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Ford says Bill 124 repeal comes amid high cost of living

Ontario Premier Doug Ford makes an announcement and answers questions at a press conference in Mississauga, Ont., Tuesday, February 13, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christopher Katsarov

Ontario Premier Doug Ford expressed frustration Tuesday with an Appeal Court ruling that declared his public sector wage-restraint law unconstitutional, but said he has agreed to repeal it amid a high cost of living.

The province's top court ruled Monday that a law that capped salary increases for broader public sector workers at one per cent a year for three years violated collective bargaining rights.

Hours after the ruling, the government announced that it would repeal the law, known as Bill 124, something that opposition critics, labour advocates and health-care workers have long urged.

Ford said at an unrelated news conference Tuesday that he respects the ruling, but did not appear to be pleased with it.

"We just believe it should be government's decision, not the courts," he said.

"I always say, 'Parliament is supreme,' meaning the people are supreme. People elect the parliament. They should make the decisions."

The Progressive Conservatives enacted the law in 2019 as a way to help the government eliminate a deficit.

The Appeal Court wrote that governments are entitled to try to hold compensation increases to a certain level, but the issue is how they do that.

"Ontario has not been able to explain why wage restraint could not have been achieved through good faith bargaining," the court wrote.

"In the absence of any evidence for the need for expediency or that the same goal cannot be achieved through collective bargaining, it is hard to understand on what basis the Act’s salutary effects outweigh its beneficial effects."

Ford argued Tuesday that the province's finances were a "total disaster" when his government came to power in 2018 and the province is in a more stable position now.

He also noted that since a lower court first ruled the law unconstitutional, workers such as nurses and teachers have received back pay to compensate them, and his government is repealing the law now amid a cost-of-living crisis.

Unions hailed the Monday ruling as a big victory for workers' rights and had urged Ford to listen to the Appeal Court.

Ontario's financial accountability officer said in 2022 that Bill 124 was set to save the province $9.7 billion on public-sector salaries and wages, though a successful court challenge would all but wipe that out.

On Tuesday, the fiscal watchdog estimated it would cost the province $13.7 billion to provide wage increases to adjust for the impact of Bill 124 from 2022 to 2028.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 13, 2024.

Allison Jones, The Canadian Press

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