Alberta Court Applies Principles Of Contract Interpretation And Limitations To A Client-Consultant Contract

In the recently released decision in Riddell Kurczaba Architecture Engineering Interior Design Ltd v. Governors of the University of Calgary, 2018 CarswellAlta 10, 2018 ABQB 11, the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench applied three potential aids to the interpretation to a client-consultant contract: contra proferentem; post-contract conduct; and estoppel. The court also applied the limitation period to a claim for a percentage-based fee.

The Interpretation and Limitations Issues

After the project was finished, the architects asserted that, on a proper interpretation of the client-consultant agreement, the fee should have been paid on a percentage basis, not a fixed fee basis. The architect relied upon the principle of contractual interpretation known as contra proferentem since the client (the University) had prepared the six drafts of the agreement. The owner asserted that the fee was a fixed fee, and also said that the contract should be interpreted in light of the parties’ actual performance of the contract and that the consultant was estopped from asserting that the fee was based on a percentage of the cost of construction.

The owner also asserted that the consultant’s claim was barred by the limitation period since more than two years had expired from the time when, if the consultant was correct, the fee would have amounted to more than the consultant was paid under the contract and the consultant knew or should have known that the owner was in breach of the contract.

Contra Proferentem

The Alberta court held that there was very little, if any, place for the application of the contra proferentem rule in the present circumstances:

“Where an ambiguity arises in respect of a matter that has been specifically flagged for future negotiation between two sophisticated parties, it should be resolved through the usual principles of contractual interpretation. This includes have regard to the factual matrix and, in some limited circumstances, post-contract conduct that might assist in determining the objective of the parties. The doctrine of contra proferentem has very limited utility or application in that analysis.”

Post-contractual conduct

During the performance of the contract, the parties proceeded on the basis that the fee was a fixed fee, not a percentage fee, but that the consultant was entitled to extra payment for work done in relation to change orders. The Alberta Court held that, in interpreting the contract, it was proper to look at this post-contractual in arriving at the proper interpretation of the contract, particularly when the conduct was consistently and unambiguously in favour of one interpretation:

“…..Such post-contract conduct is not properly considered as part of the factual matrix bearing on the intention of the parties at the time the contract was entered into. It may be considered, however, in the resolution of ambiguity in the contractual language used: Shewchuk v Blackmount Capital Inc., 2016 ONCA 9123 at 41….A cautionary approach is required where evidence of such subsequent conduct is used for the purpose of divining intention. It must generally be given limited weight, but “will have greater weight if it is unequivocal in the sense of being consistent with only one of the two alternative interpretations that generated the ambiguity triggering its admissibility”: Shewchuk at para 54. In this case, the language used in each of the six Change Orders signed by the parties during the project is both consistent and unequivocal in treating the work done by RKA as being part of the basic services. The language is also consistent with being compensated through adjustments to the “Fee for Service” under Section 1 of Schedule C to the Service Agreement.” (underlining added)


For the same reason, the Alberta court held that, by conducting itself throughout the project on the basis that the fee was payable on a fixed basis, the consultant was now estopped from asserting the contrary:

“… is reasonable to infer from the evidence that, had RKA refused to approve and sign-off on the Change Orders as worded, there would have been, at minimum, a discussion and negotiation of how RKA should be compensated, having regard for the wording of Article 4.3.2 and the fee negotiation contemplated in respect of fees for “Additional Services.” By RKA acquiescing in the Change Order process as implemented, only to assert its entitlement to additional fees well after conclusion of the project, the University was deprived of that negotiation (or termination) opportunity to its detriment…… Accordingly, had I accepted the position of RKA regarding the proper interpretation of the Service Agreement, I would have nonetheless found them to be estopped from claiming damages for breach of the Service Agreement.”

The Limitation Period

The Alberta Court held that the consultant’s claim was barred by the Alberta two year limitation period. If the consultant was correct that the contract provided for a fee based on a percentage of the cost of construction, then during the course of the project it would have been apparent to the consultant that the cost of construction had much exceeded the projected cost and that the consultant was owed a much higher fee than was being paid to it. More than two years passed from that point in time before the consultant made its claim.

