Ontario Liberals delusional about labour problems

| January 6, 2013 | 0 Comments

McGuinty leaving Ontario Liberals doesn’t stop damage

Bruce Stewart

Photo: Bruce A. Stewart

Bruce A Stewart    

The Ontario Liberals live in a dream world. They must, to be acting the way they are. This column is not a pro-teacher union column, although you may think that as the story unfolds.

What it is is a record of insanity, and tries to make the case that these people shouldn’t be allowed to run the refreshments at a parents’ association meeting, much less a province.

Everyone who believes that actions have consequences (that would be most of us, even when we don’t much like the end result) knew as we went to the polls in 2011 in Ontario that it didn’t matter who won, they would have to bring in tough times for the broad public sector.

The province’s finances were swirling the same drain the Greeks (and others in Europe) are deeply familiar with. Too much debt to service, structural deficits, far too many promises made to a bloated public sector — and, at the same time, far too much undone in terms of health and welfare of the citizens.

 

 

It was going to be a government of tough choices and belt tightening.

As it happens, the people who put Ontario into the soup won re-election, although with a minority. So Dalton McGuinty and his Liberal crew got the task of cleaning up their own mess.

Not that they had any intention of doing it, you understand. They’d campaigned in 2011 on “wait for the Drummond Report” (on the province’s finances and how to fix them) only to pass that hot potato onto a shelf as fast as it was received. You see, Drummond called for undoing some of the Liberals’ proudest moments — things like all-day kindergarten (and the 10,000+ teaching and support jobs it created) — because, frankly, they were unaffordable luxuries.

“Not going to happen. No way.”

Instead, the good ship McGuinty sailed into the (for them) uncharted waters of tough labour negotiations. After eight years of giving the public sector unions and professional associations everything they wanted with a cherry on top of the whipped cream (who cares if the books balance as long as the headlines are favourable!) it would be a contract filled with zeroes and perhaps even a giveback or three.

All this, mind you, not to balance the books, much less redirect spending into things left undone for a decade or more, but simply to “hold the line” on another $14 billion of red ink, and a “plan” to balance the budget (the great god of growth willing) sometime around 2018 — at least two elections hence.

Ontario’s teachers are notorious for breaking governments that cross them. Here you have the Education Premier and his government, ably returned to office in no small measure thanks to the teacher-funded Working Families Coalition efforts during the election of 2011, about to take them on.

McGuinty began with an open YouTube video telling the teachers’ unions what the final terms would be.

Then his Education Minister calls them in to what the unions think is a start to negotiations, only to meet with lawyers (not even on the Crown payroll: the government pleading poverty paid hourly rates to have private sector lawyers sneer at the union folks opposite and dictate terms). When the first union leader there started thinking out loud how to get to the same end point financially but using different means, the meeting was abruptly ended with a “there’ll be no changes” legal “opinion” shoved down their throats.

Then there was the early recall of the Legislature in August, for emergency debate on Bill 115, the Orwellian-newspeak named Putting Students First Act, to chain down the teachers. Followed, in October, by the prorogation of the Legislature so that the Opposition couldn’t debate how the Premier and the Minister handle labour negotiations (amongst other things the Liberals desperately wanted to hide). In between, during the September by-elections, the teachers were bashed in a desperate (losing) attempt to steal a seat and become a majority government.

Well, now that it’s January, the contracts have been imposed, just as Bill 115 allowed. McGuinty played the coward throughout, leaving his Minister out front and alone through the whole thing.

Now the Liberals have promised to immediately repeal Bill 115 (“it’s done its job”) and McGuinty has surfaced to do one of his sorrowful Premier Dad bits, this time telling the teachers that they have no right to deny Ontario students the pleasures of their extracurricular activities for the next two years.

To hell with the fact these are voluntary, unpaid efforts. The Gods have spoken, who are you mere mortals not to comply.

Frankly, if every classroom in Ontario was suspended indefinitely while teachers up and down the province marched with middle fingers extended vertically in protest it would be warranted. But the teachers are better than that, and students will just have to do without sports, chess clubs and drama productions for the next two years instead.

Meanwhile, the Liberals think that once their new leader is in place (and Broten gets moved out of the Education portfolio), she and McGuinty will wear this whole escapade and the party will once again be seen as “Educator friendly”. Good luck with that.

This is what happens when you spend all your time looking in the mirror saying “who’s the master? Who’s the pretty one? Who’s the boss!”

Bruce Stewart is a national columnist and management consultant currently located in Toronto.

 

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Category: Ontario

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