Minister of Education Liz Sandals.
Credits: Dave ThomasToronto Sun/QMI Agency
TORONTO -- Pity poor Liz Sandals.
The newly-minted education minister inherited a mess from Dalton McGuinty.
It's tempting to say she inherited it from her predecessor as education minister, Laurel Broten.
But make no mistake. The heavy hammer the Liberals used to whack teachers came directly from the premier's office.
Now Sandals has the unenviable task of making peace with the unions -- but has no bargaining leverage to do so.
Premier Kathleen Wynne met with union leaders shortly after the convention that brought her into the premier's office.
There was a two-hour meeting Wednesday morning between the union leaders and her staff.
Wynne reiterated her position that the cupboard is bare.
There's no more money and the government will not renegotiate the contracts imposed on them under Bill 115.
Wynne said she was "optimistic" but the government could only offer changes in "the process" -- whatever that means.
"I have said quite clearly that there is no money and we are not starting from scratch on the contracts," Wynne told reporters Wednesday.
The head of the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario (ETFO) said in a telephone interview that the talks are a positive step in the right direction.
"They were positive and somewhat productive in trying to move issues forward and find a resolve," Sam Hammond told me.
They're not finished, he said.
"We agreed to come back at this over the next few days and into next week," he said.
Hammond wouldn't say what was discussed but did say there's been a change of tone since Wynne took over.
"They have taken a big step forward in terms of our position, in terms of the new premier meeting with us that Tuesday following the leadership convention," he said.
"Then to have three or four meetings with us, with government representatives at the table, to have initial discussions around issues and concerns is a positive step in the right direction," Hammond said.
The all-important question is how close are they to getting extracurriculars back in schools?
"We haven't talked about that," Hammond said. "We have talked about our issues and concerns and we will see over the next few days where these discussions go."
Still, he's optimistic.
"If I wasn't hopeful I wouldn't be at the table," he said.
His message to parents is to be patient.
"We're trying to work this out and move forward together," he said.
Sandals says the first job is to get schools back into a "positive, collaborative" mode.
"At this point it really isn't a tit-for-tat conversation," she said. "Once we have the schools back in a collaborative, positive workplace, then we will continue to have the hard, nitty-gritty conversations."
Still, it seems right now all Wynne and Sandals have to offer is that they're not McGuinty and Broten.
The former government stitched them into a straitjacket. It's tough to see what they can offer the teacher unions by way of a bribe.
The only thing they can offer is that they're nicer than the previous government.
That might get you a plate of cookies and some warm milk.
But it won't get extracurriculars back.
Parents and kids are trapped.
And the kids who are suffering the most are those who are most at risk.
Kids who are having difficulties academically and who are at risk of dropping out often stay in school b