A Niagara Falls MPP, one of several booted from the provincial legislature Wednesday, says a heated display during question period was all about getting Ontario back to the bargaining table to negotiate a “reasonable contract” for education workers.
The scenes of protest came ahead of a planned strike by 55,000 education workers on Friday, whose ranks include librarians, custodians and early childhood educators.
The NDP’s Wayne Gates was among those ejected at Queen’s Park amid the debate over the Ford government’s plan to impose a contract on education workers by using the notwithstanding clause to limit legal challenges under Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
“People have to realize that at the bargaining table, 98 per cent of all collective agreements in the province … are settled without a strike,” Gates told 900 CHML’s Good Morning Hamilton.
“You can’t settle a strike unless you’re at the table.”
MPP for St. Catharines Jennie Stevens, Niagara Centre’s Jeff Burch and 13 others, including NDP interim leader and Toronto-Danforth MPP Peter Tabuns, were also sent packing by the Speaker of the legislature.
It began when Tabuns accused Premier Doug Ford of lying.
“Speaker, when will the premier and his ministers stop lying about the damage they’re doing to the education system?” Tabuns asked.
The Speaker ordered him to withdraw his “unparliamentary comment,” but Tabuns refused and was ordered to leave the legislature, escorted by the Sergeant at Arms.
The matter came to a head for the other MPPs around the time Burch asked, “Why is this premier acting like a dictator and a thug?”
Burch refused to retract his question, saying, “I stand up for free collective bargaining and I won’t withdraw.”
He, too, was removed from the room.
Bhutila Karpoche, NDP MPP for Parkdale-High Park and critic for early childhood development, said their message was clear that the Ford government holds all the cards and can stop any disruption by going back to bargaining table.
“What we are seeing happening is a very heavy-handed approach by Doug Ford, really, … driving education workers away the same way he’s been driving away health care workers by refusing to pay them a decent wage that they can live on,” Karpoche told Global News
Education Minister Stephen Lecce fought back saying not one question asked by the NDP in the legislature was “about the impact of this unnecessary strike on millions of children in their ridings.”
Lecce contests CUPE negotaitors demands for a nearly 50 per cent increase in wage and benefits were simply “unreasonable” and that they were “on a path to a strike even before the government brought forth our first proposal in the summer.”
“We have no choice but to bring forth the bill with the intent of passing it today to provide some stability for children who’ve been through hell,” Lecce told 900 CHML’s Bill Kelly Show on Thursday.
“It has been the most difficult time in modern history for young people, and I think it is entirely appropriate to use every tool available to say, ‘Enough, there is going to be stability.'”
Education workers, represented by CUPE, are preparing to strike after stalled contract negotiations with the province.
Proposed legislation from the Ford government will outlaw that strike and impose a contract on workers without negotiations.
The bill includes the use of the notwithstanding clause to avoid a court challenge.
Ford and his PC Party have a comfortable majority in the house and the Ontario NDP are unable to vote down the legislation.
The Ontario PCs are expected to pass the legislation Thursday regardless of the protests and invoke the notwithstanding clause for the second time in Ontario’s history — the first time was in 2021.
Gates, a former president of UNIFOR local 199 and negotiator for Ontarios’ auto sector, believes there is a compromise between the government and the union but it requires both parties to return to the bargaining table.
“When you get close to the deadline … the last 24 hours to 48 hours is where the real bargaining gets done,” Gates said.
“But you’ve got to have a partner at the bargaining table.”
— with files from Isaac Cullen and Colin D’Mello