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The road to Ontario’s fiscal health runs straight through its public sector unions

The road to Ontario’s fiscal health runs straight through its public sector unions

Union collective agreements create inefficiencies in the manner in which public sector work is performed

Originally Posted by Howard Levitt in the Financial Post, August 28, 2018.

If the Ford government is to restore fiscal responsibility and reduce Ontario’s deficit and debt, it ultimately must take on its unions. Not only because payroll represents the majority of provincial spending, but that its collective agreements create inefficiencies in the manner in which public sector work is performed.  

Premier Doug Ford took a step toward eliminating inefficiencies by announcing that marijuana would not be distributed through the unionized LCBO but via a system of private retail outlets.  

The privatization of liquor sales in Alberta has been consumer heaven, resulting in more choice and lower prices. Wine aficionados have been allowed to import and set up retail stores, meaning a more educated wine public, more sales and increased tax revenue.

If a union battle there must be, the unions are certainly are making it easy for Ford’s team. 

One of the government’s first pronouncements was to roll back former premier Kathleen Wynne’s sex-ed curriculum. 

Whether you agree with that policy or not, there is no disputing that the provincial government has the constitutional authority to prescribe curriculum. A teacher refusing to follow the prescribed curriculum because of their personal judgment or political leanings is exhibiting disobedience that warrants discipline and, after warnings, discharge.

Given that reality, what did the teachers’ unions do?

President of the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario, Sam Hammond declared that “teachers will not be muzzled by a government whose political agenda takes precedence over the protection and education of their students.”

He received a standing ovation at his federation’s annual meeting for declaring war on the government, stating that its decision to “to revert to the 1998 Health and Physical Education Curriculum while initiating further consultation is irresponsible, discriminatory and jeopardizes the safety of the students that they teach.”

More ominously, he announced that his union would support and defend any one of its 83,000 members who teaches the now repealed curriculum. 

Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation president Harvey Bischof similarly vowed to defend educators who teach the revoked sex education curriculum, saying “we will defend to the hilt any member who, in the good faith exercise of professional judgment, strays outside the outdated confines of the 1998 curriculum in her or his students’ best interest.”

Let us be clear what that signifies: Both union presidents issued to their members an invitation to social disobedience.

What would happen in private industry if a CEO issued a directive and its union told its members to disregard it? The answer is clear and uncontroversial: The union would be inviting their members to get themselves fired and inviting a lawsuit against the union itself.

The majority Tory government received a clear mandate to abolish the sex-ed curriculum, which many parents viewed as inappropriate for young children.

Since support for the union‘s position comes from sectors of the electorate who did not vote for Ford anyway, it has blundered into a situation whereby the government, with relative impunity, can easily whip up support against it. 

That support could then evolve into a public movement to take on the unions when it comes to provincial wage negotiations privatizations, deregulation and other measures that could reduce the provincial deficit.

A harbinger of things to come? If the government is to fulfill its promise, it certainly will be. And if Ford is going to take on the unions, there’s no time like the beginning of his mandate, when the majority of voters are still behind him.

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