Ontario files appeal of court decision striking down Bill 124
Published Thursday, December 29, 2022 3:17PM EST
Last Updated Thursday, December 29, 2022 3:17PM EST
The Ontario government has formally filed an appeal of a court decision that struck down Bill 124, a controversial bill that capped public sector salary increases to one per cent.
The legislation was first proposed in 2019 and went into effect for three years. Multiple groups representing public sector workers took the government to court, arguing that Bill 124 was unconstitutional.
On Nov. 29, Justice Markus Koehnen delivered his decision on the court challenge, saying the legislation did, in fact, infringe on the applicants’ rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining.
“The Charter protects not just the right to associate, but also the right to a meaningful process in which unions can put on the table those issues that are of concern to workers, and have them discussed in good faith,” Koehnen wrote.
The same day the decision was delivered, the Doug Ford government indicated it would be appealing.
A spokesperson for the Attorney General confirmed the appeal was formally submitted on Thursday.
“As this matter remains before the courts, it would be inappropriate to comment further,” they said.
In the appeal, which was obtained by CP24, the government argues the court “erred in holding that the financial impact of the Act’s limits on the compensation increases substantially interferes with the respondent’s rights to a meaningful process of collective bargaining.”
They also say the judge erred by mischaracterizing the reason why Bill 124 was put in place to begin with, which they say was to “to manage the province’s finances in a responsible manner and to protect the sustainability of public services.”
The government has previously argued the bill was “exceptional and time limited” to help eliminate the deficit.
On Thursday, multiple unions released statements expressing their outrage over the government’s appeal of the court’s decision.
“Bill 124 has severely impacted workers’ living standards and worsened issues like the staffing crisis in our overburdened healthcare system,” Ontario Federation of Labour President Patty Coates said in a statement.
“Right now, the Ford government should be focused on taking meaningful action to address the simultaneous cost-of-living and health care crises in this province. Instead, they are choosing to spend public dollars to fight workers in court.”
The Ontario Nurses’ Association (ONA) said that health-care processionals felt “vindicated” when the court ruled that Bill 124 was unconstitutional, but that feeling was short-lived.
“Nurses and health-care professionals across the province are beyond angry and frustrated that this government is continuing to defend Bill 124, and we are telling Premier Ford: enough is enough,” ONA Interim President Bernie Robinson said.
“The premier must stop attacking nurses and health-care workers. He should have done the right thing, and accepted the court’s clear decision. Now, hundreds of thousands of public dollars will be wasted fighting workers in court.”
Earlier this year, the Financial Accountability Office found the government may have to pay around $8.4 billion in salaries if the court challenge landed in favour of the workers.
However, if the appeal is successful, the province stands to save about $9.7 billion in salaries and wages from 2019 through to 2025-2027 from both unionized and non-unionized employees.
With files from Cristina Tenaglia