In the final days of the 2018 Ontario election, Liberal Leader Kathleen Wynne made the most of the York University teaching assistant strike that she and her cuts had presided over.
Of all the possible paths of action, Wynne took the worst one — worst for students and teaching assistants, anyway. Wynne could have increased pressure on both sides by standing clear, saying no one would be bailed out and telling the University and its employees to get down to bargaining. Or she could have done the exact opposite, swiftly intervening in collective bargaining and passing a back-to-work bill.
She chose neither. Her Liberals choose to intervene with delay, then set up a back-to-work bill to fail. Their clear political decision was to let York University students and workers burn in order to benefit Liberals.
Had Wynne really wanted to legislate an end to the strike, she had her majority and the tool of time allocation. Between those, a bill could have been passed within a week. She decided to not give herself a week.
On April 13, the Liberals intervened by appointing a single-member Industrial Inquiry Board to provide a report to the Minister of Labour. That act puts a chill on negotiations while parties look to signals from the new third party. Then four weeks of inaction passed. And on May 7 — the very last day before the legislature was to dissolve before elections — Wynne choose to table a bill that even the most casual politics-watcher would have known would fail.
Passing a bill on a single day requires unanimous consent of the legislature, something Wynne would have well-known would not be forthcoming from the NDP as the bill was probably an infringement on the charter-protected freedom of association. Certainly Wynne provided no legal analysis to the contrary.
In 2015, the Supreme Court determined that the freedom of association includes the freedom to act in association to collectively bargain or strike. The Court found that freedom could be limited if it threatened the health and safety of others, and it was a stretch to apply that to the York University situation. A voting for Wynne’s bill would likely be a vote to violate charter freedoms.
In the final days of the campaign, the Liberal reached back to play the tactic they’d created. And the Ford Conservatives doubled the stakes. Electing an NDP government, they said, would mean indefinite strikes, citing the York University situation Wynne had created.
In the final two weeks the growing tide of support for Andrea Horwath’s NDP reversed. The NDP had come from the low 20s in polling support to the high 30s, with much of it coming from the Conservatives, who had fallen from the mid-40s to a tie. Throughout the campaign the Liberals fell, ending under 20 per cent support. In the final weeks, the race moved from a tie at around 37-37, to a final result of 40 to 34. Several end-game strategies resulted in a final flow of support from the NDP to the Conservatives to make Ford Ontario’s Premier, including Wynne’s York University game.
This week the Ford Conservatives will table a bill preventing a strike by workers at power generation stations. No strike action has yet been taken. The Power Workers Union and Ontario Power Generation are at odds over bringing contract workers under the same terms as others.
Unlike the York strike — or the recent legislation by the Trudeau Liberals to end postal negotiations — a strike at power plants could impact on people’s health and safety.
Of course, rather than consider an essential services protocol, as exists in other sectors to protect both public safety and the freedom of workers, Ford will grab the sledgehammer. If the Liberals have any consistency, they will vote with Ford. Expect them to vote with the NDP.