Ontario Liberal Premier, Dalton McGuinty, delivers remarks at the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) annual conference at the Convention Centre Monday, August 20, 2012.
Credits: QMI AGENCY/DARREN BROWN
TORONTO -- As demonstrations go, this was a very festive gathering.
Teachers arrived with their kids, their dogs, their families.
Queen's Park cops weren't wearing riot gear. No one stormed the Legislature. No one blocked the doors, as happened in the Mike Harris years.
People were feisty but cheery and it was all very much unlike the uglier confrontations that happened back in the Bad Old Years when Harris was the demon of the teachers.
There were plenty of union firebrands and left-wing politicians to get the crowd fired up.
Sam Hammond, head of the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario, called McGuinty a "liar," and said teachers will never forget his "betrayal."
Ken Coran, the head of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation, called the controversial back-to-work legislation, "unnecessary and unjust."
In his usual over-the-top fashion, OFL President Sid Ryan blamed corporate tax cuts, and said the legislation was just the thin end of the wedge.
He urged teachers to work for the NDP in the Kitchener-Waterloo byelection, so Premier Dalton McGuinty doesn't get a majority government.
Trinity-Spadina MP Olivia Chow won the hearts of the crowd when she talked about her parents being teachers.
It was an impressive turnout and one the government will have to take seriously.
The teachers' problem is that as much as no one really likes to say so out loud, they've done very nicely over the past decade. And they seem out of touch with what's happening in the real world.
Much as teachers play down their pay, perks and pension, most people just aren't buying that any more.
The more teachers try to justify those items, the more people in the private sector shake their heads and wonder where they've been since the economy tanked five years ago.
It's probably the same planet McGuinty was on when his government hiked teacher pay to the stratosphere, as the rest of us struggled.
Teachers at the top end of the pay grid make more than $90,000 a year and in some boards, they're allowed to bank up to 200 sick days -- which they can then cash out for around $47,000 at retirement.
For the past 10 years, McGuinty has wrestled teacher unions to the ceiling and caved in to most of their significant demands.
You can see why the teachers are now angry -- and hurt by McGuinty's get-tough strategy.
At least Harris never pretended to be their best buddies.
So Harris must now relinquish his teacher demon status to McGuinty.
Unlike McGuinty, Harris didn't force teachers to give up the right to strike. And he didn't interfere with the collective bargaining process, as McGuinty proposes to do.
There are also sneaky provisions in the new legislation that require teacher hiring based on seniority and restrictions on student testing.
By signing on to a deal with the government early on, Catholic schools are subject to new rules. In return for their support of the bill, the Tories demanded the Liberals withdraw those items from the new legislation. Only boards that signed on before Aug. 31 will be governed by those rules.
In a news release Tuesday, the Ontario Catholic School Trustees' Association said that puts their schools at an unfair disadvantage.
My best guess is this will all be resolved Sept. 7. That's the day after the two byelections in Kitchener-Waterloo and Vaughan. This is all posturing on behalf of the Liberals so we forget about their mismanagement -- such as the Ornge air ambulance scandal and the $190 million it cost to cancel a gas generation plant (or, I guess now it's a non-gas generation plant) in Mississauga.
Once there are no political points to be scored from battling the teachers, my bet is McGuinty will be their best friend again.
Lock up your wallets.