Feature

Eroding Democratic Principles at Queen's Park

Vivian McCaffrey

The last year has been a tumultuous one for education Politics in Ontario and one that has seen democratic rights and principles die on the altar of political expediency .

The Liberals’ approach to education sector collective bargaining, its draconian legislation (Bill 115), and Premier McGuinty’s decision to prorogue the Legislature just four weeks into the fall session are all examples of a government flouting democratic principles for political convenience.

THE BROADER IMPLICATIONS OF DENYING COLLECTIVE BARGAINING RIGHTS

Collective bargaining rights are protected by the  Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms because they are recognized as playing an essential role in ensuring relative fairness in the workplace and providing a system of checks and balances that determines economic welfare and fair working conditions. Exercising these rights is fundamental to the functioning of democratic societies. Bill 115 undermines these rights by giving unfettered power to the minister to stop ETFO members from engaging in job action, even if they are legally entitled to do so. More broadly, the sweeping powers Bill 115 confers on the minister and cabinet place their actions beyond the scrutiny of the  Ontario HumanRights Code, Ontario Labour Relations Act (OLRA), and the courts – setting a dangerous precedent for Ontario. Any legislation that interferes with citizens’ constitutional rights and exempts the government from complying with Canadian law must be challenged.

ABUSE OF PROROGATION

On October 16, Dalton McGuinty announced not only his resignation as premier but also his request that the lieutenant governor prorogue the legislature. Prorogation means the business of the Legislature is suspended. Not only is Question Period, the daily accountability session, cancelled, but so too is all the committee work MPPs do. The committee process provides MPPs and the public the opportunity to carefully scrutinize legislation and other matters before the legislature.

Prorogation is a tool used by all parliamentary governments. It is commonly used during a government’s mid-term to refresh the government’s agenda or to suspend the legislature when it’s time for a general election. Recently, however, federal and provincial governments have used prorogation to avoid a confidence vote, which in a minority government situation would lead to an election, or to shut down a damaging political issue. Constitutional experts and others argue that these applications are a misuse of prorogation. They undermine democratic principles and conventions and compromise the ability of opposition parties to keep the government accountable.

Dalton McGuinty’s decision to prorogue was clearly an example of abuse. It was prompted by a desire to avoid losing a confidence vote on a contentious broader sector wage restraint bill and to shut down the growing scandal related to the 2011 election campaign decision to close two gas-fired energy plants to save a number of Liberal seats in the Greater Toronto Area. The closures will likely cost taxpayers more than $700 million.

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ETFO president Sam Hammond

As I write this column, central bargaining for teachers and occasional teachers has ceased and ETFO members have begun “Phase 1” of a province-wide, work-to-rule strike action that started on May 11.

etfo member signs laying in pile at rally

ETFO's member communications campaign for the 2012