Ottawa Citizen - - ONTARIO VOTES - CHRIS SEL­LEY Na­tional Post csel­ley@na­tion­al­post.com Twit­ter: csel­ley

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.


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