The Liberal government on Thursday shot down a Tory motion to reform public sector arbitration, leaving the head of a regional mayors' group disappointed.
“I think we sort of saw it coming,” said Prescott Mayor Brett Todd, chairman of the Eastern Ontario Mayors' Committee (EOMC), which last week backed PC House Leader Jim Wilson's private member's bill, the Public Sector Capacity to Pay Act or Bill 44.
Todd was referring to statements to The Recorder and Times last week by Ontario Labour Minister Yasir Naqvi criticizing the Progressive Conservatives for not backing the Liberals' own arbitration reform measures in last year's budget.
“That kind of set the tone,” said Todd.
Wilson gained support for his proposals from the Association of Municipalities of Ontario, but the bill fell on second reading at Queen's Park Thursday, with the Liberals and NDP voting against it.
The draft bill would have compelled arbitrators to consider a municipality's ability to pay without raising taxes when deciding on awards for employee groups. The PCs also suggested a turnaround time of nine months for arbitration decisions.
The NDP scoffed at the proposed bill for attacking unions, while the governing minority Liberals again criticized the Tories for rallying against their arbitration reform measure in last year's provincial budget.
Naqvi said during the debate the PCs “missed the boat” last year and he dismissed the Tory plan as being “overly prescriptive.”
Wilson fired back across the floor: “You are so wrong in what you say and so out to lunch in terms of what's going on out there.”
Leeds-Grenville MPP Steve Clark, the Tories' municipal affairs critic, said his party took the break from the legislature imposed by prorogation last fall to consult with municipal leaders about what they needed in an interest arbitration reform bill.
Municipal politicians, including many in the Brockville area, have long criticized the arbitration system for failing to take into account municipal taxpayers' ability to pay for decisions handing large increases to emergency service providers in particular.
“We thought we reached out in a very non-partisan fashion to come up with something that was palatable to all parties,” Clark said after the vote.
Clark is disappointed the Liberals, while unhappy with the bill, did not allow it to go to the committee stage for refinement.
“I had expected at least an olive branch from the government to at least keep the dialogue going,” said Clark.
Todd, whose group brings together mayors from municipalities including Quinte West, Belleville, Peterborough, Kingston, Gananoque, Brockville, Prescott, Cornwall, Smiths Falls and Pembroke, said another bad omen for Bill 44 was Kingston's unwillingness to join in support of it.
Todd denied the proposed legislation amounted to union-bashing.
“It's about correcting a system that's bashed the taxpayers for too long,” he said.
Clark was unsure Friday where the defeat of the bill leaves efforts to reform interest arbitration.
“I think we'll give the government the opportunity to really defend their actions today and see where this takes us in the future,” said Clark.
With files from QMI Agency.