Ontario Legislature set for weekend debate on bill to end college strike

The Ontario Liberal government's second attempt to push through legislation to end the province's college strike on Friday did not get unanimous consent, but the bill was introduced and will be debated starting on Saturday.

Final vote likely on weekend, classes could resume next week, College Employer Council says

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne's government failed to get approval for its back-to-work legislation to end the five-week college strike on Friday afternoon. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

The Ontario Liberal government's second attempt to push through legislation to end the province's college strike on Friday did not get unanimous consent, but the bill was introduced and will be debated starting on Saturday.

The NDP again held up the back-to-work legislation that would see roughly 500,000 students to return to class next week

The legislature will meet for a special sitting at 1 p.m. ET Saturday for debate. This means proceedings will go through the normal stages of readings and debate before a final vote is taken, likely later in the weekend.

Kyle Richardson, press secretary for the province's attorney general, called the NDP's move a "reckless abuse of parliamentary procedure."

Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath says she won't support any legislation that erodes striking faculty members' rights. (CBC)

Premier Kathleen Wynne's government first attempted to introduce the legislation on Thursday evening, but the NDP blocked it saying the party needs to do its "due diligence and debate" the bill. 

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath explained her party doesn't support any legislation that revokes workers' rights.

"It is my job and my responsibility to review government legislation before just passing it sight unseen," she told reporters Friday. 

"Nobody would sign a contract without even looking at it. Nobody would buy a car from a used car salesman… without reviewing what that car looked like. I needed to look at the legislation."

Horwath assured faculty and students the NDP would be ready to debate the legislation on Saturday, now that her party has seen a copy of it — Bill 178 Colleges of Applied Arts and Technology Labour Dispute Resolution Act.

"The students have had to go through an awful lot these last five weeks as Kathleen Wynne sat on her hands and did nothing to address this strike," Horwath said, adding she believes the majority Liberal government has the ability to get the bill passed on Sunday.

'Outrageously disappointing' 

Advanced Education Minister Deb Matthews called the NDP's actions "outrageously disappointing" and said it is "cruel" that they aren't making students the top priority. 

"They don't need to block the return to classes," Matthews told reporters on Friday, adding students and faculty are anxious to return to classes after weeks of uncertainty.

"For the NDP to have promised the students they would debate today and then not to allow that to happen is just outrageous, it is despicable, it is unconscionable."

While the Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown agreed Wynne's government should have stepped in sooner, his party backed the bill to support, he said, the students "caught in the crossfire.

"Our first priority is to get college students back in class on Monday morning and we are prepared to work all weekend to get this done," Brown said in a statement Friday. 

"We hope that all sides — regardless of partisan stripes — can put the political games aside."

Union members rejected a contract offer from the College Employer Council on Thursday and continue their record-breaking walkout. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

The back-to-work legislation came hours after Wynne failed to broker a deal to end the walkout, now the longest college strike in Ontario's history. 

Earlier that day the latest contract offer from the College Employer Council (CEC) was rejected by 86 per cent of some 12,000 striking faculty members, represented by the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU).

According to the CEC, the offer included a 7.75 per cent salary increase over four years, improved benefits — including extended pregnancy and parental leave — and measures to address concerns over part-time work. 

But JP Hornick, chair of OPSEU's faculty bargaining team, said the offer was "full of concessions and failed to address our concerns around fairness for faculty or education quality."

Students could return Tuesday: CEC

If the Liberals' legislation passes by Sunday, the CEC said all striking faculty — professors, instructors, counsellors and librarians — will return on Monday for preparatory and planning sessions. 

Students would be back in the classroom by Tuesday, said Don Sinclair, CEO of the CEC. 

While many colleges throughout the province rolled out revised semester plans last week that will extend the fall semester as late as Dec. 22 to cope with the disruption, the advanced education minister doesn't believe it's realistic for classes to resume on Tuesday. 

"The colleges and the faculty need time to get ready to welcome the students back and the faculty is still on strike," said Matthews.