THUNDER BAY – “Ontarians can put valued public services back on a sustainable footing, but only by reining in unaffordable government employee wage settlements – a trend fuelled by nine years of this government throwing money at its former union allies”, PC Leader Tim Hudak said today.
As an example, Hudak cited the case of Thunder Bay firefighters, who received annual salary increases ranging from 3.3 to 5.8 per cent in 2011 after a seven-year arbitration process. “Meantime, between 1998 and 2011, Thunder Bay saw a 39 per cent reduction in its industrial tax base,” Hudak noted.
“This government has been told repeatedly of cases like these in the system,” Hudak said. “But, as fits its new pattern, it waits for the 11th hour to concede there is a problem – and then makes it worse.”
Hudak’s comments precede an October 4 vote on the PCs’ Ability to Pay Act, which stands up for taxpayers with new rules for timely and affordable arbitrated government employee wage settlements.
Hudak pointed to measures in the spring budget, which the PC Leader says, “Ignored all but one of economist Don Drummond’s 13 recommendations for fixing the way government employee contracts are settled through arbitration, as well as calls for urgent action from the Ontario PCs and municipal associations”.
“The budget did not require arbitrators to factor in local economic conditions,” Hudak explained. “It only required written decisions from arbitrators describing their unaffordable awards upon request.
“Then, on the critical matter of the amount of time arbitrators take in handing down their decisions, which now takes so long that a local economy can change for the worse completely, the government lengthened the budget’s proposed timeline from twelve months – still too long – to sixteen!”
In a media release the Ontario PCs say, “The Ability to Pay Act would end the myth of government “deep pockets” by requiring arbitrators to consider local economic factors like the state of the tax base and unemployment rate, and detail these in writing. It would set up a panel of independent arbitrators to decide cases within three months. And the Act would publish comparative data on pay, so taxpayers who foot the bill can see how their paycheques stack up against those of unionized government employees”.
“Almost everyone, from municipal leaders and Don Drummond to the PC Caucus and many commentators, say these decisions should be tied to economic realities,” Hudak said. “We urge the government to support our Ability to Pay Act so we can solve this obvious problem now – and then move on to tougher challenges, like creating a climate for job growth and controlling health care costs.”