06/11/2013 05:11 EDT | Updated 08/11/2013 05:12 EDT

Saskatchewan's top court dismisses appeal of firings at labour relations board

REGINA - Saskatchewan's highest court has dismissed, for the second time, an appeal of firings at the province's labour relations board.

Labour Minister Don Morgan was pleased with the decision that came after five years of legal wrangling.

"It's usual when a government changes, especially in our province, that people in boards such as the labour relations board, would be replaced," Morgan said Tuesday.

The Saskatchewan Party government fired the board's chairman and two vice-chairs in March 2008, four months after winning the provincial election. Premier Brad Wall said at the time that the government was planning labour law changes and wanted a new chairperson to apply the new policies.

The firings were made under legislation that allows new governments to end the term of office of anyone appointed to a board by the previous government.

But the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour and two unions argued the government overstepped its boundaries when it appointed a new chair for the quasi-judicial board, which resolves labour disputes.

The Court of Queen's Bench first dismissed the union's case in 2009 and the unions went to the Court of Appeal. The Court of Appeal dismissed that appeal in 2010, saying the government did not abuse its power.

The unions tried again.

They went back to the Court of Queen's Bench to argue that the law was unconstitutional. They said the board members were like judges and protected from being arbitrarily removed from office.

The Court of Queen's Bench disagreed again and the unions appealed for a second time.

In dismissing the second appeal, the Court of Appeal noted in its decision Tuesday that other board members — 18 in all — had been appointed by the former NDP government. It said a change wasn't uncommon.

"Such are the political realities when it comes to the appointment of the members of the Saskatchewan Labour Relations Board...when, as a result of a general election, one government resigns and another takes its place," Justice Stuart Cameron wrote on behalf of the three-judge panel.

Cameron said it has been the practice by successive Saskatchewan governments to ensure that their policy choices "in the often contentious field of labour relations are realized" in accordance with their legislation.

"These choices may, on occasion, be weighted in one way or another, having regard for the particular mix of social and economic policy considerations they reflect. Hence, they are seldom free of controversy, as they were in this instance," he wrote.

Ken Love, a veteran Regina lawyer and Saskatchewan Party supporter, was quickly named as the new chairman.

Morgan says he thinks the board has proven its ability to do a good job and be independent.

"I think what we can say, though, is the labour relations board that's been appointed has been a very sound, competent board. The judgements that have been down...are impartial, well-reasoned, and I think, the same reasons that people might have had concern initially, I think, are probably past now," he said.