December 21, 2018
On December 20, 2018, the Ontario Progressive-Conservative government passed Bill 67 at third reading, a piece of special legislation preventing a strike by Ontario Power Generation (OPG) workers across the province. The legislation received Royal Assent the same day and is now in force.
The Power Workers’ Union (PWU) represents approximately 6,000 workers employed by OPG, a Crown corporation that operates facilities producing around 50% of Ontario’s electricity supply. These facilities include the Pickering and Darlington nuclear stations.
PWU workers at OPG had been without a contract since March 2018. After voting down OPG’s final contract offer, the PWU gave a 21-day strike notice on December 14, 2018. This meant a strike could have occurred as early as January 4, 2019.
In response, the Ford government recalled the legislature in order to pass legislation pre-emptively prohibiting PWU members at OPG from striking. Legislation was introduced at first reading on December 17, 2018, and passed three days later.
The legislation prohibits any strike or lockout in the current bargaining round. It empowers the Minister of Labour to appoint a mediator-arbitrator if the parties cannot agree on who should act as mediator-arbitrator, and gives the mediator-arbitrator broad scope to choose the form of arbitration that will be used to put in place a new collective agreement between the parties.
While Premier Ford has publicly mused about permanently banning strikes at OPG through essential service legislation, Bill 67 does not do this—strikes are prohibited only for the current bargaining round.
While back-to-work legislation has been repeatedly used by Canadian provinces and by the federal government—including the Ford government’s legislation to end a strike at York University passed in July 2018, and the federal Liberal government’s move last month to legislate an end to a Canada Post strike—Bill 67 represents a historic departure in that it removes workers’ right to strike in a particular bargaining round before a strike has even commenced.
The government could face a constitutional challenge to the validity of Bill 67 in an environment where the Supreme Court of Canada has established that the right to strike is part and parcel of the right to freedom of association under section 2(d) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Authored by Alex Hunsberger Articling Student