Exceptional journalism requires courage, dedication and, sometimes, outrage. Perhaps as much as anything, a sense of right and wrong is the driving motivation. Seldom does a desire for financial reward stand behind a great story but, too often, cupidity is an effective barrier to reporting that serves the public interest.
In British Columbia, when political journalists place themselves in conflicts of interest by taking payments from groups with interests in the issues covered, they cannot report on conflicts of others. That might explain why you will not read elsewhere that the Labour Relations Board Vice-Chair Richard Longpre, who issued a decision favourable to the government side of the teacher dispute, suffers an obvious conflict. He had been at the centre of the class composition issue as Assistant Deputy Minister of Labour, when Gordon Campbell was Premier and Christy Clark the Minister of Education.
In comments on the article Delay, legislate, litigate, repeat, a reader asked if the LRB decision might have been “tampered with” in the common BC Liberals’ style. When I examined Longpre’s background, it was apparent that most of his consulting work has been on the employer’s side of labour disputes. That didn’t surprise but I was taken aback to find that in 2002, he was Assistant Deputy Minister of the Labour Department and very involved in issues that are the core of the Liberal’s 13-year long dispute with teachers.
After the June 2002 resignation of a second arbitrator appointed to remove provisions of teachers’ contracts, The Province newspaper reported,
“We have to get someone else and we have to move quickly,” [Richard] Longpre [B.C.’s assistant deputy labour minister], said. “It’s in everybody’s best interests to know the terms of the collective agreements when they go back to work in September.”
My response to the reader’s comment on the earlier article is worth prominence.
The recent decision of the LRB was by Richard Longpre. He was first appointed to the LRB in 1985 by Bill Bennett’s Social Credit Government (Labour Minister Terry Segarty). From an old LRB report,
“Richard Longpre graduated from the University of British Columbia in 1976
with a Bachelor of Commerce Degree, majoring. in industrial relations. He
joined Noranda Mines Limited where over the next four years he negotiated
collective agreements and co-ordinated labour relations policy amongst the
Noranda Group of companies in Ontario, the Prairies and British Columbia. In
1981, Mr. Longpre -joined the Mediation Services Branch of the Ministry of
Labour as a mediator. After three years with the Branch, he set up an
independent labour arbitration and mediation practice. In June 1985, he was
appointed Vice Chair of the Labour Relations Board of B.C. and has subsequently
held the positions of Vice Chair with the Industrial Relations Council and
Vice Chair with the current Board. Mr· Longpre resigned as a Vice Chair
effective May 31, 1996; however, he continued to serve on a part-time basis
until September 30, 1996.
It seems Longpre left Noranda, which was involved in potash, oil and gas, mining, etc. and joined BC’s Labour Ministry about the time Noranda took control of giant BC forestry company MacMillan Bloedel.
In 1992. the Canadian Film and Television Producers Association hired Richard Longpre to serve as its new vice-president of labor relations for the B.C. branch.
In 2001, Longpre became Labour Minister Graham Bruce’s Assistant Deputy Minister. As Liberal ADM, he handled the strange situation in 2002 that saw appointments of a number of arbitrators in the class composition dispute. The final arbitrator that the Labour Ministry appointed in this matter (they discarded the usual practice of parties jointly agreeing on arbitrator selection) was Eric Rice. He did the what the government wanted but his work was tossed by the BCSC in early 2004.
In 2005, Longpre was back in the private sector as a consultant. He worked for trucking companies in a dispute with container truck drivers and for private health services company Sodexho. In 2006, he negotiated for Securiguard in a dispute with airport guards.
Public Accounts records list payments to Longpre FY’s 2011,2012 and 2013 as an OIC appointment. Current LRB records show him earning $155,000 as one of five Vice-Chairs of the seven-person LRB.
Considering Longpre’s close involvement as Assistant Deputy Minister with the early days of this lengthy dispute, many people would think him the least credible member of the LRB to have acted on the file in 2014. However, as I wrote in the main article, this government has never been concerned about equity in this matter.