Untamed Tribunal? Of Dynamic Interpretation and Purpose Clauses

Sara Slinn, Osgoode Hall Law School of York University

Previously published as a paper in the Comparative Research in Law and Political Economy series.


This is a story about legislative frustration and administrative resistance. It is the story of a legislature that created a labour relations tribunal, instilled it with broad powers-even drawing away some jurisdiction from the courts-and charged it with using its own expertise to manage all aspects of labour relations. It is the story of a legislature that then changed its mind, and of successive governments seeking to rein in the tribunal's decision making. The means chosen by these governments to exercise control was a series of increasingly restrictive changes to the purpose clause in the tribunal's governing legislation. However, the legislature's own creation, once set free, has resisted being called to heel. Although this is the tale of the experience of the British Columbia Labour Relations Board ("Board") and the purpose clause in B.C. labour legislation, it is really a story that plays out between many administrative tribunals and the state as they negotiate the boundaries of administrative independence and control.

Part II of this article examines Board case law to assess whether the amendments to the purpose clause have influenced the Board's decision making. This study concludes that the new purpose clause did not appear to influence the Board's decisions in a new direction and did not reorient labour relations, as had been widely anticipated at the time of the amendments. Instead, the Board has interpreted the amended purpose clause in a manner that supports and reinforces the traditional structure and balance of labour relations.