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New Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne sits with members of her cabinet for a photo opportunity prior to her first cabinet meeting at the Ontario Legislature in Toronto on Wednesday February 13, 2013. (Chris Young/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
New Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne sits with members of her cabinet for a photo opportunity prior to her first cabinet meeting at the Ontario Legislature in Toronto on Wednesday February 13, 2013. (Chris Young/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Ontario Premier optimistic dispute with teachers will end soon Add to ...

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne has expressed optimism that an impasse with the province’s teachers can be resolved, and sent a message to parents and students that her priority is to restore sports teams, clubs and after-school activities in public schools.

“I would say that I’m sorry that the conversation among the adults has meant that you have to do without your extracurriculars. I would say that I’m doing everything I can to get those extracurriculars back into your schools,” Ms. Wynne told reporters on Wednesday when asked what message she would send to students and their parents.

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Discussions initiated by Ms. Wynne’s office with school board officials and the heads of both teacher unions began two weeks ago, soon after the new Liberal leader was chosen. The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario met with the government and school boards on Wednesday. The Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation will meet with the two sides on Thursday. More meetings are being scheduled for next week.

Teachers withdrew from leading sports teams and clubs to protest against contracts that were imposed through legislation.

Ms. Wynne, a former education minister, has said repairing the province’s relationship with teachers is a priority for her government so that educators can resume their participation in extracurricular activities. She has pointed to deep changes to the negotiation process as a way forward.

Ms. Wynne on Wednesday described the discussions as “constructive” and said she was optimistic about a resolution.

“Would I like to be able to say that we’ve reached a conclusion and extracurriculars will be back tomorrow? I can’t give them that assurance right now. But I am optimistic, the conversations are very positive and I’m looking forward to a good outcome, I hope in the near future,” she told reporters.

Bill Tucker, director of education for the Thames Valley District School Board in southwestern Ontario, attended Wednesday’s meeting and described the talks as positive and collaborative. “I am cautiously optimistic,” Mr. Tucker said. “But it doesn’t take away from that fact that there are challenges that we’re going to have to work our way through.”

Ms. Wynne has indicated that she will not tear up current contracts, and no money is on the table.

Ken Coran, president of OSSTF, said the talks have so far focused on union leaders suggesting topics for further discussion, and examining different ways to solve the financial concerns.

“We are looking at current and future bargaining issues,” Mr. Coran said.

Follow us on Twitter: @calphonso, @adrianmorrow

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