We’ve hit ‘rough patch’ with Ontario public school teachers: McGuinty
Many public elementary and high school teachers don’t want to follow their unions’ edict to walk out Friday and Jan. 16 to protest the government’s decision to impose new contracts, Premier Dalton...
TORONTO - Many public elementary and high school teachers don’t want to follow their unions’ edict to walk out Friday and Jan. 16 to protest the government’s decision to impose new contracts, Premier Dalton McGuinty said Thursday.
Even though there’s a wall of angry teachers protesting at recent Liberal events, they’re not a “good sampling of teacher opinion,” he said after touring a greenhouse in Newmarket, north of Toronto.
“My sense is that most teachers want to be in the classroom, and they want to be participating in extracurricular activities as well,” he said. “I mean, that’s why they got into teaching in the first place.”
The government is seeking injunctions to stop the scheduled walkouts. One is expected to be heard by the Ontario Labour Relations Board on Thursday afternoon. The papers have not yet been filed for the high school teachers, McGuinty said.
Unions representing public elementary and high school teachers said McGuinty provoked the scheduled walkouts by imposing new contracts on their 126,000 members with a new anti-strike law that’s come under legal fire.
The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario argues the action planned for Friday is not a strike, but a one-day political protest that’s protected under the Constitution. The majority of their members also voted for the protest.
But the premier insists it’s an illegal strike since those teachers are no longer in a legal strike position.
McGuinty said he doesn’t believe that teachers want to get into legal trouble, no matter what the unions say.
“I believe many of their teachers are saying, ‘OK, McGuinty’s put in place this Bill 115, we have contracts that are in place for the next couple of years. Let’s get back to work,’” he said.
Teachers can protest before or after school, on the weekend, or on a statutory holiday, McGuinty said. Just not during school hours.
Under Ontario’s labour laws, engaging in illegal strike activity can carry a penalty of up to $2,000 per person and $25,000 for a trade union.
McGuinty appealed to school boards to find a way to keep their schools open, but said he won’t compensate parents for last-minute childcare.
It’s the latest twist in the labour drama that’s engulfed the Liberals, who have alienated a powerful group that’s helped them stay in power for nine years.
With just two weeks to go before his successor is chosen, it wasn’t the swan song Ontario’s self-described “education premier” had in mind.
“Well, the teachers have kept my exit interesting for me, I’ll say that much,” McGuinty said, chuckling.
He defended his education record, saying he’s worked with teachers over the past nine years to shrink class sizes, hire more educators, raise graduation rates and test scores.
“So we’re having a difficult — I called it a rough patch,” he said.
“Sometimes we’re so close to the painting, we can’t stand back and look at it in an expansive way. We’ve done a lot of good things when it comes to education in Ontario. We’ve made some tremendous progress. And I think any teacher would tell you that.”
The Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation said it will go ahead with a one-day protest on Jan. 16 if the government has not repealed Bill 115, rescinded the imposed contracts and restored free collective bargaining.
Education Minister Laurel Broten imposed collective agreements Jan. 3 on public school teachers and education workers, which cut their benefits and froze most of their wages to battle the province’s $14.4-billion deficit.
She promised to repeal the law — which four unions are challenging in court — by the end of the month.
The Canadian Press
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