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Lecce calls teachers' unions decision to strike 'irresponsible'

Last Updated Feb 12, 2020 at 4:18 pm EDT

Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce speaks in Toronto on Wednesday, February 12, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

Education Minister Stephen Lecce calls plans by all four teachers’ unions to go on strike on February 21 “irresponsible.”

Lecce was addressing the Canadian Club at the Royal York hotel about preparing students for the jobs of the future as more than 1,000 teachers protested outside.

“It’s time to get a deal,” he said to the audience that included all four union leaders. “The students of this province deserve to be in class.”

Lecce says he believes the people of Ontario overwhelmingly support the government when it comes to teachers compensation and says he’s not going to raise taxes to increase compensation for teachers.

“Look, I’ve made clear, and I’ve said in the legislature, I do not believe that this is a fiscal exercise,” said Lecce. “This is a plan where we’re trying to improve education by adding more dollars to the system. But it’s getting greater return on the investments, optimizing your tax dollars.”

Lecce also reiterated his call for a private mediator to be brought in.

“The fact that I’ve heard that the teacher unions have opted to escalate again next week knowing that there is still a pathway to consider private mediation, to invoke an option that worked with CUPE just months ago and that would help us end the impasse that is upending so many young people’s lives, I think, is an irresponsible choice.”

The education minister faced some heckling from the crowd as he spoke, notably from Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario boss Sam Hammond, who accused Lecce of lying, especially when it came to some of the dollar figures he was quoting.

“I did everything on behalf of my 83,000 members to contain myself,” said Hammond. “I could not, a couple of times, based on what this minister was saying.”

Teachers filled the sidewalk outside the hotel, stretching nearly the entire block, criticizing the government’s plan to increase class sizes and calling for Lecce to be fired.