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Gantry cranes sit idle above stacks of cargo containers at port during a strike by International Longshore and Warehouse Union Canada workers in the province in Vancouver in July, 2023.DARRYL DYCK/The Canadian Press

Federal Labour Minister Seamus O’Regan has appointed veteran mediator Vince Ready to head an industrial inquiry commission into disputes at British Columbia ports.

Mr. Ready will chair the two-person commission, with the other member being Vancouver lawyer Amanda Rogers. They will examine the history of labour relations at West Coast ports and seek ways to ensure the stability of Canada’s international trade in hopes of avoiding major disruptions such as the strike in B.C. last year.

About 7,400 members of the International Longshore & Warehouse Union Canada, or ILWU, went on strike for two weeks in July, disrupting cargo shipments in the Vancouver region, Vancouver Island and the Prince Rupert area in Northern B.C.

“We need stability, we need certainty. And I’m hoping that asking some very important, deep and structural questions will afford us some answers on how we can make sure this doesn’t happen again,” Mr. O’Regan said in an interview on Monday.

The strike at the beginning of July at B.C. ports and a 24-hour walkout days later created upheaval in the supply chain, including trains and trucks. The Greater Vancouver Board of Trade estimated that work stoppages in July led to the disruption of nearly $10.7-billion worth of goods.

Mr. O’Regan asked two experts last year to identify key issues for the terms of reference for the inquiry under the Labour Code to review the conflict at B.C. ports, which will have implications for the federal government’s handling of shipping disputes across Canada.

Anthony Giles, an adjunct professor of employment relations at Queen’s University in Kingston, and Kevin Banks, an associate law professor at Queen’s, proposed the terms of reference for the review.

Mr. O’Regan said durable solutions that respect collective bargaining are crucial, given the acrimony last summer between employers and union members. “There was a massive level of distrust.”

A coalition of business groups failed to persuade the federal Liberal government in July to recall Parliament to introduce back-to-work legislation. Mr. O’Regan maintained that it’s best to encourage both sides in a dispute to work out their differences at the bargaining table. “You don’t want to be interfering in collective bargaining. It only leads to more interference.”

Nearly 75 per cent of ILWU members who cast their ballots in August voted in favour of accepting the terms of a tentative four-year deal reached with the BC Maritime Employers Association, or BCMEA, which represents 49 private-sector companies such as shipowners and terminal operators.

Eligible voting members had rejected an earlier tentative pact that was endorsed by the union’s leadership. The membership’s eventual ratification capped five turbulent weeks that upended the flow of an array of products such as imports of consumer goods and exports of raw materials.

“Our ports are vital to our supply chains, and the scale of the disruption was a burden on the many businesses and workers that depend on them,” according to a statement on Monday from Mr. O’Regan’s office.

Mr. Ready and Ms. Rogers will hold hearings with stakeholders and invite submissions from interested parties, as well as review findings from studies released by the federal government in 1995 and 2010 about labour relations at West Coast ports. The 2010 study had a section about the challenges faced by the BCMEA to represent a wide range of interests among its members.

Mr. Ready is a long-time mediator and arbitrator whose career in labour relations dates back to 1965. Ms. Rogers, who completed a master of laws in 2021, specializes in resolving conflicts at workplaces.

A final report is scheduled to be delivered to Mr. O’Regan by May, 2025, including any potential changes to the Labour Code and how to implement them.

“I’m determined to take it on and provide some long-term solutions. This is not gathering dust,” he said.

A different collective agreement expired on March 31, 2023, between the BCMEA and the ILWU’s Local 514 representing 730 dock forepersons. That labour dispute remains unsolved.

The earliest time for a strike or lockout would be mid-May.

“Coming out of the ILWU Canada’s longshore strike this past summer, the BCMEA is very concerned about the reputational damage inflicted,” the BCMEA said in a statement last week, adding that a negotiated settlement remains possible through mediation.

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