Both sides set to resume informal talks Tuesday
Published Monday, January 26, 2009 6:40PM EST
City officials and the Amalgamated Transit Union will resume informal talks with a federal mediator Tuesday after the two sides met separately with a mediator on Monday to discuss how to move forward with settling a seven-week-old public transit strike.
The city returned to talks this week with a new mandate from city council, which includes safety concerns and highlights the need for a scheduling system that would give bus drivers adequate rest time between shifts.
Changes to rules won't necessarily end strike
Although Transport Minister John Baird told reporters the federal government will look into adjusting safety regulations for OC Transpo bus drivers, he said any changes would not happen immediately.
"Ottawa's not the only city that would be affected. There would be other municipalities, so we'd have to consult with them. This would normally take over three, four, five months," said Baird, MP for Ottawa West-Nepean.
"I have indicated at the city's request that we'll take a look at it, but that's not going to lead to anything that would happen today or tomorrow."
Still, at least one Ottawa city councillor says even if changes are made, it's just a small part of the scheduling issue, and won't necessarily put an end to the strike.
"People think that's what the scheduling issue is -- that's only a little piece of it, there's a lot more issues out there that haven't been dealt with yet," said Coun. Marianne Wilkinson.
Impact of strike widespread
The strike has spared few living in the capital. Students say they can't get to class, the elderly say they can't go to important doctor appointments, and drivers say stress levels are high during the rush hour.
The prolonged OC Transpo strike also has many in the nation's capital saying they feel like prisoners in their own homes.
"It's very depressing. It's demoralizing," said Suvayd Allenger, who is legally blind and moved to the east end to be close to public transit.
"It's a general feeling from anybody who doesn't drive; anybody who's a senior; anybody who's disabled; anybody who just can't afford to have a car. It's absolutely like getting your legs cut off."
Residents rally on Parliament Hill
Meanwhile, about 100 Ottawa residents rallied at Parliament Hill Monday to show the federal government they are fed up with the transit strike.
"We're on day 48 now; it's very cold out here. (The government is) back in session, so they're now back in Ottawa, so hopefully traffic is going to be tying them up at times. We're hoping that people are going to start to cry out more and make it more public as to how it's affecting them," said rally organizer Catherine Gardner, who volunteers to drive others around town.
Even Ottawa's religious leaders are appealing for an end to the strike.
"This has moved beyond a labour dispute, it's become an ethical issue really, too many . . . sick and elderly are being hurt," Anglican Bishop John Chapman told CTV Ottawa.
MPP urges province to step in
Local Conservative MPP Lisa MacLeod is also pushing for the province to step in and provide emergency social services funding to help those suffering the most.
MacLeod, who represents Nepean-Carleton, says the request would be a one-time deal that would offset the city's $700,000 emergency plan which includes taxi chits, as well as assistance for the working poor and those who lost jobs during the strike.
MacLeod says calls to her constituency office for support from the Ontario Disability Support Program and Ontario Works have "increased dramatically" in recent weeks.
More than 2,300 OC Transpo bus drivers, dispatchers and mechanics walked off the job Dec. 10, after working without a contract since April.
With a report from CTV Ottawa's Vanessa Lee and Jonathan Rotondo