By Bobbi Ann Brady
Monday, I voted to repeal Bill 28. Fingers crossed by the time you read this, cooler heads and common sense have prevailed at the bargaining table. I’m praying fruitful negotiations will have concluded or both sides are still working together for an acceptable deal.
First a refresher, Bill 28 was created to enact the Keeping Students in Class Act, 2022. It addressed labour disputes involving school board employees represented by the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE). The Act required the termination of any strike or lockout and prohibited strikes or lockouts during the term of the collective agreement.
This would have been accomplished by the government invoking the notwithstanding clause, aka Section 33 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which gives provincial legislatures the ability, through the passage of a law, to override portions of the charter for a five-year term.
In short, to keep students in class, it made illegal any walkouts by the education workers who are CUPE members. Fines per union member could have reached $4,000 per day or $500,000 per day for the union. Four days after enacting Bill 28, Minister of Education Stephen Lecce announced in exchange for keeping students in class, the government would vote to repeal the Bill and negotiations would continue. This was the right thing to do.
In keeping with parliamentary procedure, Bill 28 was debated for several hours, which seemed redundant given the government’s large majority. Sitting through hours of speeches and debate I witnessed no unique arguments. There was much talk about the need to keep students in school, which I wholeheartedly supported and have the past few years.
I’ve heard the protests, walked picket lines, spoken with concerned parents, and listened to the opinions of government and the opposition. All sides have valid concerns that should be properly addressed.
Two weeks ago, I wrote a letter to Minister Lecce and stood in the House twice asking who cared about education workers and students. From my perspective, there was one side who had a score to settle with unions. And there was the Official Opposition, seemingly encouraging work-stopping political action. Both sides looked bad and were bound to feel the wrath of either parents or education workers and their supporters.
As I’ve repeated to my legislative colleagues, I believe in being fair and equitable to the province’s underpaid and hard-working education workers. These are the very people who keep our schools running efficiently. I am always concerned with the education of our children being disrupted once again.
And above all, I can’t forget that there are taxpayers and parents in this province who have grown tired with over 30 years of education unions and various governments playing politics with the system and with our students.
Use of the “notwithstanding” clause was a huge concern for me, I will continue to advocate and encourage a better way forward than what has so far transpired. That being said, I’ll reiterate my praise to the government for doing the right thing and for CUPE leaders withdrawing pickets as their end of the bargain.
All of this is not fence sitting, this is my honest opinion as your free-thinking and free-voting Independent member of Ontario parliament.
Again, fingers crossed that by the time you read this, the issue has been resolved or is well on its way to resolution and the satisfaction of all stakeholders.
Bobbi Ann Brady is the MPP for Haldimand-Norfolk