Premier Ford softens the tone: “I want to stop fighting with education workers”

TORONTO – It may seem strange but Doug Ford seems to have laid down the hatchet. “We want an agreement that is fair to students, fair to parents, fair to taxpayers, and fair to workers, particularly low-income workers.” Abandoning the strong tones and swaggering attitude of a few days ago, an almost conciliatory Ford during today’s press conference said that when negotiations with the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) resume, the government will present “a better offer”. The Ontario premier declined to provide specific details about the government’s proposal, but said the offer is particularly good for workers with the lowest wages.” 

Ford also told reporters that he had filed “the phase of the war” with the union and that he “would like to see the conclusion of negotiations by the end of the week.” “I don’t want to fight. I just want the kids to go to school. This is what I want,” he said.

After the tug-of-war between the government and the union of non-teaching staff of schools, the thaw tests arrive. Following the promise of withdrawal of the law that imposes the collective agreement – Bill 28 – announced on Monday, the CUPE ended the strike and today the schools reopened their doors to students in the province.

Ford promised to scrap on Nov. 14 the controversial law using the Notwithstanding Clause that cancels the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in order to impose a collective agreement on the 55,000 members of the CUPE. The repeal, Ford said, should pass quickly with the support of opposition parties.

But despite these steps forward and the desire to reopen dialogue in order to reach the signing of a new employment contract, the issue of wages must be resolved. Negotiations have resumed, it remains to be seen whether the parties will accept a compromise in order to be able to close this thorny issue. 

CUPE Ontario School Board Council of Unions (OSBCU) President Laura Walton said she approached this new round of negotiations with an “open and clear mind.” “My hope is that the government and employers are doing exactly the same thing,” said the trade unionist, who reiterated that the repeal of Bill 28 is the priority. “Students are in class today, MPs should also be in Queen’s Park,” Walton said.

Ontario’s official opposition, meanwhile, wonders why MPs haven’t already been called back to Queen’s Park to address Bill 28. “We think we should return to Parliament this week and not on November 14 – said the interim leader of the NDP Peter Tabuns – we are willing to do it again tomorrow. We are prepared to do so again tonight at midnight. CUPE told me that it understood that the law would be annulled very quickly. They were surprised that it won’t be talked about until next week.”

School workers will have to wait for a few more days, the premier, for his part, must not forget, however, that promises must be kept.