Politics
Ontario Liberal leadership candidates weigh-in on education

Credits: Mark Wanzel The Barrie Examiner QMI

JOHNATHAN JENKINS | QMI AGENCY

TORONTO – Liberal leadership candidates have come bearing gifts in the hope of winning over the province's teachers.

Once the firmest of political friends, teachers and the governing Liberals are now angrily opposed and rebuilding that shattered relationship is high on the list of all the candidates to replace outgoing Premier Dalton McGuinty.

Two candidates -- Gerard Kennedy and Eric Hoskins -- have already gone on record to oppose using new legislative powers to impose a two-year wage deal on the province's two largest teacher unions, saying they would pursue further talks in exchange for an end to rotating strikes.

Education Minister Laurel Broten can impose a contract after Monday.

But while Kennedy and Hoskins have made the most overt appeal to teachers, the other five candidates are also anxious to get them back onside.

On Friday, former education minister Kathleen Wynne weighed in with her education policy. Long on aspirational goals, it was less specific on how to solve the current impasse, beyond a commitment to "implementing a sustainable model" for contract talks.

"Continued improvements in our education system are only possible if we repair the relationship with our teachers and support staff," Wynne said in a news release. "I am committed to an open, fair and sustainable process. One of the most important things to me is that we listen to each other as partners. We cannot afford regular cycles of labour instability that disrupt our valued public services."

Sandra Pupatello has yet to release her education platform. She had left cabinet by the time the education file boiled over and while she did allow at her launch that "things might have been done differently" in a few areas, she's proposed few radical breaks with McGuinty's direction.

Glen Murray has put some radical ideas for post-secondary education on the table -- including making student loan repayment dependent on post-grad income -- but has had less to say about the school system.

On the flip side, Harinder Takhar has proposed getting the province's books back to balance a year ahead of schedule, in part by cutting $800 million from education. Takhar has suggested reducing non-teaching staff by 70% and re-jigging full-day kindergarten.

Charles Sousa, who has made job creation his focus in the race, has yet to flesh out his education plans.

The next big date for the candidates is a raft of delegate selection meetings Jan. 12-13, which will pick most of the 2,500 Liberals eligible to vote for the new leader in a convention Jan. 25-27 at Maple Leaf Gardens.

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