After five consecutive successful elections and twenty years of governance, the left-wing Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) was defeated by Ross Thatcher and the Liberal Party in April 1964. Thatcher’s two-term reign would last until 1971, during which time he made major changes to industrial relations in Saskatchewan. The Liberals were more attuned to the business community than the CCF, which most of the labour movement had supported. The first move that the new government made concerned changes to the province’s Trade Union Act, first introduced by the CCF in 1944. Bill 79 was to weaken the Act and undermine the rights of workers previously provided for. Bill 79 allowed employers to interfere in union organizing drives, and restricted the inclusion of “professional” employees into unions. But Bill 79 was just the seed of much more oppressive legislation that was introduced under Bill 2.
The Essential Services Emergency Act, Bill 2, was introduced on September 12, 1966, in response to a strike by the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers (OCAW) at the provincially owned Saskatchewan Power Corporation. The Bill allowed the provincial Cabinet to end a strike in the public service if it deemed those services essential to life, health or property. Compulsory arbitration could be imposed if Cabinet so chose, and a union could be decertified if it defied the legislation. OCAW and later the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), representing health care workers, would be targets of the new legislation. The scope of Bill 2 was expanded in 1970 to cover the construction industry, which was involved in a protracted strike with its unions. It was further expanded in early 1971, to allow Cabinet to establish compulsory arbitration in any industrial dispute in the province, whether it was in the public or private sector.
Bill 2 was the most comprehensive Act undermining the principles of free collective bargaining ever to be introduced in Saskatchewan. It would cast a shadow over all collective bargaining and strengthen the hand of employers at the negotiating table. The United Church in Saskatchewan declared Bill 2 a “dangerous piece of legislation,” which “tends to move us away from the democratic ideal.” The Liberal government called for a provincial election on June 23, 1971. The successor to the CCF, the New Democratic Party (NDP) led by Allan Blakeney, soundly defeated the Liberals and quickly revoked Bill 2. Thatcher’s Bill 2, however, was to set a precedent for future governments to use legislation to intervene in the collective bargaining process, particularly when it involved their own employees.