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McGuinty’s cruellest cut of all

By Mark Bonokoski, QMI Agency
First posted: Saturday, August 25, 2012

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Premier Dalton McGuinty (QMI AGENCY files)

No one should be more reviled, and more sought for prosecution, than those whose perversion leads them into the exploitative and sick underworld of child pornography.

These are the lowest of the low.

Where once upon at time it was done on the down low, with pervs exchanging black-and-white photographs and grainy 8-mm films in seedy backrooms, child pornographers now have the virtual anonymity and the world-reach provided by the Internet.

These pornographers, as a result, have embraced this cyber technology like addicts to a narcotic.

Child pornography can be now be buried and encrypted on hard drives and memory sticks. It can go live via webcam, and posted on deeply layered websites. And it can be shared with thousands, and sold to thousands more, with the mere click of a mouse.

And it always seems to be one step ahead of law enforcement.

When provinces do their budgets, law-abiding citizens do not expect public safety be among the first cuts made when debt and deficits become unwieldy, and no law-abiding citizen would expect the safety of children from predators would ever be downgraded.

But it has happened in Ontario under the inept government of Liberal Premier Dalton McGuinty with a budget cut that will give child predators an unexpected sense of security.

Reporters across the country should check the fine print of their own province’s budget cuts because this cut, in particular, has managed to go virtually undetected.

Ontario’s Centre of Forensic Sciences is one of the most extensive laboratories in North America, a renowned facility specializing in the analysis of crime materials from the biological to the electronic.

Child pornographers love electronics, of course.

It’s their conduit.

Back on Aug. 14, in a document obtained by QMI Agency, Anthony Tessarolo, director of the Centre of Forensic Sciences, which is operated by Ontario’s Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services, announced that budget cuts “committed to” by McGuinty necessitated the sharing of the pain through the centre’s electronic unit being shut down.

Tessarolo claimed the entire unit was deemed to be “under-utilized,” which meant walking papers for all six uniquely specialized staff scientists, as well as their manager.

There are good cuts in government, and there are bad cuts. This cut is outrageous.

The employees at the Centre of Forensic Sciences now facing unemployment do not grow on trees. They are highly educated in computer sciences, mathematics and criminology, and skilled in retrieving data from files that have been erased or deleted from the electronic devices of suspected criminals, and that includes computers and cellphones that have been heavily damaged.

They can venture into cyberspace and restore deleted e-mails and Internet chat logs that will assist police in tracking criminals involved in such rackets as human smuggling and organized drug rings.

But running down child pornographers makes their day.

Warren (Smokey) Thomas, president of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union which represents the soon-to-be turfed scientists, also calls the cuts ridiculous. And, for once at least, there is agreement.

“Even by the standards of this government, which has gone after the deficit with outrageous abandon, the loss of highly skilled experts in crime fighting is beyond comprehension,” he said. “That the government is prepared to go easy in the pursuit of some of our more notorious suspected criminals is an audacious move.”

Chris Pittens, president of OPSEU Local 579, the scientists’ direct representative, also reflected the opinion that the McGuinty government has its priorities twisted.

“The loss of these skilled workers represents a setback in the fight against crime in Ontario,” he echoed. “It’s a well-known fact that criminals are becoming extremely skilled in the use and abuse of the Internet and other forms of electronic information technology.”

Back in February, in the largest child pornography bust in Ontario, police arrested 55 men from across the province for various sex crimes against children, all while knowing that at least 8,880 child pornographers were actively online swapping and downloading pictures.

It’s obviously an uphill battle. With computer experts at the Centre for Forensic Sciences about to be eliminated, however, the winning odds that child pornographers already exploit will go up demonstratively.

This is not only a government putting public safety at risk, it’s a government making vulnerable children more vulnerable than ever.

It verges on the criminal.

— Bonokoski is QMI Agency’s national editorial writer

VIDEO: Ontario jail guards rally outside Barton

By Nicole O’Reilly
Thu Aug 23 2012

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Stephen Smith addresses guards gathered in front of Barton St. jail.
Barry Gray/Hamilton Spectator

A health and safety dispute at the Hamilton-Wentworth Detention Centre that has had 200 corrections officers out of work is the “tipping point” for similar fights across the province, says the president of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union.

“There is no job on this bloody planet worth injury, no job worth getting killed,” OPSEU president Smoky Thomas told a crowd of corrections officers from across the province who gathered outside the Barton Street jail this morning to rally.

Thomas said he was proud of the local officers and said it is management who should be disciplined.

If the issue isn’t resolved this week, OPSEU leaders promised to go to Queen’s Park Monday and seek a face to face meeting with the Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services Madeleine Meilleur.

Corrections officers promised to gather outside the provincial legislature buildings to rally there.

Local OPSEU leader and corrections officers Stephen Smith said the ministry sent a new resolution offer that will be voted on today. However, it’s unlikely to be approved because discipline against the 200 officers who refused to work without their safety vests remains on the table.

Dan Sidsworth, OPSEU corrections division chair said the dispute “could escalate to a province-wide action.”

Management has been running the jail since last Thursday, after corrections officers refused to return to work unless they were allowed to conduct a full search there wearing their stab-proof and bulletproof vests.

The search had started Monday, Aug. 13, after a piece of a metal fixture went missing, but was stalled the next day over the health and safety dispute.

The jail remains in a “rotational lockdown,” including allowing inmates out to shower and use phones. Visits are now being allowed, but Ross warned the public should call first.

Inmate programs are cancelled.

Last week, the Ministry of Labour found the work refusal was not justified under provincial legislation. But OPSEU maintains that its members have done nothing wrong.

