McGuinty sends open letter to Ontario teachers

TORONTO, Ont. – Premier Dalton McGuinty is telling Ontario teachers the terms being offered to them are fair given the province’s circumstances.

The comment is contained in a three-page open letter released ahead of Thursday’s announcement by Education Minister Laurel Broten where she’s expected to outline the province’s next step in the on-going dispute with teachers.

The premier’s letter praises Ontario teachers for making the province’s schools a great place to learn.

But he also said Ontario teachers are among the highest paid in North America.

It is possible Broten will announce on Thursday that she is imposing contracts on teachers under Bill 115.

The province managed to reach a deal before the deadline with the Canadian Union of Public Employees, which represents about 55,000 workers, including educational assistants, early childhood educators, instructors, custodians, librarians and secretaries.

But the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario and the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, who represent tens of thousands of teachers, have yet to sign any new agreements.

Elementary public school teachers staged rotating one-day strikes across the province last month in protest of the law, which also allows the government to cut their benefits and freeze wages of most teachers. Their high school counterparts have cut out extra-curricular activities and some administrative duties, but have not walked out of class.

ETFO has offered not to stage any more strikes if the Liberals agree not to impose new contracts on them until a new premier is chosen at the end of the month. But the union has warned of further disruption if the government doesn’t hold off.

OSSTF president Ken Coran said his members have already voted to stage one-day political protests if the government imposes a new contract on them. He’s planning to meet with local presidents on Jan. 9 to discuss what their next steps will be.

The protest could include taking days of action — which may or may not include walkouts, he said. But they can hold the protest any day of the week.

Even though teachers would no longer be in a legal strike position if the government foists new contracts on them, high school teachers could still continue to cut out extracurricular activities, which are voluntary.

Asked if teachers might stage a wildcat strike, Coran replied: “We’re not ruling anything out right now. There are certainly no plans at this time to do that.”

Conservative Leader Tim Hudak is calling on the Liberals to take that action before students return from the Christmas break.

“Why else would you pass a bill if you’re not going to use it? It was way back in what, April, when they started negotiating? It’s been eight months,” Hudak said.

“So why are parents and kids facing ongoing chaos in our schools because the government is paralyzed?”

NDP education critic Peter Tabuns said judging by McGuinty’s letter, it sounds as though that’s exactly what the Liberals plan to do. And if they do, he said, the labour fight with teachers will worsen and overshadow the Liberal leadership race.

“They should rescind Bill 115 and go back, approach negotiations in a very serious way, and remember that the well-being of students and families across Ontario is in the balance,” he said.

“And that should be motivating the Liberals when they go to the table, not their own personal political fortunes.”

The Liberals have argued that they can’t afford pay hikes for teachers because they need the money to keep classes small and roll out all-day kindergarten, while also battling a $14.4-billion deficit.

They point to deals they reached with Catholic and francophone teachers over the summer as proof that they’ve negotiated deals that work for both sides.

But the unions, including CUPE Ontario, say the law violates their constitutional rights and have vowed to fight it all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada.

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