On Campus

New Democrats set to block York's back-to-work bill

With unanimous support, classes could have restarted as early as Monday

Plans by Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty to get 50,000 York University students back to class on Monday after an 11-week strike will be blocked by the New Democrats, who plan to oppose back-to-work legislation to be tabled Sunday.

McGuinty said with unanimous support the legislation could pass Sunday and classes could resume Monday, but opposition by the New Democrats means the strike will continue at least several more days.

“There is, to my way of thinking, no reason whatsoever not to support this legislation and have it pass first, second and third reading tomorrow, Sunday,” McGuinty said.

New Democrat Leader Howard Hampton later said the party believes a resolution shouldn’t be forced and his members are set to debate each reading.

“It almost looks like the university has taken the position ‘We won’t bargain and then we’ll allow the McGuinty government to settle this.’ And that’s wrong,” he said.

The real issue is that education in Ontario is “chronically underfunded,” Hampton said.

“That’s where the real problem lies. And trying to blame the workers is frankly just wrong.”

Progressive Conservative Leader John Tory had been pressing for back-to-work legislation and said he expects his party will support it.

“What he’s done today is very, very, very late, but better late than never,” Tory said.

“But he should be ashamed of himself for the fact he’s let this go on for so long.”

Though the process could last up to two weeks, when it’s through McGuinty says the school must examine what appears to be a “systemic issue” that led to the “labour mess” and jeopardized its students’ futures, Premier Dalton McGuinty said.

“Educational aspirations, opportunities, a bright future – I mean, that’s what we want for our kids and all of that was compromised as a result of what took place at York University,” McGuinty said.

“I cannot help as a parent but resent that and be angered by that.”

While McGuinty would not lay more blame for the strike at the university or the union’s feet, he said York has to ask itself some tough questions and figure out how to ensure a similar situation doesn’t happen again.

“There appears to be a systemic issue there when it comes to labour relations,” McGuinty said, adding that it’s up to York University brass to figure out how to fix it.

York has seen three of the country’s five longest faculty association strikes. Saturday marked Day 80 of the current strike, while in 2001 there was a 78-day strike and in 1997 a strike lasted 55 days.

The length of those strikes are surpassed only by strikes at the University of Quebec in 1976-77 and Laval University in 1976, which both lasted about four months.

McGuinty had appointed the province’s top labour mediator just days ago to help bring an end to the labour dispute between the university and its striking contract faculty and teaching assistants.

But mediator Reg Pearson told the premier Saturday morning there was no “reasonable prospect” of a negotiated settlement.

– The Canadian Press