Spokesperson Brent Ross said Wednesday the ministry is “currently considering its next steps,” but would not elaborate on any details.
905-526-3199 | @NicoleatTheSpec

North Bay Jail guards wearing vests

By DAVE DALE, The Nugget
Wednesday, August 22, 2012 10:37:37 EDT AM

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OPSEU members from Thunder Bay, Monteith, Sudbury and parts of southern Ontario gathered at an information protest July 19 in front of the North Bay Jail. Union representatives say there are not enough jail guards causing facilities to lock down and that overcrowding in cells leads to friction and assaults.

North Bay jail guards started wearing protective vests for routine duty this week in solidarity with colleagues across the province protesting workplace safety issues.

Last week, management at Hamilton Wentworth Detention Centre didn"t permit guards to wear stab-resistant protective vests while conducting cell searches.

Guards had discovered a broken piece of metal was missing, suggesting a weapon may be in circulation. Management refused their request to wear the vests, claiming it interfered with inmate/guard relationships.

Guards refused to work, citing unsafe working conditions, and a general lockdown was required as management took over. A rotating lockdown was initiated days later.

The Ministry of Labour ruled there was no safety issue to justify the work refusal, but the incident highlighted capacity and staffing issues guards have been raising this summer.

“Sadly, rather than working with us in order to create the most progressive and safe work environment possible, our employer"s culture of intransigence continues to cause needless conflict,” said Mike Bisaillon, president of Ontario Public Service Employees Union Local 616.

“What most of us find extremely frustrating is the way the ministry seems to make it up as it goes along,” Bisaillon said. “The reason they gave for not allowing the officers in Hamilton to wear their vests was that it would create a "barrier" between them and the inmates.

“Are they kidding? I mean, here is an organization that across the province has sat idly by while staff assaults have more than doubled, often leaves inmates housed three (or more) to a cell, operates with such low staffing levels that it causes the inmates to be locked down for days at a time, cut off from communicating with their families either by visits or even phone.

“Some reports had inmates in Hamilton not getting showers for close to a week … and with all of that they now claim that the simple wearing of a vest would create a "barrier?" Give me a break. With all of the real barriers that correctional officers currently face, I find a statement like that simply astounding.”

OPSEU members from Thunder Bay, Monteith, Sudbury and parts of southern Ontario held an information protest in front of the North Bay Jail last month.

Bisaillon and other union representatives said there are not enough jail guards which causes facilities to lock down inmates and put three to five in cells designed for two people more often, leading to friction and assaults.

In North Bay Court Tuesday, a Sturgeon Falls resident pleaded guilty to several offences and his lawyer advised the court the majority of his 18 days in the city jail were spent sleeping on a mattress on the floor.

A Ministry of Correctional Services spokesman recently provided statistics showing little change in the number of incidents of inmate-on-jail guard assaults from 2010 to 2011. There were 162 in 2010 and 161 in 2011.

But Bisaillon said there were 485 assaults on jail workers in Ontario in 2011, 518 reported in 2010 and 222 in 2009. He said he is not sure why the ministry counts only incidents and not the number of jail guards assaulted.

He said the union believes those numbers will be higher for 2012.

Asked if there has been a rise in violent incidents leading to jail guard injuries and what those statistics are, ministry spokesman Brent Ross said the “ministry does not provide medical information related to our staff.”

The ministry said inmate-on-inmate assaults went up slightly to 2,816 in 2011 from 2,692 in 2010.

Asked if the ratio between jail guards to incarcerated individuals decreased in the past two years and what the guiding policy is regarding minimums, Ross said the ministry is reviewing staffing levels provincewide.

“Each institution is unique and each must determine the staffing levels appropriate for the facility,” he said, noting Ontario"s correctional system is running on average at 95% capacity.

“We have no control over the number of people admitted to our custody, or the length or circumstances of their stay,” he said when asked about current capacity issues.

Ross said the ministry has a modernization strategy to address infrastructure challenges.

He said 2,000 beds are being added to the system in the near future when the Toronto South Detention Centre and South West Detention Centres are completed.

Also, he said the Toronto Intermittent Centre is operational with a capacity of 320 beds for male offenders.

Last month, an OPSEU president of the local at Monteith Correctional Centre said two units were shut down, forcing inmates from Northern Ontario communities to be sent hundreds of kilometres away from their families, legal representatives and support systems.  

Strike pending for local youth services workers

By Mallory Clarkson/London Community News
August 9, 2012

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More than 100 youth receiving mental health treatment and care from a local agency may go without if its employees take to the picket line later this month.

The approximately 120 Craigwood Youth Services employees have been without a contract for two years. After failed attempts to negotiate a new agreement with the employer, the workers — who are represented by the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) — say they’ve hit a brick wall and are prepared to take action.

“We do not want to (strike), but it made it easy to walk away from the table … because the employer refused to take items off that were non-negotiable,” said Jonathan Guider, member of OPSEU’s bargaining committee.

The main points of contention for union members are the employer is asking for a zero per cent pay increase over four years and is attempting to negotiate against pay equity increases that were awarded to the workers about six years ago.

“We’re out pay equity money all the way back to 2006 and that’s one per cent added on each year,” Guider said. He clarified employees were supposed to see that increase in pay annually, but haven’t.

“They’re behind in their pay equity obligations and we’re not supposed to be bargaining it; it’s already an award.”

Guider argued that while recently the employer retroactively paid out past-due equity payments from 2008 to present, there’s still a couple of years owed to Craigwood’s employees. This would total around $4,000 for each worker.

As for zero-per-cent salary increases over four years, Guider said OPSEU members are both “upset and offended” with that offer.

“Our members were prepared to take two years of zeros — the wage freeze that’s being pushed on all of the public servants,” he said.

