The provincial government introduced legislation on Monday to prevent a strike or lockout at the Ontario Power Generation, which Energy minister and local MPP Greg Rickford has deemed necessary to avoid power outages by this weekend.
If the bill passes, the Ontario Power Workers' Union and Ontario Power Generation (OPG) will settle their disputes through arbitration.
The contract between the two parties expired on March 31 and on Thursday, workers rejected OPG's final offer and served notice to strike.
Rickford said if the roughly 6,000 power union workers are not legislated back to work, 50 percent of Ontario's power supply could be shut down until an agreement is negotiated.
“I think the only word to describe that scenario would be 'catastrophic,'” he told the Times during a phone interview yesterday.
Rickford said the legislation isn't the government's preferred option but the only one available at this time to prevent power outages.
Nuclear workers are obligated to stay on the job 21 days after the strike begins, and by Day 7 begin to actively start to shut down units.
With the notice to strike being served on Friday, Rickford warned that without back-to-work legislation, there could be disruptions in the electricity supply by this weekend.
If the legislation is passed immediately, it could be wrapped up as soon as late today or tomorrow. But Rickford fears the NDP will try to hinder the process.
“We don't have absolute control over that process," Rickford conceded. "The NDP have recklessly said last Friday, after the strike notice was served, that they would use every legislative tool at their disposal to delay this.”
NDP energy critic Peter Tabuns said the province is disrespecting workers' Charter rights through this legislation and his party will vote against it.
“This is a situation where there was not yet a strike and the Tories announced that they were going to bring in back-to-work legislation, making it impossible to actually get a negotiated settlement,” he argued.
Instead of legislating Ontario's power employees back to work, Tabuns said the PCs could have taken action sooner to ensure a contract was negotiated between the union and OPG.
“This has been bubbling since March of this year [and] it came to head in the summer when there was a rejection of OPG's offer,” he explained.
“If the Ford government had been serious, they would have sat down with OPG and the workers at that time to find a path forward.”
Since the people of Ontario own OPG, “we're the main shareholder,” Tabuns noted.
Tabuns admitted the NDP's power to delay this legislation is limited considering the PCs have a majority government, but they do intend to vote against the bill.
“We will be voting against them in pretty much every vote that comes up,” he remarked.
“But the way things are structured, we expect they will probably call this for a final vote on Thursday and with all the votes they have [in the legislature], they will get it through.”
Debate on the legislation started late yesterday and will continue throughout today before a final vote is taken.
“Every option has been exhausted here,” Rickford stressed.
“It's now time to put the parties into arbitration, and prevent an option for vacating their work stations [and] compromising the electricity supply.”