Premier Dalton McGuinty tours new full-day kindergarten classes at St. Luke Catholic School with principal Martha Palmer.
Credits: Michael Aubry/QMI AGENCY
TORONTO - It hurts now, but Premier Dalton McGuinty said Monday his government's painful split with teachers can be resolved and parents will support his strike-banning wage legislation.
"This is not an easy time and it makes for more difficult relationships. Understandably so," McGuinty said from Ottawa.
His comments came after Government House Leader John Milloy announced the legislature would be recalled Aug. 27 - three weeks early - to deal with the teachers' wage legislation.
"We're trying as much as we can to be fair, but firm in our resolve," added McGuinty. "We will find a way to get this done. We will hit that pause button (on pay increases), we will protect those teaching jobs, we will continue to roll out full-day kindergarten and parents will be able to count on schools being open."
Once backed fiercely by teachers and their unions, McGuinty risks losing that support by forcing a wage and partial salary grid freeze on them - along with a strike ban - for two years under the proposed bill.
The Liberals want it passed before Aug. 31 to prevent scheduled pay raises on Sept. 1 but can scrap those wages retroactively if the bill is passed later.
McGuinty said there is a "deep reservoir of goodwill" among teachers but also made it clear his government has been preparing for months to face a possible constitutional challenge to the bill.
"The Supreme Court of Canada has set out some basic rules that you have to follow to ensure that, ultimately, we can hit the pause button on public sector pay," McGuinty said.
"So we started back in January to be fair, open, accountable and responsible, but now we find ourselves at this point in time and we're running out of runway."
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said the Liberals will be sticking Ontario with a hefty bill if they've miscalculated the legal merits of their case.
"If it is successfully challenged at the Supreme Court, that will cost Ontario taxpayers upwards of close to $800 million," Horwath said. "That is not a way to go in terms of fiscal responsibly."
Progressive Conservatives support the principle of freezing teachers' wages but have "serious questions" about the proposed bill, PC MPP Rob Milligan said.
"The government's legislation is unprecedented and goes far beyond any wage restraint or back-to-work legislation ever enacted in Ontario," Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario president Sam Hammond said in a statement. "This legislation is obviously designed to put politics, not students, first."
The minority Liberals can't now pass the bill without opposition support but would be able to if they could win two byelections - in the ridings of Vaughan and Kitchener-Waterloo - on Sept. 6.