THE CANADIAN PRESS
A last-ditch effort to speed up legislation aimed at ending a long strike at Toronto’s York University was stymied this afternoon, leaving frustrated students in limbo for at least another few days.
The Liberal government and Opposition Progressive Conservatives wanted to sit until midnight if necessary to get through the debate and pass the back-to-work bill, but the New Democrats refused.
The NDP’s opposition to the legislation means the bill won’t likely be passed until Thursday, and students will likely have to wait until next week to return to the classroom.
NDP Leader Howard Hampton, who has steadfastly resisted the bill from the beginning, denied he was playing procedural games that would ultimate hurt students.
“I’m sure the McGuinty government wants somebody to blame, but the reality is, there are very serious issues here,” Hampton said.
Ontarians need to know that the Liberals are not providing enough funding to the province’s universities and that York University didn’t bargain in good faith with its employees, he said.
The Liberals and Progressive Conservatives had hoped to pass the bill yesterday when Premier Dalton McGuinty recalled the legislature, but the New Democrats voted against the bill.
Hampton vowed to take all the time allowed under the rules to debate the bill and wouldn’t say whether he planned to stall it further by demanding amendments.
York students could have been back in the classroom as soon as tomorrow if the government had told the university to go back to the bargaining table, he said.
“We won’t be debating tonight,” Hampton said.
“If the government wanted to stay until midnight, they should have thought of that last week.”
Debate got off to a heated start in the legislature, with finger-pointing on all sides over who was to blame for the 12-week strike.
The opposition parties accused the Liberals of sitting on their hands for weeks as the strike dragged on, while the Liberals deflected blame to the NDP for delaying the bill’s speedy passage.
With Premier Dalton McGuinty absent from the legislature, it was up to self-described attack dog George Smitherman, who is deputy premier, to lead the government’s counterattack.
Smitherman accused Hampton of needlessly prolonging the suffering of students, pointing out the NDP supported back-to-work legislation last spring that ended a surprise Toronto transit strike.
“Why are you standing in the way of the opportunity for 50,000 students and their families deeply impacted to get back into the classroom?” Smitherman demanded.
Progressive Conservative Jim Wilson erupted in a rant aimed at Colleges and Universities Minister John Milloy, accusing him of doing little to prevent similar labour disputes at other universities.
“Do something so that we don’t have a massive provincewide strike,” Wilson shouted.
“Either that, or resign, because you’re completely friggin’ incompetent.”
The strike has kept up to 50,000 York students out of classes since early November.