York students betrayed by Shurman's political posturing - Macleans.ca

York students betrayed by Shurman’s political posturing

Back-to-work bill contains two poison pills the provincial government won’t swallow


The full-text of the Progressive Conservative “Back to Work Act (York University), 2008,” as moved by MPP Peter Shurman is now available online.

The bill is short and designed to make the Liberal government pass back-to-work legislation prior to the Ontario legislature’s scheduled two-month winter recess, which begins Dec. 11, in order to return York students to the classroom as soon as possible.

On top of trying to force back-to-work legislation, the bill includes two poison pills that the Liberals are unlikely to accept.

It requires that the government give a back-to-work order that “shall specify the terms of a new contract between York University and Canadian Union of Public Employees, Local 3903” and that “the length of this new contract shall be for a term of three years.”

It is entirely inappropriate for the government to dictate the terms of a collective agreement. Nevermind that, if passed, the Bill would require this contract to be written up immediately without the necessary time for proper review of the positions of the two parties. The government cannot do this and Shurman should have known better than to place this poison pill into the bill.

The requirement that the government make the contract for a three-year term is not as much of a poison pill, but still has a bitter flavour.

Shurman should have kept it simple and pushed for binding arbitration.

By placing two highly political poison pills into his bill, Shurman has done a great disservice to the very students he claims to represent and placed the government in an awkward position that makes it politically more difficult to introduce a proper back-to-work bill.

Again, York students are caught in the middle as another party advances its own political agenda.


York students betrayed by Shurman’s political posturing

  1. I beg to differ on this issue, Joey. As far as I know, it is standard to dictate the term of a contract in back-to-work legislation.

    Check out the provisions of the Bill 66, Toronto Transit Service Resumption Act, 2008, the back-to-work bill used to end the TTC strike earlier this year. This law required a minimum contract length of … You guesses it: 3 years.

    The back-to-work bill in the TTC strike enjoyed all-party support.

    As I understand it, back-to-work bills normally prescribe a minimum contract length because their whole purpose is to guarantee a minimum period in which no strike or lock-out can take place.

    So, I’m pretty sure it is standard to legislate a minimum contract length. But I’ll check this out. I’m going to read the other 6 back-to-work bills that have passed in Ontario in the last decade and get back to you with the results.

  2. Disputes are normally sent to an independent arbitrator for settlement.

    Shurman proposes that the government write the entire contract instead. This would represent a stunning destruction of Labour rights in the province of Ontario.

    In terms of contract length, those were not an issue in those disputes. Contract length is the biggest issue in this dispute. For the government to decide that issue is wrong.

  3. Okay here’s my list. I must have either mis-counted earlier or missed one of the back-to-work acts, because now I can only find six.

    As you will see, they all prescribe a minimum contract length. Many prescribe a minimum contract length of three years.

    Toronto Public Transit Service Resumption Act, 2008
    * Prescribed a contract length of three years

    Back to School (Toronto Catholic Elementary) and Education and Provincial Schools Negotiations Amendment Act, 2003
    * Prescribed a contract length of two years

    City of Toronto Labour Disputes Resolution Act, 2002
    * Prescribed a contract length of three years

    Back to School Act (Toronto and Windsor), 2001
    * Prescribed a contract length of three years

    Back to School Act (Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board), 2000
    * Gave the arbitrator the power to determine contract length, and set the minimum at one year

    Back to School Act, 1998
    * Prescribed a contract length of two years

  4. I see your point, Joey, that contract length may not have been at issue in the same way in these other disputes. Although we don’t know. For very different reasons, contract length may have been at issue. Also, it is probably fair to say that a union that is being forced back to work will always want to be forced into the shortest contract possible, sot that they will have an opportunity to bargain again as soon as possible.

    Nevertheless, I don’t see how this stops the government from introducing its own back-to-work bill that keeps out of the fray on contract length. For example, the back-to-work legislation could require the arbitrator to determine contract length, with a minimum length of one year (see the back-to-work bill used to end the Hamilton-Wentworth teachers’ strike in 2000).

    I don’t think Peter Shurman’s bill put the government in a difficult position. Now the government’s back-to-work legislation will look more reasonable — more of a middle ground position — in comparison with the Conservative proposal.

  5. One final note on this. The York students arguing for back-to-work legislation did NOT propose that the back-to-work bill should contain the terms of the contract. You are correct that this would be an unprecedented attack on labour rights in Ontario.

