Photograph by: Wayne Cuddington
It's been over two weeks now since the citizens of Ottawa lost their transit service. When I was there about a 10 days ago, most folks seemed to be taking it all in stride. Oh sure, there was some grumbling, but most soldiered on with the hope this would be a brief labour dispute.
With Christmas now behind us, and all those public servants set to go back to work in full force after the New Year, I predict the patience of Ottawaians will diminish rather rapidly.
I happened to catch an interview that Mayor Larry did with CTV Newsnet a few days ago. He was positioning himself as the man-in-charge and the guy calling the shots. The reality is a professional negotiating team, not city politicians are sitting across the table from the transit union. The best he can do as mayor is work with his council to set the City's negotiating position.
When civic politicians insert themselves directly into labour disputes, there is never a pretty ending...for either side. I speak from experience on this one.
What Ottawa's Mayor needs to do is stop negotiating in public, call for a media blackout, and get this strike settled before the City wakes up again in about a week or so. Political posturing and finger pointing will only harden everyone's position, and likely result in a lengthier strike. The Mayor and Councillors should remember that unlike themselves, no one from the transit union will have their names on the ballot in the next election.
O'Brien is now attempting to force the union leadership to put the City's offer to a vote by the rank and file drivers. The final decision on whether this will happen rests with Hon. Rona Ambrose, Labour Minister. She will likely make her decision known within days.
The City of Vancouver attempted a similar move during its labour dispute last year. Management forced the union's leadership to undertake a "final offer" vote. The union members stood firm and the vote went down to a massive defeat. The strike subsequently dragged on for months.
If a similar vote were put to the Ottawa transit drivers, I believe they would also stick by their union leadership. And with nowhere else to turn, that's when this strike will get really messy.
FYI: The City and the striking labour union did come to an agreement to restrict picketing outside the World Junior Hockey championship games being hosted in Ottawa. It goes without saying that neither side wants to be responsible for stopping hockey nights in Canada! Go Team Canada!!