Let’s make Ontario’s labour laws fairer for all

By MPP Toby Barrett

Over the past 70 years, Ontario’s labour legislation has steadily become out of step with economic realities across our province and the rest of the world.

As Canada continues to broaden its trading partnerships with free trade agreements, fewer regulatory burdens and a less intrusive role for government in the economy, Ontario’s approach remains stuck in an era of work-place protectionism.

Government must address major economic fundamentals that lead to wealth and job creation — lower business taxes, affordable energy and red-tape reforms that encourage businesses to expand and employers to hire. As well, workers and employers must not be hampered by provincial employment law that is decades out of date, as they strive to adapt to the rapidly changing economy of the 21st century.

We as a nation recognize that our prosperity rests upon the free trade of our goods, services and resources. But as a province, Ontario’s labour laws remain highly restrictive and obstructive. Ontario’s legislation must be in step with Canada’s economic policies or we do a disservice to both our province and our country.

Ontario has seen its real per capita GDP stagnate over the last nine years – growing by only 0.86 per cent in total. We must face the reality that for the first time Ontario is a have-not province – with the loss of 300,000 manufacturing jobs – trending towards Rust Belt status.

We must change our attitude and our legislation. If we want to ensure that Ontario is the best place to find a good job, or set up a business, we must address the obstacles that have ground Ontario to a halt. We must all consult and rethink our current labour laws and the significant way they negatively affects both employees’ and employers’ opportunities for prosperity. Whether you are employed, unemployed or an employer, our current labour legislation is burdensome and a barrier to growth.

People are independent in ways previously unimagined. They leverage information and technology to provide more choices in how they run their lives, achieve their workplace expectations, spend their paycheques and organize their time. People want more freedom in their lives, including their workplaces. Put simply, the world has changed, but our laws about work have not kept pace.

Of concern is a series of government policies that favour union leaders over employees and their employers in ways that reduce opportunities for individual workers and are obstacles to economic growth. Union leaders have become so powerful that many employees in effect have two bosses, their actual employer and the people who run their union.

Mandatory union membership, forced paycheque contributions, closed tendering for government contracts and the artificial restriction on the number of young people able to enter the skilled trades – these are not policies that foster the open, innovative economy Ontario needs. People in Ontario deserve better, as do union members themselves who feel they are not benefitting from their membership.

British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan have agreed to tear down rigid labour and regulatory barriers in a bid to create the most open and competitive economies in the country. So far, they are succeeding.

Given Ontario’s economic performance in the last few years, it’s clearly time for a bold, new approach. It’s time to make Ontario’s labour laws fairer for union members, taxpayers and all concerned.