Bonfield municipal strike, 7 months long, worries observers
An ongoing labour disruption in the township of Bonfield, near North Bay, Ont., shows no signs of ending.
A total of 16 employees — the entire municipal workforce — have been on strike since Aug. 1, 2013.
The mayor and three councillors have been meeting to conduct limited business — something Canadian Union of Public Employees representative Steve Boyle said contravenes provincial legislation. The union brought its concerns to the Minister of Municipal Affairs last week.
“We're hoping that she'll restore democracy to the township,” Boyle said.
Mayor Randy McLaren denied the allegations and said council meetings are held in accordance with the rules.
A real estate agent in the town — and a former councillor — said he's worried about the town's finances.
Mark Lepage said he hasn't heard of council doing a budget or sending out tax bills.
Strike has become 'personal'
Lepage said he has friends on both sides of the dispute.
“Both sides have made it personal and that should never have happened,” he said.
“It's a business and they should run it like a business.”
Lepage said he foresees the strike continuing into the fall when the municipal elections take place.
While no new talks are scheduled, McLaren said he remains optimistic.
“This will pass. It will be resolved. And life will go on and it'll just become another chapter in the history book."
In the interim, the Labour Board continues a hearing into the firing of five striking Bonfield employees last August. Neither that ministry, nor the Ministry of Municipal Affairs would elaborate on the issue, other than to say they hope the two sides will resolve the dispute soon.
The situation has left some observers scratching their heads, including Andrew Sancton, a political science professor at the University of Western Ontario.
“I've studied this kind of stuff for quite a while now and strange things are always happening. But I've never heard of this particular one.”
Sancton pointed out it’s particularly unusual for the town clerk to be among the unionized employees. As the strike continued, the council hired a clerk just for meetings.