Ontario PC pollster floats back-to-work bill for teachers, separate health-care deal with feds
A recent survey from the PCs’ go-to pollster, Campaign Research, suggests that the government was mulling the possibility of breaking ranks with the rest of the provinces and negotiating with Ottawa for increased health-care funding for Ontario — an idea that Premier Doug Ford publicly rejected during a press conference in London on Friday.
“I always consult with the other 12 premiers on this, and it’s not going to be a one-off for Ontario and another for someone else. We’ve all agreed that all the premiers have to work together and stay united, and that’s what we are going to do,” Ford told reporters in London.
But the recent Campaign Research questionnaire, a copy of which was obtained by Queen’s Park Today, floats the possibility of Ontario cutting a deal with the federal government for an increase in federal health-care funding without the other provinces.
Respondents were asked if they agreed with the position that “Ontario should … agree to the reforms the federal government is demanding in order to get new and extra money for the health-care system, even if many of the other provinces will not agree to these reforms,” or whether they think that the province “should stick together with the other premiers and provinces and try to get a deal done for the whole country — even if that means Ontario will have to wait another year or two.”
For months, Ford and his counterparts across the country have demanded Ottawa boost its share of health-care spending from 22 to 35 per cent, while rejecting strings attached to that money to stipulate how it can be spent.
That position held fast until earlier this month when Ford suggested he would accept “accountability” for how increased federal health-care funding is spent.
“Everyone has to be accountable,” Ford said last Wednesday. “So that’s the least of our issues. Do we want a little bit of flexibility? Yeah, and I think they’re willing to do that.”
On Friday, Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos suggested that talks between Ottawa and the premiers on the subject are improving.
“The conversation is stronger now than it used to be just a few weeks and certainly a few months ago,” Duclos said. “I’m quite optimistic it’s continuing to move in the right direction.”
This comes as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has shown tacit approval for the PCs’ move to allow for-profit clinics to perform surgeries in Ontario. The PM told the Star “innovation” should be valued in the system, as long as the Canada Health Act is adhered to.
Ontarians were also asked if they held a favourable or unfavourable view of Alberta Premier Danielle Smith.
Smith, who will face voters this spring, recently declared she wanted her province to receive more tax points for health funding, rather than larger federal transfers — a sign that getting all premiers on board for a health deal might be more challenging than Ford and federal Liberal officials hope.
Back-to-work legislation possible if negotiations with teachers break down
The poll also suggests the government hasn’t been scared off from passing back-to-work legislation after invoking the notwithstanding clause to enact Bill 28, Keeping Students in Class Act, before repealing it after a united labour movement threatened a general strike.
The questionnaire asks respondents if they were following the labour conflict between the province and non-teacher education workers organized through CUPE, and whether they supported or opposed Bill 28.
It surveys readers on whether they would “support or oppose the government introducing a similar law and contract that would require teachers to go back to work and not be legally allowed to strike so that schools could remain open for in-person classes?”
The survey makes no mention of the notwithstanding clause, however.
It is not certain that the survey was commissioned by the PCs, as Campaign Research, owned by Ford-advisor Nick Kouvalis, does not discuss its clients. However, Kouvalis has described himself as the “Ontario Government Caucus Pollster” and the province’s public accounts show the firm was paid $1.1 million by PC Caucus Services in 2021-22.
The poll comes amid ongoing negotiations with multiple teachers’ unions. Unlike the negotiations with the education workers last year, which were conducted openly with both sides taking shots at each other in the media for months, the negotiations with teachers have been kept under wraps, with union leaders careful about what they reveal about the state of those talks.
Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation president Karen Littlewood told Queen’s Park Today in November the hope was that the PCs learned their lesson from the repeal of Bill 28 and would not trigger the notwithstanding clause again.
“We have to hope that the Ford government is going to take this as a really strong message as we continue in our negotiations. We need to have free and fair collective bargaining and not have the imposition of legislation that will impede the ability to bargain,” she said at the time. “They need to make better decisions.”
The PCs were seemingly taken off-guard by the level of public support for non-teacher education workers, some of whom are the lowest-paid workers in the education system — and in many cases, according to the unions, work multiple jobs and use food banks to get by.
At the time, Education Minister Stephen Lecce justified the government’s hard line against larger wage increases for these workers by arguing any increase given to education workers would become the expected minimum increase for teachers because of certain clauses in their contracts.
The survey appears to indicate the province may think it could have better chances in a messaging war against teachers. It claims teachers make an average of $94,500 per year, and asks respondents whether they believe teachers “are fairly compensated for the work they do.”
It also asks respondents how important it is to them that in-class learning is undisturbed in 2023.
Greenbelt changes and Alberta legislation
Aside from negotiations with teachers and the feds, the poll touches on other issues currently facing the government.
The Campaign Research survey also attempts to gauge support for the province’s recent changes to the Greenbelt, asking Ontarians if they oppose or support the changes “so that more homes can be built more efficiently,” and also contains several questions about drug use and addictions policy.
The pollster puts a great deal of focus on the fact that “harm reduction” approaches, such as safe injection sites, do not require drug users to stop consuming harmful substances.
During pre-budget consultations in Kenora, the government was told that there is a desperate need for such a site in that community. The PCs have capped the number of such facilities in Ontario at 21.
The questionnaire also asks about the Alberta government’s controversial Alberta Sovereignty Within a United Canada Act, which Premier Ford avoided weighing in on when asked about it shortly after its passage.
Respondents were asked if they were aware of this law and whether they supported Alberta using it to direct municipalities, school boards, municipal police forces and regional health authorities to not enforce “federal rules deemed harmful to Alberta’s interests.”
Campaign Research also wanted to know what Ontarians think of the federal government’s firearms buyback program. Opposition to the program has galvanized Tory lawmakers in Ottawa, Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan in recent months. Ford slammed the buyback plan in 2020, but his government has steered away from criticizing it since.