Ontario Education Minister Laurel Broten
Credits: Antonella Artuso/Toronto Sun/QMI Agency
TORONTO -- Education Minister Laurel Broten is giving the head of the elementary teachers' union an E for effort in contract talks.
"In my opinion, participating in one hour of a preliminary briefing is not a good enough effort for the elementary students in this province," Broten said Monday, after telling reporters the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO) isn't taking part in provincewide contract talks.
"I'm asking ETFO to give more than one hour to discussions and to put children's interests first."
Broten said ETFO president Sam Hammond bailed from provincial table discussions on a new deal after just one hour -- and has refused to return.
Instead, ETFO has said it plans to bypass the ministry entirely and talk only to local school boards. The current contract expires in August.
The union declined to comment yesterday, saying it wanted to review Broten's remarks with legal counsel.
Faced with a provincial deficit of $15 billion, Premier Dalton McGuinty has said he needs to impose a two-year wage freeze on public sector workers to balance the books.
If that can't be negotiated, the government has said it will impose a freeze through legislation.
For teachers -- who've been reliable McGuinty supporters over three elections -- that means no raises and no movement on the pay grid, which the union says will hit its youngest members the hardest.
Broten picked a day teachers had off -- while most other workers were on the job -- to deliver her message, offering reporters a rare news conference in her 22nd-floor Bay St. office.
A wage freeze is a small price to pay for protecting programs such as full-day kindergarten and elementary class caps which keep thousands of teachers and support staff employed, Broten said,
And previous deals under the Liberals have hiked wages and increased prep time
-- improvements which could vanish if ETFO wants to negotiate board by board.
Tory MPP Lisa MacLeod said the Liberal government has yet to understand the enormity of the province's debt and deficit problems.
"The only way to achieve the kind of savings we need is to have a mandatory wage freeze for every public servant," MacLeod insisted. "The Liberals just don't seem to have the strength of character to carry this out."