Legislation to impose new contracts on Ontario teachers will not be declared a confidence motion by the minority Liberal government, meaning its defeat would not trigger an election, Premier Dalton McGuinty said Friday.
“It’s about our shared confidence in our future, it’s about our confidence in our schools,” Mr. McGuinty said after touring a school in Ottawa.
“I think fundamentally it’s about the confidence that parents need to have knowing that schools will be open, teachers will be there, the adults will have gotten their act together...to ensure that we impart stability, predictability and certainty when it comes to publicly-funded education.”
Mr. McGuinty also hinted the legislature will be recalled the week of Aug. 26 to impose a two-year contract if teachers haven’t signed new deals with school boards.
“I expect that the house leader will have an announcement next week with respect to when the house might resume,” he said.
The government hopes it won’t have to introduce the legislation, but can’t allow the old teachers’ contracts to roll over and automatically give raises of about 5.5 per cent, added Mr. McGuinty.
“They’ve all had reasonable, responsible pay hikes during the course of the last nine years,” he said.
“I’m confident that among most teachers they see us as being balanced and thoughtful and responsible and fair-minded.”
Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak said the Liberals have badly bungled the situation and he’s not prepared to say just yet if the Tories would vote for the bill to impose a two-year contract on all teachers.
“I do hope the legislature is called back immediately so we can ask questions about this bill, make sure it has teeth in it so you can actually enforce a pay freeze and that we have the right provisions to prevent any kind of strikes or lockouts,” Mr. Hudak told reporters.
“We’ll be practical about this. Our goal is going to be to make sure students and the parents aren’t paying a price for this kind of incompetence from the government in managing the union file.”
Mr. Hudak complained the Liberal bill, based on an agreement with English Catholic teachers, would still allow up to 40 per cent of teachers to get pay raises in exchange for having all teachers take three unpaid days off in the second year of the contract.
The Tories want a legislated wage freeze for all 1.3 million Ontario public sector workers, including doctors, nurses and civil servants.
“We’re not going to let the unions off the hook,” said Mr. Hudak. “Pay freeze across the board.”
The New Democrats accused the Liberals of misleading parents and trying to create a crisis in education to help win two by-elections set for Sept. 6, a charged flatly denied Friday by Education Minister Laurel Broten.
There are serious consequences to not having new teachers’ contracts by Sept. 1, especially when some teachers unions have already scheduled strike votes, said Ms. Broten.
“It is a real and meaningful consequence to our schools to see $473-million pulled out of our classrooms and go to teacher pay,” she said.
The Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, said it’s members have already guaranteed they will be in classes next month when school resumes.
“I’m sick and tired of the public being mislead, and parents and students being used as pawns in some kind of political crisis they are creating,” OSSTF president Ken Coran said in an interview.
“It’s not fair to anyone. It’s not being transparent, and it’s not the way good government should operate.”
If the legislation to impose a contract on teachers is passed, the government would also have the power to ban a strike or lockout for the next two school years.