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Ontario Catholic school teachers vote 97 per cent in favour of strike

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The Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association (OECTA) has voted in favour of authorizing a strike action, if necessary, according to a statement made by the group Thursday.

The province-wide vote took place Oct. 18 and 19, it said. Ninety-seven per cent voted in favour of the mandate.

President Rene Jansen in de Wal said the vote sends a “clear message” to the Doug Ford government that “Catholic teachers want to see meaningful progress and results at the bargaining table.”

According to Jansen in de Wal, the province has not addressed a lack of resources, support and time needed by Ontario’s teachers in order to best serve students.

“As we move forward with our next bargaining dates, the Ford Conservative government and Catholic trustee representatives need to understand that Catholic teachers – 45,000 strong – are united in solidarity, and prepared to do whatever is necessary to reach an agreement that supports all students, families, and teachers – one that addresses the pressing issues faced in classrooms across the province,” she said in OECTA’S statement.

Following news of the vote, Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce issued a statement stating his government stands with parents “who insist that their children stay in class without disruption,” calling the move towards a strike “disappointing.”

“We’ve already reached a fair deal with one of the largest teacher unions to keep kids in class, and we urge that OECTA does the same by coming to the table, signing a deal, and committing to keeping kids in class."

On Wednesday, Ontario's public English elementary school teachers also moved closer to job action, with 95 per cent of the federation voting in favour of a strike mandate.

The votes were called by the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) and OECTA in September after both unions rejected the province’s offer to take outstanding issues at the bargaining table to binding arbitration.

The bargaining process with the four major teachers' unions started nearly a year and a half ago. The Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF) is the only one of the four main teachers’ unions that agreed to the province’s offer.

Last month, nearly 80 per cent of OSSTF members voted in favour of a deal with the government to continue contract talks until Oct. 27 before sending any remaining items to an arbitrator. The agreement means the union will not take strike action while trying to hammer out the details of its latest collective agreement.

In an interview with CP24 Thursday, hours before OECTA announced their vote, Lecce referenced his ministry’s deal with the province’s secondary school teachers. There to speak to EFTO’s Wednesday vote, Lecce said the Ford government had just been able to achieve “something historic” with OSSTF.

Lecce underlined that his priority is to keep students in the classroom, and noted the OSSTF deal achieves it.

“The message I hope [EFTO] is hearing from Ontarians is that they won't tolerate disruption or strikes,” he said during the interview.

“They want kids in school and this government and our premier believes fundamentally that if we want to lift academic achievement standards and we want to help support positive mental physical health, kids have to be in school.”

In a joint statement released in August, ETFO, OECTA and AEFO said entering into binding arbitration “would not support students,” and it would “all but guarantee” that key issues brought forward at their respective bargaining tables “would not be addressed.”

“The Ford Conservative government has continually refused to engage in substantive discussions with our unions, despite our many attempts to make progress at our respective bargaining tables,” the statement, released on Aug. 25, read.

“We once again call on the government to respect our right to free and fair collective bargaining, and come to our bargaining tables prepared to engage in meaningful discussions about critical issues facing publicly funded education in Ontario – issues such as increased violence in schools, resources and supports for student mental health, teachers’ use of professional judgement, and addressing the teacher shortage.”

When it comes to public support, internal government polling provided to CTV News Toronto suggests the majority of Ontarians may not be supportive of strike action.

The polling, conducted by Leger on behalf of the Ford government between Sept. 28 and Oct. 3, shows that about 68 per cent of respondents believe teachers unions should accept binding arbitration to avoid a strike.

About 46 per cent of respondents said they would hold teacher unions mostly responsible if a strike were to occur, the online poll of 1,035 people found, while about 34 per cent said they would hold the province responsible.

More than half of respondents said they would support the use of legislation to stop teachers from going forward with strikes that would result in school closures. It should be noted that online polls do not provide a margin of error.

With files from CP24's Aisling Murphy and Codi Wilson, and CTV News Toronto’s Katherine DeClerq. 

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