By Kit Kolbegger
With files from Mick Sweetman/Dialog News
A bill tabled to end the Ontario college faculty strike with back-to-work legislation passed its second reading at Queen’s Park on Saturday.
Bill 178, “An Act to resolve the labour dispute between the College Employer Council and the Ontario Public Service Employees Union,” was put forward by Kathleen Wynne’s Liberal Party.
The New Democrats forced a debate in Queen’s Park by voting against the legislation Friday. The Liberal Party had asked for a unanimous vote so that Bill 178 could be passed immediately.
Andrea Horwath, the leader of the NDP, said that her party couldn’t support the bill in good conscience.
“New Democrats want students to be in school, but what we do not want and what we will not support is anti-worker Conservative-style back-to-work legislation,” she said.
Horwath said the Liberal government had taken too long to act in the first place, and should have been more involved with bargaining. She said the Liberals were now trying to “fast-track” the bill through the Legislature “sight unseen.”
“Who allows a piece of legislation to get fast-tracked through first, second and third reading without even reading it?” she said.
Warren “Smokey” Thomas, the president of the Ontario Public Sector Employees Union which represents college faculty, said the results of the vote weren’t a surprise. He also said he didn’t think the NDP were delaying classes by voting against the bill.
“I’d still say the government assertion that… the students, if it didn’t pass today, won’t get in there till Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday is just wrong,” he said. “I know the emails are going out now, [saying] come back Tuesday, the workers at some colleges are saying get back Monday.”
Deb Matthews, the Minister of Advanced Education for the Liberal Party, said that tabling the bill had been a last resort.
“We needed the parties to exhaust all options before we would even think about entertaining this type of legislation,” she said.
Matthews said negotiations between the bargaining teams had fallen apart on Thursday. Negotiations had only resumed earlier that day, after faculty voted to reject an offer tabled by the College Employer Council.
“We did everything we could to avoid getting here without interfering in the collective bargaining process,” she said.
Matthews said that the Liberal government had been involved through the entire negotiation process.
“We were there, trust me. We wanted the students back. We wanted them back as quickly as possible, and for Andrea Horwath to suggest that we could have interfered with collective bargaining is a mystery to me,” she said. “She just has her facts wrong.”
Edith Denton, a second year student in Humber’s Bachelor of Music program, sat in the gallery during the debate. She said she went to Queen’s Park to show her support for her teachers, and because she felt students hadn’t been well-represented during the strike.
“I know that the fact that teachers’ right to strike being taken away is absolutely astounding,” she said.
Denton said she thought Bill 178 just showed that the government could have intervened earlier.
“I feel like they’re using this legislature as a cop-out to show that they care about the students but really they just care about trying not to look bad.”
Bill 178 will have a third reading in the Ontario Legislative Assembly beginning at 1 p.m. on Sunday.