PC fight to preserve Bill 124 dominates opening night of nursing association AGM 
Alexis Wright/The Pointer

PC fight to preserve Bill 124 dominates opening night of nursing association AGM 

The annual general meeting for one of Ontario’s largest nurses’ associations opened with jubilant cheering and standing ovations for provincial opposition leaders who showed up to celebrate the work of these crucial healthcare providers, while criticizing the PC government’s ongoing court fight to uphold a wage cap for public sector workers—something already ruled unconstitutional in a previous court decision. 

Comments from all three leaders of the provincial opposition parties at the opening ceremony for the 98th annual general meeting of the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario (RNAO) received hefty applause and cheering from the audience of nursing professionals like RNs and graduating students from across the province. The annual meeting, which runs into the weekend, is themed ‘Change through Unity and Action’ and will see Ontario’s healthcare professionals discuss such topics as respect in the workplace; ending discrimination in the health sector, and of course, fighting for a fair wage for nurses who are facing unprecedented levels of burnout and resignations as the increasing stress of the job continues to be met by a provincial government refusing to pay them a fair wage—even after working through the gauntlet of the COVID-19 pandemic.


There was electric energy in the room during the opening night of the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario (RNAO) annual general meeting which began with a special performance by a DJ and dancers from Carnival Spice.

(Alexis Wright/The Pointer)


Leader of the NDP, MPP Marit Stiles, received a standing ovation after directing her attention at the PCs ongoing appeal to strike down a previous court decision that ruled its 2019 wage capping legislation, Bill 124, as unconstitutional, infringing on the right of public sector workers to freedom of association and collective bargaining. Stiles demanded the government withdraw its appeal, noting this ongoing court challenge is hampering Ontario’s healthcare sector from getting the nursing staff it desperately needs to keep hospitals and emergency rooms open across the province. 

“There is no question in my mind that the crisis in healthcare right now is a human resource crisis,” she said. “We believe that emergency rooms should stay open so that Ontarians can get care when they need it by having more staff available.”


MPP Marit Stiles became the leader of the Ontario NDP four months ago. Among the well wishes to nursing professionals, she and the two other opposition leaders wished those in the audience a safe and happy Pride weekend.

(Alexis Wright/The Pointer)


“We also believe in ending the appeal of the decision on Bill 124. It is not too late to stop taking nurses and other public sector workers to court and to give you the fairness and the respect that you deserve.”

In a November 2022 decision, Justice Markus Koehnen of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice found that Bill 124, Protecting a Sustainable Public Sector for Future Generations Act, 2019 infringed on rights protected under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, declaring the law “void and of no effect”. The Bill capped public sector wage increases at 1 percent for three years when it was introduced in 2019. 

The PC government immediately signalled it would be appealing the decision. Court hearings for the appeal began this week. 

Ontario’s financial accountability officer estimated that should the law remain struck down, the government would owe public sector workers approximately $8.4 billion in back-pay over the next five years. The government has already paid out approximately $1 billion in lost wages following the court ruling to public sector unions, including the Ontario Nurses Association. 

The RNAO released a statement in December, describing the the PC government’s decision to appeal the ruling as “shameful”, noting the government  “failed to understand the magnitude of the nursing crisis facing the province’s health system”.

“I truly believe they are going to lose their appeal, but the cost to our healthcare system over the last few years to fight that fight in those courts to suppress those wages—we will be suffering as a result of that for many years,” Stiles said. 

The speech from Stiles was a stark contrast from that of Sylvia Jones, MPP for Dufferin–Caledon, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health. Jones did not mention the Bill, the PC appeal, or its detrimental effects on the healthcare system, which was already struggling with increasing workload pressures before things were exacerbated by the COVID 19 pandemic. 

“We are very fortunate to have some of the most dedicated and highly trained nurses in the world working right here. You step up, day in and day out, and keep communities across the province safe and healthy, and we cannot thank you enough for everything you do,” Jones said. “Over the last several years, we have made progress,” she claimed.

This progress is hard to see in Brampton and Mississauga as wait times for patients to be admitted to hospitals continue to rise. In July of last year, Health Quality Ontario data show that Brampton Civic had some of the longest wait times in the province, with patients spending an average of 25.3 hours in the waiting room before being admitted. That number has increased to 26 hours. The decline is more stark at Trillium Health Partners Credit Valley Hospital. In July 2022, patients were waiting an average of 28 hours. As of June 23, they are now waiting an average of 43.7 hours. THP’s Mississauga Hospital has seen marginal gains with patient waits declining from 23.7 hours to 23 on average. 