The consultant asserted that the fee was not truly payable until its legal entitlement to percentage-based compensation was known, which it asserted was not known until the building was complete and the construction costs were known with certainty.

The Alberta court accepted the owner’s submissions:

“The $21,000,000.00 in “Construction Cost” (including contingency) set out in Schedule C of the Service Agreement was exceeded at an early stage. By this time, which was approximately January 2009, 75% of “Total Service Fee” had already been billed. It is also clear that RKA was being paid for ongoing work, excluding the separately negotiated FFE Agreement, pursuant to a series of Change Orders purporting to contain add-ons to the basic services fee described in Section 1 of Schedule C…..Accordingly, the essential facts supporting a breach of contract under RKA’s interpretation of the Service Agreement were probably known as early as March 23, 2009. These facts were certainly known when the post-project reconciliation of amounts paid to RKA, as against amounts owing under the contract, was done in March 2010. Accordingly, if RKA is correct in its interpretation of the Service Agreement, and is not estopped from claiming a breach, it would nonetheless have been out of time pursuant to the Limitations Act.”

The Merits Of The Claim

The court reviewed what it described as the “poorly drafted” and “confusing and ambiguous language” of the contract. Thus, the RFP for the contract stated that the “fees will be based as a percentage (%) of the total construction budget” and the heading to Article 4.3 of the contract stated that the fee was a “Percentage-Based Fee”. However, article 4.3.2 stated: “For greater certainty, the Fee for Services as set out in Schedule C is a fixed fee, and there will be no adjustments to the fee in the event of changes in Construction Cost due to inflation. The fee will only be adjusted in the event and in accordance with an approved Change Order which changes the Scope of Work and results in an upward adjustment in the Construction Cost or Contract Time.” Schedule C to the contract stated: “(a) Fixed Base Fee…”

After sifting through all this inconsistent language, the Alberta court held that the contract provided for a fixed fee, not a percentage fee based upon the cost of construction. The court also held that the consultant was entitled to extra fees in relation to work done on the change orders:

“Article 4.3.2 shows that the parties intended that the fee for services be a fixed fee….. Although poorly drafted, Article 4.3.2 also shows that, on an objective basis, the parties intended that compensation for basic services in respect of changes to the scope of work being done, as opposed to “Additional Services,” are to be governed by Article 4.3 and the corresponding provisions of Schedule C…..The language used by the parties in Article 4.3.2 allows the University to exercise a measure of cost control by reviewing and approving Change Orders, and to adjust the base fee for services through the Change Order process. Section 1.3(a) of Schedule D of the Service Agreement includes, as “Additional Services,” revising or providing additional drawings, specifications, or other documents “caused by instructions inconsistent with instructions or written approvals previously given by the owners, including revisions made necessary by adjustments in the Owner’s program or Project Budget….The better view, however, is that the inclusion of services associated with a scope of work change in Article 4.3.2 was intended to bring them within the ambit of services compensable through adjustment to the fixed base fee as set out in Section 1 of Schedule C.”

Accordingly, the court dismissed the consultant’s claim for further fees based on a percentage of the cost of construction.


It is not often that one construction law case deals with a number of contract interpretation principles and the limitation period. This decision will be a useful guide to those principles for application in similar circumstances.

The court was strongly influenced by the fact that, throughout the project, the consultant participated in the calculation and payment of the fee on a fixed fee basis, and did not suggest, until the project was well over, that the fee should have been paid on a percentage basis. Clearly there is a lesson for consultants here: be up front about the basis for the fee, and don’t try to assert a different basis after the fact.

The court’s conclusion on the limitations issue might be contentious. Under section 3(1) of the Alberta Limitation Acts, the limitation period starts to run when the claimant knew or ought to have known that: (i) injury for which the claimant seeks a remedial order had occurred, (ii) that the injury was attributable to conduct of the defendant, and that the injury, assuming liability on the part of the defendant, warrants bringing a proceeding.

