The Canadian Hockey League, which last week announced it had agreed to pay $30 million to settle a minimum wage-related class-action lawsuit, is lobbying Canada’s federal government for financial aid to help it and its 52 Canadian teams through these trying pandemic times.
Marco Vigliotti of ipolitics.ca reports that “Susan Smith, Raphael Brass and Tim Barber of Bluesky Strategy registered” as lobbyists on behalf of the CHL.
According to its website, the Ottawa-based Bluesky Strategy Group delivers “public affairs, strategic communications, government relations, and media relations advice and execution.”
Smith and Barber are co-founders of Bluesky; Brass is a senior consultant.
On Friday, the CHL brought an end to a lawsuit that had been filed against it in 2014 by agreeing to pay $30 million. In that lawsuit, former players were asking for major junior hockey players to be declared employees, rather than student-athletes, and as such fall under various employment standard regulations including minimum wage and overtime pay.
In its statement on Friday, the CHL stated: “This settlement does not mean that we agree with the plaintiffs. It means that we wanted to end the lawsuits so we could continue to focus on being the best development league in hockey.”
From the other side, Ted Charney of Toronto-based Charney Lawyers PC, told Ken Campbell of The Hockey News: “This has been a very long, hard-fought battle, effectively gloves-off litigation for several years. We had to fight the (political) lobbying, which we lost miserably on, but we won in all the court rooms.”
The CHL and the three leagues that operate under its umbrella — the Ontario Hockey League, Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and Western Hockey League — aren’t strangers to lobbying governments.
In the early years of the lawsuit, they all worked to get provincial and state governments to provide exemptions from minimum-wage legislation.
Exemptions were provided by the governments of Alberta, B.C., Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Washington state, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Prince Edward Island, Quebec and Michigan. Oregon legislators refused to provide an exemption.
David Branch, the OHL commissioner and at the time the CHL’s president, registered as a lobbyist with the Ontario government on Sept. 11, 2018. Two months later, the government announced that it was excluding OHL players from employment standards legislation.
That came two years after B.C’s cabinet, then under Liberal control, had done the same thing for the WHL.
Vaughn Palmer, a political columnist with the Vancouver Sun, wrote on Oct. 22, 2016:
“The Liberals made the change after extensive lobbying from the league, which was facing a court challenge on the failure to pay minimum wage and concerned about economic pressures on its teams were they obliged to pay up.
“The Liberals bought the argument but did so in the quietest fashion. The waiver was approved by cabinet order on Feb. 15, with no followup press release nor much else to draw attention to what they’d done.”
Five days after Palmer’s column appeared, The Sun’s Ian Mulgrew reported that the WHL “did not register as a lobbyist before leaning on B.C.’s cabinet to exempt major junior players from the minimum wager law . . .”
According to Mulgrew, Erin Beatty, communications director for the B.C. Office of the Registrar of Lobbyists, said the regulator was “acting on the potential incident of non-compliance in this case.”
It would seem that whatever investigation was held didn’t go anywhere, and The Sun never followed up.
The $30-million settlement revealed on Friday won’t become official until it is approved by the court, which should happen later this summer. It’s believed that $15 million of that sum will be covered by insurance, leaving the CHL’s 52 Canadian teams each to pay about $288,000.
On April 17, Canadian Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault announced that the government was committing $500 million to arts, culture and sports sectors.
The CHL joins other sports groups including the CFL, soccer’s Canadian Premier League, the Canadian Elite Basketball League and various hockey leagues in working to get financial aid from government.
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