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Editorial: Declare TTC essential service

All indications are that Rob Ford will have a good week. After receiving the mayor’s chain of office on Tuesday, he is to be introduced to Toronto’s new city council by hockey commentator Don Cherry. That seems somehow appropriate.

Serious policy-making is to start Thursday, at the first meeting of Ford’s hand-picked executive committee, where several of the mayor’s campaign promises are expected to receive speedy approval, including: repeal of the city’s much-resented $60 motor vehicle registration tax; a 20 per cent reduction in the mayor’s office budget, to $2 million; and trimming of councillors’ allowed expenses from more than $50,000 a year to just $30,000. Despite questions of practicality, Ford’s proposal to freeze the property tax while avoiding “major” service cuts will also likely win support.

Indeed, the only large item on Ford’s executive committee wish list carrying a significant risk of rejection — at the city council level if not at executive — is his bid to have the TTC declared an essential service. That is unfortunate because this is one issue on which Ford has both public opinion and reason on his side. Toronto should formally ask Queen’s Park to ban future transit strikes.

Simply put, the TTC is too important to the city’s economy and the well-being of its residents to continue allowing such walkouts, even for a few days. The 1.5 million riders who depend on Toronto’s commuter system on an average business day shouldn’t be held to ransom while union and management negotiators attempt to sort out their differences.

It’s estimated that the local economy loses $50 million each day that TTC workers are off the job. The poor suffer, too, as do seniors, students and others with no alternative means of transportation.

Instead of reaching a contract through threat of a strike or lockout, the TTC and its workers should submit issues on which they cannot agree to binding arbitration. In effect, that’s what happens now, given the Legislature’s swift imposition of a back-to-work order when transit workers do walk off the job. Their last strike in 2008 lasted only two days before Queen’s Park cut it short. It’s reasonable to ask why Torontonians should be subjected to even two days of wasteful chaos and disruption for such a vaporous right to strike.

Critics on the left defend workers’ right to strike on principle. But others (police, firefighters, nurses) have lost the right without the world coming to an end.

There is considerable opposition to declaring the TTC an essential service from the right, too. Deputy mayor Doug Holyday, for example, has argued in the past that binding arbitration leads to higher wage settlements and more cost to the city. And when unions and management know binding arbitration is on the horizon, there is little incentive for them to bargain seriously.

Overall, however, the arguments for declaring the TTC an essential service are more compelling than those against. Ford is on the right track. Council should support him on this issue.




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