POLITICS

McGuinty says bill to impose teachers' contract will not be a confidence motion

08/17/2012 10:54 EDT | Updated 10/17/2012 05:12 EDT
TORONTO - Legislation to impose new contracts on Ontario teachers will not be declared a confidence motion by the minority Liberal government, meaning its defeat would not trigger an election, Premier Dalton McGuinty said Friday.

"It’s about our shared confidence in our future, it’s about our confidence in our schools," McGuinty said after touring a school in Ottawa.

"I think fundamentally it’s about the confidence that parents need to have knowing that schools will be open, teachers will be there."

McGuinty still wouldn't say when the legislation would be introduced, but hinted the legislature will be recalled the week of Aug. 26 to impose a two-year contract if teachers still haven't signed new deals with school boards.

"I expect that the house leader will have an announcement next week with respect to when the house might resume," he said.

The government hopes it won't have to introduce the legislation, but can't allow the old teachers' contracts to roll over and automatically give raises of about 5.5 per cent, added McGuinty.

"They’ve all had reasonable, responsible pay hikes during the course of the last nine years," he said.

"I’m confident that among most teachers they see us as being balanced and thoughtful and responsible and fair-minded."

Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak said the Liberals have badly bungled the situation and he's not prepared to say just yet if the Tories would vote for the bill to impose a two-year contract on all teachers.

"I do hope the legislature is called back immediately so we can ask questions about this bill, make sure it has teeth in it so you can actually enforce a pay freeze and that we have the right provisions to prevent any kind of strikes or lockouts," Hudak told reporters.

"We’ll be practical about this. Our goal is going to be to make sure students and the parents aren’t paying a price for this kind of incompetence from the government in managing the union file."

Hudak complained the Liberal bill, based on an agreement with English Catholic teachers, would still allow up to 40 per cent of teachers to get pay raises in exchange for having all teachers take three unpaid days off in the second year of the contract.

The Tories want a legislated wage freeze for all 1.3 million Ontario public sector workers, including doctors, nurses and civil servants.

"We're not going to let the unions off the hook," said Hudak. "Pay freeze across the board."

The New Democrats are worried the legislation could be overturned by the courts, and accused the Liberals of misleading parents and trying to create a crisis in education to help win two byelections Sept. 6 in Vaughan and Kitchener-Waterloo.

"Unfortunately, this whole initiative is more about seats in the legislature than it is about kids in the classroom, and that’s the frustration," said NDP Leader Andrea Horwath.

"We’re concerned about the extent to which this could lead to a Supreme Court challenge and thereby cost this province a heck of a lot of money."

Education Minister Laurel Broten denied the government was trying to create a crisis, and said there were serious consequences to not having new teachers' contracts by Sept. 1, especially when some unions have already scheduled strike votes.

"It is a real and meaningful consequence to our schools to see $473 million pulled out of our classrooms and go to teacher pay," she said.

Teachers' unions also accused the Liberals of trying to manufacture a crisis where none exists.

"They are in fact creating a crisis for their own purposes," said Sam Hammond, president of the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario.

"The very last thing that we want to do, that we're not even considering, is disrupting the school year for the students."

No teachers plan to strike, said Ken Coran of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation.

"I'm sick and tired of the public being mislead, and parents and students being used as pawns in some kind of political crisis they are creating," said Coran.

"It's not fair to anyone. It's not being transparent, and it's not the way good government should operate."

If the legislation to impose a contract on teachers is passed, the government would also have the power to ban a strike or lockout for the next two school years.