Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty at Thornhill Woods Public School in 2006.
Credits: FILE PHOTO
Regardless of their political stripe, every provincial government in recent memory has ended up fighting Ontario’s teacher unions.
Premier Dalton McGuinty’s Liberals have now officially joined the fray, but it also happened with the Mike Harris/Ernie Eves Conservative government of 1995 to 2003 and Bob Rae’s NDP government of 1990 to 1995.
Today even McGuinty, the self-described “education premier,” who has given Ontario’s fat and (until now) happy teacher unions everything they wanted, including all-day kindergarten, sounds like he’s had enough.
On Monday, Education Minister Laurel Broten announced the province wants signed deals by September between school boards and teacher unions complying with the province’s demand for a two-year wage and salary grid freeze and gradual elimination of the teachers’ retirement gratuity — cashing in unused sick time upon retirement for up to half a year’s pay.
McGuinty had earlier warned boards if they signed deals exceeding these goals they could be taken over by Queen’s Park.
Broten warned teacher unions the province may impose deals on them through legislation, which would presumably outlaw strikes or other job actions.
The province wants the boards and other unions to agree to a deal similar to one it negotiated directly with Catholic teachers. It freezes salaries for two years, limits grid advancement to young teachers in exchange for three unpaid professional development days and grandfathers retirement gratuities.
Boards and teacher unions complain the province is asking the impossible because they never negotiate new contracts until the old ones have expired, which this year occurs Aug. 31. But it’s laughable to hear teacher unions portraying McGuinty as a bully, considering how during last fall’s election they did his dirty work by paying for ads mocking Conservative Leader Tim Hudak through the Working Families Coalition.
The bottom line is simple. The teacher unions don’t have a leg to stand on.
They can’t attack McGuinty as anti-teacher, not when experienced teachers now earn well over $90,000 annually and retire with a generous pension at an average age of 58, boosted by a retirement gratuity based on unused sick pay of up to $47,000.
With Ontario’s struggling economy facing a $15 billion deficit, public patience with the teacher unions is non-existent.
If they know what’s good for them, they’ll take McGuinty’s deal.