Accordingly, the limitation period only commences when the cause of action arises and (not or) the claimant knows or ought to know that it has a claim. In other words, the fact that the claimant knows or ought to know that the defendant’s conduct amounts to a breach of contract, and that the claimant will have a claim, does not start the limitation period unless the time for the obligation to be performed has arrived and an accrued cause of action exists (unless the claimant treats the defendant’s conduct as an anticipatory breach of contract and terminates the contract forthwith).

If the fee in this case was payable by installments, and each instalment was itself legally due and payable during the project at the stipulated time or event, then the limitation period for each payment then arose. But if, on the proper construction of the contract, the fee was one fee only earned on the completion of the project, although payable during the project by way of part-payments, then the limitation period would only arise when the fee was fully earned. And even in the first case, the limitation period would only expire payment by payment, and would not expire for those payments payable less than two years before the action was commenced.

The Alberta court did not discuss when the cause of action for the fee payments arose. In its view, the essential question was: “when the facts giving rise to the claimed breach were known or discoverable.” It further stated: “The $21,000,000.00 in “Construction Cost” (including contingency) set out in Schedule C of the Service Agreement was exceeded at an early stage. By this time, which was approximately January 2009, 75% of “Total Service Fee” had already been billed.” It appears to have assumed that the obligation to pay had by then arisen. If that assumption is correct, then the court’s conclusion is correct. If the obligation to pay had not yet arisen, even though the clamant had submitted interim bills, then the court’s conclusion may not be correct. In addition, if any of the client’s payment obligations fell within two years of the commencement of the action, then the action may have been timely with respect to those payment obligations.

All of which is to say that the parties to a building contract that take a long time to perform should be careful about limitation periods that may arise during the contract. A building contracts is usually considered to be “entire”, “dependent” or “whole” contract, under which the obligations are not independent but dependent on one another, and not fulfilled until entirely fulfilled. However, the part payment obligations under a building contract are usually considered to be severable and presently enforceable as to each payment. This is how the Alberta court considered the payments under this consultant’s agreement. The issue may be disputable under another building or consultant’s contract.

See Heintzman and Goldsmith on Canadian Building Contracts (5th ed.), chapter 1, part 3(f), chapter 2, parts 2(3)(f), 2(4)(iii) and chapter 9, part 3(a).

Riddell Kurczaba Architecture Engineering Interior Design Ltd v. Governors of the University of Calgary, 2018 CarswellAlta 10, 2018 ABQB 11

Building Contracts – Interpretation – Estoppel – Contra proferentem – Post-contract conduct – Limitation periods

Thomas G. Heintzman O.C., Q.C., LL.D. (Hon.)                     January 29, 2018




Sattva Limits The Court’s Power To Review Arbitral Award Relating To The Exercise Of An Option; B.C. Court of Appeal

The courts of British Columbia have recently wrestled with the question whether they can review the award of an arbitrator dealing with the exercise of an option. In Urban Communications Inc. v. BCNET Networking Society, the arbitrator and a single judge of the B.C. Supreme Court arrived at diametrically opposite conclusions as to whether the option had been validly exercised. For this reason the judge of the B.C. Supreme Court set aside the arbitrator’s decision.

However, relying on the recent decision of the Supreme Court of Canada in Sattva Capital Corp. v. Creston Moly Corp. [2014] 2 S.C.R. 633, the B.C. Court of Appeal held that the review of the arbitrator’s decision involved matters of both fact and law, and not just matters of law. Since the B.C. Arbitration Act requires that that there be an issue of law before an appeal from an arbitrator’s award may be allowed, the Court of Appeal held that no appeal lay from the arbitrator’s decision in this case. Accordingly, the Court of Appeal set aside the decision of the judge of the B.C. Supreme Court and restored the arbitrator’s decision.

