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With economy in mind, Raitt plays hard ball in Air Canada dispute

Lisa Raitt is working on a "three-peat". The Labour Minister, as she was last spring, is elbow-deep in trying to solve another potentially disruptive labour dispute.

This, as the House of Commons returns to work on Monday after its summer recess. Prime Minister Stephen Harper has said his government's focus will be on jobs.

Ms. Raitt is already there.

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She is trying to keep Air Canada flight attendants at work after they voted to go on strike as early as next Wednesday.

Indeed, she has been engaged in the battle for some time, pounding the phones behind-the-scenes as she tries to get the two sides together.

And she plays hard ball.

"I had a conference call with parties last evening [Wednesday evening]" Ms. Raitt told The Globe. "My message was that we want them to get a deal that can be ratified by membership. And if they can't get a deal then I asked them to find a process to get them to a deal."

She has also told them if there is no progress after this weekend, she wants to see them "face-to-face" on Monday.

Last spring, Ms. Raitt was instrumental in solving disputes between Air Canada and its customer service agents. And then she was behind the Harper government's ordering postal workers back to work.

Her involvement and that of the Harper government provoked much controversy. The opposition Liberals accused her of "kicking organized labour in the teeth" when she brought in legislation to force locked-out Canada Post workers back on the job.

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And the late Jack Layton and his NDP launched a filibuster, protesting the legislation.

Now, Ms. Raitt is dealing with the Canadian Union of Public Employees, which represents the 6,800 flight attendants and voted overwhelmingly earlier this month to strike.

Their concerns focus on the management's proposal to start a discount leisure airline on which flight attendants would be paid on a lower wage scale, pension issues and working conditions.

"The parties engaged me in mid-August to inform me of where they were," Ms. Raitt said. "I think both parties understand the effect that a work stoppage has on the economy and will work hard to get a deal."

Ms. Raitt says she has her "best officials" on the situation.

A senior airline source, meanwhile, says that the minister is using the same playbook with the Air Canada ground workers and pushing very hard to get a deal. The source says she is now much more hands-on, especially with her successes of last spring.

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This is the last weekend for MPs to spend in their constituencies before going back to work in Ottawa.

As the Prime Minister said, their focus is on jobs; the NDP has vowed the same.

A senior Tory MP says that all of the economic cabinet ministers will be focused on jobs and the economy this fall. That includes industry, foreign affairs, trade, finance and heritage portfolios.

The Tory message will be job creation as the government pushes for establishing new markets and expanding existing ones.

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About the Author
Ontario politics reporter

Jane Taber is a reporter at Queen’s Park. After spending three years reporting from the Atlantic, she has returned to Ontario and back to writing about her passion, politics. She spent 25 years covering Parliament Hill for the Ottawa Citizen, the National Post and the Globe and Mail. More

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