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Politics McGuinty says teachers in ‘their heart of hearts’ want to bring back extracurriculars

Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty makes crafts with pupils at St. Fidelis Catholic Elementary School in Toronto after announcing renewed funding for elementary schools across the province to support a locked-door policy while students are in class.

Chris Young/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty is imploring the province's teachers to live up to their professional calling by providing extracurricular activities to their students.

In fact, he told reporters on Tuesday, he is counting on teachers to resume coaching sports teams and supervising school clubs because he believes they are fully committed in "their heart of hearts" to students.

"I believe that they find it difficult to hold themselves back and not give those students what we all see as part of an enriched, quality, publicly– funded education – after school and before school activities," Mr. McGuinty said, speaking publicly for the first time since his government imposed controversial new contracts on elementary and secondary teachers last Thursday.

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The contract the government has imposed makes strike action illegal, but it cannot force teachers to resume extracurricular activities, which they provide on a voluntary basis.

Mr. McGuinty telephoned the heads of two teacher unions last Friday, and personally asked them to reconsider their positions regarding extracurricular activities. However, his appeals fell on deaf ears.

Sam Hammond, president of the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario, has advised its members not to participate in voluntary activities. Ken Coran, president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation, said high-school teachers are being asked to do the same.

Leaders from both unions will hold meetings Wednesday to discuss next steps, which could include a possible day of protest and a lobbying campaign.

Mr. McGuinty, speaking directly to teachers, said they should put the two-year contract behind them and instead focus on the future. Teachers withdrew their participation in extracurricular actitivies in protest of Bill 115, which set a Dec. 31 deadline for bargaining, and enabled the government to impose a contract that freezes wages and cuts sick day benefits.

The government is promising to repeal the legislation later this month, now that the terms are in place throughout the duration of the contracts until August, 2014.

"We've committed to repealing Bill 115, which became a bit of a lightning rod for some of our teachers," Mr. McGuinty said.

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"I think it's important that we get that behind us now and focus on the future."

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