Frank Klees

Frankly Speaking

YRT Strike In 5th Week: Who’s To Blame ?

November 29, 2011

The York Region Transit strike is now in its 5th week. In my last column, I shared with you some of the hardships that people in our community were experiencing as a result of the shutting down of their only means of transportation. That was two weeks ago, and still no transit service today. The calls and emails about how the strike is affecting families and the business community in York Region continue to pour into my office and the pleas for an end are becoming increasingly more desperate.

That’s why my colleagues Peter Shurman, MPP for Thornhill , Julia Munroe, MPP for York-Simcoe and I brought forward a Private Member’s Bill last Thursday that if passed, would have ended the strike immediately and transit services would be operating today. The legislation mandated that an arbitrator be appointed to work with the parties to resolve the contractual issues and it would have given York Region’s transit services the same essential service status as the Toronto Transit Commission. In other words, no future service disruptions in the York Region Transit system due to labour disputes.

The four York Region Liberal MPPs and every Liberal Member of the legislature voted against the legislation and blamed the York Regional Council and its Chair for their decision.

While we fully expected the NDP members to vote against back-to-work legislation, we were hopeful that the Liberal members would support ending the strike. Considering that four Liberal MPPs represent ridings in York Region and their constituents are experiencing the same hardships, we expected that at the very least these MPPs would vote for the bill. That was not to be. What was even more surprising than the lack of support for their constituents, was that they blamed the York Regional Council and its Chair for their decision to vote against the legislation.

Helena Jaczek, the Liberal MPP for Oak Ridges- Markham said during the debate, “ My office has been in regular contact with the (York) Regional Chairman, and that individual, of course, has reported to regional council on the situation and the progress of the negotiations. We have no request from the Regional Council to go any further at this point.” While Ms. Jaczek acknowledged that she had received many calls from constituents about the hardships they were experiencing because of the strike, she made it clear that she prefers to take her direction from regional councillors when she said, “I not only respect my constituents, but I respect the duly elected members of regional council. They have not requested that our government move forward. They have not made the type of deputations that the city of Toronto did in the disruption of services from the TTC.”

Reza Moridi, MPP for Richmond Hill also justified voting against the back-to-work legislation because the York Regional Council didn’t ask for the legislation. “ …. York Region, who is somehow the employer, although they are not directly the employer, should come to the House. They should come to the Ontario government and ask for help. They have never done that. In the case of the city of Toronto, the city of Toronto and the mayor of Toronto came to the Ontario government and requested our assistance, for our help, this House’s help. York Region hasn’t done so”.

My response to this ‘blame game’ was to remind my colleagues that we are elected to represent and to advocate for our constituents. We are all aware of the collateral damage of this strike on families and on businesses throughout York Region. For one level of government to justify its lack of action by pointing to another level of government for not asking it to step in, is precisely why the public is becoming more and more cynical about government at all levels and politicians of all political stripes.

I encourage you to view the video of the debate on this bill or to read the word-for-word transcript where you will find the quotes referenced in this column and you will see my remarks and those of my PC colleagues. It can be found on my website at www.frankklees.com

I believe that innocent people have suffered the consequences of this strike long enough. While I believe in collective bargaining, it is clear that no bargaining is taking place and that it’s time for this dispute to be referred to arbitration under provincial back-to-work legislation. Given that the McGuinty government rejected the PC legislation, it should immediately bring in its own legislation to end the strike and appoint an arbitrator who will be bound by criteria such as the employer’s ability to pay in light of its fiscal situation as well as the economic situation in Ontario and York Region.

I also believe it’s time that York Regional Council end its own ‘hand-washing’ and live up to its responsibility as the ultimate employer of York Region’s transit services. York Region’s transit system is a public transit system, supported by tax dollars. The fact that delivery of the service has been contracted out to private sector companies does not relieve the Regional Council of its responsibility to ensure that the people who depend on that public service can count on it to be there.

If it takes a call from the York Region Chair to make the McGuinty Government pass back-to-work legislation and end this strike, then so be it. In the meantime, people’s lives are being disrupted, jobs are being lost and businesses are suffering.

As always, I invite your comments and advice. Please feel free to contact me by calling

905 750 0019 or through my website at www.frankklees.com