A four-year wage freeze, however, is out of the question.

Mick Chalmers, another OPSEU bargaining committee member, added the employees are already struggling financially.

“Some of the same excuses that he (the employer) gives us as to why he can’t afford to give us any sort of increase in pay is when he talks about how the agency’s cost of living continues to go up,” Chalmers said. “We’ve got 100 or so members who are facing the exact same increases every day and we’re struggling.”

Additionally, changes to the complaint process are also being tabled by the employer, but are considered non-negotiable items by the union.

Unless a “reasonable offer” is made during an upcoming mediation session on Aug. 15, Craigwood staff will be seen marching out front of the agency’s facilities, picket signs in hand.

The agency’s executive director, Lothar Liehmann, couldn’t be reached for comment.

Secret Ontario Place documents tell a story of success, not failure

By Bob Hepburn
Editorial Page
August 8, 2012

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When the provincial government announced the sudden closure in February of Ontario Place, it portrayed the waterfront park as a money-losing disaster.

But, in fact, Ontario Place was not on the ropes.

Indeed, the Toronto waterfront park was well on its way to a dramatic turnaround, with overall attendance, revenues and visitor satisfaction up significantly in 2011, documents obtained by the Star indicate.

Surprisingly, though, the Ontario government cited only outdated statistics when it announced it was shutting down the park, arguing it was costing up to $20 million a year, was underutilized and was suffering huge declines in attendance.

The sharp discrepancy between what the McGuinty government told the public when it closed the park and the documents obtained by the Star raises serious questions about why Queen’s Park acted so quickly to close most of the park, including the water attractions and Cinesphere.

Why did Finance Minister Dwight Duncan and Tourism Minister Michael Chan make Ontario Place’s operations look worse than they really were?

Was it to clear the way for an eventual casino on the site?

In recent months, Duncan has been championing the idea of a “golden mile” of luxury shops and entertainment on Toronto’s waterfront and Paul Godfrey, chair of the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp., has called for a casino-resort near the lakefront.

Ontario Place employees and suppliers “were absolutely shocked and ambushed by the abrupt, unplanned and thinly defended closure of Ontario Place,” one top official with close knowledge of Ontario Place said.

“It should never have been closed. No reason for it. ‘Saving money’ is a red herring in the overall scheme of things.”

Last February when they announced the closure, Duncan and Chan said the province would save $20 million annually, that crowds has dropped from 3.2 million a year in the 1970s to barely 300,000 in 2010. They also suggested most of the facilities were obsolete. The closure resulted in the loss of 48 full-time jobs and 600 summer positions.

“Ontario Place has been a drain on the government treasury for many years . . . it’s no longer sustainable,” Chan said at a Queen’s Park news conference.

“The park does not draw enough people to its gates to keep it sustainable in its current form,” Duncan told reporters.

However, the documents obtained by the Star show Ontario Place attendance in 2011 actually rose 89 per cent over 2010 levels. They also show revenues from rides, ground admissions, concessions and retail sales and Cinesphere tickets also increased dramatically last year.

Importantly, the documents indicate the park was on track to operate at a break-even point by 2015 — just three years from now.

Also, they show that Ontario Place was about to enter the 2012 season with plans to drive attendance and revenues even higher, largely due to more than $10 million in improvements approved by Queen’s Park in areas such as the popular water park and Cinesphere.

By releasing mostly outdated statistics, the McGuinty government created the impression that Ontario Place was not turning around, but instead had flatlined.

A finance ministry official, who asked not to be named, said Wednesday that the 2011 statistics were not available when Duncan announced the closure. The official also provided data from the Ontario Place annual report that showed a $12.9 million net loss for the park in 2011, the highest in the last decade. Part of that loss, though, was due to major new spending on the water park and Cinesphere.

Here are some of the key points in the documents obtained by the Star:

First, total attendance in 2011 was 880,000, far above the 300,000 figure cited for 2010 by the government. The 2011 figure includes 563,000 for the park, 255,000 for concerts and 61,000 CNE “crossovers.” In fact, the highest single-day attendance record was set in 2011 on Canada Day when 40,916 people entered the park. In addition, Ontario Place officials had told provincial bureaucrats they fully expected attendance would rise to 1.1 million in the next year or two.

The government claimed 3.2 million people visited the park at its peak. However, those figures are highly questionable because they were based on vague “crowd estimates.” Accurate turnstile counting didn’t start until 2002, at which time attendance was measured at 1.2 million.

Second, instead of costing a total of $20 million a year as the government claims, the average 10- to 20-year operating deficit at Ontario Place was between $2 million and $3 million. That’s significantly less than the cost to Queen’s Park of other provincially supported public institutions such as the Royal Ontario Museum, the Ontario Art Gallery and the Ontario Science Centre.

For the coming year, Ontario Place revenues were expected to grow by 50 per cent and the deficit was expected to fall by 35 per cent. That would have put the park on a path to operate on a break-even basis by 2015.

Third, Queen’s Park approved more than $10 million in improvements to Ontario Place that were implemented barely a year ago. If it was so eager to improve the park not so long ago, why did it shut the entertainment venue so suddenly? Some $5 million was spent to expand the water park, including a huge new slide that not a single child has ever ridden down. The water park was projected to generate a $2-million profit.

As well, $2 million was spent last year to renovate Cinesphere with a new IMAX 3-D theatre. Attendance was up more than 80 per cent last year over 2010, with sellouts over the Christmas period.

Ontario Place management had extensive plans to attract new sponsors, more concerts and new attractions in 2013 and beyond, including having the park open earlier in the season and close later.

Overall, the documents show that 2011 was arguably the most successful for Ontario Place in many years.

