Friday, January 2, 2009

 

VISITIN' WITH LARRY

Let's see now: It has been a while since we last engaged with the topic of Leepin' Larry O'Brien, the Mayor of your nation's Capital City - Ottawa. Larry the Mayor Guy, as he likes to be called. Ottawa's Chief Magistrate, the one who's only significant claim to fame has been to be charged by the Ontario Provincial Police with influence peddling...and the State of Illinois thinks it has a problem Governor. I digress.

In Ottawa you see, smack dab in the middle of the Holiday Season, on December 10th the transit system, buses and trains, was shut-down by a general strike. Where to this day it remains. Two-Thousand three hundred drivers, mechanics and dispatchers, Members of Local 279 of the Amalgamated Transit Union, one of those pesky Teamsters' affiliates, have locked horns with...yes dear friends, you've guessed whom...over a matter involving the schedules of less than 10% of members, about two-hundred drivers.

Unable to make any headway in the dispute, and under enormous pressure from the business community in an already difficult economic climate, Mayor Larry went running-off to an old political ally to weigh-in on the issue after talks broke-off on December 23. You'd think that the Federal Minister of Transport, John Baird, would have better things to do. After all, Mr. Baird was a "person of interest" to the Ontario Provincial Police investigation of the aforementioned influence peddling debacle back in 2006 when he was Minister responsible for Treasury Board. But Nooooo! Since "OC Transpo" (that's what it's called) operates a couple of routes into Hull, Quebec; it is an inter-provincial carrier and falls under Federal jurisdiction. Thus the matter becomes of significant concern to the Minister of Transport and his Cabinet colleague the Federal Minister of Labour: (Step forward please!) Linda Ambrose. In her capacity, Ms Ambrose has now ordered the transit union to submit the city's final offer to a ratification vote supervised by the Canada Industrial Relations Board. The vote must be held no later than Friday, January 9.

I will not purport to weigh-in on the validity of this worker dispute. Public transit in Ottawa remains paralyzed. In this case no doubt the Government of Ontario was happy to wash its hands of the entire mess. In the end though resolving this conflict in this fashion isn't likely to lead to good employee relations. Mayor Larry's city is already knee-deep into a $250-million lawsuit from the German engineering powerhouse, Siemens, over O'Brien's cancellation of a light-rail contract. And, the Mayor has just announced a $30-billion subway system to be built over the next 10-15 years. Seems to me these matters will require the best of relations between the City and the Amalgamated Transit Union, not the acrimony created by the Mayor's run-off to Minister Baird for a solution to his problems.

As for the Minister: Bad enough that his entire life could flash before his eyes once O'Brien's criminal trial opens on April 9, you'd think he would have gingerly stepped aside rather than crawl into this one.

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