VANCOUVER -- Nov. 27 update: Tentative deal struck, Vancouver bus strike averted

The B.C. government defended its hands-off approach to the pending transit strike Tuesday, as the opposition tried to paint the province as asleep at the wheel.

BC Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson highlighted the calamitous impact that's expected if bus and SeaBus workers walk off the job Wednesday, and slammed Labour Minister Harry Bains for not intervening in the dispute.

"He's going to do nothing while half a million people go out into the coldest day so far this year and try to get to work, try to get their kids to child care," Wilkinson told the legislature.

"When those nurses don't show up in the critical care units around Vancouver, it's going to be the labour minister who's sitting in his office doing nothing."

In response, Bains stressed the importance of respecting workers' right to free collective bargaining.

"Unifor and the Coast Mountain Bus Company have successfully bargained for decades without any help from outside, without any interruption," Bains said. "I'm hopeful that they will conclude their negotiations today so that there is no disruption in the Lower Mainland."

The last bus strike, which took place in 2001, lasted four months before Gordon Campbell's BC Liberal government stepped in and legislated an end to the job action.

Ridership has increased sharply since then, however, and the current NDP government has faced questions for days about whether it should designate transit an essential service.

Under B.C.'s Labour Relations Code, essential services are defined as those that impact the "health, safety or welfare" of the public. So far, Premier John Horgan has shown no appetite for interrupting the bargaining process.

On Tuesday, Unifor's national president Jerry Dias met with TransLink CEO Kevin Desmond ahead of a round of last-minute bargaining that could potentially avoid the need for escalation altogether.

Speaking at a news conference ahead of the 2 p.m. talks, Dias said there was still plenty of time to reach a deal before the midnight strike deadline.

"I'm here to pass on a message that we want to settle," he told reporters. "Our objective is to reach a tentative agreement tonight to avoid the shutdown."

However, the labour leader said there remained a "significant" gap between the union's demands and the company's offer.

If Wednesday's strike moves ahead as planned, it will mean a full-scale shutdown of bus and SeaBus services. Commuters will still be able to board the SkyTrain, Canada Line and West Coast Express, though there could be big crowds and waits.