And yet Queen’s Park never released this information when it announced the park closure, using 2010 figures to put a bad face on the park’s future.

“You’d never get away with that in the private sector,” the official said. “Are they trying to use ‘yesterday’s’ information to sell the public the idea that Ontario Place had to be pulled off life support, when more recent data suggest the patient was improving?”

So why was the McGuinty government so eager to close Ontario Place?

Did it want to clear the way for a casino? Or for luxury condos?

Two weeks ago, a government-appointed advisory panel led by John Tory, chair of the Greater Toronto CivicAction Alliance, tabled a report that called for parks, private residences and business on the Ontario Place site. It did not recommend a waterfront casino.

What is clear from these documents is that although Ontario Place may have been languishing, it wasn’t dead. Its pulse was improving — just before the government pulled the plug on it.

It’s time Queen’s Park came clean on all the information it has on Ontario Place.

And it’s time it told the public what it really has in store for Toronto’s waterfront.

OPSEU fights changes to pension plans

By: Arron Pickard – Sudbury Northern Life Staff
July 25, 2012

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On July 24, Sudbury was the scene of a rally by OPSEU members fighting proposed changes to their pension plan, a move that will “undermine” the pensions of many members, the union said.

About 20 public service employees lined the Bridge of Nations in an effort to inform the public about the province"s plans for the pension funds. It was a modest turnout, said Sue Brown, regional vice-president of Region 6 for OPSEU, but given the fact it was last-minute event, it went well enough.

OPSEU"s board began its fight to keep a meaningful say in how its pension plan operates on July 20, stated a notice posted on the union"s website.

“The government is now demanding greater control” over the pension plan, and that “threatens us all,” union president Warren Thomas said in the notice.

As part of the 2012 budget, Premier Dalton McGuinty and Finance Minister Dwight Duncan tabled changes to public pensions in an effort get control over costs, which are expected to double by 2017-18 if measures aren"t taken now. The changes will see employees who share pension contributions with their employers contributing more, and public sector pensions where the employer contributes the majority of the funds will be moved to a 50-50 cost-sharing model.

The government also plans to introduce legislation in the fall that would pool smaller public-sector pension plans into larger ones. Many smaller public sector defined benefit plans have a relatively small amount of assets and members — about 50 plans have assets of less than $1 billion — and each has its own investment management, according to the Ministry of Finance. Not only does this duplicate costs and prevent economies of scale, it also means the plans can’t access higher-return investment opportunities available to larger investment pools.

The province appointed Bill Morneau to lead public consultations and develop the framework. He will provide final recommendations by early fall.

In 1996, OPSEU negotiated control over half of its members" pension contributions so the union could invest the money in areas that met members" morals and values, Brown said.

“The whole idea was, that we knew where the money was being invested, and we knew who was investing it, and we felt good about it,” Brown said.

Sudbury"s rally is part of a much larger campaign to counter what OPSEU is calling the province"s move to weaken important pension plans, including the OPSEU Pension Trust for employees of Ontario Public Service and the LCBO, the CAAT Plans for academic and support college staff, the Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System (OMERS) for municipal government employees and the Healthcare of Ontario Pension Plan (HOOPP) for hospital workers.

Now, the province is trying to wrest control away from the union over that portion of the pension, Brown said, and throw it into a large pool with all other pensions and do with it as they see fit.

“To me, it sounds like they want to play with our money and give it to their rich friends, and that"s wrong,” Brown said, as passing vehicles honked in recognition of the message union members were hoping to get across to the public. “It"s theft, because half of that is my money that I"ve invested over my 30 years of service. I"m totally against this, and I"m afraid of where that money might go. We"re going to fight this.”

OPSEU members might also be taking legal action, she said.

“As a pensioner, I"m willing to sue,” she said. “You can"t just take away my money like that and invest it in things I am not comfortable with. I don"t know where everything stands with that, and we just want people to know this is happening.”

Similar rallies are slated for July 27 when OPSEU members will set up in Ottawa in front of McGuinty"s Ottawa-South riding constituency office, as well as many other locations across Ontario, she said.

“We"re here to fight for our pensions,” Felicia Fahey, executive board member of Region 6, said. “We"re not going to lose them, and we"re not going to lose control of them. They are ours, we fought for them, we bargained for them, it"s our right and it"s our money.”

Putting pensions at risk isn"t the answer to solving the province"s debt, Fahey added. Eliminating corporate tax cuts, on the other hand, “would put an end to the debt pretty quickly.”

Businesses and towns need to pay attention to this, Brown said, because what members back through their pension will essentially dictate on what they spend their money.

“Everyone hopes for a good pension, it"s what we all strive for,” she said. “If our money isn"t invested properly, and it doesn"t do well, we"re all in trouble, which means so are the towns and cities we live in right across the province.”

Both women are encouraging residents to call their MPPs and tell them they are not in favour of selling off pensions.

Nickel Belt MPP France Gélinas said the province"s auditor general has reviewed such pensions as OMERS and HOOPP, and has determined the current system is "way cheaper for the future pensioners than any of the other public-private partnerships the government wants to put in place."

"The workers are 100 per cent right to fight to protect what they have; this is the best way to guarantee a secure income once they retire," Gélinas said. "This is not a done deal, it"s only opened the door to this, and it"s a long way from actually happening."

The issue is not something that will gain the support of the NDP if the Liberals come knocking at their door, Gélinas said. The PCs haven"t collaborated with the Liberals on any piece of legilsation so far, and "the way I see it is that it"s going to be a tough sell. The more people who lend their support to this rally, the greater the voice will be and the greater the chance is of being heard."

