WYNNE LOOKS SILLY TAKING DIG AT NDP VIEW ON STRIKES
On Monday morning, Premier Kathleen Wynne dragged her burst appendix of a campaign into the MARS building near Queen’s Park. She declared that upon her re-election — stop laughing, it’s rude — she will immediately reconvene the legislature and pass back-to-work legislation ending the threemonth-old strike at York University. It’s part of a strategy to paint NDP Leader Andrea Horwath as excessively deferential to labour unions: Horwath has said she would never bigfoot collective bargaining with legislation; Wynne criticizes the position as a product of “rigid ideology,” which non-Liberals sometimes refer to as “actually believing in things.”
“This is not an abstract issue,” Wynne told reporters, gravely. “The NDP blocked legislation that would have had York University students back in class weeks ago. And there are thousands of students who are being impacted by this as we stand here today.”
Ontarians should know by now that she respects the collective bargaining process, she averred. “But when you give away that back-to-work tool,” Wynne warned, “there is no way you can ever say ‘no’ to unions at any point in the process.”
This is not one of Wynne’s more convincing personas.
One is reminded of the Liberals secretly paying $2.5 million in expenses for three teachers’ unions in 2015, without asking for receipts. And of the Liberals “settling ” with the anglophone Catholic teachers for $31 million, under dubious circumstances, conveniently enough just before the campaign was to kick off. And of the Liberals letting the strike at York drag on for months, only introducing back-to-work legislation in the final days of the legislative session, when it needed unanimous consent of the legislature. And of Wynne’s previous persona, which is essentially the one Horwath is much more convincingly presenting today.
“Ontario’s labour force will be treated fairly and with respect,” the 2013 throne speech vowed. “(The government) will sit down with its partners across all sectors to build a sustainable model for wage negotiation, respectful of both collective bargaining and a fair and transparent interest arbitration process, so that the brightness of our shared future is not clouded by the indisputable economic realities of our time.”
The hypocrisy is staggering, even by the standard of Ontario’s Liberals — but its staggeringness could be handy cover for the NDP.
Horwath’s pledge is an unsurprising reflection of a foundational belief of her party. But in a campaign where it’s sometimes difficult to imagine how an NDP government would be any different than a Liberal one, this represents a legitimately major distinction.
Under Wynne and Dalton McGuinty, the Liberals used back-to-work legislation to end strikes at Ontario’s colleges, at York University, at the Toronto Transit Commission, and at the Durham, Peel and Rainbow public school boards. Ernie Eves’ and Mike Harris’s Tories could hardly shake hands with a teacher without legislating her back to work. Ontarians know what teachers’ strikes, transit strikes, garbage strikes and other public-sector job actions look and feel like: a massive pain in the rear end. Centrists might well think twice about voting for a party that promises in advance never to ease that pain.
In fact, the position has proven difficult for NDP premiers to sustain in the past. In opposition, Ontario NDP leader Bob Rae opposed back-to-work legislation on principle.
w“One of my fundamental beliefs is that we live in a free society,” he told the Toronto Star during a teachers strike. “These things have to be resolved by negotiation and by both parties feeling the pressure of public opinion and feeling the need to reach a settlement.”
In government, during a whopper of a recession, it was a rather different story. In addition to forcing public employees to take days off work, the New Democrats legislated teachers in Windsor, Parry Sound and Lambton County back into the classrooms.
“This is the party that believes in the right to strike?” one appalled union negotiator told the Star, reacting to 1993 legislation. “This is worse than the social contract.”
Then British Columbia premier Mike Harcourt also legislated Vancouver teachers back to work in 1993, despite labour support being key to the NDP victory two years earlier. “It’s like using a sledgehammer on a walnut,” complained B.C. Federation of Teachers president Ray Worley.
Then NDP B.C. premier Ujjal Dosanjh legislated school support workers back to work in 2000 — on tie votes, thanks to NDP MLAs absenting themselves in protest. Former Nova Scotia NDP premier Darrell Dexter legislated ambulance drivers back to work in 2013.
If Horwath wanted to reassure centrist voters, she could point to evidence of various unintended consequences when governments bigfoot collective bargaining — from higher wages to establishing intervention as the norm. Instead she has suggested better government-labour relations are simply a matter of “respect” (which only gets you so far) and of more money for key services (which is exactly what some centrist voters fear about an NDP government).
It’s good news for her and her party that Wynne looks so incredibly ridiculous criticizing what is, by the standards of Canadian politics, a fairly extreme position.
Ontario Liberal Leader Kathleen Wynne speaks to the media while making a campaign stop in Toronto on Monday.