Collateral damage

On Tuesday, hundreds of thousands of college students were back in class, following a five-week strike by Ontario college faculty.

The return to school was orchestrated by the provincial government, which passed back-to-work legislation on Sunday in an attempt to save this semester and the school year.

The five-week strike resulted in considerable financial hardship for  students, but as is often the case when educators and their employers reach an impasse, students became nothing more than collateral damage in a battle of competing self-interests.

In this case, despite platitudes to the contrary, neither side seemed to care much about how their actions, or lack thereof, impacted the very individuals who ensure everyone involved has a job in the first place.

Unless you’re personally involved, it can be hard to support either side, as both accused each other of spreading misinformation throughout the strike.

I sympathize with the concerns expressed by college faculty, including that about 70% of faculty are part-time workers, yet I’m also perplexed by the faculty union claiming victory in a stalemate that resulted in its members being forced back to work by the government.

Warren Thomas, president of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU), told the media he considers the strike a win and also that if he were premier he too would have introduced back-to-work legislation. However, Thomas then turned around and said he’d consider a legal challenge of the constitutionality of the legislation.

Also strange, though not entirely unexpected given the characters involved, is the way Liberals and the NDP, and to a lesser extent the Progressive Conservatives, tried to politicize the issue.

The NDP blamed Kathleen Wynne’s government outright for the strike and the PC party joined the NDP in repeatedly lambasting the Liberals for allowing the work stoppage to drag on.

Both arguments are understandable, but prior to intervening the government had a legal obligation to allow both sides to try to resolve the issue themselves.

The Liberals first attempted to introduce back-to-work legislation last Thursday, but it required the unanimous consent to pass immediately. The NDP refused, resulting in a special weekend sitting to debate the bill.

Some might say the delay was a small price to pay for such an important decision, but it seems more like grandstanding, considering:

–  the bill was going to pass regardless (due to the Liberals’ majority and support from the PC party);  

– NDP Leader Andrea Horwath used the debate to introduce totally unrelated matters.

Regardless, students are now left behind – educationally, financially and otherwise – with the prospect of an extended school year and no reading week. And the matter is yet to be fully resolved.

Nice job, colleges and OPSEU.