    Instead, they proposed that the back-to-work bill should force the parties into binding arbitration (as usual for back-to-work legislation).

    Peter Shurman addressed students and the media at the demonstration at Queen’s Park on Dec. 2, and stated quite explicitly that his bill was not meant to pass, and was “a ploy” to pressure the government into action.

    So again, I think that the function served by this bill is, at least in part, to make the government’s back-to-work bill appear that much more reasonable by contrast.

  6. I’m not a parliamentary procedure expert, but can private members’ bills not be amended, in the way that other bills can be amended?

    I agree that imposing a contract is not really acceptable, and that the usual practice is to send the dispute to arbitration.

  7. A private members bill cannot force a back-to-work mandate. This bill is pure political posturing and no BTW bill that would actually be legal will be passed. The students need to demand that York come back to the bargining table and work out a contract with CUPE so the students can get back to class and salvage the year.

  8. What were you thinking when you wrote that headline? Strikes are entirely about posturing. I am representing many of my Thornhill constituents (and others) in this dispute. The bill does have a distinct edge to it but no one ever expected a debate on it. The bill was designed to ‘kickstart’ a process. I will continue to press the McGuinty government right up to the day we recess in hopes they’ll realize they’re the only ones who can end this in time to save the year for students. Then, hopefully, they’ll take their responsibility and we can see York U up and running again!

  9. Hi, all. Joey, thanks for your interesting opinion in this article.

    @Matthew G:

    Hey, there. Is there any explicit indication that the Liberals are intending to introduce a back-to-work bill of their own? If so, can you post a reference?

  10. @Shurman

    It may have been designed to kickstart a process, however, I believe the bill went too far. I read the bill and was disappointed to see the one “poison pill.” While I agree with your assessment that your private members bill was never going to see debate, I believe you could have moved a better bill.

    While I, like so many others, have been shocked by the position of CUPE 3903 during this dispute, I cannot fathom allowing government to impose a contract written by a Minister of the Crown.

    The decision to include this clause showed a willingness to place a punitive measure into the bill which ultimately galvanizes pro-labour members of the Liberal Cabinet who oppose back-to-work legislation on principle.

    You have served York students while and have been a voice in the wilderness for them, all the more reason that I was shocked when I read your bill.

  11. Isn’t it obvious? It’s one of those things politicians do so they can say “well we tried but the other guys stopped us.”

  12. @ Dray:

    There are no explicit statements indicating that the Liberals will pass back-to-work legislation.

    I have only circumstantial evidence indicating that they are considering it:

    1. The Liberals have never said they won’t do it. That may seem like nothing to some, but let’s be clear that on some issues, the government comes right out and says “NO!” They didn’t do that in this case, which indicates that they haven’t ruled it out. Back-to-work legislation is a severe measure. If the government had no intention of doing it, they’d have said so by now.

    2. The Liberals have added late night sittings at the Legislature for Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of next week. This will give them time to introduce, debate and pass a back-to-work bill at the last minute. Which is exactly how they’d want to do it, if they were going to do it.

    3. The NDP took the unusual step of forcing a recorded vote when Peter Shurman’s private member’s bill was up for first reading. Very few Liberals were in the chamber for the vote. But among those who were, the ratio of those in support of back-to-work legislation vs. those opposed was 2:1. This suggests a Liberal caucus that–while far from unanimous–leans toward supporting back-to-work legislation to end the strike at York.

    @ Joey:

    I stand by my analysis of the role that Peter Shurman’s bill plays. I believe that it plays a critical role in opening up a middle ground for the government. The Liberals love to say, “The NDP asked for this extreme, and the Conservatives asked for this extreme, but we’re taking a balanced approach …”

    In order to open up this middle ground for the Liberals, the Conservative bill needed to go further than a balanced bill. I too was shocked the first time I read Peter Shurman’s bill, but I believe that it plays an important and pragmatic role in pressuring the government to introduce its own bill, a different bill: One that forces both sides into binding arbitration.

  13. @ Matthew G

    Actually, the fact that Liberals took the step of voting against a first reading is significant. First reading is normally a formality and very rarely do MPPs vote against a Bill during first reading. That is the significance of the vote, the “Yay” votes are meaningless at that point.

