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Location: Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Ottawa's OC Transpo Strike

It is almost two months now since the OC Transpo strike began and any hope I had of a reasonable accommodation is now gone. What remains is strange sense of the complacency in an Ottawa public which is so willing to endure the strike at such a high human and economic cost to themselves and their community and over so little potential gain. Last week estimates were published that suggested the cost of the strike over the first month approximated $280 million, and which by now must surely have surpassed $300 million. City Council says it could save $3 million a year by clawing back scheduling responsibility from the union. At this implied rate of return, my grandchildren will be dead before the strike cost is repaid. Of course, this does not include the immense human costs of lost jobs, poorer job performance, strained family life, failed businesses, lost school years for students who take buses, poorer health for those most in need, and a poisoned work relationship between striking workers and City Hall that will persist for years to come.


These current costs guarantee any future ‘victory’ from this strike to be Pyrrhic. That said, who is paying for these cost? True the union has depleted its strike fund and its members have lost millions of dollars in wages. City Hall, however, is actually making millions of dollars on those same unpaid wages. Primarily, however, it is residents and taxpayers who are collectively paying for this seven-week old strike in orders of magnitude far greater than either City Hall or the union.


We have arrived essentially at a contest over who controls the bus service – a pissing contest to be crude. This is no longer about value for citizens. It is no longer about serving the public. If it were, the strike would be long over. It is about control and the collateral damage be dammed. In as much, what we have here is a failure of leadership at City Hall. They have broken their fiduciary trust with citizens whom they so callously and fraudulently say they represent. Equally, we have a failure among union leaders who purport to be looking out for the interests of riders and members yet who have so blatantly put their interests above the many, many residents of the community who have become ensnarled in their selfishness. These two groups would have done less harm to the City of Ottawa if they had walked into a local bank and stolen $300 million. Yet surprisingly we continue to tolerate their destructive behaviour as if it didn’t matter. And that behaviour continues because for them there are no consequences.


In my mind, both groups have made decisions that have caused irreparable harm to many people. Those decisions were made intentionally and with the full awareness of the potential costs, and pain and suffering to be caused to their fellow citizens. In most circumstances such decisions would make these individuals personally liable for the damages and harm they caused. Yet here we are, complacent as ever, worried how we will endure but seemingly unconcerned about how we got here. Did anyone say “class-action suit”?