Bill 28: Ford government shows it has no respect for democracy
By David Rapaport
The Ontario government has introduced Bill 28, an act to prevent and outlaw strike action by 55,000 education workers across the province. In a very draconian manner, it is including the notwithstanding clause of the Canadian constitution as well as imposing a new collective agreement ending meaningful bargaining.
It is becoming more and more evident that the Doug Ford-led, Progressive Conservative Party government at Queen’s Park has little respect or understanding of basic democratic notions.
The notwithstanding trigger in the Canadian Charter is meant to be used for extraordinary purposes only. The provincial or federal governments may use the trigger in cases where an abridgment or denial of Charter rights is acknowledged but deemed necessary. Much like the federal government Emergency Act, people’s rights are being denied because of extenuating circumstances.
In its first four decades, no Ontario government has used the notwithstanding clause. That came to an end in 2018.
The disregard for democracy by the Ford government is nothing new. It halved City of Toronto council seats in the middle of the 2018 municipal election with no consultations. It established strong mayor models for Ottawa and Toronto with no consultations. It diminished third party election-financing rights with no consultations. In all cases, the notwithstanding clause was either used or threatened.
On Monday, October 31st the Ford government introduced ‘back-to-work’ legislation to preclude or make illegal a threatened strike by Ontario education workers, represented by CUPE. And once again, the Ford government included the notwithstanding clause in the legislation. In other words, CUPE or any other union or party cannot launch a court challenge with the claim that Bill 28 violates the Charter, collective bargaining rights for workers. Imposing a contract adds insult to injury.
For decades, Canadian workers and unions fought for full and free collective bargaining rights, up to and including the right-to-strike in the public sector. It is well recognized in international forums, including the International Labour Organization and the United Nations that collective bargaining rights are fundamental democratic rights. It is a major tool for attaining some sense of justice and equity at work.
Is a public sector strike inconvenient for Ontario citizens? Indeed it is. But like most political disputes, there is always nuance or complexity. Do we wish to deny basic democratic rights to those who work for us? Do we want the power of the government to impose compensation levels and working conditions for public sector workers? We already have guardrails in preventing or limiting public sector collective bargaining. Essential services workers are precluded from striking or being locked out. That includes work and services that protect our health and lives and work that is environmentally important.
In 2018, the Ford government enacted Bill 124 limiting annual wage increases in the public sector to 1%. A strong argument can be made that this is the basis of the current troubles. Salary levels for public sector workers have been pegged at low levels.
It is sad and ironic that Mr. Ford is using the courts to avoid testifying at the Emergency Act hearings in Ottawa. Yet, by using or threatening to use the notwithstanding clause he sees emergencies in places where they do not exist.
–David Rapaport is a Lindsay resident and lecturer at Trent University.