"If you do nothing, then the government takes no action and thinks residents agree with what they are doing. One way or another, you have to get to your government to let them know you agree with this or disagree with that. Rallies (like the one stage by OPSEU) is one of the ways people in Ontario talk to their government and let them know the position they have taken goes against the people they represent."

Sudbury MPP Rick Bartolucci wasn"t immediately available for comment.

Burning the furniture to create a smoke screen

By Warren (Smokey) Thomas, Special to The Windsor Star May 6, 2010

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So, Dalton McGuinty continues to muse about selling off Ontario"s Crown jewels.

Last year, the LCBO, Ontario Lottery and Gaming, Hydro One and Ontario Power Generation raked in $4.1 billion in pure profit. This money helps pay for health care, education, environmental protection, children"s aid, and the whole range of public services we need.

Ontarians depend on that money. Our tax dollars buy good things, to be sure, but it"s good for all of us if government has other sources of income. When corporate tax revenues plunged last year, the profits from our Crown jewels stayed steady. Those profits helped keep Ontario running.

Given all this, Mr. McGuinty"s case in favour of privatization must be very compelling, indeed. So what exactly is his argument?

It"s certainly not a fiscal argument. The Crown"s profits are high; interest rates on provincial debt are reasonable. Steelworkers economist Erin Weir calculates that selling assets will cost us $3 in lost profits for every $2 saved on interest charges — even if interest rates rise as expected.

Privatization will cost Ontarians this year, next year, and forever. As fiscal policy, it makes no sense.

The economic case for privatization is weak as well. In last month"s budget speech, Finance Minister Dwight Duncan said he was "examining whether there is unrealized value in our government businesses that could be unleashed to provide new jobs and opportunities for Ontario families."

What is he talking about?

It seems unlikely that once-staid Ontario wants to become a drinking-and-gambling superpower, buying up liquor stores and lotteries in New York or Ohio. Still, if that"s what McGuinty really wants, he can get it without selling the LCBO or OLG.

Hydro One needs to remain public, for the same basic economic reason that our roads are public (except Highway 407, of course).

The electricity generation market is already wide open, so selling off OPG won"t create a single new job that isn"t already being created.

The premier knows the case for privatization is flimsy. That"s why he"s trying to change the subject. He would rather we thought about all the good things he can buy with several billion dollars.

It"s a cute move, but it has nothing to do with the underlying issue. Capital spending on infrastructure is good and necessary. But it is a normal cost that governments incur. It is traditionally budgeted as a normal cost paid for out of normal revenues, and so it should be.

We didn"t sell the LCBO to build our 24 colleges and 22 universities. Why would we do it now?

Earlier this month, McGuinty told reporters that, when it comes to asset sales, he"s not interested in "burning the furniture to stay warm."

So why burn the furniture at all?

As the recession ends, tax revenues will recover; indeed, the new budget says revenues will go up by $5 billion this year. The question is, can our tax system still raise enough money to pay for the services Ontarians demand? If so, the current budget deficit will pay itself off within a few years. But if taxes have been cut too far, we will have a structural deficit — one that won"t go away.

Make no mistake: Despite the HST, the 2010-11 budget cuts taxes. The tax changes it includes will cut revenues by $8.4 billion over three years. After that, even more tax breaks for business are scheduled.

McGuinty"s tax measures increase deficits and add long-term debt. With an election less than 18 months away, this is a political problem for the premier. He knows he needs to tame the deficit or risk the ballot-box wrath of fiscally-conservative "Blue Liberals."

The premier clearly hopes that the cash he gets from burning the furniture will provide the smoke screen he needs to hide the ill effects of his tax measures, at least until Election Day.

Clever politics? We"ll see. Good policy? Absolutely not.

The LCBO, OLG, Hydro One and OPG serve Ontarians well and provide more than $10 million a day, 365 days of the year, to buy the things we need. Any party that would hock our Crown jewels for short-term political gain is a party that doesn"t deserve our votes.

Warren (Smokey) Thomas is president of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union.

Who’s really mining the big bucks in trade deal with rights-challenged regime? By Andrew Cash for NOW Magazine

April 22, 2010 – It went unnoticed in the salacious cloud surrounding the Jafferlena scandal, but the Harperites again showed their enduring contempt for parliamentary procedure by suddenly forcing a vote on the Canada-Colombia Free Trade deal late Monday more…

Lesson for premier in eHealth: Beware of sages

Toronto Star (ON)
Friday Oct. 9, 2009

"Let"s hope the premier and his government learned a valuable lesson," said OPSEU president Warren Thomas. "The more you hand over control of a vital public service like health care to the private sector, the more costs are going to skyrocket at the expense of the taxpayer." 

PDF version of article

Greybeards in the political racket are always looking to the past for possible prologue. And not without cause. It is, after all, astonishing in human affairs, and politics in particular, how often what"s old becomes new again.

One long-time Pink Palace observer saw a cautionary tale for Premier Dalton McGuinty in the eHealth Ontario boondoggle that"s cost taxpayers $1 billion in an inept bid to establish electronic health records in the province.

"Were you at Queen"s Park in "83-84 when the trust scandal turned dorky David Peterson into a man who looked like a premier?" the chap asked.

Well, yes, actually.

That was when Peterson, then an unpromising greenhorn Opposition leader, parlayed public furor over government failure to regulate trust companies engaged in financial manoeuvres worthy of Cirque de Soleil into the first step on his road to the premier"s office.

Not so many weeks ago, newly elected (and mildly dorky) PC Leader Tim Hudak might have seemed as unlikely now as Peterson was then to win government.

But it"s not out of the question that public disgust with the waste, arrogance and incompetence at eHealth could do for him what the trust company affair helped do for Peterson.

That"s just one potential lesson for the premier.

