Debate continues at Queen’s Park to make TTC an essential service

The Toronto councillor for Ward 38 does not believe that legislation being debated at Queen’s Park to make the TTC an essential service will save the city money or eliminate transit strikes.

This week MPPs have been debating the contents of the Toronto Transit Commission Labour Disputes Resolution Act, currently in second reading. Charles Sousa, the Ontario minister of labour, introduced Bill 150 on Feb. 22, to make the TTC an essential service and take away transit workers’ right to strike. If passed, the minister said, the bill will prevent a potential loss of $50 million a day in the event of a strike. Ward 38 Coun. Glen de Baeremaeker doesn’t support the idea.

“I think it’ll cost too much money and it won’t really stop strikes,” de Baeremaeker said, adding an arbitrated settlement may cost more than a negotiated one over time. “The last TTC strike was illegal. If you have a work-to-rule, you can paralyze the system.”

In the last 30 years, there have been 13 days the city’s public transportation was brought to a stop.

Minister Sousa maintained that denying Torontonians transit would reject the city’s basic needs.

“For many, there is no alternative. There are many without cars. There are those more vulnerable and poor who cannot afford taxis or parking, let alone a car. There are seniors. There are children. There are students,” he said.

TTC chair Karen Stintz said in the event of an illegal strike under the new legislation, the Ministry of Labour could enforce charges.

“If there is an illegal strike, it will cost the local economy and … the union in fines and penalties,” Stintz said.

Amalgamated Transit Union Local 113 president Bob Kinnear said in a February press release that the new legislation takes away the union’s collective bargaining rights.

“What concerns us now is the pressure being put on the government to put a law in place very quickly, before the expiry of our collective agreement on March 31,” Kinnear said.

The Ontario government has indicated it would like to see the bill passed by March 31. But Kinnear said laws made in haste are bad laws.

“This does not leave a lot of time to give unemotional and thoughtful consideration to a law that may well raise significant issues with respect to our members’ fundamental rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms,” Kinnear said in the press release.

Making the TTC an essential service has been a high priority in Mayor Rob Ford’s agenda. In January, Toronto City Council voted 28-17 for the initiative and forwarded its decision to Queen’s Park.

Coun. De Baeremaeker is not convinced it’s the best way to ensure city-wide transit service.

“When you take away people’s rights, it’s very convenient for some people at the expense of others,” de Baeremaeker said.