This time, it’s the schools.
Two weeks ago, the critical issue was revelations about Premier Dalton McGuinty’s role in the politically motivated cancellation of a power plant in Mississauga. Now it is the safety of Ontario students that makes it vital that the Premier undo his self-serving prorogation of the legislature and get back to work.
Mr. McGuinty’s minority government adopted a tough austerity bill over the summer that froze teachers’ wages, cut their sick days and limited their right to strike. It was a controversial but bold move made necessary by the province’s growing deficit. The teachers’ unions are challenging the bill in court; they have also given some of their members the green light to strike and to impose job actions such as limiting their duties inside and outside of schools.
The job actions have begun and, perhaps inevitably, school boards in Ontario, including the Toronto District School Board, the largest in the province, are now considering closing some high schools out of concern for students’ safety. This would be a disaster for students, especially those in their senior year.
Once again, as with the power-plant scandal, the Ontario Legislative Assembly remains darkened while outside its doors the province is swirling in controversy – controversy that is the creation of the McGuinty government. Instead of a government, Ontario has a lone education minister, Laurel Broten, dutifully making noises about using the wage-freeze legislation to take unspecified action against teachers who strike or against schools that lock out teachers – both of which are prohibited under the act. Meanwhile, negotiations between the government and the teachers are supposed to be continuing. In fact, those negotiations were one of the lame reasons Mr. McGuinty cited in his decision to prorogue the Legislature in October. But, at present, there is no one at the bargaining table.
The Legislature needs to be sitting so the opposition can hold the government’s feet to the fire and ensure talks with the teachers’ unions progress. It needs to be sitting so the government can be seen to be protecting the safety and the education of Ontario students. And, of course, it needs to be sitting so the power-plant scandal can be properly investigated. Ontario needs a government, not a government-in-hiding.