In the past few provincial elections there may have been some doubt as to which party was going to win, but there really wasn’t much of a question as to who was going to win the Sault Ste. Marie riding.
From 2003 on it was David Orazietti of the Liberals usually picking up close to 60 percent of the vote.
But Orazietti is gone now, taking a position at Sault College, and his former seat is up for grabs in a byelection scheduled for Thursday.
And from what I am hearing, it is going to boil down to a tight race between Joe Krmpotich of the NDP and Ross Romano of the Progressive Conservatives.
Debbie Amaroso of the reigning Liberals, the Liberal tag being more of a monkey on her back than a plus this time around, and Kara Flannigan of the Green Party, Libertarian Gene Balfour and Pauper John Turmel are expected to finish considerably well back.
The above scenario would seem to be borne out by a survey of signs on household lawns my wife Barbara and I conducted this week, spending about six hours over three days travelling many streets in most areas of the city.
It was a practice we began back in 2000, prompted by our suspicion that the number of lawn signs supporting John Rowswell indicated he was going to push Steve Butland out of the mayor’s office, and we later began to do it for provincial and federal elections as well.
It is far from a scientific poll, of course, but it does give one an idea of the work the candidates and their supporters have put into the campaign. It hasn’t always indicated support at the polls, but it has never been far out.
Romano ended up in the lead with 446 signs on lawns; Krmpotich was close behind at 429. Amaroso had 62 and Flannigan, we think, had one. We saw a sign that had green on it in Manitou Park so I am giving it to her. We did not see a Libertarian or Pauper sign.
I PUT ONE QUESTION to four of the candidates, asking where they stood on issue of the city being one of only four in the province to be designated as construction employers by the Ontario Labour Relations Board. Through an oversight, I missed sending it to the Libertarian and Pauper parties and I apologize for that.
“I am writing to ask you where you stand on a situation where any contractor who does not have a contractual relationship with the Labourers’ International Union and United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners cannot bid on projects sponsored by the City of Sault Ste. Marie,” the question read.
“Would you fight to get the City out from under this restriction if its citizens choose you as their provincial representative on June 1? In what manner would you do this?”
In the preamble to the question, I pointed out something most of them already knew, that the OLRB in 1987 ruled that employees hired directly or sub-contracted by the City of Sault Ste. Marie on commercial, institutional and other sites must become “party to respective collective agreements” and receive union scale.
The ruling came down after workers at the city’s fish hatcheries project, hired under a government job program, were certified by Local 1036 of the Labourers’ International Union after they complained they were paid only $6.50 an hour, rather than the $14.95 granted union labour.
“As you all know,” I said, “the ruling put the City of Sault Ste. Marie in the position of being a construction employer. At the moment it is one of only four cities in the province with this designation, Toronto, Hamilton and Waterloo being the others. In the Sault’s case, this means only contractors who have contractual obligations with Local 1036 of the Labourers’ International Union and Local 446 of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners are allowed to bid on city construction projects.”
I didn’t expect a reply from Krmpotich as he is tied tightly to unions and was the councillor who in 2014 called for the two-week deferral which became permanent of any discussion of Bill 73, the Fair and Opening Tendering Act, a private member’s bill presented by Michael Harris, the Progressive Conservative representative for Kitchener-Conestoga.
I also didn’t expect a reply from Amaroso, as she was mayor when that council, separating itself from councils of the past that had fought the city’s designation, declined to support Harris’s effort on our behalf.
I misguidedly thought Romano would support the bill, which would have amended the Labour Relations Act to exempt municipalities from sections 126.1 to 168, thereby preventing unions from certifying municipalities and boards of education under the terms of a construction collective bargaining agreement.
In the end, only Amaroso came forward, Krmpotich obviously not wanting to offend the non-union voter by taking a stand against changing the legislation and Romano not wanting to offend the union voter by supporting a change.
“I want what’s best for the community. If elected, my job as a representative will be to listen to the needs and concerns of all stakeholders in the Sault, come to a consensus, and then advocate for our desired outcome at Queen’s Park,” Amaroso said.
“While I recognize the importance of labour unions in ensuring fairness for workers, I am also open to having discussions on this matter. However, I understand that this issue is dealt with through the Ontario Labour Relations Board (OLRB). It isn’t under the provincial government’s jurisdiction to remove the Sault’s designation as a construction employer or to intervene between the City and LiUNA. Only the City can apply for classification as a Non-Construction Employer with the OLRB . . . If elected, my door is always open and I will always hear out any issue that faces constituents in the Sault.”
No, it isn’t under the provincial government’s jurisdiction to remove the Sault’s designation as a construction employer, but it is under government jurisdiction to propose a change to the act to bring the city relief and prevent such a thing happening again.
This would have already happened if the Liberals had not sided with the NDP to defeat Harris’s bill and is what I had hoped at least one of the candidate’s with a chance at winning the riding would push.
I can understand the politics involved in this issue but I still would like to think that any person proposing to represent me would have the courage to answer a question put forward by a journalist who, in case those involved haven’t noticed, is also a voter.
Doug Millroy can be reached at email@example.com.