Straight Talk
CHRISTINA BLIZZARD - McGuinty Liberals cave to strikebound teachers

ON Education Minister Laurel Broten at Queens Park in Toronto.

Credits: Dave Thomas/Toronto Sun/QMI Agency

CHRISTINA BLIZZARD | QMI AGENCY

TORONTO -- So, when the going gets tough, Laurel Broten backs off.

That message came through loud and clear Thursday as the education minister bowed to pressure from the teacher unions, saying she wouldn't step in to stop a one-day job action by teachers.

So what was the grief about Bill 115 all about?

Here's the government that's been slammed for steamrolling the teacher unions with its heavy-handed legislation. They've taken all the heat -- and now they're not going to enforce their own law.

"Given that ETFO has provided five days notice to families, and given that they have assured families that this will be only a one-day strike, I'm prepared to let one day of legal strike action occur," Broten told reporters.

Finance Minister Dwight Duncan was downright huffy later in the day when I asked him if the government was going to reimburse parents for babysitting costs during any work stoppages.

"Frankly, it's unfortunate that there has to be one day and that teacher unions would put kids in the middle of this, especially in the context of the very generous settlements they've had over the last number of years," Duncan said.

"No, we won't pay those costs, but perhaps the teacher unions will," he said.

During the teacher strike of 1997, the Mike Harris government paid rebates of $40 a day, up to a maximum of $400, to help defray the costs of childcare for parents during the work stoppage.

How supremely ironic that the government that initially bought peace in our time with teachers after the upheaval of the Harris years is now itself facing the same kind of disruption.

So much for Premier Dalton McGuinty's assertion that his resignation and prorogation was all about calming the waters, so the serious negotiations could happen unmolested and uninterrupted.

Makes you wonder -- uninterrupted by what? Democracy? Public scrutiny? The ability of the opposition parties to do their jobs and hold the government accountable?

Instead, what the unions realize is that they only have McGuinty and Duncan (does that sound like a firm of undertakers, or what?) to kick around for another month or so.

After that, they're out of here -- and a whole new world opens up with a new Liberal leader. A new premier. A new finance minister.

So why bother negotiating with the old guard when some leadership candidates -- such as Gerard Kennedy and Kathleen Wynne -- are backing away from their government's hardline stance.

The countdown to the school Christmas vacation is on. The leadership convention is mere weeks after that.

All the unions have to do is rag the puck -- if you'll pardon an analogy from another work stoppage-bound industry.

McGuinty came out of semi-retirement to issue a written statement Thursday.

"I understand this will be an inconvenience for parents as they make special arrangements, and it is regrettable for students to miss any time learning, even a day. However, a legal one-day strike action does not warrant the government's intervention," the premier said.

The question now is, how far the unions will push?

If a one-day strike doesn't raise the government's ire, will they up the ante -- and go for two days?
And will the government demand teachers not be paid?

In the last teacher work stoppage -- the unions insisted it was "political action," not a strike -- teachers continued to be paid.

Will that happen this time?

And what bitter irony that the guy who wanted to be remembered as the Education Premier, the guy whose wife is a teacher, will be remembered for leaving the school system in a shambles as he slipped out the door.

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