Tony Clement's coming battle - Macleans.ca

Tony Clement’s coming battle

The Treasury Board President and federal unions spar over sick leave

by
Sean Kilpatrick/CP

Sean Kilpatrick/CP

“We’re not in a race to the bottom, and we’re not in concession bargaining. We’re not prepared to give up our sick leave.” —Robyn Benson, the Public Service Alliance of Canada’s national president 

Jack Layton’s energized New Democrats waltzed into the House of Commons in June 2011 and found themselves staring down a government that was playing hardball with the country’s postal workers. The government hoped to force the striking posties back to work. The NDP promptly launched a 58-hour filibuster of the Tory legislation, standing unapologetically with the union. The effort served notice that, even if the NDP had moved closer to the political centre in an election just a month prior, the party would not abandon its traditional allies.

Today, the Parliamentary Budget Officer wades in to the next great battle between the government and federal unions. The Toronto Star reports that Jean-Denis Fréchette’s office will enter the crossfire on sick leave, the central issue in a very public dispute between Treasury Board President Tony Clement and a host of unions who protect their rights with some vigour. Clement says federal public servants take an average of 18 sick days a year. Robyn Benson, the president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, says her members take 11 sick days a year. Fréchette’s report will apparently disagree with Clement.

All of this matters because unions and the feds are gearing up for a big year in collective bargaining. No fewer than 27 unions will enter contract talks with their political masters. The government remains fixated on slashing whatever budget deficit remains. Clement has talked tough for years. The unions are entrenched. Where does that leave the NDP? Standing in the House of Commons, most likely, revisiting their spirited union defence of yore. Senate expenses and alleged spying and misguided electoral reform will rile up New Democrats on any given day, but go after hard-fought union benefits and the party will drop everything and get noisy.

The very moment Clement touches sick leave, all bets are off.

ABOVE THE FOLD

Globe: Heenan Blaikie, the famed Canadian law firm, is closing its doors.

Post: Canadian snowboarders are talking trash in Sochi.

Star: Toronto considers removing the easter section of its raised Gardiner Expressway.

Citizen: The government cut short debate in the House on its electoral reform bill.

CBC: The Sochi Olympics get underway.

CTV: Snowboarding is among the Games’ first events.

NNW: The Conservatives will move to comprehensively reform the Citizenship Act.

MOSTLY MISSED

Near: A cash-strapped Manitoba First Nation refuses assistance from the federal government.

Far: Bombings in Iraq have killed 112 civilians since the beginning of February.