Bill Walker walked into the room with a big smile but his body language gave away his discomfort of being a Tory MPP in a union hall. He constantly fidgeted with his purple scarf and never strayed far from the door.
The MPP from Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound was asked to come to a media conference OPSEU was holding in his community. We were pleading the case of 35 low-wage VON personal support workers that were likely to be on strike the following week.
Walker arrived late – about 20 minutes after the media had left.
When asked point blank whether he would join the workers on the picket line, he didn’t hesitate in saying “no.”
Walker said it wasn’t his place to interfere in the bargaining process. Yet barely a moment later he made it clear that it was his party’s position to interfere.
Walker said he supported his leader’s call for a two-year across-the-board wage freeze for everybody in the public sector – no exceptions. That includes these 35 part-time workers who are struggling to make ends meet for their families on a wage that for most falls below $14 an hour.
These workers have already had their wages frozen for six years.
It’s one of the reasons they chose to unionize.
Walker shrugged off the six years, noting as an MPP his wages had also been frozen. Of course, Walker didn’t get to the legislature until October 2011, meaning he himself has only sustained a wage freeze for a little over two years.
2011 is also the year that MPPs gave themselves a $22,000 pay hike – almost enough to cover a full year’s wages for one of these women. Nor is Walker likely to struggle to pay rent on an MPP’s salary of $110,775 a year.
Walker pleaded he was powerless as an opposition MPP to do anything about the situation – this despite claims on his website that he would make the voices of his constituents heard at Queen’s Park. When we suggested he raise this issue in Question Period, he practically laughed.
The Tories these days are definitely a two-note party. After it became clear he wasn’t going to support his constituents, it was all ORNGE and gas plants, as if these two scandals had accounted for the deficit and not the massive world-wide contraction of the economy in 2008. We’re not sure how the provincial Tories square their belief that the Liberals are responsible for the deficit when their federal Conservative cousins in Ottawa also cannot balance a budget.
Walker’s predecessor, another Tory known affectionately as Wild Bill Murdoch, at least had empathy. While he certainly had differences with us, he had no problems walking into a union hall or even participating on our panels. He also was willing to stand up for his constituents and sometimes buck his own party.
During the meeting Walker failed to express any sympathy for the plight of these women.
Earlier there had been some confusion whether we were holding a press conference at the Owen Sound office or a picket in front of Walker’s office. As an opposition member, we thought a picket at the MPP’s office would be less effective and opted for the conference instead. We also wanted to give Walker the opportunity to show he cared about these women. Clearly he didn’t.
Talk about gas plants and ORNGE had no relevance to this situation. Why did he show up? Was it to do his job as an MPP, or was it to campaign knowing a spring election is likely?
On this day he got no new votes.