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By a 6-3 majority, the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled the Ontario government was not entitled to appoint retired judges who had no labour relations experience to be interest arbitrators under the Hospital Labour Disputes Arbitration Act (HLDAA).

This decision vindicates CUPEs challenge to the high-handed actions of the Ontario government in appointing persons with no labour relations expertise to arbitrate collective bargaining disputes.

CUPE first raised its objections in 1998 when the Harris government tried to appoint retired judges to serve as arbitrators after the restructuring of the health care sector. CUPEs position was upheld by the Ontario Court of Appeal but that ruling was then appealed to the Supreme Court by the Ontario government.

HLDAA prohibits strikes and lockouts in hospitals and nursing homes and requires that collective bargaining disputes be resolved by interest arbitration. If the union and the employer cannot agree on an arbitrator, the Minister of Labour is authorized to appoint the arbitrator.

Writing for the majority, Mr. Justice Binnie ruled that the Minister of Labour must ensure that arbitrators appointed under the Act are not only independent and impartial but possess appropriate labour relations expertise and are recognized in the labour relations community as generally acceptable to both management and labour.

A full text of the decision, cited as Canadian Union of Public Employees (C.U.P.E.) v. Ontario (Minister of Labour) [2003] S.C.J. No. 28 can be found at the Supreme Court’s website, http://www.scc-csc.gc.ca/.

In opposing the Ontario governments appeal, CUPE was represented by Howard Goldblatt, Steven Barrett and Vanessa Payne of Sack Goldblatt Mitchell.