  14. This article is amazing. Peter Shurman’s bill is horrible. Either way, just get us back to school in January and everything will be fine. Don’t make us go back to school for 1 or 2 classes and ruin our holidays because of that. Just let us have our break and we’ll return in January. I hope they vote no for this bill because I don’t think it is the government’s business to intervene in this matter. The bill obviously supports the administration and it is simply not fair for the CUPE members. I am not a supporter of either side so don’t get me wrong. But there are always two sides to a story and people need to know that. Yes, we, the undergrads are affected by this strike.. but just because the strike is on, that doesn’t mean we cant be doing work! Why don’t we all just work really hard for a week or two… get caught up with behind school work or even go ahead and start doing a paper that will be due in Jan/Feb? After one or two weeks.. start enjoying your holidays! It is too frustrating to have to worry when we’re going to go back to school and if we are going to, when! I HOPE THEY VOTE NO TO THIS!!

  15. I’m astounded that Shurman Himself has made an appearance at these here blog commentings.


    Your actions in Legislature betray your utter lack of statesmanship:

    1. You’re pushing a back-to-work bill that will have severe consequences, not just for organized labour in Ontario, but also for the quality of education at York. You see, angry TAs and contract faculty will refuse to over-work by up to three times the number of hours for which we’re paid, thus crippling the university almost as much as the strike has. Do you realize that TA’s and Contract Faculty are so poor they have nothing to lose? (That’s why they can engage in prolonged strikes: $40/day picket pay is not much worse than their own salaries.) Didn’t think about that, did you?

    2. Your opposition to the Liberal’s Road Safety Act is quite odd, as you don’t merely appear to be against portions of it but, rather, the entire Bill! (I saw your comments on Facebook.)

    You want to be seen as the champion of Ontario adolescents so very much that you’re actually willing to trade away their safety and education to get it.

    I’m both a CUPE member and a member of your constituency. Because you have attacked me and my colleagues, I will campaign against you at the next election.

  16. @ Joey:

    Well, I’ve heard both arguments (on this and other forums). Some say, the Liberal votes in favour at first reading are meaningless. All they mean is that these members support any bill passing first reading.

    Some (like yourself) say, the Liberal votes opposed at first reading are meaningful. They show that even at the first reading stage (normally a mere formality), some Liberals will oppose this bill.

    Well, both claims cannot be true. Either the Liberal votes mean something, or they don’t.

    What is of critical importance here is that it was a RECORDED vote, which usually does not happen at first reading. This means that not only parties, but individual members will identify themselves as either supporting or opposing the bill.

    It is also noteworthy that the PC and NDP votes were both whipped, but the Liberal caucus allowed a free vote.

    There were enough PC votes to allow the bill to pass first reading, without any Liberal votes in favour. There was no need for any Liberals to vote at all in order for the bill to pass first reading. They could have opted for a whipped abstention, and kept themselves out of it. Instead, they let individual members vote their conscience, and the Liberal members supported back-to-work legislation 2:1.

    To me that reveals (1) a divided Liberal caucus, and (2) a divide that leans decidedly toward support for back-to-work legislation.

  17. As a York student I have to think that any talk is good talk at this point. Perhaps the bill stands no chance of passing, but it may serve to kick start negotiations once again. That being said, I think a bill that provided a THREAT of btw legislation, rather than actually imposing it, would stand a better chance of passing and would therefore apply more pressure to the two sides.

  18. @ Shurman

    I want back to work legislation really, really bad. I think you may have damaged the chances of that happening sooner by putting out this divisive and polarizing bill.

  19. I think there are many who do not understand what the political mechanism that a private members bill represents.

    As P. Sherman posted “the bill was designed to ‘kickstart’ a process.”

    If you look at the background of a private member’s bill they typically do not pass.

    “Private Members’ Public Bills do not often receive Third Reading and Royal Assent, i.e., become law. However, they enable private members to bring matters that concern them, their constituency or their party to the attention of the House, the Ministries, the media and the public, and they may have a significant impact on future government policy.”
    From: http://www.ontla.on.ca/bills/general-information/files_pdf/files_en/pmpbill.pdf

    So this is the important distinction.

    The bill was never intended to pass but to bring some specific points to light and have them debated for future policy. These issues are now firmly in the conscious minds of the MPPs.

    Will Sherman’s bill positively influence future legislation if it comes down to actual Liberal backed back-to-work legislation? I would say a definite yes.

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