Could Ontario use anti-strike legislation to crush CUPE protests?

The Ontario government plans to invoke the controversial notwithstanding clause for the second time in Doug Ford’s tenure and in the province’s history, this time to force school support staff set to leave Friday to stay at work.

The section allows provinces to waive parts of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms for five years. Ontario would use it to back a law that could fine workers $4,000 and the union $500,000 a day if they go on strike.

The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) said it would cover members’ fines, which could total $220 million a day.

As Education Minister Stephen Lecce announced on Monday, the Keeping Students in Class Act would also establish a four-year contract with the 55,000 Ontario school workers represented by CUPE.

The contract includes a 2.5% wage increase for those earning less than $43,000 a year, a 1.5% increase for those earning more, increased benefits contributions and more.

Union officials balked at the proposal: « A half-percent wage increase to an already insulting offer is not generous, » CUPE Ontario president Fred Hahn said in a statement.

“An extra $200 in the pockets of workers earning $39,000 is not generous. It would not even be generous to accept our proposal — it would be necessary, reasonable and affordable,” he continued. “It’s just what our schools need.

School support staff have pledged to walk off the job from Friday in defiance of new legislation, potentially leaving hundreds of thousands of students across the GTA without in-person learning.

Lecce, meanwhile, told reporters after presenting the legislation on Monday: « We believe what we have proposed is not only constitutional, but provides stability for children » and will keep them in class despite challenges from the union.

To protect the new law from legal challenges, Ontario would use the notwithstanding clause to override sections 2, 7 and 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms « despite the Human Rights Code, » the government said. in a statement Monday.

The sections focus on fundamental rights, including, respectively: freedom of expression, conscience, association and assembly; life, liberty and security of the person; and equality.

According to a 2018 parliamentary paper, the notwithstanding clause allows governments to override three parts of the Charter: Section 2, Sections 7 through 14, and Section 15. Once a law is passed using the , it can no longer be challenged for five years. .

Since its introduction in 1982, the clause has been used 20 times — mostly by Quebec, according to an article published in the Canadian Journal of Political Science.

Ford previously invoked the clause for the first time in Ontario history in June 2021 to circumvent a judge’s ruling that overturned his government’s limits on union campaign spending. The most recent attempt would be the first time since 1986 that the clause was used to pass labor legislation.

Sources told The Star’s Kristin Rushowy on Tuesday that Ontario is ready to return to the bargaining table if CUPE withdraws its strike threat, presents a « reasonable offer » and if the mediator asks for it.

Ontario’s intended use of the clause has been rejected by unions and politicians. On Tuesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau criticized the bill, saying, “It is wrong to use the notwithstanding clause to suspend workers’ rights.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says all politicians should be concerned about Ontario’s decision to invoke the notwithstanding clause to preemptively stop any legal challenges to imposing a contract on 55,000 workers in the ‘education. Justice Minister David Lametti and Labor Minister Seamus O’Regan say they are discussing what the federal government can do about it. (NOV. 1 / THE CANADIAN PRESS)

“I know collective bargaining is sometimes difficult, but it has to happen,” he said. « It needs to be done in a respectful and thoughtful way at the bargaining table. »

Federal Justice Minister David Lametti said he would « consider » challenging Ontario’s decision in court.


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