Laurel Broten, Minister of Education addresses the media at a government building in downtown Toronto on Thursday August 16, 2012.
Credits: ERNEST DOROSZUK/QMI AGENCY
Education Minister Laurel Broten made a simple announcement Thursday on labour negotiations with education workers -- no average Ontarian "would expect a 5.5% pay hike in these economic times, just because they took the summer off and refused to negotiate a new agreement."
Broten proposed a new bill - the Putting Students First Act - while urging the education sector to reach an agreement before Aug. 31, when the current contract will trigger an automatic teacher pay hike, which she says could cost $473 million.
"We've repeatedly asked school board trustees to get agreements in place for September to avoid automatic increases in teacher pay," she said at a press conference.
The bill, if passed, will stop the wage increase and prevent labour disruptions for the next two years.
"Some would choose to increase class sizes and eliminate full-day kindergarten at a cost of 10,000 teaching jobs," Broten said. "But our government is making a clear choice about what our investment priority should be."
The Liberals' announcement comes as a surprise to the opposition. NDP house leader Gilles Bisson said they received it "at the last hour" while Conservatives found out about it Wednesday night.
"I don't hear anybody in Ontario, except for the government, saying that there's going to be a strike," he said. "I think the government is ratcheting this up to a certain degree and I think that's most unfortunate."
As for calling the legislature back, he said, "your guess is as good as mine."
Conservative MPP Lisa MacLeod said the process could have gone "much smoother."
"We'll take a good hard look at this legislation but here is the bottom line: we don't think the current approach is going to do the job," she said.
Broten says the bill could save $1.4 billion in one go, and $250 million for 2012-13.