To some it sure looks like pure old-fashioned blackmail. Although education is firmly a provincial issue, there is every likelihood that a strike days before a federal election could adversely affect the fortunes of the federal conservatives.
PM Justin Trudeau and other Liberals have over the weeks insisted on linking the unpopular Ontario Premier Doug Ford with federal conservative leader Andrew Scheer and the powerful school union is playing its part by threatening a strike that would highlight their grievances and taint Andrew Scheer.
Next Monday, 55,000 education workers in Ontario are poised to strike if they do not reach a contract deal by then. Such a strike has the potential to shut down classes for many of the 2 million students in Ontario’s school system.
The strike notice comes from CUPE, which represents janitors, clerical staff and educational assistants in 90 per cent of Ontario’s school boards. Some of those boards are already warning parents to make alternate child care arrangements, and at least one district says it will definitely close schools on Monday should the strike begin.
Ontario’s Education Minister Stephen Lecce has so far declined to speculate the timing of the strike notice but everyone in the political world and beyond know fully well that it has everything to do with politics.
Some believe the union is trying to leverage the election and the Ford government’s fear of how a strike could hurt the federal party, if nothing else.
Ford who has kept a very low profile is being manipulated back into the spotlight by ensuring he has no choice but to decide one way or the other.
If there is a strike on Monday, the Ford government has two options: it could either recall Queen’s Park from its lengthy adjournment to bring in back-to-work legislation, or it could let the strike continue.
If the government chooses legislation, Ford’s party will have to face question period, putting a media spotlight on the polarizing premier, if he attends the sessions.
If a strike is allowed to happen, the union could face blowback from the public or they could simply lay blame on the PC Conservatives which would then give the Liberals an opening to continue to link Ford to Scheer. There is of course a slim chance that public opinion will not favour the union as parents scramble to figure out what to do with their kids all day.
Statistics provided by the union (and not disputed by the government) suggest their members earn on average $38,000 a year — not the sort of salary that lends itself to accusations that the workers are greedy.
As things stand, the two sides have agreed to go back to bargaining table this afternoon and to negotiate through the weekend if necessary.
Ontario education workers to resumes talks with province, school boards today and will continue through the weekend.
Lecce said the parties were close to a deal when talks broke off last weekend. But with the political stakes as high as they are right now, anything could happen.
Meanwhile just as millions of Ontarians were focussing on the federal election and the many issues of national and international significance, they are now forced to turn their attention to a familiar problem- schools on strike. -CINEWS