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Teachers hold rally outside Ontario Liberal leadership debates

Ontario Liberal Party Leadership debate was held at the Old Mill Inn in Toronto, Ontario on Wednesday, Jan. 9.

Credits: Dave Thomas/QMI Agency

Jonathan Jenkins | QMI Agency

TORONTO -- Several hundred teachers and education support staff held a boisterous rally outside the last of the Liberal party’s leadership debates Wednesday.

“We need teachers on the inside, not on the outside like they are tonight,” Dr. Eric Hoskins said. “We need to rebuild that relationship.”

Kathleen Wynne, widely seen as a frontrunner in the race along with Sandra Pupatello, said the “process” the Liberal government used to try and get teacher unions to agree to a two-year wage and grid freeze was flawed and that’s the reason the province is now facing labour strife in schools.

“It has been a bad process, there is no doubt about it,” Wynne said.

“It was not adequate to the challenge that was confronting us when there were no resources on the table, when there was no money on the table.”

Ontario is now facing a one-day protest from elementary school teachers Friday-- even though Premier Dalton McGuinty held an emergency press conference Wednesday evening to say the protest was an illegal strike.

The province’s secondary school teachers also announced around the time the debate was wrapping up that they would stage their own one-day protest next Wednesday if controversial Bill 115 isn’t repealed.
The dispute has also seen extra-curricular activities at many schools disappear or be limited.

Gerard Kennedy -- along with Pupatello and Wynne a former education minister -- said it was critical for the Liberals to acknowledge their mistakes in order to repair their political relationship with teachers.

“They feel a lack of respect,” Kennedy said of teachers. “We have to find some way in our vocabulary to be able to say we’re prepared to make changes, we’re prepared to acknowledge when things have gone off the rails.”

Pupatello said if she wins the convention later this month and becomes premier, her first step would be to invite union leaders to Queen’s Park for face to face meetings.

CUPE Ontario educational support workers have a tentative settlement with the province but president Fred Hahn was still on hand for the protest.

“The people who are running to be leaders of this party need to hear from folks in the province of Ontario that what they did with Bill 115 was wrong,” Hahn said of the legislation that imposed a contract on teachers. “That they can never ever think that it is OK to remove people’s democratic rights and we won’t protest. That’s why we’re here.”

Harinder Takhar, Charles Sousa and Glen Murray round out the Liberal leadership field, which will face critical votes this weekend with delegate selection meetings in all 107 of the party’s riding associations.

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