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McGuinty welcomes bill aimed at making TTC essential service

‘I don’t think there’s ever been a better time for a really good public debate on this issue,’ Ontario premier says

By Karen Howlett

Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty appears to support a private member’s bill that would ban transit workers in Canada’s largest city from ever striking again.

Liberal MPP David Caplan tabled a bill in the legislature on Monday that would declare the Toronto Transit Commission an essential service, making future strike action by its union members illegal.

“I don’t think there’s ever been a better time for a really good public debate on this issue,” Mr. McGuinty told reporters on Tuesday.

The Premier has made it clear that his government wants to play a more hands-on role at the TTC. For the first time in several years, his government did not provide funding for the Red Rocket, when the City of Toronto tabled its budget last week.

Mr. McGuinty said last week that any permanent annual financial support for the TTC would be conditional on the province asserting some control over the transit operator.

This year’s municipal election may help pave the way for that to happen. The two leading candidates for mayor, former Ontario deputy premier George Smitherman and Rocco Rossi, both welcomed Mr. Caplan’s bill.

“I think it would be healthy if this became something that achieved a little more prominence during the course of the campaign,” Mr. McGuinty said.

If the new council lends its support to making the TTC an essential service, the province would seriously consider introducing legislation, he added. But he denied that Mr. Caplan introduced the bill at his urging.

After ending a two-day transit strike in 2008 with back-to-work legislation, Mr. McGuinty said his government would not declare the TTC an essential service unless Toronto Mayor David Miller requested such a move. But city council narrowly defeated a motion and the status quo remained.

Mr. Caplan told reporters on Monday that he had a “great deal” of support for his private member’s bill. However, Transportation Minister Kathleen Wynne outright rejected Mr. Caplan’s bill on Monday, saying it does not reflect the government’s position.

Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak noted on Monday that the bill “seems to be splitting the McGuinty government right down the middle.”

The bill passed first reading on Monday by a vote of 39 to 7. But getting through this hurdle is not all that significant because only 46 of the 105 MPPs were in the chamber and almost all private member’s members pass first reading.

The Tories intend to continue exploiting what they say is a divide within the Liberal family.

“Is your caucus going rogue because they don’t like you,” Progressive Conservative MPP John Yakabuski asked during Question Period on Tuesday.