Premier Ford offers to withdraw Bill 28, students go back to school tomorrow

TORONTO – Without even waiting for the decision of the Ontario Labour Relations Board to which it had turned to declare illegal the strike of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), the Ontario government has made a U-turn. Today, during a surprise press conference, Premier Ford announced the decision to revoke the controversial Keeping Students in Class Act “provided that the union agrees to end the strike and continue to negotiate”. 

This proposal was accepted by CUPE after the premier pledged in writing to repeal the law approved last Thursday that made it illegal to strike non-teaching staff at the school. “We can confirm that the premier will introduce and support legislation that will repeal Bill 28 in its entirety,” said union president Laura Walton (in the pic above). Tomorrow, therefore, Ontario students will be able to go back to school.

Mark Hancock, national president of CUPE, said Bill 28 was a “regressive attack that united the labor movement like never before” and praised educational assistants, caretakers and librarians, 70% of whom are women, for their commitment to the protest. “They stood up to the Ford government,” Hancock said, “we have shown that when we are under attack, our movement is strong and we support each other.”

Abandoned, at least for now, the tones of those who have the knife on the side of the handle, Ford has tried to establish dialogue with the workers who today for the second day challenged the government and crossed their arms causing the closure of all schools in the province. “As a gesture of good faith, our government is willing to revoke Bill 28, is willing to revoke Section 33, but only if CUPE agrees to show such a gesture of good faith by breaking off the strike and letting our kids return to their classrooms,” Ford said.

After having been loud throughout last week, the prime minister has tempered the tone by offering, as he said, “an olive branch” to CUPE as an invitation to return to the negotiating table.

Negotiations that stalled a week ago when Education Minister Stephen Lecce refused to consider a counteroffer presented by the CUPE when faced with the announcement of the strike. But today, the very government that felt in an iron barrel, confident it could bend the union, reopened to dialogue: Ford said it was “flexible” to reach a “fair deal” that offered more help to low-paid workers. “Students have been through a lot. They do not deserve to be involved in these negotiations. What they need and deserve is to go back to the classroom to catch up with the curriculum. For the sake of our students, CUPE accepts this offer. Call off the strike and let our kids go back to class,” Ford pleaded. A few steps behind him was Minister Lecce, but he did not utter a word.

Speaking to reporters at the end of Ford’s press conference, Peter Tabuns, interim leader of Ontario’s New Democratic Party, said the government has the power to bring students back into the classroom. “I think the pressure on the prime minister will be enormous… so that he actually puts on the table a fair deal, something that can solve this crisis,” Tabuns said.