While the logic of the Court of Appeal’s decision is apparent, the result is that the courts did not deal with some fundamental issues relating to the exercise of options. The Urban decision may be a poster child for both sides of the debate about the wisdom of the restrictive appeal regime introduced by Sattva. Those in favour of this regime will see the Urban decision as a demonstration that courts should stay out of the matter if the arbitrator has made a factual or legal determination. Those in favour of more court review of arbitral awards will see the Urban decision as an impediment to the determination of fundamental legal issues by the court system and an interference with the development of the common law.


Section 31 of the Arbitration Act of British Columbia permits an appeal to a judge of the B.C. Supreme Court if a question of law is involved, or the parties consent to the appeal.

Under an agreement made in 2001, Urban leased fibre optic strands to BCNET for a ten-year period. The agreement contained an option to renew “exercisable upon at least six (6) months written notice by [BCNET] to [Urban]. The consideration to be paid for the renewal term will be the sum of $1.00, and other than the consideration to be paid, such renewal will be on the same terms and conditions as this Agreement. …” The Agreement required that any disagreement or dispute between the parties be determined by arbitration.

In July 2011, counsel for BCNET wrote to Urban, stating inter alia, the following;

“Pursuant to section 4.1 and 4.2 of the [Agreement], BCNET hereby exercises its option to renew the [Agreement] and its IRU rights with respect to the IRU Fibres, including all Access Cables, New Segments and New Fibre Builds constructed or commissioned pursuant to the [Agreement]…., BCNET also hereby request that Urban waive the six months’ notice requirement set out in section 4.1 and accept the renewal effective July 23, 2011….

We trust that you will find the above proposal acceptable and ask that you indicate Urban’s assent by signing on the signature line provided below. Upon receiving your assent, we will tender the necessary consideration in accordance with section 4.1 of the [Agreement].”

BCNET did not include payment of the $1.00 renewal fee with this letter. Urban did not return the requested written assent sought in the letter. In August 2012, Urban wrote to BCNET advising that the July 18, 2011 letter did not constitute a valid exercise of the option to renew and that the renewal period for Phases one and two had expired. BCNET then replied, stating that, in its view, the option to renew had been properly exercised as the agreement was silent on when the $1.00 renewal fee had to be paid and did not require its payment as a condition of the renewal. BCNET enclosed a cheque for $1.00, which Urban rejected.

In September 2012, by Notice of Arbitration BCNET applied for a declaration that it had validly exercised the renewal option under the Agreement. The hearing commenced in early October 2012.

In November 2012, BCNET sent another letter to Urban purporting to exercise its option to renew. BCNET’s position was that it had exercised the option in its July 2011 letter, but had decided to exercise the option again out of an abundance of caution.

The arbitrator issued his award on January 3, 2013, upholding BCNET’s position that the option had been properly exercised. Urban sought leave to appeal to the British Columbia Supreme Court. On all grounds, the judge of the B.C. Supreme Court held that the option had not been properly exercised, allowed the appeal and set aside the award of the arbitrator.

Issues In The Arbitration And The Appeal To The B.C. Supreme Court

The only issue in the arbitration and the appeal was whether the option in the agreement had been properly exercised. However, there were four sub-issues upon which the arbitrator and the B.C. Supreme Court disagreed.

  1. Did BCNET exercise the option conditionally? If so, is a conditional exercise an invalid exercise of an option?

Urban had contended that the letter was consistent only with a conditional exercise (or qualified acceptance) of the option as it contained a proposed modification of the agreement and was, therefore, effectively a counter-offer. The arbitrator examined the evidence and concluded that by its July 2011 letter, BCNET had validly exercised the renewal option. He held that the first part of the letter was “a perfectly clear exercise of the option” and that any proposed modification of the option was mentioned in the letter only after the making of a new bilateral contract by the exercise of the option.

The application judge held that a qualified acceptance of an offer constitutes a counter-offer. The judge’s reading of the July 2011 letter was that it sought to amend the option and was not unconditional or absolute. Accordingly, the letter was a qualified acceptance of the option that constituted a counter-offer. The judge therefore held that the July 2011 letter was an ineffective exercise of, and extinguished, the option.

