Sounding an Alarm

The Ford Government is showing in the Budget Implementation Act (Bill 100) how it intends to deal with post-secondary institution staff who receive both a salary and a pension. Its proposed legislation for “reduction, limitation, and alteration of compensation” is on pages 132 and 133 of the pdf (or 116 and 117 of the bill). The legislation would amend the Ministry of Training, Colleges, and Universities Act to grant the government sweeping power to micro-manage the compensation of those staff by issuing regulations under that Act. Here are some of the devils in those details.

Proposed paragraph 18(2)(b) gives the government the power to establish procedures “for determining the amount or value of the pension or deferred pension to be used for the purposes of applying a reduction, limitation, or alteration of compensation.”  This regulation appears to envisage reducing the salary of someone receiving both salary and pension by the amount of the pension.

But proposed paragraph 18(2)(a) goes much farther. It gives the government the power to “establish and govern procedures that a post-secondary institution shall use to reduce, including reducing to zero, limit or alter the amount, form or timing of compensation due to an individual [drawing a pension].” If the government reduces compensation to zero, it is telling individuals receiving a pension that if they want to continue working, it will be uncompensated. Most, probably all, individuals in that situation will quit working, which clearly is the government’s intent.

Here are two examples of the impact of zeroing compensation. The distinguished academic and athlete Bruce Kidd served as Principal of the University of Toronto at Scarborough from 2014 to 2018, between the ages of 71 and 75. He was required to draw his pension when he turned 71 and began his term. Would he have been willing to serve as Principal if he was receiving no compensation in addition to his pension?

Quite a few faculty members who have retired and are drawing their pensions continue to teach a course or two, receiving the modest stipend rate of $10,000 per course. If the future regulations used the granted power to the maximum extent, the university would not be able to pay them anything. Would they continue teaching?

Proposed paragraph 18(2)(c) “provides that the regulations prevail over any collective agreement, contract of employment or any other contract that existed before the regulation was made.” So these regulations would not just apply in future but it would over-ride any compensation agreement, either collective or individual, currently in place. They could be used to force out individuals currently employed, as described above.

Proposed paragraph 18(2)(d) says the government can “establish different classes of post-secondary institutions and different classes of individuals” for whom it is altering compensation. So the government would not need to make consistent rules.

Proposed paragraph 18(2)(f) says that the government can “govern the use of any amounts saved by a post-secondary institution through the reduction, limitation, and alteration of compensation required by the regulations.” The budget speech said these savings would enable universities to hire younger, less expensive faculty. So the legislation constitutes a departure from the budget speech by giving the government the power to determine how this money is used. As I suggested in my previous post, savings could be used to meet budget cuts.

Proposed paragraph 18(2)(g) says that the power to administer these regulations will be assigned to a cabinet minister, which means that in practice they will be delegated to public servants.

Proposed paragraph 18(2)(h) says the government can “require the disclosure, use, and direct or indirect collection of personal information, including employment history and financial information, by the Minister, a post-secondary institution, or any other person.” So the government will collect the personal information of any individual to whom these regulations apply.

Finally, the regulations could prevail over other pieces of legislation such as The Broader Public Sector Executive Compensation Act of 2014, The Colleges Collective Bargaining Act of 2008, The Employment Standards Act of 2000, and the Labour Relations Act of 1995. The government is allowing the regulations to take priority over all the legislation that normally apply to compensation policy in the post-secondary sector.

I am not a lawyer, but I interpret the intent and scope of this legislation as constituting a vindictive power grab. I imagine the institutions will attempt to negotiate with the government to mitigate the use of all the powers contained in the forthcoming regulations. Perhaps the institutions will convince the government to allow employees receiving pensions to have their salaries reduced by the amount of their pension (as per paragraph 18(2)(b)), so that they would not be working for zero compensation (as per paragraph 18(2)(a)).

I hope that faculty associations take a more aggressive position, both challenging this legislation and the forthcoming regulations in court and mobilizing employees to take the issue to the court of public opinion. Unfortunately, time is very short and the government will use its majority to move this omnibus budget bill through the Legislature with as little debate as possible.

I will conclude with a bit of history that I remember very well. The Harris Government cut $400 billion from the total university budget, which was a major cut. The government was saying that the Ontario Government had a spending problem and universities had to be part of the solution. But it also deregulated tuition fees in high-demand programs, and didn’t attempt to micro-manage the universities. The Ford Government is hitting institutions of post-secondary education with both cuts and micro-management. This is a toxic mixture. I will have more to say in future posts.

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