TORONTO – Ontario won’t use the notwithstanding clause after a court struck down a law that limits wages for public sector workers, Premier Doug Ford said Thursday.
But he said his government still plans to appeal the ruling that was handed down earlier this week.
“I can say it was a very interesting verdict, to say the least,” Ford said at a news conference.
“I’m just trying to rationalize why the ruling came down the way it was, but I have confidence in our judiciary system, our judges, and I’m sure they’ll make the proper decision.”
The notwithstanding clause allows a government to override Charter rights for a five-year period.
Ford’s Progressive Conservative government recently used the clause in legislation that imposed a contract on education workers and prevented them from striking, but the province eventually repealed that law after the workers agreed to end a walkout that shut schools.
When asked if he’d use the notwithstanding clause for Bill 124, Ford said no.
A judge struck down Bill 124 on Monday, saying it was unconstitutional as it infringes on rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining.
Groups representing about 780,000 public sector workers had challenged the constitutionality of the law passed in 2019, which capped wage increases at one per cent per year for public sector employees over three years.
The province argued the law did not infringe constitutional rights, saying the charter only protects the process of bargaining, not the outcome. It said the bill was a time-limited approach to help eliminate the deficit.
Ontario further argued it was under severe financial strain when it implemented the law, which it said was a temporary response to the budgetary pressures it faced.
That argument fell flat with the judge.
“On my view of the evidence, Ontario was not facing a situation in 2019 that justified an infringement of Charter rights,” Justice Markus Koehnen wrote.
Health-care workers have long called for Bill 124 to be repealed. Unions and doctors have said the bill contributed to the health-care crises in Ontario, which has seen droves of nurses and personal support workers leave the profession after two difficult pandemic years.
Ford and Health Minister Sylvia Jones denied Thursday that there was a “mass exodus” of nurses from the health-care system.
But Jones said “it has been a challenging time in our health-care system.”
On Thursday, Jones and Ford announced $4.6 million to the Michener Institute in Toronto to provide free tuition to nurses who want to get trained to work in critical care.
Ontario’s health system remains under pressure.
Pediatric hospitals across Ontario are seeing an unprecedented surge of very sick kids with respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, the flu and COVID-19.
The wave has forced children’s hospitals to cancel surgeries in order to redeploy staff to emergency departments and intensive care units.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 1, 2022.