McGuinty appeals for calm from Ontario teacher unions
Published Wednesday, September 12, 2012 7:04AM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, September 12, 2012 5:12PM EDT
TORONTO -- Ontario teachers shouldn't pull out of extracurricular activities because they're angry with the government for imposing new contracts and taking away their right to strike, Premier Dalton McGuinty said Wednesday.
Teacher-supervised activities outside the classroom are important to both students and families, and teachers know that "in their heart of hearts," he said after touring a Toronto college.
"I know we've got some differences, we're into a bit of a rough patch right now and I understand that and can even accept that," McGuinty said.
"But what I can't accept would be any decision on the part of teachers to withdraw services that are in fact part and parcel of what kids have come to expect from Ontario's great teachers."
McGuinty's optimistic tone contrasted sharply with the outrage expressed by three powerful unions who've declared war against his government over new anti-strike legislation that became law Tuesday.
The unions, who represent 191,000 teachers and school workers, are urging them to skip any extracurricular activities.
The Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation encouraged a one-day protest Wednesday. But the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario went a step further, asking its 76,000 members to withdraw from volunteer duties and meetings on "McGuinty Mondays."
ETFO president Sam Hammond suggested that some teachers may decide to pull out more often.
During a recent wage dispute in British Columbia, teachers refused to perform certain administrative tasks, such as filling out report cards, and staged a three-day walkout.
The Ontario legislation gives the government the power over the next two years to ban strikes and lockouts, as well as rein in wages and cut benefits.
The minority Liberals argue the legislation was needed to help them eliminate a $15-billion deficit and ensure the school year isn't disrupted by job action.
McGuinty has repeatedly warned since last spring's budget that he's prepared to legislate a wage freeze for other public sector workers if his government can't get it through collective bargaining.
Finance Minister Dwight Duncan said he's still looking at all the options of what that legislation may look like, but the premier suggested that it may be a single wage-freeze bill.
"My sense is we'll be talking about something that is more holistic in nature, that's more across-the-board," he said.
The teachers' unions and a civil liberties group have condemned the legislation for stripping them of their right to strike and are planning to fight it all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada.
Asked whether he would use the notwithstanding clause to prevent the unions from launching their court challenge, McGuinty replied: "I'm not going to speak to the legalities."
Duncan said it wan't something the government had considered.
The labour battle marked a major turnaround in the cozy relationship between McGuinty and his former allies, who've poured millions of dollars into keeping his party in power.
The teachers' unions are now turning their money and power against the minority Liberals as well as the Conservatives, who teamed up to pass the legislation.
Last week, the unions got the vote out for the New Democrats in the Kitchener-Waterloo byelection that could have given McGuinty a majority government. The NDP won the riding for the first time in their history, while the Liberals came in third.
There are signs some members of the Liberal caucus aren't happy with the hardline approach towards teachers. Backbencher Kim Craitor didn't show up for the final vote on the legislature Tuesday, and former education minister Kathleen Wynne acknowledged that the Liberals paid the price in the byelection.
Minority governments, by nature, must be ready to fight an election at any time. But McGuinty said he can handle any anti-Liberal campaign by the unions.
"Teachers can do whatever they want, of course, at election time," he said. "In the meantime, let's keeping doing what we've been doing together, let's work as hard as we can on behalf of students."
Extracurricular activities are a "vital component" of students' education, said Annie Kidder, executive director of People for Education. Both sides should find a way to break the impasse for their sake.
"It's incredibly important that all of the grown-ups remember that education is actually about students, it's not about us," she said.