Education workers at Ontario‘s legislature erupted into cheers and applause on Monday as Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservative government repealed a law that had imposed a contract on them and banned them from striking.
Lawmakers voted unanimously to repeal Bill 28, taking just 20 minutes to have the legislation “deemed for all purposes never to have been in force.”
The province had passed the legislation on Nov. 3 in a bid to prevent 55,000 workers from the Canadian Union of Public Employees from striking.
But thousands of workers, including education assistants, librarians and custodians, walked off the job anyway, shutting hundreds of schools to in-person learning for two days.
Ford then offered last week to withdraw the legislation if CUPE members returned to work, which they did.
CUPE members declared victory on Monday.
“I feel vindicated,” said Laura Walton, president of CUPE’s Ontario School Board Council of Unions.
“I think for education workers this was a fight, this was a fight for the province of Ontario, and I really hope it serves a message: you cannot strip the rights of workers away.”
The government’s law, which used the notwithstanding clause to guard against constitutional challenges, had set fines for violating the education-worker legislation at a maximum of $4,000 per employee per day and up to $500,000 per day for the union.
The two sides returned to the bargaining table last Tuesday.
Education Minister Stephen Lecce wasn’t in the legislature when the government repealed the bill. Earlier in question period, Lecce said the government is going to stay at the table to get a deal done that “keeps kids in the classroom.”
“That is our commitment,” he said. “It’s what we’re guided by, it’s what the people of Ontario sent us here to do.”
On Sunday, Ford said he doesn’t regret using the notwithstanding clause, which allows a government to override Charter rights for a five-year period.
“I don’t,” he said. “It’s in the constitution.”
Ford said a strike is “more devastating” than using the notwithstanding clause.
“Keeping the kids at home, being dumped off of the grandparents, employers calling up saying, ‘we need the people,’ I think that’s a little more serious in my opinion,” he said. “It affects the whole economy.”
Walton took umbrage with Ford’s characterization of the right to strike.
“That is foolishness,” Walton said. “Let’s be very clear, this country, this province, they were built on workers exercising the rights — it was never built on politicians stripping them away.”
© 2022 The Canadian Press