The minority government at Queen’s Park means Ontario could face an election this school year. ETFO members may still harbour strong feelings about the Liberal government’s attack on collective bargaining rights and the failure of anyone in the legislature to vigorously defend them, but we should not overlook the bigger threat to the public sector and to unions: the agenda of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party.
A prevailing narrative within the Ontario PC Party is that it squandered the chance to regain government in 2011. Party activists blame the loss on leader Tim Hudak’s failure to connect with voters, a platform that was too “middle-of-the-road,” and the impact of ad campaigns sponsored by various unions, including ETFO. This analysis is driving the party’s current election platform development. It also explains its decision to look backward to the 1995–2003 Harris/Eves governments for guidance, a period dominated by attacks on public spending, public sector unions, and education workers in particular.
In terms of platform development, the Tories are more prepared than either the Liberals or NDP. Since May 2012, the party has released 15 white papers and a plethora of private member’s bills. These documents give us ample opportunity to assess what a future Tory government would mean for public education, the labour movement, and the broader social good.
Making Ontario The Next "Right To Work State"
The most egregious Tory policies are those that deal with unions and labour relations. Borrowing heavily from Republican states that have introduced “right to work” legislation, the PC party is promising to give workers the right to choose whether to belong to a union. The party refers to this as “modernizing” labour laws. Speaking at a party fundraiser in April 2013, Hudak stated: “We will modernize our labour laws so that no worker will be forced to join a union as a condition for taking a job.” Using teachers as an example to defend the policy, he added: “There’s a distance between the union and classroom teachers.” He obviously didn’t take note of the thousands of teachers who turned out for provincial and local protests against Bill 115 and who voted overwhelmingly for a day of political protest and then, ultimately, to support the provincial agreement for bargaining.
The party also talks about ending the dues check-off afforded to all unionized Ontario workers, the process whereby the employer is required to deduct union dues and forward them to the union. This policy, known as the Rand Formula, goes back to a 1946 arbitration. It is at the core of union democratic principles serving the collective. The party has also promoted a similar concept, through a private member’s bill, that proposes continuing employers’ collection of dues but allowing workers to remove themselves entirely from the collective agreement and negotiate an