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Politics Ontario high school teachers’ union postpones strike vote ahead of wage-freeze bill

Ontario Education Minister Laurel Broten appealed to elementary school teachers to return to a provincial discussion table to help set the framework for negotiations.

Colin Perkel/The Canadian Press

One of the unions that opposes controversial legislation to force new contracts on thousands of Ontario teachers says it has postponed strike votes.

The Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation says it's making progress bargaining with school boards and won't need to go ahead with the votes unless a board seeks conciliation.

Union president Ken Coran says the school year is not in jeopardy and insists the government's bill isn't necessary.

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The legislation the minority Liberals are introducing today would force teachers to take a wage freeze and cut their benefits, as well as ban strikes and lockouts.

The New Democrats say they won't support the bill, but the Conservatives say they will, putting to rest any doubts about whether the bill will pass.

Opposition Leader Tim Hudak says he'd prefer a legislated wage freeze for all public-sector workers, but he'll take what he can get.

The governing Liberals say in the spirit of compromise, they've made some changes to the bill regarding diagnostic tests and hiring procedures that the Tories want.

But Education Minister Laurel Broten says the government will impose the measures through regulation, rather than keeping them in the bill.

She says the Tories are aware that they'll just claw back the changes they wanted through regulation.

Mr. Hudak has said he'd press for changes to the bill, but refuses to use his clout to ensure they're made.

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He also won't say whether the Tories will vote in favour of the bill or abstain from the vote.

All three parties are also making a hard push in Kitchener-Waterloo and Vaughan, where voters will be heading to the polls on Sept. 6.

Premier Dalton McGuinty will be speaking to reporters in Waterloo today, where he's stopped several times since announcing the by-elections that give him a shot at a majority government.

There's still a bumpy road ahead for students and parents. Three unions who oppose the government's demands are planning a rally Tuesday at Queen's Park to protest it.

They say there will be no labour disruptions this fall, but aren't ruling out job action later in the year.

The Liberals recalled the legislature two weeks early to introduce the legislation. If it doesn't go through, old contracts with teachers will automatically roll over, giving them pay raises and benefits that the province can't afford, they said.

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The NDP say the Liberals are trying to create a crisis to win the two potentially game-changing by-elections.

They've spread fear that the school year is in jeopardy to distract voters from the fiasco at the province's troubled air ambulance service and a $190-million bill to cancel a gas plant that saved Liberal seats in the last election, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said.

The return of the legislature also means the return of the hearings on Ornge, the air ambulance service.

The committee that's examining the scandal surrounding Ornge, which is currently under a criminal investigation, is scheduled to meet Wednesday. But it's not yet clear who may be called in to testify at the hearing.

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