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Canada Ontario strikes tentative deal with elementary-school teachers

Ontario Education Minister Mitzie Hunter says the tentative deal, if ratified, would extend the ETFO’s contract by two years.

Christopher Katsarov/The Globe and Mail

The Ontario government has reached a tentative agreement with one of its key teachers' unions to extend the current contract in a move that buys the ruling Liberal party a degree of labour peace during an upcoming election.

The tentative deal with the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario means that Premier Kathleen Wynne, who is in the fight of her life to win voters, won't have to contend with labour disputes in elementary schools.

Her government has recently reached tentative deals with a number of education unions, including the Catholic and French teachers' unions.

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Only the province's public high-school teachers' union, the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation, has not as yet reached an agreement with the government.

The tentative agreement with the ETFO, announced Thursday, comes after Ms. Wynne blocked Toronto Mayor John Tory's plan to bring tolls to some of the city's highways because of worries it would hurt her party in the 905 belt that surrounds Toronto.

Education Minister Mitzie Hunter said in a statement that the tentative deal, if ratified, would extend the ETFO's contract by two years. She described the discussions that led to the deal as "extremely collaborative and productive."

All collective agreements with education workers in the province are to expire in August, and even a one-year extension would have given the Liberals labour peace during an election, which is expected to be held in the spring of 2018.

Only after The Globe and Mail revealed in September that the government was in discussions to extend the contract with the OSSTF did the Liberals confirm they had offered extensions to all unions that were part of a lawsuit against the province over Bill 115, a 2012 piece of legislation that imposed contracts on education workers and suspended their right to strike.

The OSSTF, the ETFO and the Canadian Union of Public Employees, among others, won a court ruling earlier this year deeming Bill 115 unconstitutional.

The unions were discussing compensation with the province; the contract extension was an option the government put on the table.

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"Our goals were to negotiate terms that improve the working conditions of ETFO members and the learning conditions of Ontario's elementary students," the ETFO president Sam Hammond said in a statement. "ETFO believes these goals have been achieved."

The date for ratification votes is still to be determined, the ETFO said.

The current agreement ended a tough series of negotiations with all education-worker unions, during which the OSSTF held strikes at school boards in the Toronto area and in Northern Ontario, and the government legislated teachers back to work.

Wrestling a deficit, the province insisted all labour deals be "net zero," meaning something must be cut to offset the cost of raises.

But Ms. Wynne recently indicated that she was ready to loosen the purse strings for the next round of talks with public-sector unions.

The Liberals need to keep a strong relationship with teachers' unions, in part because teachers are key members of the party's political base and in part because no labour disputes draw more attention than those involving schools.

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