Soon after it was elected on April 19, 2016, the Pallister Government started investigating wage restraint legislation. On August 16, 2016 an Advisory Note was prepared for Cabinet, which suggested that:
… a public services sustainability model similar to Nova Scotia could be considered.
Nova Scotia had its own Public Services Sustainability Act, which at the time (2016) had also been passed but not yet proclaimed.
The Public Services Compensation Committee was struck on September 16, 2016. It consisted of six cabinet members, and Michael Richards, Elizabeth Beaupre, Gerry Irving, and Rick Stevenson. The PSCC discussed a one-year wage pause for all collective agreements at its first meeting on September 21, 2016. Irving was asked to return with some legislative options for the PSCC to consider.
The PSCC met a few more times to discuss legislative options, the Nova Scotia model, and the implications of a legal opinion they received on the constitutionality of the PSSA.
(I wish I knew what their legal opinion said about the passed-but-not-proclaimed business. I’m sure I would have told them, with all the lawyerly qualified, diplomatic, practical setting-out-of-choices-and-consequences I could muster, don’t be a doofus, do not do this.)
The first public mention of the PSSA was in the November 21, 2016 Throne Speech. The government indicated that the law would be designed after consultations and dialog with Labour.
On December 14, 2016, the Public Sector Compensation Committee approved a draft of the PSSA. It was based on the Nova Scotia model, had two years of 0% wage increases, and anticipated modest increases for years three and four.
Irving and Stevenson were under a lot of time pressure to get the PSSA ready to be passed as part of the Budget Speech, scheduled for March of 2017.
(If they missed this deadline, the PSSA would have to wait until the next year.)
In an Advisory Note dated January 5, 2017, Stevenson indicated that some form of meaningful collective bargaining would probably be required to defend against a constitutional challenge. It was thought that the modest wage increases in the third and fourth year as well as the sustainability savings would be enough.
(At least, that is the story the government was trying to sell to the court).
The terms of the PSSA were finalized on March 13, 2017. Included in the proposal to the PSCC for this final draft was the statement:
The surest means of establishing certainty in relation to increases in compensation and the public sector is to set out expectations in legislation. (Exhibit 3, PSSA Advisory Note.)