  1. Did BCNET’s failure to enclose $1.00 with its July 2011 letter invalidate its exercise of the option?

The arbitrator held that it was not necessary for BCNET to enclose a $1.00 payment for the renewal fee because: (i) the original grant of the option was supported by ample consideration; and (ii) a valid exercise of the option included an obligation by Urban to give BCNET the use of the fibres and an obligation by BCNET to pay money to Urban for their maintenance. Therefore, the $1.00 consideration was only a nominal rent payment for the extended term and its non-payment did not invalidate the exercise of the option.

The judge concluded that the plain and ordinary reading of the agreement required $1.00 to exercise the renewal option. He held that the $1.00 payment had to be tendered with the purported exercise of the option. Otherwise, an indeterminate date would lead to uncertainly and make no commercial sense.

  1. Was Urban estopped from asserting that the option was not validly exercised?

The arbitrator held that, if BCNET had defectively exercised its option under the Agreement, Urban was estopped from relying on those defects because: (i) it knew from the 2011 letter that BCNET intended to exercise the option; and (ii) knowing this intention, Urban chose to remain silent in the hope that the alleged defects would not come to BCNET’s attention until after the option expired.

The application judge held that, as between the two commercial parties, there was no legal obligation on Urban to advise BCNET that its purported exercise of the option was defective. Accordingly, Urban was not estopped from asserting the invalidity of the July 2011 exercise of the option.

  1. If BCNET had defectively exercised the option in July 2011, did that preclude BCNET from thereafter exercising the option, so that the purported exercise of the option in November 2012 was invalid?

The arbitrator held that, even if was not validly accepted in July 2011, the option remained a standing offer and could not be withdrawn, and was still open for acceptance in November 2012. He held that an optionor is bound by its option agreement and could only avoid its obligations under the option contract if there were legal or factual grounds for it to avoid the option contract itself, which there were not.

The application judge held that, as a result of his finding that the invalid exercise of the option in July 2011 had extinguished the option, the option could not be accepted by BCNET in November 2012.

Decision of the B.C. Court of Appeal

The B.C. Court of Appeal only felt it was necessary to deal with the first issue. In commenting on this part of the arbitrator’s decision, the B.C. Court of Appeal said:

“The arbitrator was of the view that the words of the contractual documents offered more than one potential meaning. He applied the legal principles on contractual interpretation…to determine the parties’ objective intention with respect to the requirements in Article 4.1 of the Agreement, and then to determine the objective intention of BCNET in its July 18, 2011 letter. He considered the objective meaning of the words of these documents in the context in which they were made and all of the surrounding circumstances. Based on his application of the legal principles for contractual interpretation and his findings of fact from the evidence, he concluded that: (i) BCNET’s July 18, 2011 letter was a clear unconditional notice of its intention to exercise the renewal option over all seven Phases, which created a new bilateral contract between the parties; and (ii) only thereafter did BCNET propose to modify that contract by having all of the renewal terms run from the same date. Sattva mandates that these findings must be accorded deference and, absent an extricable error of law of the kind identified in para. 53 of Sattva, are not reviewable under s. 31 of the Act….”

The B.C. Court of Appeal concluded as follows:

“….the arbitrator’s finding that BCNET had unconditionally exercised its option under the Agreement ends the dispute. The arbitrator’s interpretation of the Agreement and the July 18, 2011 letter was open to him to make. His interpretation of those contractual documents does not raise a pure question of law and therefore is not reviewable. It also renders moot the remaining issues raised by Urban….(underlining added)

The court also said that, even under the pre-Sattva regime, leave to appeal the arbitrator’s decision should not have been granted:

“There was no consensus between the parties on the meaning of the words in the contractual documents. The arbitrator had to determine the true meaning of the words in the context and surrounding circumstances in which they were written. This engaged questions of mixed fact and law, which are not reviewable under s. 31(1) of the Act.”


