Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty speaks to a class of marketing students at St. Lawrence College in Kingston, Ont. on Mon., Jan. 9, 2012.
Credits: MICHAEL LEA\THE WHIG STANDARD\QMI AGENCY
After eight years of caving in to every demand from fatcat teacher unions, Premier Dalton McGuinty lowered the boom on their pay and perks Thursday.
He's moving to freeze teachers' pay for two years and end the practise of buying out sick days when a teacher retires.
He's going to get the massive Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan under control.
It's about time.
One minute, McGuinty is teachers' pet. Now, he's talking tough with them.
That's what friends are for.
Teacher unions have negotiated one sweet deal.
Much as we all value the work teachers do, we can't afford their perks.
Take their sick leave gratuities.
In 29 boards across the province, teachers are allowed 20 sick days a year - not bad when you consider they get two months off in the summer, a week at March Break and two weeks at Christmas.
If they don't use those days, they can accumulate them to a total of 200 days owing - then cash them out when they retire. That means the sick days they accumulated in their early years of teaching - when they were paid less - are cashed out at their highest rate of pay in their final year.
A teacher at the high end of the scale earning the top teacher salary of $92,813 in elementary or $94,642 in secondary could cash out those sick days at $46,000.
The total liability for all those outstanding sick days is $1.7 billion.
The government wants to replace the old plan with six days sick days a year, which can't be accumulated.
That's more than generous.
The total outstanding for 2012/13 is $137 million.
"If we don't address retirement gratuities, which are essentially bulk payments at retirement for accumulated sick days over a teacher's career, we'll face a further $1.7 billion liability that doesn't contribute to our student achievement agenda," Education Minister Laurel Broten told reporters.
She sounds remarkably like John Snobelen - the Mike Harris-era education minister who grappled with similar issues.
It was a kind of Nixon in China moment.
Having cosied up to the teacher unions for so long, you'd think McGuinty would be the last guy to rein them in.
The teacher unions fought with the NDP government. They were in hand-to-hand combat with Harris.
If they're going scrap with the Liberals, perhaps voters will start to ask who the warmongers are - the politicians? Or teachers?
What goes around comes around, said Tory Frank Klees.
"The chickens are coming home to roost," he told reporters.
"There's no more money and even Dalton McGuinty is going to have to learn how to say no," he said.
McGuinty plans to freeze teacher pay for two years, as well as freezing the "grid" system, by which teachers advance their pay through years of service and by upgrading their qualifications.
When you combine pay hikes with grid hikes, teachers have been getting pay increases in excess of 8% annually.
Then there's their generous pension fund. Fair enough, they contribute 13% of their salary into it - but taxpayers match that dollar for dollar.
Economist Don Drummond pointed out that many teachers will be drawing a pension for longer than they taught.
Every so often, taxpayers have to kick in extra for an unfunded liability. You'd think with $107 billion in assets worldwide, the fund could kick in something as well.
The Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario walked away from the bargaining table this week and weren't available for comment.
Hmmm. All those tantrums in full-day kindergarten must be rubbing off on the teachers.
Time to face reality, folks.