Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

Legal arguments drag on over Ontario teachers’ walkout

Ontario Education Minister Laurel Broten during a meeting with Globe and Mail reporters at the Globe and Mail building on Jan. 7.

Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail

As elementary teachers prepare to walk off the job on Friday, a hearing into whether they are staging an illegal strike continued late into the night.

The Ontario government asked the Ontario Labour Relations Board to declare that the one-day protest by teachers is an illegal strike. But by late Thursday night, the board was still hearing legal arguments. The government is facing the closing of elementary schools for the second time this academic year.

"Somewhere in the neighbourhood of a million children won't be going to school," Robert Charney, a lawyer for the education ministry, told the hearing.

Story continues below advertisement

Mr. Charney argued that the one-day protest is illegal under Bill 115, the controversial legislation that bans teachers from striking.

"When teachers take a day of protest, it results in the closure of schools," he said. "We know that that's a strike."

Lawyers representing the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario argued at the hearing that the protest is not an illegal strike. They said the courts are the proper forum to deal with the matter.

But labour board chairman Bernard Fishbein said he is not prepared to refer the matter to the courts, where a hearing would not take place until September.

ETFO lawyer Howard Goldblatt said there are no plans by elementary teachers to hold further days of protest. He suggested that relations between teachers and the government could improve when a new Liberal leader is chosen this month.

"We are hoping there will be a fundamental sea change in the way the government addresses the sector," Mr. Goldblatt said.

Mr. Fishbein said ETFO's pledge not to stage further protests is based on the hope that Premier Dalton McGuinty's successor will review Bill 115.

Story continues below advertisement

"I have no way of knowing whether that is an overly optimistic assessment or not," Mr. Fishbein said.

Teachers are angry with the government for introducing Bill 115, which set a Dec. 31 deadline for bargaining, and enabled the province to impose a contract last week.

Elementary and high school teachers have withdrawn their participation in sports teams and clubs, with union leaders indicating these activities could be withheld until the fall of 2014, the duration of the contract.

High school teachers also plan to walk off the job on Jan. 16.

Mr. McGuinty appealed to elementary teachers earlier on Thursday to resolve their differences with his government outside the classroom and ignore their union leaders' calls to walk off the job.

"I understand that we have some differences. I respect their right to give expression to those differences," Mr. McGuinty said. "Let's leave the students out of it."

Story continues below advertisement

Mr. McGuinty also suggested that the militant stand of OETF president Sam Hammond might not necessarily reflect the views of his members, who want to "give their all" to students.

"I think executives have to be careful that they don't allow a gap to grow between them and their thinking and where teachers are on the front lines," he said. "I think teachers on the front lines want to teach. They want to give their best to students."

Report an error Licensing Options
About the Author

Karen Howlett is a national reporter based in Toronto. She returned to the newsroom in 2013 after covering Ontario politics at The Globe’s Queen’s Park bureau for seven years. Prior to that, she worked in the paper’s Vancouver bureau and in The Report on Business, where she covered a variety of beats, including financial services and securities regulation. More


The Globe invites you to share your views. Please stay on topic and be respectful to everyone. For more information on our commenting policies and how our community-based moderation works, please read our Community Guidelines and our Terms and Conditions.

Please note that our commenting partner Civil Comments is closing down. As such we will be implementing a new commenting partner in the coming weeks. As of December 20th, 2017 we will be shutting down commenting on all article pages across our site while we do the maintenance and updates. We understand that commenting is important to our audience and hope to have a technical solution in place January 2018.

Discussion loading… ✨