There can be two views of this decision, depending on whether one is in favour of, or against, the supervision of arbitral awards by the courts. Those who are against such supervision, and applaud the decision of the Supreme Court of Canada in Sattva, will applaud this decision as well. Arbitrators should be left to decide the meaning of contracts and to interpret letters between the parties exercising rights under those contracts and courts should not prolong the process by examining into further legal issues when issues of contract interpretation and fact have been decided, rightly or wrongly, by the arbitral tribunal.

Others will be concerned that the absence of court supervision will mean that the common law will not develop as it has in the past. Here, an arbitrator and superior court judge disagreed on some fundamental legal principles relating to the exercise of options. It is not healthy for the law to be uncertain and for fundamental legal principles to be controversial. The role of the courts, and in particular appellate courts, is to clarify and develop the law, and not to cut off that process.

Whatever one’s view of this issue is, the first view is now the law in Canada. As a result, the real supervision will be by appellate courts over the trial division, not by the trial division over arbitrators. The supervision by the appellate court depends upon whether, in the words from Sattva, there is or is not an “extricable question of law from within what was initially characterized as a question of mixed fact and law.” In the present case, the application judge held that there was; the Court of Appeal held that there was not.

On this issue, the B.C. Court of Appeal did not grant any apparent deference to the application judge’s decision, despite his express finding that there was an “extricable question of law” to be determined. On its reading of the arbitral award, the Court of Appeal simply held that “Urban cannot establish a pure question of law arising from the arbitrator’s interpretation of Article 4.1 of the Agreement and the July 18, 2011 letter.”

Contrast this decision with the B.C. Court of Appeal’s decision in Teal Cedar Products Ltd. v. British Columbia, 2015 BCCA 263, 2015 CarswellBC 1550. I reviewed that decision in my article dated July 7, 2015. In that case the B.C. Supreme Court declined to set aside the decision of an arbitral tribunal because that decision involved issues of mixed fact and law, applying Sattva. Then, the B.C. Court of Appeal reversed that decision, holding that the arbitrator’s interpretation of the applicable statute raised an “extricable question of law.”

It is not clear from these decisions how one is to identify an “extricable question of law”. In these decisions, the B.C. Court of Appeal did not identify the principle to apply in this exercise. Hopefully, appellate courts in Canada will develop those principles in the future. Otherwise, an application judge’s decision on this question will always be open to further appeal.

See Heintzman and Goldsmith on Canadian Building Contracts, 5th ed. chapter 11, part 11(a)

Urban Communications Inc. v. BCNET Networking Society, [2016] 2 W.W.R. 298, 386 D.L.R. (4th) 284, 2015 CarswellBC 1785

Arbitration – appeal of arbitral award – extricable question of law – options – estoppel – consideration

Thomas G. Heintzman O.C., Q.C., FCIArb                                                        May 1, 2016

This article contains Mr. Heintzman’s personal views and does not constitute legal advice. For legal advice, legal counsel should be consulted.

How Correct Does An Arbitrator Have To Be?

What margin of error does an arbitrator have?  Should an arbitral tribunal’s decision be set aside if it is legally incorrect?  Or should a wider deference be shown, so that a decision will only be set aside if it is unreasonable, or perverse?

And how detailed does an arbitral decision have to be? Can it be struck down if the reasons are not adequate?

There are older appellate decisions which addressed these issues in the arbitration context.  In recent years, however, a seismic shift has occurred in administrative law relating to these issues as a result of decisions of the Supreme Court of Canada.  Do the same principles apply to the review of arbitral decisions?

In its 2003 decision in Dunsmuir, the Supreme Court of Canada collapsed the various standards of review which apply to administrative tribunals into two standards.

Decisions must be correct if they truly relate to the jurisdiction of the tribunal, or relate to general questions of law about which the tribunal has no particular expertise.  If they are of that nature, then they will be set aside if they are not correct (the “correctness” standard).  All other decisions of administrative tribunals will only be set aside if, in all the circumstances, they are unreasonable (the “reasonableness” standard).

