Friday, April 18, 2008

Memo To John Tory: Want a platform plank? The TTC just gave you one

While the anticipated strike by the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) Union may not be of interest to our readers outside of the GTA, it is certainly top of mind for those of us who have to live and work in and around Toronto.

The Union has put the public (and of course the media) on notice that if there is no serious progress by 4pm Sunday, the Union will strike as of 4am this Monday. The primary issue is aligning workers' wages with transit employees in cities like Mississuaga.

My annoyance with a union clamouring for higher wages during an economic slowdown in this province aside, this situation presents a great opportunity for John Tory to show some leadership and get some much needed attention. Thus far, John has echoed the Premier's sentiments in the press, which is basically to encourage both sides to step up and come to an agreement. His quote this morning:
"Sit at the table, please don't get up, please have as much coffee and bad
sandwiches in the room as you need to keep you going until you arrive at a
settlement. There's always a settlement possible, that's reasonable.
You just gotta keep at it until there is one."

Alrighty. Not exactly inspiring you to become a solder in the Tory army, but OK. If I were advising him, I would use this as an opportunity to show that his mind is firmly focused on the plight of taxpayers, commuters and folks to use the TTC (and public transit each day). This is a great battle to weigh in on: this strike will hurt lower and middle class folks first and hardest. The strike is a minor annoyance if you have a car or can work from home. But what if you don't and you can't?

Secondly, even the Union themselves know they will be public enemy numero uno the second their workers hit the bricks. They know that the public at large will not tolerate listening to TTC workers - the same folk who were pictured on the front of the Toronto Sun bragging that they earned over $100,000 by working crazy overtime - talk about how "second class" they are while their lives are thrown upside down.

John Tory can use this as an opportunity to outline what he would do if he were Premier in this situation. John Tory should state that if he was in charge, he would:
  1. Immediately bring the TTC under provincial jurisdiction, through the Greater Toronto Transportation Authority);
  2. Declare public transit an essential service and exempt from strike action by workers; and
  3. Ensure these kinds of salary disputes can and will be settled through binding arbitration an willnot interfere with our competitiveness or disrupt the lives of people in Toronto and the GTA.
He can couch this not in terms on union bashing, which is not his racket, but in terms of protecting one of the most important pieces of the Ontario (nay, Canadian) economy. He could state that the work that the TTC union does is so important that it is something, in his judgement, he thinks should be on par with firefighters, EMS and the police.

He could also state that the TTC itself is the lynchpin of the entire GTA public transportation network and is of a provincial interest, which is why it should be under a strengthened agency like the GTTA. If we are serious about tackling gridlock to remain competitive and allow Ontarians more time with their families rather than living in their cars, sez John, it begins and ends with the TTC. As such, he will work with the City of Toronto to transition operational responsibility from the city to the province immediately upon taking office.

I believe that gridlock is an immense irritant to voters, and its only going to get worse over the next 10 years. The McGuinty government has begun a plan to create a province wide strategy to get people moving in the GTA. And while I am doubtful that there are real solutions at this point, at least its on the Liberal radar screen. Tory needs to take the initative back.

If he were to do this, he would show he is all about making decisions that make people lives easier, while at the same time he would be relieving the City of Toronto of a financial obligation that they have repeatedly stated is a burden on their budget.

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