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Penetanguishene nay, Midland yea to repealing Bill 124

‘This isn’t our lane to be in,’ reasoned Penetanguishene councillor on a municipal letter advising province about support for health-care workers during pandemic
Bill 124 protester
A protester holds up a sign denouncing Bill 124.

Penetanguishene council has narrowly defeated a call for the Ontario government to repeal Bill 124.

The controversial bill enacts the Protecting A Sustainable Public Sector For Future Generations Act, 2019, the purpose of which is to ensure that increases in public sector compensation reflect the fiscal situation of the province, are consistent with the principles of responsible fiscal management and protect the sustainability of public services.

The request to Penetanguishene council, put forward by Coun. Jill St. Amant, was for the province to repeal the bill and complementary amendments to other legislations under it as a first step to ending the nursing shortage, and that pay levels for permanent and temporary nurses be reviewed by provincial health systems.

In addition, the request added that a copy of the resolution be sent to the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) requesting they share it with Simcoe North MPP Jill Dunlop and all their member municipalities to ask for request their support as well.

It was a motion that Mayor Doug Leroux showed interest in seconding to get it moving forward.

However, during the recent meeting of council, both Leroux and St. Amant were absent and unavailable for the proceedings. Once a new mover and seconder had been found, the conversation returned to the item.

Coun. Dan LaRose stated that he wouldn’t be in support of the item as, simply, it wasn’t in council’s lane.

“It’s not whether I think the nurses should make more money or less money, or have bigger raises or not,” clarified LaRose. “I wonder how we would all feel if we had a notice from different municipalities telling us what we should be paying our employees. How would it look if we went to some of our town businesses and told them what they should be doing?

“I’m sure the people who have brought this forward have looked at it, they’ve done their studies. We’re only hearing the part that we hear in the bill and in the media. Just for that point and that point alone, I would feel very bad if somebody ever did this to us, and I cannot support it,” LaRose reasoned.

Further information was requested among those present, with Coun. George Vadeboncoeur sharing that the province had offered all nurses incentive pay of up to $5,000 per person.

Priced as a $763 million plan, government payments will come from employers in two installments: In a lump sum for full-time nurses, and as a prorated payment for part-time and casual nursing staff. Nurses in hospitals, long-term care, retirement homes, home care, mental health and addictions, emergency services and corrections and others who worked directly with patients during the pandemic will be eligible.

Coun. Brian Cummings added, “They announced that they would not repeal Bill 124, but they are giving these added incentives. So it’s not really a raise, or addressing the shortage issue; it’s just the retention issue.”

With several councillors voting nay, the motion was defeated.

A week earlier in a regular meeting of council for the neighbouring town of Midland, a similarly-worded request to repeal Bill 124 was put forward by Coun. Cody Oschefski. That motion was carried unanimously.

Said Mayor Stewart Strathearn at the Midland meeting, “I’d just like to point out that Bill 124 was not just directed at the health system; it was directed at the entire Ontario civil service as a cost-constraint measure, as councillor Oschefski pointed out, pre-pandemic.

“There’ve been quite a few amendments made to Bill 124 as the pandemic has progressed, particularly with respect to personal care workers and front line workers in the health system, bonusing and with respect to increases in hourly and so on, to be fair to the province."

Last month, the North Simcoe Muskoka and District Labour Council called Bill 124 “insulting and demoralizing, to be told one day that you are a hero, and the next, that you don’t deserve to even have the right to fairly bargain with your employer.”

The formal nursing shortages within local health systems request can be located on the agenda page of the Town of Penetanguishene website.

Archives of council meetings are located on the Town of Penetanguishene YouTube channel.