Ontario to impose contracts on teachers, Ottawa parents and students react
Ontario Education Minister Laurel Broten speaks to reporters in Toronto on Thursday, Jan. 3, 2013. (Frank Gunn / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Published Thursday, January 3, 2013 3:29PM EST
Last Updated Friday, January 4, 2013 6:12AM EST
Education Minister Laurel Broten has imposed contracts on Ontario’s public school teachers, freezing wages and bringing rotating one-day strikes to an end.
Broten announced Thursday that the minority Liberal government will impose the contracts on approximately 13,000 elementary and high school teachers under the controversial Bill 115 before students are set to return to the classroom on Monday.
“After nearly a year of talks, many parties remain far apart, some deliberately so,” Broten told reporters during a news conference.
Broten said she was left with no other choice but to impose contracts on school boards that were unable to reach and ratify collective agreements by the Dec. 31, 2012 deadline.
“Despite our best effort, in the end the action was necessary and we have taken it,” she said.
Ottawa mom Alison O'Rourke is looking for a little normalcy once the kids are back at school. Now, she's no longer sure how normal that return to school will be. She says, "I think something needed to be done."
Some Ottawa high school students who have been without extra curricular activities for weeks wonder if anything will change when they head back to school next week.
Nathan Wilkson-Zan, a student at Canterbury High School says, "I don't think it will influence much because the union still isn't happy with what happened."
Tayler Miller of Russell High School is hopeful that extra curricular activities will resume. "I know our teachers would be willing to do that and I hope other teachers will as well."
Broten also announced that the Ontario government will now move to repeal the bill – known as the Putting Students First Act – as it "has achieved what it was put in place to do."
She said through advertising and rhetoric, Bill 115, has become a “lightning rod” for attention.
“Given that the Putting Students First Act was only ever intended as a one-time measure by this government, it is important as a sign of good faith and our commitment to future negations that the act be repealed.”
By repealing Bill 115, Broten said she hopes teachers will once again begin participating in extracurricular activities at schools.
The act is expected to be repealed by the end of January.
The imposed contracts mirror the two-year deals the government reached with Ontario’s Catholic and French-language teachers, which largely freeze wages, reduces sick days from 20 to 10 and put an end to the banking of sick days to be used at retirement. All new agreements are retroactive to Sept. 1, 2012 and will expire Aug. 31, 2014.
Broten said Thursday by having these agreements in place any strike action taken by teacher unions will be deemed illegal.
“My message as Minister of Education to union leadership and to teachers is I hope union leaders will not ask their teachers to undertake illegal strike activity.”
Broten said the move was needed to avoid pay increases that the province can't afford as it struggles to pare back a $14-billion deficit.
She added that the measures put in place save the province $2 billion.
Shortly following the announcement , President of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario Sam Hammond described the unprecedented move as a “disgraceful misuse of government power.”
“Ten years, a decade of goodwill, has been squandered in just under 10 month by this education minister.”
Hammond said repealing Bill 115 after using it to impose teacher contracts demonstrates that the legislation is flawed.
“I am still trying to figure out what was said this morning and where this government is heading,” Hammond told reporters.
Asked if teacher unions are planning any type of strike action when classes resume, Hammond said: “Our members voted 93 per cent in favour of a day of political protest if this minister did what she did today.”
Annie Kidder, executive director of the lobby group People for Education, told reporters the imposition of contracts won’t address concerns and she thinks teachers will continue to boycott extracurriculars.
“There seemed to be hard lines from the very beginning and in that way, no one really wins.”
Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation President Ken Coran told CP24 it could take some time before teachers agree to once again participate in extracurricular activities, which he said are “purely voluntarily in nature.”
“They do it out of the goodness of their heart because they feel respected,” said Coran. “I think it’s going to take a while, if ever, that some of those hard feelings can be remedied.”