A second – on the nature of governance – was nicely served up yesterday by the Ontario Public Service Employees Union in a warning against a trend to which McGuinty has become an adherent.

"Let"s hope the premier and his government learned a valuable lesson," said OPSEU president Warren Thomas. "The more you hand over control of a vital public service like health care to the private sector, the more costs are going to skyrocket at the expense of the taxpayer."

One of the things Auditor General Jim McCarter highlighted was the near total reliance on outside consultants at eHealth. By 2008, the eHealth Program Branch had almost 300 consultants compared to fewer than 30 full-time employees.

"Relying too heavily on consultants can be costly," he said. "Consultants are generally a lot more expensive than employees, and when they finish a project, they leave, often taking with them the expertise needed to maintain and operate the system they helped develop."

A third – and perhaps the most significant – lesson for the premier might be found in to whom he has increasingly chosen to grant his trust (and considerable power).

McGuinty is something of a one-man fan club for gurus and geniuses. He"s easily smitten by star power, or the last book he read by someone professing to have the Next Big Idea.

McGuinty fell in love, for instance, with academics Richard Florida and Roger Martin and their notions of a creative economy. He"s also enthralled by econ-omist Don Drummond of the TD Bank and by that institution"s CEO, Ed Clark – who reportedly helped sell McGuinty on a harmonized sales tax.

There"s Michael Fullan, the high priest of benchmarks, in education. Just as there was the now deposed Dr. Alan Hudson and Sarah Kramer at eHealth.

Tellingly, McGuinty lamented on Kramer"s ouster that he once considered her "indispensable." And woe is the leader who starts deifying mere mortals in such terms.

If Britons were able to oust Winston Churchill right after World War II, it"s safe to say there"s no such thing as an indispensable human being.

If the premier were to draw from the eHealth experience nothing more than the idea that power and influence are perhaps better placed in the hands of the elected and accountable than with outside sages and savants, his pain might not have been totally in vain.

Union, parks at odds over hours

Niagara Falls Review (ON)
Tue 19 May 2009

More than 100 Niagara Parks Commission workers marched to Table Rock Sunday against what they call unfair working conditions.

About 1,000 seasonal employees have had their weekly work reduced to 37.5 hours from 44 or 40, according to the Ontario Public Service Employees Union.

"They"ve cut hours of work, so people cannot make a reasonable living," said Bill Rudd, president of OPSEU Local 217.

However, Parks chairman Jim Williams said visitation is down due to the downturn in the economy so the agency needs to be "very prudent in our expenditures."

Rather than simply letting staff go, Williams said, the Parks looked for innovative ways to share what work is available among its employees.

"We"re asking staff to reduce their work week by 2 1 /2 hours for the sake of their colleagues" jobs. Anything other than that, then we"d be running at a deficit.

"We"re trying to ensure that through these tough recessionary times we have a stable business that will grow and prosper once we come out of this recession."

But Rudd blamed the decision to cut hours on "heavy-handed management that is making poor decisions."

"Cutting the hours of one restaurant worker doesn"t save you any money, because you have to replace them with someone else," he added.

The employees affected range from maintenance workers who look after the commission"s 1,720 hectares of parkland to the servers in the parks" restaurants.

"The condition of the park has deteriorated and the service we give our customers has deteriorated," he said. "We need those customers. We offend them once, they won"t come back."

Niagara Falls MPP Kim Craitor was at the rally and said recent actions by the commission have caused him some concern.

"There have been some decisions that I"ve questioned," he said, adding he has taken his concerns to Queen"s Park.

Welland MPP Peter Kormos Sunday called for a public inquiry into the commission"s business practices.

"The Niagara Parks Commission should be disbanded and those commissioners sent home," he said.

Members of Worker United Local 2347, which represents restaurant servers, also participated in the rally.

© 2009 Osprey Media Group Inc. All rights reserved.

Gaming hall guards predict security problems if strike happens

Niagara Falls Review
Mon 11 May 2009
By Corey Larocque , Review Staff Writer

Problem gamblers could slip more easily into Niagara"s casinos if security guards go on strike and replacement workers are brought in, say unionized security workers at Niagara Fallsview Casino Resort and Casino Niagara.

But casino management said it is prepared to continue "all facets" of security if a strike or lockout occurs.

Casino security guards held demonstrations at the two casinos, the Montrose Road associates centre and at the corner of Highway 420 and Stanley Avenue Friday morning, to show support for the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, local 278, which represents security staff at the casinos.

Friday"s demonstrations started at 7:30 a. m., in front of casino properties, just before union officials began conciliation talks with management at Niagara Casinos at 10 a. m.

Security guards stood in front of placards with messages such as, "OLG hires scabs. Will you be safe?" and "Can OLG scabs stop problem gamblers?"

They were apparent references to a class action lawsuit initiated by a Toronto-area man who alleges he lost millions of dollars at OLG casinos because security staff let him in, even though he had signed up for the OLG"s self-exclusion program.

Niagara Casinos spokesman Greg Medulun said that program and "all facets" of casino security will continue in the event of a strike or lockout.

"We have a contingency plan in place that has been approved by the (Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario) that will allow us to continue all facets of our security operation including the self-exclusion program," Medulun said.

Friday"s rally was intended to show casino management it has to change its offer, said Pat Honsberger, a staff representative for OPSEU.

"On the table is still the wages. We don"t know if they"re going to move off the zero per cent increase," she said.

The top pay for a security guard is $19.85 an hour.

The union, which represents about 280 security personnel, asked for conciliation process with the Niagara Casinos because they have been unable to negotiate a new contract. Their old contract expired at the end of March.

