Ontario Finance Minister Dwight Duncan
By Asma Amanat
Ontario Finance Dwight Duncan says Ontarians understand that the government is being “fair, reasonable and responsible” in its negotiations with public sector unions.
McGunity government will be introducing a legislation to impose collective agreements on public-sector workers. The wages of public and broader public sector unions will be frozen for two years.
In an interview with Generation Next, Minister Duncan said “average Ontarians get it” that people don’t have the same kind of job security, pensions and benefits as the public sector workers do.
“People in public sector don’t like that and one can’t blame them for that,” Minister Duncan noted. About 15 per cent of Ontarians work in public and broader public sector.
The government is looking forward to saving $6 billion through the public sector wage over the two-year period to meet its target of eliminating $14.8-billion deficit by 2018.
The Progressive Conservatives (PCs) have said that they will not help the government in passing this legislation as it is “insufficient,” and exempts hundreds of thousands of police, firefighters and other municipal employees.
Minister Duncan is baffled that the PCs who helped the Liberal government pass ‘Putting Students First Act’ would not support the public sector wage freeze, nonetheless Liberals are open to suggestions from the Opposition.
“ … they [PCs] have asked us to go further in some areas. They [PCs] want municipalities covered, which we don’t have jurisdiction over … they [PCs] want further reforms to arbitration system … we are prepared to listen to what they are asking for,” Finance Minister said. However, the government believes that the “arbitration system is fairly robust as it is.”
Minister Duncan said that municipalities have their own elected governments and negotiate their own contracts. At this point in time, Liberals want to negotiate the contracts with employees who are directly funded by the province of Ontario.
PCs also want the existing contracts to be renegotiated to impose a two-year-wage. However, Minister Duncan says that the government has been advised that it may be “unconstitutional.”
The government has already “taken the money out” from colleges, universities and hospitals. Minister Duncan said a choice has to be made between taking a two wage freeze or laying people off, “probably about 55,000 people.”
NDP leader Andrea Horwath has called the legislation a “cynical and desperate move.” She says that the legislation if challenged in the Supreme Court of Canada will not stand up to the bargaining rights of unions under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Minister Duncan is of the opinion that “The NDP is just pandering to everybody. They don’t want to come to terms with our fiscal reality. They are not honest enough to tell the truth” to people on Ontario.
Minister Duncan said that the government has put forward a legislation that it believes can “stand the test of Constitution” and “survive in courts.”
He also commits that once the books are balanced, all the unions will be welcome to come back on the table and ask for the raise for their members. He said that the government respects “desire of people to improve their situations” and “when things are going well, it is appropriate and fair … toremunerate employees for their work … and I look forward to that day.”
The federal government is shy of meeting its target of 2011-2012 deficit elimination by almost $1billion. Can that happen in the province on Ontario?
Over the same period of time, Ontario’s Finance Minister notes, Ontario’s deficit was $3 billion lower than what was previously projected. However, because of “the volatile economy, any change can throw numbers off quickly,” resulting in missing the mark of eliminating deficit.