In its 2002 decision in Sheppard, the Supreme Court held that a court’s decision should be set aside for legal error if the reasons are totally inadequate.  Without adequate reasons, the person who loses does not know why.  Nor does the appeal court have a proper basis to review the original decision without adequate reasons. The “adequacy of reasons” provides a second and related basis for reviewing a decision of an inferior court or tribunal.

In two recent decisions, the Supreme Court applied the Dunsmuir and Sheppard principles to arbitral tribunals.  While both decisions relate to labour arbitrations, there is every reason to expect that the same principles will apply to commercial arbitrations.

In Nor-Man Regional Health Authority v. Manitoba Association of Health Care Professionals, the Supreme Court upheld an arbitrator’s decision in which the arbitrator had applied the principle of estoppel.  The arbitrator found that the company had breached the collective agreement.  However, he held that the union was estopped from complaining about that breach because it had failed to raise any complaint about the same conduct, and the same interpretation of the collective agreement, by the company over a 20 year period and numerous collective agreements.

The Supreme Court held that the arbitrator’s decision should be reviewed on the standard of reasonableness, not correctness, for three reasons:

First, labour arbitration decisions are normally reviewed on the reasonableness standard.

Second, the principle of estoppel is well known to labour law and highly suited to the ongoing relationships between management and its employees.

Third, (and most importantly for general arbitration law), the Supreme Court held that an arbitrator’s application of common law principles must not always meet the correctness standard.  An arbitrator’s decision applying general principles of law will only be reviewed on that standard if the decision raises legal issues “both of central importance to the legal system as a whole and outside the adjudicator’s specialized area of expertise.”  In the present circumstances, the arbitrator’s reliance on estoppel did not fall in that category.

In Newfoundland and Labrador Nurses Union v. Newfoundland and Labrador (Treasury Board), the Supreme Court upheld a labour arbitrator’s award relating to the calculation of vacation benefits.  That decision was attacked on the basis that it was unreasonable due to the paucity of reasoning in the award.  The Supreme Court applied the Dunsmuir/Sheppard principles and adopted a wide scope of reasonableness, both as to the deference to be shown to the arbitrator and the necessity for detailed reasons.  The Court held that:

The arbitrator’s decision should not be scrutinized by the court separately for adequacy of reasons and reasonableness of result.  These two ingredients are inter-related.  The court’s review process “is a more organic exercise – the reasons must be read together with the outcome and serve the purpose of showing whether the result falls within a range of possible outcomes.”

The arbitrator’s reasons need not include “all the arguments, statutory provisions, jurisprudence or other details the reviewing judge would have preferred.”  Nor need they include “an explicit finding on each constituent element, however subordinate, leading to the final conclusion.”

The reviewing court should not seek to subvert the arbitrator’s decision but supplement them by logic and reasonable inference.

The issue of adequacy of reasons cannot be boot-strapped into the standard of correctness by being labelled a matter going to procedural fairness and therefore a matter of law:  “Any challenge to the reasoning/results of the decision should therefore be made within the reasonableness analysis.

While these decisions relate to awards of labour arbitrators, the principles they adopt are readily applicable to commercial arbitrations.  They will be particularly important in protecting a decision of a commercial arbitral tribunal from court review when it is alleged that the decision:

does not deal with all issues raised by the complaining party;

or erroneously decides or applies general principles of law;

or is unfair or outside the bounds of reasonableness.

On all these grounds, the Nor-Man and the Newfoundland and Labrador Nurses Union decisions of the Supreme Court will provide powerful support to the party seeking to uphold the award.

Nor-Man Regional Health Authority v. Manitoba Association of Health Care Professionals2011 SCC 59;

Newfoundland and Labrador Nurses Union v. Newfoundland and Labrador (Treasury Board) 2011 SCC 62

Arbitration – estoppel – standard of review – adequacy of reasons – challenging arbitral award

Thomas G. Heintzman O.C., Q.C.                                                                                                     January 20, 2012