Ottawa Citizen

Ford will stiff most vulnerable workers


The Ontario Progressiv­e Conservati­ves will “get rid of ” a big package of labour reforms the Liberals passed less than a year ago that were meant to smooth the rougher edges of the gig economy, Premier Doug Ford announced in the legislatur­e Tuesday morning.

He said it in passing, answering a question from Liberal MPP Michael Coteau that asked him to commit to the three hours of pay the Liberals’ Bill 148 requires employers to give their workers when their shifts are cancelled on short notice. No, Ford said, we’re eliminatin­g the whole thing.

For one party to systematic­ally repeal everything a previous party did that it didn’t like, without having made an explicit promise to do it, is bad government. It’s certainly un-conservati­ve. Unless a law or policy is truly toxic, in which case an opposition party running to knock off a government will be eager to say so during a campaign, we should be able to expect that laws duly passed by majority votes will stick around for a while.

Bill 148 is officially the Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act. Besides raising the minimum wage first to $14 and then $15 an hour, it did a lot to try to update Ontario labour standards for a world in which part-time and casual work are normal for years, and possibly a whole working lifetime, rather than temporary conditions on the way to permanent full-time work.

Employers could no longer pay part-timers less per hour than they pay full-timers for the same work, for instance. Managers who keep workers on call but don’t call them in would have to pay them something (that’s one provision yet to take effect). Every employee became entitled to 10 sick days a year, two of them paid.

The gist was to extend some of the ordinary humane working conditions that full-time permanent employees take for granted to the growing class of workers without job security or even predictabl­e hours.

The law also got rid of “sheltered workshops” that let operators pay people with intellectu­al disabiliti­es pittances for work on the grounds they were getting job training.

“When I travelled across this province and talked to thousands and thousands of people, I found out very, very quickly the No. 1 issue was hydro,” Ford said.

“No. 2 was Bill 148, that your party destroyed this province, that put us in more debt than we’ve ever had, the largest subnationa­l debt in the entire world — the entire world, thanks to the Liberal government.

“We’re going to make sure we tell the world Ontario is open for business.

“We’re going to make sure we’re competitiv­e around the world. We’re getting rid of Bill 148. We’re going to make sure we protect the front-line workers, because 60,000 people lost their jobs under Bill 148.”

What 60,000 jobs he’s talking about isn’t clear. Between November 2017, when the legislatur­e passed the law, and last August, Ontario’s gone from 8.2 million jobs of all kinds to 8.4 million, according to Statistics Canada.

August was a bit of a comedown from July, when we peaked at 8.5 million jobs, but there’s nothing from Bill 148 that kicked in then that’s plausibly to blame.

Economic Developmen­t Minister Jim Wilson has been travelling the province talking to business leaders and they say they don’t like the law. He walked back Ford’s promise to get rid of the bill after question period, saying the law is being reviewed, but it’s clear the direction we’re headed.

For the Liberals, the law was one response to Ontarians’ worries that inevitable economic changes could knock them out of the middle class for good.

Part-time and casual work wouldn’t have to be underclass work.

Business groups like the Canadian Federation of Independen­t Business and the Ontario Chamber of Commerce hated it; the Liberals’ decision to compensate smaller businesses for some of their extra costs by cutting their taxes didn’t change their minds.

Led by former Tory candidate Rocco Rossi, the chamber of commerce has been especially vehement about how Bill 148 stops employers from managing their workforces the way they’d like and called at the end of August for the law to be repealed.

“Premier Ford pledged to make Ontario ‘Open for Business’ by implementi­ng policies that make it easier to invest, start and grow a business in the province as well as build an economy that connects workers to jobs. This begins with the reversal of Bill 148,” Rossi said then.

You won’t find repealing the reforms in the Progressiv­e Conservati­ves’ promise list from last spring’s election campaign, except maybe obliquely in a pledge to “Cut red tape and stifling regulation­s that are crippling job creation and growth.”

The Tories did pledge to undo the Liberals’ cap-and-trade system for reducing greenhouse­gas emissions, for instance; Ontarians who voted for them knew what they were getting.

Stopping the minimum-wage increase at $14 an hour was something they promised, too. But getting rid of Bill 148 wasn’t part of the package.

We’re going to make sure we tell the world Ontario is open for business. We’re going to make sure we’re competitiv­e around the world.

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