They are making High Fives today in the Mayor’s office over the last minute agreement reached between the city and the Amalgamated Transit Union, representing the Guelph Transit workers.
There was a sudden transition on the part of the mayor. On Saturday, facing an angry crowd of unionists, she announced a lockout of workers effective Sunday at midnight. Then Sunday, the two parties reached an 11th hour settlement, less than 24 hours later. Could this have been a carefully orchestrated event?
The buses rolled out of the barn Monday morning as usual.
This kind of crisis-based political theatre is not new. It was revealed in a book entitled “Wag the Dog” written about the U.S. Presidential election of Bill Clinton by Joe Klein of Time Magazine.
There have been cases where a candidate sensing trouble, such as Guelph’s mayor, creates a crisis situation that threatens the public good to the extent of dire consequences.
It’s called the Jack Horner scenario. In this case, the city stuck in its thumb and pulled out a plum, an 11th hour agreement to stop a strike/lockout of transit workers.
In similar political cases it may be a phony war, or a confrontation that affects the public. It is any scenario that involves manipulating the media into believing there is a genuine crisis that involves physical confrontation, reproduced live on television.
In political life, timing is everything. This sudden agreement was executed on the weekend when the Guelph print media is dormant.
And it could have started with an agreement between two parties in advance.
Not convinced? Is it too farfetched? It remains a high stakes mystery that cannot be proven.
Why did the transit union wait until late Friday to ask the members to vote? Why did the union members vote 94 per cent in favour of a strike? This is a very high figure of rejection in conducting a member’s vote. On the surface, it is a total rejection of the city’s final offer. We also don’t know the percentage of members who voted out of the 210 in the Guelph ATU local. Yet, 24 hours later, there is a settlement.
The mayor holds a press conference at city hall on Saturday in which she is shouted down by transit workers and union supporters. The Kitchener CTV station attends, recording the confrontation.
Now she becomes the victim of rough union tactics. She retreats into the council chamber. The only news media that can report the event is the Kitchener TV outlet and local radio. The print media doesn’t publish on Sunday.
Then there is an unannounced Sunday meeting between the city and the union negotiators, assisted by a provincial mediator. Eureka! There is a tentative deal and the buses rolled Monday morning as if nothing happened.
Everyone’s happy. The mayor looks like she is firmly in charge. The union gets what it wanted. The transit public is relieved that they can take the bus to work.
Almost too perfect you think?
Let’s dig a little deeper.
The mayor depends on the union support to remain in office. But she has a serious problem that has caused her approval ratings to drop. Her handling of the Urbacon lawsuit, involving construction of the new city hall has become a serious obstacle to her re-election. Regardless of whom they blame for this multi-million dollar mistake, the buck stops with Mayor Farbridge.
The mayor and administration officials blamed others including former mayor, Kate Quarrie, for a “poorly written” contract. And, former Chief Administrative Officer, Hans Loewig, identified by his successor, Ann Pappert, as the guy who fired Urbacon without council’s approval. But the judge didn’t see it that way and said the city wrongfully dismissed Urbacon who sued for $19.2 Million.
So, what’s a mayor to do?
Was there collusion between the union and the city before the week-end? The evidence points to spending a year bargaining, then, within hours of a lockout, there is agreement. The optics are apparent. Mayor Farbridge’s dependence on support of the unions who represent 80 per cent of the city staff, could be endangered if the transit workers were locked out.
There is the alienation problem of other unionized workers who have done very well in the past eight years of the Farbridge administration. If she remained intransigent with the transit union, how is she going to approach bargaining within the other unions? This uncertainty presumably created a problem for the mayor’s re-election team.
As the saying goes: For every door that closes, another door opens.
The technique is called “wagging the dog”. Create a crisis then, solve it.
The question is what are the details of this new contract? Cleaner toilets? More time between stops? Bathroom breaks? Or, was it really about the money? No matter, this contract will be ratified before you can say: “I’d like to see that movie again.”
It’s all academic now. The buses are rolling.
The only dog that got wagged were the citizens of Guelph.