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A sign criticizing Ontario’s McGuinty government is held by a protester at a rally for public education and democracy organized by the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontarioat Queens Park in Toronto on Aug. 28, 2012.

Aaron Vincent Elkaim/The Canadian Press

As a former favourite of the teachers' unions and the husband of a kindergarten teacher, few anticipated that education might become a problematic file for Premier Dalton McGuinty. But as news of his resignation reached education insiders on Monday, many felt that his recent falling out with school boards and teachers helped push him out the door.

"I've seen him a very different man over the last few months. He's tired," said Michael Barrett, president of the Ontario Public School Boards' Association. "I'm sure that the division that has been created over education certainly has been a contributing factor."

Overall, Mr. McGuinty's track record on education is strong. During his nearly 10 years as premier, high school graduation rates and standardized test scores have climbed, and the education sector had an unusually long stretch of labour peace.

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Over the past six months, however, that record began to unravel. In August, when Mr. McGuinty's Liberals introduced Bill 115, legislation that forced teachers to take a wage freeze, cut their sick days and restricted their ability to strike, his warm relationship with the teachers' unions was officially over.

Even the school boards stopped their support. They felt cut out of negotiations and that Bill 115 eroded their powers in terms of teacher hiring and student assessment.

Teachers were so angry over Bill 115 that they began withdrawing voluntary services such as leading clubs and coaching of their own volition and without a directive from their union leaders. The result is a school year that remains uncertain and a patchwork of teacher job action that changes school to school, week to week.

"There are some phenomenal initiatives that took place under Mr. McGuinty's leadership," Mr. Barrett said. "The unfortunate thing is where he's leaving us."

Mr. McGuinty needed to find savings so the government could preserve other education initiatives that were popular with the unions and parents, including full-day kindergarten and caps on primary class sizes. Although the teachers' unions were willing to accept general wage freezes over the next two years, they refused to give up experience-based pay bumps for younger teachers, and their 20 annual sick days.

Conservative education critic Lisa MacLeod said the teacher unions that supported Mr. McGuinty through most of his premiership became his undoing.

"He ended up giving so much to unions, and at some point we had no more money to give to unions and it backfired on him," she said.

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