Premier Dalton McGuinty dons his glasses before helping out with construction at St. Francis French Immersion Catholic School in Sault Ste. Marie, ON on Tuesday, Aug. 7, 2012.
Credits: MICHAEL PURVIS/QMI AGENCY
Here's the government that for the past nine years has caved in to every outrageous contract demand of the teacher unions.
Having dug us into a massive fiscal hole, largely as a result of not holding the line on public sector salaries, the Liberal government is now getting fashionably tough on teachers - just in time for the votes in Kitchener-Waterloo and Vaughan.
Education Minister Laurel Broten produced draft legislation Thursday that will ban teacher strikes or lockouts by school boards once their existing collective agreements expire Aug. 31.
At a hastily arranged news conference, Broten sounded like a legislative gunslinger.
It wasn't quite High Noon, but she came out guns blazing, warning teacher unions that parents won't tolerate them demanding a 5.5% pay hike after a summer at the cottage.
"Ontarians do not expect or do not accept that you could sit on your hands, not negotiate and get a pay increase," she told reporters.
"Ontarians expect us to put their kids first and in these times of fiscal challenge, I think it's incumbent upon all of us across the government to ensure that we are using our dollars most wisely."
We've been in tough economic times since 2008 and this government still gave teachers a 12.5% pay hike back then - when workers in the private sector were struggling just to hold on to their jobs.
This new legislation is all about politics.
No sooner had both the NDP and the Tories announced out-of-town caucus meetings - the Tories in Grimsby and the NDP in Kitchener-Waterloo - than Broten phoned their education critics to tell them about the new law.
When the cats are away...
Both opposition parties complained they weren't briefed on its contents and heard most of the details from reporters.
Broten had no date for when the house will come back. McGuinty has threatened to recall the legislature early to force back-to-work legislation if the contracts weren't signed.
If there's no deal by the Aug. 31 deadline, then the old contracts roll over, incurring almost $500 million in pay hikes and allowing some teachers to continue rack up sick time credits.
The deal the government is demanding unions sign is similar to the one the Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association recently agreed to with the province.
However, many school boards and other big unions say that pact carries no weight, since the province is not the employer - school boards are.
This new legislation is retroactive, meaning teachers won't see the pay hikes or other benefits, even if MPPs delay passing the bill.
All the same, this look like so much pre-byelections sabre-rattling.
The Liberals are hoping to embarrass both the Tories and the NDP.
The Tories have been pushing for an across-the-board pay freeze. It will be tough for them to vote against this legislation, yet they've been highly critical of the Liberals for digging the province into disastrous debt.
The NDP are unlikely to support any legislation that removes the right to strike - yet that makes them look weak on unions.
Make no mistake. The Liberals may want to look like they're cracking down on union demands.
In reality, they created this crisis.
For nine long years, they steadfastly refused to get tough on bloated public sector unions.
Now they're paying the price.
Correction: You're paying the price. I'm paying the price. Taxpayers are paying he price. Let's just hope our kids don't pay the price in the classroom.