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Opposition calls Alberta’s hiring of union negotiator a conflict of interest

Derek Fildebrandt, shown in Strathmore, Alta., on Jan. 26, 2015, calls Alberta's appointment of a former AUPE negotiator 'a gross conflict of interest.'

Bill Graveland/The Canadian Press

Alberta has hired a negotiator away from the province's largest union to negotiate on the government's behalf in the ongoing bargaining process, a move critics charge creates a conflict of interest.

The NDP government appointed Kevin Davediuk as its "chief adviser on negotiations," effective March 21. He was a staff negotiator for the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees, which boasts 87,000 members, the majority of them working in the public sector. Mr. Davediuk resigned from AUPE on Monday, the government said.

Alberta is in the preliminary stages of union negotiations, and Premier Rachel Notley is under pressure to keeps expenses down as the province faces a ballooning deficit. Mr. Davediuk will report to the deputy minister of finance.

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He will play a leadership role in negotiations with government employees and implement a bargaining strategy. The government deflected conflict-of-interest questions by touting Mr. Davediuk's success negotiating on behalf of public-sector unions.

"It makes sense to look at who the best negotiators are in the province and make sure they're on your side," Sarah Hoffman, Alberta's Deputy Premier and Health Minister, said during Question Period on Wednesday.

Labour Minister Christina Gray argued that Mr. Davediuk's 30 years of experience bargaining for both employers and employees is valuable.

"He will be able to be tough but fair and make sure that our labour negotiations are properly done," she told the legislature. "Through these challenging times, this labour negotiator will be able to work soundly with all parties."

Alberta's Wildrose Party, which serves as the Official Opposition, said the appointment creates a conflict that puts taxpayers' money at risk.

"This is a gross conflict of interest," finance critic Derek Fildebrandt said. "Either they are stealing AUPE's second-highest negotiator to undercut AUPE and are negotiating in bad faith, or it is a gross conflict of interest where AUPE is effectively negotiating with AUPE.

"And when that happens, you can expect the taxpayers are not going to be getting value for their tax dollars."

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Mr. Davediuk must meet with Alberta's ethics commissioner and file disclosure information in accordance with the Conflict of Interest Act, government spokeswoman Cheryl Oates said in a statement. The ethics watchdog has not yet considered his case, she said. The Office of the Ethics Commissioner of Alberta cannot, by law, reveal whether it provided conflict-of-interest advice.

He will not represent Alberta in "any current negotiations where he was directly involved in previous roles," Ms. Oates said.

The negotiator has decades of experience, including the government's human resources department between 1989 and 1994. Bargaining, Ms. Oates said, was one of his responsibilities then. He also spent 17 years negotiating for private employers, she noted. Mr. Davediuk has also worked for six years on behalf of public-sector unions, and another six for unions with employees in the private sector, she said.

Mr. Davediuk did not return an e-mail sent to his AUPE address, respond to a voicemail left at his office or reply to messages left on his cellphone. His name and title were removed from AUPE's website on Wednesday afternoon. The organization says it is Alberta's largest union, and its members work in government, health care, education, boards and agencies, municipalities and private companies. The union declined to comment.

David Harrigan, the United Nurses of Alberta's director of labour relations, said he has sat across the table from Mr. Davediuk when the new government negotiator was representing employers.

"What they've got with this guy is somebody who knows the employer side and somebody who knows the union side," Mr. Harrigan said. "In my mind, you couldn't find a better-qualified person."

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The NDP will deliver a budget in April. It intends to protect health care and education services, according to Tuesday's Throne Speech. The government revealed Mr. Davediuk's new role in its Orders-in-Council released late Tuesday.

Editor's note: An earlier digital version of this story incorrectly stated the dates for the Question Period, when Kevin Davediuk's contact information was removed, the Throne Speech and the release of Mr. Davediuk's new role. This version has been corrected.

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