Ontario to legislate end to York University strike

Premier Dalton McGuinty has recalled the Ontario legislature to introduce back-to-work legislation Sunday to end the strike at York University by teaching assistants and contract faculty despite warnings from the New Democrats that they will oppose the bill.

Premier Dalton McGuinty has recalled the Ontario legislature to introduce back-to-work legislation Sunday to end the strike at York University by teaching assistants and contract faculty despite warnings from the New Democrats that they will oppose the bill.

McGuinty said Saturday that mediator Reg Pearson told him it appears there is no chance of a negotiated settlement between the university in north Toronto and the union representing the workers, who have been on strike since Nov. 6.

"I'm now absolutely convinced the two sides are in deadlock — that there is no reasonable prospect of resolution through the traditional bargaining process — so time's up. Now it falls to us as legislators to act," he said Saturday at a news conference.

Unanimous support of the legislation could see the back-to-work legislation passed and would result in classes resuming on Monday.

However, New Democrat Leader Howard Hampton told reporters Saturday that his party intends to oppose the legislation, which could see the debate, and the strike, continue for several more days.

"There is, to my way of thinking, no reason whatsoever not to support this legislation and have it pass first, second and third reading tomorrow, Sunday," McGuinty said.

The NDP members of the legislature intend to debate the legislation at each reading, Hampton said.

The debate could take up to four days.

Hampton said the party believes a resolution shouldn't be forced.

"It almost looks like the university has taken the position, 'We won't bargain and then we'll allow the McGuinty government to settle this' and that's wrong," Hampton said.

Howard said the real issue is the "chronically underfunded" education system in Ontario.

"That's where the real problem lies. And trying to blame the workers is frankly just wrong," he said.

Conservative Leader John Tory said he expects his party to support the legislation.

Tory has been pressing for back-to-work legislation.

"What [McGuinty's] done today is very, very, very late, but better late than never," Tory said. "But he should be ashamed of himself for the fact he's let this go on for so long."

Despite the NDP's intentions to debate at each reading, the Liberals currently hold a majority in the house and the legislation should eventually pass.

Year in jeopardy

The premier said the strike has reached a point where the academic year is in jeopardy for York students.

"In challenging economic times, when we need all our people at their best, we simply cannot afford to delay the education of 45,000 of our best and brightest young people," he said.

The strike by about 3,300 workers over wages and job security  has forced the cancellation of classes for students at the country's third-largest university.

York University rejected a counter-offer made by the union on Friday. Tyler Shipley of Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 3903 had said the offer included "significantly" reduced demands, agreeing in principle to accept the current wage offer from York.

He would not go into specifics but said "job security remains the key priority and so is the issue of funding for graduate students."

York's president, Mamdouh Shoukri, said while he would have preferred the two sides reach a negotiated settlement, he looks forward to welcoming students back.

"We are working tirelessly to facilitate as smooth a return as possible and plans are already in motion to protect the integrity of their academic programs," he said in a statement.

'Labour mess'

Hamid Osman, president of the York Federation of Students, applauded the premier's decision.

"It's sad that [the two sides] couldn't come to an agreement together, but students need to be back in the classroom and students deserve to be back in the classroom."

If the school year is extended and students are forced to pay more in food and rent, the premier said, the provincial government will ensure additional funding is made available to them from the Ontario Student Assistance Program.

McGuinty added the university must examine what appears to be a "systemic issue" that led to the "labour mess" and jeopardized its students' futures,

"Educational aspirations, opportunities, a bright future — I mean, that's what we want for our kids and all of that was compromised as a result of what took place at York University," McGuinty said.

With files from the Canadian Press