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Open letter from Warren (Smokey) Thomas to David Orazietti, Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services

July 15, 2016

The Honourable David Orazietti
Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services
George Drew Building, 18th Floor
25 Grosvenor Street
Toronto ON  M7A1Y6

Dear Minister:

Thanks to a freedom of information request by The Canadian Press, we now know that the true cost of the government’s preparation for a strike or lockout with correctional workers was at least $44 million – and probably higher. This is almost five times the figure of $8.5 million that the government had made public previously.

I speak for 6,000 hardworking correctional workers when I say I am outraged, both by the bloated figure, as well as the stunning lack of transparency on the part of your government. I can only take the original number as yet another failed attempt by the government to deliberately mislead the citizens of Ontario.

There is no reason why $44 million needed to be spent on labour action that never happened. You took 14 months to negotiate a collective agreement with correctional workers. Had you bargained in good faith from the beginning, there would have been no need to resort to costly scare tactics to reach a settlement. Instead, you chose to engage in unseemly delays, threats and brinkmanship.

That $44 million could have been used to help ease the crisis in corrections that your government created. The money could also have been used to hire new staff. It could have financed desperately needed retrofitting and new construction. It could have been put into training, particularly around dealing with inmates with addictions and mental health issues – in large part a result of your government’s odious cuts to mental health care.

It could have helped restore public services – in health care, home care and education – that you have slashed. Your government seems to have money to spare when it comes to saving vulnerable seats, awarding unearned bonuses, padding the wallets of Liberal-friendly developers and strong-arming dedicated workers who keep communities out of harm’s way. But when it comes to providing the excellent public services that ordinary Ontarians need, deserve – and elected you to deliver – there are only austerity measures and privatization.

Apart from anything else, while you were aggressively pursuing a net-zero policy in negotiating compensation with the Ontario Public Service (OPS), $44 million would have funded a two per cent wage increase for over 30,000 public sector workers. You could have given long-suffering correctional workers a raise – and still have had millions left over to improve public services.

Instead, you squandered the money on trying to turn paper-pushing OPS managers into jail guards watching over thousands of violent criminals. This was a most ill-advised gesture for a government seeking the trust and support of corrections staff in solving the crisis in our correctional system.

You may hope the citizens of Ontario will have forgotten your reckless waste of their hard-earned dollars by 2018. You may count on a balanced budget to restore their shattered confidence in a government beset by chronic fiscal bungling – a budget, moreover, balanced on the backs of the province’s weakest and most vulnerable. But you have my word, Minister, that even were the people of Ontario to forget your deplorable record in government, OPSEU will be there to remind them.

Sincerely,

Warren (Smokey) Thomas
President

c: The Honourable Kathleen Wynne, Premier of Ontario

The Honourable Deb Matthews, Deputy Premier of Ontario

Patrick Brown, Leader of the Opposition

Andrea Horwath, Leader of the Ontario New Democratic Party

Related: Crisis In Corrections index page