03/23/2012 05:38 EDT | Updated 05/23/2012 05:12 EDT

NDP convention delegate grounded by labour brethren at Air Canada -- again

TORONTO - When labour-friendly delegates to the federal NDP convention cast their eyes skyward Friday, they may not have been looking for divine inspiration on a leadership choice.

A wildcat strike by Air Canada workers that spread from Toronto through Quebec City, Montreal and Vancouver complicated the life of some New Democrats attempting to get to the weekend convention in Toronto, straining the labour brotherhood for at least one card-carrying member.

More than 80 Air Canada flights were cancelled and some 83 delayed by the illegal walkout, stranding some New Democrats in the process.

"It is very inconvenient for the travelling public, myself included," Griffyn Chezenko, a 24-year-old NDP delegate and St. John's university student, said in Montreal as he waited for a connector flight to his Toronto destination.

"I do sympathize with the workers — but strictly as a traveller right now, I can't be nothing but pissed-off."

Chezenko's initial flight from Newfoundland was delayed Friday morning and he wasn't sure when he'd get off the ground in Montreal — even as the final leadership speeches got underway in Toronto.

"I might be fashionably late (for the convention)," he said.

NDP MP Alexandre Boulerice had his morning flight from Montreal cancelled and ended up flying to Toronto with Porter later in the afternoon — too late for his planned participation in a presentation by leadership candidate Brian Topp.

It's not the first time an Air Canada labour dispute has tripped up Canada's champions of labour, the NDP.

Last June, the Canadian Auto Workers created headaches when the union asked the party not to use Air Canada after customer service agents walked off the job on the eve of an NDP policy convention in Vancouver.

Delegates to that policy convention were forced to use the proudly non-union WestJet and other smaller carriers.

NDP MP Jack Harris said he saw a number of protesting Air Canada employers with signs in St. John's on Friday morning, but said his flight to Toronto was not delayed.

The St. John's MP rattled off a list of actions by the Conservative government that he said were hostile to labour, and said he had no difficulty understanding why Friday's illegal — and unsanctioned — job action occurred.

"You can't repress people. It's going to pop up somewhere," said Harris, standing at the back of the Metro Toronto Convention Centre hall as afternoon speeches by the candidates progressed.

"This is a case of people saying, 'Look, enough is enough.' They're going to show that they have some spirit left in them. You've got to expect when you act in a heavy-handed manner, people are not going to take it lying down."

Three Air Canada workers were suspended after Labour Minister Lisa Raitt was heckled as she passed through Toronto's Pearson Airport on Thursday evening, said union spokesman Bill Trbovich.

When word of the suspensions spread overnight, their colleagues staged an illegal walkout Friday morning, prompting the brief firing of 37 workers who were subsequently reinstated.

The wildcat strike and travel disruption did not appear to have much impact on the NDP convention floor. The party announced that a record 4,629 delegates had registered as of Friday afternoon — the biggest convention crowd in the party's history.

A new leader will be chosen Saturday.

— With files from Peter Rakobowchuk in Montreal