If conciliation fails, either the union or management can ask for a "no-board report" indicating talks have broken down. Seventeen days after a no-board report is filed, the union is in a legal strike position and management is allowed to lock out workers.

Conciliator sought in Wellness Centre talks

Posted By Ronald Zajac, Staff Writer
Brockville Recorder & Times OPSEU Local 441
Posted 3 days ago

Workers at the Child and Youth Wellness Centre of Leeds and Grenville say management has walked away from the collective bargaining table, leaving them stunned.

But management at the local agency says it hasn"t walked away, but only concluded it"s time to bring in a conciliator.

The two sides are now awaiting a date for conciliation to begin.

The wellness centre is the non-profit agency that provides children"s mental health services in the two counties for the provincial government. It has offices in Brockville, Prescott, Kemptville, Elgin and Gananoque.

The 28 staff members belong to Local 441 of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU). Their collective agreement ran out Tuesday.

The staff includes social workers, senior counsellors, community mental health counsellors and child and youth workers, said the OPSEU local"s bargaining chairman, Mike Quinn.

The two main points of contention are the process governing layoffs and employees" increased workload, said Quinn.

On the matter of layoffs, he said, management has tabled language that "is not acceptable."

Management is looking for the right to lay off workers without regard to seniority, said Quinn, adding OPSEU is trying to find "a more reasonable, suitable way to address that particular issue."

"It"s a sad day when we try to figure out easier ways to lay people off," added Quinn.

Meanwhile, the agency has seen front-line staff laid off in recent years, increasing waiting lists at a time of economic turmoil when more families could benefit from the Child and Youth Wellness Centre, he said. The result has also been an increased workload for staff and OPSEU is looking for recognition of this fact in the new collective agreement.

"We"re simply looking for a mechanism to ensure that workload remains on the radar screen so that we"re not burning out or burying the front line staff," said Quinn.

Talks had barely reached the subject of wages, said Quinn, who insists money is not the issue and the union recognizes times are hard and the agency lacks sufficient provincial funding.

Annual increases of two to 2.5 per cent would fall within the trend of similar deals negotiated elsewhere, he said.

The previous agreement was for three years and OPSEU was prepared to negotiate the duration of the new one, said Quinn.

The bargaining chairman said the local was stunned when, on Tuesday, the management side walked away.

"We believed that negotiations were moving along and that we were finding a good middle ground," said Quinn.

"We were a bit caught off-guard," he added. "They (members) felt like doors got slammed shut."

While saying he does not want to engage in a "witch hunt" against management, Quinn added the agency is "top-heavy," with seven executive staff for 28 active front-line staffers.

And he noted that executive director Sally Wills this year made the publicly disclosed list of provincial public servants who earned more than $100,000 in the previous year.

Wills was unwilling to discuss the talks in detail with the media, but said management did not walk away from the process.

"We do believe that we need a third party to resolve the items that remain between us."

Wills said the discussion of layoffs at the bargaining table is not an indication that cutbacks are on the horizon, but added the agency has received only two funding increases from the province in the past 14 years and is under constant budgetary constraints.

The wellness centre has an annual operating budget of about $3 million, 85 per cent of which goes to salaries, said Wills. It serves about 1,000 clients.

The union group"s salary range currently tops out at $60,585, said Wills. That number would be $80,136, but a psychologist position remains vacant.

Wills rejected the assertion the organization is top-heavy, noting it has four program directors for a total staff of 35, as well as a single director of finance and human resources, an administrative assistant and herself.

While she acknowledges she is on the $100,000 list, Wills believes her salary is on the low side in the field.

Management remains willing to negotiate with OPSEU and is hopeful a strike can be avoided, said Wills.

"We just came of the opinion that there"s very little movement," she said.

Quinn is not sure whether having a conciliator present will improve or hinder the bargaining process.

"We remain open to trying to find a settlement," he said.

Faculty union cries foul: Fanshawe College defends transferring money into a reserve fund

The London Free Press
Mon 23 Mar 2009

Fanshawe College"s faculty union is crying foul over the administration"s quietly transferring money into a reserve fund, even as the college publicly sounds the alarm over a multimillion-dollar shortfall and likely cutbacks.

Last month, the college said it was facing a $6.5-million budget shortfall — its worst since the early 1990s.

But the head of the union representing more than 650 full- and part-time teachers, counsellors and librarians, said audited statements show the college has transferred money from its operating budget to a reserve fund for buildings and facilities.

"As far as we can see, they transferred $6 million from operating to capital and they did that at a time when the province was giving them money for projects," said Paddy Musson, head of OPSEU Local 110.

"It"s clear a transfer took place,"she said, adding the information came through a Freedom of Information request.

A senior college official yesterday confirmed the college transferred money into a capital reserve fund, but said that figure was only $600,000 — not $6 million — and that it"s necessary for emergency building projects.

Bernice Hull, vice president of administration at the college, said the capital reserve fund has a total of $6 million in it and the union is misreading the numbers.

"I think there"s some disconnects here in understanding those financial statements and the financial records and what those mean."

But Musson said any transfer isn"t a responsible move in these economic times.

"We are faced with a 10% enrolment increase for this coming year and we are in the midst of an economic crisis."

"I"m not saying the college illegally transferred the money, but what I am saying is that was not the proper thing to do and if that information had been publicly declared all along, I think it wouldn"t have been easy to make this transfer," Musson said.

The college"s board of governors decided a few years ago to create a capital reserve fund in case boilers or fire systems in older buildings need to be replaced, said Hull.

The college has been adding to that reserve fund over time and as of June 2008, its balance was $6 million, she said.

"The fact we have talked about a $6.5-million revenue shortfall in our operating budget for 2009-10 has nothing to do with the fact this reserve happens to be equal to $6 million. That reserve has been built up over a number of years. It"s not something that just happened this year," Hull said.

