Queen's Park Highlights - May 7, 2015

Date posted: Monday, May 11, 2015 2:39 pm

This week, Question Period was dominated by questions about the partial sell-off of Hydro One and the labour disputes in the education sector. 

Increasingly, the PC narrative regarding the labour situation is that the OSSTF strikes and ETFO’s pending strike action are due to Liberal mismanagement and a two-tiered bargaining structure that isn’t working. Meanwhile, the NDP tends to frame the conflict in terms of government underfunding and the government spokespersons continue to reiterate their commitment to the bargaining process. 

1. PC Education Critic describes Two-tiered Education Sector Bargaining as “Train Wreck” 

Each day this week, PC Education Critic Garfield Dunlop has questioned the government on the current teacher labour disputes. In a question on May 6, he added up all the local secondary strikes on the horizon and stated that thousands of students wouldn’t be in the classroom “because of your Bill 122; we call it the two-tiered train wreck of a bargaining system.” 

2. Education Minister claims Lack of Clarity regarding Local OSSTF Strikes 

The current local OSSTF strikes are creating confusion at Queen’s Park with respect to the two-tiered bargaining process and the issues. On May 6, PC Education Critic Garfield Dunlop referred to the Minister of Education’s comment in the media that ETFO was determined to go on strike and said:

“Minister, you’ve said that you were perplexed, mystified and had no idea why these boards were striking. Then you blamed the strikes on local issues time and time again. That’s a story that no one is buying anymore. Now, you say kids aren’t in the classroom because teachers have a “general desire to strike.” The other side of the table is dumbfounded by your remarks.”

Accusing the Education Minister Liz Sandals of inaction, he asked if she would “resign before you cost these students the rest of their school year.” The Ministerreplied:

“I’m almost uncertain as to where to go with that question because there are so many muddled facts in it. I think what I’ll just do is review what’s going on. We have three boards where the secondary teachers are in a local strike position. I will continue to say that there really has been no clear articulation as to why those local unions have gone on a local strike. 

“What we know is that all three of the boards remain ready and willing to negotiate with their local unions. We know that the Peel board in particular was there until after midnight on Sunday trying to reach a local agreement.”

3. Education Minister addresses Confusion over Negotiations of Class Size 

The fact that the government and the Ontario Public School Boards’ Association have tabled strips affecting local contract provisions that establish secondary class size caps has lead to public confusion about how class size is affected by the current round of bargaining. On May 5, NDP Labour Critic Cindy Forster stated:

“Secondary educators in Peel, Rainbow and Durham school districts are now on strike. The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario’s members are poised to begin their job action on Monday. Meanwhile, the Premier and the Minister of Education have flip-flopped on their commitment to cap class sizes. I don’t understand why the Minister of Education is perplexed about why job action is happening.”

Education Minister Liz Sandals replied:

“I think we need a little bit of clarity here: The caps that she’s talking about, the class size caps, are in fact contained in the local collective agreements. That isn’t what we would necessarily be talking about at the central table. The issue is around the local caps that are in local collective agreements. 

“I must say, as somebody who was a trustee for years and years and years and who actually has sat on a staffing allocation committee at secondary, caps often apply in the case of tech classes; they often apply in the cases of other courses where there’s health and safety, where there’s an issue in a science lab around the maximum number of seats in a lab. There are lots of caps that are very, very helpful, and I support those.”

4. PC MPP questions Government over Hydro Workers getting Hydro Stocks 

On May 4, PC MPP Lisa MacLeod raised concerns about a tentative settlement with the Power Workers’ Union that would give the union members shares in Hydro Oneas part of the partial privatization of the energy utility:

“Not only have details been scarce, but the optics are horrible: a fire sale of a public asset; a promise to fund more infrastructure when new money isn’t even included in the budget, not to mention your LRT musings today; a rich pension plan that gives employees a 4-to-1 benefit of taxpayer dollars to personal investment; and this government’s delusions of what net-zero budgeting really means.”

Ms. MacLeod continued: “I think it’s time that the Premier came clean with Ontario families on what this fire sale of Hydro One for infrastructure really is. Will she admit today it’s just a ruse in order for her to pay off public sector pensions?”

Premier Kathleen Wynne responded:

“We’re very pleased that there’s a tentative net-zero agreement that has been reached between the Power Workers’ Union and employers. That agreement has not been ratified yet, so we’re not going to talk about the specifics. We’re going to be respectful to the process of ratification.

“I’m pleased that the leadership of the power workers expressed support for the Hydro One proposal, because they understand that this can be a strong company. I think they also understand that the need to invest in infrastructure is critical to the health of the province.”

In answer to a supplementary question from Ms. MacLeod, Finance Minister Charles Sousa referred to a statement from the union president:

“Let me quote Don MacKinnon, the president of the Power Workers’ Union, who said this: “The Power Workers’ Union welcomes and supports the decision by government to keep Hydro One whole in an IPO process that would, in partnership with government, broaden the ownership structure in Hydro One. This will position the company to grow and provide further high-skill quality jobs for Ontarians.”

5. NDP Leader demands Government Cancel Hydro One Privatization Plans 

The NDP has made the government’s plans to privatize a major portion of Hydro One its priority issue and has been waging a campaign to rally public opposition to the policy. On May 7, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath stated: “Well over 26,000 people have sent the Liberals the message that they don’t want the Premier to sell Hydro One.” She asked: “Why is the Liberal government refusing to listen to the people who actually own Hydro One?” 

Responding on behalf of the government, Deputy Premier Deb Matthews replied:

“We have listened very, very carefully, and what the people in Ontario are saying is they want us to invest in transportation and other infrastructure that is so vitally important to the economy and to the lives of people who are fighting that traffic every day.

“This budget is all about building Ontario up. It’s about creating jobs. It’s about increasing economic growth. We’re going to build infrastructure. We’re going to invest in people’s skills and talents, create that business climate that businesses are asking for so they can flourish, and we want to move forward on building that retirement security.

“We are increasing the Moving Ontario Forward fund so that we can invest in much-needed infrastructure, the largest investment in the province’s history.”

6. NDP MPP questions Government’s Plans to Amend Government Advertising Rules

One of the early initiatives of the Liberals’ first term in office was toestablish a law governing government advertising. The legislation was a reaction to the very partisan nature of Harris government advertising and a way of signalling that the Liberal government would do things differently. Many Liberal MPPs at the time believed that the idea was foolhardy and would limit the government’s ability to communicate effectively.

Recently, the Auditor-General, who previews government ads to ensure they don’t contradict the legal interpretation of “partisan advertising,” ruled that a government ad promoting Ontario savings bonds was partisan because the images included apples deemed to be “too red.” In response, the government included provisions in the Ontario budget legislation that would “relax” the definition and criteria for determining the partisan nature of government ads.

On May 4, NDP MPP Catherine Fife accused the Liberal government of proposing policy that would result in the public paying for partisan Liberal ads and asked: “Can the Premier explain why she’s taking a page from Stephen Harper so she can run partisan ads on public dollars in the province of Ontario?” Premier Kathleen Wynneresponded:

“...just consider that we’re the first and the only jurisdiction in Canada that has such legislation, and we will continue to have legislation that will ban partisan advertising. That legislation will stay in place. In fact, we’re broadening that; we’re proposing that we broaden that legislation to make sure that in the digital realm, the same rules apply. 

“The fact is that we agree that we should strengthen this legislation. We also agree that it would be an important part of this legislation, this initiative, to look at third-party advertising and see if there are some limits that we need to put on third-party advertising. I suggest that those are things that the third party might want to support.”

 

For more information, check the website of the Ontario Legislature.

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