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Ontario education minister pushes 'keep kids in school' message at early morning anti-strike debate


Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce honed in on his mantra to “keep kids in school” at an early morning debate in an effort to push through anti-strike legislation that could stop 55,000 education workers from walking off the job on Friday.

The legislature met at 5 a.m. today for the second reading of the “Keeping Students in Schools Act,” which aims to impose a four-year contract on education workers and bar them from striking.

“Right now is a critical time for our students. Right now, our students need uninterrupted in-class learning,” Lecce said during his hour long opening statement on Tuesday morning.

His remarks largely focused on the necessity to “keep kids in school” after two years of pandemic disrupted learning and made little mention of the support staff sitting on the other side of the bargaining table.

“Young people carried the weight of this pandemic as their lives were put on hold,” he said.

The provincial government is aiming to get this legislation passed before Friday’s planned strike. Lecce introduced the legislation Monday after an emergency mediated session the day before between the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), the province, a mediator and school board representatives failed to yield a deal.

Lecce said it’s the Progressive Conservative's “moral obligation” to introduce this legislation as it brings “stability” to students and protects their right to learn.

“I'm concerned about the impacts of the shutdown … we cannot afford more disruption,” the education minister said. 


Members of Ontario's legislature opposing the anti-strike bill said it was “horrendous” that the average salary of a worker in the CUPE bargaining unit asking for a wage bump is $39,000 as inflation enters into double digits.

They also pointed to the province's 27-week closure of classrooms, which they noted as the “worst record during the pandemic of any province,” as the government’s fault to blame – not the education workers.

“This is a debate about the fundamentals of our democracy,” Spadina-Fort York MPP Chris Glover said in response to the government’s intention to invoke the notwithstanding clause, which allows the provincial legislature to override portions of the charter.

In this case, the province is aiming to push through their anti-strike bill and prevent constitutional challenges, which Glover called a “slippery slope” that he finds “extremely frightening.”

Noting that the majority of education workers are women, Windsor West MPP Lisa Gretzky said the legislation put forward is in effect “bullying women.”

“What this is saying to every woman in the province, is what they've been saying for centuries, centuries, to women. Just go sit in the corner and be quiet,” she said. 

Laura Walton, the president of CUPE’s Ontario School Board Council of Unions, said the fight is “far from over.”

“I think what we need to remember is that if this truly was about ensuring a good deal, if this was about preventing a strike, there's so many other options than stripping away the charter rights and the human rights of workers. This clearly shows what the minister has intended all the way along,” Walton told CP24 Tuesday morning.


Despite the possible legislation, CUPE, which represents custodians, librarians, early childhood educators, education assistants, and administrative staff at Ontario’s English and French public and Catholic boards, says its members will still walk off the job on Friday for a one-day protest.

Both the Toronto District School Board and the Toronto Catholic District School Board said they will be closed to in-person learning on Friday if the walkout goes ahead as planned. The English public and Catholic boards in Durham also plan to do the same.

Ontario’s education workers have been without a collective agreement since Aug. 31 and despite several rounds of talks, a new one has yet to be negotiated.

Among other things, CUPE wants a yearly wage increase of $3.25/hour (11.7 per cent), early childhood educators in every kindergarten class, five additional paid days before the start of the school year, 30 minutes of paid daily prep time, an increase in overtime pay, and a $100 million investment in new job creation.

The Ford government’s latest offer, proposed at an emergency mediated session Sunday afternoon, is a four-year deal that includes a 2.5 per cent annual raise for workers who make under $43,000, and a 1.5 per cent yearly wage increase for those who make more. This is up from their initial offer of annual increases of a two per cent raise for workers who make less than $40,000 and a 1.25 per cent raise otherwise.

In early October, CUPE announced its members had voted 96.5 per cent in favour of walking off the job if a contract agreement could not be reached with the provincial government.

The union then asked the Ontario Ministry of Labour to grant what is known as a no-board report, which means that a board of conciliation will not be appointed. That go-ahead, which allowed the workers to legally walk off the job in 17 days (Nov. 3), was given on Oct. 17. Five days notice must be given before the union can go on strike.

Last week, mediated negotiations began between the two sides, but broke down after just two days.

All five of Ontario’s key education unions are currently in the midst of bargaining with the province after their contracts expired on Aug. 31.

More to come. This is a developing story. Top Stories

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