Jamie Baillie offside… as usual

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Forget the Byzantine balls-up the attempt to unionize Canada’s junior hockey players became—league-hired private investigators snooping on union staff, falsely (maybe) intimating one was a felon; union (dis)organizers scheduling, then canceling votes—and ask ourselves two simple questions: First, do run-of-the-litter junior hockey players, the ones least likely to lose millions in the next NHL lockout, have legitimate grievances? And, second, what the hell was Jamie Baillie thinking?

Working conditions in major junior hockey have undoubtedly improved in the last 20 years. Team owners pay more than lip service to ensuring their school-aged players actually attend school. Some, like the Halifax Mooseheads, provide tutors who travel with the team. The Mooseheads organization itself has a deserved reputation for treating its teenaged charges—and their families—very well.

That said, playing major junior hockey is a far-more-than-part-time burger-flipping after school job. Living away from family and friends at 16, year-round training, practices, games, road trips, promotional appearances, charity involvements… not to forget the possibility of being cut, traded, or suffering a career-ending, life-affecting injury. All while going to school, growing up and, for most, coming to terms with the end of their NHL dreams.

For that, players are paid anywhere from $35 to $120 a week, depending on age. While Mooseheads owner Bobby Smith is correct to argue that doesn’t begin to cover the team’s investment in its players—providing billet families, trainers, even psychologists—the reality is players haven’t had a raise in years. And most CHL teams make a lot of money from the fruits of their teenagers’ labours.

The most egregious inequity involves the league’s education package. While it ostensibly offers players a year of post-secondary education for every year they play, there are so many caveats and loopholes very few take full advantage.

Which brings us to Jamie Baillie. When the Tory leader heard about the union drive, his first response was not to ask whether the teenagers had a legitimate grievance but to fret team owners would have to increase ticket prices to maintain their profits. And then to Chicken-Little suggest—falsely—this national organizing drive was the result of the provincial government’s first-contract legislation last year.

Jamie, Jamie, Jamie…

Two minutes in the penalty box for playing politics and a game misconduct for caring more about team profits than teenagers.
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