Poor voting attendance for college strike legislation shouldn’t be forgotten

On Nov. 18, the Members of Provincial Parliament (MPPs) passed legislation to end the college strike in Ontario, forcing faculty back into the classroom on Monday, with a vote of 37-18. This return to the classroom ended the longest college labour dispute in the history of Ontario. While it may have ended the strike, support from Ontario politicians was noticeably absent, showing that they don’t care as much about the strike as they lead students to believe.

All Liberals and Progressive Conservatives (PC) supported Bill 178, while the New Democratic Party (NDP) and one independent opposed the legislation. A total of 55 out of 105 MPPs were present, and most notably both PC leader, Patrick Brown, and Premier Kathleen Wynne were not in attendance.

The legislative assembly currently consist of 56 Liberals, 29 PCs, 19 NDPs, and one independent. However, less than half of the Liberals and PCs showed up on Saturday. The NDP were missing two MPPs, and the Liberals had the worst showing by percentage, especially considering that they were the party bringing the legislation.

In comparison, 90 MPPs passed Bill 37, Protecting Students Act, which deals with protecting students and maintaining transparency through college investigations, in November of last year. In similar fashion, Bill 148, Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act, moved to its third reading on Nov. 16 with 87 MPPs present to vote. Both these education-focused bills passed with 30 more MPPs present than the strike legislation.

The obvious question now is how, on such a high-profile bill, did Ontario politicians pass up the opportunity to take a stand when a large portion of their constituency would be affected and be paying close attention?

There was no political win in this situation. Either you looked like the bad guy keeping students out of the classroom and extending their financial hardship, or you threw the hammer down on workers’ rights. In such a divisive issue, politicians can only come down on one side. To choose to support this bill would close off a huge portion of the population, mainly educators. To choose to go against the bill would hinder support among young voters.

The PCs attempted to straddle the line, something that makes them appear weak willed. Brown blames Premier Kathleen Wynne for prolonging the strike, and provincial NDP leader Andrea Horwath for disregarding the needs of the students. Ultimately this middle game will not pay off for the PCs. Instead of being remembered as strongly advocating for a side, perhaps they will be forgotten as an indecisive party for these actions.

The Liberals also stayed on the sidelines too long. Minister of Advanced Education and Skills Development, Deb Matthews, and Premier Wynne could have drawn the two parties to the negotiating table. Instead, the Liberals sat on the sidelines for five weeks. On the other hand, the NDP’s unwavering stance against back-to-work legislation with a firm belief in protecting workers rights is commendable, but also prolonged the strike.

The reality is that no matter what each party says about this issue, only one came out to vote in numbers, something we should keep in mind next election.

While all parties will be discussing their stance on the strike in coming weeks it seems that their support of students isn’t unconditional. Instead of only discussing student issues when there’s a chance for political points provincial parties should support students all the time.