Musson said the college"s claim of a $6.5-million shortfall is a "manufactured crisis."

But Hull said increases to the province"s funding of operating grants have not kept pace with increases in costs, salaries or supplies.

Hull said she doesn"t expect the college to still face a $6.5 -million shortfall when it starts the next fiscal year on April 1. Staff has been directed to make cuts where they can.

During the early 1990s, the college also faced dire financial straits. Full-time staff numbers were chopped almost in half. But Hull wouldn"t say if administrators are considering layoffs to overcome the shortfall.

"We"re still working on the details. But I will say whenever we"re going through this process, the college makes every effort to minimize the impact on staff," Hull said.

OPSEU plans public health meeting Feb. 24; Union leader wants loss of services at local health unit to be investigated

Owen Sound Sun Times
Tue 17 Feb 2009

True to his word, Warren "Smokey" Thomas will preside over a town hall meeting next week about the future of public health here and its "degradation of services" in an attempt to convince the province to launch an investigation into management and administration practices at the Grey Bruce Health Unit.

Thomas, who leads OPSEU, Ontario"s most powerful public service union, called for a meeting earlier this year after months of rocky relations between health unit employees and the administration and health board members.

"He seems to have a particular interest in the operations of the Grey Bruce Health Unit as it pertains to our members," Ted Loughead, an OPSEU staff representative, said Saturday.

"We"re trying to convince the minister of Health and Long Term Care to do something that is fairly unusual, that is to order an assessment of this health unit for its management and administration practices."

OPSEU represents about 80 program assistants and professional/technical staff at the health unit, including the support staff who were laid off after last summer"s 10-week strike.

Officials from the health unit couldn"t be reached over the weekend, but Dr. Hazel Lynn, the organization"s medical officer of health, has previously said that she has no problem with the province reviewing her operation.

She has also said in the past she would attend a public meeting if it was to discuss public health, but not if it was to "lambaste" her for things she "has no control over."

The town hall meeting is scheduled to take place Feb. 24 and union organizers have invited health unit administration to attend and "explain their actions to the community they serve."

The first vice-president of the Ontario Nurses Association, Vicki McKenna, is slated to attend the meeting to represent the health unit"s registered nurses. MPP Bill Murdoch has also been invited.

The meeting is a response to ongoing questions and concerns from frustrated staff members that started after the summer strike when the health unit eliminated eight clerical worker positions. Four full-time and two part-time public health nurses have also received layoff notices, also after ratifying a new contract.

As well, the health unit"s new $17- million waterfront headquarters has long been a contentious topic for both disgruntled workers and some members of the public.

"We want to inform the public and motivate them to encourage the minister to look into this matter . . . and appoint an assessor and take a look at what"s happening in this health unit," said Loughead.

"There"s lots of community interest in this issue and we expect to there to be a good turn out."

The meeting will take place Tuesday, Feb. 24 at 7 p. m. at the Days Inn hotel in Owen Sound.

© 2009 Osprey Media Group Inc. All rights reserved.

CMHA workers picket over contract offer

February 6, 2009 – Workers at the Canadian Mental Health Association picket the Woodstock office to protest what they say is an unfair contract offer from their employers


Photos from the Feb. 5 demonstration



OPSEU Local 676 honours workers; Families enjoy day at Wagon Wheel Ranch

January 19, 2009 – Sudbury Star It was the third annual development service worker appreciation day organized by Local 676 of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union for the more than 200 workers at Community Living Greater Sudbury. more… or  PDF

Lisa’s Beads support cancer patients

January 8, 2009 – Year round, Port Hope teen Haley Sanders-with the help of her friends Isha Banerjee and Jenna Wood-work at creating beaded necklaces, anklets and bracelets which they then sell to raise money for charity.

The idea came to Haley when she heard about a fundraising initiative called Lisa’s Beads. The program was created in 2003 following the death of Lisa McBride who succumbed to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. At the time of her death, Lisa left behind two young daughters, twelve and eight years old respectively, and several young nieces. As a way of channeling their grief into something positive, they started to create the beaded jewelry that they then sold at various events for charity.

Their jewelry quickly became a symbol of love and resilience, and their idea grew into a full-fledged charitable organization. Haley’s mom Leslie is a past employee of Lakeridge Health in Oshawa (now on Staff of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union) when she first heard about Lisa’s Beads. She took the idea to Haley and her friends and soon they were also supporting the mission of Lisa’s Beads.

While attending an OPSEU annual convention, NHH Medical Radiation Technologist Wendy Scott met Haley who was there selling her bracelets. Wendy ordered a bulk supply of the beaded creations. Bracelets sell for $5 and necklaces for$10.

Sales were so brisk that Haley was able to eventually donate $10,000 to the new Durham Regional Cancer Centre. With the Durham Regional Cancer Centre now opened, Haley turned her attention to a more local cause and decided her next donation would be in support of chemotherapy services at Northumberland Hills Hospital.

“I think anything I can do to make it easier for people going through cancer I’ll do it”, says Haley.

Haley’s efforts resulted this summer in a gift of $1,000 in support of the Northumberland Hills Hospital.

– Reprinted from the Northumberland Hills Hospital Foundation newsletter

Talks continue as strikes loom at Ontario colleges

August 20, 2008 – Brampton Guardian: Talks between Ontario colleges and thousands of support staff continue under a media blackout. more… or PDF

Kincardine: Hospital board ignores public"s concern

August 20, 2008 – Kincardine Independent: The people have spoken. However, the South Bruce Grey Health Centre (SBGHC) board didn"t get the message. more… or PDF

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