Ontario PC Leader Tim Hudak held a press conference outside his office in the Ontario Legislature on Wednesday, August 22, 2012.
Credits: JACK BOLAND/QMI AGENCY
TORONTO - The front lawn of Queen's Park Bureau will sprout protesting teachers Tuesday for the first time since the Ontario Liberals took power in 2003.
Education Minister Laurel Broten introduced the Putting Students First Act Monday, with the support of PC Leader Tim Hudak and his caucus members, to impose pay freezes and sick day benefits which they could not negotiate with most teachers.
Three major unions opposing the bill - the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario (ETFO), the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation (OSSTF) and CUPE Ontario - have vowed to bring together thousands of their members at a noon-hour rally in response to what they call an attack on their collective agreement rights.
Other unions, such as the Ontario Nurses' Association (ONA), plan to join the protest.
Although the dispute will not prevent the return of school next week, individual teachers may opt out of extra curricular activities.
The teachers are also expected to punish the Ontario Liberals where it hurts the most - politically.
They'll actively campaign for the defeat of the party in upcoming byelections.
Premier Dalton McGuinty told reporters in Waterloo, Ont., Monday that his government has made large investments in education, hiring 13,000 teachers and 10,000 school support workers, but anaemic economic growth demands wage restraint over the next two years.
"We've got to hit the pause button when it comes to public sector pay," McGuinty said.
Broten amended her initial bill to gain Tory support, dropping sections that would give unions more input into hiring and student testing, which were included in a previous deal with the province's English Catholic teachers.
Broten plans to re-introduce those controversial changes through other means but insists that school management, not union bosses, will have the final word on who is hired.
While the Ontario Tories support a total public sector wage freeze, Hudak said he is prepared to back the "half-loaf" strategy of the minority Liberal government as a tentative step in the right direction.
The failure on the part of McGuinty to negotiate collective agreements with the majority of teachers has put the student year at risk, Hudak said.
"We're going to bail Dalton McGuinty out of this mess," Hudak insisted.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said she believes the legislation is motivated by Liberal concern over upcoming byelections, not by any fiscal crisis, and has no interest in helping it pass through the Legislature.
Teacher and staff unions said Monday that they will not disrupt the first day of school.
The unions say they're more interested in battling this "unconstitutional" legislation in court than in the classroom.
The OSSTF announced it will delay planned strike votes but ETFO is going ahead with its own strike votes in September and early October.
Coran said individual teachers could decide not to participate in extra-curricular activities but he won't direct them to stop.
"If they feel this legislation negatively impacts them to the point of not wanting to contribute something, that is their own personal decision," he said.