Minister of Health and Deputy Premier, Sylvia Jones, was the sole representative from the PC Government to speak at the RNAO’s AGM opening ceremony.

(Alexis Wright/The Pointer)


Jones celebrated the PC’s decision to pass the Your Health Act which made Ontario the first jurisdiction to allow nurses from across the country to work in the province without having to go through additional training. The move was widely viewed as a band-aid response to the mass exodus of nurses who left to the US for better paying careers than Ontario was offering. Jones also mentioned they have “expanded” the province's nursing workforce with 13,000 new Registered Nurses (RN) added in 2022 negating the number who left while Bill 124 was active, and the approximate 10,000 nurses who did not renew their registrations for 2023.

“We know there are many healthcare workers across the country and the world who want to live and work in Ontario, and that is why our government passed legislation to make it easier and faster for nurses from other provinces to work right here,” she said.

This is not the first time Jones has refused to acknowledge the extent of the crisis in Ontario’s healthcare system. Ontario has the lowest number of hospital beds per capita in the country, and the last year has seen numerous emergency departments close in Ontario for days due to a lack of staffing. 


(Ontario Health Coalition) 


In July of last year as hospital wait times increased and emergency rooms battled constant staffing issues, a spokesperson for Jones’s office told The Pointer things were “running smoothly”

At the time, Brampton Civic, the City’s lone full-service hospital and the birthplace of the term ‘hallway medicine,’ had been in code gridlock for 31 days straight. This means the hospital is at a “standstill", and the number of patients waiting in the emergency department in need of a bed exceeds the amount of space available. When capacity is reached, patients end up waiting or being treated in hallways. The Canadian Press reported emergency departments in Perth, Clinton, Listowel and Wingham closed for hours or days at a time and the Province’s own data showed the average emergency room wait time in the province was 20 hours, a drastic increase from 2020 when in November of that year, Ontarians were waiting an average of 12.8 hours in the ER.

Interim leader for the Ontario Liberal Party, MPP John Fraser, also focused on Bill 124 in his remarks at the AGM.  

“The first reason I’m here is, well, I love you all,” he said. “The second reason I’m here is because I’m the son of a nurse. She left us a few days ago. She was lucky, she got the care that she gave.”

Fraser told stories of his mother’s career and her work ethic to go above and beyond. He shared that the reason his mother got into the profession in the first place was the good pay nurses received at the time. At the height of the baby boom, hospitals were providing competitive wages in order to attract enough staff to meet the growing demands. A departure from the working reality for many nurses today. 

Fraser’s mother passed away earlier this week. Mike Schreiner, leader of the Green Party of Ontario began his speech by offering strong words of support for the Liberal leader’s determination to attend the meeting under the circumstances.

“It says a lot that you are here tonight on the eve of your mom’s funeral and all of our hearts are with you,” Schreiner said. 

Premier Doug Ford was not in attendance at the meeting.

“The commitment I and all the opposition parties make is that we will stand with you and fight for fair wages, fair benefits, and better working conditions, and we will continue to push this government to stop wasting our precious tax dollars appealing an unconstitutional Bill 124,” Schreiner said.


Mike Schreiner, MPP for Guelph, has led the Green Party of Ontario for 15 years, winning the first ever Green seat at Queen’s Park in 2018.

(Alexis Wright/The Pointer)


Schreiner also took aim at moves by the PC government to privatize elements of Ontario’s healthcare system. In May, the PC government announced Bill 60, or Your Health Act, allowing private clinics to carry out publicly- funded procedures like cataract surgeries and certain diagnostic image testing, fuelling concerns among residents and healthcare advocates across the province that it was one step onto a slippery slope that leads  towards privatizing the healthcare system.

“Let’s be clear, after everything that all of you have given caring for our loved ones, advocating for a healthcare system that puts our loved ones front and centre, to going above and beyond the call of duty during the pandemic when so many could work from home, you went into work each and every day putting yourselves and your families at risk,” Schreiner said. “The least this government and the people of Ontario can do for you is to pay you back with fair wages, fair benefits, and better working conditions. You measure a society based on how you care for the people who care for your loved ones.”

The RNAO’s AGM is running from June 22 to 24 at the Toronto Hilton Hotel.


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