Horgan says all sides have weekend to end Metro Vancouver transit dispute

VICTORIA — Premier John Horgan says the best way to settle Metro Vancouver's transit dispute is for all sides to return to the bargaining table and negotiate a new contract.

His advice came Thursday as a strike looms next week by one transit union representing 5,000 bus, SeaBus and maintenance workers, while another union representing 900 SkyTrain workers announced a 96.8 per cent vote in favour of job action if a contract isn't reached.

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Horgan said he won't take measures to step into the transit operators dispute, noting both sides still have this weekend to reach a settlement before Wednesday's deadline that would halt bus service for three days across Metro Vancouver.

"I understand the importance of transit to the travelling public," he said at a news conference at the legislature. "I think everybody wants a resolution and they've got the opportunity over the weekend to get that done."

Horgan said little when asked about appointing mediators or implementing essential services designations to break the negotiating impasse, saying he preferred to call for more collective bargaining by the company and union.

"We've seen a 20 per cent increase in ridership in the Lower Mainland," he said. "That speaks to the importance of this sector. But having said that, the best way to get an agreement is at the bargaining table and I'm encouraging the parties to be there all weekend long if that's what it takes."

Leaders for Unifor, the union that represents the 5,000 workers, have said unless an agreement with TransLink's Coast Mountain Bus Company is reached in the coming days, it will stage the three-day walk out.

A union spokesman said no negotiations have yet been scheduled for this weekend or beyond.

Coast Mountain says in a statement that more than 350,000 people take the bus daily in Metro Vancouver and they should not be caught in the middle of this dispute.

In the legislature, the Opposition Liberals demanded more action from the government, calling on Labour Minister Harry Bains to appoint a mediator in the dispute.

"British Columbians want to know today: is this minister prepared to use those tools, appoint a mediator, get these parties back to the table and get a settlement that'll get the buses running?," said Liberal Mike de Jong.

Michel Ladrak, the president of BC Rapid Transit Company, which oversees SkyTrain workers, says eight sessions of mediated talks are planned over the next month and the union hasn't given any indication that it will serve strike notice.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 21, 2019.

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