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Bill aims to make TTC an essential service

Ontario will not designate Toronto’s public transit system as an essential service, the province’s transportation minister said Monday afternoon.

Kathleen Wynne said a private member’s bill asking for the change to be made does not reflect the government’s position on the matter, and therefore won’t be supported.

Former health minister David Caplan says his private member’s bill — which was introduced in legislature on Monday — will ensure an arbitration process is put in place immediately when there’s a breakdown in contract negotiations between management and TTC staff.

The designation would bar TTC workers from striking and potentially save the city from commuter chaos. However, Caplan conceded that staff could always take illegal job action.

Strike action and work stoppages cost the city about $50 million a day, he said.

Deeming the TTC an essential service is a long-standing debate at city hall.

Critics say the move would force the city to renegotiate wages with public transit staff at a time when Toronto is strapped for cash.

But Caplan said he doesn’t believe that arbitration will be as costly as the collective bargaining process. He said that the parties involved in the bargaining may be more likely to settle on an agreement if they know arbitration is the only other option.

There have been nine strikes and other forms of job action since 1974.

The last time Toronto had to deal with a public transit strike was in April, 2008, when staff announced they’d be walking off the job about an hour before actually doing so.

The abrupt job action left commuters scrambling to find alternative modes of transportation for two days. The strike ended when Ontario MPPs ordered striking workers back on the job by enacting back-to-work legislation.

The strike prompted the C.D. Howe Institute to study the feasibility of declaring the TTC an essential service. The study found that the designation could cost the city an additional $23 million over a three-year contract if staff were to receive a similar agreement than other essential service workers.

It also found that the designation does little to discourage work stoppages and doesn’t prevent illegal walkouts.

Caplan, who is now a Liberal backbencher, said he introduced the bill to appease the countless consumers who have recently complained about service at the TTC.

Wynne said the province would only consider the move if the city were to ask that a change be made. The city has never formally asked Queen’s Park to make the designation.