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Everybody has a lesson to learn from the OC Transpo strike

The wintry nightmare of last year’s transit strike might be worth it if we learned something, anything, from the ordeal.

The wintry nightmare of last year’s transit strike might be worth it if we learned something, anything, from the ordeal.


Andre Cornellier, the bellicose face of ATU 279 throughout the strike, seems to have gained some perspective in the ensuing year.


“The bottom line is, we both didn’t win,” he told the Ottawa Citizen. “We both had to go to binding arbitration, so I said, ‘Why go out and lose 53 days for maintenance and 60 days for operators’ when we still end up in binding arbitration? It was ridiculous.”


No evidence of insight, sadly, from Mayor Larry O’Brien, who last week presented his plan for avoiding a winter strike in future: Lock ‘em out in summer.


This solution, it must be said, has the advantage of simplicity, over, say, actually negotiating a contract, perhaps with the aid of a mediator. But those of us sitting at the bus stop won’t really see any difference between a lockout and a strike. It still results in no bus.


“Quite frankly, a strike in the summer – when the weather's good and people can bike and walk – is a whole lot better than what we went through last winter,” quoth the mayor, who has a chauffeur.


Mayor O’Brien apparently believes the resolve of union members would be weakened by living on strike pay more than it would be reinforced by his insulting, bad-faith tactics, the buses would be running again by winter and everyone would live happily ever after. It is to weep.


Don’t mark your calendars for the great lockout of ’11, though. Ill-considered posturing aside, there’s a mayoral election between then and now.


Mayor O’Brien says he’s going to think about his future over Christmas. Here’s wishing His Worship happy hols and a little time to perhaps better absorb the lessons of the past year.


Maybe there’s a lesson here for us too, though, that the public needs to be more involved with public transit, that it’s too important to be left to city hall.


On a recent trip to Toronto, I saw young people flying a banner from the window of a streetcar protesting the TTC’s upcoming transit fare hikes. One of these dangerous radicals was even shouting, “Public transit should be free!” out the window.


I have never seen such conduct on an OC Transpo bus, and suspect it would result in the swift ejection of the perpetrators. Here, when fares are (regularly) hiked, we just grumble quietly, dig deeper and pay up.


Are we slower learners than Mayor O’Brien? I profoundly hope not.

 
 
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