Bad blood between the Christian Labour Association of Canada (CLAC) and the Carpenters’ Union in Ontario lingers two years after legislation was passed that terminated the Carpenters’ exclusive bargaining rights with the Region of Waterloo.
In December, the Ontario Superior Court ruled against the Carpenters’ claim that Region of Waterloo Councillor Mike Harris was in a conflict of interest when in 2018 he introduced a motion urging the council to support the Doug Ford government’s Bill 66, which would extinguish the Carpenters’ exclusive rights. The suit, brought by Carpenters’ District Council of Ontario president Mike Yorke and others in the union, argued that Harris was in conflict because his wife is an employee of CLAC.
“In this case, clearly, the judge had a very defining decision,” said Harris, a former Progressive Conservative MPP. “She went through it all…and said there was no way I had a conflict. It was definitive I’d say.”
Bill 66 received Royal Assent in April 2019, ending a span in the province in which several public entities such as the City of Hamilton, the City of Sault Ste. Marie and the City of Toronto besides the Region of Waterloo were deemed construction employers by the Ontario Labour Relations Board (OLRB), tying them to the Carpenters’ and their partner employers for all ICI construction work requiring carpentry.
CLAC and its bargaining partner the Progressive Contractors Association of Canada (PCA) had advocated against the OLRB decision since it went into effect in the Region of Waterloo in 2014.
Harris’s opposition to the bargaining restrictions stretched back to 2013, when as a member of the opposition in Ontario’s legislature he introduced a Private Member’s Bill to amend the Labour Relations Act that would terminate the Carpenters’ monopoly.
CLAC’s Ontario director Ian DeWaard and Karen Renkema, Ontario vice-president with the PCA, both condemned the Carpenters’ for launching the suit.
“We were pleased to see that the judge provided such a thorough decision on the allegations,” said DeWaard. “It was an unfortunate shame that Mr. Harris was the subject of what we think was a retaliatory move by the Carpenters’ union.”
A statement from Yorke indicated that the Carpenters’ Union is “obviously disappointed” in the outcome of the case.
“But we do not, in any way, regret taking the actions which we did. Our union is committed to defending decently paid jobs for local construction workers who live and work in the Region of Waterloo and, therefore, we will always oppose the ‘race to the bottom’ situation that the approach which Councillor Harris approves of will undoubtably lead to.”
The judge wrote in her Dec. 12 judgment that while Harris may have had a political interest in the passage of Bill 66, he did not have any control over whether the bill would in fact be passed. The pecuniary interest required for a conflict of interest to be proven was not definable and real but rather hypothetical, she wrote.
“To constitute a pecuniary interest, there must be something more than the possibility of future business,” stated the judge.
“If the amendments came into force, Bill 66 would give CLAC-affiliated companies the opportunity to bid on more projects from municipalities, school boards, hospitals, colleges and universities. CLAC-affiliated companies would still have to go through the regular procurement process to bid on municipal construction projects.”
Justice Catrina Braid summed up, “Since the applicants have not established that CLAC had a pecuniary interest, they have also failed to establish that Councillor Harris had a deemed indirect pecuniary interest in the outcome of the resolution.”
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