any women in power at all. But here’s the thing: (more…)

Just Don’t Call Me Late for Dinner

During the recent British Columbia provincial election, a small fuss arose around how the leaders of the three major political parties addressed each other during the few times they met in debates. Liberal leader Christy Clark addressed New Democratic Party leader John Horgan as “Mr. Horgan” and Green Party leader Andrew Weaver as “Dr. Weaver”. Some people interpreted the “Doctor” as Clark being unnecessarily deferential to Weaver so as to implicitly insult non-Doctor Horgan.

Weaver does, indeed, have a Ph.D. – from the University of British Columbia, in applied mathematics. He was also part of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that was a co-winner of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize, although I suppose “Dr. Weaver, Nobel Peace Prize co-winner” would have been a bit unwieldy as a form of address.

But what to call Weaver genuinely seemed to puzzle many people – to the point where (more…)

Public Education and the British Columbia Provincial Election

Some of this blog’s readers are likely already aware that the Canadian province of British Columbia (where I live) is going to have a provincial general election on May 9.  Lots of issues are being raised in the election campaign: jobs, the cost of housing, natural resources, regional inequities, and campaign financing.

As in any election, education is also an important issue. The platforms of BC’s three major political parties – the Liberals (who, as the party with the most elected representatives in BC’s Legislature, are the current governing party), the New Democratic Party (NDP), and the Green Party – all have promises related to elementary and secondary (K-12) education. That’s heartening to see, because publicly-funded education is an essential part of a democratic, equal-opportunity society. However, the election discussions around BC’s K-12 public education system have not always included the significant events around that system in the last few years. I think these events should have a higher profile during this election – not just because (more…)

Supreme Court of Canada Decision in the BC Teachers’ Federation Case (Part II)

On November 10, the Supreme Court of Canada delivered an oral decision in the legal dispute between the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) – the union representing teachers in BC’s public school system – and the British Columbia provincial government.

That decision ended a 14-year legal battle between the two parties over the BC government’s decision to pass legislation that removed the language around class size and composition from its collective agreement with the BCTF, and that also excluded those issues from collective bargaining. The BCTF claimed that the government’s actions violated Section 2(d) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which guarantees freedom of association. Two previous Supreme Court of Canada decisions – in the Fraser case and the Health Services case – have established that in the context of labour relations, “freedom of association” includes workers’ rights to form unions and to engage in collective bargaining.

The Supreme Court decision on November 10 was remarkable because (more…)

Supreme Court of Canada Decision in The BC Teachers’ Federation Case (Part I)

This Thursday, the Supreme Court of Canada held its hearing of an appeal by the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation (BCTF), the union that represents teachers in British Columbia’s public school system.

This ongoing case – which started in 2002 – involves several actions by the BC provincial government in its collective bargaining for a contract with the BCTF, primarily around the government’s decision to pass legislation declaring that some items would not be bargained, and removing those same items from the collective agreement that was then in effect. The BCTF opposed both of these changes. Later, there were also issues around the government’s conduct during bargaining.

The BC Supreme Court twice ruled in the BCTF’s favour, once in 2011 and again in 2014. The BC government appealed the 2014 ruling, and the BC Court of Appeal overturned that ruling. The Court of Appeal decision was the basis of the BCTF’s appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada.

I think it’s fair to say that all parties involved with this case expected that a case this complex would entail a lengthy hearing at the Supreme Court, followed by several months for the nine judges to review the arguments and write their decision. However, much to everyone’s surprise, (more…)

Water

Writing a blog is rewarding in many ways. But for me, one of the great and unexpected benefits of blogging is being inspired – even unknowingly – by the work of other bloggers.

This spring, a blog that I’ve really been enjoying is The Perimeter by photographer Quintin Lake. Quintin has done several long-distance walks in the UK, but last year he embarked on an epic journey – a walk around 10,000 kilometres of Britain’s coastline. He’s doing the walk in sections, as time permits; he estimates he’ll get back to his starting point (St. Paul’s Cathedral in London) in April 2020.

