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The Globe and Mail

Wynne government puts its own interests first with union contract extensions

The long-reigning Ontario Liberal Party has never had a close personal relationship with the emotion the rest of us know as shame. From the ignominious prorogue-enabled departure of former premier Dalton McGuinty in 2013 to Premier Kathleen Wynne's about-face on political party finance rules this year, the Liberals have consistently proved that they cannot feel embarrassment.

And now they've done it again. Faced with three by-election losses in a row, and with Premier Wynne's tanking approval ratings, the government is conspiring to buy labour peace through the next election campaign by offering unprecedented contract extensions to Ontario's teachers' unions.

All the contracts, so hard-won in 2012, are set to expire on Aug. 31, 2017. That means the government could be in negotiations with the unions leading into the general election expected the following spring. No politician campaigning for re-election wants to have teachers off the job, so Education Minister Mitzie Hunter has been reaching out to the unions about the possibility of extending their existing contracts beyond the election date.

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This has been done without consulting the school boards, which are technically the bodies that negotiate with the unions. It would also require an amendment to the existing legislation on collective bargaining by school boards, because the law doesn't allow for contract extensions.

The Wynne government has meanwhile been sending the explicit message that, should it subsequently win re-election in 2018, it will be generous when the next round of bargaining comes up.

All of this is compounded by the affectionate relationship between the Liberal Party and the teachers' unions, which as a group have spent millions during elections campaigns to keep the Liberals in power, and which in return have received millions of dollars from the Wynne government to help cover such things as their contract negotiating costs.

This is deadpan political opportunism at its most naked. The Liberals are preparing the ground for an election that, should it go their way, will see them through their second uninterrupted decade in power. They are not about to let the obligation to act in the taxpayers' best interests get in the way of that.

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