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Education uncertainty can’t go on 'indefinitely': McGuinty

Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty issued an open letter to teachers on Wednesday, outlining the government’s priorities in contract talks and warning the “uncertainty in education will not continue indefinitely.”

McGuinty’s statement comes a day before Education Minister Laurel Broten will outline the government’s next steps after a deal deadline for public teachers’ unions and local school boards passed on Dec. 31.

In the letter, he said the government prefers negotiated settlements but “after 10 months, the bargaining deadline has passed. Ontarians expect, rightly, that uncertainty in education will not continue indefinitely —and that our government will show a clear determination to balance the budget by 2017-18.”

He also praised teachers’ accomplishments.

“Today, Ontario teachers are among the highest paid in North America and have better working conditions. And you are worth every single penny,” McGuinty said, highlighting better test scores and increasing high school graduation rates.

Under Bill 115 the government can impose a contract on public system teachers. The Liberals used an agreement worked out with the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association (OECTA) as the framework in negotiations. That deal includes a wage freeze, 10 sick days — down from 20, and grandfathering out the practice of banking unused sick days.

Most controversially, Bill 115 gives Broten the power to end job action without debate in the legislature. Education unions claim the legislation violates their collective bargaining rights and they’ve filed court challenges.

Last week, Broten announced a tentative deal had been reached with the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), which represents about 55,000 school support workers, including educational assistants, custodians, librarians and secretaries. Sixty-five agreements with boards have also been ratified.

The Liberals insist they need to rein in costs but want to preserve their full-day kindergarten program and keep class sizes small.

“Instead of pay raises, we chose to protect programs,” McGuinty said, “and to protect the jobs of 10,000 teachers and 10,000 support staff.”

Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF) president Ken Coran said the leaders of all his union locals will meet in Toronto on Jan. 9 to “revisit strategies … and the support of the membership.”