Ken Coran, president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Confederation speaks at a rally on Thursday, October 11, 2012. They education sector unions are suing the province over Bill 115.
Credits: Kevin Connor/Toronto Sun
TORONTO -- Education sector unions have launched a legal challenge against the province over Bill 115.
The Elementary Teacher's Federation of Ontario (ETFO), the Canadian Union of Public Employees of Ontario, the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) and the Ontario Secondary School
Teachers' Federation (OSSTF) all claim the bill defies the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The McGuinty government passed the Putting Students First Act last month with the help of the Tories, imposing contracts on teachers across the province whose unions hadn't already agreed to a deal.
"The expectation of all citizens is for their government to follow the rules that are laid out in our Constitution," Ken Coran, president of the OSSTF said Thursday outside a downtown courthouse.
"Today, we begin a process to hold this government accountable to those rules."
The law is an attack on bargaining rights which are protected in the charter, said Sam Hammond, president of the ETFO.
"Ontarians, and indeed all Canadians, need to be assured that no government will be permitted to attempt to drastically undermine employee democratic rights without facing the strongest possible challenge," Hammond said. "(The charter) protects employees from being forced to work under terms and conditions which are coerced, dictated, or imposed by the state. Certainly, Bill 115 violates these rights on many accounts."
Warren Thomas, president of OPSEU, says he likes his chance of beating the government in court.
Premier Dalton McGuinty said the lawsuit came as no surprise and the government isn't worried.
"We have a tremendous amount of confidence in the position we've taken and the law that we have adopted here in Ontario, working in concert with the opposition," McGuinty said. "The important thing now is for teachers and the government to understand that while we have some differences, those differences should affect our relationship alone. I'm calling on teachers, those who do have differences with the government, to ensure that doesn't affect what takes place inside our schools."
Tory MPP Christine Elliott said an across-the-board wage freeze for all public sector workers remains the best option to control public sector wages.
While the Liberals have dismissed the Tory approach as unconstitutional, Elliott said the most recent decisions of the courts suggest they would support such a measure while the government is under fiscal stress.
"We believe that our position is solid and justified on the basis of the precedents that are outstanding," she said.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said Ontarians should brace themselves for chaos -- not just in schools but in colleges, universities, hospitals and other public organizations -- as the provincial government imposes wage freeze legislation on most public sector workers.
"The worrisome thing is that in a couple of years time we're going to get a big bill in the mail when the Supreme Court throws out this legislation and ... Ontarians have to pay the back pay, as well as the court costs for this expensive wrongheaded move," Horwath said.
--Files from Jonathan Jenkins