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Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne during question period Sept. 9, 2013.

The Globe and Mail

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne says a regulation that forces Ontario school boards to hire teachers based on seniority for long-term supply jobs may have been an "over-correction" and that her government is looking to change it.

The government said it introduced Regulation 274 to prevent nepotism and favouritism in hiring practices, but critics charge that seniority-based hiring will exacerbate the unemployment crisis hurting new teachers. The provision requires that principals hire from within the first five teachers on the seniority list for long-term occasional contracts, instead of simply picking the person they believe is best suited for a position. Long-term supply jobs are traditionally the steppingstone to permanent positions.

On Wednesday, Ms. Wynne conceded that the government may have gone too far with the regulation.

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"We've heard these concerns, we're taking them seriously and we want to do what we can to make it right," she said in the legislature. "I recognize that there may have been an over-correction in terms of some of the issues that had been brought forward."

Education Minister Liz Sandals is currently studying the matter and looking for ways to tweak the regulation. She said some boards are trying to negotiate hiring protocols with their unions and, if they can reach agreement, she will consider signing off on them. The government is also consulting with school boards to see if it needs to implement any larger changes.

But Ms. Sandals said there is a good reason to regulate hiring.

What I don't want happening is what we know has happened in many schools … that when there's a vacancy, the job isn't posted and somebody just says 'Hey, I know this great new young teacher down the street, I'm hiring them' and nobody else knows about the job posting," she said. "Given all the unemployed teachers we've got out there, that's not fair."

The Progressive Conservatives, however, argue that the regulation should be done away with entirely and principals given a freer hand to pick staff based on their abilities. Education critic Lisa MacLeod introduced a private member's bill to this effect Wednesday. Under Ms. MacLeod's plan, school boards would instead draw up their own hiring protocols, which she said would be enough to protect against nepotism.

As it is now, the PCs argue, highly qualified teachers are stuck in the unemployment line for long periods of time, waiting to accrue seniority.

"Whoever's highest on the seniority list – not the best teacher – will get the job interview. This has created a bit of a crisis across our education system here in Ontario," Ms. MacLeod said. "At the end of the day, the education system is built for one group of people: students. If we cannot put the best teachers before them, then we are failing them."

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If Ms. Sandals is concerned about schools not posting jobs, she could simply enact a regulation mandating that they do, Tory Leader Tim Hudak said, rather than forcing them to hire based on seniority.

The seniority hiring rule was established during contract talks with the province's Catholic teachers and came into effect in January at the same time as Bill 115, a controversial piece of legislation that imposed the terms of teacher contracts in the public school system.

School boards have voiced their opposition to the regulation. They argue that it will hurt new teachers. New teachers have to have at least 20 days of supply teaching to be interviewed for the long-term list. If they make it on, they are now at the bottom of the seniority pile, and will be hard-pressed to find a contract position, school-board officials say.

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