In the last couple of weeks, I’ve had some unusual opportunities to take photos – including a round trip by seaplane from Vancouver to Nanaimo. I found that for some reason my eye kept being drawn to water: its textures, its movement, how the light made it change. And I ended up taking a lot of pictures of it. But it wasn’t until a few days ago, (more…)

Universities, Governance, and Conflict

It’s been a turbulent time recently in British Columbia’s post-secondary education system. In August, Arvind Gupta, the president of the University of British Columbia (UBC), suddenly resigned less than one year into his appointment. A UBC faculty member was criticized for a blog post she wrote about the resignation; that criticism resulted in an investigation which determined that UBC had failed to protect her academic freedom. After the report from the investigation was released, the chair of UBC’s Board of Governors stepped down from his position. But then an inadvertent leak of documents by UBC reignited the controversy, and Gupta spoke out to say that he chose to resign because he felt he did not have the support of the board.

Meanwhile, in December, the University of Northern British Columbia (UNBC) announced that its new chancellor – the ceremonial head of the university – would be James Moore, a former federal Member of Parliament and federal cabinet minister. Moore’s appointment was opposed by the UNBC faculty association, UNBC’s two student associations, and two thousand signatories to a petition, including several members of UNBC’s Senate. They complained that Moore had been a key part of a government that had muzzled scientific research and ignored climate change, and that some of Moore’s own actions went against the values and principles in UNBC’s mission statement. Despite the assurances of the chair of the UNBC Board of Governors that the board was “listening” to these concerns, Moore’s appointment was finalized in January.

These events have generally been framed by the media as a “they said”/”they said” scenario, with two different narratives struggling to become the one that’s accepted as the truth. Presenting the conflicting points of view is important in understanding why these disputes have arisen. But the “they said”/”they said” perspective omits the contextual picture: specifically, (more…)

Calling for a Public Inquiry

There is a situation going on right now in my home province of British Columbia that is deeply distressing to me as a researcher, as an instructor who teaches courses about employment, and as a citizen. I’m writing this blog post to join the calls for a public inquiry into this situation.

I have been told that this situation hasn’t received a lot of attention outside of BC, so I’ll explain what has happened.

In early September of 2012, Margaret McDiarmid, at the time the health minister in BC’s provincial government, held a news conference to announce that four employees had been fired and three employees had been suspended from the ministry’s pharmaceutical services division. (Subsequently, the suspended employees were fired, and a student researcher on a co-op term was also fired.) The health ministry’s pharmaceutical services division, among other responsibilities, assesses medications to determine whether they will be approved for sale in BC, and/or whether the cost of purchasing the medications will be subsidized by the BC government’s PharmaCare program.

McDiarmid stated at the news conference that the reason for the suspensions and dismissals was an alleged privacy breach involving confidential patient-related data. She also stated that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) were investigating the allegations.

Some of the dismissed and suspended employees were employed through contracts with the ministry, and some were permanent employees. Several of them filed wrongful dismissal and defamation lawsuits; others pursued grievances through their unions. One of the lawsuits alleged that (more…)

Public Sector Pay, Private Sector Pay, and the Fraser Institute

Last year, some of the research produced by the Vancouver-based Fraser Institute received some serious criticism. The Institute claims its work is based on “careful, accurate, rigorous measurement”. But the International Labour Organization – an affiliate of the United Nations – released a report which outlined extensive calculation errors and questionable methodologies in the Institute’s Economic Freedom of the World database. And it was also discovered that data for the Institute’s “survey of mining companies” were being collected through a website that was open to anyone, regardless of whether they knew anything about mining.

You would think that criticism like this would make the Institute look a little more thoughtfully at how it conducts its studies. But judging by its new report, Comparing Government and Private Sector Compensation in British Columbia, the Institute isn’t being any more careful with its work. The research presented in this report has numerous problems that contradict the Institute’s claims of “rigorous” and “transparent” methodologies – and which make the results of the research unreliable, to say the least. (more…)